Art has no religion, gender or colour. And KM Abu, a dancer to get a doctorate on classical dance form Mohiniyattam from Kerala Kalamandalam, a deemed university dedicated to performing arts, tells it emphatically.
Abu has a double advantage. Besides being the first Muslim academic to get the rare honor, he is also the first male dancer to get a doctorate in Mohiniyattam, usually performed by women. He has been awarded a PhD for his thesis on Mohiniyattam exponent Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma's voyages in art world.
"I started practising Bharatnatyam at a tender age. But later I was attracted to Mohiniyattam. It was my dream to do research in Kalyanikutty Amma's voyage in the art world," he said.
A danseuse par excellence, Kalyanikutty Amma (1915-1999) was instrumental in resurrecting the near-extinct art form and rendering it a formal structure and ornamentation. She was also a poet and social reformer.
Though a section of his community expressed reservation over a Muslim learning a classical dance form, he withstood all pulls and pressures. It is the culmination of his three-decade-long dedication and hard work.
"Initially many eyebrows were raised. But I never took them seriously. I feel art transcends all barriers," said Abu, who is a senior lecturer at the dance department of Sree Sankaracharya Sanskrit University in Kalady.
He does not believe that Mohiniyattam, one of the eight Indian classical dance forms, is a forte of women.
"It is not true. Called the dance of enchantress (attam of Mohini), a wrong notion came into existence that it was only meant for women. In fact many early teachers of the form were men," he said adding, "Earlier Devadasis used to perform Bharatnatyam but it does not mean only women are allowed to perform it."
He joined the Sanskrit University in 1997 as a junior lecturer and completed an MA in Mohiniyattam with distinction in 2002 as well a masters in Bharatnatyam in 2004.
Abu is sure that his latest recognition would open floodgates for many youngsters.
"I want to change the old notion and give a popular character to the art form. Dance forms are beyond gender specifications. Like Bharatnatyam, many youngsters will join Mohiniyattam in the coming days."