Enchanting Kerala

Mohiniyattam

Mohiniyattam (Mohiniattam) is a classical dance form of Kerala in South India. The origin and popularity of this dance form is closely tagged to the great Tamil dance master Vadivelu, one of the Thanjavur quartets. One among the eight Indian classical dance forms, Mohiniyattam is a graceful dance to watch and is a solo recital by women. The term Mohiniyattam comes from the words mohini meaning a woman who enchants onlookers and aattam meaning graceful and sensuous body movements. Thus, the word Mohiniyattam literally means - dance of the enchantress.

Mohiniyattam has a legend attached to it as per the Hindu mythology. It says that, after the ocean of milk was churned jointly by the gods and the demons to extract the elixir of life, the demons took the divine brew by force. Following the incident, Lord Vishnu came to the rescue of the gods. He allured the demons by taking the form of a woman with outstanding beauty called Mohini and stole the elixir of life from them and handed it to the gods. The enticing acts of Mohini are reflected in the dance form of Mohiniyattam. At a time when the Devadasi tradition was prevalent in many parts of south India, Mohiniyattam used to be performed by Devadasis (temple dancers) in temples, during the rule of the Chera kings from 9 to 12 C.E.

This dance form also has elements of other performing art forms of Kerala viz. Koothu and Kutiyattam in it. Besides, Mohiniyattam also came under the influence of two other south Indian dance forms - Bharatanatyam and Kathakali. Mohiniyattam in its early days went through ups and downs, which eventually got steadied during the reign of King Swathi Thirunal of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom.

Apart from King Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, Mohiniyattam received timely interventions which helped in getting its share of attention and popularity from the great Malayalam poet Vallathol Narayana Menon who is also the founder of Kerala Kalamandalam and the noted Mohiniyattam teacher, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma.

The dance form Mohiniyattam has love and devotion to God as its major themes, with usually Lord Vishnu or his incarnation Lord Krishna as the lead character. Mohiniyattam comprises about 40 different basic movements called adavukal and its performance style is marked by the swaying of hips and the gentle movements with straight body posture from side-to-side. This dance like many other classical dance forms of India follows the sign language (mudra) as described in the ancient treatise on Hastha Lakshanadeepika to convey the story. These mudras are expressed through fingers and palms of the hands.

The musical accompaniment of Mohiniyattam dance involves what is known as chollu. The lyrics are in Manipravalam, which is a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam.

Simple, yet elegant costume is one of the aspects that give Mohiniyattam a unique identity among classical dance forms of India. The attire for Mohiniyattam consists of white sari, bordered with broad golden brocade (called kasavu in Malayalam).

In Kerala, there are centres that offer training in Mohiniyattam. The Kerala Kalamandalam, which is a deemed university is the premier centre in Kerala for learning classical art forms, where one can undergo training in Mohiniyattam.

To watch Mohiniyattam video click here
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