Mohiniyattam-The Dance of Enchantress

A semi-classical form that originated in Kerala, mohiniyattam, like bharathanatyam, grew out of the temple dances of the devadasis.

A graceful Mohiniyattam dancer in a gold-edged white sari, her hair decorated with white flowers and her jewellery the hallmark gold that Kerala is so famous for-welcome to a performance of mohiniattam! Quite letrally the 'dance of the enchantress', mohiniattam is named for Mohini, the feminine avatar of Lord Vishnu.

According to myth, the churning of the ocean of milk by the gods brought forth the elixir of life, which was subsequently stolen by the demons. Mohini, with her seductive dance, enchanted the demons and managed to recover the elixir from them.

Moods of Mohiniyattam

Mohiniyattam dance is about the soft and subtle-the feminine grace of life. It is about lyricism and lasya (moods), about Kerala's swaying palms and paddies. It is about Mohini the enchantress and about attam the dance. And it is also about the costume and hairstyle that have been immortalised in Raja Ravi Varma's paintings.

Mohiniyattam ("the dance of the enchantress") takes its name from the mythological maiden Mohini, who evoked desire and had ability to steal the heart of the onlooker. Usually a solo dance performed by women, it is dominated by the mood of lasya, with graceful movements distinguished by a rhythmic swaying of the body from side to side.

The central theme is one of love and devotion to god, with Vishnu or Krishna appearing most frequently as the heroes. Dancers wear realistic make-up and the cream-white, gold-bordered Kasavu sari of Kerala. The music which accompanies the dancer is Sopanam-inflected Carnatic, with lyrics in Malayalam.

The Origin of Mohiniyattam

The origins of Mohiniattam, traditionally performed by women, are traced back to the 16th and 17the centuries, the golden era of arts and literature in Kerala. Most agree that the dance closely corresponds to the Natayshastra written in 2BC.

Perhaps Mohiniattam is the only dance form of India that was revived several times. Some scholars believe that like Bharathanatyam, Mohiniattam was associated with the devadasi tradition, but many others disagree.

This is an exquisitely feminine dance form, its movement fluid and elegant, its footwork rhythmic and its theme centred around on sringara-the art of ornamentation, love (particular of the deities Vishnu or Krishna) and beauty.

Dance Mohiniattam was once also known as 'dasiattam', as it was primarily performed by devadasis in Kerala's temples. Once an important dances form, it nearly became extinct during the early 20th century, and has only seen a comeback in the past few decades. A number of institutions across Kerala regularly stage performances mohiniattam, and attending one of these can be a real treat-so watch out for them!

It, too, was revived through the efforts of enthusiastic individuals, first in the nineteenth century by Swati Thirunal, the Raja of Travancore, and again in the 1930's, after a period of disrepute, by the poet Vallathol.

Mohiniyattam Performance

Mohiniattam is performed solely by women, and share similarities with the completely-male kathakali as well as with bhrathanatyam, both of which are among Kerala's most important dance forms. Mohiniattam is like bharathanatyam, a dance performed by a solo artiste rather than by a group. It is characterized by wide, swinging steps graceful gestures and extremely expressive use of the eyes.

The dance is accompanied by traditional Carnatic music and consists of five distinct and separate phases, known (in chronological order) as cholkettu, varnam, jatiswaram, padam and tillana. Cholkettu signifies the beginning of the performance, while varnam and jatiswaram are phase of pure, expressionless dance. Padam is more histrionic in nature than its proceeding phases, and the last phase-tillana-is a display of the dancer's technical skill.

Famous Mohiniyattam Dancers

1. Sunanda Nair
2. Kalamandalam Radhika
3. Rema Shrikant
4. Pallavi Krishnan
5. Aline Civinelli
6. Kalamandalam Hymavathy
7. Radha Dutta
8. Sindhu Kiran
9. Radha Marar

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