Mohiniyattam- The dance from Kerala

Kerala is the only state from which we have two classical dances, Kathakali and Mohiniattam. To read about Kathakali click on this link- The word is divided into two halves, ‘Mohini’ which is a female avatar of Lord Vishnu to kill a demon, and ‘attam’ which means dance. To frame it in a context, it means ‘a dance which is as graceful as the Mohini avatar of Lord Vishnu’.

History Of Mohiniyattam

The earliest mention of this solo dance style is in the 16th century, but it has been in practice since the advent of the Devdasi system. ‘Vyavaharamala’ a book written by scholar, poet, author and astrologer Mazhamangalam Narayanan Namboodiri in the 16th century, is the first known book that mentions the term Mohiniyattam. The Vishnu Temple in Trikodithanam, and the Kidangur Subramanya temple, both have sculptures that resemble to the style of Mohiniyattam. Though the dance was stigmatized due to the downfall of the Devdasi system, during the mid 20th century it was revived and revolutionized by some sincere people of Kerala. 

Style Of Mohiniyattam

On closer observation, Mohiniyattam is seen to be a blend of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam. It follows the Lasya style of dance, which is fluid and feminine. The base of this dance too, are the two books, Natyashastra and Abhinayadarpanam. It is one such style which is much more secular and has a social oulook, without being too much loaded by religious elements. The repertoire is similar to that of Bharatnatyam, which has a Pushpanjali, Javali, Padam, Thillana, Jathiswaram, etc. It was due to the immense contribution of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal that today this dance has systematically evolved into a classical dance style.

Music and Instruments

The Carnatic music system is the base of this dance, though some ragas are borrowed from the Sopana style. The instruments are similar to other classical dances that follow the Carnatic music system, which are Mridangam, Idakka, Veena, Flute, Cymbals, etc. The language of the song is Manipravalm, same as Kathakali, which is a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam languages.

Costume and Ornaments

The simple white costume of Mohinoyattam brings out the pastoral beauty of the state. The saree is white or an off-white bordered with golden or other color that has a golden hue. The front of the skirt are two pleated fans that open as the dancer does the staple half-sit. The hair is put in a bun on the left side of the head and adorned with flowers. Chandra-surya and Thalaisamam too are worn on the head. Next are Jhumka and Matal, small and big necklace, Kamarbandh, Bajubandh, Bangles and Ghungroo. A bright red and big bindi is put on the forehead, and the eyes are highlighted with black kohl so as to highlight the eyemovements. Alta or any liquid red color is applied to the sides of the feet and tips of the finger to emphasize the hand and foot gestures in the stage light.

Famous Mohiniyattam dancers

Smitha Rajan, a true maestro in this field, performed her Arangetram in Mohiniyattam at the mere age of 6. Her mother Shreedevi Rajan too is a renowned Mohiniyattam guru. Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma is credited to prevent this art from going extinct and bringing it at a classical art level.

 – Aditi Teredesai

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