Mohiniyattam - Seeker's Thoughts

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Seeker's Thoughts

A blog for the curious and the creative.






Mohiniyattam is an elegant female classical Indian dance form. This graceful and delicate dance emphasizes subtle expressions and feminine grace.


Following the Lasya style of dance outlined in Natya Shastra, its repertoire comprises Cholkettu, Jatiswaram (or Swara Jathi), Varnam, Padam, Thillana and Shlokam dance pieces.




Mohini is the alluring representation of Vaishnavism's supreme goddess, Mohini. Hindu mythology recounts how gods and demons battled over an ambrosial pot containing Amrita (the nectar of immortality). Lord Shiva disguised himself as Mohini - an alluring woman with seductive charms - to seduce those fighting over Amrita and steal it for himself.


Mohiniyattam first emerged during the 18th and 19th centuries due to patronage from competing princely states, where dance arts received support. A codified structure for Mohiniyattam concerts can be traced back to artists such as Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma and her daughter Vijayalakshmi who developed its concert format within shifting cultural environments such as temples, courts, theatres and performance halls.


Today's repertoire consists of cholkettu, jatiswaram, varnam, padam and tillana but does not compare to what was taught at Kalamandalam during Krishna Panicker and Kalyanikutty Amma's time at Kalamandalam.




Mohiniyattam dance style is distinguished by feminine body movements and subdued fad expressions that convey seduction. Natya Shastra (the foundation text on classical dancing) mentions it as one of several forms of Vaishnava dance.


Thottasseri Chinnammu Amma was one of the first known exponents of Mohiniyattam dance form and she became part of Kalamandalam faculty as early as 1942 until 1964 when she retired as faculty. Through her efforts she revived this art form as well as codifying many adavus such as cholkettu, jatiswaram and varnams into one coherent form.


Sathyabhama went on to play an integral part in reconstructing Mohiniyattam at Kalamandalam. Her contributions included refining repertoire as well as developing new ideas such as including hand gestures from Hastha Lakshana Deepika into Mohiniyattam in order to find balance with Kathakali.




Mohiniyattam dance celebrates feminine qualities like grace and sensuality with its standardized format that makes learning simple; yet, its interpretative elements require creativity from performers.


Mohiniyattam stands apart from traditional classical dance forms in that it focuses on secular and social topics rather than the age-old tales from Indian Puranas, with particular focus on Laasya - love and romance sentiments.


Mohiniyattam was in steep decline as Kathakali became increasingly popular during the 1930s, until protests and renewed interest helped revitalize and reconstruct this art form. Poets like Vallothol Narayana Menon (one of three modern Malayalam poets) played an instrumental role in helping repeal temple dancing bans while founding Kerala Kalamandalam to foster Mohiniyattam studies, training, and practice.




Mohiniyattam dance movements consist of circular patterns divided into quarter, half and three-quarter circles depending on their extent of circularity. This performance art is enhanced with Carnatic music as well as songs in Manipravalam that combine Malayalam and Sanskrit dialects.


Trance dance is a slow and meditative form of dance that places emphasis on subtle movements and facial expressions. Dancers identify with characters through their movement portrayals and embody them through their moves.


Mohiniyattam's footwork differs significantly from that of other forms of Indian dance in that its use of soft taps rather than vigorous stamping allows dancers to maintain balance while moving the upper body with grace and poise, thus necessitating high degrees of flexibility and strength in order to perform these elegant movements gracefully.




Mohiniyattam dance form is distinguished by elaborate costumes. Dancers usually don a white or off-white sari with gold brocade, along with an accompanying blouse and stiff barrel shaped skirt decorated with intricate designs.


A sari and skirt are usually draped in front with one side featuring a plait and its waist adorned with jewelled bands, while natural colors such as green (pachcha) are used to represent deities, royalty and sages; red is often reserved for demons and villains.


Facial expressions and mudras help the dancer communicate with his or her audience effectively, while makeup varies according to the character being played - eyes are highlighted with a tika on the forehead while eyebrows and lips take an exaggerated shape.

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