Monday, 18 March 2013

Mohiniyattam: A dance of the enchantress

Mohiniyattam which originated in 16th century is a classical dance form which has strings attached to the southern state of Kerala India. It is thought to be closely related to ' Bharathanatyam ' and ' Kathakali '. Some say that it is a fusion of these two classical dance forms. History also describes that it originated as temple dance.

Mohiniyattam is composed of two words “Mohini” and “attam”. “Mohini” mean a woman who enchants onlookers and “attam” graceful and sensuous body movements. The combination of these two words says that it is the “dance of an enchantress”. It is clear from it name that it is performed by females only.  There are two mythological stories associated with this classical dance. In the first story Lord Vishnu changed himself into a very beautiful dancer named Mohini and attracted the demons away from the nectar which was obtained by the process of churning of the palazhi (Samudra Manthan). Second story describes how Mohini saves Lord Shiva from the demon Bhasmasura. Lord Shiva gave a boon to Bhasmasura. According to it, if he kept his hand on anybody head the person would change to ashes. When the evil demon got it he tried to verify it on Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva asked for help from Lord Vishu. Lord Vishu changed into Mohini. She went to Bhasmasura and started dancing. He was very pleased and started following the steps of the beautiful dancer. At last Mohini kept her hand on her head so did Bhasmasura. As he did this he changed into ashes.

GRACE (Lasya) and  BEAUTY (Sringara) are two main components of these dance. This dance is characterised by the graceful body movements. The body goes up and down during the dance steps. These steps seem to be very simple but the dancer required a lot of practise to become a perfectionist. The body movements are never redundant. They vary with the dance steps. This dance is the symbol of love.
In Mohiniyattam the dancer wears a nine yard white Sari with a pleated golden border, almost like a skirt than a Sari and a matching blouse with a covering piece over it to cover the body. A small fan like piece is worn just below the waist over the skirt. Eyes and eye-brows are blackened, lips are reddened and the palms and the edges of the feet are coloured with chempanchi or Mayilanji (a paste made of leaves from the plants by the same name).The hair of the performer are tied on the left and then decorated with jasmine flowers. Ornaments used are earrings-like Kadukkan, Kodakadukkan and Thoda.

The instruments used in this dance are Vocal, Veena, Venu, Maddalam and Idakka.  

There are many people who contributed their efforts to popularise this dance. One of them was Swathi Thirunal, the Maharaja of the state of Travancore during the 19th century. He along with Vallathol Narayana Menon and Smt. Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma  are known as three pillars who contributed in promoting this dance form.

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