Mohiniattam: dance of the enchantress

Distinct Art

With time, the form has imbibed within itself the components of Kathakali and Dasiattam. Even an overlay of folk dances from Kerala, particularly Kaikottikali and Kummi, can be traced in Mohiniattam.

It is believed that this dance form is fashioned on the one performed by Vishnu, in the guise of Mohini, to protect “dharma” as a part of “maya”. Thus, the role of Mohini is that of a saviour and her dance is for celestial bliss.

The developmental history of Mohiniattam is not very clear. It is only known that it was patronised a little over a century ago by the king of Travancore, Maharaja Swati Tirunal. Himself a versatile composer, musician and patron, the poet-king’s resplendent darbar was adorned by a galaxy of contemporary artistes, musicians, scholars and dancers.

Tanjore brothers and Parameswara Bhagvatar actively helped the royal patron in creating the style of Mohiniattam by a judicious fusional influence of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam. Generally, the repertoire consists of cholkettu, swarajati, varnam, padam and thillana. Most of the compositions are of Swathi Tirunal or Irayiman Thampi.

Unfortunately, long periods of neglect have taken its toll on this traditional dance form. The art almost faded away with the death of Swati Tirunal. However, the timely intervention of poet Vallathol Narayan Menon saw Kerala Kalamandalam revive this lost
art form.

Gradual popularisation has led to increased participation. This dance form has found various outlets all over India by prominent practitioners like Kalyani Kutti Amma and Bharati Shivaji, to name only a few. An alumni of Kerala Kalamandalam, Thankamani Kutti, who trained in the Chinnamu Amma style of Mohiniattam, has been widely responsible for popularising this dance form in the eastern part of India. Her institute, Kalamandalam, established in Kolkata in 1968, has produced many good dancers who are intent on popularising this dance form through various experimental works.

Thankamani Kutty has launched various creative productions and has played an important role in spreading the nuances of the dance form all over the world. Many of her students have performed Mohiniattam in countries like Japan, Germany and the Gulf too.

Though simplicity is the watchword of this dance form, costumes are essentially in white cotton with bands of golden border. Ornaments, plated in gold, adorn the forehead, ears, neck and waist of the dancers, while anklets are a must. The most distinctive feature of a Mohiniattam dancer is the hair style — hair is gathered in a bun on the left hand side of the dancer’s head and decorated with fresh Jasmine buds.

The natural environment of the state of Kerala is very well symbolised through the attire of the dancer. The form is symbolical of Kerala’s natural beauty and represents the contrasting moods of the universe.

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