Finding new meaning in Mohiniattam

There are very few compositions in Mohiniattam as a classical dance form. Therefore, my effort has always been to look out for new stories which can be moulded lyrically and then cast in fresh choreographies.”

If there is a single statement that can sum up Kerala-born and Vadodara-based Mohiniattam dancer Ayswaria Wariar’s labour of life, that has to be the abovementioned remark by her.

After producing some of the most enchanting, and rarely-new, pieces in Mohiniattam – Meghadootam and Shakuntalam – the scholarly lady was back with another thought-provoking choreography, Urmila, recently.

The gathering at CD Deshmukh auditorium, India International Centre, watched as Ayswaria narrated the tale of Urmila - better known as Sita’s sister in the epic Ramayana – coaxing the audience into sparing a thought for the much ignored divine lady.

At the same time, she initiated the audience into understanding Mohiniattam, a
lesser-known and even lesser-appreciated dance form the South.

Ayswaria observes, “I always strive to take up stories which can connect with the audience at an emotional level. Shakuntalam, for instance, was about how a woman is always blamed for her own plight. Dushyant loved her and promised to take her as queen, but when the moment arrived, he accused her of defamation and threw her out of the court.”

“Urmila, similarly, is the tale of many a women, who after marriage, find themselves abandoned. They have to bear the loneliness and stigma attached, for life, in the name of female forbearance.”

Ayswaria did justice to the royal lady’s predicament in her dance like probably no literary piece, Ramayana or otherwise, has done. She tug at the hearts of the viewers as Urmila, a princess who always remained second fiddle to her sister Sita inspite of her numerous sacrifice.

She was the daughter of king Janak but given secondary treatment as compared to Sita, born of the earth. Ram and Sita wed out of love but Urmila’s marriage to Lakshman was a political arrangement.

And the moment she accepted her fate, she learnt, that Lakshman would now leave her in exile for 14 years.

Urmila’s abhinaya, vividly expressive of Urmila’s sorrow, left many thinking. “This piece was inspired by a poem by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, but such compositions can arise out of anything – an object, a feeling, a memory. It is important to be open to new thoughts to reinvent a dance form like Mohiniattam.”

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