(Last Updated on : 28/03/2012)
Mohiniattam is one of the major classical dance styles of India. There is a considerable amount of disagreement among scholars regarding the origin of this traditional dance form of Kerala
. It has only been in recent decades that Mohiniattam has risen in popularity and acceptability. Mohiniattam though born out of the fusion of Kathakali
, has developed its own identity. In the word Mohiniattam, 'Mohini' means a maiden who charms the onlooker and 'attam' means dance. The Mohiniattam dances describe episodes from the epics and legends through graceful steps, rhythmic movements of her arms and facial expressions.
Origin of Mohiniattam
The first reference to Mohiniattam is found in Vyavaharamala composed by Mazhamangalam Naryanam Namboodiri, assigned to the 16th century A.D. Most of them agree that it was during Maharaja Swathi Thirunal's rule in the 16th century that Mohiniattam achieved its refined form. Mohiniattam is mentioned in some eighteenth century texts, but the practical aspect of the style was revived in the 19th century, Swathi Thirunal, the enlightened ruler of Travancore in Southern Kerala promoted its study. He composed many of the musical arrangements and vocal accompaniments, which are hymns in praise of Lord Vishnu, and provide the musical backdrop for the Mohiniattam dancers' performance.
Type and Theme of Mohiniattam
Mohiniattam is also known as the 'Dance of the Celestial Female magicians'. It is essentially a solo dance, performed by female dancers. However, the basis of this dance also signifies the transformation of Lord Vishnu into a female form and also the concept of Ardhnareeshwara that is male and female as one. Like many other dance forms, this was also restricted to the Devadasis. The theme of Mohiniattam is love and devotion to god. Delicate themes of love are performed with suggestive abhinaya
, subtle gestures, rhythmic footwork and lilting music. Mohiniattam signifies the dance of enchanters that causes destruction of the wicked and brings delight and pleasure to the good. Unlike other classical dance forms, Mohiniattam draws upon secular and social themes rather than religious mythology, the age-old stirring tales from the Ramayana
and Indian Puranas
Style and Technique of Mohiniattam
The distinctive style of Mohiniattam is the complete absence of heavy stamping and rhythmical tension, where the footwork is gentle, soft and sliding. The movements are never abrupt, they are dignified, easy and natural, but the vertical line of the body is never broken. Hence, among the styles detailed by Bharata Muni in the ancient Indian treatise on dance, Natyashastra
, Mohiniattam resembles the Kaisiki type meaning graceful.
Performance of Mohiniattam Dancers
Mohiniattam performances depict love and devotion to god. The dancers mostly depict the verses from Meghdoot and Geeta Govinda in their dances. The spiritual essence of the ethereal love of Lord Krishna
not only coloured Mohiniattam but also glorified it.
Music in Mohiniattam
The main musical instrument used in Mohiniattam is Edakka. Even the instruments such as violin, veena
provide musical accompaniment to the dancers. The vocal music for Mohiniattam is Carnatic Music
. The lyrics composed by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal and Irayimman Thampi are in Manipravala (a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam). The music also accentuates these movements by being extremely lyrical, sensuous and concentrating more on bhava than trying to articulate the swara patterns. This mode of singing is called Sopanam.
Costumes of Mohiniattam Dancers
One of the distinctive features of Mohiniattam is the simplicity of the costumes. There is a typical costume for Mohiniattam, which is a mixture of white and gold. It usually consists of a choli and a white, cream or off-white coloured Kasavu saree with a gold or red border.
The first renowned Mohiniattam dancer was Kalyaniamma. She also taught in Shantiniketan
. The other notable teachers in Kerala Kala Mandalam were Krishna Paniker and Madhavi Amma. It was from these Gurus that new generations of dancers were born.