Thursday, 28 July 2011

Mohiniyattam: Dance of the Enchantress

Mohiniyattam" literally means "dance of the enchantress".  It is one of the well known dance of Kerala. It is a celebration of womanhood and the grace and elegance of femininity. It is considered a very graceful dance meant to be performed as a solo recital by women. The term Mohiniyattam comes from the words "Mohini" meaning a woman who enchants onlookers and "aattam" meaning graceful and sensuous body movements. The striking features of this dance form are the musical melody and rhythmical swaying of the dancer from side to side and the smooth and unbroken flow of the body movement. The dance is focused on feminine moods and emotions.
Women Performing Mohiniyattam
 It is closely related to Bharathanatyam of Tamil Nadu, which was originally called 'Dasiyattam'. Mohiniyattam is a fusion of ' Bharathanatyam ' and ' Kathakali ', as it combines the graceful elegance of Bharatanatyam and dynamism and vigour of Kathakali. The performances are done only by women. In Mohiniyattam, the Lasya element of dancing is predominant, and the mood created is Sringaram (erotic).
Facial expression in Mohiniyattam
According to the legends, Lord Vishnu disguised as a Mohini and he appears as Mohini to lure the asuras (demons) away from the amrita (nectar of immortality) obtained during the churning of the palazhi or Ocean of Milk. Another story says that Mohini’ toward the end of her dance, persuade the Asura to place his own finger on his head unwittingly to his own undoing. This episode seems to be picturesquely represented in the first item of the Mohiniyattam called ‘Cholkkettu’ which begins with a pose of the dancer displaying her right hand, the murder of ‘Suchimukha’ with her first finger pointing to her head. So Vaishnava devotees have take the name and called it Mohiniyattam.  Cholkkettu was also considered to be a dance pattern scattered to Lord Siva. There is a sloka in praise of Siva towards the end of the test used for Cholkkettu in Mohiniyattam.

There is a typical costume for Mohini Attam. It is generally simple and white, or off-white. Usually there is a gold brocade, possibly with a border of red. One of the most characteristic signs of the Mohini Attam dancer is the bun of hair worn off-centre. This is very much a characteristic of women from Kerala.The make up is simple and realistic. Nothing garish or loud is worn; the entire ambiance is one of tenderness and refinement. The performers of Mohiniattam dance usually wear an off-white colored sari with gold brocade borders. Hairs of the dancer are gathered in a bun and decorated with jasmine flowers. The Mohiniattam dancer is adorned with Gold Jewellery including necklaces, bangles, waistbands and anklets. The tinkling of the Jewellery produces music as the dancer performs the dance.

Group of girls performing Mohiniyattam

The mudras or hand gestures followed are from the Hastalakshanadeepika. The movements are languid and swaying suggestive of the rise and fall of ocean waves from which Mohini was incarnated. The accompanying music is Carnatic essentially. The vocal music of Mohiniyattam involves variations in rhythmic structure known as chollu. The lyrics are in Manipravalam, a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam. The Mohiniyattam dance is performed to this accompaniment by the subtle gestures and footwork of the danseuse. The performer uses the eyes in a very coy yet sensual manner, the purpose being to enchant the mind without enticing the senses.

The real beauty of Mohiniyattam comes through only when mature ladies enact the romantic padams specially written to present the Ashta Nayikas: Swadheena Bharthruka, Khanditha, Abhisarika, Vipralabdha, Kalahandtharitha, Vasakasajja, Proshithabharthruka, Viraholkhanditha.


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