Mohiniyattam, also spelled Mohiniattam (Malayalam: മോഹിനിയാട്ടം), is a classical dance form from Kerala, India. Believed to have originated in 16th century CE,[1] it is one of the eight Indian classical dance forms recognized by the Sangeet Natak Akademi. It is considered a very graceful form of dance meant to be performed as solo recitals by women.

Mohiniyattam was popularized as a popular dance form in the nineteenth century by Swathi Thirunal, the Maharaja of the state of Travancore (Southern Kerala), and Vadivelu, one of the Thanjavur Quartet. Swathi Thirunal promoted the study of Mohiniyattam during his reign, and is credited with the composition of many music arrangements and vocal accompaniments that provide musical background for modern Mohiniyattam dancers. The noted Malayalam poet Vallathol, who established the Kerala Kalamandalam dance school in 1930, played an important role in popularizing Mohiniattam in the 20th century.

The term Mohiniyattam comes from the words "Mohini" meaning a woman who enchants onlookers and "aattam" meaning graceful and sensuous body movements. The word "Mohiniyattam" literally means "dance of the enchantress". There are two stories of the Lord Vishnu disguised as a Mohini. In one, he appears as Mohini to lure the asuras (demons) away from the amrita (nectar of immortality) obtained during the churning of the palazhi (ocean of milk and salt water).

In the second story Vishnu appears as Mohini to save Lord Shiva from the demon Bhasmasura. The name Mohiniyattam may have been coined after Lord Vishnu; the main theme of the dance is love and devotion to God, with usually Vishnu or Krishna being the hero. Devadasis used to perform this in temples. It also has elements of Koothu and Kottiyattom. Mohiniyattam is a drama in dance and verse.

The dance involves the swaying of broad hips and the gentle movements of erect posture from side to side. This is reminiscent of the swinging of the palm leaves and the gently flowing rivers which abound Kerala, the land of Mohiniyattam. There are approximately 40 basic movements, known as atavukal.

The three pillars — Sri Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, Sri Vallathol Narayana Menon (a poet and founder of the institution, Kerala Kalamandalam) and Smt. Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma (considered “the mother of Mohiniyattam”) — contributed to the shaping out of the contemporary Mohiniyattam during the later part of the 20th century. Guru Kallyanikutty Amma cleared the mythical mystery behind the name of this dance form and gave it the most convincing explanation based on truth, social and historical evolution, interpreting Mohiniyattam as the dance of a beautiful lady than that of a mythical enchantress from heaven.

The costume includes white sari embroidered with bright golden brocade (known as kasavu) at the edges. The dance follows the classical text of Hastha Lakshanadeepika, which has elaborate description of mudras (gestural expressions by the hand palm and fingers).

The Jewellery our traditional dancers wear is the typical complete set of Temple Golden Finish Jewellery with a proper wide Golden Lakshmi belt specially designed for Mohiniyattam. The foot steps are made tinkling with a good pair of original Chilanka or either known as Ghungroo or Dancing bells worn by the dancer on her legs. The performer also adorns herself with Fresh white Jasmine flowers which is decked to her hair bun arranged on the left side of the head pinned on to a beautiful Jurapin, which makes Mohiniyattam artists distinct from other dance forms artists of India.

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, sensual manner to enchant the mind without enticing the senses.


Basic Lessons of Mohiniyattam - Nritta or Pure dance

Mohiniyattam is a beautiful dance form of the women of Kerala and it is one of the classical dances of India too.Among the various vrithi-s (styles) detailed by Bharata Muni in his Natya Shastra, Mohiniyattam most resembles the kaisiki(graceful)type.Consisting, as it does, of gentle Angahara-s and belonging to the Lasya style which is feminine, tender and graceful: The kaisiki style is most appropriate for the erotic sentiment and its related expressions.

It has often been said that the movements of the limbs and body of the danseuse of Mohiniyattam should be gentle and graceful like the waves in a calm sea or the swaying of the paddy plants in the field, in a breeze.

To know some basic principles that govern the Mohiniyattam dance style will be of great help for all artistes and art lovers to enjoy this art form.

Like many other Indian dance forms the aspects of Mohiniyattam can be divided mainly into two - Nritha (pure dance ) and Nrithya (expository dance). When a child starts learning Mohiniyattam she /he starts first with the Nritha (pure dance).

Nritha Mandalam-s (stances), Pada bheda-s (foot variations), Padachari-s(gaits) and Nritha hasta-s(gestures) are the main parts of the pure dance patterns. Beautiful combinations of all these above mentioned are called Atavu-s. There are about 55 to 60 Atavu-s in the training pattern followed at Natanakaisiki belonging to the two major styles of Kerala, the Kalamandalam style and Guru Kalyanikuttyamma’s style.

Mandalams Basic posture of the feet is considered as one of the most important aspects of many of the dance forms.In Mohiniyattam the basic posture is known as Aramandalam. In Thiruvathirakali (a groupe dance form of Kerala women which is very closely related to Mohiniyattam)this is known as vattakkalil thanu nilkuka (means bend your leg and stand.). Most of the Atavus –the basic dance units –begin from this basic position. Even though Aramandalam is the most important one, based upon the level of the knees there are five such stances in Mohiniyattam.These are the Sama mandalam,Aramandalam, Muzhumandalam,Mukkalmandalam and Kaalmandalam.

1.Standing erect without bending the knees is called Samamandalam.
2.The knees should be bent and spread apart to form the shape of a pot.
  This is known as Aramandalam.(Vattakkal). The feet for Aramandalam 
  should be set flat on the floor about two and a half inches apart, 
  the right foot turned to the right corner and the left foot, to the left. 
  The distance between the toes being about twelve inches.
3.The third one is called Muzhumandalam.In this the knees should bent 
  and spread apart,the toes alone would touch the ground and the danseuse 
  should sit on her heels,producing a squatting stance.
4.When the knees are positioned between Muzhumandalam and Aramandalam 
  it is  called Mukkalmandalam. (the word ‘mukkal’ means three forth ).
5.When the knees are positioned in between Aramandalam and Samamandalam it is called as Kaalmandalam.
  (the word ‘Kal’ in Malayalam means one fourth).

Chari-s (gaits)In Mohiniyattam there are five different usages of Pada chari-s. They are Hamsa (swan)Padam, Kukkuda(hen)Padam, Mayoora (peacock)Padam, Mandooka (frog)Padam, and Naga (snake)bandham.

Atavus (basic dance units) Atavus are the basic units, which are sub-divisions of the pure dance in Mohiniyattam.These are created combining hand gestures, body movements, mandalam-s, footwork, and Chari-s.

When Mohiniyattam is taught, to ensure that the people develops graceful body control, it is these Atavu-s, that are practiced in the first few years of training.

Atavus have been grouped into Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammisram. The grouping has been done according to the Vaythari-s(syllables) used.

Unlike in Bharathanatyam, in Mohiniyattam when these Adavus are choreographed with beautiful patterns and rhythm to create beauty or to support the bhava(mood) the Vaythari-s (syllables )are always used in a raga.

Nritha choreographies In Mohiniyattam, items like Cholkettu, Jathiswarom and Thillana give greater prominence for Nritha. Cholkettu consists of stylised rhythmic syllables in tune with raga and the danseuse with pure dance patterns dances appropriate to it. Jathiswaram is an assemblage of jathi-s (syllables)and swara-s (musical notes ) within the frame work of a raga and tala. Beautiful sculpturesque postures and atavus are combined with intricate rhythm and designed to high -ight the grace of this dance style. Tillana-s have a lot of rhythmic Vaythari-s and these have been beautifully choreographed with Nritha in Mohiniyattam.

However in other items such as Varnam, Padam, Saptam, Nritha is used in between differents parts of abhinaya(enactment), as a part of the abhinaya or sometimes even to support the mood of the abhinaya. These are some details about the Nritha in Mohiniyattam. (Information courtesy) Nirmala Paniker Director, Natanakaisiki Mohiniyattam Gurukulam Natanakairali, Irinjalakuda – 680121

External links

  • Kerala Kalamandalam
  • Mohiniyattam dance Jewellery and costumes
  • Mohiniyattam dance Chilankas or Ankle bells

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