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Updated: Oct 26, 2022

MOHINIYATTAM THROUGH AGES AK Aishwarya | Taamara Researchwork | 14-10-2022

MOHINIYATTAM Mohiniyattam, is an Indian classical dance form that developed and remained popular in the state of Kerala. Mohiniyattam dance gets its name from the word Mohini– a historical enchantress avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu, who helps the good prevail over evil by developing her feminine powers. Mohiniyattam is characterized by graceful, swaying body movements with no abrupt jerks or sudden leaps. It belongs to the lasya style which is feminine,tender and graceful. The movements are emphasized by the glides and the up and down movement on toes, like the waves of the sea and the swaying of the coconut, palm trees and the paddy fields. Mohiniyattam's roots,like all classical Indian dances, are in the NatyaShastra – the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text on performance arts. However,it follows the Lasya style described in Natya Shastra, that is a dance which is delicate, eros-filled and feminine. It is traditionally a solo dance performed by women after extensive training, though nowadays men can also perform the dance.The repertoire of Mohiniyattam includes music in the Carnatic style, singing and acting a play through the dance, where the recitation may be either by a separate vocalist or the dancer themselves. The song is typically in Malayalam-Sanskrit hybrid called Manipravalam.


Traditions in Mohiniyattam Eighty odd years after the institutionalization of Mohiniyattam at the Kerala Kalamandalam, it is safe to say that four distinct traditions have come to be established in it. Bani, derived from Sanskrit, literally means 'voice'. Loosely translated as 'tradition' or 'school' in most dance and music related writing, a bani is the result of a process of creative evolution, organic as well as deliberate. Repetition of a particular form of stylization by successive performers establishes a bani. However, it remains rather fluid in its structure as continued evolution and redefinition keeps the form itself alive. The evolution of Mohiniyattam has led to the establishment of four major traditions— the traditions of Kalamandalam, Kalyanikutty Amma, Bharati Shivaji, and Kanak Rele. Kalamandalam There is no precise historical evidence to establish the antiquity of Mohiniyattam, the classical female dance-tradition of Kerala. Probably it was evolved in the eighteenth century. In the court of king Swathi Thirunal who ruled Travancore (South Kerala) in the 19th century Mohiniyattam flourished along with Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. The post -Swathy period witnessed the downfall of Mohiniyattam. ‘The dance of the enchantress’ slipped into eroticism to satisfy the epicurean-life of some provincial satraps and feudal lords. Poet Vallathol Narayana Menon rescued Mohiniyattam form total extinction. It was added to the curriculum of Kalamandalam in 1932.

Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma

Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon

Kalyanikutti Amma

Kalyani kutty amma Vallathol Narayana Menon had founded Kalamandalam with Manakkulam Mukunda Raja in 1930. In the face of severe opposition from conservatives, he managed to introduce a course in Mohiniyattam in 1932 to popularize its beauty and artistry. In 1937, Kalyanikutty Amma went to Kalamandalam to take reference from the Sanskrit manuscripts, in order to pass an exam and qualify to becomea teacher. She was then 22 years of age, adventurous and determined to be independent. Vallathol, who was also a family friend, saw this as an opportunity to rekindle public interest in the art form and make it respectable for girls to take up dance again. He invited Kalyanikutty Amma to enroll for dance lessons.She was a rebel of her times and she joined willingly. Already having a bent for poetry and music, she now entered the world of classical dance, a world of beauty, bhakti and grace. The training was rigorous, starting at 3am every morning and ending at 9pm, but Kalyanikutty Amma took up the challenge and blossomed from a plump girl into a graceful dancer. She had her arangetram . She had entered the dance field purely by accident, but was now totally immersed in the learning of this once disreputable dance form, striving now to gain respectability in society. Her vocation caused a rift in her relations with her family, but with the courage of her convictions, she never looked back. Now called Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, she started teaching Mohiniattam from 1941. In the same year, on his

deathbed, Vallathol expressed his hope that while he had introduced reforms in Mohiniattam and eliminated the inappropriate items, he entrusted Kalyanikutty Amma with the vision to securefor Mohiniyattam, its pride of place in the art world. Since much of the repertoire of Mohiniattam had been lost, Kalyanikutty Amma conducted a lot of research work and based on it, she introduced many steps and mudras and restructured Mohiniattam into a systematic pattern. Kalyanikutty Amma believed that the essence of Mohiniattam was devotion. Kalayanikutty amma’s Research and Work The origin of Mohiniyattam has been traced to the Dasiattam developed by the devadasis, in Kerala temples in the past. Kalyanikutty Amma and her daughter Sreedevi conducted a lot of research on the Chera, Chola and Pandya periods, tracing the antiquity of Dasiattam, Thevidichiattam and Sadirattam. She believed firmly that the Natyashastra and Abhinaya Darpana hold good for the theory of Mohiniattam except for the hasta / mudras, which follow the technicalities explained in the Hastalakshna Deepika. She read books on history, visited old temples where the dance forms had been performed and even interviewed some descendents of the devadasis. She reformed the recital in Mohiniattam with seven different sets of items. She choreographed chari-s, more adavus that she divided into four groups as Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammisram. She reconstructed the Saptham.

She composed cholkettu, jatiswarams, varnams, padams, slokams, sapthams and tillanas in Malayalam in suitable ragas to bring out the lasya and bhakti of Mohiniattam. She introduced the use of Navarasas. She composed many slokas and kritis as well as 80 stanzas on the technique of Mohiniattam. She conducted seminars and workshops, and performed Mohiniattam all over India. Kalyanikutty Amma believed that 'Balaramabharatam' written by Kartikai Tirunal Balarama Varma was a work useful to all dancers, not only those studying Mohiniattam. She wrote two books in Malayalam about Mohiniattam and 4 full-length ballets. She acted in a dozen plays and four Malayalam movies 'Rarichen Enna Powran', 'Asuravithu', 'Gandharva Kshetram' and 'Randu Mukhangal'. Kalyanikutty Amma received several titles and awards for her outstanding work in Mohiniyattam. Among the prominent ones are the "Kavayithri' title given by Vallathol (1940), Sangeet Natak Akademi fellowship (1974), Kerala Sangeet Natak Academy fellowship (1974), 'KeerthiShanku' title given by Kerala Kalamandalam (1980), 'Nrittapraveena' title by Kerala Fine Arts Society (1984), Kerala Sahitya Academy award (1985). The matter of revival and reform of an art form on the verge of extinction is not without controversies.

KalyanikuttyAmma trained several students of Mohiniyattam in the style she learnt from Krishna Panicker Asan. Nirmala Panicker

Nirmala Panicker Guru Nirmala Paniker has been a danseuse, choreographer and researcher of repute for many years.Though trained in Bharatanatyam at R L V Academy from where she completed the post-diploma course with a first-class, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma was her mentor and guru in Mohiniyattam. Strict disciplining under the matriarch turned her into a consummate performer. She also had an opportunity to get trained under Kalamandalam Sathyabhama, the chief architect of the Kalamandalam style.The long stint as a teacher at the Lawrence School, Lovedale turned beneficial for analysing the dance form in depth. Exposure to templeand indigenous art forms seems to have enjoyed enough clout on her even as a child. Piravam, her native place, was

rich in a variety of them including Mudiyettu, Kalamezhuthu, Thiruvathirakkali etc. Perhapsthe motivation for tracing the roots of Mohiniyattam to these art forms stemmed from this backdrop. Innumerable workshops on a variety of the folk arts organised by the institution gave NirmalaPanicker enough insightinto their traditions. Another blessing was the initiation to Nangiarkoothu for which guidance of Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar was instrumental. To this day, Nirmala Panickerstands unbeaten in her findingson the relation between Mohiniyattam and this female dance theatre of Kerala. She believes that Mohiniyattam can be enriched only by drawing immensely from the female dance traditions of Kerala. Also ‘Balaramabharatham’ and ‘Hasthalakshanadeepika’ have more relevance to Mohiniyattam than Natyashastra. In this connection, she underscored the inevitability of delving deep into the local traditions as againstthe practice of going to places outsideKerala for researchin Mohiniyattam. And it was with this end in view that she established ‘Natanakaisiki’, the dance research and training wing of ‘Natanakairali’, in 2000. Intensive training is imparted here only to those interested to pursue Mohiniyattam seriously. That ‘Natanakaisiki’ could revive many lost desi feats like Esal, Polikkali, Chandanam and Mukkuthi has been described as a watershed in the development of Mohiniyattam in recent times. She has to her credit scores of research papers presented in national and international fora like the World Theatre Project. Among the Mohiniyattam gurus,Nirmala Panicker standsout for the books she has authored related to dance – eight, including the monographs on ‘Nangiarkoothu’ and ‘Mohiniyattam, the Lyrical Dance’.

"The soul of Mohiniyattam is protected through its students and disciples. Although it has come a long way from exclusively being performed in temples and palaces, there is still a large majority of people who are oblivious to the captivating grace of the art. “


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