Updated: Oct 26
Mohiniyattam is the classical dance of Kerala that is usually performed by women. The name is inspired by Mohini, the female avatar of Lord Vishnu. It also means beautiful dancing women. It is Lasya inspired and consists of gentle, graceful, soft, and calm movements. This is traditionally a solo dance performance that is only done after extensive training. The dancer performs circular movements accompanied by subtle expressions and delicate footsteps. There are elements of Bharatnatyam as seen in the grace and elegance of the dance as well as Kathakali as seen in the vigor of the dance in this dance form. Today, I will be talking about the delicate and graceful Body Movements of Mohiniyattam.
Movements in Mohiniyattam are very significant to show more beauty and flow during the performance. 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 leisurely movements, the swaying yet graceful symphony of the hips and eye movements that enchant all who witness them are all synonymous with this legendary art form. The striking features are the musical melody and rhythmical swaying of the dancer from side to side and the smooth and unbroken flow of the body movement. It is like the flow of the ocean.
The delicate and graceful body movement is like the heart of a Mohiniyattam performance. The classical dance is a beautiful feminine style with the singing flow of the body movements.
The term Mohiniyattam comes from the words Mohini meaning a woman who enchants onlookers and aattam meaning graceful and sensuous body movements. Thus, the word Mohiniyattam literally means - dance of the enchantress.
The very basic movement that sustains Mohiniyattam dancing is Andolika or the oscillating movement. These kinetic patterns are beautifully aided by the Gamakas of Sopana Sangeetham which strengthen and beautify the oscillating body.
Nritta: Meaning the movement of the body intended to convey shapes and lines in the body without including mood or meaning
Adavus: The foremost physical lessons any potential Mohiniyattam dancer must master are the Adavus. Adavus are defined as “the basic rhythmic units of dance within a specific tempo and time structure that involves composite movements pertaining to Nritta.” Mohiniyattam is comprised of nearly 60 Adavus, divided into five sections according to the Chollu, or rhythmic structure.
The leisurely movements, the swaying yet graceful symphony of the hips and eye movements that enchant all who witness them are all synonymous with this legendary art form.
The body work is often compared to the swaying of palm leaves or the gently rolling ocean waves. The footwork is soft and coordinated with the musical beat. The dance units in Mohinyattam known as atavukal are grouped into Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam, and Sammisram. The sequence followed by the dancer consists of invocation to the goddess Bhagavati and a prayer to Shiva also called Cholkettu, then Jatisvaram, Varnam, Padam or song, Tillana or the interpretation of melody by the dancer, Shlokam, and Saptam.
It has 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.