Indian dance styles based on legends, mythologies
and devotional themes are divergent in their technique. At the same
time there is a central motif running through them: the theme of
devotion expressed through the heroine that is the dancer to the hero
who is none other than God himself. The human soul is conceived as a
female yearning for union with the male.
Mohiniattam is one of the
major classical dance styles of India. This art form from Kerala is
perhaps one of the most graceful dances and totally identifies with
the green environment, gentle singing of the palm trees and the calm
ocean waters of this state. Kerala has always preserved all
traditional arts and the people of the state consider it an integral
part of everyday life.
The word Mohini
means a maiden who charms the onlooker and attam means dance.
Usually the legends in India links the name of Mohini to that of God
Vishnu who had assumed the beautiful form of Mohini to entice Demon
Bhasmasura and finally destroyed him. It is said that the demon had
a boon which granted him immortality. He could die only if a hand
was placed on his head. Mohini danced and made Bhasmasura also dance
with her and suddenly for a moment placed her hand on her head.
Bhasmasura too followed without thinking and then came his end.
There is a common belief that perhaps the dance form got its names
from this episode.
By the 16th
century, Mohiniattam seemed to have established itself as a separate
classical dance form of Karla but its popularity was confined to only
some regions of the state. It is only in recent times in the 20th
century that Mohiniattam has spread all over India and abroad.
Mohiniattam is essentially a solo form of dance.
The royal family of
Travancore gave the greatest encouragement to the dances performed by
Dasis. Dasis are women who used to perform in front of
the deities in the temples. There were dance schools or nataka
salas preserved by the royalty where student used to be trained.
The first reference to Mohiniattam in literature is to be
found in Vyanatraramala composed by M.N. Nambuderi assigned to
1709 AD. It tells about the Guru (teacher) of the Devdasi and
the amount to be shared in balance by the whole troupe.
It was only in the 19th
century AD that Maharaja Swati Thirunal the then King of Kerala
encouraged and patronized Mohiniattam and thus stabilized the art
form. He was a true rasika (connoisseur), who understood
music and dance. He was a scholar, a poet and a great musician.
To make Mohiniattam a
distinctive and attractive art form he composed a number of pieces
called varnams and padams and made the music of this
art form lyrically rich and attractive. He brought about reforms and
improvements in the style and included Mohiniattam recitals in
festive celebrations. He also had a dance troupe under his patronage.
In his attempts to revive Mohiniattam, he took help of the famous
Thanjavur quartet who were famous composers in the Bharatanatyam
style of classical dance. Maharaja Swati Thirunal could undoubtedly
be said to be the pioneer of Mohiniattam style.
Various teachers and
Gurus kept the Mohiniattam dance tradition alive by their efforts In
1930, Mahakavi Valathol founded Kerala Kala Mandalam and along with
Kathakali he included Mohiniattam so as to revive the dance form.
The first dancer was Kalyaniamma. She also taught in Shantiniketan
under Rabindranath Tagores invitation. The other notable
teachers in Kerala Kala Mandalam were KrishnaPaniker and Madhavi
Amma. In 1950 Thottasseri Chinnammu Amma Joined. It was from these
Gurus that a new generation of dancers were born. These teachers
maintained the classical patterns of teaching following text like
Natyasastra and Abhinayyadarpana.
As of now, Mohiniattam is
a widely known and popular dance form. The contemporary well known
artists, teachers and institutions are Kalamandalam Satyabhama, Ms.
Kanaka Rele, Ms. Bharati Shivaji, Guru Thankamani Kuttis
institution in Calcutta, Nalanda institution formed by Kanaka Rele
and Nrityagram Bangalore established by Pratima Gouri provides
training in Mohiniattam. The technique of Mohiniattam accentuates
lasya and Sringara or romance is the prominent rasa.
Rasa means the dominant emotion.
As mentioned earlier
Maharaja Swati Thirunal devised a complete repertoire for
Mohiniattam, and later Gurus and dancers added more items to that.
The basic repertoire begins with the Calkkettu which
means stylized rhythm, beginning and ending with passages of
invocation. It is followed by a Jathiswaram which is a pure
dance sequence. The Varnam is the piece de resistance
which has the emotive as well as the pure dance sequences. A purely
emotive piece is followed by another rhythmic composition. The Tala
or system of rhythm in Kerala is unique. Special mention can be made
of Pancha Kumbha Tala which are a
combination of Five patterns the five representing the five
flowery arrows or Manmatha the God of love.
The main percussion
instrument used in Mohiniatttam is Eddaka. The body of this
drum is made of Jack wood and is about a quarter metre long. The
skin of calf leather is stretched across a circular ring and placed
against the mouth of the drum, one on each side.
The beauty of Indian
classical dance is also its appropriate and relevant costume and
jewellery. The traditional costume of Mohiniattam is white with
gold. The dancer usually wears gold ornaments which symbolizes,
purity, truth and immortality all these are attributed to the
dance of the celestial maidens. The dancer wears a pair of large
round ear studs known as Toda. The necklace is the traditional
Nagapadam in the shape of a snakes hood, and the
powanmala a chain made of gold coins. The forehead is
covered with an ornament called the Nethichutti and the nose
is adorned by Mukkuthi or nose ring. The bangles are known as
Kappu. The coiffure is unique as it is a gathered bun on the
left side of the head. The tilaka or the red mark on the
forehead represents conjugal fidelity of the Hindu women.
The distinctive style of
Mohiniattam is the complete absence of heavy stamping and rhythmical
tension. Footwork is gentle and 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, the Natya
Sastra, Mohiniattam resembles the Kaisiki type meaning graceful.
So, the style becomes most suitable for showing Sringara Rasa or
the emotion of love.