Monday, November 23, 2020

Mohiniyattam - The classical dance from Keralam

 Mohiniyattam is a classical dance form of Kerala in South India. The origin and popularity of this dance form is closely tagged to the great Tamil dance master Vadivelu, one of the Thanjavur quartets. One among the eight Indian classical dance forms, Mohiniyattam is a graceful traditional dance to watch and is a solo recital by women dancer. The term Mohiniyattam comes from the words mohini meaning a woman who enchants onlookers and aattam meaning graceful body movements. Thus, the word literally means - dance of the enchantress.

This dance form has a legend attached to it as per the Hindu mythology. It says that, after the ocean of milk was churned jointly by the gods and the demons to extract the elixir of life, the demons took the divine brew by force. Following the incident, Lord Vishnu came to the rescue of the gods. He allured the demons by taking the form of a woman with outstanding beauty called Mohini and stole the elixir of life from them and handed it to the gods. The enticing acts of Mohini are reflected in Mohiniyattam. At a time when the Devadasi tradition was prevalent in major parts of south India, Mohiniyattam used to be performed by Devadasis (temple dancers) in temples, during the rule of the Chera kings from 9 to 12 C.E.

Another famous story of vishu avatar Mohini is with a demon named Bhasmasura. Bhasmasura was a devotee of Lord Shiva. He performed immense penance to obtain a boon from Shiva. As a result of his penance, lord Shiva became pleased and told him to ask for a boon. He asked for immortality, but Shiva said that he did not have the power to grant him immortality. Bhasmasura then changed the mode of the boon he wanted. One whose head is touched by Bhasmasura with his forefinger, should immediately burn up and turn into ashes or bhasma. This was his demand. Siva granted him the same boon.

Bhasmasura was immensely happy and with overwhelming joy, he decided to test the boon on Mahadev himself. Before long, he attempted to touch the head of Shiva with his forefinger. He wanted to burn Siva and turn into ashes and then possess Goddess Parvati. Siva fled, but he was chased by Bhasmasura. Wherever Mahadeva went, there Bhasmasura also followed. At last, Siva managed to reach the abode of Vishnu and sought a solution to the predicament, for which he himself was responsible.

On hearing Shiva's problem, Mahavishnu agreed to help him. Vishnu took the form of Mohini and appeared in front of the demon. Mohini was so exceedingly beautiful that Bhasmasur was immediately attracted by her. Bhasmasura requested Mohini to marry him. Mohini replied that she was very much fond of dancing, and would marry him, only if he could match her moves in dance. He agreed and hence they started dancing. The event went on for days, as Bhasmasura matched her move for move. While dancing, she struck a pose where her hand, especially the forefinger was placed on top of her own head. As he imitated her, he touched his own head with his forefinger and was immediately burnt up and turned into ashes, in accordance with the boon he had gained.

Coming back to Mohiniyattam,this dance form also has elements of other performing art forms of Kerala viz. Koothu and Kutiyattam in it. Besides, Mohiniyattam also came under the sway of two other south Indian dance forms -Bharatanatyam and Kathakali. Mohiniyattam in its early days went through ups and downs, which eventually got steadied during the period of King Swathi Thirunal of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom.

Apart from King Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, this dance form received timely interventions which helped in getting its share of attention and popularity from the great Malayalam poet Vallathol Narayana Menon, also the founder of Kerala Kalamandalam and the noted Mohiniyattam teacher, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma.

The dance form Mohiniyattam has love and devotion to God as its major themes, with usually Lord Vishnu or his incarnation Lord Krishna as the lead character. Mohiniyattam comprises about 40 different basic movements called adavukal and its performance style is marked by the swaying of hips and the gentle movements with straight body posture from side-to-side. This dance like many other classical dance forms of India follows the sign language (mudra) as described in the ancient treatise on Hastha Lakshanadeepika to convey the story. These mudras are expressed through fingers and palms of the hands.

The musical accompaniment of Mohiniyattam dance consists what is known as chollu. The lyrics are in Manipravalam, which is a combination of Sanskrit and Malayalam.

Simple, yet classy costume is one of the aspects that give Mohiniyattam a unique identity among classical dance forms of India. The attire for this dance form consists of white sari, bordered with broad golden brocade (called kasavu in Malayalam).

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