Essay on Mohiniyattam Dance

Mohini Attam of Kerala a lyrical and enchanting dance form, became the sole vehicle for feminine interpretation developed on the lines of the other classical dance styles of India. It is a solo dance of sheer visual beauty, far removed from the ever-vigilant supervision of the temple and the grip of rituals. Devotional fervour is permissible but not mandatory. Religio-philosophical tenets are not allowed to interfere with the central idea of dance-its soul- enchantment. The very name expresses its aesthetics (Maha Vishnu appeared as Mohini the enchantress, and danced the dance of enchantment to cast a spell of his maya on the danavas). the natural beauty of the Kerala landscape provides ample inspiration for its lyrical and lilting movements. Its rounded body kinetics, the distinctive heave of the torso and the soft walk create the sensation of the verdant paddy fields, the undulating palm fronds and the rippling backwaters of Kerala.

Some scholars trace Mohini Attam to the second or the third century A.D. (to the era of the great Tamil epic, Shilappadikaram), whereas others maintain that it was created in the middle of the eighteenth century in the court of Maharaja Svati Tirunal of Travancore at his behest. Neither premise is correct.

All the dance forms of India are the end products of a long process of evolution, change and improvement in keeping with the constantly changing social structure. Since dance and music were two very highly developed arts in the Shilappadikaram era, we may surmise that Mohini Attam has its roots in the dance form which was practiced in Kerala during that period. Literary evidence shows that it was very much in vogue in the beginning of the seventeenth century A.D. and thus must have had its origins before that. It is between 400 to 500 years old.

Mohini Attam is the dance that reflects the enchantment that is life, its enjoyment and relish that creates the state of Beautitude. By its virtue it casts a spell of maayaa, a mesh net of illusion, on the beholder bathing him in the raaga of enchantment leading him towards knowledge along the path of enchantment, and beauty.

In the past two decades Mohini Attam has been cast into a new repertoire rooted in the rich Kerala theatrical tradition. Also an extensive use of Sopana Sangitam is being made for the musical arrangement. Sopana Sangitam is a style of singing which is indigenous to Kerala; it has some exclusive raagas not to be found in other systems, but by and large the Carnatic raagas are adapted to the Sopana mode of singing.


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