|Classical Dance Forms of India|
Now performed exclusively by women, Mohiniattam, or the dance of the enchantress Mohini, is a style of dance from Kerala, which is said to predate Kathakali. Traditionally performed in the temple courtyard by the devadasis, the dance form was given its name by Vaishnavites, for whom a favourite story was that of Vishnu disguising himself as Mohini, in order to gull the asuras of their fair share of the amrit churned up from the oceans.
promoted extensively by the local Raja, Swati Tirunal, Mohiniattam, too,
gradually degraded to become nautch. However, it underwent the revival,
which gave it respectability, with the inspiration and support of the
Malayalam poet, Vallathol, who founded the Kerala Kalamandalam in 1930.
The first dance teacher at the institution, Kalamandalam Kalyaniamma, did
much to resuscitate the ancient style.
The modern Mohiniattam dancer is generally dressed in the unbleached white sari typical of Kerala, with gold jewellery and hair knotted high on the side of the head. She 'sits' with her feet apart and knees bent as she dances, swaying with the grace of a walking elephant, as the classical description says. She dances her love - earthly, but with a divine connotation - for the Lord, Vishnu or in his avatar of Krishna, with slow, graceful, rounded movements that lack the force of Bharata Natyam and the rigidity of Kathak, but are akin to Odissi in their sensuous, flowing dynamics.
The basic format of the traditional Mohiniattam repertoire is similar to that of Bharata Natyam, progressing through Cholkettu, Jathiswaram, Varnam, Padam and Thillana.