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MOHINIYATTAM

The dance of the enchantress 

This classical dance form finds its roots in the Indian southern state of Kerala where the generous nature, abundantly showered by the rains of the monsoon, gives this art form its distinctive treats. Unhurried and circular movements of the upper body like palm trees swaying under a breeze emphasize the Lasya or graceful aspect of this art form. 

Result of the confluence of diverse Keralite art forms, Mohiniyattam has developed with time its own identity especially during the XIXth century under the impulse of the composer and Maharaja of Travancore Swathi Thirunal. Due to a wave of social reforms with respect to dancers practices and aiming to ban all forms of dance performances, this flourishing development of the art form ceased. Only a handful of dancers who remembered very little of what they have learned and performed in their youth were available to revive the art form at the beginning of the XXth century. It is thanks to the initiative of the Malayali poet Vallathol Narayana Menon who founded the Kerala Kalamandalam (deemed to be university of art) in 1930, and included Mohiniyattam in its syllabus, and the collaboration between the last dancers of Mohiniyattam and few key figures such as Kalyanikutty Amma and kalamandalam Satyabhama, that the dance form could survive and grow into what we know today. Mohiniyattam is now widely performed in India and abroad and continues to evolve into various styles of interpretation. 

 

Because of its association with the mythological figure of the enchantress Mohini, incarnation of the hindu god Vishnu, who seduces the demons (asuras) to distract them from their evil deed, Mohiniyattam was until very recently performed quasi exclusively by women. Although men have never been formally banned from learning and performing Mohiniyattam, its « genderization » mirrors that of the dance-theatre Kathakali, stronghold of male performers in Kerala. Those two styles are today open to performers of both sexes, however men are still taking timid steps towards performing Mohiniayattam publicly.

 

 

 

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