Mohiniyattam is a traditional South Indian dance form from Kerala, India. It is a very graceful dance meant to be performed as a solo recital by women. The term Mohiniyattam comes from the words “Mohini” meaning a woman who enchants onlookers and “aattam” meaning graceful and sensuous body movements. The word “Mohiniyattam” literally means “dance of the enchantress”. There are two stories of the Lord Vishnu disguised as a Mohini. In one, he appears as
Mohini to lure the asuras (demons) away from the amrita (nectar of immortality) obtained during the churning of the palazhi or Ocean of Milk.
In the second story Vishnu appears as Mohini to save Lord Shiva from the demon Bhasmasura. The name Mohiniyattam may have been coined after Lord Vishnu, and the main theme of the dance is love and devotion to God, with usually Vishnu or Krishna being the hero. Devadasis used to perform this in temples. But it also has elements of Koothu and Kottiyattom in it. it is a drama in dance and verse. The dance which has influences and elements from two South Indian dance forms, the Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, was formulated in the court of king Swati Tirunal by Vadivelu, one of the Thanjavur Quartet. The dance involves the swaying of broad hips and the gentle movements of erect torso from side to side. This is reminiscent of the swinging of the palm leaves and the gently flowing rivers which abound Kerala, the land of Mohiniyattam. There are approximately 40 different basic movements, known as ‘atavukal’, in Mohiniyattam.
The costume includes white sari embroidered with bright golden brocade (known as kasavu at the edges. The dance follows the classical text of Hastha Lakshanadeepika, which has elaborate description of Mudras (gestural expressions by the hand palm and fingers).
The vocal music of Mohiniyattam involves variations in rhythmic structure known as chollu. The lyrics are in Manipravalam, a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam. The Mohiniyattam dance is performed to this accompaniment by the subtle gestures and footwork of the danseuse. The performer uses the eyes in a very coy yet sensual manner, the purpose being to enchant the mind without enticing the senses.