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Mohiniattam comes from the picturesque state of Kerala. The very mention of the state’s name brings in one’s mind the incomparable beauty of its landscape – the scenic backwaters where the palm fronds fill up the Kerala skyline moving gently and gracefully in the breeze, the boats bobbing up and down gently, gracefully and in perfect tune with nature and its rhythm.

Mohiniattam immediately reminds you of this scenic beauty. No wonder it is called the dance of the enchantress and is deeply rooted in feminity, grace and sringara forming the quintessence of this dance form. Though the movements are swaying and gentle, the presentation comes out with tremendous and strong impact leaving the spectator in an atmosphere of grace, charm and forceful vivacity. However this strong energy is released in a controlled and graceful manner by the dancer, which can be achieved only with constant discipline, hard work and devotion to the art form.

Another striking feature that influences Mohiniattam is the simplicity of dressing by the people of Kerala, which is visible in costume of a Mohiniattam dancer. White is a favorite color of the people because of the hot and humid climate and a Mohiniattam costume is always white or off-white with gold or red border. The hair is tied in a bundle on the left side with white flowers around it, and a simple ornament tied on the bun. The overall jewellery used also is minimal such as a tight choker and a coin chain (Kashi Mala) for the neck or dangling earrings known as (Jimmmikis) for the ears and a pair of bangles in the hands. The face is done up with little exaggerated eye makeup to help the dancer express her emotions. The eyes reflect the mental state of the situation or character the dancer is portraying. This dance would be incomplete or meaningless without the use of the eyes, the eyebrows and the eyelids. It is an enjoyable dance form for females only.

It is believed and the Indian mythology mentions a few times when Lord Vishnu (one among the trinity of gods – Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh) assumes the form of Mohini to save the gods from their clash with the asuras or demons. In one instance, when the Gods and demons were churning the mighty ocean for the pot of nectar with the serpent Vasuki twined around the mountain Mandaragiri. The ocean brought out all the treasures buried in its depth, while the devas (gods) and asuras (demons) churned on and on. Finally, when the pot of nectar appeared, the demons true to their nature grabbed it. The universe would be in total darkness if the demons had had their way. It is at this moment that the Lord assumes the form of Mohini to save the universe from the hands of the demons and total darkness.

Mention of Mohiniattam is found in some 18th-century texts, but the practical aspect of the style was revived in the reign of Maharaja Swati Tirunal, a 19th-century ruler who was a great patron of the arts. The regional system of music that Mohiniattam follows is the Sopana style, which in its lyricism is evocative of the spiritual element. Under Swati Tirunal, Mohiniattam crystallized as a solo dance tradition with musical compositions set to the Carnatic style of music and a distinct repertoire. He also wrote many sopana sangethams (songs). Later, in the 20th century, the great poet Vallathol established the Kerala Kalamandalam to promote the arts of Mohiniattam and Kathakali. Here, further research was done and Mohiniattam was codified and revived.

Over the past few decades, the repertoire of Mohiniattam has been developed and expanded by dedicated performers who have ensured that this beautiful dance style retains a distinct identity among the classical dance styles of India. Apart from mythology, Mohiniattam contains a range of themes from nature. This dance uses most of the mudras or hand gestures of Bharatanatyam and the lasya style of Kathakali.

At the end of all this, the transformation from the real world to the magical world of Mohini the enchantress is tremendous. The merrily dancing eyes and the fluttering of the eyebrows create a devastatingly mischievous atmosphere. The music and the bewitching personality of a Mohiniattam dancer all takes us to the highest aesthetic order “the atmosphere of enchantment.”

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at

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