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Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Arts & Entertainment

"Mohiniattam": Gait of the enchantress

Lecture and demonstration at Chhayanat

Dance performance by Pallavi Krishnan (left), the danseuse demonstrates Mohiniattam mudras through students. Photo: Mumit M.

Pallavi Krishnan, the leading exponent of Mohiniattam, one of the oldest existing Indian dance forms, conducted a lecture at Chhayanat on April 21. In the presence of an enthusiastic audience at the Rameshchandra Dutta Memorial Auditorium, Chhayanat Sanskriti Bhaban, the artiste went over the history, basic features and other aspects of Mohiniattam with some demonstrations.

Mohiniattam is said to be the most lyrical among the classical dance forms. The mudras are gentle, rhythmic and graceful. The name of the dance form itself is suggestive of its captivating power -- Mohini means enchantress and Attam means dance. It is then the "dance of the enchantress". However, Mohiniattam could not achieve the mass popularity it deserves for a long time. Recently, the dance form has attained attention from artistes and dance enthusiasts after much research has been done on Mohiniattam, emphasising on the aesthetics and ethnic influence.

A Biology graduate (from the Bardhaman University, India) Pallavi Krishnan had extensive training in Bharatnatyam and Kathakali dance. Krishnan is also an alumna of both Vishwa Bharati University and Kerala Kalamandalam. Since she had been introduced to Mohiniattam, the dance form has become her passion. She studied the dance form in Kerala, where it originated. Krishnan also received special training on Mohiniattam from Guru Bharati Shibaji. At present, Krishnan is the most sought after Mohiniattam dancer.

Invited by the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh, Krishnan is currently conducting a workshop on Mohiniattam. Some selected students of Bharatnatyam, Kathakali and Odissi are taking part in the workshop.

While speaking on the history and evolution of the dance form, Krishnan said "Previously known as Ashtapadiattam and then Dasiattam, Mohiniattam is often associated with the devdasi tradition. The tradition of Mohiniattam can be traced back to the 16th-17th century, a period generally considered as the golden era of arts and literature in the history of Kerala. The earliest written reference to Mohiniattam is found in the commentary on the Vyavaharamala, a Sanskrit text written by Mazhamangalam Namboodiri during the 16th century.

"It was practiced by the women of the matriarchal families of Kerala, thus was subjected to the resentment of the male dominated society. The matriarchal structure itself was on the decline, so the dance form did not flourish as others such as Bharatnatyam or Odissi."

Krishnan also shared her experiences of training under different gurus.

Laksmi, Ira and Tathoi, three students of Chhayanat who are taking part in the workshop, demonstrated some basic mudras of Mohiniattam. Starting with the Pranam, the three students demonstrated mudras like Mey Sadakam (exercise), Chubdu Sadakam (footsteps), Taganam and others.

Krishnan then presented a complete performance. She performed an Ashtapadi (temple doors in Kerala are opened with this performance). The dance depicts Radha, along with her sakhi, wandering in the woods and coming across Krishna playing flute. The rendition focuses on the reaction of Radha -- her passion and excitement, seeing Krishna, through graceful movements and facial expressions.

Explaining the fusion and experimental works on Mohiniattam while preserving its originality, Krishnan also rendered a performance with the Rabindra Sangeet Sakhi oi bujhi banshi bajey.

The three-hour session ended with an open discussion. Celebrated Bangladeshi dancers Shibli Mohammad, Shamim Ara Nipa and Kajol Ibrahim appreciated the demonstration by Krishnan.

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