The dance of the enchantress, Mohiniyattam is a female classical dance form of Kerala. Older than Kathakali, Mohiniyattam is the female semi-classical dance form mainly performed in the temple precincts of Kerala. It is also the heir to devadasi dance heritage like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi.The first reference to Mohiniyattam is found in 'Vyavaharamala' composed by Mazhamangalam Narayanan Namboodiri, The word Mohini means a maiden who enacts desire or steals the heart of the onlookers, or in other words love and devotion to god.
There is a well known story of Lord Vishnu taking on the guise of a mohini to enthrall people, both in connection with the churning of the milk ocean and with the episode of slaying of Bhasmasura. it is an amorous (Lasya) dance performed in slow, elegant and sensuous pace with formulated hand gestures translating the song to which it is performed.
Assigned to the 16th century AD.Poet Vallathol revived this art form, which once witnessed a great downfall. He gave it a status in modern times through Kerala Kalamandalam, which he founded in 1930. Kalamandalam Kalyaniamma, the first dance teacher of Kalamandalam was instrumental in resuscitating this ancient art form. Along with her, Krishna Pannicker, Madhavi Amma and Chinnammu Amma, the last links of a disappearing tradition, nurtured aspirants in the discipline at Kalamandalam.
Mohiniyattam is based on the themes of love and devotion and more often the hero is Vishnu or Krishna. The audience can feel his invisible presence when the heroine or her maid details dreams and ambitions through the circular movements, delicate footsteps and subtle expressions. The movements are graceful like Odissi and the costumes sober and attractive. It is an art form of Travancore of nineteenth century enlivened during the regime of King Swati Thirunal. The king, a scholar and poet in Sanskrit and an exponent of Carnatic and Hindustani music, patronized and popularised this art form with whole-hearted co-operation and lyrical support from Irayimman Thampi, a noted poet, often referred to as gem of his court.
The repertoire of Mohiniyattam follows closely that of Bharatanatyam. Beginning with Chollikettu, the dancer performs Jathiswaram, Varnam, Padam and Thillana in a concert. Mohiniyattam like many other forms follows the Hasthalakshana Deepika as a text book of hand gestures. The style of vocal music for Mohiniyattam is classical Karnatic. There are circular movements, delicate footsteps and subtle expressions that include suggestive 'bhavas'. It maintains a realistic makeup and simple dressing. The dancer is attired in the beautiful white and gold-bordered Kasavu saree of Kerala.