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Basic Lessons of Mohiniyattam - Nritta or Pure dance

Mohiniyattam is a beautiful dance form of the women of Kerala and it is one of the classical dances of India too.Among the various vrithi-s (styles) detailed by Bharata Muni in his Natya Shastra, Mohiniyattam most resembles the kaisiki(graceful)type.Consisting, as it does ,of gentle Angahara-s and belonging to the Lasya style which is feminine, tender and graceful: The kaisiki style is most appropriate for the erotic sentiment and its related exepressions.

It has often been said that the movements of the limbs and body of the danseuse of Mohiniyattam should be gentle and graceful like the waves in a calm sea or the swaying of the paddy plants in the field, in a breeze.

To know some basic principles that govern the Mohiniyattam dance style will be of great help for all artistes and art lovers to enjoy this art form.

Like many other Indian dance forms the aspects of Mohiniyattam can be divided mainly into two - Nritha (pure dance ) and Nrithya (expository dance). When a child starts learning Mohiniyattam she /he starts first with the Nritha (pure dance).

Nritha
Mandalam-s (stances), Pada bheda-s (foot variations), Padachari-s(gaits) and Nritha hasta-s(gestures) are the main parts of the pure dance patterns. Beautiful combinations of all these above mentioned are called Atavu-s. There are about 55 to 60 Atavu-s in the training pattern followed at Natanakaisiki belonging to the two major styles of Kerala, the Kalamandalam style and Guru Kalyanikuttyamma’s style.

Mandalams
Basic posture of the feet is considered as one of the most important aspects of many of the dance forms.In Mohiniyattam the basic posture is known as Aramandalam. In Thiruvathirakali (a groupe dance form of Kerala women which is very closely related to Mohiniyattam)this is known as vattakkalil thanu nilkuka (means bend your leg and stand.). Most of the Atavus –the basic dance units –begin from this basic position.

Eventhough Aramandalam is the most important one , based upon the level of the knees there are five such stances in Mohiniyattam.These are the Sama mandalam,Aramandalam ,Muzhumandalam,Mukkalmandalam and Kaalmandalam.

  1. Standing erect without bending the knees is called Samamandalam.
  2. The knees should be bent and spread apart to form the shape of a pot.This is known as Aramandalam.(Vattakkal). The feet for Aramandalam should be set flat on the floor about two and a half inches apart , the right foot turned to the right corner and the left foot , to the left. The distance between the toes being about twelve inches.
  3. The third one is called Muzhumandalam.In this the knees should bent and spread apart,the toes alone would touch the ground and the danseuse should sit on her heels,producing a squatting stance.
  4. When the knees are positioned between Muzhumandalam and Aramandalam it it is called Mukkalmandalam. (the word ‘mukkal’ means three forth ).
  5. When the knees are positioned in between Aramandalam and Samamandalam it is called as Kaalmandalam.(the word ‘Kal’ in Malayalam means one fourth).

Chari-s (gaits)
In Mohiniyattam there are five different usages of Pada chari-s. They are Hamsa (swan)Padam, Kukkuda(hen)Padam, Mayoora (peacock)Padam, Mandooka (frog)Padam, and Naga (snake)bandham.

Atavus (basic dance units)
Atavus are the basic units ,which are sub-divisions of the pure dance in Mohiniyattam.These are created combining hand gestures, body movements, mandalam-s, footwork, and Chari-s.

When Mohiniyattam is taught, to ensure that the pupile develops graceful body control, it is these Atavu-s, that are practisied in the first few years of training.

Atavus have been grouped into Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammisram.The grouping has been done acccording to the Vaythari-s(syllables) used.

Unlike in Bharathanatyam, in Mohiniyattam when these Atavus are choreographed with beautiful patterns and rhythm to create beauty or to support the bhava(mood) the Vaythari-s (syllables )are always used in a raga.

Nritha choreographies
In Mohiniyattam, items like Cholkettu, Jathiswarom and Thillana give greater prominence for Nritha. Cholkettu consists of stylised rhythmic syllables in tune with raga and the danseuse with pure dance patterns dances appropriate to it. Jathiswaram is an assemblage of jathi-s (syllables)and swara-s (musical notes )within the frame work of a raga and tala. .Beautiful sculpturesque postures and atavus are combined with intricate rhythm and designed to high -ight the grace of this dance style.Tillana-s have a lot of rhythmic Vaythari-s and these have been beautifully choreographed with Nritha in Mohiniyattam.

However in other items such as Varnam, Padam, Saptam etc., Nritha is used inbetween differents parts of abhinaya(enactment), as a part of the abhinaya or sometimes even to support the mood of the abhinaya. These are some details about the Nritha in Mohiniyattam. Part two concentrates on the Nrithya or expository element in Mohiniyattam dance.

Nirmala Paniker
Director, Natanakaisiki Mohiniyattam Gurukulam
Natanakairali, Irinjalakuda – 680121
Trichur, Kerala
Ph: 04802825559
Email: nirmala_paniker@yahoo.co.in