Kerala Kalamandalam opens Mohiniyattam doors for boys

GS Paper I

News Excerpts: 

The Kerala Kalamandalam, a deemed university for arts and culture, has lifted gender restrictions to learn Mohiniyattam.

More About the News: 

  • The timing of this decision, coming in the aftermath of derogatory remarks made by dancer Kalamandalam Sathyabhama against R.L.V. Ramakrishnan. 
  • By opening up the Mohiniyattam course to boys, Kalamandalam is sending a strong message that talent and passion for the art form should be the only criteria for learning and practicing classical dance.


  • The background was that a Mohiniyattam artiste R.L.V. Ramakrishnan accused Mohiniyattam exponent Kalamandalam Sathyabhama of perpetuating casteism and colorism in classical arts by suggesting that fair complexion and agreeable looks are prerequisites for performance. 
  • Ramakrishnan condemned Sathyabhama's remarks as racist and insulting, while Sathyabhama defended her stance by referring to principles from the Natyashastra. 
  • This controversy surrounding casteism and colorism in the world of classical arts in Kerala has sparked a significant debate both within the artistic community and in broader society.


  • Mohiniyattam, the classical solo dance form of Kerala, has deep roots in Hindu mythology and temple traditions. 
  • Its name, "Mohiniyattam," derives from Mohini, the celestial enchantress of Hindu mythology, Legend has it that Lord Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini to deceive the Asuras during significant mythological events like the churning of the ocean and the slaying of Bhasmasura. 
  • The dance form is characterized by delicate body movements and subtle facial expressions, which are inherently feminine and thus ideally suited for performance by women.

  • Historical References: 
    • References to Mohiniyattam can be found in ancient texts like Vyavaharamala (1709) by Mazhamagalam Narayanan Namputiri and Ghoshayatra by poet Kunjan Nambiar. 
    • The dance form was structured into its present classical format by the Travancore Kings, particularly Maharaja Kartika Tirunal and Maharaja Swati Tirunal in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Temple Origins: 
    • Mohiniyattam's roots trace back to the temples of Kerala, where female temple dancers, known by various names like Nangai, Dasi, and Koothachi, performed expressive gestures to accompany temple rituals.
  • Evolution and Decline of Dasiyattam: 
    • Over time, Mohiniyattam evolved through socio-economic changes, including the influence of Dasiyattam brought by rulers from Tamil Nadu. 
    • However, the decline of Dasiyattam led to its revival through the efforts of the Tanjore Quartets and later, Maharaja Swati Tirunal.
  • Revival and Formalization: 
    • Mahakavi Vallathol, along with other enthusiasts, played a crucial role in reviving and formalizing Mohiniyattam as a distinct classical solo style. 
    • Vallathol established Kerala Kalamandalam in 1930, which became a pioneer institute for training in Kerala's art forms.
  • Repertoire and Compositions: 
    • Mohiniyattam's traditional repertoire includes Cholkettu, Jatiswaram, Padavarnam, Padam, Tillana, and Slokam, with compositions often composed by Maharaja Swati Tirunal. 
    • Additionally, Pandattam and Omanatinkal introduced by Vallathol are also popular. 
    • Mohiniyattam continues to evolve while preserving its traditional essence, with dancers incorporating elements from Nangiar Koothu and folk dances like Kaikottikali and Tiruvatirakali.

The salient features of Mohiniyattam dance include:

  • Graceful and swaying body movements: Mohiniyattam is known for its fluid and graceful movements, devoid of abrupt jerks or sudden leaps. It belongs to the lasya style, characterized by femininity, tenderness, and grace.
  • Emphasis on gliding movements: The dance incorporates glides and gentle up-and-down movements on toes, resembling the waves of the sea and the swaying of coconut, palm trees, and paddy fields.
  • Soft footwork: Unlike some other classical dance forms, Mohiniyattam's footwork is rendered softly, enhancing the overall gracefulness of the performance.
  • Importance of hand gestures and facial expressions: Mohiniyattam places significant emphasis on Hastha Mudras (hand gestures) and Mukhabhinaya (facial expressions), which convey emotions and narratives with subtlety and precision.
  • Influences from Nangiar Koothu and folk dances: Mohiniyattam has borrowed movements from Nangiar Koothu, a temple art form, as well as from folk dances like Kaikottikali and Tiruvatirakali, enriching its repertoire with diverse elements.
  • Emphasis on acting: Dancers in Mohiniyattam often immerse themselves in the characters and sentiments portrayed in compositions such as Padams and Pada Varnams, utilizing facial expressions to convey emotions effectively.
  • Hand gestures: Mohiniyattam utilizes 24 hand gestures, primarily derived from Hastalakshana Deepika, a text followed by Kathakali, along with some gestures from Natya Shastra, Abhinaya Darpana, and Balarambharatam.
  • Naturalistic expressions: The gestures and facial expressions in Mohiniyattam lean towards the natural (gramya) and realistic (lokadharmi) rather than the dramatic or rigidly conventional (natyadharmi), enhancing the relatability of the performance.
  • Additional compositions: Pandattam (a playful piece) and Omanatinkal (lullaby), introduced by Mahakavi Vallatol, are also popular additions to Mohiniyattam recitals.

Steps & Costume: 

  • Basic Steps: The basic dance steps in Mohiniyattam are known as Adavus, which are categorized into four types: Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam, and Sammisram, derived from the nomenclature called Vaittari.
  • Cholkettu: An invocatory piece that typically begins the performance, setting the mood and rhythm for the recital.
  • Jathiswaram: A pure dance piece characterized by rhythmic patterns without lyrics, showcasing the dancer's mastery of intricate footwork and movements.
  • Varnam: The centerpiece of Mohiniyattam repertoire, Varnam combines elements of pure dance and expressive storytelling, testing the dancer's technical skills and emotive abilities.
  • Padam: A narrative piece where the dancer portrays various characters and emotions, demonstrating her histrionic talent and ability to convey stories through movement and expression.
  • Thillana: A fast-paced and energetic concluding piece, typically featuring complex footwork and vibrant movements, allowing the dancer to showcase her technical prowess and agility.
  • Make-up and Costume: Mohiniyattam maintains a realistic make-up and simple dressing. Dancers typically wear a beautiful white and gold-bordered Kasavu saree, a traditional attire of Kerala, which adds to the elegance of the performance.
  • Music: Mohiniyattam performances are accompanied by classical Carnatic vocal music, with lyrics often in Manipravalam, a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam. In the past, Thoppi Maddalam and Veena provided the background music, but in recent years, Mridangam and Violin have become more common accompaniments, enhancing the melodic and rhythmic aspects of the dance.


Mohiniyattam stands as a testament to India's rich cultural heritage, combining mythological narratives, historical influences, and artistic innovation to create a captivating classical dance form.