Mohiniyattam, (Malayalam: മോഹിനിയാട്ടം), is one of the eight classical dances of India that developed and remained popular in the state of Kerala.[1][2] The other classical dance form from Kerala is Kathakali.[3][4] Mohiniyattam dance gets its name from the word Mohini – a mythical enchantress avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, who helps the good prevail over evil by developing her feminine powers.[1][5]

Mohiniyattam's roots, like all classical Indian dances, are in the Natya Shastra – the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text on performance arts.[6][7] However, it follows the Lasya style described in Natya Shastra, that is a dance which is delicate, eros-filled and feminine.[2][8] It is traditionally a solo dance performed by women after extensive training. The repertoire of Mohiniyattam includes music in the Carnatic style, singing and acting a play through the dance, where the recitation may be either by a separate vocalist or the dancer herself. The song is typically in Malayalam-Sanskrit hybrid called Manipravalam.[2]

The earliest mention of the word is found in the 16th-century legal text Vyavaharamala, but the likely roots of the dance are older.[9] The dance was systematized in the 18th century, was ridiculed as a Devadasi prostitution system during the colonial British Raj, banned by a series of laws from 1931 through 1938, a ban that was protested and partially repealed in 1940.[10] The socio-political conflict ultimately led to renewed interest, revival and reconstruction of Mohiniyattam by the people of Kerala, particularly the poet Vallathol Narayana Menon.[2]

Mohiniyattom performance
Mohiniyattam is a classical Indian dance from Kerala.


Mohini 01
Mythical Mohini.

Mohiniyattam, also referred to as Mohini-attam, is derived from "Mohini" – a famous female avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu in Indian mythology.[1][2]

Mohini refers to a divine enchantress or a supreme seductress. She appears in Hindu mythologies during a battle between Devas (good) and Asuras (evil), after the evil had won control of Amrita (nectar of immortality). Appearing in her youthful bloom, dressed rapturously she uses her charms to seduce the Asuras, who seeking her favors, give her the Amrita to distribute among the evil forces. Mohini after gaining the Amrita gives it to the good instead, depriving the evil from gaining immortality.[1][5]

The details of the Mohini story varies by the Purana and region, but she is consistently an enchantress avatar of the supreme in Vaishnavism. Aattam is a Malayalam language word, and means rhythmic motion or dance.[11] Mohiniyattam thus connotes "a dance of an enchantress, a beautiful woman".[12][11][13]


Divya Nedungadi mohiniyattam mohini attam mohiniattam 1
Divya Nedungadi performing Mohiniyattam.

Mohiniyattam is a classical Indian dance,[14] which by definition traces its repertoire to the foundational text Natya Shastra.[6] The Natya Shastra text is attributed to the ancient scholar Bharata Muni.[15][16][17] Its first complete compilation is dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE,[18][19] but estimates vary between 500 BCE and 500 CE.[20] The text describes the basic elements and the structure of two types of dance: the vigorous, high energy Tāṇḍava dance (Shiva) and the gentle, calmingly graceful Lāsyā dance (Parvati, Shiva's lover).[8] Mohiniyāttam follows the structure and aims of the Lāsyā dance in Natya Shastra.[2][8]

According to Reginald Massey, Mohiniyattam's history is unclear.[5] Kerala, the region where this dance genre developed and is popular, has a long tradition of lasya style dances whose basics and structure may be at the root. The earliest evidence of Mohiniyattam, or a Mohiniyattam-like dance tradition is found in temple sculpture of Kerala. The 11th century Vishnu temple at Trikodithanam, and the Kidangur Subramanya temple, have several sculptures of female dancers in Mohiniyattam pose.[21] The textual evidence from 12th century onwards suggest that Malayalam poets and playwrights included Lāsyā themes. The 16th century Vyavaharamala by Nambootiri contains the first known mention of the term Mohiniyattam, in the context of a payment to be made to a Mohiniyattam dancer.[9] Another text, Gosha Yatra, from the 17th century too mentions the term.[9] The 18th century Balarama Bharatam, a major secondary work on Natya Shastra composed in Kerala, mentions many dance styles including Mohini Natana.[9]

In the 18th and 19th century, Mohiniyattam grew as dance arts received patronage of competing princely states. In particular, the early 19th century sponsorship and building of a joint Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam team of artists by the Hindu king, poet and music composer Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma contributed to the growth and systematization of modern Mohiniyattam.[8][22]

Colonial era

With the spread of colonial British rule in the 19th century India, all classical dance forms of India were ridiculed and discouraged, leading to their severely decline.[23][24] This was in part the result of the Victorian morality of sexual repressiveness along with Anglican missionaries who criticized Hinduism.[25][26]

Rekha Raju DS
A Mohiniattam pose by Rekha Raju.

The seductive gestures and facial expressions during temple dances were caricatured in The Wrongs of Indian Womanhood, published at the start of the 20th century, as evidence of "harlots, debased erotic culture, slavery to idols and priests" tradition, and Christian missionaries demanded that this must be stopped, launching the "anti-dance movement" or "anti-nautch movement" in 1892.[25][26][27] This movement affected all classical dances in India and contributed to their decline,[25][26] including the stigmatization of Mohiniyattam in the princely states of Travancore and Cochin in the British Empire.[28][29]

According to Justine Lemos, the conventional stereotype has been to label the temple dancers as prostitutes and that Mohiniyattam was banned by the Maharaja under pressure from the British rule and his citizens, but an examination of historical evidence suggests that neither did any law or proclamation ban Mohiniyattam nor is there any evidence that dancing girls of Mohiniyattam were devadasis, temple prostitutes or even menial servants of the temple.[28] However, adds Lemos, there is evidence of rewards being given, scholarship being sponsored, and payments being made to the dancers of Mohiniyattam,[28] as well as laws enacted between 1931 and 1938 that – without naming Mohiniyattam – banned devadasis, banned all forms of "lewd dance or theatre", and banned dancing in temples while the princely states of Kerala were part of the British Empire, in a manner similar to bans on Hindu performance arts in Madras, Bombay and Calcutta Presidencies enacted earlier.[29][30] In 1940, the ban was partially repealed, by allowing "voluntary dances in temples". In 1941, a new law clarified that voluntary dance was permitted, but the dancers should never be paid. This led to protests, public riots and demands by dancers that performance art is a form of economic activity and religious freedom, that Mohiniyattam artists should be paid by the state or the audience, but the state did not pay them.[30]

Some women continued to dance Mohiniyattam in Hindu temples, regardless of the historic politics during the 1940s.[31]

Modern era

The ridicule and bans enacted during the British colonial era contributed to nationalist sentiments, and impacted all Hindu performance arts including Mohiniyattam. It too was revived and reconstructed, particularly in the 1930s by the nationalist Malayalam poet Vallathol Narayana Menon, who helped repeal the ban on temple dancing in Kerala, as well as established the Kerala Kalamandalam dance school and encouraged Mohiniattam studies, training and practice.[32][33]

Other significant champions of Mohiniyattam in the 20th century have been Mukundraja, Krishna Panicker, Thankamony, as well as the guru and dancer Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma.[34][35]


Mohiniyattam pose
Expression of an artist

Mohiniyattam is a lasya subgenre of dance, performed in the Kaisiki vritti (graceful style), as discussed in ancient Indian performance arts texts such as the Natya Shastra.[36] More specifically, it is a dance that excels in Ekaharya Abhinaya form, that is a solo expressive dance performance aided by singing and music.[8] The dance includes nritta (pure dance, solo), nritya (expressive dance, solo) and modern productions sometimes include natya (play, group dance):[37]

  • The Nritta performance is abstract, rhythmic aspect of the dance that appears early and at the end of the dance repertoire.[38][39] The viewer is presented with pure movement, wherein the emphasis is the beauty in motion, form, speed, range and pattern. This part of the repertoire has no interpretative aspect, no telling of story.[40]
An expressive gesture in Mohiniyattam.
  • The Nritya is the expressive aspect of the dance that attempts to communicate a storyline, with emotions and feelings, with spiritual themes.[38][39] In a nritya, the dance-acting (Abhinaya, Vaittari) expands to include silent expression of words through hand and facial gestures and body motion set to musical notes. The dancer articulates a legend or a spiritual message, aiming to engage the emotions and mind of the viewer.[40][41]

The basic posture of Mohiniyattam is parted feet, knees bent outwards, an erect upper torso, gentle 8-shape side to side swaying of body along with hips (Ati Bhanga).[42] The footwork is soft, sliding and synchronous with the musical beat and acting.[42] The body movement is sometimes described in terms of calming images of nature as the swinging of the palm leaves,[43] and the gentle undulating of ocean waves.[44]

The basic dance units in Mohiniattam are known as atavus or atavukal, and these are grouped into four: Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammisram.[45] The hand and facial gestures of the dance follow the classical text of Hastha Lakshanadeepika, which has elaborate description of mudras.


The repertoire sequence of Mohiniyattam is similar to that of Bharatanatyam,so of contains seven items that are performed to a structure described in classical dance texts: Cholkettu (invocation, but starts with offering reverence to a goddess Bhagavati and ends with a prayer to Shiva), Jatisvaram or more precisely Swarajeti, Varnam (a play wherein she embeds a mimicry for distraction while communicating the underlying story or message), Padam (song), Tillana (dancer's interpretation of melody the musician create), Shlokam and Saptam.[37][46]


Mohiniyattam costumes Kerala
Mohiniyattam costumes.

The costume includes plain white or off-white such as ivory or cream colored sari embroidered with bright golden or gold laced colored brocade (similar to a ceremonial Kasavu saree).[47][48] She wears a fitted choli (blouse) matching the sari, below which at the waist is a golden belt which tucks in the end of the sari, and highlights the waist.[47] In front of the saree, below the belt is pleated sheet with concentric bands in gold or saffron colors, which allow freedom of movement and assist in visually communicating the mudra to distant audience.[47]

The dancer wears relatively simple jewelry and no masks, in contrast to the other major classical dance of Kerala called Kathakali. Her jewelry typically includes items on fingers, wrists, neck and ears (which may have bells). The face makeup is natural, but lips are brilliant red, she has the Hindu tikka (Gobi) on her forehead and her eyes are lined to help prominently highlight the eye movements during the dance.[47] Her ankles are adorned with leather straps with bells (chilanka), feet and fingers colored red with natural dyes. Her hairdo is gathered and tied into a smooth tight round chignon on one side of her head (typically left) and the bun then ringed with fragrant flowers (typically jasmine mulla).[47][49]

Music and instruments

The vocaled music of Mohiniyattam involves various rhythms. There are numerous compositions for a Mohiniyattam repertoire, most of whose lyrics are in Manipravalam, a mixture of Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam.[50]

The musical instruments usually used in Mohiniyattam are Mridangam or Madhalam (barrel drum), Idakka (hour glass drum), flute, Veena, and Kuzhitalam (cymbals). The ragas (melody) are rendered in the sopana (steps) style, which is a slow melodic style with roots in the Natya Shastra.[51][52]


Mohiniyaattam 2


Mohiniyaattam 3


Mohiniyaattam 13


Mohiniyaattam 19


Mohiniyaattam 17


Mohiniyaattam 16


Mohiniyaattam 11



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External links

Arts of Kerala

The Indian state, kerala is well known for its diverse forms of performing arts. The various communities in Kerala contribute to its rich and colorful culture.

Bharati Shivaji

Bharati Shivaji is an Indian classical dancer of Mohiniyattom, choreographer and author, known for her contributions to the art form by way of performance, research and propagation. She is the founder of Center for Mohiniyattam, a dance academy promoting Mohiniyattom and the co-author of two books, Art of Mohiniyattom and Mohiniyattom. She is a recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Sahitya Kala Parishad Samman. The Government of India awarded her the fourth highest civilian honour of the Padma Shri, in 2004, for her contributions to Indian classical dance.

Deepti Omchery Bhalla

Deepti Omchery Bhalla is an artist from India who is versatile in singing and dancing. She was trained in these skills by her mother Leela Omchery, a well-known carnatic singer. She is a leading exponent of Mohiniyattam, a classical dance form from Kerala, India. She learnt Mohiniattam, the female classical solo dance from the great exponent Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma. She is Professor in Carnatic Music at the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts, University of Delhi. She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2007.


The idakka (Malayalam: ഇടയ്ക്ക), also spelt edaykka/edakka, is an hourglass-shaped drum from Kerala in south India. This handy percussion instrument is very similar to the pan-Indian damaru. While the damaru is played by rattling knotted cords against the resonators, the idakka is played with a stick. Like the damaru, the idakka's pitch may be bent by squeezing the lacing in the middle. The idakka is slung over the left shoulder and the right side of the instrument is gently beaten with a thin curve-ended stick.

Indian classical dance

Indian classical dance, or Shastriya Nritya, is an umbrella term for various performance arts rooted in religious Hindu musical theatre styles, whose theory and practice can be traced to the Sanskrit text Natya Shastra.The number of recognized classical dances range from eight to more, depending on the source and scholar. The Sangeet Natak Akademi recognizes eight – Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakali, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam. Scholars such as Drid Williams add Chhau, Yakshagana and Bhagavata Mela to the list. The Culture Ministry of the Government of India includes Chhau in its classical list. These dances are traditionally regional, all of them include music and recitation in local language or Sanskrit, and they represent a unity of core ideas in a diversity of styles, costumes and expression.

Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma

Kalamandalam Kalyanikutti Amma (1915–1999) was an epoch-making Mohiniyattam danseuse from Kerala in southern India. A native of Thirunavaya in Malappuram district of the state, she was instrumental in resurrecting Mohiniyattam from a dismal, near-extinct state into a mainstream Indian classical dance, rendering it formal structure and ornamentation.Kalyanikutti Amma, one of the early-batch students of Kerala Kalamandalam, was married to the late Kathakali maestro Padma Shri Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair.Of the two books Kalyanikutti Amma has authored, "Mohiniyattam - History and Dance Structure" is considered as an elaborate and only authentic documentation on Mohiniyattam. Noted among her disciples are her daughters Sreedevi Rajan and Kala Vijayan and Mrinalini Sarabhai and Deepti Omchery Bhalla.A winner of both the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy and Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademi awards, Kalyanikutty Amma died on 12 May 1999 in Tripunithura (where the couple had settled) at the age of 84. Her son Kalasala Babu was a cinema and television actor, while her granddaughter Smitha Rajan is a noted Mohiniyattam artiste.She got 'Kavayithri' award from the famous poet Vallathol Narayana Menon. In 1986 she got Kerala Kalamandala Fellowship.Kalyanikutti Amma passed the art of Mohiniattam beyond India. The first Russian dancer, Mohiniattam, was Milana Severskaya. In 1997, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma blessed her on the continuation of the Mohiniattam tradition. Milana Severskaya created in St. Petersburg, Russia the first outside India school of education Mohiniattam. She founded the Natya Theater, where you can see the choreography Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma in the play, dedicated to her memory. Milana Siverskaya has released a film dedicated to the memory of the guru Kalyanikutty Amma in which one can see how the guru taught dance in deep old age.

Kalamandalam Kshemavathy

Kalamandalam Kshemavathy (born 1948) is a Mohiniyattam dancer from Thrissur, Kerala. She is an alumna of the reputed Kerala Kalamandalam. She joined the institute when she was ten. After completion of the course, she undertook advanced training in Bharata Natyam under Muthuswami Pillai and Chitra Visweswaran, and in Kuchipudi under Vempati Chinna Satyam, but chose to remain within the Mohiniyattam tradition. She has been in the field for 47 years.

Kalamandalam Leelamma

Kalamandalam Leelamma (?–15 June 2017) was a leading Mohiniyattom dancer from Kerala, India.

A book with all relevant details and growth of Mohiniyattam is at her credit which was a cherished ambition of Keralites with special details on "Adavus". She worked as Campus Director (Nila Campus) in Kerala Kalamandalam, Deemed University for Art and Culture, the pioneer institution for classical dances in the world, after her retirement from the same university as the Head of the Department Dances.She was awarded Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for her contribution to Mohiniyattom.She died on 15 June 2017.

Kalamandalam Satyabhama

Kalamandalam V. Satyabhama (4 November 1937 – 13 September 2015) was an Indian classical dancer, teacher and choreographer, known for her performances and scholarship in mohiniyattam. She is regarded as a matriarch of the classical dance form. She is also well versed in other classical dances of Kerala. She was awarded the Padma Shri, in 2014, for her contributions to the art and culture, by the Government of India.

Kanak Rele

Kanak Rele (born 11 June 1937) is an Indian dancer, choreographer and academic best known as an exponent of Mohiniyattom. She is the founder-director of the Nalanda Dance Research Centre and the founder-principal of the Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya in Mumbai.

Kerala Kalamandalam

Kerala Kalamandalam, deemed to be University of Art and Culture by the Government of India, is a major center for learning Indian performing arts, especially those that developed in the Southern states of India, with the special emphasis on Kerala. It is situated in the small town of Cheruthuruthy in Thrissur, Thrissur District on the banks of the Bharathapuzha river.

Malavika Wales

Malavika Wales (Malayalam:മാളവിക വെയിൽസ്) is an Indian film and television actress and classical dancer. She hails from a Malayali family from Thrissur. She made her acting debut in Malarvaadi Arts Club. She rose into fame as Ponnu of television series Ponnambili aired in Mazhavil Manorama.

Methil Devika

Methil Devika is an Indian dance research scholar, educator, performer and choreographer from Palakkad.

Smitha Rajan

Smitha Rajan (born 1969) is a Mohiniyattam performer from Kerala and granddaughter of the legendary Indian classical dancer couple of Padma Shri Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair and Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma. Her mother Sreedevi Rajan is a noted Mohiniyattam Guru and Smitha's teacher. Her father was the late T R Rajappan.


Sringara (Sanskrit: शृङ्गार, śṛṅgāra) is one of the nine rasas, usually translated as erotic love, romantic love, or as attraction or beauty. Rasa means "flavour", and the theory of rasa is the primary concept behind classical Indian arts including theatre, music, dance, poetry, and sculpture. Much of the content of traditional Indian arts revolves around the relationship between a man and a woman. The primary emotion thus generated is Sringara. The romantic relationship between lover and beloved is a metaphor for the relationship between the individual and the divine.

Classical theater/dancers (i.e. Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Mohiniyattam) refer to Sringara as 'the Mother of all rasas.' Sringara gives scope for a myriad of other emotions including jealousy, fear, anger, compassion, and of course for the expression of physical intimacy. No other Rasa has such a vast scope.

The treatment and performance of Sringara varies on a large scale from the grotesque (as in Koodiyattam) to very refined and subtle (as in some styles of Bharatanatyam, or in Odissi).

The attraction between lover and beloved is a metaphor for the relationship between the individual and the divine, the Nara-Narayana relationship. Natya Shastra lists Vishnu as the presiding deity of the Sringara rasa.

Thara Kalyan

Thara Kalyan (Malayalam: താര കല്യാണ്‍) is an Indian classical dancer and an Indian television and film actress in Malayalam language. She has acted in mainstream Malayalam films, telefilms and television serials. She is also a professional dancer in Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, and Kuchipudi.She is an A top Mohiniyattam artist of Doordarshan.

She is the first among the creative Mohiniyattam dancers to have incorporated famous poems as subject and themes for her performances. Amma (O.N.V. Kurup) Karuna (kumaaranaashan) Bhoothappaattu, Yashodhara, Anarkali has been some of her appreciated works in Mohiniyattam. Her recent work is of Thaathri Kutty which is first ever in the history of Mohiniyattam to portray the iron lady who was bold enough to raise her voice rebelling against the chauvenits. She is successfully running a dance institution in Trivandrum

Unnayi Warrier Smaraka Kalanilayam

Unnayi Warrier Smaraka Kalanilayam (Malayalam: ഉണ്ണായി വാര്യര്‍ സ്മാരക കലാനിലയം) is a performing arts training institution in Irinjalakuda in Thrissur District of Kerala. The centre is affiliated with the Government of Kerala.

Vimala Menon

Vimala Menon (Malayalam: വിമല മേനോൻ), known popularly as Kalamandalam Vimala Menon is an Indian dance teacher and Mohiniyattam exponent from Kerala. She is the founder and Director of Kerala Natya Academy in Thiruvananthapuram. Vimala has taught about 5000 students and still continues her successful teaching career of 50 years. Vimala has brought forward many innovative ideas about the forms and styles of Mohiniyattam. Vimala has her name in Guinness Book of Records for training and putting on a show of Mohiniyattam consisting of 1200 dancers. Vimala is also a recipient of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Award in 1991 and the Kendra Sangeeta Nataka Akademi Award in 2006 for her contribution to Indian classical dance.

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