There is no precise historical evidence to establish the antiquity of Mohiniyaattam, the classical female dance-tradition of Kerala. Probably it was evolved in the eighteenth century. In the court of king Swathi Thirunal who ruled Travancore (South Kerala) in the 19th century Mohiniyaattam flourished along with Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu. The post -Swathy period witnessed the downfall of Mohiniyaattam. ‘The dance of the enchantress’ slipped into eroticism to satisfy the epicurean-life of some provincial satraps and feudal lords. Poet Vallathol rescued Mohiniyaattam form total extinction. It was added to the curriculum of Kalamandalam in 1930.
The make-up and dressing of Mohiniyaattam is simple and semi-realistic. The dancer’s face is made up of yellow and pink-paste. She wears sandal-colored jacket and sari. Jasmin flowers adorn her tied-up hair. She decorates her eyes with KAJAL and the lips are reddened. The traditional theme of Mohiniyaattam is devotion to and love of God. Vishnu or Krishna is more often the hero. This dance-form explores all the subtleties of the expression, Sringara, in all the items performed. We feel his invisible presence when the heroine or her friend (Sakhi) portrays him through hand-gestures, soft, undulating and circular body movements. In the slow and medium tempos the dancer finds adequate space for improvisation and suggestive facial-expressions, the invocation of Mohiniyaattam is known as CHOLKETTU. JATHISWARAM, VARNAM, PADAM and THILLANA are other items in a Mohiniyaattam-recital. Varnam is the piece de resistance in Mohiniyaattam.Thillana unfolds to the audience the dancer’s rhythmic virtuosity. Padam focuses on ABHINAYA. Mridangam, Violin and Edaykka lend excellent support to the vocal music and to the visual-rhythm of Mohiniyaattam.