HONG KONG’S BLESSING: MUDRA DANCE ACADEMY!

ON MUDRA DANCE ACADEMY IN HONG KONG! (Part One)

Hong Kong has a newly added blessing in the firm of Mudra Dance Academy (www.mudra.life). It is headed by the top performer and Indian dance professional Divya Arun.

The main objective of the venture ‘…’ is not only to spread the good word across this region (Hong Kong) but also popularize too to the best of my ability a wonderful art form already recognized as one of the eight major classical dance forms of India–viz. Mohiniyattom, as is being done institutionally through varied programs at the moment by the Sangeetha Nataka Academy (http://sangeetnatak.org) in India!

Another objective of the Academy is to personally groom and mold into success stories a wonderful generation of Hong Kong-based children of both Indian and non-Indian origin who are truly passionate about learning Indian classical style dance forms so as to be fully confident in it.

Introduction to Mohiniattom

Mohiniyattom, the traditional ‘royal and divine dance form’ of Kerala State (which is often referred to as ‘God’s own country’ in the Indian media) represents the cultural legacy and inimitable heritage of that State. Through the ages, Kerala has not only seen but also consciously evolved and jealously maintained a rich dance-drama tradition with varied formats and styles of presentation.

Mohiniyattom reminds the lay viewer outside India also, incidentally, of the majestic swaying of the coconut and palm trees and paddy fields seen across the State of Kerala to this day!

Like many other Indian dance forms, Mohiniyattom is a well-orchestrated and sophisticated classical dance form that represents a vast repertory of human emotions through a fully demonstrated gestural language through its Hastas (Hand gestures) and gentle swaying movements and footwork.

The elusive, subtly nuanced skilled movements made by the performer while performing Mohiniyattom comprise one of the unique characteristics of this dance form. Along with hand gestures, footwork and swaying movements; facial expressions form an indispensable part of this reputed dance form.

The main theme of this classical dance form is ‘devotion and love for God’.

ORIGIN OF MOHINIATTOM

Mohiniyattom is a classical dance form that is estimated to be at least 500 years old. Its origin can be traced back in its present-day format to the 16th century A.D.

[According to Hindu Mythology, in order to put a halt ocne and for all time for the aggressive incursions and attacks from the evil forces (Asuras/demons),  Lord Vishnu came to the rescue of the Devas (Gods), by  assuming ‘Mohini’ Roopam (figure of celestial dame), tempting and then coolly eliminating the demons  and thus becoming victorious.]

During the Chera Dynasty, Mohiniattom was adopted by the temple dancers (Devadasis) and was known as ‘Dasiyattam’ (“Attam” means “graceful body movements”), which is said to be the precursor of the wonderful dance form, Mohiniattom as we have it today! Ever sicne then this dance form has remained fully patronized and sponsored by both feudal lords and monarchs.

The word ‘Mohiniattom’ (Mohiniyattam) means ‘Dance of the (divine) Enchantress’.

The evolution of the new Mohiniattom has been primarily from the influence of other art forms like Krishnanattam, Ramanattam, Ashtapadiattam and Koodiyattam in Kerala-all of these art forms purely emphasizing the ‘Satvika Abhinaya’ (natural expression).

HISTORY OF MOHINIATTOM

Mohiniattom attained its utmost significance and a royal halo under the reign of Maharaja Swati Tirunal (1813-1847) of Travancore, whose capital, Thiruvananthapuram, also became subsequently the capital of Kerala State, India in 1956.

Being a gifted artist and genuine art lover, Maharaja Swati Tirunal can be considered as one of the pioneers who paved the way for propagating the social importance of this art form, Mohiniattom among the people. His dedication to this dance form is reflected in his having  composed 20 unique Varnams, 50 Padams and 5 Thillanas exclusively for Mohiniattom performances.

Although it was a widely accepted dance form on those days during all public gatherings, as well as at the houses of the wealthy and the powerful under Maharaja’s reign, the art form did not receive its undue importance once the Maharaja’s reign came to an end. A temporary eclipse followed for several years.

Later in 1930’s, the Maharaja of Cochin kingdom in Kerala, contributed land and building to revive and preserve this significant art form of Kerala. Vallathol Narayana Menon (Kerala poet) started the ‘Kerala Kalamandalam’ (www.kalamandalam.org).

This deemed university –Kerala Kalamandalam– imparts 5 year courses and training today to both Indians and foreigners in this classical dance form-Mohiniattom in addition to allied dance forms that originated in Kerala.

Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma (1915-1999) is considered by general consensus as the ‘Mother of Mohiniattom’ .

She alone was the committed danseuse responsible for bringing the classical format of Mohiniattom into the mainstream array of other Indian classical dance forms and her efforts were fruitful in popularizing the art form to an extent.

The best known proponent of this pure pristine format today in India happens to be Ms Nirmala Panicker of Natana Kairali , in Kerala.

In our next module(Part II) we shall introduce you to some key terms used in this royal high-class, temple-linked dance of devotion!

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