Reminiscent of ocean waves, swaying palms and lush paddy fields, Mohiniattam is, literally, the dance of the mythical enchantress Mohini. This traditional style was once performed by devadasis in the temples of what is now the region of Kerala. It grew over time and acquired a classical status. Performed only by women, the form reveals the lasya aspect of dance. Hence, the prevailing rasa, or aesthetic mood, is of shringara – a metaphor also for man’s desire for the divine. Some scholars trace the style to the 2nd or 3rd century AD – the era of the great Tamil epic Silappadikaram. Others believe it was created in the mid-18th century in the court of Maharaja Swati Tirunal of Travancore. But like all Indian dance, Mohiniattam has evolved over several hundred years surviving a difficult phase in the last century. Music in Mohiniattam has a special quality. The punctuated thrust of rhythmic nuances in vocal rendition is preserved in the mnemonic language of drums such as Edakka, Madhalam, Timila and Chenda. Chengila, a kind of gong, helps the singer to keep time.

Pallavi Krishnan, a notable exponent of Mohiniattam, is acclaimed for her versatility as a performer, choreographer and teacher. Known for her considerable efforts to promote and preserve the style as a living tradition, she is the only Indian dancer who is an alumnus of both Shantiniketan and Kerala Kalamandalam, two prestigious art academies of the country. Her work as a dancer began with training in Kathakali, Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam under Guru Kalamandalam Sankaranarayanan at Shantiniketan. But her passion for Mohiniattam took her to Kerala Kalamandalam where she went on to do post graduation from the deemed university. At ease with performing both adavu – the essential alphabet of dance, and abhinaya, Pallavi’s intensive training is evident in her movement. Pallavi’s group choreographies include ‘The Seasons’ that combine the Sopana Sangeeta (of Kerala) and Rabindra Sangeet (of West Bengal) for the verses adapted from Kalidas’ Ritusamhar and Tagore’s compositions Salabhanjika (The Sculpture) and Panchabhuta based on the Taittiriya Upanishad and Shankaracharya’s Saundaryalahari. Her distinctive style makes her a much sought after performer and an inspiration to young dancers. She has performed and conducted residencies in India and abroad and was also the cultural ambassador designated by the ICCR and the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh. Since 1994, Pallavi has been the Artistic Director of Lasya Akademi of Mohiniattam, a centre for the promotion and professional training of the style at Trichur, with a branch in Kolkata.

Presentation - The programme opens with a Ganapati Stuti with the dancers invoking the blessings of Lord Vighneswara, the Lord of all obstacles. Next is a solo padam by Pallavi Krishnan, in which the nayika requests her beloved Hari, the Blue Lord, to accompany her to the garden. ‘Chaliye Kunjan Mo…’ she implores as she shows him the flowing fullness of the Yamuna. ‘How can you take your hand away, Lord, while I am still holding it,’ she asks in hurtful tones. She then draws his attention to the songs of the cuckoo and wonders if he knows what the bird sings. The third piece, called Panchabhuta – the five eternal elements, begins with the concept of Shakti, the universal energy. The union of Shakti and Shiva yields the Panchabhuta – ether, wind, fire, water and earth. From this great amalgam comes the life force to make the worlds. The most evolved of the natural world, man is the prototype of the macrocosmic universe. Seven energy centres, or chakras, are housed in him. Adi Shankaracharya speaks in Saundaryalahari of the five cosmic elements as corresponding to the lower five chakras. Esoteric practices enable the unspooling of this corporeal energy or Kundalini that resides at the base of the spine, the Mooladhara chakra, in three and a half coils. Rising up through the psychic centres, it reaches the top of the head, the Sahasrara, as man experiences the final Truth, the very cause of existence and the eternal continuum of the universe.

Artistes’ Credits
Dancers: Pallavi Krishnan, Sheena, Soumya, Veena, Aiswarya, Lonisha and Manju
Lights: Sreekant Nair
Selection of verses for Panchabhuta: Prof. Sundarasaran;
Concept and choreography: Pallavi Krishnan