Festival of Mohiniyattam
the beautiful dance form of Kerala women with graceful swinging and swaying
movements and elaborate facial expressions with hand gestures is one of
the classical dance forms of India. Natanakaisiki is a Mohiniyattam
Gurukulam, where students are trained in this dance form according to the
methodology devised by guru Nirmala Paniker, who is the founder director
and disciple of Guru Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma.
The festival started with a demonstration on how the hand gestures from Hastalakshana Deepika could be used to enact Mohiniyattam, by Nirmala Paniker and her disciples. The session concluded with appreciative and encouraging comments of dance exponents Kalamandalam Kusumam Gopalakrishnan and Apsara Ram Gopal. According to them, this was a history making event, since this was the first one of its kind. The innovative training system was devised by Nirmala Panicker after many years of exhaustive research guided by great maestros, and scholars in the field of performing arts, like, Kalamandalam Kalyani Kutty Amma, Kalamandalam Sathyabama, G Venu, Sadanam Krishnan Kutty, Guru V P Ramachandran (Kathakali), and the legendary Kutiyattam Guru Dr. Ammannur Madhava Chakyar.
The second day was dedicated to the Desi traditions of Mohiniyattam. When the Mohiniyattam revival took place in Kalamandalam, the dance form went through many reforms, believed as necessary to its rescue at that time. In this process some items were removed from the repertoire, and tended to become more rigid and stylised. But the importance of preventing Mohiniyattam from becoming rootless, if disconnected from local and folk traditions led Nirmala Paniker to the revival of several dances of this kind. The first one presented that evening was Poli, an invocation to 'Amma Daivam' (mother goddess) in different ancient forms as Neeli, Kali, Rudra and Karumari. In the concept it is very much related to the present day Cholkettu. In Kurathy, the next item, the dancer introduces herself as the kurathy, and then enacts the story of 'Ayyappa' and his devotees.
In Chandanam, the dancer enumerates the magical powers of the sandalwood paste she brings, and offers it to the audience, recalling the old temple rituals where the danseuse, seen as a manifestation of the Devi, smears the devotee's forehead with the all-healing chandanam. Kapila Venu's performance of these three items made it clear that the main essence shown was bhakti, and that their removal from Mohiniyattam repertoire was probably due to misunderstandings or degenerations of their true nature.
On the last
day, a traditional Mohiniyattam Kacheri was gracefully performed by the
students of Natanakaisiki. The items presented were Cholkettu (raga Sankarabharanam
and tala Triputa), Jathiswaram, Varnam, Padam and Saptham. Except the Jathiswaram,
all the items were newly choreographed and taught by Guru Nirmala Paniker.