Mohiniattam is one of the two major dance dramas of Kerala. It is a kind of synthesis of Kathakali, Bharatanatyam and folk dances of the region. The dance is considered to be older than Kathakali. Its first reference is found in the 16th century text ‘Vyavaharamala’ composed by Mazhamangalam Narayanan Namboodiri.
In the 19th century, Swati Thirunal, the king of erstwhile Travancore, did much to encourage and stabilize this art form. Poet Vallathol revived it and raised its status in modern times through the Kerala Kalamandalam, which he founded in 1930. Kalamandalam Kalyaniamma, the first dance teacher of the Kalamandalam was instrumental in resuscitating this ancient art form. Others like Krishna Panicker, Madhavi Amma and Chinnammu Amma promoted this dance form at the Kalamandalam.
The theme of Mohiniattam is love and devotion to Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna. The format of a typical Mohiniattam performance is similar to that of the Bharatanatyam, progressing through ‘Cholkettu’ (the first part of the performance), ‘Jathiswaram’, ‘Varnam’, ‘Padam’ and ending with a ‘Tillana’. Mohiniattam is an ideal combination of expression (‘abinaya’), pure dance (‘nritta’) and interpretative dance (‘nritya) to evoke the right aesthetics (‘rasa). The accompanying instruments during a Mohiniattam performance include the cymbals, veena, maddala, and chenda.
Kalamandalam Kalyaniamma, Krishna Panicker, Madhavi Amma and Chinnammu Amma are the pioneers of Mohinattam.