Tuesday March 19, 2019

Mohiniattam: Epical legend resurrected


By Akash Shukla

In an off-white saree with gold brocade border, the danseuse gathers her hair in a bun and decorates it with jasmine flowers. Decked with gilded necklaces, bangles, waistbands and anklets, she gyrates to the tunes of veena (वीणा) and mridanga (मृदङ्गं )in elegant steps and narrates epical tales like people have never heard before. Behold the musical and dancing magic of Kerala– Mohiniattam.

With Mohini as the enchantress and attam being her dance, the solo female dancer, who drapes a single piece of costume, sways from side to side and her unbroken body flow in that rhythm is the most striking feature. This beautiful and feminine dance style is teamed with surging flow of body movements and is a pretty polite reminder of Hindu god lord Vishnu who transformed into Mohini to digress demons from Amrit (elixir) as they were at loggerheads for the same with the devtas (gods); temptress Mohini’s dance at that epical juncture forms the core of Mohiniattam now.

Later in Kerala, this dance form found its way in the tradition of devdasi system until it achieved the classical status. Sculptures, engravings and inscriptions from the temples date back to the ninth century and support this claim. More allusions to the dance form are visible in the 12th century literature.


In Kerala, devadasis were called under the name Teviticci which meant ‘servant at the feet of god’ (Tevar = God, Ati = feet, Acci = woman).  For several years, they were revered. A report from 18th century details the salary of dancers.

Dabbling in the theme of sringara (love) coupled with suggestive abhinaya (acting), Mohiniattam, which employs subtle gestures, rhythmic footwork and lilting music, was revived in 19th century by Travancore’s enlightened ruler Swati Tirunal.

He promoted the study of Mohiniattam by writing 20 Varnams, 50 Padams and 5 Tillanas.  On festive occasions and in the houses of wealthy merchants and courtiers, Mohiniattam was greatly revered. Swati Tirunal promoted Mohiniattam but his followers promoted only Kathakali (a male dance style). Consequently, Mohiniattam began to slip into oblivion. The advent of British Raj brought about a prohibition on public dancing and this hit the scene of Indian dance forms terribly. The gradual disappearance of Indian dance forms in league with dilemma of dancers to include obscene dance pieces hit India like a double whammy since it was already grappling with the pangs of colonisation.

As a result, dance pieces like Polikali, Esalen, Mukkuthi and Candanam forayed into the traditional Mohiniattam.

Malayalam poet Vallathol Narayanan established Kerala Kalamandalam dance school in 1930 and played a key role in reviving Mohiniattam. He did so to revive the other local arts as well, namely, Kathakali, Koodiyattam and Thullal. In a bid to revive the essence of the dance form, the curriculum of Mohiniattam included only the classical features and rejected all that was irrelevant.

Diving further deep into the kinesthetics of Mohiniattam, Hastha Lakshana Deepika comes to fore as it forms the basis of hands’ and arms’ movement in Mohiniattam. Thanks to Vallathol Narayanan and Swati Tirunal, we not only can recollect Mohiniattam in thought, word and deed but can also continue to relish it for real as well.

See more- Mohiniattam: Tradition rekindled in dance steps!

Next Story

Rape Culture in Hinduism: Reality or Myth?

All this clearly manifests that there is no culture of rape in the Hindu religion. Instead, women are recognized as the most important aspect of human society.

Rape culture in Hinduism
Rape culture in Hinduism

Rape Culture In Hinduism / Indian concept On Sexuality / Sex & Hinduism

By Nithin Sridhar

Rape culture in Hinduism: Is this a myth or reality? Image: Exotica India
Rape culture in Hinduism: Is this a myth or reality?

An article that was published recently asserts that the Hindu religion promotes rape culture in hinduism & in the Indian society.

The article contends that the Hindu religion is to be squarely blamed for various crimes that have recently been committed against women. It tries to support its claims through selective incidents from the Itihaasas and Puraanas.

However, even a casual reading of the article will show how only selective portions of the incidents have been quoted to depict Hindu religion in a bad light.

The article takes up the incident of Krishna stealing the garments of unmarried gopis (young girls) and offers the following commentary upon it: “He did so to tease them and for the pleasure of watching the beauty of their naked bodies. We hang miniature paintings of the same act in our homes proudly. The young men who grow up seeing this, or listening to the story told in an amused tone are bound to not find such an act abhorrent.”

So, the article is indirectly trying to blame Krishna, for rape culture in hinduism & the present issues of sexual recklessness, eve-teasing and rape.

But the author of the article conveniently forgets to state that, Krishna was merely a baalaka- a child during this episode. So, how can a child take pleasure in watching the beauty of girl’s naked bodies?

Also, Krishna was no ordinary child. He was a Poorna Avatara– a complete incarnation of God, who was aware of his divinity from the time of his birth itself. Therefore, any association of mundane lust with Krishna who was God himself, and who gave us Bhagavad Gita is meaningless and may point towards deliberate mischief.

Another major incident that the article takes up towards the end is that of demoness Surpunaka. The article states, “This is the cultural environment that shapes the lives of most people in India. So it’s natural that what gods do influences us much more than the moral lesson at the end. Now consider this: we have gods who, for instance, have cut the nose and ear lobes of a woman who approached them professing her love (Lakshman is depicted as having done this to Shurpanakha), and yet we adore him and see him as a symbol of loyalty, sacrifice and righteous indignation.

So, the article is indirectly accusing Rama and Lakshmana as being the cause behind the mindset that takes pleasure in committing violence against women.

Again, the author does not mention the fact that Surpanaka was about to kill Sita, when Rama asked Lakshmana to get hold of Surpunaka and cut off her ears and nose. So the blame of violence against women is definitely not on Rama or Lakshmana.

The author (of the article) writes that Surpanaka was professing her love but conveniently forgets the fact that Surpanaka was not ready to be a junior wife or co-wife of Rama. She wanted to kill Sita and take her place.

Therefore, if the incident shows anything, it is that a loving husband was protecting his wife and a loving brother was protecting his brother and sister-in-law.

The article further mentions Indra as being a mythological hero who is praised for his acts of killing, drinking, and fornicating with multiple women. But it does not add that the same mythologies also depict how Indra was cursed by Gauthama Rishi for adultery.

The article doesn’t leave out Buddha either. Buddha has been criticized for taking renunciation, without considering the fact that, due to his intense vairagyam (dispassion), he would not have been able to fulfill his conjugal duties to his wife or fatherly duties to his child even if he had not left the palace.

The article clearly appears to be consciously targeting Hindu religion and reflecting it in poor light by somehow connecting the ills of present society with Hindu puranams and histories.

Hindu religion has given women a very high status. Manu Smriti (3.56) says:

Gods become elated where women are worshiped, and where women are disrespected, there no worship is successful”.

Manu Smriti further states that people who inflict sorrow and trouble women will ultimately face sorrowful fate themselves.

Various Smriti’s, including that of Manu, impose strict punishments for rape, harassment, eve-teasing or any other form of violence against women.

All this clearly manifests that there is no culture of rape in the Hindu religion. Instead, women are recognized as the most important aspect of human society. The status of women is not just that of equal standing with regard to men but, in fact, higher than them. As far as the Hindu religion is concerned, women are to be adored, loved, respected, and worshiped.


Itihaasa: Literally “as it happened” i.e. history which is recorded by an eye-witness.

Puraanam: Literally “of ancient times” i.e. records of the past that have been passed down from past.