Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Mohiniyattam Mean?

Mohiniyattam also named Mohiniattam is a classical Indian dance said to have started as early as 16th century C.E. in the city of Kerala as a dance meant for the temples. This dance is traditionally performed by women since it was said to come from Mohini, a character that Lord Vishnu embodied to seduce his enemies. The dance form is considered to be feminine expression of love (maternal and devotional), with elaborate costuming, soft facial expressions and feminine hand mudras that emote a story through dance. The accompanying song is a mix of Malayalam language and Sanskrit, which can be sung by a vocalist or by the dancer.


Yogapedia Explains Mohiniyattam

At first, the Mohiniyattam dance was only performed within the walls of the temples or royal palaces, as it gained popularity and more art influence was encouraged, it moved into more performance venues. With the settlement of British colonies in the 19th century, the dance was discouraged from being performed since it could promote sensuous thoughts with its feminine gestures and expressions. At the turn of the 20th century, a poet named Vallathol Narayana Menon was responsible for reviving the dance and established the form of mohiniyattam as the solo dance that we see today.

For the dance, the dancer uses her feet and hands to convey a story and the dance is considered a Lasya form which is graceful, delicate, gliding and elegant. The traditional costume is a white sari with gold embellishments, gold lace and a gold belt. The dancer’s jewelry is also gold and their hair is worn in a large bun style, with floral adornments on the left side of the head. The face of the dancer features traditional feminine makeup, with bright lips and highly defined eyes so the facial expressions can be read from a distance. Their hands are painted red to show off the many mudras performed and red shoes are worn on the feet with gold bell anklets to emphasize the rhythm of the dance.

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