||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.
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