It originated in the state of Kerala. The dance is performed by women in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu in his incarnation as the enchantress Mohini. Mohiniattam is exclusively danced by women. It is also softer than the very vigorous Kathakali.

The dance projects the essence of feminine grace. It is also noted for the Shringara (erotic) depictions of divine love. Traditionally, the dance was performed solo, but in the 21st century it may also be performed in groups.


 A brief history of the dance form

  • Some scholars trace Mohiniattam to the second or third century A.D. (to the era of the great Tamil epic, Silappadikaaram), whereas others maintain that it was created in the middle of the eighteenth century in the court of Maharaja Svati Tirunal of Travancore
  • It is also believed that the dance form acquired its affinity with the Bharata Natyam technique and Karnatak Music and thereby its repertoire, in Swati Tirunal’s court.
  • In the beginning of the 20th Century, like all the other traditional arts, Mohiniattam also went into oblivion due to the policies of the British. However, due to the policies of the state and central government, the classical dance form has seen a revival.


Salient features associated with the dance-form

  • Mohiniyattam is characterized by graceful, swaying body movements with no abrupt jerks or sudden leaps. It belongs to the Lasya style which is feminine, tender and graceful.



  • The most characteristic element of the “form” component of Mohiniattam is the circular or spiral movement of all the limbs of the body. This gives it a swaying effect which resembles the movement of a pendulum and thus it is called aandolika
  • The movements are emphasized by the glides and the up and down movement on toes, like the waves of the sea and the swaying of the coconut, palm trees and the paddy fields.
  • Movements have been borrowed from Nangiar Koothu and female folk dances Kaikottikali and the Tiruvatirakali.
  • The footwork is not terse and is rendered softly. Importance is given to the hand gestures and Mukhabhinaya with subtle facial expressions.
  • Mohiniyattam lays emphasis on acting. The dancer identifies herself with the character and sentiments existing in the compositions like the Padams and Pada Varnams which give ample opportunity for facial expressions.
  • The hand gestures, 24 in number, are mainly adopted from Hastalakshana Deepika, a text followed by Kathakali. Few are also borrowed from Natya Shastra, Abhinaya Darpana and Balarambharatam.
  • The gestures and facial expressions are closer to the natural(gramya) and the realistic (lokadharmi) than to the dramatic or rigidly conventional (natyadharmi).
  • Vocal music of this performance art incorporates different rhythms and lyrics of many of the compositions performed in this dance form are in Manipravala that is a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam language while the music style is Carnatic.
  • Instruments played during a Mohiniattam performance usually comprises of Kuzhitalam or cymbals; Veena; Idakka, an hourglass-shaped drum; Mridangam, a barrel-shaped drum with two heads; and flute.
  • Imminent 20th-century exponents of Mohiniattam apart from Vallathol Narayana Menon were Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, Thankamony, Krishna Panicker and Mukundraja. Present day exponents include Sunanda Nair; Smitha Rajan, granddaughter of Kalyanikutty Amma; Radha Dutta; Vijayalakshmi; Gopika Varma and Jayaprabha Menon among others.