A young Mohiniyattam dancer chooses to portray an occult character

Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan included an unusual piece on Odiyan in her recital.

Published - June 07, 2024 05:00 pm IST

Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan

Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

During the incipient stages of its revival in Kerala Kalamandalam in the 1930s, Mohiniyattam anchored mainly on padams of Swati Tirunal, the maharaja who was instrumental in the resurgence of the dance form. While most of the padams had vipralambha sringaram as their leitmotif, Mohiniyattam began to embrace varied themes only in the last five decades. ‘Odiyan’ staged by young dancer Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan recently in Thrissur was one such performance. It was presented under the aegis of the project Thouryatrikam of Navaneetham Cultural Trust.

Odiyans are a group of occult characters believed to have existed in Kerala especially in the Malabar region. They belonged to certain tribal communities and were experts in transmuting themselves into the shapes of animals and birds.

The mystic character recently attracted much attention since a feature film by the same name was released in 2018.

Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan

Kalyani Menon Harikrishnan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Kalyani’s recital was scripted by Sreeja Kavanad. The lyrics explain the arrival of Kurathy, a tribal woman from the hills, in the village. She is enamoured by the natural beauty of the village. She also encounters an Odiyan and taken in by his supernatural powers including his ability to transform into various animals. She realises that this transformation happens when the Odiyan smears the juice of certain wild plants on the back of his ears. When she praises his unique power, he disappears. Interestingly, the evil side of Odiyan has been omitted in the script.

Kalyani’s performance, which was based on folksy vaytharis, stood out for her histrionics. Especially, her portrayal of different animals was impressive.

Kalyani opened the recital with an invocation to Bala Ganapathy in Nattai and Adi. This was followed by a varnam ‘Natana nipuna’ in two parts — Kamadahana and Neelakanta — in praise of Shiva.. The composition was set to Reetigowla raga and Adi tala. Her nritta was noteworthy for the well-defined mudras as well as aesthetically presented adavus. Her netrabhinaya was praiseworthy too. She also presented the famous ‘Rain song’ by Kavalam Narayana Panicker, ‘Karu kare karmukil’. Depiction of the peacock was the highlight of this piece. Though familiar on the Mohiniyattam stage, Nirmala Paniker’s choreography brought in many facets of the monsoon by including the flavours of folk forms such as Mudiyettu, Thudichukali and Vanchippattu. Performed to the accompaniment of only the veena, the piece captured the beauty of the rains. Interestingly, the dancer exited the stage as if rowing a boat. The choice of the Sopana raga Samanthamalahari heightened the appeal.

On the whole, the choreography demonstrated Nirmala’s ability to weave together folk and classical. Vocalist Neelamperoor Sureshkumar, veena artiste Murali Krishnan and maddalam player Kalanilayam Prakasan were the accompanists. They ensured the music matched well the mood of every composition.

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