Infusing a desi flavour

 Sandra Pisharody performing Mohiniyattam in Kochi

Sandra Pisharody performing Mohiniyattam in Kochi

Ever since its revival in the early 1930s by poet Vallathol, Mohiniyattam, the exquisite lasya heritage of Kerala, has undergone many transformations, most of which have been anchored on margam, common to the Indian classical dance tradition. However, Nirmala Paniker, a disciple of doyenne Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, felt that the progress of the dance form should not be at the cost of desi (indigenous) components that determine its identity. She imaginatively rejuvenated five items — ‘Poli’, ‘Eesal’, ‘Kurathi’, ‘Mookkuthi’ and ‘Chandanam’.

In a Mohiniyattam recital at TDM Hall, Ernakulam, Nirmala’s disciples Sandra Pisharody and Sudharma Periyath performed the pieces except the last one. It proved to be a captivating aesthetic experience for the rasikas .

The music of the conch followed by rendition of the famous sloka Gururbrahma formed the right backdrop for the two dancers to pay homage to the gurus and to Lord Ganesha. Although devotion is a mood that goes beyond classified expressions in dance, Sandra and Sudharma could invoke the bhava with effortlessly executed hastamudras (hand gestures) and compact movements. Sandra performed ‘Poli’ , which is almost akin to cholkettu of the traditional repertoire of Mohiniyattam. She portrayed the different manifestations of the goddess Bhagavathy as Durga, Kali, Neeli et al. She depicted the contrast between the benevolent goddess showering blessings on her devotees and the terrifying mother goddess determined to annihilate vice. The vaytharis invariably carried an indigenous fragrance as Sandra fluently danced in tune with the shifting tempos.

‘Eesal’ was in the form of a conversation between goddesses Lakshmi and Parvathi. While Sudharma as Lakshmi accuses Lord Siva of killing an elephant and for being scantily dressed, Parvathi, enacted by Sandra, retorts that Lord Krishna had killed an elephant for its tusks and stolen the garments of the Gopikas. Interspersed with pieces of pure dance and a brief vinyasa of Krishna stealing the clothes of the Gopikas, the finale was their combined decision to stop casting aspersions on each other’s husbands and live in harmony.

 Sandra Pisharody and Sudharma Periyath performing Mohiniyattam in Kochi

Sandra Pisharody and Sudharma Periyath performing Mohiniyattam in Kochi

A sequence of pure dance suggesting their euphoria followed. The Saiva-Vaishnava consensus is the underlying philosophy of ‘Eesal’.

Sudharma presented ‘Kurathi’ with a pure dance sequence preceding the main segment. Introducing herself as Vishnumayakurathi, the character claims to have ascended the mountain Kailasa and discloses her flair for palmistry. She then narrates the story of the birth of Lord Ayyappa by bringing together riveting images of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu as Mohini. Vishnu’s transformation as Mohini and Siva falling for her were beautifully depicted by the dancer.

‘Mookkuthi’ (nose-ring) was the last item of the concert. Sandra appeared once again as the ‘Kurathi’ searching for her nose-ring. She impressively showed the feelings of the Kurathi who is unable to locate her nose-ring made of diamond. It is, in fact, her sole recourse to redemption. By lending a spiritual aura to the concept of ‘Mookkuthi’, the item was saved from banality.

Both the dancers were admirably temperate in their artistry. The pieces, all choreographed by Nirmala, run parallel to the mainstream repertoire of Mohiniyattam. Although a rustic flavour had been retained in the vaytharis and percussion music, the performance was heavily codified. Kurathi is an icon embedded in the psyche of the Malayali as a Dravidian figure. Its interpretation in Mohiniyattam within the parameters of classicism is too demanding. Kurathi and sophistication are binary opposites.

Hence a discerning spectator would have felt an incongruity as the dancers almost always stuck to the structured language of the dance. Moreover, too much of an accent on the desi might restrict the latitude and breadth of an otherwise rich dance form like Mohiniyattam. The performance, organised by BEAME, was, by and large, an inspirational experience.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2022 9:55:36 am |