Dance, music and cultural fervour as part of the Onam celebrations enlivened an early-September evening in Calcutta. The festival, organised by the Kolkata Kairali Samajam at Sarat Sadan, saw a solo recital of Mohiniyattam, a traditional dance form of Kerala, by the danseuse, Malavika Menon, among other performances. Mohiniyattam, which means ‘the dance of the enchantress’ in Malayalam, is rooted in Hindu mythology. It depicts Vishnu taking the form of the ethereally beautiful, Mohini, to cast an illusion on the asuras in order to retrieve the nectar of immortality for the devas and portrays feminine love in a myriad forms: sensuous, devotional and maternal.
Menon began her recital with “Ganesha shlokam”, invoking the deity with hastamudras and sculpturesque poses that seem to have been inspired by temple reliefs. She followed it with mukhajalam (composed by Kavalam Narayana Panicker and set to ragamalika), captivating the audience with supple movements that are intrinsic to Mohiniyattam. However, the central piece of the recital was what demonstrated Menon’s dexterity. The re-imagination of Govindan Nair’s poem, “Poothapattu” — based on a folktale — into the framework of dance by Menon’s guru and Mohiniyattam exponent, Vinitha Nedungadi, runs parallel to the repertoire of Mohiniyattam but evinces its expansiveness. Menon adhered to the stylistics repertoire of her guru, switching effectively among the mother, the child, and the demon (pootham) evocatively rough roudra and lasya bhavas and appropriate abhinaya. With Kottakkal Madhu on vocals, Kallekulangara Unnikrishnan on the mridangam and Suresh Ambady on the violin, the presentation exuded a rich flavour of Carnatic music accentuating the subdued dramatic aspects of the dance.
The concluding act of the well-knit, 90-minute recital saw the portrayal of the dance of the peacock to Panicker’s popular composition, “Karkare Karmukil”. Menon eloquently captured the romance of the rain with rhythmic movements. The adherence to the traditional dress code was also noteworthy. Menon’s lyrical performance, combined with the virtuosity of Nedungadi’s choreography, paid rich tributes to the essence of Mohiniyattam.