Mohiniyattam,, is one of India's eight classical dances that developed and remained popular in Kerala state. Kathakali is another classical Kerala dance form. Mohiniyattam dance derives its name from the word Mohini – a mythical enchanting avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, who helps the good triumph over evil by cultivating her feminine powers.

Like other classical Indian dances, Mohiniyattam's origins are in the Natya Shastra – the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text on performing arts. It follows however the Lasya style mentioned in Natya Shastra, which is a delicate, eros-filled and feminine dance. After intensive preparation it is typically a solo dance performed by women. Mohiniyattam's repertoire includes Carnatic-style music, singing and acting a play through dance, where the recitation may either be performed by a separate vocalist or the dancer herself. The song is traditionally called Manipravalam in Malayalam-Sanskrit hybrid.

The earliest mention of the word is found in the 16th-century legal text Vyavaharamala, but the probable origins of the dance are older. The dance was systematized in the 18th century, and ridiculed during the colonial British Raj as a Devadasi prostitution system, outlawed by a series of laws from 1931 to 1938, a ban that was protested and partially repealed in 1940. Ultimately, the socio-political conflict brought renewed interest, revival and reconstruction of Mohiniyattam by the people of Kerala, particularly poet Vallathol Narayana Menon.

The origin of Mohiniyattam's is uncertain, according to Reginald Massey. Kerala, the region where this dance genre evolved and is popular, has a long history of lasya-style dances, the basics and structure of which may be at the heart. In Kerala temple sculpture is found the earliest evidence of Mohiniyattam, or a dance style similar to Mohiniyattam. In Mohiniyattam pose, the Vishnu temple of the 11th century at Trikodithanam, and the Kidangur Subramanya temple have many sculptures of female dancers. The textual evidence from the 12th century onwards indicates that Lāsyā themes were included by the Malayalam poets and playwrights. Nambootiri's Vyavaharamala of the 16th century contains the first known mention of the word Mohiniyattam, in connection with a payment to be made to a Mohiniyattam dancer. Another book, Gosha Yatra, from the 17th century also mentions the term. The Balarama Bharatam of the 18th century, a major secondary work written in Kerala on Natya Shastra, mentions many dance styles like Mohini Natana.

Mohiniyattam flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries when dance arts earned patronage from competing princely states. In particular, the funding and construction by the Hindu king, poet and music composer Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma of an early 19th century joint Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam team of artists led to the growth and systematization of modern Mohiniyattam.
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