How are the arm movements in Mohiniyattam quite unique compared to the other South Indian classical dance forms?

In our previous articles, we discussed various leg movements in Mohiniyattam. We elaborately studied different movements such as Hamsa Pada(Swan movement), Kukuda Pada(movement of a hen), Mayoora Pada(Peacock movement), Mandooka Pada(Frog movement) and Naga Bandha(Snake movement). We continue our journey into commonly used arm folding positions in this dance form.  

Arm folding positions

Different extents to which arms are folded in Mohiniyattam movements are named as quarter fold(Kalmadakku), half fold(Aramadakku), three-quarter fold(Mukkalmadakku) and full fold(Muzhumadakku).

The full fold has the palms close to the chest of the dancer. If the palms are six inches away from the chest, it is called a three-quarter fold. In this position, the angle formed between the upper and lower halves of the arm is 45 degrees. If the palms are placed one foot away from the chest, it is called the quarter fold.

 Most of the dance movements (adavus) in Mohiniyattam have hands used in the quarter to three-quarter folds. The only exception is a few adavus in the groups called Ja-Ganam where the arms are in a stretched position.

Arm movement patterns

Circular Movements : Artist: Bindu Rajendran (Natanakaisiki)

As we know Mohiniyattam is characterised by circular patterns of dance movements. These circular patterns are also classified into quarter-circle, half-circle, three-quarter circle and full-circle. Depending of extent of a circular movement they are called by these names.

A full circular movement in front of the chest: Artist: Minakshi Menon (Natanakaisiki)
One hand making circular movement through right side of the body. Artist: Minakshi Menon (Natanakaisiki)

Similarly, if the right hand is moved from near the left shoulder downwards in a circular fashion and brought close to the right shoulder, it is a semi- or half-circle. If the right hand starts from a three-quarter fold close to the chest and is raised up close to the head in a circular motion and then brought down close to the knees, it is a three-quarter circle. If it is brought back to the original position it is a full circle. If the palms are rotated hinged at the wrist, it is also a full circle.

However, in Mohiniyattam we rarely use fully stretched arms. Most of the movements are confined within a circle that one can draw using quarter-fold arms in front of their chest. This is quite unlike the arms movements in other South Indian dance forms.

Photo Courtesy: Natanakairali Archives

(Assisted by Sreekanth Janardhanan)

Nirmala Paniker

Guru Nirmala Paniker is a danseuse, choreographer and researcher of repute. She established Natanakaisiki, the dance research and training wing of Natanakairali.

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