Charis, or the stylised footwork in Mohinyattam enhances the Nrutha or pure dance form

We discussed in detail the arms folding and arm movements of Mohiniyattam in our last article. Here we are discussing the different stylised footwork in this dance form.

 A dancer uses different techniques to move from side to side and front to back using stylised footwork. They are called Charis. Charis are essential components that enhance the Nrutha– or pure dance and are also essential for modulating the speed of the dancer. There are fourteen different Chari-s in Mohiniyattam. Four of them have the hands fixed in the left hip and the other 10 use different nritha hastha-s or hand gestures. These are described in the following.


                            x          1            2            3            x               v x          v

Rhythm     :        Thi       Taka         Thi       Tthi        Thai         Taka      Thi       Thi

The dancer stands in the half-sit position. Both hands hold the Mushti hand gesture close to the chest and faced inwards. For the first beat Thai, right foot hits the ground slowly, diagonally towards the right side and for the second beat ThiTha, the left foot is brought close to the right foot and is hit in the ‘Vaishnava’ position.

For these two beats Thei Thitha, the hands move through near the shoulders towards the chest and then brought forward bending the legs  and goes back to the original position passing through near the right shoulders and end up with inverted Thripathaka gesture close to the chest. This way, the hands draw a full circle in front of the chest. Eyes and the body moves along with the hands.

For the next beat Thi, right leg is moved in a circular fashion towards the back with the big toe touching the ground. At the same time, the right hand holds the ardha Chandra gesture and moves above the right foot in a circular fashion towards the chest and end up with a Hamsasya gesture. The same movement is repeated on the left side for the last beat Tthi.

This Chari is used to move backwards.


Beats: Thei thitha thithi

Hold the arms near the chest in the three-quarter fold position with the Hamsasya gesture on both hands while sitting in the Aramandala position. For the beat Thei, go down into the mukkal mandala (three-quarter sitting) position. For the second beat, Thitha, come back to the Aramandala position. And, for the last beat Thithi, follow the same movement for the Thithi beat in the previous ‘Valayam’ Chaari.


Beats: Thathei yithei thathathadhimi

Hold the arms in the three-quarter fold position with the Hamsasya gesture in the hands as in the previous chari. For the first beat, Thathei, raise the right leg and hit the heel of the foot at the same place. For the second beat yithei, bring back the right foot to the original position. While doing the first beat Thathei, hold the Ardhachandra gesture in the right hand and raise this hand straight up towards and above the head, draw a three-quarter circle around the right side of the body and bring it close to the right knee. Bring this hand back to the original position with the Hamsasya gesture for yithei. Repeat these movements for the beat thathathadhimi in the left side using left arm, hand, and foot. This chari is used for moving backwards and is rarely used.

Photo Courtesy: Natanakairali Archives

(Assisted by Sreekanth Janardhanan)

Artist: Smt. Meenakshy Menon (Natanakaisiki)


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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