The article discusses the first item in the Mohiniyattam repertoire, Cholkettu, which is a dance form primarily focused on the Nrutha aspect and draws parallels between it and the Prithvi thathva of Panchabhoota.

The Mohiniyattam repertoire consists of seven distinct items. The performance commences with the dance item called Cholkettu, which comprises stylized rhythmic syllables in tune with the raga, and the danseuse dances appropriately to it. Chollu means syllables and keṭṭu means to tie together. These syllables are designed to help the danseuse remain in rhythm with the time beat. The dance pattern includes a shloka in praise of the Devi (goddess) at the beginning and a verse in praise of Lord Shiva at the end. However, this dance pattern falls under the category of nritta (pure-dance) because the aṭavus conducted with reciting Vāyttāris are more prominent. Most of the aṭavus available in Mohiniyattam are utilized in this dance item. Towards the end of the dance, the danseuse brings out the meaning of the verse that praises Shiva through hand gestures and appropriate bodily movements. Thus, this dance type provides an opportunity for the exhibition of abhinaya (acting) to a limited extent. This Shiva propitiatory dance is considered an auspicious augury.

The Mohiniyattam repertoire can be evaluated in relation to concepts of traditional Indian knowledge systems, such as the concept of Panchabhoota and Sapta Chakras, which are popularly interpreted in Indian spirituality and allied fields like traditional Indian medicine and Yoga. In a few articles, let us interpret a Mohiniyattam Katcheri or the traditional repertoire of Mohiniyattam considering the concept of Panchabhoota and Yogic chakras.

Significance to panchabhoota

Panchabhoota attributes the existence of life in the universe to five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. Prithvi or the earth is the first among the Panchabhoota and is macroscopic in its form. It is considered to provide the structure of a living body, including its bones and flesh. The body constitutes the fundamental or outermost receptacle in which life resides and is associated with the Prithvi thathva. Similarly, the first dance item in a Mohiniyattam recital is Cholkettu, a form identified primarily by the Nritta – movement often referred to as ‘pure dance.’ Nritta constitutes the fundamental or the most explicit attribute of a dance form. Thus, we can draw some parallels between Cholkkettu and the Prithvi thathva of Panchabhoota.

Focusing on pure dance

A dance performance comprises Nritta or pure dance, Nruthya including abhinaya, and Natya comprising storytelling. Across different items performed in a repertoire, the dancer transcends these different aspects of dance, often in an increasing order of complexity. For example, the Cholkkettu focuses largely on the Nritha aspect, while a Varnam will include both Nrutha and Nruthya, and a final piece in the Mohiniyattam repertoire, Saptham, includes Natyam as well.

Nritha or pure dance is the most important in Cholkkettu. In a Cholkettu, the dancer starts by paying respects to the earth on which she is dancing, reminding us of its connection with the Prithvi thathva. He/she then briefly invokes prayers to goddess Bhagavathi or Shakti, who is the incarnation of Maya or the illusionary power of the universe. This reminds us that the inanimate world (or the Prithvi) is fictitious and is indeed a figment of our imagination of our real self. Towards the end of Cholkettu, the dancer offers worship to Lord Shiva, who is considered as the one and only source of consciousness in the universe.

The merger of the illusionary manifestation of the universe with the sole source of consciousness is referred to as Advaita in Hindu philosophy. By keeping Shakti and Shiva separated in the dance, interluded by Nritha, Cholkettu hints at the goal of life, which is to attain Moksha by elevating oneself from the illusionary world and achieving oneness with the Supreme Being. Thus, the Mohiniyattam recital serves as a metaphysical articulation of that spiritual pursuit.

Notations of a few mudras from Cholkkettu

1          2         3          4 – 1    4 – 2

1.         Salutation – Añjali (The first posture in Cholkkettu)

2.         Tufts (heaped up) – Katakāmukham

3.         The hair in tufts – Hamsapaksam (Join the inner sides of the two palms and placing them on one side of the head, lower them on each side, shaking them the while. If one palm shakes to the right, the other should shake to the left. This mudrā could start either from the right side of the head or the left.)

4-1,2.    The Ganges (in the tufts of Lord Śiva) – Katakāmukham and Hamsapaksam

Assisted by Sreekanth Janardhanan

Photo Courtesy: Natanakairali Archives

Nirmala Paniker

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

1 Comment

  1. Illusion and reality is interrelated inseparably. Moksha is ultimate realisation after long journey through the blend of illusion and reality.
    In spiritual terms it may be Siva Sakthi the union of illusion and reality into supreme realisation where the blend has a single identity seems to my humble thoughts…

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