Mohiniattam performance by Swapna Rajendra Kumar
- Probal Gupta, Bangalore 

December 8, 2009 

Over the last few decades, boundaries of Mohiniattam has taken great leaps forward. Thanks to the indirect contribution of Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay of Sangeet Natak Akademi, who realizing the incredible potential of Mohiniattam, instigated Bharati Shivaji to do research under Kavalam Narayana Panikker, to set up a redefined structure for the art form, followed by Dr. Kanak Rele.  The immense contribution of Panikker, whose name has now become synonymous as a research guide for Mohiniattam, is a guiding force to many pupils to take interest in this aesthetic lasya imbued classical dance of Kerala. 

Swapna Rajendra, one of the foremost disciples of Mohiniattam exponent Sunanda Nair, who in turn is a disciple of Kanak Rele, gave an aesthetic performance at the Sri Aiyappan Temple at Yashwantpur, Bangalore, under the auspices of their Mandala Celebrations. I appreciate the genuine efforts of Swapna, who decided to make Bangalore her home four years ago after relocating from Mumbai and training many disciples, thereby promoting the aesthetics of this form in a city which is blooming with Bharatanatyam. It is not easy to get disciples who are interested in the form which is not highly commercial like Bharatanatyam and Kathak. The technique is also not easy as tremendous control is required on the torso with the circular, the semi circular and the lateral circular movements inherited from Kathakali and so congruent to this form. 

Commencing the recital with Kusurthy Ganapathi, a composition of Panikker and choreographed by Kanak Rele in Ragam Atana, by the disciples of Swapna, set to Chempada (Adi) Talam, the evening moved on to a performance by Swapna who commenced her recital with a Mukhachalam, an item taken from Kathakali which has now become obsolete in the said form and was once performed as a part in the invocatory piece – The Poorva Rangam - Thodayam. Choreographed by Sunanda Nair in Ragamalika set to Talamalika, with the various adavus interwoven aesthetically, Mukhachalam gave a fresh start to Swapna’s performance. 

Moving on to a famous Padam composed by Maharaja Swati Tirunal, popularized by the lyrics “Poontein nermuzhi” which has been retuned in the Sopanam style by Kavalam Narayana Panikker, and the Astapadi “Sakhiyae” where Radha complains to her Sakhi that though Krishna has innumerable girl friends (the Gopis), yet she loved him selflessly, thereby fantasising over the happy moments she has spent with her Lord in the woods, making love with him with Manmatha’s arrows striking them. Swapna brought out the abhinaya aspect which she has imbibed, though she needs to polish more on its subtle nuances.  “Sanjakao,” a musical aspect taken from the Krishna Karunamruthum and choreographed by Kanak Rele in Raag Kalyani in Ayyadi Talam, portraying the devotion in the minds of the gopis, was performed by her students. The exigency and the perseverance to adapt a form, the nuances of which is not so easy to adopt is praiseworthy, yet the students require more training, especially while adopting the subtleties of the attami (the beautiful neck movement), the circular and the semicircular movements along with the facet of abhinaya which looked abrupt and blurred at times. 

Swapna and her students concluded the evening’s recital with 'Jeeva,' a composition by Kavalam Narayana Panikker and choreographed by Swapna along with her students. The nritta aspect of Mohiniattam with the permutation combination of various talas employing the method of executing cross tempo, this item speaks for Swapna’s sense of good choreography. Above all, the vocalist's clear Ananda Bhairavi rendition of 'Jeeva' and the beautiful choreography well executed by Swapna and her students definitely was the piece de resistance of the evening. Purity in style and usage of the correct hastas during execution of abhinaya will definitely take Swapna a long way.

Probal Gupta trained in Kathakali under two legends Late Kalamandalam Govindan Kutty and Guru Fact Padmanabhan under whom he is presently continuing his specialization in Stree Vesham genre of Kathakali. He has also been a student of Bharati Shivaji. He is an empanelled artist of Doordarshan and has established a Solo Margam for Stree Vesham Kathakali under the able guidance of his Guru Fact Padmanabhan. Probal is a graduate in English Hons from the University of Kolkata