III of the dramatic poem, Silappadikaram, is called Arangettrukkadai,
i.e., the gatha describing the first dance performance presented
for the approval of the king and the learned men. The place is the famous
Kaverippumpattinam, the place of Kovalan, the hero of the poem. Madhavi,
a courtesan of that city, gives her maiden dance performance before the
king who has invited the chief citizens, Perunkudihal, of whom Kovalan
is one. The chapter opens with a description of Madhavi and then her troupe,
consisting of a very learned natyacharya or Nattuvan (Adal Asiriyan),
a sangitacharya or musician (Isai Asiriyan), the player on the drum,
the mardangika (Tannumai Asiriyan), and an accompanying orchestra
of a flutist and a vainika, (Kuzhalon and Yaz Asiriyan).
(Theatre-Architecture in Ancient India by V. Raghavan)
is ample evidence - epigraphical and literary - to show that there did
exist in Kerala, some sort of solo dance form performed specially by women.
The earliest reference that can be found is the Chokkur inscription of
932 AD (This is a village 15 miles to the north of Calicut). The inscription
refers to one Chittarayil Nangyar who donated land to the temple. The word
‘nangai’ or ‘nangyar’ refers to the women who performed dance. Another
epigraphic record is from Medumpara Tali near Shoranur of 934 AD almost
the same time as the Chokkur one. The inscription is more specific since
it mentions the mode of payment to the ‘nangyar’ and ‘nattuvanars’. Since
the inscription speaks of not only the dancer but also of the dance masters,
it is considered to be the most reliable one.
(In chapter “History of Kerala - Its Theatrical Arts and Mohiniattam” in “Mohiniattam: The Lyrical Dance” by Kanak Rele)