Mohiniyattam Calls

Raya in dance pose

“You practise bharatanatyam like you’re doing exercise. But with mohiniyattam, you actually dance.”

A friend said this to me a few weeks ago, and it captures the essence of why I’ve recently chosen to stop studying bharatanatyam and focus my Indian classical dance study on mohiniyattam.

I always did struggle with getting motivated to practise bharatanatyam outside of class – not least because it would always take me to the point of pain in my thighs. But mohiniyattam, I’ll do without thinking. I’ll practise on purpose and then catch myself later turning out adavus and bending exercises while waiting for a webpage to load or the microwave to ding.

It’s not because I find bharatanatyam any less beautiful or expressive (indeed, one thing I had to weigh in this decision is that I won’t be learning some of the material I most love watching, like pieces telling Durga battle stories). Nor does it mean that mohiniyattam is inherently easier (goodness knows it’s more difficult in some ways).

It’s just a matter of how these dances resonate with MY body and spirit. It’s like a song that tugs at the heartstrings: I could go on and on trying to name the technical features that set it apart, but at the end of the day mohiniyattam just calls me in a way that bharatanatyam doesn’t.