Devdasi Award 2018 for Rashmi Menon for her contribution in the art form of Mohiniyattam

Mohiniyattam exponent Rashmi Menon receives Devdasi Award 2018 from Devdasi Nrutya Mandir in Bhubaneswar on December 12

Rashmi Menon, the recipient of Devdasi Award 2018 for her contribution in promotion of the art form of Mohiniyattam.

Eminent Mohiniyattam exponent, Rashmi Menon received Devdasi Award 2018 at Bhubaneswar on December 2. The 13th Devdasi (Devdashi) Dance Festival was held at the Bhanjakala Mandap in Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odhisha for three-days, from December 10, organised by Devdasi Nrutya Mandir, promoted by its Secretary, Jagabandu Jena. Acclaimed artistes belonging to seven different dance form presented their dancing skills each evening during the festival, while a Naba Unmesha (Budding talents) hunt was held each morning. The seven eminent artistes who were conferred with Devdasi Rashtriya Award 2018 includes Rashmi Menon (Mohiniyattam), Guru Rabindra Kumar Atibuddhi (Odishi), Dr. Suparna Venkatesh (Bharatanatyam), Bholeti Srilekha (Kuchipudi), Rujuta Soman (Kathak), Dr. Ramkurshna Talukdar (Shatriya) and Dr. Shruti Bandopadhyaya (Manipuri).

Mohiniyattam exponent, Rashmi Menon speaking at the Devdasi Raashriya Sammaan 2018 in Bhubaneswar on December 12.

Along with these artists, Guru Sharat Kumar Das, Light Designer, Debi Prasad Mishra, Anchor; Dr. Srinibas Ghautuari and PwD performing artiste, Sonal Mohapatra were also felicitated at the festival. What is more, Guru Ramahari Das, Dr. SK Tamotia, Dushmant Kumar Swain, Ninyha Nursingha Mohapatra and Basudev Bhatta guided the entire event.

History

Devadasi, also known as Devaradiyar, which literally means “servant of God”. In the yeoman days, these women were at the disposal of Gods, therefore, no mortal can marry them. At the same time, these Devdasi women were allowed o choose their own partners from, both among the married men and bachelors. These relationships were essentially for a short duration only for the conjugal bliss. These Devdasis neither got financial independence nor the life partners. Hence, these women depended on their partners for financial gains, that eventually pushed them to prostitution. Unlike the age old prostitutes, Devdasis learned music as well as various dance forms and they eventually managed to get a solid patronage from the rich and elite class with their knowledge of as many as 64 types of dance forms. Except for a very few, you got wedded to the tradition and the Gods, remained devoted to the temples, while a majority of them turned into prostitution. All the Indian contemporary dance forms have its origin from Devdasi era. Although, the evil practise of subjecting Devdasis into prostitution was officially been banned, the remaining women were rehabilitated to the mainstream by giving them vocational training and integrated to the civil society.

Mohiniyattam exponent, Rashmi Menon at Devdasi Raashtriya Sammaan-2018.

Ramassery, in Palakkad district is famous for the delicacy Idali, that is steamed with the traditional earthen vessel. The traditional idaly, well rounded and slim, resembling another traditional Kerala dish, Aappam, nevertheless, the taste it gives in contrast with the conventional form of idali is vastly different. Ramassery Idali is not only famous in India, but also far off destinations such as the US!

Mohiniyattam exponent, Rashmi Menon at Devdasi Raashtriya Sammaan 2018 along with other awardees.

What is the link between Ramassery Idali and Rashmi Menon. Well, her mother hails from Vadavattath Tharavad (ancestral matriarchal house name), which has produced many artists, stalwarts and sports persons. Although, Rashmi grew up in Ernakulam and other places, her roots are in Ramassery village in Elapully Panchayat of Palakkad district. Like the spongy white sweet Ramassery Idali, Rashmi too wears the traditional white Mohiniyattam attire, performs so gracefully like a swan and works very hard scaling heights and looking beyond.

Speaking about her genesis of Mohiniyattam learning, Rashmi says, “I started learning dance as early as age four under the tutelage of Savithri. I had undergone intense training in Mohiniyttam, Bharathanatyam and Kuchipudi under the able guidance of the disciples of Guru Late Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, including Kalalayam Mohandas and Kalalayam Kumar for 18 years.”

A lawyer by profession, she quit her job in order to fulfil her overriding ambition of becoming a Mohiniyattam exponent and focused on intense training. Rashmi is also a Post Graduate Diploma holder in dance forms like Mohiniyattam, Bharathanatyam and Kuchipudi. Out of these three South Indian classical dance forms she has mastered through rigorous practise, Rashmi found her true calling in Mohiniyattam, the most graceful, yet quite a difficult dance form to master. Pallavi Krishnan trained her Mohiniyattam for few years, where she learned the nuances of the dance form, but thanks to her unending quest for refinement and perfection, Rashmi became a disciple of Kalamandalam Kshemavathi, one of the leading practitioners of Mohiniyattam.

Mohiniyattam performer, Rashmi Menon at Devdasi Raashtriya Sammaan-2018.

Kalamandalam Kshemavathi is imparting the intrinsic and intricate nuances of Mohiniyattam to Rashmi and is guiding her through the deeper realms of her passion. Bragha Bessel is guiding Rashmi in terms of making her comprehend the intricacies of Abhinaya. Rashmi gives Mohiniyattam performance across the country.

Mohiniyattam, Dance of Enchantress

Rashmi Menon, the Mohiniyattam exponent at Devdasi Raashtriya Sammaan 2018.

Rashmi gives a nice description of Mohiniyattam on her website, “Serene undulation of a feminine form with the feather touches of dance from the land of swaying palm trees, Kerala is Mohiniyattam. The soft and languorous movements of Mohiniattam are reminiscent of the swaying palm trees and gently flowing rivers. The term Mohini means enchantress and Attam means dance. Literally meaning “Dance of the Enchantress”, Mohiniattam dance form is distinguished by a beautiful feminine style with surging flow of body movements.

The musical melody and the rhythmical swaying of the dancer from side to side and the smooth and unbroken flow of the body movement is the striking feature of the dance form. The movements are never abrupt, but dignified , easy, natural, restrained and yet subtle.

Mohiiyattam performer, Rashmi Menon at Devdasi Raashtriya Sammaan 2018.

The glances, postures, gait employed are so subtle and graceful that they convey the infinite suggestiveness of radiant love. The Mohiniyattam dance focuses mainly on feminine moods and emotions. Usually the theme of Mohiniattam dance is “sringara” or love. Subtle subjects of love are executed with suggestive abhinaya, subtle gestures, rhythmic footwork and lilting music.

Mohiniyattam exponent being felicitated at Devdasi Raashtriya Sammaan 2018.

It was during the reign of the great poet King Maharaja Swathi Thirunal that Mohiniyattam received considerable patronage. After his untimely demise, adverse circumstances led to the decline of this dance form till when in the 1930’s Mahakavi Vallathol founded the Kerala Kalamandalam and once again revived the dance form joining hands with Mukunda Raja.

“Classical dance fusion” by the South central zone cultural centre (SCZCC) at Taj Falaknuma, Hyderabad on November 28, 2017 for GES ’17 (global entrepreneur Shop summit).

Rashmi is also the founder director of Sree Rajarajeswari School of Dance in Kerala and Laavania, the Centre for Learning Classical Dances in Kilpauk, Chennai. Rashmi has trained scores of students in Kerala all the three dance forms and organised Arangetram of several batches of students before she relocated to Chennai, where she is continues to foster and guide the new generation of aspiring artists in Mohiniyattam and Bharathanatyam. Rashmi is a familiar face in popular television channels in Chennai with her performance being telecast on various occasions.

Krishna Nee Yennai Ariyilla by Rashmi Menon

A graded Doordharshan artist in bot Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam, Rashmi has performed in several high profile stages such as the Indian Dance Festival at Mamallapuram, near Chennai thrice, Uday Shankar Festival Kolkata, conducted by West Bengal State Sangeet Natak Academy, Cuttak International Festival, Music Academy Chennai, Kerala Sangeet Natak Academy, Sree Chithirathirunal Festival, Kerala Tourism Programmes, Deccan Dance Festival, pallavotsava, Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple, NCPA Mumbai; Kalakshethram Mumbai; Rabindra Bharati in Hyderabad; Taj Vivanta in Hyderabad; Chowdiah Hall in Bangalore; Pallavotsava in Mysore; Auroville in Pondicherry (Puducherry); Mount Abu in Rajasthan; Abhinaya Sudha, Narada Gana Sabha, Karthik Fine Arts, The Mylapore Fine Arts, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Mylapore, All India Radio Chennai; Kadavallur Anyonyam and more. Rashmi was conferred with Kaladarpanam in 2004 for her versatility.

A graceful performer to the hilt and an amazing choreographer par excellence, Rashmi is a sought after collaborator with many established artists in the Indian Classical Horizon. Winner of the Indian Dance Series Contest 2012, Rashmi is also honoured with Natya Praveena title for creativity in choreography and Nrithya Shiromani award for the excellence in her filed and her contribution and efforts to promote and popularise Mohiniyattam. Also, Rashmi is honoured with an award of excellence by SS Mukundapuram Taluk in Kerala. Rashmi was well appreciated for her excellent performance in her debut short-film titled, Wings of Freedom. Last, but not the least, Rashmi has also worked as Assistant Choreographer (Mohiniyattam) for the Malayalam film, Swapaanam, Directed by the award winning film maker, Shaji N Karun.