Jayaprabha Menon is one of the leading exponents of Mohiniyattam, one of the major traditional dance forms of Kerala. Jayaprabha is based out of New Delhi where she runs a dance academy called The International Academy of Mohiniyattam(IAM) to promote the dance form in the national capital.
Jayaprabha stared her journey as a dancer at the tender age of 4. This was due to her natural inclination for dance which was noted and encouraged by her supportive parents. She started training under the guidance of the accomplished dancer, Guru Smt.Kalamandalam Saraswathy of Nrtitalaya, Calicut, Kerala. Her quest for excellence and her dedication to continuous learning took her to Padmashree Guru Bharathi Shivaji who further honed her skills as a Mohiniyattam exponent. She also learned Bharathanatyam under the tutelage of Smt.& Shri C. V. Chandrasekhar, Chennai.
Mohiniyattam literally means the dance of the mohini or the beautiful lady. It flourished under the patronage of the erstwhile King of Travancore, Shri Swati Thirunal whose compositions are used by the dancers even today. The subsequent rulers of Travancore, after Swati Thirunal though gave preference to Kathakali over Mohiniyattam and the dance form suffered a temporary decline.
It was Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon who conceived the idea of the now famous Kalamandalam as a centre for promotion of the traditional art forms of Kerala in the year 1930 who took an active interest in promoting and popularizing Mohiniyattam. In fact Mohiniyattam as we know today owes much to Vallathol Narayana Menon and Kalamandalam.
The dedication of veteran dancers who trained at Kalamandalam like Kalamandalam Chinnammu amma, Kalamandalam Kalyani Kutty Amma, Kalamandalam Satyabhama helped in infusing a new life into Mohiniyattam . This enabled it to earn the coveted position of being a premiere art form of Kerala.
The veteran dancers of Kalamandalam also developed a systematic pedagogy for the study of Mohiniyattam which included “Cholkkettu”, “Jatiswaram”, “Varnam”, “Padam” and “Thillana”. These were in some ways similar to that of Bharathanatyam, another dance form.
As Mohiniyattam gained popularity, many schools and styles came into being. The credit of reinventing Mohiniyattam goes to Padmabhooshan Kavalam Narayana Panicker , an eminent theatre personality, scholar and poet who introduced Sopana Sangeetham to Mohiniyattam, giving the art form its distinct regional flavour.
Sopana Sangeetham is the regional music of Kerala .” Sopanam” refers to the steps or holy stairs that lead to the sanctum sanctorum of a temple where the presiding deity is placed. Usually Sopana sangeetham is rendered by the members of the Marar community or the Pothuval community who are ambalavasis. The slow rhythmical vocals sung to the accompaniment of the Edakka as a part of Sopana Sangeetham is called “Kotti Padi Seva”. It is intended to help the devotees scale heights of oneness with the deity. Edakka is a traditional musical instrument.
“Kotti padi seva” is rendered while the pooja or the worship of the deity takes place behind the closed doors of the sanctum sanctorum. The rhythmical beats and music of “Kotti padi seva” called “antholiga gamakam”refers to the wave like rise and fall of sound in Sopana Sangeetham. The antholiga or the wave-like movement of a Mohiniyattam dancer and the antholiga gamagas of Sopana Sangeetham perfectly complement each other.
The “vaythari” ,mnemonics or the syllables of the percussion instruments of Idakka, Maddalam and Chenda add to the wholesomeness of the spectacle, creating a perfect visual, auditory and sensory experience that is authentic and typical of Kerala in every aspect.
A dedicated dancer , Jayaprabha considers it her good fortune to be able to do research under the guidance of the great scholar, Kavalam Narayana Panicker. She has produced many traditional as well as innovative Mohiniyattam numbers which have received a lot of critical acclaim.
She was honoured with the title Kalashree by the Sangeetha Natak Academy,Kerala for her contributions in the field of Mohiniyattam in the year 2015.
She has also been conferred an honorary PhD by the Kings University,USA for her mastery of the dance form.
She is empanelled with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and is an A Grade artist of Doordarshan, the national television.
She started performing overseas as a 19 year old, as a member of the then Kerala delegation to The Festival of India, USSR ,a part of a Govt of India initiative in the year 1987.
What started as a passion has now become a rewarding career bringing laurels to the dancer, her gurus and her disciples. To watch Kalashree Jayaprabha Menon perform Mohiniyattam is nothing less than a life time experience.
The cultural and aesthetic richness of Kerala is brought out by the many cultural art forms which are practiced and promoted even to this day, Mohiniyattam being one of the foremost art forms among them. Other notable dance and art forms from Kerala include Kaikotti Kali, Kathakali, Ottam thullal, Margam Kali,Oppana etc.
The success of an artist comes from a dedication of a life time, sacrifices by the near and dear and a willingness to persevere and an unstinting pursuit of excellence. Kalashree Jayaprabha Menon is an exemplary role model for aspiring dancers across the world. Here’s wishing her many more accolades and rewards!
Jayaprabha Menon enacting the part of Lord Shri Krishna during a Mohiniyattam recital