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Mohini: The Enchantress

American Institute of Indian Studies

From Chinna Keshava Temple, Belure, Karnataka

Mohini, meaning the enchantress, is a female avatar of Lord Vishnu. She is worshipped in Western and Southern parts of India. She is also known as Mahalasa and Shilabalika (celestial maiden).

An ultimate form of beauty, Mohini's weapon is Maya (illusion). In Indian classical and folk mythology she is known to have beguiled and tricked demons to save the humanity and Divinity alike.

Her enchanting beauty brought an end to life of demon Bhasmasur who acquired boon from God Shiva to burn everything with mere touch of his palm. Mohini seduced him to dance and made him burn himself.

Vishnu took the form of Mohini to undertake tasks that he could not have accomplished in his original male form. Mohini, beauty personified, enchanted God Shiva to fall for Vishnu in female form.

In Western states of India she is called Mahalasa and her consort is Khanboda, a regional avatar of Shiva. Here Mohini is depicted playing Naga-Veena. Naga is also a jewell of Shiva.

Chenna Kesava Temple at Belur, Karnataka has some of the best specimens and most diverse roop/ moods of Mohini, the illusory female avatar of Hindu God Vishnu.

Mohini is mentioned in Agni Purana, Shiva Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Ganesh Purana and Tripurarahasya, a South Indian Shakta text. All these texts refer to the encounter of Mohini and Shiva.

Hanuman, Skanda and Harihara are believed to be born of fallen seeds of Shiva enchanted by Mohini. Here Mohini is shown playing shiva's Damru (double faced drum) and Khartal kind of musical instrument

Mohini is also linked with Parvati who is Tripurasundari. Tripurarahasya text refers to Mohini's beauty as a gift from Parvati to Vishnu. Mohini with a parrot, like Goddess Meenakshi, wife of Shiva.

Mohini's depiction is not just limited to that of a delicate female. At places she is also represented engaged in activities associated with hunting. Here she is shown with bow ready for a hunt.

In the (Chinna) Kesava Temple in Belur, Karnataka she is also depicted as the huntress engrossed in a violent act unlike her common representation of being engaged in self-beautification.

Mohini is also believed to be a female disguise of Krishna. Being a female avatar of Vishnu and Krishna, Mohini is also worshipped among the transgender and eunuch in many states of India.

Transgenders in Tamilnadu celebrate the marriage of a Aravan, a character in Mahabharata and Krishna in Mohini avatar. They dress as Mohini in bridal makeup and lament the death of Aravan as widows.

Mohiniattam, the classical dance form of Kerela derives its name form Mohini. The dance form practiced only by women unlike Kathak and Bharatnatyam, originally was considered erotic dance form.

The legends of Mohini are dramatised and enacted in several popular drama and dance forms of Northern and Southern India including Kathak. She continues to enchant her audience.

Kuchipudi Performance of Mohini-Bhasmasura episode by the legendary dancing duo, Narasimhachari & Vasanthalakshmi.

Centre for Art and Archaeology, American Institute of Indian Studies
Credits: Story

Curated by: Meenakshi J.
Street View: Courtesy Archaeological Survey of India
Image source: American Institute of Indian Studies
Video: Youtube user RASOHAM2007

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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