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#BreakingGround: Kerala man becomes first Muslim to receive PhD in Mohiniyattam

A classical dancer from Kerala has become the first Muslim to hold a doctorate in the ancient Indian dance form of Mohiniyattam which is traditionally the preserve of women.

K M Abu has been performing Mohiniyattam for more than three decades. 

The classical dance form is rooted in Hindu mythology and is closely related to Bharatnatyam, perhaps the most famous form of classical Indian dance.

Mr Abu, 47, says that unlike some of his Muslim dancing peers he has never faced discrimination for breaking with tradition in Hindu-majority India.

“It shows that the people are interested in the performance rather than the performer,” said Abu, who teaches the dance form at a university in the town of Kalady in northern Kerala. 

Mohiniyattam is said to have originated in Kerala more than five hundred years ago and means “dance of the enchantress” in the local Malayalam language.

It was originally performed by so-called ‘Devadasis’, women who devote their lives to worship in Hindu temples.

Abu is the only man among eight dancers to get a doctorate from the Kerala Kalamandalam, a major centre for the Indian performing arts.

His doctoral thesis was on the life of Kalyanikutty Amma, a 20th Century dancer who popularized Mohiniyattam.

The increasing participation of non-Hindus in traditional Hindu dance forms is being seen as a sign of religious tolerance in Kerala, a progressive state with a high rate of literacy.

But it was not always so.

Kalamandalam Hyderali, a Muslim singer famous for his association with the classical Indian dance-drama of Kathakali till his death in 2006, was often forced to sing from outside the temple while dancers were performing inside.

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