• Bharatnatyam, originating from Tamil Nadu, is the oldest among the contemporary classical dances and is considered to be over 2000 years old. It has its roots in Indian legends.
  • Several texts beginning with Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra (200 BCEE. to 200 C .E.) provide information on this dance form.
  • Historical references to dance are found in the Tamil epics Silappatikaram (c. 2nd century CE) and Manimegalai.
  • The Abhinaya Darpana by Nandikesvara is one of the main sources of textual material, for the study of the technique and grammar of body movement in Bharatnatyam Dance.
  • According to the Hindu tradition the name of the dance form was derived by joining two words, ‘Bharata’ and Natyam’ where ‘Natyam in Sanskrit means dance and ‘Bharata’ is a mnemonic comprising ‘bha’, ‘ra’ and ‘ta’ which respectively means ‘bhava’ that is emotion and feelings; ‘raga’ that is melody; and ‘tala’ that is rhythm. Thus, traditionally the word refers to a dance form where bhava, raga and tala are expressed.
Bharata Natyam Perfomance
Bharata Natyam Perfomance

Origin of Bharatnatyam

  • This dance form was nurtured in the temple by the Devadasis, servants of the God.
  • It was taken to the princely courts and the Chola and the Pallava kings were believed to be the great patrons of this art.
  • Bharatanatyam shares the dance poses of many ancient Shiva sculptures in Hindu temples. The Cave 1 of the Badami cave temples, dated to the 7th century, portrays the Tandava-dancing Shiva as Nataraja.

Theme of Bharatnatyam

  • Bharatnatyam is a solo, feminine type of a dance (now performed by male and group artists as well), which is tender and erotic.
  • The basic theme is love, where the female dancers usually perform as a devotion to the Supreme Being; or love of a mother for child.
  • This dance is considered to be a fire dance, where there is a mysterious display of the abstract element of fire in the human body.

Development of Bharatnatyam

  • The dance form went through various assessments to gain the present shape. The dance form was codified and documented as a performing art in the 19th century by four brothers who were called the Tanjore QuartetChinnayya, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu of the Tanjore Court during King Sarabojis rule between 1798 CE-1824 CE introduced Bharatnatyam with its various forms such as the Alarippu, Jathiswaram, Sabdham, Varnam, Tillana.
  • The dance form was carried from one generation to another and the direct descendants of these four brothers formed the original of Nattuvanars (Guru) or dance teachers of Bharatnatyam in Tanjore.

Role of Music in Bharatnatyam

  • Music plays an important role in Bharatnatyam. The musical instruments used are Mridanga, Manjira, Veena, Violin, Kanjira, Surpeti, Venu and Tanpura.
  • The costume consists of a richly embroidered dhoti of silk for both male and female dancers. There is a pleated or frilled cloth hanging from the waist to the knees which is laced over the Dhoti.
  • Bharatnatyam is known for its grace, purity, tenderness and sculpturesque poses.

Elements of Bharatnatyam

  • Bharatanatyam is traditionally a team performance art that consists of a solo dancer, accompanied by musicians and one or more singers
  • The repertoire of Bharatnatyam is extensive, however, a performance follows a regular pattern as defined by the Tanjore Quartet. These elements in their order are:
    • Alarippu: It is an invocation song. Literally it means to adorn with flowers. It is an abstract piece combining pure dance with the recitation of sound syllables.
    • Jatiswaram: It is a short pure dance piece performed to the accompaniment of musical notes of any raga of Carnatic music. Jatiswaram has no sahitya or words, but is composed of adavus which are pure dance sequences – nritta.
    • Shabdam: It is the dramatic element, which includes the abhinaya in the song.
    • Varnam: It encompasses both nritta and nritya and epitomises the essence of this classical dance form. The dancer here performs complicated well graded rhythmic patterns in two speeds showing the control over rhythm.
    • After the strenuous varnam, the dancer performs a number of abhinaya items expressing a variety of moods. The common pieces are:
      • (i) keertanam (text is important)
      • (ii) kritis (musical aspect is highlighted)
      • (iii) padams and javalis (theme of love, often divine)
    • Tillana: A Bharatnatyam performance ends with a tillana which has its origin in the tarana of Hindustani music.
    • The performance ends with a mangalam invoking the blessings of the God.

Exponents of Bharatnatyam

  • E Krishna Iyer, a prominent freedom fighter, revived this dance form.
  • Rukmini Devi Arundale was a famous dancer and an animal lover. She is responsible for giving global recognition to the dance.
  • Others include – Yamini Krishnamurthy, Padma Subramaniam, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Mallika Sarabhai etc.

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