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BHARATNATYAM
Aug 08, 2015

Araimandi-Basic Standing PositionBharatanatyam originated in southern India in the state of Tamilnadu. It started as a temple dance tradition called Dasiyattam (the dance of the maid-servants) 2000 years ago and is perhaps the most advanced and evolved dance form of all the classical Indian dance forms.  Bharata Natyam is known for its grace, purity, tenderness, expression and sculpturesque poses. Lord Shiva is considered the God of this dance form. Today, it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over the world, although it is more commonly danced by women.

ORIGIN

It is believed that Bharatnatyam was revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata, a famous sage who then codified this sacred dance in a Sanskrit text called the Natya Shastra. The Natya Shastra is one of the fundamental treatises on Indian drama and aesthetics. Natya Shastra divides dance into two distinct forms- nritta, and nritya. In nritta, focus is on mastery of abstract hand gestures and movements, whereas the dancer employs a complex system of hand signals and body language to depict emotional expressions in nritya. 

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. There is also a great deal of visual evidence of this dance form in paintings and stone and metal sculptures of ancient times. On the gopurams of the Chidambaram temple, one can see a series of Bharatnatyam poses, frozen in stone as it were, by the sculptor. In many other temples, the charis and karanas of the dance are represented in sculpture and one can make a study of the dance form.

Bharata natyam was created "not merely for pleasure, but to embody the cosmic relationships and expressions (bhava) for all the worlds. So this performing art follows the worlds' movements in all activities and states: work and leisure, calm and laughter, fight and wars. It will confer righteousness onto the righteous, a moral restraint for the unruly, and discipline for the those who are guided by rule. It will teach wisdom both to the ignorant and the learned. It will provide entertainment for kings, and it will console the miserable ones. Natya will express all the moods and passions of the soul. It will incorporate all kinds of the deeds: the noble, the mediocre and the mean"

Bharatnatyam dance is known to be ekaharya, where one dancer takes on many roles in a single performance. In the early 19th century, the famous Tanjore Quartette, under the patronage of Raja Serfoji are said to have been responsible for the repertoire of Bharatnatyam dance as we see it today.

The style was kept alive by the devadasis, who were young girls 'gifted' by their parents to the temples and who were married to the gods. The devadasis performed music and dance as offerings to the deities, in the temple courtyards. Some of the renowned performers and gurus of the early part of the century belong to the devadasi families, a well-known name is Bala Saraswati.

Styles

The repertoire of Bharatnatyam is extensive, however, a performance follows a regular pattern. At first there is an invocation song. The first dance item is the alarippu, literally meaning - to adorn with flowers. It is an abstract piece combining pure dance with the recitation of sound syllables.

The next item, the jatiswaram 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. They form the basis of training in Bharatnatyam dance.

BHARATNATYAMAs a solo dance, Bharatnatyam leans heavily on the abhinaya or mime aspect of dance -  the nritya, where the dancer expresses the sahitya through movement and mime. Shabdam follows the jatiswaram in a Bharatnatyam dance performance. The accompanying song is generally in adoration of the Supreme Being.

After the shabdam, the dancer performs the varnam. The varnam which is the most important composition of the Bharatnatyam repertoire, 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, and then goes on to depict in a variety of ways, through abhinaya the lines of the sahitya. This portrays the dancer's excellence in abhinaya and also reflects the endless creativity of the choreographer. 

Modern Rebirth

E. Krishna Iyer was one of those who raised the social status of Bharata Natyam and greatly popularized it. Rukmini Devi Arundale was also instrumental in modifying mainly the Pandanallur style of Bharata Natyam and bringing it to the attention of the West. E. Krishna Iyer said about Rukmini Devi, "There is no need to say that before she entered the field, the art was dead and gone or that it saw a renaissance only when she started to dance or that she created anything new that was not there before". Rukmini Devi Arundale introduced group performances and staged various Bharata Natyam-based ballets. According to Shri Sankara Menon, Rukmini Devi raised Bharata Natyam to a puritan art form, by removing certain emotional elements evocative of the erotic, such as hip, neck, lip and chest movements) from the Pandanallur style. Not all love was portrayed, at least outside parameters considered "chaste". Balasaraswati said that "the effort to purify Bharata Natyam through the introduction of novel ideas is like putting a gloss on burnished gold or painting the lotus". Having studied Bharata Natyam for three years, in 1936 Rukmini Devi Arundale founded the school Kalakshetra outside the city of Madras to teach it and to promote other studies in Indian music and art. She was one of first teachers to instruct a few men to perform the dance. The dance, at that time, was exclusively performed by women, while men, called Nattuvanars, had only been teaching Bharata Natyam without actually performing it. It is worth noticing that most of the contemporary Bharata Natyam dancers do not satisfy the criteria for a professional danseuse stated in the scriptures.

Role of Music in Bharatnatyam :

Music plays an important role in Bharatnatyam. The musical accompaniment of the Carnatic School predominates over the raga in the Nritta passages. The chief musical instruments used in Bharatnatyam are the Mridangam and a pair of Cymbals. The cymbals provide the timing and the Mridangam provides fractional measures of the broad beats. The dancer follows both. A tambura is also used to provide the scale for the refrain. The musical instruments used are Mridangam, Manjira, Vina, 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 as a classical dance went through a lot of changes and still retaining its ancient quintessence. The most exciting aspect of Bharatnatyam is that it is religious and possess rich mythological heritage of India. The technique, costume, style and theme of the dance distinguish it from forms of Indian classical dance. Bharatnaty am is known for its grace, purity, tenderness and sculpturesque poses .


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