Sunday, 8 January 2017

Dance - A Classical Glance! - Aish

BHARATANATYAM - An Indian Classical dance!

What is Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam is the divine dance considered as the religious ceremony most pleasing to the God and dedication of all activity to the Divine was the highest form of worship.

Bharata + Natyam = The dramatical representation with facial expressions (Abhinaya), Gestures (Hastas) Music and Rhythmic Syllables. It is an artistic Yoga, for revealing the spiritual through the corporeal.

The tradition states that Bharata is construed of "bha"–"ra"–"ta". The bha stands for bhava (feelings, emotions), ra stands for raga (musical mode), and ta stands for tala (rhythm). Natyam is derived from the Sanskrit word Nata - dancers; the action or movement.

Thus, Bharatanatyam connotes a dance which harmoniously expresses "Bhava, Raga and Tala". It is the dance technique of Tamil Nadu, a place in the South of India.

Origin of Bharatanatyam

Natya Shastra was composed by Bharata Muni in the 2nd century B.C.  The Natya Shastra is a compendium on all apsects of  Indian drama and covers allied arts like music, instruments, stage craft, costume, make up, sculpture, painting - all inter related and integral parts of drama. The text in Sanskrit contains about 6000 verses and is spread over 36 chapters.

Natya Shastra is often refered to as the fifth veda - Bharata is said to have taken Words from Rigveda, Music from  Samaveda, Gestures from Yajurveda and Bhava/Rasa from Atharvaveda.

Natya Shastra is the foundation of all the Indian classical dance forms, but just like the water that flows from the top of a mountain and branches out into different rivers; similarly, Indian Classical Dance is divided into 8 dance forms according to language, geography and costumes. They are:

Bharatanatyam in Tamil Nadu
• Mohiniyattam in Kerala
• Kathakali  in Kerala
• Kuchipudi in Andhra Pradesh
• Odissi in Orissa
• Kathak in North India
• Manipuri in Manipur
• Sattriya in Assam

Evolution of Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam today springs from Sadir Natyam, also known by names like Dasi Attam, Chinna Melam, or simply, Sadir. The term Sadir began with the Maratha rulers of South India in the 17th century, who called the dance Sadir Nautch. This corresponds to the presentation of the dance in the courts. A more exalted role of the dance is evoked by the name Dasi Attam, the dance of the devadasis as a part of temple worship. A devadasi, whose name means Servant (Dasi) of Divinity (Deva), was an artist dedicated to the services of a temple. The dance of the devadasi was integral to the ritual worship. Devadasi families specialized in the arts of music and dance, and with the Nattuvanars (dance masters), they maintained these traditions from generation to generation, supported by royal patronage.

Revival of Bharatanatyam

For many centuries Bharata Natyam has been performed only by certain families in the district of Tanjore, these inheritors of the craft being known as 'Nattuvans'. The chief exponents of this dance were the Devadasis or temple dancers.

The modern form of Bharata Natyam presentation is the arrangement of four Nattuvans of Pandanallur. They were the brothers- Ponniah, Chinniah, Vadivelu and Sivanandam, who lived in the eighteenth century. The Vidwan, Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai of Pandanallur, the greatest teacher of Bharata Natyam is a direct descendant of the four brothers.

It was Rukmini Devi Arundale, the celebrated dancer and scholar who took this Dance form out of the temple and gave it a  new respectability. She started a school at Tiruvanmayur, Madras (now Chennai) named Kalakshetra. The age-old, 'Gurukulam' system of education is still followed and many classes are conducted in sylvan surroundings.

The Purpose of Bharatanatyam

According to the Notable Bharatanatyam dancer, T. Balasaraswati -

▪ Bharata Natyam is an art which consecrates the body.
▪ The dancer, who dissolves her identity in rhythm and music, makes her body an instrument, at least for the duration of the dance, for the experience and expression of the spirit.

Distinctive Aspects of Bharatanatyam

The cache of Bharatanatyam, like all major classical Indian dance forms, follows the three categories of performance in the Natya Shastra which are Nritta (Nirutham), Nritya (Niruthiyam) and Natya (Natyam).


Nritta is an abstract form of pure movement in dance. It is the illustration of rhythm through graceful movements without expression of a theme or emotion. It emphasizes the beauty in motion, form, speed, range and pattern. Nritta consists of only rhythmic and graceful movements, or abstract dance, and has no poetic meaning to illustrate.


The Nritya is the interpretive dance used with facial expressions (Abhinaya), hand gestures and body movements to portray emotions and express themes. It is the expressive aspect of the dance that attempts to communicate feelings, storyline particularly with spiritual themes in dance traditions. It articulates the emotions and includes the expression of words through gestures and movement according to the musical notes.


The Natyam is a dramatical representation or drama with speech, music and dancing. It implies a stage performance, including spoken dialogue and mime, to convey meaning and enact narrative. It is typically a team performance, but can be acted out by a solo performer where the dancer uses certain standardized body movements to indicate a new character in the underlying story. A Natya incorporates the elements of a Nritya.

Both Nritta and Nritya are achieved by a combination of movements and positions involving the feet, limbs, and body, along with hand gestures and facial expressions. Natya is achieved through portrayal of characters and themes, which are also described in scriptures. These elements are well defined, and constitute a vocabulary that characterizes Bharatanatyam.

Scriptures like the Natya Shastra by Bharati Muni and Abhinaya Darpana by Nandikeshwara classify the elements of dance in great detail and in large arrays. Let us have a deeper look about the structures and features of this remarkable dance in the upcoming articles.

Bharatanatyam has rich language and is vast as air.  In this modern generation, learners do grasp the Rhythmic syllables and perform the Natya with Abhinaya as instructed by their Gurus, but understanding the theoretical aspect of Bharatanatyam is predominant. 

Indeed it was fortunate for me to be blessed with wonderful Gurus, trained in the Tanjore style, completed Arangetram (On-stage performance by a dancer on the completion of formal training) and then tutoring the art form to the aspiring learners of the art.

Bharatanatyam is a flow of rich culture and values the traditions. Interest and deep trust in oneself will enable this flow of art to creativity and enhance the feel and satisfaction of inculcating eternal bliss.


Unknown said...

I wish to see you as a great dance expert by enjoying dance as a part of your life. Good going. All the best & our wishes

Unknown said...

Definitely, will make the dream come true! Thank you so much! 😊

Unknown said...

What a comprehensive lesson on Bharatanatyam. I have never heard of this before. Thanks to you, I am looking into other dance forms now. Indian ones are really interesting.

AiringMyLaundry said...

How interesting! I always like learning new things. I had never heard of this before today.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard about this before - learned something new today! It sounds like a beautiful dance with a rich cultural heritage!

Brandi Kennedy said...

I think I'd really like to see a performance of this - I loved the phrasing in the definition of bharatanatyam, too. "Artistic yoga" is such a beautiful description!

Unknown said...

So glad you got to know about this wonderful Indian classical dance. Dance is truly an ocean where one could learn lots. Thanks a lot for stopping by Rexie! 😊

Unknown said...

Thanks a lot Brandi! It is a bliss to watch this amazing classical dance. Pleasure you loved it 😊

Unknown said...

True Sara! It is a beautiful dance with mixture of dance movements and expressions. Thanks for stopping by 😊

Unknown said...

I have always found Indian dance interesting and while I am more familiar with Bollywood dance, classic dance is something that piques my interest. Great informative post x

Ruth Earley said...

How interesting. So nice to learn about cultures different from my own and their dances.

Unknown said...

Never heard of Bharatanatyam before. It sure does sound like a really nice dance.

David Elliott said...

Thanks for the great historical perspective on this traditional dance. I am sure it would be amazing to see it live.

Blair Villanueva said...

Thank you for spreading new knowledge for us. Now we have more reason to explore you places :)

Unknown said...

This is my first time to heard about it, it looks really nice and neat!

Unknown said...

Glad you have got something wonderful to learn today! Thanks for stopping by Amber 😊

Unknown said...

Wow! Great to know you love Indian dance forms. Classical dance embraces the culture and traditional values. Pleasure you stopped by Ana 😊

Unknown said...

Thanks a lot Nikki! Glad you liked it 😊

Unknown said...

Thanks to you too Blair for your immense interest. Pleasure to share more to explore.

Unknown said...

Glad you liked it David! Do accept my invitation when I perform 😊 Thank you!

Unknown said...

Sure it is Glenda. Will definitely be a bliss to watch this beautiful dance 😊

Unknown said...

Pleasure you liked it Ruth! Even I love to learn more about different cultures in countries 😊

Ashley @Irishred02 said...

Interesting stuff. I like to learn new things thanks for sharing

Unknown said...

That's wonderful Ashley! Learning new things always feels interesting. Thanks for stopping by 😊

Peachy said...

It's my first time to hear about bharatanatyam. What an interesting dance.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the info on this dance. Never heard of it before but now it captured my interest. Would love to see a live performance.