Bharatanatyam - Classical Dance

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Apr 19, 2022, 6:10

Bharatanatyam is one of India's most prominent and extensively performed classical dance genres.

Bharatanatyam is a preeminent Indian classical dance style that is recognized as the mother of many other Indian classical dance forms.

Origin and Evolution of Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam, a devotional and spiritual dance style, has its origins in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu in South India.

  • Although there is little proof of Bharatanatyam's linear progression over the previous 2,000 years, Tamil and Sanskrit manuscripts claim to its ancient origins.
  • Bharatanatyam's theoretical framework is called 'Sadir'. It is believed that Sage Bharata recorded the dance style in the Natya Shastra (2BC-2AD) in Sanskrit.
  • The Bharatanatyam style of dance was mainly performed by Devadasis (dancers who dedicated their lives to serving the Lord as servants) from 300 BCE to 300 CE.
  • The invaders of the British colonial rule viewed the Devadasi custom as disgraceful and therefore in 1910, the British Empire's Madras Presidency officially forbade temple dances within the Hindu temples.
  • In the 20th century, E. Krishna Iyer, a lawyer, activist, and classical artist, revived the Bharatanatyam dance form along with theosophist and choreographer Rukmini Devi Arundale.

Stages of Bharatanatyam

The portrayal of Bharatanatyam adheres to Natya Shastra's three categories of performance. These are:

Nritta (Nirutham): It is an introductory and technical performance that tries to engage the audience's senses. It has no interpretive significance, and it does not convey a story.

Nritya (Niruthiyam): This section of Bharatanatyam tries to captivate the viewer's emotions and thoughts by articulating a legend or a spiritual message. The dance-acting, in this case, expands to incorporate the silent articulation of words through gestures and body movement set to musical notes.

Natya (Natyam): It is a fusion of Nritta and Natya dance sequences. It is a dramatic portrayal in which rhythmic movement and dramatic expression of emotion are presented uniquely.

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Sequences of Bharatanatyam

The traditional Bharatanatyam performance is divided into eight sequences (Margam). These are:

Pushpanjali: It is the first sequence of the dance and a symbol of respect. The performer in this dance presents flowers and salutations to the Hindu deities, the master, and the audience.

Alarippu: It is a preparatory warm-up dance without music, allowing the dancer to release their energy and move while avoiding distractions and with single-minded attention.

Jatiswaram: In this section, the moves get increasingly intricate. While not yet transmitting any message, the dancers execute extremely skilful and trained postures.

Shabdam: In this part of the performance, the solo dancer, vocalists, and musical team offer brief compositions with words and meanings in a variety of moods.

Varnam: It is the longest section that typically lasts 45 minutes to an hour. It is the core sequence of the performance where the dancer performs complicated moves depicting beauty and brilliance in a spiritual context.

Padam: This sequence focuses on the abhinaya, where a spiritual message or devotional religious prayer is expressed.

Tillana: It is a part of Nritta that combines beautiful moves with sculpture-like poses. This section usually concludes in a fast-paced beat that charms the audience.

Shlokam or Mangalam: This is the seventh and final piece of the sequence that can be a Shlokam or a Mangalam. The performers wish for blessings for everyone in the room.

Famous Bharatanatyam Dancers

Some of the most brilliant and well-known Bharatanatyam dancers are listed below:

  • Rukmini Devi
  • Padma Subrahmanyam
  • Alarmel Valli
  • Yamini Krishnamurthy
  • Mallika Sarabhai

Bharatanatyam evolved from temples to theatres over time, but its religious component, representation of human emotions, and artistic storytelling continued to exist.

Bharatanatyam can be defined in two parts: one part is entirely technical when the feet are utilized to stamp distinct complex rhythms while the hands and eyes make adorning gestures, the other part is when these hands and facial expressions, as well as body movement, depict stories from Hindu mythology.

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FAQs on Bharatanatyam

Q1. From where did Bharatanatyam originate?

Ans. Bharatanatyam originated in Tamil Nadu (South India).

Q2. Is Bharatanatyam religious?

Ans. Bharatanatyam is a dance of Tamil Nadu in southern India. Bharatanatyam often is used to express Hindu religious stories and devotions

Q3. Name two popular Bharatanatyam dancers.

Ans. Rukmini Devi and Padma Subrahmanyam.

Q4. Who revived Bharatanatyam?

Ans. E. Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale revived Bharatanatyam.