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Banis of Bharatanatyam

Banis of Bharatanatyam

Though the basic structure of the art form remains the same, there are certain variations that differ depending on the school or style. Different styles of Bharatanatyam, called Banis, emerged as it travelled from the cultural centre of Tanjavur to other places of South India. Gurus and teachers have been modifying and altering this art form over the years as a result of which emerged these different styles:

The Tanjavur Style

➢ This bani comes from the court of rulers of Tanjavur and is considered to be one of the oldest. The Gurus of this style were the direct descendants of the famous Tanjore Quartette.

➢ Kandappa Pillai, one of the famous Nattuvanars (Guru/teacher) of this style and a direct descendant of the Tanjore Quartette was trained by the famous Kannuswami Pillai. ‘Baroda’ Kannuswami Pillai is said to have led a team of dancers at the Baroda court, sent as dowry during the wedding of the Baroda Prince with the Tanjavur Maratha Princess.

➢ Kandappa Pillai is said to have deviated slightly from the original Tanjavur style and introduced stylistic changes emphasising on the role of music and rhythm.

➢ Kandappa Pillai went on to train and guide the famous T. Balasaraswati who is credited for preserving this art form when it was on the verge of dying. This style of Bharatanatyam gives equal importance to the two concepts of Abhinaya and Nritta.

Pandanallur Style

➢ Pandanallur Style is attributed to the famous Minakshisundaram Pillai who was a direct descendant of the Tanjore Quartette.

➢ Brother-in-law of Kannuswami Pillai, Minakshisundaram Pillai deviated from the traditional Tanjavur style and made modifications of his own and named the style after the village to which he belonged; Pandanallur. It is different from the traditional Tanjavur style as it is based on linear geometry and focuses more on precise movements. Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam is known to have subtle movements, gentle and clear footwork with greater use of linear hastas.

Vazhavur Style

➢ Vazhavur style was created by Ramiah Pillai of Vazhuvoor town in Tamil Nadu. As the style emerged from the small town of Vazhavur, most performances began with praying to the reigning deity of this village, Gnana Sabesa.

➢ One of the famous performers and disciples of Ramiah Pillai is Padma Subramanyam, who is known for her realistic abhinaya which is a key feature of this style. What makes Vazhavur style different from others is its focus on the concept of Lasya and not Tandava.

➢ The focus of this style is more on the feminine aspects of dance, with greater use of sringara rasa. Realistic abhinaya is one of the key features of this style.

Kalakshetra Style

➢ This style is credited to the disciple of Minakshisundaram Pillai and a renowned Bharatanatyam exponent Rukmini Devi Arundale. Rukmini Devi founded the Kalakshetra Institute in Chennai making it a platform to promote Bharatanatyam as an art form. This distinct style of Bharatanatyam focuses on stylised abhinaya.

➢ Unlike the Vazhavur style, it does not focus on lasya and sringara expression. The Kalakshetra style has comparatively stiffer movements with the use of a few range of adavus.

Mellatur Style

➢ This style is credited to Mangudi Doirairaja Iyer. It is known for its soft footwork and emphasis on the sringara rasa. Dancers of this style do not stamp feet hard on the floor allowing the audience to focus on the rhythm of music and the chalenga (ghungaroo).

Costume and Jewellery in Bharatanatyam

• Costume, jewellery and makeup form a part of the Aharya Abhinaya in Bharatanatyam.

• The Costume and jewellery of this art form has undergone several changes over the years.

• From the time of Sadir Attam, the saree was the basic costume that the devadasis wore when they performed. The saree they wore was in the form of a pyjama and the saree’s pallu formed the fan (visri), which is an integral part of the costume even today.The devadasis of Tamil Nadu adorned themselves in jewellery made of pure gold embedded with precious stones. These were often given to them by their patrons in

return for their services. Soon, jewellery was not just a part of costume for the devadasis, it was a symbol of their wealth, power and prosperity and ensured their economic security. As a result of this, the devadasis wore all the jewellery they possessed while they performed.

• Today, Bharatantyam as a dance form is more structured and disciplined. This is reflected in its costume as well as jewellery. The most common present day costume is a five piece dress made of Kancheepuram silk which includes, the blouse(ravikkai), pants (kalkacchi), piece covering upper body (Melakku/dhavani), back piece (iduppu kacchai) and the distinguishing element, the fan (visri). There can be variations in this costume where the pants can be replaced with a long-pleated skirt with an attached fan. Another version of the costume is a semi-stitched saree in the desired length.

• For a male dancer, though the upper body is mostly uncovered, they can adorn an angavastram (upper covering). Other elements of the costume include the pants, back piece, fan and the waistcoat.

• The jewellery worn by Bharatanatyam dancers are characteristic to the region of Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu. The dancer plaits her hair and wears lots of mallipoo (jasmine flowers) and kanakambaram (orange and yellow flowers).

• The dancer’s hair is further adorned with the rakkoti, kunjalam commonly worn by the women of Tanjavur.


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