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Bharatanatyam, Classical Dance form of India

Bharatanatyam, Classical Dance form of India

• The term Bharatanatyam is fairly new and is derived from the words, Bhava (expression), Raga (music), Tala (rhythmic pattern) and Natyam (dance). Bharatanatyam is a dance form not only based on Natya Shastra but also the Abhinaya Darpana, believed to be written by Nandikeswara.

• Like the Natya Shastra, Abhinaya Darpana is a detailed text on the mudras, body movements and other gestures forming the basis of this art form.

• Bharatanatyam is based on the concepts of Tandava and Lasya as mentioned in the Natya Shastra. These concepts are said to have originated from Lord Shiva’s dance.

• According to legends, a play based on Samudramantha (Churning of the Ocean), choreographed by Sage Bharata was presented to Lord Shiva on Mount Kailasa. Lord Shiva, on seeing the performance was delighted to such an extent that he agreed to perform the Tandava.

• At the auspicious time of Pradosham, Shiva performed the Tandava and from that emerged the famous 108 Karnas (poses) which are represented on the walls of major temples of Tamil Nadu. As Shiva performed the Tandava, he realised that dance was incomplete without the softer expressions (Lasya). He went on to teach Lasya to his consort, Parvati who then performed for Lord Shiva. These w ere then documented by Sage Bharata and formed the basis of the Natya Shatra.

Nritta and Nritya in Bharatanatyam

• Two main elements of Bharatanatyam are, Nritta which involves pure dance and rigorous footwork and Nritya, a combination of footwork with abhinaya (to express).

• The basic unit of Nritta in Bharatanatyam is the adavu (the footwork). Accompanying the footwork are a few postures, that make this dance form clearly distinguishable from the others. These are Sthanam (standing posture), Araimandi (half sitting posture) and Muzhumandi (full sitting posture).

• The footwork is in accordance with the talams of music. These talams can be classified into three types: slow, medium and fast. Unlike other classical dance forms of India, Bharatanatyam is known for its rigid postures, rhythmic movement and strenuous footwork.

• Footwork is accompanied by hand gestures or hastas which act as a medium of expression. These can be classified into two types; Asamyuta Hastas (single hand

Vikshipta Karna, one of the 108 karnas depicted on the walls of Natraja Temple at Chidambaram

Vishkambha Karna, one of the 108 karnas depicted on the walls of Natraja Temple at Chidambaram

Parshwajanu Karna, one of the 108 karnas depicted on the walls of Natraja Temple at Chidambaram

Argala Karna, one of the 108 karnas depicted on the walls of Natraja Temple at Chidambaram

gestures) and Samyuta Hastas (double hand gestures) which are in accordance with the shlokas mentioned in the Natyashastra and the Abhinaya Darpana.

An important aspect of Nritya is Abhinaya, which forms the basis of this art form. A Bharatanatyam artist uses Abhinaya as a tool to convey ideas and evoke emotions among the audience members. Abhinaya can be classified into four types:

Angika Abhinaya – expressing using body movements such as movement of hands, legs and limbs.

Vachika Abhinaya – expressing using medium of speech such as songs, music and dialogues.

Aharya Abhinaya – expressing using decorations such costumes, jewelry and make up.

Satvika Abhinaya – expressing by evoking the state of mind of the character.

Bharatanatyam was given a proper structure by the famous Tanjore Quartlet, Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu who are known for their contribution in the field of Carnatic music and dance. Members of the royal court of Marathas of Tanjavur, these great composers are credited for transforming the dance into a refined art form and laying down the components of a Bharatanatyam recital as we see today.

➢ Alarippu – A Bharatanatyam dancer begins the recital with this piece which literally means blooming of a flower. The choreography of this dance piece is centred around the idea of blossoming of a flower, using the concept of Nritta.

➢ Jatiswaram – Using elaborate footwork, gestures and postures, Jatiswaram, is composed of melodic patterns of swaras.

➢ Shabdam – It is in this piece that the artist uses Abhinaya in order to depict a mythological story or legend. Based on the concept of Nritya, the song to which this piece is performed is also often explanatory of what the story is about. One of the most famous Shabdam in a Bharatanatyam recital is the Mahabharata Shabdam, depicting the gambling scene and its further consequences.

➢ Varnam – It is the longest and the most elaborate piece involving both dance and Abhinaya. One of the most expressive pieces of the repertoire, the varnam allows the

Tanjore Quartlet

dancer to depict various moods using bhav (facial expression) and invoking rasa (emotion) among the audience.

➢ Padam – Padam, based on the concept of Nritya, is more elaborate in terms of the emotions that the artist expresses. This piece allows the artist to connect deeper with the thoughts and emotions of the character using the aspects of bhava and rasa.

➢ Thillana – Thillana is the final piece in the Bharatanatyam repertoire which is based solely on the concept of Nritta. As a finale performance, it is a fast rhythmic piece that engages the audience using strenuous footwork, postures and hand gestures.

➢ Other dance pieces of the repertoire also include, Keertanam, Javali, Bhajan and Managalam.

In a Bharatanatyam recital, the dancer is accompanied by an orchestra. It includes not just the instrumentalists but often the Guru who recites the beats (sollukettu) and guides the dancer using the Nattuvangam.

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.


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