Bharatanatyam, whose antiquity is well established, is the
most popular of Indian dances, which said to
be originated in Thanjavoor
(Tanjore) of Tamil Nadu. Bharatanatyam is a purest form
of classical dance. It is a blend of 'Nirtta' (the rhythmic movement of
the body without any expression of emotion), 'Nirtya' (the combination of
rhythm with expression through eyes, hands and facial movements) and
'Natya' (the dramatic element).
Bharatanatyam is performed with 'Abhinaya' (expression), 'Rasa' (emotion) and 'Mudras' (hand formations). All Dances are structured around 'Nava Rasas' (the common emotions of happiness, anger, disgust, fear, sorrow, courage, compassion, wonder and serenity). The dance is accompanied by Carnatic music.
Origin And History
The name 'Bharatanatyam' is derived from three basic concepts of 'Bhava' (expression), 'Raga' (a musical note) and 'Tala' (rhythmic beat). Bharatanatyam is based on the theories of the books "Natyasaasthram" and "Abhinaya Darpanam". It was known as "Daasiyattam" since performed by Devadasies in temples of Tamil Nadu long ago. It was a part of the religious rituals and has a long and hoary past. The kings and the princely courts patronised the temples, as well as the various traditions sustaining the dance form.
Bharatanatyam dance form is said to derive its name from Bharata Muni, the author of "Natya Shastra" (treatise on dance) written between 2nd century BC and 2nd century AD. The dance was then called "Sadir". The four brothers Chinnaiah, Ponniah, Shivanandam and Vadivelu collectively famous as the Tanjore Quartrette codified Bharatanatyam in its present form. Their compositions form the bulk of dancing even today. Male gurus called "Nattuvannars" imparted training. This was the time when art received maximum encouragement and dancers were given land and valuables as gifts and were placed in high esteem.
However with the advent of the Mughals started the decline of temple dancing. The Mughal rulers brought dancers from Persian states. The Devadasis stopped receiving patronage and many of them started learning Persian dance and took to court dancing. The British rule did away with princes and kings. In a desperate move to earn livelihood many dancers who now stopped receiving any kind of patronage took to acts like prostitution. Thus Bharatanatyam fell into disrepute. Girls from good families stopped learning dance and dancing came to be considered as a lewd profession in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
Revival Of The Dance Form
Bharatanatyam was again revived by activists and dancers like Rukmini Devi and E.Krishna Iyer. Rukmini Devi started the institution "Kalakshetra" in 1936, and since then there has been a wave of reform. Today many recognised universities offer degrees in Bharatanatyam, and artistes are given international recognition and honours. In Bharatnatyam rhythm and enactment go hand in hand to create a beautiful whole. Today there are innumerable male and female dancers all over India and more and more are taking up performing arts as a profession.
Bhartanatyam has three elements. Nritta, This pertains to pure dance. No Abhinaya is done only body movements are performed to rhythm ex-Jatiswaram, Alarippu etc. Nritya, this consists of both Nritta and expression. That is rhythmic movements as well as movements with 'Abhinaya' are done e.g. 'Varnam', 'Shabdam' etc. Natya, this consists of the dramatic element where the dancer herself becomes the character as in dance dramas like the Ramayana etc.
The difference between Nritya and Natya lies in that in Nritya the dancer acts as the character. In the same item she may act as two characters simultaneously. In Natya she becomes the character by wearing the costume and jewellery pertaining to the character. The rhythmic body movements along with hand gestures are called "Adavus". A combination of Adavus is called a "Korvai". A Korvai usually ends with a "Theermanam". A theermanam is the "Kitathakadharikitatom" or the "Tadhinginathom Adavu" performed in multiples of three.
There are 64 basic 'Adavu' and they are divided into 9 parts, on which 'Thattadavu', 'Naatadavu', 'Kuthithumettadavu', 'Mandiadavu', 'Sarikkal' and 'Thattumettu' are very important. Communication is done through 'Bhavabhinaya' (facial expression) and 'hasthamudra' (hand gestures). The performance starts with the prayers to God Ganapathi and worship of Nataraja Moorthi. The sequence of the dance performance is 'Alarippu', 'Jathiswaram', 'Sabdam', 'Varnam', 'Padam' and 'Thillana'. After 'Thillana', with a 'Mangala Slokam' the dance program ends. Normally the performance lasts for two to two and half hours.
The Alarippu opens every Bharata Natyam performance. The name is derived from the Telegu word, 'Alarimpu', meaning to decorate with flowers. The dance is a pure Nritta offering in double and treble rhythms, there being absolute harmony of movement between the head, the hands and the feet. Hands joined above the head, feet touching, the dancer begins with 'Rechekas' or neck movements with the eyes and the hands acting in unison. The same 'Rechekas' are later executed in a semi-seated posture, after which, rising, the dancer moves back to the starting position.
The Jethiswaram is the next number. It is a dance expression of the ideas and impressions evoked by musical sounds. The rhythm of the dance is set to one of five 'Jethis' or time beats, which may be 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9. The timekeeper beats out the measure with his Talas or cymbals, while the drummer produces a variety of fascinating sounds. The dancer adds to the cadence with his feet, preserving the Tala. The chief effect of this number is a pleasing harmony of sounds.
In the later movements of the dance, the performer displays, with marked emphasis, the swarams or delicate nuances, which are pronouncedly beautiful in the Pillay technique based on the 'Kalyani', 'Bhairavi', 'Chakravagam', 'Todi Vasanta' and 'Sankarabaranam' ragas.
The third item is the Sabdam. It is an interpretative dance, expressing through Abhinaya or mime, the purport of a hymn of devotion or a romantic lyric. While the Bhakti or devotional Rasa predominates in the Sabdam, this dance can also interpret other 'Rasas' or sentiments. The Sabdam concentrates on Abhinaya or acting and the feet play, a less important part than the hands and body.
The Varnam, which is the longest of all the Dances is rather elaborate. In it, both Nritta or pure dance and Abhinaya or acting play equal parts. Love is usually the theme of the Varnam. The dance ends in a furious tempo with quickly changing patterns of the feet and rapid 'Thirmanams'.
The 'Todi Varnam', the 'Kalyani Varnam' and the 'Ragamalika Varnam' are the three popular varieties of the Varnam. The dancer starts off on a slow tempo, assuming a series of poses, which gradually quicken. Then come Thirmanams or flourishes of the hands, getting faster and faster and the Nritta ends after several leaps and bends on three pronounced beats of the feet.
Then follows the Abhinaya portion of the Varnam. The acting dramatizes a single theme in various ways according to 'Sanchari Bhava'. This variation of the 'Samcari' or Sanchari Bhava lends warmth to the entire Varnam. The songs of Thyagaraja, Jayadev, Kshetrajna and Arunacalakavi lend themselves well to this mode of interpretation.
Songs expressed in mime are known as Padams. In 'Padam' the dancer performs the act of lovers in various poses. Many famous music composers like "Kshetrajna", "Jayadevan", "Gopalakrishna Bharati", "Swathi Thirunal", "Erayimman Thampi" etc have composed Padams, which complements the dances. Three to four Padams are performed on stage.
The Thillana is the last number on the programme. This is a foreign element that has crept into Bharata Natyam. It is derived from the ragas of North Indian Ustads or composer teachers and has existed in its present form. The Nattuvans wove "Thillanas" into the existing South Indian dance fabric.
Thillana have pure Nritta in different Talas. The variety known as 'Chilakottu' is usually danced to the 'Adi Tal' or eight beat rhythms while that known as 'Kaikalakottu' follows double timing or four times the regular beat. The dance is set to one of several ragas including the 'Sankarabaranam', the 'Kafi', the 'Todi' and the Kannada.
Some famous dancers like Bala Saraswathy (also spelt as Saraswati), Mrinalini Sarabai, Rukmini Arundel, Padma Subhramaniam, Vaijayantimala, Chitra Visveshwaran, etc. have given great contributions to promote Bharatanatyam. Some of the famous Nattuvans are Pandanallur Chokkalingam Pillai and Adayar Lakshmanan.
The music of Bharatanatyam is based on Carnatic classical music. The chief musical instruments in Bharata Natyam are the 'Mridangam' and a pair of cymbals. Sometimes Veena, Violin, Ghatam and Flute are also used. The Vidwan (expert) sets the refrain, which is repeated by the chorus. The cymbals provide the timing, while the Mridangam supplies fractional measures of the broad beats. The dance direction is done by 'Nattuvanar' giving the Thaalam using hand symbols and singing 'Vaaythari'. There will be two singers also. The dancer follows the Mridangam and cymbals. A 'Tambura' is often incorporated in the orchestra to provide the 'Swara' or scale for the refrain.
The costumes of the dancer are very gorgeous, which consists of 'Paijama' or Dhoti and jacket of Kanchipuram silk and Banaras silk. It is usually of richly embroidered brocade or shimmering silk or satin. It fits snugly above the ankles and is pleated along the legs, which it encases. Over the dhoti, in the middle, is a pleated or frilled cloth hanging from the waist to perhaps the knees. The upper part of the male dancers body remains bare save for a necklace. Women wear a tight fitting 'Choli' or bodice of the same colour and material as the dhoti.
The dancer wears a lot of ornaments of shining stones on neck, ears, hands, and head, Jasmine garland in the hair and foot trinklet with small bells. Women wear a 'Veni' or semi circle of real or artificial flowers round the bun or plait of the hair. In the centre of the forehead a 'Tika' or dot is impressed.
The most typical items of jewellery are the "Thalaisaman" (head piece), with the Rakodi, worn just above the flowers in the hair, and the "Chandrasuryan" (moon and sun) on either side, as the head symbolises the firmament. The ear ornaments consist of three pieces, the 'Maatal' (chain), 'Jhimki' (hanging earring) and the 'Thodu', which fits on to the lobe.
For the neck there is the 'Adigai', which consists of a choker and pendant, and a longer chain with a broad 'Padakkam' or pendant designed in red, green, and pearly stones with peacock or floral designs set in a half-moon like frame. An undulating bangle, 'Vanki'; for the upper arm, gold bangles for the wrist, an 'Odyanam' or broad ornament belt, and occasionally a hair ornament called 'Sarpam' or snake to decorate the long plait, completes the ensemble. Most Bharata Natyan dancers from all over the country order their jewellery from centres at Mylapore and at Nagercoil, which has the largest number of skilled goldsmiths.
The modern Bharatanatyam was systematically regularized by well known 'Thanjavoor Brothers', Ponnayya, Chinnayya, Sivanandam and Vativelu. The modern form of Bharata Natyam presentation is the arrangement of four Nattuvans of Pandanallur. The Vidwan, Menaskshi Sunderam Pillay 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 Tiruvanmiyur, (the village just outside Madras) named "Kalak-Shetra". The age-old, 'Gurukulam' system of education is still followed and many classes are conducted in sylvan surroundings.