Bharatanatyam – A brief summary

‘Anghikam Bhuvanam Yashya Vachikam Sarva Vanganayam Aharyam Chandra Taraditam Namah Satwikam Shivam’ – which means, Lord Shiva is a many splendoured cosmic personality. We bow to the energetic [Satwika] Shiva, whose bodily movement [Angika] is the phenomenalworld, whose articulate expression [Vachika] constitutes all verbal expression, and whose ornaments [Aharya] are the moon and stars of the galaxy. Bharatanatyam, the pure classical temple-dance of South India, is in one way or the other the base of most of the other great forms of Indian dances and an art of great antiquity, great beauty and great historic potentiality. The etymology of the word Bharata in Bharatanatyam is very interesting – the first syllable ‘Bha’ stands for Bhava [emotion], the second syllable ‘ra’stands for Rasa [music], and the third syllable ‘ta’ stands for Tala [rythm], the three constuting the basic essentials of Bharatanatyam.

Bharatanatyam is an ancient classical dance style, originally performed in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu, in southern India. Movement, mime and music contribute in equal measure to this beautiful dance andis evenly divided between nritta, pure dance, and nritya, expressinal compositions. The songs pertain mostly to the theme of love but not sensual love. These are given an elevated and somewhat spiritual flavour. The Indian dance system is the oldest and most comprehensive in the world, having an unbroken tradition that goes back 2000 years.

Bharatanatyam is devotional in spirit yet possesses a highly stylized and sophisticated technique. Bharatanatyam is a blend of two distinct components: nritta, or pure dance, utilizes a vocabulary of classical steps to create complex rhythmic patterns; nritya, or expressive dance, utilizes the language of gesture, called abhinaya, to express various themes from Hindu mythology, usually those of love and devotion. Emotions are suggested through various moods and the silent language of abhinaya.
The structure of a Bharatanatyam Performance:
A Bharata Natyam performance begins with alarippu, an invocatory number which is structured to give the effect of the body unfolding itself by degrees, as if in offering to God. The dancer begins with a sidelong glance, executes a lateral glide of the neck, and then fans the movement out to each part of the body. As she showers alternately silken and steely blows in space, in strict rhythm with the drum, the mridamgam, and the syllables sung by the nattuvanar, the conductor, the feet adorned with ankle bells change scores of rhythmic patterns.
The dancer’s skill at both pure dance, seen elsewhere in items like jatiwaram and tillana and in mime compositions like shabdam and padam, finds its acme in varnam. This is the central piece of a Bharata Natyam recital and makes the greatest demands on the dancer’s stamina and emotinal resources.

Meghala Bhat – Director: Art of Vinyasa

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