Bharatanatyam: the origins
Bharatanatyam, according to Balasaraswati, is a variety of natya yoga that reveals the spiritual through the physical and emotional body. It is the most popular of the Indian classical dance forms in South India, and the most ancient of all the classical Indian dance styles in the entire India, which are all based on Natya Shastra, the Bible of the classical Indian dance. The term "Bharatanatyam" was used by Purandara Dasa (1484-1564). Later, Ghanam Krishnayyar's songs describes a devadasi as an expert at Bharata natyam. Subramania Bharathi also speaks about Bharatnatyam.
The legend and the inspiration
Bharatanatyam has a divine origin. Devas asked Brahma to create a Veda that would be understood by the Sudras, as Kali Yuga was nearing: "When the universe was overcome by desire, greed, jealousy and anger, when people became slaves of pleasure and pain, Brahma was moved to create a form of entertainment seen and heard and understood by everybody at the same time, as people could no longer understand the mystic and ambiguous scriptures".
Bharata natyam was created "not merely for pleasure, but to embody the cosmic relationships and expressions (bhava) for all the worlds. So this performing art follows the worlds' movements in all activities and states: work and leisure, calm and laughter, fight and wars. It will confer righteousness onto the righteous, a moral restraint for the unruly, and discipline for the those who are guided by rule. It will teach wisdom both to the ignorant and the learned. It will provide entertainment for kings, and it will console the miserable ones. Natya will express all the moods and passions of the soul. It will incorporate all kinds of the deeds: the noble, the mediocre and the mean"
Thus Brahma created the the Fifth (Panchama) Veda, or NatyaVeda, a quintessence of the main four Vedas, by combining Pathya (words) of Rigveda, Abhinaya (communicative elements of the body movements, cf. mime) of Yajurveda, geetham (music and chant) of Samaveda, and rasam (vital sentiment and emotional element) of Atharvaveda. Then Brahma handed NatyaVeda to rishi Bharata to write it down and spread it in the material world. Bharata-guided the demigods (Gandharavas and Apsaras) in performing natya, nrtta and nrtya before Shiva. Natya Shastra came to be the fundamental authority on the technique of classical Indian dances, especially Bharatanatyam and Odissi, as well as Kuchipudi and Mohiniattam. Some prefer to believe the term "Bharatnatyam" owes its name to rishi Bharata.
Bharata along with the apsaras and gandharvas performed Bharatanatyam for Shiva who asked Thandu Maharishi to develop it further into a Thandava (which only much later came to mean "masculine") style of dance, the Cosmic Dance of Shiva. Shiva imparted Lasya Natya to Parvathi who taught it on to Usha (the daughter of Banasura). Usha passed it on to the gopis of Dwarka who then taught the women of Sowrashtra.
The Gods and the Goddesses, being dancers themselves, have been passing the art of the heavenly dance through many other human channels, whose aptitude, understanding, and personal idiosyncrasies naturally varied from person to person, and created a number of styles ranging from Odissi to Bharatanatyam.Bharata natyam has been undergoing a lot of change over the centuries (click here to read more).
Bharatanatyam used to be and is still mostly performed by women dancers. The Hindu temples, especially in South India, had dancers-priestesses called devadasis . They sang and danced Dasi Attam (old version of Bharatanatyam) and played many musical instruments. They were well-versed in Sanskrit and other languages as they had to adapt compositions to suit the audience. The devadasi tradition gradually degraded. Initially, devadasis lead a very strict and celibate life and were not allowed to have a family. As the dance entered the royal courts, the dancers were called Rajanartakis, who performed in the royal courts and gradually became royal concubines. The British colonial rule has completely corrupted the devadasi tradition.
Bharatanatyam was largely restructured about 150 years ago by the Tanjore Quartet (Chinniah, Sivanandam, Ponniah and Vadivelu). In Tamil Nadu various styles of Bharatanatyam have been practiced mostly by the Bharata natyam gurus and performers of the Isai Velalar caste. The Tanjore Quartet re-organized the core Bharatnatyam pure dance movements into a series of steps called adavus. The 4 brothers composed new music items written specifically for Bharatanatyam. They also introduced a different order of different types of items.
Later, the prominent personalities as Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer and Krishna Iyer made their significant contributions. The social status and image of Bharatanatyam was finally restored by Rukmini Devi Arundale, the founder of Kalakshetra, who started teaching a simplified, Kalakshetra style invented by her after having learnt some of the Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam in a record 3 years' time.
Bharatanatyam, although changed a lot, is still deeply rooted in Hinduism. Contemporary classical Indian dancers are both male and female. While most learn it as a hobby, very few make it their career and a lifestyle, as it is extremely demanding and complex in terms of dedication and daily practice. While most university degree courses offer the theoretical base in Bharatanatyam, there are institutions that offer certificate and diploma courses with the focus on the practical skills.Most of the contemporary choreographers and dancers may use some of the formal Bharatanatyam technique or its elements to stage group performances presenting various themes such as nationalism, unity of religions, the sanctity of the environment, the animal rights activism, the greatness of a king or a political party, or even the delightfulness of Coca-Cola. In Vande Mataram, a dance festival organised under the auspices of Natyarangam, a project of Narada Gana Sabha in 1997 in Chennai, there was a host of topics: the caste and reservation systems, threat of nuclear weapons, evils of the current education system, bribery, religious fanaticism,AIDS, the population explosion, corruption in politics, secularism, the Dandi March, literacy, agriculture,the greed for riches, the Chinese aggression, mechanisation, industrialisation. Most recently, some dancers of Nrityanjali Academy (Andhra Pradesh) managed to draw their divine inspiration even from Condom Songs.
The true Bharatanatyam is not a vulgar form of entertainment but a sacred ritual that is supposed to bring the rasanubhava (catharsis, or spiritual upliftment) to the rasika (audience) and the dancer.
Sringara rasa (Love) was considered as the highest by the devadasis, as other emotion did not have the potential to convey the mysteries of the union of the human with the divine. Balasaraswathi's experience of dancing Bharatnatyam to many great devotional songs with no sringara lead her to realize that sringara is the fundamental emotion lending itself to infinite permutations of moods full of nuances and novelty. Sringara expresses the most intimate beauties of Bharatanatyam with all the purity of the spirit. Once considered to be an enemy of the spirit and the greatest obstacle to spiritual realization, the body itself is turned into a medium of the spiritual attainment.
Bharatanatyam consists of three major aspects: Natya, Nritta and Nritya.
Nritta is classified into Chari, Karana, Angahara and Mandala. Charis are 1-leg movements. Karanas are 2-leg movements. 1 Khanda is a combination of 3 Karanas. Mandalas are made up of 3-4 Khandas. Angaharas consist of 4-9 Karanas. Mandalas can also be a combination of 4-5 Angaharas. The 108 Karanas and 32 Angaharas are described in Natya Shastra. Nritta utilizes 13 Nritta Hastas (hand gestures).
Bharatanatyam steps (adavus)
The combination of repetitive body movements accompanied by hand gestures are adavus. Sets of aduvus make up a jathi. Jatis usually end in Teermana or Muktaya.The main types of Adavus are Nataduvu, Kattaduvu,Tattaduvu, Mandiaduvu, Jati,Mettaduvu, Kudittamettaduvu, Nadai, Ardi and Maiadavu. Typically we find twelve adavus in each typel. Only about 70-80 are generally practised by an average Bharatanatyam dancer. Aduvus are a later addition of Desi (folk dance) elements, and in the past few centuries gradually replaced the 108 Karanas.The body limbs are classified as Anga, Pratyanga or Upaanga.
6 Angas comprise: chest, waist, bottom, hands, head, legs. Some Bharatanatyam experts distinguish also neck.
Pratynaga and Upaangas are supposed to move in unison with the Angas. Anga Lakshana, the classification of elementary body movements is as follows: head movements (shirobhedha), neck movements (greeva bhedha), eye (drushti bhedha), leg movements (paada bhedha).
A standing posture is Mandala. Utplavanas are leaps. Circling movements are Bhramari. Gatibhedha are gaits.
Hastas or mudra's ( hand movements): Asamyuta, Samyuta, Hasta, Dashavatara, Navagraha, Jaati, Bandhu and Nritta Hasta.
Bharatanatyam dancers who perfectly coordinate the main limbs with pratyangas and upaangas exhibit Angashudhi (clean lines).
Lasya and Tandava
In later tradition, Tandava came to mean the forceful and virile dance as performed by Shiva. The blissful Tandava is Ananda Tandava, the violent and combatant is Rudra. Other Tandavas are Tripura Tandava (destructive), Samara Tandava, Kaali tandava,Sandhya Tandava, Uma Tandava and Gauri Tandava. There are some Bharatanatyam experts who distinguish 16 types of Tandava. All tandavas are vigourous and brisk.Lasya, where the movements are soft, gentle, graceful and erotic, is performed by Parvathi. Many Bharata natyam scholars consider Lasya as the feminine version of Tandava. There are 2 styles of Lasya, Jarita and Yauvaka Lasya.
Bharata natyam techniques of communicating a verbal message are Abinaya, which uses mostly facial expressions and gestures. While some authentic styles emphasise a highly expressive, spontaneous and elevated mode of abhinaya, the late Balasaraswaty tradition's abhinaya was extremely subtle and understated, while the Kalakshetra style expressions are largely theatrical. Some contemporary styles, such as the one propagated by Shobana, favour the clownish Bollywood-type expressions.
While gestures can be seen from any distance even in a large dance hall, the subtle facial expressions can only be seen from the front rows. This is the main feature that distinguishes Bharatanatyam from the western ballet dances. Thus, unless a Bharatanatyam recital is held in a small hall, a close-up, high-resolution video is the only adequate medium of presenting the Abhinaya. Bharata-natyam is an ekaharya (solo) performance: one dancer presenting various characters, regardless of their gender.The Abinaya can be of 4 kinds. Angikabhinaya deals with communicating the meaning of the songs by moving the limbs of the body.Vachikabhinaya is verbal story-telling.Aharyabhinaya includes the use of costumes, jewelry, make-up. Satvikabhinaya is the subtle and direct communication of moods (Bhavas) by a mental contact or glance.
Lord Shiva is described in this stanza:
We bow to Him, the benevolent One
Whose limbs are the universe,
Whose song and poetry are the essence of all language,
Whose is clothed in the moon and the stars...
There are 8 main or primary emotions-relations-moods, Sthayi (basic) bhavas, which correspond to 8 Rasas: Shringara (Love), Hasya (Mirth) , Veera (Heroism), Roudra (Wrath) , Bhayanaka (Terror ), Bheebatsa (Disgust) , Adbhuta (Amazement), Karuna (Compassion ). Shanta (Calm) was added much later, just as Vatsalya (parental affection) rasa. Apart from the fundamental bhavas, there are Vibhava (what triggers an emotion), Anubhava is the result (consequence) of an emotion, and Sanchari bhava (transitory states).
These Bharathanatyam elements are also seen as the mystic symbols of Bhakti Yoga. Sringara means love, but this is not confined to rati sringara. There is bhakti sringara and vatsalya sringara besides rati sringara. Even among some of its practitioners, Bharatnatyam is often misinterpreted as being limited solely to bhakti. Balasaraswati believed Bharatanatyam is based on bhakti and that "it is justified in being called a yoga because it is a spiritual discipline perfecting the mind to thought-free serenity".
The Nayika - Nayaka relationship
boldly goes out to meet her paramour.
Bharatnatyam depicts different aspects of the Nayika bhava. Mugdha describes a woman inexperienced in love. Madhya partly experienced in love. Pragalbha mature in the art of love. This Pragalbha Nayika is further classified as Dheera , Adheera or Dheeraadheera.
Sweeya refers to a woman that is married and faithful to her husband (necessities and duties of the material existence). Parakeeya is married but in love with her paramour (the Divine). Samanya is the woman who belongs to any man for a price. Jyeshta is the "preferred one". Kanishta means "the other woman". Characters are classified as Uttama (self-controlled and noble), Madhyama (the middling) and Adhama (the low), who has no self-restraint.
The Nayika shares her feelings with her companion, sends messages through her to the nayaka. The companion will settle down the quarrels between the nayika and the nayaka. The companion characters are: Dasi (servant), Sakhi (friend), Kaaroo (lower caste woman), Chatriya (step-sister), Prativamshini (neighbor), Lindini (saint), Shilpani (artist), Swaa (nayika herself as a messenger).Nayaka Bhava
The moods and emotions of the hero are represented by the main types.
Dheerodaatta (such as Rama), Dheeroddhata (such as rakshasa Ravana), Dheeralalita (such as Vatsaraaja), Dheerashanta (such as Buddha).
Bharatanatyam dancer pays attention to further aspects: Pati (married and faithful to his wife), Upapati (married but in love with his paramour), Vaisika (one who pays and enjoys women).
Nayaka can be: Anukoola (faithful to one woman), Dakshina (loves all his women), Drishta (rejected, pleads to be accepted by his woman), Shatha (the deceitful one, such as Krishna). Nayaka's companion characters are: Peetamardhana, Vita, Cheta and Vidooshaka.
Bharata-natyam styles that are over 150 years old are not many. The best-known among these are:
The distinctive characteristics of the Melattur style of Bharatnatyam are:
The Pandanallur style of Bharata-natyam stresses:
The Vazhuvoor style of Bharata natyam includes:
The modern Kalakshetra style is a simplified form based on Pandanallur and, to some extent, Thanjavoor bani, as well as the European ballet. It is specifically suited for group performances, unlike other styles that are focussed on the solo. Kalakshetra's salient features are:
The Balasaraswati style, although derived from the authentic devadasi traditions, was still a relatively recent introduction. Note that, most recently, Dr.Padma Subramaniam's school, claiming to be the one which is the most faithfully reflects the techniques described in Natya Shastra, is called Bharatanrityam .
Bharata natyam can be practised as a hobby or as a professional career. In the ancient scriptures, a professional Bharatnatyam danseuse was called "patra". The AbhinayaDarpana's stanza on Patra Prana Dasha Smrutaha (10 the ten essentials) of the professional dancer mentions these qualities:
Bharatanatyam dancer, according to Abhinayadarpanam must be
More details are given by Natya shastra (XXVII.97-98).
Bharatanatyam recitals, items and arangetramsBharatanatyam performances are usually structured in either the Thanjor-Quartet format, margam (path), or a devadasi format. The graduation/debut performance is called Arangetram ("entering the stage"). Another name for it is Rangapravesha in Kannada. It used to be the first public appearance of the Bharatanatyam dancer, but now one can find even 5-year-old dancers performing "arangetrams". At an Arangetram the guru introduces his student to the public. 7-12 years of full-time training is necessary before the Bharatanatyam student is ready for Arangetram.
Arangetram used to be referred to as Gejjepooje (worshiping the jingles) in the Mysore district. Bharata-natyam dancer considers jingles as divine. Students did not wear jingles (salangai) till their debut performance or till they consecrated the jingles at the Salangai Pooja that nowadays often precedes Arangetram.
Bharatanatyam dancer's orchestra most often consists of a vocalist, a mridangam (drum) player, a veena, a flute, a violin player and the natuvanga (cymbals). Other instruments such as morsing are optional. Typically, the orchestra sit on the left side on the stage. The Bharatanatyam artiste wears a set of temple jewelry, make-up and a tailor-made costume.
Bharata-natyam recitals usually are split into 2 parts. The first typically contains such items as Pushpanjali ,Kautuvam , Alaripu , Jatiswaram , Shabdam , Varnam . In the second the dancers often perform Padam ,Ashtapadi , Devaranama , Tillana ,Mangalam
Bharatanatyam dancers in Pushpanjali pay obeisance to the Devas (usually Nataraja or Vinayaka), the guru and the rasikas (spectators). This is an opening, warm-up item.
Padams are the benchmarks of the Bharata-natyam dancer's abhinaya skills. It depicts the nuances of the divine love, pangs of separation in love, etc., where the Nayaka-Nayika relationships are explored. For example, the heroine can talk to her companion (as sakhi) and convey her feelings towards her hero. The starting tempo is slow.
Bharatanatyam repertoire sometimes includes ashtapadi, based on Jayadeva's Geetagovinda. These are romantic compositions that describe Krishna's and Radha's love in 12 cantos containing 24 songs. Each Canto is named according to Krishna's mood:
Bharatanatyam items occasionally include Devaranama, devotional pieces meant for a pure abhinaya, with hardly any nritta. These Bharata natyam songs are usually the compositions of great mystics (Purandharadaasa, Kanakadaasa, Vijayadaasa, Vyasaraaja, etc). Such compositions are popularly referred to as Daasa Sahitya, as they are written in plain language to be understood by everyone.
Bharatanatyam recitals often end in Thillanas, which are relatively new types of items, created in 20th century. Tillana s are full of nritta, with complex movements and postures,Muktayas or Sholkattu. This Bharatanatyam piece usually has a charana, a meaningful piece of lyrics with an abinaya passage.
Bharatanatyam arangetrams or other programmes always end with Mangalams where the Bharata natyam artists again thank god, guru and the audience for making the performance a success.
In Tanjore Quartet's concept, a Bharatanatyam programme's format is meant to resemble the structure of a Hindu temple: in alarippu the dancer passes through the gopuram (outer gate), then in jatiswaram crosses the ardhamandapam (midway hall), in sabdam passes through the mandapam (great hall of worship), and finally enters the heart of the temple in the varnam.
Bharathanatyam is an attempt to embody
the divine beauty, charm, rhythms and symbols that exist in heaven.
|Bharatanatyam is a means of spiritual elevation both for the dancer and the audience.|