The most well-known and revered of the classical Indian dances is Bharatanatyam. Although it has traditionally been associated with Tamil Nadu, it now has a strong presence across India. Even outside of India, the vast majority of Indian dance schools teach this style.
Bharatanatyam Dance is regarded as the mother of many other Indian classical dance forms. It is presumably the oldest classical dance heritage of India. It began in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu and eventually flourished in South India as a solo dance performed only by women. This form’s theoretical foundation can be traced back to ‘Natya Shastra,’ an ancient Sanskrit Hindu text on the performing arts.
A type of illustrative anecdote of Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas emoted by a dancer with excellent footwork and impressive gestures, nrita, nritya, and natya are among its performance repertoire. Accompanists include a singer, musicians, and, most importantly, the guru who directs and conducts the performance. It also continues to inspire a variety of art forms, including paintings and sculptures, dating back to the spectacular temple sculptures of the 6th to 9th centuries CE.
Bharatanatyam is a type of Indian dance. Some types of banis have dance content. Bani, or tradition, is a term used to describe the guru/dance school’s technique and style. These are named after the guru’s hometown (with the exception of some banis). The Bharatanatyam style is distinguished by its fixed upper torso, bent legs and flexed knees (Aramandi), spectacular footwork, and a sophisticated vocabulary of Sign language based on hand, eye, and face muscle gestures.
The dance is accompanied by music and a singer, and the dancers’ gurus are typically present as Nattuvanar, director, and conductor of the performance and art. Traditionally, the dance was a form of interpretive narration of mythical legends and spiritual ideas from Hindu texts.Bharatanatyam, like other classical dances, has a performance repertoire that includes nrita (pure dance), nritya (solo expressive dance), and natya (group dramatic dance).
Natya Shastra is attributed to the ancient scholar Bharata Muni, and its first complete compilation is dated between 200 BCE and 200 CE, though estimates range from 500 BCE to 500 CE. The most widely studied version of the Natya Shastra text contains approximately 6000 verses divided into 36 chapters. According to Natalia Lidova, the text describes the theory of Tava dance (Shiva), rasa theory, bhva theory, expression, gestures, acting techniques, basic steps, and standing postures—all of which are part of Indian classical dances. According to this ancient text, dance and performance arts are a form of expression of spiritual ideas, virtues, and the essence of scriptures.
The dance form is mentioned directly in one of Tamil literature’s five great epics, ‘Silappatikaram’ (2nd century CE). The Kanchipuram Shiva temple, which is decorated with carvings dating from the 6th to 9th centuries CE, demonstrates the development of this dance form by the mid-first millennium CE. Sculptures of Lord Shiva in Bharatanatyam dance poses adorn many ancient Hindu temples.
The eastern gopuram of the 12th century Thillai Natarajar Temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, dedicated to Lord Shiva, bears sculptures depicting 108 Bharatanatyam poses, known as karanas in the ‘Natya Shastra,’ that are intricately carved in small rectangular panels. Another notable sculpture can be found in Cave 1 of Karnataka’s Badami cave temples, which dates back to the 7th century and depicts Lord Shiva as Nataraja performing the Tandava dance. The Shiva sculpture’s 18 arms express mudras, or hand gestures, that are used in Bharatanatyam.
Many of the ancient Shiva sculptures in Hindu temples are similar to the poses used in Bharatanatyam dance. For example, Cave 1 of the Badami cave temples, which dates from the 7th century, depicts the tandava dancing Shiva as Nataraja. The image is 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and has 18 arms arranged in a geometric pattern that expresses the dance positions. Shiva’s arms express mudras (symbolic hand gestures) found in Bharatanatyam.
A Bharatanatyam dancer dresses in a style that is similar to that of a Tamil Hindu bride. The Female wears a stunning tailor-made sari that consists of a cloth specially stitched in pleats that fall in front from the waist and widens up like a hand fan when the dancer performs spectacular footwork such as stretching or bending her knees.
The sari is well complimented by traditional jewellery that adorns her head, nose, ear, and neck, as well as vivid face make-up that highlights her eyes so that the audience can see her expressions properly. Her hair, neatly plaited in the traditional manner, is frequently adorned with flowers. Her waist is adorned with a jewellery belt, and her ankles are wrapped in musical anklets called ghunghru, which are made of leather straps with small metallic bells attached to them. Her feet and fingers are frequently painted with henna to emphasise her hand gestures.
The costumes in Bharatanatyam dance are designed to be visually appealing. Devadasis wear Bharatnatyam Dance costumes to dance for Gods in temples or for kings in palaces. According to ancient texts and sculptures, the original costume did not cover the majority of the dancers’ bodies. Bharatanatyam costumes come in a variety of styles, some of which do not restrict the dancer’s movements while others do. The modern costumes are deeply symbolic, serving to project the dancer’s “sukshma sharira” in the material world.
Bharatnatyam costumes for women are similar to Indian sarees but are designed specifically for the dance. Despite their resemblance to saris, they are made up of a number of specially stitched pieces rather than a single piece of cloth. This customization makes them more comfortable to wear and dance in than a sari. Most costumes feature pleated waist pieces that fan out attractively during various movements.
The costumes are vibrant and eye-catching. The use of contrasting border colours is inherited from the sari tradition, and the borders of the various pieces of the costumes form patterns that decorate the dancer’s form. Women dress in a form-fitting ‘choli’ of the same colour and material as the ‘dhoti.’ The saree is well complemented by traditional jewellery that adorns her head, nose, ear, and neck, as well as vivid face make-up that highlights her eyes so that the audience can see the dancer’s expressions clearly.
Jewellery is an important part of the costumes worn by Bharatnatyam dancers. During the performance, they wear a one-of-a-kind set of jewellery known as “Temple Jewellery.” ‘Armlets,’ ‘wristlets,’ or ‘bangles,’ ‘earrings,’ and ‘necklaces’ all serve to accentuate the dancer’s appearance. Women wrap a veni, or semi-circle, of real or artificial flowers around their hair bun or plait. A tika, or dot, is impressed in the centre of the brow.
The most common pieces of jewellery are the ‘thalaisaman’ (headpiece), with the ‘rakodi’ (moon and sun) worn just above the flowers in the hair, and the ‘Chandra- Suryan’ (moon and sun) on either side, as the head represents heaven. The ear ornaments are made up of three pieces: the ‘maatal’ (chain), the ‘jhumki’ (hanging earring), and the ‘thodu’, which is worn on the lobe.
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Bharatanatyam’s accompanying music, as well as the recitation and chanting, are in the Carnatic style of South India. The vocalist is known as the nattuvanar, and he or she is also the conductor of the entire performance. He or she may be the dancer’s guru and may also be playing cymbals or one of the musical instruments. Bharatanatyam verses and texts are recited in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Sanskrit.
The mridangam (double-sided drum), nadaswaram (long type of oboe made of black wood), nattuvangam (cymbals), flute, violin, and veena are among the instruments used.