Saturday, February 25, 2012

Basic Information About Bharatnatyam

Bharatnatyam originates in Tamil Nadu which is also referred to as artistic yoga and Natya yoga. The name Bharatnatyam is derived from the word "Bharata" and thus associated with the Natyashastra. Though the style of Bharatnatyam is over two thousand years old, the freshness and richness of its essence has been retained even today. The technique of human movement which Bharatnatyam follows can be traced back to the fifth Century A.D. from sculptural evidence. This classical dance has a mesmerizing effect as it uplifts the dancer and the beholder to a higher level of spiritual consciousness. It is a dancing style that comprises of Bhava, Raga, Tala, and Natya which reflect the real meaning of the Bharatnatyam.

Bharatanatyam is arguably the oldest and most traditional classical dance style which seemas a synthesis of philosophy, sculpture, music and literature. This dance got its name from Sage Bharata who wrote the Natya Shastra.
Bharatanatyam is an energetic dance from wherein the postures and balanced position, i.e. the weight of the body is placed squarely down the centre of the body. There is emphasis on the striking of the floor with the feet. There are jumps in the air as also pirouettes called bhramaris. There are movements done with the knees contacting the floor. These are called mandi adavus.
Bharatanatyam can be performed solo or in a group. The pure dance is called nritta and the expressive is nritya. The solo dancer uses various methods of story-telling to interpret the verses and stories she performs. The person who conducts the recital is called the natatuvanar,, who is generally the guru of the dancer. He or the plays the cymbals called nattuvangam. The other musicians are the vocalist, the mridangist or percussion player, of flutist, a violinist and a veena player.

One of the greatest performers of Bharatanatyam has been Balasaraswati who was influential in popularising the dance as much as Rukmini Devi Arundale. Balasaraswati was famous for her soulful renderings of abhinaya or mimetic piece, in which she not only danced but sang as well. 
The Steps & Performance
Bharatanatyam is always performed with the knees of the dancers bent. The dance form emphasizes on the hand movements to convey different kinds of emotions to the spectator. While performing Bharatanatyam, the artist visualizes his/her body as made up of triangles. The steps of the dance are based upon a balanced distribution of body weight and firm positions of the lower limbs, allowing the hands to cut into a line, to flow around the body, or to take positions that enhance the basic form. In order to perform Bharatnatyam, the artist should have the knowledge of the numerous subtle features of the dance style.

Four Techniques:
Described in Natya Shastra, Karanas are defined as the 108 key transitional movements of Bharatanatyam that also feature in other classical dance forms of India. Karana is a Sanskrit word, meaning 'doing'. Classical dancer Padma Subramanyam is well known for her interpretation of Karanas, which predominantly includes the leg, hip, body and arm movements complemented by hasta mudras, as described in the Natya Shastra.
The use of expressive hand gestures is a highlighting feature of Bharatanatyam. As the name suggests, hastas are the wide variety of hand symbols used by the performer. Some of the most well known hand gestures of the dance form include Anjali, which is used as a symbol of salutation, when a person greets his/her fellow dancer. Hastas are broadly divided into two types - Asamyukta and Samyukta.

Adavus is defined as a series of steps in Bharatanatyam. The execution of the steps is different from style to style. The 108 principals of adavus are recognized by most schools of Bharatanatyam. As many as 60 adavus are used by many professional dancers. Jathis is the combination of adavus and forms the Nritta passages in a Bharatanatyam performance.
Bhedas , Eye  & Neck Movements
Bharatanatyam is considered incomplete without bhedas and the expressive eye movements of the performer. Neck and eye movements are used extensively in the dance form. The shiro bheda (head movements) comprises of Sama, Udhvahita, Adhomukha, Alolita,Dhutam, Kampitam, Paravruttam, Utkshiptam and Parivahitam.

Theme of Bharatnatyam
Bharatnatyam is a solo, feminine type of a dance, which is tender and erotic. The basic theme is love, where the female dancers usually perform as a devotion to the Supreme Being; or love of a mother for child. It epitomizes the adoration of lovers separated and reunited. This dance is considered to be a fire dance, where there is a mysterious display of the abstract element of fire in the human body.
Technique of Bharatnatyam
Among the various styles of Bharatnatyam the Pandanallur and the Vazhuvoor are more significant. Pandanallur style is characterized by its deep sitting positions; its slow Lasya padams, and difficult standing positions. Vazhuvoor is characterized by a static posture to break the monotony with rhythmical variety.

The technique of Bharatnatyam consists of Natya, Nritta and Nritya. Natya is the dramatic art which is the language of gestures, poses and mimes. Nritta includes the rhythmic and repetitive elements. The Nritya is a combination of Nritta and Natya. Abhinaya also is another technique. It is subtle with more spontaneous expressions.

The theme of Bharatnatyam comes alive through the zealous performances of the dancers. It is the combination of technique, styles and Abhinaya. It starts with an invocation to Lord Gnana Sabesar of Vazhuvoor. The themes are personalized depending on the dancer. The dancers need to posses ten essential attributes which include Agility, Steadiness, graceful lines, balance in pirouettes, glance, hard work, intelligence, devotion, good speech, and singing ability.
Dressing style
The commonly used style in bharatanatyam are the skirt (saree) style or the pyjama style. Dancers were costumes made of silk sarees with gold zari embroidery designs. The pleats in this costumes opens beautifully. When the dancer forms a particular posture especially ariamandi(half sitting) and muzhu mandi(full sitting).

Role of Music in Bharatnatyam
Music plays an important role in Bharatnatyam. The musical accompaniment of the Carnatic School predominates over the raga in the Nritta passages. The chief musical instruments used in Bharatnatyam are the Mridangam and a pair of Cymbals. The cymbals provide the timing and the Mridangam provides fractional measures of the broad beats. The dancer follows both. A tambura is also used to provide the scale for the refrain. The musical instruments used are Mridangam, Manjira, Vina, Violin, Kanjira, Surpeti, Venu and Tanpura. The costume consists of a richly embroidered dhoti of silk for both male and female dancers. There is a pleated or frilled cloth hanging from the waist to the knees which is laced over the Dhoti.

Bharatnatyam as a classical dance went through a lot of changes and still retaining its ancient quintessence. The most exciting aspect of Bharatnatyam is that it is religious and possess rich mythological heritage of India. The technique, costume, style and theme of the dance distinguish it from forms of Indian classical dance. Bharatnaty am is known for its grace, purity, tenderness and sculpturesque poses


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  5. Can anyone let me know the duration of learning Bharatnatyam....n nearby classes in Central mumbai

  6. My niece is six year old but she is very much fond of this dance. Looking the CD's and TV she learnt a good steps but as she stays in village there is no any class. I would like to know is there any CD for basic Students. If yes please send me details on Gmail i.s.

  7. Dear Snehal, the name is also said to be associated with Bharata Muni.
    And its not only knees bent but 5 positions for performing the art named as Samam, Mandalam, Aramandalam, Mukkalmandalam and Muzhamandalam.
    I am a PG in Bharatanatyam, but currently into IT Sales. Looking forward to take up my passion seriously and convert into my vocation cum profession.

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  12. Thanks for sharing such an informative article, I am a dance teacher taking Bharatanatyam classes in abu dhabi and i used to ask my students to read this article as a basic approach to bharatanatyam, Thanks again for sharing and to enlighten all about our Great Indian classical dance.

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