- Javaha (agility),
- Sthirathvam (steadiness),
- Rekhacha (graceful lines),
- Bhramari(balance in pirouettes),
- Drishtir (glance),
- Shramaha (hard work),
- Medha (intelligence),
- Vacho (good speech), and
- Geetam (singing ability
- white specks in the apple of the eye
- scanty hair
- thick lips
- pendant breasts
- too fat body or
- too thin,
- too tall or
- too short
- hoarse or voiceless.
- Vazhuvoor (or Vizhuvur)
- Thanjavoor (or Tanjore)
- the feet are not stamped hard against the floor
- a complex variety of sounds are produced by anklets
- the items that were dedicated to medieval kings or patrons are not performed
- natural (spontaneous) and highly expressive abhinaya
- wide amplitude of movements
- emphasis on sringara bhakti
- emphasis on crisp adavus, accuracy of jathis / gathis,
- fluid variations of patterned korvais
- dramatic elements (characterisation)
Bharata natyam bharatanatyam
- original methods of application of principles of “loka dharmi” and “natya dharmi”
- its deep sitting positions
- its lasya (feminine dance style) of padams is rather slow and difficult to perform
- it is performed on three levels: in deep sitting positions, on the ground, in standing positions and while moving or jumping.
- wide range of dancing pace
- static postures are inserted, most often in the tillana, to break the monotony and to add the variety of rhythms
- softer facial abhinaya
- abhinaya is subtle with more natyadharmi (spontaneous expressions), so the presentation is not “overdone”
- the adavu’s flow smoothly, with rare abrupt movements
- extremely elaborate movements
- deep sitting positions
- variety of positions on the floor
- rich sringar elements
- lasya dominates tandava
- the dancer’s body from the waist up is stlightly bent forward
- leaps are introduced into every jati
- the jati’s have more korvais (intervals), which creates a suspense effect
- performance begins with a Thodaya mangalam in honour of Lord Gnana Sabesar of Vazhuvoor
- the dancer starts the performance while entering the stage from the wings
- with well-rounded breasts,
- capable of keeping time (following the rhythm)
- splendidly dressed
- of a happy disposition.
Bharatanatyam video clips online
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 descirbes a devadasi as an expert at Bharata natyam. Subramania Bharathi also speaks about Bharatnatyam.
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 relationshios 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 belive 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) andplayed 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.
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
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.
in its highest moment, is the embodiment of music in a visual form”, said Balasaraswathi. The sastra’s stipulated that a dedicated
dancer must be equally dedicated to music. In her demonstrations of Bharata natyam abroad, Balasaraswathi emphasised the connection between dance movement and raga (tune) expression in abhinaya (mime), with the subtle expressions of
gamakas (voice modulations), intonations of sruti, and the development of improvisation in niraval”
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.
The rhythmical and repetitive elements are called Nritta, i.e. it is dance proper
The dramatic art of expression in gestures, poses and mime is called Natya. cf. Abhinaya
The combination of Nritta and Natya is called 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
body limbs are classified as Anga, Pratyanga or Upaanga.
6 Angas comprise: chest, waist, bottom, hands, head, legs. Some Bharatanatyam experts distinguish also neck.
6 Pratyangas are: thighs, knees, shoulders, arms, stomach.
Some Bharathanatyam experts distinguish also Wrists, Elbows and Ankles .
12 Upaangas are: glance, eyebrows, eyelids, eyeballs, cheeks, nose, gums, lips, teeth, tongue, chin and face in general. Some Bharatanatyam experts distinguish also heels, fingers, feet and palms.
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
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, such a Melattur style, 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, jewellry, 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…
Bharatanatyam dancer often portrays Shiva’s characteristic pose of Nataraja:
his right hand holds the drum of creation, symbolising a primeval sound. Hhis left hand holds fire destroying the old universe;
his second right hand is raised in Abhaya hastha (blessing ). Tthe second left hand points to his left foot that crushed demon Muyalaka who is the embodiment of ignorance.
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
Natya shastra classified the basic psychological states, relathionships and moods of the heroine (Nayika), in
8 types, Ashta nayikas. These express different feelings, sentiments and reactions that arise in certain situations. The 8 are: Abhisarika, Kalahantarika, Khandita, Proshitapathika, Swadheenapathika, Vasakasajjika, Virahotkantita and Vipralabda. These 8 symbolise in Bhakti Yoga the 8 types of the spiritual relations between the soul and the Paramatma.
boldly goes out to meet her paramour.
Kalahantarika: repents her hastiness and the resulting quarrel
with her beloved that brought about their separation.
Khandita: angry and frustrated with her lover.
Proshitapathika: is suffering and missing her lover
who had left on a long journey.
Swadheenapathika: proud of his
love and loyalty for her.
Vasakasajjika: decorating herself and her surroundings, preparing for the advent of her
Virahotkantita: separated from and
yearning for reunion with her beloved.
Vipralabda: dissapointed that her lover has not
turned up at the tryst as he had promised.
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 styles. 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 dancers are considered inferior if they exhibit any of the 10 blemishes:
Bharatanatyam recitals, items and arangetrams
Bharatanatyam 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 jewellery, make-up and a tailor-made costume.
Arangetrams can last up to 3 hours, and is a test of the dancer’s stamina and concentration. 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 obeissance to the Devas (usually Nataraja or Vinayaka), the guru and the rasikas (spectators). This is a n opening, warm-up item. Bharatanatyam dancers perform pure nritta in Alaripu. There are movements performed for rhythmic syllables (sollus). The movements gradually grow more and more complex, and the dancer concentrates deeper and deeper. The Bharatanatyam steps here resemble a bud opening into a full blossom. There is no verbal message communicated in this Bharatanatyam item that has no musical tune (raga). Bharata-natyam artiste performs the movements in Jatiswaram, as these are devoid of any mental meaning or theme that can be verbally expressed. The steps grow more complex than in the previous items. The choreography can include static postures, teermanas or muktayas (ending in a jathi). This Bharatanatyam composition is set to a raga (tune). Bharatanatyam items of Shabdam include nritta and abinaya, and the themes of the lyrics usually are devotional. The movements in these Bharatnatyam compositions may be either leisurely or vigorous. It the beginning, emotions are subdued, then gradually released in a measured way.
Bharata natyam dancers perform Varnam next, where their abilities to perform abinaya and nritta are tested throughout very complex steps, movements, and expressions that require stamina and concentration. The lyrics in varnams are typically devotional, but can also have shrigara rasa or other rasas as its theme. Padams are the benchmarks of the Bharata-natyam dancer’s abhinaya skills. It depicts the nuances of the divine love, pangs of seperation 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:
Saamodadamodara (Joyful), Aakleshakeshava (care-free), Mugdhamadhusoodhana (bewildered), Snigdhamadhusoodhana (tender and affectionate), Saakankshapundareekaksha (longing), Kuntavaikunta (indolent), Naagaranaaraayana (cunning), Vilakshalakshmeepatihi (bashful), Mandamukunda (languishing ), Chaturachaturbhuja (shrewd and wise), Saanandadamodara (blissful), Supreetapeetambara (ecstatic). For the successful performance of these Bharatanatyam compositions, the dancer’s grace and delicate facial expressions (mukha abhinaya) are paramount. The Bharatanatyam artists have to demonstrate their understanding of the lyrics , the situations, the interactions and the rasas. 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. . . .