by Sarah Friswell
This month, we'll travel to southern India and discover a little more about a temple dance called Bharatanatyam (Bar-ah-tah-nah-tee-yum).
Bharatanatyam is a dance form that is performed in temples in southern India. It originated between 400 and 200 BC in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Dance and music were extremely important parts of ritual worship.
The women who perform these dances are called Devadasis and it is said that they were "married" to a deity or to the temple itself. The Devadasis' lives were devoted to honoring the temple and all the deities in it.
Originally the dance form was passed on as a living tradition from the dancers and gurus (teachers) to the younger generations. It was done only in temples by the Devadasis and gurus until the 20th century when there was a renewal in the popularity of Indian culture. Today, Bharatanatyam is done in classrooms, on stages, and at festivals and the different dances of Bharatanatyam can be found in the Natya Shastra, an ancient book that describes Indian performing arts including dance, theatre and music.
Bharatanatyam is known for its preciseness and perfection of the movements. Different postures are called karanas. These karanas are also what many sculptures in Hindu temples are based on. There are eight universal emotions, or rasas, that are supposed to be used in every performance. The eight emotions are love, pity, anger, disgust, heroism, awe, terror and comedy. Mudras, or hand gestures are also used in the dancing to help represent emotions.
During the performance, carnatic music is used, which is a very precise form of Indian music. The dancing is a visual embodiment of the music with incredibly exact choreography from head to toe, including eye movements. The costumes are just as intricate as the dance and music, and the Devadasis put on dramatic makeup to make their facial expressions stand out even more.
This beautiful art form is now thriving as it leaves the temples and takes the stage at venues around the world. You can check out an amazing video of Bharatanatyam here.