Dance Around The World: Bharatanatyam

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.


Ian Thal said...

... 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.

Just to clarify, the Natya Shastra is generally considered to set the criteria for the classical performing arts forms of India. Bharatanatyam is a form that conforms with the criteria set down by the Natya Shastra but it is only one of several such dance forms that are classical. Each of these forms also have their own canon of oral traditions and written treatises that distinguish them from one another-- but all are classical forms-- so while there are characteristics shared by all the classical forms of India, an experienced attendee would have little problem distinguishing between a Bharatanatyam performance and one of Odissi, Kathak, Kuchipudi, or Kathakali, et cetera.

Bharata Natyam said...

Natya shastra classified the basic psychological states, relationships 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

Aduvus are a later addition of Desi (folk dance) elements, and in the past few centuries gradually replaced the 108 Karanas.
(quoted from an article on Bharatanatyam )


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