Dancers' Paradise



India is very well known for its rich culture and heritage. Music and dance form a part of all auspicious occasions. These are mainly performed to express joy in which the whole community participates. Thus, dance and music forms an essential part of life itself, whether it is folk or classical. It is very interesting to note that Indian classical dance forms are inspired by ‘Bhakti’ (devotion) and religion. They were performed in temples. The themes depicted were stories from epics and other mythological literature. The tradition and rules were followed in each dance form depending on the regional customs and requirements.

Among the many forms of classical dance prevalent in the India, Bharatanatyam occupies an important position. It is the subtle and sophisticated dance from Tamilnadu, South India. This dance, like any other dance, is intended to provide spiritual satisfaction to the performer and aesthetic experience to the audience. Bharatanatyam can be called an exact science, in the sense that it places equal emphasis on the different aspects that go to make a dance, namely Bhava (exposition), Raga (melody) and Tala (rhythm). Every part of the body is involved in this dance form and expressions are shown mostly through the eyes. Language is no barrier for Bharatanatyam. Lyrics in any Indian language can be adopted and choreographed in this style.

The dance, though it follows the rules laid down by the pioneers, is fresh and fascinating even now. Neither old nor new, it is an art for eternity because of the revolutionary work of far-seeing pioneers and also because of the enduring and enthralling beauty of the art itself. Bharatanatyam is essentially performed as a solo dance. However there is a trend, these days, to perform in group formations. Dance-dramas based on Bharatanatyam are also becoming increasingly popular.


Evolution and development of Bharatanatyam

The origin and antiquity of Bharatanatyam can be traced back to the Vedas and the figure of the dancing girl in Mohen-jo-daro. The sculptural evidences from the 5th century onwards reveal various changes and development.

Bharata, in his Natyasastra, traces the origin of Natya from Lord Brahma. He says that Lord Brahma created a fifth Veda, called Natya Veda, in addition to the four main Vedas, at the request of the Devas. He is supposed to have taught this new Veda to the greatest sage of the period, Bharata. Sage Bharata then taught this to the apsaras (heavenly damsels) and his own children.

The history of dance can be classified under there heads:
  • Prehistoric as evidenced by cave paintings, engravings, Vedic references in Puranas, epics, etc.
  • Medieval, ranging from 2 BC though 9 AD. References can be obtained from monuments of ancient dynasties, Buddhist Stupas, caves of Ellora and temples in various parts of India, where the sculptures of different dance forms are found.
  • Modern, from 10 AD to the present. This period witnessed the development and growth of this art on a large scale towards regional, architectural, sculptural, pictorial and musical areas.

It is strongly believed that "Sadir" was the precursor of modern Bharatanatyam. Sadir was supposed to have evolved between the 17th and 19th centuries. It was, however, the Tanjavur Quartette who refined and evolved this dance form to what it is today. Bharatanatyam can also be considered the successor of the ancient Tamil dance style known as Koothu. References in the ancient works Silappadikaram and Manimekalai indicate two types of Koothus, namely the Santi Koothu and the Vinoda Koothu. Santi Koothu is considered classical and scholarly, while Vinoda Koothu is mainly for entertainment.

The Devadasi dance seems to given rise to the Sadir or Nautch. During the reign of King Serfoji, the Tanjavur Quartette consisting of Ponnaiyya, Chinnayya, Vadivelu and Sivanandam refined this dance and gave it the present form and name. Later on, this seems to have been popularised among the public by an eminent artiste, E Krishna Iyer, thus removing the stigma attached to it.

The efforts of Rukmini Arundale in establishing the dance school, Kalakshetra to propagate this art among the Indians and foreigners are indeed noteworthy. By giving systematic and intense training, the art form attained a very high standard and status. She abolished the unpleasant elements from the dance, designed artistic costumes and removed the erotic stigma attached to it.

Invaluable contributions have been made by veterans like T Balasaraswati, Kamala Lakshman, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Sudharani Raghupathy, Chitra Visweswaran and others towards improving the standard of performance.

Today Bharatanatyam has attained a very high status and is immensely popular. Learning Bharatanatyam has become a status symbol for all, irrespective of money, religion or rank. Within a short period, this art form has reached the masses from within the four walls of the temples, attained worldwide fame and has become one of the international dance forms.


To be continued

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