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Dance and Rhythm -- Evolution of Bharatanatyam from - UrbanPro

The word Bharatanatyam is erroneously thought to translate into dance of India (Bharat natyam). However, the correct etymology would be ‘bha’ from bhava or expression, ‘ra’ from raaga or melody and ‘ta’ from taalam or rhythm. Natyam in Sanskrit means dance filled with drama. Therefore, the correct translation would be a dance drama that encompasses expression, melody and rhythm.

Dasiattam to Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam is based on a ‘rulebook’ called Natyashastra written by Bharata muni (Sage Bharata) in 4000BC. The dance in those days was confined to a group of people who danced only for the God, typically in temples. Those people were called as Devadasis, servants of God. A social stigma was attached to devadasis and they were looked down upon, along with their dance.

A revolution came in during the 10th century where the dance was refined by the Tanjore brothers: Ponnaiah, Chinnaiah, Vadivelu and Sivanandam, popularly known in the music field as the Tanjore quartet. They codified the dance through their music compositions, which accompany the dance during a performance. It was they who gave this temple dance its new name. Later E. Krishna Iyer, Balasaraswati and Rukmini Devi Arundale chiseled the dance into its present state.

Salient features of Bharatanatyam

Typically, Bharatanatyam dance poses have a bent-kneed appearance with the hands performing various mudras or hand gestures and the legs stretching out or bending-in, all in sync with the music and beats. All the steps are done for both sides of the body. According to the natyashastra, it is necessary to balance right male part of the body called tandavam with the left female, called lasya. The dance poses, when analysed, seem to impart an image of triangular convergence.

The dance poses are categorized into nritta (pure dance movements with no emotion tagged), nrittya (the bodily gestures to convey emotion) and natya (the drama factor of the dance).

Margam or repertoire of a typical dance

A typical dance recital beings with the alarippu, followed by jatiswaram, jawali and ends with tillana. The alarippu is the most simplest part in the dance, while the tillana is the most intricate and the most difficult to master.

Carnatic music and songs are the default accompaniment for the dance. Violin, mridangam and tiny cymbals are essential for proper rhythm and melody balance. The carnatic music and vocals for Bharatanatyam are referred to as nattuvangam and is regarded as a skill at par with the dance.

Learning Bharatanatyam

Traditionally young girls are initiated into the dance as early as 4 years of age and latest by 10 years. Compared to other dance forms, it is one of the difficult dances of the 8 Indian classical dances. It takes at least 2 years to go past the basics or the alphabets of the dance and start learning the ‘real’ dance. It requires agility, precisions and flexibility to appear graceful while dancing.

It may take up to 7 years for a student to get ready for their first solo public performance, also called as arangaetram. Nowadays there are online dance classes too for those who cannot find dance teachers nearby. However, the best way to learn dance would be in physical presence of a teacher who can correct the child as and when he/she commits mistake and learn along with other students for the fun factor of the dance.

Career in Bharatanatyam

Like any other profession, a career in dance needs equal devotion and understanding. It is not a profession for those who see the dance as a hobby. One who thinks and feels the dance in every pulse can go on to take up the dance as a profession for living. it will take the dancer at least 7 to 8 years to become an established dancer. Alternatively, the dancer can choose to start a school or be part of a troupe.

Related useful links:
Bharatnatyam dance classes in India
Bharatnatyam dance classes in Bangalore
Bharatnatyam dance classes in Mumbai
Bharatnatyam dance classes in Delhi
Classical dance classes in India

Further reading and references

A Indian Classical Dances by Shovana Narayan

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