Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form of South India, said to be originated in Thanjavoor of Tamil Nadu. It was known as “Daasiyattam” since performed by Devadasis in temples of Tamil Nadu in ancient times. Many of the ancient sculptures in Hindu temples are based on Bharatanatyam dance postures.
It is one of the oldest Indian dance forms, has a tradition of more then 2000 years.
Bharatanatyam is thought to have been created by the Bharata Muni, a Hindu sage, who wrote the Natya Shastra, the most important ancient treatise on classical Indian dance. It is also called the fifth Veda in reference to the foundation of Hindu religion and philosophy, from which sprang the related South Indian musical tradition of Carnatic music.
The conquest of India by the British took its toll on the arts as it did on everything else Indian. In the westerners’ eyes, the devadasi tradition was considered little better than prostitution, and thus treated; it was inevitable that it fell into disrepute. With the gradual impoverishment of the overthrown royalty, court patronage also dwindled. Under such a puritanical atmosphere, the classical science of dance was ignored, and a dancer was considered a woman of ill repute. An Act of the Madras Presidency banning temple dancing sounded the death knell for dance.
By the 1930s however, the rising national consciousness that had awaked across India led to reformation not only in the social, but also in the cultural spheres. As a means to kindle self-worth and patriotism, the interest in indigenous, traditional art forms increased, and so came about the transformation of the dance style that came to be called Bharatanatyam.
abhinaya (mime) – dramatic art of story-telling
nritta – pure dance movements, reflecting different rhythms
nritya – combination of abhinaya and nrittta
The music of Bharatanatyam is based on Carnatic classical music. The instruments used are Veena, (stringed instrument traditionally associated with Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of the arts and learning). Flute, Mridangam and Violin. The dance direction or ‘Nattuvangam’ is done by ‘Nattuvanar’ giving the Taalam accompanied by singers.
Languages – Tamil (predominant),Sanskrit,Telugu and Kannada are traditionally used in Bharatanatyam.
Dance has survived because it has adapted itself to changing situations, changing audiences, and there is no reason to believe that the same evolution will not continue in the days to come, as artists venture into unfamiliar territories, and conquer them.