India is cherished with many different types of dances like classical dance, folk dance, regional dance, fusion dance etc. Among all dances classical dance is very famous which have their routes from the past history and has become a part of nation’s pride. Indian classical dances are Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Odissi etc. Among all these classical dances, Bharatanatyam is very oldest form of dance and is itself a root to many other dances. It is the major genre of Indian classical dance that originated in Tamil Nadu. It is also known as Indian heritage dance and its presence is seen in ancient temples of Lord Shiva with the sculptures carved with different mudras of the dance.
Bharatanatyam is a traditional dance form originated in Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu thousands of years ago. Bharatanatyam was taught by Nattuvanars – the dance teachers and was initially practiced by a group of temple dancers called the Devdasis. Devdasis danced regularly during important festivals and rituals, and also at the time of worship in temples. Bharatanatyam was evolved from Dasi Attam, which is a blend of music, emotion, rhythm and expression. This dance was limited only to Hindu temples through the 19th century, and in 20th century it appeared on stage outside the temples.
Bharatanatyam is a reputed art and performed as a solo dance with the perfect footsteps and impressive gestures. The repertoire of Bharatanatyam follows three categories of performance in the Natya Shashtra – Nritta, Nritya and Natya. Bharatanatyam is a team performance done by a dancer and includes a singer, music and particularly the guru who directs and conducts the performance. The footwork, body language, postures, musical notes, the tones of the vocalist, aesthetics and costumes incorporate to express and communicate the story. The four dance teachers namely Ponaiyah, Vadivelu, Sivanandam and Chinnaiya, formed up the modern day Bharatanatyam during the rule of Maratha ruler, Sarfoji-II from 1798 to 1832. Dances were performed by three types of Dasi’s before – Devdasi, Rajdasi and Alankar Dasi. Dasi’s dancing in front of God was called as a Devdasi. Dasi performing in front of the king in their kingdom was called as a Rajdasi. And when Dasi are dancing on some occasions like marriage or baby shower, or any festivals were called as Alankar Dasi.
The attire of a Bharatanatyam dancer often reminds me of a Hindu bridal dress of Tamil Nadu. Brightly colored saree with a pleated fabric in front which opens like a hand fan when she bends her knees while performing her footwork. The dancer is adorned with jewelry all over her body, makeup on face, and eyes lined, which help viewers see her eye expressions. Leather anklets widely known as Ghungroos are wrapped to her anklets and her hair is braided in a long pony tail with fragrant flowers known as gajra or veni. The fingers and feet are colored red with kumkum powder, which helps the audience to have a clear view of her hand gestures.
Bharatanatyam is now the most popular classical Indian dance style in India which rapidly expanded after India became free from the British rule in 1947. At present, major cities in India have plentiful schools that offer lessons in Bharatanatyam, and these cities host hundreds of shows every year. Years ago it was performed in front of many Guru Ji’s for 4-6 days as an examination by the students but now it is performed for only 2-4 hours. Bharatanatyam takes about 7 years to get the basic degree, and after this degree the dancer has to do their ‘Arangetram’ live performance in front of the audience. Bharatanatyam students spend years learning the art and perfecting the skills to perform the ‘Arangetram’. Under the proper guidance of Guru, this dance form can be learned in Institutes with dedication and with regular practice. Bharatanatyam has received much acknowledgement within the country and overseas and has brought international recognition to national dancers.