Art is one of the most important parts of human life. Every country has their own art forms such as music, painting, and dance. Artists have been portraying art about religion and culture, this means they try to tell you a story or a fact of the dance. Over the years due to cultural limitation, the religious and social issues have influenced Indian artwork. Indian artist have expressed their religious belief via sculpting statues of gods and goddesses, and portraying religious events via dance. They have also utilized folk tales in terms of dance portraits of gods and goddesses.
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In my country, India, there are different types of traditional dances like Kathakali, Kathak, Manipuri, Odissi, Kuchipudi, and Bharat Natyam. Bharat Natyam is the most traditional dance of Indian culture. Bharat Natyam is one of the oldest and most popular of the Indian classical dance forms. It is, in essence, a dedicatory dance. It was originated in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India. It is one of the most widely practiced classical Indian dances. It has been aptly said that Bharat Natyam is a symbol of beauty and aesthetic perfection.
I agree art is life for some people. Some dancers perform dances for hobby or entertainment, while some make dance as their profession. For those people, dance is a type of art by which they survive.
Bharat Natyam is the most ancient of all the classical dance forms in India. It is thought to be created by the sage Bharat Muni who wrote the Natya Shastra, the bible of the classical Indian dance. It was also called as the fifth Veda (Bowers 14). It became the most authoritative text on the artistic techniques of classical Indian dances, especially Bharat Natyam and Odissi. In addition, the term derives its name “Bharat Natyam” from sage Bharata (Bowers 14). Natya Shastra was revitalized and redefined by the contributions of four talented brothers in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. “The four famous brothers Chinniah, Ponniah, Sivanandam, and Vadivelu managed to organize all the basic Bharat Natyam movements of pure dance into a progressive series, by coordinating their diverse talents” (Cohen 442-443).
In its beginning, Bharat Natyam was performed as dasiattam (“dance of servants”), by temple “devadasis (female temple dancers)” (Cohen 442-443). The dancers knew Sanskrit and other languages very well, as they had to compose their songs in Sanskrit so that all the audiences could understand their dances and songs.
Initially, devadasis lead a very strict and celibate life and they were not allowed to have a family. They were supposed to be sexually pure or virgins. “Bharat Natyam was mainly performed in the temples of Lord Shiva in Tamil Nadu” (Cohen 442-443). Another form of the origin of Bharat Natyam was goddess Parvathi. In reality, the gods and the goddesses are dancers themselves. Lord Shiva was the Supreme Dancer himself and goddess Parvathi also used to dance with him (Bowers 15-16).
Over the centuries, Bharat Natyam has undergone a lot of change. It was originally known as a female solo dance and mostly performed by women dancers, but as we see today men can also perform this dance. It is extremely demanding and complex in terms of dedication and daily practice.
All classical dances have their common traits such as a common terminology with minor variations. All classical dancers are trained in the “guru-shisya” (teacher-disciple) tradition (Bharatnatyam arangetram 1). In Bharat Natyam, the student begins their training with practice of the adavus (the rhythmic body movements along with hand gestures), or basic dance units. These units range from eighty to one hundred. Next, the student learns thirmanams, also known as concluding movements. These thirmanams usually repeat three times, “they bring to a conclusion a rhythmic passage consisting of a series of adavus” (Cohen 442-443). All these rhythmic passages form the body of alarippu, jatisvaram, and tillana.
The lines of the body are very important for Bharat Natyam. A dancer’s body must have a noble, almost geometrical angularity and a harmonious, well-balanced symmetry. The body is lowered to achieve the basic stance, the aramandi or ayatamandalam; both of these forms are types of the standing position. In these stances, the knees are bent and turned out widely. The heels come together with the feet pointing outward. “The arms are usually stretched on the side to their fullest length” (Cohen 442-443). In certain movements, the body must be curved completely, especially, in the thirmanams (Cohen 442-443). Sometimes the torso is held and inclined. There should be hard and exact contact of feet with the floor. The symbolic hand gestures are used in the nritya and natya. These sequences are taken from second-century texts, Abhinaya-darpana, they are also known as The Mirror of Gesture and are called hastas or mudras. There are twenty-eight one-handed hastas, also known as asamyukta and twenty-three two-handed hastas, also known as samyukta (Cohen 442-443). In the past, the devadasis used to wear a sari in Bharat Natyam, draped over a pair of pajamas or pantaloons (Cohen 442-443). One end of this sari is passed between the legs and tucked into the waist. The modern costumes are more tailored with close fitting pantaloons. In the front, a decorative pleated fan is joined to the legs. The torso is covered with a blouse and a veil draped over it. The costumes are made of silk. They wear jewellery that covers the dancer from head to toe. “Bells (ghungharoo) worn around ankles are an essential feature of the performance” (Cohen 442-443).
There was a wide choice of different hairstyles according to temple sculptures. “Most popular was the hair rounded into a large halo at the back of the head, but knots and buns of various sizes fastened onto various parts of the head can also be found” (Bowers 40). “Besides powder and lipstick, the dancer’s make-up consists of a heavy underlining of the lower eyelid with collyrium” (castor oil that has been blackened by being held over a smoking flame) (Bowers 41-42).
In the literary content of the songs, Bharat Natyam dance comes from modern Southern Indian languages. The songs in classical Sanskrit or in Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada are used while performing Bharat Natyam (Cohen 442-443). Many songs are taken from the ecstatic compositions of the great saint-composers of Southern India while some of the composers are anonymous (Cohen 442-443). These songs are set to the classical southern Indian Karnatic mode. The dance is performed by an ensemble of musicians conducted by the nattuavanar. He/She is also called guru or preceptor of the dancer (Cohen 442-443). The guru sets the rhythm with a pair of cymbals and chants or recites the rhythmic passages. In addition to a singer there is a percussionist playing the two-headed drum, this drum is also known as mridangam. There may be one or more instrumentalists playing the vina, flute, or violin.
Bharat Natyam has undergone a lot of change over the centuries but it is still deeply rooted in the spiritual Hindu heritage. In Bharat Natyam, dancers can be both male and female artists. Most people learn Bharat Natyam as a hobby, while very few people make it as their career and a lifestyle. Now, most of the contemporary Bharat Natyam ballets are popularly viewed as a form of entertainment.
Initially, I said art is one of the most important parts of human life. This is fact that Bharat Natyam is the manifestation of the South Indian idea of the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the body. Certainly, nothing is more devastating to the essence of Bharat Natyam than the contemporary compromises with the sastric standards. As generations continue to pass on, old religious customs will be forgotten in practice but will fortunately be remembered through their representation in entertainment.