Monday, March 24, 2014

Indian Dance Forms 1: Bharatanatyam


Bharata Natyam, as the famous danseuse Balasaraswati had aptly said, is an artistic yoga (natya yoga), for revealing the spiritual through the corporeal. It is the most ancient and most widely practiced dance form, with its roots in Tamil Nadu. The term Bharata Natyam was introduced in the mid-thirties by the renowned freedom fighter E. Krishna Iyer and later popularized by Rukminidevi Arundale, and is probably derived from the four syllables, Bhava (expression) Raga (music), Tala (rhythm) and Natyam (dramatic element)

There is an interesting legend behind its origin. The gods and goddesses pleaded with Lord Brahma for another Veda to be created that could be easily comprehended by the common man. Accordingly Lord Brahma created the Panchamaveda, (fifth Veda) also known as NatyaVeda, which was infact a quintessence of the four Vedas. Brahma took pathya (words) from the Rigveda, abhinaya (communicative body movements, mime) from the Yajurveda, geeta (music and chant) from Samaveda, and rasa (sentiments and emotions) fromAtharvaveda to form this fifth Veda.

After completing his creation, Lord Brahma handed the volume to sage Bharata and asked him to propagate it on earth. Subsequently sage Bharata compiled the Natya Shastra. Still later, He organised a performance by the Gandharavas and Apsaras (celestial beings) before Lord Shiva. Thence Natya Shastra became the most authoritative text on the artistic technique of classical Indian dances, especially Bharata Natyam and Odissi.

Another version of the origin of Bharata Natyam is that goddess Parvati taught this dance to Usha, daughter of the demon king Banasura. Usha propagated this dance form among the masses especially in Mathura and Dwaraka, towns associated with the life and times of Lord Krishna. Goddess Parvati danced with Lord Shiva who is the Supreme Dancer, and his rhythmic, movements manifest themselves in the universe.

Bharartanatyam – combining grace with beauty
Basic features

The salient features of Bharata Natyam are movements conceived in space either along straight lines or triangles. In terms of geometrical designs, the dancer appears to weave a series of triangles besides several geometrical patterns. In nritta (pure dance) to the chosen time cycle and a raga (melody), a dancer executes patterns that reveal the architectonic (scientifically systemized) beauty of the form with a series of dance units called jathis or teermanams. The nritta numbers include AlarippuJatiswaram and Tillana, which are abstract items conveying no specific meaning except that of joyous abandon, with the dancer creating variegated forms of amazing visual beauty.
In nritya, a dancer performs to a poem, creating a parallel kinetic poetry in movement, registering subtle expressions on the face while the entire body reacts to the emotions, evoking sentiments in the spectator - therasa. The numbers are varnam, which has expressions as well as pure dance; padamsjavalis and shlokas. The accompanying music is classical Carnatic. The themes are based on Indian mythology, the epics and thePuranas.
There are many other interesting aspects of this dance. Charya is the expression through ornaments. Vachikiais the expression through speech, and Satvika is the expression through refinement of the soul. The technical expressions are made up of jumps, spins, and balanced attitudes. Angika Abiinaya is the use of gesture. The gestures of Bharata Natyam comprise the use of the head, eyes, bust, neck, and hands. It is replete with feminine grace, purity, tenderness, and sculptural poses. Bharata Natyam basically is not a vulgar form of entertainment but a sacred ritual that is meant to bring about rasanubhava (catharsis, or spiritual upliftment) to the rasika (audience/connoisseur) as well the dancer.
Costumes and ornaments

The beautiful pallav (Thallaippu) in the front makes the costume very rich and colorful. Little girls wear a blouse with a small pleat in the front, instead of the thavani (a piece of cloth covering the blouse).The skirt costumes are used for Padams and small pieces in Bharata Natyam. The border around the legs and the neatly pleated front portion gives a pretty look to this costume.
The most commonly used styles include the skirt/sari and the pyjama style made of Kanchipuram or Benaras silk .The knife pleated fan which either reaches the knees or the calves spreads out beautifully during particular postures and enhances the beauty and richness of the costume.
The dancer wears her hair in a long plait, decorated with flowers; Black eyeliner known as kajal (kohl) is applied in thick layers, to the eyes to elongate them on the sides. The dancer applies red lipstick and blush. Other makeup is used for greater definition of the facial features. The ornaments worn by the dancers are made of silver, dipped in gold and inlaid with gemstones (a.k.a. temple jewellery). There are two kinds of ear ornaments - thodu and Mattal; the neck ornaments include Addigai (choker) and Maalai (long chain) while the head ornaments include Nethi Chutti, and sooryan – chandran; she wears ghungroos (clusters of bells) around her ankles.

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