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Bharatanatyam – the oldest and classical Indian dance form

Bharatanatyam - Natya Shastra, the oldest treatise on dance states that Bharatanatyam originated around 2nd B.C. Rukmini Devi, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Padma Subramanyam are few of the popular classical dancers in India.

Bharatanatyam – the oldest and classical Indian dance form

Sadir, Chinnamelan and Dasi Attam or Daasiyattam are the original names of the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam that is said to be originated in the temples of Thanjavoor, Tamil Nadu performed by Devdasis. Devdasis were the women who dedicated their entire life to God and used to pay their obeisance through dance. With time Rajanartakis started performing Bharatanatyam at the royal courts. Present form of the dance has been recreated from Sadir. Lord Shiva is the God of Bharatanatyam.

Name Bharatanatyam has originated from three fundamental concepts i.e. Bhava (expressions), Raga (melody) and Tala (rhythm). Literally Bharat Natyam means the dance of Bharata (India).

Historical Background

Natya Shastra, the oldest dissertation on dance written around 500 BC to 500 AD contains the details of various old dance forms. According to this treatise . Devdasis who were the young beautiful girls married to God and devoted their entire life to God used to perform Bharatanatyam to worship him. They also used to perform it as a sacred dance during temple ceremonies. Devdasis were very influential figures and no temple ceremony used to take place without them and their performance.

Then came a change in the hereditary of Bharatnatyam and temple support. Modification in these moved Bharatnatyam from temples to courts. It became a source of entertainment rather than worshipping. Further downfall has been noticed in the dance as well as dancing girls with British rule.

To stop further degradation and downfall some dance enthusiasts started preserving the oldest art form of India. Many families of devdasis and dance teachers preserved it and made it a family tradition.

With collective efforts, Bharatanatyam has regained its lost glory and now it has moved to stage as a highly specialized classical dance form.

Aspects of Bharatanatyam

Nritta – Dance based on music in which the dancer interprets the rhythm. Dance is executed by forming geometrical patterns in space. Viewers get easily connected as no technical background is required to understand this dance. It is the most popular form of Bharatanatayam.

Natya – Dancer dances to bring out the meaning of a poem. Movements, expressions and gestures of dancer dance out the meaning and everything looks like a part of the story. Sometimes a solo dancer impersonate up to 3-4 characters.

Nritya – Nritta and Natya are combined to give a balanced Nritya in Bharatanatyam. Dancer needs to be very cautious while performing Nritya.

Famous Bharatanatyam dancers in India

Rukmini Devi

She brought an immense change in Bharatanatyam by correcting the theory of dance and music, artistically designing the dance costumes, picking up antique jewelry and ornaments and accentuating the spiritual aspect of the dance.

She was born on 28th February 1904 in Madurai to a family associated with saint Tyagaraja. She got married to Dr. George Arundale in 1920. She traveled to Europe with her husband and gave lectures on Indian culture. Rukmini Devi even learned Russian Ballets from a renowned Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who asked her to learn Indian Classical dance. After coming back to India she learned classical dance from Pandanallur Meenakshi Sundaram pillai, Gauri amma and Muthukumar.

Mrinalini Sarabhai

She received her education in Switzerland and took Bharatanatyam training from Muthukumar Pillai and studied under Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, Chokalingam Pillai and Ellapa Pillai in India. She got married to Dr Vikram Sarabhai. Sarabhai established a dance academy named ‘Darpana’to teach Bharatanatyam and other art forms.

Dr. Padma Subramanyam

She is one of the most reputed Bharatanatyam dancers in India. She is also a music composer, choreographer, singer, teacher, research scholar and author. Subramanyam was born on 4th February, 1943 in Chennai. Her father K. Subramanyam started dance school ‘Nrutyodaya’ in 1942 and Dr Padma is now a director of this dance school. She started her training under Kausalya and then trained by Guru Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. She gave her first public performance ‘Arangetram’ in 1956. She introduced ‘Pushpanjali’ a dance piece as a dancer.

Alarmel Valli

She is the leading promoter of Pandanallur tradition in Bharatanatyam. She is the youngest dancer to received Padma Shri award. Valli was born in 1957 and received a formal training from guru Shri Chokkalingam Pillai and his son Shri Subbaraya Pillai. She has been doing research work for the past 12 years on classical Tamil anthologies of Sangam poetry.

Anita Ratnam

She is one of the most popular Bharatanatyam dancers in India who is also trained in Mohiniattam and Kathakali. She received training from Adyar K. Lakshmanan and then joined Rukmini Devi Arundale’s ‘Kalakshetra’ for a Postgraduate diploma in Dance.

Yamini Krishnamurthy, Mallika Sarabhai, Balasarswati, Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai are few more names in the list of eminent Bharatanatyam dancers in India.

Tag : bharatanatyam, bharat natyam, classical dancers in india, ,classical dance form, classical dancers in india, dr. padma subramanyam, mrinalini sarabhai, rukmini devi

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