Bharatanatyam comes from the words Bhava (Expression), Raga (Music), Tala (Rhythm) and Natya (Classic Indian Musical Theatre). Today, it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by many dancers all over the world.
Surviving texts of the golden age of Tamil literature and poetry known during the Sangam Age such as the Tolkappiyam (தொல்கப்பியம்), as well as the later Silappadikaram (சிலப்பதிகரம்), testify to a variety of dance traditions which flourished in these times. The latter work is of particular importance, since one of its main characters, the courtesan Madhavi, is a highly accomplished dancer. TheSilappadikaram is a mine of information of ancient Tamil culture and society, in which the arts of music and dance were highly developed and played a major role.
In ancient times it was performed as dasiattam by mandir (Hindu temple) Devadasis. Many of the ancient sculptures in Hindu temples are based on Bharata Natyam dance postures karanas. In fact, it is the celestial dancers, apsara's, who are depicted in many scriptures dancing the heavenly version of what is known on earth as Bharatanatyam. In the most essential sense, a Hindu deity is a revered royal guest in his temple/abode, to be offered the "sixteen hospitalities" - among which are music and dance, pleasing to the senses. Thus, many Hindu temples traditionally maintained complements of trained musicians and dancers, as did Indian rulers.
In Kali Yuga, the center of most arts in India is Bhakti (devotion) and therefore, Bharata Natyam as a dance form and carnatic music set to it are deeply grounded in Bhakti. Bharata Natyam, it is said, is the embodiment of music in visual form, a ceremony, and an act of devotion. Dance and music are inseparable forms; only with Sangeetam (words or syllables set to raga or melody) can dance be conceptualized. Bharata Natyam has three distinct elements to it: Nritta (rhythmic dance movements), Natya (mime, or dance with a dramatic aspect), and Nritya (combination of Nritta and Natya).
The Tamil country especially Tanjore, has always been the seat and centre of learning and culture. It was the famous quartet of Chinnayya, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu of the Tanjore Court during the Marathi King Saraboji’s time (1798–1824) which made a rich contribution to music and Bharatanatyam and also completed the process of re-editing the Bharathanatyam programme into its present shape with its various forms like the Alarippu, Jathiswaram, Sabdham, Varnam, Tillana etc. The descendants of these four brothers formed the original stock of Nattuvanars or dance teachers of Bharatanatyam in Tanjore. Originally, they formed a community by themselves and most of them were Saivite non-brahmins.
It is believed that Bharatanatyam is mainly a renewal of Cathir, the ancient art of temple dancers.This dance form denotes various 19th and 20th century reconstructions of Cathir, the art of temple dancers from ancient dance forms.
IDDA offers a step-wise curriculum into the heart of Bharatnatyam with Minaxi Srivastava. For more information on Meenakshi Srivastava, please click on 'The Faculty'.