So I bet many of you have probably never heard of Bharatanatyam before, or don’t completely understand it. That’s okay. The point of this is to help you see the beauty I see in this form of dance, and hopefully you’ll walk away knowing a little something extra.
I’ll start with the origins. Bharatanatyam is one of the seven Indian classical dance styles. It has its origins in Tamil Nadu, a part of South India, and is based mostly on the mythology and themes of Hinduism.
There are three parts to any Indian Classical dance: the rhythmic component which is purely dance movements (Nritta), the facial expressions (Nritya), and the combining of both to dramatize the dance and bring characters and stories to life (Natya).
Special features of Bharatanatyam:
- We do all of our movements in a deep sitting posture called aramandi
- Our costumes resemble saris but are specialized for dance
- We do pretty dramatic makeup
- Our dance is mostly done to Carnatic music
- There are many different styles of Bharatanatyam (I train in the vazhuvoor style, which is a little bit more relaxed in terms of posture and distinguished by subtle expressions)
The legend behind our dance style is that centuries ago, a Sage called Bharata saw Lord Shiva (God of Dance) dancing and noted down all of his movements. He then began to practice what he saw, and passed the dance down for generations, and it became known as Bharatanatyam, -natyam meaning dance. There are a lot of stories about the beginning of Bharatanatyam, but this is the one I am most familiar with.
In earlier centuries, wealthy families would often consider it their duty to society to give up one of their daughters (usually their last one) to the temple, so that they could be trained in the art. The child would be raised in the temple and be taught this dance form from an early age, and would grow up performing the stories of Hinduism for audiences who came to pray.
Initially, Bharatanatyam was used as temple worship, and was supported by the royal families and devadasi families, who were patrons of music and art. This dance was originally practiced throughout India, but did not really develop in the North as a result of frequent invasions, which left the region with several other forms of dances. Thus, Bharatanatyam fully thrived in the South, until British colonialism, during which a lot of pressure and propaganda created a social stigma around Indian dance, making it seem inferior and decadent. Although Bharatanatyam faded at this time, it was soon revived by a diverse group of people, including Indians of many backgrounds, devadasis, foreigners interested in Indian arts, and others who had learned Bharatanatyam.
And so, after all this effort put by so many to continue our tradition of music and dance, I finally present to you, my Bharatanatyam Arangetram on August 21, 2016! 🙂