Bharathanatyam is the oldest of all the Indian classical dances.
The contemporary form of Bharatanatyam evolved during the late
18th or early 19th century. It was earlier known as Sadir, Dasi
attam and Thanjavur Natyam. It was revived, after its decline
during 1910-1930, as a result of the efforts of individuals like
Chinniah, Ponniah, Vadivelu and Sivanandam - known as the
Tanjore Quartet - and others like E. Krishna Iyer. Bharatanatyam
is a solo, lasya type of a dance, which is tender and erotic. It
is usually performed by female dancers and, although based on a
love theme, is devotional in character. Bharatanatyam has three
components: movements, mime and music. Bharatha in itself stands
for bhava (mood), raga (music) and tala
(rhythm) and Natyam stands for nritta. It is evenly divided into
absolute dance and expressive dance.
Bharatanatyam performance includes Ganapati Vandana - a
traditional opening prayer to Lord Ganesha, the remover of
obstacles; Alarippu - a pure dance without any meaning or
expression just accompanied by the syllables of the performer
and set to the thala (beat). This acts as an invocation of the
Gods for the dance's flowering and successful completion;
Jatiswaram - a pure dance without meaning, idea or expression,
set to the thala instead of syllables.
It is composed of
a complex set of footwork, abhinaya and fascinating body
movements; Shabdam - an expressional dance with a small,
delightful prelude and few abstract and more pure dance
movements. The poem or song is of devotional, heroic or amorous
theme; Varnam - the longest, most elaborate and most challenging
piece of a performance, with jatis alternating with lyrical
passages, often describing the longing of a heroine for her
lover; Padam - expressive pieces that give the dancer full scope
to demonstrate her talent for abhinaya and Tillana - the final
item which is in the form of pure and abstract dance. It is
entirely governed by the scintillating musical score and
incorporates intricate footwork and complex poses.
Bharatanatyam performance is generally concluded with a chanting
of a shloka as benefaction. The music is of Carnatic style and
the accompanying instruments are thala, mridangam, nagaswaram or
flute, violin and veena. Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada are the
traditional languages of Bharatanatyam.
Famous Exponents: T.
Balasaraswati, Rukminidevi Arundale and Shanta Devi are the
legendary danseuses of Bharatanatyam. Renowned contemporary
Bharatanatyam dancers include Yamini Krishnamurthy (also of
Kuchipudi), Sonal Mansingh (also of Odissi and Kuchipudi),
Indrani Rehman, Padma Subramaniam, Vijayantimala Bali, Leela
Samson, K.R.S.Prasanna, S.Sarada, Alarmel Valli, Malavika
Sarukkai, Viji Prakash, Chitra Visweshwaran, Sudharni Raghupati,
Srekala Bharat and others.