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Bharatanatyam- the Historical Significance And Its Application to Modern India

Bharatanatyam- the Historical Significance And Its Application to Modern India.

Origin and History

Bharatanatyam, also previously called by the name “Sadhir Attam ” has been practiced since time immemorial in India. This dance form is almost 2,000 years old and is believed to have originated in the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu and there it soon became an important part of south Indian temples where this dance form became an epitome of symbolism to worship lords and deities from around 300BCE to 300CE.

According to our ancestors and literature findings indicate that Bharatnatyam was revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata, a sage who codified the fundamentals and learnings of this sacred dance form in Sanskrit scripture called the “Natya Shastra”. This treatise is regarded as the mother and serves as the foundation of many other classical dance forms in India, performing arts, theatre and Indian drama industry and that thus makes Bharatanatatayam the mother of almost all classical dance forms of India. E Krishna Iyer is known as the father of  Bharatanatyam and Rukmini Devi Neelakanta Shastri is the first disciple and learner of this classical form

Bharatanatyam was exclusive to Indian temples in the 19th century but when Britishers tried to ban this practice in temples of India, Indians protested and started spreading awareness and teaching outside the temples of India. Today, it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by both male and female dancers all over the world. Not only this, it has now expanded its origins to incorporate other dance forms in it, non-religious ideas and fusion of all of them.

Bharatanatyam is known for its grace, purity, tenderness, and sculpturesque poses. Lord Shiva is considered, the god of this dance form. Nataraja pose in Tandava dance consists of the 18 arms of Shiva expressing mudras (hand gestures) included in the school of Bharatanatyam.

Shiva(The Lord Of Dance)

The word Bharata is a mnemonic consisting of “bha”-“ra”-“ta” where “BHA” signifies bhava(feelings), “ra” stands for raga (melody) i.e. musical notes and “ta” manifests tala(rhythm). The term Natya is a Sanskrit word for “dance”. So, Bharatanatyam is a divine combination of feelings, melody and rhythm. The dance form is accompanied by music and a singer, and typically the dancer’s guru which is the “Nattuvanar”. The ‘Nattuvans’ are basically the inheritors, composers and directors of that performances. they belong to those families or are masters of that particular dance form.

  • Importance and Significance

The basic message and purpose of this dance form is a simple “outer manifestation of an inner experience”. The inner experience leads to the expression, bhava, and the expression leads to the experience, rasa. The communion between the artist and audience implied by bhava and rasa enables in creating a profound experience both for the audience and the artists themselves: a link is formed between both of them which results in a change in the ambiance of the assembly, the audience begins to see beyond the dance and narration i.e. feel the emotions involved, understand and perceive them overwhelming getting drowned themselves and altogether getting transported to another world. If as an artist you are successful in achieving the above-mentioned, you have achieved perfection in that art form.

Scholars say- “Bharatanatyam purifies the mind, speech, and body, and elevates the performer to a realization of the Supreme through the perfect blending of music, rhythm, and emotion.”. A complete dancer is “ who dissolves her identity in rhythm and music, makes her body an instrument, at least for the duration of the dance, for the experience and expression of the spirit.”

Other benefits include staying physically fit, making the body more flexible, strengthening arms, legs, core and facial muscles, improving concentration and coordination skills, understanding beats and rhythm, and bringing about a general awareness of yourself and your surroundings.

Now the answer we are searching for is ‘Why Indian classical dance forms are considered as the basis of all other dance forms?

Indian Classical dances essentially require a strong connection between a person’s mind, body, and heart. Complete integration of your consciousness and body movements with the rhythm and meaning of words is essential to manifest your visualizations to other people.  Moments and gestures depicting a narration require emotions, sentiments arising from your personal experiences and complete dissolution of one’s own character to understand and portray the protagonist’s feelings and transmit them to the audience. As a performer, the aura you create around you defines your ability to express and communicate the hidden meaning of the dance art sequence to the onlookers and show them your perspective or vision of that account in the story narration. Even the costumes, jewelry and stage décor also become part of communication,  a medium to form an association with others.

  • Distinctive Features and Types of Bharatanatyam

Types of Bharatanatyam are pandanallur style, vazhuvoor style, kalakshetra style, melattur style and kalamandalam style. They all focus on different aspects and elements of dance in greater or smaller proportions thus distinguishing them from each other.

There are seven different sections of Bharatanatyam i.e. Alarippu, Jathiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam, Padam and Tillana and Shlokam or Mangalam.

Bharatanatyam is composed of five Jaatis and every jaati is denoted by a set of syllables. They are The Tishra, Chatushra, Khanda, Mishra and Sankeerna.

The distinctive feature in Bharatanatyam is its basic stance or the posture called the Aramandi [ fixed upper torso, bent legs and knees flexed ] or the half-sit position. It is important that one masters this as most part of the dancing as the whole dance has to be carried out in this position. Other important features are spectacular footwork, and a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language based on gestures of hands, eyes, and face muscles.

  • Nritta, Nritya, Natya

At the functional level, the dance has three aspects:

  1. Nritta: Pure dance steps in accordance with rhythm, but without expression of the concept or display of emotions.
  2. Nritya: It is the Interpretive aspect of dance that is communicated to the audience using facial expressions, hand gestures, and body movements to portray ideas and emotions rhythmically.
  3. Natya: The dramatic presentation of the whole conceptualization in the form of narration. All the aspects of speech, music, dancing, expressions and movements combine together to deliver a meaningful experience to the audience.

One very attractive section of Bharatanatyam is also its costume and make-up. They are intended to make them look unique, beautiful and in accordance with the theme of the dance expressing themselves by their facial movements.

  • Enlightening some components of the Basic curriculum of Bharatanatyam

It is traditional to seek blessings and then start a dance practice with a dhyana shlokam.’ DhyAna’ is a Sanskrit word that means meditation and ‘Shlokam’ means a prayer. Namaskar is a salutation that you do before and after the Bharatanatyam dance. Namaskar means you are thanking mother nature, God and your gurus. This practice enhances the spiritual potency and attracts Divine consciousness (Chaitanya) towards self and helps in the development of a feeling of gratitude towards your seniors and Guru’s plus enhances spiritual growth.


Adavus are the basic dance steps in Bharatanatyam. An Adavu can be defined as “The basic rhythmic unit of dance within a specific tempo and time structure that involves composite movements pertaining to Nritta”. The adavu consists of three important elements: The Sthanaka – The basic standing posture, The Chari – The movements of the legs and feet. The Nritta Hasta – The stylized hand gesture.

10 important adavu are – Tatadus, Nattadhus, VisharuAdavu, TattimittiAdavu, TirumanamAdavu, Murka Adavu, JatiAdavu, Kudditamitt Adavu, Mandi Adavu ,Sarika Adus. There are few more groups of aduvas excluding hand gestures, basic feet positions(pada bhedas) and feet variations.

Are you a newbie to Indian Classical Dance forms and Bharatanatyam? Come and let’s start from the roots of Indian Dance forms.

“Bharatanatyam” for beginners – Online Course in Bharatnatyam Dance for Level-1

Already acquainted with this dance form. Come and continue your practice hampered due to this lockdown in a pandemic.

Continue at-Online Course For Bharatanatyam Level 2 Dance

Dance is the form of art that can really change the way you look at life and even Indian traditions. Apart from increasing mindfulness, it develops you emotionally and spiritually. Feelings like empathy and compassion for other living beings around you start to rise, you become free to express and communicate your ideas to others and the quotient of health and happiness magnifies in your life.

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Neha Sardana

Neha Sardana

Neha Sardana, has completed her M.Tech. in Nanotechnology (Majors) and Biotechnology (Minors) from the Centre for Converging Technologies, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. She has taken research projects in the same discipline during her tenure at college as well as her final internship, at the Institute of Nanoscience and Technology, Mohali. Her research work has always been related to nano-therapeutics and synthesizing nano-drug delivery systems. She has also worked in MNIT Jaipur as a research intern. She wants to be an integral part of nanoscience and bio-medicine carried out within any organization. Content writing and editing is an important part of writing review and research papers. You have to be well versed, creative and know-how and what to write. SkillsRediscovery is helping me to upgrade my writing skills and also providing me this opportunity to learn new and write blogs regarding this context and much more.
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