Bharatanatyam – A Classical Dance In India


Bharatanatyam – A Classical Dance In India

Bharatanatyam is one of the popular classical and traditional dances of India, originating from Balasaraswati which is nothing but diversification of Natya Yoga. Balasaraswati brings forth into the practice the spiritual semblance through synchronized physical and emotional body movements. Bharatnatyam has rich history of the style almost dating back to 2000 years. It is inspired from the sculptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram. The origin of Bharatnatyam is in Thanjavoor of Tamil Nadu.

The alternative name of Bharatnatayam is Daasiyattam. Earlier, Devdasis performed the natya in the ancient temple. The Devdasis were women who lived their life as dancer and worship to god by paying obeisance through their dance. The traditional form passed from the one generation of Devdasis to another, generation by generation. As the dance form entered into the royal courts, the dancers were soon begin to be called as Rajanartakis, who had the expertise to perform the royal courts. Rajanartakis slowly became the royal concubines.

The name Bharatanatyam is explained two different ways. The first is that it is composed of related words:

  • BHAva (expression)
  • RAga (melodic mode)
  • TAla (rhythm)
  • NATYAM (dance)

The second is that the name comes from a combination of the name of the sage Bharata Muni who wrote the “Natya Shastra” the principles of this dance, and the word for dance “natyam”.


Bharatanatyam is a very demanding art form especially recognized by it’s sculptural poses, rhythmic footwork, and intricate hand and eye movements. The costuming is also distinct. The dancers wear bells around their ankles to accent the footwork, jewelry around their waist and neck at a minimum), and makeup to enhance the eye and facial expressions. The costumes are designed for freedom of movement and to showcase the signature half-seated posture (called aria mandi or ardhamandal) so characteristic of Bharatanatyam dance. The costumes can either be a sari (wrapped in various ways) or they can be stitched from sari fabric. The most common style of stitched costume consists of 3+ pieces for males, 4 pieces for children, and 5 pieces for females:

  • a pair of loose pants
  • a large pleated length of fabric that attaches to the inseam of the pants – this creates a beautiful fan between the dancer’s legs during any half-seated or full-seated postures
  • a sash that goes around the waist
  • a choli blouse (women and children)
  • a sash that covers the choli blouse (women)


Mridangam, Violin, Veena, Flute and Talam (Nattuvangam/ cymbals)


The dance itself is largely a storytelling dance. Most of the stories are from the epics and Hindu mythology. The intimate association with Hindu religion from its origins as a temple dance has been preserved through the centuries.

The dancer uses poses, facial expressions, and hand movements to communicate the story to the audience. Like fresco painting in Christian churches, the original purpose of Bharatanatyam was to educate the public about the scriptures. Because of its intricacy and specificity, Bharatanatyam could be used to tell any story in any language.

Bharatanatyam performances are about 2 hours long and the dances are generally performed in a specific order:

  • Pushpanjali
  • Alarippu
  • Jatiswaram
  • Shabdam
  • Varnam
  • Padam
  • Tillana
  • Managalam

The dance is composed of sets of movements called adavus. When sets of adavus are combined, they create korvais. The movements and adavus are the same for men and women. There are three major elements to the dance: Nritta, Nritya, and Natya.


Pure dance – abstract or “pure” movement. This category does not express a story, it is dance for the sake of creating beauty using the movements of the body, the geometric patterns of the dance, and the dynamic energy caused by the rhythmic footwork.


Abhinaya – interpretative dance where the dancers express the lyrics of the song, evoking emotion.


A combination of both nritta and nritya.

Hand movements also play a major role in Bharatanatyam. Hand movements that convey meaning are called mudras, while hand movements that do not have a specific meaning are called hastas.





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SOURCE: hiptwist, readanddigest


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