Bharathanatyam is a classical dance form in India that is celebrated for its sophistication and richness of style. It had its origins in the states of South India where dancers or devadasis as they were called to performed in temples on a regular basis.
The meaning of Bharathanatyam can be observed as the following; Bha meaning Bhava or abhinaya (expression), Ra meaning raga (melody) and Ta meaning tala (rhythm). In other words it denotes Dance as a communion of expression, melody and rhythm.
Its one of the oldest danceforms in India and is sometimes also called the fifth Veda. But Over the years the devadasis were finding difficult to sustain themselves in temples and they had to resort to being narthakis in the royal courts of kingdoms. Eventually prostitution started replacing the devotional aspect of the women.
The sacred connotation of the dance form was sacrificed to make it meet the entertainment needs of the kings.Soon during the 1900's the dance was facing serious decline with dancers unable to find audiences and avenues to sustain themselves. The art form revived itself self thanks to the dedication and efforts of some our very famous icons who began to steadfastly promote it and helped create awareness and change in perception among the public.
The highly intricate postures in the dance as also used as inspirations for sculpture in temples. The spirirt of devotion is a deeply ingrained aspect of Bharathnatyam and it mostly features excerpts or stories from mythological texts.
In the danceform the dancers uses subtle and beautiful hand and eye movements to convey a story. It also involves dancing to the beat of music with highly intricate hand and leg movements. The three main elements to the danceform are:
These three aspects are combines to create a truly unique and rich dance form.
This is not woman centric dance form and it is fairly common to see men also perform dances. The costumes consist of Sari or Doti. The artists are decked up in fine jewellry and look very beautiful and devotional in their appearances.
The artists also dance to the beat of music and the instruments usually are Violin, Ghatam, Manjira and Mridangam. The inspiration for the stories is usually drawn from mythological literature pertaining to the avatars of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.
Then the art form again resurfaced with an upward growth by some icons who played important roles in bringing the beauty and richness of the dance by creating proper awareness. People like Krishna Iyer did go a long way in raising the social status to its old pristine glory. An icon like Rukmini Devi Arundale also modified the Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam and popularized it in the West. She then founded the Kalakshetra School near Chennai, to teach dance as an art form and started taking a lot of steps to promote it.
Some of the popular Bharthanatyam exponents today are Shobahna, Anita Ratnam, Mallika Sarabhai, Guru Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Ram Gopal etc.