Dance is an artistic form of expression that transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries. Every culture has its unique dance forms, and one of the most captivating and historically rich dance styles in the world is Bharatanatyam, a classical dance from southern India. In this post, we will delve into the fascinating world of Bharatanatyam, from its origins to its evolution and its impact on Indian and global culture.
Origins of Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam is one of India’s oldest classical dance styles, with roots dating back to over two thousand years.
It is believed to have originated in the Hindu temples of southern India, where it was performed as an expression of religious devotion.
The term “Bharatanatyam” is derived from three words: “Bhava” (emotion), “Raga” (melodic music), and “Tala” (rhythm), which together encapsulate the essence of this dance form.
Characteristics of Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam is characterized by its rhythmic movements, symbolic hand gestures (mudras), and facial expressions (the rasas).
Dancers wear elaborate traditional costumes and jewelry, adding color and beauty to their performances.
Music plays an essential role in Bharatanatyam and is often accompanied by instruments such as the mridangam (percussion), violin (string instrument) and vocal singing.
Elements of Bharatanatyam Dance
- Nritta (technique and movement): This part of the dance focuses on body movements without a specific narrative. Dancers perform sequences of steps using footwork and “mudras” and rhythmic movements that never fail to dazzle with their skill and grace.
- Nritya (expression): Here, dancers incorporate a narrative through gestures, facial expressions, and body movements. They convey mythological and emotional stories in using the art of “abhinaya” or facial expressions and mudras.
- Natya (drama): In this stage, the theatrical aspect of the dance is integrated. Dancers assume different roles and characters to communicate complex and emotive stories.
Cultural Significance of Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam is an integral part of Indian culture and plays an essential role in festivals and religious celebrations. Through its mythological and moral stories, Bharatanatyam transmits cultural values and traditions and keeps them alive.
It has been recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, highlighting its global relevance.
Evolution of Bharatanatyam
Over the years, Bharatanatyam has evolved and adapted to modern times.
During the colonial period, the dance faced censorship and stigma from British authorities but it survived thanks to the efforts of the tradition’s advocates.
In the 20th century, figures like Rukmini Devi Arundale and Balasaraswati played a crucial role in the revival and promotion of classical dance.
Bharatanatyam in the 21st Century
Today, Bharatanatyam is not confined to India; it has gained international recognition and is taught worldwide. Many contemporary dancers have taken this art form to new heights by blending traditional elements with modern influences.
Social media and online platforms have allowed Bharatanatyam to reach a wider global audience.
Personal Impact of Bharatanatyam
Practicing Bharatanatyam requires discipline, dedication, and a deep understanding of Indian music and culture. Dancers often find a sense of spiritual and emotional connection through this art form. Additionally, dance promotes physical and mental health by enhancing coordination, flexibility, and concentration.
Bharatanatyam is more than just a dance style; it is a window into the rich history, culture, and spirituality of India. Its evolution over the centuries and its global influence are a testament to its power and beauty. By getting to know Bharatanatyam, we immerse ourselves in a world of grace, emotion, and tradition that continues to captivate audiences worldwide.