Art Directory India

Bharatanatyam- The oldest classical dance in the world


Bharatanatyam- The oldest classical dance in the world

Bharatanatyam originated 2000 year back in a place called Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, explication of the word Bharatanatyam – bha stands for bhava, ra for raga and tha for tala and the word Natyam is a Sanskrit word for dance. Thus the word Bharatanatyam connotes a dance form which expresses the bhava, raga, and tala.

Bharatanatyam is a beautiful dance form with spectacular footwork, hand gestures, and facial expression. Bharatanatyam is an elegant dance form with 32 single-hand mudras called Asamyukta hasta and 23 double hand mudras called Samyukta hasta. 

This dance is an illustrative narration of Ramayanam, Mahabharatham and other spiritual stories from Hindu texts. Bharatanatyam theoretically traced from the ancient text Nataya Shastra by the Bharatha muni, dated between 200 BCE and 200 CE.

God of dance-Lord Shiva 

The Bharatanatyam dance is described in the Tamil text called Silappatikaram in the 2nd century and Manimegalai in the 6th century. These ancient texts describe the story of a dancing girl named Madhavi.
A famous example which illustrates the Bharatanatyam dance form is Chidambaram temple and Kanchipuram temple. At Chidambaram temple sculptures near the south gate represents 108 poses of Bharatanatyam and also Karanas in the Natya Shastra.

The dance of Lord Shiva in Nataraja swami form is called Anada tandavam, the idol of Lord Nataraja depicts upper left hand holding the drum, upper right hand holding the fire, lower right hand Abhaya hastha whereas lower left-hand danda hastha pose. Left leg holds the Kunchita pada and the right leg standing on the Muyalagan (a demon). Lord Shiva in Nataraja swami form is called as God of dance. 

Bharatanatyam performed by Devadasi’s

Devadasi is a girl who dedicates the whole life in taking care of the temple and worshiping the god, besides this, they learn Indian classical dance Bharatanatyam and maintain the high social status in the society, they were encouraged to pursue their art through the public fund. 

Devadasi has to dance unwatched and dedicate her soul and herself to the lord, later few kings use to call them to dance in there court. Devadasi system was active in India for many centuries and during British colonization, they banned this system.

Why British colonization banned Bharatanatyam?

During the rule of British, they banished the Indian dance by launching an anti dancing movement in 1892, Christian missionary demanded to stop the dance through anti dance camp stating that Kathak by nautch girls and Bharatanatyam by devadasi’s considering them as harlots, debased erotic culture by slavery to idols and priests tradition. Rukmini Devi revived the art and brought it to the stage in the 1990s and the devadasi system was made illegal in 1988.

Summing up

Grace and elegance in the Bharatanatyam dance form not only attracted Indians but also the western world. As a result, many foreigners are learning Bharatanatyam and giving a performance. The recent event conducted by the ‘All women world art festival by international art and culture organization’ bestows foreigners interest in Bharatanatyam, Yahui Chan from Taiwan, Iris Debieve from France and Larissa Ekambaram from south Africa performed the Bharatanatyam.

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