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Bharata Natyam Project

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S: Elements of Bharata Natyam

BC: Presented to Gurus Roja Kannan and Meena Subramanyam in honor of Guru Roja's 50th Birthday. Thank you for the adventure. With love from Keerthi, your sishya always.

FC: Elements of Bharata Natyam | By Keerthi Sugumaran

1: By Keerthi Sugumaran | Elements of Bharata Natyam

2: Origins of Bharata Natyam History of Bharata Natyam Elements of Bharata Natyam Nritta Nritya Mudras Rasa & Bhava Natya Arangetram Traditional Repertoire Kalakshetra Guru | Page 4 Page 6 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 10 Page 12 Page 14 Page 15 Page 17 Page 19 Page 20 | Table of Contents

4: Origins of Bharata Natyam Bharata Natyam is one of the oldest art forms in the world. Legend has it that the Hindu gods and goddesses implored Lord Brahma to create a fifth veda that the common man could understand and embrace. Lord Brahma obliged their request and created the Natyaveda, which is also known as that Panchamaveda or fifth veda. The Natyaveda is considered the essence of the other four Vedas. Brahma took pathya (words) from the Rigveda, abhinaya (gesture) from the Yajurveda, geet (music and chant) from the Samaveda, and rasa (sentiment and emotion) from the Atharvaveda to compose his masterpiece. After creating the veda, Lord Brahma imparted his knowledge to Bharata Muni and his one hundred sons to learn the art and popularize it on earth. Following Brahma’s divine words, Bharata muni wrote the Natyashastra or the Science of Dramaturgy. The art form was first presented to the gods at the Flag Festival of Indra to celebrate the victory of the Devas against the Asuras. Although Brahma created the Natyaveda, in Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva is considered the supreme Lord of dance. It is said that Bharata muni went to Shiva and learned the steps directly from him. Lord Shiva performs the Tandava (masculine) dance form, while his consort, Goddess Parvati, performs the Lasya (feminine) dance form. Shiva assumes his Nataraja form to perform the divine dance and destroy the universe so that Lord Brahma can commence the process of creation again. The name Bharata Natyam has two distinct roots. The first stems from the father of dance himself, the sage Bharata. The second root is a conglomeration of three elements of dance. Looking at the three syllables, ‘bha’ refers to bhava (mood), ‘ra’ refers ragam (music), and ‘ta’ refers to talam (rhythm). | 4

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6: History of Bharata Natyam Traditionally, Bharata Natyam was performed by devadasis, a community of temple dancers trained in music, dance, and literature. The devadasis dedicated their lives to serving the temple deity and their performances were embedded in the elaborate temple traditions and rituals. As dance evolved, Bharata Natyam moved from the temples to the palaces of the kings and queens of India. During the early 19th century, this practice seemed to thrive. The most notable achievement during this time stemmed from the efforts of four talented brothers, known as the Tanjore Quartet. The brothers organized Bharata Natyam movements into a progressive series known as adavus. They composed music for the dance and introduced different sequences of items that brought out various elements of dance and music. At the end of the 19th century, however, Bharata Natyam took a turn for the worst. The royal dancers, known as Rajanartikas, were considered entertainers more so than artists. The style of their dance and costumes moved away from spiritualism and into the realm of eroticism, stripping away the dignity of the art. The colonization of India brought forth a sea of change for Bharata Natyam. The Victorian values of the British swept through the country and the devadasis lost the patronage of the court and temples. The women were chastised and treated as nothing more than common prostitutes by the end of the 19th century. As the community fell into disrepute, the art of Bharata Natyam was dangerously close to extinction. In the 1930’s, there was a fierce movement to revive the ancient art form. The movement—led by devadasis, poets, freedom fighters, and theosophists—rehabilitated the art form back to its former glory. One revivalist, E. Krishna Iyer, a lawyer, freedom-fighter, and dancer, adorned himself in female dance attire and performed in public to remove the stigma attached to the art. | 6

7: The legendary devadasi, Balasaraswati also played an integral role in the revitalization of bharata natyam. After a long period of time where female dancers were essentially banned from performing, Balasaraswati was the first female performer in India to revive the art, commencing with a performance in Calcutta in 1934. Her style focused on the spirituality of the ancient devadasi tradition. Rukmini Devi’s arrival to the dance scene brought forth important changes. She went to great lengths to strip away unchaste elements of dance and focused on the spirituality and aesthetics of the art form. She re-shaped the face of dance by integrating musical instruments into performances, introducing modern set and lighting design elements, and creating innovative costumes and jewelry inspired by temple sculptures to accentuate the beauty of the dance. She is often credited with restoring puritan values to bharata natyam. Despite its tortured history, bharata natyam thrives today as one of the most beautiful art forms in the world. | 7

8: Bharata Natyam is composed of three elements that span the range of aesthetic possibilities: Nritta, Nritya, and Natya. Nritta is abstract or "pure" movement- where dancers use body movements and pounding rhythmic footwork to create visual geometric patterns vibrating with dynamic energy. Nritya is lyrical dance that interprets poetry. Dancers use conventional hand gestures called mudras along with facial expressions and feelings to express the meanings or interpretations of the lyrics. Finally, Natya describes dance-drama that enacts a narrative or idea. In Natya, dancers use both pose and expressions along with mime to create drama. | Elements of Bharata Natyam | 8

9: Nritta, the abstract or pure dance, consists of axial geometric movements to illustrate the beauty of tala (rhythm) and raga (melody). Every abstract dance sequence is entirely planned according to the tala-system (rhythm and measure) of the Carnatic (South Indian) music. The basic movements of Nritta are called adavus. The word adavu derives from the Tamil word adu - to dance. The adavus are performed in three speeds: vilambita (slow), madhya (medium speed) and druta (fast). The characteristic main position is the araimandi position of the legs similar to the demi plié position in classical western ballet. The main position of the arms - a parallel and horizontal position from shoulders to fingertips - is called natyarambha which means beginning of the dance. | Nritya In Nritya, the narrative dance, the medium of expression is Abhinaya: Abhinaya consists of representative body positions and facial expressions. Mudras (hand gestures) are a characteristic form of body positioning used to describe the content of the song with symbolic movements. Bhava means facial expression; the dancer uses expressions to evoke a certain mood in the audience. Using these elements, the dancer is able to portray the emotions expressed in the song and can therefore present the audience aestetical moments of subtle quality by identifying herself with the content of the songs. | 9 | Nritta

10: Mudras Just as we rely on hand gestures in our everyday lives, hand gestures or mudras are integral to the vocabulary of a Bharata Natyam dancer. A dancer may use a hand gesture to mime the meaning of a song or she may use it simply to enhance the aesthetics of her movement. Hand gestures are divided into two groups: “asamyukta hastah”, which requires only one hand to demonstrate, and “samyukta hasta”, which requires two hands to demonstrate. The natya sastra describes 28 single-hand gestures and 24 double-hand gestures. A dancer may employ any number of hand gestures and combinations to bring the art form to life. Mudras may be used to convey hundreds of meanings depending on the position or movement of the dancer as she demonstrates the mudra. For instance, pataka, the first mudra in the series of single hand gestures, literally means flag. Using pataka, a dancer could also demonstrate a person taking an oath, clouds forming in the sky, or even the contours of a street. The art of mudras is so evolved that there are even special mudras to identify the Hindu deities, the nine planets, animals, and special relationships (mother-child, husband-wife, etc.). | Pathaka - Flag, Clouds, Bless | 10

11: Shikaram - Bow, Sounding of Bells, Shiva | Kapitham - Apple, Lakshmi, Holding a Flower | Chaturam - Eyes, Grief, Taking Steps | Anjali - Salutations | Shikaram & Simhamukha demonstrate Shiva riding Nandi | Pasha - Fighting, Enemy | Examples of Mudras and Uses | 11

12: Wonder | Sorrow | Peace | Examples of Expressions | 12

13: Bhava Expression is a fundamental component of bharata natyam. The theory of expression rests on the concept of rasa or moods. It is believed that Bharata Muni first identified eight rasas in the natyasastra, and later a ninth rasa was identified by Abhinavagupta in the Alankarikas. Often, rasas are referred to as navarasas, which literally translates to the nine moods. A rasa is the essence or mental state evoked in the audience by the dancer. The dancer channels a particular mood through the use of bhava or expressions. For example, when a dancer expresses Bhaya or fear on stage, the audience feels bhayanaka. Thus, rasa and bhava compose a basic tenant of Indian aesthetic theory – an art form must lift the audience to a higher level of consciousness. One could say that rasa is the color of life. Not surprisingly, each rasa is also associated with a color that epitomizes the essence of that rasa. The nine rasas and the corresponding bhava and color are identified in the table below. | Bhava Rati Hasa Shoka Krodh Utsaha Bhaya Jugupsa Vismaya Calm | Meaning Delight Laughter Sorrow Anger Heroism Fear Disgust Wonder Peace | Color Pale Green White Grey Red Pale Orange Black Blue Yellow White | Rasa Shringar (Love) Hasya (Humorous) Karuna (Pathetic) Raudra (Terrible) Veera (Heroic) Bhayanaka (Fearful) Bibhatsa (Odius) Adbhuta (Wonderous) Shanta (Peaceful) | 13

14: Natya uses spoken words, expressions and actions to articulate the elements of drama. Natya in a layman’s view is dance-drama. It is a dramatic representation of stories from mythology. The concept of dance actually originated in the form of dance dramas and later gained importance as a solo performance. Even now the dramatic element is prominent; solo dancers incorporate Natya in their repertoire to portray different characters while narrating ancient stories. | Natya | 14

15: Arangetram A dancer’s arangetram is the turning point in her education. In Tamil, “arang” means raised stage and “etram” means climbing, so taken together arangetram literally means to ascend the stage. This is the ultimate test for both the guru (teacher) and the sishya (student) because the guru’s knowledge and the student’s talents are displayed in front of Lord Nataraja, family, friends, and art lovers. With everyone’s blessings, the dancer ascends the stage for her first solo performance. In essence, the arangetram symbolizes the culmination of the student’s training phase and the beginning of her career as a dancer. The student generally performs seven to nine dances that showcase the various components of Bharata Natyam previously outlined. A typical repertoire includes: alaripu, kauthuvum, jathiswaram, sabdam, varnam, padam, thilana, and mangalam. | 15

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17: Traditional Repertoire The traditional repertoire of a Bharata Natyam is quite extensive and provides a dancer with the opportunity to demonstrate her expertise in each element of dance. This section describes the traditional repertoire of a dancer, the importance or meaning of the dance, and the elements highlighted within the dance. Alarippu – Bharata Natyam recitals generally open with the performance of the Alarippu, which means blossoming. In fact, the stages of Alarippu are compared to the stages of a blooming flower. In this dance, the dancer offers salutations to the Gods, her Guru, and the audience. Alarippu prepares the dancer physically and mentally for the entire recital by focusing on a series of simple hand, neck, eye, and shoulder movements. Jathiswaram – This dance is performed to a combination of musical notes (swaras) interspersed with sequences of pure rhythmical syllables (jathis). Jathiswaram allows the dancer to demonstrate her ability with respect to pure dance (Nritta), as well as her ability to experiment with the presentation of adavus and rhythmic patterns. Sabdam – A short and sweet piece, the Sabdam is the warm-up to the main piece in a Bharata Natyam recital. This is the first piece to introduce the expressive component of dance. Here, we see the dancer’s entire range of skills, albeit in small doses. | 17

18: Traditional Repertoire (cont.) Varnam – Literally translated, Varnam means colors. After introducing each of the individual elements of Bharata Natyam, the dancer combines them into the Varnam. The dancer performs demanding rhythmic segments interspersed with narrative sequences describing the central theme of the Varnam. The Varnam can last from half an hour to almost an hour and requires the dancer to maintain unerring precision, compelling facial expressions, and tremendous stamina. The storyline often depicts the plight of a devotee longing to see her Lord, the playful pranks of Lord Krishna, or even a poetic description of the beauty and generosity of a particular deity. Padam – Generally, Padams follow the Varnam and offer the dancer a quick respite before the finale of the show. Padams are purely narrative pieces that evoke strong emotions in the dancer and the audience. Some common themes include a lady awaiting her lover, a heroine describing her love of God, unfaithful friends, or quarrelling lovers. Padams provide an excellent opportunity to demonstrate one’s proficiency with bhava. Javali - Javalis are relatively new to the dance scene. Like Padams, Javalis are purely expressive pieces. Javalis, however, are different from Padams because they are faster in tempo and tend to focus on more colloquial themes. Thillana – The recital concludes with the Thillana, which is a brilliant sequence of pure dance. Here, the dancer combines complex patterns of nritta with sculpturesque movements and poses. The Thillana concludes with a brief demonstration of abhinaya. | 18

19: Though Bharata Natyam is one of many distinct forms of classical dance in South India, there are a number of diverse styles present within Bharata Natyam. Kalakshetra is among the most popular styles of Bharata Natyam and remains dedicated to the preservation of traditional values in dance. In 1936, the Kalakshetra cultural academy was founded by Rukmini Devi Arundale. In creating Kalakshetra, Rukmini Devi was determined to revive the priceless traditions of dance by focusing on the purity of movements, rather than eroticism or commercialism. She refined and classified the adavus, the basic steps of dance, and created an institutionalized method of teaching the art form. To this day, Kalakshetra retains her purist efforts, focusing on linear movements and traditional elements. In 1944, a representative of Rukmini Devi discovered an 11-year old boy from Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh. The boy, Adyar K. Lakshman, displayed remarkable talent and had the good fortune to receive his early training and exposure to the art from Rukmini Devi herself. In addition to Bharata Natyam, he received rigorous training in Karnatic vocal music, Mridangam, and Nattuvangam. Today, Shri. Adyar K. Lakshman is a renowned Bharata Natyam maestro and continues to train dancers in the Kalakshetra style at his school Bharatha Choodamani. | Kalakshetra | 19

20: Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu Guru Devo Maheswaraha Guru Sakshaad Parambrahma Tasmay Shri Guruveh Namaha Aangikam Bhuvanam Yasya Vachikam Sarva Vangmayam Aharyam Chandra-Taradi Tvam Namaha Sattvikam Shivam | 20

21: Guru is verily the representative of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. She creates and sustains knowledge and destroys the weeds of ignorance. I salute such a Guru. You, whose limbs are the Universe, You, the Originator of all speech, You, whose adornments are the moon and stars, You are The Truth. | 21

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