The Classic Style of Dance in India

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History of Bharatanatyam

This dance originated in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was first performed by devadasis in ancient temples. The devadasis dedicate their lives to serving the deity of their temple and use their dances and music to honor them. The braratanatyam is part of an elaborate temple rital. The Bharatanatyam was not performed on stage until the 1930's. Rukimini Devi was the first ever educated elite to preform, under the direction of Balasaraswati. The terminology and techniques have been traced back to ancient treatises such as the Natya-Shastra, by Brahman sage and priest bharata. The name comes from three basic concepts: Bhava (Expression), Raga (Music) and Tala (Rhythm).

Movement and Handmotions

The dance form is based on Adavu (steps) and Hasthamudra (hand gestures). The dance is divided into three elements: Nritta (which refers to rhythmical and repetitive elements), Natya (the story telling and dramatics) and Nritya (a combination of both). There are 64 basic Adavus which are divided into 9 parts by the emotion they portray. During a performance, there are 12 different sections each with their own traits, some focusing on the expressions, some on the stories and prayer and some on the extreme movement. The communication of the dance is done through facial expressions (bhavabhinaya) and hasthamudras.

Did You Know?

Did you know that the entire dance was originally performed without any breaks or intermissions, but because more recent dancers do not have as much stamina, an intermission was added?

The Performance

Most learn the dance as a hobby from a young age. Usually dancers train for 7 years before their first performance most often performed at age 12 called Arangtram. When the dance is performed, it has a very specific sequence that must be followed, that lasts about 2 and a half hours (traditionally without breaks). The dance is always performed by 1 female who does not change costumes or leave the stage. The performer wears a paijama and jacket of Kanchipuram silk and Banaras silk. Their costume also includes many ornaments of shining stones on the neck ears, hands, head and jasmine garland in the hair and foot trinklet with small bells. They also add red to the bottom of their feet, tips of their fingers and between their eyes. The dance is also accompanied by Carnatic classical music played by the veena, flute, mridangam and violin. There is also a singer which leads the orchestra as well as the dancer.

Did You Know?

Did you know that the deciples would not be allowed to wear jingles until their first performance once the jingles were consecrated?


Britannica Encyclopedia "Bharatanatyam" Encyclopedia Britannica Article. 30 Apr. 2013

Anjali. Online Bharatanatyam. "History of Bharatanatyam" and "Asamyukta Hastas or Single Hand Gestures" June 27th, 2007

CyberKerala. "Bharatanatyam"