A Traditional Indian Dance

History of Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam is a traditional Indian dance that originated from the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. Sadir is the first form of Bharatanatyam and was performed by Devadasi in temples that were worshipping deities, and is the most traditional dance form of Bharatanatyam. In Hinduism, a Devadasi was a girl “married” to a deity and dedicated to worship and service of the deity or a temple for the rest of her life, in addition to taking care of the temple and performing rituals. Devadasi means “female servants of god”. Devadasi learned and practiced Sadir, Odissi and other classical Indian dances and artistic traditions. They enjoyed a high social status as dance and music were essential parts of temple worship. In addition, Bharatanatyam is a reworked dance from the traditional "sadir" known for its grace and purity. Until the early nineteen thirties, it was referred to locally in the Madras area simply as nac (dance), or as sadir nac and dasi attam, which means “dance of the devadasis”. Local kings often invited temple dancers to dance in their courts, which created a new category of dancers, rajadasis, and modified the technique and themes of the recitals. A devadasi only satisfied herself while she danced unwatched and offered herself to the god, but the rajadasi's dance was meant to be an entertainment. Some of the moves in Bharatanatyam was inspired from the sculptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram, which is located near Pondicherry(now Puducherry).

Did you know?

Bharatanatyam translates to ‘Bha' - Bhavam (means expression), 'Ra' - Ragam (means music), 'Ta' - Talam (means beat or rhythm) and Natyam (means dance) in Tamil.

The Traditional Costume of Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam costumes for women are like Indian saris, but are specialized for the dance. The difference is that they are not single pieces of cloth, but a number of specially stitched pieces. This makes them easier to wear, and easier to dance in than a sari. an important piece of the Bharatanatyam costume is a pair of anklets or ankle bells (salangai in Tamil, gungaroo in Hindi). They make it easier to hear the rhythms and footwork of the dance. The salangi are blessed by a dancers’ guru. They are also worshipped on special occasions, but never worn casually. Womens’ costumes include a significant amount of jewelry, including bangles, bracelets, rings, earrings, and nose rings. Bharatanatyam makeup has a few unique features. Heavy lines are drawn around the eyes, extending outwards past the eyes. Similarly, the eyebrows are darkened and extended outwards with liner. The purpose of this makeup is to exaggerate the movements of the eyes and eyebrows, and make them more visible because they are an important part of the dance. A red dye is applied to the soles of the feet and the tips of the toes, as well as to the fingertips. It is also painted in a circle in the palm of each hand. The dye is to emphasize the movements of the hands and feet. Most costumes have pleated pieces at the waist that fan out during various movements. The costumes are bright and colorful. Male dancers wear a dhoti, jewelry on the waistband, armlets and a necklace. Sometimes they might also wear a scarf around their shoulders tucked into the dhoti.

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This is an example of the traditional Bharatanatyam costume.

Hastas: Hand Gestures in Bharatanatyam

Hastas are simple hand gestures that a dancer uses to symbolize something that corresponds with the theme of the dance. Sometimes, dancers use them to tell stories in their dance. Hasta means "hand" in sanskrit. A dancer shows emotion through her facial expressions and body movements. Unlike most American-style dances, Bharatanatyam shows emotion through hand gestures as well. There are two kinds of Hastas; A single hand gesture is called "Asamyuta Hastas". Double hand gestures are called "Samyuta Hastas". An example of a Asamyuta Hasta is the "Pataaka" hand gesture. Pataaka means “Flag”. Pataaka is done with all fingers held straight like a stop signal. There should be no gap between the fingers. It stands for night, river, wind and horses. An example of a Samyuta Hasta is the "Matsya" hand gesture. It is done by putting your hands on top of each other with your palms down and your thumbs out. It stands for a fish.

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This is called the "Bhairunda" hand gesture. It is a Samyuta Hasta, and it means "terrible" in sanskrit and sometimes shows a pair of birds sitting together.

Did you know?

In Bharatanatyam, there are 3 types of dance; Nritta, Nritya and Natya. Nritta is a pure dance without any emotions or expressions. Nritya has emotions, expressions and a meaning shown by the Hastas, which are simple hand gestures that all symbolize something. Natya is when a person is portraying a character.

Bibliography/Works Cited

This had information about some of the history of Bharatanatyam and the Devadasi. The article is called "Paradigm of India's Classical Tradition:Bharatanatyam As Performed Today" by Rajika Puri.

This website was really helpful for finding the information about the traditional costume and makeup. The article is called "Bharatanatyam" by Aaharya Abhinaya.

This website had a lot of helpful information about the hastas and what they mean. I also got my pictures of hand configurations from here. January 3rd, 2008 by Anjali. The article is called "Asamyukta Hasta or Single Hand Gesture".

This website had a short article called "Bharatanatyam: An Overview". It had a helpful description about Hastas.

This is where I got my picture of the traditional Bharatanatyam costume.