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Bharatnatyam
  Bharatanatyam is one of the most popular and perhaps the oldest among the contemporary classical dance forms of India, that adhere to Natya Shastra written by Bharata Muni. The word Bharata signifies the author of this Sanskrit treatise and the word Bharatanatyam, as the name depicts is a combination of: Bha- Bhavam (means expression), Ra- Ragam (means music), Ta- Talam (means beat or rhythm) and Natyam (means dance).  
 
According to Bharata Muni, God Brahma was the creator of Natya.  We have evidence of dance from ancient scriptures, sculptures, inscriptions, etc. from ancient temples and other monuments tracing back to 5th century.  From about 10th century to 14th century, Bharatanatyam seems to have developed mainly in the South that is in Tamil Nadu. The Chola and Pallava kings were great patrons of the arts and they maintained dancers in the temples of their kingdom.  The tradition was kept alive by subsequent rulers till the end of 19th century.  It was the institution of great dance teachers known as Nattuvanars who preserved the ancient dance art from generation to generation.
 
 

During the Maratha rule over Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu, the art of Bharatanatyam developed considerably and during the reign of King Sarfoji II, (1798-1824) the tradition of Bharatanatyam received its definite shape from Tanjore Quartret, Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Vadivelu and Sivanandam, the four brothers, who were disciples of the famous Carnatic music composer Muthuswamy Dikshitar.  It is they who reedited Bharatnatyam programme into its present shape with various forms like Alarippu, Jatiswaram, Sabdam, Varnam, Thillana, etc. In 1927, a young lawyer, E.Krishna Iyer played an important role in the revival of Bharatanatyam.  Rukminidevi Arundale was also instrumental in modifying the style of Bharatanatyam. She founded the school Kalakshetra outside the city of Madras to teach it and to promote other studies in Indian music and art. She was one of first teachers to instruct a few men to perform the dance. The dance, at that time, was exclusively performed by women, while men, called Nattuvanars, had only been teaching Bharatanatyam without actually performing it.  The contribution of Uday Shankar and Balasaraswati in the 20th century, for the development of Bharatanatyam cannot be forgotten at this juncture.  

 
 
 
The basic techniques of Bharatanatyam are karanas and hastha-mudras.  Karanas refer to the systematic movements in Indian classical dance.  In the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram, on the seven inset pillars which plank the entrance of each gopuram, there are carvings of the 108 karanas or basic dance postures. In fact it is the celestial dancers, apsaras, who are depicted in these scriptures dancing the heavenly version of what is known on earth as Bharatanatyam today.  The main feature of Bharata Natyam  is the use of hand gestures (hasta mudras) as a way of communication. There are two types of Hastas: Asamyukta (Single hand) and Samyukta (combined hand).  According to Abhinaya Darpana, one of the most authoritative texts on Bharatanatyam, there are 28 Asamyukta Hastas and 24 Samyukta Hastas. Each of these hastha- mudras has its own origin, usage and patron deity.  The Bharatanatyam technique includes many other elements, such as elaborate neck and eye movements, head movements, etc.

Bharatanatyam has three distinct elements to it: Nritta (rhythmic dance movements), Natya (mime, or dance with a dramatic aspect), and Nritya (combination of Nritta and Natya).   

 
 
Learning Bharatanatyam takes many years of hard work and regular practice.  There are academic dance institutes all over India and abroad.  Not only the Hindus but many Christians and Muslims also learn it, bringing it beyond the rigid forms of religious boundaries. It is necessary to learn Carnatic Music along with Bharatnatyam as they go together.

A student of Bharatanatyam first learns Adavus, the basic steps.  The execution of adavus varies greatly from style to style. Each adavus comprises a coordinated pattern of movement of feet, knees, torso, arms and hands. Though there are stylistic variations of the adavus, the hard core remains the same. A number of adavus is used to present a dance sequence, known as teermanam. The adavus and the teermanams are set to the beats of a tala.

There are different styles of dances, such as Pandanallur style, Thanjavur style, Vazhuvur style, Kalakshetra style, Mysore style, etc. The execution of dance adavus and performance varies from style to style.


A traditional Bharatanatyam performance consists of Alarippu, Jatiswaram, Sabdam, Varnam, Padam/Javali, Thillana and Sloka. When a student has mastered all the elements of dance, he or she generally performs an Arangetram (debut). But this tradition lately has been modified by the present day dancers. Furthermore, it has been expanded to include compositions in languages Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, etc