One of the most famous Indian Classical Dance styles, Bharatanatyam, is thought to be the ancestor of many Indian classical dance styles. 

It began in Tamil Nadu's Hindu temples as a solo dance, performed exclusively by women, and it gradually took off in South India.

The ancient Hindu literature on performing arts, written in Sanskrit, called "Natya Shastra" serves as the theoretical foundation for this style. 

Nrita, Nritya, and Natya are examples of instructive anecdotes of Hindu religious topics and spiritual ideals that are expressed by dancers with outstanding footwork and impressive gestures.

A dancer while performing is accompanied by a singer, and musicians, along with the guru who oversees and conducts the performance. It also continues to inspire several art forms including paintings and sculptures starting from the spectacular 6th to 9th century CE temple sculptures.

Bharatnatyam is an ancient dance form with a story to tell. Since ancient times, it has been cultivated in the temples and courts of southern India. 

Four brothers known as the Tanjore Quartet later formalized and documented it as a performing art, and their musical compositions for dance now make up the majority of the Bharatanatyam repertoire.

Under the Devadasi system, the women were devoted to temples as servants and served the deities as dancers and musicians as a part of the intricate ritual. The art was then passed down to Devadasis, as a living tradition from generation to generation.

Up until the early 20th century, when India’s interest in cultural legacy was revived, these exceptionally skilled artists and the male gurus, known as nattuvanars were the only keepers of the art.

The purpose of the dance is to connect with the Supreme Being and explore one's, own soul. The Bharatanatyam performers use exquisite hand and eye gestures to convey the message. The dance form is quite the visual incarnation of music.

Bharatnatyam is a form of artistic yoga that involves the graceful and artistic movement of various body parts. Its roots are in Tamil Nadu, and it is the kind of Indian Classical Dance that is most extensively performed in southern India.

The four forms that fall under the umbrella of the Bharatanatyam tradition are:

1. Sadir Natyam is a solo dance style that devadasis in Southern India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, have performed for generations in temples and later in royal courts.

2. Bhagavata Melam — a group type of dance play from Tamil Nadu, with all roles performed by men, and themes based on mythology.

3. Kuravanji is a group dance performed by women that interprets poetry or literature compositions that often focus on the theme of a girl's affection for her beloved.

4. Kuchipudi is a style of group dance drama from Andhra Pradesh with themes drawn from mythology and all roles played by men. Kuchipudi image

Bharatnatayam: History

S. Krishna Iyer first used the word "Bharatnatyam" in the middle of the 1930s, and Rukmini Devi Arundale later popularised it. Together, Bhava, Raga, Tala, and Natya joined to form Bharatanatyam.

The Natyashastra is frequently referred to as the Indian classical dance "Bible." According to Hindu mythology, the Gods and Goddesses begged Brahma, the creator, to write a Veda that the average person could understand. 

Therefore, Brahma combined the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas to produce the fifth Veda, which is known as the Veda of Combination. He transmitted this Veda to humans by Sage Bharatha, who recorded it as Natyashastra.

To create the Natya Veda, the fifth Veda, Brahma combined the pathya (words) from the Rig Veda, the abhinaya (communicative components of the body movements) from the Yajur Veda, the geeth (music and chant) from the Sama Veda, and the rasa (vital sentiment, an emotional element) from the Atharva Veda.

Before Lord Shiva [the Lord of Divine Dance], Bharatha performed Natya, Nrtta, and Nrtya with groups of Gandharvas and Apsaras. 

As a result, Natya emerged as the dominant style of traditional Indian dance. Sage Bharatha is partially responsible for the name "Bharatnatyam."

According to Hindu tradition, the name of the dance style was created by combining the words "Bharata" and "Natyam," where "Natyam" is Sanskrit for "dance," and "Bharata" is a mnemonic made up of the letters "bha," "r," and "ta," which stand for "bhava," which is emotion and feeling, "raga," "melody," and "tala," which is rhythm, respectively. 

As a result, the term usually refers to a dance style that expresses bhava, raga, and tala.

The theoretical foundation of this dance style, which is also known as Sadir, may be found in the Sanskrit Hindu treatise "Natya Shastra" on performing arts written by the ancient Indian theatrologist and musicologist Bharata Muni. 

The text’s first complete version was presumably completed between 200 BCE to 200 CE, however, such timeframe also varies between 500 BCE and 500 CE.

Bharatnatyam: Significance

"When the world had become steeped in greed and desire, in jealousy and anger, in pleasure and pain, the people asked the Supreme One (Brahma) to create an entertainment which could be seen and heard by all, because the scriptures were not enjoyed by the masses because they were too learned and ambiguous," the Natyashastra states.  

In the Kaliyuga, the birth of Natyashastra is crucial (the age of destruction of the world, as per Hindu mythology).

Devadasis, or dancer priestesses, were common in the Hindu temples of southern India centuries ago. They would perform musical instruments, sing, and dance. 

They had a strong command of Sanskrit as well as other languages. Dasi Attam was the initial name of Bharatnatyam since these dancers were known as Devadasis.

In the modern-day scenario, it is performed by both male & female artists. Many learn Bharatanatyam form as a hobby and few make it a profession. Whether taken as a hobby or a profession it certainly needs a lot of practice, concentration, and dedication

With the passage of time Bharatanatyam has kept on adapting itself to the everchanging times. Thus, retaining its spot as the most popular art form in South India. 

Even though Bharatanatyam has gone through a lot of changes, it still has its roots deep in the religious and rich mythological heritage of India.

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