Bharatha Natyam

Bharatha Natyam

Bharata Natyam or Bharatanatyam (Tamil: பரதநாட்டியம்) is a classical dance form of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, nowadays practiced predominantly by women. It is held as the national dance of India. The dance is accompanied by classical Carnatic music. Its inspirations come from the sculptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram.

What Is Bharathnatyam?

Bharata Natyam is considered to be a 'fire dance' — the mystic manifestation of the metaphysical element of fire in the human body. It is one of the five major styles (one for each element) that includes Odissi (element of water), Mohiniattam (element of air), Kuchipudi (element of earth) and Kathakali (element of sky). The movements of an authentic Bharata Natyam dancer resemble the movements of a dancing flame. Contemporary Bharata Natyam is rarely practiced as Natya Yoga, a sacred meditational tradition, except by a few orthodox schools. Bharata Natyam proper is a solo dance, with two aspects, lasya, the graceful feminine lines and movements, and tandava Ananda Thandavam (Tamil) (the dance of Shiva), masculine aspect, which is identical to the Yin and Yang in the Chinese culture. Bharata Natyam is the manifestation of the ancient idea of the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the material body. Some Bharata Natyam techniques can be traced back to the Kaisiki style. The Natya reads, "... I have seen the Kaisiki style during the dance of the blue-throated lord (Shiva). It consists of elaborate gestures ("Mridu Angaharas", movements of limbs), sentiments (Rasas), emotional states (Bhavas). Actions (Kriyas) are its soul. The costume should be charmingly beautiful and love (Sringara) is its foundation. It cannot be adequately portrayed by men. Except for women, none can practise it properly". Apart from the Kaisiki style, Bharata Natyam imbibed some others. These reflect other yogis spiritual revelations, such as the vision of two sages, Vyagrapada and Pathanjali in Chidambaram. In Hindu mythology the whole universe is the dance of the Supreme Dancer, Nataraja, a name for Lord Shiva, the Hindu ascetic yogi and divine purveyor of destruction of evil. The symbolism of the dance of Shiva (in the form of Nataraja) is represented by the attitude called "Ananda Tandavam". Also known as the cosmic dancer, he is here the embodiment and manifestation of the eternal energy in five activities (panca-kriya): creation, pouring forth, unfolding; maintenance or duration (sthiti); destruction or taking back (smhara); concealing, veiling, hiding the transcendental essence behind the garb of apparations (tirobhava); and favoring, bestowing grace through a manifestation that accepts the devotee (anugraha). Shiva is depicted dancing on the dwarfish body of the demon Apasmara purusa, "forgetfulness, loss of memory" called in Tamil Muyalaka (முயலக) -- who represents ignorance, the destruction of which brings enlightenment, true wisdom, and release from the bondage of existences.


A Bharata Natyam performance lasts about two hours, and includes six or more of the following parts:

  • Allarippu- A presentation of the Tala punctuated by simple syllables spoken by the dancer. This really is sort of aninvocationto the gods to bless the performance.
  • Kautuvam- Ancient temple dance item performed in the beginning of the recital, containing rhythmic syllables sung for jathis.
  • Ganapati Vandana- A traditional opening prayer to the Hindu god Ganesh, who removes obstacles. See also Pushpanjali
  • Jatiswaram- An abstract dance where the drums set the beat. Here the dancer displays her versatility in elaborate footwork and graceful movements of the body.
  • Shabdam- The dancing is accompanied by a poem or song with a devotional or amorous theme.
  • Varnam- The center piece of the performance. It is the longest section of the dance punctuated with the most complex and difficult movements. Positions of the hands and body tell a story, usually of love and the longing for the lover.
  • Padam- Probably the most lyrical section where the dancer "speaks" of some aspect of love: devotion to the Supreme Being; or of love of mother for child; or the love of lovers separated and reunited.
  • Stuti- Hymn in praise of a deity that may contain a feigned mockery, etc. See also Stotra
  • Koothu- Item containing a lot of dramatic elements.
  • Javali- Javalis are relatively new, pure abhinaya types of compositions of light and pleasing nature. Like Padams the underlying theme of Javalis is Sringara Rasa depicting the Nayaka-Nayaki bhava.
  • Thillana- The final section is a pure dance (nritta) when the virtuosity of the music is reflected in the complex footwork and captivating poses of the dancer.

Apart from these items, there are items such as Shlokam, Swarajathi, Krithi etc. The performance concludes with the chanting of a few religious verses as a form of benediction. Certain styles include more advanced items, such as Tharanga Nritham and Suddha Nritham. When a dancer has mastered all the elements of dance, as a coming out performance, he or she generally performs an Arangetram (debut).

  • Angikam- This is a devotional song on Lord Shiva and an item dance in bharatnatyam. It can also be performed in byapti slow motion.

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