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Bharatanatyam

Table Contents

  1. Bharatanatyam
  2. Expression: Bhava and Rasa
  3. Music: Raga and Tala
  4. Costume and Jewelry

1. Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam is one of the 8 kinds of classical dances in India. All classical dance forms share a common root in Natyashastra. Natyashastra, was written by Saint Bharata sometime between the 2nd century BC and 2nd century AD. The theory and technique of not only classical dances but also classical drama, stage design, music, costume, and make-up are based on Natyashastra.

The origin of the name Bharatanatyam came from 4 Sanskrit words. Divided in 4 sections, Bha-ra-ta-natyam. Each syllable represents a different word and meaning. Bha comes from Bhava, which means expression. Ra comes from Raga, which means melody. Ta comes from Tala, which means rhythm. Natyam mean dance. If you broke Bharatanatyam into four Sanskrit words it would read Bhava, Raga, Tala and Natyam. These aspects: expression; melody; and rhythm; are very important in Bharatanatyam.

The origin of Bharatanatyam is from religious ritual. Bharatanatyam was a solo female performance. It was traditionally performed in Hindu temples to worship Gods and Goddesses by the temple dancer called devadasi. The devadasis were not only knowledgeable in dance and music but also in religious ceremonies.

Today, the stage of Bharatanatyam has moved from the temple to the theater. Bharatanatyam is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female performers in major cities of India and abroad.

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Kali&Ashra by Bharatanatyam Dasavatar by Ganesa Natyalaya [Click Image to Enlarge]


2. Expression: Rasa and Bhava

All classical dance techniques and theories are based on Natyashastra. In Natyashastra, Saint Bharata says that the goal of the classical Indian arts is rasa.

What is Rasa?
Rasa is the emotional experience of individual audience members. Rasa is reflected by bhava. Bhava is the emotional expression of the performer.

Rasa and bhava are emotional expressions, but the performer creates bhava, and the audience experiences rasa. Rasa exists when perfect communication between the performer and audience occurs. I am very fascinated by the rasa and bhava theory. The goal of classical Indian arts is rasa. Creating only bhava, emotional expression of performer, the art is not complete. When rasa, emotional expression of the audience is created, the art is complete. That is, the essence of the art exists within the minds of the audience.

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3. Music: Raga and Tala

The music, which accompanies Bharatanatyam, is Carnatic music, South Indian classical music. Music supports the dancer's performance in the two elements: raga (melody) and tala (rhythm). A raga is identified by a particular combination of musical phrases that gives it its unique melodic character, and expresses certain moods or emotions.

The major melody instruments for Bharatanatyam are voice; the violin; a wooden flute, and the vina, a stringed instrument. The tala is a rhythmic cycle containing a fixed number of beats. Talas give the rhythmic foundation of the melodic structure and are performed on mridangam, a two headed drum, and nattuvangam, cymbals played as a conductor of the orchestra.

The lyrics are in several south Indian languages such as Tamil, Telegu, Kannada and Sanskrit.

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4. Bharatanatyam Costumes, Jewelry and Color

The costume, jewelry, and make-up maintain the tradition of Bharatanatyam.

The costume is made of six yards of hand-woven silk, called a sari, interwoven with gold threads from the city of Kanchipuram, Tamilnadu. For providing more freedom of movement, the costume was tailored in six parts from a sari.

The characteristic jewelry of Bharatanatyam is known as temple jewelry. These ornaments are made of silver dipped in gold and the main work is of stone gems in mostly red and green colors. Initially the jewelry was created as offerings to the Gods and Goddesses. Later the temple dancers, devadasis, wore the jewelry. Today, the temple jewelry is worn by South Indian brides in her wedding. The dancer wears at least ten pieces of the jewelry such as necklaces, chokers, bracelets, a belt, earrings, nose rings, and three hair ornaments. The dancer wears two broach-like ornaments that symbolize the moon and sun to the left and right of the central parting the hair.

Around the dancer's ankles are tied belts of bells. The bells sound to accompany to the music while the dancer beats her bare feet on the floor.

The striking eye makeup emphasizes the dancerÍs extensive facial expressions, which depict the story emotionally. The intricate and precise hand gestures are more perceptible with the hands and feet decorated in red. The color red symbolizes auspiciousness in Hindu life.

The costumes Izumi Sato wears were designed by Radhe Shyan of Siriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, India.

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Last Updated: August 23, 2006
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