by David Courtney, Ph.D.
Natyam is the most widely known and exalted of the classical
Indian dances. Although it has been traditionally associated
with Tamil Nadu, it now has a strong presence throughout
India. Even outside of India, the majority of schools
that teach Indian dance teach this style.
history of Bharat Natyam is interesting. The genre of
Bharat Natyam was developed by amalgamating a number of
elements from the earlier forms of Dassi Attam and Sadr.
Dassi Attam was a dance form of the Deva Dassis (temple
dancing girls) while Sadr was a form found in the palaces
of southern India. A number of people contributed to the
development of Bharat Natyam, but the most notable was
E. Krishna Iyer of Madras (Chennai). This was in the 1930's
is difficult to determine the age of Bharat Natyam; this
is due to the evolving nature of Indian dance. Although
Bharat Natyam evolved from Sadr and Dassi Attam, there
are differences. If one feels that Bharat Natyam is different
enough to be considered a distinct genre, then we may
safely say that it is only about 70 years old. On the
other hand, if we consider the differences to be insignificant,
then we may push the age back several hundred years. However,
the careless manner in which many artists date Bharat
Natyam back to the Natya Shastra is absolutely preposterous.
The cumulative changes that have occurred over the last
2000 years make such statements totally insupportable.
are a number of musicians and instrumentalist who provide
the musical accompaniment. Typically there is one or more
vocalist, a person reciting the dance syllables, and a
mridangam. Additionally, one usually finds violin, vina
(saraswati vina), or venu (bamboo flute). There is also
a thallam (manjira) which is usually played by the person
reciting the dance syllables. The overall style of the
Bharat Natyam musical accompaniment is not unlike other
of the traditional elements of classical dance are present
in Bharat Natyam. The mudras (hand positions), abhinaya
(facial expressions), and padams (narrative dances) form
the basis for the performance.
are a number of well defined of items. Alarippu is a traditional
invocation. Jatis are strict compositions based upon the
different time-signatures. Another piece is the Sabdam;
this is an interpretative narrative, usually performed
in seven beats. Another form is the Varanam; these are
elaborate descriptions of the nature of God. Another piece
which is usually performed toward the end of the performance
is the Tillana; this is a purely abstract form devoid
of narrative. The performance ends with a Mangalam; this
is a short Shloka in praise of God.
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