Article on Bharatanatyam


This is a very popular dance form in South India. It is oldest of all classical dance forms in India. Dance of mind & soul. It is extremely traditional and known for its grace, purity, tenderness, staturesque & sculpturesque poses. It uplifts the dancer and the beholder to a higher level of spiritual consciousness. The dancer is considered as a worshiper, worshiper of the Divine. An embodiment of beauty, charm and gracefulness.

The general interpretation for the name is
BHAva(expression) + RAga (music) + TAla(rhythm) + NATYAM(dance) = Bharatanatyam

  Origin Of Bharatanatyam
  About Bharatanatyam
  Aspects of Abhinaya
  About Myself & My Gurus
  Other Bharatanatyam Links
  Articles about Bharatanatyam

Origin of Bharatanatyam

The Gods & Godesses pleaded Lord Brahma to create another veda which would be simple for the common man to understand. It is believed that considering this request Lord Brahma created the Panchamaveda, Fifth veda, Natyaveda, an essence of the other four vedas. It is believed that he has taken pathya (words) form the Rigveda, abhinaya (gesture) from the Yajurveda, geet (music and chant) from Samaveda and rasa (sentiment and emotional element) from Atharvaveda to form the fifth veda, Natyaveda.

After creating this natyaveda, Lord Brahma gave the same to sage Bharata and asked him to popularise this veda on earth. Following the words of Lord Brahma, sage Bharata wrote Natyashastra or the Science of Dramaturgy, a great, comprehensive work on the science and technique of Indian drama, dance and music.Bharatanatyam might have got its name from sage Bharata also.The dancers still follow this work to perform.

There is also another story which says that Godess Parvathi tought this dance form to Usha, daughter of Banasura, a demon. Usha taught the same to the Gopikas of the city of Dwaraka, Lord Krishna's birth place. Thus the divine dance form Bharatanatyam was introduced to the mankind.

In Indian mythology,Lord Shiva is considered as the supreme lord of dance. This divine art form is performed by Lord Shiva & his wife Goddess Parvathi. The Dance performd by Lord Shiva is known as Tandava, which depicts his violent nature as the distructor of the universe. The tandava performed with joy is called Ananda Tandava and performed in violent mood is called Rudra Tandava. There are 7 types of Tandava. Namely Ananda Tandava, Tripura Tandava, Sandhya Tandava, Samara Tandava, Kaali tandava, Uma Tandava and Gauri Tandava. There are few people who believa that there are 16 types of Tandava. Tandava has vigourous, brisk movements.The dance performed by Goddess Parvathi is known as Lasya, in which the movements are gentle, graceful and sometimes erotic also. Some scholars call Lasya as the feminine version of Tandava. Lasya has 2 kinds. Jarita Lasya and Yauvaka Lasya.

The art form has definitely gone through lot of changes over the years. In olden days it was performed mostly by female artists. They were called Devadasis, who would perform in the temples. These devadasis were accomplished artists who would sing, dance, play many instruments. They were well worsed in sanskrit & other languages which helped them to interpret compositions which they would perform. But this tradition came to an end as the devadasis lost their position in the society.
To know more about devadasis please click here

Then dance entered the royal courts. Here the artists called Rajanartakis, performed in the courts of kings who gave them shelter.Even these were accomplished artists like devadasis.

The next well-documented period of dance history is far more recent. In the first half of the 19th century the dance tradition was revitalized and defined anew through the contributions of four talented brothers (known today as the Tanjore Quartet)Chinniah, Sivanandam, Ponniah and Vadivelu. By coordinating their diverse talents, the four managed to organize all the basic dance movements of pure dance into a progressive series of lessons [adavu chapters]. Each adavu (basic unit of motion) was taught in systematic order and then combined with others to produce choreographed sequences based upon the rhythmic contour of a musical composition (Krishnamoorthy Pillai). In addition the brothers composed new music specifically for the dance, and introduced a different sequence of items which integrated the various aspects of dance and music into a carefully coordinated, aesthetically sound progression. This infusion of creative energy marks the early 19th century as one of the most innovative periods in the history of Indian dance.

The contribution of Udayshankar, Rukminidevi Arundale and Balasaraswathi, in the 20th century, cannot be forgotten at this juncture.

Even though Bharatanatyam has gone through lot of changes, it still has its roots deep into the religious and rich mythological heritage of India. In the modern day scenario it is performed by both male & female artists. Many learn as a hobby and few make it as a profession. Whether taken as a hobby or a profession it certainly needs lot of practice,concentration and dedication.

About Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam is evenly divided between three elements Nritta, Nritya and Natya .

Nritta : Rhythmic Element.Interprits the language of rhythm with the help of body movements.

Nritya : Combination of Rhythm with Expression.Conveys poetic meaning with the help of expressions, rhythmic gaites and postures. eg. Varna, Shabda, Pada etc.

Natya : Dramatic Element.Performing for a theme like Ramayana, Mahabharata etc.

Nritta can be broadly divided into Chari, Karana, Angahara and Mandala. Movement of a leg is called Chari. Movement of both the legs is Karana. 3 Karanas make a Khanda. 3 to 4 Khandas make a Mandala. 4 to 9 Karanas make a Angahara. 4 to 5 Angaharas also make a Mandala. 108 Karanas and 32 Angaharas are defined in Natyashatra. The 13 Nritta Hastas (explained later) are used to perform nritta. The rythmic body movements along with hand gestures are called Aduvus. Number of aduvus constitute a Jati. Jati will generally end with a Muktaya or Teermana.
There are varieties of Aduvus like

There are 12 aduvus in each of the above explained. Hence 120 aduvus exist in total. Only about 70 - 80 are in practice. The aduvus are more or less Karanas. Hence can be concluded that there are 108 aduvus. The 108 Karanas or Aduvus are carved in the Chidambaram Temple in Tanjore, Tamilnadu, India. To perform an aduvu aramandi, bending of the knees is very very important.

The entire body is divided as Anga, Pratyanga and Upaanga.
Anganyatra shirohastau vaksha paarshwakateetatau
Paadaviti shaduktaani greevamapyapare jaguhu

Head, Hands, Chest, Waist, Bottom, Legs are the Six Angas. Some people include Neck also.

Pratyangaani twathaskandhau baahoo prushtam tathodaram
ooroo janghe shadityahurapare manibandhakau
jaanooneekoorparamiti trayamapyadhikam jaguhu

Shoulders, Arms, Stomuch, thighs, Knee are the Six Pratyangas. Some people include Wrist, elbow and Ankle also.

Drushtibhrooputatarashcha kapolau naasikaahanuhu
Adharodashanaa jihwaa chubukam vadanam tatha
Upaangani dwadashitaanyanyaanyangaani santi cha
Paarshnee gulbautathangulyaa karayoho padayostale

Sight, Eyebrow, Eye lids, Eye balls, Cheeks, Nose, Gums, Lower Lip, Teeth, Tongue, Chin and Face are the 12 Upaangas. Few people include Heels, Fingers, Feet, Palm also into upaangas.
Pratynaga and Upaangas should move along with the Angas.
Anga Lakshana, the way of moving body parts, are described below.

When all Angas(main body parts) coordinate (along with pratyanga and upaanga) the artist is said to have Angashudhi. Anga meaning body parts and shudhi, meaning perfect. Any dancer should try to achive this perfection. The Natyashastra, which talks about all aspects of Bharatanatyam, quotes shlokas to perform all the above movements. All the above said movements are dealt in detail in the respective links.

Aspects of Abhinaya

The expressions which are shown to express poetic meanings is Abinaya. Here the emphasis is more on facial expressions than rhythmic movements. The Abinaya is divided as
Angikabhinaya : Expressing the meanings of lyrics using the body parts like Head, Hands, Legs etc. is Angikabhinaya. The Bhedas which i have explained above come under Angikabhinaya.
Vachikabhinaya : Expressing the Story using narrations in the dance drama is Vachikabhinaya.
Aharyabhinaya : Imitating the Costumes, Jewellary, Make-up etc. in a dance comes under Aharyabhinaya.
Satvikabhinaya :Showing the Bhava(moods) come under Satvikabhinaya.

Lord Shiva is praised as the embodiment of the above 4 types of abinaya in this following shloka.

Angikam bhuvanam yasya
Vachicam sarva vangmayam
Aharyam chandra taradi
tam vande satvikam shivam.

Meaning for the above shloka is

We bow to Him the benevolent One
Whose limbs are the world,
Whose song and poetry are the essence of all language,
Whose costume is the moon and the stars..."

In Lord Shiva's well-known pose of NATARAJA,
his right hand holds the drum of creation - symbolising a new awakening
his left hand holds fire - representing destruction of the old order
his other right hand is raised in blessing
the other left hand points to his left foot, which has crushed demon Muyalaka - representing ignorance.

There are nine main or primary emotions, Sthayibhavas. It is also termed as Rasa(Mood).

Vatsalya(Parental fondling) rasa is also sometimes included as one of the stayibhava.
Vibhava (cause of emotion), Anubhava (effect of emotion) and Sanchari bhava (subordinate emotions) constitute the state of rasa.

Now i would like to talk about Nayika(the Heroine) and Nayaka (the Hero) bhavas.

The Nayika Bhava

The shastras have classified the basic mental status of woman, the Nayika, into Eight divisions, called Ashtanayika bhavas. These divisions portray the heroine in different situations, express different feelings, sentiments & reactions.
The Ashtanayika bhava are

Abhisarika - She is the one who boldly goes out to meet her lover.
Kalahantarika - She is the one who is repenting her hastiness in quarrelling with her lover, which has resulted in their seperation.
Khandita - She is the one who is angry with her lover for causing dissapointment.
Proshitapathika - She is the one who is suffering in the absence of her beloved, who is away on a long journey.
Swadheenapathika - She is the one who is proud of her husband's or beloved's love and loyalty.
Vasakasajjika - She is the one who is preparing for the arrival of her beloved, by decorating herself and her surroundings. to provide a pleasent welcome to her lover.
Virahotkantita - She is the one who is seperated from her lover & is yearning for reunion.
Vipralabda - She is the one who is dissapointed that her lover has not turned up at the tryst as he promised.

Other classifications of the Nayika bhava are
Mugdha - Inexperienced in love.
Madhya - Partly Experienced in love.
Pragalbha - Matured in the art of love.
This Pragalbha Nayika is further classified as Sweeya - Married & faithful to her husband.
Parakeeya - Married but in love with another man.
Samanya - A free woman, who truly belongs to any man for a price.
Jyeshta - The preferred one.
Kanishta - The other woman.

Further classifications are
Uttama - Self-controlled & tolerant.
Madhyama - Literally the middle one, who gives as she gets.
Adhama - Literally the low one, who has no self restraint.

The Companion to the Nayika plays an important role in any padam, javali or Ashtapadi. This Companion is the one to whom the Nayika will convey her feelings, she is the one who will take the message,if any, from the nayika to the nayaka, she is the one who will sort out the differences between the nayika & the nayaka. This companion is usuallly a girl who is close to the Nayika.
The classification of the Companion is as follows. The Nayaka Bhava
Just like the heroines, the moods and emotions of the hero are also classified into different divisions. The main division is

The other classification is
Pati - Married & faithful to his wife.
Upapati - Married but in love with another woman.
Vaisika - One who pays & enjoys women.

Further Nayaka classifications
Anukoola - Faithful to the Woman. eg. Lord Rama
Dakshina - Loves all his wives or women. eg. Arjuna
Drishta - When rejected, pleads to be accepted by his woman. eg. Vaali
Shatha - The deceitful one. eg. Lord Krishna

Most of the ashtanayika bhavas are experienced by the Nayaka also though the depiction of ashtanayika is more than the nayaka.
Nayaka's Companion plays an important role too. This companian is categorised as


Arangetram is a tamil word.Aranga meaning raised floor and Etram meaning climbing in Tamil,one of the south indian languages. It is also called Rangapravesha in Kannada, another south indian language, Ranga meaning Stage and Pravesha meaning Enter. Ideally this should be the first public performance of an artist. After learning bharatanatyam under the guidance of an accomplished guru, this is the occation for the proud guru to present his/her deciple to the public. This is the testing time for both the guru & the shishya(deciple) as the guru's knowledge & the deciple's talent both are judged by the public. Hence, the guru will decide when the deciple is ready for public appearence. Atleast 10 - 12 years of training is necessary to give a comendable performance.

This arangetram was known as Gejjepooje in old mysore district, meaning worshiping the jingles in kannada, a south indian language.For a dancer, jingles are considered devine. In olden days, deciples were not allowed to wear jingles till their first public performance. In their first performance, they were made to worship the jingles, wear them & then perform.
Accompaniments play a major role in the making of a memorable dance performance.Basic accompaniments are a Singer, Mridangam player, Violin player and ofcource the Natuvanga. Veena,Flute and other instruments are optional. These people sit in the corner of a stage or in a place in front of the stage which will be in a lower level than that of the stage.
The artist will wear lot of jewellery, make-up and a specially stitched dress. Jingles are a must.
Usually duration of an arangetram will be 2 1/2 - 3 hours. To perform for such long hours one must have good stamina and concentration. This time is divided into two halves.

In the first half the artists generally perform

In the second half

This is an item where the artist salutes to god, guru and the audience. This item is a warmup item where the artist prepares the body for the next few hours of vigorous performance.

This is a tamil word.Alar meaning to bloom. It comprises of set of movements without any meaning or expression. The movements are performed for syllables set for a beat(Tala). The complexity of the movements gradually increase. The steps are so formed that it looks like a bud blooming into a flower. This is also a warmup piece to prepare the body for the next few hours of performance. Eventhough there is no meaning, this can also be considered as an item where the artist salutes god,guru and the audience.

This is also an item where the movements will not convey any meaning or theme. Here the steps are more complex than the previous items. The composition can have amazing postures and teermanas or muktayas(ending of a jati). This is a musical composition set to a raga unlike alaripu which has only syllables.

This is a dance item with both nritta & abinaya. Usually the theme of the lyrics will be devotional like praising lord krishna, depicting lord krishna's childhood , praising a king etc.The movements here are leisurely.

This is the item where the dancers are tested for their capacity to perform abinaya & nritta. This can be treated as a benchmark to judge the artist's talent.The item will contain many complex steps and will have lot of room for expressions also. To perform this item one should have lot of stamina & concentration. The lyrics can be devotional, praising a king etc. Varna can also have shrigara rasa as its theme.

In this dance item the dancer's abhinaya is put into test. It narrates expression of divine love or pangs of seperation in love. The tempo is slow and the performance is based on a specific mood of love.Padams will have Nayaka(Hero, Supreme lover, Divine Lord)& Nayika(Heroine, the yearning soul). Heroine will talk to her friend(sakhi) and narrate her feelings towards her hero. The lyrics can be about how the hero has betrayed, how he has delayed the arrival, how she is angry with her beloved hero etc. The Nayika and Nayaka Bhavas are explained in detail Here.

These are poet Jayadeva's Sanskrit compositions called Geetagovinda, an extremely romantic composition. It describes the love of Krishna and Radha in twelve cantos containing 24 songs. The songs are sung by Krishna or Radha or by Radha's maid. Each Canto is named differently considering Krishna's status of mind.
Expressions are given foremost importance while performing these poems. Needs lot of grace. The artist should be mature enough to understand the lyrics and the situation to show the rasas.

This item is a devotional piece where the lyrics are in praise of god, describing the god etc. This is a pure abhinaya item with almost no emphasis on nritta. Usually the lyrics are in Kannada. These songs are the compositions of great mystics like Purandharadaasa, Kanakadaasa, Vijayadaasa, Vyasaraaja to name a few. The compositions are popularly known as Daasa Sahitya. It is a devotional literatures written in simple language understood by common man. It has made remarkable contribution to the spiritual and cultural upliftment of people by preaching phylosophy of Love, Devotion and Peaceful Co-Existance.
If you are looking for some compositions, here they are.

This is usually the last item in any bharatanatyam performance. Tillana is full of complicated movements & postures. This will also have complicated Muktayas or Sholkattu, ending of any step or aduvu. This is mainly a nritta piece which might have a charana, a meaningfull lyrics for which abinaya is shown.

Meaning ending the performance. Here the artist will again salute god, guru & the audience for making the performance a success.

About My Self & My Gurus

I, Annapoorna Anand, am a dancer myself and have learnt bharatanatyam for about 16 years. I have passed Vidwat exam, Highest exam for classical dance ,Karnataka Examination Board, Karnataka,India. I am also a Classical Carnatic Vocal singer. I have given innumerable peformances in Karnataka and have participated in number of dance dramas composed by my guru.
My guru Sri.H.R. Keshavamurthy is a doyen in the field of bharatanatyam in Bangalore,India. He has been my Guru for 16 years. He is the founder of Shri Keshava Nritya Shala , a dance school which trains students in bharatanatyam. He has dedicated himself to this field from more than five decades. He has been honoured with many awards. Recently he was awarded "The Shantala Award", given for outstanding contribution to the field of Classical Dance. He has directed more than 30 dance dramas like Sri Krishna Tulabhara, Kaveri Vaibhava, Jatayu Moksha, Mohini Bhasmasura, Parvati Koravanji, Tirukana Kanasu to name a few. Latest project he is working on is, to adopt the works of number of famous indian poets to dance, like Kalidasa's Shakuntala, Ranna's Gadhayudda etc., a very challenging & commendable step. He has trained thousands of students under his able guidence, many of whom have taken this as a profession and running their own dance schools. This year he is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his dance school. To commemerate the occation, year long dance performances & workshops are held in bangalore.

Here in St.Louis, Missouri my Guru is Smt. Asha Prem. She is the director of the School of Dances of India. She has performed extensively in India & USA. She has been the reciepient of numerous awards and honors from various cultural associations. She was invited to inaugurate the Festival of India program in New York. She is a faculty of Washington University in St.Louis. She has enriched the cultural life of the Midwest by dedicating herself to teaching & performing classical dances over the past twenty years.

Other Bharatanatyam Links

Buy a CD on Bharatanayam

  Lasya Academy of Dance
  Preeti's Home Page
  Indian Dances
  Classical Dances of India
  Home Page of Siri Rama


I have refered to

All other information were part of my Vidwat exam, given to me by my Guru, Sri. H.R.Keshavamurthy.

List of other reference books.

Articles about Bharatanatyam

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