Dance is such a form of dialogue, with oneself, with the world and with that single force of life that governs the universe. Dance as an art form is a ceaseless process of self exploration and self realization. It is the most fulfilling way of expression. One of such enriched classical dance form and the most ancient of all the classical Indian dance styles based on NatyaShastra, is Bharatanatyam which belongs to the South Indian state of Tamilnadu.
Bharatanatyam has a divine origin and a glorious. It was created by Brahma not merely for pleasure, but to embody the cosmic relationships and expressions (bhava) for all the worlds, to teach wisdom both to the ignorant and the learned, to provide entertainment for kings, to console the miserable ones and to express all the moods and passions of the soul.
Thus Brahma created the Fifth (Panchama) Veda, or NatyaVeda, a quintessence of the main four Vedas, by combining Pathya (words) of Rigveda, Abhinaya (communicative elements of the body movements) of Yajurveda, geetham (music and chant) of Samaveda, and rasam (vital sentiment and emotional element) of Atharvaveda.
Then Brahma handed NatyaVeda to rishi Bharata to write it down and spread it in the material world. Bharata-guided the demigods (Gandharavas and Apsaras) to perform before Shiva. NatyaShastra came to be the fundamental authority on the technique of classical Indian dances, especially Bharatanatyam. It is believed that the term "Bharatanatyam" owes its name to rishi Bharata.
Bharatanatyam boasts of a flawless technique that consists of three major aspects, Natya, Nritta and Nritya.The rhythmical and repetitive elements are called Nritta, i.e. it is dance proper. The dramatic art of expression in gestures, poses and mime is called Natyai.eAbhinaya. The combination of Nritta and Natya is called Nritya.
The dance form is based on 'Adavu' (steps) and 'Hasthamudra' (hand gestures). There are 15 basic set of 'Adavu'. Communication is done through 'bhavabhinaya' (facial expression) and 'hasthamudra' (hand gestures). The performance starts with the prayers to God Ganapathi and worship of Lord Nataraja.
The sequence of the dance performance is 'Alaripu', 'Jatiswaram', 'Sabdam', 'Varnam', 'Padam' and 'Tillana'. After 'Tillana', with a 'MangalaSlokam' the dance recital ends.
The music of Bharatanatyam is based on Carnatic classical music. The instruments used are Veena, Flute, Mridangam and Violin.
The real beauty of Bharatanatyam dance form springs from its blend of expressions and it soul touching rendering. The true Bharatanatyam is a sacred ritual that is supposed to bring the rasanubhava (catharsis, or spiritual upliftment) to the dancer as well as the user.Hence it is most beautiful in its purest form.
Aesthetics is a very important aspect of Bharatanatyam. The eyes become the window of the soul. It is the depth of Abhinaya and the inner beauty of the dancer that castes its spell and transports the audience.That magic is all that true art is all about.
Since the philosophy behind this dance is to search the human soul and unite with the Supreme Being, every step, every mudra and every emotion gets a deeper meaning. This dance form also enhances its beauty with the use of literary masterpieces of saints and sages.
Danseuse Rukmini Devi has rightly said that the difference between a technical expert and an artistic genius is the ability to master the technique and then forget it. By transcending technique and forgetting oneself, a dancer enters the spirit of the dance and expresses it through his very being. Only then the true beauty of this divine dance comes out and the dancer along with the onlookers bask in its glory.
About 150 years ago, the four Tanjore Brothers- Chinniah, Sivanandam, Ponniah and Vadivelure-organized the core Bharatanatyam pure dance movements into a series of steps called adavus and composed new music items written specifically for Bharatanatyam. The descendants of these four brothers formed the original stock of Nattuvanars or dance teachers of BharataNatyam in Tanjore. Originally, they formed a community by themselves and raised the social status of BharataNatyam and greatly popularized it.
Later, the prominent personalities as MangudiDorairajaIyer and Krishna Iyer made their significant contributions. The social status and image of Bharatanatyam was finally restored by Rukmini Devi Arundale, the founder of Kalakshetra, who started teaching a simplified, Kalakshetra style invented by her.
Some of the other Bharatanatyam legends are BalaSaraswathi, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Kamala Laxman, Padma Subrahmaniam and ChithraVisweswaran. Panthanalloor MeenakshiSundaram Pilla, Panthanalloor Chokkalingam Pilla, Padmasree Vazhoor Ramayyan Pilla and Adayar Laxman are some of the famous 'Nattuvar'. AlarmelValli, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Mallika Sarabhai. Anita Ratnam are also some of the famous names who have carved a niche for themselves.