Dancer and teacher Sudharani Raghupathy begins her story of Bharatanatyam with a quotation from the Natyashestra: ‘Dharmyam Yashasyam Aayushyam...” where the Narashastra is referred to as the fifth Veda, combining aspects taken from all the four Vedas. Declaring dance as the one activity which bestows all benefits of Dharma, virtue, fame, and inner satisfaction as nothing else can, Sudharani speaks of it as an art form containing within it the essence of poetry, sculpture, painting, yoga and all other disciplines. As an instinctive response of man during times of stress and joy, dance is a visual harmony which can take one away from the stress of daily living and harsh reality. This spontaneous activity comprising rhythm, mime and movement, which was once regarded as pure entertainment, with time assumed a strongly religious and spiritual dimension. In fact every activity of life expresses itself in its own dance forms. Religious, social, theatrical, occupational, ritualistic, stylized and symbolic dance takes innumerable manifestations.
Classical dance, unlike in the West where it is solely for entertainment, in the East always had a religious dimension, If the Natyasbastra thought of dance as an entertainment for the gods, man has made dance his offering to the gods. Classical dance in India had long back acquired a stylized vocabulary. While one cannot be exact about dates, historical evidence for Rharatanatyam is based on inscriptions on temple walls in the South, manuscripts from the Saraswati Mahal Library of Tanjavur, frescoes from the Tanjavur Brihadeeshwara temple and sculptures from South Indian temples. A combination of the physical and the sublime dance forms, whether classical or folk, have in India an underlying unity transcending strong regional identities.
Sharatanatyam, as an ancient oral tradition was nurtured within the Guru-Shishya stronghold, with no written history but with succeeding generations of practitioners imbibing the art form from gurus of the preceding generation. Bharatanatyam was known by several names like kootthu, Chinna Melam, Silambam and Sadir in Tamil Nadu and Kamataka areas.
The Guru with the tattukazhi (wooden plank and stick with which he struck it to mark rhythm) conducts classes. Sudharani explains how the young child begins his/her initiation with a long cloth (generally a dupatta) tied tight and snug round the waist. This is a must to ensure a proper posture and straight back, for any stooping or awkward bending down will create discomfort with the waist tied secure.
Sudharani mentions Koothanooi by Saatthanaar assigned approximately to the 14th century, Mahabharata Choodamani and Sangeeta Saeraamrita as the old treatises giving details about Bharatanatyam. After mentioning the 28 hand gestures of the Abhmaya Oarpana still used in dance, she describes the specialty of Bharatanatyam as being its Adavu system or alphabet of movement units which provided the main basis for the dance vocabulary. Adavu comes from the root word Aadu which means “to dance”. The Adavu comprises the Sthaanakam or basic stance, decorative hand gestures or Nritta Hastes and feet movements or Chearis, The basic Arairnandi posture has the knees turned out (the movement dictated by the thighs being turned out), with the dancer in a half seated position. The Adavus are listed under eight major divisions
- Tattadavu, Naattadavu, Mettadavu, kuttadavu, Mandiadavu, Jarukkadavu and Paaichai Adavu.
Section 1: Introduction
Section 2: Adavus
Section 3: Margam and Aangikaabhinaya
Section 4: Margam Continues
Section 5: Margam Continues (Rasaabhinaya)
Section 6: Sringara Rasa
Section 7: Karana
Section 8: Aahaarya
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