As the hands gracefully move, the eyes follow in tandem. Where the eyes lead, the mind follows. And where the mind follows the dancer’s heart attunes. Bharatnatyam has an eloquence that has been passed down through generations. Wrapped in traditions, this great classical dance form inspires the audience as much as the dancer! And there lies it’s spiritual secret.
Although originated in the South of India, it is now a widely celebrated art form throughout the world. This dance form traditionally dictates and provides insights into one’s motherland and it’s language, good virtue, the punishment of the evil and the protection of noble.
It is performed by a rhythmic movement of the feet combined with impressive gestures and elaborate facial expressions. The theoretical amalgamation of these three basics forms the essence of Bharatanatyam.
Bharatanatyam is presumably the oldest classical dance form in India and is strongly based on the ancient Sanskrit text dedicated to the performing arts called the Natya Shastra.
The name of the dance form was derived by the fusion of two words, Bharata and Natyam. Natyam in Sanskrit means dance and Bharata, holds the essence of the art form where bha, ra and ta stand for Bhava, Raga and Tala. Bhava means emotion and feelings; raga stands for melody, and tala means rhythm.
The Natya Shastra consists of thousands of verses structured in different chapters and the three different repertoires include Nrita, Nritya and Natya. The Nrita is the hand movements and gestures or the technique, Nritya is the expressions and finally the Natya, which is the performance or the final expression of the body itself.
Although there are various adaptations of this dance form to this date, the core of it still remains the same. The decorated silk costumes accompanied by grand floral hairdo stands a step behind, compared to the elaborate makeup adorned by the artists to draw focus to the facial expressions.
Facial expressions play a crucial role and multiple award-winning dancer and choreographer with over 25 years of experience, Roopesh K.C. explains, “Bharatanatyam’s most important element is abhinaya and it is incomplete without abhinaya. Which means Bharatanatyam is incomplete without facial expressions”
The Natya Shastra explains the aesthetics of this graceful dance form through the Nava Rasa. Nava means nine and Rasa means juice or the taste. These Nava Rasa are the nine emotions Bharatanatyam conveys and when conducted along with the foot works, this eloquently graceful dance form emerges.
“Every element of this rasa is important to be brought together to be able to emote a situation or a theme or a feeling, for that matter. It is segregated in such a way that each element is used at a specific point in time, in terms of you trying to emote something.”
The Nava Rasas are Shringar (Passion), Hasya (Humorous), Karuna (Sympathy), Raudra (Anger), Veera (Valour), Bhayanaka (Fearful), Bibhatsa (Disgust), Adbhuta (Astonishment), Shanta (Peaceful).
“The Rasa is segregated at a higher level. In a casual conversation, when you’re upset, feeling low, feeling bad about something, crying, panting, all of these emotions put together will have one of the Rasa associated with it.”
The freedom to extensively exhibit sentiments facially makes Bharatanatyam a much loved and sought after dance form.
Master Roopesh, whose oldest apprentice was 65, suggests “Although 5 or 6 years of age is the recommended time to start, I have students of all ages who are equally passionate about dance. I have trained older people who were ignorant about dance and through hard work and dedication, Bharatanatyam has sunk into their bodies”