Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest, most popular and widely practiced classical dance styles of India, with sculptural evidence dating back nearly 3000 years. A highly spiritual and dedicatory dance form, Bharatanatyam‘s roots go back to the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu, in South India. The dance moved from temples to theaters over time, but has retained its characteristic devotional component, expression of human emotions, and stylized storytelling. The flexibility of the Bharatanatyam framework lends itself well to both traditional themes as well as modern day subjects. In its present form, Bharatanatyam is approximately 200 years old, and continues to evolve as a “living” performance art. As a performing art, dance has always blended the physical and emotional, and Bharathanataym is no such exception as it balances strong rhythmic footwork, delicate hand gestures, and vivid facial expressions.
Lord Brahma created Panchama, or the 5 Veda or Natya Veda by seeping the information and references from four Vedas, namely Pathya (words) of Rigveda, Abhinaya (communicative elements of the body movements) of Yajurveda, Geetham (music and chant) of the Samaveda, and finally, the Rasam (vital sentiment and emotional elements) of Atharvaveda. Brahma later handed Natya Veda to revered holy man named Bharata to write and then spread the writings in the material world.
The name Bharatanatyam is a simple derivation from the four most important aspects of dance (in Sanskrit). These are: Bha from Bhava meaning emotion, Ra from Raaga meaning music or melody, Ta from Taala meaning rhythm and Natyam meaning dance. Thus Bharatanatyam is the dance that encompasses music, rhythm and expressional dance or Abhinaya and strictly adheres to the Natyashastra (the scripture of classical Indian dance).
There are 3 divisions in Bharatnatyam; Nirutham, Niruthiyam and Natyam. Nirutham is a pure dance without any emotions, expressions or sahityam. It involves Adavus (These are a combination of hand movement and feet movement as well as head movements and eye movements). Niruthiyam has sahityam (a sentence which means something). It has emotions, expressions and has a meaning shown by the hastas. Natyam is when a Nirutham and Niruthiyam are combined together with music in the background.
Today Bharatanatyam is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over the world. Degree and Post Graduate courses covering the practice and theory of Bharatanatyam as well as the languages associated with its development are available at major universities in India.