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  • Topic: Bharatanatyam, Rukmini Devi Arundale, India
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  • Published : November 26, 2011
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Introduction to Semiotics

A journey from temples to the proscenium

An introduction
Bharatanatyam is a Sanskrit word, which means the dance of Bharata (India). True to its name, it is one of the oldest and most popular dance forms of India. It originated in the temples of Southern India and was later codified and documented as a performing art by the Tanjore Quartet. It is now the most popular Indian classical dance and is appreciated worldwide. Bharatanatyam is a language in itself. Like Sanskrit language, bharatanatyam follows strict rules and is technically sound. The grammar of the steps is followed rigorously. It is danced to Carnatic music and the mathematical precision of the dance equals the Carnatic music measure of measure. The three significant ingredients of bharatanatyam are: bhava (emotion), raga (music) and taal (rhythm); governed by Bharata muni’s Natya Shastra and Nandikeshwar’s Abhinaya Darpana. Hence, the interpretation BHAva + RAga (music) + TAla+ NATYAM(dance) = Bharatanatyam. The technique and presentation

“Bharatanatyam in its highest moment, is the embodiment of music in a visual form” -Balasaraswati The three major attributes of a Bharatanatyam performance are Nritta (technique), Nritya and Natya (drama). Nritta is pure dance. It is the movement of hands and feet on the rhythm and speed. It is a collage of rhythmic lines, forms and shapes. The movements, mudras or gestures do not signify anything. Then why nritta? Indian music and dance forms are based on the concept of cyclic rhythm or taal. Various musical patterns are woven with the musical notes and rhythmic patterns which can be beautifully executed through nritta. Nritya is interpretative dance. It is used to exhibit the underlying meaning of the song and the emotion attached with it. It is a combination of nritta and abhinaya or expressions. The meaning of the song is expressed systematic gesture language and facial expressions. Natya is equivalent to dance-drama. It is a language of gestures, poses, dialogues and mime. It depicts a story usually from the Indian mythology like Ramayan or Mahabharata. Here, the emphasis is majorly on abhinaya or expression rather than the rhythmic movements. The Abinaya is divided as:

Angikabhinaya: Expression through the limbs and body like the Head, Hands, and Legs.  Vachikabhinaya: Expression through narrations and voice. 
Aharyabhinaya: Expression through dress, ornaments and other aids.  Satvikabhinaya: Mental expression of feeling and emotion by facial expression and use of eyes. 

Bharatanatyam: The Journey
The journey of bharatnatyam from the temples of south India to the proscenium of the world is a very exciting one.

Dasi-attam (Origin and decline)
Bharatnatyam as a very ancient and traditional art form has been associated with the temples of South India. It is believed that Bharatnatyam used to be known as the “temple dance”. Bharatnatyam was also known as the dasi-attam (dance performed by the dasis - the servants of God) or the sadir-attam (court dance). It was choreographed to be performed solo by the devadasis in the temples as an offering to the deities. These women, called devadasis, are said to have devoted their lives to God. They were considered to be united with the Gods. Infact, they were considered so close to the gods and so pure, that a pearl form their necklace was considered auspicious for the mangalsutra of a woman. They performed useful functions at temples like cleaning, lighting lamps, dressing the deities etc. They also sang devotional songs and danced in devotion to the deities. Apart from this, they taught music and dance to young girls. These devadasis were accomplished artistes who could play many musical instruments. They were well versed in Sanskrit and other languages, which helped them to interpret the compositions that they would perform. They were instrumental in developing a tradition of classical music and dance in South India. The...
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