Bharatanatyam is the most popular of Indian dances and belongs to the South Indian state of Tamilnadu. Its antiquity is well established. In the past it was practised ad performed in the temples by a class of dancers known as the devadasis. It was a part of the religious rituals and has a long and hoary past. The kings and the princely courts patronised the temples, as well as the various traditions sustaining the dance form. The salient features of Bharatanatyam are movements conceived in space mostly either along straight lines or triangles. In terms of geometrical designs, the dancer appears to weave a series of triangles besides several geometrical patterns. In nritta (pure dance) to the chosen time cycle and a raga (melody), a dancer executes patterns that reveal the architectonic beauty of the form with a series of dance units called jathis or teermanams. The torso is used as a unit, the legs are in a semi-plie form and the stance achieves the basic posture called araimandi. The nritta numbers include Alarippu, Jatiswaram and Tillana, which are abstract items not conveying and specific meaning except that of joyous abandon with the dancer creating variegated forms of staggering visual beauty. In nritya, a dancer performs to a poem, creating a parallel kinetic poetry in movement, registering subtle expressions on the face and the entire body reacts to the emotions, evoking sentiments in the spectator for relish - the rasa. The numbers are varnam, which has expressions as well as pure dance; padams, javalis and shlokas. The accompanying music is classical Carnatic. The themes are from Indian mythology, the epics and the Puranas.
This dance form is believed to have been introduced to Kerala by the early Aryan immigrants & is performed only by the members of the Chakiar caste. A highly orthodox type of entertainment, it can be staged inside temples only & witnessed by the Hindus of the higher castes. The theatre is known as Koothambalam. The story is recited in a quasi-dramatic style with emphasis on eloquent declarations with appropriately suggestive facial expressions & hand gestures. The only accompaniments are the cymbals & the drum known as the mizhavu, made of copper with a narrow mouth on which is stretched a piece of parchment.
With origins shrouded in mystery, the Chhau dancer communicates inner emotions and themes through cadences of body flexions, movements and kinetic suggestions. The word Chhau is interpreted differently by scholars. ‘Shadow’, ‘Disguise’ and ‘Image’ are the most common interpretations due to the extensive use of masks in this dance form. The martial movements of Chhau have led to another interpretation of the word as meaning ‘to attack stealthily’ or ‘to hunt’. Three styles of Chhau exist born from the three different regions of Seraikella (Bihar), Purulia (West Bengal), and Mayurbhanj (Orissa). Martial movements, strong rhythmic statements and dynamic use of space are characteristic of Chhau. Seraikella Chhau flourished under royal patronage. Its vigorous martial character made it suitable only for male dancers. The princes were not only patrons but also dancers, teachers and mask-making experts. The Seraikella masks are similar to those used in the Noh dance of Japan and the Wayang Wong of Java. Purulia Chhau uses masks which is a highly developed craft in the region. The barren land with its tribal inhabitants and multi-layered influences of Vedic literature, Hinduism and martial folk-lore have all combined to shape the Purulia Chhau dances which have only one message - the triumph of good over evil. Mayurbhanj Chhau has highly developed movements, no masks and a more chiselled vocabulary than the other two Chhau styles. Like Seraikella Chhau, it had also thrived under royal patronage and is considered a link between the earthy Indian dance movements and the flying, springing elevations of Western...