Dances from the Indian Subcontinent 2- Bharatnatayam

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The Indian subcontinent is known all around the world for its rich cultural heritage. Art and architecture of India has traveled all across the globe in form of books, movies, stories and through the migrants too. All over the world the Indian culture has had its share of fame.

One particular art form that has earned India considerable amount of recognition and respect is its dances. With the diversity like in India, one is sure to be dazzled by the grandeur and colorful life. Dances in India are for every conceivable occasion, birth, marriages, harvest, monsoons, winters, summers, everything has a dance to call its own.

One of the eight official classical dances of India is Bharatnatayam. This dance comes from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The dance takes inspiration from the ancient scriptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram. The word Bharatnatayam is a synthesis of four Sanskrit words. The “bha” comes from “bhav” meaning expression; the “ra” comes from “raga” meaning music; the “ta” is taken from “taal” meaning rhythm and “nataya” is dance in Sanskrit. After many ups and downs, Bharatnatayam is one of the most popular and widely performed dances throughout the globe.

In the ancient times the dance was mainly performed in Hindu temples. According to the legends the dance form is a performed as an act of devotion. The dance form is a beautiful synthesis of drama and dance. It is said that Bharatnatayam is a fire dance i.e. the embodiment of fire in the human body and the movements of a Bharatnatayam dancer depict the movements of a flame. Authentically the dance is a solo performance with two elements to it- the graceful and feminine one called the lasya and the powerful and the masculine one called the tandava- the dance of Lord Shiva.

Bharatnatayam as a dance celebrates the physical being of man. It centers on the most subtly human characteristics such as sentiments, emotions and actions. Bharatnatayam is basically performed by women as men most often do not have as wide range of emotional expression as women.To celebrate the humanness of man and woman, the costumes in the dance are given special importance. Elaborate dance dresses are used to enhance the beauty of the dance. It being a devotional dance does not involve dance shoes.

Bharatnatayam is all about presentation. The main dance accessories include jewelry and anklets. The jewelry the dancers use is a unique set known as the “Temple Jewelry”. Anklets, called “ghunghroo” are used for the right sound effects. The dance apparels constituted an important part of the dance. From the ancient texts it is known that the dance costumes used back then did not cover whole of the body of the dancers. Although with the advent of Puritanism in the medieval ages, the dancers were forced to wear heavy saris as dance dresses. The modern dance costumes are deeply symbolic, as their purpose is to project the dancer's sukshma sharira (cf.aura), in the material world.

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