Bharatnatyam is one of the oldest and eminent of the Indian classical dance forms and a heritage part of culture of India. It originated in south India, in the state of Tamil Nadu and spread out to the southern states. Historically, it was called Sadir and some of its origin theories date back to as earlier as the 1st millennium CE. The ancient Sanskrit text, Natya shastra by Bharat Muni gives the written theory or proof of the origin of bharatnatyam. However, the art remained exclusive to Temples until the 19th century and then in1910, it was banned due to the colonial government’s propaganda.
The birth of this art form as well as the donning of the traditional costumes which are used in it, traces its origin way back to the 17th century, where in devdasis, who were the temple dancers, practiced Bharatnatyam to worship gods and goddesses. However as per Natya Shastra, it roots goes back to somewhere between 500 BC to 500 CE. Apparently, the modern authors believe that Bharatnatyam finds its ancestor in the Devadasi culture, implyingits historical origins to 300 BCE to 300 CE. Another historical reference is made by in the ancient Tamil epic text named Silappatikaram. As per this text, Bharatnatyam had become a well developed classical dance form by mid of 1st millennium CE.
Like any other prominent and paramount art form or any other tradition of the Indian culture that had prevailed and flourished from centuries and times unknown, Bharatnatyam also suffered for its survival during the British colonial rule. During the 19th century, Bharatnatyam was ridiculed and alleged to be a form of slavery. Launching the "anti-dance movement"in 1892, Christian missionaries and british rulers tried to impose their ways and suppress Bharatnatyam by enforcing laws and. Eventually, he British officials banned temple dancing and Bharatnatyam. This triggered protests and the quest for the revival of Bharatnaytam had started, and finally by the late 20th century Bharatnatyam had been reintroduced and reincarnated in the temples. This dance tradition went on to attain the platform of popularity, fame and recognition when it got patronized by the Marathi King Saraboji, and there descendant brothers who carried the legacy of teaching this art form all over the world.
Considering its rich history, cultural values and the transcendence it has gone through, Bharatnatyam has developed different streams or styles, this fact is also enforced by the fact that each individual who learns it, develops a slightly different interpretations as per his/her convenience. Some of the styles of Bharatnatyam are explained below;
- This style originated in a village called Pandanallur, in the district of Thanjavore. This style includes deep sitting positions, lays emphasis on linear geometry and is a purely feminine dance style with slow and rhythmic movements.
- Vazhavoor style.
- This style was coined and popularized by Ramai Pillai in Thanjavore. In this style, abrupt and sudden movements are rare, static postures are introduced and Dancer’s body from the waist is bent forward at the waist level.
- Kalakshetra is the modern style and a simplified form of Pandanallur style. In the kalakshetra style, clear cut, angular, linear and sharp movements are there with control and stiffness. This style was introducedRukmini Devi Arundhalae.
- Melathoor style
- This style is based on the Devadasi tradition and was developed in the 20th century. It is in this style, the anklets are used to produce variety of sounds and it lays more emphasis on sringara than bhakti.
Costumes worn by the Bharatnatyam performers are another aspect of the art that is intricate and remarkable. Without these costumes, dance alone is not able to grab that much of attention. Bharatanatyam costume is very beautiful and colorful. Generally, the costumes of Bharatanatyam have two types. They are Pyjama style and another skirt style.In these styles the costumes are intrinsically embroidered with different religious motifs and designs in threads of pure gold and shimmering silk.The pleats of sari are arranged in a way that it would open up in beautiful way, showcasing the entire zari and embroidery on the sari during certain postures.
The traditional Bharatanatyam costume for men is very simple, with a dhoti stitched with graceful embroidery and silk designs and containing simple jewels on the upper part. On the other hand, Bharatanatyam costumes for women resemble Indian traditional sari. Bharatanatyam costumes for women resemble Indian traditional sari. The color of the costumes is very bright and attractive. The border of the costumes prepared with various pieces of sari and stitches it with various patterns to decorate the dancer’s form.