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Nattuvankam or Nattuvangam ?

Posted by C M Mishra on 24th Mar 2015

Bharatanatyam is considered the classical dance of South India especially Tamilnadu. Expression, dance, and rhythm are the tree primary aspects of this dance form. Carnatic music forms the basis of Bharatnatyam and songs are sung in Kannada, Telugu and Tamil languages. Nattuvanar is the person responsible for reciting the songs.

The Nattuvanars had their origin from the Chola era in the 19th century. Devadasis with perfection performed this dance in the earlier days. Once the devadasi system got abolished, the dance form also started diminishing. After the abolishment of the Devadasi system, Bharatnatyam needed a significant revival. Krishna Iyer was a key person in raising the social status of the dance form among the upper caste girls. Then the dance got a revival with upper caste girls showing a liking to the dance and Nattuvanars coming from respectable societies. Bharatnatyam then became famous as it gives people an entry into the film career.

Rukmani Devi Arundale was instrumental in popularizing Bharatnatyam in the west. In 1936, she founded Kalakshetra School in the outskirts of Chennai to teach the dance form. Men played the role of Nattuvanars and never danced. She is one of the first female teachers and female Nattuvanars to change this tradition. She taught men to dance.

Nattuvangam is performed by the Nattuvanar or the dance guru using talam cymbals. The essential aspect of Bharatnatyam lies in the coordination between the Nattuvanar and Bharatanatyam dancer. It plays the most important role in Bharatnatyam. The cymbals used by Nattuvanar are made of metal alloys and is used in light music world -wide. These cymbals do the speaking and represent the steps or feet of the dancer in Bharatnatyam. These cymbals are a bit heavier in this dance form. Kumbakonam is a famous area for manufacturing talams.

The dance gurus are the main person, and they are responsible for conducting the entire dance program. In the earlier days, Nattuvangam was used to coordinate the dancers and musicians. Generally, the dance gurus do not dance. In the modern days, the gurus also dance along with the dancers. Nattuvangam helps in maintaining a steady tempo and coordinating the dancer’s steps to music.

Nattuvangam also includes choreography, but this is a restriction too. In the modern times, the role of Nattuvanar is limited, and the person just accompanies the dancer. The dancer gets the main focus in most of the programs. Nattuvankam has lost some its importance due to its inabilities in contributing to choreography.