Bharatha Natyam is compounded from “bha” for Bhava or emotional projection, “Ra” for raga or melody, “Ta” for tala or rhythm, and “Natyam” for the art of dance. Bharatnatyam is one of the four main classical styles in India. It developed from ritualistic dances performed in the past as offerings to the deities of Hindu temples and in a more sophisticated form in the courts by solo female dancers. The traditionally conservative South maintained a style closely related to the type of dancing mirrored in temple sculpture during more than two thousand years of recorded movment in stone.
The key postures of this dance form requires the upper part of the body to be erect, the legs bent halfway down with the knees spread out, and the feet positioned like a half-open fan. Practically every member of the body has its distinct movement. All of the traditional elements of classical dance are present in Bharatnatyam. The mudras(hand positions), abhinaya(facial expressions), and padams(narrative dances) form the basis of the performance.
There are a number of well defined items. Alarippu is a traditional invocation. Jatis are strict compositions based upon the different time signatures. Another poece is the Sabdam; this is an interpretive narrative, usually performed in seven beats. Another form is the Varanam; these are elaborate descriptions of the nature of God. A piece which is performed toward the end of the performance is the Tillana; this is a purely abstract form devoid of narrative. The songs used are composed from the poetic literature in Tamil, Telegu, Sanskrit, and to some extent Kannada. The accompanying music is in pure Carnatic style.
Kuchipudi – Past and Future
Kuchipudi, took birth and thrived in Andhra Pradesh and was originally named Kuchelapuri or Kuchelapuram. Kuchipudi is religious in content and used to be presented only in the temples for annual festivals in Andhra. Kuchipudi dance was originally performed only by men whom belonged to the Brahmin community. In the narration of Hindu religious folklore in Kuchipudi, the dramatic element is strongly emphasized and the artists participate by singing and speaking along with the dance. The lines are fluent and curvaceous and the body assumes the best postures evident in the chiseled poses of the temple sculptures.
Ancient literary works like the ‘Natya Sastra’, ‘Gathasaptasati’, and ‘Nritta Ratnavali’ trace the history of dance styles prevalent in the Andhra region. Like Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh also had classical dance styles which were performed by dancers attached to temples and royal courts. These were distinct from folk dances like the ‘Perani’ and ‘Prenkhani’, which were performed in open arenas. In the 15th century, a saint called Siddhendra Yogi, codified the movements and enriched the repertoire of the Kuchipudi dance form, which was named after Kuchelapuram – the village of its origin. Entire families in this village dedicated themselves to learning and performing this dance, although it is interesting to note that it was practiced solely by men. They formed troupes and traveled to neighboring villages, performing plays that had underlying moral and religious themes.
While its close cousin, Bharatanatyam achieved recognition and international fame, Kuchipudi was lagging behind and was confined to its village setting. In the forties, a few teachers ventured into big cities like Madras and Hyderabad and started training female students as well as directing dance sequences for the cinema. New dance pieces were added to the existing repertoire and soon Kuchipudi gained popularity. It is now considered one of the six major dance styles of India. Some of the front-ranking dancers are Yamini Krishnamurthi, Swapnasundari, Raja and Radha Reddy, and Sobha Naidu.
The technique of Kuchipudi closely follows the tenets laid down in the ‘Natya Shastra.’ There is some mingling of the folk idiom, which makes it highly appealing to a wide spectrum of viewers. The training takes about four to seven years, and includes two sets of ‘adugulu’ or basic steps, the ‘jatis’ or combination of movements, and a detailed study of the ‘Natyashashtra’ (theoretical aspects of dance).
The student then goes on to learn the individual numbers like Poorvarangam (worship and preparation of the stage), Swarajathis and Tillanas (pure dance items), Sabdams, Tarangams and Keertanams (combination of pure and expressional dance), and finally Padams, Javalis and Slokams (mime only).
The highlight of Kuchipudi is the thrilling dance on the rims of a brass plate. This item is sometimes made even more challenging by performing it while balancing a pot of water on the head or holding lamps in each hand. The charm of Kuchipudi lies in its fast and intricate footwork, sinuous grace, and the use of the eyes to express moods and feelings. While fast becoming a solo presentation, Kuchipudi still has strong ties to the dance-drama tradition. Kuchipudi music is based on the Carnatic system of Indian music and the orchestra consists of the Nattuvanar (conductor) with his hand-held cymbals, the vocalist, mridangam (drum), violin, flute and veena (a stringed instrument).