Note: Sangita Kala Acharya Sri. T. S. Parthasarathy, eminent
musicologist, researcher and writer is one of the senior most scholars in
the field of Music and related arts. He was also the Secretary of the
Music Academy, Chennai for many years. He is a source of guidance to all
musicians and a respected authority on music theory and history. This
article is being published with the
kind permission of Sri. TSP]
There are many styles of dance in different
parts of India like Odissi, Kathakali, Kathak and Manipuri but the only
dance style which has the name Bharata attached to it is the Bharatanatyam
of Tamilnadu. Some scholars wrongly think that the name Bharatanatyam came
into existence during the twentieth century. This impression is not
correct. The term Bharatanatyam is mentioned by Purandara Dasa
(1484-1564). Later Ghanam Krishnayyar in one of his songs describes a
devadasi and says that she was an expert in Bharatanatyam. Subramania
Bharati also mentions the word Bharatanatyam. Therefore there is no doubt
that Bharatanatyam is not a new term which came into existence in the
In Tamil Nadu this dance was also known by
several names like Sadirattam, Dasiattam, Koothu and other names. But the
Natyashastra of Bharata is not a work on dance alone. In Bharata’s opinion
Natya meant drama. His work deals with stage construction, music, poetry,
prosody, costumes etc. Dance forms only a part of the huge work called
Bharata also mentions lokadharmi which follows
the ways of the world and Natyadharmi which follows the Natya tradition. The
scholar who wrote the commentary on the Natyashastra was Abhinava Gupta from
Kashmir. He calls the Natyashastra as a Natyaveda. He was a contemporary of
Raja Raja Chola who built the Big Temple at Tanjavur.
Sarngadeva who wrote the Sangita Ratnakara
lived in the thirteenth century and he also mentions the Natya Shastra as the
Natya Veda. In his time dance was classified into Natya, Nritta and Nritya.
THE TAMIL TRADITION
The earliest reference to dance in Tamil Nadu
is found in the Silappadikaram in which Madhavi, one of the two heroines was
herself a professional dancer. In that period dance was called Natyam and
therefore the present name of Bharatanatyam is very appropriate.
In Tamil Natya was called Koothu, Aadal,
Nrittam, Layam, Nartanam, Natam and by other names. Shuddha Nrittam was called
sokkam in Tamil and all the 108 karanas were performed in it. Nritta was given
great importance in Tamil Natya. Shiva himself is an expert in Nritta and the
words Sadir Aadal and Karana are found in Tamil literature.
THE TANJAVUR BIG TEMPLE
Attention was paid in Tamilnadu to the training
of young children in dance. The training used to start at the age of five, and
the arangetram would be performed at the age of twelve. During these seven
years the girl was put through training not only in dance but also in music,
languages, grammar, poetry etc.
The arangetram was very important for a girl
and Tamil literature is full of information as to how the girl was dressed,
taken in possession and after arangetram she got the title of Talaikoli. The
accompanying instruments were flute, yazh, maddalam, idakka and other drums.
An inscription in Tanjavur mentions that there were 64 accompanists to a dance
performance. This may sound an exaggeration but this is what is mentioned in
the inscription. Dance was also called Chinnamelam because Periamelam meant a
Arangetram was called Talai Arangeral. A
description is available as to how this Arangeral was performed. As soon as
the dancer got on to the stage two songs were sung and they were called
daivapadal or prayer. After this all the instruments on the stage will be
played together and this was called as Antarakkottu. The dance started after
this and the girl first danced desikkoothu. This will start with Mattatalam
and end with Ekatalam. The next item was Margam for which a prabandham was
sung in the panchatalam.
The Sangitaratnakara (13th century) mentions
that the first item was Pushpanjali which is now called Alarippu. In the
thirteenth century Jayasenapati wrote the Nrittaratnavali in which he says
that after Pushpanjali, Nrittangam will be performed. The writer says, after
Nrittangam Padam, Kavidai, Tuduku will be performed.
Serfoji II was the Maratha ruler of Tanjavur
from 1798 to 1832. He was a great patron of Bharatanatyam and himself wrote
many Nirupanams for dance in the Marathi language but in Karnatic ragas. In
his time there were eighteen items in a Bharatanatyam performance and these
2) Sharanu Sharanu
3) Alaru (This was perhaps Alarippu)
9) Abhinaya Padam
11) Abhinaya Padam
12) Jakkini Padam
16) Shloka Varnam
Serfoji patronized four brothers called
Chinnaiah, Ponnaiah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu who came to be known later on as
the Tanjore Quartette. They reduced the eighteen items to eight and introduced
the Margam which is now in force. They also composed about fifty items in
Sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil, which form the backbone of our present
In those days the dancer used to sing while
dancing but with Balasaraswati this practice disappeared altogether.
From inscriptions in Tamil we find that the
jatis Ta Ta Tai Tai were in existence hundreds of years ago and this was
called jati even in those days. Also, jatis like Ten Tam and Thirana Thirana
like in our Tillanas were used.
The word Sadir is also a Tamil word and dance
is referred to as Sadir Aadal. Dance played an important role in temple
rituals and devadasis were employed to take the Kumbharati and to perform the
Navasandhi Kavuthuvam one day prior to the commencement of important
festivals. The Chola rulers were great patrons of Bharatanatyam and during
Raja Raja Chola’ s time there were 400 devadasis settled around the temple.
Even the names are found in a long inscription in Tamil.
Out of the sixteen upacharas offered to God in
temples, the fourteenth was music and instrumental music and the fifteenth was
Nrittam. More than eighteen kinds of Nritta were being performed in the Vishnu
temples and dances like Ajappanatanam and Kukutanatanam were performed in the
It will be seen that what is now being called
as Bharatanatyam was being danced in our temples and courts for nearly 1800
years, although it was known by different names from time to time. In no other
country has a dance tradition come down through so many centuries.