Monday, April 15, 2024

Dancing with devotion: bhakti in Bharatanatyam

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One of the most well-known and extensively performed traditional dance forms in India is Bharatanatyam, which has almost three millennia of history based on sculpture. Tracing back the history of this traditional art form, The Pioneer brings to you a detailed analysis of the art form.
Bharatanatyam is an ancient Indian classical dance form originating in India, from the ancient temples of Tamil Nadu in South India and the rich Tamil culture of more than 11000 years.
Ancient Tamil culture has its own music form called Tamil Pannisai. It has its own music troops like Urumi melam, Pandi melam (present day’s chenda melam), Mangala Vathiyam, Kailaya Vathiyam, etc. It, describes a system of music, and a 7th-century Pallava inscription at Kudimiyamalai which contains one of the earliest surviving examples of Indian music in notation. Bharatanatyam, thus, is not merely a physical expression but a spiritual journey deeply rooted in the concept of Bhakti.
Bhakti, meaning devotion or love for the divine, is an integral element that transforms Bharatanatyam into a transcendent art form, connecting the performer with the spiritual realm. Bhakti is also the very medium that kept the very diverse country of Bharata, or India, from very ancient times, as a unified force and tradition.
Historical Context: Bharatanatyam has a rich historical lineage from many a thousand years, evolving from ancient times, a complex well codified, with a very detailed classification of Rasa-Bhava (emotion-expressions-its various theories), Mudras, Charis, Angaharas, Karanas, stances, foot postures, complex and varied combinations of hand and foot movement. It is beautifully referred to in detail in ancient Indian texts of Kootha Nool, Pancha Marubu, and Tholkapiyam, and many more in Tamil, Natya sastra, Abhinaya Darpana, and many more in Sanskrit of ancient India! A wealth of this great classification is not found anywhere in the world.
Harikrishna Kalyanasundaram, the director, at Sri Rajarajeswari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir, shares, “Historical references to Bharatanatyam are found in the ancient Tamil epics Silappatikaram and Manimegalai—Sangam Era Poems. The carvings in Kanchipuram’s Shiva temple have been dated to the 6th to 9th centuries CE. Natyam inspired musicians, poets, painters, singers, and sculptors in Indian history. A famous example of illustrative sculpture is in the southern gateway of the Chidambaram temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, where 108 poses, described as karanas in the Natya Shastra, are carved in stone. Many of the 44000 plus temples also in Tamil Nadu, and other ancient temples spread over India have illustrative sculptures depicting the dance art forms.”
Cave 1 of the Badami cave temples, dated to the 7th century, portrays the Tandava-dancing Shiva as Nataraja. We can suggest many more archaeological and historical evidences of the same!
In addition to the above, talas, ragas, and the blend of literature, interpretations of sacred texts, over many a thousand years is a highly evolved ancient Indian art form with great richness and depth. It’s journey from the temples, to the courts of the learned connoisseurs of art and then to the auditoriums, the theaters, and many other venues! Over centuries, it has undergone transformations, incorporating elements of storytelling, emotions, and spirituality.
Expressing devotion through Mudras and Abhinaya: Bharatanatyam communicates stories of the divine gods and goddesses from the Hindu Pantheon, traditional ancient folklore, and classical literature through a combination of precise hand gestures, or mudras, and facial expressions, with graceful narration or delineation of stories or subjects. The dancer becomes a vessel for the divine narratives, embodying various subjects. Through the language of Bharatanatyam, devotion is not just portrayed but experienced, creating a seamless union between the dancer, the audience, and the divine.
The Divine and the Dancer: In Bharatanatyam, the dancer strives to dissolve the ego and become a conduit for divine energy. The concept of Aradhana or worship is embedded in the very fabric of the dance. Through rigorous training and practice, the dancer transcends the physical realm, offering their art as a form of devotion. This symbiotic relationship between the divine and the dancer blurs the lines between the sacred and the artistic.
Rasa and Devotional Aesthetics: The concept of rasa in Bharatanatyam goes beyond the aesthetic pleasure derived from the performance; it delves into the emotional and spiritual resonance created. The nine rasas, or emotions, are not just artistic expressions (bhavas) that result in the given emotion but also evokes in the spectator or even in the performer. Given the context of the same, they open windows to the soul, inviting the audience to experience the divine through the spectrum of human feelings! Bhakti, as a predominant emotion, weaves through each movement, evoking a sense of reverence and connection. Contemporary Relevance: In contemporary times, Bharatanatyam continues to be a vibrant art form, evolving while retaining its spiritual essence. Performing artists explore new themes, adapting traditional narratives to address modern contexts or themes, yet the core of Bhakti remains unaltered. The dance form serves as a bridge between tradition and innovation, ensuring that the spiritual resonance of it persists in an ever-changing world.
Bhakti in the dance-form is a harmonious confluence of devotion and dance, transcending the boundaries of time and culture. The dance form’s ability to evoke deep spiritual experiences makes it a unique medium for both performers and spectators to connect with the divine. Through precise movements, expressive gestures, and emotional storytelling, Bharatanatyam becomes a sacred journey, fostering a profound sense of unity between the performer and the divine. In this ancient Indian art form, Bhakti is not just a theme but the very heartbeat that sustains the soul of Bharatnatyam.
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