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Bharatanatyam; Indian Classical Dance Form in its Elegance

Updated on July 11, 2018
radhikasree profile image

Radhika is a Carnatic music singer who is pursuing her studies in music. She enjoys other classical forms of art as well.

Bharatanatyam dance
Bharatanatyam dance | Source

Classical dance forms of any origin always enliven the minds with their traditional way of expressing the themes and narration. Watching a classical dance performed by an acclaimed artist is a better way of getting away from the hustle and bustle of our daily life. Indian classical dance has become popular now-a-days, as so many art lovers from abroad come to India to learn about its various forms and to experience the emotional thrill of playing it.

Bharatanatyam, originated in Tamil Nadu, one of India’s prestigious states, is one of the ancient classical dance forms of elegance. It is named after the great author of the bible of Indian Classical Dance, Bharat Muni. Precisely, it is a temple art performed as an offering to the God. Contributions to Bharatanatyam have made it go a longer way to an international rendering.

Bharatanatyam with a unique touch

The main character who is delivering the discourse in a narration is depicted by means of respective postures. The artist must be competent enough to pose brilliantly in order to reflect the original character illustrated in the narration. The verbal communication between the characters is delivered to the audience by means of hand gestures and facial expressions. Most of the themes selected for the performance are from the Hindu religion epics. Later developments in Bharatanatyam have enhanced itself to select and render discourses of any religion, nation or socio-cultural events.

Indian dancer posing Nataraja.
Indian dancer posing Nataraja. | Source


Background music termed as 'vaaythari' is sung by talented singers for the dance movements rhythmically. The artist has to dance according to the song with graceful body movements involving expressions. The three main elements of this divine dance form are:

Nritta : comprising of rhythmic movements
Natya : based on a drama
Nritya : combining Nritta and Natya

The different body movements along-with hand gestures are termed as 'adavus' in Bharatanatyam. 'Adavus' as a set make up a 'jathi'. 'Mudras' are symbolic gestures performed using hands and fingers. There are 28 root mudras in Bharatanatyam, which are combined using hands, arms and body movements. The basic mudra is 'Pataka hasta' that can represent the wind, the abode of the gods, a year, a river and various other actions and objects. Other mudras are 'asamyuta', 'samyuta', 'jaati', 'bandhu', 'hasta', 'dasavatara', 'navagraha' and 'nritta hasta'.

'Anga shudhi' or cleanliness and coordination in performing 'adavus' are normally expected in a Bharatnatyam artist. The act or 'natya' rendered throughout the performance is termed 'abhinaya'.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Swastikahasta | Source
Patakahasta | Source
Chaturahasta | Source
Sivalingahasta | Source
Padmakoshahasta | Source
Dr. Janaki Rangarajan's Bharatanatyam performance
Dr. Janaki Rangarajan's Bharatanatyam performance | Source


Bharatanatyam costumes play an important role in making this dance form visually appealing and attractive. The dress is connected with the rites of 'deva daasis'; temple dancers who used to dance Bharatanatyam in front of deities. But now, as the dance form has become contemporary, costumes also have changed to reflect the various themes. The female attire can be of two types; the pajama or a half saree with blouse made of Kanjivaram silks. A fan shaped piece of cloth is attached to hang from the waist to form pleats while making body movements. Male dancers wear a pajama or dhoti, and a small piece of cloth wrapped around the top bounded by a waist-band.

Temple jewelery made of semi precious stones, metals and pearls are used to ornate the artist. Garlands and bangles are the primary ornaments used to adorn the dancer. Ear hangings, ear band, nose ring, finger ring, and waist-band all together give a touch of traditional elaboration of a dance form that originated years back. The ornamental 'talaisaaman', a headset consisting of the sun, moon and symbols add up to the decoration. The hair is mostly plaited and tied to a beautiful fringe called 'kunjulum'. Neatly tied jasmine and one form of orange flowers called 'kanakambaram' are attached to the top using hair slides. 'Raakodi', placed on the centre of these flower threads acts as an anchor. 'Chilankai' is a medium sized pad of small bells tied to the ankle to produce a rattle as the dance starts.

Dancer Medha Hari's elegant pose
Dancer Medha Hari's elegant pose | Source


Make up also contributes a lot to the beauty of the performance. Embellishment starts with a light coat of pinkish tone to the entire face. Rosy tint or rouge is dabbed on the cheek-bones for glow. The eyes are outlined with thick black eye liner putting tails looking like a fish. A dash of mascara is applied to the eyelashes to make the eyes come alive. A red or maroon round design or “bindi” is put on the forehead using liquid colors. Lipstick in red or maroon along-with lip liner makes the dancer gorgeous. Final round of make-up is for the limb parts. Alta, a red color liquid is applied on the top of fingers and toes, as well as on the middle of palms and feet.

Bharatanatyam by Dr. Padma Subrahmaniam

What is Bharatanatyam ?

According to the dance queen Balasaraswathi, “Bharathanatyam is an embodiment of the music in visual form, in its highest moment”. A communion of melody, rhythm, expression and involvement together best describe this classical dance form of Indian continent. Present day choreographers present this dance form in group performance too. If one theme focuses on the aspect of nationalism, other can be one describing animal rights activism. In 1997, Narada Gana Sabha in Chennai, organized a dance festival called “Vande Mataram” which included an array of topics from secularism, sanctity of environment, AIDS, evils of current education systems, threat of nuclear weapons, caste and reservation systems and bribery. The group performers very well succeeded in delivering the right message to the audience in all these themes.

Bharatanatyam group performance
Bharatanatyam group performance | Source

Do you like Bharatanatyam dance?

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© 2015 Radhika Sreekanth


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    • radhikasree profile imageAUTHOR

      Radhika Sreekanth 

      3 years ago from Mumbai,India

      Hi Anya abrodech,

      Feel nice to hear that you liked watching Indian traditional dance. Bharatanatyam is commonly pictured in South Indian movies and thanks for sharing your experience.

    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 

      3 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      I love watching Bollywood movies and I've definitely seem kind of traditional dancing like this in there when they were celebrating a holiday/special event in the movie. It was really cool to watch, thank you for explaining more about the special significance of this type of dance!


      Anya Brodech

    • radhikasree profile imageAUTHOR

      Radhika Sreekanth 

      3 years ago from Mumbai,India

      Thanks Venkat sir for such a lovely comment. Glad to hear that this hub enlivens your childhood memories of Bharatanatyam dance. Thank you so much for the votes and share too.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very great and interesting topic. It enlivens my childhood some 50 years back, when I used to watch these performances at Chennai in temples and at pandals during festive seasons. You have done it so awesome with images and videos. Voted up and awesome.

    • radhikasree profile imageAUTHOR

      Radhika Sreekanth 

      3 years ago from Mumbai,India

      Hi Ruby,

      There are so many dialects prevail in India because of the diversity in religions. In Bharatanatyam dance, most of the terms are in Sanskrit language. Glad to hear that you liked this dance form and thanks for the votes too.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Very interesting indeed. I wish I knew the Indian dialect. I watched the video and was amazed how much she used her facial expressions. BTW, she's very beautiful. Thank you for sharing your part of the world. Voted up..


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