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01 Mar 2024, Edition - 3153, Friday

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Bharathanatyam in step with the times

Covai Post Network


Bharathanatyam in its absolute form is exclusively patronized in temples, said a leading dance exponent in Coimbatore.

“Young and old watch the dance performances with great interest during Shivarathri and the other festivals in Konark and Puri,” said Mrudula Rai, who runs the dance school, Shree Natya Nikethan in the city.

The classical dance form has evolved in style and taken the long journey to travel from temples to reach reality dance shows on television.

It has been agreed that the form which is featured in the ancient Natya Shastra text, has been assimilating contemporary twists to stay relevant as a mainstream dance form.

Rai, who has been an exponent of Bharathanatyam for 36 years, said: “Elements of Bharathanatyam consisting of Kalakshetra and Pandanallur style are being borrowed by proponents of fusion, folk and contemporary forms to give an interesting variation. It is even being rendered in step with light music and bhajans.”

But at the same time the traditional form still has an important place and staged at temples and cultural events, and I will go a step further in saying it’s making a comeback in the popular realm, she said.

Rai teaches 400 students in her school, and said that there is a growing interest to learn Bharathanatyam, and Coimbatore is home to more than 35 dance schools.

“Students who learn Bharathanatyam may improvise it or render it in a contemporary style of their choice, which is welcome.”

It’s important to choose a guru who is technically sound, said Rai.

Rai said students abroad are showing a keenness to maintain its traditional essence achieving a scholarship that’s complete with salangai poojai and arangetram.

Rai’s favourite dance element is varnam, which forms the core of a performance as it combines the three pillars of Bharathanatyam – nrita (dance movement in step with rhythm), nritya (expressions resonating the meaning of the song) and natya (interpreting the complete grammar of the song).

“Varnam makes the most part of the dance, when the full potential of a dancer in terms of skill, which includes abhinaya (expressions) and some of the navarasa (nine moods) is showcased.”

The oldest dance form of India that emotes Hindu scriptures and epics in its orthodox renderings, however, has acquired a non-religious parallel through fusions highlighting themes, social and others.

“We have rendered performances depicting tsunami and women empowerment,” said Rai, who holds prestigious titles such as Mayura, Nattuvaanga Nanmani, Bharatha Nruthya Choodamani, Kala Vikasa Ratna and Vasanthashresht.

With a wide scope for experimentation, Bharathanatyam has even been ascribed a ‘belly’ version.

As a dance form, it has been indelibly etched in the minds of ordinary man through timeless films such as Thillanamohanambal and Salangai Oli.

Bharathanatyam can be broken down into ‘bha’ (bhava), ‘ra’ (raga) and ‘ta’ (tala), and ‘natyam’ meaning dance in Sanskrit. Associated with the devadasis, it was later banished during the English rule, only to be revived and restructured by leading dance exponents like Rukmini Devi Arundale.

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