In the course of my writing on understanding classical dances, several of the readers sought enlightenment on the various technical aspects of dance. I now venture to give, a brief outline on how to appreciate classical dances. We are aware, the technique of Bharatanatyam took centuries to evolve and develop, but the consummate form, in which we see it today, was attained, only in the first quarter of the last century.
The credit for this goes to almost entirely to the four famous Thanjavur brothers: Chinniah, Ponniah, Vadivelu and Sivananda, all great masters of dance and music, who served in the court of Raja Serfoji of Thanjavur. Bharatanatyam is rich and varied and embraces both, generic aspects of Indian ‘classical dance ‘Nrita’ pure decorative dance, which is done for its own aesthetic appeal and not in order to convey any meaning to the beholden and ‘Nrita’ dance in the form of communication, through codified and stylised hand gestures, facial expressions and the like.
“Nritta” is abstract dance. In Bharatanatyam, this has been compared to, temple carvings come to life. Primarily ‘Nritya’, is given a place in Bharatanatyam, through a variety of expressional dance, often referred to as ‘Abhinaya’, when the song is sung either by the dancer or the supporting musicians and its interpretation, is rendered by the dancer.
The face of the dancer, becomes the register of feelings and passions, that well up, in response to the words of the song and their emotionally charged music. The externalised communication, with the hands, in a gesture known as ‘Mudras’ or ‘Hastas’. Secondly, the expressional work in Bharatanatyam, also extensively employs ‘Sanchari Bhava’, which implies interpretation and elaboration of a single line or a piece of a song in a number of ways, which gives ample opportunity, to a dancer to show her virtuosity.
Nrita presents parallel and synchronised patterns of rhythmic beats and musical notes. ‘Nritya’ is represented by dances like the sabdam, padam, javali, keerthanam and slokam. Any formal presentation of Bharatanatyam, which follows the pattern, evolved by the Thanjavur brothers, has been ingeniously devised. Normally the opening abstract ‘Alarippu’, is followed by the ‘Jatiswaram’, which instantly injects, a liveliness into the programme, with its eye-catching variety of movements. Next is ‘Sabdam’, with which ‘Nritya’ expressional work is introduced.
Then followed the ponderous varnam or swarajati which taxes the concentration of both the dancer and the audience. After this, the tempo suddenly relaxes, and there is a series of Padams, Javalis, Keerthanam and the like, restful to both eye and mind. In contrast, the dazzling ‘Tillana’ and exuberant display of all the sparkle ebullience inherent in ‘Nrita’. To round off the whole, the ‘slokam’ reflecting pure adoration or exultation, is presented.
But one thing is clear, no art can remain static. A bold development has been the induction and weaving of ‘Karanas’ or dance phrases, and poses and of course; Bharathanatyam is witnessing countless offerings in the form of dance-dramas and these have certainly imparted an additional dimension and significantly added to the attractions of the art.