Bharata Natyam
   Bharata Natyam is one of the oldest dance forms of India. It has been sustained in the temples and courts of southern India since ancient times. Its 108 poses are found carved on the walls of the huge gateway of the CHIDAMBARAM temple in Tamil Nadu. In the 19th century Bharata Natyam was codified and documented as a performing art by four brothers known as the Tanjore Quartet, whose musical compositions form most of the Bharata Natyam repertoire even today.
   The dance was handed down from genera-tion to generation under the DEVADASI system, in which women were dedicated to temples to serve the deity as dancers and musicians. These highly talented artists and their male gurus kept the art alive until the early 20th century, although the devadasis were by now no longer considered respectable. At that time, a renewal of interest in India’s cultural heritage prompted the educated elite to rediscover it. The revival of Bharata Natyam by pioneers such as E. Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale drew the dance out of the temples and onto the stage. It did not cease, however, to be a dance devoted to the divinities.
   Contemporary Bharata Natyam is based on solo dances with musical accompaniment, includ-ing singers and percussion. The dance unfolds from a base stance with the body in a lowered position with knees akimbo. From this stance the legs are moved outward rhythmically, beating tempo in play with the percussion. Most perfor-mances include a “pure dance” aspect, but hand and facial gestures (MUDRAS) are also important; they communicate, in a coded pantomime, the story being told. The stories are almost always about the gods SHIVA and VISHNU (in his various incarnations) and their wives and families. The narrative plays on familiar stories that almost always express a devotional sentiment; it is a form of choreographed worship.
   Today Bharata Natyam is one of the most pop-ular and widely performed Indian dance styles; it is practiced by male and female dancers all over India. Degree courses covering the practice and theory of Bharata Natyam are at last available at major universities of India. Important Bharata Natyam dancers of the 20th century revival include Balasaraswati, sometimes thought of as the last devadasi; Rukmini Devi Arundale, and Yamini Krishnamurti.
   Further reading: Malati Iyengar et al., Dance and Devotion: A Handbook on Bharatanatyam Dance and Traditional Trayers for Students Pursuing Indian Classi-cal Dance (Sherman Oaks, Calif.: Rangoli Foundation for Art & Culture, 2004), R. Kalarani, Bharatanatyam in Tamilnadu, after A.D. 1200 (Madurai: J. J., 2004); Sandhya Purecha, Theory and Practice of Angikabhinaya in Bharatanatyam (Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2003).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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