The Styles Of Bharatanatyam - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Styles Of Bharatanatyam



The Styles Of Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam is one of the eight classical Indian dances. This expressive form requires incredible skill and virtuosity; sections include pure abstract movement known as nritta; hand gestures and facial expressions play an integral role.


Pandanallur style features feminine acting with soft expressions (abhinaya), deep sitting positions, and slow Lasya padams (thumping sounds).



 Watch : Alarippu

Alaripu Bharata Natyam is a form of Indian classical dance that is performed as an invocation to the gods, the guru and the audience. It is the first item in the Bharata Natyam repertoire, which follows a traditional sequence of dance pieces.

The word Alaripu means “flowering bud” in Sanskrit, and it symbolizes the blossoming of the dancer’s body and mind. It is a dance item that consists of simple and graceful movements of the eyes, neck, shoulders, hands and feet. The movements are synchronized with rhythmic syllables that are recited by a nattuvanar (conductor) or a vocalist.

The Alaripu does not have any music, melody or emotion, unlike the other items in the Bharata Natyam repertoire. It is purely a technical and aesthetic display of the dancer’s alignment, coordination and control. The Alaripu also helps the dancer to warm up and prepare for the more complex and expressive items that follow.

The Alaripu is usually composed in a particular tala (rhythm), such as Tisra (three beats), Chatusra (four beats), Khanda (five beats), Misra (seven beats) or Sankirna (nine beats). The Alaripu can have different variations, such as Tisra Alaripu, Chatusra Alaripu, Khanda Alaripu, Misra Alaripu or Sankirna Alaripu.

The Alaripu is a graceful and elegant dance that highlights the beauty and purity of nritta (pure dance). It is a dance that celebrates the joy and devotion of the dancer to the divine

Alaripu dance serves as an invocation dance that opens each recital, symbolizing our gratitude to God, Guru, and audience members alike. It warms up the body by performing simple movements while helping the dancer focus on rhythm and movements while training his or her emotions as well. Alaripu may be performed using various talas and jatis.


Bharatanatyam performances often include an additional element called Jatiswaram that adds melody to Alaripu. Drummers begin playing Carnatic music while dancers move their bodies synchronized with drumbeats; it is one of the key aspects of Bharatanatyam and believed by Natya Shastra to have been its original form.


After Jatiswaram, the Varnam is performed. This song belongs to the same raga as Jatiswaram but adds lyrics and more dramatic effects than earlier songs. An experienced Bharatanatyam dancer will usually know at least seven Varnams.


Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest forms of Indian classical dance and remains an incredibly vibrant art form today. Originating in temples in southern India and drawing influence from Hindu mythology, philosophy and astronomy; its aesthetic draws heavily upon nature imagery, animal or god representation and human emotions through dance movements; using hand gestures, expressions and body postures to portray different characters - with Pandanalloor style being slow rhythmic while Kalakshetra style emphasizing hand movements as examples. 


The most prevalent styles are Pandanalloor style Vazhuvoor style while Kalakshetra style emphasizes hand movements while both styles require different dancer skills - however all have their own distinct characteristics and aesthetic.



 Watch : Jatiswaram

Jatiswaram Bharata Natyam is a form of Indian classical dance that showcases the dancer’s skill in pure dance or nritta. It is one of the items in the Bharata Natyam repertoire, which follows a traditional sequence of dance pieces.

The word Jatiswaram is derived from two Sanskrit words: jati, which means rhythmic syllables, and swara, which means musical notes. It is a dance item that consists of musical compositions that have both jati and swara patterns. The dancer performs intricate footwork and hand gestures to match the rhythmic and melodic variations of the music.

The Jatiswaram does not have any abhinaya (emotions) or sahitya (lyrics), unlike the other items in the Bharata Natyam repertoire. It is purely a technical and aesthetic display of the dancer’s mastery of the art form. The Jatiswaram also helps the dancer to warm up and prepare for the more complex and expressive items that follow.

The Jatiswaram is usually composed in a particular raga (melody) and tala (rhythm), such as Kalyani raga and Rupaka tala. The Jatiswaram can have different sections, such as pallavi, anupallavi and charanam, which correspond to different parts of the musical composition. The Jatiswaram can also have different types, such as shuddha jatiswaram, ragamalika jatiswaram and chittaswara jatiswaram.

The Jatiswaram is a graceful and elegant dance that highlights the beauty and harmony of the music and the movement. It is a dance that celebrates the joy and purity of nritta

Adavus in the Nritta portion of a performance are designed so that an artist can effectively convey the character's thoughts and emotions using concepts like Bhava and Rasa. One can see expressions on her face as she gracefully moves hands, legs and shoulders - this creates a beautiful way for dancers to connect with audiences while telling a tale through dance.


Although nritya dance forms rely heavily on concepts of raga, tala, and natya for their foundation, they can also be used to communicate spiritual messages or religious devotional prayers. At the conclusion of each dance may include a Shlokam or Mangalam in which an artist bestows blessings upon their audience members.


Bharatanatyam dance performances typically include a vocalist known as nattuvanar and various percussion instruments like the mridangam, chenda, and veena. Nattuvanar sings verses in Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada that often carry deep symbolic meaning through Carnatic musical styles like Ragamala or Lakshminarayanam - usually in Sanskrit or Tamil or Kannada with rich meaning behind each line sung.


Bharatanatyam has gradually transitioned from temples to theatres over time, while still maintaining its religious elements, human emotion portrayal, and artistic storytelling elements. Indeed, contemporary Bharatanatyam exponents often use nritya verses to examine contemporary issues like Dalit movements and gender inequality through dance.



 Watch Shabdam

Shabdam Bharata Natyam is a form of Indian classical dance that combines rhythmic footwork, expressive hand gestures and facial expressions. It is one of the items in the Bharata Natyam repertoire, which follows a traditional sequence of dance pieces³.

The word Shabdam means "word" or "sound" in Sanskrit, and it refers to the fact that this dance item has lyrics in it³⁴. The lyrics are usually in praise of a Hindu deity, such as Krishna, Rama, Shiva or Muruga, or a king who patronized the art form³⁴. The lyrics are sung by a vocalist, accompanied by a mridangam (drum), a violin and a flute.

The Shabdam consists of stanzas that alternate between nritta (pure dance) and abhinaya (expressive dance)². The nritta sections are called korvais, and they showcase the dancer's skill in executing complex footwork patterns and rhythmic syllables. The abhinaya sections are called sahityam, and they convey the meaning and emotion of the lyrics through hand gestures (mudras) and facial expressions².

The Shabdam is the first item in the Bharata Natyam repertoire that introduces abhinaya, and it prepares the dancer for more elaborate and nuanced expression in the later items. The Shabdam is also a graceful and elegant dance that captures the beauty and devotion of the dancer to the divine or the king.

After the shabdam, recitals typically conclude with a padam in which dancers use mimetic abhinaya technique to illustrate poems sung to music that usually deal with human or divine love themes and have slow tempos.


Over time, different styles of Bharatanatyam have emerged. One such style is Pandanallur style attributed to Minakshisundaram Pillai who was descended from Tanjavur quartette; it features soft footwork with more linear hastas; another style is Kalakshetra which uses stiffer movements with wider range adavus; lastly is Mangudi Doirairaja Iyer which emphasizes soft footwork with an emphasis on sringara rasa.




Varnam is one of the most complex pieces in Bharatanatyam's repertoire and embodies its essence perfectly. A dancer performs this piece using both nritya and abhinaya techniques to tell an engaging narrative. It takes approximately 40 minutes to perform this piece which requires stamina, dedication and maturity on your part as an artist. Varnams are usually performed following Shabdam recitals.


This dance style evolved from ritualistic temple dances into an elegant form performed at India's royal courts, eventually codified in the Natya Shastra text with thousands of verses organized into different chapters that codifies two specific forms: pure dance (nrita) and drama based on stories or poetry slokas (nritya).


While nritya-based dance forms the core of this art form, nritta dancers also must master its nuances of rhythm to demonstrate an impressive stage presence and interpret and express emotions associated with songs through Sanchaari bhava.


Bharatanatyam is an engaging classical dance form accompanied by a live orchestra of vocalist, violin or veena player, mridangam player and flute player accompanied by the presence of a ghatam player as percussion. Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai of Pandanallur along with her students are considered among the pioneers of Bharatanatyam revival; their style known as Pandanallur School of Dance now widely respected across India and beyond. Rukmini Devi also championed this dance style and became a leading figure within classical dance movements across India over the decades.




Bharatanatyam, or classical Indian dance, emerged in South Indian temples around 300 BCE and is an art-form based on Natya Shastra (an ancient Hindu text). It features graceful yet dynamic movements with sweeping movements to highlight postures and lines as it weaves rhythm and poetry together through subtle facial expressions and intricate hand gestures to elicit emotions in viewers - mostly those associated with Hindu mythology or poetry, but can also incorporate more contemporary religious and literary themes.


Traditional dance was performed using an improvised approach, giving rise to many distinct styles. Today, choreography is becoming more widely employed due to an increase in male and female students learning this dance form. Most dance-dramas and miscellanies presented by groups of dancers involve choreography; though some perform certain components such as Nritta as improvisation.


A typical Bharatanatyam recital typically lasts two hours without interruption, during which the dancer must remain stationary on stage without changing costumes or leaving to change locations. An accompanying orchestra of drum, drone and singer players led by their dance guru makes up part of this performance; traditionally performed only by women but increasingly men are taking up this form of dance.


There are various styles of Bharatanatyam dance, and each style has unique postures and hand gestures. Pandanalloor, popularized by Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai's dance performances, emphasizes delicate hand movements with subtle acting while Mysore school's Nritta style is famous for nritta poses that imitate sculpturesque poses.

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