Origin and development of Bharatha Natyam | Daily News

Origin and development of Bharatha Natyam

The prototype of Bharata Natyam Sadir was based on Natya Sastra tradition “Margi”. The earlier prototype of Bharata Natyam was practised as a devotional dance at Hindu temples under the name of Sadir. In other words, the stem of Bharata Natyam is known as Sadir. This was practised by Devadasi clan in Hindu temples. Sadir, the prototype of Bharata Natyam originated in Hindu temples. Devadasis were also known as Pathi-ye-yallar. This name has been derived from the term called Pathi (the term Pathi in Tamil means temple). Those who were serving in Sivan temples were called Rishapath Thali-ye-yallallar. Similarly, those who served at the Vaishnava temples were called Sri Vaishnava Maanikam. And the male dancers were called Araiyer.

The dance halls of temples were separately built and administrated by the temple authorities. For example, at Thiruvaduthurai temple a dance hall was established and popularly designated as Nanavitha Nadana Saalai. In the 15th century at Kachi Ekampara Nathar Temple, an established dance arena was built and named Nirhta Mandapam. Raja Raja Chola who built the Thanjai Brihadeeswara Temple had set up a separate dance hall for dances called Sadir Saalai.

Tamil classical dance

The dance was patronized at Hindu temples and temple environs. It is interesting to note that Hinduism and the Tamil classical dance, popularly known as Bharata Natyam are closely knitted together. Bharata Natyam originated in the Tamil country based on the nuances described in the treatise Natya Sastra of sage Bharatha Muni. This dance form is famous for its grace, elegance, purity, tenderness, expression and attractive sculptural poses.

Bharata Natyam has a divine origin. It is believed to have originated from Lord Siva in the form of dancing deity Lord Nataraja. Bharata Natyam is deeply rooted in the Hindu Bhakti cult. This devotional dance form was practised and performed at kovils or Hindu temples in the name of Sadir, by the Devadasi clan.

The institution of Devadasis had flourished in most of the temples in South India, East India, North-Central India and West India. Devadasi clan was considered as the devoted maids of the main god of a particular temple. According to Hindu socio-cultural history, the female dancers had high proficiency in music and dance.

According to the historical records, there had been a practice of dedicating female children to the temples to serve the god through their entire life. The children were expected to sing and dance at the temple rituals as well as at temple festivals. After a ritual marriage ceremony with the presiding deity of the temple, they could not marry any human and lead a normal life. They were attached to the temples only, their formal enrolment at the temple allowed them to dedicate their services to the presiding deity of the temple in the form of singing and dancing. But socially they were not allowed to lead a normal life.

The temple Devadasis were engaged in dance in the daily temple rituals, as well as in the temple festivals. The female dancers were called Devadasis. In Tamil Nadu, the Devadasis were often referred to as Chinna Melakaris. The term Chinna Melam means those who play the small band/drum-like Miruthangam wind instruments (harmonium, flute) and cymbals. The male members of the same community are known as Periya Melakarar. The Periya Melakarar means those who play big instruments such as long windpipe instrument Natheswara and large drums named Thavil.

Temple administration

It seems that Devadasis who dedicated themselves throughout their lives for the temple service was looked after very well by the temple administration till the end. In ancient times Dasis means dancers. Dasis who performed the dance at the temples were known as Devadasis. Dasis who danced at social functions were called Alankaradasis (dancers adorning the social functions).

The Dasis who danced at royal courts were called Rajadasis (dancers adorning the royal courts) During the medieval period temple dancers, Devadasis were invited to dance in the kings court, which resulted in the decline of the purity and spiritual enlightenment of the dance form. However, during the modern period, Rukmani Devi Arundale revived this classical form of dance. E. Krishna Iyer raised the social status of the Bharata Natyam and greatly popularized it. However, Bharata Natyam gained much more popular during the 20th century.

Although dances in temples were banned during the British regime, yet it continued till 1947 in Tamil Nadu. With the passage of time, the total number of performers of the Devadasis clan declined due to various reasons. Sadir, the prototype of Bharata Natyam was reformed and developed by certain reformers in a systematic manner.

When the basic art of Sadir was waning Rukmini Devi Arundale and Krishna Iyer had rescued, revived and renamed it as Bharata Natyam. Under the name of Bharata Natyam, with certain modification and reforms of Sadir continued. In earlier centuries the temple dance was performed and preserved in temples and temple environs. It is a spiritual art form. Still, the Bharata Natyam of present stage repertoire is based on the Hindu temple architectural pattern. Bharata Natyam is considered an artistic Yoga.