Recently I was invited to an Arangetram where a friend’s daughter performed Bharatanatyam for nearly three hours. Needless to say that it was a visual treat and near sublime. During the performance there were instances when the dancer was enacting different emotions and all the references were that of gods and goddesses from Hindu mythology. This set me thinking on the origins of this beautiful and divine dance form.
To begin with – Arangetram is a Tamil word where ‘aranga’ means a raised floor and ‘etram’ means to ascend. In short an arangetram is the first public performance of a disciple who has undergone years of arduous training in the dance form. The first performance is that much a test for the disciple as it is for the guru or the teacher who feels proud to showcase his own skills as he prides over the achievement of his disciple.
As always with Indian aspects, there is mythology behind this too!
According to Hindu Mythology, the gods and goddesses requested Lord Brahma, who was the Creator of all, to create a text which was accessible and understandable to common man – a fifth veda. Considering the request, Lord Brahma created the Pancham-veda also known as Natyaveda, which was the embodiment of all the four vedas, i.e. Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas.
It is said that Lord Brahma took aspects of words (pathya) from the Rig Veda, aspects of the gesture (abhinaya) from Yajur Veda, song and music (geet) from Sama Veda and emotions (rasa) from the Atharva Veda to create his final Pancham-veda. Lord Brahma then gave this to sage Bharata for him to spread it amongst mankind. With the help of this text, Bharata muni wrote what is better known as the Natyashastra or the science of drama, a complete text on Indian dance, drama and music. Bharatanatyam got its name from sage Bharata.
Another version says that this is the dance form which was taught by Parvati to Usha, who was the daughter of a demon by the name of Banasura and Usha in return taught the same to the gopikas of Dwarka. This is how the dance form reached mankind.
The modern format of the Bharatanatyam is credited to the efforts of four brothers, who were collectively known as the Tanjore Quartet, in the 19th century. Together, they organized the dance form into progressive lessons to enable teaching of the art form. They also composed additional music for performances which combined with graceful movements added to the sheer divinity of the performance.
Bharatanatyam has mythological association and has a direct ‘involvement’ of the gods. This lends it the divine credence and also the much needed dedication and discipline for such tough and long-drawn learning, which is no less than worship and on achievement, the performers feel nothing short of heavenly bliss. Ask my friends daughter and she would vouch for this!
Next we will read about another important dance form with mythological explanations. Keep reading!