Bharatnatyam, the classical dance form, originated in the temples of South India. With its theoretical foundations in the ancient Sanskrit text, Natya Shastra, it remained exclusive to the Hindu temple complexes till the nineteenth century, was banned by the British in the early twentieth century and as a result expanded to the urban areas, on modern stage outside the temples due to sustained campaigns of the revivalists and dance activists. Through all the years, religious themes and spiritual ideas remained the core idea of the dance form. It was especially so during the post-colonial times when the dance form saw a period of revival, a virtual rebirth. To gain respectability and acceptance in the mainstream of the society the Shringara (romantic/erotic) was widely replaced with Vatsalya (love) and Bhakti (devotion).
Bhakti is the devotional worship directed to one supreme deity so as to attain salvation regardless of caste, class or gender. The Supreme being came to be regarded as God, and the humans became the Bhakta. Though all humans offer prayers in general, those who devoted themselves totally to the service of God, more or less sacrificing their worldly commitments came to be specially known as the Bhakta. The difference between a normal person offering prayers and a devotee offering his bhakti is that the former prays for materialistic favours and the Bhakti offered by the latter is solely for the Pada- Prasaada , ie, to attain Moksha (salvation) at the feet of the Supreme Being. Bhakti is not simply adoration of God, it is also intellectual conviction of Faith. Bhakti or prayer offered to the Lord should be with deep devotion. The early script which gives the detail of the Bhakti Cult is called is called the Bhagwad Purana. This gives us the various forms through which Bhakti Rasa manifests itself.
There are nine types of Bhakti called the Nava Vidha Bhakti:
- Sravanam (to hear): Listening to the Lord’s glory, hearing about the Lord again and again and again is sravanam. By this we are able to take our minds away from the mundane occupations.
- Keertanam: Singing the glory of the Lord is Keertanam. There can be no greater joy than that of singing His glory and dancing.
- Smaranam (remembering and meditating): This also includes Dhyanam . Mere Naamajaapam and Keertanam would be futile if the mind cannot concentrate on the Lord. Constant Smaranam should form an essential part of one’s life.
- Paada Sevanam (worship of Lord’s feet): This type of devotion is exemplified by Bharata in adoration of Lord Rama’s feet. The adoration of the Lord’s feet is common in Hinduism and Buddhism.
- Archanam: Vyaasa, an authority on Bhakti, defines Bhakti itself as a constant delight in the worship of the Lord. It also means offering prayers to God. In day to day practice, the prayers are accompanied by the offering of flowers, saffron etc.
- Vandanam: This means to bow down and pray to God. That is, offering Namaskara.
- Daasyam: The service offered to the Lord as servant is Daasyam. Typiocal examples of the Daasa are Lakshman and Hanumaan, rendering their service to Lord Rama.
- Sakhyam: This means friendship, for example, Arjun and Krishna, Sudaama and Krishna.
- Aatma Nivedanam: Total surrender of one’s self to God (Charanaagati) is Aatma Nivedanam. The devotee lays his entire burden at the Lord’s feet. He has total faith that only the Lord can help him and will help him.
When God is conceived as a child and the devotee expresses love as mother or father (Krishna), it is called Vatsalya Bhakti. When the devotee considers himself the child of God (mostly Goddess Devi) and the Goddess as his mother, it is also called Vatsalya Bhakti.
As mentioned by Sage Naarada, the other forms of Bhakti are
- Love for the beloved (Kaantaa Shakti or Madhura Bhakti)
- The Nayika or the devotee suffering pangs of love, due to separation from the Lord or Nayaka. In the mundane level, it is called Virahataapam, but when the degree of Bhakti is more than love, it is called Kaantaa Shakti.
Bhakti in all its forms is shown and depicted in bharatnatyam through various items be it Kauthuam, Varanam or Padams. Bharatnatyam repertoire is replete with items of Bhakti and any Bharatnatyam Margam would be incomplete without one.