Today I once again go back to the basics, the fundamentals, the essence…
Bharatnatyam, ever since its origin centuries ago, has always been a powerful medium of communication. On tracing the origin and history of bharatnatyam, this fact can be further reinforced. According to the Natya Shastra, the monumental work on theatrical art by Bharata, in about the 2nd century B.C., the very creation of dance was to draw people away from evil influences. Its remarkable feature is to create empathy by arousing an involvement of the audience, which thus achieves an emotional unity between the performer and the viewer and society at large. As Bharatnatyam traces its roots from the temples and courts, it gives it a combined devotional and secular tone.
Today, it is an art form that has stood the test of time with changing political and social elements. From a purely ritual art confined to the temples, today it has come to be one of the most popular classical dance forms of India with respect to its beauty of technique, themes conveyed and the fact that it is performed by one and all cutting across caste, class or geographical borders.
Its unique quality is that every minute detail of gesture and movement has been codified, analysed and preserved in such a manner that it has reached the highest form of perfection, which also provides it the apparent structure. The dancers act as instruments to project thematic content and messages to the audience through a meaningful gesture language which offers an unlimited scope for depiction of any thought or idea. The nuances of this dance form are considered a language by itself.
The relevance of Bharatnatyam at any point of time is also owing to the fact that the art form is adaptable, malleable and flexible. It is adaptable as a theme can be expanded or contracted. It is malleable since it is possible to mould an idea with the help of changing gestures and abhinaya. It is flexible since the theme and gesture can be used in a variety of ways to project the idea, emotion or story. The Bharatnatyam margam comprises items which were composed keeping in mind the attitude of dancers and the social conditions of the particular period when they were composed. But they always revolved around human emotions, like the nayak-nayika relations, presence of evil elements in society, prevalence of good over evil, seeking a path of self realisation etc. Such emotions are timeless and universal and hence have relevance at any point of time.
Even dance dramas like the Ramayana and Mahabharata interpret powerful messages on the ways of life. At a time when there is violence in thought, word and action, Bharatntayam communicates divine messages by initiating people into spiritualism, helping them transcend volatile emotions. Never shying away from relevant topics, Bharatnatyam dancers often focus on contemporary social issues like female infanticide, violence against women, religious controversies, AIDS awareness, emancipation of women to motivate people towards a social transformation. At times we use contemporary poetry also, which calls for interaction between dancers, musicians and writers. The bharatnatyam gurus have been known to organise sabhas, lectures, talks, discussions, workshops, festivals to promote it. Accordingly, innovations are also attempted without losing out on the aesthetic values that is without compromising on the aesthetic and grammar of bharatnatyam. The present day dancers are also using technology to innovate, collaborate and propagate the art form.
Regardless of its apparent rigidity, the art of Bharatnatyam is almost like a fresh canvas in the hands of each artiste, as popular as it was centuries ago under the patronage of the kings and as dynamic and evolving that it keeps numerous aspiring dancers across the globe ever interested in it and allows them to express themselves through it in their own imaginative ways, making it more distinctive and relevant be it today or thousands of years later!