Texts on dance assign a definite place to the taladhari or the nattuvanar on a stage. It is relevant to understand his role, his place in a bharatnatyam recital, his qualities and also the actual techniques of playing the talams.
The nattuvanar sits with the mridangist to his right and the singer to his left. While onstage the duty of the nattuvanar is two fold:
- He takes the place of the Guru and has to conduct the recital. Most often the Guru and the nattuvanaar are usually the same person.
- He has to control and coordinate with the other musicians of the orchestra.
The above two duties imply that the nattuvanar has to be a multi-faceted person.
The first duty implies that he must be well versed in the technical aspects of Bharatnatyam and its shastras, and, being able to able to recite the jatis and theermanams clearly and distinctly. His pronunciation (ucchharippu) must be perfect and he must have a keen sense of tala and laya. Improper speech or diction and poor sense of timing are certainly disqualifications for a natuvanaar. The nattuvanaar must also know every little detail of the dances being performed so that he is able to guide the dancer in case she falters.
The second duty implies that the nattuvanaar has to have a sound knowledge of music and a deep mature background of the intricacies of laya and tala. Above all a nattuvanaar must have a pleasing personality to enhance the decorum of a recital.
This is only as far as the performance on the stage goes. Off stage too, the nattuvanaar has several duties. Merely controlling a programme is not enough. The nattuvanaar must be creative as well. He must have the capacity to comose new items, to create intricate theermanams, to visualise new combinations of korvais, to select suitable songs for dance etc. etc. There have been instances where nattuvanaars have been upadhyakaras, i.e., those who are able to write lyrics, to set them to a musical melody (raga) and to a tala and can also compose dance to them.
Of primary importance is the fact that the word nattuvanaar and the word Guru be understood in the proper perspective. One cannot be confused for the other. A nattuvanar may or may not be the Guru of the dancer. He may just be a taladhari or a person who plays the cymbals. All Gurus must be taladharis but all taladharis need not necessarily be gurus. Although it has been traditionally advocated that the guru does the nattuvangam for his disciple, today we do have nattuvanaars who accompany artists who are not necessarily their students.