“Dancing is considered a ritual act of adoration of the Divine; gods are pleased of such act more than offers of flowers and oblations.
The one who worships god with nrtya obtains the realisation of all his desires and the path to moksa” (Vishnudharmottara Purana).
In India, dance and music are two ever-present forms of art in everyday life, celebrations and worship. Ever since ancient times, literature and figurative arts have made reference to dance as an activity of sacred origin. According to the Sacred Scriptures, dance was born from Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, who created the entire universe with this wonderful form of art. First he originated the Tandava, where the predominant element in the fight against evil was the Vira Rasa. Shiva's consort, Parvati, had a complementary role, where the related elements were Lasya, grace, and Sringara Rasa, erotic love. Therefore, all types of dances are composed of these two fundamental ones: Lasya e Tandava.
Step 1: History
Margi - the Indian classical dance - developed as a physical and intellectual discipline with various styles in the different parts of the country.
The oldest Indian classical dance is Bharatanatyam. Literary sources such as Shilappadhikaram, Manimekhalai (for Sangam literature) and Sanskrit texts allow reconstructing the history of Bharatanatyam starting from 2000 years ago. Here, descriptions of the techniques and the roles interpreted by the dancers can also be found. In ancient times, dance was practiced during religious ceremonies in the temples and royal palaces of Southern India.
The letters that make up the name Bharatanatyam contain all the main features of this dance: Bha stands for Bhava (expression) Ra for Raga (melody) and Ta for Taala (rhythm).
In Tamil Nadu, where it originated, it is the most popular form of art. Originally, this dance was performed by Devadasis (God's servers), who would dance with total dedication to the gods and to art and full detachment from worldly ties.
Step 2: The school
On the trail of this ancient dance, we arrive in Chennai (formerly known as Madras), in India, at the Kalakshetra Foundation, which offers a wide range of performing arts courses, including Bharatanatyam. The choice of this name depicts the firm ties between Indian religion, dance and arts: In fact, “Kala” means "arts" and “Kshetra” means "holy place". This school was founded with the purpose of maintaining traditional forms of art in modern India, and fighting commercial attitudes.
This is why founder Rukmini Devi tried to recreate the atmosphere of ancient temples, where dancers and nature would become integral part of every performance.
Bharatanatyan is dynamic and precise and takes time to learn. It is based on body weight balance and the firm position of the lower limbs. The hands, on the other hand, move freely around the body to recreate images related to poetry, tradition and religion.
Step 3: Dance and travel
Whilst arranging a study trip to Chennai in the Tamil Nadu region, where Bharatanatyam originated, it is worth taking advantage and visit the city's attractions.
Chennai is the fourth largest city in India after Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi. Must-stops in Chennai are Fort St. George, the British fortress founded in 1639, the Kapaleeshwarar Temple dedicated to Shiva, the Parthasarathy Temple dedicated to Krishna, Ripon Building, the Chennai Corporation headquarters and the Vadapalani Temple dedicated to Murugan, the Hindu god of war.
If you go during the Chennai Music and Dance festival, make sure not to miss it.
By Biliana Hristova