On mid-thirties that E. Krishna Iyer the freedom fighter, first coined the term BHARATANATYAM for the then Sadir dance. It is the most widely practised of Indian classical dances in South India, and has its origin in Tamil Nadu. It is the most ancient of all the classical dance forms in India, which are based on Natya Shastra, the Bible of the classical Indian dance. The term "Bharathanatyam" was introduced in the mid-thirties by E. Krishna Iyer and later spread by Rukminidevi Arundale, and is thought to derive from the four syllables, BHAva(expression)RAga (music)TAla(rhythm) NATYAM(dramatic art).
It is highly probable that E. Krishna Iyer was inspired by Subrahmanya Bharathi's poem written before 1929, wherein he writes, Bharatanatya Kuttidvire in the context of wishing Indians to become accomplished in every art, science and craft. However, the social taboo was considerably removed from Sadir by E.Krishna Iyer's re christening that dance form as Bharatanatyam.
This dance has now come to stay as the classical dance that originated in Tamilnad. But this again has no relevance today, for it has become deeply rooted in various states of India. Dance teachers have enormously contributed to national harmony by starting institutions all over the country
The legend says thay Gods and Godesses pleaded with Lord Brahma for another Veda to be created that would be simple for the common man to understand, which is particularly important in Kali Yuga. Granting their wish, Lord Brahma created the Panchamaveda, the Fifth Veda, or NatyaVeda, a quintessence of the main four Vedas. Brahma took pathya (words) form the Rigveda, abhinaya (communicative elements of the body movements, cf. mime) from the Yajurveda, geeth (music and chant) from Samaveda, and rasa (vital sentiment and emotional element) from Atharvaveda to form the fifth Veda, NatyaVeda. After creating this Veda, Lord Brahma handed it to sage Bharata and asked him to propagate it on earth. Obeying the fiat of Lord Brahma, sage Bharata wrote down Natyashastra. Bharata together with groups of the Gandharavas and Apsaras performed natya, nrtta and nrtya before Siva. It became the most authoritative text on the artistic technique of classical Indian dances, especially Bharathanatyam and Odissi. It is also possible that the term "Bharathanatyam" partly owes its name to sage Bharata's.
The Natya Shastra reads, "When the world had become steeped in greed and desire, in jealousy and anger, in pleasure and pain, the Supreme One (Brahma) was asked by the people to create an entertainment which could be seen and heard by all, for the scriptures were not enjoyed by the masses, being too learned and ambiguous." "This art is not merely for your pleasure, but exhibits cosmic expression (bhava) for all the worlds. This art has been created following the movements of the world in work and play, profit, peace, laughter, battle and slaughter, yielding the fruit of righteousness to those who follow the moral law, a restraint for the unruly, and a discipline for the followers of the rule; to create wisdom in the ignorant, learning in scholars, afford sport to kings, and endurance to the sorrow-stricken; it is replete with the diverse moods, informed with varying passions of the soul, and linked to the deeds of mankind — the best, the middling and the low — affording excellent counsel pastime and all else."
Another version of the origin of Bharathanatyam is that Goddess Parvathi taught this dance art to Usha, daughter of demon Banasura. Usha handed it down to the Gopikas of the city of Dwaraka, Lord Krishna's birth place. Lord Shiva is himself the Supreme Dancer, and the whole Universe is His Divine Dance. Goddess Parvathi is dances with Him.One can imagine that the Gods and the Goddesses, being dancers themselves, have been passing the art of the heavenly dance through many other human channels, whose aptitude, understanding, and personal idiosyncrasies naturally varied from person to person, and created a number of styles ranging from Odissi to Bharathanatyam.
Bharathanatyam has been undergoing a lot of change over the centuries (click here to read more). It used to be and is still mostly performed by women dancers. Centuries ago the Hindu temples in South India had dancers-priestesses called devadasis who would sing, dance Dasi Attam (old version of Bharathanatyam), play many musical instruments. They were well-versed in Sanskrit and other languages as they had to adapt compositions to suit the audience. The devadasi tradition gradually degraded. Initially, devadasis lead a very strict and celibate life and were not allowed to have a family. As the dance entered the royal courts, the dancers were called Rajanartakis, who performed in the royal courts and gradually became royal concubines. The British colonial rule has completely corrupted the devadasi tradition.
In the first half of the 19th century Bharathanatyam was revitalized and redefined by the contributions of four talented brothers known today as the Tanjore Quartet: Chinniah, Sivanandam, Ponniah and Vadivelu. Styles of Bharathanatyam were preserved in practice mostly by the guru's and performers of the Isai Velalar community of Tamil Nadu. The Tanjore Quartet organized all the basic Bharathanatyam movements of pure dance into a progressive series, adavus.
Each adavu is a basic unit taught in systematic order and then combined with others to produce choreographed Bharathanatyam sequences based upon the rhythmic pattern of a musical composition. The brothers composed new music specifically for Bharathanatyam, and introduced a different sequence of items which integrated various aspects of dance and music into a carefully coordinated, aesthetically sound progression. This infusion of creative energy marks the early 19th century as one of the most innovative periods in the history of Bharathanatyam. In the 20th century, the social status and image of Bharathanatyam was restored by Rukminidevi Arundale, the founder of Kalakshetra.
Bharathanatyam has undergone much change but is still deeply rooted in the spiritual Hindu heritage. Contemporary classical Indian dancers are both male and female artists. While most learn it as a hobby, very few make it their career and a lifestyle, as it is extremely demanding and complex in terms of dedication and daily practise.
Most of the contemporary choreographers and dancers may use the formal Bharathanatyam technique or its elements to stage ballets presenting various themes such as nationalism, unity of religions, the sanctity of the environment, the animal rights activism, the greatness of a king or a political party, or even the delightfulness of Coca-Cola. In Vande Mataram, a dance festival organised under the auspices of Natyarangam, a project of Narada Gana Sabha in 1997 in Chennai, there was a host of topics: evils of the current education system, the caste and reservation systems, threat of nuclear weapons, AIDS, the population explosion, corruption in politics, bribery, religious fanaticism, secularism, the greed for riches, the Chinese aggression, the Dandi March, literacy, agriculture, mechanisation, industrialisation. Most recently, some dancers manage to draw their divine inspiration even from Condom Songs.
The true Bharathanatyam, it has to be stated clearly, is not a vulgar form of entertainment but a sacred ritual that is supposed to bring the rasanubhava (catharsis, or spiritual upliftment) to the rasika (audience) and the dancer.