History of Bharatnatyam

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Bharat Natyam is a great contribution to the world by Bharat Muni, supposedly given some 20000 years ago. It was written in Devnagari script and deals in details with music, literature, dance and sculpture.

 Genesis of Bharat Natyam
Devas requested Brahma to create a veda for entertainment for the world at large. Brahma obliged them by creating Natya Vedam taking the essence of all other four Vedas. (He took words from Rikveda, acting from Yajurveda, songs from Samaveda and rasa from Atharvaveda.) Brahma then asked Indra to teach natya vidya (art of dance) to the devas. Indra was wise enough to reply that it was not his cup of tea and rishis are the only competent people to accomplish this. Consequently, Brahma entrusted the task of giving visual effects to natya veda to Bhart muni. He took up the task and taught his sons. The arangetram was done in front of the Brahma. Brahmas was happy with the direction of Bharat muni and the performance of his sons. Brahma selected 24 apsaras and asked them to join Bharta muni’s class. Bharata selected the story of first deva-asura battle, where the devas won. Brahma asked Bharat muni to perform it in front of Shiva. Shiva was impressed very much by the presentation of Tripura Dahanam. As a retur n gift (and, of course, because of the plea from Brahma), Shiva asked his concert Parvati to teach lasya form of dance to Bharat muni. He also asked Thandu to teach tandava form of dance to Bharata muni. Thus equipped with the all the three forms of dance, Bharata muni became the fountain head of dance. Later, he taught his sons who in turn taught devas. Once, rishis saw them teaching some vulgar forms and as a result of the curse of those rishis, the sons of Bharat muni came down to earth. However, they continued to teach the dance to the inhabitants of the earth.

 Lord Shiva is said to be the first dancer.
 Lord Shiva is also said to be the first musician.

He is believed to be dancing with Parvati during dusk. This form of dance is the basis of today’s bharata natyam. The acting with bhava, raga and thala is termed bhratam. Abhinaya, ie acting, has three divisions – natyam, nrutham and nrithyam. It’s believed that those who practice classical dance and those who enjoy it are entitled to all the four purusharthas, viz, dharma, artha, kama and moksha.

There are 64 forms of art. Classical Dance is one amongst them. The learned munis say that the dancing is said to be the visual yagna of devas. It shows the story of the world, which is filled with the satva-raja-thama gunas, through nava rasas. Remember, Shiva’s body (which is gifted to Parvati) is divided into 2 based on lasya & thandava form of dance!

Bharat natyam was initially known as bhagawat mela. It was a male-only show at that time. But, within the temple premises, it was done by females. They enjoyed the patronage of kings. However, certain degree of evil practices creaped into the system. However, the visionaries and reformists stepped in soon and made many changes that made its revival and attracted many reputed people to take up this form of dance with devotion. Although the bharat natyam form of dance is believed to have been originated in AP, it grew up and gained strength in TN.

 Thanjavur Brothers
Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Shivanandam & Vadivelu were the 4 grandsons of Ganga Muthu, a contemporary of King Ilango of Thanjavur. Prior to their entry into the stage, the art of dance was taught by verbal expressions and it was mainly of thandava form. These brothers learned Sanskrit and composed musics and made it in an orderly form fit for a concert. It’s because of this contribution of these brothers metamorphosed it in today’s bharat natyam. The Thanjavur Kings patronised them. They were disciples of Muthu Swamy Deekshithar. After learning music, they learnt dance from their father Shubbrayar and grandfather Thanka Muthu. They have many compositions to their credit in bharat natyam and many of them are hot favourites even today. No wonder, the King had awarded the title “Bharatha shreshtar”!