Bharatanatyam is a form of Indian classical dance from the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The dance, traditionally performed by women of temples dedicated to specific Hindu deities, is usually taught to a shishya, or student, by a teacher called a guru. There are three aspects of Bharatanatyam. Natya involves acting out stories by conveying a character through expressions. Nrittya involves using movements of the head, neck, legs, hands, head and eyes to depict a character such as a king or to convey that it is morning or evening in the story. The last aspect, nritta, is purely expressive and uses gestures and movements simply to add beauty to the dance. Flowers are represented in Bharatanatyam in several ways: they are represented in movement, they are used as hair decorations and they are offered to deities in temples.
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History of Bharatanatyam
The word Bharatanatyam is a combination of the parts of four different words: "bhava", meaning "expression"; "raga," meaning "music"; "tala," meaning "rhythm"; and "natyam," meaning "dance." The dance takes much of its aesthetic from sculptures of deities in southern Indian temples, such as the temple of Chidambaram near Pondicherry. Four brothers known as the Tanjore Quartet documented and codified the dance in the early years of the 19th century.
"Alarippu" is a Tamil word meaning "flowering bud." An Alarippu piece is an introductory piece performed before the actual full-length dance and is a routine based on rhythm alone. In other words, it is a dance performed solely as a dance rather than to tell a story or to communicate a character. The movements of Alarippu, meant to represent a bud that is slowly opening into a flower, are meant to relax the dancer's body and mind before the rest of the dance. The movements are comprised of arm, head, neck and leg movements that often start centred and either move from side-to-side or outward, in the way that a bud opens into a flower.
A dancer's hair can be arranged and decorated in a couple of ways for a Bharatanatyam performance. The hair can either be wrapped in a bun or arranged in a long braid. According to Anjalee Khemlani of the University of Florida, braids are more common than buns in Bharatanatyam. After the hair is arranged, orange and white flowers are tied around the initial tie at the top of the braid and then woven throughout the braid until the end.
Pushpanjali is another introductory dance that serves as an offering of flowers to a deity. When Bharatanatyam was danced exclusively in the temples, the dancer would begin by acknowledging the deity, the guru and the audience with an offering of flowers. Since Bharatanatyam is danced in other theatres outside the temple, this element of the dance is often not performed and Alarippu takes its place. In Bharatanatyam, flowers are symbolic of purity of mind.
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