Format of Bharatanatyam

This is the first in a series of essays, by DR. ARUDRA, on the format of Bharatanatyam. The present day Bharatanatyamevolved out of Sadir dances ofthe South Indian Nayaka kingdoms,and Sadir took its shapefrom the erstwhile Karnatakam.Not only the music but the dancesof South India were all calledKarnatakam at one time. In theTelugu districts, the old saani-s(devadasi-s) still call it as Karnatakamkutcheri dances.

Since Sadir(Chaduru) means a court, theword kutcheri crept in. CharlesPhilip Brown in his Telugu Englishdictionary gives the meaningof the word Karnatakam in detail,as follows: Karnatakam The Carnatic dance;comedy;that division of acting which relatesto love;tales and emotions of amorouspassion. Karnataka melam Native music;a Hindu band.Since almost all the dance itemsof the present day Bharatanatyamfirst flourished in the Karnatakaempire whose capital was Vijayanagara,and since they werebrought to different Nayaka kingdomsof the South by members ofvarious nattuva melam-s, they havea common history.When Sadir was renamed asBharatanatyam (see Sruti 20/20S)it had a standard format.

A programmeof this dance idiom consisted—as it does even now—ofalarippu, jatiswaram, sabdam,varnam, padam, tiliana and sloka.Some scholars say that this doesnot mean that these are the onlyitems that can be expounded in aBharatanatyam programme. Theyaver that any song which givesscope for the exposition of nrittaand nritya can be included. Over theyears, the exponents have felt thateven old traditional dance itemswhich were not in vogue could begiven a place in the programme.Thus pushpanjali, kavuthuvam and other such items have found a placein the repertoire of certain schoolsof Bharatanatyam.

Each and every item of a solo Bharatanatyam programme comes under the classification of Lasya which is as old as Bharata's NatyaSastra. As a matter of fact, Bharata himself has described Lasya in three contexts in his work: In Chapter m, while speaking about the nritta part involving only pure dance, without any abhinaya. He has referred to Lasya in connection with the stage preliminaries called poorva-ranga. In the chapter devoted to the 10 varieties of drama, he has spoken about Lasya as a stage performance. Here he has said that it is to be danced by a single danseuse- ekahaarya or ekaprayojsya—and that it is to be danced as a programme consisting of a series of emotional pieces which may be linked into a continuous theme—ekartha—or may each be presented separatelyprthagartha- as in recitals today. He has listed 10 or 12 Lasya-angas and described them in detail. There are some resemblances between these Lasya-anga-s and present-day Bharatanatyam. In the Tala chapter, Bharata has again spoken about Lasya and an in-depth study reveals an outline of the production with details of the practical side of Lasya as it was practised in ancient times. Bharata has named his Lasyaanga-s as:









ukta pratyukta;

chitrapada; and

bhavika or bhavita.

The desi Lasya-anga-s mentioned by various other authors in their standard works differ from the 12 defined and described in NatyaSastra. The desi element of dance is said to have been elaborate and to have received adequate treatment at the hands of Matanga in his Brihaddesi, but his full text is yet untraced. Bhoja of Dhara and Someswara of Kalyan mentioned desi terminology in their works. Sarangadeva in his Sangeeta Ratnakara described Lasya only in desi terminology. He, however, gave only 10 Lasya-anga-s, namely: chali; chalivada; ladhi; sooka urongana; dhasaka; angahara;oyyara; vihasi; and manah. Ofthese 10 names, some are inSanskrit, some in Prakrit andsome in the vernacular. A comparativestudy of these names withthe names and nature of thedifferent items of contemporaryBharatanatyam is called for.Jayappa in his Nritta Ratnavalidetailed many Lasya-anga-s withdefinitions and explanations, butmost of them are the explanationsof the movements of various limbsof the dancer's body while she isengaged in executing a dancenumber. Jayappa took the oldtraditional terminology and combinedwith it several aspects ofLasya and described all theseterms together as Lasya-anga-s,thus adding to their total number.This was the comprehensive desiLasya terminology of his time andhe gave a specific name to eachconceivable movement of the bodyin the exposition of a dance number.

A detailed study of this will be most useful. In the period immediately before South Indian Sadir took shape, there were quite a number of references to solo dance performances in some texts. From Lasya Pushpanjali of Veda, Sangeeta Darpana of Damodara and Sangeeta Muktavali of Devendra, many particulars of dance programmes of their times can be gathered. Sangeeta Darpana gave the following sequence for a dance recital:

Mukhachali; Yati-nritta; Sabda-chali; Udupa; Dhruva . . . and other songs; Sooda-sabda; Kvada; Gita; Chindu; Desi-kattari; Vaipota; and Sabda-nritta. Some other terms like jakkini, bahu-rupa, perani and gondali are also given. Some of these are items of a dance recital and some are different forms of dances in which a male dancer, not a female dancer, figures. The items, given in Sangeeta Muktavali probably adhere more closely to the sequence of a solo recital of a female dancer. The items are:



Suddha-yati nritta;

Raganga-yati nritta;

Sabda nritta;

Roopa-nritta (dance and abhinaya);



Sooda gita;

Geeta-prabandha-s (various);


Daru; and


Vijaya Raghava Nayaka (1633-1673) has given many names of dance items popular in his time. They include addika, chau padam, daru padam, durusu kopu, Gujarati kopu, madana padam, mava padam, pada chali, sabdam and subha leela. The terminology used by Vijaya Raghava is in an alphabetical order and we do not know the sequenceof a dance recital of his court.However, from the kavya-s ofthat period we know that a Sadirperformance started with pushpanjali.

Raghunatha Nayaka (17th century) in his various works mentioned the usual perani, prenkhani, dandalasya and kundali, but during his time Gujarati kopu, jakkini, padachali and sabdam were also performed. Since the first batch of dancers of various Nayaka kingdoms of South migrated from the Karnataka empire, they might have brought with them many items of the dance repertoire from the capital city. Bhandaru Lakshmi Narayana, the natya acharya in the palace of Krishnadevaraya, wrote a text on dance practices of his time. He was the author of a musical work Sangeeta Suryodayam also. His Bharatam is now available in Tanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library as Mathanga Bharatam. A study of this work may throw much needed light on the original Karnatakam kutcheri dance. The Tanjavur ruler Tulajaji (1741-1787), who had Mahadeva Annavi, a gifted composer and a nattuvanar, as the most honoured Bharatanatyam vidwan of the court, refined the process of development of Sadir dance. During his time the terminology of Sadir acquired Tamil equivalents and they are now in popular usage. But the adavu system of the South has definitely a Telugu basis. Tulajaji in his work described various adavu-s using both Telugu and Tamil terminology. This is the background of the modern Bharatanatyam format.