Bharatanatyam was designed as a visual way of communicating stories from sacred Hindu texts so that everyone could understand them…
Bharatanatyam is one of the classical dance forms of India. It thrived in the temples, where it was performed for that place’s particular deity. It was designed as a visual way of communicating stories from sacred Hindu texts so that people who were not educated could understand them: the conduct of the society, what is wrong, what is right, the mythological stories and all that. Today it has become an entertainment, but we also use the art form as a language to reach out to people about modern themes as well.
The session starts with an explanation of how the art form emerged with a bit more detail than I’ve just told you. Then we demonstrate the technical aspects, such as the basic steps and how they’re combined to make a sequence. We explain the various hand gestures we use to communicate and the students perform for the guests so they can see what we mean. At the end of the session, we also ask everyone to try out a few things like, say, how to show a flower. So we explain, this is how you show a flower, this is how you show a bee coming into the flower, this is how you show the birds flying. And then we teach them a few hand gestures. Sometimes people like to learn a few basic steps to put together into a short sequence, or we ask them to give us a sentence and we mime it, or they have to guess something that we are trying to tell them – it’s very interactive.
It takes close to 10 years to become proficient in Bharatanatyam and I’ve been in the field for more than 50 years and still feel I have a lot of things to learn. But this experience gives people a little gist of what this art form is: where it’s coming from, what the basic positions are and other elements such as the music, make-up and costume.