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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni 

Things to do in India

Discover India’s oldest classical dance form with an expert

Bharatanatyam was designed as a visual way of communicating stories from sacred Hindu texts so that everyone could understand them…

By Shobanaa Bhalchandra
Bharatanatyam performer and teacher

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. 

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Alfred & Shobanaa Bhalchandra

The youngest of the renowned Trio Sisters of Chennai, Shobanaa Bhalchandra is recognized as a senior Bharatanatyam ‘guru’. Despite gaining a Master’s degree in Business Administration, she opted for a career in performing and teaching this classical dance form. She herself trained in the popular Kalakshetra style, complementing this with an extensive study of Abhinaya, as well as undergoing professional training in classical music and Nattuvangam.