The origin of Bharatanatyam dates back to the Rigvedic hymns and to the figurine of a dancing girl excavated from the ruins of Mohenjo Daro. The antiquity of Bharatanatyam is also based on the literary, historical and sculptural evidences found from temple architecture, ancient scriptures, and scholarly texts.
The present-day Bharatanatyam appears to have grown from the dance forms prevalent in Tamil Nadu. It was originally performed by dev dasis in temples as part of the temple rituals and was known as Sadir Attam or Sadir Nauch. The Bharatanatyam held a significant and pious role in the state at the time. Bharatanatyam thus became a medium of worship exclusively performed by the dev dasis who too held a respectable position in the state.
Eventually Bharatanatyam reached the courts of the kings and the rich and elite of the state, and with this, the purpose behind the performances changed from devotion to that of entertainment. It was a major change that gradually led to the decline in the status of Bharatanatyam. Eventually, in Tamil Nadu, the very home of Bharatanatyam, the art had reached a stage of extinction. E Krishna Iyer, Rukminidevi, Balasaraswati among other played a significant role in the revival of Bharatanatyam.
Bharatanatyam was then systemised and regularised and a general repertoire was set by the famous Tanjore Quartet. Since then, the art form has been sustained and preserved by the learned gurus, generations after generations through the guidance of ancient scriptures like Natya Shastra, Abhinaya Darpanam and others.
The Bharatanatyam that we see today has changed less with respect to its fundamentals or repertoire. However, one significant change lies in the society’s outlook towards the art form. Today, Bharatanatyam is viewed as an extra-curricular or for the purpose of mere entertainment. What used to be a strict discipline of living life, has now been reduced to a means of amusement. The dance form even today holds the same discipline, the same strictness and the same beauty, it is the people who lack a true understanding of its richness.
In the modern era, for this art form to sustain in its purest form and to be imparted to the upcoming generations, the youth must get to work. It takes a lot of practice and patience to learn and to imbibe the numerous lessons that this divine journey of dance brings along. With the advent of western influence, the future of our culture and traditions remains at stake. It is the youth that has to start valuing the existing art and culture of India and ensure its longevity throughout for our country to preserve its essence, its rich heritage.
People assume classical dance to be rigid and bounded but only the one who truly gets into the depth of this vast and boundless ocean realises that there is no end to this beautiful and divine art. There however exist certain ethics that must be maintained and practiced but those don’t bind an artiste rather those are the very elements that characterise classical dance. There is so much to explore and learn that leave plenty of room for one to be creative and imaginative but it comes with years of practice and learning, in theory and in practical alike.
Ancient treasures of our land like classical dances, regional painting techniques, handicrafts, handlooms, temple architecture and various others have declined significantly and are at the verge of extinction. If the youth doesn’t learn the value and richness of these arts, it will not be long before they disappear. The future of our culture, traditons and art forms lies in the hands of the youth but if the youth back out, then uncertainty and insecurity loom around, as to whether India shall be able to retain, sustain and protect its rich cultural heritage that makes it stand apart from the rest of the globe.