I still remember her tired but happy face at the end of the class. She would wait for the Mango Ice cream after that. She was initiated into the Indian classical dance form, Bharatanatyam, at a very young age. Perhaps she was a mere five year old, when I used to drop her to her dance class in Malleswaram.The ‘she’ I am referring to here is my dear niece who will, in a few days, ascend the stage. Her ‘Arangetram’ is to be held in August in Houston.
The first performance, the first applause and the first word of appreciation is always special for an artiste. Rangapravesham (a Sanskrit word) and Arangetram (a Tamil word) are the names given to a dancer’s debut performance. It is more prevalent in Bharatanatyam tradition. Though equivalents of Arangetram can be found in other classical Indian dance traditions like the ‘Rangapravesh’ for Kathak or a ‘Rangmanchpravesh’ for Odissi, the practice is most popular in connection with Bharatanatyam.
Bharatanatyam has been practised for thousands of years. The art is said to have directly evolved from Lord Shiva known as Lord Nataraja (King of Dance) who is the cosmic dancer. According to ‘Abhinaya Darpanam’ and ‘Natya Shastra’, Lord Brahma gave the Natyaveda or the science of dance to Sage Bharata. Bharata presented the art form with a group of Gandharvas (heavenly musicians) and Apsaras (heavenly dancers) in the court of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva having been reminded of his majestic performance instructed Bharata the essence of the art through his followers.Being pleased with the astute nature of Bharata, Lord Shiva instructed Lasya (graceful movements) through Goddess Parvati. Goddess Parvati also instructed the art to Usha, the daughter of the Sun-God. Usha taught this to the milk-maids of Dwaraka, who in turn taught the art to the women of Saurashtra. From there, the art pervaded the whole world.
The main purpose of dance is to evoke Rasa, which means sentiment or flavour among the audience. Abhinaya Darpanam says: Yatho Hasthas Thatho Dhrishti
Yatho Dhrishtis Thatho Manaha
Yatho Manas Thatho Bhavaha
Yatho Bhavas Thatho Rasaha
This is a very important verse and it means:
Where the Hands go, the Eyes should follow
Where the Eyes go, the Mind should follow suit
Where the Mind goes, the Psychological state should follow
Where the Psychological state goes, Sentiment arises.
A good dancer needs to evoke the sentiment of the audience by following the essence of this verse.Dance is of four kinds according to sage Bharata – Natya, Nrtta, Nrttya and Abhinaya.
Natya or Nataka has some theme or story for it. This is a combination of music, dialogue rendering and rhythmic movement of the body.
Nrtta is the portion of dance which does not relate to any psychological state or Bhava.
Nrttya is dance that relates to sentiment or rasa and the psychological state. This dance is fit to find a place in the court of great kings.
Abhinaya is that form of dance which is rich in expressions and evokes feelings among the audience.There is a strong association of Bharatanatyam with the temples. This form of dance that was developed in the South of India is now mainly restricted to the State of Tamil Nadu, mainly due to the fact that it received encouraging patronage from the kings reigning the area during the Chola, Pallava and Pandava period. The temples that were constructed bear strong evidence to this with their rich architecture depicting the various aspects and poses of Bharatanatyam.
The dance form was initially practiced by Devadasis (Devotees or servants of God) and was performed in the temple. It then moved to the courts of kings who nurtured and lavishly encouraged the artists. Later and in the present age, the art is practiced and taught by women/ men of affluent families.
Adavus are the basic steps taught to the students. Adavus are of different kinds – Tattadavu, Natadavu, TattaMettadavu, Kattadavu, Kudittamettadavu, Maiadavu, Mandiadavu, Sarigaiadavu and many more.
These lead to Jathis or Korvais( a combination of adavus set to intricate rhythmic patterns) and Theermanams (effective finishing to Jathis in a sequence).Adavus are done in the Araimandi (half sitting postures). Sitting in the proper araimandi posture is an essential feature of Bharatanatyam. Further the Adavus have to be executed with Angasudham (clarity in the bodily postures).
The students are taught the various Mudhras (hand gestures). Mudhras are a means of communication for the dancer to the audience in expressing the theme of the song and in bringing out the essence of the meaning. They are like words which form the sentence.
In addition to Mudhras the dance student will have to master the various:
Shiro beda (Movement of the head)
Drishti beda (Movement of the eyes)
Vaksha beda (Movement of the chest)
Kati beda (Movement of the waist)
Parshva beda (Movement of the side)
Pada beda (Movement of the feet) which is a very important aspect.
The dancer or the student starts and ends every session of dancing be it a class, practice session or concert with Namaskaram (obeisance). The dancer pays her / his respect to Lord Nataraja, the teacher and the audience with folded hands. (S)he touches Mother Earth and prays for her forgiveness and asks her permission to stamp on her during the dance.
Margam is a complete course of Bharatanatyam that are performed in a concert. These include:
Pushpanjali (Meaning – offering respects with flowers. This is the opening piece in which the dancer offers respects to the lord, teacher and the audience and (s)he does Namaskaram).
Alaripu (Which is the opening item and is made up of footwork and uses head gestures and eye gestures).
Jathiswaram (This is a pure dance item with intricate foot work and does not involve any Abhinaya or expression of moods).
Shabdam (This involves footwork and for the first time the dancer introduces some Abhinaya).
Varnam (This is the most important piece in any recital and involves Jathi Korvais and Theermanams and a theme is elaborated with Abhinaya depending upon the Varnam chosen).
Padams (These are songs of different composers chosen for Abhinaya. They involve very little footwork and mainly use Mudhras and facial expressions to bring out the mood in the song).
Tillana (This is the culminating pure dance item with complex rhythmic patterns executed in the form of Korvais and has a short piece of Abhinaya).
Mangalam (The dancer ends the recital with Managalam- meaning an auspicious ending. Here, (s)he does Namaskaram to conclude the recital).Rangapravesham or Arangetram
Arangetram is a Tamil word, which means the ‘etram’ or ascending of the ‘arangu’ or performance stage by a dancer, on the completion of her/ his training.
This is the blossoming of the student of Bharatanatyam into a full-fledged artist when (s)he enters the stage for the first time. It normally takes 5-6 years of dedicated training and practice to come to this level. The dancer must have at least mastered one whole Margam or complete course. Rangapravesham or Arangetram is only a beginning in the dancer’s career. The dancer has to master several aspects of Bharatanatyam and this takes years of dedicated practice.
Costume and Jewellery
Bharatanatyam is a dance form derived from the temples of South India and hence uses rich colorful costumes and jewellery. The costumes are mainly made out of pure Kancheepuram silk with dazzling jaris (gold laced borders). The jewellery used is called temple jewellery and mainly uses red stones and pearls with a dash of green and white for combination.
Carnatic Music & Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam is strongly linked to Carnatic music. The various rhythmic patterns and compositions used for dancing are drawn from Carnatic music. In order to become a full-fledged dancer/ choreographer/ teacher, a Bharatanatyam dancer must have a strong mastery in Carnatic music. Further, in order to gain mastery in Nattuvangam (the art of conducting Bharatanatyam recitals), a background in Carnatic music is essential. Dancers who are Carnatic Musicians as well, have a strong advantage in the world of Bharatanatyam.
Arangetram takes place in the presence of critics, fellow artists, family and friends. Arangetram takes place only after the student (artist) has acquired a substantial and qualitative high standard repertoire. It is an old tradition and is mentioned in the third century classic ‘Silappadikaram’. In the third chapter, “Arangetrukaadai” or the chapter of ascending the stage, the poet Prince Ilango Adigal describes the graduation concert of the twelve-year old dancer Madhavi.The Arangetram is an exceptional performance in the life of a dancer and the teacher. The Rangapravesham effectively states that the young dancer is now not merely an amateur, but a budding professional and the audience must decide whether this status has indeed been reached, and in doing so pass judgment both on the dancer and on the Guru. Then, in order to be meaningful the Arangetram is a performance that demands the equal involvement of teacher, performer and audience in the pursuit of artistic excellence. In this sense it is an event that symbolically unites the artistic community. The guru is publicly acknowledged for all the hard work in training the dancer; the dancer is introduced and judged, critically, but not too harshly, as after all it is a first performance.
After the arangetram the dancer can perform alone and he/she can also give training to others. Its necessary that before they can take upon the task of teaching, they should have a good understanding of music and other aspects of dance. The learning process does not end at arangetram. Students still go to their teacher to learn more and this process of learning is basically never ending. It is important for them to have a trained person correcting them and guiding them, otherwise they will stagnate.
Arangetrams have acquired a different significance as a result of an explosion of interest in Bharatanatyam during the 1970s and 80s. In addition to the artistic role both within and outside Asia, Bharatanatyam, true to its name has been the artistic representative of Indianness and of ancient heritage. And the Rangapraveshams have in turn become the symbol par excellence of ethnic heritage.