Journey of Bharatha Natyam
Bharatha Natyam originated from the ancient temple art form called
Sathir. Origin of Bharatha Natyam could be traced back to the 19th and
20th century. Earlier temple female Sathir dancers, of South India, and
Northern Sri Lanka were called Sathirkaaris.They danced in the temple
festivals, and temple occasions, these Sathir dances were called Sathir
Kacheris. Devadasis were the sathirkaaris.Their dance took place through
out the night.
Bharatha Natyam performers
It was a good entertainment for devotees as well as for the audience.
Northern Sri Lanka is divided from India by eighteen miles sea called
Palk Strait. Hence Sri Lankan Tamil music, dance, devotional music, Pun
music, temple paintings, temple sculptures, are very much influenced by
the South Indian culture, practices, and traditions, not only the Sri
Lankan Tamils, but all the Tamils living out side India, are also
influenced by the Indian culture and traditions.
Today Bharatha Natyam is regarded as the Tamil Nadu state classical
dance, and it is also regarded as Tamil cultural dance form which it is
totally based on Hindu philosophy, and Hindu religion.
With the passage of time when the devadasis lost their reputation due
to certain reasons in South India, and consequently practising Sathir in
Temples, was also legally banded in India. In Northen Sri Lanka Sathir
gradually lost the reputation, yet it was practised in the Jaffna
village temples till the nineteen seventies.
When the art was waning Rukami Devi Arundale and Krishna Iyer,
revived the art and renamed it as Bharatha Natyam., Bharatha Natyam
dance started growing in a steady stable and new dimension form. Earlier
there were four different styles in Bharatha Natyam, but later two
different styles only flourished. One is Pandanallur style and the other
is Vazhuvoor style.Rukmani Devi was the student of the guru Panhandler
Meenakshi Sundaram pillai. Rukmani Devi established the institution
Kalashethra in 1936 and after, many students from Sri Lanka studied at
Kalashethra.Several others studied at the Vazhuvoor School. The
Vazhuvoor School does not have any particular institution, but the
students studied under the individual outstanding Gurus, most of them
studied under Vazhuvoor Ramiahpillai.
Most of the students went from Colombo, and Jaffna to India to learn
Bharatha Natyam.Even many of the outstanding individual dancers from
India, and dance troupes from India visited Sri Lanka and had numerous
programmes, and conducted a few lecture demonstrations. Among them who
visited Sri Lanka was Balasarswathi, 'the queen of Abinaya' in 1943,
along with her troupe and gave a performance at the Jaffna Town hall.
Later, Travancore Gopinath, and Thankamani also gave a performance
which was not a pure classical Bharatha Natya show, but it was an
admixture of Kathakali and Bharatha Natyam.Similarly the famous
Mrinalini Sarabai visited Sri Lanka with her husband and gave a
performance. In 1954, Kamala Lakxman gave an excellent performance under
the guidance, of her Guru Vazhuvoor Ramiahpillai at the Saraswathy hall,
Colombo, and Jaffna.
The distinguished artistes of India, who impressed the younger
generation of Sri Lanka, induced them to learn the devotional art.
Numerous student population who got the training in India, started
classes in Sri Lanka in the latter part of the '40s, and '50s. Among
them a music and dance school, named Kalalaya was established in Colombo
One of the first and foremost dance teachers was Srimathi Kamala
Johnpillai, who was the first Sri Lankan who entered the Kalashethra in
India, in 1945 and returned to Sri Lanka after four years training.
Similarly Srimathi Tirupurasundari Yoganantham started the Vazhuvoorar
style Bharatha Natyam dance school in 1958 in Jaffna under the name of
Traditional dance forms in any society must have certain norms, and
defined links with cultural, linguistic, regional, and religious
These traditional dance forms generally have certain long standing
historical background, and historical developments, in different
periods. Almost all the traditional cultural dance forms are
systematically categorized into different steps, different hand
gestures, eye movements, and neck movements and different names for
different foot positions, and different foot movements. Each traditional
dance form has some deep meaning. Traditional dancers vehemently are
supposed to stick within certain limited framework.
Even some of the traditional dance forms like Russian Ballet, western
dance forms, Eastern dance forms, South American dances, Far East Asian
dance forms, and South East Asian dance forms, are systematically
confined into defined dance techniques. Each traditional form has its
own distinguish makeup, and stage decorations, distinguish costumes, and
selective ornaments. Most of the ornaments have certain names, as well
as certain significance for the purpose of use. Some of the traditional
dance forms are only performed by solo dancers, some are only by female
dancers alone, and some are by female and by male dancers together.