Wednesday, 23 June 2010


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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.

Losing reputation

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.

Proper training

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 in 1948.

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 Kalai mandram.

Traditional dance forms in any society must have certain norms, and defined links with cultural, linguistic, regional, and religious factors.

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.

Distinguished decorations

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.


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