Punardara Dasa’s coinage ‘Bharatanatyam’ also known as Sadir Attam (solo performance) or the ‘Dance of Shiva’ or Dasi Attam an old version of Bharatanatyam performed in the temples and courts by dance priestesses or Devadasis, a classical dance originated in Tamil Nadu is one of the eight popular classical dance styles of India, the others being Kathak, Kuchipidi, Odissi, Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Manipuri and Sattriya. Bharatanatyam continues to retain its popularity both in India and overseas and has attracted students of all ages to the dance institutions that teach them this classical dance. Hundreds of students have mastered these skills, from their Gurus or teachers and have showcased their acquired skills and expertise in their arangetram or debut public performance.
Being part of Hindu culture, Bharatanatyam while retaining its traditionalist expressions of religious themes and ideas of Shavism, Vaishavism and Shaktism has embraced the ever-changing times and has allowed its blending with contemporary dances. Dance, renowned for its artistic and aesthetic values is regarded by most as a successful business investment when the studios attract enough attention. Looking beyond the surface, the number of dance institutions scattered in different parts of the world are preserving the traditional classical dances for posterity by teaching it to the modern generation. Not only is the art of dance preserved in this way, but the South Indian style of music created with the instruments such as cymbals, the flute, nagaswaram, mridangam, and veena and the verses usually sung in Sanskrit, Tamil, Kannada and Telegu are also preserved besides the traditional costumes and the temple jewellery or ornaments.
The colourful gold and silk Bharatanatyam costumes are different for men and women. Men wea dhoti style costume made from silk embroidered with gold threads on the lower part of the body leaving the upper part bare but not without minimum jewellery. Women, on the other hand, could choose between the pyjama style and the skirt style. The pyjama style has pleats of the sari with zari that spreads like a fan, when the dancer performs certain poses, stitched between the legs of the pants. Both men and women are required to wear ankle bells and make up. The female dancers wear golden bangles, armlets, head set with the sun and the moon, short and long necklaces, a pair of earrings with a chain from the earrings to the hair, hair clips, hip chain or waist belt and two nose studs.
What a wonderful way to preserve our tradition and culture!