Bharatanatyam is one of the most ancient, beautiful, subtle and sophisticated dance forms of the world. India’s earliest manuscript on dance is Bharata’s ‘Natya Shastra’ dated 200 B.C. The word “Bharata” is analytically fragmented to bring forth its meaning: ‘bha’ stands for ‘bhava’ or expression; ‘ra’ refers to ‘raga’ or melody; and ‘ta’ refers to ‘tala’ or rhythm, the three together forming the essential components of the dance. This dance form is a composite art with three distinct elements to it: Nritta (rhythmic dance movements), Natya (mime, or dance with a dramatic aspect), and Nritya (combination of Nritta and Natya). Through these elements and the journey of dance the dancer develops their own devotion and also serves as a tool that transmits pious thoughts to their audience.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, this art form solely depended on the ‘devadasis’ (literally, ‘Women who serve God’) who were the dedicated dancers at the temples of India. Over time, the ‘devadasi’ system suffered a terrible abuse in the hands of the society and came to be degraded and perceived as immoral. It is due to the relentless pioneering work of Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale that Bharatanatyam has had a revival. Today it is acknowledged as a divine art that exercises purification of the spirit, allowing the dancer to dissolve her identity into rhythm and music, making her body an instrument for experience of the soul.
By founding “Kalakshetra” in January 1936, Rukmini Devi restored the art to its old glory. Under the guidance of Rukmini Devi, the institution achieved national and international recognition for its unique style. Today the Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai (south India) is dedicated to the preservation of traditional values in Indian art, especially in the field of Bharatanatyam dance. Kalakshetra’s productions are also widely recognized for their in-depth research, impeccable technique and refined aesthetics.
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