Bharata Natyam or Chadhir Attam(Tamil: பரதநாட்டியம்), is a classical dance form from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, practiced predominantly in modern times by women. The dance is usually accompanied by classical Carnatic music. Its inspirations come from the sculptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram.
Bharata Natyam is considered to be a 'fire dance' — the mystic manifestation of the metaphysical element of fire in the human body. It is one of the five major styles (one for each element) that includes Odissi (water), Mohiniattam (air), Kuchipudi (earth) and Kathakali (sky). The movements of an authentic Bharata Natyam dancer resemble the movements of a dancing flame. Contemporary Bharata Natyam is rarely practiced as Natya Yoga, a sacred meditational tradition, except by a few orthodox schools.
Bharata Natyam proper is a solo dance, with two aspects — lasya, the graceful feminine lines and movements, and tandava Ananda Thandavam (Tamil) (the dance of Shiva), masculine aspect — which is identical to the Yin and Yang in the Chinese culture.
Bharata Natyam is the manifestation of the ancient idea of the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the material body. Some Bharata Natyam techniques can be traced back to the Kaisiki style. The Natya reads,
"I have seen the Kaisiki style during the dance of the blue-throated lord (Shiva). It consists of elaborate gestures ("Mridu Angaharas", movements of limbs), sentiments (Rasas), emotional states (Bhavas). Actions (Kriyas) are its soul. The costume should be charmingly beautiful and love (Sringara) is its foundation. It cannot be adequately portrayed by men. Except for women, none can practise it properly."
Apart from the Kaisiki style, Bharata Natyam imbibed some others. These reflect other yogis spiritual revelations, such as the vision of two sages, Vyagrapada and Pathanjali in Chidambaram. In Hindu mythology the whole universe is the dance of the Supreme Dancer, Nataraja, a name for Lord Shiva, the Hindu ascetic yogi and divine purveyor of destruction of evil. The symbolism of the dance of Shiva (in the form of Nataraja) is represented by the attitude called "Ananda Tandavam". Also known as the cosmic dancer, he is here the embodiment and manifestation of the eternal energy in five activities (panca-kriya): creation, pouring forth, unfolding; maintenance or duration (sthiti); destruction or taking back (smhara); concealing, veiling, hiding the transcendental essence behind the garb of apparations (tirobhava); and favoring, bestowing grace through a manifestation that accepts the devotee (anugraha). Shiva is depicted dancing on the dwarfish body of the demon Apasmara purusa, "forgetfulness, loss of memory" called in Tamil Muyalaka (முயலக), who represents ignorance, the destruction of which brings enlightenment, true wisdom, and release from the bondage of existences.
ad to satisfy her own soul while she danced unwatched and offered herself (surrendered) to the Lord, but the rajanarthaki's dance was meant to be an entertainment.
The Natya Shastra-based margi elements, such as karanas, that were meant to spiritually enlighten the spectators, were gradually replaced by desi karanas which were later replaced by adavus. The Bharata Natyam recitals and ballets started more and more popularly viewed as a form of desi entertainment.
The Tanjore Quartet of Chinnayya, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu of the Tanjore Court, during the rule of Maratha King Saraboji II (1798–1832), made a rich contribution to music and Bharata Natyam and also completed the process of re-editing the Bharathanatyam programme into its present shape with its various items. The descendants of these four brothers formed the original stock of Nattuvanars or dance teachers of Bharata Natyam in Tanjore. Originally, they formed a community by themselves and most of them were Shaivite non-Brahmins. The fall of the Hindu kingdoms in the South marked the eventual decline of Natya, as the Muslim invasion in the North has completely wiped out Natya there. The sacred dance, one of the constituents of the Sodasa Upacharam, was replaced by rice offerings.
Texts surviving from the golden age of Tamil literature and poetry, known as the Sangam Age, such as the Tolkappiyam (தொல்கப்பியம்), as well as the later Silappadikaram (சிலப்பதிகரம்), testify to a variety of dance traditions of Koothu which flourished in these times. The latter work is of particular importance, since one of its main characters, the courtesan Madhavi, is a highly accomplished dancer. The Silappadikaram is a mine of information of ancient Tamil culture and society, during which the arts of music and dance were highly developed and played a major role.
In ancient times Bharata Natyam was performed as "sadir attam" (sadir refers to the square stage, 'chatura' in Sanskrit) by Kovil (temple) Devadasis. Many of the ancient sculptures in Hindu temples are based on Bharata Natyam karanas or dance postures. In fact, it is the celestial dancers (apsaras) who are depicted in many scriptures as dancing the heavenly version of what is known on earth as Bharata Natyam. In the most essential sense, a Hindu deity is a revered royal guest in his temple/abode, to be offered the "sixteen hospitalities" — among which are music and dance to please the senses. Thus, many Hindu temples traditionally maintained complements of trained musicians and dancers, as did Indian rulers.
In Kali Yuga, the center of most arts in India is Bhakti (devotion) and therefore, Bharata Natyam as a dance form and the Carnatic music set to it are deeply grounded in Bhakti. Bharata Natyam, it is said, is the embodiment of music in visual form, a ceremony, and an act of devotion. Dance and music are inseparable forms; only with Sangeetam (words or syllables set to raga or melody) can dance be conceptualized. Bharata Natyam has three distinct elements to it: Nritta (rhythmic dance movements), Natya (mime, or dance with a dramatic aspect) and Nritya (combination of Nritta and Natya).
The Tamil country especially Tanjore, has always been the seat and centre of learning and culture. It was the famous Tanjore quartet of Chinnayya, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu of the Tanjore Court during the Marathi King Saraboji’s time (1798–1824) which made a rich contribution to music and Bharata Natyam and also completed the process of re-editing the Bharathanatyam programme into its present shape with its various forms like the Alaripu, Jathi-Svaram, Varanam, Sadanam, Padam and Tillana. The descendants of these four brothers formed the original stock of Nattuvanars or dance teachers of Bharata Natyam in Tanjore. Originally, they formed a community by themselves and most of them were Saivite non-Brahmins.It is believed that Bharata Natyam is mainly a renewal of Cathir, the ancient art of temple dancers. This dance form denotes 19th and 20th century reconstructions of Cathir.