Bharatanatyam and Yoga PART-1

This article is contributed by Mallika Jayanti. The source of the above article is:











Bharatanatyam and Yoga are two ways that exist to help us understand the manifestation of the Divine in the human form. Both of these wonderful arts are products of Sanathana Dharma, which is the bedrock of Indian culture. The Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni lays emphasis on not merely the physical aspects of Bharatanatyam, but also on the spiritual and esoteric nature of this art form. Both of these arts are also evolutionary sciences for the spiritual evolution of the human being to the state of the super human and finally the Divine.

The spiritual and Yogic nature of Bharatanatyam, is very well explained in the following comment by our Guru Yogamani, Yogacharini, Puduvai Kalaimamani Smt Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani who is eminently qualified to talk on this subject being both an eminent world famous Yogini and a distinguished Bharatanatyam artist, rolled into one dynamic being.

“Bharatanatyam is a Yoga, if Yoga means union. For surely this ancient art is one of the most beautiful and satisfying ways of expressing the human longing for union with the Divine. As an art form, Bharatanatyam  demands conscious understanding of body, mind and emotions. The sincere dancer must understand the nature of Bhakti and Jnana and the innate longing in all living creatures for Samadhi or cosmic consciousness. The ‘Divine dance of energy’ in the universe, so graphically and beautifully represented by Lord Nataraja, the lord of dance is the source of inspiration for all Bharatanatyam  artists who understand the deeper aspects of their art. Especially for the youth, this Divine art is a boon for it shapes the body into graceful controlled beauty, the mind into alertness and sensitivity and the emotions into controlled and purified receptors for the deepest inner longings of humankind. Lord Shiva himself blesses those young people, who take to this art, offering their profound interest, their love and their discipline as Dakshina. Such true Sadhaks then find that Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram – truth, goodness and beauty do flower in their lives, boons granted gladly by the lord of dance to his ardent devotees.”

In modern time, both of these elevating spiritual arts have been the victim of degeneration to such an extent that Bharatanatyam  is only treated as a decorative performing art and Yoga as a ‘Keep fit’ exercise thus negating the very soul of these art forms. The depths of the spiritual concepts of these arts have been by far and large lost and they are being practised only at a very superficial and mundane level.

However, there exists a ray of hope at the end of this dark tunnel, as slowly and steadily many of the practitioners of these arts are awakening to their real inner meaning. Many of them are taking concrete steps to bring back the real meaning into the practice of these arts, which are actually ‘lifestyles’ in their true nature.


Both Yoga and Bharatanatyam  trace their roots to Sanathana Dharma and Lord Shiva is held to be the manifesting principle of both according to the South Indian Shaiva Siddhanta tradition. Dance, music and theatre are an enduring part of Indian culture. In India all forms of art have a sacred origin and the inner experience of the soul finds its highest expression in music and dance. The Hindu attitude towards art as an expression of the Inner beauty or Divine in man brought it into close connection with spirituality and religion. Using the body as a medium of communication, the expression of dance is perhaps the most intricate and developed, yet easily understood art form.

Ancient Indian Civilisation prospered on all fronts, leading to the compilation of epics like the four Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Puranas etc., which serve as the basis for all streams of learning. The Vedas (Sama, Yajur, Rig and Atharva) are said to be Divine spiritual knowledge derived from the supreme. Elaborate and eloquent references to the art of dancing abound in the Rig Veda, substantiating that dance was one of the oldest forms of art in India. The Natya Shastra is the earliest Indian text in the history of performing arts. Over time many classical dance forms emerged in India including Bharatanatyam , Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Mohini Attam, Kathak, Odissi and Manipuri, as well as numerous vigorous folk dances.

According to Natya Shastra and Abhinaya Darpana, Lord Brahma created the art of dance upon the request of the Gods as a form of entertainment and it became known as the fifth Veda, and was open to all, irrespective of caste and creed. Prior to the creation of the Natya Veda, Brahma entered a Yogic trance in which he recalled the four Vedas. He drew literature from the Rig Veda, song from the Sama Veda, Abhinaya or expression from the Yajur Veda and Rasa or aesthetic experience from the Atharva Veda. These aspects are the four main constituents of the Natya Veda. Lord Brahma passed on this Natya Veda to his son, sage Bharata, who passed it on to his 100 sons. Thus this divine art descended from the heavens to Earth. Lord Shiva took up the Tandava (masculine form of dance), whereas Goddess Parvati, his consort, took up the Lasya (feminine form). Bharata staged the first play with his hundred sons and Apsaras in the amphitheatre of the Himalayas. Lord Shiva, the ultimate dancer, was so enchanted that he sent his disciple Tandu to Bharata, to teach him the true elements of dance. These are depicted in the Natya Shastra, in its chapters collectively named the Tandava Lakshana.

Lord Nataraja is considered to be the God of dance in Hindu mythology. His dancing image, in the Tandava form, is the starting point of all creation. To the dancer the four arms of the Nataraja are a depiction of dance movement in an immovable and static medium. The mystique of the arms and legs of the figure has a cosmological significance as the dance is taken as merely a human representation of a cosmic fact. In the Nataraja image the frontal palm of the right hand, which is lifted and slightly bent, represents security (Abhaya) to devotees. The left hand, which is thrown across the body with the fingers pointing downwards, indicates the feet of the Lord as the refuge of devotees. The upraised left foot represents the blessing bestowed by the Lord. In the right upper hand Shiva carries a small drum representing the creative sound, which began the universe, and in the other hand he has a fire, which is symbolic of light and therefore destruction of ignorance. Under the right foot is a dwarf, which signifies triumph over evil. Encapsulated in this figure of the Dancing Lord is the entire function of Shiva as the creator, preserver and destroyer. This dance is a metaphor for the belief that life is essentially a dynamic balancing of good and bad, where opposites are interdependent. The dance of Shiva is the dance of life.

Each Indian classical dance form draws inspiration from stories depicting the life, ethics and beliefs of the Indian people. The genesis of the contemporary styles of classical dances can be traced to a period around 1000-1500 years ago. India offers a number of classical dance forms, each of which can be traced to different parts of the country. Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people. Bharatanatyam  flourished in areas of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi is another famous classical dance of South India, from Andhra Pradesh. Kathakali is a theatrical dance form of Kerala. Mohini Attam is the feminine counterpart of Kathakali. Kathak is the classical dance form of North India and has two main Gharanas or schools – the Jaipur Gharana and the Lucknow Gharana. Odissi is the classical dance of Orissa and was mainly centered around Puri and Bhubaneswar. Manipuri is the classical dance of the Northeastern state of Manipur. Besides these, there are several semi-classical dances that contribute to the plethora of Indian dances.

In India, classical dance and music pervade all aspects of life and bring color, joy and gaiety to a number of festivals and ceremonies. In fact, dance and music in India are tied inextricably to festivity of any kind.



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