Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest dance forms of India. Derived from Bharata’s Natya Shastra, it has undergone many changes over time. What remained unchanged, however, is its popularity.

This complex codified dance form offers maximum freedom to innovate and explore. While one danced in praise of Lord Siva, one is also now talking of condoms with the same ease through this art form. “The journey of the dance from the temple to the proscenium is a fascinating story. No other form has traversed such a long distance, retaining its original content and yet providing a sparkling example of creative evolution in terms of material, music and costume,” an author said elsewhere. He couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Bharatanatyam is danced to the Carnatic music. There is a certain relationship between the two. The mathematical precision of Bharatanatyam equals that of Carnatic Music measure for measure. Music and the dance merge like body and soul to offer the viewer a complete delight.

Bharatanatyam is based on Natyasastra. Natyasastra is also the primary text (aptavakya prasthanagrantha) for music.

The Natyasastra clearly expresses rasa-bhava-prakriya, a yardstick used for all visual and aural content, abhinaya, dialogue, dance and musical dhruvas. The Natyasastra alone preserves an exhaustive account of the ancient musical grammar. Bharat Muni has devoted nine chapters to Gandharva (from 28th to 36th), quantitatively about one-fourth of the Natyasastra.

But one can find many differences in the pattern of singing for a Carnatic concert and singing for Bharatanatyam.

* In Bharatanatyam, one starts with a Pushpanjali or such invocatory items that are usually in raga nattai while the varnam comes much later. A Carnatic music concert opens with a varnam.

* While singing for Bharatanatyam, the singer has to constantly watch the dancer and keep up with what is happening on stage.

* In a Bharatanatyam Margam, the tone and speed / ‘kala’ of the singing is decided by the dance and type of dance and mood of the margam.

* The dancer and the audience experience the rasanubhava more than the singer/vocalist in a Bharatanatyam concert. While in a musical concert, it is the singer who experiences the rasanubhava and then transmits it through his/her voice to the audience.

* The extent to which the subtle nuances could be explored is very limited while one is singing for dance.

* While in a music concert, the singer can sing a composition in different talas and speeds, this cannot happen in a dance concert. The number of times even a line is repeated depends on the choreography of the dance.

However, both the concerts end with a Mangalam


Note: This article can also be found on


2 Responses to Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam

  1. Anjali says:

    Hey this is a good one, Mallika. Great going.

  2. mallikajayanti says:

    Thanks a lot Anjali

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