Bharatanatyam is the most widely practiced form of Indian classical dances in the world. It is said to be the most ancient of all the classical dance
forms in India, which are based on Natya Shastra.
BHAva (expression) + RAga (melodic modes of Indian music) + TAla (rhythm) NATYAM (dance) = BHARATANATYAM

Bharatanatyam comprises three aspects, Nritta, Nritya and Natya.

Nritta are rhythmical and repetitive elements, i.e. it is dance proper
Natya is the dramatic art, and is a language of gestures, poses and mime or Abhinaya
Nritya is a combination of Nritta and Natya

Nritta can be broadly divided into Chari, Karana, Angahara and Mandala.

One-leg movements are called Chari.
Two-leg movements are Karana.
3 Karanas make a Khanda.
3 to 4 Khandas make a Mandala.
4 to 9 Karanas make an Angahara.
4 to 5 Angahara also make a Mandala.
108 Karanas and 32 Angahara are defined in Natyashastra. The 13 Nritta Hastas (see below) are used to perform nritta. The rhythmic body movements along with hand gestures are called adavus. A number of adavus constitute a jati. Jati will generally end with a Muktaya or Teermana.

There are different types of Adavus in Bharatanatyam: 
Thattadavu, Mettadavu, Nataduvu, Kattaduvu, Kudittamettaduvu, Maiaduvu, Mandiaduvu, Jati, Nadai, and Ardi. There are 12 adavus in each type, making it 120 adavus in total. Only about 70-80 are generally practiced by an average Bharatanatyam dancer.

Shirobheda – Head Movementbharatanatyam-image
Greevabheda – Neck Movement
Drushtibheda – Eye Movement
Paadabheda – Leg Movement
Mandala – Standing Posture
Utplavana – Leaps
Bhramari – Circling Movement
Chari – Leg Movement
Gatibheda – Characteristic walks

Bharatanatyam: origin and principles 

Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form based on Bharata’s Natyashastra which originated as a temple dance in Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. It was performed by devadasis as a part of the ritual worship as dasi attam. Over the years it traversed through the courts of kings in the form of sadir attam. Eventually taking the syllables from the words bhava, raga and tala it is said to have attained the name Bharatanatyam. This style comprises both nritta – pure dance and nritya – abhinaya (interpretative dance).


nrttam talalayashrayam – movement of the body parts in accordance with tala and laya. Nrtta in Sangitaratnakara is

gatraviksepamatram tu sarvabhinayavarjitam.

angikoktaprakarena nrttam nrttavido viduhu.

Ideal nrtta is that which emanates beauty and joy at various levels of human understanding like physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. The level of nrtta is directly proportional to the level of the dancer’s realization of her own inner personality and this is apart from her physical beauty and skill.

Nrtta devoid of the inner experience of the dancer is like mere mechanical movements of a robot. Nrtta as described by Bharata is very simply the harmonious, physical movement of major and minor limbs conducted in a graceful manner creating patterns in space keeping rhythm with time. Thus, in nrtta the whole body is made the instrument to produce action. The solar plexus at the navel forms the center from which all movements originate and are controlled by breath. By merely shifting of the center i.e. balance of the body, various bhangas are created – sama, abhanga, tribhanga and atibhanga. Along with earth based movements (bhoumi caris) aerial (akasiki caris) have been described which suggest that the dancer has scope to create the sense of weightlessness through her dance.

The characteristic half seated or ardhamandali position of Bharatanatyam with knees bent outwards increases proximity with the ground thereby, enhancing connectivity with the earth. This position enhances balance as the centre of gravity of the individual moves closer to the ground while the hands may be held in a curvilinear form or chaturasra position. The overall result is an enhanced level of being centred, which keep the senses alert and the mind relaxed.

The vibrations generated by nrtta lead to correction of any energy imbalance in the body by acting upon the nervous flexes or chakras – a result of biochemical changes. The changes take place in the body because of the changes around and those in the mind are as stated in the Patanjali Yoga Darshan.

The philosophy propounded by the Upanishads and other scriptures that body and mind are inseparable, serves as the source of the concept that dance may be used as a psychotherapeutic or healing tool. The body movement reflects inner emotional states and those changes in movement can lead to changes in the psychology and physiology of the person thus promoting health and growth. Dance therapy is a form of psychotherapy differentiated from traditional psychotherapy in that it utilizes psychomotor expression as its major mode of intervention.


The other aspect of classical dance is nritya – that relates to sentiments (rasa) and psychological state (bhava).

Rasabhavavyanjakadiyutam nrtyamitiryate

Both these (rasa and bhava) are conveyed through appropriate hand gestures and facial expressions depicting various ideas, themes, moods and sentiments. Several hand gestures / mudras used in Bharatanatyam are used in yoga as mudra healing described in the Patanjali’s Yoga sutra. However, in dance they are held for too short a period to distinctly display a relief in medical symptoms. Yet, a brief mention of mudras common to dance, yoga and healing can be made. The mayura (known as prithvi mudra is used for equilibrium, removing vitamin deficiency), bhramara hasta (relief in allergic symptoms), shivalinga mudra, hamsasya, are some of the mudras used.

The use of mudras and facial expression is Abhinaya, meaning to lead. The dancer while rendering a particular piece of sahitya brings forth the meaning of the words and there by the array of emotions associated with them. Through physical and emotional reactions she leads herself and the audience to experience rasa – vibhavanubhavasamyogad rasanishpatti. Through this relish they both experience great joy – rasananda referred to as Brahmanandasahodara. Through nritya, pent up emotions, dormant fears and anxiety are released. Thus this interpretative aspect acts as a means of experiencing joy and mode of catharsis leading to internal healing. The physical (nrtta) and the emotional activity (nritya) in dance result in several changes at the internal psychological and biological level.

These include the production of a group of mood elevating bio-chemicals (neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, enkephalins) secreted by the limbic system in the brain, increased blood flow to the limbs and brain, relaxation of muscles, release of pent-up emotions etc. All of these leave the artist in a state of bliss and rejuvenation, completely free from stress. A merry heart doeth good like a medicine. Psychological factors and stress are known to affect the immunity of a person. The production of mood elevating biochemicals, relieve stress and help in enhancing immunity.

Music in Bharatanatyam:

Bharatanatyam has as its base Carnatic music and accompaniment instruments like nattuvangam cymbals, mridangam, violin, flute, all of which generate music that is not only soothing but energizing too.

na nadena vina geetam na vadena vina swaram.

na nadena vina nrtyam tasmannadatmakam jagat.

The relation between dance and music are established physiologically. There is close relation between sound and sight. Music is the auditory field and dance the visual. The potential link between dance (kinetic rhythm) and music (auditory rhythm) heighten the emotional experience. Both presuppose the principle of harmony, balance and rhythm. The solo artist while performing various items of the margam reacts to the various elements of music like sollus (bol-s of dance), swara-sahitya, tala and laya. Our sastras speak of anahata nada as the cosmic sound of the Absolute. The anahata nada is closely related to ahata nada, which is the perceptible sound. Through the sensuous medium of sruti and swara of the raga one can reach closer to sensing the anahata nada and the Absolute can thus be comprehended. This has been stated in Sangitamakarand and Sangitaratnakara.

Music is known to reduce brain waves. Ordinary consciousness consists of beta waves that vibrate from 14 – 21Hz. Beta waves occur when we focus on daily activities of the world and when we experience negative emotions. Heightened awareness, joy and calm are characterized by alpha waves 8 – 13 Hz. generated by music. Music thus has a relaxing effect. The concept of Music therapy in treating several physical and psychological ailments is well established. Vibrating sounds form patterns and create energy fields of resonance and movement in the surrounding space. We absorb these energies, and they subtly alter our breath, blood pressure, muscle tension, skin temperature, working of the autonomous system etc. A person who is thus relaxed is better able to discover and realize his creativity and natural energy flow.

Other Indian Classical Dance styles have similar fundamental principles and could be interpreted similarly however, the present study is restricted to Bharatanatyam. True art transcends all barriers of time, is indestructible and outlasts life, which is dynamic. The use of body movement, dance in particular functions as a cathartic and therapeutic tool. It provides individuals with a means to express themselves to communicate feelings to others and to commune with nature and becoming one with their own Self. Thus, the biology involved in the dance movement of the body in Bharatanatyam is a unifying aspect of the physical, psychological and metaphysical, taking one closer to realization of the Absolute.

Various Styles of Bharatanatyam:

The following are the six main styles of Bharatanatyam

Melattur, Pandanallur, Vazhuvoor (or Vizhuvur), Thanjavoor (or  Tanjore), Mysore and Kanchipooram

Melattur style: natural (spontaneous) and highly expressive abhinaya largest amplitude of movements, which requires a higher degree of flexibility emphasis on sringara, bhakti emphasis on crisp adavus, accuracy of jathis/ gathis, fluid variations of patterned korvais dramatic elements (characterisation) original methods of application of principles of “loka dharmia and “natya dharmia”

The Pandanallur style: Its deep sitting positions its lasya (feminine dance style) of padams is rather slow and difficult to perform it is performed on three levels: in deep sitting positions, on the ground, in standing positions and while moving or jumping.

The Vazhuvoor style: Wide range of dancing pace static postures are inserted, most often in the tillana, to break the monotony and to add the variety of rhythms softer facial abhinaya.  Abhinaya is subtle with more natyadharma (spontaneous expressions), so the presentation is not “overdone” the adavus flow smoothly, with rare abrupt movements extremely elaborate movements deep sitting positions variety of positions on the floor. Rich sringar elements and lasya dominates tandava. The dancer’s body from the waist up is slightly bent forward leaps are introduced into every jati the jati have more korvais (intervals), which creates a suspense effect. Performance begins with a Thodaya mangalam in praise of Lord Gnana Sabesar of Vazhuvoor

The modern Kalakshetra : Style is a simplified form based on Pandanallur and, to some extent, Thanjavoor styles.

ReferencesBharatanatyam: A Kala and its Biological Implications byRuchita Vasant Somane; Natyashastra by Bharata Muni ; Abhinaya Darpana by Nadikeshwara; Patanjali  Yoga  Sutra; SangitaMakaranda;