Essence of Bharatanatyam

Essence of Bharatanatyam

A good dancer needs to evoke the sentiment of the audience. Dance is of four kinds according to sage Bharata -Natya, Nrtta, Nrttya, and Abhinaya.

Natya or Nataka has some theme or story for it. This is a combination of music, dialogue rendering and rhythmic movement of the body. Nrtta is the portion of dance which does not relate to any psychological state or Bhava. 

Nrttya is dance that relates to sentiment or rasa and the psychological state. This dance is fit to find a place in the court of great kings.


Adavus are the basic steps taught to the students. These are combinations of repetitive body movements accompanied by hand gestures. Adavus are of different kinds – Tattadavu, Natadavu, TattaMettadavu, Kattadavu, Kudittamettadavu, Maiadavu, Mandiadavu, Sarigaiadavu, and many more.

These then leads to Jathis or Korvais ( a combination of adavus set to intricate rhythmic patterns) and Theermanams (effective finishing to Jathis in a sequence). Adavus are done in the Araimandi (half sitting postures). Sitting in the proper araimandi posture is an essential feature of Bharatnatyam. Further the Adavus have to be executed with Angasudham (clarity in the bodily postures) and Talasudham (correct posture).

The students are taught the various Mudras (hand gestures). Mudras are a means of communication for the dancer to the audience in expressing the theme of the song and in bringing out the essence of the meaning. They are like words which form the sentence.

In addition to Mudras the dance student will have to master the various:

Shiro beda (Movement of the head)

Drishti beda (Movement of the eyes)

Vaksha beda (Movement of the chest)

Kati beda (Movement of the waist)

Parshva beda (Movement of the side)

Pada beda (Movement of the feet) which is a very important aspect.

In Summary, Bharatnatayam “give you so many different moves for all parts of the body, whether it’s the face, eyebrows, eyes, nose, hands, ankles – everything – hip, shin, and so on and so forth.” These basic moves for the different parts of the body are called aduvas. They combine to form pure dance, nritta.

But pure dance is just a “tool that you use to communicate, to express. The most important aspect of Bharatanatyam to express something.  All of this is very clearly spelled out in the ancient texts. Natya, expression, combines with nritta, pure dance, to create nritya.

The most frequently used position in Bharatanatyam is called ardhamandala, and is similar to a deep demi-plié. The legs are bent to form a diamond shape. From this position, dancers can alternate between firm footwork and light-as-a-feather leaps.

What I learned from dancing in this position myself is that it is a lot more difficult to sustain than it looks! When you combine intricate hand movements and facial expressions with complex footwork, it feels like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.” Bharatanatyam definitely takes an incredible amount of mind-body coordination.