Bharata Natyam Concert - Conventional Format
Over the years, the Bharata Natyam recital has evolved into a format, with a specific method and order of the items. Pranaam or 'Tatti Kumbidal' is the very first step in both a concert and a class. It is done at the beginning and also at the end of a recital. It is a salutation to the Lord Almighty and the guru. The dancer also seeks Mother Earth's forgiveness for stamping on her. After paying her obeisance to the Guru and the Lord in the form of a Pushpanjali (an invocation with flowers), the dancer starts the program with an 'Alaaripu'.
Alaaripu is a perfect introduction to the audience of the basic framework of Bharata Natyam technique. A short and crisp nritta item, Alaarippu is done to the accompaniment of rhythmic syllables recited by the Nattuvanaar along with the taalam (cymbals) and the mridangam (a drum). There is no song for this item. In this item, the arai-mandi posture and the way movements flower out on both sides of the body become clear. Very precise, the movements should draw clean lines in space. The geometry of triangles drawn by the body becomes obvious. Crisp movements of the neck, eyes and shoulder show exactly how the body works in Bharata Natyam.
The rhythmic aspect becomes more brisk and a little more complicated in the Jatiswaram. This is done to music which has notes set to a particular combination of patterns, and the dance movements follow the music so precisely that one feels that movement draws a visual picture of the music. Each line of the music is set to 'jatis,' as the rhythmic sequences are called.
Having introduced pure dance and rhythm in the first two items, the dancer now introduces expressional dance with a theme. Here the abhinaya is simple and usually takes the form of a dance narration of episodes from myths - like scenes from the life of Lord Krishna.
Now the dancer is all set to perform the most important element of the recital, the Varnam. This is a nritya item in which both pure dance and abhniaya are combined in very demanding proportions. Varnam is the test of the skill and stamina of the dancer, for the item may range from 25 minutes to 50 minutes, depending on the Varnam selected. The song is dedicated to a deity and the dancer expresses the Naayika's (heroine's) love and devotion to the deity. God's greatness is glorified by referring to his famous deeds. Towards the end, there is a description of how beautiful nature looks and how the heroine wants to be there with her beloved Lord. In all these songs the human being is imagined as a devotee of God and also as a beloved of the Lord. Each descriptive passage is done with the help of hastas and abhinaya and linking up these passages are the purely rhythmic sequences. Each line of the song is interpreted in a myriad of ways through expressional dance. The rhythm sequences are complicated, making a Varnam a difficult item requiring long hours of practice.
After a long item like the Varnam, it is not possible to do brisk rhythmic items immediately. The dancer needs to gather her resources of energy and this is done through items which require no physical strain but in which the dancer is emotionally involved. This is the Padam, which is a song about love. In this expression of love, the dancer is shown in various moods - waiting for the arrival of the beloved, anxious and then angry at his not keeping his promise, jealous of his relationship with another woman, sorrowful at being alone and separated, radiantly happy in the company of her beloved, quietly escaping for a tryst with the loved one and so on. The songs may describe love and devotion towards the Gods. Each line of the song can be interpreted in many different ways. Carnatic music has hundreds of Padams composed by poets and musicians and many of these have been rendered in dance.
This is a pure abhinaya item where the lyrics are rapid and full of lilting rhythm. The Padam is sung slowly whereas the Javali is rendered much faster. The Javali too is a love song. Most of the Javali compositions are in the Telugu language.
To conclude the recital, the dancer presents a Thillana which is considered the best of all pure dance, or nritta. The music is just one repetitive line. There are no words to the singing - only rhythmic syllables set to tune and melody. Brisk sequences of rhythm are followed by moments when the dancer freezes in a pose.
Mangalam or Benediction
After the Thillana, a short prayer is offered to the deity of their choice before concluding the recital. This prayer, known as the 'Mangalam,' seeks Divine blessings for the well being of everybody.
The first solo public performance of a Bharata Natyam student is called 'Arangetram'. 'Arangu' refers to the stage. 'Etram' means 'to be raised'. Hence the term 'Arangetram' is used to mean the formal appearance of a dancer after completing her training and reaching the proper level for a public performance. The Arangetram is like a graduation ceremony, signifying that the student has mastered enough to know at least one whole 'Maargam' (a whole line of items from Alaripu to Tillana). This is a significant stage in the dancer's life, and marks the starting point of a career that can continue for many years.