Bharatanatyam is an art oceanic in width and depth. I have taken you a few steps on its shore. I hope the vision you have had of this ocean will inspire you to dive into it and cull its pearls yourself.
THE GREATEST BLESSING of bharatanatyam is its ability to control the mind. Most of us are incapable of single-minded contemplation even when actions are abandoned. On the other hand, actions are not avoided; there is much to do but it is the harmony of various actions that results in the concentration we seek. The burden of action is forgotten in the pleasant action of the art. . . feet keeping to time, hands expressing gesture, eyes following the hand with expression, ears listening to the dance-master's music, and the dancer's own singing. By harmonizing these five elements the mind achieves concentration and attains clarity in the very richness of participation. The inner feeling of the dancer is the sixth sense which harnesses these five mental and mechanical elements to create the experience and enjoyment of beauty. It is the spark which gives the dancer her sense of spiritual freedom in the midst of the constraints and discipline of the dance. The yogi achieves serenity through concentration that comes from discipline. The dancer brings together her feet, hands, eyes, ears and singing into a fusion which transforms the serenity of the yogi into a torrent of beauty. The spectator, who is absorbed in intently watching this, has his mind freed of distractions and feels a great sense of clarity. In their shared involvement, the dancer and the spectator are both released from the weight of worldly life and experience the divine joy of the art with a sense of total freedom.
THE BHARATANATYAM RECITAL is structured like a great temple: we enter the outer tower of alarippu, cross the half-way hall of jatiswaram, then the great hall of sabdam, and enter the holy precinct of the deity in the varnam. This is the place, the space, which gives the most expansive scope to revel in the rhythm and moods and music of the dance. The varnam is the continuum which gives ever-expanding room to the dancer to delight in her self-fulfillment by providing the fullest scope to her own creativity as well as to the tradition of the art.
The padams now follow: dancing to the padams one experiences the containment, cool and quiet of entering the sanctum. . . the expanse and brilliance of the outer corridors disappear. . . and rhythmic virtuousities of the varnam yield to the soul-stirring music and abhinaya of the padam . . . akin to the juncture when the cascading lights of worship are withdrawn and the drum beats die down to the simple and solemn chanting of sacred verses in the closeness of God. Then the tillana breaks into movement like the final burning of incense accompanied by a measure of din and bustle. In conclusion, the devotee takes to his heart the God he has so far glorified. The dancer completes the traditional order by dancing to a simple devotional verse.