Bharatanatyam is a classic Indian dance form that is more than 4,000 years old. In India, dance and music play a major part in culture and religious worship. This dance was traditionally performed by women who were dedicated to a specific temple, serving as spiritual students and guides. The devoted participants would dance and sing to praise their deities, and the practice has evolved into a performing art in which both men and women take part.
The example of Bharatanatyam shown in the video is called Pushpananjali, which means “an offering of flowers.” It displays the dancer’s invocation of Nataraj, or the cosmic dancer also known as Shiva. The dancer enters the stage, claims the space of the stage sacred, and seeks the blessings of the “four directions” – the orchestra, her teacher, the audience, and her parents—for a good recital.
The dance then shifts into the form of a small hymn from an ancient Hindu text singing the praises of the Lord Nataraja. He is the source of all dancing, and to him the dancer bows.
Each pose, gesture, and movement has a name and a meaning. For instance, the term Pataaka, or flag, refers to the hand as it is held like a flag. The dancer’s knowledge and skill at employing each of these movements enable her to express herself clearly and effectively in the dance as a form of spiritual communication and meditation.