by Sapna Rangaswamy, Baroda
Apr 2002

One ‘margam' of Bharatanatyam consists of Allaripu, Jatiswaram, Sabdam, Varnam and Tillana.

When I say, “I am learning Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi, I am asked… “What?? You are still learning?? Have you not done your Arangetram?”

‘Arangetram' or initiation on stage … just the beginning, not the end. That is what it means.

Many students stop learning after their Arangetram. They think that now that they have finished the ‘course' in Bharatanatyam, they have graduated from student to Guru!!!

Learning one ‘Margam' and doing Arangetram is like wetting only one's feet in the Sabarmati. No one can ever claim that he or she has ‘learnt' Bharatanatyam. Have you ever tried to find the beginning or the end of the sky?

Even if you go on learning Bharatanatyam or any other classical dance form, you will remain a student for your entire life. And there would still be something you haven't learnt which you plan to learn in your next birth. That is why our dear Amma, Shrimati Mrinalini Sarabhai said, “ I was a devadasi in my previous birth and I will be dancing even in my next birth.”
There is no end to learning.

When I joined Darpana, I didn't even know what I was learning, I was so young. And when I had my Arangetram in 1979, I was still too young to know or care to know about Bharatanatyam. I had so many other important things on my mind. How could I have claimed then that, “Now that I have completed my Arangetram, I know Bharatanatyam and I can teach”. That was the first day I got really interested in the classical dance form of India. It was not the end, it was only a beginning.

I remember sitting on the banks of the river Sabarmati at Darpana (Ahmedabad) while waiting for the teacher to arrive. For me, doing my Arangetram was really only wetting my feet in the river Sabarmati.

Something about ‘Margam':

Arangetram of Bharatanatyam consists of the numbers called Allaripu, Jatiswaram, Sabdam, Varnam, Padam, Tillana and Slokam.

Kauthvam used to be performed before the commencement of the performance.

In Bhagavata Mela tradition of Bharatanatyam, dance can be performed both as solo and in groups and in the nattuvanar tradition, mainly as a solo.

Allaripu is the first number. It is short and simple. It is to welcome the guests and take their blessings and to ask forgiveness from mother earth. The movements of all major and minor limbs are employed in it. It suggests blossoming forth of dance and the dancer before the audience.

Allaripu is followed by Jatiswaram. A collection of jatis and teermanam. Pure nritta consists of bodily movements and patterns of dance, which are decorative and convey no meaning.

In Sabdam, for the first time abhinaya is introduced. Sabdams are mainly composed in praise of a god or a king. In Sabdam, the line of the song is preceded or followed by a short jati . Most of the Sabdams are sung in Kamboji raga and a few in Ragamalika.

Varnam is the central and most elaborate number in a Bharatanatyam performance. Slightly longer, sometimes taking even an hour. A series of pure dance sequences alternate with abhinaya for almost every line of the song. The musical composition with its Sahitya deals with the description of the Nayaka. The Pallavi and Anupallavi describe many virtues of the Nayaka. In the Varnam, the yearning of the Nayika is described. Since varnam is comparatively long and elaborate, many gurus have abbreviated it and composed it in shorter duration of about thirty minutes.

Since the Varnam is also quite strenuous, a dancer and the audience both need a break - a number of Padams are taken up for expression of abhinaya. Besides Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam, Padams are now performed even in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and other languages to reach out to the larger local audience.

The number following the Padam is the Tillana. Again like the Jatiswaram, it is a number of nritta - pure dance. Tillana is full of sculpturesque poses and varieties of movements. It does not convey any particular theme or meaning.

In terms of movements, Tillanas have designs in space along straight lines, triangles, rectangles and diagonals.

The Arangetram ends with an abhinaya to a Sanskrit Sloka. Shlokam, known also as Mangalam.

The legendary Balasaraswati stated about Bharatanatyam, “the Bharatanatyam recital is structured like a great temple. We enter the gopuram (outer tower) of Alaripu, cross the ardha mandapam (halfway hall) of Jatiswaram, then the mandapam (great halls) of Sabdam, and enter the holy precinct of the deity in Varnam. We dance to the Padams, experiencing the containment, cool and quiet as entering the sanctum….then the Tillana breaks in to movements 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.”

Sapna Rangaswamy is a Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi exponent based in Baroda.