BharataNatyam: A Kala and its Biological Implications

by Ruchita Vasant Somane
M.A, Part II Dept. of Sanskrit, University of Mumbai

An art form that involves the actual participation of the human body like singing and dance is a human activity that has as its base moksa (release). The Visnudharmottara Purana emphatically states that art is a means to fulfilling the aims of life based on the four purusartha-s, the ultimate aim being moksa (release). This moksa in the true sense is nothing but the acute awareness of the Absolute, which is dormant in one's body and it is this human body that is taken as an ideal in Indian art.

The philosophy propounded by the Upanisads and other scriptures, that body and mind are inseparable serves as the source of the concept that dance which is one of the sixty-four kala-s may be used as a psychotherapeutic or healing tool. The body movement reflects inner emotional states and that changes in movement can lead to changes in the psychology and physiology of the person thus promoting health and growth. Dance in some societies was considered as essential as eating and sleeping and provided individuals with a means to express themselves and commune with nature.

BharataNatyam, a classical dance form comprising of both nrtta - pure dance and natya - abhinaya, has at its base Carnatic music and accompaniment instruments like nattuvangam cymbals, mridangam, violin, flute etc. all of which generate music that is not only soothing but energizing too. The solo artist while performing various items like allaripu, jatiswaram, sabdam, varnam, padam, tillana and others reacts to the various elements like sollus (bol-s) of dance, swara-s, sahitya, tala and laya. The basic half seated or ardhamandali position with knees bent outwards, which is characteristic of BharataNatyam enhances proximity with the ground thereby, enhancing connectivity with the earth. On the internal psychological and biological level a whole lot of changes take place like the production of a group of mood elevating bio-chemicals (neurotransmitters), increased blood flow to the limbs and brain, relaxation of muscles, release of pent-up emotions etc. All of these leave the artist in a state of bliss and rejuvenation, completely free from stress. A person who is thus relaxed is better able to discover and realize his creativity and natural energy flow.

Thus, the dance movement of the body in BharataNatyam is a unifying aspect of the physical, psychological and metaphysical taking one closer to realization of the Absolute.