The Story of Bharatanatyam - By Kumar Punithavel
Like every other Tamil art and craft Bharatanatyam too has its own mythology. One such story goes as follows. Once the Gods and Goddesses pleaded Lord Brahma to create another Veda, as the four Veda’s in existence was hard to understand by the average masses. The new Veda should be simple, so that the common man could understand it.
It is believed that considering this request Lord Brahma created the fifth Veda called Natyaveda, which was in essence of the other four Vedas made simple. It is believed that he has taken pathaya (words) from the oldest the Rigveda, abinaya (gestures) from the Yajurveda, geet (music and chant) from Samaveda and rasa (emotional element) from Atharvaveda to form the fifth Veda the Natyaveda.
After creating this Natyaveda, Lord Brahma gave the same to sage Bharata and asked him to popularize this Veda on earth. Following the words of Lord Brahma, sage Bharata wrote Natyasastra or the science of dramaturgy, a great, comprehensive work on the science and technique of Indian drama, dance and music. It is also said Bharatanatyam owes its name to sage Bharata.
There is also another story of mythology, which says that goddess Parvathi taught this dance form to Usha, daughter of Banasura, a demon. Usha taught the same to Gopikas of the Dwaraka, Lord Krishna’s birth place. Thus the divine dance form Bharatanatyam was introduced to the mankind.
Indian culture has an active mythology where parents tell stories to their children about pantheon of Gods. These Gods enact human like drama and make human like errors, in a different plane than the one they worship. This is a classic method adapted to teach their children ethics. One should not confuse this as the final truth!!
There is also a far-fetched school of thought that the word Bharata is derived from Bhava (expression), Raga (Melody) and Thala (Rhythm). This too has no factual basis except that as the Tamil saying goes “Kakam irukka panampalam viluntha kathai”. When a crow sat the Palmyra fruit fell!
So what is the story of Bharatanatyam? For argument sake let us assume the mythology of sage Bharata to be true. As per ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’ “In full Bharata Natyasastra, detailed treatise and hand book on dramatic art that deals with all aspects of the classical Sanskrit theatre. It is believed to have been written before 3rd Century by mythic Brahman sage and priest Bharata. Its many chapters contain detailed treatment of all the diverse arts that are embodied in the classical Indian concert”.
There are two important information’s that are note worthy; the one first one being Natyasastra gives all aspect of Sanskrit theatre and not the Indian theatre. Indian theatre is much larger and older! Secondly it was written around 3rd century, but there are reference to Bharatanatam much earlier in other languages.
Of the five great epics of Tamil language the oldest is “Silapathigaram” which the Chera prince Ilango Adikal who turned a Jain monk wrote. Silapathiaram gives in-depth details on the style and structure of the various categories of the Tamil dances. The debut (Arangetram) of Mathavi, so elaborately described by Ilango Adikal, is probably one of the oldest documentation of Arangetram anywhere in the world.
The lands adjoining the seashores were referred to as Neithal Nilam in Sangam Literature. In Silapathigaram referring to the people living in Poompuhar a costal town where the Arangetram takes place says ‘parathar malintha payankelu maangar’ - c.mani-2.
Thus people of Poompuhar were called Parathar, and their dance is rightfully called ‘Parathanatiyam’. We may indulge in finding where these Parathavars have gone. There is a stretch of land in the west course of Sri Lanka including towns like Chillabam, and Puthalam, facing the east cost of South India where Poompuhar is located. In this coast we even to this day can see fishermen who are said to be Paravair clan. Again in the northern part of Sri Lanka we do have a group of seamen called ‘Parampar’.
The dances of Indians will be called Indian dance, or in Tamil we would India natiyam, similarly the dances of Parathar clan of Kaviripoompatanam would be called Parathanatiyam.
Certainly Kootha Nool which is now available in the original treatise is the oldest book on dances in the world. This dates back to the Sangam period the golden era of Tamilian art and culture. It is no surprise that the Tamilian race in ancient times had grammar not only for their language but also for the way of living! The great book Tholkappiyam defines the grammar for the art of living.
The classification of the dances in vogue during Sangam period was grouped into Vethial and Pothuviyal Vethiyal- Dance performed for the kings and nobles. Pothuvial- Dance performed for common people. It is indeed interesting to note that Saathanaar the composer of the treatise Kootha Nool had mentioned other original Tamil works on Tamil Dance forms and music namely the,
(a) Agathiyam (b) Then Isai of Sikindi (c) Perisai. (d) Narai.
(e) kuruku (f) Kooththu (g) Sayantham (h) Kuna Nool
(i) Muruval (j) Sayitriyam (k) Thandavum (l) Nanthiyam
(m) Pannisai (n) Thakkam (o) Thaalam (p) Thannumai
From the above it is clear the “Bhrata Natya Sastra” which is dated as 3rd century common era which was written in Sanskrit had not one many references in Tamil literature. Probably Baretha a scholar who was well versed in Tamil and Sanskrit wrote this book and as it was the tradition to claim superiority of Sanskrit Language over Tamil. So much so, some Tamils themselves alienated them selves to Tamil language and ventured to call Tamil language as a ‘neesa pasai’. To day parayars of Neer Columbu, Chillabam and Puthallam refer to them selves as Singhalese. However the names of the towns and villages are still Tamil. Under the majority rule of Singhala Government these names are too being changed. Now you know the rest of the story of this ancient art hope you all would help to bring it back to the ancient glory.