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Bharatanatyam South Indian Classical Dance Performance at the Embassy of India in Berlin

Promotion of the Indian culture through the art of dance

July 30th, 2019
Frankie Fraser and Valeriya Kharchenko, News from Berlin
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On July 29th, 2019, the Indian Embassy in Berlin organized a dance show featuring Bharatanatyam Indian classical dance duet.

On the 29th of July at the Indian Embassy in Berlin played host to a performance of Bharatanatyam, a form of traditional Indian dance. In collaboration with the Tagore Centre, the wing of the Indian embassy which seeks to promote Indian culture within Germany, a diverse audience was welcomed to marvel at the spectacle. The traditional performance featured a seven-part order of presentation, called margam.

Bharatanatyam is a major form of Indian classical dance that originated in the state of Tamil Nadu between 300 BCE to 300 CE. This pre-eminent Indian classical dance form is presumably the oldest classical dance tradition of India and is regarded as mother of many other Indian classical dance forms. Bharatanatyam expressed South Indian religious themes and spiritual ideas, particularly of Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism.

The name ‘Bharatanatyam’ derives from the Sanskrit words ‘bhava’, ‘thala’ and ‘raga’, which translate to expression, melody and rhythm. Bharatanatyam expresses the religious and spiritual identities with its theoretical foundations found in the Natya Shastra, the ancient Hindu text of performance arts. It was classically practised by only the royal and upper classes and exclusively performed inside Hindu temples. A vast amount of Shiva sculptures within Hindu temples are cast in poses from the Bharatanatyam dance, with the oldest of these dating back to the 7th century.

Bharatanatyam remained exclusive to Indian temples until the 20th century, with it transforming from its religious roots to become an anti-colonial protest against the British administration in India. The arrival of the East India Company in the 18th century and subsequent colonial rule saw classical forms of Indian dance mocked, ridiculed and heavily discouraged by the British authorities. By 1910 it was outright banned from taking place, yet this was met with protests by Indian citizens.
Bharatanatyam is accompanied by music and conducted by the guru. The dance combines artistic expression with a sense of spirituality; Bharatanatyam dancers are noted for performing with legs bent or knees flexed out combined with spectacular footwork, precise hand gestures, and vivid facial expressions. This South Indian dance has traditionally been a form of an interpretive narration of mythical legends and spiritual ideas from the Hindu texts. The performance repertoire of Bharatanatyam, like other classical dances, includes nrita (pure dance), nritya (solo expressive dance) and natya (group dramatic dance).

The dance is popular, with academies across the country in every major city dedicated to teaching the next generation of dancers, while performances occur across the state to promote the art form. This has resulted in it being the most popular classical dance form in India, becoming synonymous with Indian culture from a foreign perspective. It has received huge support from the Indian expatriate, as manifest by the dance those at the Indian community were lucky enough to witness on the 29th of July. It has become a fundamental aspect of Indian culture, as such, it is unsurprising that the Indian Embassy and the Tagore Centre would seek to promote it in Berlin. As the performance came to an end and was met with warm applause from the audience, it was a moment to reflect on the evolution of this particular art form and feel safe with the knowledge it would continue for much time to come.

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News from Berlin