Some historical snippets of Bharatanatyam – Part 2

Konerirajapuram mural

Konerirajapuram mural depicting the tanjore quartet with devadasis welcoming the Britishers (dated 300 years old) Courtesy: The Hindu

This is a continuation of our previous post “Some historical snippets of Bharatanatyam – Part 1“.

In the 1977 issue of the Journal of the Madras Music Academy, there is an essay titled “Dance Music and the Contribution of Nattyacharyas to Karnatic Music”by the Bharatanatyam gurus K. P. Kittappa Pillai and K. P. Sivanandam. This was delivered in Tamil as Dr. V. Raghavan Shashtyabdapurti endowment lecture.

Disclaimer: I have attached the link to the pdf of the lecture as part of this post. I am not really quite sure of the copyright, although the website had no mention of it anywhere. So, I will remove the document if anyone points to any copyright infringement.

There are some interesting and important points of this lecture. I have tried to summarize them below:

1. Among the 64 arts, Bharata sastram is highly ranked.

2. I do not know which Thiruvilayadal puranam, but it seems in one of them mentions “பாவமோடு ராக தாளமும் மூன்றும் பகர்ந்திடு முறையினர் பரதம்”. Meaning that Bhaavam, Raagam and Taalam, all three make Bharatam.

3. Bhaavam  – It is a divine power and in a human’s life an art that can invoke and/or suppress feelings/emotions in an instant is most needed.

4. The meaning of lasyam is to perform abhinaya while sitting!

5. During the Sodashaupachaara, devadasis depict 16 different hastabhedas and in front of the sannidhi offer a sloka, thus marking the pushpaanjali.

6. Ten Types of Adavus: Tattadavu, Naatadavu, Kudithamettu adavu, Jaadi adavu, Tattumettu adavu, Mei adavu, Arudhi adavu, Mettadavu, Nadaiadavu and Mudivadavu, each having 12 variations making a total of 120 adavus.

7. Margam format starts with

  • Melaprapatthi – Trikala Mishra Jaathi Jampai talam
  • Todayamangalam – Jaya Janaki Ramana
  • Kauthuvam
  • Sollukattu
  • Sabhavandanam alias Alarippu – Not based on any Ragam
  • Jathiswaram
  • Shabdam – Usually in Kambodhi and Ragamalikai
  • Varnam – The padavarnams are also known as Chowkavarnam
  • Padam, and
  • Thillana

It does not mention the Mangalam and the Slokham performed as the finishing part.

Lakshana’s of the Dance Teacher/Guru: 

  • Should have learned dance at an young age.
  • Should have mastery over Tamizh, Telugu, and Sanskrit.
  • Mastery over music and musical instruments such as Mridangam.

Tanjore Quartet

The first composition was “Navaratnamala” consisting of nine keerthanas as Gurusthuti to their Guru Muthuswami Dikshithar. They used the mudras such as “Guruguha”, “Guruguhadas”, “Guruguhabhaktha”, “Guruguhamurthy” as a tribute to their guru, whom they belived as the incarnation of Lord Muruga.

In the composition “Maya teetha swarupini” in Mayamalavagowla ragam they end it as “Maguruguha swamiki ne dasudaithi”. In another Keerthanam they mention “Saadileni guruguha murthini ne Aanaadanunti namminunu” indicating their devotion to their guru.

Their compositions include many jathiswarams, 20 Shabdams in Misra Chapu Talam, 50 Varnams in Roopakam and Aadi Talam, and 15 Swarajathis. For each varnam and Swarajathi there were Sahityam in both Tamizh, Sanskrit and Telugu. They have also composed 10 Dwadasha Ragamalikai consisting of 12 ragas. Also, numerous padams, javalis and thillanas.

A question asked by the authors to ponder: Why the other Kritis of Tyagaraja and Syama Sastri were not choreographed, even though they are contemporaries of their guru, Muthuswami Dikshitar?

5 responses to “Some historical snippets of Bharatanatyam – Part 2

  1. Thanks for sharing RY. I remember some details about the keertanam Maya Theerta Swaroopini. This keertanam in particular was the first composition of TQ. In recognition of it being their first exercise, it was set in Mayamalava Gowlw, the raga for beginning music exercises in the Carnatic System. The structure of the song sangathis in the pallavi is very interesting too. it starts as sarali varisai and progreses to Jantai Varisai… This structure was thought to mimic the pedagogy of their music education and also was a documentation of their acceptance and conformity to the method.

    Hmm as for the other 2 mumurtis.. I have heard that Sri Thyagaraja requested that his songs not be choreographed for dance.. Just hearsay.. Dont know if it is true. But then what about Nauka Charithram?

    The reason for the composition of ST and SS not being used in dance also may be due to their higher emphasis of their compositions on the musicality. Whereas Muthuswami D compositions keep the lyrics quite intact without as many musical manipulations.. just my thought.

    It may also be attributed to theimagery created by the songs. MD had compositions on many deities as against Rama centric compositions of ST.

    Hmm very thought provoking.. A reserach project in itself.

  2. Thanks Madhana and Sangeetha,
    Yes indeed this is fit to be a research project. You are right, the article also describes the keertanam having the sarali varisai and jantai varisai and so on. Page 183.


  3. Good to know the list of TQ’s creations. It humbles you in many ways and gives you a benchmark for learning.

    1. I didnt know the tamil versions of many telugu varnams like manavi and padams like (i cant remember the one i am thinking about) were by the quartet. I thought they composed in telugu and later people translated the same compositions to tamil.

    2. Tiruvilayadal puranam has the term ‘baratham’??? howcome? i thought the term was coined much later for sadir. I dont even know when tiruvilayadal was composed.

    3. I kind of know why not many thyagaraja/SS compositions were not choreographed
    Music for dance has lakshanas and so does the padas (poetry). I think one of them is presence of imagery (moon, flower, arrows etc etc). I dont know many SS compositions but Tyagarajas treads very much on poetry poetry..i dont know how to say it but (i dont want to call it) abstract decisions, emotions and such. Also, it deals mostly with Rama puranam (nothing against it) but lacks sringaram in the main characters- sita and rama. Both of them are very secure characters. It is great for a natakam but not for nrithyam so much if vibralabdha sringaram is meant to be the fundamental metaphor for jeevatma’s quest. Its mostly about upholding dharma which is a preachy subject. quartet being the students of dikshitar not only imbibed adulatory poetry and its lakshanas from dikshitar but applied it to natyas requirements of nayika-nayaka relationship. Dikshitars poetry is high in poetic alankaras (alliteration etc etc) and is also ful of adulation but based on creating imagery in the mind of rasika.

  4. Yes, it was very humbling to read all these.

    1. I didn’t know that they had three languages in one composition. I guess, for sake of brevity choreographers might have edited it. I have come across many padams where the 3rd or 4th charanam would have been left off while performing.

    2. Thiruvilayadal was written by Poet Paranjothi Munivar in early 1600s. See: (This was a blog till recently maintained by an acquaintance of mine). I also dont know which thiruvilayadal puranam has this. Absolutely no clue. If this was verified or validated then I think the antiquity of the word has gone by many centuries. If you remember, I had posted this: in sangeethas blog (

    3. I understood what you are saying. However, I have seen the kriti Endharo in a beautiful choreography few years ago. I think a lot of creativity goes into converting those emotionally charged verses into a bhakti piece of dance. Yes, many kritis lack sringara bhava.

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