Today I want to talk about the “Bharatanatyam Arangetram.” I bet you haven’t heard of it yet!
Bharatanatyam is an Indian classical dance that originated in the region of Tamil Nadu, and Arangetram is the stage debut of a Bharatanatyam student, following years of training.
Now, since I belong to a Tamil culture, when I was a kid I also learned Bharatanatyam. This is because my dad had a habit of wanting to teach me about everything and all. But what is weird about this post is that the Bharatanatyam Arangetram I recently experienced took place in Ontario!
In my previous post called “What are the typical foods in Canada,” I talked about how due to the huge amount of immigration started many years back, Canada is often referred to as a “land of immigrants.”
In fact, because of the millions of newcomers from all around the globe who have settled here, the national character has been affected by the contribution of each people and their culture. This is why there is nothing so very strange about taking part in a Bharatanatyam Arangetram in Ontario.
What is Bharatanatyam?
Bharatanatyam is the oldest classical dance tradition of India, which originated in the region of Tamil Nadu. It is considered the mother of many Indian classical dance forms. Traditionally this major genre of Indian classical dance was a solo dance performed exclusively by women to express Hindu religious themes and Hindu spiritual ideas. If you ever happen to to visit any ancient Hindu temple, you may notice that they are often embellished with sculptures of lords in Bharatanatyam dance poses.
Nowadays it is practiced around the world by both women and men where the Tamil culture is strong. I mean it is addressed not only to Hindu people but to anyone who has a Tamil culture. Think how strong Tamil culture is in Ontario!!!
Also, many western people are now trying to learn Bharatanatyam, but it seems very difficult for them to learn. To answer why it is hard for the non-Tamil people to learn Bharatanatyam, you must read the next section called “What Bharatanatyam means.”
What does Bharatanatyam mean?
Borrowed from Sanskrit, the word Bharatanatyam has a very complex meaning.
Bha stands for Bhava, which means emotion, Ra stands for Raaga which means music, Ta stands for Taal which means rhythm, and Natyam means dance. Thus Bharatanatyam is a dance that encompasses music, rhythm, and expression and strictly adheres to the Natyashastra, the scripture of classical Indian dance.
Do you understand now why it is hard to learn Bharatanatyam for non-Tamil people? It’s a very old cultural concept into which one must be born. How can we express something if we don’t even know what the music says and what the cultural meanings behind the words are? I mean Bharatanatyam forces you to first know all the traditional and cultural subtlety.
The point is that it is difficult to learn such an ancient tradition in a few months or years.
Anyways, that does not change the fact that there are some good western Bharatanatyam performers that don’t fail to spend time in India in order to improve their knowledge.
What are the benefits of Bharatanatyam?
Besides the cultural aspect, practicing Bharatanatyam gives a wonderful cardio workout that improves blood circulation and muscle tone. It is also good for bone density as it is a contact exercise. It also improves flexibility and physical balance.
Bharatnatyam demands a lot of facial expressions. It involves the movement of eyes, eyebrows, neck and lips which make the muscles strong. The facial tissues become strong due to the constant movement of facial muscles. Different expressions are used in displaying different feelings like sadness, anger, happiness etc. The eyes movements help in strengthening the eye muscles.
The word “Arangetram” means “ascending the stage.”
So, Bharatanatyam Arangetram is the debut on-stage performance of a former student that follows years of training in music and dancing. Many Indian classical dance forms require their followers to perform an Arangetram and typically, arangetram ceremonies are 2 to 3 hours long.
Once the Arangetram is done, students are allowed to perform Bharatanatyam on their own and to teach aspiring dancers. Basically, it’s like getting a degree.
To be precise, after years of training, the guru decides whether or not a student is capable of performing as a soloist. If yes, an Bharatanatyam arangetram ceremony will be held for the particular person.
This moment is accompanied by music, a singer, and obviously the guru who has trained the student as the director and conductor of the performance and art.
As regarding the Bharatanatyam Arangetram that Alessandro and I attended in Ontario, Miss Aileen Arulrajah, a girl of just 15 years old with long hair and daughter of Sri Lankan Tamil parents, finalized her studies in Canada with guru Siva Thiviyarajan. She performed on stage with musicians (T.N. Balamurali on violin, Geerthanan Thiviyarajan on mirudangam and Sruthi Balamurali on sitar) and the vocalist Babu Parameswaran. It took place at the Meadowvale theatre in Mississauga, Ontario on the 16th of September, 2017.
Aileen Arulrajah danced for more than 2 hours, and her performance was graceful not only in her steps and movements but especially in her expressions.
On a Bharatanatyam Arangetram day a special mention also goes to the makeup artist. Doing Bharatanatyam hair, makeup, and dressing up the student requires talent.
They really did a great backstage job on Aileen Arulrajah.
Tamil culture, a brief note before closing
I’d like to open a small parenthesis here to help you understand better the Tamil culture. In simple terms, Tamil culture is the culture of the Tamil speaking people (of various religions) and the Tamil language is one of the world’s longest-surviving classical languages, with a history dating back to 300 BCE.
The Tamil language is originally from South India, but during the 18th century, the colonial rulers took Tamils to different parts of Asia and Africa, so many countries have a sizeable number of Tamil speakers who have had a significant cultural impact.
Tamil is also an official language in Sri Lanka and Singapore and has significant numbers of speakers in Malaysia, Mauritius, Fiji, and South Africa where it is recognized as a minority language.
Though not officially recognized the Tamil speaking population is significant in the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Reunion, Seychelles, and Guyana.
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