आंगिकम भुवनम यस्य
वाचिकं सर्व वाङ्ग्मयम
आहार्यं चन्द्र ताराधि
तं नुमः (वन्दे) सात्विकं शिवम्

The Prayer Means:

Whose Bodily Movement Is The Entire Universe
Whose Speech Is The Language (Of The Universe)
Whose Ornaments Are The Moon And The Stars
Him, We Version The Pure (Serene) Lord Shiva!

"Natyam" is a Sanskrit word for "dance". Natya is a combination of Nritta and Nritya. Natya is described as Natyam Poorvakathaayutam. The compound word Bharatanatyam is seen to connote a dance that harmoniously expresses ‘bhava’, ‘raga’ and ‘tala’. Bharatanatyam is a major form of Indian classical dance that originated in Tamilnadu. The dance form is briefly mentioned as “Bharathanatya".

It traces its origins back to the Natyashastra, an ancient treatise on theatre written by the mythic priest Bharata. Lord Shiva is considered the god of this dance form. Today, it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over the world. The dance movements are characterized by bent legs, while feet keep rhythm. Hands may be used in a series of ‘mudras’, or symbolic hand gestures . The most important member of a Bharatanatyam orchestra is, arguably, the Nattuvanar. This is the person who plays the set of cymbals known simply as ‘talam’.

The pair of ‘talams’ consists of two cymbals made of different kinds of metal alloys. Of the two cymbals, the larger one that produces the bass sound is made of iron, while the treble sound comes from the brass cymbal held in the right hand. Though cymbals are of various kinds, used in classical and light music the world over, those used in Bharatanatyam are heavier and have a greater responsibility.

Nattuvangam is the art of reciting the syllables and playing cymbals that follows the footwork of the dancer. As the Nattuvangam is a very important adjunct of the Bharatanatyam recital, it is very essential for any Bharatanatyam learner to know the subtle nuances of Nattuvangam. Men played the role of Nattuvanars and never danced. Rukmini Devi Arundale was one of the first female teachers and female Nattuvanars to change this tradition. She taught men to dance. For example, striking the ground with a flat foot creates a particular sound, and placing the heel on the ground creates almost no sound. When these two movements are alternated, the resultant sound pattern alternates hard and soft beats. These beats create syncopated patterns, and all are accurately reproduced by the trained Nattuvanar. Besides, the ‘talams’ are used for effects, such as bell sounds, as well.

The essential aspect of Bharatanatyam lies in the coordination between the Nattuvanar and Bharatanatyam dancer it plays the most important role in Bharatanatyam. These cymbals do the speaking and represent the steps or feet of the dancer in Bharatanatyam. These cymbals are a bit heavier in this dance form. Kumbakonam is a famous area for manufacturing ‘talams’.

Nattuvangam was used to coordinate the dancers and musicians. Nattuvangam helps in maintaining a steady tempo and coordinating the dancer’s steps to music.

Well versed in the art traditionally, Nattuvanars were the gurus of Bharatanatyam. Because they were as well versed in the art of dance as music, and often were the choreographers of the dance too, they were in the best position to provide Nattuvangam for a dancer.

In this traditional approach, the Nattuvanar was considered the conductor of the entire programme and is still referred to as such. Jayadeva, in one of his famous Ashtapadis, gave his mudra name as “Padmavati Charana Chaarana Chakravarti,” referring to himself as the one who was as a king to Padmavati’s dancing feet.

However, Nattuvanars often work with dancers in the same manner as other accompanists. So equal preference is given to both in the field of Bharatanatyam.

"Yatho hasta thatho drishti
Yatho drishti thatho manah
Yatho manas thatho bhavo
Yatho bhavo thatho rasah"

Which means wherever the hand goes there should the eyes, wherever the eyes are there should be the mind, where there is mind involved there evolves the ‘bhava’ and where there is ‘bhava’ there is ‘rasa’.

- Anjali Nambiar

About the Author

Anjali Nambiar hails from Nantoor, Mangaluru. Currently she is pursuing Bachelors of Education from St Aloysius Institute of Education, Mangaluru.


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