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Towards bliss with nritta
- Chandra Anand

June 24, 2019

Nritta is defined as pure dance where stylized movements are performed to rhythmic music. Nritta element enhances the beauty of the dance. It does not convey any message.

Nritta elements:
Dance is performed with coordinated movements of major and minor limbs of the body. Cadences of body movements are combined to make dance patterns. Small units of dance patterns are called as adavus. These adavus are basic units that are combined to make major dance patterns called korvais and jathis. Adavus, korvais, and jathis are nritta elements of Bharatanatyam.

The name adavu falls from the word "adaibu". [1] Cadences of body movements are sequenced into dance patterns which are fit into rhythms defined by speeds and tempos. Adavu is defined as "a basic rhythmic unit of dance within a specific tempo and time structure that involves composite movements pertaining to nritta." [2] These dance patterns are set to relevant mnemonic syllables called sollukattus, which heighten their beauty.

There are about at least 16 groups of traditional adavus. Each adavu group has steps sequenced from easy to complex. Easy adavus are those where one learns cadences of body movements. Complex adavus become building blocks of korvais and jathis.

These complex adavus are like swara phrases in music. In music, there are only seven swaras which are cadences of sound in music. Entwining of relevant swara phrases of the raga scale gives the feel of the ragam. This is exposed through alapana, kalpanaswaram and neraval. Likewise, complex adavus give depth and weight to korvais and jathis composed. Just like the feel of the ragam emanates through its relevant swara phrases, through korvais and jathis too music can be visualised.

Korvais and jathis:
While korvais are fit into swara patterns, jathis are set to sollukattus.

Korvais and jathis have a similar structure. The structure has two parts. In the first part, purvangam, two or more different adavus are combined into a dance pattern. It is first done on the right and then repeated on the left. This way the balance and symmetry of the body is brought to the fore and the beauty of art form is projected. And in the second part, uttarangam, a dance pattern of either chinna theermanam or periya theermanam or a dance pattern combining both is done. Teermanams are done in threes. Technically they signal end of korvai and jati.

Korvais are used in items called jatiswarams, thillanas and in songs where there are swara patterns sung. The bhava of korvais is of joy that one gets when beauty of nritta is seen. Joy here is a moment of captivation where one forgets past, present, future, and self. This moment of joy comprises meditative quality. A moment of bliss is experienced. Thus, nritta item is called a pure dance number as it gives a spiritual uplift to the artist and onlooker.

And, jathis fall in the item varnam. Varnam, the most important piece of the margam, is where nritta and nritya are united in a judicious balance of proportions. The item portrays feelings of a virahotkandita nayika. Thus the choreography of jathi needs to be consistent with the mood or emotions of padartha of lyrics. As verses in a varnam song convey only one idea, and many a time take only one rhythmic cycle of talam (avarthanam), use of short jathis maintain balance of proportions of nritya and nritta.

Particularly, when the content is a conversation between jeevatma and paramatma, it assumes importance to each individual. The meditative quality of joy given by nritta keeps us in touch with the Universal Soul and these feelings get universalized into aspects in divinity. And, "dance becomes an artistic yoga for revealing the spiritual through the corporeal."[3]

Millennial adavu:
Any art form gets freshened up with new ideas of contemporary times. New ways of presenting oneself and conveying ideas come into existence. Like, in today's times, themes and stories are danced to sollukattus, then this comes under nritya category. As long as standards of performance are maintained, the dynamic quality of the classical art allows and accepts such changes in it.

In fact, the pulse of the present life style can be sensed through nritta too. The thrill and excitement the new generation craves for is reflected in the dance patterns too. Any excess portrayal of strength and technical prowess can kill the essence of the art form. Grammar and format of the art form helps to uphold beauty of the art by arresting these excesses.

In order to ensure that set classical standards of the art form is maintained, adherence to the grammar of the art form is required. Then, it will be valid that those new cadences of body movements first be set in adavu format. Mainly, these adavus newly set should match the definition and grammar of traditional adavu. Also these adavus should be accompanied by appropriate sollukattus. Easy to complex adavus need to be set for teaching and learning purpose. And, when they are used in korvais and jathis, certain newness to the form is seen. This newness will be acceptable if it reflects beauty and gives joy to the onlooker.

Notes to reference:
1) Kapila Vatsyayan, Indian Classical Dance, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India New Delhi, 1974, chapter 3, pg 25

2) Mrinalini Sarabhai, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition, 1981, chapter 4, pg 26.

3) T. Balasaraswathi, Dancer's paradise,

Chandra Anand is a Bharatanatyam artiste and teacher. Apart from having MA in Classical Dance (Bharatanatyam) from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune (2014), she has an MA in Eng Lit. from Bombay University (1990) and has done B Ed from Kapila Khandvala College for Education, Santacruz, affiliated to Bombay University (1994).

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