Cultural Learnings in South India

Sreetours issues certificates after the learnings

1 Bharatanatyam

It is now the most popular classical Indian dance style in India, enjoys high degree of support in expatriate Indian communities, and is considered to be synonymous with Indian dance by many foreigners unaware of the diversity of dances and performance arts in Indian culture. In the second half of the 20th century, Bharatanatyam has been to Indian dance tradition what ballet has been in the West.

The term Bharata in Bharatanaytam, in the Hindu tradition, is not named after the famous performance art sage to whom the ancient Natya Shastra is attributed. The tradition states that the word Bharata is a mnemonic, consisting of "bha"–"ra"–"ta". The bha stands for bhava (feelings, emotions), ra stands for raga (melody, framework for musical notes), and ta stands for tala (rhythm).The term Natyam is a Sanskrit word for "dance". The compound word Bharatanatyam thus connotes a dance which harmoniously expresses "bhava, raga and tala".

In its history, Bharatanatyam has also been called Sadir. The theoretical foundations of Bharatanatyam are found in Natya Shastra, the ancient Hindu text of performance arts


Bharata Natyam is traditionally a team performance art that consists of a female solo dancer, accompanied by musicians and one or more singers. The theory behind the musical notes, vocal performance and the dance movement trace back to the ancient Natya Shastra, and many Sanskrit and Tamil texts such as the Abhinaya Darpana.

The solo artist (ekaharya) in Bharatanatyam is dressed in a colorful Sari, adorned with jewelry who presents a dance synchronized with Indian classical music. Her hand and facial gestures are codified sign language that recite a legend, spiritual ideas or a religious prayer derived from Hindu Vedic scriptures,

The dancer deploys turns or specific body movements to mark punctuations in the story or the entry of a different character in the play or legend being acted out through dance (Abhinaya). The footwork, body language, postures, musical notes, the tones of the vocalist, aesthetics and costumes integrate to express and communicate the underlying text.[54][57]

In modern adaptations, Bharata Natyam dance troupes may involve many dancers which play specific characters of a story, creatively choreographed to ease the interpretation and expand the experience by the audience.

The repertoire of Bharatanatyam, like all major classical Indian dance forms, follows the three categories of performance in the Natya Shastra. These are Nritta (Nirutham), Nritya (Niruthiyam) and Natya (Natyam).


The traditional Bharatanatyam performance follows a seven-part order of presentation. This set of items are called 'margam'


The presentation begins with a rhythmic invocation (vandana) called the Alaripu. It is a pure dance, which combines a thank you and benediction for blessings from the gods and goddesses, the guru and the gathered performance team. It also serves as a prelim warm up dance, without melody, to enable to dancer to loosen her body, journey away from distractions and towards single-minded focus.[59]


The next stage of the performance adds melody to the movement of Alarippu, and this is called Jatiswaram. The dance remains a prelim technical performance (nritta), pure in form and without any expressed words. The drums set the beat, of any Carnatic music raga (melody). She performs a sequence (Korvai) to the rhythm of the beat, presenting to the audience the unity of music, rhythm and movements.


The performance sequence then adds Shabdam (expressed words). The solo dancer, the vocalist(s) and the musical team, in this stage of the production, present short compositions, with words and meaning, in a spectrum of moods.


The Varnam part of Bharatanatyam emphasizes expressive dance. The performance thereafter evolves into the Varnam stage. This marks the arrival into the sanctum sanctorum core of the performance. It is the longest section and the nritya. The artist presents the play or the main composition, reveling in all her movements, silently communicating the text through codified gestures and footwork, harmoniously with the music, rhythmically punctuated. The dancer performs complicated moves, such as expressing a verse at two speeds. Her hands and body tell a story, whether of love and longing, or of a battle between the good and the evil, as the musicians envelop her with musical notes and tones that set the appropriate mood.


The Padam follows next in the sequence of the performance. This is the stage of reverence, of simplicity, of abhinaya (expression) of the solemn spiritual message or devotional religious prayer (bhakti). The music is lighter, the chant intimate, the dance emotional. The choreography attempts to express rasa (emotional taste) and a mood, while the recital may include items such as a keertanam (expressing devotion), a javali (expressing divine love) or something else.


The performance sequence ends with a Tillana, the climax. It closes out the nritya portion, the movements exit the temple of expressive dance, returning to the nritta style, where a series of pure movement and music are rhythmically performed. Therewith the performance ends.

The overall sequence of Bharatanatyam, states Balasaraswati, thus moves from "mere meter; then melody and meter; continuing with music, meaning and meter; its expansion in the centerpiece of the varnam; thereafter, music and meaning without meter; (...) a non-metrical song at the end. We see a most wonderful completeness and symmetry in this art".


The attires of a Bharatanatyam dancer resembles a Tamil Hindu's bridal dress. It consists of a tailor fitted brilliantly colored Sari, with a special pleated cloth stitched that falls in front and opens like a hand fan when she flexes her knees or performs footwork. The Sari is worn in a special way, wrapping the back and body contour tightly, past one shoulder and its end then held by a jewelry belt at the waist.

She is typically adorned with jewelry, outlining her head or hair, on ear, nose and neck. Her face has conventional makeup, eyes lined and ringed by collyrium which help viewers see her eye expressions. To her ankles, she wraps one or more leather anklets [ Ghungroos ]. Her hair is tied up in the traditional way, often braided in with fragrant flowers (veni or gajra).

The fingers and feet outlines may be partially colored red with kumkum powder, a costume tradition that helps the audience more easily view her hand gestures.

Vocal Aspects and Musical Instruments

The accompanying music to Bharatanatyam is in the Carnatic style of South India, as is the recitation and chanting. The vocalist is called the nattuvanar (or taladhari), typically also the conductor of the entire performance, who may be the guru of the dancer and may also be playing cymbals or one of the musical instruments.

The instruments used include the mridangam (double-sided drum), nadaswaram (long type of oboe made from a black wood), nattuvangam (cymbals), the flute, violin and veena.


Bharatanatyam, like all classical dances of India, is steeped in symbolism both in its abhinaya (acting) and its goals. The roots of abhinaya are found in the Natyashastra text which defines drama in verse 6.10 as that which aesthetically arouses joy in the spectator, through the medium of actor's art of communication, that helps connect and transport the individual into a super sensual inner state of being. A performance art, asserts Natyashastra, connects the artists and the audience through abhinaya (literally, "carrying to the spectators"), that is applying body-speech-mind and scene, wherein the actors communicate to the audience, through song and music. Drama in this ancient Sanskrit text, thus is an art to engage every aspect of life, in order to glorify and gift a state of joyful consciousness.

The communication through symbols is in the form of expressive gestures and pantomime set to music. The gestures and facial expressions convey the ras (sentiment, emotional taste) and bhava (mood) of the underlying story. In the Hindu texts on dance, the dancer successfully expresses the spiritual ideas by paying attention to four aspects of a performance: Angika (gestures and body language), Vachika (song, recitation, music and rhythm), Aharya (stage setting, costume, make up, jewelry), and Sattvika (artist's mental disposition and emotional connection with the story and audience, wherein the artist's inner and outer state resonates). Abhinaya draws out the bhava (mood, psychological states).

The gestures used in Bharatanatyam are called Hasta (or mudras). These symbols are of three types: asamyuta hastas (single hand gestures), samyuta hastas (two hand gestures) and nrtta hastas (dance hand gestures). Like words in a glossary, these gestures are presented in the nritta as a list or embellishment to a prelim performance. In nritya stage of Bharatanatyam, these symbols set in a certain sequence become sentences with meaning, with emotions expressed through facial expressions and other aspects of abhinaya.


Kathakali is structured around plays called Attakatha (literally, "enacted story"[3]), written in Sanskritized Malayalam.[28][30] These plays are written in a particular format that helps identify the "action" and the "dialogue" parts of the performance. The Shloka part is the metrical verse, written in third person – often entirely in Sanskrit, and these describe the action part of the choreography. The Pada part contains the dialogue part. These Attakatha texts grant considerable flexibility to the actors to improvise, and historically all these plays were derived from Hindu texts such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata Purana

A Kathakali repertoire is an operatic performance where an ancient story is playfully dramatized. Traditionally, a Kathakali performance is long, starting at dusk and continuing through dawn, with interludes and breaks for the performers and audience. Some plays continued over several nights, starting at dusk everyday. Modern performances are shorter. The stage with seating typically in open grounds outside a temple, but in some places special theatres called Kuttampalam built inside the temple compounds have been in use.

The team performance involves actor-dancers in the front, supported by musicians in the background stage on right (audience's left) and with vocalists in the front of the stage so they could be heard by the audience before the age of microphone and speakers.Typically all the actor-dancers are males who get dressed up as woman or man depending on the role, but in modern performances women have been welcomed into the Kathakali tradition.


Kathakali is famed for its elaborate costumes and facial painting Of all classical Indian dances, Kathakali has the most elaborate make-up code, head dress, face masks and vividly painted faces. It typically takes several evening hours to prepare a Kathakali troupe to get ready for a play.[36][37] Costumes have made Kathakali's popularity extend beyond adults, with children absorbed by the colors, makeup, light and sound of the performance.

The makeup follows an accepted code, that helps the audience easily identify the archetypical characters such as gods, goddesses, demons, demonesses, saints, animals and characters of a story.[38] Seven basic makeups are used in Kathakali, namely Pacca (green), Payuppu (ripe), Katti(knife), Kari, Tati, Minukku and Teppu.[38] These vary with the styles and the predominant colours made from rice paste and vegetable colors that are applied on the face. Pachcha (green) with lips painted brilliant coral red portrays noble characters and sages such as Krishna, Vishnu, Rama, Shiva, Surya, Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Nala and philosopher-kings.[40 the costumes and face coloring in Kathakali often combines the various color codes to give complexity and depth to the actor-dancers.


Sringara, one of the nine facial expressions mentioned in Natyasastra.

Like many classical Indian arts, Kathakali is a dance as well as acting. It is said to be one of the most difficult acts to execute on stage, with young artists preparing for their roles for several years before they get a chance to do it on stage. The actors speak a "sign language", where the word part of the character's dialogue are expressed through "hand signs (mudras)", while emotions and mood is expressed through "facial and eye" movements.[3] In parallel, vocalists in the background sing rhythmically the play, matching the beats of the orchestra playing, thus unifying the ensemble into a resonant oneness.

Several ancient Sanskrit texts such as Natya Shastra and Hastha Lakshanadeepika discuss hand gestures or mudras. Kathakali follows the Hastha Lakshanadeepika most closely, unlike other classical dances of India.

There are 24 main mudras, and numerous more minor ones in Kathakali.[10][49] There are nine facial expressions called Navarasas, which each actor masters through facial muscle control during his education, in order to express the emotional state of the character in the play

The nine Navarasas express nine Bhava (emotions) in Kathakali as follows: Sringara expresses Rati (love, pleasure, delight), Hasya expresses Hasa (comic, laugh, mocking), Karuna expresses Shoka (pathetic, sad), Raudra expresses Krodha (anger, fury), Vira expresses Utsaha (vigor, enthusiasm, heroic), Bhayanaka expresses Bhaya (fear, concern, worry), Bibhatsa expresses Jugupsa (disgust, repulsive), Adbhuta expresses Vismaya (wondrous, marvel, curious) and Shanta expresses Sama (peace, tranquility).


A Kathakali performance typically starts with artists tuning their equipment and warming up with beats, signaling the arriving audience that the artists are getting ready and the preparations are on. The repertoire includes a series of performances. First comes the Totayam and Puruppatu performances, which are preliminary 'pure' (abstract) dances that emphasize skill and pure motion.[51] Totayam is performed behind a curtain and without all the costumes, while Puruppatu is the prelim when it is performed without the curtain and in full costumes.

The expressive part of the performance, which constitutes the play being choreographed as dance-drama, are four: Kalasam (major and most common), Iratti (special, used with battles-related Cempata rhythm), Tonkaram (similar to Iratti but different music), and Nalamiratti (used for exits or link between the chapters of the play).

The characters enter the Kathakali stage in ways that is not found in many major classical Indian dance traditions. Kathakali engages several methods: direct without special effects or curtain; through the audience, a method that engages the audience, led by torch bearers since Kathakali is typically a night performance; tease and suspense called nokku or tirassila or tiranokku, where the character is slowly revealed by the use of a curtain

3 Mohiniyattam

Mohiniyattam is a semi-classical dance form of Kerala. It is perfomed by women. The word Mohini means a maiden who steals the heart of the onlooker. It is thought that Vaishnava devotees gave the name of Mohiniattam to this dance form.


Expression of an artist

Mohiniyattam is a lasya subgenre of dance, performed in the Kaisiki vritti (graceful style), as discussed in ancient Indian performance arts texts such as the Natya Shastra. More specifically, it is a dance that excels in Ekaharya Abhinaya form, that is a solo expressive dance performance aided by singing and music.[8] The dance includes nritta (pure dance, solo), nritya (expressive dance, solo) and modern productions sometimes include natya (play, group dance):

The Nritta performance is abstract, rhythmic aspect of the dance that appears early and at the end of the dance repertoire.[38][39] The viewer is presented with pure movement, wherein the emphasis is the beauty in motion, form, speed, range and pattern. This part of the repertoire has no interpretative aspect, no telling of story.

An expressive gesture in Mohiniyattam.

The Nritya is the expressive aspect of the dance that attempts to communicate a storyline, with emotions and feelings, with spiritual themes. In a nritya, the dance-acting (Abhinaya, Vaittari) expands to include silent expression of words through hand and facial gestures and body motion set to musical notes. The dancer articulates a legend or a spiritual message, aiming to engage the emotions and mind of the viewer.

The basic posture of Mohiniyattam is parted feet, knees bent outwards, an erect upper torso, gentle 8-shape side to side swaying of body along with hips (Ati Bhanga). The footwork is soft, sliding and synchronous with the musical beat and acting. The body movement is sometimes described in terms of calming images of nature as the swinging of the palm leaves,[43] and the gentle undulating of ocean waves.

The basic dance units in Mohiniattam are known as atavus or atavukal, and these are grouped into four: Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammisram. The hand and facial gestures of the dance follow the classical text of Hastha Lakshanadeepika, which has elaborate description of mudras.


Mohiniyattam costumes

The costume includes plain white or off-white such as ivory or cream colored sari embroidered with bright golden or gold laced colored brocade (similar to a ceremonial Kasavu saree). She wears a fitted choli (blouse) matching the sari, below which at the waist is a golden belt which tucks in the end of the sari, and highlights the waist.[47] In front of the saree, below the belt is pleated sheet with concentric bands in gold or saffron colors, which allow freedom of movement and assist in visually communicating the mudra to distant audience.

The dancer wears relatively simple jewelry and no masks, in contrast to the other major classical dance of Kerala called Kathakali. Her jewelry typically includes items on fingers, wrists, neck and ears (which may have bells). The face makeup is natural, but lips are brilliant red, she has the Hindu tikka on her forehead and her eyes are lined to help prominently highlight the eye movements during the dance. Her ankles are adorned with leather straps with bells (ghungroo), feet and fingers colored red with natural dyes. Her hairdo is gathered and tied into a smooth tight round chignon on one side of her head (typically left) and the bun then ringed with fragrant flowers (typically jasmine mallika).

Music and instruments

The vocal music of Mohiniyattam involves various rhythms. There are numerous compositions for a Mohiniyattam repertoire, most of whose lyrics are in Manipravalam, a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam.

The musical instruments usually used in Mohiniyattam are Mridangam or Madhalam (barrel drum), Idakka (hour glass drum), flute, Veena, and Kuzhitalam (cymbals). The ragas (melody) are rendered in the sopana (steps) style, which is a slow melodic style with roots in the Natya Shastra.

4 Kuchipudi

Kuchipudi is the classical dance form from the South-East Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

As a classical form of dance, drama and music Kuchipudi enjoys a unique place among the Indian classical idioms.

Kuchipudi was originally a male dance tradition. Groups of men traveled from village to village enacting stories from the Hindu mythology. As in Elizabethan theatre men portrayed the roles of women. It was only in last 9 or 10 decades that women were introduced to this art form. Kuchipudi in its present form is the result of the vision of stalwarts like Vempati Chinna Satyam and the late Vedantam Laxminarayana Shastry.

Kuchipudi is characterized by fast rhythms and fluid movements, creating a unique blend of control and abandon, strength and delicacy.

Musical Instruments Used To Accompany Kuchipudi

Kalaripayattu the martial art form of Kerala is regarded as the oldest and most scientific in the world. Kararipayattu training aims at the ultimate coordination of the mind and body.