Art And Culture

Features & Styles Of Bharata Natyam l


Bharata Natyam and its styles is a much-debated topic in the field of art and culture. In this issue of IIN, we discuss the different styles and variations of Bharta Natyam. 

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It’s a misconception, that every Bharata Natyam recital looks same. Over the years many debates and discussions have given the clarity of how each style differs in its own way. 

What is Bharata Natyam?

Bharata Natyam is an age-old art, which is over two thousand years old. The art form originated in the ancient temples of Tamil Nadu. Subsequently, Bharata Natyam spread its branches to the neighbouring states and cities of India.

There are four major styles of Bharata Natyam from ancient times, with each of them named after the place of their origin, except the last one which is named after the institution established by Rukmini Devi Arundale. Irrespective of the style, the three major aspects of Bharta Natyam remain the same.

Important features of Bharata Natyam

The three important features of Bharata Natyam are:


The pure rhythmic aspect of dance. It consists of ‘Adavus’, which includes a different pattern of footwork, hand and body movements, and the movements of minor limbs such as head, neck and eyes.

Examples of Nritta dances – Jathiswaram and Thillana.


This comprises of hand gestures (hastas) and facial expressions. This is used to convey forward an emotion and also the meaning of the lyrics of a song. Example of Natya dances – Padam, Shabdam and Jawali.


The combination of Nritta and Natya dance sequence. The blend of rhythmic dance and dramatic expression of emotion presented in a particular way.  Example of Nritya dances – Pada Varnam, Swarajathi.

Major Styles of Bharata Natyam

The major styles of Bharata Natyam are:

  1. Pandanallur style, 
  2. Vazhavoor style, 
  3. Melathoor style, and 
  4. Kalakshetra style.

Pandanallur Style

  • This is credited to Guru Sri Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai (1869–1964), who lived in Pandanallur, which is situated in the Thanjavur district, the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
  • Guru Sri Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai belonged to the family of nattuvanars and was a decedent of the famous Thanjavur brothers: Chinnaiah, Ponniah, Sivanandam, and Vadivelu. 
  • After Guru Sri Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, his son-in-law Chokkalingam Pillai (1893–1968) became the next veteran teacher of the Pandanallur style. 
  • Later his son Subbaraya Pillai (1914 to 2008) went on to become the next leading teacher of Pandanallur style with training in Pandanallur under his father and grandfather.

Mathematical importance:  

This is something one should mainly look for while watching the Bharata Natyam recital in traditional Pandanallur form. The Pandanallur form mainly emphasises on liner geometry, i.e. every hand and leg movement makes corresponding angles with each other at 45 ◦, 90 ◦, 180 ◦ etc. 

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Understatement of Abhinayam: 

Underplay of Abhinayam is seen in the Pandanallur style, in contrast to the other forms, where Abhinayam is given more importance than Adavu (basic dance steps). The expressions are not exaggerated and are very subtle to make it look more natural and real. 


  • The Pandanallur style is renowned for its choreography, which consists of unique adavu choreography for Swaram patterns by Sri Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai and Muthu Kumara Pillai. 
  • It also includes highly regarded pieces as the Nine or Ten Tanjore Quartet pada-varnams.
  •  These works feature choreography by Pillai, who named the dramatic choreography “hands,” and was also responsible for the adavu choreography for the Swara passages. 
  • Part of their heritage is the valuable jatiswarams (in ragams Vasantha, Saveri, Chakravakam, Kalyani, Bhairavi), which incorporate abstract adavu choreography.

Vazhuvoor Style

  • Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai was a revered guru. He directed with passion and devoted himself to Bharatha Natyam. Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai was born in Isai Vellalar, clan of conventional dancers and musicians. 
  • The shrine at Vazhuvoor village is dedicated to Lord Siva, under the name of Gannasabeshan (lord of the stage), and to this day, the pupils of Vazhuvoor school, pay homage to the idol Gannasabeshan in the form of Thodaya Mangalam as an invocatory piece. 
  • Ramiah Pillai has also disciplined famous dance teachers, such as Thiripurasundari Cumarasamy who is the first student to fly from Jaffna, Srilanka; others like Kumari Kamala, actress Vyjayanthimala, Padmini, Padma Subramanyam who are from India and various exceptional dancers of today.
  • The Vazhuvoor style was proceeded by his son Vazhuvoor R. Samaraj who lived in Mylapore, Chennai. 
  • This prosperous Bani (tradition) concentrates on the artistry of movement, elegant poses mingling with an alluring technique that delivers visual delight. 
  • The Vazhuvoor Bani is entrusted with bringing in the aspect of arriving from the wings on stage. 
  • The dance-steps are brisk and intricate but mixed with grace and fascinating eye movements. 
  • Poses are often introduced in the fragments especially in the final dance (Thillana) to add space in time. 
  • The jatis (Rhythmic patterns) or nritta entities have more korvai is (A korvai is a sequence containing many different adavus) or gaps than usual, to add a sense of time being suspended, giving the dance an impressive quality. 
  • The body from the waist up is slanted slightly forward to give more dimensions to the body. 
  • The adavus or dance units are done evenly without too many jerky movements to give an impression of naturalness and dignity. 
  • Graceful leaps are present in every jati.

Choreography and Abhinaya: 

  • In this style, one can see a broad range of dancing pace.
  • The adavu stream fluently, with rare unexpected movements, excessively elaborate movements, deep sitting positions, an assortment of positions on the floor.
  • Abhinaya or anecdotal expression is subtle with more natyadharmi or typically formalized expressions and there is no obviousness in the production. The hands, eyes, and expressions are used in concordance to express eloquently. 
  • Lasya, or grace, is prevailing in this style. 
  • Popular dancers, such as Vidhya Subramanian, along with Kamala Lakshman, Padma Subramanyam, Chitra Viswesvaran have strengthened the disclosure of this style.

Melattur Style

  • The Melattur Bani of Bharta Natyam dance was expanded largely out of the devadasi practices and Melattur Bhagavata Mela by Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer, a saint following Srividya Upasana. 
  • He renewed the Shuddha Nrittam from Kuchipudi which involves the sophisticate tapping footwork that scrutinizes different time measures in distinctive tempos, Bhattasa Natyam similar to Kalaripayattu and PeraniNatyam, a dance on the clay pot. 
  • Mangudi became interested in Shuddha Nrittam (a pure dance) after attending a concert by devadasi of Cheyyur Sengalvarayar shrine, who performed shudda nrittam along with other items.
  • Unlike other Bharta Natyam gurus, Mangudi sidestepped the items which glorified the poet’s anthropoid patrons, as performing such items would be incompatible with his faithfulness to spiritual practices of Srividya Upasana. 
  • He believed, it is only the divinities or the great saints who were worthy of such apotheosis. 
  • Thus, the repertory of a Melattur bani consists essentially, the ancient dance piece performed in the temples.

Choreography and Abhinaya:  

  • The Melattur bani depresses stamping the feet hard against the floor. 
  • Rather, the dancer is foreseen to use the anklets in a more delicate manner that produces a  range of sounds and highlights the rhythm. 
  • Another singular feature is the presence of Panchanadai and extensive use of Gatibhedas.  For example, in Varnam there would be Gatibhedam in every Jati. 
  • There is exclusive attention on brisk adavus, fluid variations or patterned korvais. 
  • Due to the Melattur Bhagavata Mela influence, the style composes large-scale use of the dramatic aspects, i.e. characterization, which requires eminently expressive and delicate Abhinaya. 
  • Unlike other Bharta Natyam bani, the facial expressions of the Melattur style dancer are not rigidly represented. They are neither exaggerated nor downplayed, which requires a high degree of contemplation and individual spontaneity. 
  • Due to the devadasi impact, there is a stress on Sringararasa, rather than on Bhakti rasa. 
  • The Nrittaabhinaya is contrasty from most other styles in the impression that each body movement is to be echoed in a distinctive facial expression automatically.

Kalaskshetra Style

Kalakshetra Foundation, erstwhile Kalakshetra, is an Indian art and cultural institute committed to preserve and promote conventional values in the field of Bharta Natyam. Stationed in Chennai, the institute was established by Rukmini Devi Arundale and her spouse George Arundale. Under Arundale’s direction, the foundation accomplished national and international recognition for its unique style and perfectionism. 

  • Rukimidevi Arundale studied the Pandanallur style for three years, under the revered gurus of Pandanallur style of Bharta Natyam. 
  • Subsequently, she brought in group performances and staged various Bharta Natyam-based ballets.  

Choreography and Abhinaya: 

  • The Kalakshetra Bani is noted for its angular, straight, ballet-like kinesthetics, and its restriction of Rechakas and the uninhibited movement of the limbs. 
  • Compared to other styles, the Kalakshetra style does not use a wide range of adavus. 

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