History of Bharata Nātyam
(Paper Presented in Nātya Kalā Conference of Kṛṣana Gana Sabhā at Chennai)
The classical dance of Tamilnad, mostly performed by women, is known through out the world by the term Bharata Nāṭya while classical dances from other parts of India generally go by other regional names like Manipuri, Odissi, and so on. There is a popular opinion among Dancers ithat this term Bharat Nāṭyam came into vogue only around 1935-40 and that prior to that it was called Sadir-āṭṭam and was danced by women belonging to the family of Devaradiyāls, a term loosely applied to prostitutes and hence considered an art of despicables. It is also believed that women belonging to decent families and upper castes took to dance from 1935 onwards and in order to remove the stigma attached to it, called it by the name Bharata Nāṭyam. So it is a new coinage of this century after 1935 ! . This view is incorrect.
The famous poet Subrahmanya bharati died in the year 1924. In one of his famous songs he says “Dance the Bharat Nāṭyam “
Bharata nāṭṭiya kūttu Iṭuvīree.
This term however occurs much earlier in a work in manuscript form composed over two hundred years ago as Bharata vida Nāṭyam pauilkinra pala mātar. The term also occurs in a Kuravanci dance drama called Mannipaadikkarai kuravanci, composed in the time of the Marātta ruler Pratāpa simha 1775 CE
atirūpa moohana vanitaiyar abhinaya Bharata Nāṭyam puriya
(Mannaippadikkarai kuravanci ed Swaminatha iyer, published in Madras, 1980, p.28).
Evidently dance was called Bharata Nāṭyam 200 years ago in Tamilnad. It may further be noted that the term abhinaya Bharata Nāṭyam, is here used in the sense of dance and not drama. The term also denoted Abhinaya may be noted. This sets at rest once and for all the assertion by some authors that the phrase Bharata Nāṭyam is a 20th cent coinage.
Bharata Nāṭyam was also called Sadir in the Tanjore Maratta court. Some authors postulate the theory that the term Sadir is derived from Satāra the then capital of the Marātta rulers. This view is also incorrect. It has been used to denote beautiful form of classical dance in Tamilnad for over 1300 years as may be seen from the Tevāram hymn of Sambandar who lived in the 7th cent.
Jati vaḻi varuvatoor sadiree
Atiguṇar pkaḻvatum aḻage
Evidently Sambandar calls dance of Siva as sadir when it conforms to jati. The term is clearly derived from Sanskrit root catura i.e. beautiful. Thus any view holding that classical dance was not known as Bharata Nāṭyam and that the present Tamil classical form evolved from the Sadir dance may be brushed aside as unhistorical and contrary to facts. Another term also noticed frequently in literature is bharatam.
Some writers also assert that the term Nāṭyam is not appropriate for dance. In ancient times stories were enacted by dramatists who used to dance and now and then render prose dialogues. This term went by the term nātaka and so the dance by women should not be called Nāṭyam. This view needs to be examined in some detail.
The treatise on Dance by Bharata is called Bharata Nāṭyam. Bharata does not confine to dance alone in his work but deals with construction of theatre, stage settings, instrumental music, word, poetry, the nature of poetry, sentiments, emotions, mode of entry and exit, besides, dance poses, hand gestures, rhythms, tunes etc. He also calls the suggestive elements appropriate for dance as Nāṭya-dharmi and worldly gestures as Loka-dharmi. And yet Bharata calls his work by the general term “Nāṭya sāstra”.
Abhinava Gupta, the great commentator on Nāṭya-sāstra ,who lived in the late 10th cent calls this art as ā. Sarngadeva, who wrote another great text following the foot steps of Bharata, lived in the 13th cent. He wrote his work Sangita rathnākara in Sanskrit. He also calls this art Nāṭya-veda. He also says that Narttana is called Nāṭyam.
However dance was also called 2000years ago as viṟal, kūttu, and kali in Tamil nadu. The earliest grammar in Tamil, named Tolakappiyam assignable to the beginning of the first cent. refers to dancers by different terms as Kūttar, Pāṇar, Porunar, and Viraliyar. Those who dance exhibiting sāttvika bhāvas that leads to the realization of aesthetic experience were called Kūttar. (Tolkāppiyam recognizes only eight rasas like Bharata’s Nāṭya-sāstra. Such a classical dance was called Viṟal. The women who danced this dance were called Viṟaliyar. There were no restrictions of caste on such dancers.
(Kūttarāyinār eṇvakaic cuvaiyum manattin paṭṭa kuṟippukaḷum puṟattup pontu pulappata ātuḷvār. atu viṟal ātalin avviṟalpaṭa āṭuvāḷai viṟali enṟār. Avaḷukku jāti varaiyaṟai inmaiyin pin vaittār.)
Simialrly Kūttar may belong to any caste like Pārasavas, Vellālas or other caste according to the commentator. Kūttars are listed first because there is no restrictions of castes among them, when Kaḻāy-kūttu (pole dance), Kānaka kūttu (tribal dance), Vilakkiyar kūttu (classical dance), and Bhāratī vṟtti are danced by either Vellālar (agriculturists), Parasavar (people of mixed caste who worship in temples of village goddesses like Saptamata, or Kali) and others who are appropriate to this profession. Pāṇar and Porunar hail from specific castes and hence are grouped together (in the text)
Kūttarāyil Pārasavarum veeḷāḷarum piṟarum avvāṭaṟ toḻikku uriyoorākaḷum bhāratū vṟttiyum, vilakkiyaṟ-kūttum, kānaka-kūttum, kaḻāy kūttum āṭupavrāka jāti varaiyaṟaiyilarākalin avarai mun vaittār. Pāṇrum Porunarum tamtam jātiyil tiryūtu varutalin ceera vaittār.
There are two points that stand out from this commentary. A) Kūttar may come from any caste. B) Pāṇar and Porunar belonged to professional dancer’s castes. Thus Kūttu and Viral are synonyms and that Bharta Nāṭyam was called Viral or Kūttu about 2000 years ago.
I have shown earlier that classical dance was prevelant in Tamilnad before the time of Bharata’s Nāṭya sāstra (vide my Keynote address in the 8th Nāṭyanjali conference in the Krishna Gana sabha 1989). Bharata himself refers to the Southern School (Dakshinātyās) which employs profusely the syllable N. It is known that Tamil is the language that uses the an suffix regularly. I have also shown that once Bharata wrote his work, other regional schools were greatly influenced by that tradition.
Bharata refers to Loka-dharmi and Nāṭya-dharmi. The Tamil grammar Tolkappiyam also refers to Loka-dharmi and Nāṭya-dharmi. (Tolkāppiyam, Porul-adhikāram, ahattinai-iyal -sutra 53)
Nāṭaka-vaḻakkilum ulakiyal-vaḻakkilum pāṭal cānṟa pulaneṟI vaḻakkam
Kaliyee paripāṭṭu āyiru pāvinum uriyatākum enmanār pulavar.
The terms Ulakiyal vḻakku and Nāṭaka vaḻakku are the exact Sanskrit equivalents of Looka-dharmi and Nāṭya-dharmi This is clear proof enough, if proof is required, to demonstrate that the Tamil grammatical tradition has relied upon the Nāṭya sāstra tradition. Naccinārkkiniyār, the commentator, remarks at one place that the Tamil poetic conventions (Ceyyiḷ iyal ) is a synonym of Dance convention - Nāṭaka vaḻakku (nāṭya dharmi) In other words the classical poetic conventions and dance conventions are almost identical. Tolkāppiyam also recognizes eight fold rasa (meypādu)_ sringāra, hāsya, karuṇa, raudra, vīra, bhayānakā, bhibatsa, and adbhuta As the 9th rasa sānta does not exhibit perceptible physical emotions, it is not included among the rasas, as the Sanskrit poets did in later times. The chapters on Ahattiṇai, Puṟattiṇai and Meypāṭu oif Tolkāppiyam are full of aesthetic conventions closely related to dance.
The Tamil tradition emphasized universalizing love in poems in order to be aesthetically enjoyable. The point may be illustrated here. If a living person is made the hero of a poem and his wife, the heroine and their love advances made the main theme of the plot on the stage, it would not create any aesthetic pleasure in the mind of the spectator; on the contrary it would create revulsion as it is a personalized experience of an individual. If an imaginary heroine is introduced with a living person like a king, as the hero, the plot becomes delectable. If however both the hero and the heroine are imaginary characters the theme is universalized and appeals to all people at all times. This is what the Tamil tradition did in aham classification which is essentially Sringāra. The name of the neither the hero not the heroine should be mentioned in aham poems. Over 1500 poems of aham themes of Sangam age are available.
The Tamil grammar Tolkappiyam classifies poetry essentially into two categories 1) Aham and 2) Puram. Aham stands for love or what may be called Sringāara while Puram stands for external exploits. According to the commentator the four purusharthas, namely dharma, artha, kāma, and moksha are covered by these two categories of poems, the aham dealing with kama and the puram with the other three.. The aham poetry is further subdivided into Mullai, Kurunci, Marudam, Neidal and Pālai. These terms stand for poetic conventions and denote one or other aspect of Sringāra. For example the Kurunci stands for sambhoga sringāra, love in union.
Kurunci is love in union sambhoga sringāra.
Pālai is love in sseperation vipralamba sringāra.
Mullai is love in waiting (one aspect of vipralamba sringāra
Marudam wailing another aspect of vipralamba sringara
Neidal love quarrel (Udal)
These subdivisions are further related to dance and realization of rasas. Mullai would have Kuravai kuttu as a suggestive element. Kurunci has Velan Veriyādal and Marudam includes Indra vilā. These subdivisions like Mullai, or Kurunci called Tinais is suggested by a number of elements like a particular rhythmic beat of an instrument Parai, particular raga of Pan, flowers, trees, birds, village settlements etc. Thus there is scope for employing tremendous variety by depicting different tinais as suggestive elements in dance though the ultimate realization is sringāra the aham. The Tolkappiyam considers Paripadal and Kali as the best form of poems for depicting aham themes. (I have demonstrated in a lecture in 1987, that the Paripadal and Kalittokai songs of the Sangam poems were essentially meant for dance). The external exploits delineated in the Puram group of poems are also closely related to dance. The Puram has further subdivisions standing as counter parts of Aham as under.
Puram x Aham
Vetchi x Kurunci
Vanci x Mullai
Ulinjai x Marudam
Tumbai x Neidal
Vahai x Palai
Without going into details I would like to state that the Puram classification is also essentially related to dance. For example Vetci is a counter part of Kurunci. It has further subdivision as Kāntal, Pu, Valli, Kalanilai, Unnānilai, Pillainilai, Pilla- āttu, and Kallodu punarrtal. That each one of theses subdivision is a dance is made clear by the commentators. Kāntal is Velan Veriyādal who wears Kāntal pu. The commentator states that Velan veriyadal is appropriate to ahattinai.
Veelan āṭutalin veṟiyāṭiya kāntaḷ ahattiṟkkum vandatu. Atu veettiyal kūttu anṟu karunkūttu. Veṟikkūttiṟkkum vaḷḷikkūttiṟkkum Iṭai vaittār.
Possesive dance Kāntal is a dance applicable to Aham as well as it is danced by Veelan. It is not a royal dance (vettiyal) but a karunkūttu and so it is listed between Veṟi dance and Vaḷḷai dance.
Thus it is evident Kāntaḷ is a category of dance. Similarly the next subdivision Pū is also a dance form. Another term used in Puram Vaḷḷai is also a dance form. The commentator says Valli is creeper that whiters away but the Valli dance is that which does not whither away.
Vātum koṭiyallāta Vaḷḷikkūttu.
The other division of Puram, Kalal nilai is also a dance form. Suffice it to say that all these categories listed under the Puṟam classification like Kāntal, Pu, Valli, Kalanilai, Unnānilai, Pillainilai, Pilla- āttu, and Kallodu punarrtal. are all dance forms.
A careful study of the epic Silappadikāram, reveals that it is the best Nāṭya dance drama, ever compsed in Tmilnad. There could be no doubt that it was being enacted for a number of consecutive nights. as is the tradition in Kerala and the Terukkūttu in Tamilnadu. Silappadhikāram consists of narrative recitations, musical rendering and dance. It incorporates all the dance elements of both the Aham and Puram traditions, as stipulated in Tamil grammar Tolkappiyam. A few points may be illustrated here though it would be possible to write a whole volume on this aspect. It would be advantageous to start from the end of the composition for examining the dance tradition of Silappadhikāram. The last part of the work called nūrkaṭṭuṟai has the following to say.
Elutto·u puṇarnta collakattteḻu poruḷai
Iḻ ukkā yāppin ahanum puṟanum
Avaṟṟu vaḻippatūun cevvi ciṟantoonkiya
Pāṭlum eḻālum paṇṇum pāṇiyum
Arangu vilakkee āṭal enṟanaittum
Orunkuṭan taḻīI uṭampaṭak kiṭanta
Variyum kuravaiyum cedamum enṟivai
Terivuṟu vahaiyāl centamiḻ iyaṟkaiyil āṭi
This is a very important passage. It says that ``the dancer performed the selected forms of Vari, Kuravai and Cedam in the best of classical Tamil tradition. They were in harmony with theatre, style and dance rhythm. tunes, mode and song which are suited to love and heroic situations (Aham and Puram) . The dance took up the flawless meter and the inner meanings suggested by sound and words happily blended. (This almost sums up the true nature of Silappadhikāram as a dance. This sequence narrated in this poem is remarkable.) The poetic composition should have flowing sounds, words and deep meanings. It should be in a flawless meter and embrace either Love or Heroic situation as the main theme. These are to be set in harmony to music, elaboration, tunes, rhythm and presented in an appropriate theatre. It is under these ideal condition that selected forms of dance Vari, Kuravai, and Cedam (forms of dance) are danced in the true classical tradition of the Tamils``.
This concluding portion of the Silappadhikāram sums up the whole theories of dance and its components as known to the Tamil Tradition and clearly indicate that the Silappadhikaram is a dance drama. It is known that Silappadhikāram is in three kāṇtas (major divisions) namely Puhar kāntam, Madurai kāntam and Vancik-kāntam. At the end of each Kānta there is a passage called katturai (colophon). The katturai of Puhar kānta reads:-
Arangaum āṭalum tūkkum variyum
Parantisai eytiya bārati vrittiyum
It means that emphais is given in this kānta the to the Theatre, dance, Rhythm (tālam), and the form of dance called Vari accompanied by music set in the Bharati style of singing. The katturai (colophon) of Madurai kāntam says
ārabhaṭi sāttvati enṟa iru vrittiyum
neerattoonṟum variyum kuravaiyum
The two forms of dance Vari and Kuravai are emphasized in this kāntam accompanied by the two styles of musical renderings Arabhati and Sāttvati.
The third kāntam namely Vancik-kantam ends its colophon with the note:-
variyum kuravaiyum viraviya kolkaiyum
i.e the Vari and Kuravai are appropriately adopted.
These three colophons of the three kāntams of the Silappadhikāram emphasize the dance nature of the compostion. Structurally also the Silappadhikāram is a superb creation; for example it blends the highly classical with what may be called the lighter or the folk aspects to sustain the interest of the spectator. For example the first kāntam has chapters like mangalam Arangerrukkātai, Indra vilā, and kānal vari.
The second has Vettuva vari, Urkan kātai, and Ayciyar kuravai. The third kāntam has Kunrakkuravai, Vālttukkātai, I have no doubt that Silappadhikāram is the best Nāṭyam composition (Nātaka kāppiyam) of the Tamil genius and was evidently enacted on festive days in temples, particularly the temples of Goddesses, for a number of days.
The age of Bhakti
The post Silappadhikāram dance tradtitions grew centered around temples as seen from bahkti movement of Nāyanmāars and Alvārs. That dance was part of and parcel of temple rituals is reflected in the Tevārams and Divyaprabhandam hymns (600 to 900) , The dancers mostly women followed the tenets of Bharata`s Nāṭyam sastra in form and expressions and conformed to the Agamic needs of the temple ritual in content. The hymns of Nāyanmars and Alvārs allude to dances during daily rituals and utsavas (festivals). The dancing girls formed an important retinue when the deity was taken out in procession. They danced in Improvised stages erected in the streets for the purpose. They went by the name street theatres, vithi arangam where girls performed natam. The Tevaram songs also refer to Nātakas dance dramas performed by men in festivals. Dance has an unbroken history as an essential part of temple rituals. The Agamic texts prescribe elaborate rituals for the initiation of temple dancers and training, the duration they should dance in different rituals, the number of dancers to be employed, in the best situation or average type of temples, the number of instrumental musicians etc. Many songs of the Tevaram saints reflect the compositional traditions for dance. Similarly the Prabhandams of Alvārs Periyālvār and Andāl had become an integral part of Viahnu temple movements which later flowered into Arayar Sevai,
The Chola age.
Rajraja chola appointed four hundred dancing girls to perform dance in the great temple of Tanjore. There were over hundred instrument players in the same temple. Several Chola inscriptions refer to the appointment of dancing girls along with priests, assistants and Tevaram singers, even as the temple was being built, attest to the role of dancers in temples service. Several women dancers had the title Talaikkoli. The Cākkiyār kuttu which is now confined to Kerala region and considered exclusive to Kerala tradition is found in many Tamilnad temples including the great temple of Tanjore. The Cākkiyārs were performing dance in temple festivals for three, five or seven days in several angas like the modern kudiyāttam dancers.
A few works of the Chola age mainly intended for Dance dramas have survived to this day among which may be cited the Ulas, bharanis and Pillai tamils are well known. The famous poet Ottakkuttan composed three Ulāas, Vikrama cholan Ulā, Kulottunga choaln ulā, and Rajaraja cholan ulā. It is known that the ulās were composed to depict love emotions of girls of seven age groups when they beheld the hero coming in procession. There is a Pillai tamil (Another form of dance dramas) on Kulottunga Chola which was in all probability danced in the court. There are are two Paranis poems the Kaslingattu parani, and Takka yaga parani by two great compsers Jaymkondār and Ottakkuttar, These are excellent dance dramas of the Chola Age of 12th cent. They are well structured dramas, playing upon the nine rasa with adbhuta as the main rasa. There could be little doubt that these were outstanding dance dramas of the Chola age as may be seen from the colophons of the works themselves and also the introductory prayer songs.
A dance drama Rājarāja vijaya was enacted in the Great temple of Tanjore in the 11th Cent. according to an inscriptions. The drama as its name suggests was on the Presiding deity of the Temple and its builder. The Takkayāgapparani is on the pressing deity of temple of Darasuram (old Rājarāja-puram) built by Rājarāja chola II, who is extolled in the drama at the end. These illustrate that there was a tradition of enacting dance dramas composed on the Lord of the respective temples enacted on festival days. This tradition has continued to this day. The Tyāgesar Kuravanci, and Kutrāla kuravanci , Sarabendra bhupāla kuravanci are the best illustrations of this traditions. The celbrated Tamil Classic Jivaka Cintāmani, assigned to the 9th cent has an interesting passage. Jivaka the hero had a close friend names Sutanjanan who helped him win a war. But in the end Sutnajanan died in the battle field. Jivaka built a temple to this friend, made his portrait in gold and had it consecrated in the temple, arranged for its daily worship and festioval. Jivaka himself composed a dnace drama on the life of Sutanjanan and arranged for its performance regularly in the festivals.
Peeriṭar tan kaṇicci perum puṇaiyāy tan tooḻaṟkku
ooriṭam ceytu ponnāl avanuru iyaṟṟi ūrum
pāriṭam parava nāṭṭi avanatu caritai ellām
tāruṭai mārpan kūttuttān ceytu naṭāyināee
This confirms that the chapter on Purattiṇai iyal of Tolkāppiyam lays down rules for dance.The erection of a temple to Kannaki and the Vāḻttu in Silappadikāram , and also the tradition of Madurai viran and Annamār kātai are in the tradtion of Tolkāppiyam..
Post Chola traition.
Towards the end of the chola age came Pillai Perumāḷ ayyangār also known as Divya kavi the composer of Ashta prabandam. Though the exact date of this composer is not known he is placed in the 13th cent by competent authorities. (Introduction to Ashta prabhandam By Murray Rajam) Many of the compositions of this great composer were essentially meant for dance.
For example the Divya kavi employs in his Thiru arnga kalampakam Ammanai, Cintu, kuṟam, Matangapan etc are excellent compositions for dance. In fact the whole of Thiru Arnaga kalampakam consisting of 100 verses on Lord Ranganatha have Sringāra Madhura Bhakti as the main theme which could be explored by dancers. Similar is the composition of Ranganathar usal for dance.
Malaimakaḷum aranum oru vaṭam toṭṭu āṭṭa
Vāsavanum sasiyum oru vaṭam toṭṭu āṭṭa
Kalaimakaḷum ayanum oru vaṭam toṭṭu āṭṭa
Kandanum vaḷḷiyum kalantu oru vaṭam toṭṭu āṭṭa
Alaimakarap pāṟkaṭluḷ avataritta
Alar makaḷum nilamakaḷum āyar kātal
Talaimakaḷum irumarunkil āta engaḷ
tannaranga Maṇvāḷar āṭi ūsal.
The Vijaya nagar age
The Vijaya nagara rulers and their Governors, the Nayaks, continued the tradition, but the life had become complicated due to incursions, threats, destructions and alien faith. The taste also changed. As in sculpture, painting architecture and other fields, so also in dance the suggestive, simple and lucid style yielded place to more complex involved and cumbersome compositions and patterns. Though on the one hand the Hindus and Muslims were fighting each other in battles and in the religious front an imperceptible cultural integration did take place in dress, costume, music and dance forms. The Mughal and Deccani traditions did permeate the area of fine arts. The Tanjore region did retain the Hindu ethos till almost the 19th cent, due to geographical and political factors. The Nāyaks of Tanjore and later Marāttas from 16th cent. to almost the beginning of this cent. were great patrons of dance. From the 16th cent. Telugu language and later Marātti and Hindustani overwhelmed Tamil language in the field of music and dance on account of Royal support.
Saint Arunagiri nāthar who lived in the Vijayanagara age inspired dance traditions by his compositions of Thiruppukaḻ. He was a great master of Candas meter, the rhythmic syllables which he employs profusely in his compositons. He was obviously influenced by the work of Ottakkūttar’s Takkayāgap parani. Arunagiris songs frequently refer to dance techniques.
Bharatattai aṭakki naṭppavar
Tripurattai erikka nahaippavar
Dhit dhit tey otta paripura
nrittapadam vaittu bhairavi
Dhimida dhimidhimi maddali dakkaikaḷ cekacece
Enavee duhuduhu duttena ottukaḷ
Tuṭkaḷ Iṭikkaḷ mulāngiṭa
ṭimuṭa ṭimu ṭimu ṭIṭṭum ena tavil eḻum oocai
ikali alkaikaḷ kaippaṟai koṭṭita
iraṇabhairavi cuṟṟu naṭittiṭa
etiru nicicarai baliyittaruḷ Perumāḷee
Brahma learnt dance from Siva and taught it to Bharata. Arunagiri alludes to Brahmā worshipping Subrahmanya who is praised as a great dance master.
Dhimidham ena muḻaoli muḻanga cenkai
Damarukat tadir jatiyoodanparkku inpat
Tiṟmutavu Bharata guru vandikkum sadgurunāthā
That Subrahmanya is a great exponent of Dance is alluded to in an inscription of 8th cent at Mamallapuram. There could be no doubt that Arunagiris Thiruppakaḻ were danced in the respective temples in his days.
The 16th cent may be described as the age of Krishnadeva raya. Though this remarkable ruler had on;y 20 years of rule his contribution to the stability of the region and the enrichment of art and culture are unparallel that Krishnadevaraya personally supervised and directed training of dancing girls is mentioned by an eye witness account of Dominico paes an Italian who visited the Emperor in 1520 AD. .
Among the most attractive forms of dance that developed during the Vijayanagar and post Vijayanagar era, the Kuravanci dance deserves special attention. Over one hundred kuravanci dance poems were composed in the 18th and 19th cent many of which yet remain in manuscript form. I myself have published five kuravancis in 1979. The popularity of this drama is mainly due to its structure blending happily the highly classical and the invitingly rustic forms. The contents of all the Kuravanci are the same. A talented beautiful girl falls in love the hero when she happens to see him in a procession. She pines for union with him.The Kuratti appears on the sceneand identifies her lover and and predicts her union with him. In the meanwhile The Kurava searches for his spouse Kuratti and on seeing her and the rich presents she carries, he suspects her fidelity. Finally realizing his folly he repents and unites with her. The main theme of the drama is Vipralamba sringāra- love in separation presented in two parts, the first part ends with Kuratti telling the fortunes of the heroine, and the second is the rustic love of the kurava male towards his wedded wife a beautiful contrast between the classical and the folk. It provides opportunity to provide grammatical and colloquial forms of poetry both in ragas and dance forms. In both it is the Kuratti who is the central figure hence the name Kuravanci to this drama. A study of the evolution of this form shows that second part dealing with the Kurava episode was added in the recent past around 16th cent. Prior to that, the Kuratti foretelling the fortune alone constituted the main theme of the dance. The origin of this dance may be traced to Tolkappiyam (2000 years ago which refers to the tradition of Kuratti also called ahaval makal telling the fortune called kattu. The kuratti who was called kattuvicci , the Kuratti made use of paddy seeds to predict the future. Following her predictions there used to take place veriyāttu Possesive dance. Kattuvicci is referred in the divyaprabandham hymns of alvars. The kattu also came to be called kurrm or kuratti pattu. Many other limbs were added to this simple prediction of kuratti in the 7th sent. The love of heroine sprouts by the hero going in procession the heroine falling in deep love with him and pining for union, the season and the full moon increases her love lorn condition. The Kuratti assuring the heroine speedy union with her lover are found as part in poetic composition known as kalampakam. Kalamapakam means a garland of mixed flowers and similarly the poetic composition has verses of different meters threaded together with alternating floral variety. The earliest such work is Nandikk-alampakam on the Pallava ruler Nandivarman , the victor of Tellaru 9th cent. All the elements mentioned above are found in this work. The songs to the sparkling full moon (Vennila) in which the heroine ridicules the moon are famous in kuravanci dance. These are also found in kalampakam compositions. Later Kalampakam add kurram songs in their format.
Kuratti carrying casket and dancing is found frequently in sculptural representations of the 16th cent. especially in the time of Krishnadevaraya and his sucessors. Such representations can be seen in the temple of Varadaraja at Kanchipuram and other temples in Pudukkottai and Madurai regions. In one illustration the Kurava is seen carrying a bird in his hand and dancing. Evidently the presentation of Kuravanci dance form with both the parts, the Kuratti episode and the Kurava episode were integrated in the whole around 16th cent. That it is kurram form which developed into kuravanci is seen from the dance drama Gangeyan Kuravanci of 18th cent composed in the reign of Muttu Vijaya Raghunatha Sethupati. The work is called Māk-kuram
Māri Nāyakan peeril mākkuram tanil uraitten.
Kuravanci cintu, Kuravanci candam, Kuravanci Natakam, and Kueavanci prabhandham are the other names found for this dance compositions. The Kuravanci dance dramas are mostly localized with the Lord of the Local temple appearing as the hero, coming in procession and an imaginary heroine (the dancing girl of the temple) falling in love with the Lord. This facilitated the enactment of the dance in the temple festivals, bestowing an environmental meaning and attachment. The localization also gives tremendous popularity to dance, in spite of the structure being the same in all such compositions. The Mohini vilasa Kuravanci on the Maratta ruler, Shaji (1700 CE) employs Tamil and Sanskrit. The manuscript in Tanjore is interestingly written in Nagari script. Even Tamil songs are written in Nagari charaters, evidently for the use of Shahi who was yet to learn Tamil. There are kuravancis using four languages. The PoyyamoḻI īsar kuravanci written in 1750 the word Tillana in a song.
Tāccu tāccenum tahatahatta
Teeccenum tahatta tilatta
Tillānā dhirana dhiriri tillānā
A dance compsotion named Sikkil Navanitheswar Kuravanci was aritten in 1852 in the region of the Maratta ruler, Sivaji II. It may be recalled that the famous Tanjore quartette lived during this period. The text refers to Sivaji II as the ruler of Tanjore and that the English were his Overlords.
Cirmiku Sivaji rājendran peeriI cengol perukiya nāḷil
Engilicu desattu Eiroppu mannar angitai onril arasālu nālil
says a verse in the text. Please note the words European king of English country ruling. This work was composed by one Chokkalinga Pillai of Thiruvarur, who served as school teacher. The author refers to one Ponnaiah Pillai. It is not known whether this Ponnaiah Pillai is one of the Tanjore brothers. Interestingly the author introduces different languages in the composition . For example the heroine asks the Kuratti about her family background to which she answers in Tamil, Telugu and kannada. The credit of making the kuravanci dance a highly refined and classical dance goes to Smt. Rukmini devi of Kalahsetra in her Kuttala kuravanci. The role of Kuratti as a fortune teller has dwindled in modern times. I do not think there is much scope for new innovations in the form except staging it as a relic of the past.
Many works could be cited as dance compositions to make the history of Tamil compositions complete but it would be possible to make only a selection here to show the main trend. Kumara-guruparar of 17th cent would be remembered as an outstanding poet who wose works like Meenakshi amman Pillai tamil are suited to dance. In recent times Ramalinga vallalar has composed many songs specially suited for dance. The famous song Dendan Iṭṭeen enṟu collaṭti is one of his compositions. Also another song innum dayavu varavillai is in the classical tradition called cintu. He has tried his hand in pāngimār kaṇṇI, Veṇṇilāk kaṇṇI, muṟaiyīṭṭuk kaṇṇI and Thiruvaṭik kaṇṇi. He has a kaṇṇi on Lord Nataraja which he calls Kommi. Ramalingar lived between 1823 and 1874.
Another poet of great eminence was Mambala kavicinga Navalar (1834 1884) patronized by Ponnusvami Tevar of Ramanathapuram. The poet wrote many poems for dance under the heading Ananda gita rasa. Some of the songs are called Tempangu and indicate the ragas like sama and yadukula cambodi. There is one on Lord Subramanya of Palani under the name singara cintu or Kumaresar tempangu. Gopala Krishna Bharati, Muttu Tandavar, Vedanayakam Pillai and Papanasam sivan are other outstanding poets in the field of dance compositions. I have myself composed some dance dramas to communicate through medium of dance . Rajaraj vijayam, Rajendra choal kadal, are such compsotions in which I have made use authentic records like inscriptions to weave the dance drama. Similarly in my works on the life of the Sivaite saints Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar I have used the poems of the saints themselves at appropriate places to tell the story.
1. .Dance was called Bharata Nāṭyam in Tamilnadu through the centuries and is referred to as such in works composed over two hundred years earlier. Hence the view that the term Bharata Nāṭyam was coined after 1930 is incorrect.
2. The term Sadir standing for dance is not derived from Satara, the Capital of the Maratta rulers of the 17th cent. but has been used to denote dance even 1300 years ago as seen from the Tevaram hymn of Sambandar. The word is derived from the Sanskrit catura.i.e beautiful.
3. Dance was called Viral in the Sangam age 1st 2nd Cent. CE.
4. The most ancient Tamil grammar Tolkappiyam speaks of Nāṭyam dharmi and Looka dharmi and also the Satvika bhavas. An uderstanding of the dance traditions is absolutely required for a proper understanding of Tolkappiyam.
5. The Tamil classification of Aham and Puram are influenced by dance traditions.. Aham stands for Sringara and Puram external exploits
6. The Tamil Sangam poems _ Aham and Puram are the earliest compositions for dance in Tamil. Such classifications have conventional suggestive elements like ragas, talas, instruments, seasons, flowers etc.
7. The Tamil classic Silappadhikaram is the best Dance drama composition Nataka kappiyam in Tamil nadu.
8. the devotional hymsn of Nayanmars and Alvars reflect not only the highly developed stage of dance centered around temples, but also laid the foundation for further development which reached the height under the Cholas. Besides giving great support to women dancers in temples the chola age witnessed compositions of many dance dramas which were enacted in temple festivals Ulas, Pillai Tamil and parani are such compositions.
9. The dance form Cakkiyar kuttu now prevalent in Kerala was as much part of Tamilnadu and was prevelant in many temples.
10. The Vijyanagara age saw the personal involvement of the Rulers in dance. However cumbersome and complicated poems were composed during this age.
11. The age also witnessed the impact of the Mughal influence on Indian dance, music and costume.
12. The Telugu and Hindusthani traditions pushed the Tamil schools into secondary position.
13. The Kuravanci dance drama emerged as the most popular dance form during this period. The origin could origin could be traced to Tolkappiyam. Its popularity is mainly due to the happy blend of classical and folk elements and the trend to localize the story.