Rolling back to the pages of the late ’90s. I still remember how my mom forced me to take up those dance class. That was my first day in natiyalaya. The bright orange clouds conquered the clear skies; the place was completely different compared to routine life; I heard only the sounds of the anklets with the notes of tha thai thee thai. My mom pulled me towards the lady who was teaching. She was dressed beautifully with a perfectly draped saree, welcoming us with a warm smile. My first day of the class went with leg moves. As days and months flipped, I couldn’t stop myself from taking up the class. My love towards Bharatanatyam grew with me. My first performance happened during the Navaratri week. Our morning session went with many rehearsals, then it was time to get dressed up for the grand show. I wondered always why these dance costumes are special than the art. Before these words spill from my mouth, our teacher explained to us about the costume.
The Bharatanatyam dress has a special focus on the stage. This helps in elegantly picturing the poses. The dress is made of Kanchipuram silk or Apoorva silk sarees. It comprises a blouse, trousers, and waist pleat. These sarees are emphasized for their exclusive zari work. In earlier days, the saree was draped in Maharashtrian style or draped in different forms based on their need. But now, the dancer slips into pleated trousers. Where it unfurls when they are in the ubiquitous Bharatanatyam posture. The statues and motifs mostly inspired the designs of the sarees.
The evolution of dance dress began from the year 1935. It is said that Rukmini Devi Arundale tailored the first costume. She stitched a pajama-style outfit with frills and fans, which allowed the dancer to move at ease. Yamini Krishnamurthy’s design followed this. The designs were influenced by popular films. As years pass the costumes evolved. Throughout the history of Bharatanatyam, the outfits revealed and reflected the conflicts between the sensual and spiritual.
Followed by the dress, other important factors to be considered are jewelry and makeup.
The ornaments worn by the dancers are called temple jewelry. The traditional pieces of jewelry are made with dark green and dark maroon color kempu stones. These ornaments have to change because of the affordability and craftsmanship. Yet this jewelry has a unique place in the very classical dance of our country.
According to many of us, salangai is just to feature the leg movement of the dancer. This is one important aspect for every dancer. It helps the audience to follow the beats with the music. They make the bells of the salangai out of brass or silver. These bells also vary in size. Depending upon the size, the pitch gets varied. Normally 45 bells (5 rows X 9 columns) type are worn by beginners. Up to 200 bells are added based on the experience of the dancer. It also marks the connection with mother earth. In recent days, even experienced dancers wear 45 bells salangai.
Make-up and hairdos:
The dancers wear make-up based on the dance they perform. The classical dance portrays different gods of Hindus. The makeups are mainly focused on the eyes. To depict lord shiva and Krishna blue coat is given. They decorate the hands with a traditional round mehndi design.
The important part of make-up is the hairdo. The hairs of the dancers are braided with a center bun. Which is then covered with fresh flowers that are strung. There are different Bharatanatyam hairstyles like Andal kondai where the bun is placed at the side of the head, etc.
I knew this is a long story. But yes, it is important to know how all these details enhance the beauty of the performance. It took more than two hours for us to get fully dressed. Out teacher also added a few more details on how classical dance inspired the fashion dynasty.
Styles inspired from Bharatanatyam:
The Indo- classical garments infused the styles of the traditional art forms. For example, Anarkali, legging infused with furling shawls, Semi-draped gowns. The dance has inspired all these. We also used them in designing fusion dresses with different materials.
These were the last words she said before we left for the stage. Ten years from then, I still remember her words on how authentic it is for us to hold prestigious heritage. Fashion has inspired many people by the way they wear dresses, jewelry, or hairstyles. As trends and technologies grew, the changes over raw art created a vast impact. We often forget to preserve the originality of things.