top of page

The Basics

A traditional Bharatanatyam Arangetram performance follows a seven to eight-part order of presentation. 


The Arangetram performance typically begins with a dance called the Pushpanjali, which literally translates to "offering of flowers". In this dance, the performers offers flowers and salutations to the Hindu deities, the Guru, and the audience as a mark of respect. The beginning of the dance symbolizes supplication, from which the dancer then commences the rest of the performance.


The presentation can also begin with a rhythmic invocation (Vandana) called the Alarippu. 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 preliminary warm up dance, without melody, to enable the dancer to loosen their body, journey away from distractions and towards single-minded focus.


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). They perform 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). This is the first item of Margam where expressions are introduced. 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. This performance praises God (such as Krishna, Shiva, Rama and Murugan) and their qualities.


The Varnam part of Bharatanatyam emphasizes expressive dance. The performance thereafter evolves into the Varnam stage. This marks the arrival into the core of the performance. It is the longest section and the Nritya. A traditional Varnam may be as long as 30–45 minutes or sometimes an hour. Varnam offer huge scope for improvisation and an experienced dancer can stretch the Varnam to a desirable length. The artist presents the play or the main composition, reveling in all their 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. Their 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 them with musical notes and tones that set the appropriate mood.



The Padam is next. 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.


Shlokam or Mangalam

The seventh and final item in the sequence can be either a Shlokam or a Mangalam. The dancer calls for blessings on the people all around.

bottom of page