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Jewellery made to touch your soul: Sathir to Bharathanatyam

Bharathanatyam initially known as ‘Sathir’ is one of India’s traditional dance that originated in Tamil Nadu. It is believed that Lord Brahma, the creator in Hinduism wrote the Natya Shastra – the 5th veda that is purely dedicated to Bharathanatyam. This art was taught to the mankind by the demigods through Lord Nataraja – god of dance. This was originally practiced by female temple dancers called ‘Devadasis’ dedicated to serve god in temples. They possess 64 forms of art and were given high social status as they were considered to be married to god. The devadasi culture originated in the 7th century during the reigns of the Cholas, Cheras and Pandyans when temples were built to initiate sacred religious rituals.

Furthermore, they were not economically stable but, received valuable goods such as jewels and gold from empires which were donated to the temples for their service and aesthetic skills.

With the British colonisation, a decline was seen when ‘Rajanarthakis’ – court dancers emerged leading to prostitution. In order to regain this art, many renowned artists such as, Smt Rukmini Devi Arundal, Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer etc have worked hard giving a new name

‘Bharathanatyam’. Looking at the attire of the dancers. Why do they wear a lot jewellery?

Each ornamental piece worn has a significance and a specific location. ‘Devadasis worn many gold or kemp (red and green stones) embedded jewelleries to show the rich Hindu culture, enhance beauty and capture the eyes of the spectators’ said Bharatha Kalavithahar Mehala Vimesh.

Today, a Bharathanatyam dancer generally wear 16 ornaments. The head symbolises heaven as three-lined ‘nethi-pattam’ with a sun and moon on either sides and a circular large pendant ‘rakodi’ on top is worn. The hair is braided and adored with fresh flowers. The ears are decorated with ‘jimikki’ and ‘mattal’ hanged from the ear lobe to hair while ‘mukkuthi’, ‘naththu’ and ‘bullak’ are worn as nose ornaments. Furthermore, dancers wear multiple necklaces to control breathing. Generally, an ‘attikai’ – a short choker type necklace and a ‘malai’ – longer necklace often with several pearl layers or a golden necklace is worn. The arms are adored with bracelets and wrists with bangles symbolising prosperity. Fingers and feet are painted in red to help spectators follow the movements. A golden or kemp stones embedded belt named ‘ottiyanam’ is worn to enhance the grace of the waist. The final and important ornament worn is around the ankle. Which is the ‘salangai’ – a belt with rows of bells worn to produce mark the rhythm. Thus, the dancer is compared to the beauty of heaven.

When comparing the Devadasis and Bharathanatyam dancers, even with the modernisation of antique jewellery, why do they still wear many pieces?

Bharatha Kalanidhi Smt. Shivananthy Haridharshan says ‘The reason to take up this ancient art from is to educate youths to appreciate the value and tradition not leading to decline again. These unique kemp temple jewellery pieces give richness to the performer and culture of this art as a whole.’ Therefore, however the world is modernised, it is the duty of the mankind not to forget the good old traditions but be aware, learn, incorporate and educate the upcoming generations on the richness of Bharathanatyam and its jewellery.

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