BHARATANATYAM: The legend and the inspiration
Bharatanatyam has a divine origin. Devas asked Brahma to create a Veda that would be understood by the Sudras, as Kali Yuga was nearing: “When the universe was overcome by desire, greed, jealousy and anger, when people became slaves of pleasure and pain, Brahma was moved to create a form of entertainment seen and heard and understood by everybody at the same time, as people could no longer understand the mystic and ambiguous scriptures”.
Bharata natyam was created “not merely for pleasure, but to embody the cosmic relationships and expressions (bhava) for all the worlds. So this performing art follows the worlds’ movements in all activities and states: work and leisure, calm and laughter, fight and wars. It will confer righteousness onto the righteous, a moral restraint for the unruly, and discipline for the those who are guided by rule. It will teach wisdom both to the ignorant and the learned. It will provide entertainment for kings, and it will console the miserable ones. Natya will express all the moods and passions of the soul. It will incorporate all kinds of the deeds: the noble, the mediocre and the mean”
Thus Brahma created the the Fifth (Panchama) Veda, or NatyaVeda, a quintessence of the main four Vedas, by combining Pathya (words) of Rigveda, Abhinaya (communicative elements of the body movements, cf. mime) of Yajurveda, geetham (music and chant) of Samaveda, and rasam (vital sentiment and emotional element) of Atharvaveda. Then Brahma handed NatyaVeda to rishi Bharata to write it down and spread it in the material world. Bharata-guided the demigods (Gandharavas and Apsaras) in performing natya, nrtta and nrtya before Shiva. Natya Shastra came to be the fundamental authority on the technique of classical Indian dances, especially Bharatanatyam and Odissi, as well as Kuchipudi and Mohiniattam. Some prefer to believe the term “Bharatnatyam” owes its name to rishi Bharata.
Bharata along with the apsaras and gandharvas performed Bharatanatyam for Shiva who asked Thandu Maharishi to develop it further into a Thandava (which only much later came to mean “masculine”) style of dance, the Cosmic Dance of Shiva. Shiva imparted Lasya Natya to Parvathi who taught it on to Usha (the daughter of Banasura). Usha passed it on to the gopis of Dwarka who then taught the women of Sowrashtra.