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Bharatanatyam is one of the special dances. As a classical dance it has its own specialty. When we observe a Bollywood dance or other types of dances, we understand the meaning of the dance by the song. Bharatanatyam is unlike these dances. The main point of view in the dance is bhava. The bhava or the feeling we experience shows in our face and our body as we dance Bharatanatyam. Thus, it conveys our dance, Bharatanatyam, to the audience. Bharatanatyam is independent of music but connected to bhava. Bharatanatyam can still be performed without music but without bhava it is handicapped.

One of the special techniques to convey bhava is the usage of eye movement. The eye conveys all forms of feelings or acts. It is the window to our inner eye or imagination.

It is not easy to express our bhava through eyes or the physical body. It takes a lot of continuous practice.

Another technique of bhava is the right usage of smile. A smile makes the presentation of the dance way better. It connects the audience to the dance. Modifying the smile to the variation of steps keeps the interest of the audience for a longer span of time.

But how does the expression or bhava rise in our hearts? The direct connection, I believe is when we sense something. The smell of a flower rises joy. A puppy makes us feel compassion and so on. For a dancer, the direct connect is music, when the dancer hears the music, she connects everything that she has sensed around her to that music and performs. Thus, bhava rise within her.

A very important technique of showing bhava is hand gestures. These are called hasta. Bharatanatyam has unique hand gestures like the sign language and each one can be used to denote our bhava.

Observation is important for practicing bhava. If the dancer wants to express with her face then there are two ways to achieve such imagination. One is acquired imagination … where she has naturally learnt it by watching her parents, family and surroundings.

The other way is to learn it by observation. Observing people and environment. These maybe people on bus, movies, paintings or nature.

Examples of bhava

There are many examples of bhava. Scriptures define bhava in various categories.

*“The three categories of bhava are Sthayi Bhava, Vyabhikari Bhava (voluntary bhava) and Sathvika Bhava. There are 8 sthayi bhava, 33 vyabhikari bhava and 8 sathvika bhava. Thus we can end up in saying that there are altogether 49 bhava which become the source of expression.”


The stayi bhava are the most interesting and easily connectable.

They are:

Shringaram – Love and all the pleaseant feelings sucha as shy , happiness, bliss come under this

Hasyam – hasyam means the expression to laugh or a comical act which in turn makes you want to laugh

Veeram – is the feeling of courage, the feeling of power…all our super heroes are shown with veera bhava

Rowdram – furiously angry. It means that our mind is filled with nothing but high energy of anger.

Bhayanakam – it shows the feeling of being scared

Bheebhatsam – it is a bhava that shows our disgust to something

Adhbhutam – it is the feeling of surprise, wonder or even shock

Karunam – it is seeking sympathy or compassion. at times even pity is shown through karunam

Shanta is another bhava that is actually denotes lack of bhava. An English word for it is peace.

It is how the colour black is not a colour but lack of all colours…yet is known as a colour.

While everything can be changed or modified in Bharatanatyam such as costumes, music or steps…bhava cannot be. It is an unchangeable and important part of Bharatanatyam dance format.

Bhava completes Bharatanatyam.

PS: most of the points mentioned here is what I feel after listening to teachers in my class. It is an observation and my understanding on bhava.

Pavithra. S

(along with inputs from Mohana.S) * *

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