Art has been a medium which encapsulates cultural, social and religious values and presents them before the masses who cherish it. It has been a source of entertainment, joy and a purpose of life to many. Dance, in particular, has had many enthusiastic followers. In an ever changing world, dance forms have evolved, taking notice of trends that are being followed. However, certain traditional dance forms remain faithful to their origins and continue to tell stories of the olden days and in many ways inculcate spiritual well being among dancers and viewers alike. Bharatanatyam has been one of the oldest dance forms in India and is also a form with an indisputable reputation of improving one’s quality of life.

Having originated in South India, it had elements that showcased religious themes and spiritual ideas of many cults. It has interpreted mythical legends and spiritual ideas from the Hindu texts and presented them through a beautiful symphony of body movements and depiction of the Navarasas (the nine emotions). While its cultural value has been appreciated for decades, it is only recently that areas of mental and physical health benefits have been explored. Apart from improving flexibility, blood flow and muscle strength, Bharatanatyam has also been proven to have contributing factors towards mental and spiritual well being. 

Cognitive benefits of Bharatanatyam

Studies have suggested that Bharatantyam dancers who practised the dance form for an hour every day for 5 days in a week had better memory because it involves remembering retrieving of steps, facial expressions and finger gestures. They also showed a better tactile acuity (keenness of the sense of touch) and also improved motor responses. It is alleged to be due to the quick movements and concentration that is required in practicing.

Regular practice of Bharatanatyam may facilitate improvement in the task performance, decision-making ability and mental workload handling, which in turn may improve the system performance as it affects the interactions between humans and other elements of the system by intensifying skilled performance, human reliability and expanding human system design.( C Surjani et. al, 2018)

Spiritual benefits of Bharatanatyam

In the performing arts of dance and drama, it is believed that two or three emotions can be intertwined together but the dominant emotion is only one. There are eight such dominant emotions that are considered as permanent states of being. They are part of the inherent nature of man. The artist through his art brings them out to the conscious level. Through an ingenious portrayal of these emotional states of being in his art, the artist strives to evoke an emotional response or re-create a similar state of being in the spectators which is called the experience of rasa. Regardless of the field or symbol that the artist used to present his idea, he has to make sure that through his creation, he evoked an emotional response from the audience to the beauty or truth of mankind in the art presented. This is the goal of all arts.

The emotional idea expressed by the actor arouses a ‘rasa’ i.e. a ‘sentiment’ in the spectator. A rasa or sentiment created through art is a result of sthayi-bhava (permanent state of being) producing a pleasurable sensation through the operation of involuntary (sattvika bhavas) and transitory (vyabhichari bhavas) states of being(A. Chandra et. al, 2014).

Hinduism preaches that the ultimate karma of a man is to find his path back to ‘The One’ universal source of power and while performing, the artist and the audience are both lifted into a spiritual plane of thoughts and feelings that are invoked by their interactions with each other. These are believed to guide a man into a state of calm and a state of oneness with the supreme power.

Regardless of one’s beliefs in the values Bharatanatyam upholds it has lifted the human spirit in many ways and bettered many lives. Like every other art form, it can mean to you what you seek and see in it.