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Bharatnatyam: Mind on its feet

Bharatnatyam is an Indian traditional dance, which quintessentially represents the traditional South Indian Dravidian culture. Arangetram is the entry into this specialized art and also dedication to Lord Nataraja the “dance” god in Indian mythology.

Known for its postures and sinuous, intricate movements, coordinated with expression of face and the eyes. Highly specialized and with a steep learning curve this artistic oeuvre, demands regular practice to achieve proficiency. Done well, it is the finest exhibition of coordination with music, rhythm and meaningful expression

Music is set to specific rhythms and sung in special compositions signifying a theme and narrating a story and theme through postures and expressions.

It is an art where body language dominates over verbal and linguistic articulation. In fact it is both art and yoga – involving physical effort, astonishing balance of the body and alignment of the mind with undivided attention.

According to Indian mythology Lord Shiva took the form of Nataraja and danced in ecstasy, the vibrations from his foot-beats spreading through “SPACE” and sending out sounds from which the Vedic scripts evolved. Hence, the dance is considered a divine art, the fount of knowledge and the creator of the universe. Lord Nataraja is, therefore, worshiped both at the beginning and end of dance.

Over years great musicians under the divine influence scripted many sublime compositions thereby creating a traditional teachers and Gurukul system.

The practice of Dance not only promotes physical fitness it also helps in muscle toning, balance and enhances attention span thereby improving overall mental abilities.

As a neurosurgeon I can’t resist talking about the role of the brain in this aesthetically coordinated feat orchestrated by virtually every part of the brain. Learning areas (temporal lobe); planning areas (pre-frontal and basal ganglia); eye movements (frontal eye field ); execution (motor area); sinuous movements (basal ganglia); feed-back (sensory cortex); balance (cerebellum) and expression (cranial nerves).

All the signals are cohesively transmitted from the respective neurons through the white matter via the spinal cord and peripheral nerves to different muscles. Alongside, all the sensory cues, visual and auditory and from the stretch and balance receptors send their feed back to their respective centers. Such a complex act involving the coordination of a whole range of signals and reflexes translates into a perfect performance. Hence this art enjoys a pre-eminent among the performing arts.

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