The History Behind the Indian Classical Costume, Bharatanatyam

Fashion comes in many forms. There aren’t set ways as to how you present yourself or express yourself. One main outlet for people to express their taste for fashion is incorporated in dance. Dance comes in several forms, it’s extremely intercultural and brings people from all over the world together. One type of Indian Classical dance is called Bharatanatyam. 

Bharatanatyam is a major form of Indian classical dance which originated in a place in India called Tamil Nadu. This dance form is known to be a prominent form which expresses several South Indian spiritual ideas, thoughts, and mythical stories of deities, and etc. The style of dressing a Bharatanatyam dancer is more or less similar to how we dress a Tamil Nadu bride. There are about three types of costumes a dancer can wear based on their age and comfort. Dancers usually wear a beautiful tailor-made sari that consists of pleats which fall in front between the legs and have a sari like structure near the chest area. This is to compliment the dancer’s movements when she lifts her legs and sits in the foundation/basic pose, called “aramandi”. The costume can be made with several fabrics or just one sari color, although it’s usually made with two, and they alternate sari patterns between the blouse and the sari. There is a front piece which covers the chest area and blouse, adding the traditional sari aspect, a back piece, blouse, pants, and pleats which are attached from the top of the pant to the ankles, creating a fan-like structure. Younger girls tend to wear a designed blouse without the sari aspect of it, whereas older girls tend to wear a full sari which falls near the knees, with leggings underneath.

Along with the costume, there are several pieces of traditional jewelry which adorn the waist, neckline, ears, and arms of the dancer. This includes two necklaces, bangles, a waist belt, head jewelry, big earrings, and ghejje (bells that go around the ankle). The hair is either in a bun with flowers around it or a long braid. The costumes are very intricate and the tailor spends several days or weeks designing a costume.

As you can probably tell from the description, there are several pieces which come together to create on piece, and have significant cultural value to the dancer, the tradition, and the art form. The costume can be altered or changed in many ways as well based on the dance. The descriptions above apply for a traditional classical dance, however, many classical dances can add a modern, contemporary touch to it. The costumes are also designed to compliment the character the dancer is portraying, or the role they are given in the production. For example, in a recent production of the Little Mermaid, in Bharatanatyam, the costume was designed to incorporate the right colors, fabric, design, and texture to describe a mermaid. In this way, the costume is altered in ways to adapt to the dance. 

The costume for this dance is very traditional and comes from a background which would take a whole other article to explain. Through the intricate aspects of this costume, it brings the entire dance together and adds to the beauty of the dancer’s movements, expressions, and technique.

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