Arangetram is a Tamil word; "Aranga" meaning raised floor and "Etram" meaning climbing in Tamil, and also called Rangapravesha in Kannada; "Ranga" meaning Stage and "Pravesha" meaning Enter. Ideally this is the first public performance of an artist. After learning Bharatnatyam under the guidance of an accomplished guru, this performance is the testing time for both the guru and the disciple as on this occasion, the public judges the guru`s knowledge & the disciple`s talent together. Hence, the guru decides when the disciple is ready for public appearance. Atleast 10 - 12 years of training is necessary to give a commendable performance.
This Arangetram was known as Gejjepooje in old Mysore district, meaning worshiping the jingles in Kannada, a south Indian language. For a dancer, jingles are considered divine. In olden days, disciples were not allowed to wear jingles till their first public performance. In their first performance, they were made to worship the jingles, wear them & then perform. Accompaniments play a major role in the making of a memorable dance performance. Basic accompaniments are a Singer, Mridangam player, Violin player and ofcource the Natuvanga. Veena, Flute and other instruments are optional. These people sit in the corner of a stage or in a place in front of the stage, which will be in a lower level than that of the stage.
While gestures can be seen from any distance even in a large dance hall, the subtle facial expressions can only be seen from the front rows. This is the main feature that distinguishes Bharatnatyam from the western ballet. Thus, unless a Bharatnatyam recital is held in a small hall, a close-up, high-resolution video is the only adequate medium of presenting the Abhinaya. Bharatnatyam Narrative has a definite traditional order of the items that are performed, called as Margam. Margam means a path or a course followed. It is one full definite course where in dance items are performed in a traditional order. The items that are included are Alarippu, Jatiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam, Padam, Tillana and Shloka or Verse.
Bharatnatyam usually consists of Nritya including Nritta or pure dance and Abhinaya or gesture play. The musical accompaniment is of the Karnatic School with the tala or timing, predominating over the raga or melody in the nritta passages. The artist will wear lot of jewellery, make-up, jingles (compulsory) and a specially stitched dress. Usually duration of an Arangetram will be 2 1/2 - 3 hours. To perform for such long hours one must have good stamina and concentration. This time is divided into two halves. In the first half the artists generally perform the following:
1. Pushpanjali: This is an item where the artist salutes to god, guru and the audience. This item is a warm-up item where the artist prepares the body for the next few hours of vigorous performance. Instead of this item, the performer can also opt for the Alaripu.
Alaripu: This dance comprises of set of movements without any meaning or expression. The movements are performed for syllables set for a beat (Tala). The complexity of the movements gradually increases. The steps are so formed that it looks like a bud blooming into a flower. This is also a warm up piece to prepare the body for the next few hours of performance. Event though there is no meaning; this can also be considered as an item where the artist salutes God, guru and the audience.
2. Jatiswaram: This is also an item where the movements will not convey any meaning or theme. Here the steps are more complex than the previous items. The composition can have amazing postures and teermanas or muktayas (ending of a jati). This is a musical composition set to a raga unlike alaripu, which has only syllables.
3. Shabdam: This is a dance item with both nritta & abinaya. Usually the theme of the lyrics will be devotional like praising lord Krishna, depicting lord Krishnas childhood, praising a king etc. The movements here are slow.
4. Varnam: This is the item where the dancers are tested for their capacity to perform abinaya & nritta. This can be treated as a benchmark to judge the artists talent. The item will contain many complex steps and will have lot of room for expressions also. To perform this item one should have lot of stamina & concentration. The lyrics can be devotional, praising a king etc. Varnam can also have shrigara rasa as its theme.
Later on, in the second half of the Arangetram, the dance performance will include the following dance items:
1. Padam: In this dance item the dancers abhinaya is put into test. It narrates expression of divine love or pain of seperation in love. The tempo is slow and the performance is based on a specific mood of love. Padams will have Nayaka (Hero, Supreme lover, Divine Lord) & Nayika (Heroine, the yearning soul). Heroine will talk to her friend (sakhi) and narrate her feelings towards her hero. The lyrics can be about how the hero has betrayed, how he has delayed the arrival, how she is angry with her beloved hero etc.
2. Ashtapadi: These are poet Jayadevas Sanskrit compositions called Geeta-govinda, an extremely romantic composition. It describes the love of Krishna and Radha in twelve cantos containing 24 songs. The songs are sung by Krishna or Radha or by Radhas maid. Each Canto is named differently considering Krishna`s state of mind, like the ones given below:
Supreetapeetambara - Ecstatic Krishna
Expressions are given foremost importance while performing these poems, since they need a lot of grace. The artist should be mature enough to understand the lyrics and the situation to show the rasas. The dancer can also perform the Devaranama instead of Ashtapati.
Devaranama: This item is a devotional piece where the lyrics are in praise of god, describing the God etc. This is a pure abhinaya item with almost no emphasis on nritta. Usually the lyrics are in Kannada. These songs are the compositions of great visionary like Purandharadaasa, Kanakadaasa, Vijayadaasa, Vyasaraaja to name a few. The compositions are popularly known as Daasa Sahitya. It is a devotional literature written in simple language understood by common man. It has made remarkable contribution to the spiritual and cultural upliftment of people by preaching philosophy of Love, Devotion and Peaceful Co-Existence.
3. Tillana: This is usually the last item in any Bharatnatyam performance. Tillana is full of complicated movements & postures. This will also have complicated Muktayas or Sholkattu, ending of any step or aduvu. This is mainly a nritta piece which might have a charana, a meaningful lyrics for which abhinaya is shown.
4. Mangalam: Meaning ending the performance. Here the artist will again salute god, guru & the audience for making the performance a success.