Mysore Style Bharatanatyam – Mysore Parampare, shyli, bani…

by Dr. Aparna Sindhoor

Bharatanatyam is one of the classical dance forms from India. It has its origins in the temples and courts of Southern India. Now Bharatanatyam is performed and practiced all over the world. The form encompasses strong techniques in footwork, rhythm training, musicality in movement and Abhinaya (acting or lyrical technique.)

All art forms, including Bharatanatyam, are ever evolving. Influenced by local cultural, socio-economic and artistic development, the tradition is always stretching the form. The beauty of Bharatanatyam is in this evolution and expansion. Since the time we have known about Bharatanatyam in history, the form has been continuously evolving with several influences which has led to the development of various styles of Bharatanatyam, such as the Pandanallore style, the Tanjavour style, the Mysore style, etc. These styles are also known as shyli or parampare or bani. To put it simply: the STYLES (or the regional variations) make the FORM.

I trained in the Mysore style of Bharatanatyam for fifteen years with the legendary teacher Padmabhushan Dr. K. Venkatalakshamma (1906-2002). Mysore is a small city in South India in the present day Karnataka state (previously known as Mysore state). The Mysore shyli or style developed predominantly in the Mysore Wodeyar’s court, specifically during the times of Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1894-1940) and Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (1940-1950). The royal patronage played a key role in the development and upkeep of the dancers and the style.

The Mysore style of Bharatanatyam has its own charm. The nuances of any style are in its presentation and teaching methodology. Mysore shyli Bharatanatya focuses on the lyrical and expressive aspects of dance versus angular movements.

Jetti Tayamma (1857-1947) is the pioneer of the Mysore shyli Bharatanatya. A dancer, choreographer and teacher, she was very well respected for her dance and scholarship. She trained in dance, music and literature under teachers such as Subbarayappa, Kaveeshwara Giriyappa, Chandrashekara Shastri and Basavappa Shastri. She was appointed as an Aastana Vidushi (Palace Dancer) in the Mysore palace at the age of fifteen. She resigned from the palace after a few months, began performing at different religious and social occasions, and teaching dance. Based on her versatile training, Jetti Tayamma created her own style of Bharatanatya that is now known as the Mysore shyli Bharatanatya. Lalitha Srinivasan, a senior dance teacher in the Mysore style Bharatanatyam says: “The Pandanallore shyli is defined by strong lines, the Mysore shyli is flowery. The Bharatanatya in this area [Mysore or Karnataka] is clearly different.”

Jetti Tayamma was known to be a very creative artist with great ability to choreograph impromptu dances. Artists, poets and scholars would gather together and challenge Jetti Tayamma to create a dance on the spot to a poem or a song that they composed. She would improvise effortlessly. She is also known to have brought Astapadis from the Sanskrit poet Jayadeva's (12th century) Gita Govinda, poems about love and sensuality, into the repertoire of Bharatanatya. Lalita Srinivasan says: “The astapadis and Amaru shataka (7th century) shlokar [verses] were not performed by any other style before. The Mysore style was known for those pieces. Now other shylis also perform these pieces. There is a possibility that the king Lakshmana Sena who ruled the state of Orissa also ruled the Mysore state in the twelfth-century. Jayadeva’s songs might have come from the Lakshmana Sena’s court to Mysore court.” Karnatic music (South Indian Classical music) is the base for the songs used in most Bharatanatyam styles. Mysore style Bharatanatyam uses Karnatic music as well. But Jetti Tayamma also choreographed dances for Thumree, love songs sung in Hindustani music.

Jetti Tayamma was a great teacher. She trained several students: including her daughter Ranganayaki, S.N. Swamy, Muguru Sundaramma and my guru Dr. K. Venkatalakshamma. Many well-known dancers of post-independence India such as Uday Shankar (1900-1977) and Indrani Rahman (1930-1999) also trained with Jetti Tayamma for some time. Ragini Devi (1893-1982,) an American woman, saw Jetti Tayamma perform and was so impressed that she decided to become a dancer herself.

Individual (sometimes institutional) aesthetic choices are informed and influenced by society, culture, economics and environment. For example, the choice of songs often reflects the regional language or the language of the dancer’s family. In the Mysore shyli there is a large repertoire of Kannada Javalis, representing the regional language and also the preference of the palace audiences. Jetti Tayamma and Venkatalakshamma’s love for Sanskrit, Telugu and Kannada literature permeates their selection of songs. Venkatalakshamma and Jetti Tayamma were both well known for their abhinaya performance. My guru performed even when she was 80 years old. A long patronage of dance in the Mysore palace, individual artists’ contributions to the form and the cultural-socio-economic influences have enabled the beautiful Mysore style of Bharatanatyam to pass the test of time. Now it is my turn to keep the evolution going by teaching the Mysore style, performing it and helping to continue the tradition in a meaningful way that enables our students, society and art lovers to be a part of an ever evolving tradition of Mysore style Bharatanatyam.