* What Nattuvangam means?
* Is there any historical proof in using Nattuvangam?
* Why do we use Nattuvangam in dance concerts?
* Is Nattuvangam important in dance?
* Why in ancient days there were only Nattuvanars, Tata Vadhya player, Shushira and Gana Vadhya players on stage, why there was no separate singers on stage?

Every Bharatanatyam students or Bharatanatyam lovers, have the same question in their mind. As the Amrapali Rendition online magazine brings to me a wider platform across the globe to unfurl new facets and questions related to arts and culture, I’m happy to share such questions with relevant answers. I sincerely hope that, the all will get a complete picture about Nattuvangam after reading this feature.

‘Nattuvangam’ is a Tamil word. It is the main accompaniment in a dance concert. It helps to control the Nrityam. That is the reason the name arose, ‘Natta’ means the dancer and ‘Anga’ is her body, Natta+Anga = Nattuvangam, is an instrument that control the Angas of the dancer. It is made up of iron and brass which is generally said as shiva and parvathi. The person who plays the Nattuvangam is called as the Nattuvanar and mostly Nattuvanar will be the Guru for the students. The basic lessons and training for Nattuvangam is usually done with Tattukali, ‘Tattu’ means plate and ‘Kali’ means the stick.

But, in concert compulsory Nattuvangam is played. Nattuvanar plays the main key role in a Bharatanatyam concert. He is the one who controls every thing. The best Quality of a Nattuvanar is to choreograph, train the students, maintain the Laya, directing the Orchestra, to sing and play the Nattuvangam.

Is there any historical proof regarding usage of Nattuvangam?

To solve this question, I need to write about ‘Devadasis’. Who are they? They were the part of complete education of Literature, Dance and Music. They were the Dasis of God and presented the divine dance before the Devas. That is why they were called Devadasis. These temple artistes had different duties which was traditionally set and mentioned in the temple Agama Shastra like:
* Raja Dasi, dance during Dwaja Sthambha
* Alankara Dasi, dance during functions
* Devadasis, dance in temple
* Seva Dasi, dance during religious occasion
* Pushpanjali Dasi, dance by offering flowers to deities

When we come to the point of musicians, accompanying the dancers comes the Nattuvanar, who played
the cymbals, maintained the rhythm all over. Nattuvanars usually belong to the ISAI VELALAR
community (who are experts in both Chinna Melam and Periya Melam). Periya Melam means playing
Nagaswaram and Tavil). They were the fulcrum of the group and maintained the structure and the troupe. In short they are the main Director.


The earliest literary work we get evidence about dance is Tolkappiyam, Natya Sashtra, Koothanul, etc. Then we get complete detail about Bharatanatyam from the Arangetrukkadai of Silappadigaram, Kalidasas Megathoodan etc.

Dance sculptures, painting and inscriptions in the temple provide us a treasure of information regarding the Nattuvanars and the details of all fine arts tat was fallowed in the temple. The kings Chera, Chola and the Pandiyas acted a main role in the growth of our fine arts. Later, it was done by the kings of Maratas. It is said that Nattuvanar trained dance for the Chola princes kunthavalli. King Kulasekara Perumal dedicated his own daughter as Devadasi in the temple. Inscription of Tanjore Bragadeshwara temple says that, there was 430 Devadasis and 150 Musicians in the temple. All these artistes were provided with jewelries, lands, rice, gold coins, etc. King Tulaja presented Nattuvan Chavadi (resident) to Subburaya Nattuvanar as a gift which is still there opposite the temple.

Many great scholars like Prof. Sambamoorthy, Kapila Vatsan, Ananda Cooramani, etc. had handled with these subject. Saskia in her book ‘Nithya Sumangali’ had almost covered the complete detail from the temple structure, Agama Sastras (Pujas, its timing, items and instruments performed during all occasions and rituals), history of Devadasis in south India and the passenger of the Devadasis of Tamil Nadu. From all these we can understand that, Nattuvanars, musicians and Devadasis were given the next position after the temple Brahmins to serve God. ‘Sruti Matha Laya Pitha’, without these two there is no fine arts.

For singing Tevaram also, Tiruganasambandar one of the Nayanmar was provided with Porthalam (golden cymbals) by Lord Shiva. Nattuvangam comes under Laya Vadhyam. Nattuvanar is like a Sarathi (chariot rider). He is the one who lead and control the whole Bharatanatyam concert. Generally Nattuvanars are expert in all the field in Bharatanatyam i.e., they can sing and do Nattuvangam for the whole concert, can even play all the instruments or have a good knowledge of all. Usually they are expert in singing and playing Mridangam. They enhances footwork and energetic movements of the dancer. Sound of Nattuvangam is based on the Sruti or pitch of the singer. Those days Nattuvangam was made up of Panchlogam i.e. five varieties of metals and generally Nattuvanars prefer for heavy ones. And the sound also was so heavy and was not so shrill. This will give a pleasant sound and since its heavy, tempo will be maintained.

Thus Nattuvan stands the main root of a dance concert. Many famous Nattuvanars where there in the Tanjore court who helped to maintain and grow our traditional art of Bharatanatyam. The Chinna Melam and Periya Melam i.e., Nagaswaram, Tavil, Nattuvanars and Devadasis perform in the temple, before the God during its procession while the Brahmins and the king, along with his queen and public followed the procession. Thus, the Nattuvanars and Devadasis had a lavish patronage of the great king mainly during king Raja Raja Chola at Bragadeshwara Temple, Tanjore and this is proved from inscription (details regarding 400 dancers). The Dasi Attam, Sadir Attam and Nattuva Melam is now popularly renamed as Bharatanatyam. In Natya Shastra the fundamental cadence are classified as Karanas (108 karanas found in sculptures) and Angaharas (‘Anga’ means body and ‘Hara’ means Name of Shiva. There are 32 Angaharas described in detail in Natya Shastra).

The three main elements of Bharatanatyam is explained below:
*Nritta – pure dance like adavus (Adavus, Jatis, Kalam or Layam and Nritta Hastas)
*Nrithya- pure dance along with Abhinaya
*Natya- Dance along with Drama

Bharatanatyam came to the present form by the Tanjore quartet Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Shivanandam and Vadivelu. The dances were reformed to be performed in a shorter period of time so that various traditional compositions could b given in a short time. So, it was framed as Alarippu, Pushpanjali/ Todaya Mangalam, Jatiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam, Padam, Javali, Tillana and Shloka.

The Devadasi Nritya is one of the loveliest forms of Indian Dance. Its artistic principles and techniques
are most significant for us even today as they link the past with the present.