THE TANJAVUR QUARTET – Margadarsis of Bharatanatyam

Historically, Bharatanatyam was mostly prevalent in Tamil Nadu, though traces of it were found in the 20th century in what are now Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Today it is taught and practised throughout the globe. The term ‘Bharatanatyam’ has been in existence at least from the 15th century but we do not know the compositions the dancers performed in the early years of Bharatanatyam. The Silappadhikaram mentions eleven types of dance, but not the individual pieces danced.

We find the term ‘tillana’ in an inscription of Rajendra Chola (1052-l064), and ‘jakkini’ during the times of Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara. Rajaraja Chola brought 400 dancers from different places and appointed them in the Tanjavur Brihadeeswara temple to do regular service there, but we do not know their dance repertoire.

Some agamas mention dances like the Bhujangatrasam and Suddha nrittam. Only during the time of the Tanjavur Nayak rulers, do we come across many items like sollu, jakkini, alznu, pushpanjali, perani, and korvai, as also the names of the experts in these. In many courts of the Marathas, who followed the Nayaks, most of the dance compositions practised during the previous regime were kept intact. During the reign of the ruler Tulaja, kavuttuvams were composed and danced in temples. The repertoire added during the time of Tulaja and Serfoji II owes its credit to four brothers of Tanjavur who belonged to a traditional natyacharya family. They were Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu, the ‘Tanjavur Quartet’ we know… more