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Arangetram History and Significance

[Follwing work is a comparative study and compilation of various resources and articles from a
student perspective to understand the history and importance of Arangetram. All sources and
resources have been acknowledged and thanked duly.]
Arangetram (/Tamizh) or Rangapravesham ( /Sanskrit)
literally means entry/ascending onto the stage.
A contemporary tamil dictionary
defines the term as dbut,
premire, or presentation in front
of a public of experts (Gorringe
2001). In the devadasi tradition
mentioned earlier, the arangetram
represented the transition from
student to professional. It was also
the final rite of passage that
dedicated the dancer to the temple
as well as being the moment when
the dancer was seen as being ready to have a patron. (Gaston 1996).
Origin of arangetram is highly debateable; however, its history is not. Arangetram has
been discussed in detail in various texts. We may never know which was the first one to
describe a maiden performance and when did the maiden performance gain its
significance in society.
An Arangetram is a milestone, providing the structure and circumstantial thrust for
the probability of a dance career as long as one does not rest on ones laurel.
Susan Schwartz, She Stands Before Us to Bear Witness: The Arangetram and the Bat
Mitzvah, in Rasa: Delight of the Seasons. This chapter in Schwartz book provides an
analysis of the arangetram as a right of passage, akin to the Bat Mitzvah (the Jewish
Arangetram of Manasa Sriram, Friday, 1
August 2014, The Music Academy, Alwarpet, Chennai

Ceremony for girls), that Indian classical dancers (especially young women) undertake as
both an opportunity for developing and exhibiting virtuosity in the dance form, but also
as a social ritual and custom that affords them a shift in symbolic capital or status within
their communities.
The word and ritual of arangetram today is probably inherited through the devadasi
tradition. Ann David in her article Religious Dogma or Political Agenda? Bharatanatyam
and its Re-emergence in British Tamil Temples for the Journal of Anthropological Study
of Human movement notes, Despite the demise of devadasi dancing in the first half of
the twentieth century, there is evidence that different strands of devadasi temple dance
are being transplanted and replicated in the contemporary Hindu diaspora in a creative
manner. Yet many of today's Bharatanatyam performances and arangetrams do
unwittingly contain many elements of devadasi ritual, even though presented primarily
on Western proscenium stages and despite the tensions and contested history of the
dance and its relationship with the temple dancers.
Silapadikaram is the earliest text we find that explicity discusses about a maiden
performance. Reproduced below is the English translation of Arangetru Kathai chapter
of Silapadikaram . The translation is by Jijith Nadumuri published in Nalaanda Source
of Ancient Knowledge. The chapter is very exhaustive. Translation of only a few selected
verses have been reproduced here.
Silappadikaram Aranketru Kaathai
Once sage Agastya {tiru muni} living in the divine mountains {teyva malvarai} of Potiyil,
unfavorably {arula} threw {eytu} a curse {caapam} upon Jayanta, the son {chiruvan} of
Indra {intira}. The sage granted {taanam} liberation from the curse due the influence of
Apsara {vanavar makal} Urvasi and thus the curse {caapam} was removed {neenki}.
Madhavi was born {pirappir} in the lineage of that Urvasi of such doubtless {malaippu
arun} fame {chirappu} who was agreable {porunti} even to the great sage Agastya living
in the famous mountain {chirappir kunram} Potiyil.
Arangetram of Manasa Sriram, Friday, 1
August 2014, The Music Academy, Alwarpet, Chennai

Madhavi was a woman {matantai} having broad shoulders {perun tol} and curly hair
{puri kuzhal} filled with pollen {taatu avizh} of flowers. Madhavi studied dancing {aatal},
paatal {singing} and the art of enhancing beauty {azhaku}. She was capable of singing
without even one {onru} defect {kurai} in three {muunru} modes {kuur} and was an
authority {pataam} in her field. She studied these skills with great effort {iyatti} for seven
years {eezh aantu}. After twelve {eer aaru} years {antu}, she wished to show {kaattal}
her performance before the king {mannar} of Pukar who has the surrounding {chuul} sea
{katal} as the boundary of his kingdom.
Construction of Dancing Stage
For the construction of a stage {arankam} a site
{mannakam} was chosen by the learned men
{vakuttanar} who divides the land. On an auspicious
time {netun kalai} they made a path {vazhi} along its
central line {netu varai} considered to be divine
{punniya}. As per the authentic texts {nuul neri marapu}
on the subject, a bamboo rod {kanni tai} having the
length of a span {oru chaan} between two joints and and
twenty four {iru pattu naal} thumbs {viral} was obtained
from the sacred hills to measure {alakku} the stage
The stage was seven rods broad {ezhu kol akal}, eight
rods long {en kol neel} and one rod heigh {oru kol uyar}.
It had two big doors located at appropriate places. The
space {itai nilam} between the horizontal beam {uttara
palakai} and the platform {arankin palakai} was four rods
{naar kol}. It had two {irantu} entrances {vaay}. Rest was
completely {poliya} covered.
In the top floor {mel nilai} was placed images {puutarai
ezhuti} of many gods {tozhutanar} for worship and
Arangetram of Manasa Sriram, Friday, 1
August 2014, The Music Academy, Alwarpet, Chennai

praise. Lamps {mani vilakku} with bright light was arranged at the four corners in such a
way that no shadow {tuu nizhal} of the pillers were cast into the stage. Cords were used
to secure the curtains of the stage and the curtains between the pillars in the right and
Preparations for the Dance Performance
A sacred rod {talai kol} was created using the handle {kaampu} of a beautiful white
Umbrella {ven kutai} taken from some famous {per icai} king {mannar} of great repute
{peyar} in battle. Its middle {itai nilam} was decorated with the best Navalam {naavalam}
Gold {polam} (jamvunada gold; naaval fruit = jamvu fruit). Nine gems {nava mani} were
studded {ozhukki} in its joints {kan itai} in a beautiful pattern. It had an emblem of
Jayanta {cayantan}, the son {ciruvan} of Indra {intira} who was given worship {vantanai}
and offerings {vazhipaatu} in the palace {koyil} of the Chola king {mannavan} who sits
under a white Umbrella {ven kutai}.
On an auspicious day {nalam taru naal} Madhavi washed {manni} the rod {kol} with holy
waters {punniya nan neer} in a golden pot {por kutam} and adorned {anintu} it with a
garland {malai} . It was then publicly {paracinar} placed on the head {tatakkai} of the
sixty year old royal-elephant {aracu-uvaa} along with a beautiful {puun} golden {polam}
vessal {otai} to hold sandal etc.
The Performance of Madhavi
The distinguished and qualified guests
{iyalpinin} took their seats {irukkai} in order
{murai murai}. The players of musical
instruments {kuyiluva maakkal} stood {nirpa}
in order {neri pata}. Madhavi placed her right
foot {vala-k-kaal} as per custom and stepped
on the stage {arankam}. She then reached
near the right side pillar {vala-t-tuun}
without breaking {vazhakku eana} traditon
and agreeable {porunti} to the custom. Other
Arangetram of Manasa Sriram, Friday, 1
August 2014, The Music Academy, Alwarpet, Chennai

dancers {vakaiyaal} were similarly gathered around the left side pillar {ita-t-tuun}.
They prayed thus:- excellence {ceeriyal} shall not be destroyed {poliya} and obstacles
{neerala} shall be removed {neenka}. Then arose two {irantu} types of Vaaram {vaaram}
songs in a series {varicai}. Then arose the benediction {eettu}. Then all the musical
instruments with accompaniments {kuyiluva-k-karuvi-kal} were sounded togather
The Lute {yaal} was harmonized with the Flute {kuzhal} and Tannumai {tannumai} (the
barrel Drum) with the Lute. The Muzhavu {muzhavu} (pot Drum) was synchronized with
the Tannumai ( barrel Drum) and the Amantirikai {aaman tirikai} (left-hand Drum) with
the Muzhavu (pot drum). Thus all the instruments played in perfect harmoney. This is
called Antaram {antaram}, the play of instruments during the intervals, beginning and
end of the dance performace.
One Mantilam {mantilam} beat was made with two {irantu} strokes {kottu}. Eleven
{patin onru} such Mantilam beats were made without deviating from the traditional
path {vazhi murai} set by existing custom {vanta murai} . After the beats {kottu} of
Antaram was finished {atanki}, the song in Palai mode {paalai pan} was sung in excellent
manner {mee tiram} authoritatively {pataamai}, in full elaboration {vakkaanam} and
divisions {vakuttu}.
Madhavi knew {arintu} the four {naanku} perfect parts of the song. She measured
{alantu} out the three {muunru} and partly finished by the next one {onru} and fully
completed with five {aintu} beats and a Kuutai {kuutai} hand-pose. Next she danced to
the Vaaram {vaaram} songs in a trance {mayanki}. Similarly she danced for the sixth
{aaru} and fourth {naalu}. She was skillful to fuse doctrine {kolkai} of the five {aintu}
beats in the folk dance into her classical dance.
Again {pinnaiyum} in that manner {a-m-murai} she brought many innovations in her
dance. She was a dancer of gold quality {pon iyal}. She looked like a dancing creeper
adorned with flowers {puun koti}. Her performance revealed that she knew {purintu} all
divisions {vakut} of Nattiya Nannul {naattiya nannuul} (natya sastra), the authentic text
on dancing.
Arangetram of Manasa Sriram, Friday, 1
August 2014, The Music Academy, Alwarpet, Chennai

The king {ventan} who protects
{kaaval} all, awarded her with a
garland of leaves and flowers {ilai
puun kotai} in accordance with
{vazham ait} the established custom
{iyalp-p-inil}. He also gave her one
thousand and eight {aayirattu en}
Kazhanchu {kazhanchu} (pieces of
pure Gold) as per the tradition {viti
murai}. This was the traditional gift for
those dancers who had the sacred-rod
{talai-kol} and who were the first-
time-performers {talai-arangu-eri}.
V S Radhika in her dissertation for the University of Hyderabad on, Development of
Sadir in the court of Raja Serfoji-II (1798-1832) of Tanjore writes elaborately on the
maiden performance of Madhavi as follows: Silappadikaram:- (2nd century A.D.) The
next important and valuable literary work available in Tamil is 'Silappadikaram' written
by the Prince of the Cera royal line Ilango Adigal. With 'Silambu' meaning anklet and
'adhikaram' - the chapter, the epic beautifully describes in poetic form the theme that
centres round an anklet. This monumental work gives encyclopaedic information
regarding the classical as well as the folk arts and provides deep insights into the
intricacies and richness of the art form that was in vogue during the Sangam age. With
the passage of time, the 'kuttu' dance mentioned in Tolkappiyam was supplemented
with enriched melody (Pan) by the professional groups practising the art and during the
period of Silappadikaram, the art came to be referred to as 'Adal and Natyam'.
The 'Ararigetru kaathai' chapter of Silappadikaram gives a voluminous description of the
beautiful court dancer 'Madhavi (one of the three main characters in the epic) initiation
into the art, her rigorous training under a versatile guru for seven long years and finally
her exquisite maiden performance at the age of 12 which was witnessed by no less a
person than the Chola King Karikala Peruvalathin and other members of the royalty and
Arangetram of Manasa Sriram, Friday, 1
August 2014, The Music Academy, Alwarpet, Chennai

the nobility. This same chapter gives a detailed account of the rules and principles
pertaining to the dance music i.e.vocal as well as instrumental dance musical
accompaniments. The importance of the proper instrumentation i.e., tuning and playing
of different instruments such as yazh, flute and drum and the manner in which the
combination of these instruments should exist and be executed which ultimately
facilitate in heightening the aesthetic pleasure of the dance have been mentioned in
elaborate measure In addition to this, Silappadikaram clearly states the qualifications of
a good dance teacher, known as 'Adal asiriyan'", vocalist and other members of the
orchestral troupe. Regarding the dance teacher, it mentions that the adal asiriyan
should be proficient not only in the eleven types of dances, but also should be well
versed in its music and must have thorough knowledge in the allied arts such as music,
literature and should be capable of playing on different musical instruments too.
As mentioned earlier, the Arangetru kaathai chapter gives a detailed description of the
maiden performance of court dancer Madhavi and the eleven types of dances
performed by her. Madhavi opined as the descendant of the celestial dancer Urvasi, was
considered as the ideal dancer endowed with physical charm and beauty. She was adept
in the eleven types of dances, well versed in music and performed these dances strictly
adhering to the principles enunciated in the sastras.
It is learnt that the debut of Madhavi is said to have commenced by rendering the
invocatory songs called the 'Vara' or 'Tevara padal' collectively sung by a group of
songsters including the old dancers. These Vara or Tevara hymns (which have lot of
Bhakti components in it) were intended for the successful completion of the
programme, can presumably be compared to the 'Todaya mangalam' songs of later
'Sadir' and present day 'Bharatanatyam' recitals. After these invocatory songs, follow the
melaprapti or the orchestral co-ordination which consisted of the harmonious blending
and tuning of different instruments like the Flute, Yazh and other percussive
instruments. This orchestra was termed as 'amaridrikai'. After these initial proceedings,
the danseuse is said to have made her entrance from the right side of the stage placing
her right foot first. This tradition is still followed even to this day in the dance recitals.
From the description of the eleven types of dances, we infer that unlike the present day
Arangetram of Manasa Sriram, Friday, 1
August 2014, The Music Academy, Alwarpet, Chennai

tradition of the dance depicting different characters by a dancer adorning a specific
costume (Ekaharya), danseuse Madhavi is said to have adorned different costumes
suggestive of the character portrayed by her in all the eleven dances. All this solid
information not only reflects the degree of perfection attained by dance and music of
that period but also enables to have a clear understanding of the details and the
standard of the art of the bygone centuries.
Mentioning about arangetram, Shri. T. S Parthasarathy in is article Bharathanatyam in
History notes, The arangetram was very important for a girl and Tamil literature is full
of information as to how the girl was dressed, taken in possession and after arangetram
she got the title of Talaikoli. The accompanying instruments were flute, yazh, maddalam,
idakka and other drums. An inscription in Tanjavur mentions that there were 64
accompanists to a dance performance. This may sound an exaggeration but this is what
is mentioned in the inscription. Dance was also called Chinnamelam because
Periamelam meant a Nagaswaram party.
Arangetram was called Talai Arangeral. A description is available as to how this
Arangeral was performed. As soon as the dancer got on to the stage two songs were
sung and they were called daivapadal or prayer. After this all the instruments on the
stage will be played together and this was
called as Antarakkottu. The dance started
after this and the girl first danced
desikkoothu. This will start with Mattatalam
and end with Ekatalam. The next item was
Margam for which a prabandham was sung
in the panchatalam.
Thus we see that in Tamil Nadu and other
parts of India the arangetram also called
as rangapravesha or manchapravesha is
usually performed after the completion of
the dance training, when the dancer is ready
to enter the professional field of dancing. In
Arangetram of Manasa Sriram, Friday, 1
August 2014, The Music Academy, Alwarpet, Chennai

contrast to this, we get a totally different picture in Kerala. Unlike the other classical
dance forms, the debut or arangetram in Kathakali takes place after learning the
preliminaries and a few minor roles. The reason for this early debut is to get used to the
makeup, the heavy costumes and headgear. Writes an unaccredited author in an
internet blog of Kalakshetram Mumbai, article titled Arangetram A Historical,
Socio-Cultural Perspective.
After placing the dakshina at the foot of the lighted lamp, the disciple is ready for the
makeup. It is important for the Kathakali dancer to use the Krishna mudi at the time of
the arangetram. The mudi is a conical shaped crown. The Krishna mudi is used to
represent characters like Krishna and Rama before his coronation. The makeup includes
the yellow Vaishnava mark (namam) in the centre of the forehead. It is the guru
(teacher) who first applies the vella manayola or the yellow paste used for drawing the
namam of the forehead. The manayola is considered to have a mystic magnetic power.
Before going on the stage, the guru ties the Krishna mudi on the head of the disciple.
This is a traditional ritual seen even today. It is only after this arangetram that the
student can learn further as well as perform small roles on the professional stage along
with the troupe. Thus for a Kathakali dancer the arangetram is just the beginning of a
long, arduous, artistic journey into the splendorous, magnificent world of Kathakali.
Transition of Arangetram from a Devadasi, Temple or Royal Ritual to the modern
Shalini Bhalla in her exhaustive paper Does the introduction of the ISTD South Asian
Dance Bharata Natyam Examinations spell the death of the traditional Arangetram in
the UK? mentions, The change in the 1940s of more dancers from non-hereditary
families beginning to perform debut performances came as a result of the dance revival
that began in the 1930s. However, they refused to call them arangetrams. Rukmini Devi,
was an exception and acknowledged that her debut performance, dedicated to god, was
indeed an arangetram (Srinivasan, 1984 in Gaston, 1996). This decision probably helped
the concept and the term arangetram gain some acceptance, but it was only in the
1950s and 60s that arangetrams became a feature found so readily in modern day
Bharata Natyam (Gaston, 1996).
Arangetram of Manasa Sriram, Friday, 1
August 2014, The Music Academy, Alwarpet, Chennai

In fact, it was probably Kalakshetra that helped popularise arangetrams and make them
the world-wide industry that they are today. When Rukmini Devi was alive, she
decided whether a dancer was ready or not for an arangetram. She did not approve of
girls as young as fifteen or sixteen having an arangetram, but preferred them to wait
until they were eighteen and above.
History and evolution of arangetram as an event of arrival to the society clearly
indicates that Arangetram has always been a beginning and never a completion or a
sense of achievement. The pomp and glamour surrounding the event were supposed to
be to examine the potential of the performer at large and validate it. Historically, plenty
of sacrament is attached to an Arangetram and the performer by having performed an
arangetram takes additional responsibility to learn and explore the art further.
Arangetram A Historical, Socio-Cultural Perspective KalakshetramMumbai.Blogspot.Com
Anne-Marie Gaston, Bharata Natyam: From Temple to Theatre
Arthi Devarajan, Natya! From Within: A Practical Theology-Based Analysis of Classical Indian
Dance Pedagogy in the United States
Jijith Edumuri, Silapadikaram Translation for Nalaanda
Magdalen Gorringe, Arangetrams and Manufacturing Identity: The Changing Role of a Bharata
Natyam Dancers Solo Debut in the Context of the Diaspora
Matthew Harp Allen, Rewriting the Script for South Indian Dance
Raama Bharadvaj, The Arangetram Scene: Transmission through Translation
Shalini Bhalla, Does the introduction of the ISTD South Asian Dance Bharata Natyam Examinations
spell the death of the traditional Arangetram in the UK?
Susan Schwartz, She Stands Before Us to Bear Witness: The Arangetram and the Bat Mitzvah,
T S Parthasarathy, Bharathanatyam in History
Uma Chandratheva, Are Arangetrams Outdated No?
V S Radhika, Development of Sadir in the court of Raja Serfoji-II (1798-1832) of Tanjore.

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