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.
According to some scholars, it does not mean that these are the only items that can be performed but any traditional dance item or any song which can give scope for the exposition of Nritta and Nritya at their best can be included. Therefore, Pushpanjali, Kauthukam (Kauvutvam), Mallari, Javalis and others are also found in the repertory of certain schools of BharatNatyam.
In early 19th century, the four famous and great musicians, nattuvanars, dancers, poets of Tanjore, namely, Chinnaiya, Ponnaiya, Shivanandam and Vadivelu (1777-1832) have created and propagated the present format of a BharatNatyam recital from the traditional Sadir Natya or Dasiattam.
According to the great legendary dancer T.S.Balasaraswati, “The traditional order of the BharatNatyam- alarippu, jatiswaram, shabdam, varnam, padam, tillana and shloka or verse, is the correct sequence for revealing the spiritual through the corporeal.”
She has compared the BharatNatyam Recital to a grandly structured Temple:
“We enter through the Gopuram (outer hall) of Alarippu, cross the Ardhamandapam (half way hall) of Jatiswaram, then the Mandapam (great hall) of Shabdam and enter the holy precinct of the deity in the Varnam. In dancing to the Padams, one experiences the contentment, cool and quiet of entering the sanctum from its external precinct. It is akin to the juncture when the cascading lights of worship are withdrawn and the drum beats die down to the simple and solemn chanting of sacred verses in the closeness of God. Then the Tillana breaks into movement like the final burning of camphor accompanied by a measure of din and bustle.”