Bharatanatyam is a traditional dance-form known for its grace , purity, tenderness and sculpturesque poses. Today it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance style and its practiced by male and female dancers all over India and abroad.

The origin and antiquity of Indian classic dance form Bharatanatyam can be traced back to the Vedas and to the figure of the dancing girl in Mohen-jo-Daro.The sculpture evidences from the 5 th century onwards reveal various changes and development. It has its roots in Tamilnadu, a state of Southern India.

The word Bharata some believe ,signifies the author of the famous Sanskrit treatise on the stagecraft, called Nataya shastra, and the word Bharatanatyam is sometimes given a folk etymology as follows: BHA – for bhava ,abhinaya or expressions,

RA – for melody or raga,

TA – for talam or rhythm.

In ancient literary Tamil work dance was called Aadal, Koothu, Chinnamelam, Dasi Aatam, Sadir and Nautch. It is only today in the recent dacades that the dance form has come to be known as Bharatanatyam.

Bharatanatyam as a dance form and music set to it are deeply grounded in Bhakti(devotion).Bharatanatyam , it is said, is the embodiment of music in visual form, a ceremony, and an act of devotion .Dance and music its unseparable forms; only with Sangeetam (words or syllables set to raga or melody) can dance be conceptualized. Bharatanatyam has three distinct elements to it: Nritta (pure dance), Natya (mime, or dramatic aspect), and Nritya (combination of Nritta and Natya).


The history of Indian dance can be categorized under three heads, namely prehistoric, medieval and modern based history_of_haratanatyamon its period. The PREHISTORIC period can be traced to ancient cave paintings, engravings, older civilization, Vedic references. The MEDIEVAL period ranged from 2 nd century BC trough 9 th century A.D. Wherein we get references about dancing from monuments of ancient dynasties, Buddist sthupas, caves of Ellora and temples in various parts of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. These temples contain sculptures of dancers of different dance forms. The MODERN period or the last phase of the period covered from 10 th century

A.D to present time. This period witnessed the development and growth of this art to a great extent towards regional, architectural, sculptural, pictorial and musical areas.

The different styles of classical Indian dances were practiced and nurtured by artists and dancers of different periods belonging to different regions, tribes and castes. The hindrances from political and foreign invasions has influenced each dance form. Each style developed as different system or tradition of different regions.

The British were also not very much interested in the upheaval of these classical dances, music and other arts. Further they denied permission to present these in temples deities. This led to the decline in status and morality. The prohibition of the presentation of these art forms in public places and temples and also amongst the high class society circles led to decline these divine art forms. However by the passage of time everything was revived to that extent that these divine forms started to get recognition. The interest in dance was developed as a part of reviving and building up the glorious culture and heritage of India.


The term “Devadasi” originally described a Hindu religious practice in which girls were “married” to a deity. In addition to taking care of the temple, they learned and practiced Bharatanatyam and other classical Indian arts traditions, and enjoyed a high social status. The institution of Devadasis evolved in the context of temple rituals. The temple dancers dedicated themselves to the service of God through their music and dance .The dance were known as “ Devaradiyar”(servants of God).

history_of_Bharatanatyam04The dancers were of three types :

Devadasi- who danced in front of the deity or in the temple premises during festivals.

Rajadasi- who danced in the courts for the kings.

Alankaradasi- who danced at the weddings.

Dasi community, gradually suffered a slow death and almost became extinct under the British rue from 1857, due to lack of patronage and political upheaval.

During this period, Devadasis were engulfed by insecurity. Many of thembacame victims of poverty. There was a change in their code and conduct, which led to a decline in their moral values.

The lack of royal patronage coupled with their own increasing economic difficulties devalued the very basic ideas of the Devadasi concept and eroded the moral fabric. With the result that Devadasis, in popular parlance, came to be ragrarded as mere courtesans, to satisfy the rich and powerful rather than an artiste in the true sense of the term.

However, there were many others who were educated and maintained their moral integrity. They were able to instil Bhakti (devotion) and ethical values in the hearts of the people, through their music and dance. Yet, the general impression created in the minds of the people about Devadasis, made society look down upon the dancers and the very dance form itself.

The outcome was that in 1930 in Madras, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, who was herself belonged to the Dasi community, along with other social reformers, extended support of the Government to put an end to the Devadasi system.


Lord Nataraja is considered to be the God of dance in Hindu mythology. His dancing image, in the Tandava form, is the starting point of all creation. To the dancer the four arms of the Nataraja are a depiction of dance movement in an immovable and static medium. The mystique of the arms and legs of the figure has a cosmological significance as the dance is taken as merely a human representation of a cosmic fact. In the Nataraja image the frontal palm of the right hand, which is lifted and slightly bent, represents security (Abhaya) to devotees. The left hand, which is thrown across the body with the fingers pointing downwards, indicates the feet of the Lord as the refuge of devotees. The upraised left foot represents the blessing bestowed by the Lord. In the right upper hand Shiva carries a small drum representing the creative sound, which began the universe, and in the other hand he has a fire, which is symbolic of light and therefore destruction of ignorance. Under the right foot is a dwarf, which signifies triumph over evil. Encapsulated in this figure of the Dancing Lord is the entire function of Shiva as the creator, preserver and destroyer. This dance is a metaphor for the belief that life is essentially a dynamic balancing of good and bad, where opposites are interdependent. The dance of Shiva is the dance of life.


history_of_Bharatanatyam03Krishna Iyer was one of those who raised the social status of Bharatanatyam . Rukmini Devi Arundale was also instrumental in modifying mainly the pandanallur style of Bharatanayam and bringing it to attention of the west. She raised Bharatanatyam to a puritan art form, divorced from its recently controversial past by “removing objectionable elements”(mostly erotic elements) from the pandanallur style, which was publicly criticized by representatives of the traditional Devadasi culture.

Having studied Bharatanatyam for three years, in 1936 Rukmini Devi Arundale founded the college of fine arts “ Kalakshetra” in Madras , South India , to teach it and to promote other studies in Indian music and art. She was one of the firs teachers to instruct a few men to perform the dance. The dance at that time was exclusively performed y women, while men, called Nattuvanars (conductors who would play the cymbal, sometimes leading vocal support or accompanists of the dancer), had only been teaching without actually performing it.

At present, Bharatanatyam recitals are usually not performed inside the temple shrine but outside it, and even outside the temple compounds at various festivals. Most contemporary performances are given on the stage with live orchestra .

In popular culture, the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam has been exposed largely through depiction in popular movies, audio, and worldwide performances.