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Posted by on Apr 17, 2015 in Indian | 0 comments

A Brief History And Evolution of Bharatanatyam

A Brief History And Evolution of Bharatanatyam

Bharat Natyam is one of the popular and exalted dance forms of India. Traditionally associated with Tamil Nadu, Bharatnatyam now commands as strong presence in India and worldwide.

Bharatanatyam is the oldest and most popular of India’s classical dance styles, originating from Balasaraswati which is nothing but diversification of Natya Yoga. Balasaraswati brings forth into the practice the spiritual semblance through synchronized physical and emotional body movements. Bharatanatyam was born in temples as an offering to Gods. In style and substance, Bharatanatyam reigns supreme for the preciseness and perfection of movements. Bharatnatyam has rich history of the style almost dating back to 2000 years. It is inspired from the sculptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram. The origin of Bharatnatyam is in Thanjavoor of Tamil Nadu. The alternative name of Bharatnatayam is Daasiyattam. Earlier, Devdasis performed the natya in the ancient temple. The Devdasis were women who lived their life as dancer and worship to god by paying obeisance through their dance. The traditional form passed from the one generation of Devdasis to another, generation by generation. As the dance form entered into the royal courts, the dancers were soon begin to be called as Rajanartakis, who had the expertise to perform the royal courts. Rajanartakis slowly became the royal concubines.

history of bharatanatyam

history of bharatanatyam

Origin and History

The birth of this art form as well as the donning of these traditional costumes traces its origin way back to the 17th century, wherein devdasis, who were the temple dancers, practiced Bharatnatyam to worship gods and goddesses. They wore heavy studded and embroidered saris and were depicted as ‘Apsaras’ who were known as the celestial dancers who performed this classical art dance on earth.

This costume was believed to showcase the art of Sukshma Sharira, which meant the aura in the materialistic version of the world. This dance tradition went on to attain the platform of popularity, fame and recognition when it got patronized by the Marathi King Saraboji, and there descendant brothers who carried the legacy of teaching this art form all over the world.

Significance of Bharatnatyam

The philosophy behind this dance is to search the human soul and unite with the Supreme Being. This dance form enhances its beauty with the use of literary masterpieces of saints and sages. Nowadays this dance form has changed a lot. Contemporary classical Indian dance is performed by both, male and female. At present it is learned as a hobby or a career by many people. Bharatnatyam dance forms are also used to present various themes such as unity of religions, nationalism, purity of environment, greatness of a king, etc.

Style & Attire

There are 2 most popular styles, which are artistically used in the Bharatnatyam costumes. One is the Skirt style (Saree), which is donned in an artistic manner and the other fashionable version is the Pyjama style. In these styles the costumes are intrinsically embroidered with different religious motifs and designs in threads of pure gold and shimmering silk. The pleats of the sari are draped in a such a way that it opens out in a beautiful manner which showcases the entire zari work especially during symbolic postures like muzhu mandi, which is a full sitting pose and aria mandi which shows a half sitting pose.

Influences over the years

Over the years, this art form has evolved and transformed in its traditional best, retaining the original essence of the culture. It was historically brought into an art form in 4000 BC, then slowly and gradually the Tanjore brothers brought in the revolution by spreading the knowledge of this art and involved in it layers of ethnicity which they showcased in the form of spectacular performances.

bharatnatyam dance form

bharatnatyam dance form


The saris brought in more radiation, elegance and splendor as the finest of fabric was processed into the making of this cultural outfit. More zaris in different colors were embroidered on this sari, thus making it look more glamorous. Nowadays, sarees for bharatnatyam come in ready-made versions where the pieces are all stitched together, and that makes it more of a hassle free outfit for the dancer.


Music for Bharatnatyam is based on Carnatic classical music. Veena, flute, mridangam and violin are the instruments used for music. Dance guru gives direction using hand symbols known as ‘Thaalam’ and by singing ‘Vaaythari’.

Famous Personalities

Some of the popular Bharatnatyam performers are Shobhana (Indian National Award-winning actress and well-known promoter of Bharatnatyam), Padmini (Indian actress), Bala Saraswathi, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Kamala Laxman, Padma Subrahmaniam and Chithra Visweswaran. Panthanalloor Meenakshi Sundaram Pilla, Panthanalloor Chokkalingam Pilla, Padmasree Vazhoor Ramayyan Pilla and Adayar Laxman are several renowned gurus.

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