Famous Bharatanatyam Dancers

December 18th, 2007 by Anjali

Tanjore Quartet


The modern day Bharatanatyam was given the formal shape by these four Nattuvanars (widely known as Tanjaore Bandhu) namely Chinnaiya, Ponaiyah, Sivanandam, Vadivelu. They flourished in the Darbar of the Maratha ruler, Sarfoji-II between A.D 1798 to 1832. Todays Margam (repertoire from Allaripu to Tillana) was also given a face lift by them. Fresh compositions were also brought in the Dance items.

Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai – He was Born On September 22, 1869 in the family of suryakumar Nattuvanar who was a renowned musician and scholar. His wife was the daughter of the great Ponnaiya. He received his initial training under kumaraswamy Nattuvanar who was his aunts son.

Later on in the 1934 he came to madras when invited by Rukmini Devi. She underwent a thorough training under him.

He Died in 1954 leaving a gap which can never be filled up. He was a Modest guru and was addressed as “Tata” by his students. His Style was known as the Pandanallur school of Bharatanatyam. It is known for its Broad sweeping movements, exquisite framing of Teeramanams with beautiful Adavus.

His students are Thiruvalputhur Rajalakshmi, Jeevaratnam, Pandanallur Jayalakhmi, Chokalingam Pillai, Kandappa, His son Muttaiah.

Balasarswati– (1918-1984)


She was looked upon as a child prodigy and a brilliant dancer by Pandits and Vidhwans in those days. She did her Arangetram when she was seven years old in 1925 at kamakshi Amman Temple at kancheepuram. Kandappa was great guru of Bala.

She was known for her enchanting, inimitable and exquisite sancharibhavas in Abhinaya. As a singer of great repute, music seeped through her body and reflected in all her movements.

At the Edinburg Festival Bala was acclaimed as a great dancer on International platform. The tamilnadu goverment and national centre of performing arts has prepared a documentary on her directed by Styajit Ray. Dr Narayan has written a book Balasaraswati published by international cultural centre New Delhi in 1963.

Rukmini Devi

Rukmini Devi

Born in a Brahmin family in Madurai on 28th February 1904. She came from a village called Thiruvayur with rich association of saint Tyagaraja. Her background was full of culture and learning. She got married to Dr. George Arundale in 1920 who was an educationist. With him she traveled Europe giving lectures on Indian culture. In Australia she learned Russian Ballets from a legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. It was she who advised her to learn Indian Classical dance. So when she came to India She met Pandanallur Meenakshi Sundaram pillai and took lessons from him. She also studied from Gauri amma and Muthukumar.

She brought about a great revolution in the field of Bhartanatyam.

  1. She corrected the theory of dance and Music
  2. Costumes were designed artistically .
  3. Chose exquisite jewellery and ornaments.
  4. She laid emphasis on selection of padams and highlighted the spiritual aspect of the contents.

She established the Kalakshetra in training students in the art of bharatanatyam. Kalakshetra laid emphasis on correct movements and thorough training. The art of Nattuvangam is also taught here. Here one learns how to conduct dance and Music in choreography and composition. It has therefore gained reputation as an international dance centre.

Mrinalini Sarabhai-Mrinalini sarabhai was educated in Switzerland and had received a training in dance steps in Dalcroz.

Mrinalini srabhai

Photo Credit: Darpana.com

When she came to India she began her training in Bharatanatyam under Muthukumar Pillai. She also studied under Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, Chokalingam Pillai and Ellapa Pillai.Later got married to Dr Vikram Sarabhai and settled in Ahmedabad. In 1948 she founded the dance academy called “Darpana”for imparting training in Bharatanatyam and other allied arts. She was also a well known choreographer of several dance dramas. Mirnalini has attempted contemporary interpretations of mythologicalthemes. She has received awards from the French archives international Iela and Sangeet Natak Academy for her creative experiments with choreography.

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71 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rema Dec 20, 2007 at 2:58 am

    I think what you have up there against Rukmini Devi’s name is the photograph of Smt. Chitra Visveswaran. Please look into this and make the change.
    This is not Smt. Rukmini Devi

  • 2 Anjali Dec 20, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Thanks a lot Rema. I have made the necessary changes.

  • 3 N.Kumarasamy Dec 26, 2007 at 8:17 am

    This is a most welcome site; my grand daughter who just started learning will benefit immensely. Our appreciation and thanks.

    As a refinement on the Famous… one of teh quartet is Vadivelu and not Vadivelu.

    God bless you.
    Kumarasamy, Singapore

  • 4 archana Jan 14, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    really an appriciable attempt to give worldwide publicity for barathanatyam..please keep this active and updated..thank you very much for starting this website..

  • 5 Anjali Jan 15, 2008 at 7:20 am

    Thanks Archana for your Kind words.

  • 6 Raghu Mar 23, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    In this post the “She did her Arangetram when she was seven years old in 1925 at Amnakshi Amman Temple at kancheepuram” for balasaraswati has a spelling mistake. It is Kamakshi Amman temple.

  • 7 Anjali Mar 23, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks Raghu. The correction is made

  • 8 Poonam Mar 28, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    I am so happy to find this site. No doubt this will be my learning ground. Thanks for making this website for all those Bharathnatyam fans who didn’t get a chance to master the art.

    Thanks a lot,

  • 9 Deva May 19, 2008 at 5:16 am

    Hi Anjali,

    I was searching for the famous bharathanatiam dances list and found your site. It is nice to know about them. Thanks a lot and keep it up.

  • 10 Aruna Jyothi Jul 23, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Tons of thanks for all the information and service you offer through the website.

    Travelling althrough my education, job and further studies, I am serching for this sort of source since long time. I am sure, this would help me learn basics of bharatanatya by the time I reach India to get further training,

    many thanks [:)]

  • 11 Anjali Jul 23, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Thanks Aruna for the appreciation. I wish you good luck for your studies ahead.

  • 12 Pavani Sep 10, 2008 at 7:44 am

    Hi Anjali,

    Please let me know the Bharatnatyam style you follow and the video clippings you posted are in which style.

    (Tanjore or Kalashetra).

  • 13 Anjali Sep 11, 2008 at 9:53 am

    I follow the pandanallur tradition.

  • 14 Pavani Sep 11, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Thanks Anjali.

    I saw many performances where the songs Varnams and Shabdams in Bharatnatyam were performed for Tamil lyrics, can you please suggest any website where I can get songs for Ninnu kori varnam, Sarasi Shabdam and other bharatnatyam dance songs in Telugu. I really need songs in Telugu.

    Thanks for answering the questions patiently.

  • 15 Anjali Sep 13, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Hi pavani, I shall get back to you soon. I am also asking my friends around.

  • 16 Chetan kuckian Oct 3, 2008 at 5:52 am

    I cam across this website when browsing the net for pictures of famous Indian Classical dancers for my daughters school project. Would appreciate if more pictures are added.
    Thanks for the help.

  • 17 Anjali Oct 5, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Some varnams in telugu are tanjore quartet varnam– manavi chekonarada, Emayaladira ( which is a swarajati), Sami ninne kori ( raagamalika) , Rupamujuchi, danike takujaanara. You will get some telugu varnams like – manavi and Shabdam sarasi juksulu in aCds available with kalakendra.com.

  • 18 Anjali Oct 5, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Hi Chetan, thanks for the feedback. I shall try addding some more data on these lines. Meanwhile you can search information on dancers like padma subramaniyam, Chitra vishweswaran, Dhananjayans, Yamini krishnamurthy, Sundarani raghupaty who are known for their contributions to dance.

  • 19 neelam Dec 27, 2008 at 11:29 am

    i like to knw about these most honourable gurus..i wish once i learn from the guru mrunalini sarabhai..

  • 20 bandhu Feb 15, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    hey anjali
    i think ur missing the dhananjayan dancers.
    they r the popular dancers in the 21st century now.
    check them out.

  • 21 Anjali Feb 18, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Thanks bandhu. I shall surely keep updating this page.

  • 22 Kajol Feb 21, 2009 at 6:33 am

    Hi Anjali,

    Nice site you’ve made. There are several styles in Bharatanatyam. 6 Main styles. I was searching for information about Kancheepuram – style. Why is there so little info? Because the other styles are fully represented on the web. Do you know why this is?

  • 23 Anjali Feb 23, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Hello Kajol, I understand there is a gap. If you or any one else know more about this style, you are free to contribute on this site.

  • 24 Shakti Mar 17, 2009 at 11:08 am

    hi anjali! why don’t you also provide info on celebrity dancers Like Natya Pehroli Padmini, Vyjayanthimala, Kamala Lakshman and hemamalini? Will be more interesting to read

  • 25 Chloe Apr 15, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Thanks so very must for putting all this info on the net! This has helped me so so so much with my Bharatanatyam assignment for Dance class :) We have to write an essay then perform the dance!
    Thank you again, Chloe

  • 26 A. NAGA BHUSHANA May 5, 2009 at 7:48 am

    way back in sept.1964 i happened to attend dance performance
    by yamini in bangalore and was washed off my feet. earlier i was of the opinion that classical music and dance was for old people.i developed interest in bharathatyam,kuchipudi,odissi,
    manipuri,kathak,kathakkali, karnatic/hindusthani performances.
    i am thankful to my guru yamini krishna murthy.

  • 27 nigamaa May 7, 2009 at 6:27 am

    This is a fantastic film about Kuttiyatam dancetradition, showing a temple sanscrit drama depicting a scene from the Ramayan of Valmiki. Written perhaps from 700 B.C. onwards it is believed to have used pure Jatis for its music (gandharva style). Phps someone knows what danceform was used at Valmikis time? In this film is embedded the story of Shalini and Sangeet, one dancing pair joining together.

  • 28 nigamaa Dec 7, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    17-year-old Ester is Konkani’s rare multi-talented BN dancer,
    see educational videoclip with interview from TV.

  • 29 nigamaa Dec 25, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Breathtaking performance of Thaye Yashoda, (Son of the Universe)
    music as in film Morning Raag

  • 30 Anjali Dec 25, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Thank you Nigama. Glad you liked the performance. The song is amazing.

  • 31 nigamaa Mar 19, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    In case one missed it? Exciting new version of Thaaye Yashoda on utube: commentary reads Vijayalakshmi Iyer adapted the choreography from Anjali (nandananjali in you tube)

  • 32 Anjali Mar 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    hey that was a good one. Nice to see people trying to adapt the choreography. That itself is an appreciation.

  • 33 nigamaa Mar 20, 2010 at 10:59 am

    congratulations, nice to see such communal harmony: Karnataka filmsong with choreography from Kerala adapted by Tamil dancer.
    btw lyrics:

  • 34 punam Mar 27, 2010 at 3:52 am

    thank you , anjali mam…your site contains the best bharatanatyam informations and i ve been helped by this in the bharatanatyam examinations…..thanks a lot.

  • 35 Vijayalakshmi Iyer Apr 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Hi Anjali,

    I am Vijayalakshmi. I adapted you ‘Thaaye Yashoda’ choreography for a performance at my University. Its agter 13 long years that I revisited Bharatanatyam and you helped me a lot.
    Thanks once again.


  • 36 lilly Jun 17, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    this was helpful 4 my project!

  • 37 urmila Jun 27, 2010 at 12:18 am

    hi anjali, i want the pancharatna kruthies with jathies in cd. please did u have any idea please give the addres

  • 38 Anjali Jun 27, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    I am not aware of dance CD’s on panchratna kirtis. will let you know if I fine one

  • 39 mehila Jul 15, 2010 at 5:33 am

    hi anjali thank u. many more information. but srilankan famous artist karthika kaneshar bharatha natya dancer.her details plz.

  • 40 mehila Jul 15, 2010 at 5:49 am

    Your informations were really helpful to me. But i want some more informations about some other famous dancers known as Shantha Ponnuthurai and Karthika Kanesha. They were the professors in Jaffna Ramanathan Fine arts Jaffna University. So please help get informations of the too.

  • 41 Anjali Jul 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

    @mehila,Thanks for the information. do let us know if you find something about them.

  • 42 Vaani Aug 23, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Thank you

  • 43 Avasarala rukmaji rao Sep 4, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Its very good to know abt these great dancers , abt bharathanatyam and all. i did Rukmini devi arundale cenetary celeberation in Madras the balley GODA GOVINDHAM

  • 44 Avasarala rukmaji rao Sep 4, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    THE attempt to give worldwide publicity for barathanatyam is extra ordinary..please keep this active

  • 45 Anjali Sep 5, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    @Avasarala, Nice to have you here.

  • 46 Dr.Sanath kumar & Bharathi Sep 29, 2010 at 7:54 am

    dear sir
    we are thankful to you for providing information onsri nandanallure meenakshi sunderam pillai.This is excellent nodoubt if some more photes are added tothis this would have been marvolus

  • 47 anuja Oct 13, 2010 at 2:49 am

    can u suggest me the best Bharatnatyam dance classes in mumbai i wish to take this dance form as a career or profession please.

  • 48 Anjali Oct 13, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    @Anuja,There are many which part o mumbai are you in. Else you should consider nalanda dance institute at Juhu to take up a degree.

  • 49 anuja Oct 14, 2010 at 5:20 am

    thanks i stay in santacruz-west so i guess nalanda will be best and if i just want to learn and not take Bharatnatyam as a degree then which 1 is best..

  • 50 sarvada Mar 11, 2011 at 4:49 am

    they r awesome….i just luv da bharatnatyam makeup…

  • 51 sarvada Mar 11, 2011 at 4:54 am

    hey anjali,i dont know much about bharatnatyam but it attracts me towards it..and my parents dont want all this.They think that studies r more important…but i m more interested in dancing. pls help me out…:0

  • 52 Reena NC Apr 22, 2011 at 2:58 am

    thank u for the information mam… thank u

  • 53 Vidyaah Apr 24, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Im doing my 3rd year exam in dance and for my scrap book and for one of my scrapbook pages i need to put info of famous people who helped dance take shape.
    After alot of trouble of researching i found this page where i found more than information need.
    I never knew that Smt Rulmini Devi designed new costumes though i still adore how she used to dance and how much effort she put into changing dance.
    Did u know that She changed the way of performances, specifically she made the orchestra have a place to sit and perform for the music. If it wasn’t for Smt Rukmini Devi, during dance performances the orchestra would have to be walking behind the dancers.

  • 54 dany gill Jun 1, 2011 at 5:05 am

    i want to know the best bharatnatyam school in delhi…

  • 55 nhirmaya Jun 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    I love bharatanatyam.That means I love all of the bharatanatyam dancers.

  • 56 mandar Jun 16, 2011 at 8:49 am

    bharatnatyam shows richness of indian culture

  • 57 mandar Jun 16, 2011 at 8:53 am

    i want to learn bharatnatyam but there is no one bharatnatyam dancer in jalgaon maharashtra. so for the expansion of bharatnatyam it is nessesary to open the classes in each & every town in india

  • 58 Ponn Krithika B Pillai Jun 22, 2011 at 9:52 am

    VEry nice and useful website

  • 59 Ashlie Jade Sep 15, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Again Thank you! I just learned in my Dance appreciation class that Anna Pavlova had done a dance in europe called the Krishna and Radha dance. During that time, ethnic dances were huge and the world of ballet was changing and Modern dance was being fortified as a real dance form. The book does not once mention Rukmini Devi or that Anna Pavlova actually learned her Indian dance training from a real Indian dancer. As a ballet dancer this is a hugely important detail and very interesting to me! I think Rukmini Devi might just be added to my list of dance Idols! I also saw on a website the praise for dancers like Anna Pavlova, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn for reviving Indian dance during the Brittish rule in the early 1900’s. This is also inspiring to me because again it goes back to my teacher’s issue with appropriation and really it wasn’t so much appropriating as showcasing something they found irrevocably beautiful and awe inspiring and wanted to share it with the world! This is wonderful to me and am so excited about the ideas and resources you have helped put together here! Thank you again!!!

  • 60 Anjali Sep 16, 2011 at 8:28 am

    @Ashlie that is interesting. Can you also mention the names of the books and do share link of the articles you read. Thanks

  • 61 Ashlie Jade Sep 16, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    This was the link I was originally was talking about. http://www.nadanam.com/b_revival.htm
    But I couldn’t find where it said Rukmini suggested to Anna to go to India, this link says it is the other way around. http://www.katinkahesselink.net/his/kalakshetra.html
    As well as this one- http://www.narthaki.com/info/tdhc/tdhc6.html
    and this one too!- http://www.navhindtimes.in/panorama/rebirth-bharatanatyam-india
    I must have misread the part about Anna’s Indian training, I guess it is still appropriating. My book for my dance appreciation class is Ballet and Modern Dance by Susan Au ISBN-978-0-500-20352-1
    It’s only on Western Concert dance though.

  • 62 harika mahalakshmi Jan 28, 2012 at 6:42 am

    your website is a wonderful site for youngers and also for bharatanatyam biginners keep updating and also please mail me some bharatanatyam tips because i am a bharatanatyam student.Thank you for making this website

  • 63 rosey marry Jan 28, 2012 at 9:12 am

    i know your facebook profile plese add me as a freind my name is rosey marry.if you any other information please contact me from this email:lakshmimaha683@gmail.com.Beacause i am a bharatanatyam student

  • 64 Papiya Banerjee Mar 24, 2012 at 5:20 am

    Too Informative….

  • 65 chandrani Mar 24, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Anjali, your website is really helpful but why not add Mrs Thankamani Kutty to this list too?

  • 66 danik May 13, 2012 at 7:10 am

    bharatanatiam is a very classic and modern dance that i know.many people like to send their kids for dance(bharatanatiam).if i have a kid i will send to….pls forgive if there are any mistakes…tq

  • 67 VIjaya Jan 28, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Hello Anjanli,

    I was a pleasure going through this section…. Thank you for the information on the dancers…

  • 68 Chandni Sharma Mar 19, 2013 at 1:54 am

    I am working on the project of Indian Culture and wanted to prepare the project on Indian Classical Dancers. This site is very helpful for the students like me… that we are able to get the knowledge of of our vast and great Indian Culture. Thank You so much for creating this site.

  • 69 piyali Jul 17, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Hi Anjali Thank you For your answers i again want to learn Bharatnatyam i found ur vedios much essentials can u pls tel me where i can find the audios of of every topics like Alarippu etc..

  • 70 gayuthri May 26, 2014 at 5:14 am

    wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it helped me very much……

  • 71 gayuthri May 26, 2014 at 5:17 am

    hi anjali your websites is very useful to other people
    and to me Thank you very much for making this …………………………………………………………………….. :]]:]:]:]:]:]:]:]:}:]:]