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History of Bharatanatyam

Today I would like to give a brief history on how the beautiful dance form came into existence. This classical dance form originated from the state of Tamil Nadu. It has its inspirations from the sculptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram located near Pondicherry (now Puducherry). Bharatanatyam, as the name depicts is the combination of:

BHA– Bhava (Expression), RA– Raga (Music) and TA– Tala (Rhythm)

Photo Credit: Panache

Traditionally the dance was performed by Devadasis (community of temple dancers) in the ancient temples. The Devadasis were women who dedicated their lives to serving the temple deity as dancers and musicians and their performances were an inherent part of the elaborate temple and court rituals.

Somewhere around the 1930’s some surviving Devadasis such as the legendary Balasaraswati were called for stage performances by the elite educated Class. Thus Rukmini Devi was the first ever educated elite to learn this dance form under the guidance of Balasaraswati.

The present form of Bharatanatyam as we know it today has been codified and documented by four brothers Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Vadivelu and Sivanandam in the early 19th century. They are also famously known as the Tanjore Quartret. Their dance compositions form the bulk of the Bharatanatyam practiced today.

Today this is one of the popularly practiced dance forms in India. I feel that if any body is interested in the art of dance, one must actually give a thought to learning any of the classical dance forms of India. Such dances are more of DEVOTION, WORSHIP, DISCIPLINE, is SOFT and sometimes even BLISS. It is more introvert than extrovert. The younger generation of today is being continuously exposed to the hip hop by the media. I feel more exposure to classical dance forms would help them understand the very essence of DANCE.

For more information, please visit the Bharatanatyam page on Wikipedia.

96 Comments

  1. Amelia

    Hi, I was wondering whether or not Bharatanatyam can be called a fire dance, like it says is Wikipedia. When I watch other classical Indian dances, like Odissi or Mohiniattam especially, I do get that feeling for Bharatanatyam because it’s more stiff and flickering. Could you give me your professional thoughts as a Bharatanatyam dancer?

  2. Anjali

    Hey Amelia, Bharatanatyam is known for it geometric lines in the movements. Movements finishes in straight lines and angles. It has both the tandava (vigour) and the lasya (soft)aspects. Where as mohiniattom and oddisi is more into lasya with rounded movements. For me all of them are very beautiful and challenging in their own way. It is meaningless to compare these dance forms.

  3. Surya

    Anjali,

    my daughter has been learning bharatnatyam for 6 years now and her teacher is going to “quiz” them on their adauvs, just to see how much they remember. My daughter doesn’t remeber a lot of the earlier ones like the nattadauvs, 5-8 and the sarukal adavus. Do you think you could help some way through this blog? Thanks! By the way, you’re doing a wonderful job with the site, it is great for dance awarness!

  4. Anjali

    Hi Surya,
    Any way let her go through the quiz and she would come to what she has forgotten. Let me know how can I help you. Thanks a lot for the kind words.

  5. bharathi raja

    respected madam,
    mam, when i was 9th standard.my master taught the tatta adavu and naatadavu 1,2,3, only after that he married.so he could not able to come to my school.after i would like to learn bharatantym but because of education i cant able to continue and also my age is 18 and also i dont know basic steps .now i saw your video in youtube so i am happy i can learn bharatantym .my humble request is may i call you as my master

  6. suhani

    hi…..ive been learning bharatanatyam since i was 4 years old……now i have a very good and famous teacher shrimati jayalaxmi eshwar teaching me and it is good to know people are interested in this dance form.It is really good of you to help people know more about this national classical dance form

  7. akshai.s

    its really uncommendable ……….excellent idea to provide a virtual class on the complex art of bhrathanatya… …its never mere informative but also inoperative, resourceful and agood teacher…..
    in this modern technological era,even though it cannot provide the full benifit of gurusishya method but can do its duty up to its zenith….thanks for all who behind the idea….
    -akshai.s

  8. Anjali

    Akshai, thanks for your kind words. In fact we have regular individual sessions where I conduct online personal classes with my students. So the guru shishya relationship is still there. Glad that you like it. Your words will keep me motivated.

  9. Vishnu

    It would be better if more detailing could be provided. those who are in the bharathanatyam field ie students or teachers could use some high level information

  10. Gabrielle

    Hello, I am researching Bharatanatyam for my Dance IB project, and I was wondering if you could point me towards some good books or sources I could use to better my understanding of this amazing dance. It would be very helpful for me!
    Thank you,
    Gabrielle

  11. Anjali

    Dear Gabrielle, books like Laghubharatam, abhinaya darpanam by P.chandrashekhar and manmohans ghosh’s translation of some dance books might help. Try vedambooks.com.

  12. Gabrielle

    Thank you for the help! I was also wondering if you could give me your opinions as a bharatanatyam dancer if the Indian style of dance is in any way similar to contemporary style of dancing. Thank you,
    Gabrielle

  13. Gabrielle

    Thank You so much for all your help! This website and the books you listed to me were great sources! 🙂
    Thanks again,
    Gabrielle

    P.S. Do you think american contemporary style is anything similar to Bharatanatyam?

  14. lakshmi

    this piece of imfo ha really helped me and my friends with their grade exam !!!!!

    THANKS A LOT!!!!!

  15. Sangeetha Suresh

    Hi Ma’am,
    i am Sangeetha Suresh. I am living in Bahrain. Here I am not going for any special dance class. I am studying what all you have instructed in videos. So seeing your videos i have a question; While dancing where we have to look?

  16. Nairuti

    hi m’am ! I’ v been through bharatnatyam since 8 years. i ‘ m learning bharatnatyam the age I was 4. I’ v just completed my Arangetram before 2 months. M’am I need your advice what 2 do further.

  17. Reena NC

    thank you for given information mam.. such a lovely history,…. thank u mam.. may gob bless….. 🙂 🙂 … i’m blessed to know about the barathanatyam……

  18. Gayatri

    hey! I am a student of std.8th, but I am in Visharad 1st year. This information was very helpful for me in our written exam this year!! Thanks a Lot!!

  19. Mary

    Hi, I understand your point. I am a trained bharathnatyam and kuchupudi dancer and I must say your last sentence is very arrogant. The essence of dance the is freedom of expression through rythimic movement.. To infer that the hip hop form is negative is very ignorant since if you broke it down there are many similarities.

  20. Anjali

    @Mary, By Hip hop, I did not mean the style of dance, but the chaos and vulgarity in body language. As a dancer I appreciate ballet, salsa, hip hop and jazz.

  21. pravas

    hi., i am a boy . i want to learn bharatanatyam. Is there any facility?
    Can a boy learn and perform this dance? i want all details about where i can learn this.

  22. jacqueline chevillon

    j’ai 61ans et fait du bharatanatyam depuis au moins 15 ans . Cette danse me ravit et je vous remercie pour votre site qui pour moi est une mine précieuse de renseignement.

  23. Joy Krishna Mukhopadhyay

    Hi! I am now 33yrs old. It is my dream to learn Bharatnatyam, but it was impossible to me (a few yrs ago) for my finance and very hard life.
    Now I may spent a few some bt unable to find any teacher in my location Pandua, Hooghly. I am little bit confuse also if I may able to start my lession in this age. But please if help me I will try my best to learn.

  24. mini

    hi
    this is mina please can u explain to me about Dhari ki ta tu (Alaripu) i’m looking for thet one any one know please can u send me video and also explations.
    thanks
    alot

  25. Puja Patel

    Hi Anjali!
    I’m doing my grade 5 Bharathanatiyam theory exam next week and this was very informative. It helped me a lot to undersatnd the history of Bharathanatiyam,
    Thanks so much!
    🙂

  26. Puja Patel

    Just wondering: What type of Varnam do you teach?
    Right now I’m learning the second part of Varnam, ragam-Dhanyasi, thalam-Adi. The lyrics are
    Ni indaa mayuum saydaal nyaayum thano daya nidiye….

    I also want to know the 3rd Korvey of the first part, could you help me?

  27. uvatharini

    hai am in need about bharatanatyam early period n present period.including dressing stage etc. can u help pl

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