Bharatnatyam is a classical Indian dance form that enthrals audiences with its captivating beauty, intricate movements, and profound expressions. In this article, we embark on a journey to uncover the vibrant tapestry of Bharatnatyam. From its regional variations to the diverse forms it encompasses, we delve deep into this rich cultural art form that has mesmerized generations. Join us as we unravel the beauty, grace, and artistic expressions of Bharatnatyam.


The Origins of Bharatnatyam:

Bharatnatyam traces its roots back to ancient Tamil Nadu, where it flourished as a sacred art form performed in temples. With a history dating back thousands of years, this dance form has evolved through time, blending religious devotion, storytelling, and intricate movements into a harmonious expression of art.


Ancient Roots and Historical Significance:

Bharatnatyam finds its origins in the ancient temples of Tamil Nadu, South India, where it was nurtured as a sacred art form. The first few paragraphs will take you back in time, exploring the historical significance of Bharatnatyam and its close association with temple rituals, devotion, and storytelling traditions. We will delve into the references found in ancient texts, scriptures, and the influence of dynasties and kingdoms in shaping this art form.


Evolution and Revival of Bharatnatyam:

The journey of Bharatnatyam extends beyond its early roots, with centuries of evolution and transformation. This section will discuss the various phases that Bharatnatyam has undergone, from the decline during the colonial era to its revival in the 20th century. We will explore the contributions of dance pioneers in reviving and popularizing Bharatnatyam, bringing it back to the forefront of Indian classical dance.


Cultural Significance and Global Influence:

Bharatnatyam is not just a dance form; it is a reflection of India’s rich cultural heritage. In this section, we will dive into the cultural significance of Bharatnatyam, exploring its regional variations, intricate footwork, and expressive storytelling. We will also examine the global impact of Bharatnatyam, its recognition as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, and its influence on contemporary dance forms around the world.


The Elements of Bharatnatyam:

To truly appreciate Bharatnatyam, it’s essential to understand its core elements. This dance form encompasses three fundamental aspects: Nritta (pure dance), Nritya (expressional dance), and Natya (narrative dance). Each element contributes to the mesmerizing tapestry of Bharatnatyam, showcasing the dancer’s technical skill, emotional depth, and storytelling abilities.

Exploring the Mudras / Hastas of Bharatnatyam

The Term”Mudras” is widely used for Shilpa Sastras(Sculpture Art) and Agama Sastras(Temple Science). The more accurate word to be substituted for is “Hasta”(meaning Hand in Sanskrit), but although colloquially “Mudras” are also used. These are intricate hand gestures used in Bharatanatyam, are a language by themselves. These symbolic gestures convey emotions, tell stories, and depict characters. From the graceful “Hamsasya” (swan pose) to the powerful “Simhamukha” (lion’s face), each mudra/hasta adds depth and meaning to the performance, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal.


Regional Variations in Bharatnatyam:

Bharatnatyam showcases remarkable regional variations across different parts of India. From the graceful and delicate Thanjavur style to the dynamic and energetic Pandanallur style, each region brings its unique flavour to this ancient dance form. We delve into the distinct characteristics and nuances that make these regional variations truly special.

Historically this dance forms can be witnessed from Tamil epic like Silapatikaram from the 2nd Century. Anciently this art form was said to be performed in Temple at the forts of ancient kings adopted from Natya Shastras which is a Sanskrit treatise on performing arts. Natya Sastra is one of the ancient encyclopaedia which has influenced dance, music and literary traditions of India. This art form takes different kinds of Dance techniques and styles specific to the guru/lineage in general and broad terms. This Dance form is now widespread cross the globe starting from South India has taken several different forms and styles which has added more variety to this form of art.

This form of art etches the culture and heritage of south India in elegance because of the style that imposes beautiful body posters and mesmerising expressions.

After British colonisation period in India, the temple art form was banned(Abolishment of Devadasi Act – 1947) due to its intent being changed and resulted in exploitation by the British and all those in power.

Post that, the revival happened in India and resulted in the formation of the art under secular and accessible ways that enforced the skill and beauty of movement in the contemporary approach.


Style/Baani in Bharatanatyam:

Styles are approaches to the art form. Popular belief is that styles have a direct influence in movement, steps and functional units, but contrary to that, style is just the vision of the dancer and when it being passed on from a lineage can have characteristics that are similar and beautifying, but not necessarily identifiable by the student/performer in terms of its function. The most popular and basic styles of Bharatanatyam are Tanjavur, Melattur, Pandanallur and the Vazhuvoor form.

Tanjavur Form:

This style is considered similar to Pandhanallur style of Bharathanatyam because of the fact that both the styles have been originated in Thanjavur . The Thanjavur nattuvanar family who are the descendants of the Thanjavur quartets Chinnaiyah, Ponnaiyah, Shivanandha & Vadivelu, were the propagators of this style of bharatham. Although,this style is danced in a fast pace with 8 counts, yet emphasises in Abhinayam. Varnas are more devotional and god related unlikely to other styles.

Melattur Form:

This dance form in Bharatanatyam evolved from the devadasi style of Bharatanatyam. This style of Bharatanatyam does not include heavy steps against the floor but include softer foot work. It emphasises the softer steps with the ankle bells. This art form priorities more expressive format as it evolved from the Bhagavata Mela. Another most important part of this dance form is that it involves performing in multiple speeds and wear of a special belt around the waist of the artist who performs this form of art.

Pandanallur Form:

This is another form of Bharatanatyam dance, the popularity of this form of Dance was because of Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, Popularity of this form was from a village called Pandallu in the Thanjavur District which is located in Tamil Nadu. This dance form prioritises linear body posture of Adavus. Choreography of this form include 9 to 10 Para Varnams. Slow movements is common in this dance form.

Vazhuvoor Form:

This is one common form in classical dance and new dance form from Pandanallur which priorities pure expressions, but Vazhuvoor form involves expressions in different way. This form is performed with vibrant dressing with gentle facial expression matching the various Laya and speed. This form took its popularity from B.Ramaih Pillai. Another interesting aspects of this Dance form is that it is performed with Thodaya Mangalam to pray the Lord Gnana Sabesar. This art form involves various sitting gestures and static postures and also elegant leaps.


Thiruvidaimarudhoor Style, Kalakshetra Style, Kalamandalam Style, Mysore Style, Kancheepuram Style.


Bharatnatyam Costumes and Jewellery:

The attire worn in Bharatnatyam is as significant as the dance itself. Elaborate costumes, vibrant colors, and exquisite jewelry adorn the dancers, elevating their performances. From the resplendent silk sarees to the intricately crafted temple jewellery, every element contributes to the visual splendor of Bharatnatyam, enhancing the overall stage presence and aura of the dancers.


The Role of Music in Bharatnatyam:

Music forms the backbone of Bharatnatyam, complementing the dance movements with its melodic rhythms and soul-stirring compositions. Traditional Carnatic music, with its intricate ragas and talas, accompanies the performances, enhancing the emotional impact and creating a harmonious synergy between the dancer and the musician.

Contemporary Innovations in Bharatnatyam

While rooted in tradition, Bharatnatyam has also embraced contemporary innovations, allowing for creative expressions and collaborations. From fusion performances with Western music to experimental choreography that pushes boundaries, artists are constantly exploring new avenues to keep the art form alive and relevant in the modern world.


Impact and Influence of Bharatnatyam:

Beyond its artistic beauty, Bharatnatyam has a profound impact on both the performers and the audience. The discipline, dedication, and spiritual essence of this dance form cultivate a sense of self-awareness, mindfulness, and emotional connection. Moreover, Bharatnatyam has become a global phenomenon, captivating audiences worldwide and fostering cultural exchange and appreciation.

As we conclude our journey through the diverse roots and artistic expressions of Bharatnatyam, we are left in awe of its profound beauty and cultural significance. This ancient dance form continues to captivate hearts and minds, bridging the past with the present and preserving the rich heritage of Indian art. Let us cherish and celebrate Bharatnatyam, an enchanting tapestry of movement, music, and emotions that unites people across borders and generations.