Feb 10,2021

Lesser Known Facts About the Oldest Dance Form in India : Bharatnatyam

Regardless of social, economical, and technological advances, it’s the personal reflection of one’s culture that awakens the authentic you. A country, a tradition, an art form that is passed on through generations.

Bharatnatyam is one such classical dance form that infuses the rich cultural heritage of India. Indigenous to Tamil Nadu, located in Southern India, the dance form was originated as an expression of religious devotion and was beautifully performed by Devdasis to showcase the art of storytelling.

The Origin of Bharatnatyam

The 2000 years old traditional dance form has its mention in Bharat Muni’s Natyashastra. Bharatnatyam comprises illustrative anecdotes of Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas. These are emoted by a dancer through footwork, gestures, and a complete performance repertoire that includes nrita, nritya, and natya.

The visual evidence of the dance form is seen in paintings and scriptures. According to the Russian scholar Natalia Lidova, ‘Natya Shastra’ explains the different theories of Indian classical dances that include forms like Tandava, postures, bhava, steps, rasa, methods of acting, and gestures.

The dance form became an integral part of the rituals of South Indian temples. With the emergence of colonial rule in India, the developments of classical dance forms started declining. Later several movements led to the evolution of the dance form and the establishment of institutes specially targeted to nurture and explore the beauty of Bharatnatyam.

The Different Forms of Bharatnatyam


The devdasi tradition was based on this style. In this form, the feet are not stamped heavily on the floor. The dancer wears anklets known as chilankai that adds to the rhythm of the dance form. In this variant, more stress was given to dramatic expressions and spontaneous movements. There was room for improvisation based on the principles of lokadharmi and natyadharmi.

Pandanalloor Style

This style includes geometric patterns in the adhavus. Deep sitting positions were included for adding more feminity to the form. Acting capabilities heightened with slow movements. Though the movements were slow, there were major transitions by moving and jumping the body in speed.

Vazhavoor style

In this style, different static postures were included in the dance form. Stage performance-based updates were introduced where the entry and the exit to the stage were modified in the style of the dance. Abrupt movements were rare, and transitions became smooth, which was eye-pleasing for the audience. Sringar and Lasya expression flowed naturally. Leaps were introduced that covered stage space during the dance.

Kalakshetra style

This is the modern form that is followed by major dancers in modern times. This is a simplified version of the Pandanaloor style first started by Rukmini Devi. With angular sharp movements, there are lesser expressions of Sringar and Lasya.

Lesser-Known Facts About Bharatnatyam
  • The gopurams of Chidambaram temple has stone sculptors of poses.

  • The other name of Bharatnatyam is ekaharya. This means one person plays different roles through movements and expressions. Another name for this dance is Sadir.

  • The pure dance form of Bharatnatyam has its hand movements restricted to 11 mudras (symbolic hand gestures)

  • Tamil Literature, ‘Silappatikaram’ has a direct reference of this dance form.

  • The style of the dance form is in Cave 1 of Karnataka’s Badami cave temples, where a tall sculpture of Lord Shiva is presented as Nataraja doing Tandava dance. The 18 arms of the sculpture express mudras of Bharatanatyam.

  • The first stage performance of Bharatnatyam was done in 1930.

The Relevance of Bharatnatyam in the Modern World

Even if we keep away the cultural tie, the dance form infuses techniques that treat your body through a regime of exercises like low squat, arm exercise, neck, and shoulder stretches. The feet beats over the flow of rhythm gives your feet the exact pressure that helps to balance the body with a strengthened core.

The dance form involves storytelling through hand movements and expressions. The hands convey the gestures of the story, while the expression is all about the mood. Bharatnatyam imbibes the sense of acting in an individual, which will turn into an important attribute if a person wishes to perform at the stage or get into public performances.

The elements of Bharatnatyam that is connected to the modern cultural forms:

Bhava (Expressions): Facial expressions are an integral part of the dance form. As per the story, the dancer shows the expression of love, anger, grief, joy, surprise, etc. These expressions also contribute to the art of communication.

Hasthamudra (hand gestures) The hand movements are performed in Bharatnatyam through mudras. The finger movements are a great technique if one wishes to ponder upon mime as a stage performance.

The Dance: Bharatnatyam is one such classical dance form that gives you the knowledge of body posture, enables flexibility, and the sense of sync between the music and the dance. Learning this dance form enables you to learn new contemporary dances. As Bharatnatyam is usually a solo dance, learning the dance and performing on stage gives you a better idea of stage space.

Dress and Makeup: The dress and makeup of the dance form are influenced by the look of the Tamil Hindu bride. The waist has the belt that helps in keeping the squat pose in balance. The pattern in which the saree is worn is as creative as the dance form. The saree is worn in a way that enables comfort yet elegance to the presentation. The saree draping pattern enables stretching and bending of knees. The art of saree draping adds to your creative endeavors. The makeup of the dance also teaches how to accentuate features like eyes.

The Musical Instrument:In the initial days, Bharatnatyam was accompanied by musical instruments like cymbals and nageshawaram, mridangam, and veena. The sound of these traditional instruments creates a positive impact on the mind. The vibration together with the sound of ghungru gives a relaxing treatment with every foot stamp on the floor.

If you are interested to know more about Bharatnatyam and learn the dance form, Vimarza is the right place for you. This e-learning platform is like a connecting bridge between the traditional dance form and the newest way of learning. The courses offered on Bharatnatyam are conducted by experts who follow authentic methods of dance. Get registered today for detailed curriculum and class details.