Indian Dance Series: Style #1 – Bharatanatyam

*Content originally posted on Urban Asian*

The first style of this series is Bharatanatyam. With origins in Tamil Nadu, Bharatanatyam dates back to 2,000 years ago when it used to be performed by devadasis, or temple dancers in South India. A key proponent of Bharatanatyam was Rukmini Devi Arundale, who revived the dance form and brought it to a global level in the 20th century.


The word “Bharatanatyam” can be split into 4 different parts, which form the core essence of this Indian classical dance style.

  • “Bha” = bhava – emotion
  • “Ra” = raga – melody
  • “Ta” = tala – rhythm
  • “Natyam” = dance

The basic steps of Bharatanatyam are called adavus. Accompanying them are hand gestures, or mudras, with different meanings depending on the context. Bharatanatyam consists of 3 basic elements: nritta (pure dance), nritya (expression), and natya (combination of nritta and nritya to further dramatize the thematic content and storytelling). As with most Indian dance styles, Bharatanatyam is practiced and performed barefoot with bells worn around the ankles to emphasize the dancer’s strong footwork and nritta.

Bharatanatyam has both pure dance and drama elements, where the stories are taken from ancient tales in Hindu mythology and scriptures. For many dancers, Bharatanatyam is a spiritual experience that allows them to connect with the divinity within by immersing themselves in the bhakti or devotion in emotional storytelling.

Padmabhushan V.P. and Shanta Dhananjayan

Padmabhushan V.P. and Shanta Dhananjayan

Some famous stalwarts (teachers-performers-choreographers) in the field of Bharatanatyam include: Professor C.V. Chandrasekhar, V.P. and Shantha Dhananjayan, Padma Subrahmanyam, and Late Adyar K. Lakshman, to mention a few. Believe it or not, even some of Bollywood’s heroines have dabbled in Bharatanatyam, including Hema Malini, Vyjayanthimala, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.



Tune into the Indian Dance Series to find out the next style of Indian dance that will be released soon!


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