Lesser Known Facts about Bharatanatyam


Bharatanatyam is an Indian classical dance form that had developed in the Tamil region of southern India. The exact time of origin of this dance form is not certain, but it has been mentioned in various literary compositions of the Sangam Literature, which belonged to the golden age of Tamil history, dating back to 2rd century B.C.E. The dance form was developed as a temple-dance by the Devdasis-Temple-maidens. It was considered to be a form of worship. The nomenclature is thought to have derived from the name of Bharata, who wrote a treatise on this particular dance form way back in the 3rd century B.C.E. Bharatanatyam went through theoretical modifications but survived through centuries and it is practised in modern world and especially in India by both male and female dancers today.

Although most Indians have surely heard of Bharatanatyam today, a detailed knowledge about this classical dance form remains unknown to most Indians.

Some of the lesser known facts about Bharatanatyam are presented here:

  • In most of the ancient Hindu temples situated within what once was the ancient Tamil region, the scriptures on the walls depict female figures in Bharatanatyam dance postures. Most of these female figurines are implied as divine courtesans performing the dance form in front of a deity.


  • The 3 distinct elements of Bharatanatyam are: Nritta (dance movements in rhythm), Natya (mime act) and Nritya (a combination of both).


  • In ancient Indian metaphysics, fire was thought to be a constituent element of the human body. Bharatanatyam is believed to be the worship or celebration of this element. It is essentially a dance that is dedicated to fire as the movements of the body while dancing this form resembles that of fire.


  • Bhartanatyam is a part of the five dance forms of ancient India that signify the 5 elements of the Earth and human body, the others being Odissi, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam and Kathakali.


  • The traditional Yoga schools of India had adopted Bharatanatyam and modified it as a meditational tradition which is practised to this day.


  • The Bharatanatyam has two aspects. The female aspect is Lasya, which is characterised by the graceful movements of body. The male aspect is Tandava which is symbolized by its masculine vigour. In this respect, the Bharatanatyam can be compared to Yin and Yang of the culture of China.


  • The modern form of Bharatanatyam had been concretized during the reign of Maratha King Saraboji II during the early 19th century by four experts of his Tanjore Court. These quartets were Ponniah Pillai, Chinnayya Pillai, Vadivelu Pillai and Sivanandam Pillai.


  • Rukmini Devi Arundale, one of the modern pioneers of Bharatanatyam was the first teacher of the dance form who taught it to men as well as women.


  • Marking a break from ancient tradition, Bharatanatyam in the modern world is not performed inside a temple, but outside it.


  • The religious barrier has been broken when it comes to them popularity of this dance form as many Muslims and Christians also learn it in modern times.


The Bharatanatyam is the true symbol of Indian culture and it needs to be popularized and taught more and more so as to impart the knowledge about classical Indian dance forms among common people.

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2 Responses

  1. Meena Bhaskar

    August 13, 2016 6:15 pm

    Just a suggestion to correct about Rukmini Arundale. She is NOT the first teacher to have taught the art form to both men & women. There were others of the Devadasi tradition who had done that for many generations prior to her. This fact is not a fact it is an error. Please correct it as it will be an insult to the generations of the dying breed of Devadasi clans.

    The Fact about her is this:- Rukmini Arundale is hailed as the first one to have established a formal school for Bharatanatyam – Kalakshetra. Kalakshetra is now a premier world recognized institute for Bharathanatyam.


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