Posted on April 29, 2015 at 11:02 am

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World Dance Day: Indian Dance Series: Style #1 – Bharatanatyam

In honor of World Dance Day, we will be kick starting a new series of articles to celebrate and raise awareness of the various styles of Indian dance that exist within the diverse region of India. Every month, a new Indian dance style will be introduced, with a bit of information about its roots, the region from where it originates, and names of some famous artists who practice that style.

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 next month!

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