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Bharatanatyam - History, Origin, Evolution, Stages, and Sequences

21st Aug, 2022

Have you ever witnessed a live Bharatanatyam dance performance and just gazed in awe at the perfection and poise that the dancers exhibit? Dance performance with the perfect steps and sequence is a prevalent point of discussion for most people regarding Bharatanatyam dance. There are very few dancers who can strike the right balance. It is essential to mention that Bharatanatyam is one of those dance forms that are not only about the proper steps.

Along with the steps and the correct mudra or footwork, you must pay equal attention to all the other domains, including the costumes, the expression, and the music. However, to know more about Bharatanatyam as a dance form, it is essential first to understand Bharatanatyam history. Then you will be able to make sense of its evolution.

It is essential to mention in this respect that just like any other form of performing arts, Bharatanatyam has also revolutionized a lot from where it started. Many factors can be held accountable for the same, but cultural influence plays a vital role in this respect. Today we will talk about the same and give you a basic idea about the different facets of Bharatanatyam.

Not only as a dancer who wants to build a career in this domain, but it is also equally important to have exposure as someone who loves watching this particular form of dance. At the same time, it is equally important to mention that Bharatanatyam is probably one of the most treasured and loved dance forms to exist as a dance form. Hence, it does deserve all the respect and popularity that comes its way.

History and Origin of Bharatanatyam

History of Bharatanatyam As a Dance Form

Indian classical dance is one of those genres with a lot of history associated with a particular form of performing arts, whether dance or music. Consequently, having good knowledge about this history helps you learn how the specific form originated and the cultural significance it currently has.

Not only that, but if you want to be a performer and take up this particular form as a profession, it is essential to have a historical understanding. It shapes you as a dancer. Similarly, just like any other form of dance, Bharatanatyam's history is rich and promising, giving you significant insights. At the same time, it is essential to understand how the origin of Bharatanatyam has evolved and amalgamated into a beautiful synergy today.

The first and most important fact that you need to know about in this respect is that Bharatanatyam as a dance form originated in the southern part of India. More precisely, it is believed that the focal point for the development of Bharatanatyam was in Tanjore, one of the most promising and culturally enhanced places in South India. Can you believe that the Bharatanatyam dance is more than 2000 years old?

Suppose you are seeking a more specific answer, like who invented Bharatanatyam. In that case, we are afraid that the actual name might not be that clear owing to inappropriate history documentation. However, the common perception is that a very sacred sage called Bharta was at the crux behind the codification of the dance form. According to Natya Shastra, this is the ultimate truth, the oldest and most detailed dance treatise.

If you are wondering what the purpose behind the Bharatanatyam dance form is and why it was initiated in the first place. The most detailed explanation is that Bharatanatyam as a dance form came into existence for performing in the sacred temples of southern India. People believed that a dancer could reach God through dance and music, and perfect performance is the surest way to exist.

The history of Bharatanatyam dance mentions that Brahma diverged the dance form to the sage Bharata from where it was eventually codified. Not only that, but if you read the Natya Shastra in detail, you will be able to understand that Bharatanatyam as a dance form is often considered the mother of many other dance forms which has branched from this particular genre of dance.

Not only that, it was believed that initially, the Devadasis performed Bharatanatyam in front of the gods, and no other person was trained to pursue the same. However, slowly this concept changed, and there was an adaptation by almost all, be it males or even females, who sought Bharatanatyam earnestly. Even if you visit the ancient temples of the South, like the Shiva temple in Kanchipuram, you will see that the walls are adorned with carvings.

Most of these temples are ancient, which hints that Bharatanatyam is quite old as a dance form and was primarily practiced in the temples.

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Evolution From The Ancient Times

We have already mentioned that as a dance form, Bharatanatyam was conceptualized in the southern part of India; however, with time, there were gradual adaptations in every aspect of India and abroad. Since then, there has been gradual manifestation in many other states, even in the north, that have taken a Bharatanatyam as one of the most coveted forms of dance ever to exist. Not only that, there has been adaptation in different states and cultural influences as well.

Although the original purpose of Bharatanatyam was to present it in front of gods and goddesses, later, it was picked up as a form of dance for presentation in front of audiences. Gradually it was seen that even in the royal courts, the dancers who were called for performances seemed to perform Bharatanatyam. Even if you go through Indian history, which many court officials have documented, you will see that Bharatanatyam was probably the most common dance mentioned.

One thing we can safely mention in this respect is that the Bharatanatyam that we see today is an amalgamation of the different facets and cultural influences. It is believed that Sadir or Nautch is the proponent behind the evolution of the modern-day Bharatanatyam, which can be traced back to the 17th or 19th centuries. The meaning of the term Sadir in Marathi is to press. People also believe that the Tanjore quartet had an equal role in this respect of evolution.

A significant difference noted in the dance form is that the origin of Bharatanatyam was traced to please the gods and the royal courts; hence, the performers were Devdasis which led to the condition being called Devdasi Attam. However, modern-day Bharatanatyam does not focus on that only, and there are a lot of other domains, like the performer and the occasion on which it is being performed.

At the same time, it is also essential to keep in mind that many performances or choreographies have been mentioned in the Natya Shastra itself, and hence there are no deviations from the same. No matter which Bharatanatyam version you begin with, it is essential to make sure that you offer a small segment of your performance credit to Nataraj, who is believed to be the Ultimate Dance Guru.

Stages of Bharatanatyam

Now it is essential to mention that the portrayal of Bharatanatyam is usually seen in three stages or categories of performances. These include:

  1. Nritta -The first stage that we will talk about is Nritta and, in the most specific terms, refers to the introduction or the prelim of the dance performance. The primary purpose of this particular stage is to engage the audience and ensure they are hooked on your performance.
    In the most simple terms, we can say that Nritta is basic. You will also notice that usually, there is no basic story over here to convey to the audience.
  2. Nritya - The next stage we will talk about is Nritya which is equally important and has to be learned. Here the basic idea is to attract the audience, and that too with the help of emotions and thoughts, which are portrayed with the use of spiritual messages generally.
    Here the primary focus is to ensure that there is an equal balance of dance and acting and that the ultimate message is conveyed in the same approach. The idea is to make sure that there is an articulation of gestures and body movements with the help of pre-set notes.
  3. Natya - And finally, the last stage that we will talk about is none other than Natya, and it is equally essential to make the dance form stand out. In the most simple terms, we can say that this stage is the amalgamation of the features of the other two stages, which are none other than Nritya and Nritta.
    The primary focus in this state is to make sure that there is a dramatic expression of whatever must be conveyed to the audience. The most important principle that has been paid over here is the theatrical expression which adds to the element of the dance and makes it more charismatic.

Sequences Followed in Bharatanatyam

Now that we have a brief idea about the Bharatanatyam history and the origin and the following stages, it is essential to have a good understanding of the sequences of Bharatanatyam as well. In the most straightforward dance, we can say that this particular form of dance is divided into eight proper sequences known to date. These eight divisions are:

  1. Pushpanjali - This is the first and most crucial sequence of Bharatanatyam and refers to the salutation offered to the deity before the start of the performance.
  2. Alarippu - It can be referred to as the warm-up dance, where the dancer releases the energy without other music.
  3. Jatiswaram- This can be referred to as the start of the actual dance; however that has no meaning, which is usually conducted in this part of the performance, the steps are pretty intricate.
  4. Shabnam - Usually, at this stage, the performers who are solo or even the music team tend to offer compositions that are concise and, at the same time, quite promising as well.
  5. Varnam - We can say without a doubt that this is the longest and most intricate part of the dance performance, and it can last up to one hour. Here the moves are complicated and must be accomplished by a professional dancer. 
  6. Padam - Here, the focus is to make sure that there is enough emphasis on the abhinaya and usually involves a spiritual message.
  7. Tillana - It is at this sequence that you will see enough focus on the posture along with the dance steps and performance. Here the beat is usually relatively fast-paced.
  8. Shloka or Mangalam - This is the final sequence, and the ultimate focus is to seek blessings from each individual in the room.


Finally, we have to say that Bharatanatyam is one of the most beautiful forms of Indian classical dance, and having good knowledge about the same is very important. You can also choose to learn from industry experts by enrolling in online dance classes offered by Kafqa Academy. Our dance instructors will give you a clearer idea about the domain as well. 

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