Bharata Natyam

photo: Pap Réka

Panni Somi: Bharata Natyam, classical dance of South India

Bharata Natyam is the oldest of the seven recognised classical dance styles of India. It claims to have a 3000 year-old tradition, mainly concentrated in the southern part of India. Until recently, the chief exponent of Bharata Natyam was the devadasi, the temple dancer girl, who danced for the gods as part of the ritual. This dance in its most classical form is a prayer, a sacrifice itself.


The renaissance of the art began in the twenties of the 20th century when artists from cultured families came forward to learn the art and to demonstrate it to the people throughout the country. It left the temple and entered the stage. 

One of the first art colleges concentrating on Bharata Natyam was the Kalakshetra in Chennai (Madras) /Tamil Nadu/ founded by Rukmini Devi. It is devoted to preserving the true tradition of Indian dance, music and painting.

The technique of Bharata Natyam is based on the coordination of movements executed by the various limbs, eyes, head, fingers etc. It has two technically different parts. One of these, called pure dance is built up from complicated rhythmic patterns expressed by steps in various rhythms. The other part of the performance is the abhinaya, acting executed by gestures and poses mainly concentrating on the face, eyes and the hands

The music of Bharata Natyam is the classical South Indian carnatic music. The songs are classical devotional pieces or traditional prayers sung in sanskrit, tamil or telugu language.

Apart from traditional items dance-dramas and modern performances are also composed in Bharata Natyam style. Its acting and technical possibilities are also being discovered now by European and American theatres.