Classical temple dances of Bharatha (India)

Bharatanatyam, the classical dance from Southern India is not an entertainment, first and foremost it's a prayer, a celebration and an offering to the divine. The ultimate goal is both the performance and the closer connection between the dancer and the source of creation.

As a visual meditation, the audience can also be drawn into the story as Bharatanatyam expresses Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas, particularly of Shaivism, but also of Vaishnavism and Shaktism.

The origins of Bharatanatyam are thought go back to about 500 BC and much has been lost over time as various Muslim and British rulers banned it. But a possible origin of the name is from Bharata Muni who wrote the Natya Shastra, an ancient Sanskrit Hindu text on the performing arts to which Bharathanatyam owes many of its ideas.

Originally thought to have been a solo dance performed exclusively by women, and like all good dance, it's an expression of the soul and human emotion, thoughts and experience making Bharatanatyam a dance like no other. It requires from its students a perfect blend of spiritual involvement, discipline and physical mastery to follow the established form.


Originally a solo dance, Bharatanatyam in its modern form has moved from the temple to the stage where it's loosing its spiritual aspect. Today Bharatanatyam moves in ever-shifting global directions and has grown well beyond the historical debates surrounding its reinvention in the early twentieth century although traces of the anxieties over nation, body, sexuality, and performance still endure in the practice of the form.

Bharatanatyam style is noted for its fixed upper torso, legs bent or knees flexed out combined with spectacular footwork, a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language based on gestures of hands, eyes and face muscles. The dance is accompanied by music and a singer, and typically her guru is present as the director and conductor of the performance.

The dance has traditionally been a form of an interpretive narration of spiritual heroes and ancient Hindu texts. The performance repertoire of Bharatanatyam, like other classical dances, includes nrita (pure dance), nritya (solo expressive dance) and natya (group dramatic dance).

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For performing, the student must have at least 6 to 10 years of training which includes yoga and mastery over all aspects of each dance.

Other dance forms:

The Kuchipudi form is not as crisp but very graceful and the dancers may sometimes speak or mime along with songs which are Carnatic - Telegu or occasionally Sanskrit verses.

Odissi is a dance-drama genre of performance art, where the artist(s) and musicians play out a mythical story, a spiritual message or devotional poem from the Hindu texts, using symbolic costumes, body movement, abhinaya (expressions) and mudras (gestures and sign language) set out in ancient Sanskrit literature.

Further reading:
Cultural India


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