Bharatnatyam is one of the most popular classical Indian dances. Bharatnatyam is more popular in South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Bharatnatyam dance is almost 2,000 years old. It is believed that Bharatnatyam was revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata, a famous sage who then codified this sacred dance in a Sanskrit text called the Natya Shastra. The Natya Shastra is one of the fundamental treatises on Indian drama and aesthetics. Natya Shastra divides dance into two distinct forms- nritta, and nritya. In nritta, focus is on mastery of abstract hand gestures and movements, whereas the dancer employs a complex system of hand signals and body language to depict emotional expressions in nritya.
The Bharatnatyam dance flourished in the Hindu temples of South India.
The temple dancers (Called Devadasis or servants of god) flourished
under royal patronage and religious devotion. The Devadasi system became
an integral part of South Indian temple ritual. Slowly and gradually the
Devadasi system went into disrepute due to economic and social
conditions attached to it. The credit of reviving and popularizing the
Bharatnatyam in its present form goes to Rukmini Devi, who gave it new
life and respectability. Bala Saraswati, the queen of Bharatnatyam also
deserves accolades for her work and efforts to popularize Bharatnatyam.
At present Bharatnatyam is an immensely popular classical dance form of
India. The present form of Bharatnatyam dance was evolved by Poniah
Pillai of Tanjore and his brothers. Formats of Bharatnatyam consist of
Alarippu (invocation), Jathi Swaram (note combinations) Shabdam (notes
and lyrics), Varnam (a combination of pure dance and abhinaya) lighter
items like Padams and Javalis (all erotic) and finally the thillana
(again pure dance). Bharatnatyam is considered the mother art of most of
the other classical dances of India and inspires many art forms like
sculpture, painting, and icon-making.