Bharata Natyam a Traditional Dance of Tamil Nadu

Bharata Natyam (Tamil: பரதநாட்டியம்) (Telugu: భరత నాట్యం) (Marathi: भरतनाट्यम),also spelled Bharatanatyam, is a classical Indian dance form that originated in the temples of Tamil Nadu. This dance form denotes various 19th- and 20th-century reconstructions of Sadir, the art of temple dancers called Devadasis. It was described in the treatise Natya Shastra by Bharata around the beginning of the common era. Bharata Natyam is known for its grace, purity, tenderness, and sculpturesque poses. Lord Shiva is considered the God of this dance form. Today, it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over the world.


The name Bharata Natyam is of relatively recent origin when performers like Rukmini Devi revived the dance in the 20th century. The original names of Bharata Natyam were Sadir, Chinnamelan and most commonly Dasi Attam. A possible origin of the name is from Bharata Muni, who wrote the Natya Shastra. The meaning of the word Bharatnatyam is “Bhavam” means expression, “ragam” meaning music, “thalam” meaning rhythm and natyam meaning dance.

Spiritual symbolism

Bharata Natyam is the manifestation of the ancient idea of the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the material body. Some Bharata Natyam techniques can be traced back to the Kaisiki style. The Natya(I.44) reads, “… I have seen the Kaisiki style during the dance of the blue-throated lord (Shiva). It consists of elaborate gestures (Mridu Angaharas, movements of limbs), sentiments (Rasas), emotional states (Bhavas). Actions (Kriyas) are its soul. The costume should be charmingly beautiful and love (Sringara) is its foundation. It cannot be adequately portrayed by men. Except for women, none can practise it properly”.

Bharata Natyam simplified

There are 3 aspects to dance; Nritta, Nritya and Natya. Nritta is a pure dance without any emotions, expressions or sahityam. Nritya has sahityam (a sentence which means something). It has emotions, expressions and has a meaning shown by the hastas. Natya is when a person is portraying a character. There are 4 types of abhinaya in dance. They are

  1. Anghika – Physical or body movements.
  2. Vachika – the song being played, poetry
  3. Aaharya – Ornamentation of a character/dancer e.g. jewellery, costume
  4. Satvika – Involuntary movements e.g. trembling, break of voice, tears


Typically a performance includes:


A presentation of the Tala punctuated by simple syllables spoken by the dancer. This really is sort of an invocation to the gods to bless the performance. Alaripu is performed in different jatis. Tishra, Mishra, Chatushra, Sankirna are the different types of jatis.


Ancient temple dance item performed in the beginning of the recital, containing rhythmic syllables sung for jathis.

Ganapati Vandana

A traditional opening prayer to the Hindu god Ganesh, who removes obstacles. See also Pushpanjali

today mangalam

a starting dance in which we show respect towards the god

Jatiswaram or Jathiswaram

An abstract dance where the drums set the beat. Here the dancer displays her versatility in elaborate footwork and graceful movements of the body. Here the Dancer displays the Korvai in a rhythmic form. Jatiswaram or Jathiswaram brings out three aspects of dance: unity of music, rhythm and movements.


The dancing is accompanied by a poem or song with a devotional or amorous theme. Shabdam is usually depicting graceful movements in a story or a poem


The center piece of the performance. It is the longest section of the dance punctuated with the most complex and difficult movements. Positions of the hands and body tell a story, usually of love and the longing for the lover.


Probably the most lyrical section where the dancer “speaks” of some aspect of love: devotion to the Supreme Being; or of love of mother for child; or the love of lovers separated and reunited.


Hymn in praise of a deity that may contain a feigned mockery, etc. See also Stotra


Item containing a lot of dramatic elements.


Javalis are relatively new, pure abhinaya types of compositions of light and pleasing nature. Like Padams the underlying theme of Javalis is Sringara Rasa depicting the Nayaka-Nayaki bhava.


The final section is a pure dance (nritta) when the virtuosity of the music is reflected in the complex footwork and captivating poses of the dancer.

Apart from these items, there are items such as Shlokam, Swarajathi, Krithi etc. The performance concludes with the chanting of a few religious verses as a form of benediction. Certain styles include more advanced items, such as Tharanga Nritham and Suddha Nritham. When a dancer has mastered all the elements of dance, as a coming out performance, he or she generally performs an Arangetram (debut).


This is a devotional song on Lord Shiva and an item dance in Bharata Natyam. It can also be performed in byapti slow motion. The words for the shloka are ” Angikam Bhuvanam Yasya, Vachikam Sarva Vangmayam, Aaharyam Chandra Taradhi, Tvam Numah Satvikam Shivam”