Of the various forms of classical dance in India, Bharata
Natyam is believed to be the oldest, because it is the
form which is based, to the larger extent, on ancient
texts on the dance.
For centuries it was danced by Devadasis, or girls who had
been dedicated to the temples of South India, in
particular of Tamil Nadu.
It is performed solo, conventionally by women alone, and
it is in essence, a dedicatory dance, intended as an
offering to Gods.
It has items of pure dance, which consist of clear-cut
movement and sculpturesque poses, as well as of
expressional dance, to be accompaniment of songs.
The songs pertain, mostly to the theme of love, but not
sensual love. They give it an elevated and somewhat
The invocatory aspect of Bharata Natym is brought home in
the very first item in its repertoire, Alarippu, which is
structured to give the effect of the body unfolding itself
by degrees, as if in offering to God.
Other important pieces of Nritta in Bharata Natym are
Jatiswaram, which presents parallel and synchronized
patterns of rhythmic beats and musical notes, and
Thillanas, in which varying patterns of rhythm and pose
and movement are interlaced with a sequence of dance
syllables, which is rendered in the form of musical
Expressional dance in Bharata Natym finds place in numbers
like Sabdam, Padam and Varnam, and these for the most part
use excerpts fromm classics, as well as from inspired
effusions of the numerous saint singers of South India.
Among the leading exponents of Bharata Natym today are:
Its foremost center of training is Kalakshetra in Madras,
while some other important institutions are Darpand,
Ahmedabad, Rajarajeswari, Kala Mandir, Bombay, Triveni
Kala Sangam and Delhi.