deity as a devotional exercise. This custom gave rise to the Devadasis, the
dancing girls of the temples. Devadasis used to be held in great respect and
reverence in the early days. They offered their dances and songs as prayer
and oblation at the feet of the temple deity. Since dance is an expression of
devotional life, every dance still begins with a prayer. It is stated in Abhinaya
Darpana of Nandikeshvara that "those who are versed in the Science of
Dance say that dancing is vulgar in which the actress does not begin with a
After being born and nurtured in the temples for several centuries, the
classical dance reached the royal courts. However, dance concerts or public
performance of dances is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Nowadays,
the Indian classical and modern dances have becoming immensely popular all
over the world and carved out a niche for themselves.
Bharatanatyam, which was earlier known as Sadir, Dasi attam and Thanjavur
Natyam, is the oldest of all the Indian classical dances. However, the present
form of Bharatanatyam evolved during the late 18th or early 19th century.
Great efforts by individuals like Chinniah, Ponniah, Vadivelu and
Sivanandam—known as the Tanjore Quartet—and others like E. Krishna Iyer
helped revive Bharatanatyam, after its decline during 1910–1930.
Bharatanatyam is a solo, lasya type of a dance, tender and erotic, usually
performed by female dancers and, although based on a love theme, is
devotional in character. Bharatanatyam is based upon three components:
movements, mime and music. Bharatha in itself stands for bhava (mood),
raga (music), and thala (rhythm) and natyam stands for nritta. It is evenly
divided into absolute dance and expressive dance.
A typical Bharatanatyam performance includes the following: it starts
with Ganapati Vandana—a traditional opening prayer to Lord Ganesha, the
remover of obstacles; Alarippu—a pure dance without any meaning or
expression just accompanied by the syllables of the performer and set to the
thala (beat). This acts as an invocation of the Gods for the dance"s flowering
and successful completion; Jatiswaram—a pure dance without meaning, idea
or expression, set to the thala instead of syllables.