Bharathanatyam is one of the oldest among classical dances that is indigenous to the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. It is approximately 2000 years old. It was originally called Dasiattam as performed by Devadasis or Temple dancers devoted to God. They were seen as respectable socialites. However, colonisation in India between 1800 and 1920 brought about changes that stigmatised their profession as prostitution. Through the efforts of a few ardent artists such as Rukmini Devi Arundale and E.Krishna Iyer the dance form was revived in the1930s and the new term of Bharathanatyam was then introduced. The term is a result of combining the first syllables of the three words Bhava, Raga and Thala (mood, sentiment and cadence) to make the word Bharatha and Natyam (drama). This composite art form incorporates elements of rhythm, music, poetry and drama, often to enact stories from Indian epics. In its traditional form it adheres to a strict codified grammar but in practice it is flexible and dynamic which lends itself to contemporary interpretations.
The three basic elements of Bharathanatyam are Nritta (dance movements), Nritya (movement and facial expression) and Natya (dramatic quality).
Natyasastra an ancient treatise on dramaturgy written between the 1st century BC to 1st century AD serves as a handbook to learn and understand the components of both Nritya and Natya. These two aspects contribute to the narrative element in the dance. A solo Bharathanatyam recital usually consists of eight or nine pieces. Some pieces express only the pure dance aspect, some only the mime aspect and some are a combination of both. A classical performance usually consists of traditional pieces for which the texts may be from a different era.
Bharathanatyam employs the Carnatic style of music. Carnatic music originates from South India. The main aspect of Carnatic music is that it strictly follows the raga system, which prescribes a set of rules on the scales to build up a melody.