Temple dancing was the dance by the maids of gods’ that originated about 2000 years ago. These maids of gods’ known as Devadasis, were dedicated to the temple worship and formed part of the daily temple ritual. These dances were normally in praise of the gods.

Unfortunately over a period of time, influenced by poor economic times and social pressures, the Devadasis fell into disrepute. The temple dancers who were mainly women and single were taken advantage of linking them to the likes of prostitutes.

Some of the Kings and rulers of various South Indian territories, around the 16th and 17th centuries tried to revive the dances themselves, but it was the famous dancer Rukmini Devi who revived the traditions of dance and set the tone for what is now known as Bharatnatyam.

Bharatanatyam originated in southern India in the state of Tamilnadu. It started as a temple dance tradition called Dasiyattam (the dance of the maids) and is well known to be the most advanced and evolved dance form of all the classical Indian dance forms.
The name Bharatanatyam is a Sanskrit derivation of four aspects of dance:
1. Bha from the word Bhava which means emotion,
2. Ra from Raaga meaning music or melody,
3. Ta from Taala which means rhythm and
4. Natyam means dance.
Therefore, Bharatanatyam is a type of dance that encompasses music, rhythm and expressional dance and strictly adheres to the Natyashastra (the scripture of classical Indian dance).

This dance style is characterized by a linear form of the body without any pronounced movement of the upper body and linear spatial patterns, which makes it extremely dynamic and powerful poetry in motion.

Hand gestures and postures are called Mudras which are used to narrate or mime the meaning of the song or the story. Examples of this are a fist gesture to depict steadiness or grasping the hair or wrestling. Each of the Mudras has a name such as Katakamukha which means “opening a bracelet”. This is done by bringing together the index finger, middle finger and thumb. The ring finger and the little finger are raised at angles. Katakamukha is used to depict plucking or picking flowers; holding a necklace or a garland; pulling the bow string; talking or seeing something; etc.

There are numerous schools in India that teach this form of dance. Some of the more well known are

Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, USA, Institute of Indian Culture
– Institute of Indian Culture USA. Offers training in Bharata Natyam Kathak folk dances as well as vocal music and Indian culture to children

Center for Bharatnatyam in Wisconsin
-Natyarpana dance school is run by Ms.Kripa Baskaran in an effort to propogate Indian culture and traditional values through the art form of Bharatnatyam. Natyarpana offers year round classes in Bharatnatyam in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin and offers quality shows, theater productions, work-shops, demos and lectures.

Divya Unni’s Sreepadam School of Arts
-The famous film & dance artist, Divya Unni focuses on promoting Indian classical dance art-forms such as Bharathanatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi & folk and contemporary dance.