Believed to be India's oldest form of classical dance, this 'poetry in motion', has its origins in the Natya Sastra written about 4000 B.C. by Sage Bharatha. This art form disallows new fangled innovations or gimmicks except in repertoire and forms of presentation. It was originally known as 'Dasi Attam,' a temple art performed by young women called 'devadasis.'
After the 16th Century, this dance went into disrepute due to economic and social conditions. It was Rukmini Devi who gave it a new life and respectability. The present form was evolved in the 19th Century by four Tanjore dancers, Ponniah Pillai and his three brothers.
To become proficient in Bharatha Natyam, one must be talented and extremely dedicated. It requires at least seven years of rigorous training to master the different gestures and poses and the emotions, called 'bhavas.' The skill of the artist in conveying the 'bhava' or 'rasa' is more important than the accompanying song.
Bharatha Natyam is commonly performed by women. There are strict guidelines laid down regarding every single aspect of the art, including the attributes required in order to be an accomplished dancer.