Bharatnatyam is one of the most popular classical Indian dances. Bharatnatyam is more popular in South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Bharatnatyam dance is almost 2,000 years old. It is believed that Bharatnatyam was revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata, a famous sage who then codified this sacred dance in a Sanskrit text called the Natya Shastra. The Natya Shastra is one of the fundamental treatises on Indian drama and aesthetics. Natya Shastra divides dance into two distinct forms- nritta, and nritya. In nritta, focus is on mastery of abstract hand gestures and movements, whereas the dancer employs a complex system of hand signals and body language to depict emotional expressions in nritya.
The Bharatnatyam dance flourished in the Hindu temples of South India. The temple dancers (Called Devadasis or servants of god) flourished under royal patronage and religious devotion. The Devadasi system became an integral part of South Indian temple ritual. Slowly and gradually the Devadasi system went into disrepute due to economic and social conditions attached to it. The credit of reviving and popularizing the Bharatnatyam in its present form goes to Rukmini Devi, who gave it new life and respectability. Bala Saraswati, the queen of Bharatnatyam also deserves accolades for her work and efforts to popularize Bharatnatyam.
At present Bharatnatyam is an immensely popular classical dance form of India. The present form of Bharatnatyam dance was evolved by Poniah Pillai of Tanjore and his brothers. Formats of Bharatnatyam consist of Alarippu (invocation), Jathi Swaram (note combinations) Shabdam (notes and lyrics), Varnam (a combination of pure dance and abhinaya) lighter items like Padams and Javalis (all erotic) and finally the thillana (again pure dance). Bharatnatyam is considered the mother art of most of the other classical dances of India and inspires many art forms like sculpture, painting, and icon-making.