Bharathanaatyam is one of the most popular and widely performed Indian Classical art forms. It is a dynamic, vibrant and brilliant art form which dates back thousands of years with its origins in the temples and courts of South India. It is considered to be the ultimate form of yoga which integrates discipline of mind, body and spirit. Bharathanaatyam reinforces the basic tenet of Indian philosophical and spiritual thought that the goal of human life is to seek that which is timeless and permanent (a higher being) and to be aware that all things material (like the human body) are but transient and impermanent.
Bharathanaatyam is quite possibly the oldest classical dance tradition of India tracing back to the ancient Sanskrit text, the Naatya Veda (or Naatya Shastra). The Naatya Veda is a Hindu Scripture dedicated to the performing arts. Authored by Bharata Muni, this is the fifth, and final Veda. Bharata framed the Naatya Veda from desired selections of the previous four Vedas. From the Rig Veda, he drew forth the words, from the Saama Veda the music, from the Yajur Veda gesture and from the Atharva Veda, the flavor. The performance repertoire consists of three basic elements, Nritta (pure dance/technique), Nritya (expressive dance) and Naatya (dramatic dance).
The word Bharathanaatyam can be assigned three meanings. The first is that Bha stands for Bhava or facial expression, Ra stands for raga or music, and Tha stands for thalam or the beat. These three elements combined with Naatya comprise this rich art form. The second is that this Naatya, or dance drama form has been given to us by the creator of the Naatya Veda, Bharata Muni. The third meaning that can be assigned for the significance of Bharathanaatyam, is that this is the Naatya or dance form of our country, Bhaarat (popularly known as India).
Traditionally, Bharathanaatyam has been a solo dance form and has expressed Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas. As it has evolved, it has been adapted to group performances and dance dramas, and the repertoire has been expanded to incorporate non-religious themes and multicultural ideas. Though this art form is now explored with abstract themes that deviate from the great epics of Hindu literature, it is still widely performed by solo artists following the traditional margam or repertoire.