Bharatanatyam has been a solo dance performed exclusively by women, and it expressed South Indian religious themes and spiritual ideas, particularly of Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism.
Bharatanatyam theoretical foundations trace to the ancient Sanskrit text by Bharata Muni, Natya Shastra, its existence by 2nd century CE is noted in the ancient Tamil epic Silappatikaram, while temple sculptures of 6th to 9th century CE suggest it was a well refined performance art by the mid 1st millennium CE. Bharatanatyam may be the oldest classical dance tradition of India
Bharatanatyam style is noted for its fixed upper torso, legs bent or knees flexed out combined with spectacular footwork, a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language based on gestures of hands, eyes and face muscles. The dance is accompanied by music and a singer, and typically her guru is present as the director and conductor of the performance and art. The dance has traditionally been a form of an interpretive narration of mythical legends and spiritual ideas from the Hindu texts. The performance repertoire of Bharatanatyam, like other classical dances, includes nrita (pure dance), nritya (solo expressive dance) and natya (group dramatic dance).
Bharatanatyam remained exclusive to Hindu temples through the 19th century It was banned by the colonial British government in 1910, but the Indian community protested against the ban and expanded it outside the temples in the 20th century. Modern stage productions of Bharatanatyam have incorporated technical performances, pure dance based on non-religious ideas and fusion themes.