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Over time, several classical dance styles have evolved on the Indian subcontinent. Bharata Natyam claims to be the perhaps oldest dance style among these, with roots reaching back over 2000 years. However, although it’s contemporary manifestation can not be pointed out easily, there are number of historical artefacts like depictions, skulptures and architecture, connecting the past with the present. Over the centuries, Bharata Natyam, a solo dance form, was developed and supported by kings, and performed by devadasis, in temples and also by court-dancers.

The conception of the way Bharata Natyam is performed today, goes back to four musicians and dance masters of the Maratha Court of Tanjore in the 18th and early 19th century. The four brothers Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Shivanandam and Vadivelu, the Tanjore quartet, basically formed the musical and theatrical structure and repertoire of the Bharata Natyam dance style as it is danced today. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century the tradition of the dance style had fallen apart. Whether due to contempt by society or a decline from within, or both, devadasis were banned from the temples.

Only between 1910 and 1935 various artists as Krishna Iyer, Ram Gopal, Balasarasvati and others took an enormous effort to revive Bharata Natyam back to its respected status. Traditional devadasi artists from old families started to perform publicly again. Also for the first time in history, daughters of families from high casts like Rukmini Devi and Kalanidhi Narayanan started to learn this ancient art form. Rukmini Devi founded Kalakshetra, the renowned dance academy of Chennai, India.

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