The Costumes and Jewellery of Indian Classical Dance Bharatanatyam: A Glorious Tradition

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage


Bharatanatyam, one of the oldest and most revered classical dance forms of India, is a mesmerizing blend of expressive storytelling, intricate footwork, and graceful movements. Originating in the temples of Tamil Nadu, this dance form is not only a visual delight but also a cultural treasure that reflects the rich heritage of India. Central to the charm of Bharatanatyam are its costumes and jewellery, which play a pivotal role in enhancing the aesthetic appeal and symbolic meaning of the performance.

The Costume: An Embodiment of Grace and Tradition

The Bharatanatyam costume is meticulously designed to accentuate the dancer’s movements and expressions while adhering to traditional aesthetics. The attire is typically vibrant, elegant, and richly adorned, comprising several key components:

  1. Saree and Dhoti-Style Draping:
    • The main piece of the costume is a saree, often made from silk or a silk-cotton blend, chosen for its lustrous appearance and durability. The saree is specially tailored to facilitate movement, with pleats at the front that fan out beautifully during various poses and jumps.
    • The saree is worn in a dhoti-style, which involves wrapping the fabric around the legs and securing it to ensure comfort and freedom of movement. This style is reminiscent of traditional South Indian attire and adds a touch of authenticity to the performance.
  2. Blouse and Angavastram:
    • A matching blouse, often short-sleeved or sleeveless, complements the saree. It is usually decorated with intricate embroidery or embellishments that mirror the designs on the saree.
    • The angavastram, a decorative piece of cloth, is draped over the shoulders, adding a layer of elegance and sophistication. It may be embellished with zari (metallic thread) work or intricate designs.
  3. Odiyanam (Waist Belt):
    • The odiyanam is a broad, ornate belt that secures the pleats of the saree at the waist. It is typically crafted from gold or silver and adorned with intricate patterns and gemstones. The belt not only enhances the dancer’s silhouette but also holds the costume in place during vigorous movements.
  4. Ankle Bells (Salangai):
    • The salangai are a crucial part of the Bharatanatyam costume. These are ankle bells worn by the dancer to emphasize rhythmic footwork. The sound of the bells, synchronized with the beats of the music, adds an auditory dimension to the visual performance.

The Jewellery: Adorning the Divine

Jewellery in Bharatanatyam is not merely ornamental; it holds significant cultural and symbolic meanings. The jewellery pieces, often inspired by temple sculptures and traditional designs, transform the dancer into an embodiment of divine beauty. Here are some of the key pieces:

  1. Head Ornaments (Chutti and Nethichutti):
    • The chutti is a forehead ornament that consists of a central piece called the nethichutti, which rests on the parting of the hair. These ornaments are intricately designed, often featuring motifs of gods, goddesses, and floral patterns.
  2. Ear Ornaments (Jimikki and Maattal):
    • Jimikki are traditional earrings, usually long and bell-shaped, that dangle gracefully. They are often complemented by maattal, which are chains that connect the earrings to the hair, ensuring they stay in place during vigorous movements.
  3. Necklaces and Chokers:
    • Dancers wear multiple layers of necklaces and chokers, ranging from short and snug to long and elaborate. These necklaces are often made of gold or gold-plated materials, studded with precious and semi-precious stones like rubies, emeralds, and pearls.
  4. Armbands (Vanki):
    • The vanki, or armlets, are worn on the upper arms. These ornaments are designed to follow the natural curve of the arm and often feature intricate designs that complement the rest of the jewellery.
  5. Bangles (Kada):
    • Bangles are worn on both wrists and are chosen to match the overall colour scheme and design of the costume. They add a rhythmic element to the dance, creating soft clinking sounds with each movement.
  6. Nose Rings (Mookuthi):
    • The mookuthi is a traditional nose ring, which may be a simple stud or an elaborate piece connected to the hair by a chain. It enhances the facial expressions, which are a crucial part of Bharatanatyam storytelling.
  7. Hair Ornaments:
    • The hair is adorned with flowers, usually jasmine, and decorated with various ornaments like surya (sun) and chandra (moon) pins, symbolizing the celestial bodies.

Symbolism and Cultural Significance

The elaborate costumes and jewellery of Bharatanatyam are not just for aesthetics; they are deeply symbolic. The adornments are believed to transform the dancer into a divine entity, often portraying deities or mythological characters. The use of traditional motifs and designs reflects the cultural heritage and religious significance, connecting the performance to its spiritual roots.

Moreover, the rich fabrics, vibrant colours, and intricate designs are a testament to the craftsmanship of Indian artisans. Each piece of jewellery and every stitch in the costume is a work of art, contributing to the overall grandeur of the performance.


The costumes and jewellery of Bharatanatyam are integral to the dance form’s identity, enhancing its visual appeal and cultural depth. They embody the elegance, grace, and divine beauty that Bharatanatyam seeks to portray, making each performance a mesmerizing experience for the audience. The dedication to maintaining traditional designs and the meticulous craftsmanship involved in creating these costumes and ornaments highlight the timeless beauty and cultural richness of Bharatanatyam, ensuring its enduring legacy in the world of classical dance.

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

By Mala Chandrashekhar

Introducing Blogger Mala Chandrashekhar - A specialist academically trained in modern Western sciences, yet deeply enamored with India's timeless ethnic arts, crafts, and textiles. Her heart beats for the rich and glorious cultural and spiritual heritage of India, and she has dedicated her entire blog to spreading the immortal glories of ancient India worldwide. Through her simple yet impactful blog posts, Mala aims to reach every nook and corner of the globe, sharing India's beauty and wisdom with the world.

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