In the first half of the 20th century South Indian temple dance underwent a remarkable transformation from a low-caste activity to a national art form—from nautch to bharata nāṭyam.
This transformation was nurtured by the Indian nationalist movement, which was deeply rooted in European Orientalism and Victorian morality. The unsuitabilities of the figure of Shiva as Naṭarāja from the point of view of previous dance practice became precisely the qualities that qualified him as the nayaka (hero) of the new dance form.
Ananda Coomaraswamy groomed Naṭarāja for this role and brought him to the attention of artists including Rukmini Devi Arundale, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. Arundale, in particular, moved Naṭarāja to center stage, both as an independent force and as one heavily conditioned by a set of people and ideas.
This according to “Rewriting the script for South Indian dance” by Matthew Harp Allen (TDR: The drama review XLI/3 [fall 1997] pp. 63–100). Above, a traditional sculpture depicting Shiva as Naṭarāja; below, a bharata nāṭyam piece that evokes the cosmic dancer.
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