Originally called Sadir, Bharata Natyam grew from the temples of South India as a form of spiritual practice. Women, named Deva-Dasis (servants of god) would offer dance as part of the devotional ritual of their temple. Due to its temple roots, the themes of Bharata Natyam are not mundane but focus on the myths and characteristics of divinity. Its repertoire often portrays religious sentiments such as the longing of an individual for the divine. The Indian epics Mahabharta and Ramayana, which describe the activities of the gods, have been commonly used as source material for Bharata Natyam.
In its later history, Bharata Natyam developed under the patronage of kings. The 19th century Tanjore court was particularly influential and four brothers known as the Tanjore quartet are credited with revitalizing the dance though systematizing its technique and composing new music specifically for dance. Another significant period of dance history occurred in the 1930's when visionaries like Rukmini Devi Arundale and E. Krishna Iyer brought Bharata Natyam from the temple to the concert stage.
Today, Bharata Natyam has evolved significantly from its Devadasi roots. Dancers are utilizing material from a vast array of traditions for their dance and looking at traditional texts with a fresh perspective. Despite such innovations, the Deva-Dasi roots of devotion, discipline and religious ecstasy are still intrinsic elements of Bharata Natyam.