Article | Blog | Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Ministry of Culture, Government of India


‘Tanjore Quartet’ and the birth of modern-day Bharatanatyam

By : ‘Tanjore Quartet’ and the birth of modern-day Bharatanatyam

February 10, 2022

Classical dance enthusiasts the world over know the Tanjore (Thanjavur) brothers, also known as the “Tanjore Quartet”. These brothers—Ponnayya, Chinnayya, Shivanandam, and Vadivelu—formalized Bharatanatyam into a meticulous art form in the 19th century. Bharatanatyam originated as a dance form inspired by temples and went on to become one of India’s most famous and recognized dances. It was also the country’s first traditional dance to be refashioned as a theatre art.

Tanjore Quartet

The Pioneers of Dance and Music

The four brothers received expert training and guidance from their family and esteemed specialists of the era. They studied Bharatanatyam under their grandfather, Gangaimudu, and their father, Subbarayan. They learned the art's intricacies as well as how to create a performance pattern for it. They also trained in Carnatic music for seven years under the guidance of the art form’s legendary master Muthuswami Dikshitar. Their training in both dance, as well as musical compositions, allowed them to develop unique talents. Ponnayya became a composer and vocalist, Chinnayya a dancer, Shivanandam a mridangam vidwan (a drum-like instrument used in South Indian music), and Vadivelu a violinist. By unifying these talents, they changed the face of Indian classical dance and music forever.

They mastered the art of primeval Bharatanatyam and eventually evolved it into its present-day format by codifying its steps and rhythm patterns. Their unmatched elegance added an ethereal touch to their compositions, defining emotional interpretations for both the performer and the musician. They also captivated the essence of traditions in their ragas.

Performed for the Thanjavur Maratha Kingdom

Serfoji II of the Maratha dynasty ruled Thanjavur from 1798 to 1832. As an enthusiastic patron of art and culture, he had deep admiration and understanding of the same. He extended this appreciation to the Tanjore Quartet as well. They had the honour of performing in his courts at Thanjavur, Thiruvananthapuram, and Mysore.

Legacy and impact

Apart from their significant contribution to Bharatanatyam and its musical compositions, they were also responsible for making Brihadisvara Temple a hub that brought musicians and dancers together. Their compositions are still performed in sabhas across the world and their students continue to embrace their legacy for popularizing the craft globally. Their contributions were nothing less than an artistic revolution.

The Tanjore Quartet also brought light to a number of other dance styles, including those from the Travancore and Mysore kingdoms. Their creations have been well-preserved by future generations, and continue to inspire the entire field of classical dance and music.