The myth says that after the four Vedas have been created all the Gods approached Lord Brahma to create another Veda, the fifth Veda which would be readable to all including women and the lower caste. Thus Brahma ordered muni (sage) Bharatha to write the fifth Veda.
The fifth Veda or the Natya Shastra was written between the time period 220BC and 200AD. The historicity of Bharatha is questionable. Some say that the unity of text and reference of previous stanzas denote that it was written by a single person.
Natya Shastra was written taking the Patha ( words) from Rig Veda, Abhinaya (expressions) from Yajur Veda, Geeth ( music) from Sam Veda and Rasa ( vital sentiments) from Atharva Veda. On completion the Natya Shastra was propagated by Bharatha and his disciples. The Natya Shastra became the most authoritative documentation of Indian Classical dance especially for Bharatanatyam. Bharatanatyam partly owes its name to sage Bharatha. Some say the name is a combination of Bhava (expression), Raga (music) and Tala (rhythm).
Bharatanatyam had been undergoing various kinds of changes over the centuries. Previously it had been the dance of the Devdasis (priestess) in South Indian temples, who were well versed in Sanskrit. They composed their performances based on the different moods of the spectators. They lived a life of celibacy and were not allowed to have a family. Later as the performers shifted from the temples to the royal courts they were renamed as Rajnartakis ( royal dancers) and degraded to the stature of being the concubines of the kings and his ministers. During the time of British rule the Devdasi tradition was totally demolished.
During the first half of 19th Century Bharatanatyam witnessed a massive change in its techniques and expressing ideas. The credit solely goes to the Tanjore quartet. Many a poets and singers also started creating different songs for such performances. The techniques have also been changed with the performers’ performance and ways of expressing. But even with massive changes Bharatanatyam still holds a foothold in expressing Hindu spiritual heritage. Though it is now being commercially used in different ways , from television commercials to fusion with Western dance, Bharatanatyam in its true essence and vigour remains a sacred ritual that is supposed to bring rasanubhava( spiritual upliftment) to the rasika ( audience) and the dancer.