Bharatanatyam is the oldest form of traditional Indian dance, dating back thousands of years. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a beloved animated series from the mid 2000s. A dancer merged the two together and it’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.
Naomi Namboodiripad has trained for several years in a variety of styles, including Bharatanatyam. Originally only performed by solo female temple dancers as a sacred devotion, this traditional form is dramatic, expressive and meant to tell a story—using rhythmic movements, pantomiming or a combination of both.
These aspects lend themselves well to recreating the iconic opening sequence to “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which uses different martial arts techniques symbolizing the four fictional elemental tribes of earth, water, air and fire.
Here’s a refresher of what that looks like. I bet you can’t just watch it once.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” Theme Song (HQ) | Episode Opening Credits | Nick Animation
Namboodiripad did her own version of this intro, using elements of traditional Indian dance, and created something truly spectacular.
Everything from Namboodiripad’s movement, to gorgeous wardrobe changes, to clever camera angles was absolutely brilliant—and people took notice.
Here are just a few gems from the literal thousands of loving comments:
“I’m still not over how beautiful the outfits are and how they compliment the movements.”
“THIS IS SO BEAUTIFUL, MY INNER CHILD WAS SO HAPPY TO SEE THIS 💚😌”
“This gave me chills lol”
@naomi.nambo Replying to @Raahi @Naomi Namboodiripad here is an extended version! #dance #avatar #atla #elements #air #water #earth #fire #bharatanatyam #mohiniyattam #kuchipudi #trending #indian #southasian #desi #acting #culture #performance #costume #makeup #jewelry ♬ Avatar the Last Airbender – juanito
“Earth and water are Bharatanatyam, air is Mohiniyattam, and fire is Kuchipudi,” Namboodiripad explained, noting the different styles used for each element in the comments section.
Ironically, Bharatanatyam is also known as a “fire dance” but was not used to portray fire in the video. Its focus on clear lines makes it a great fit for earth and water. Namboodiripad told Upworthy that both the “groundedness” and “versatility” made it a good fit for the two elements.
Mohiniyattam, on the other hand, is characterized by graceful, circular movements, or “relaxed,” as Namboodiripad puts it—making it perfect to embody the light, flowing essence of air.
Kuchipudi might have been tied to the earth element when it originated, but those hand moves Namboodiripad used simply scream “fire.” In a bold, cool way, mind you. Not a “there’s an emergency” kind of way. Guess that’s why Namboodiripad says there’s a “bright but dangerous quality” to the form.
Namboodiripad shared with Upworthy that “Avatar” and traditional Indian dance might have more connecting ties than one might initially think. “I noticed that growing up Indian in a western country that most cartoons did not have the element of diversity and lacked explorations of different cultures and values. However, ‘Avatar’ broke that cycle, and I found that I not only enjoyed the immense world building and engaging plot, but the cultural and spiritual elements as well.
“‘Avatar’ has many ideas of Hinduism—the name itself originates from Hinduism—and Indian classical dance is rooted in Hindu mythology as well,” she continued. “Considering the connections between the two pieces of art, I decided that I wanted to combine ‘Avatar’ and Indian classical dance to provide the South Asian representation that was missing from the show and to reach the audience that ‘Avatar’ has, but most importantly, express storytelling and showcase my culture through a multimedia platform with dance, music, and film.”
Although Namboodiripad’s Indian-styled Avatar dance is a fan favorite, she has all kinds of videos showcasing how delightful expressive traditional Indian dances are.
Here’s one where she dances as different animals. Mouse is kind of my fave.
@naomi.nambo Replying to @idontcareanymore1111222 some animals, like the tiger, have the same mudra (hand gesture) as lion – so it depends on context #dance #animals #acting #indian #desi #fyp #turtle #culture #emotion #story ♬ Mohiniyattam – Hridya Chintan
Animals play a large role in Hindu mythology and were often given the status of gods or goddesses. According to an article in The Indian Express, “many postures in Indian classical dance are based on those of animals.”
Here’s another one where Namboodiripad does an acting challenge—portraying different emotions using only facial expressions.
@naomi.nambo Reply to @fresh_mint_tea trying this challenge using Navarasas and Mudras (facial emotions and hand gestures from Indian classical dance) #trending #actingchallenge #cake #dance #melaniemartinez #bharatanatyam #kuchipudi #mohiniyattam #indian #desi #culture #fyp ♬ Cake – Spedupluvr
You can see how exaggerated each navarasa (or mood) is on her face, so that every mood can clearly be conveyed, even from a distance.
Of course, one of her most popular videos (with more than 1.6 millions views) is simply showing off her performance jewelry. Because it’s awesome.
@naomi.nambo Replying to @niyah.fr full performance look! #dance #mohiniyattam #performance #makeup #jewelry #outfit #costume #flowers #indian #desi #southasian #fyp #trending #culture ♬ original sound – Naomi Namboodiripad
Considering how much of the face and hands are used in traditional Indian dances, it makes sense that most of the bedazzling would go there. Plus anklets with bells on them for next-level stomping.
Here’s another fun one, featuring death:
@naomi.nambo This was highly requested, so here are some ways to show death 💀 #dance #indian #desi #southasian #bharatanatyam #kuchipudi #mohiniyattam #culture ♬ Indian music – Hollywood Labo
Whether Namboodiripad gives us straight-up traditional dances or something with a modern spin, it’s incredible to see. This is the beauty of creative expression … there’s always so much to be inspired by.