The dance compositions of the Tanjore Quartet form the classical canon, or the supreme masterpieces, of Bharatanatyam.
The term "Tanjore Quartet", also known as the "Thanjai Naalvar" in Tamil, refers to four brothers - Chinnaiah, Ponnaiah, Sivanandam and Vadivel - who were nattuvanars or dance masters of the Isai-Vellalar caste, at the royal court of Serfoji II in Tanjavur during the early nineteenth century.
This ancestral dance-caste has been the repository of classical dance since the middle ages. The teachers of this caste are heirs to a very rich oral tradition in classical dance which they guarded closely as a trade-secret and taught professionally to dancers of their own caste for a long time in something resembling a guild system.
The greatest works of the Tanjore Quartet are the varnams, which contain depictions of the ecstasy and torment of romantic love, as well as depictions of states of spiritual rapture, interspersed throughout with abstract dance sequences.
Gangamuthu Nattuvanar, the ancestor of the Tanjore Quartette, moved from Tirunelveli to the outskirts of Tanjore . The four brothers were noticed and brought to the court of Tanjore where they served under Serfoji II. Their fame quickly spread and they were highly sought after by the courts of Mysore and Trivandrum.