Young warriors led by Solor are hunting. Before entering the forest, Solor sends a fakir to tell bayadère Nikiya (a “Temple Dancer”) that he will meet her later at night. When Nikiya and Solor meet, they swear eternal fidelity to each other. They are unaware that the High Brahmin also in love with Nikiya, overhears them and decides to take revenge. He rushes to reveal this secret to the Rajah who has selected Solor to be the fiancé of Gamzatti, his beloved daughter. Nikiya, unaware of the arrangement, agrees to dance at the couple's betrothal celebrations.
The jealous High Brahmin in – an effort to have Solor killed and have Nikiya for himself – tells the Rajah that the warrior has already vowed love to the bayadère over. But the Rajah, rather than becoming angry with Solor, vows that Nikiya must die. Gamzatti, who has eavesdropped on this exchange, summons Nikiya to the palace in an attempt to bribe her into giving up her beloved. As their rivalry intensifies, Nikiya picks up a dagger in a fit of rage and attempts to kill Gamzatti. Nikiya is stopped at the last moment and flees in horror at what she has almost done. As did her father, Gamzatti vows that the bayadère must die…
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