Set in the Royal India of the past, La Bayadère is a story of eternal love, mystery, fate, vengeance, and justice. The ballet relates the drama of a temple dancer (bayadère), Nikiya, who is loved by Solor, a noble warrior. She is also loved by the High Brahmin, but does not love him in return, as she does Solor.
Act I, Scene I, Outside Temple in the Sacred Forest: The High Brahmin, priests, and temple dancers are celebrating the Indian Ritual of Fire. Nikiya, the most beautiful of the bayadères, has been chosen to be consecrated the lead temple dancer. The High Brahmin declares his love for Nikiya, but is rejected by her. Nikiya meets secretly with Solor later that evening. They dance together and swear eternal love over the Sacred Fire, but are discovered by the jealous High Brahmin, who vows to kill Solor.
Act I, Scene II, A Room in the Palace: The Rajah has decided to reward Solor’s valor and decrees that the warrior will marry his daughter, Gamzatti. Gamzatti falls in love with Solor’s portrait, and when they meet, he is overwhelmed by her beauty. Even though he has sworn eternal love to Nikiya, he cannot defy the wishes of the Rajah and agrees to marry Gamzatti. The High Brahmin informs the Rajah of Nikiya and Solor’s secret love, hoping that the Rajah will do away with Solor. Instead, the Rajah decides to kill Nikiya.
This conversation is overhead by Gamzatti, who summons Nikiya to her rooms and attempts to bribe Nikiya to give up Solor. Refusing, Nikiya frantically attempts to kill Gamzatti. Nikiya flees and Gamzatti swears to destroy her.
Act I, Scene III, The Garden of the Palace: At the betrothal of Solor and Gamzatti, Nikiya is commanded to dance. Gamzatti presents her with a basket of flowers that Nikiya believes to be from Solor, and which conceals a deadly snake. Nikiya is bitten, and when Solor leaves with Gamzatti, she refuses the proffered antidote and dies.
Act II, The Tent of Solor: Solor, grief‑stricken and under the influence of opium, dreams of being reunited with Nikiya in the Kingdom of the Shades. Awakening, he realizes that he must prepare to marry Gamzatti.
Act III, The Temple: The vision of Nikiya remains with Solor as the wedding ceremony begins at the Sacred Temple. As Solor and Gamzatti say their vows and are blessed by the High Brahmin, the vengeance of the gods is unleashed, and the temple and all the celebrants are destroyed. Nikiya and Solor are once again united in eternal love.