Indian classical dance is an ancient and celebrated cultural tradition in our country. Performed during occasions, festivities, and ceremonies, Indian classical dances exhibit the unique essence of India.
The classical dance forms of India are much more than mere body movements. They are considered as a discipline and a way to devote yourself to God through art. Influenced by the Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian text, each of these dance forms have a different purpose and message to convey.
Check out our list of major classical dance forms found in India:-
Bharatnatyam, Tamil Nadu/South India
Bharatanatyam is the most ancient of all the classical Indian dance forms. This dance was nurtured by temples and kingdoms of South India, since early times.
Bharatanatyam dance is known for its grace, purity, tenderness, expression, and sculpturesque poses. The focus is on the hand gestures, leg movements, and facial expressions of the dancer. It is often used to express Hindu religious stories and devotions.
This dance form was very prevalent before the British era. However, India has kept the dance form alive till date. One of the most respectable art forms, this dance style is practiced by male and female dancers all over the world.
Mohiniyattam, Kerala/South India
Mohiniyattam is a popular dance form of Kerala. According to Indian mythology, Mohini represents the female avatar of Lord Vishnu, whereas Attam in Malayalam signifies the rhythmic motion. In short, the word “Mohiniyattam” means “dance of the enchantress”.
This dance involves the swaying of broad hips and the gentle movements of erect posture from side to side. The performer uses the eyes in a very coy, sensual manner to express the emotions. A pure amalgam of expressions, music, beat, and rhythm, this dance form also exhibits a vigorous dance of Tandava relating to Lord Shiva.
Kuchipudi, Andhra Pradesh/South India
Kuchipudi is a popular dance form of Andhra Pradesh. The dance form is based on Hindu religion, spirituality, and mythology. It is broadly oriented on Lord Krishna.
The form is considered the toughest because it requires a whole lot of rituals, such as the sprinkling of the holy water, burning incense sticks, and praying to God. It includes both singing and dancing. Which is why, a performer needs both the skills and much more dedication to learn and practice this dance form.
In the earlier days, Kuchipudi was only performed by the male dancers in the temples, specifically the Brahmins (Upper caste of the society). However today, it is also performed by female dancers.
Kathakali, Kerala/South India
Kathakali originated in the country’s present-day state of Kerala during the 17th century. it focuses mainly on “story-telling”. It depicts tales from Mahabharata and Ramayana - the two epics in Indian History.
This stylized classical Indian dance-drama is noted for its attractive make-up doned characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures, and well-defined body movements. A Kathakali actor uses immense concentration, skill, and physical stamina to perform this dance form. Another fact by which Kathakali differs from remaining Indian classical dances is that it also incorporates movements as depicted from ancient martial arts.
Classical Kathakali was mainly performed by male artists but modern dance form has also included women artists along with male counterparts.
Kathak, Uttar Pradesh/North India
This dance form originated in Uttar Pradesh, North India. The word Kathak relates to ‘katha’ or story.
Kathak is referred to as a dance of love between Radha and Krishna and can be performed by both the male and female dancers together. In this art, both the partners weave a tryst through the precise movement of their physical selves. The primary focus is on the ankle movements, which must be at par with the throbbing beat of the music. Moreover, Ghungroos, as called in the traditional language, is an important part of this dance form.
Enriched by contemporary literature, music, and performance, today Kathak is being highly appreciated and performed across various parts of the world.
Manipuri, Manipur/Northeast India
This dance originated in Manipur, the northeastern state of India. Also known as Jagoi, this dance form specializes in “Rasleela” showcasing Krishna and Radha’s romantic encounters.
This art form is performed in a team with the traditional Manipuri costumes and makeup. Purely religious, this dance is smooth and fluid with no sharp, jerky movements. It is performed with intervals of narrative chanting. The chanting is facilitated by the crescendo of music that emanates from the many classical instruments.
Odissi, Odisha/East India
This classical dance style originated in the Indian state “Odisha”, also known as Orissa in the older literature.
The dance form like other classical dance is based on mythological instances or devotional poems/hymns from Hindu sacred religious texts, etc. Most of the gestures and movements (Mudras) are inspired by the sculptors and idols belonging to the ancient temples of India.
Traditionally this dance form is practiced by women. Very complex and expressive, this oldest dance form of India, has managed to survive till now.
Sattriya, Assam/North-East India
Sattriya Nritya or Sattriya dance originated in the eastern state of India, Assam. It was introduced by Mahapurusha Sankaradeva, a Vaishnava saint and reformer of Assam.
Traditionally performed by the male monks, this dance is an artistic way of presenting mythological teachings to the people in an accessible, immediate and enjoyable manner. This art form is accompanied by musical compositions called Borgeets, based on ragas.
Today, the practice has changed in many ways. The theme is not just related to mythology, and the performances are not limited to traditional music. As of today, even women perform Sattriya dance on various occasions.
Indian classical dance is one of the most revered identities of our culture. All the incredible classical dances originated in the country during ancient times. Though the exact identity of the originators has been neglected, the style is protected and practiced even today.