1. Dance Forms of India

Dance Forms of India

Dance in India has an unbroken tradition of over 2,000 years. Its themes are derived from mythology, legends and classical literature. Its two main divisions are classical and folk.

In traditional Indian culture the function of dance was to give symbolic expression to religious ideas. The figure of Lord Shiva as Nataraja represents the creation and destruction of the cosmic cycle.

Classical dance forms are based on ancient dance discipline and have rigid rules of presentation. Important among them are Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Kathak, Manipuri, Kuchipudi and Odissi. Read more:-Dance in India.


• Mudra or hand gestures are used by the artists as a short-hand sign language to narrate a story and to demonstrate certain concepts.

• Many classical dances include facial expressions as an integral part of the dance form.

• Nartanam: Dances performed inside the sanctum of the temple according to the rituals.

• Carnatakam Dances were performed in royal courts.

A. Bharatnatyam

  • A dance that encompasses Bhav, Rag, Ras and Taal is ‘Bharatanatyam’. Also called as ‘Sadir’, it was conventionally performed by Devadasis (girls offered to God in the temple) in Hindu Temples of South India. 

  • Thus, also known as ‘Dasiattam’. Developed in the Tanjore and other regions of South India prominently Tamil Nadu, this could possibly be the Oldest Classical Dance form of India (around 2000 years old). 

  • It follows the convention of Natya Shastra in true spirit. Abhinaya Darpan and Sangeet Ratnakar guide the technique and grammar of body movements.

The Music and Instruments Used for the Bharatanatyam

  • Carnatic Style, Vocalists Called – Nattuvanar (normally Guru).
  • Verses are usually in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Sanskrit.
  • Mridangam, Nadaswaram, Nattuvangam, Flute, Violin veena etc.

B. Kathak

  • The graceful dance of North India origin ‘Kathaa’ ‘Kahe’ so ‘Kathak’ ‘Kahave’, the one who tells stories is Kathakaar or Kathak.  

  • Also known as ‘Natwari Nrutya’. Kathak is one of the most charming dance forms of India.

  •  The themes of Kathak revolve around Stories of Ramayan, Mahabharat, and Krishna.  Apart from this, Kathak encompasses presentations on manifold subjects.  

  • Raslila of Braj is quite akin to Kathak.  

  • A Solo Dance form but group compositions on themes with perfect synchronization steals the heart.

The Music and Instruments used for Kathak Dance Form

  • Hindustani Music: Lyrics may be in Hindi, Brij, Sanskrit or any other regional language.
  • Instruments like Pakhawaj, Tabla, Sarangi, Sitar, Harmonium, Flute, Sarod, etc. are used.

C. Odissi

  • The long-established dance form in the serene surroundings of Shri Jagannath Temple in Odisha is famous as ‘Odissi’

  • It has its mention in the oldest Sanskrit Text – Natya Shastra as Audramagdhi

  • In ancient days this dance form filled with Bhakti ras was a part of worship to God at Jagannath temples. Thus we find many sculptures in dance position inside the temple.

The Music and Instruments Used

  • The South Indian, as well as North Indian Music, is employed for the dance.

  •  The Pakhavaj, Tabla, Swarmandal, Harmonium, Sitar, Flute, Violin, and Cymbals.

D. Kuchipudi

  • The Kuchipudi was originated from the place named ‘Kuchipudi’ in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh around 3rd century BCE, Kuchipudi Dance form is a long-established dance-drama style.

  • Tirtha Narayana Yati and his disciple Siddhendra Yogi organized and founded the modern version of Kuchipudi which we see today. 

  • Kuchipudi gradually developed as a solo dance form and today we can see both male and female performing it.

  •  Kuchipudi are themes related to Vaishnavism, Lord Krishna, Rukmini, Satyabhama and other myths. 

  • Kuchipudi also holds certain specialties of Bharatnatyam and Odissi as well.

The Music and Instruments Used for the Kuchipudi Dance

  • Based on Carnatic music the language is usually Telugu.

  • Mridangam, cymbals, veena, flute and Tambura.

E. Kathakali

  • The Dazzling classical dance of Kerala is Kathakali. ‘Katha’= Story or tale, ‘Kali’= Performance and Art.  

  • Its roots are in ancient ‘Kutiyattam’ (Classical Sanskrit Dance Drama) and ‘Krishnattam’ (Dance-Drama depicting Stories of Hindu God Krishna). 

  • Movements in Kathakali are influenced by ancient martial arts and athletic tradition. It is basically a Dance-Drama.

  •  Kathakali was traditionally a male-dominated dance and now females are too welcomed in this dance form. 

  • Kathakali is also famous for its huge elaborate costumes, amazing make-up style, face masks, and ornaments.

F. Mohiniattam

  • Another graceful Classical Dance of Kerala, Mohiniattam is Lasya inspired dance with soft, calm and gentle movements. Characterized as Feminine, usually done by women. 

  • The word ‘Mohini’ is related to the charming women avatar of Lord Vishnu – to end the evil powers. 

  • Mohiniattam also connotes, beautiful dancing women. The graceful and most beautiful, Mohiniattam is mesmerizing.

  •  The text ‘Hastha Lakshanadeepika’ is followed (for hand gestures and facial expressions) that has an elaborate description of mudras.

G. Manipuri

  • The Manipuri dance form named after its region of origin, ‘Manipur’ is also known as ‘Jogai’

  • It was traditionally performed as a dance – drama on devotional songs, Manipuri showcases the love between Radha- Krishna through Raaslila. 

  • Manipuri is a combination of two culture- Indian and South-East Asian. The Manipuri dance form is categorized as Tandav or Lasya.

H. Sattriya

  • Sattriya is the traditional dance –drama of Assam. Sattriya was recognized in 2000 as Classical Dance by Sangeet Natak Akademi. 

  • It is influenced by Vaishnavism and the modern form of Sattriya is attributed to the 15th century Bhakti Movement Scholar and Saint Srimanta Sankaradev

  • Since 15th Century, Sattriya grew as a part of Vaishnav Bhakti Movement in Hindu Monasteries called ‘Sattra’

  • Sattras are the dance community halls (namghar) of monastery temples. Today it is popular worldwide.

I. Chhau Dance

  • The Chhau is a blend of folk, tribal and martial arts. ‘Chhau’ – is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Chaaya’, meaning Shadow, image or mask. 

  • Also, Chhau is defined by Sitakanta Mahapatra to be derived from Chhauni ( Military Camp) in Odia language. 

  • Traditionally performed by Males – Male troupes.

  • The Chhau has three different types originating from three different regions. Every type has its own unique feature, pattern, and style of performing and ornamentation as well. Read more:-Music Forms.

Practice the following Question-

Q-1 How do you distinguish between Kuchipudi & Bharatnatyam Dance? (2012)

Q-2 Explain the different aspects of India’s traditional dance system? (250 words)