TooStep is shutting down all it's services on 27th March 2015.
TooStep is shutting down all it's services on 27th March 2015.
Topic : General Information of dances
  Rate : 
By : Dhirendra Bengeri, Team Leader -(Technical), Reliance Industries
Industry : Publishing Functional Area : Education
Keywords :



Activity:  0 comments  2966 views  last activity : 09 06 2010 02:04:54 +0000
 Refer 54


Dance is the form of art, wherein the body is used as a medium of communication. Indian dances have played an influential role in many other territories of art including poetry, sculpture, architecture, literature, music and theatre.

Dances of India cover a wide range of dance and dance theatre forms, from the ancient classical or temple dance to folk and modern styles. Three best-known deities, Shiva, Kali and Krishna, are typically represented dancing.

Each form of classical dance represents the culture and philosophy of a particular region or a group of people. These forms which have been developed have set rules that have been followed traditionally over the years. Its theory can be traced back to the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni (400 BC).

India has thousands of year old tradition of fine arts and classical and folk music and dances. The following are the classical dance forms that originated and evolved in India are:

1)            Kathak

2)            Kathakali

3)            Bhartnatyam

4)            Manipuri

5)            Kuchpudi

6)            Mohiniattam

7)            Oddisi

8)            Sattriya


Various gurus incorporate their own imaginative innovations, leading to various schools within a particular dance form. All these dance forms use basically the same 'mudras' or signs of hand as a common language of expression and were originally performed in the temples to entertain various Gods and Goddesses. They were also effective in carrying forward the various mythological stories from generation to generation while entertaining the audiences.  The various dance forms have also developed a particular form of make-up for the performance.

Sage Bharata’s  'Natya Shashtra' is considered to be the first book which provide rules and regulations for entertaining arts.

With time, the classical dances evolved to include the expressions and themes from social life and experiences.

 Bharatnatyam, popular in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is said to be revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata. Kathak is the art to tell a story and is a form of North Indian classical dance. Later, it became courtly entertainment. Kathakali makes use of colorful masks and costumes and belongs to Kerala. Kuchipudi is the dance drama of Andhra Pradesh that combines Natya, Nritta and Nritya. Manipuri, as the name suggests, is from Manipur, the Northeastern state of India, and is a combination of many dances prevalent in the region. Mohiniattam from Kerala is a solo female dance and is known for its rhythmic and unbroken flow of the body movements. Odissi from Orissa is a dance of love, joy and intense passion.


Dance in India (like all other traditions and beliefs) has a mythological beginning as well. Centuries ago when the world was steeped in anger and jealousy, greed and desire, pleasure and pain the people went to Brahma to seek an end to this misery. It is said that Brahma created the Natya Veda, the fifth scripture to save humanity from deterioration from moral values. He created this Veda by taking elements from the other four Vedas. He took Speech from the Rig-Veda, Abhinaya (the entire gamut of speech, body, dress and facial expressions) from the Yajur Veda, music from the Sama Veda and aesthetic experiences from the Atharva Veda. He revealed this Veda to Sage Bharata. The Sage went to Lord Shiva who is said to be the 'Nataraja' meaning 'King of All Dances' to learn and add dance movements to the drama he had created according to the Veda. And thus dance and drama were created. Sage Bharata's Natya Shastra is the most exhaustive and oldest text on theatre art. It is the oldest in the world and is the common basis for the Indian classical tradition of music, dance, drama and iconography.

The dance

Heritage of India is at least 4500 years old. A dancing girl figurine was found in the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro. Many group dancing sequences are depicted in exquisite rock paintings of Bhimbetaka caves of Madhya Pradesh. The apsaras (Celestials) dancers are carved at the gateways

of Sanchi. The wall paintings of Ajanta and Ellora, the sculptures of Khajuraho, the temple walls of Hoysala dynasty, stand ample evidence for popularity of Indian dances from ancient times. The temple dancers (Devadasis) have led very austere lives in order to perform sacred dances to please Gods and Goddesses. The Devadasi system is still prevalent in some states of India.

One of the earliest structured uses of dances may have been in the performance and in the telling of myths. Before the production of written languages, dance was one of the methods of passing these stories down from generation to generation.




Bharatanatyam is the most popular of Indian dances and belongs to the South Indian state of Tamilnadu. It was a part of the religious rituals and has a long and ancient past. The kings and the princely courts patronized the temples, as well as the various traditions sustaining the dance form.

Previously referred to as Sadir, Dasiattam and Thanjavur Natyam, it demands unconditional and complete dedication from the performer. The dynamic and simple style of this dance makes it one of the most chosen forms of Indian classical art forms. Although it is predominantly performed by women, men are also known to engage in it. While the women wear a typical sari in the dance performance, men have bare chest and wear a dhoti-like outfit in the lower part of the body.

BHA- Bhava (Expression), RA- Raga (Music) and TA- Tala (Rhythm)

It is a traditional dance-form known for its grace, purity, tenderness, and sculpturesque poses.

It is considered to be a fire-dance. The movements of an authentic Bharatanatyam dancer resemble the movements of a dancing flame.

Bharatnatyam dance is almost 2,000 years old. It is believed that Bharatnatyam was revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata, who then codified this sacred dance in his book Natya Shastra.

Bharatanatyam, which we know today, evolved and flourished under royal patronage and religious devotion during the late 18th or early 19th century. In the ancient India, the temple dancers, devadasis performed Bharatanatyam (previously known as dasiattam) in various parts of Tamil Nadu and the devadasi system became an integral part of South Indian temple ritual.

Steps and Performance

The salient features of Bharatanatyam are movements conceived in space mostly either along straight lines or triangles. In terms of geometrical designs, the dancer appears to weave a series of triangles besides several geometrical patterns.

Bharatanatyam is always performed with the knees of the dancers bent. The dance form emphasizes on the hand movements to convey different kinds of emotions to the spectator.  The steps of the dance are based upon a balanced distribution of body weight and firm positions of the lower limbs, allowing the hands to cut into a line, to flow around the body, or to take positions that enhance the basic form.

A typical performance includes


  • Ganapati Vandana  - Opening prayer to the Lord Ganesha
  • Alarippu  - A presentation of the Tala with simple syllables by the dancer
  • Jatiswaram  - An abstract dance with drumbeats
  • Shabdam -  Dance accompanied by a devotional poem or song
  • Varnam - Main performance in which dance is punctuated with complex and difficult movements. A story is told through movements
  • Padam  - Lyrical section where the dancer speaks
  • Thillana - Pure dance with complex footwork and captivating poses


The dance includes

  • Abhinaya or Natya - dramatic art of story-telling in Bharatanatyam
  • Nritta - Pure dance movements, as a medium of visual depiction of rhythms
  • Nritya - A combination of abhinaya and nritta

 The techniques include


Described in Natya Shastra, Karanas are defined as the 108 key transitional movements of Bharatanatyam that also feature in other classical dance forms of India. Most of these 108 Karanas have a central, static pose as a base, i.e. the dancer is usually supposed to stop and maintain it for a very brief duration (0.5 sec).


A distinctive feature of the dance is the use of expressive hand gestures as a way of communication. Hastas refers to the varieties of hand symbols that a dancer can use. Some of the most well known hand gestures of the dance form include Anjali, which is used as a symbol of salutation, when a person greets his/her fellow dancer. Hastas are broadly divided into two types - Asamyukta and Samyukta.


Adavus is defined as a series of steps in Bharatanatyam. The execution of the steps is different from style to style. The 108 principals of adavus are recognized by most schools of Bharatanatyam. As many as 60 adavus are used by many professional dancers. Jathis is the combination of adavus and forms the Nritta passages in a Bharatanatyam performance.

 Bhedas And Eye Movements

Bharatanatyam is considered incomplete without bhedas and the expressive eye movements of the performer. The bhedas include

  • Shiro Bheda (Head Movements)
    • Sama, Udhvahita, Adhomukha, Alolita,Dhutam, Kampitam, Paravruttam, Utkshiptam and Parivahitam
  • Griva bhedas (Neck Movements)
    • Sundari, Tirashchina, Parivartita, Prakampita
  • Drishti bhedas (Neck Movements)
    • Sama, Alolita, Sachi, Pralokita, Nimilite, Ullokita, Anuvritta, Avalokita [who looks down]

Current Form

At present Bharatnatyam is an immensely popular classical dance form of India. The present form of Bharatnatyam dance was evolved by Poniah Pillai of Tanjore and his brothers. Formats of Bharatnatyam consist of Alarippu (invocation), Jathi Swaram (note combinations) Shabdam (notes and lyrics), Varnam (a combination of pure dance and abhinaya) lighter items like Padams and Javalis (all erotic) and finally the thillana (again pure dance).

E.Krishna Iyer was one of those who raised the social status of Bharatanatyam and greatly popularized it.  Rukmini Devi was instrumental in bringing it to the attention of the West. Bala Saraswati, the queen of Bharatnatyam also deserves accolades for her work and efforts to popularize Bharatnatyam.



Kathak is one of the most important classical dances of India which originated in northern India. The name Kathak has been derived from the Sanskrit word katha, meaning story. Thus Kathak means the person who tells a story. In ancient India, there were Kathakars or bards who used to recite religious and mythological tales to the accompaniment music, mime and dance. Under the influence of Persian and Muslim traditions Kathak dance assumed the form of courtly entertainment.


Initially, dancers known as 'kathakars' used to perform in village squares and temple courtyards across the country, unfolding mythological and moral tales from the ancient scriptures. They used to support their recitals with hand gestures and facial expressions. Music and dance were used by them to illuminate the story and to enliven it up. With time, this dance took the form of Kathkalakshepam and Harikatha in southern India and came to be known as Kathak in the north.

Traditionally the stories of Radha and Krishna were performed in the Natwari style (as it was then called), however, Kathak faced a drastic transition due to the influence of Mughal dance and music. During Mughals terrain, the dance became more entertaining and less religious in content. More emphasis was laid on nritta, the pure dance aspect and less on abhinaya. In fact, it is believed to have gone through its greatest transformation around 15th century. Primarily a temple ritual, the dance form later changed to fit royal court entertainment, mainly due to the Persian and Mughal influences. The 'kathakars' developed a style for pure entertainment of the emperors. After the decline of Mughal Empire, these performers were patronized by other kings, such as those in Rajasthan and other minor princely states.

Steps and Performance

Kathak dances are performed straight-legged and the ankle bells worn by the dancers are skillfully controlled. In Kathak dance the emphasis is more on footwork as against hasta mudras as in Bharatnatyam dance. Kathak dance can be performed by both men and women. A Kathak dancer is not required strictly to stick to fixed steps and stages and can change the sequence of steps to suit his or her skill and style of dancing.

The Kathak performance tends to follow a progression in tempo from slow to fast, ending with a dramatic climax. Dance compositions are of the following types viz.:

  • Tukra (short dance composition composed to highlight specific aspects of the dance)
  • Toda (longer dance composition)
  • Solely footwork

In footwork often the performer will engage in rhythmic 'play' with the time-cycle, splitting it into triplets or quintuplets so that it can match to the rhythm on the percussion.

All compositions are performed so that the final step and beat of the composition lands on the 'sum' or first beat of the time-cycle. Most compositions also have 'bols' (rhythmic words) whose recitation with the help of rhythm using hand gestures is known as padhant and forms an integral part of the performance.

The spins generally executed on the heel usually manifest themselves at the end of the tukra, often in large numbers: five, nine, fifteen, or more, sequential spins are common. These tukras are popular with audiences because they are visually exciting and are executed at great speed.

Other compositions can be further particularized as follows:

  • Vandana :  the dancer begins with an invocation to the gods
  • Thaat :  The first composition of a traditional performance; the dancer performs short plays with the time-cycle, finishing on sam in a statuesque standing (thaat) pose
  • Aamad :  From the Persian word meaning 'entry'; the first introduction of spoken rhythmic pattern or bol in to the performance
  • Salaami  : related to 'salaam' - a salutation to the audience in the Muslim style
  • Kavit  : A poem set on a time-cycle; the dancer will perform movements that echo the meaning of the poem
  • Paran : A composition using bols from the pakhawaj instead of only dance or tabla bols
  • Parmelu or Primalu : A composition using bols reminiscent of sounds from nature, such as kukuthere (birds), jhijhikita (sound of ghunghru), tigdadigdig (strut of peacock) etc.
  • Gat  : From the word for 'gait, walk' showing abstract visually beautiful gaits or scenes from daily life
  • Ladi : A footwork composition consisting of variations on a theme, and ending in a tihai
  • Tihai  : Usually a footwork composition consisting of a long set of bols repeated thrice so that the very last bol ends dramatically on 'sum'


Female Costume

The traditional costume for women in Kathak is lehenga-choli with an optional odhni or veil. The Mughal costume consists of an tight fitting angarkha above the waist and the skirt portion explicitly cut on the round, to enhance the flare of the lower half during turns. The legs are covered by the churidar. Peaked cap, bandi or small waistcoat and a belt made of zari or precious stones are the optional accessories.

Male Costume

In the classical dance of Kathak, the men go bare-chested. Below the waist is the dhoti tied in the Bengali style. The Mughal costume for Kathak comprises of kurta-churidar. The kurta worn is simple one and long. Men may wear an angarkha. Wearing bandi and small peaked cap is optional.


Ghunghru (or ghunghroo) tied around the ankles are very important in Kathak dance. The bells are not affixed to a pad or strip of leather like in other Indian classical dance styles.


During the nineteenth century Kathak enjoyed a revival and gained prominence among the kings and zamindars (feudal lords) not only as a form of entertainment but also as a classical art form. Slowly and gradually Gharanas or schools of Kathak emerged.

Because of the linear nature of the passing of knowledge from guru to shishya, certain stylistic and technical features began to fossilize and became hallmarks of a particular school, guru or group of teachers. The different styles are known as gharanas, and these are:

Luchknow Gharana

The Lucknow Gharana developed in the courts of the Nawab of Oudh in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It particularly emphasises grace, elegance and naturalness in the dance. Abhinaya or expressional acting, especially improvised, plays a very strong role in this style, and Birju Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj are or were all famed for the naturalness of and innovativeness of their abhinaya.

Jaipur Gharana

The Jaipur Gharana of Kathak emphasized technical mastery of pure dance. It developed in the courts of the Kachchwaha kings of Jaipur in Rajasthan. Importance is placed on the more technical aspects of dance, such as complex and powerful footwork, multiple spins, and complicated compositions in different talas. There is also a greater incorporation of compositions from the pakhawaj, such as parans.

Benaras Gharana

The Benaras Gharana was developed by Janakiprasad. It is characterized by the exclusive use of the natwari or dance bols, which are different from the tabla and the pakhawaj bols. There are differences in the thaat and tatkaar, and chakkars are kept at a minimum but are often taken from both the right- and the left-hand sides with equal confidence. There is also a greater use of the floor, for example, in the taking of sum. Though the style developed in Benaras, it flourishes today from Bikaner.

Current Form

Kathak's current form is great work of the Maharaj family of dancers (Acchan Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj, Lachhu Maharaj and one of the great current dancers still alive today, Birju Maharaj) and his students including Saswati Sen have been very successful in spreading the popularity of Kathak. Another disciple of Acchan Maharaj is Sitara Devi, daughter of Sukhdev Maharaj of Banaras.



Belonging to the South-Western coastal state of Kerala, Kathakali is primarily a dance drama form and is extremely colourful with billowing costumes, flowing scarves, ornaments and crowns. The dancers use a specific type of symbolic makeup to portray various roles. Various qualities, human, godlike, demonic, etc., are all represented through fantastic make-up and costumes.


The dance form is believed to have originated in the 16th century from pioneer dance-drama forms - Ramanattam and Krishnanattam. The word "attam" means enactment. These two forms of dance, along with Kathakali, dealt with presentation of the stories of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna. Kottarakara Thampuran, the ruler of the south Kerala province of Kottarakkara, composed several plays on the Ramayana, which led to the evolution of Kathakali.

Today, Ramanattam and Krishnanattam forms have become completely extinct, but the story plays continue to be a part of Kathakali.


Kathakali is a stylized classical Indian dance-drama, noted for the heavy make-up and stunning costumes of the dancers. Detailed gestures and well-defined body movements presented in tune with playback music and percussion are some other notable features of the dance. Elaborate masks, huge skirts and big head-dresses are uniquely used by the performers of Kathakali.

The dancers use a specific type of symbolic makeup to portray a specific role.


Kathakali is considered to be a combination of five elements of fine art:

  • Expressions (Natyam, the component with emphasis on facial expressions)
  • Dance (Nritham, the component of dance with emphasis on rhythm and movement of hands, legs and body)
  • Enactment (Nrithyam, the element of drama with emphasis on "mudras", which are hand gestures)
  • Song/vocal accompaniment (Geetha)
  • Instrument accompaniment (Vadyam)

 Steps and Performance

Kathakali usually performed in front of the huge Kalivilakku (kali meaning dance; vilakku meaning lamp with its thick wick sunk till the neck in coconut oil) in a temple is emotive and narrative in nature. The dancers encompass dance with dialogue and try to bring myth and legend to life. This dance form is accompanied by drums and vocalists.

Traditionally the performance begins after sunset and continues till late in the nigh and sometimes the whole night.

An actor-dancer uses immense concentration, skill and physical stamina, gained from training based on Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala and performs minute movements of the face; eyebrows, eyeballs, cheeks, nose and chin and various emotions are registered in a flash. Often men play the female roles.

The most striking feature is its overwhelming dramatic quality though its characters never speak. It is danced to the musical compositions, involving dialogues, narration and continuity.

The main facial expressions of a Kathakali artist are the 'navarasams' (nine feelings or expressions) which are Sringaram (amour), Hasyam (humor), Bhayanakam (fear), Karunam (pathos), Roudram (anger), Veeram (valour), Beebhatsam (disgust), Adbhutam (amazement), Shantam (peace).

One of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code. Most often, the make-up can be classified into five basic sets namely Pachcha, Kathi, Kari, Thaadi, and Minukku.


Known as Sampradäya, the following are leading Kathakali styles that differ from each other in subtleties like choreographic profile, position of hand gestures and stress on dance than drama and vice versa. Some of the major original styles included:

  • Vettathu Sampradayam
  • Kalladikkodan Sampradyam
  • Kaplingadu Sampradayam




Kuchipudi pronounced as 'Koochipoodi' is a Classical Indian dance form from Andhra Pradesh and a fine combination of Natya, Nritta and Nritya. Kuchipudi is the name of a village in the Divi Taluka of Krishna district and with resident Brahmins practising this traditional dance form, it acquired the present name. It presents scenes from Hindu Epics and mythological tales through dance-dramas combining music, dance and acting. For a long time, the art was presented only at temples.

Kuchipudi was never a solo affair and required a number of performers. Kuchipudi was performed in the open air by performers vigorously trained in abhinaya, music, dancing and singing. In its early form, the female roles were played by boys and young men of beautiful looks. The Sutradhar or the director of the stage played the key role. He was the conductor, dancer, and singer , musician, comedian, all rolled into one.


In the 15th century, a saint called Siddhendra Yogi, codified the movements and enriched the repertoire of the Kuchipudi dance form. He redefined this dance form aiming to eliminate exploitation of women. Kuchipudi was enriched by the advent of the female dancers. Renowned gurus like Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry, Chinta Krishnamurthy and Tadepalli Perayya, broadened the horizons of the dance form. The reforms brought in have led to the women playing the male parts in this dance form.

Rituals before the dance

Before the dance drama of Kuchipudi, there are certain rituals that are performed in front of the audience.

A dancer moves about sprinkling holy water, and then incense is burned. Indra-dhvaja (the flagstaff of the god Indra) is planted on the stage to guard the performance against outside interference. Women sing and dance with worship lamps, followed by the worship of Ganesha, who is traditionally petitioned for success before all enterprises. The bhagavatha (stage manager-singer) sings invocations to the goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parashakti (Parent Energy), in between chanting drum syllables.

Then each principal character introduces him or her on the stage with a daru. A daru is a small composition of dance and song specially designed for each character to help him or her reveal his or her identity and also to show the performer's skill in the art.

Steps and Performance

After the initial rituals as well the introduction of the characters is complete, it is the time to finally begin the performance of Kuchipudi. The dance is accompanied typically with Carnatic music. The instruments used to accompany the song are mridangam, violin, flute and the tambura.

After the rituals, the Sutradhar, with the supporting musicians, come on stage, gives a play of rhythm on the drums and announces the title of the dance drama. After this, a dancer wearing mask of Ganapati enters behind a curtain held by two people. The dancer dances for some time, to worship Ganpati, so that the dance drama goes on without hitches.

The movements in Kuchipudi are entertaining. It shares many common elements with Bharatanatyam. In its solo form Kuchipudi nritta numbers include jatiswaram and tillana whereas in nritya it has several compositions reflecting the desire of a devotee to merge with God.

The songs are mimed with fascinating expressions, swift looks and fleeting emotions evoking the rasa. A tarangam is a special number in Kuchipudi, in which a dancer balances herself on the rim of a brass plate and executes steps to the beat of a drum. At times she places a pot full of water on her head and dances on the brass plate. The song accompanying this number is from the well known Krishna Leela Tarangini, a text which recounts the life and events of Lord Krishna.

Make-up and Costume

Make-up and costumes are the unique characteristics of Kuchipudi dance form. Apart from the make-up, the female characters also wear ornaments and jewelry, such as Rakudi (head ornament), Chandra Vanki (arm ornament), Adda Bhasa and Kasina Sara (neck ornament), and a long plait decorated with flowers and jewelry. Most of the ornaments worn by the artists are made of a light weight wood, called Boorugu.



Odissi is regarded as one of the oldest surviving dance forms of India from Orissa rooted in rituals and tradition. The dance form has been extensively depicted in the sculptures of Brahmeswara temple and Sun Temple at Konark. Odissi is a highly inspired, passionate and intense form of dance. It also had its origin in the Devadasi tradition.  It is particularly distinguished from other classical Indian dance forms by the importance it places upon the tribhangi (literally: three parts break), the independent movement of head, chest and pelvis and upon the basic square stance known as chauka.


The history of Odissi dance has been traced to an early sculpture found in the Ranigumpha caves at Udaygiri(Orissa) dating to the 1st  century BC. The Natya Shastra speaks of the dance from this region and refers to it as Odra-Magadhi. However the exact tradition of the dance could not be found.

The three schools of dance developed over the centuries are:

  • Mahari
  • Nartaki
  • Gotipau

The Mahari tradition is the devadasi tradition used by women who are attached to deities in the temple. The Nartaki tradition developed in the royal courts. Gotipau is a style characteristed by the use of young boys dressed up in female clothing to perform female roles.

Before the 17th century Odissi dance was held in great esteem due to patronage and support of local rulers and nobles. During this period even the royalty was expected to be accomplished dancers. During the colonial period the position of Odissi dance suffered due to attitude of the British. However, the scenario changed after the 17th century.

Theme, Performance, Music

The style may be seen as a collection of aesthetic and technical details. It is characterized by fluidity of the upper torso (the waves of the ocean on the shores of Puri) and gracefulness in gestures and wristwork (swaying of the palms), put side by side with firm footwork (heartbeat of Mother Earth).

One of the most characteristic features of Odissi dance is the Tribhangi which divides the body into three parts, head, bust, and torso. Any posture which deals with these three elements is called Tribhangi. This concept has created the very characteristic poses which are more twisted than found in other classical Indian dances.

The mudras help in telling a story are also important. The term mudra means "stamp" and is a hand position which signifies things.

The performances are full with teachings of the eighth incarnation of Vishnu and Lord Krishna. It is a soft dance backed by soothing lyrics. Through the performance, the Odissi artist personifies the philosophy of its most popular deity - Lord Jagannath. Apart from the depiction of Lord Jagannath, the artist also narrates the stories of Lord Krishna, through his/her performance that includes mudras and rasas.

There are a number of musical instruments used to accompany the Odissi dance. One of the most important is the pakhawaj, also known as the madal. Other musical instruments accompanying the dance are Bansuri, Manjira,Sitar,Tanpura.


Traditional Odissi repertoire consists of:

  • Mangalacharan :  Singing sloka (hymn) in praise of Lord Jagganath along with bhumi pranam (begging forgiveness of mother earth for stamping on her) and trikhandi pranam (above the head to the Gods, in front of the face to the gurus and in front of the chest to the audience)
  • Battu Nrutya : A dance piece offered to the Lord of dance - Lord Shiva in his ‘Batuka Bhairava’ form
  • Pallavi : A pure dance item in which a raga is elaborated through eye movements, body postures & intricate footwork
  • Abhinaya : A poem telling a story conveyed to the audience through mudra or hand gestures (the language of Indian classical dance), facial expression and body movement
  • Dashavataar : A dance piece describing the ten incarnations of the Lord Vishnu with verses taken from the Gita Govinda
  • Moksha : A pure dance item with only the mardal-pakhawaj (percussion) accompaniment - the dance of liberation

Current Form

Before independence, the position of Odissi dance was very bad. The tradition of dancing girls at the temple at Puri was abolished. The royal patronage of nartaki had been severely battered by the absorption of India under the British reign. The only viable Odissi tradition was the Gotipau because it was danced by males.

Independence brought a major change in official attitudes toward Indian Dance. Governmental and non-governmental patronage increased. The few remaining Odissi dancers were given employment, and a massive job of reconstructing the Odissi dance began.

There were a number of people who were responsible for the reconstruction and popularization of Odissi dance. Most notable are Guru Deba Prasad Das, Guru Mayadhar Raut, Guru Pankaj Charan Das, Guru Mahadev Rout, Guru Raghu Dutta, and Guru Kelu Charan Mahapatra.

Today Odissi dance is once again deemed a viable and "classical" dance.



The multifaceted Manipuri dance is the classical dance from the Manipur region and ranges from the softest feminine to the vigorous masculine. Very much religious and associated to Vaishnav cult of Hinduism, the art form primarily depicts episodes from the life of Lord Vishnu.

Manipuri Dance is a common name and envelopes all the dance-forms of Manipur. Thus, Manipuri dance can be called a basket of various dances.


The past and origin of Manipuri dance is not clear. The Manipuris consider themselves the descendants of the Gandharvas, who were the legendary musicians, and dancers in the celestial courts. The earliest records of this dance form date back to about 100 AD.

It was King Bhagyachandra of 17th century, who established Manipuri dance on a systematic basis. He gave the Rasleelas and Sankirtan a new outlook and composed three of the five types of Ras Leelas - the Maha Ras, Basanta Ras and Kunja Ras and also the Achouba Bhangi Pareng dance. The king also designed the beautiful costume called Kumil.

In the 19th century Maharaja Gambhir Singh composed the two parengs of the tandava type - the Goshtha Bhangi Pareng and the Goshtha Vrindaban Pareng.

Maharaja Chandra Kirti Singh shaped the 64 Pung choloms or drum dances and two parengs of the Lasya type - the Vrindaban Bhangi Pareng and Khrumba Bhangi Pareng. He also designed Nitya Ras.

Theme, Performance, Music, Costume

The traditional Manipuri dance style is ritualistic, delicate and lyrical and has graceful rounded movements to avoid any jerks, sharp edges or straight lines which give its rolling and soft appearance. The dancer puts his or her feet down with the front part touching the ground first. The ankle and knee joints are effectively used as shock absorbers. The dancers put their feet down or lift it up either earlier or later than the rhythm to express the rhythm effectively.

The dance accompanied by a percussion instrument-Pung, a singer, small cymbals, a stringed instrument-Pena and flute is known as Pung cholom. The lyrics are usually from the classical poetry of Jayadeva, Vidyapati, Chandidas, Govindadas or Gyandas.

Manipuri dancers do not wear ankle bells like other Indian dance forms and the dancers' feet never strike the ground hard. Subtle movements of the body and feet and facial expressions show devotion and grace. The female dances are based on the Radha-Krishna theme and the male dances are performed to the lively rhythm of the Dholak and are full of vitality and energy. The colorful decoration and costume, lightness of dancing foot, delicate abhinaya, music and poetic charm is most impressive.

Current Form

This genre of dance spread outside the region through the efforts of Rabindranath Tagore. In 1919, he was so impressed after seeing a dance composition, the Goshtha Lila in Sylhet (in present day Bangladesh) that he invited Guru Budhimantra Singh to Shantiniketan. In 1926, Guru Naba Kumar joined the faculty to teach the Ras Lila who in 1928 taught this dance in Ahmadabad.

Guru Bipin Singh popularised it in Mumbai. Amongst his pupils, most well known are the Jhaveri sisters, Nayana, Suverna, Darshana and Ranjana.



Mohiniattam is a classical and very graceful dance form of Kerala to be performed as a solo recital by women.  Mohiniattam is derived from the words "Mohini" meaning a beautiful woman who enchants onlookers and "attam" meaning graceful and sensuous body movements. Thus, Mohiniattam dance form is a beautiful feminine style with rolling flow of body movements. Mohiniattam dance in Kerala developed in the tradition of Devadasi system, which later grew and developed a classical status.


There are many stories, the most popular one being the myth of the churning of the ocean. Once upon a time the gods and the demons churned the milky ocean to get the nectar of immortality. When the deity holding the jar of nectar appeared the demons managed to snatch it first which created a panic among the gods. Vishnu appeared in the form of a beautiful enchantress and demons. Dancing her way among the gods and the demons she cleverly gives the nectar of immortality only to the gods and thus preserves the world order. Thus the dance of Mohini attam is meant to symbolize this dance of protection and enchantment.

The first reference to Mohiniattam has been found in 'Vyavaharamala', composed by Mazhamangalam Naryanam Namboodiri, assigned to the 16th century A.D.

Theme, Steps, Performance, Costume

The theme is love and devotion to Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna. The spectators could feel his invisible presence when the heroine or her maid details dreams and ambitions through the circular movements, delicate footsteps and subtle expressions. The dancer in the slow and medium tempos is able to find adequate space for improvisations and suggestive bhavas.

The repertoire of Mohiniattam closely follows that of Bharatanatyam. Beginning with Cholkettu, the dancer performs Jathiswaram, Varnam, Padam and Thillana in a concert. Varnam combines purity and expression in dance, while Padam tests the histrionic talent of a dancer and Thillana exposes her technical artistry. The basic dance steps are the Adavus which are of four kinds: Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammisram. These names are derived from the nomenclature called Vaittari.

The performers of Mohiniattam dance usually wear an off-white colored sari with gold brocade borders. Hair of the dancer are gathered in a bun and decorated with jasmine flowers. The Mohiniattam dancer is decorated with gold jewels including necklaces, bangles, waistbands and anklets. The tinkling of the jewels produce music as the dancer performs the dance. The dance is accompanied by musical instruments like violin, Veena and Mridangam and the dancer narrates episodes from the epics and legends through elegant steps, rhythmic movements of her arms and amazing facial expressions.

Current Form

In the 19th century, Swati Thirunal, the king of erstwhile Travancore, did much to encourage and stabilise this art form. The post Swati period, however, witnessed the downfall of this art form.  It was Poet Vallathol who revived it and gave it a status in modern times through Kerala Kalamandalam, which he founded in 1930. Kalamandalam Kalyaniamma, the first dance teacher of Kalamandalam was instrumental in revive this ancient art form. Along with her, Krishna Panicker, Madhavi Amma and Chinnammu Amma nurtured the aspirants in the discipline at Kalamandalam.



Sattriya Dance, an Indian Classical dance that originated from the State of Assam. The word Sattriya is derived from the word ‘Sattra’, because till then the dance recitals were exclusively practiced within the compounds of a Sattra, a monastery like institution which was the epicenter of the Vaishanvite culture.

Sattriya has remained a living tradition since its creation by the Assamese Vaishnav saint Srimanta Sankardeva, in 15th century Assam.


Sankardeva a poet and religious leader during 15th & 16th century created Sattriya Nritya as an accompaniment to the Ankiya Naat (a form of Assamese one-act plays devised by him) which depicted the life of Lord Krishna & Lord Rama, which were usually performed in the sattras, as Assam's monasteries are called.

As the tradition developed and grew within the sattras, the dance form came to be called Sattriya Nritya.

The dance has every flavour of a matured art form but it does not share the same pedestal as other classical dance forms of India. The reason for its lesser popularity is because the dance stayed inside the Sattras and limited to the Bhakats (disciple) only until the middle of the 20th century.

Theme, Performance, Costume

The core of Sattriya Nritya is artistic way of presenting mythological stories to the people in an accessible, immediate, and enjoyable manner. Traditionally, Sattriya was performed only by bhokots (male monks) in monasteries as a part of their daily rituals or to mark special festivals.

The sattriya dance can be classified into two styles namely Paurashik Bhangi i.e Tandav or masculine style & Shtri bhangi i.e Lasya or feminine style.

Sattriya Nritya is divided into many genres. Some of them are:

  • Apsara Nritya
  • Behar Nritya
  • Chali Nritya
  • Dasavatara Nritya
  • Nadu Bhangi
  • Sutradhara

 Current Form

The history of Sattriya goes back centuries; however, it saw the light of the outside world only in the 60s of 20th century when it was first performed outside the Sattra. Credit goes to Late Moniram Dutta Muktiar Barbayan & Late Raseswar Saikia Borbayan.


0 comments on "Classical Dances of India"
Add your comment on "Classical Dances of India"

Leading Manpower Consultancy
Experience in Indian Telecom products and processing knowledge is must., Malayalam Voice Process, Client of Manyatha Technologies, Bangalore
Experience in Indian Telecom products and processing knowledge is must., Telugu Voice Process (Chennai), Client of Manyatha Technologies, Bangalore
Viewers also viewed
You might have tons of degrees but in the end do they matter. How much is a BE + MBA is paid?...
2182 referals 51 arguments, 1155 views
Most engineering colleges have strict attendance norms as well as long working hours throughout...
2136 referals 43 arguments, 1252 views
Yes vs No
66 referals 22 arguments, 8745 views
More From Author
What are the different ways to go green?
Before you say anything about it, consider yourself in the position of the child. How people may talk to you, how people may react towards you.
It makes a difference how you talk about autism.Don't treat Autism as a disorder or disease while you speak to other people. Listen to how you hear other people speak about autism, and to what you yourself are saying.