Classical dance styles in India

Classical dance styles in India

India is known for its captivating classical dance styles and is a nation rich in history and culture. For centuries, audiences have been enthralled by these elegant and captivating dance forms that take them to a world of mythology, spirituality, and artistic expression.

Indian classical dance styles are a testament to the nation's rich heritage and numerous traditions thanks to their deft movements, moving storytelling, and colorful costumes.

Ancient India was the birthplace of classical dance, which was first performed as sacred rituals, displays of devotion, and forms of entertainment. These dance styles were used to entertain the royal courts as well as to educate the populace about moral and religious principles.

With each style retaining its distinctive qualities and regional influences, Indian classical dance is still thriving today. Each dance style has its own appeal and significance, whether it be the rhythmic footwork of Kathak, the expressive hand gestures of Bharatanatyam, or the vibrant costumes of Kathakali.

Features of Classical Dance in India

The art of Indian classical dance is rich and diverse, encompassing a number of different styles, each with its own distinctive traits and traits. 

The following standout characteristics best describe Indian classical dance:

Abhinaya (Expression): Abhinaya, or the art of expression, is one of the fundamental components of Indian classical dance. Dancers can convey a variety of emotions, stories, and narratives through their eye movements, body postures, hand gestures (mudras), and facial expressions. Abhinaya is a style of Indian classical dance known for its intricate and delicate nuances. 

Natya (Drama): Dramatic and narrative elements are frequently incorporated into Indian classical dance. Dancers interpret mythological, epic, and folkloric figures, bringing them to life with their gestures and facial expressions. A captivating theatrical experience is produced by the dance's narrative component, rhythmic elements, and artistic components.

Tala (Rhythm): Indian classical dance is incredibly dependent on rhythm. Dancers coordinate their movements with intricate tala rhythmic patterns. The intricate footwork, complex patterns, and varied rhythms give the performances a dynamic quality that improves both their visual and aural appeal.

Nritta (Pure Dance): With an emphasis on rhythmic patterns, footwork, and body movements without overt storytelling, Nritta refers to the pure dance component of classical dance. It highlights the beauty of the dance form itself while showcasing the dancer's technical mastery, agility, and control.

Hastas (Hand Gestures): Indian classical dance is inextricably linked to hand gestures, or hastas. Each mudra is symbolic, denoting a range of things, feelings, or concepts. To convey complex messages and portray a variety of characters, dancers deftly combine hastas with facial expressions and body language.

Costumes and Jewelry: The elaborate and vibrant costumes used in Indian classical dance are well known. Dancers adorn themselves with traditional clothing, intricately crafted jewelry, and embellishments that correspond to the dance's aesthetic and regional influences. The performances' overall aesthetic is improved by the costumes, which also add to their visual appeal.

Guru-Shishya Parampara (Teacher-Disciple Tradition): The guru-shishya parampara, or teacher-disciple lineage, is how Indian classical dance is traditionally passed down. To master the complex techniques, expressions, and repertoire of the dance form, students go through rigorous training and apprenticeship under the direction of accomplished gurus. 

Regional Diversity: Regional diversity can be seen in the classical dance styles of India, with each style coming from a different region of the nation. Based on the regional cultural and geographic influences, different styles, techniques, music, and costumes are used, showcasing India's diverse cultural heritage.

Live Music and Instruments: Live music is frequently played in Indian classical dance performances, which gives the performances depth and richness. The music and dance are in perfect harmony because of the musicians' use of traditional instruments like the tabla, mridangam, veena, sitar, and flute.

Spiritual and Devotional Themes: Hindu mythology, epics, and spiritual themes are the sources of inspiration for many Indian classical dance styles. They portray tales of deities, divine love, devotion, and moral principles, inspiring a sense of spirituality and awe.

A wealth of artistry, tradition, and cultural heritage can be found in Indian classical dance. It continues to captivate audiences all over the world with its expressive movements, deft footwork, and captivating narratives. The ability to transcend boundaries and unite people through the universal language of dance is a common trait shared by all styles, each of which has its own distinctive characteristics.

Hindu mythology's influence on Indian classical dance

The narratives, characters, and themes portrayed in Indian classical dance styles are heavily influenced by the rich tapestry of Hindu mythology, which has a strong influence on these dance forms. The expressive movements, gestures, and expressions of classical dancers beautifully bring the stories, emotions, and spiritual insights of the mythological tales and epics to life. 

Let's look at how Hindu mythology has a significant impact on Indian classical dance. 

Epics as a Source: The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the two major Indian epics, have had a significant influence on classical dance. The heroes, heroines, gods, and demons in these ageless tales offer dancers a wealth of inspiration. The divine avatars, such as Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, and Goddess Sita, take on human form in the performances, becoming the main characters while virtues and flaws are displayed by the dancers who assume their personas.

Depiction of Deities:  A pantheon of gods and goddesses, each with special characteristics and symbolism, is abundant in Hindu mythology. The grace, strength, and divine qualities of these deities are frequently captured by classical dancers in their performances. The dance forms capture the essence of these deities and evoke awe and devotion, from Lord Shiva's cosmic dance of destruction (Tandava) to Lord Krishna's playful antics.

Symbolism and Allegory: Symbolic language and parables that serve as spiritual and philosophical allegories abound in Hindu mythology. Classical dance styles convey these deeper meanings to the audience through body language (mudras), facial expressions, and movement. Each gesture and expression has a deeper meaning, signifying ideas like love, devotion, bravery, righteousness, and the never-ending struggle between good and evil.

Devotional Expressions: The expression of devotion and bhakti (religious fervor) through Indian classical dance is common. Dance is a beautiful way to express the reverence of different devotees towards their chosen deities as well as Radha's love and devotion to Lord Krishna, Hanuman's devotion to Lord Rama, and others. Dancers can communicate with God through the feelings and devotion of these mythological figures, and viewers experience similar emotions as a result.

Moral Lessons and Values: Hindu mythology is replete with stories that impart moral lessons and teach timeless values. These stories, which highlight virtues like truth, righteousness, humility, and compassion, are brought to life through classical dance. In order to entertain, inform, and inspire the audience as well as promote moral values and self-reflection, dancers portray these characters and their struggles.

Origins of Ritual and Sacred Practice: The traditions and rituals of temples are the origin of many classical dance styles. Originally, these dances were performed as obeisances—acts of worship and adoration—to the gods. The mythological tales were acted out to commemorate religious festivals and holy days. Classical dance styles continue to have a sacred aura and carry the spiritual essence of the mythologies they represent even today.

Hindu mythology has a significant influence on Indian classical dance, which shapes the stories, characters, and symbolism of these art forms. A strong connection to India's cultural and spiritual heritage is fostered by the rich tapestry of stories, feelings, and spiritual insights it offers to audiences. The mythological stories are brought to life through dance, allowing spectators to fully appreciate the beauty, spirituality, and timeless truths that are woven into these spellbinding performances.

The Role of Music and Instruments in Indian Classical Dance

Indian classical dance places a strong emphasis on music, which is an essential element that improves the overall experience and harmonizes the dancers' movements. Dancers can express themselves through a structure and framework that is provided by the complex rhythms, melodic patterns, and supporting musical instruments. 

Let's look at how important music and instruments are to Indian classical dance.

Rhythmic Framework: The rhythmic accuracy and complex footwork that define Indian classical dance.  The dancers' ability to coordinate their movements is aided by the music, particularly the tala rhythmic patterns. Talas, which are often performed on percussion instruments like the tabla, mridangam, or pakhawaj, create a rhythmic pulse that directs the dancers and allows them to display their dexterity and skill in perfect synchronization with the music.

Melodic Support:The dance performance is enhanced by the melodic element of the music, which is typically provided by stringed instruments like the veena, sitar, or sarod. The ragas, or melodic notes, evoke various emotions and sentiments and help the dancers express themselves more fully. A variety of emotions are evoked in the audience by the mesmerizing synergy created by the interaction between the melody and the movements.

Nattuvangam: The practice of nattuvangam, or the art of reciting rhythmic syllables aloud, is essential to classical dance music. To coordinate with the musicians and direct the dancers through challenging rhythmic sequences, the conductor, or nattuvanar, uses vocal cues. The dance movements are intricately woven with the rhythmic syllables, or bols, to create a dialogue between the musicians and the dancers that is both musical and rhythmic.

Expressive Elements: In classical dance, the music is a potent vehicle for expressing feelings and enhancing the narrative. It enhances the dancers' facial expressions, hand gestures, and body movements, giving their portrayals of characters and stories more depth and resonance. A unified and engrossing experience is produced for the audience by the interaction between the music and the dancers' facial expressions.

Instrumental Solos: Instrumental solos, where musicians display their virtuosity and improvisational skills, are frequently included in classical dance performances. The dancers have the chance to engage in expressive or rhythmic conversations with the musicians during these solos. A further level of dynamism and artistry is added to the performance as a result of the skill and originality of the musicians.

Aesthetic Appeal: Classical dance music and instruments add to the aesthetic appeal and visual spectacle of the performance. The musicians' skillful instrumental playing, whether they are on stage or in the wings, creates a vibrant and lively atmosphere. The traditional charm and cultural authenticity of the dance are further enhanced by the sight of talented musicians playing authentic instruments.

The unique combination of movement and music in Indian classical dance results in a seamless and engrossing experience. The music lifts the dance to new heights by providing a rhythmic foundation, melodic support, and expressive elements. It also directs the dancers and enthralls the audience. It displays the vibrant interplay between rhythm, melody, and movement in this alluring form of art and highlights India's rich musical heritage.

Different dance styles in India


Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest and most well-known types of Indian classical dance, having its roots in the temples of Tamil Nadu. Bharatanatyam, a dance form renowned for its dexterous footwork, expressive gestures, and eye-catching costumes, weaves together elements of music, poetry, and drama to tell Hindu mythological tales. The precise movements, aramandi (half-sitting) posture, and eye movements known as "bhramaris" are characteristics of the dance style and add to its grace and beauty.


The dynamic and rhythmic classical dance style known as Kathak, which has its roots in the ancient storytelling customs, has its origins in northern India. Through a series of dexterous footwork, lovely spins, and quick movements, Kathak dancers convey stories. With its intricate footwork, expressive hand gestures, and "tatkar" rhythmic patterns, the dance incorporates aspects of both Hindu and Islamic cultures. Indian epic themes, historical incidents, and love stories are frequently depicted in kathak.

Odissi: Odissi is a classical dance form from the eastern state of Odisha that emanates grace, beauty, and elegance. The region's ancient temples, where it was performed as a sacred offering, are where it first appeared. The distinctive characteristics of odissi are its fluid movements, lyrical footwork, and intricate hand gestures known as "mudras." In addition to expressing feelings of love and devotion, this type of dance frequently depicts Hindu mythological events.


Kathakali is a visually stunning and highly stylized classical dance-drama form that has its roots in the southern state of Kerala. Exaggerated facial expressions, detailed makeup, and colorful costumes are hallmarks of Kathakali performances. The colorfully dressed dancers act out mythological tales from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and other ancient texts. Kathakali is a captivating performance that combines dance, music, martial arts moves, and dramatic elements.


Manipuri dance, which originates in the northeastern state of Manipur, is a graceful and delicate classical dance style that honors devotion and spirituality. It is distinguished by its soft movements, graceful body postures, and flowing hand gestures. The stories of Lord Krishna and Radha are frequently portrayed in manipuri dance, which carries messages of love, devotion, and mystical encounters. Traditional Manipuri attire is worn by the dancers, and rhythmic beats and soulful music are used to enhance the performances.

Book A Free Counseling Session