Indian Dance Forms

Indian Dance Forms

Nearly every state in India has its own language, cuisine, and dance styles, making it a very culturally diverse nation

Indian Dance Forms

Nearly every state in India has its own language, cuisine, and dance styles, making it a very culturally diverse nation. India has traditional, classical, folk, and tribal dance styles, all of which are astounding. The country gave birth to all of the magnificent classical dances, with Bharatanatyam being the oldest and one of the most well-known.

Indian dances are broadly divided into classical dances and folk dances. The classical dances of India are usually spiritual in content. Though the folk dances of India are also spiritual and religious in content but, main force behind the folk dances of India is the celebratory mood. Dances are a form of coherent expression of human feelings. Like Indian culture, Indian classical dances are equally diverse in nature. There are numerous classical dance forms in India and innumerable folk dances. Each dance form can be traced to different parts of the country. Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people. 

The most popular classical dance styles of India are Bharatnatyam of Tamil Nadu, Kathakali and Mohiniattam of Kerala, Odissi of Orissa, Kathak of Uttar Pradesh, Kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh; and Manipuri of Manipur.

1) Bharatnatyam, Tamil Nadu/South India

Bharatanatyam, also known as the mother of all other classical dance styles, is considered as the oldest dance forms in the country India that originated from the temple dancers in Tamil Nadu. The dance is a pure amalgam of expressions, music, beat and rhythm.

The music of Bharatanatyam belongs to the Carnatic system of southern India. The musicians accompanying a dance recital include at least one vocalist, a Mridangam (drum)-player, and a flutist or violinist or Veena (lute)-player. The group also includes a Nattuvanar, or dance conductor, who recites the dance syllables as he plays a pair of small bronze cymbals.

2) Kathak, Uttar Pradesh/North India

Another popular and recognised form of classical Indian dance is Kathak that originated from Uttar Pradesh in north India. This one is derived from the word katha meaning story, and during the whole dance, the dancers narrate stories through their eyes and expressions.

Kathak is characterized stylistically by its footwork and pirouettes, and is pre-eminently a dance of rhythm-play. A recital opens with an amad and moves on to that, Gat Nikas, paran and tatkar, segments that offer scope for dance to varying rhythms and tempos, and both abstract and expressive dance. The music of traditional Kathak consists of the Thumri and other lyrical song-forms, and the essential musical instruments are the Tabla, Pakhawaj, and Sarangi. The sitar and other plucked strings are also associated with Kathak performed today.

3) Kathakali, Kerala/South India

This one is probably one of the most attractive, dramatic and elaborate forms of classical Indian dance. Kathakali originated in the south Indian state of Kerala, also known as God's Own Country during the 17th century. The artist performing the dance needs to have detailed make-up, wear heavy costumes and, most importantly, work on their gestures.

Kathakali categorizes its characters according to their nature and employs make-up and costume to build them up as symbolic personalities. The faces of actors are painted according to the type of character they represent – green for heroes, kings, and divinities, red and black for the evil and fierce, etc. The main feature of the costume is a large, billowing skirt for male characters and various elaborate headdresses

4) Kuchipudi, Andhra Pradesh/South India

Kuchipudi is considered one of the toughest forms of Indian classical dance that originated in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The form is considered the toughest because it requires a whole lot of rituals, from lighting the incense sticks to sprinkling holy water and praying to the lord.

Kuchipudi dance is accompanied by Carnatic Music. Kuchipudi today is performed either as a solo, duet or a group presentation, but historically it was performed as a dance drama, with several dancers taking different roles.

5) Manipuri, Manipur/Northeast India

Manipuri dance form originated in the northeastern state of Manipur and is a pure spiritual experience. This is a theme based classical dance form that depicts Raaslila or the romantic act of the Hindu gods Radha and Krishna. Costumes and makeup plays an important role here.

The dance form is based on Hindu Shastras of Vaishnavism and is exclusively attached to the worship of Radha Krishna. It is a portrayal of the dance of divine love of Lord Krishna with Radha and the cowherd damsels of Vrindavan, famously known as the Raas Leela.

6) Odissi, Odisha/East India

Odissi dance form emerged from the east Indian state of Odisha and is mainly derived from the ancient Hindu temples in Odisha. The whole dance is based on gestures and movements or mudras. The dance is performed to express the mythical stories of the Hindu gods, such as Lord Shiva and Surya. It is also considered as the oldest surviving dance forms of India.

The Vaishnava faith of Orissa is intrinsic to Odissi dance and the lore of Krishna and Radha supplies its content. Love lyrics from Jayadeva's Sanskrit work Gitagovindam therefore have pride of place on the Odissi dance repertoire, together with songs in Oriya by medieval and early modern poets such as Upendra Bhanja and Banamali Das. 

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