Thursday, November 15, 2012

Indian Dances

Dance and divinity converge in India. Entrenched in Hindu tradition and ritual, Indian dance has been ascribed a cosmic influence since the time of its creation. It is said that Hindu Gods and Goddesses used dance to reflect joyous celebration and entertainment. Mythological texts resonate with these celestial paraphernalia, especially Shiva's “Tandava”, and the celebrated dances of Kali and Krishna. 
However, the common root of all all Indian dance forms can be traced back to Bharata Muni's “Natyashasta”, an exhaustive treatise on drama considered as the fifth veda. Codifying the different techniques of Indian dance, drama and music, it explicates different facets of classical dance such as postures, mudras, emotions, attires, ornaments, and the stage. Today, the large of classical dance illuminates the varicolored tradition and rich ethos of Indian culture. Enumerated below are some of the most popular dance forms of India:

Bharat Natyam

Bharat Natyam

One of the oldest dance forms of India, Bharat Natyam portrays the highly stylized dance technique of South India. It originated in Tamil Nadu and flourished in the temples and courts of Southern India in ancient times under the Devadasi system, until it was brought out onto the proscenium stage by educated elite in the 20th century. Composed of three terms, Bha meaning Bhava or abhinaya (expression), Ra meaning raga (melody) and Ta meaning tala (rhythm), this dance form through its intricate postures and eloquent emotions show how perfect harmony of expression, melody and rhythm can be attained through an art.


It is the classical dance form of North India popular for its complex footwork and fast-paced circles. Derived from the word “katha”, meaning “a story”, this classical dance form owes its origin to storytellers in temples who recounted mythological tales and accompanied them with mime and gestures in ancient times. The Mughals elevated the status of this dance by introducing it as a court dance between the 11th and the 18th century. With patronage from Mughal emperors, Hindu kings, and feudal lords, it later attained a distinctive style and became a secular art with the establishment of the Jaipur and the Lucknow gharana.


Native to Kerala, Kathakali is normally performed by men and noted for its harmonious combination of literature (Sahithyam), music (Sangeetham), painting (Chithram), acting (Natyam) and dance (Nritham). Drawing on mythology, it consists of pure dance (nritya) as well as mime (abhinaya) coupled with literature that is both poetic and dramatic. Attire forms an important part in this dance form and is typified by bright costumes, ornate jewellery, loud facial makeup and a large wooden headgear. The Aharya (Make-up) has many faces such as Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Minukku, etc.


Odissi is the dance style of the state of Orissa in eastern India. Though it traces its origin to the 2nd century BC, the current form of Odissi can be seen as the product of a 20th century cultural revival. Practiced as a form of temple dance in ancient times, today it is considered one of the eight most popular dance forms in India. This dance is characterized by two major facets: Nritta or non-representational dance, in which complex patterns are created using body movements in space and time; and Abhinaya, or stylized mime in which graceful hand gestures and facial expressions are used to interpret a story or theme. High on appeal and grace, a typical recital of Odissi beautifully delineates the relationship between Radha and Lord Krishna.


Kuchipudi is the the indigenous dance style of Andhra Pradesh. Accompanied by Carnatic music, the orchestra for a Kuchipudi recital normally includes the mridangam, flute and violin. During its initial years, it was intended as a dance drama known as Ata Bhagavatham and performed only by Brahmin men. However, in present times, it has widened its horizon with female dancers performing solo acts. Subtle facial expressions, sculptured body movements, and intricate footwork define this art form from other classical dances. The most popular Kuchipudi dance is the “pot dance” in which the performer dances on the edges of a brass plate, while sometimes also balancing a pot of water on the head.


Indigenous to Manipur, Manipuri dance is devotional in nature and is acclaimed as one of the softest and most suggestive dance forms of India. Performed on various religious ceremonies and in temples throughout the state, it is also referred to as "sankirtan". Manipuri dance actually covers a number of dance forms from the region, some of the most significant being the Ras Lila, Pung Cholom, Nupa Cholom and Thoibi. Instruments like cymbals (kartal or manjira) and the cylindrical drum called the Manipuri mridang or pung occupy center stage, along with other common instruments like the harmonium, pena, bansuri, shankh (conch), and esraj that are used as accompaniments.

Mohini Atam

Mohini Atam is a South Indian dance form native to Kerala. Exclusively performed by women and based on Kathakali, it also amalgams foot movements from Bharat Natyam and Odissi dance styles. It owes its name to the tale where Lord Vishnu takes the form of an enchanting seductress “Mohini” to protect the "nectar of immortality". Instruments that are normally associated with Bharat Natyam such as mridangam, vina and venu aslo accompany Mohini Atam, along with other traditional instruments like shuddha madalam and edakka (uddaku).

Tribal dance of India
Folk & Tribal Dances

The multifaceted tradition of India has given birth to a wide variety of folk and tribal dances in the land. Folk dances like Bhangra, Giddha, Garba, Raas and Bihu are the rural manifestations of the larger Indian population, whereas the tribal dances are performed by India's aboriginal populations known as “adivasis”. Some of the most popular folk and tribal dances in India are Bathakamma, Bagurumba, Changu, Daankara, Dandaria, Dasakathia, Dhamal, Gair, Gatka, Geendad, Ghoomar, Ghanta Patua, Gobbi, Jhoomar, Julli, Kacchhi Ghodhi, Kandhei, Kavadi, Karagam, Kela Keluni, Kikli, Kushan, Laathi Nauch, Luddi, Mathuri, Sakhi Nata, Terahtali, Therukoothu and Yaksha Gana.

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  • Alieen Stewart says:
    November 27, 2012 at 4:28 AM

    Great many thanks! Your post contains information that brings me a step closer to getting the bigger picture of indian dances...Thanks for sharing with us.
    Dance Academy in Chandigarh

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