Indian Dance


The Rig Veda mentions dance and danseuse and compares dawn to a bright attired danseuse.  The epics are full of references to dances on earth and heaven.  It is from Bharata’s Natya sastra (2nd century BC-2nd century AD) that we have full knowledge of the art.


Indian classical dance vs Indian folk dance

On the basis of Navras there emerge two basic types of Indian dance – Indian classical dances and Indian folk dances.  the Navras or the nine moods are:

  1. Rudrara – Anger
  2. Shringarras – Love, sensuousness
  3. Veerras – bravery, heroism
  4. Hasyaras – humour
  5. Bhayaras – fear
  6. Krurras – cruel
  7. Adbhuthras – wonder
  8. Bibhatsaras – disgust
  9. Bhaktiras – prayer, peace

Indian classical dance forms are more involved and intricate ad have their origins in the temples, whereas Indian folk dances have evolved over the ages as an expression of joy or exaltation for various occasions related to marriage, harvest etc.  There are various folk dances for the same occasion in different States or cultures.  However classical dance forms remain the same all over country.


Indian classical dance

Origin: The principles of Indian classical dance derive from the Natya Sastra by Bharatamumi.  Natya Sastra includesdance, music and drama.  Bharatamuni traces the origin of the art from to Brahma.  It was Brahma who created a fifth Veda, viz., the Natyaveda, representing the essence of the existent four Vedas.  The intellectual content of the Rigveda, the music of the Samaveda, Abhinaya ormime from the Yajurveda and the rasa from the Atharavaveda have been brought together in the Natyavada to embody moral and spiritual truths.  Thus the art from is meant not just to entertain but also to instruct and inspire discipline and righteousness.


Two styles: There are basically two styles of dance – 1) Tandav promulgated by Siva, means movement and rhythm, 2) Lasya associated with Parvati, denotes grace, bhava, rasa and abhinaya.  The former comprises 108 poses called Karanas built into sequences called Angaharas.  Lasya, having soft and graceful movements is described by Bharata as an interpretative dance in which ten or twelve detached love motifs are set.

Nriya consists of dancemovements in their basic form; it is expressional, enacting the sentiments of a particular theme.  These are expressed through mudras or gestures and poses.

Classical dance forms

The most popular classical dance forms of India are as follows.



It is the dance of Tamil Nadu.  The name derives fromBharata’s Natyasastra.  It is said to have originated from Bha, Ra and Ta standing for Bhava (rhythm), Raga (melody), and Tala.  This ancient dance form has been nurtured in Tamil Nadu and probably derived from the sadir – the solo dance performances by the devdasis, the temple dancers.  It developed from a solo to group dance and from interpretative dance to dance drama in two forms, the classical and religious Bhagvata Mela Nataka and secular and relatively popular Kuravanji.


Bharatnatyam was revived in early twentieth century by E. Krishna Iyer, a freedom fighter and art connoisseur.  Late Rukmini Devi Arundale did much to uplift, enrich and progagate the art through her school, Kalakshetra.  The two styles of Bharatnatyam are the Pandanallur and the Tanjore.


Other Famous Exponents

Leela Samson, T. Balasaraswathi, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Sonal Mansingh, Padma subramaniam, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Shanta Rao.



It is a dance-drama of Andhra Pradesh.  It is the corresponding style of the Bhagvastamela Ntaka of Tamil Nadu except the emphasis is on animation.  the grammar is derived from Nataka Sastra  and in all other aspects it is akin to Bharatnatyam.  it is named after the village of its birth, Kuchelpuram or Kuseelavapui in Andhra Pradesh.  Kuchipudi is the colloquial form of the Sanskrit term Kuseeelavapuri.  This dance form may be traced back to the dance-dramas enacted by Brahmins in temples.  It was traditionally a male dance.  In the fourteenth or fifteen century.  Siddendra Yogi inspired revival of Kuchipudi.  He composed the Bhama Kalapam which has now become a part of the Kuchipudi repertoire.  Golconda rulers patronized the dance form.

Balasaraswathi and Esther Sherman (Ragini Devi) helped to bring it out of obscurity in the 20th century.  Indrani Rehman played a pioneering role in popularizing this dance form.

Kuchipudi combines lasya and tandava elements, folk and classical shades.  Besides dance drama involving popular themes of Krishna and Rukmini stories, items are Manduka Shabdam (story of maiden), Balagopala Taranga (involving dancing with the feet on the edges of a brass plate) and Tala Chitra Nritya.


Other Famous Exponents

Yamini Krishnamurthy, Swapnasundari, Shobha Naidu Raja and Radha Reddy, Vempati Stayam and Vedanatam Stayam.



Also called ‘Ballet of East’, it is a dance drama of Kerala.  Born in the temples of Kerala, the main sources of Kathakali (katha –story; kali-drama) were Kudiattam and Krishnattam, folk drama traditions.  The dance drama was expanded with episodes from the Mahabharata and Shiva Purana.  The Ramanattam evolved into the Kathakali.  Unlike other dances, it is dramatic rather than narrative.  Portrayal of emotions through facial gestures is supplemented by mudras (hand gestures) of a prescribed pattern and intensive use of eyes and eyebrows.  Usually performed by men and involves strenuous training.  The themes are drawn from the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, and it presents the eternal conflict between good and evil in a grand manner.  Vallathol Narayana Menon, the great Malayalam poet, revived this ancient dance form and gave it a lasting institutional support.  Ragini Devi was a pioneering woman to learn the dance from and perform it.

            Other Famous Exponents: Kunju Kurup, Koppan Nair, Ragini Devi, Shanta Rao, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Kanak Rele, Rita Ganguly, Krishnan Nair, Gopinathan and Karunakaran Nair.



The origin of this dance of Kerala is not clear.  The word ‘mohini’ means who attracts and steals the heart of the onlooker.  Most of the songs in its repertoire are composed by Swati Thirunal.  The dance of an enchantress, Mohiniattam has elements of Bharatnatyam and Kathakali – the grace and elegance of the former and the vigour of the latter.  Danced solo by girls, it is more erotic, lyrical and delicate than the other two.  The costume and make-up are distinctive and refined.

            Other Famous Exponents: Vyjayanthimala, Shanta Rao, Roshan Vajifdar, Bharati Shvaji, Kanak Rele and Hemamalini.



It is a dance form of Orissa.  The earliest evidence of the dance is found in the caves of Udaigiri and Khandagiri.  Odissi was greatly influenced by Vaisnavism and the Bhaki cult.  Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi became a compulsory item in its repertoire.  The practice of getting young boys to dance the ritual dances in the temples was later introduced after the devdasis fell in reputation.  Dancers were dressed up as females and danced like the maharis, but after the age of eighteen they stopped dancing.

‘Tribhanga’, three bend posture, is a unique feature of this dance style.  A typical Odissi performance consists of Mangalachanra; Batunritya (pure dance); Pallavi, in which song is elaborated thorugh graceful movements and facial expressions and interspersed with pure dance and poses; Tharijham, again pure nritya (like the Thillana of Bharatnatyam or Tarana or Kathak); Moksha the concluding item, which is the dance of liberation through joyous movements.  theTrikhanda Majura is another way of concluding, indicating a leave-taking from the Gods, the audience and the stage.  The themes range from invocation to Ganesha verses of Geet Govinda.

            Other Famous Exponents: Mohan Mahapatra, Kelucharan Mahapatra, Pankaj Charan Das, Hare Krishna Behra, Mayadhar Raut, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Sonal Mansingh, Krian Sehgal, Rani Karna, Madhavi Mudgal, Sharaon Lowen (USA) & Myrta Barvie (Argentina)



A dance form of Uttar Pradesh, Kathak most probably had its origin in the Raasleela of Brajbhoomi.  Influenced byVaisnanvaism, with the central concept of Krishna as the divine dancer and Radha as his partner the dance was originally associated by “keetanks”.

It derived its name from ‘kathika’ or story-tellers who recited verses from the epics with gestures, and music.  Gradalloy it assumed an elaborate style involving nritta and nritya.  Under the Mughal rulers it was influenced by Persian costumes and styles of dancing.  Kathak thus branched off into the courtly stream.  The dance form, degenerated into lascivious styles and became what is derogatively known as ‘Nautch’.  The revival of the classical style came in the twentieth century through the efforts of Lady Leela Sokhey (Menaka).


Kathak is famous for its intricate footwork and pirouettes.  It may be noted that the knees are not bent or flexed.  Both Indian and Persian costumes are used.  The themes range from dhrupads to taranas, thumris and Ghazls.

A special feature of Kathak is padhani – in which the dancer recites complicated bols and demonstrates them.  The concluding item is kramalya o tatkar which centres on intricate and fast footwork.

Famous Exponents: Thakur Prasad, Bindadin Maharaj, Kalka Prasad, Achchan Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj, Lachchu Maharaj and Birju Maharaj, Kumudini Lakhia, Damayanti Joshi, Rani Karna, Saraswati Sen, Durgalal & Devilal, Roshankumari, Alka Nupur, Uma Sharma and Gopikrishna.



A dance from Manipur.  this style emphasizes on Bhakti or devotion and not at all on the sensuousness.  Manipur too traces its origin to mythology.  it flourished especially with the advent of Vaisnavism.  Krishna – Radha are the main theme of this dance.  The drum-Pung-is the very soul of this dance.  There are several “choloms”  or dances in Manipuri like: Pung Cholom, Kartal (cymbal) Cholom, Dhol Cholom, etc. the Raasleela is almost inseparable from it.  There are several varieties of Raasleela which exude devotional love.  The songs in Bengali, Maithili, Brajbhasha and Sanskrit are compositions of Jayadeva and Chandidas.  The poet Rabindranath Tagore introduced it in Shantiniketan and helped it to gain prominence in the 1920s.

            Famous Exponents: The Jhaveri sisters viz, Nayana, Suverna, Ranajana & Darshana, Charu Mathur Sadhone Bose and Bipin Singh.


Indian Folk dances

Uttar Pradesh

Nautanki: Traditional dance drama depicting.

Raas Lila: Depicts Krishna legends, traditional to Mathura

Kajri:  A peasant dance propitiating nature for a good harvest.

Kumaon and Jhora: Kumaon dances are danced by man at Dussehra in the Kumaon region of U.P. Jhora is danced by both men and women of Kumaon.


Himachal Pradesh

Mahasu, Bhali, nati, Jadda and Jaintia: These are festival and spring dances

Karyala:  A popular dance dama.  After the invocatory rites, there is a pure dance sequence by Chandravalli and her consort Chiragiya, who represent the divine dancer Shiva and his wife Parvati.

Luddi dance: Perfor4med in mandi district, it specializes in movement of the body and fast steps like swinging tree branches.  It is performed in festivals and fairs

Giddha Parhaun:  Performed in the lower Shivalik area by women folk during the marriage ceremonies.

Munzra:  Performed solo or diet also during winter.

Charba: Dance of Gaddi women or shepherdesses.



Ghumar, Phag, Khoria, Dhamal, Gagor, Gugga, Loor, Daph and Chaurayya: Most of these dances are connected with spring season and holi.



Bhangra:  An harvest and festival dance performed by men.

Giddha: A female parallel dance.



Garba: Most popular dance performed exclusively by women during navratri and holi

Arbi:  Similar to Garba but with different footwork and is meant for males.

Dandiya Raas: Performed by both males and females who move around in imaginary circle to the beat of the dandiya sticks which they carry in their hands.

Goph: A stick dance in which strips of cloth tied to a pole in the centre are woven into a rope by movements of the dance.

Other dances are Gheraiya Raas, Trippani, Bhavai etc.



Lavani: Provocative dance interspersed with hilarious clowning by jester or songodaya.  Performed by women with the singing of songs.

Other dances are Tamasha, Lezim, Katha, Keerthan, Dahikala, gafa, Mauni, Dasavtar etc.

Madhya Pradesh

Dagla, Ghera etc


Jata-Jatin: Performed by women to invoke rains.

Fag or Fagua: crop dance popular in Bihar and Eastern U.P.

Chaita: Crop dance, popular in Patna and Shahabad.

Purbi: A raga, having its origin in saran district, is sung by wife experiencing the pangs of separation from the husband.

Other dances are Nachari, lagui, Chau (S. Bihar) Jatra, Jadur, Jihiya, karma, Bakho etc.


Post harvest festival dance, Baisaka Bihu, Khel Gopal, Rakhalila, Tobal Chongbi at Holi, the Canoe dance of Surma Valley, Nogkrem of Khasi will people.


Ras dances: Maharas, Nityaras, Vasantara etc. to celebrate the season, theme is Srikrishna.

Khambi Thobi: Theme is love story of Radha and Krishna

Pung Cholom: Dance with drums.

West Bengal

Kathi: Dance is done with sticks

Baul : Dance performed by wandering ministries of Sahajiya sect (tantric sect)

Kirtan: Associated with Vishnu worship

Jatra: Folk dance drama whichoriginated in the 15th century as a result of Bhakti movement.  In this devotees of Krishna go in procession (yatra) to holy places singing and dancing.


Sanchar or Bahaka Wata, Dandanata, Ghumera, Chadya etc.


Damali: Vigorous temple dance performed by men.

Rouf: performed by women during autumn and in the month of Ramadan.

Hikit: Dance of maidens expressing joy and love.



            Devil Dance:  performed by Lhapas (God men) and Mani-Pas (Prayer men) in the premises of Gompa.

Dandi nach: Performed by youngsters around an artistic peacock structure of bamboo sticks called chajja.


Tamil Nadu

Kolattam: Stick dance performed by young girls.

Pinnal Kolattam :Another version of Kolattam involving maypole

Kummi: Dance performed by women and girls moving in circle with clapping hands.

Dummy: Horse dance

Kavadi and Karagam:  Temple dances


Andhra Pradesh

Veethi Bhagavatam: An offshoot of Kuchipudi.  Dance narrates a story through pure and mimetic dance.

Banjara: Colourful gypsy dance.  Ghanta Mardela is another  folk dance.



Yakshagana: Also called Bayalata, Yakshagana is a dance drama of Karnataka.  It has developed from the ancient Bhagavatara Ata.  They were plays enacted in the open air and the troupes were maintained by temples.  The actors put on elaborate  make-up colourful dresses and huge head dresses.  The themes enacted are drawn from the epics and the Dasavatara of Vishnu.  Udipi, the home of Madhavacharya and the Mookambika Temple are home of Yakshagana.  It is predominantly male preserve.  There are five or six types of roles and generally each dancer is trained for one.  There are many similarities to Kathakali.  The dances are mostly of the pure nritya variety marked by footwork and body movements expressing basic human passions and celebrating the victory of good over evil.



Koodiyattam:  A dance drama, it is usually a long affair spread over days to weeks.

Kaikottikali: Performed by young girls and women at onam.

Sari: performed at harvest time

Tappatrikkali: A Shiva worship dance

Ottam Tullal: Similar to Kathakali

Krishnavattam: Similar to Kathakali.  Presented on eight successive nights to unfold the entire story of Lord Krishna.

Other folk dances are Kaliyattam, Mohiniattam etc.

Chchu Dance

The Chchau folk dance is popular in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.  The term Chchau may have derived from Chchau and thus it indicates shadow or mask.  There are three schools of the Chchau nritya – 1) Seraikela (Bihar though originally in Orissa) 2) Mayurbhank (Orissa), and 3) Purulia (West Bengal, though originally in Bihar 4) Masks are only used in Seraikela and Purulia Chchau.  Chchau has traditionally been a male preserve, though lately women have started learning and performing the dance.  The dance has generic links with hunting steps and the movements are imitations of training imparted to traditional soldiers.  Chchau dances are ceremonially performed during the annual Sun Festival or Spring Festival at which Shiva & Parvati are the presiding deities.  The themes are  drawn not only form the  spics and the Puranas but also from Nature. It may be recalled that Raja Bijay Pratap Singh was instrumental in giving Chchau the form of a classical dance.  In Chchau vocal music hardly exists, musical accompaniment being provided by a variety of drums, the mahuri and flutes.


Tribal Dances

India a rich heritage of tribal arts.  Among the dances performed by the adivasis, some of the well known ones are given here.

Bamboo                                :     Kuki Nagas

Jadur                                     :     Bhumiya  of Mayurbhanj

Dagla                                    :     Bhil men

Pali                                        :     Bhil men and women

Cheria                                   :     Muria of Bastar

Saila                                      :     Baiga men

Tapadi                                  :     Baiga women

Sarhul                                   :     Oarons       of Bihar

Karama                                 :     Kols of Bihar

Rengama                              :     Nagaland

Goncho, Godo, Navaran

Dewai, Chand                      :     Gonds of Madhya Pradesh

Magha                                   :     Hos Tribals of Chota Nagpur

Cherwar                                :     Mizos

Bison                                    :     Karsanas

Bilma                                    :     Baiga men and women


Modern Dance

Uday Shankar is rightly described as the ‘father of modern dance and ballets in India’.  He in the pursuit of the roots  of our ancient dance traditions, revived and popularized these dance forms in a modern framework.  The style that he created came to be known as Modern Dances, as distinct from many classical and purely folk styles found in India.  He evolved a novel style “the oriental style” free from the elaborate gesture language and stylized movements that characterize all the classical Bhakti styles of India.  He tried many innovations and choreographed many ancient and modern themes incorporating excellent and effective musical accompaniments (purely Indian) and a new free style of choreographic movements.  these innovations were necessary in order to express the needs, aspirations and contemporary experiences of the modern Indian women of this country.  Labour and Machinery and Rhythm of Life were two such creations, which appealed to the contemporary audiences deeply.  He incorporated element from classical styles as well as from the endless varieties of colourful folk-dances from all over the country.