Indian Classical Dances

Dance is an ancient and prominent cultural tradition in India. Folk dances abound all across the country, and huge crowds of people can be found dancing at festivals and weddings. Dance and song feature heavily in Indian cinema (so-called “Bollywood” films), too. But where does Indian dance draw its roots from? There are six of the most important classical dance forms of India including many folk dances.

India has an old tradition of thousands of years regarding fine arts and classical and folk music and dances. Some of the world-famous dance forms that originated and evolved in India are: Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam, and Odissi.

(1) Bharatnatyam: Bharatnatyam is one of the most popular classical Indian dances. Bharatnatyam is more popular in South India states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The music accompanying this dance is Carnatic music. It evolved out of the devadasi system of South Indian Temples. Famous dancers associated with Bharatnatyam are E Krishna Iyer, Rukmini Devi Arundale, and Anna Pavlova.

(2) Kathak: Kathak is also one of the most important classical dances of India. Kathak is said to be derived from the word Katha, meaning the art of storytelling. Famous centers are Lucknow and Jaipur. Lucknow school depicts Mughal Court etiquette while the Jaipur school depicts stories of Rajput kings and Gods. Famous exponents are Sitara Devi, Sambhu Maharaj, Uma Sharma Shovana Narayan, etc.

(3) Kathakali: Kathakali is the classical dance form of Kerala. The word Kathakali means the story play. Kathakali is considered one of the most magnificent theatres of imagination and creativity. Famous exponents of Kathakali are Vallathol Narayan Menon, Kunju Kurup, Guru Gopinath, etc.

(4) Kuchipudi: Kuchipudi is one of the classical dance forms of South India. Kuchipudi exhibits scenes from Hindu epics, legends, and mythological tales. Famous exponents of Kuchipudi are Lakshmi Narayan Shashtri, Raja and Radha Reddy, Swapana Sundari and Yamini Krishnamurti.

(5) Manipuri: Manipur is one of the six major classical dances of India. The most striking part of Manipuri dance is its colorful decoration, lightness of dancing feet, the delicacy of abhinaya (drama), lilting music, and poetic charm. Manipuri dance is not only a medium of worship and delight but also essential for all socio-cultural ceremonies of the Manipur people. Popular exponents are the Javeri sisters, Rita Devi, Nirmala Mehta, Guru Bipin Singh, etc.

(6) Mohiniattam: Mohiniattam from Kerala is a solo female dance and is known for its rhythmic and unbroken flow of body movements. Mohiniattam has the grace and elegance of Bharatnatyam and the vigor of Kathakali. Famous exponents of this dance form are Kalyani Amma, Vaijayanthimala, Bharati Shivaji, and Hema Malini.

(7) Odissi: Odissi is one of the well-known classical Indian dances from Odisha state. It is a graceful, elegant, and sensuous dance style and involved the tribhanga (three bends) posture. The three bends symbolize the means to escape the limitations of the body. Famous dancers of Odissi are as follows: Indrani Rehman, Sonal Mansingh, Kiran Sengal, Rani Karan, Sharon Lowen, and Myrta Barvie.