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Famous Indian Classical Dance Forms

Batul Nafisa Baxamusa
Indian classical dance forms are world-renowned and portray the rich cultural heritage of India. In this story, we'll read about the eight most famous classical dances from this mystic country.

Did You Know?

The Indian dance form of Kathakali is performed during the night and is based on 101 traditional stories; out of these, only one-third are performed today.
Indian dance forms are famous for their expressions. The intricacy, thoughtful movements, and elaborate costumes is what attracts everyone to these dances. The rich and varied heritage of India is showcased through its traditional dance forms.
Each region boasts of a particular type of dance, which is unique to its culture. Perhaps it's only in India, that you would find a different dance form, just as unique as the rest, in every state. The roots of certain dance forms are so ancient, that their survival today itself is a wonder!
These dances have influenced poetry, songs, architecture, theater, music, and more such art forms. For some, these dances are a form of life, which are as important as the religion they practice; a way to be closer to God.
Indian mythology shows that even the gods and goddess took delight in dance. The Tāṇḍava nṛtya is a vigorous, cosmic dance performed by Lord Shiva, which contains ideas of creation, preservation, and destruction of life. It is said that the maidens of heaven (Apsaras) would dance for the Gods.
Lord Brahma, the creator himself, used words such as regime (pathya) from the Rigveda, gesture (abhinaya) from the Yajurveda, music (geet) from the Samaveda, and expression (rasa) from the Atharvaveda, to form a new veda, called the Natyaveda. Thus, dance and drama came into existence.
The Sangeet Natak Academy, set up by the Government of India, grants classical status to the following dance forms.

Bharata Natyam

State of Origin: Tamil Nadu
The word Bharata Natyam is derived from the words Bha meaning expression (bhava), Ra meaning melody (ragam), Ta meaning rhythm (talam), and natyam meaning dance. As you can see, not only is the name complex, but also the dance. As I explained earlier, Lord Brahma wrote the fifth veda and asked sage 'Bharata' to spread it around.
To complete this task, the sage wrote 'Natya Shastra' or the science of dance on palm leaves that are still preserved in the holy temples of Tamil Nadu. It was performed by Devdasis with Carnatric music, and was said to be a fire dance. If you look closely at a Bharata Natyam dancer when she's performing, you will feel as if her body is a dancing flame.


State of Origin: Kerala
This is not just a dance, but a dance drama that is performed to explain a story or a mythological episode. The meaning of the world 'Kathakali' is 'story-play'. It involves a lot of eye and eyebrow movement. The dancers are adorned in an elaborate costume with colorful makeup.
Scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and other ancient epic stories, are enacted in this dance form. It is performed solely by men; even the female characters are enacted by male performers. The music played for this dance is Carnatic and musical instruments include the Chenda, Idakka, Maddalam, etc.


State of Origin: Uttar Pradesh

This dance form originated in the northern states of India. The word Kathak is derived from the Sanskrit word katha, which translates to 'story'.
This dance requires quick foot movements (tatkar), spinning (chakkar), and use of emotions (bhav) to explain the story. It was performed in many temples and has a bit of Persian influence, which was introduced into the country by the Mughal rulers.


State of Origin: Andra Pradesh
Kuchipudi is a dance form that gets its name from a village of the same name in the southern state of Andra Pradesh. The dancer is supposed to have many personalities, which he is expected to change as the dance progresses.
This dazzling dance is characterized by daring eye expressions, footwork that is delicate as well as swift, and costumes that enhance its delicate movements. It is also performed on a brass plate rim - a scene that is truly breathtaking. Initially, only men performed this dance style; however, with time, even women have started performing it.


State of Origin: Manipur

This dance portrays stories of Hindu Gods Radha and Krishna.
It involves elegant, expressive, and impressive movements. The movements are rounded and have no sharp cuts. The feet hit the floor softly like a feather, unlike other Indian dance forms where the dancer's feet hit the ground hard. Musical instruments used for this form include the Pung, Pena, drums, and flute.


State of Origin: Kerala

Another Indian classical dance form from God's own country, this is a young form as compared to the rest, and is a sensual dance performed by women.
The term Mohini means a 'beautiful maiden who enchants an audience' and Attam means 'dance'. The central themes of the dance are devotion to God and love. There are 40 basic movements of this dance.


State of Origin: Orissa

This is the oldest Indian dance form and is said to have originated in 2200 BC. It involves use of poses, grace, and sensuous dance movements. The theme involves stories of Lord Krishna and is used to show the peaceful ambiance of Lord Jagannatha of Puri.


State of Origin: Assam
Sattriya is a dance that is used to present mythological stories in an artistic form. This dance was traditionally performed by male monks (bhokots) as a ritual or during special festivals. Today, it is performed by men and women and the theme does not necessarily be have to mythological.
As you can see, each of these dance forms depict the rich culture of India. These dances are performed since ages and are said to bring the performer closer to God. Most of them are spiritual in nature. If you ever get a chance to watch these dances being performed live, do not miss out on it.