When we talk about India and its rich, varied cultural heritage, we cannot miss talking about the Indian dance forms. Long back, when television and the internet did not exist, we had these classical Indian dances to our rescue. They not only entertained the people but also conveyed messages to them.
Traditional Indian dances were a medium to present various issues, morals and lessons to the people in ancient times. It was similar to theatre acts performed in foreign countries then. We are glad that we have kept the art of Indian classical dances alive till date.
Mainly there are 8 Indian classical dance forms or traditional Indian dances recognised by Sangeet Natak Academy. The book that describes these art forms dates back to 200 BCE and 200 CE. The most studied version of this Sanskrit text has 6000 verses divided among 36 chapters.
The book gives details of the gestures, bhava (expression), acting techniques, basic steps, the theory of rasa, and standing postures. Classical dance forms were initially used to express spiritual ideas and the essence of scriptures.
They are described in Indian texts as a ‘marg’ that liberates the soul, mainly art that helps one connect to God. Here are the most magical and beautiful classical dance forms of India recognised by Sangeet Natak Academy and Ministry of Culture:
1) Bharatnatyam (Tamil Nadu)
The Bharatnatyam dance form is considered to be the oldest amongst Indian dance forms. It was preserved in the temples and courts in South India, mainly in Tamil Nadu. Earlier it was known as ‘Sadir Attam’ or ‘Dashiattam’.
Bharatnatyam is a dance form that is believed to be performed by Lord Shiva, as many sculptures in temples show him in Bharatnatyam dance poses. This dance form is considered to be famous for its style which is noted for its bent legs (half-sitting pose), fixed upper torso and a beautiful collaboration of movement of hands, and extensive footwork. It adds along with some beautiful expressions on the dancer’s face.
Bharatnatyam dancers wear skirt style saree (for females) or pyjama (for males), which are silk based and lined with gold zari embroidery. The use of jewellery remains limited.
2) Kathak (Uttar Pradesh)
Kathak dance form belongs to the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is believed that Kathak was earlier performed by ‘Kathakars’, the storytellers who performed on streets and narrated ancient stories in the form of dance. Later, Kathak was also performed in temples and had the influence of Bhakti Movement.
Ancient scriptures show that the Indian dance form of Kathak was initially performed by Lord Krishna when he danced on the hood of Kaliya (Naag). This dance form is famous for its beautiful hand movements, facial expressions and gestures. It is also known for its footwork, which is adorned by ghungroos (small bells) that are synchronised with the background music of tabla.
Earlier Kathak dance was performed wearing a skirt, choli and veil, but gradually it shifted to saree.
3) Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh)
Kuchipudi dance form has its roots in Andhra Pradesh. This Indian dance form was initiated by Tirtha Siddhendra Yogi, who was sannyasi and his disciple. It is also linked with Lord Krishna and Bhagavata Mela. The dress for this classical dance form is ‘Angavastram’, which is dhoti for males and sari with light makeup for females.
The beautiful movements of Kuchipudi dancers are synchronised with the sounds of the veena, flute, mridangam and tambura. It is one of the most ravishing Indian dance forms.
4) Odissi (Odisha)
Odissi is a beautiful Indian dance form, which is said to have originated in the Indian temples of Orissa. This classical dance form presents a mythical story, spiritual Katha or a devotional poem, expressed with hand movements and footwork.
Tribhanga posture, fast hand movements and gestures and expressions on a dancer's face are the unique parts that are attractive in this dance form. They are performed by Maharis (women who perform spiritual temple dance) and Goti Puas (boys dressed as girls).
While performing Odissi dance form, females wear Sambalpuri or Silk saree, which have diverse stones and are embroidered with gold and silver threads. They also wear beautiful jewellery while performing, the most attractive jewel being the waistband and Senthil, which are all made of silver. Watching the classical Indian dances is a treat to the eye.
5) Kathakali (Kerala)
Kathakali dance form has its roots in Kerala, which was mainly used to depict folk mythologies, religious legends and spiritual ideas of Hindu Puranas. The name is itself derived from ‘Katha’ means story and ‘Kali’ means Kala that is performance or arts.
The classical dance form of Kathakali is distinguished by its colourful makeup, grand costumes, and face masks that male dancers wear. It is accompanied by Attakatha, which means enacted story which is written in Sanskritized Malayalam. This Indian dance form follows a particular sequence in which it is performed to depict a story.
6) Sattriya (Assam)
Sattriya is an Indian dance form also known as ‘Ankiya Nat’, which combines dance and drama. The themes of this classical dance form are Lord Krishna stories and Vishnu avatars. It has fast and rhythmic aspects of dance.
The Indian classical dance, Sattriya, is beautifully coordinated with hand gestures, footwork and mudras. This Indian dance is complemented by Assam pat silk saree, and jewellery namely kopali (forehead), muthi kharu (bracelets), thuka suna (earrings) and also a waistcloth. Manjira, bhortal, bihutal and patital are the instruments used in this dance. It is one of the most scintillating Indian dance forms.
7) Manipuri (Manipur)
Thee classical dance form of Manipuri is also known by the name ‘Jagoi’ and is attributed to regional deities such as ‘Umang Lai’ during Lai Haraoba. It mainly revolves around depicting the story of Radha Krishna. This Indian classical dance form is a perfect combination of graceful, fluid hand and upper body moves.
Manipuri dance form is characterised by slow dance patterns are a special feature of this dance. Cymbals, manjira, and double-headed drums are used to complete this dance form. Dress for females is Kumil (a decorated barrel-shaped long skirt) decorated with gold and silver threads, mirrors and lotus prints and light makeup and males wear brilliantly coloured dhoti.
Like all other Indian dances, this traditional dance form fills you with new energy.
8) Mohiniyattam (Kerala)
The traditional dance form Mohiniyattam originated in the temples of Kerala by the Travancore kings. The main theme behind these stories is Lord Vishnu, who helped in prevailing good over evil. The word Mohiniyattam translates into ‘a beautiful woman’ or 'Mohini’, which was an avatar of Vishnu used by him to charm and fool asuras.
While performing Mohiniyattam dance, the costume is ivory coloured saree with golden border and waist is lined with a golden belt that is formed by a pleated sheet of cloth. This Indian dance is performed with an erect torso, parted feet and knees bent outward. It is noted among the most charming and enchanting Indian dances.
Indian dances have one thing in common - the most beautiful way of expressing feelings and conveying thoughts. Indian classical dance has a beautiful essence in them that brings out Indian culture and kathas associated with Hindu mythology so well. The different types of dances not only add to the diversity of India but also to the richness that future generations will cherish.
These dance forms are so well patterned that it seems magical just by watching these dance performances. A perfect combination of dance, music, rhythm, and lights are what makes the Indian classical dance forms stand out. This is the reason why Indian dance forms are admired not only in India all over the world.
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