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Dance is a physical and visual art form, which has an immediate and massive impact on the spectator. The various Indian forms act like a window to India's rich cultural reservoir. Dance in India, is rooted in age-old tradition. The earliest archaeological evidence of Indian dance, which dates back to 6000 BC, depicts a beautiful statuette of a dancing girl. Bharata's Natya Shastra (which was written between the 2nd century B.C. and 2nd century A.D) is the earliest available thesis on dramaturgy. All forms of Indian classical dances owe allegiance to Natya Shastra, which is believed to be the 'fifth Veda' of the Indian culture.

According to a popular belief, Brahma, the Creator of the World, combined literature from the Rig Veda, songs from the Sama Veda, abhinaya (expression) from the Yajur Veda and rasa (aesthetic experience) from the Atharva Veda, to form natya (what we today call dance). It explains the nuances of dance, giving stress on mudras (hand formations) and their meanings, the kind of emotions and their categorization.

Dances of India

One can categorize Indian Dance broadly in two forms i.e. Classical Dances & Folk Dances.


Native to Tamil Nadu (a state in Southern India), Bharatanatyam is one of the popular Indian classical dance forms. The dynamic and earthy style of this dance makes it one of the most chosen forms of Indian classical art forms. Although Bharatanatyam is predominantly performed by women, men are also known to engage in it. While the women wear a typical sari in the dance performance, men have bare chest and wear a dhoti-like outfit in the lower part of the body.

Bharatanatyam, which we know today, evolved during the late 18th or early 19th century. In the ancient India, the devadasis performed Bharatanatyam (previously known as dasiattam) in various parts of Tamil Nadu. With society losing its values, the art form fell from its supreme position to a 'dance that was performed by shameless people', during 1910-1930s. Nevertheless, the dance regained its lost popularity over the passing years, through the commendable works of renowned Bharatanatyam artists like E. Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale.

The picturesque state of Kerala has gifted India with a dance drama known as Kathakali. Embedded in stories from the epics, Ramayana, Mahabharata and from the Puranas (ancient scriptures), the dance form is believed to have originated in the 16th century. Kathakali can be described as a highly stylized classical Indian dance-drama, noted for the heavy make-up and stunning costumes of the dancers. Detailed gestures and well-defined body movements are some other notable features of the dance. Elaborate masks, huge skirts and big head-dresses are uniquely used by the performers of Kathakali.

Kathakali is thought to have originated from pioneer dance-drama forms - Ramanattam and Krishnanattam. The word "attam" means enactment. Today, Ramanattam and Krishnanattam forms have become completely extinct, but the story plays continue to be a part of Kathakali. It originated in the 16th century AD, approximately between 1555 and 1605, and has been improved miraculously over the years.

Kathak, which originated in northern India, represents one of the eight forms of Indian classical dances. The name Kathak has been derived from the Sanskrit word 'katha', meaning story. Thus, 'katthaka' means the one who tells a story. Kathak focuses more on the footwork of the dancer. The costumes and themes of Kathak are often similar to those in Mughal miniature paintings.

Initially, dancers known as 'katthakas' used to perform in village squares and temple courtyards across the country, unfolding mythological and moral tales from the ancient scriptures. Kathak faced a drastic transition due to the influence of Mughal dance and music. In fact, it is believed to have gone through its greatest transformation around 15th century. Primarily a temple ritual, the dance form later changed to fit royal court entertainment, mainly due to the Persian and Mughal influences.

Kuchipudi was introduced as a dance drama, but its present day dispensation tells a different story altogether. It has now been reduced only to dance form, with the drama missing completely. Kuchipudi dramas are enacted during nights, in open air, on improvised stages. The audience generally sits on the ground

Kuchipudi originated from a hamlet in Andhra Pradesh, called Kuchelapuri or Kuchelapuram, in the 3rd century B.C. This dance style, like many other classical dance forms, was initially presented at temples and was performed by the Brahmin men (known as Bhagavathalu).

Based on Natya Shastra, Odissi is regarded as one of the oldest surviving dance forms of India, with well preserved archaeological evidence. The 'Tribhang' or the division of the body into three parts, including head, bust and torso, is one of the highlighting features of Odissi. Through the performance, the Odissi artist personifies the ambience of Orissa and the philosophy of its most popular deity - Lord Jagannath.

It has originated from Orissa and its history can be traced back to the 2nd century BC. The dance form has been extensively depicted in the sculptures of Brahmeswara temple and Sun Temple at Konark. Kelucharan Mohapatra. The form of Odissi that exists today is the result of a long process of renovation from various dance traditions of Orissa, which includes the Maharis, the Goti puas and the Bhandanritya traditions.

Manipuri is the classical dance from the Manipur region in the North East. Very much religious and associated to Vaishnav cult of Hinduism, the art form primarily depicts episodes from the life of Lord Vishnu. Manipuri dance style is multifaceted and ranges from the softest feminine to the vigorous masculine. . Dignified grace is found in every aspect and the range it offers in technique, rhythmic and tempo, which makes a Manipuri recital an absorbing and exhilarating experience.

The past and origin of Manipuri dance is not clear, as there are many myths and legends that have been associated with it. The earliest records of this dance form date back to about 100 AD. It was King Bhagyachandra of 17th century, who established Manipuri dance on a systematic basis.

Mohiniattam, in literal terms, means Mohini's dance. Mohini, according to Indian mythology, is a very beautiful woman, who attracts people instantly. She is regarded as an enchantress and thus, Mohiniattam is the dance of the enchantress. The theme of Mohiniattam is love and devotion to god. Lord Vishnu or Krishna is the hero in most of the recitals.

The first reference to Mohiniattam has been found in 'Vyavaharamala', composed by Mazhamangalam Naryanam Namboodiri, assigned to the 16th century A.D. It is believed to have been named after Lord Vishnu, who had disguised himself as 'Mohini', with an intention to slay Bhasmasura . In 19th century, Swati Thirunal, the king of erstwhile Travancore, tried to encourage the development of this dance style.


Folk dance can be defined in the simplest words as a form of dance, developed by a group of people, which reflects the traditional life of the people of a certain country or region. This form of dancing involves a group of happy people, following dance instructions given by an experienced caller.


Gaur Dance
Gaur dance is a popular folk dance of Madhya Pradesh and is popular in the Sing Marias or Tallaguda Marias of South Bastar. It involves men wearing head-dresses, with stringed 'cowries' and plumes of peacock feathers, making their way to the dancing ground.

Muria Dances
The Muria tribals of North Bastar area are known for performing the fold dances of Muria. These dances start with an invocation or prayer to the phallic deity of their tribe and the founder of the Ghotul institution. One of the popular Muria dances comprises of Har Endanna dance, performed by boys and girls during marriages.

Saila Dance
Saila dance is the dance form of Chattisgarh and is performed by young boys in the post harvest time. It is basically a stick-dance, in which dancers (each standing on one leg and supporting himself by holding on to the man in front) form a circle. Then, all of them jump together, going round and round.

Karma Dance
Popular among the Gonds and Baigas of Chhattisgarh and the Oraons of Madhya Pradesh, Karma dance is associated with the fertility cult. This dance forms represents the coming of green branches on trees, during the spring season. It is related to the Karma festival, which falls in the month of August.

Kaksar Dance
Kaksar dance is performed by people in hope of reaping a rich harvest and is popular among the Abhujmarias of Bastar. It is mainly undertaken by young boys and girls, in order to invoke the blessings of the deity. Kaksar dance also presents a unique opportunity to boys and girls to choose their life partners.


Jammu & Kashmir
Dumhal: The dance of the Kashmiris is called as 'Dumhal'. It is performed by dancers wearing long colorful robes and tall conical caps, studded with beads and shells. It is mainly the men folk of Wattal who perform this dance, that too on specific occasions.

Himachal Pradesh
Hikat: Hikat is performed by women and comes across as a modification of a game played by children. Forming pairs, the participants extend their arms to the front, gripping each other's wrists. With their body inclined back, they go round and round at the same spot. Namagen: Namagen is another folk dance that is specific to the state of Himachal Pradesh. It mainly celebrates the autumnal hue, in the month of September.

Uttar Pradesh
Hurka Baul: Hurka Baul is performed during paddy and maize cultivation, in different fields, by turns. Its name has been derived from the terms 'hurka', the drum which constitutes the only musical accompaniment to the dance, and 'baul', the song. The singer narrates the story of battles and heroic deeds, while the dancers enter from two opposite sides and enact the stories, in a series of crisp movements.

Chholiya: A famous dance of Kumaon region, Chholiya is mainly performed during marriages. As the groom's procession proceeds to the bride's house, male dancers, armed with swords and shields, dance spiritedly.

Bhangra: One of the most popular dances of North India, performed during the festival of Baisakhi, is the Bhangra. Among the most virile and captivating dances of India, it is undertaken by men and includes tricks and acrobatic feats.

Gidha: The dance performed by the women folk of Punjab is called the Gidha. In this dance form, a woman or a pair of women dances at a time, while the others surround them and clap in rhythm. The dance is mainly performed during the festival of Teeyan, to welcome the rains.

Dhamyal: The folk dance of Haryana is known as the 'Dhamyal' or the 'Duph'. The dance can be performed by men alone as well as with women. The Duph, after which the dance form is anmed, is a circular drum, played nimbly by the male dancers, as they dance.


Bihu (Assam)
The folk dance of Assam is called 'Bihu'. Every Assamese, young or old, rich or poor, takes delight in the dance, which forms a part of the Bihu festival. The festival comes in mid-April, during the harvesting time (which lasts for a month).

Hajgiri (Tripura)
Hajgiri is the folk dance of Tripura, the land of a large tribal population. The dance is performed by young girls, who demonstrate a series of balancing skills, and uses instruments of its kind. The dances are a part of the ceremony to appease the goddess Lakshmi, to ensure a happy harvest, as cultivation forms a main source of the tribe's livelihood.

Thang-ta & Dhol-Cholom (Manipur)
The Thang-ta dance of Manipur was an evolution from the martial arts exercises encouraged by the kings of Manipur. The dance is exciting in nature and is performed by young men holding swords and shields. One of the instruments that dominate Manipuri dances is the drum. Dhol Cholom, a drum dance, is one of the dances performed during Holi.

Nongkrem (Meghalaya)
To celebrate the remembrance of the evolution of Khasis and their indigenous democratic state called Hima, 'Nongkrem' dance is performed in Meghalaya, during autumn. The Khasis are a tribe of Meghalaya, who also celebrate the ripening of paddy for threshing, by dances and songs.

Folk Dance of Arunachal Pradesh
In Arunachal Pradesh, an organized group of tribal performers perform dances, plays, musical scripts and dance dramas, based on stories of Lord Buddha. The dancers wear masks of demons or animals, as described in the tales of Buddha, along with splendid costumes. These dances are mostly performed in monasteries, during festivals.

Folk Dances of Sikkim
In Sikkim, the men are attracted more towards the monastic style of dancing, while the women have their own folk dance style. The dances of Sikkim are different than those of Indian traditions. Masks used in dances are something close to Indian cultural dances.


Dandiya (Gujarat)
Dandiya is the folk dance of Gujarat, which shows the great vigor and joy of the in habitants of the North West State of India. Dressed in colorful costumes, the people of the desert play dandiya gracefully, by holding big sticks in their hands. Apart from being a traditional dance form of the state, Dandiya features in the 'navratras', a nine-day festival that is observed with pomp and gaiety across many parts of the country.

Tarpha Nach
'Tarpha Nach' or 'Pavri Nach' is the dance of the Kokna tribals native to the hilly regions of the north-west India. These dances derive their names from the wind instruments of 'Tharpa' or 'Pavri', which are made of dried gourd, played during the dance performance.

Tera Tali (Rajasthan)
Native to the 'Kamar' tribe of North West India, Tera Tali is performed by two or three women. The performers sit on the ground while performing the Tera Tali, which is an elaborate ritual, followed in the region. Small metal cymbals called 'Manjiras' are tied to different parts of the body, mostly on the legs, of the dance performer.


Padayani or Paddeni (Kerala)
One of the most colorful and enchanting dances of Kerala, Padayani or Paddeni is associated with the festivals of certain temples. These temples are found in the districts of Alleppey, Quilon, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts. The literal meaning of Padayani, in folk art, is military formations or rows of army.

Kummi and Kolattam (Tamil Nadu)
Kummi and Kolattam are the dances performed by the tribal women of Tamil Nadu, during certain festivals. Kummi is a very simple form of dance, where dancers form circles and clap as they dance. Kolattam is also quite similar, the only difference being the use of small wooden rods by the dancers.

Kargam and Puli Vesham (Tamil Nadu)
One of the most essential parts of a ritual dedicated to Mariamma, the Goddess of Health and Rain, in the state of Tamil Nadu is the Kargam dance. It is performed by men, wherein they balance pots, filled with uncooked rice and surrounded by a tall conical bamboo frame covered with flowers, on their head. Drums and long pipes form the musical instruments that accompany the dance. Puli Vesham is another very interesting dance of Tamil Nadu, which is performed by men during a specific festival. In this dance form, the men disguise themselves in tiger costumes and move around the streets.


Dollu Kunitha (Karnataka)
It is a popular drum dance of Karnataka, in which large drums are decorated with colored cloth and slung around the necks of men. The tribes of Karnataka, basically comprising of hunters and food gatherers, stocked with a regular précis of songs and dances related to hunting, food gathering and burial funeral rites.

Ritual Dances (Karnataka)
Amongst the ritual dances of Karnataka is Kavadis performed for the worship of Lord Subramanya. Then, at harvest time, the Dodavas of Karnataka perform the Balakat dance. Apart from that, we have Devare Thatte Kunitha, Yell-ammana Kunitha and Suggikunitha, which are dances related to the name of a deity or instrument balanced on the head or held in the hand.

Ghode Modni (Goa)
Goa was ruled by the Portuguese for many years. Hence, the European influence is quite evident in the annual Carnival and the folk dance performed therein, known as Ghode Modni (dummy horse presentation). The dance brings forth the brave deeds of the Goan warriors, where the attractively dressed dancers perform armed with swords.

Tarangmel (Goa)
While performing Tarangmel, the energetic young girls and boys crowd the streets in colorful group, with flags and streamers (or tarang) in their hands. This group of young dancers invites everyone to join the festive spirit.

Lava Dance of Minicoy (Lakshadweep)
Minicoy is renowned for its tradition of the lava dance, performed during the festive occasions on the island. Lava dance is a very colorful and energetic dance of Lakshadweep, in which the dancers are dressed in multi-hued costumes and headgears. They also carry a drum while dancing. In this form of dance, the participants perform to the rhythmic beats of drums and songs.

Nurtured in temples, princely courts or villages, dance has moved into the auditorium of today, bringing pleasure to many more people, in far-flung regions. This vast sub-continent has given birth to varied forms of dancing, each shaped by the influences of a particular period and environment. These pristine forms have been preserved through the centuries, to become a part of our present culture, a living heritage which is both our pride and delight.

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