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India Travel Guide Help » Indian Dances
Indian Dances

Culture, in India, although diverse and varied, still binds the country together in some form of common identification. Indian dance and music have played a remarkable role in this unification. India has a great heritage of classical dance and music. Using the body as a medium of communication, the expression of dance is perhaps the most intricate and developed, yet easily understood art form. Music too plays an important role in the Hindu religion. The tradition of Indian music should be understood in the context of Indian life and thought. It is known to be a mystical experience, analogous to yoga.

Dance & Music of India

India offers a number of classical dance forms, each of which can be traced to different parts of the country. Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people. The seven main styles are Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, Manipuri and Kathakali.

Indian music is lyrical and exciting in composition. The music of India includes multiples varieties of folk, popular, pop, and classical music. India's classical music tradition, including Carnatic and Hindustani music. The arts and crafts, music and dance, architecture and people all are instances of the culture and its rainbow of India.

Indian Dances

Folk Dance

The Indian folk dance is simple without being naive, for behind its simplicity lie both profundity of conception and a directness of expression which are of great artistic value. The concept of portraying emotion is generally speaking foreign to folk dance and what is expressed is natural and original. What is important here is not the grace of the individual dancer or the virtuosity of the isolated prose, but the total effect of the overwhelming buoyancy of spirit, and the eloquent, effortless ease with which it is expressed. It has intimate relationship with functions of daily life; food-gathering, harvesting, rites, rituals and beliefs. The popular folk dances of India are Ruk Mar Nacha, Purulia Chhau, Rangoli Bihu, Singhi Chham, Karma, Cheraw Dance, Hojagiri, Bardo Chham, Chang Lo, Lahoo and Thang Ta in the East. Bhangra, Charkula, Ghoomar, Spaw Dance and Kinnauri Nati in the North. Kalbelia Dance, Koli, Tarangmel, Dandiya Raas, Garba, Tippani Dance, Panthi, The Padhar Dance, Dharmar and Hamchi Dances in the West. Devarattam, Dollu Kunita, Thapetta Gullu, Garadi, Lava Dance and Nicobarese Dance in the South.


Bharata Natyam, originating in Tamil Nadu, has movements of pure rhythm, rendering a story dramatically in different moods. For a long time, Bharat Natyam was performed only in temples by dancers in service of the temple, the devadasis. The dancers must learn the language of gestures, mudras - so as to express feelings, movements and characters in the stories which she narrates through dance.


The Kathak dance form originated in the north. The influence of the Mughal tradition is evident in this dance form, and it has a distinct Hindu-Muslim texture. The word Kathak, derived from 'Katha', literally means storyteller. Today, the maestros of this dance form include Birju Maharaj and Uma Sharma. Kathak has an exciting and entertaining quality with intricate footwork and rapid pirouettes being the dominant and most endearing features of this style. The costumes and themes of these dances are often similar to those in Mughal miniature paintings.


Kathakali, a well-developed dance-drama of Kerala is a performance where the actors depict characters from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and from the Puranas (ancient scriptures). The dancers adorn themselves in huge skirts and headdress, wearing a most intricate style of make-up. Kathakali draws heavily from drama and is danced with elaborate masks and costumes. Like Bharatanatyam Kathakali also needed a resurrection in the 1930s. The great poet Vallathol rediscovered Kathakali, establishing the Kerala Kalamandalam in 1932 which lent a new dimension to the art-form in South India.


Protected for years in a valley of exceeding beauty, Manipuri is the art expression of every man, woman and child of Manipur. The musical forms of that culture reflect the worship of Vishnu. It is around episodes from his life that the faith of the people is entwined. The sanskirtan and the rass are revered musical traditions enacted appropriately at different times of the year by the community as a whole. Manipuri is not aggressive. It is tender and almost reticent on the one hand, and extremely vigorous on the other. A continuity of movement and a restraint of power are underlying features of the style.


The Chhau dance is indigenous to the eastern part of India. It originated as a martial art and contains vigorous movements and leaps. Some Chhau dances use large stylized masks. The depiction of birds and animals is a distinctive feature. There are also heroic dances with sword, bow or shield, with which dancers demonstrate their dexterity. In recent times, Mayurbhanj Chhau has become popular as a medium of choreography, with its wide range of postures and movements that adapt well to modern as well as traditional treatment.


This dance form is believed to have been introduced to Kerala by the early Aryan immigrants & is performed only by the members of the Chkiar caste. A highly orthodox type of entertainment, it can be staged inside temples only & witnessed by the Hindus of the higher castes. The theatre is known as Koothambalam. The story is recited in a quasi-dramatic style with emphasis on eloquent declarations with appropriately suggestive facial expressions & hand gestures. The only accompaniments are the cymbals & the drum known as the mizhavu, made of copper with a narrow mouth on which is stretched a piece of parchment.


Mohiniyattam, the female semi-classical dance form of Kerala is said to be older than Kathakali. Literally, the dance of the enchantress, Mohiniyattam was mainly performed in the temple precincts of Kerala. It is also the heir to Devadasi dance heritage like Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi. The word 'Mohini' means a maiden who exerts desire or steals the heart of the onlooker. There is a well known story of Lord Vishnu taking on the guise of a 'Mohini' to enthrall people, both in connection with the churning of the milk ocean and with the episode of slaying of Bhasmasura. Thus it is thought that Vaishnava devotees gave the name of Mohiniyattam to this dance form.


The ambience of Orissa, the philosophy of Lord Jagannath and the sculpture of the 13th - century Sun Temple of Konarak, are reflected in its dance form – Odissi. Perhaps the most lyrical style of dance in India, Odissi follows unique body norms; the iconography of a whole culture is echoed in its structure. The tribhanga, a three-bend posture, interlinking a people’s philosophy with the physical, is a series of triangles which are not only physically difficult to execute, but which also call for immense restraint and finesse on the part of the artist. The numerous postures of the style reflect specific moods and adorn the carved panels of the Konark Sun Temple.

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