Classical Dance Forms of India


    In News

    • Classical dance Mohiniyattam legend Kanak Rele has passed away. 


    • She was awarded the first Guru Gopinath National Puraskaram of the Government of Kerala.
    • She created another record by earning her Ph.D in dance, the first in India, in 1977.
    • Later in 2013, Dr. Rele was conferred the Padma Bhushan.

    Classical Dance Forms of India

    • The earliest treatise on dance is Bharat Muni’s Natyashastra, the sourcebook of the art of drama, dance, and music. It is generally accepted that the date of the work is between the 2nd-century B.C.E- 2nd-century C.E. 
    • There are eight classical dance forms  – Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Kathak, Manipuri, Kuchipudi, Odissi, and Sattriya. 
    • The Sangeet Natak Academy recognizes eight classical dance forms. Additionally, the Indian Ministry of Culture includes Chhau as a semi-classical dance form.
    • Bharatanatyam, Tamil Nadu (Southern India): Bharatanatyam has grown out of the art of dancers dedicated to temples, and was earlier known as Sadir or Dasi Attam. It is the first of India’s traditional dances to be refashioned as a theatre art. The musicians include at least one vocalist, a Mridangam (drum)-player, and a flutist or violinist or Veena (lute)-player.

    • Manipuri Dance, Manipur (North-eastern India): It evolved in Manipur, is anchored in the Vaishnava faith of the Manipur valley. Manipuri dance is introverted and restrained compared to most other dances of India – the artist never establishes eye contact with the audience. The Pung, a drum, and flute are the principal instruments used in Manipuri dance.

    • Kathak (Northern India): It is the principal dance of northern India, and is widely practised in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and even parts of western and eastern India. It is believed to be connected with the narrative art of Kathakaras or story-tellers. The music of traditional Kathak consists of the Thumri and other lyrical song-forms, and the essential musical instruments are the Tabla, Pakhawaj, and Sarangi.

    • Odissi Dance, Orissa (Eastern India): It was performed as part of temple service by ‘maharis’ or female temple servants. The traditional dance was remodeled as a theatre art towards the middle of the twentieth century. The dancer is supported by a singer, a drummer who plays the Pakhawaj, flute and Sitar. 

    • Kathakali: Kathakali or ‘story play’ took shape in Kerala in southern India in the seventeenth century under the patronage of the prince of Karnataka, who wrote plays for performance drawn from the epic Ramayana in Malayalam. Kathakali categorizes its characters according to their nature and employs make-up and costume to build them up as symbolic personalities. 


    • Mohiniattam: Mohiniattam belongs to Kerala in southern India and takes its name from the mythic enchantress Mohini. It is a dance of feminine grace, and has grown out of performances connected with Kerala’s temples. The prince Swati Tirunal of Travancore, was one of the chief architects of the dance in the nineteenth century. The main percussion instruments in the performance are the Edakka.

    • Kuchipudi (Southern India): It originated from Andhra Pradesh, where it grew largely as a product of Bhakti movement beginning in the 7th Century AD and derives its name from the village Kuchelapuram. Kuchipudi today is performed either as a solo, duet or a group presentation, but historically it was performed as a dance drama, with several dancers taking different roles.

    • Sattriya Dance: ‘Sattriya dance’ refers to the body of dance and danced drama developed in the sattras or monasteries of Assam since the sixteenth century, when the Vaishnava faith propagated by the saint and reformer Shankaradeva (1449-1586). Group dances are also common in traditional and modern Sattriya dance, and these may be prefaced with a brief musical ‘interlude’ on drums, the Gayan Bayan.

    • Chhau (Eastern India): The Chhau dance of Eastern India — Orissa, Jharkhand, and West Bengal – is a blend of martial traditions, temple rituals, and folk and popular performance of this region. Though vocal music is not used in Chhau, the melodies are based on songs from the Jhumur folk repertoire, the devotional Kirtan, classical Hindustani ‘ragas’, and traditional Oriya sources. Dhol, Dhumsa, Nagada, Chadchadi and Jhanj provide accompaniment to Chhau dance.