Feb 10,2021

Interesting Facts About Indian Classical Dance Forms

India has a rich cultural heritage that is diverse. The traditional classic arts of India originated in the Natyashastra, written by Sage Bharata between the 1st-3rd centuries BC. It covers different aspects of ancient Indian theatre that include dance, music, aesthetics, poems, etc. Thus, the roots of the Indian classical dances can be traced back to the Natyashastra.

Most of the Indian classical dances originated in the temples as a means of worship. They also underwent significant changes during the Mughal Era and Colonial Rule. With time, artists introduced variations in traditional dance forms even though the basics remained the same for all classical dances. As of date, Indian classical dances are popular across the globe.

There are presently 9 classical dance forms in India with a few elements in common. These elements include the portrayal of emotions (Navarasa), hand gestures (hasta viniyoga), neck movements (Greeva Bheda), eye movements (Drishti Bheda), and head movements (Shiro Bheda). Hand gestures were penned down by Acharya Nandikeshwara in his book ‘Abhinay Darpan’. There are two types of hand gestures - Single hand gestures (Asamyukta Hastas) and Double hand gestures (Samyukta Hastas).

Now that you are quite well-acquainted with the basics of Indian classical dances, let’s discuss some lesser-known facts about each of the 9 Indian classical dances.

Indian Classical Dance Forms

  1. Bharatnatyam
  • Originated in Tanjore, Tamil Nadu, Bharatnatyam is one of the oldest Indian classical dance forms existent today.

  • In olden times, it was predominantly performed by Devadasis and hence acquired the name ‘Dasi Attam’.

  • It is a perfect amalgamation of Bha (emotions), Ra (musical notes), Ta (rhythms), and Natyam (drama).

  • Evidence of this dance form can be found in Brihadeshwara temple and Silapattikara. Aesthetic representations of this dance form can be found in the Gopurams of Chidambaram.

  • Bharatnatyam is danced to the Carnatic style of music.

  • Shining ornaments, elegant costumes with a fan, and immense facial makeup are characteristics of this dance form.

  • Ms.Rukmini Devi Arundale and Ms. T. Balasaraswati revived this sensuous dance form to its contemporary devotional and spiritual form.

  2. Kathak
  • Predominantly a North Indian style classical dance, Kathak originated as the dance of the storytellers. In olden times, storytellers (kathakas) used to narrate stories in temples and social gatherings. The word ‘kathak’ has originated from the phrase ‘katha kahe so kathak’. With time, these storytellers started wearing ‘Ghungroo’ and combining the art of storytelling with rhythmic hand and leg movements to make the narration more impactful. This way the dance form of ‘Kathak’ came into existence.

  • Kathak is mainly considered the dance of Lord Krishna. However, it is used to depict stories from the lives of all gods and events from the Indian epics. Contemporary issues like politics, earthquakes, corruption, etc. can also be depicted through Kathak.

  • Tatkar(Footwork), Chakkar(spin), and Abhinay (expressions) are the distinct features of Kathak.

  • It is danced on Hindustani classical music and usually accompanied by a tabla, harmonium, pakhavaj, or manjira.

  • Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandita Maneesha Sathe, Pandit Rajendra Gagnani, etc. are some prominent names in the field of Kathak.

  • There are 4 gharanas in Kathak - Lucknow, Jaipur, Raigarh, and Banaras.

  3. Kuchipudi
  • Originated in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, Kuchipudi is an Indian Classical Dance similar to Bharatnatyam.

  • Kuchipudi is a dance style that narrates stories from Hindu Mythology using flowing, graceful, rhythmic, and quick yet controlled body movements. They invoke spirituality and divinity and bring the dance piece to life.

  • The repertoire of Kuchipudi is similar to that of Bharatnatyam.

  • The specialty of Kuchipudi dance is ‘Tarangam’(dancing on brass plates).

  • Dancing by balancing a pot on the head is also unique to Kuchipudi.

  4. Odissi
  • Odissi is an Indian Classical Dance that originated in the state of Orissa.

  • Referred to as ‘Audramagdhi’ in Natya Shastra, Odissi was predominantly performed in the Jagannath temple to express devotion to God.

  • It combines the philosophies of Nritta (aesthetic body postures and abstract movements) and Nritya (facial expressions, rhythmic leg movements, and hand gestures).

  • This mesmerizing dance form is performed in 2 styles - Gotipua (by men) and Maharis (by women).

  • Batu, Pallavi, Abhinaya, Mangalacharan, and Moksha are the different aspects of Odissi dance.

  5. Kathakali
  • It is a classical dance form that has its roots in the State of Kerala.

  • Predominantly, a dance performed by males, Kathakali is now SEEING increased female participation.

  • Like Kathak, Kathakali has also stemmed from the art of storytelling and focuses on stories from the life of Lord Krishna.

  • However, unlike other Indian Classical Dances that originated in temples, Kathakali originated in the kings’ courts and Hindu theatres.

  • It is an amazing amalgamation of drama, dance, martial arts, and athletic sports.

  • Kathakali artists put on elaborate makeup, facemasks, heavy costumes, and jewelry.

  6. Mohiniattam
  • This is another Indian classical dance that originated in the state of Kerala.

  • It is performed in a white color costume.

  • Based on the concept of ‘Lasya’, this dance is characterized by fluid, soft, gentle, and peaceful body movements.

  • It is considered to be the dance of Mohini, the female incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who destroys the evil powers of the world.

  • The sequence of dance pieces in Mohiniattam too is conceived on the lines of Bharatnatyam.

  7. Manipuri
  • This is an ancient dance form that originated in the pre-Vaishnavite era in the State of Manipur.

  • Also known as ‘Jogai’ in popular culture, Manipuri is a combination of the Indian as well as South Asian dance styles.

  • It mainly focuses on ‘Rasleela’ and depicts the platonic love between Radha and Krishna.

  • It mainly focuses on ‘Rasleela’ and depicts the platonic love between Radha and Krishna.

  8. Chhau
  • There are 3 different forms of Chhau that have originated in different states of India. They are as follows:-

Type of Chhau State of Origin
Purulia West Bengal
Seraikella Jharkhand
Mayurbhanj Odisha
  • This dance form has derived its name from the word ‘Chaaya’ which means a shadow or image. Hence, face masks dominate the Chhau costumes.

  • It is a unique blend of folk dance, tribal culture, and martial arts.

  • They propagate Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism.

 9. Sattriya
  • This traditional dance of Assam evolved from the ‘Sattras’ that were established by Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev between the 15th and 16th centuries.

  • It has two forms - ‘Stree Bhangi/Lashya (feminine form) and Paurashik Bhangi/Tandav (Masculine form).

  • It represents the cultural and religious hub of the people of Assam and was predominantly conceived to promote Vaishnavism.

  • Modern-day Sattriya has adapted varying choreography styles, stage presentations, and costumes.

If you are someone who wants to know more about these dance forms or learn them out of sheer interest, Vimarza is the right platform for you. This e-learning platform also gives you an opportunity to become the most sought-after dance mentor, if you have already mastered any of these artforms.

At Vimarza, we are committed to preserve and promote the rich cultural heritage of India. As a part of our efforts, we offer some fantastic courses in Indian classical dance and music. Our easy-to-learn course syllabi, course delivery in multiple languages, pre-recorded lectures, and simple registration procedure make the learning process enjoyable.

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