Indian classical dance

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Indian classical dance is an umbrella term for various performance arts rooted in musical theatre styles,[1][2][3] whose theory and practice can be traced to the Sanskrit text, Natyashastra .[4][5][6] The number of classical dances range from eight to more, depending on the source and scholar.[7] The Sangeet Natak Academy recognizes eight – Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakali, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam.[8] Scholars such as Drid Williams add Chhau, Yakshagana and Bhagavata Mela to the list.[9][3] Additionally, the Indian Ministry of Culture includes Chhau in its classical list. These dances are traditionally regional. They consist of compositions in Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, or any other Indian language and they represent a unity of core ideas in a diversity of styles, costumes and expression. At present officially there are 9 classical dances in India.

Types of classical dances[edit]

The Natyasashtra is the foundational treatise for classical dances of India,[4][10] and this text is attributed to the ancient Sanskrit scholar Bharata Muni.[6][11][12] Its first complete compilation is dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE,[13][14] but estimates vary between 500 BCE and 500 CE.[15] The most studied version of the Natyashastra text consists of about 6000 verses structured into 36 chapters.[13][16] The text, states Natalia Lidova, describes the theory of Tāṇḍava dance (Shiva), the theory of raBaavangal, bhāva, expression, gestures, acting techniques, basic steps, standing postures – all of which are part of Indian classical dances.[13][17] Dance and performance arts, states this ancient text, are a form of expression of spiritual ideas, virtues and the essence of scriptures.[18][19]



Indian classical dances are traditionally performed as an expressive drama-dance form of religious performance art,[3] related to Vaishnavam, Saivam Epic and the folksy entertainment that includes story-telling from Tamil or other Dravidian language plays.[25] This is true mostly for the Southern peninsular Dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, and Kathakkali. Kathak, which is from northern India, mainly uses compositions in Sanskrit or Hindi and its related languages. Odissi, Manipuri and Sattiya use languages of the regions they belong to as well as Sanskrit or Hindi. As a religious art, they are either performed inside the sanctum of a temple, or near it.[1][2] Folksy entertainment may also be performed in temple grounds or any fairground, typically in a rural setting by travelling troupes of artists; alternatively, they have been performed inside the halls of royal courts or public squares during festivals.[26]

Dance forms[edit]

The Natya Shastra mentions four Pravrittis (traditions, genres) of ancient dance-drama in vogue when it was composed – Avanti (Ujjain, central), Dakshinatya (south), Panchali (north, west) and Odra-Magadhi (east).[27]

Sources differ in their list of Indian classical dance forms.[28][29] Encyclopædia Britannica mentions six dances.[30] The Sangeet Natak Akademi has given recognition to nine Indian dances.[31] The Indian government's Ministry of Culture includes eleven dance forms.[32] Scholars such as Drid Williams and others include Chhau, Yaksagana and Bhagavata Mela to the eight classical Indian dances in the Sangeet Natak Akademi list.[3][9]

The classical dance forms recognised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Ministry of Culture are:[31][33]

Famous Dancers of Indian Classical Dance Forms[edit]

There have been many famous dancers in each Indian classical Dance form. Some of them include;

Shared aspects[edit]

All major classical Indian dance forms include in repertoire, three categories of performance in the Natya Shastra. These are Nritta, Nritya and Natya:[35]

  • The Nritta performance is an abstract, fast and rhythmic aspect of the dance.[36] The viewer is presented with pure movement, wherein the emphasis is the beauty in motion, form, speed, range and pattern.[35] This part of the repertoire has no interpretative aspect, no telling of the story. It is a technical performance, and aims to engage the senses (Prakriti) of the audience.[37]
  • The Nritya is slower and expressive aspect of the dance that attempts to communicate feelings, storyline particularly with spiritual themes in Hindu dance traditions.[36] In a Nritya, the dance-acting expands to include silent expression of words through gestures and body motion set to musical notes. The actor articulates a legend or a spiritual message. This part of the repertoire is more than sensory enjoyment, it aims to engage the emotions and mind of the viewer.[35][37]
  • The Natyam is a play, typically a team performance,[38] but can be acted out by a solo performer where the dancer uses certain standardized body movements to indicate a new character in the underlying story. A Natya incorporates the elements of a Nritya.[35][39][40]

All classical dances of India used similar symbolism and rules of gestures in abhinaya (acting). The roots of abhinaya are found in the Natyashastra text which defines drama in verse 6.10 as that which aesthetically arouses joy in the spectator, through the medium of actor's art of communication, that helps connect and transport the individual into a super sensual inner state of being.[41] A performance art, asserts Natyashastra, connects the artists and the audience through abhinaya (literally, "carrying to the spectators"), that is applying body-speech-mind and scene, wherein the actors communicate to the audience, through song and music.[41] Drama in this ancient Sanskrit text, this is an art to engage every aspect of life, to glorify and gift a state of joyful consciousness.[42]

The communication through symbols is in the form of expressive gestures (mudras or hastas) and pantomime set to music. The gestures and facial expressions convey the ras (sentiment, emotional taste) and bhava (mood) of the underlying story.[43] In Hindu classical dances, the artist successfully expresses the spiritual ideas by paying attention to four aspects of a performance:

  • Angika (gestures and body language),
  • Vachika (song, recitation, music and rhythm),
  • Aharya (stage setting, costume, make up, jewelry),
  • Sattvika (artist's mental disposition and emotional connection with the story and audience, wherein the artist's inner and outer state resonates).[43]
  • Abhinaya draws out the bhava (mood, psychological states).[43]

See also[edit]


Indian classical dancing started around 200 BCE in India. People in India loved art in India so they developed dancing into their culture, and they would dance at any events like weddings and Diwali. Indian classical dancing is a very joyful and celebratory thing for people to do in the Indian culture. The style of Indian classical dancing is very vibrant and motivational. It is a style of dance that is like a communication with the gods. Indian classical dancing usually happens at festivals and cultural events. The dancers who perform this kind of dance usually is a professional dancer that has had a lot of practice in that specific style of Indian classical dancing. In Indian classical dancing the professional dancers usually dance to beat of the song or sound that is playing. They move their body to rhythm of the music and they flow. They movement and coordination usually sync up with whatever sound or song they are listening to. The dancer takes the role of the character that they hear in the song or sound and become emotionally connected with the story and the audience.[44]

When dancers perform classical Indian dancing they wear traditional clothes. They wear sarees, lenghas and kurtas (Traditional Indian clothing).Usually females are the people performing Indian classical dancing. The costume consists of a long colourful material with a beautiful pattern on it, wrapped around her body, she usually wears a lot of jewellery like necklaces, hand bracelet and leg bracelets the female also wears a head ornamental piece, she usually has a lot of makeup applied to her to make her seem vibrant and attract attention from the crowd, and her outfit is usually custom made by hand. The costume will have a special design on it that consists of many beads and other spectacular designed things attached to the costume. The female wears foot shakers which jingles as she dances.[45]


  1. ^ a b Julius Lipner (2012). Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Routledge. p. 206. ISBN 978-1-135-24061-5.,. Today, it is widely taught and performed in a wide variety of venues. Classical dance schools abound both in India and abroad, and the performances include staged shows in schools, auditoriums, art centres etc. Quote: "It would be appropriate here to comment on Hindu classical dance. This developed in a religious context and was given high profile as part of temple worship. There are several regional and other styles as well as source texts, but the point we wish to stress is the participative nature of such dance. In form and content, the heart of dance as worship in Hinduism has always been 'expression' (abhinaya), i.e. the enacting of various themes".
  2. ^ a b Jean Holm; John Bowker (1994). Worship. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-85567-111-9., Quote: Hindu classical dance-forms, like Hindu music, are associated with worship. References to dance and music are found in the Vedic literature, (...)".
  3. ^ a b c d Frank Burch Brown (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts. Oxford University Press. pp. 195–196. ISBN 978-0-19-972103-0., Quote: All of the dances considered to be part of the Indian classical canon (Bharata Natyam, Chhau, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam, Odissi, Sattriya, and Yakshagana) trace their roots to religious practices (...) the Indian diaspora has led to the translocation of Hindu dances to Europe, North America and the world."
  4. ^ a b James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 467. ISBN 978-0-8239-3180-4., Quote: "the Natyashastra remains the ultimate authority for any dance form that claims to be 'classical' dance, rather than 'folk' dance".
  5. ^ Ragini Devi 1990, pp. 60–68.
  6. ^ a b Mohan Khokar (1984). Traditions of Indian classical dance. Clarion Books. pp. 57–58. ISBN 9780391032750.
  7. ^ Sarwal, Amit; Walker, David (2015). "Staging a Cultural Collaboration: Louise Lightfoot and Ananda Shivaram". Dance Chronicle. 38 (3): 305–335. doi:10.1080/01472526.2015.1088286. S2CID 166744945.
  8. ^ Bishnupriya Dutt; Urmimala Sarkar Munsi (2010). Engendering Performance: Indian Women Performers in Search of an Identity. SAGE Publications. p. 216. ISBN 978-81-321-0612-8.
  9. ^ a b Williams 2004, pp. 83–84, the other major classical Indian dances are: Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Sattriya, Cchau, Manipuri, Yaksagana and Bhagavata Mela.
  10. ^ Tanvi Bajaj; Swasti Shrimali Vohra (2015). Performing Arts and Therapeutic Implications. Routledge. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1-317-32572-7.
  11. ^ Schramm, Harold (1968). "Musical Theatre in India". Asian Music. University of Texas Press. 1 (1): 31–40. doi:10.2307/834008. JSTOR 834008.
  12. ^ Coorlawala, Uttara Asha (1993). "The Toronto conference on "new directions in Indian dance"". Dance Chronicle. Routledge. 16 (3): 391–396. doi:10.1080/01472529308569140.
  13. ^ a b c Natalia Lidova 2014.
  14. ^ Tarla Mehta 1995, pp. xxiv, 19–20.
  15. ^ Wallace Dace 1963, p. 249.
  16. ^ Emmie Te Nijenhuis 1974, pp. 1–25.
  17. ^ Kapila Vatsyayan 2001.
  18. ^ Coormaraswamy and Duggirala (1917). "The Mirror of Gesture". Harvard University Press. p. 4.; Also see chapter 36
  19. ^ Guy L. Beck (2012). Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 138–139. ISBN 978-1-61117-108-2. Quote: "A summation of the signal importance of the Natyasastra for Hindu religion and culture has been provided by Susan Schwartz, "In short, the Natyasastra is an exhaustive encyclopedic dissertation of the arts, with an emphasis on performing arts as its central feature. It is also full of invocations to deities, acknowledging the divine origins of the arts and the central role of performance arts in achieving divine goals (...)".
  20. ^ Tarla Mehta 1995, pp. xxix, 131–137.
  21. ^ Mandakranta Bose (2012). Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition. Springer. pp. 13–32, 108–112. ISBN 978-94-011-3594-8.
  22. ^ Reginald Massey 2004, p. 32.
  23. ^ Ragini Devi 1990, pp. 67, context: 60-68.
  24. ^ Thera Mahanama-sthavira (1999). Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka. Jain Publishing. pp. 40–41. ISBN 978-0-89581-906-2.
  25. ^ Ragini Devi 1990, pp. 25–30, 67–68, 166.
  26. ^ Farley P. Richmond, Darius L. Swann & Phillip B. Zarrilli 1993, pp. 3, 34–36, 47, 171–173, 215, 327–329.
  27. ^ Sunil Kothari; Avinash Pasricha (1990). Odissi, Indian classical dance art. Marg Publications. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-81-85026-13-8.
  28. ^ "Indian Classical Dance". One India. 2009-04-19. Archived from the original on 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  29. ^ Narayan, Shovana (2005). Indian classical dances: "ekam sat vipraah bahudaa vadanti". Shubhi Publications. p. 5. ISBN 9781845571696.
  30. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. dance (performing arts) : Indian classical dance. Retrieved 03-11-2010.
  31. ^ a b SNA || Awards & Honours
  32. ^ "Scholarship to Young Artistes". Archived from the original on 2013-10-21. Retrieved 2013-11-06.
  33. ^ Dance | Ministry of Culture, Government of India
  34. ^ "Indian Classical Dance Forms". PendulumEdu. PendulumEdu. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  35. ^ a b c d Meduri, Avanthi (1988). "Bharatha Natyam-What Are You?". Asian Theatre Journal. University of Hawaii Press. 5 (1): 3–4. doi:10.2307/1124019. JSTOR 1124019.
  36. ^ a b Ellen Koskoff (2008). The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: The Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia. Routledge. p. 955. ISBN 978-0-415-99404-0.
  37. ^ a b Janet Descutner (2010). Asian Dance. Infobase. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-1-4381-3078-1.
  38. ^ Kavitha Jayakrishnan (2011), Dancing Architecture: the parallel evolution of Bharatanātyam and South Indian Architecture, MA Thesis, Awarded by University of Waterloo, Canada, page 25
  39. ^ Reginald Massey 2004, pp. 33–38, 83–84, 207–214.
  40. ^ Bruno Nettl; Ruth M. Stone; James Porter; et al. (1998). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: South Asia : the Indian subcontinent. Routledge. pp. 516–521. ISBN 978-0-8240-4946-1.
  41. ^ a b Tarla Mehta 1995, p. 3.
  42. ^ Tarla Mehta 1995, p. 5.
  43. ^ a b c Tanvi Bajaj; Swasti Shrimali Vohra (2015). Performing Arts and Therapeutic Implications. Routledge. pp. 82–84. ISBN 978-1-317-32572-7.
  44. ^ Aryan Singh A guide To Indias History
  45. ^ Aryan Singh A guide to Indias History


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