India has a plethora of different cultures and art forms. Among the different art forms, classical dance occupies a huge part of the history of the cultures of the different regions. Indian classical dance refers to the umbrella of various performing arts which can be traced back to the Sanskrit text ‘Natya Shastra’. The Sangeet Natak Academy and the Ministry of Culture has recognized around 8 forms


Bharatnatyam originated in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu, and is one of the most famous dance forms of India; it is known as the mother of many other classical dance forms. This is mostly characterized by an illustration of stories of Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas acted out by the dancers with great gestures and impressive footwork. The performers dress up more or less like Tamil Hindu brides with tailormade sarees and traditional jewelry decorating the head, ear, nose, and head.


This form of dance originated in northern and western parts of the country due to the traveling bards knew as ‘Kathakars’ who used to wander around and narrate stories in the form of music and dance. Kathak developed during the Bhakti movement and the themes are mostly from mythology to the great epics. The dancers tell the stories through the co-ordinated foot, hand and eye movements, and facial expressions.


This form of dance or drama emerging from Kerala is also another ‘story-telling’ genre of dance. Although Kathakali is also characterized by rhythmic movements and facial expression, there is one thing that sets it apart. The dancers wear masks of vivid and complex designs and influences of traditional martial arts of Kerala can be seen in the movements. The makeup includes the intricate face masks, headdresses and painted faces. The dancers represent gods, demons, animals etc.


Kuchipudi originated in the Kuchipudi village of Andhra Pradesh and also has its roots in the ‘Natya Shastra’. This was also practiced by traveling bards and in temples for spiritual purposes. Mentions of this dance form can be found in many ancient inscriptions and texts. Performances are based primarily on Lord Krishna and Vaishnavism. The male characters wear dhotis and the female characters wear colorful saris stitched with a pleated cloth which opens like a hand fan, and light makeup complemented with jewelry.


Odissi is also another very pre-eminent classical dance from Odisha. Like other classical forms, this one also originated from the temples of the region and has connections with spirituality. Postures of this dance form can be seen inscribed in archaeological sites of not just Hindu significance, but also that of Buddhist and Jain. Devotional ideas and hymns are expressed with perfect body movements, and gestures and sign languages. The female dancers wear silk saris of local designs like Sambalpuri and Bonkai and the male wear dhotis keeping the upper body bare.


This form of classical dance dates back to the 15th century in Assam and was introduced by the reformer Mahapurusha Sankaradeva as a powerful medium for propagating the Vaishnava faith. This form is actually an incorporation of various local folk dances like Bodos, Bihu etc. The dance tradition is strictly bound by principles in respect of hand movements, footwork, acharyas, and music. Males wear dhoti, chadar and a turban while females wear Ghauri, chadar, and Kanchi.


Manipuri or Jagoi, as the name suggests is a classical dance form coming from the north-eastern state of Manipur and has Hindu Vaishnavism as its primary theme like Sattriya. Many dance dramas of this nature are based on the love between Radha and Krishna, and a mixture can be seen between Indian and Southeast Asian elements. The native dancing experts are known as “Gandharvas” and this dance is performed during important Hindu festivals and marriages. Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore also contributed greatly to this culture of dance. The males wear dhotis and the females dress up like traditional Manipuri brides during the performances.


Mohiniattam is another of the popular Indian classical dance that has its origins in Kerala. This represents a more mild, graceful and feminine style of dancing; the name itself is derived from the female avatar of Lord Vishnu. Usually, this is a solo dance performed by a woman who enacts a play through song and dance and occasional recitation. The woman wears a white or off-white sari with golden borders and saffron bands adorning the front. Heavy jewelry is also used along with musical anklets called ghungrus.

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