The Eight Classical Dance Forms of India

Anyone outside the Asian culture finds the Indian dances fascinating because they are made of highly gracious moves and loaded with religious and spiritual symbolism. Indian dances can be traced back in the year 400 BC, being depicted in Natya Sastra written by Bharata Muni. The worldwide interest in the Indian dances increased thanks to the Bollywood movie productions which never fail to feature mini Indian dance shows.

The dance forms of India, although extremely numerous and diverse, can be divided in two big categories: classical dances and folk dances. The difference between the two of them is the focus on the celebration mood specific to the latter. Otherwise, they are both deeply religious and spiritual.

Eight classical Indian dances have been identified, each one of them being specific to a certain region and expressing the ethos of a certain group of people. Let’s take a look at each of the eight classical dance forms of India and try to catch the uniqueness of each one of them in order to be able to identify them when watching a performance.

1. Bharatanatyam was born in Tamil Nadu and is inspired by the sculptures of the old temples. It requires complete dedication from the side of the dancer. “Bharatanatyam” means expression, music and rhythm and it was also called the fire dance, because the movements make the performer resemble to a flame.

2. Kathak originated from the North of India, being taken over from a group of nomad bards called Kathaks or story tellers, because they were giving representation depicting mythological or religious sequences and moral tales. Even today, the kathak dancers “tell” a story through the movements of their body. Kathak requires a focus on the feet from the side of the dancer.

3. Khatakali is one of the drama dance forms of India, born in the 16th century BC in Kerala. In this kind of dance, the emphasis is, besides on the movement of the whole body, on the facial expression and hand gestures. Ramayana and Mahabharata are just some of the popular plays enacted through khatakali dance.

4. Kuchipudi emerged in the South of India, in Andhra Pradesh, as a drama dance, but today it has lost this component almost completely. Its main feature is represented by the quick movements of the dancer and it is often performed on Carnatic music.

5. Manipuri is one of the most important and graceful dance forms of India, born in Manipur, located in the South-East of the country. The movements of Manipuri dance are soft and rounded and the facial expression of the dancer, very subtle.

6. Mohiniatam is the dance of Mohini, who in the Indian mythology is a woman endowed with the ability to instantly attract people. As its name points out, Mohiniatam is an one-woman’s dance and focuses on the movement of hips. Usually, the dancer is dressed in a white sari with golden embroidery. It is a dance specific to Kerala region.

7. Odissi is one of the oldest dance forms of India, traced back in the 2nd century BC, in Orissa, located in the Eastern of the country. It distinguishes among all the other Indian dances through the importance given by the dancer to the independent movement of the head, chest and pelvis.

8. Sattriya is one of the major dances in India and one that has kept its traditional style across time. It was born in the 19th century in the Assam’s monasteries and, initially, it was performed by male monks to embody various mythological stories. Today, Sattriya is also performed on metropolitan stages, but it keeps the movements specific to its ancient form.

These are the main eight dance forms of India and knowing even just a little about each of them enriches us spiritually and may open the appetite for learning a few movements of this unique manifestation of art.


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