Classical Dance forms in India

Bharatanatyam is over 2000 years old. It is a dance primarily originating in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. It is also the oldest surviving classical dance in India. Bharat Muni’s Natyashastra and Abhinaya Darpana by Nandikesvara talk about this dance form. It is believed that Bharatnatyam was revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata.  Bharatanatyam was originally performed exclusively by female temple dancers and was not brought to the stage for public performance until about 1930.

<strong”>E. Krishna Iyer was one of those who raised the social status of Bharata Natyamand greatly popularized it. Rukmini Devi Arundale is considered the most important revivalist in the Indian classical dance form of Bharata Natyam from its original ‘sadhir’ style. Rukmini Devi Arundale established a cultural academy called Kalakshetra (which means holy palace of arts) to revive the traditional arts of India.


History and evolution

  • Visual evidence of this dance form can be found in various paintings, sculptures at many historical places.
  • One of the five great epics of Tamil Literature, ‘Silappadikaaram’ (~2nd century CE) has a direct reference to this dance form.
  • The Shiva temple of Kanchipuram that is decorated with carvings dating back to a period between the 6th to 9th centuries CE manifests the development of this dance form by around the mid-first millennium CE.

Sculpture depicting a Bharatanatyam dance

Figure: Sculpture depicting a Bharatanatyam dance


  • The eastern gopuram of the 12th century Thillai Natarajar Temple, Chidambaram, of Tamil Nadu dedicated to Lord Shiva bears sculptures depicting 108 poses of Bharatanatyam, referred as karanas in ‘Natya Shastra’, that are intricately carved in small rectangular panels.

Depiction of 108 poses of Bharatanatyam in Chidambaram temple, Tamil Nadu

Figure: Depiction of 108 poses of Bharatanatyam in Chidambaram temple, Tamil Nadu


  • Another notable sculpture can be seen in Cave 1 of Karnataka’s Badami cave temples dating back to the 7th century where a 5 feet tall sculpture of Lord Shiva is depicted as Nataraja doing Tandava dance. The 18 arms of the Shiva sculpture expresses mudras or hand gestures that are part of Bharatanatyam.

Tandava dance of Lord Shiva found in Badami caves

Figure: Tandava dance of Lord Shiva found in Badami caves


  • This particular dance form was kept alive by Devadasi, who were young girls ‘gifted’ by their parents to the temples and who were married to the gods


Features of Bharatanatyam

  • Bharatanatyam dance is known to be Ekaharya, where one dancer takes on many roles in a single performance


  • The repertoire of Bharatnatyam is extensive; however, a performance follows a regular pattern. At first, there is an invocation song.
  • Then the next dance item is the alarippu, literally meaning – to adorn with flowers. It is an abstract piece combining pure dance with the recitation of sound syllables.
  • The next item, the Jatisvaram is a short pure dance piece performed to the accompaniment of musical notes of any raga of Carnatic musicJatiswaram has no sahitya or words, but is composed of adavus which are pure dance sequences – nritta. They form the basis of training in Bharatnatyam dance.
  • As a solo dance, Bharatnatyam leans heavily on the abhinaya or mime aspect of dance – the nritya, where the dancer expresses the sahitya through movement and mime.
  • Shabdam follows the Jatisvaram in a Bharatnatyam dance performance. The accompanying song is generally in adoration of the Supreme Being.
  • After the shabdam, the dancer performs the varnam. The varnam which is the most important composition of the Bharatnatyam repertoire encompasses both nritta and nritya and epitomizes the essence of this classical dance form.
  • After the strenuous varnam, the dancer performs a number of abhinaya items expressing a variety of moods.
  • A Bharatnatyam performance ends with a Tillana which has its origin in the tarana of Hindustani music. It is a vibrant dance performed to the accompaniment of musical syllables with a few lines of sahitya.
  • The finale of the piece is a series of well designed rhythmic lines reaching a climax. The performance ends with a Mangalam invoking the blessings of the Gods.
  • The accompanying orchestra consists of a vocalist, a Mridangam player, violinist or veena player, a flautist and a cymbal player. The person who conducts the dance recitation is the Nattuvanar.

Famous exponents

  • The four Nattuvanars namely Ponaiyah, Vadivelu, Sivanandam and Chinnaiya who are renowned as Tanjore Bandhu and who thrived in the Durbar of Maratha ruler, Sarfoji-II from 1798 to 1832 shaped up the modern-day Bharatanatyam
  • Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, a dance guru from the village of Pandanallur was a noted exponent of Bharatanatyam who is predominantly known for his style referred as the Pandanallur school of Bharatanatyam.
  • One of his students Rukmini Devi championed and performed the Pandanallur (Kalakshetra) style and also remained one of the leading proponents of the classical dance revival movement.
  • Bala Saraswati was one of the foremost exponents of this dance form in the last century

History and evolution

  • This classical style of Indian dance primarily originated from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh
  • In 17th century, present Kuchipudi style was conceived by Siddhendra Yogi a talented Vaishnava poet.
  • Siddhendra Yogi first developed a unique and particular style based on the NatyashastraBharatamuniand Nandikeshwara’s Abhinaya Darpana.
  • It is said that Siddhendra Yogi had a dream in which Lord Krishna asked him to compose a dancedrama based on the myth of the bringing of paarijaataflower for Sathyabhaama, the most beloved queen of Krishna.
  • Around the third and fourth decade of the 20th century it emerged out of a long rich tradition of dance-drama of the same name.
  • It also had its roots in Yakshagana.
  • Kuchipudi largely developed as a Hindu god Krishna-oriented Vaishnavism tradition, and it is most closely related to Bhagavata Mela
Kuchipudi dance

Features of Kuchipudi dance:

  • Kuchipudi is known for its impressive, quick footwork, dramatic characterization, expressive eye movements and spirited narrative.
  • This dance is a combination of Tandava (the majestic, masculine) and and Lasya (lyrical graceful and feminine energy). A distinctive feature of this dance is the execution on a brass plate and moving the plate to the accompaniment of Carnatic music.
  • The Kuchipudi performer apart from being a dancer and actor has to be skilled in Sanskrit and Telugu languages, music and manuscripts of the performance.
  • Unlike, other dance forms; Kuchipudi requires talent in both dancing and
  • The Kuchipudi dancers wear light make-up and ornaments like the Rakudi (head ornament), Chandra Vanki (arm band), Adda Bhasa and Kasina Sara (necklace).
  • The ornaments are made of light wood called Boorugu.
  • A Kuchipudi recital is usually concluded with tarangam. Excerpts of Narayana Teertha’s Krishna-leela-taranginiare sung with this number. In this the dancer usually stands on a brass plate locking the feet in shakatavadanam paada and moves the plate rhythmically with great dexterity.
  • The typical musical instruments in Kuchipudi are Mridangamcymbalsveenafluteand the tambura
  • Kuchipudi has several regional banis(styles), which developed because of the uniqueness and creativity of gurus (teachers). This openness and flexibility has been a historic tradition in Indian dance culture, and is traceable to early times in Kuchipudi as the Margi and Desi styles in the text Nrittaratnavali of Jaya Senapati
  • The ensemble of a Kuchipudi performance includes a Sutradhara or Nattuvanar who is the conductor of the entire performance. He recites the musical syllables and uses cymbals to produce rhythmic beat. The story or spiritual message is sung either by the conductor or another vocalist or sometimes by the actor-dancers.
  • Format of the dance:

The repertoire of Kuchipudi follows three performance categories namely ‘Nritta’ (Nirutham),Nritya’ (Niruthiyam) and ‘Natya’ (Natyam) mentioned in ‘Natya Shastra

Basic standing position, male and female character of kuchipudi dance
Nritta hasta - angika abhinaya
  • The Kuchipudi performance usually begins with an invocation. Then, each costumed actor is introduced, their role stated, and they then perform a short preliminary dance set to music (dharavu). Next, the performance presents pure dance (Nritta)
  • This is followed with by the expressive part of the performance (Nritya), where rhythmic hand gestures help convey the story.
  • Famous exponents
  • Indrani Bajpai (Indrani Rahman), daughter of Ragini Devi, and Yamini Krishnamurti expanded this art through public performances outside Andhra. Vempati Chinna Satyam is a legendary dancer and guru of Kuchipudi dance form
  • Other imminent Kuchipudi dancers include internationally famed dancing couple, Raja and Radha Reddy, their daughter Yamini Reddy; Kaushalya Reddy; Bhavana Reddy, daughter of Raja and Kaushalya Reddy; Lakshmi Narayn Shastri; and Swapana Sundari among others.



History, Evolution and Source:

  • This classical dance form. Kathakali originates primarily from the Indian state of Kerala.
  • Basic components and distinct features of this form of classical dance can be traced back to ancient Sanskrit Hindu text- ‘Natya Shastra’. Kathakali also derives its textual sanction from Balarama Bharatamand Hastalakshana Deepika
  • Dance-drama art form called ‘Krishnanattam’ and Ramanattam based on Mahabharata and Ramayana are precursor of ‘Kathakali’.



Features of the dance:

  • Kathakali is a blend of dance, music and acting and dramatizes stories, which are mostly adapted from the Indian epics.
  • The dance form combines four aspects of abhinaya – AngikaAharya,VachikaSatvikaand the NrittaNritya and Natya  are combined perfectly.
  • The dancer expresses himself through codified hastamudras and facial expressions, closely following the verses (padams)that are sung.
  • Various facial expressions in KathakaliThe body movements and choreography of this dance draws inspiration from various martial arts of Kerala
  • The attakkathasorstories are selected from the epics and myths and are written in a highly Sanskritised verse form in Malayalam. Many Malayalam writers have also contributed to the vast repertoire of Kathakali literature.
  • Kathakali dance is chiefly interpretative.
  • The characters in a Kathakali performance are broadly divided into satvikarajasikaand tamasika
Noble, heroic, generous and refinedCourageous people but they have an evil streak in their characterThe characters of the thadi (beard)
CharactersKrishna and Rama.Ravana, Kamsa, Sisupala and Duryodhana etcRed beard – Evil character like Bakasura, White Beard-Hanumanta
Colour codes In pacha, green colour dominates and kirita (headgear) is worn by all. Krishna and Rama wear special crowns decorated with peacock feathersThe kathi type depict anti-heroes., Evil characters like Ravana bear the ‘Tati’ (red) make-up. The moustache and the small knob called chuttippu fixed on “the tip of the nose and another in the centre of the forehead, is peculiar to the kathi character.The characters of the thadi (beard) category are the chuvanna thadi, (red beard), vellathadi (white beard) and the karutha thadi (black beard). Vellathadi or the white bearded character is generally that of Hanuman, the dancer also wears the costume of a monkey. Kari are characters whose make-up have a black base, they wear black costume depicting a hunter or forest dweller.


  • Kalasams are pure dance sequences where the actor is at great liberty to express him and display his skills. The leaps, quick turns, jumps and the rhythmic co-ordination make kalasams, a joy to watch.




  • Kathakali is a visual art where aharya, costume and make-up are suited to the characters, as per the tenets laid down in the Natya Shastra.
  • The lips, the eyelashes and the eyebrows are made to look prominent. A mixture of rice paste and lime is applied to make the chuttion the face which highlights the facial make-up.
  • Songs and musical instruments
  • Kathakali music follows the traditional sopana sangeetof Kerala. It is said to be the ritual singing of the Ashtapadis on the flight of steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum. Now, Kathakali music also uses Carnatic ragas-the raga and talaconforming to the bhavarasa and dance patterns (nritta and natya). The orchestra which is also used in other traditional performing arts of Kerala, normally comprises the ChendaMaddalamChengilaIlathalamIdakka and Shankhu.

Kathakali Musical instruments


Major exponents

  • Kavungal Chathunni Panicker, a celebrated and veteran performer of this field, is a scion of the famous Kavungal family associated with ‘Kathakali’ for six generations.
  • Kalamandalam Gopi, a renowned name in ‘Kathakali’ with a career of over 30 years, is one of the most eminent representatives of the Kalluvazhi School of Kerala.
  • Other imminent ‘Kathakali’ performers include Kalamandalam Krishna Prasad, Kalamandalam Vasu Pisharody, Kalamandalam Kesavan Namboodiri and Kalanilayam Balakrishnan, Kottakal Sivaraman, Rita Ganguly etc.,


It originated in the state of Kerala. The dance is performed by women in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu in his incarnation as the enchantress Mohini. Mohiniattam is exclusively danced by women. It is also softer than the very vigorous Kathakali.

The dance projects the essence of feminine grace. It is also noted for the Shringara (erotic) depictions of divine love. Traditionally, the dance was performed solo, but in the 21st century it may also be performed in groups.


 A brief history of the dance form

  • Some scholars trace Mohiniattam to the second or third century A.D. (to the era of the great Tamil epic, Silappadikaaram), whereas others maintain that it was created in the middle of the eighteenth century in the court of Maharaja Svati Tirunal of Travancore
  • It is also believed that the dance form acquired its affinity with the Bharata Natyam technique and Karnatak Music and thereby its repertoire, in Swati Tirunal’s court.
  • In the beginning of the 20th Century, like all the other traditional arts, Mohiniattam also went into oblivion due to the policies of the British. However, due to the policies of the state and central government, the classical dance form has seen a revival.


Salient features associated with the dance-form

  • Mohiniyattam is characterized by graceful, swaying body movements with no abrupt jerks or sudden leaps. It belongs to the Lasya style which is feminine, tender and graceful.



  • The most characteristic element of the “form” component of Mohiniattam is the circular or spiral movement of all the limbs of the body. This gives it a swaying effect which resembles the movement of a pendulum and thus it is called aandolika
  • The movements are emphasized by the glides and the up and down movement on toes, like the waves of the sea and the swaying of the coconut, palm trees and the paddy fields.
  • Movements have been borrowed from Nangiar Koothu and female folk dances Kaikottikali and the Tiruvatirakali.
  • The footwork is not terse and is rendered softly. Importance is given to the hand gestures and Mukhabhinaya with subtle facial expressions.
  • Mohiniyattam lays emphasis on acting. The dancer identifies herself with the character and sentiments existing in the compositions like the Padams and Pada Varnams which give ample opportunity for facial expressions.
  • The hand gestures, 24 in number, are mainly adopted from Hastalakshana Deepika, a text followed by Kathakali. Few are also borrowed from Natya Shastra, Abhinaya Darpana and Balarambharatam.
  • The gestures and facial expressions are closer to the natural(gramya) and the realistic (lokadharmi) than to the dramatic or rigidly conventional (natyadharmi).
  • Vocal music of this performance art incorporates different rhythms and lyrics of many of the compositions performed in this dance form are in Manipravala that is a mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam language while the music style is Carnatic.
  • Instruments played during a Mohiniattam performance usually comprises of Kuzhitalam or cymbals; Veena; Idakka, an hourglass-shaped drum; Mridangam, a barrel-shaped drum with two heads; and flute.
  • Imminent 20th-century exponents of Mohiniattam apart from Vallathol Narayana Menon were Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, Thankamony, Krishna Panicker and Mukundraja. Present day exponents include Sunanda Nair; Smitha Rajan, granddaughter of Kalyanikutty Amma; Radha Dutta; Vijayalakshmi; Gopika Varma and Jayaprabha Menon among others.

Odissi or Orissi is one of the pre-eminent classical dance forms of India which originated in the Hindu temples of the eastern coastal state of Odisha in India. Its theoretical base trace back to ‘Natya Shastra’ of Bharatamuni.

  • History and Evolution
  • Its roots can be traced back to Natya Shastra. The Natya Shastramentions many regional varieties, such as the south-eastern style known as the Odhra Magadha which can be identified as the earliest precursor of present-day Odisha.
  • Odra-Magadhi style of dance, which many scholars consider a precursor of twentieth-century Odissi.
  • Sites of archaeological and historical significance like caves and temples in Puri, Konark and Bhubaneswar bear carvings that are historical manifestations of ancient art forms like music and dance.
  • Udayagiri, the largest Buddhist complex in Odisha depicts carvings of musicians and dance believed to be of the Odissi dance form
  • Reference of music and dance are also found in Udayagiri’s Hathigumpha Inscriptions that were inscribed by Kharavela.
  • Odissi is a highly stylised dance and to some extent is based on the classical Natya Shastraand the Abhinaya Darpana. In fact, it has derived a great deal from the Abhinaya Darpana Prakasha by Jadunatha Sinha, the Abhinaya Chandrika by Rajmani Patra, and the Abhinaya Chandrika by Maheshwara Mahapatra.
Odissi dance

Salient features of the dance form

  • This dance form includes themes from Vaishnavism and others associated with Hindu gods and goddesses like Shiva, Surya and Shakti.
  • It is based on themes of Gita Govinda of Jayadeva. It is a profound example of the nayaka-nayikabhava and surpasses other poems in its poetic and stylistic content. The devotion of the poet for Krishna permeates through the work.
  • Its performance collection includes an invocation, nrita, nritya, natya, and moksha.
  • Odissi closely follows the tenets laid down by the Natya Shastra. Facial expressions, hand gestures and body movements are used to suggest a certain feeling, an emotion or one of the nine rasas.
  • The techniques of movement are built around the two basic postures of the Chowk and the Tribhanga.

Angika Abhinaya






Hasta Mudra

Hasta Mudra
  • The chowkis a position imitating a square – a very masculine stance with the weight of the body equally balanced. The tribhanga is a very feminine stance where the body is deflected at the neck, torso and the knees.
  • Hand gestures play an important role both in nrittawhere they are used only as decorative embellishments and in nritya where they are used for communication.
  • The torso movement is very important and is a unique feature of the Odissi style.
  • The opening item is Mangalacharanwhere the dancer slowly enters the stage with flowers in her hands and makes an offering to mother earth. This is followed by an invocation to the deity of the dancer’s choice. Generally, Ganesha is called upon to grant an auspicious beginning. The item ends with a nritta sequence with salutations to God, the Guru and the audience.
  • The next item is called Batuwhere the basic concepts of the Odissi nritta technique are highlighted bringing out the duality of the masculine and the feminine through the basic stance of the chauk and tribhanga. This is danced in praise of Batukeshwar Bhairav or Shiva. The accompanying music is very simple -only a refrain of dance syllables.
  • After the very basic exposition of nritta in Batu, comes the flowering and ornamentation of music and movements in Pallavi. A musical composition in a particular raga is visually represented by the dancer with slow and subtle movements, building up into complex patterns highlighting rhythmic variations within the tala
  • For centuries Maharis /Devadasiswere the chief repositories of this dance. However, they were employed in the royal courts. This led to general decline in the quality of the art form
  • Gotipuas, a class of boys were trained in the art, they danced in the temples and also for general entertainment
  • Odissi dance pays great importance to Lord Jagannath who is considered to be the god of the universe and is worshipped by the people of Orissa.


  • An Odissi orchestra essentially consists of a pakhawaj(Drums) player (usually the Guru himself), a singer, a flutist, a sitar or violin player and a manjira player(Cymbals).
  • It is accompanied by Hindustani classical Music.


  • The two most commonly used sarees for this dance are Sambalpuri saree and Bomkaisaree
  • The dancer is adorned in elaborate Odiya silver jewellery and a special hair-do. The sari, usually stitched nowadays, is unique to the style.
  • Famous exponents
  • The Odissi maestros who revived the art form in the late 1940s include Kelucharan Mohapatra, Raghunath Dutta, Deba Prasad Das, Pankaj Charan Das, Gangadhar Pradhan. Other famous personalities include Jhelum Paranjape, Mayadhar Raut, and Leana Citaristi.
  • Other famous exponents include disciples of Kelucharan Mohapatra namely Sanjukta Panigrahi, Sonal Mansingh and Kumkum Mohanty; Aruna Mohanty, Anita Babu and Aadya Kaktikar to mention a few.
  • Sattriya dances are devotional in nature as they were intended for propagation of neo-Vaishnavism. Its highlights are intense emotional fervour, and in its solo avatar now dramatic abhinaya is prominent in contrast to nritta, pure dance.
  • It was introduced in Assam by the great Vaishnava saint and reformer of Assam, Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankaradeva in the 15th century A.D.
  • He propagated the “ek sharan naama dharma” (chanting the name of one God devotedly).
  • History and evolution
  • Unlike other classical dances, the Sattriya dance has been left untouched in this regard and has been the same since its birth.
  • Under the patronage of Sankardeva, the social and religious group known as the ‘Sattras’ (Vaishnava mathsor monasteries) formulated this dance to celebrate their beliefs which were embedded in Hinduism and its various teachings.
  • It had its influences from folk dance forms like Ojapali, Devadasi, Bihu and Bodos etc.
Dancers dancing with drums and cymbals
Sattriya Dance (Dashavatar)

Salient features of the dance form

  • Sattriya dance tradition is governed by strictly laid down principles in respect of hastamudrasfootworksaharyas, music etc.,
  • It includes Nritta, Nritya and Natya components.
  • The Sattriya dance form can be placed under 2 categories; Paurashik Bhangi, which is the masculine style and ‘Stri Bhangi’, which is the feminine style.
  • Sattriya dance is usually based primarily on the stories of Krishna-Radha relations, or sometimes on the stories of Ram-Sita.
  • Sattriya Nrityais a genre of dance drama that tells mythical and religious stories through hand and face expressions. The basic dance unit and exercise of a Sattriya is called a Mati Akhara, equal 64 just like in Natya Shastra, are the foundational sets dancers learn during their training.
  • The Akharas are subdivided into Ora, Saata, Jhalak, Sitika, Pak, Jap, Lon and Khar. A performance integrates two styles, one masculine (Paurashik Bhangi, energetic and with jumps), and feminine (Stri Bhangi, Lasya or delicate)
  • Traditionally, Sattriyawas performed only by bhokots (male monks) in monasteries as a part of their daily rituals or to mark special festivals on mythological themes. Today, in addition to this practice, Sattriya is also performed on stage by men and women who are not members of the sattras, on themes not merely mythological.
  • It has two distinctly separate streams – the Bhaona-related repertoire starting from the Gayan-Bhayanar Nach to the Kharmanar Nach, secondly the dance numbers which are independent, such as Chali, Rajagharia Chali, Jhumura, Nadu Bhangi etc. Among them the Chali is characterized by gracefulness and elegance, while the Jhumura is marked by vigor and majestic beauty.


  • The costume of Sattriya dance is primarily of two types: the male costume comprising the dhoti and chadar and the paguri ( turban) and the female costume comprising the ghuri, chadar and kanchi (waist cloth).
  • Pat Silk saree (also spelled paat) is the most popular kind of saree used in this dance, which represents the locality through its various colorful motifs and designs.
  • Traditional Assamese jewellery is used in Sattriya dance. The jewelleries are made in a unique technique in Kesa Sun ( raw gold). Artists wear Kopali on the forehead, MuthiKharu and Gam Kharu (bracelets) etc.,
SAttriya Dance -male costume
  • Instruments
  • There are various musical instruments used in this dance, some of which include Khol (drum), Bahi (flute), Violin, Tanpura, Harmonium and Shankha (Conch Shell). The songs are composition of shankaradeva known as ‘Borgeets’
  • The musical instruments used in Sattriya are the Khols or the Drums, the Taals or the Cymbals and the Flute. Non traditional music instruments like Mridangam and Pakhwaj were a part of the music of Rojaghoria Chali Dance. In present time, violin is also commonly used in the music of Sattriya Dance.


  • Exponent’s
  • Some of the leading male artists include Guru Jatin Goswami, Guru Ghanakanta Bora, Manik Barbayan and Bhabananda Barbayan, Late Moniram Dutta, Muktiyar Barbayan, Late Roseshwar Saikia Barbayan, Late Dr. Maheswar Neog Dr Bhupen Hazarika, Late Ananda Mohan Bhagawati while the prominent women dancers include Sharodi Saikia, Indira PP Bora, Anita Sharma, Anwesha Mahanta and Mallika Kandali, among others.


Note: Images credits –

Manipuri dance is one among major classical dance forms of India, especially noted for themes based on Vaishnavism and spectacular execution of ‘Ras Lila’, dance dramas based on love between Radha and Krishna Other themes included in this art form associate with Shaktism, Shaivism and on the sylvan deities called Umang Lai during Manipuri festival ‘Lai Haraoba’.

 This classical dance form primarily originated in the North-Eastern state of Manipur.

Manipuri Dance


History and evolution

  • Its origin is traced back to ancient times.
  • Lai Haraobais one of the main festivals still performed in Manipur which has its roots in the pre-Vaishnavite periodLai Haraoba is the earliest form of dance which forms the basis of all stylised dances in Manipur.

Lai Haraoba festival Celebration

  • Lai Haraoba is the merrymaking of the gods; it is performed as a ceremonial offering of song and dance. The principal performers are the maibasand maibis (priests and priestesses) who re-enact the theme of the creation of the world.( The festival is usually celebrated by the Meitei community and is also referred to as the ‘Festivity of the Gods’.)
  • With he arrival of Vaishnavism in the 15th century A.D., new compositions based on episodes from the life of Radha and Krishna were gradually introduced.
  • It was in the reign of King Bhagyachandra that the popularRasleela dances of Manipur originated. Under successive rulers, new leelas, and rhythmic and melodic compositions were introduced.


Salient features of the dance form

    • The central theme of this dance-form are the love stories of Krishna and Radha.
    • All the technical elements mentioned in the Sangeet Shastras are found in Rasleelas such as Nritta (pure dance), Nritya (interpretative dance) and Natya (theme expressed through 4 kinds of abhinaya), two distinct divisions of tandava and lasya, the prabandhas (musical compositions).
    • The songs are sung in Brajaboli, old Bengali,meitheli Sanskrit, Braj and now in Manipuri language written by devotional poets like Chandidas, Vidyapati, Gyandas, Jaydev and others
    • There are primarily two classifications associated with Manipuri dance-

    Jagoi: Predominant in Ras Leela, this steam highlights the Lasya element described in Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra. Here, the legs are generally bent and the knees are kept together. The feet movements are not as loud and pronounced as in the other classical dances of India.

          Cholam: It represents the Tandava form of classical dance.

    • Manipuri dances are performed thrice in autumn from August to November and once in spring sometime around March-April, all on full moon nights.
    • The dance-drama is performed through excellent display of expressions, hand gestures and body language. Acrobatic and vigorous dance movements are also displayed by Manipuri dancers in many other plays.
    • The costumes for Manipuri dancers, particularly for women are quite unique from other Indian classical dance forms.
    •  A crown decorated with peacock feather adorns the dancer’s head, which portrays the character of Lord Krishna. The costume of female dancers resembles that of a Manipuri bride, referred as Potloi costumes.
    • The swaying movements of the neck and torso are inspired from the bamboo trees lilting in the breeze.
    • The musical instrument generally used in this art form includes the Pung that is a barrel drum, cymbals or kartals, harmonium, flute, pena and sembong

Pung Cholam


Famous exponents

Imminent Manipuri performers include Guru Bipin Singh, his disciple Darshana Jhaveri and her sisters Nayana, Ranjana and Suverna, Charu Mathur and Devyani Chalia among others.


  • Kathak is one of the main genres of ancient Indian classical dance and is traditionally regarded to have originated from the travelling bards of North India referred as Kathakars or storytellers. Are people who narrate stories largely based on episodes from the epics, myths and legends.
  • The Vaishnavite cult which swept North India in the 15th century. and the resultant bhakti movement contributed to a whole new range of lyrics and musical forms. The Radha-Krishna theme proved immensely popular alongwith the works of Mirabai, Surdas, Nandadas and Krishnadas.



History and evolution

  • The roots of this dance form trace back to Sanskrit Hindu text on performing arts called ‘Natya Shastra’
  • Bharhut, a village in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh, India stands as a representative of early Indian art. The 2nd century BC panels found there illustrates sculptures of dancers in different vertical poses with arm positions that resemble Kathak steps, many of which reflect the ‘pataka hasta’ Mudra.
  • With the coming of the Mughals, this dance form received a new impetus. A transition from the temple courtyard to the palace durbartook place which necessitated changes in presentation. In both Hindu and Muslim courts, Kathak became highly stylised and came to be regarded as a sophisticated form of entertainment. Under the Muslims there was a greater stress on nritya and bhava giving the dance graceful, expressive and sensuous dimensions.
  • The nineteenth century saw the golden age of Kathak under the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Oudh. He established the Lucknow gharanawith its strong accent on bhava, the expression of moods and emotions. The Jaipur gharana known for its layakari or rhythmic virtuosity. Raigarh Gharana patronised by Maharaja Chakradhar Singh and the Benaras gharana are other prominent schools of Kathak dance. The technique of movement in Kathak is unique to it.


Salient features of the dance form

  • The weight of the body is equally distributed along the horizontal and vertical axis.
  • The technique is built by the use of an intricate system of foot-work.
  • As in Bharatnatyam, Odissi and Manipuri, Kathak also builds its pure dance sequences by combining units of movement. The cadences are called differently by the names tukratora, and parana– all indicative of the nature of rhythmic patterns used.
  • Kathak has emerged as a distinct dance form. Being the only classical dance of India having links with Muslim culture, it represents a unique synthesis of Hindu and Muslim genius in art.
  • Kathak is the only form of classical dance wedded to Hindustani or the North Indian music. Both of them have had a parallel growth, each feeding and sustaining the other. (Odissi dance uses Odissi music which is blend of Hindustani and Carnatic)
  • Costumes.
    • As Kathak is popular both in Hindu and Muslim communities the costumes of this dance form are made in line with traditions of the respective communities.
    • There are two types of Hindu costumes for female dancers.
    • While the first one includes a sari worn in a unique fashion complimented with a choli or blouse that covers the upper body and a scarf or urhni worn in some places, the other costume includes a long-embroidered skirt with a contrasting choli and a transparent urhni.
  • Instruments
    • A Kathak performance may include a dozen classical instruments depending more on the effect and depth required for a particular performance. Such as- the tabla that harmonizes well with the rhythmic foot movements of the dancer and often imitates sound of such footwork movements or vice-versa to create a brilliant jugalbandi. A manjira that is hand cymbals and sarangi or harmonium are also used most often.
    • The metrical cycle (tala) of 16, 10, 14 beats provide the foundation on which the whole edifice of dance is built.

Kathak dance with Musical Instruments



Famous exponents

  • Imminent personalities associated with Kathak include among others the founders of the different gharanas or schools of this form of classical dance namely Bhanuji of the Jaipur Gharana
  • Janaki Prasad of the Benaras Gharana; Ishwari Prasad, Pandit Birju Maharaj of the Lucknow Gharana; and Raja Chakradhar Singh of the Raigarh Gharana.
Pandit Birju Maharaj
  • It is a semi classical Indian dance with martial, tribal and folk traditions, with origins in eastern India.
  • It is found in three styles named after the location where they are performed, i.e. the Purulia Chau of Bengal, the Seraikella Chau of Jharkhand, and the Mayurbhanj Chau of Odisha.
  • The stories enacted by Chhau dancers include those from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Puranas and other Indian literature

Figure: Chhau


The dancer impersonates a god, animal, bird, hunter, rainbow, night, or flower. He acts out a short theme and performs a series of vignettes at the annual Chaitra Parva festival in April.

In another form of Chhau, practiced in the Mayurbhanj district of Orissa, the actors do not wear masks, but through deliberately stiff and immobile faces they give the illusion of a mask. The style of their dance is vigorous and acrobatic.


Remember: The Chhau mask of Purulia is registered under Geographical Indications.


Salient features associated with this dance form:

  • There are three types of Chhau dance forms: Saraikela, Mayurbhanj and Purulia (West Bengal)
  • Chhau is taught to male dancers from families of traditional artists or from local communities
  • Its vocabulary of movement includes mock combat techniques, stylized gaits of birds and animals and movements modelled on the chores of village housewives.
  • The dancer’s face being expressionless, the chhau dancer’s body communicates the total emotional and psychological tensions of a character.
  • The dancer is mute; no song is sung. Only instrumental music accompanies him
  • The dance is rhythmic and is set to traditional folk music, played on the reed pipes mohuri and shehnai.
  • Chhau dance was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010