Classical Dances of India: Everything you need to know about

India is known for its rich cultural legacy. Performing arts like classical dances are integral parts of Indian culture. This is a mega-post which cover the details of all classical dances in India.

Origin of classical dances

Most of the classical dance forms originated in temples. Worshipping was the main aim. Although every dance form evolved from different regions, their roots are the same. The roots can be traced from the Sanskrit text – ‘Natya Shastra’. The first compilation of Natya Shastra is dated between 200BCE and 200CE.

As time passed, artists improvised many classical dances which resulted in the present day forms. Today, Indian classical dances are very popular dance all over the world.

Rasanubhuti: The 8 Rasas
The Rasanubhuti is the ultimate aim of these dance forms. Natya Shastra speaks of Eight Rasas. They are as following:

Shringar: Love
Hasya: Humorous
Karuna: Sorrow
Raudra: Anger
Veer: Heroism
Bhayanak: Fear
Bibhats: Disgust
Adbhoot: Wonder
Note: Later Abhinav Gupta added a ninth one to it, Shanta: Peace.

What are classical dances?

Unlike folk dances, classical dances are all about technicalities and strict rules. Acharya Nandikeshawara’s ‘Abhinaya Darpan’ and Sharangdev’s ‘Sangeeth Ratnakar’ (Nartanadhyaya), along with the Natya Shastra forms the foundation of technicalities of all the classical dance forms (which includes their body movements, rasa, bhava etc).

There are Nine Classical Dances as recognized by Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Let’s have a look at these classical dances – one by one.

Bharatnatyam

A dance that encompasses Bhav, Rag, Ras and Taal is ‘Bharatanatyam’. Also called as ‘Sadir’, it was conventionally performed by Devadasis (girls offered to God in the temple) in Hindu Temples of South India. Thus, also known as ‘Dasiattam’. Developed in the Tanjore and other regions of South India prominently Tamil Nadu, this could possibly be the Oldest Classical Dance form of India (around 2000 years old). It follows the convention of Natya Shastra in true spirit. Abhinaya Darpan and Sangeet Ratnakar guide the technique and grammar of body

kathak

The graceful dance of North India origin ‘Kathaa’ ‘Kahe’ so ‘Kathak’ ‘Kahave’, the one who tells stories is Kathakaar or Kathak. Also known as ‘Natwari Nrutya’. Kathak is one of the most charming dance forms of India. The themes of Kathak revolve around Stories of Ramayan, Mahabharat, and Krishna. Apart from this, Kathak encompasses presentations on manifold subjects. Raslila of Braj is quite akin to Kathak. A Solo Dance form but group compositions on themes with perfect synchronization steals the heart.

odissi

The long-established dance form in the serene surroundings of Shri Jagannath Temple in Odisha is famous as ‘Odissi’. It has its mention in the oldest Sanskrit Text – Natya Shastra as Audramagdhi. In ancient days this dance form filled with Bhakti ras was a part of worship to God at Jagannath temples. Thus we find many sculptures in dance position inside the temple.

It has a combination of Lasya and Tandav. Graceful and mesmerizing, it appears like waves of the ocean. Odissi is famous for its presentations on poet Jayadev’s fabulous work.

Two styles of traditional Odissi
Maharis (Devadasis or Temple Girls).
Gotipua ( Performed by Boys).

Kuchipudi

The Kuchipudi was originated from the place named ‘Kuchipudi’ in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh around 3rd century BCE, Kuchipudi Dance form is a long-established dance-drama style.

Tirtha Narayana Yati and his disciple Siddhendra Yogi organized and founded the modern version of Kuchipudi which we see today. Kuchipudi gradually developed as a solo dance form and today we can see both male and female performing it. Kuchipudi are themes related to Vaishnavism, Lord Krishna, Rukmini, Satyabhama and other myths. Kuchipudi also holds certain specialties of Bharatnatyam and Odissi as well.

Kathakali

Dazzling classical dance of Kerala is Kathakali. ‘Katha’= Story or tale, ‘Kali’= Performance and Art. Its roots are in ancient ‘Kutiyattam’ (Classical Sanskrit Dance Drama) and ‘Krishnattam’ (Dance-Drama depicting Stories of Hindu God Krishna). Movements in Kathakali are influenced by ancient martial arts and athletic tradition. It is basically a Dance-Drama. Kathakali was traditionally a male-dominated dance and now females are too welcomed in this dance form. Kathakali is also famous for its huge elaborate costumes, amazing make-up style, face masks, and ornaments.

Unlike other Classical Dances, Kathakali art form developed in the courts and theaters of Hindu principalities. The traditional performances were used to be as long from Dusk to dawn. Modern day presentations are short as per the time limit of the program. The Kerala Kalamandalam is the main center for Kathakali Artists. Kathakali has similarities with other dance forms like that of the Japanese ‘ Noh’ and ‘Kabuki’ dance forms have similarities with Kathakali.

Mohiniattam

Another graceful Classical Dance of Kerala, Mohiniattam is Lasya inspired dance with soft, calm and gentle movements. Characterized as Feminine, usually done by women. The word ‘Mohini’ is related to the charming women avatar of Lord Vishnu – to end the evil powers. Mohiniattam also connotes, beautiful dancing women. The graceful and most beautiful, Mohiniattam is mesmerizing. The text ‘Hastha Lakshanadeepika’ is followed (for hand gestures and facial expressions) that has an elaborate description of mudras.

Manipuri

The Manipuri dance form named after its region of origin, ‘Manipur’ is also known as ‘Jogai’. It was traditionally performed as a dance – drama on devotional songs, Manipuri showcases the love between Radha- Krishna through Raaslila. Manipuri is a combination of two culture- Indian and South-East Asian. The Manipuri dance form is categorized as Tandav or Lasya.

The beautifully soft and graceful dance form, Manipuri has significant movements of hands and upper body. A curvy body structure with a pleasant smile, decorative, shiny costumes, and ornaments, Manipuri is indeed a mesmerizing dance form. Another uniqueness of this dance form is that, while Ghunghroos (Bells) glorify the classical dances of India, they are not worn in Manipuri.

Sattriya

Sattriya is the traditional dance –drama of Assam. Sattriya was recognized in 2000 as Classical Dance by Sangeet Natak Akademi. It is influenced by Vaishnavism and the modern form of Sattriya is attributed to the 15th century Bhakti Movement Scholar and Saint Srimanta Sankaradev. Since 15th Century, Sattriya grew as a part of Vaishnav Bhakti Movement in Hindu Monasteries called ‘Sattra’. Sattras are the dance community halls (namghar) of monastery temples. Today it is popular worldwide.

Chhau Dance

The Chhau is a blend of folk, tribal and martial arts. ‘Chhau’ – is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Chaaya’, meaning Shadow, image or mask. Also, Chhau is defined by Sitakanta Mahapatra to be derived from Chhauni ( Military Camp) in Odia language. Traditionally performed by Males – Male troupes.

The Chhau has three different types originating from three different regions. Every type has its own unique feature, pattern, and style of performing and ornamentation as well.

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