The Classical Dance of India - Seeker's Thoughts

Recent Posts

Seeker's Thoughts

A blog for the curious and the creative.

The Classical Dance of India

The Classical Dance of India


Bharatnatyam is the most widely performed form of Indian classical dance, famed for its graceful movements expressing complex emotions while telling compelling tales through body language.


Kathak is an ancient classical Indian dance that involves facial expressions. It derives its form from Natya Shastra, an ancient Sanskrit scripture written by Bharata Muni and written down over 1,500 years ago.




Bharatanatyam, or Indian classical dance, is both graceful and breathtaking. An ancient art form dating back to 1000 BC, its history dates back to this highly structured dance form that features precise movements accompanied by facial expressions and gestures to produce stunning results. 


 Performed by both male and female dancers who perform Carnatic music accompaniment while wearing custom-made saris with musical anklets known as ghunghroos worn over musical anklets known as ghunghroos; feet and hands often feature brightened colors to emphasize gestures made while performing Bharatanatyam's graceful movement and precision is simply astounding!


Natyashastra, an ancient Hindu text, forms the basis for Bharatanatyam dance, with its system of bhava, raga and tala. Codified by Sage Bharata himself, Bharatanatyam is widely considered one of India's premier dance forms and requires years of intensive training - its onstage debut, known as an Arangetram ceremony marks completion of this long process of study and training.


Kathak is an ancient form of dance-drama from northern India that uses movement and music to tell stories through dancers' bodies and voice. Its origins date back to Vedic India where Kathakars were bards who told stories related to religion or mythology while performing along side musicians and actors.


Dance was widely revered art form in India until colonialism took hold, when its reputation took a significant blow during this era. Courtesans became associated with it while its usage gradually moved toward temples; in response, artists such as Bala Saraswati and Rukmini Devi Arundale led a reforming effort that sought to recover this sacred art from negative social perceptions that stigmatised its female practitioners who were considered devadasis or temple servants.




Kathak dance is an ancient Indian classical form that tells stories through movement. Accompanied by music, Kathak embodies Hindu spirituality while remaining highly athletic and precise - its inspiration coming from various Indian musical genres including thumri, dadra and horis. Pandit Birju Maharaj and Sitara Devi are two renowned exponents of this form.


Kathak dance is an ancient Hindu theatrical form rooted in Natya Shastra, or theater text, while "Katha" comes from Sanskrit for story. Historically, Kathak has been both devotional and entertaining in nature, such as during early Bhakti movements that saw performers mostly telling tales about Krishna and Radha. Unfortunately, colonial rule in the 19th century caused its decline along with many other Indian classical arts forms: Christian missionaries as well as British officials often looked down upon dancers with stigmatized them as "nautch girls".


Under Wajid Ali Shah, Nawab of Oudh, Kathak was transformed into an exciting and sensuous style known as Lucknow Gharana of Kathak. Modern practitioners still draw influence from both these schools of kathak.


Kathak dancers wear long cholis that cover their upper bodies, while their lower half is often draped in skirt or sarees. Accessories such as scarves and jewelry add color and texture to their costumes; scarves can also add depth of color. Female Kathak dancers typically sport bindis (colored dot in center forehead) for added flair; for maximum freedom while still remaining protected from sunlight they may choose tying around shoulders an dupatta like that found in traditional Indian saris (and not tied around their shoulders like its counterpart).




Manipuri dance is an integral component of Hinduism that blends both pure dancing and interpretative dancing into one genre, creating fluid and graceful movements with no belled ankles; hands and feet often move fluidly in circles while music accompanied by drum called Pung and Cymbals provides accompaniment for this unique style of Hindu dancers wearing unique costumes with elaborate embroidery skirts designed specifically to avoid stimulation that could potentially cause harm.


Manipuri dance is heavily influenced by the Bhakti movement and many of its themes can be found in saint lyricists like Jayadeva, Chandidas and Vidyapati's poetry. Although predominantly masculine in its presentation, there is also a feminine element known as Lasya which gives this form its unique quality.


Dancers commonly employ the 'Naga Bandha mudra', wherein both upper and lower bodies curl into one another in an undulating gesture. A short veil covers the head while the entire body moves fluidly with smooth movement.


Tandava-style dance favors Vaishnavism and Shaktism; lasya dance tends to focus more on love stories like Radha-Krishna's.


Historical dance was an entertaining form of entertainment; however, with British rule came its decline and anti-dance movements that discriminated against Manipuri dancers. Following India's independence however, dance revival occurred and remains a significant part of India culture today.


Manipuri is also well known for its martial arts. The Thang-ta dance features performers armed with swords and spears strutting around while singers sing in the background.




Mohiniyattam, or mohiniyattom, is an elegant dance form from Kerala that emphasizes feminine emotions. With deep roots in Indian folklore and frequently performed by female dancers with Carnatic music accompaniment and acting and singing performances included as elements, this form often draws its themes from love stories or mythological tales such as Bhasmasura's animosity towards Lord Shiva in its performances to mesmerize audiences and capture hearts. 


The main aim is enthrall and mesmerize its audiences!


Mohiniyattam follows the Natya Shastra as its basis, serving as an authoritative text across most Indian classical dance forms. Mohiniyattam offers two performance categories - Nritta and Nritya; with Nritta emphasizing speed, pattern, range and rhythmic aspects while Nritya employing expressive gestures synchronized to music that convey stories or spiritual themes.


Mohiniyattam adheres to a stringent set of rules designed to keep its dance from appearing obscene or indecent, such as no sudden jerks and refraining from lifting legs above knee level. These restrictions aim to stay true to Lasya, which emphasizes feminine movements as being gentle and graceful.


Mohiniyattam dance has undergone many changes since its revival at Kalamandalam in 1930, yet still retains its seductive grace and continuous process of innovation. Today it is taught by only a select few dancers and institutions - an absolute must-see experience when visiting Kerala!




Kuchipudi is a classical dance form from Andhra Pradesh in India that is highly expressive and graceful, incorporating both nritta and nritya elements of Indian dancing into one expressive style of movement. Like other classical forms it features storyline elements similar to other Indian classical forms;


 Kuchipudi draws its basis from an ancient Hindu Sanskrit text named Natya Shastra written by Bharata Muni and with over 6000 verses across 36 chapters that focuses on performing arts - making it one of the oldest texts ever written on dance!


Kuchipudi performances typically revolve around Hindu traditions of Vaishnavism and Krishna, taking inspiration from scriptures and mythology; particularly beloved dance-drama themes include Satyabhama's entrance as Lord Krishna's second consort Satyabhama is often featured.


An authentic Kuchipudi recital begins with an invocation, which consists of a short dance-and-song piece that introduces each of the major roles. Next comes an expressive yet abstract nritya dance piece; then comes an elaborated version of that same nritya dance later in the recital; finally another natya number is performed before returning back to repeat it again, this time adding some personal flourishes.


Kuchipudi performances feature Carnatic music with main instruments including mridangam, veena and flute; its conductor is known as Sutradhara. Dancer movements are synched to music for an obvious sense of dialogue known as Vachika abhinaya that adds drama to performances. Notable Kuchipudi dancers include Yamini Reddy, Raja and Radha Reddy Kaushalya Reddy and Lakshmi Narayan Shastri among many others.

No comments:

Post a Comment