Classical Indian Dance

Bharata Natyam a traditional dance of Tamil Nadu
Kathak from northern India
A Kathakali (originated in Kerala) performer in the virtuous pachcha (green) role
Kuchipudi, a classical dance of Andhra Pradesh
Manipuri dance with scenes from the life of Lord Krishna
A Mohiniyattam (originated in Kerala) performer in Ananda Sayana posture
Odissi is originally from Odisha state
Sattriya Dance has its origin in the Sattras of Assam

Indian classical dance is an umbrella term for various codified art forms rooted in Natya and sacred Hindu musical theatre styles whose theory can be traced back to the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni (400 BCE).


Indian classical dances are:

  • Dances are performed inside the sanctum of the temple according to the rituals called Agama Nartanam. Natya Shastra classifies this type of dance form as margi, or a soul-liberating dance.
  • Dances performed in royal courts to the accompaniment of classical music are called Carnatakam. In the most essential sense, a Hindu deity is considered a revered royal guest in his temple, and should be offered all of the "sixteen hospitalities," among which are music and dance. All of the "sixteen hospitalities" are intended to be pleasing to the senses.

The term "classical" (Sanskrit: "Shastriya") was introduced by Sangeet Natak Akademi to denote the Natya Shastra-based performing art styles. Classical dance performances usually feature a story about good and evil. The entire dance is traditionally presented in a dramatic manner called nritta, which uses "clean" facial expressions and mudrā, or hand gestures, to narrate the story and to demonstrate concepts such as particular objects, weather, aspects of nature, and emotions. Classical Indian dance is also known as Natya. Even though the art of Natya includes nritta or dance proper, Natya has never been limited to dancing and also includes singing and abhinaya (mime acting). These features are common to all Indian classical styles of dance. In the margi form, Nritta is composed of karanas, while desi nritta consists mainly of adavus.

Dance forms

The Natya Shastra, as written by Bharata Muni, does not mention the names of any classical dance forms recognized today, but it lists the four Pravrittis as Dakshinatya, Audramagadhi, Avanti, and Panchali.

Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Mohiniyattam evolved from the Pravritti form called Dakshinatya.

Audramagadhi represents the regional dance of Audramagadha, comprising the territories of Anga, Banga, the northern part of Kalinga and Vatsa (Sloka is angabangautkalingavatsachaiva audramagadha). This led to the evolution of Odissi in Odisha, Satriya in Assam and Gaudiya Nritya in Bengal. Little is known about the two other forms described by Bharata Muni, Avanti and Panchali.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi has given recognition to eight[1] Indian dance styles. The Akademi holds a Natya Sangam (festival of dance) during which artists from other classical dance forms are invited to perform. However, some sources have differing views on the listing of Indian classical dance forms.[2][3] For instance, the Encyclopædia Britannica mentions six recognized schools.[4] The Indian government's Ministry of Culture has increased the number of dance forms that it accepts as part of Indian classical dance repertory and provides scholarships to young performers for the study of "Indian Classical Dance/ Dance Music." It currently confers classical dance status to eleven dance forms.[5] The classical dance forms recognized by the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Ministry of Culture are represented below:

Dance form State(s) of origin Recognition by
Sangeet Natak
Recognition by
Ministry of
Bharatanatyam Tamil Nadu Yes Yes
Chhau Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand No Yes
Gaudiya Nritya West Bengal No Yes
Kathak Northern India (Uttar Pradesh) Yes Yes
Kathakali Kerala Yes Yes
Kuchipudi Andhra Pradesh Yes Yes
Manipuri Manipur Yes Yes
Mohiniyattam Kerala Yes Yes
Odissi Odisha Yes Yes
Sattriya Assam Yes Yes
Thang Ta Manipur No Yes

A dance style is classical to the extent that it incorporates Natya Shastra techniques. Some of the styles, such as Kathak, use very few elements found in Natya Shastra. Other art dances yet to be recognized as classical dance. The applicable theories and techniques that can be traced back to the Natya Shastra, are:

  1. Andhra Natyam — Telugu art dance
  2. Vilasini Nrityam/Natyam — Telugu art dance
  3. Kerala Natanam — Kerala classical dance

Of the recognized dance forms, the only two temple dance styles that have their origin in Natya Shastra and are prescribed by the Agamas are Bharata Natyam and Odissi. These two dances faithfully adhere to the Natya Shastra but currently do not include Vaachikaabhinaya (dialog acts), although some styles of Bharata Natyam, such as Melattur style, prescribe the lip and eye movements that characterize Vaachikaabhinaya.

Kuchipudi, which also prescribes the lip movements of Vaachikaabhinaya and Mohiniyattam are relatively recent Darbari Aatam forms as isKathakali. Additionally there are two eastern Indian styles, Manipuri and Sattriya, that are very similar to Vaachikaabhinaya.

Kathak originated as a court dance, and some believe it evolved from Lord Krishna's raas lilas, forms of which have also evolved into the Garba-style dances popular in North India and Gujarat. The style gradually changed during the Mughal period under the influence of Persian dance, a major change being straight knees instead of the bent knees exhibited in most other Indian classical forms. Intricate footwork and spins, as well as abhinaya are the main highlights of Kathak.

Currently, Sangeet Natak Akademi does not consider the recently reconstructed dance styles of Andhra Pradesh, such as Andhra Natyam and Vilasini Natyam, as "classical." Bharatanrithyam, despite being the dance that most closely follows the Natya Shastra's precepts, is considered as a variety of Bharata Natyam.


Sabhas are the organizations involved in the promotion of classical art forms in South India. Ganamukundhapriya is one such Sabha that specializes in classical dances. Various events are held each year to celebrate classical dance.


  1. ^ "SNA: Guidelines for Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards::". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  2. ^ "Indian Classical Dance". One India. 2009-04-19. Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  3. ^ Narayan, Shovana (2005). Indian classical dances: "ekam sat vipraah bahudaa vadanti". Shubhi Publications. p. 5. 
  4. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. dance (performing arts) : Indian classical dance. Retrieved 03-11-2010.
  5. ^ "Scholarship to Young Artistes". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  • Ambrose, Kay (1984). Classical Dances and Costumes of India. Palgrave Macmillan. 
  • Andhra Pradesh Portal: Dance. Andhra Pradesh Government. Retrieved 2010-11-03. 

Further reading

  • Massey, Reginald (2004). India's dances: their history, technique, and repertoire. Abhinav Publications. 
  • Revealing the Art of Natyasastra by Narayanan Chittoor Namboodiripad ISBN 9788121512183

External links

  • Classical Indian dance at DMOZ
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