Indian classical dance

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Bharata Natyam a traditional dance of Tamil Nadu
Kathak from northern India
A Kathakali 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 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).


These are:

  • Dances performed inside the sanctum of the temple according to the rituals were called Agama Nartanam. Natya Shastra classifies this type of dance form as margi, or the soul-liberating dance.
  • Dances performed in royal courts to the accompaniment of classical music were called Carnatakam. In the most essential sense, a Hindu deity is a revered royal guest in his temple/abode, to be offered the "sixteen hospitality" - among which are music and dance, pleasing to the senses. This was an intellectual art form.

The term "classical" (Sanskrit: "Shastriya") was introduced by Sangeet Natak Akademi to denote the Natya Shastra-based performing art styles. The Classical dance form performed usually describes a story between the good and the evil. As the entire dance is presented in a dramatic manner nritta it enforces clean facial expressions and mudrā or hand gestures to narrate a story and to demonstrate certain concepts such as objects, weather, nature and emotions. Thus, the 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 includes singing and abhinaya (mime acting). These features are common to all of the Indian classical styles. In the margi form, Nritta is composed of karanas, while desi nritta consists mainly of adavus.

Dance forms

The Natya Shastra authored by Bharata Muni, mentions the names of no classical dance form recognized today, but in its fourteenth chapter the four Pravrittis are listed as: Dakshinatya, Audramagadhi, Avanti, and Panchali. All these traditional dance forms declined in popularity during the British colonial rule. Revival of these dance forms started around the middle of the 20th century.

Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Mohiniyattam were evolved from the Pravritti named Dakshinatya. The Audramagadhi represents the dance of Audramagadha, comprising territories of Anga, Banga, North part of Kalinga and Vatsa (Sloka is angabangautkalingavatsachaiva audramagadha). From this Odissi in Odisha, Satriya in Assam and Gaudiya Nritya in Bengal were evolved. Little is known about the two other forms of Avanti and Panchali.

Sangeet Natak Akademi has given its awards to eight[1] Indian dance styles, and in its Natya Sangam (festival of dance), artistes from other classical dance forms have been invited to perform. Some sources have a different view about the listings of Indian classical dance forms.[2][3] For instance, the Encyclopædia Britannica mentions six recognized schools.[4] The Ministry of Culture of Government of India, has increased the dance forms that it accepts as a part of Indian classical dance repertory by providing scholarships to young artistes in Indian Classical Dance/ Dance Music. It currently confers classical dance status to eleven dance forms.[5] The recognized classical dance forms by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and 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 and Bihar) 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 the 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 dances, whose theories and techniques can also be traced back to the Natya Shastra[citation needed] 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 most 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 indicating Vaachikaabhinaya.

Kuchipudi, which also prescribes the lip movements indicating Vaachikaabhinaya, and Mohiniyattam are relatively recent Darbari Aatam forms, as is Kathakali, and two eastern Indian styles, Manipuri and Sattriya, that are quite similar.

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 used in most other Indian classical forms. Intricate footwork and spins, as well as abhinaya, are the 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 one most closely following 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 specialises 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

External links