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Indian classical dance

File:Kuchipudi Performer DS.jpg
Kuchipudi, a classical dance of Andhra Pradesh
File:Rekha Raju DS 2.jpg
A Mohiniyattam (originated in Kerala) performing
File:Odissi Performance DS.jpg
Odissi is originally from Odisha state
File:Kathakali BNC.jpg
A Kathakali (originated in Kerala) performing
File:Krishnakahi Kashyap performing Sattriya Dance.jpg
Sattriya Dance has its origin in the Sattras of Assam
File:Rasa Lila in Manipuri dance style.jpg
Manipuri dance with scenes from the life of Lord Krishna

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


Indian classical 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. 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. The "sixteen hospitalities" please 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 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. Natya 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, written by Bharata Muni, does not mention the name of any classical dance forms recognized today, but listed 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 dancers from other classical forms are invited to perform. Sources differ on the listing of Indian classical dance forms.[2][3] 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 of these elements. Other art dances are yet to be recognized as classical dance. The applicable theories and techniques that can 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 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 it.

Kuchipudi, which also prescribes the lip movements of Vaachikaabhinaya and Mohiniyattam are relatively recent Darbari Aatam forms as isKathakali. Additionally two eastern Indian styles, Manipuri and Sattriya, 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 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. One major change is straight legs instead of the bent knees exhibited in most other Indian classical forms. Intricate footwork and spins, as well as abhinaya are its main highlights.

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 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

External links