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8 Classical Dance Forms of India with Origin States

India has a very rich culture of dance and music, coming from every state in the country. The number of recognised classical dances range from eight to more, depending on the source and scholar.

Eight well known classical dances of India recognized by Sangeet Natak Academy are Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakali, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam. These dances are traditionally regional, all of them include music and recitation in local language or Sanskrit, and they represent a unity of core ideas in a diversity of styles, costumes and expression. The folk dances of India are much more than mere body movements, from the very ancient times the classical dance forms of India are considered as a discipline and a way to devote yourself to God through art.

List of 15 Dance Forms of India :

  • Bharatnatyam, Tamil Nadu

  • Kathak, Uttar Pradesh

  • Kuchipudi, Andhra Pradesh

  • Odissi, Odisha

  • Kathakali, Kerala

  • Sattriya, Assam

  • Manipuri, Manipur

  • Mohiniyattam, Kerala

(1) Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam is the oldest classical dance tradition of India. It is a major form of Indian classical dance that originated in the state of Tamil Nadu. It expresses South Indian religious themes and spiritual ideas, particularly of Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism. Theoretical foundations of the Indian classical dance laid out in Natya Shastra can be traced to various ancient art forms including Bharatanatyam. Bharatanatyam style is noted for its fixed upper torso, bent legs and knees flexed (Aramandi) combined with spectacular footwork, and a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language based on gestures of hands, eyes and face muscles.

(2) Kathak

The origin of Kathak is traditionally attributed to the travelling bards of ancient northern India known as Kathakars or story tellers. Kathak is one of the eight forms of Indian classical dance and found in three distinct forms of gharanas, from Jaipur, Banaras and Lucknow. The term Kathak is derived from the Vedic Sanskrit word Katha which means "story", and Kathakar which means "the one who tells a story", or "to do with stories". Wandering Kathakars communicated stories from the great epics and ancient mythology through dance, songs and music. Kathak dancers tell various stories through their hand movements and extensive footwork, but most importantly through their facial expressions.

(3) Kuchipudi

Kuchipudi is also one of the major Indian classical dance. It originated in a village named Kuchipudi in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi is a dance-drama performance, with its roots in the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text of Natya Shastra. It developed as a religious art linked to travelling bards, temples and spiritual beliefs, like all major classical dances of India. Kuchipudi largely developed as a Hindu god Krishna-oriented Vaishnavism tradition, and it is most closely related to Bhagavata Mela.

(4) Odissi

Odissi is a major ancient Indian classical dance that originated in the Hindu temples of Odisha. Odissi, in its history, was performed predominantly by women, and expressed religious stories and spiritual ideas, particularly of Vaishnavism (Vishnu as Jagannath). Odissi performances have also expressed ideas of other traditions such as those related to Hindu gods Shiva and Surya, as well as Hindu goddesses. Odissi is traditionally a dance-drama genre of performance art, where the artist(s) and musicians play out a mythical story, a spiritual message or devotional poem from the Hindu texts, using symbolic costumes, body movement, abhinaya (expressions) and mudras (gestures and sign language) set out in ancient Sanskrit literature.

(5) Kathakali

Kathakali is a major form of classical Indian dance. Kathakali is a Hindu performance art in the Malayalam-speaking southwestern region of India. It is a "story play" genre of art, but one distinguished by the elaborately colorful make-up, costumes and face masks that the traditional male actor-dancers wear. A Kathakali performance, like all classical dance arts of India, synthesizes music, vocal performers, choreography and hand and facial gestures together to express ideas. However, Kathakali differs in that it also incorporates movements from ancient Indian martial arts and athletic traditions of South India. It also differs in that the structure and details of its art form developed in the courts and theatres of Hindu principalities, unlike other classical Indian dances which primarily developed in Hindu temples and monastic schools.

(6) Sattriya

Sattriya originated in the eastern state of Assam. It is a dance-drama performance art with origins in the Krishna-centered Vaishnavism monasteries of Assam. One-act plays of Sattriya are called Ankiya Nat, which combine the aesthetic and the religious through a ballad, dance and drama. The plays are usually performed in the dance community halls of monastery temples. The themes played relate to Krishna and Radha, sometimes other Vishnu avatars such as Rama and Sita. Recognized in 2000 as a classical dance by Sangeet Natak Academy of India, modern Sattriya explores many themes and plays, and its performances staged worldwide.

(7) Manipuri

Manipuri dance is also known as Jagoi. It is one of the major Indian classical dance forms, named after the region of its origin – Manipur, a state in northeastern India. It is particularly known for its Hindu Vaishnavism themes, and exquisite performances of love-inspired dance drama of Radha-Krishna called Raslila. The Manipuri dance is a team performance, with its own unique costumes, aesthetics, conventions and repertoire. The Manipuri dance drama is, for the most part, marked by a performance that is graceful, fluid, sinuous with greater emphasis on hand and upper body gestures. It is accompanied with devotional music created with many instruments, with the beat set of cymbals (kartal or manjira) and double-headed drum of sankirtan. Manipuri dance is a religious art and its aim is the expression of spiritual values.

(8) Mohiniyattam

Mohiniyattam is one of the famous classical dances of India that developed and remained popular in the state of Kerala. Mohiniyattam dance gets its name from the word Mohini – a mythical enchantress avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. Mohiniyattam's roots, like all classical Indian dances, are in the Natya Shastra. It is traditionally a solo dance performed by women after extensive training. The repertoire of Mohiniyattam includes music in the Carnatic style, singing and acting a play through the dance, where the recitation may be either by a separate vocalist or the dancer herself.

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