Dance in India

Dance in India

Dance in India covers a wide range of dance and dance theatre forms, from the ancient classical or temple dance to folk and modern styles.

Three best-known Hindu deities, Shiva, Kali and Krishna, are typically represented dancing.[1] There are hundreds of Indian folk dances such as Bhangra, Bihu, Ghumura Dance, Sambalpuri, Chhau and Garba and special dances observed in regional festivals. India offers a number of classical Indian dance forms, each of which can be traced to different parts of the country. The presentation of Indian dance styles in film, Hindi Cinema, has exposed the range of dance in India to a global audience.The gods and goddesses are invoked through the religious folk dance forms from good old times. Mention may be made of Ram-lila Nach, Kirtaniya Nach, Kunjvasi Nach and Naradi Nach, Bhagata Nach, Vidapat Nach and Puja Art Nach in this category. Minimum use is made of musical instruments and dancer performs the dances without humming the tune.


Classical dance

Bharatanatyam dancer

Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people. The criteria for being considered as classical is the style's adherence to the guidelines laid down in Natyashastra by the sage Bharata Muni, which explains the Indian art of acting."The date and authorship of the Bharata Natya Shastra are both in dispute. The book has been variously dated from the 2nd century B.C to the 3rd century A.D, but there is even less certainty about the author. 'Bharata' originally meant a dancer-actor so that the title could mean simply 'A Shastra on Drama for the Dancer-Actor'. On the other hand 'Bharata' is also a name, and so it is possible that the title means 'A Shastra on Drama by Bharata'. However, for practical purposes, whatever his real name might have been, the saga of the Natya Shastra is called Bharata".[2] Acting or natya is a broad concept which encompasses both drama and dance.

Those who worship Vishnu are considered Vaishnavas. The dance style performed by Sri Krishna (an Avatar of Vishnu) and the gopis in Vrindavan is called Rasa-Lila, and is considered as a form of devotional dance. Many other Indian classical dances are used to illustrate events from the Puranas related to or describing Vishnu.

The national Sangeet Natak Akademi currently confers classical status on nine Indian dance styles: Bharatanatyam (Tamil Nadu), Gaudiya Nritya (Bengal), Kathak (North India), Kathakali (Kerala), Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), Manipuri (Manipur), Mohiniyattam (Kerala), Odissi (Orissa), and Sattriya (Assam).


The origins of the Kathakali come from Kerala, one of the smallest states of the Indian Union. This is where traders from other countries first came, for the Malabar coast has the longest history in India of contact with different lands. The Kathakali is, in fact, the result of a marriage between the pre-Aryan Dravidian dances and the later ones which were introduced by the Brahmins. It combines the consciousness, the religious practices and the techniques of these two cultural streams in perfect harmony and balance. In the dance, the Chakkyiar was accompanied on a large copper drum called a mizhavu, by a drummer who was always of the Nambiar caste, and also by a woman who played a pair of small brass cymbals. She was of the same cste but was known as a Nangiar. Hse beat out the time solemnly, for she was expected to remain serious an straight-faced, no matter how amusing the performance of the Chakkyiar. This solo performance had two other names, Pradhand-kuttu and sometimes Kathaprasangam Manthrakam. [3]

Ottan Tullal

The Ottan Tullal means, literally, “running and jumping.” It was created by the poet Kunjan Nambiar in the mid-eighteenth century. According to one story, Nambiar was a member of a troupe maintained by the Raja of Ambalapuzha. One particular performance he was, it seems, overlooked for a part, which he felt, was in accordance with his talent and experience. However, he satisfied his ego by taking an artist;s revenge. On the day of the performance he stationed himself opposite the palace and began to sing at the top of his voice as he danced to the accompaniment of the loud drumming. The content of is song was satirical in its criticism of the establishment. He attracted crowds, and Ottan Tullal was born. In the second account, Nambiar is said to have been playing the drum for a performance of Chakkiyar-kuttu and at one point made a mistake. Embarrassed at this public rebuke, Kunjan resolved to prove his worth and redeem his good name. The next day the Chakkiyar was performing as usual in his corner of the templ, with an attentive and admiring audience around him, but this time he had competition. In another part of the temple stood Kunjan Nambiar. He was dressed in an entirely new kind of costume, his singing and dancing too were quite different from anything the people had ever seen. At first they turned to him from sheer curiosity but gradually as they listened, they became absorbed in this novel exposition until finally Chakkiyar was left with hardly anyone to pay attention to him. Ottan Tullal has now become known as “the poor man’s Kathali”. This is because, in comparison, with that dane-drama, it is cheap to put on. There is only one performer, who plays all the parts in turn. The musical accompaniment is also simple, for it requires only one drummer, who plays on anelongated drum called the maddalam, one cymbal player who keeps the tal on his little cymbals, and sometimes a singer. The singer assists and occasionally takes over the singing from the dancer, who normally does at least some of the singing himself. The technique of the dance is also very similar to the Kathakali, but not quite as formal and inflexible.. There are also no settings, no props, not even a curtain. The make-up od the dancer is not very intricate and though the costume is very colorful, it is not as elaborate as that of Kathakali.[4]

Dasi Attam

The home of Dasi Attam is in the south, in the area covered by the States of Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka. Like all the other classical dances of India, Dasi Attam too has its roots in the Natya Shastra of Bharata. It derives its name from its chief exponents in ancient times who were the devadasis or woman in the service of the gods, and so Dasi Attam means "the dance of the devadasis". Relatively recently the term "Bharata Natyam" has come into general use for the dance hitherto known as Dasi attam. This change may well have been made in an attempt to dissociate the art from the devadasis who had come to be regarded as disreputable practitioners.[5]

Mohini Attam

Mohini Attam is named after the seductress supreme of Hindu mythology who appears in several stories. But the original, far from being a mortal woman, was in fact the god Vishnu who had assumed feminine form. The gods and asuras, it is said, once churned the oceans, in order to extract Amrita, the elixir of life. All went well until the elixir had been extracted, but then there arose a dispute as who was to have it the gods or the demons? Since the gods considered that the demons were being unfair, Vishnu decided to take the matter into his own hands. Accordingly, he assumed the form of the most beautiful woman imaginable. This Mohini had the graceful curves of a vine, her limbs shone with the full bloom of youth, her face enchanted all who looked upon it. As soon as the asuras saw Mohini they desired her. She fled and they followed. In this way the asuras were enticed away from Amrita and the gods carried it off. From stories such as these, the name Mohini came to be synonymous with the essence of feminine beauty and allurement, and Mohini Attam is a dance which displays just such qualities. It is a solo dance, reserved exclusively for woman. Its history is not very certain. What is known is that it was patronized about 150 years age by a prince of Travancore, and became very popular. In technique it lies somewhere between Dasi Attam and the lasya aspect of was eminently suitable for use by loose woman, and was frequently used by them to attract would-be clients. This led to its unpopularity and eventual decline at the beginning of the century. [6]

Hindi films

A "Indian" dance sequence

Dance in early Hindi films, was primarily modelled on classical Indian dance styles and particularly those of historic northern Indian courtesans (tawaif), or folk dances. Modern films often blend this earlier style with Western dance styles (MTV or in Broadway musicals), though it is not unusual to see Western pop and adapted classical dance numbers side by side in the same film. The hero or heroine will often perform with a troupe of supporting dancers. Many song-and-dance routines in Indian films feature unrealistically instantaneous shifts of location and/or changes of costume between verses of a song. If the hero and heroine dance and sing a pas de deux (a French ballet term, meaning "dance of two") often staged in beautiful natural surroundings or architecturally grand settings, referred to as a "picturisation".

Indian films have always used what are now called "item numbers". A physically attractive female character (the "item girl"), often completely unrelated to the main cast and plot of the film, performs a catchy song and dance number in the film. In older films, the "item number" may be performed by a courtesan (tawaif) dancing for a rich client or as part of a cabaret show. The dancer Helen was famous for her cabaret numbers. In modern films, item numbers may be inserted as discotheque sequences, dancing at celebrations, or as stage shows.

Indian producers now release music videos, usually featuring a song from the film. However, some promotional videos feature a song which is not included in the movie.

See also


  1. ^ (Narayan p.10)
  2. ^ (Massey p. 31)
  3. ^ (Massey p. 101)
  4. ^ (Massey p. 135)
  5. ^ (Massey p. 41)
  6. ^ (Massey p. 131)


  • Massey, Reginald (2004). "India's Dances: Their History, Technique, and Repertoire", Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, India.
  • Narayan, Shovanna (2005). “ The Sterling Book :Indian Classical Dance”, New Dawn Press Group, New Delhi, India.

Further reading

External links

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