Types of Dance Styles in India

Indian dance natraj

Indian dance natraj

DANCE is a lucid expression of human beings. Like INDIAN Culture dances are also of diverse in nature. It’s an art where you can express without words also. The most important feature in classical dances is the use of mudras or hand gestures.

Theses gestures help you to narrate a story or certain objects like weather, nature, and the inner feelings of love, care, anger etc. Dances are performed for every possible occasion, to celebrate the arrival of seasons, birth of a child, a wedding and festivals.

Three best-known deities, Shiva, Kali and Krishna, are typically represented by dancing. Dance has its own passion. Indain Classical dances are used to illustrate events from the Puranas related to or describing Vishnu. Ras-lila is performed to dramatize the love scenes of Sri Krishna and the gopis in Vrindaban.

Dances are also dedicated to Lord Shiva where the two facets of Lord Shiva is portrayed – – ‘lasya’ and ‘tandava’. ‘Lasya’, the dance to reveal beauty, grace, love and all tender aspects of existence and on the other side ‘tandava’ is the anger, wild image of Lord Shiva. And dance frames it all well. In the form of the Lord of Dance, Shiva is known as Nataraj and is worshipped by all dancers.

You may not think that male dancers take to Classical Indian dance styles, but in fact there are many top-notch classical Indian dancers who are male:  A few examples are the late Uday Shankar, Birju Maharaj and Pratap Pawar (Kathak), Ram Gopal, U.S. Krishna Rao, V.P. Dhananjayan, Raghunath Manet, Mavin Khoo and Dr. Francis Barboza (Bharata Natyam) Raja Reddy (Kuchipudi), Kalamandalam Gopi (Kathakali), Rajkumar Singhajit Singh (Manipuri), Kelucharan Mohapatra (Odissi).

 The National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama is the national level academy for performing arts set up by the Government of India. Below is a glance of few top classical Indian dances –

  1. Kathak – North Indian Classical Dance – UP
  2. Bharatanatyam – Tamil Classical Dance
  3. Kuchipudi – Telugu Classical dance
  4. Odissi – Orissa Classical dance – devotion to lord Krishna
  5. Kathakali – Malayalam Classical Dance
  6. Manipuri – Manipur Classical Dance
  7. Mohiniaattam – Kerala Classical Dance
  8. Sattriya – Asamese Classical Dance

 I have tried to partly cover the mentioned classical dances.

Katthak – North Indian Classical Dance – UP

 Combo of classical Hindustani music and the feet moves with the rythm of the table or pakhawaj. Traditionally it was dedicated to Lord Krishna but with the Mughal invasion Kathak turned into more entertaining and less religious.

The essence of Katthak dance form is story telling one performed by both men and women. There is no hard core of following fixed steps. The performer can conveniently change the sequence of the steps to suit his or her aptitude and style of dancing.

Kathak Indian Dance

Kathak Indian Dance


Bharatanatyam – Tamil Classical Dance

The purest form of Indian classical dance, it originates in Thanjavoor (Tanjore) of Tamil Nadu. Unlike Katthak, Bharatanatyam needs good training and direction from learned dance teachers or gurus. In Bharatanatyam rhythm and enactment go hand in hand. The music of Bharatanatyam is based on Carnatic classical music. The chief musical instruments in Bharata Natyam are the ‘Mridangam’ and a pair of cymbals. Sometimes Veena, Violin, Ghatam and Flute are also used.

 The costume of the Bharatanatyam dancers is again an eye catcher consisting of Paijama’ or Dhoti and jacket of Kanchipuram silk and Banaras silk. Women wear a tight fitting ‘Choli’ or bodice of the same colour and material as the dhoti.

Bharatnatyam Indian Dance

Bharatnatyam Indian Dance


Kuchipudi – Telugu Classical dance

Kuchipudi is a blend of folk and classical dance. Its origin is in Andhra Pradesh and the art forms of South. In other words it can be said that Kuchipudi is a dance drama. Its gives its dancers a wide area to dramatise.

Kuchipudi dance presents a series of episodes or a particular episode. This dance is a perfect balance between “Nritta”, “Nritya” and “Natya”. The Nritta is a rhythmic sequence that concludes a song; the Nritya or “Sabdams” in which the rhythmic passages are followed by interpretations and Natya is a complete dance drama with storyline and characters.

Kuchipudi Indian Dance

Kuchipudi Indian Dance

Unlike other dances which you will read in this article, Kuchipudi begins with orchestral music including Mridanga, Madala and a pair of cymbals, followed by an invocation to a deity and appearance of Ganesha, the elephant headed God to bless the performance.

Kuchipudi is a complicated dance where the foot work needs to be perfect and balanced. The learned Kuchipudi dancers with their feet can trace out an outline of a lion or an elephant on the floor. They can dance with the feet on the edges of a circular brass tray or with a water pot delicately and precariously balanced on the head.

Odissi – Orissa Classical dance – devotion to lord Krishna

In Orrisa Odissi is the traditional dance and probably owes its origin to the temple dances of the ‘Devadasis’. Odissi performances are replete with lores of the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, Lord Krishna. It is a soft, lyrical classical dance which depicts the ambience of Orissa and the philosophy of its most popular deity, Lord Jagannath, whose temple is in Puri.

As i have myself learnt odissi in my schooldays… tell you it’s really tough one. The posture for this dance is called as “chowka “a manly posture and the weight of the body is distributed equally both sides. The head, bust and torso are moved in soft flowing movements to express specific moods and emotions

Odisi Indian Dance

Odisi Indian Dance

Odissi dancer drapes in silk sare, Wears on the head ornament called the “Mathami”, on ears “Kapa”, on wrists “Kankana”.

Kathakali – Malayalam Classical Dance

Kathakali is a theme dance full of symbol and value. It has a global fame of 300 years ago. Kathakali means story play and it is an elaborate dance depicting the victory of truth over falsehood.

The dance has taken its theme from the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. This is more symbolic by the use of make-up and colourful costumes which again symbolizes that the characters in the play are super beings from the other world.

Kathakali Indian Dance

Kathakali Indian Dance

The costume is the striking part in this dance. There is the huge head gear or the ‘Kireetam’. Then you can see the over gigantic jacket worn called the ‘Kanchukam’ and the long skirt worn over the thick padding of cushions.

The footsteps are slow and delicate with medium temposand this gives enough space to the dancers for improvisations and clear bhavas or emotions.

Manipuri- Manipur Classical Dance

Manipuri originated from Manipur, the north-eastern state of India. Dance is said to be the first step to divine and Manipuri dance is purely religious and spiritual one. ‘Ras Leela’ is the highest expression of artistic genius, devotion and excellence of the Manipuris.

Manipuri dances are performed always in front of deities. The technique of Manipuri dancing is based on an interesting principle of compensatory movement with the objective of achieving rounded movements and avoiding any jerks, sharp edges or straight lines.

Manipuri Indian Dance

Manipuri Indian Dance

The Lai Haroba, a ritualistic dance depicting the Creation, is considered the precursor of Manipuri as seen today. Among the important constituents of the Manipuri repertoire are the Sankirtana and the Raas Leela, based on the devotional theme of Krishna and Radha. The Raas Leela depicts the cosmic dance of Krishna and the gopins. Another vibrant feature of Manipuri is the Pung Cholam or Drum dance, in which dancers play on the drum known as Pung while dancing with thrilling leaps and turns to a fast rhythm.

Mohiniaattam – Kerala Classical Dance 

Mohiniaattam, fusion of Kathakali and Bharatnatyam is known for its soft grace, gliding movements of the body a circular use of the torso and a revolving in the half-bent position, with the toe and the heel used in a flowing rhythmic structure.as performed by only female Its a traditional dance of Kerela.

Mohini Nattam Indian Dance

Mohini Nattam Indian Dance

The term Mohiniattam comes from the words “Mohini” implying a feeling of warm enchantment and “aattam” meaning graceful and sensuous body movements. The word “Mohiniattam” literally means “dance of the enchantress”.It’s said that Lord Vishnu has disguised as Mohini. So the main theme of the dance is love and devotion to God Vishnu.

 Sattriya – Asamese Classical Dance

 The word Sattriya has been taken from Sattra which means monastery. The Sattriya is a classical devotional dance, spiritual in nature. Traditionally it was performed only by male monks. Today both men and women are seeing performing this dance. Bhakti Raas is the main theme of this nrtiya and has become the integral part of culture of Assam.

Sattriya Indian Dance

Sattriya Indian Dance

 The dance is based on classical ragas and the instruments played are drums, cymbals and flute. Nowadays it has been seen that violin and harmonium are also involved. The Assam silk called ‘pat’ is used to make the dresses woven with intricate local motifs. The ornaments are also based on traditional Assamese designs.

Many Indian Dance Institutions have started to once again revive and keep the ancient culture glow. Many centres have been established not only in India but also worldwide. Next post I will put up a list of Institutes which provide education in this section.

About Nidhi Paul

Who wants to bring Indian culture, Food, and her thoughts together to give the best India has and what we can learn from Indians and Indian aspects.


  1. incrediable india …..
    awesome dances i wish i woild have gone 2 childhood and learn

  2. its d worst website i have e’er seen

  3. jus jokin,its a gud site includin ol d info abt d dances of India

  4. fantastic site, i love it

  5. very great idea,proud to be an indian

  6. Information is excellent but the Dance style of Karnataka “Yakshagana” is not stated

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