India has thousands of year old tradition of fine arts and classical and folk music and dances. Some of the world-famous dance forms that originated and evolved in India are Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam and Odissi. All these dance forms use basically the same 'mudras' or signs of hand as a common language of expression and were originally performed in the temples to entertain various Gods and Goddesses. They were also effective in carrying forward the various mythological stories from generation to generation while entertaining the audiences. It eventually became a part of 'Natya Shashtra', as propounded by Sage Bharata to compile and forge some rules and regulations of entertaining arts.
With time, the classical dances evolved to include the expressions and
themes from social life and experiences. Lord Shiva is said to be the
'Nataraja' meaning 'King of All Dances', who is said to perform the
Cosmic Dance that delicately balances life and death and all that is
happening in the Universe in harmonious cycles. Bharatnatyam, popular in
Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is said to be revealed by Lord Brahma to
Bharata. Kathak is the art to tell a story and is a form of North Indian
classical dance. Later, it became courtly entertainment.
Kathakali from Kerala makes use of colorful masks and costumes and
belongs to Kerala. Kuchipudi is the dance drama of Andhra Pradesh that
combines Natya, Nritta and Nritya. Manipuri, as the name suggests, is
from Manipur, the Northeastern state of India, and is a combination of
many dances prevalent in the region. Mohiniattam from Kerala is a solo
female dance and is known for its rhythmic and unbroken flow of the body
movements. Odissi from Orissa is a dance of love, joy and intense
Bharatnatyam is one of the most popular classical Indian dances. Bharatnatyam is more popular in South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Bharatnatyam dance is almost 2,000 years old. It is believed that Bharatnatyam was revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata, a famous sage who then codified this sacred dance in a Sanskrit text called the Natya Shastra. The Natya Shastra is one of the fundamental treatises on Indian drama and aesthetics.
Kathak is one of the most important classical dances of India. Kathak is said to be derived from the word katha, meaning "the art of storytelling." The Kathak dance form originated in north India and was very similar to the Bharatnatyam dance form. In ancient India, there were Kathakars or bards who used to recite religious and mythological tales to the accompaniment music, mime and dance.
Kathakali is the classical dance form of Kerala. The word Kathakali literally means "Story-Play". Kathakali is known for its heavy, elaborate makeup and costumes. In fact, the colorful and fascinating costumes of Kathakali have become the most recognized icon of Kerala. Kathakali is considered as one of the most magnificent theatres of imagination and creativity. Kathakali dance presents themes derived from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and other Hindu epics, mythologies and legends.
Kuchipudi is one of the classical dance forms of the South India. Kuchipudi derives its name from the Kuchipudi village of Andhra Pradesh. In the seventeenth century the Kuchipudi village was presented to the Brahmins, who were experts in staging dance and drama. Kuchipudi exhibits scenes from the Hindu Epics, legends and mythological tales through a combination of music, dance and acting. Like other classical dances, Kuchipudi also comprises pure dance, mime and histrionics but it is the use of speech that distinguishes Kuchipudi's presentation as dance drama.
Manipuri is one of the six major classical dances of India. Manipuri dance is indigenous to Manipur, the North eastern state of India. The Manipuri dance style is inextricably woven into the life pattern of Manipuri people. The most striking part of Manipur dance is its colorful decoration, lightness of dancing foot, delicacy of abhinaya (drama), lilting music and poetic charm. The Manipuri dance form is mostly ritualistic and draws heavily from the rich culture of the state of Manipur.
Mohiniattam is a classical dance form of Kerala. Mohiniattam is derived from the words "Mohini" (meaning beautiful women) and "attam"(meaning dance). Thus, Mohiniattam dance form is a beautiful feminine style with surging flow of body movements. Mohiniattam dance in Kerala developed in the tradition of Devadasi system, which later grew and developed a classical status.
Odissi is one of the famous classical Indian dances from Orissa state. The history of Odissi dance is almost two thousand years old. Odissi is a highly inspired, passionate, ecstatic and sensuous form of dance. Like most of the South Indian classical dances of India Odissi too had its origin in the Devadasi tradition. The state of Orissa has a great cultural history.
This short section on dances of India is an attempt to highlight Indian dances, Indian dance forms and Indian traditional dances.