Dance in India has a rich and vital tradition dating back to ancient times. Excavations, inscriptions, chronicles, genealogies of kings and artists, literary sources, sculpture and painting of different periods provide extensive evidence on dance. Myths and legends also support the view that dance had a significant place in the religious and social life of the Indian people. However, it is not easy to trace the precise history and evolution of the various dances known as the 'art' or 'classical' forms popular today.
Bharatnatyam Dance is considered to be over 2000 years old. Bharatnatyam dance is known to be ekaharya, where one dancer takes on many roles in a single performance. In the early 19th century, the famous Tanjore Quartette, under the patronage of Raja Serfoji are said to have been responsible for the repertoire of Bharatnatyam dance as we see it today. The style was kept alive by the devadasis, who were young girls 'gifted' by their parents to the temples and who were married to the gods. The devadasis performed music and dance as offerings to the deities, in the temple courtyards. On the gopurams of the Chidambaram temple, one can see a series of Bharatnatyam poses, frozen in stone as it were, by the sculptor.
The word Kathak has been derived from the word Katha which means a story. Kathakars or story-tellers, are people who narrate stories largely based on episodes from the epics, myths and legends. What perhaps started as an oral tradition, later incorporated mime and gestures, to make the recitation more effective. Thus evolved a simple form of expressional dance, providing the origins of what later developed into Kathak as we see it today.
Kerala is the home of several traditional dance and dance - drama forms, the most notable being Kathakali. Kathakali is an art which has evolved from many social and religious theatrical forms which existed in the southern region in ancient times. Chakiarkoothu, Koodiyattam, Krishnattam and Ramanattam are few of the ritual performing arts of Kerala which have had a direct influence on Kathakali in its form and technique. Legend has it that the refusal of the Zamorin of Calicut to send his Krishnattam troupe to Travancore, so enraged the Raja of Kottarakkara, that he was inspired to compose the Ramanattam. In the temple sculptures in Kerala and the frescoes in the Mattancheri temple of approximately the 16th century, Kathakali dance scenes can be seen.
Kuchipudi is one of the classical styles of Indian dance. The art form takes its name from the village of the birth, in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. In the 17th century Kuchipudi style of Yakshagaana was conceived by Siddhendra Yogi. It is said that Siddhendra Yogi had a dream in which Lord Krishna asked him to compose a dancedrama based on the myth of the bringing of paarijaata flower for Sathyabhaama, the most beloved queen of Krishna. In compliance with this command Siddhendra Yogi composed the Bhaamaakalaapam. The progenitor of the form, presented a dance-drama with young boys from the village. To show the dexterity of the dancers in footwork and their control and balance over their bodies, techniques like dancing on the rim of a brass plate and with a pitcher full of water on the head was introduced. By the middle of this century, Kuchipudi fully crystallized as a separate classical solo dance style. Thus there are now two forms of Kuchipudi; the traditional musical dance-drama and the solo dance.
Manipuri, one of the main styles of Indian Classical Dances, originated in the picturesque and secluded state of Manipur in the north-eastern corner of India. The origin of Manipuri dance can be traced back to ancient times. The dance is associated with rituals and traditional festivals, with legendary references to the dances of Shiva and Parvati and other gods and goddesses. Manipur dance has a large repertoire, however, the most popular forms are the Ras, the Sankirtana and the Thang-Ta. It was in the reign of King Bhagyachandra, in the 18th century, that the popular Rasleela dances of Manipur originated. It is said, that the King conceived this complete dance form along with its unique costume and music in a dream. In Manipuri Ras, the main characters are Radha, Krishna and the gopis. Today, Manipur has an evolved and sophisticated repertoire of martial dances, the dancers use swords, spears and shields. Real fight scenes between the dancers show an extensive training and control of the body.
Odisha, on the eastern sea coast, is the home of Odissi, one of the many forms of Indian classical dance. Sensuous and lyrical, Odissi is a dance of love and passion touching on the divine and the human, the sublime and the mundane. Archaeological evidence of this dance form dating back to the 2nd century B.C. is found in the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri near Bhubaneshwar. For centuries, maharis, the temple dancers, were the chief repositories of this dance. The dancer is adorned in elaborate Odiya silver jewellery and a special hair-do. In each performance, even a modern Odissi dancer still reaffirms the faith of the devadasis or maharis where they sought liberation or moksha through the medium of dance.
Mohiniyattam literally interpreted as the dance of ‘Mohini’, the celestial enchantress of the Hindu mythology, is the classical solo dance form of Kerala. According to a Puranic story, Lord Vishnu took on the guise of a ‘Mohini’ to seduce the Asuras, both in connection with churning of the ocean and episode of the slaying of Bhasmasura. It traces its origin to the temples of Kerala. Mohiniyattam is characterized by graceful, swaying body movements. It belongs to the lasya style which is feminine, tender and graceful. The delicate body movements are emphasized by the glides and the up and down movement on toes, like the waves of the sea and the swaying of the coconut, palm trees and the paddy fields.
Ahiri Dance belongs to the cattle herding groups of Gwalior. While performing the Ahiri dance the performers make charming moves. As an important part of the culture of Gwalior, the Ahiri dance is known to have a bright and vibrant heritage.
The Ghoomar dance is primarily performed by the female folk of Jaisalmer on special festive occasions.
Representing the unique cultural traditions of Jaisalmer, the Kathputli dance reflects the artistic imagination of the organizers of the show who creatively arrange a dance drama of puppets for the entertainment of the audience.
This folk dance not only projects the culture or traditions of the local tribes but also showcases the strength of unity. Through this dance form, the dancers express one's feelings, some story, issues or any other event.
This folk dance is the most celebrated dance of the state and is also one of the main attractions for tourists. Both womenfolk and menfolk take part in this cheerful dance. The performers wear traditional costumes in different colors. The dancers sway their bodies gracefully to the rhythm of Bihu folk music sung by both men and women.
It is one of the finest folk dances of Chhota Nagpur Plateau region. The folk dance is performed in various states that lie in this region such as West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand. The word Chhau is derived from the Sanskrit word Chhaya which implies shade, image, or mask. Chhau of Jharkhand is a very beautiful dance form where the dancers cover their faces during the dance with a mask and it is this mask that attracts your attention towards the dance.
This is one of the famous classical dances of Assam. Through this dance, the performers narrate mythological stories. In monasteries, it is performed every day by male monks. The dance is performed in conjunction with music called 'borgeets' which are based on classical ragas.