The diversity intrinsic to cultures that define the very title of India is not something unknown to the world at large. The massive celebration of festivals of India characteristic of the many Indian cultures, inclusive of myriad traditions, rituals and garnishing food. All of which has become an irresistible source of attraction for tourists from all corners of the globe. Talking about tourists attractions, there is so many dance forms in India which are loved.
So, dance is something integral to any culture known to man, and India is home to a sea of cultures where festivities are always round the corner. Thus, the lustre of the many festivities comes into light through the different dance forms unique to India.
Dance in India is much more than mere body movements; right from the ancient times, the classical dance forms are seen as a discipline and a way to devote oneself to God through art. Indian dance forms are further unique to each state.
Do you know how many classical dance forms are recognized at the national level?
There are only six forms recognized at the national level. These are Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Manipuri, Kuchipudi, and Odissi.
Bharatnatyam is performed at the sound of the celestial tunes that remind one of the heaven and earth, which used to flourish before the rapacious advent of mankind. Bharatnatyam originated in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. The dance form dates back to 1000 BC and took the shape we know today in the ancient temples of Tamil Nadu. In these temples, women prayed to the sublime through the art of dance.
The dance form is known for its beautiful body movements and gestures which are called Mudras in the traditional language. The focus is on the hand gestures, leg movements and the facial expressions of the dancer. This dance form was very much prevalent before the British era. Due to lack of recognition, and patronage, the dance form suddenly began to lose all its once granted glory.
However, the dance form was kept alive in the confines of the households. Thus, today it is recognized as one of the most respectable art forms in India. Especially, in South India where a sense of pride overwhelms any woman involved in the classical dance form of Bharatnatyam.
Born in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Kathak comes from the word ‘Katha’ which means “story” in Hindi. Kathak is often referred to as the dance of love. In this art, both the partners weave a tryst through the precise movement of their physical selves.
The primary focus is on the ankle movements, which must be at par with the throbbing beat of the music. Ghungroos, as they are called in the traditional language, is an important part of the discipline. Various distinctions can be witnessed in this dance form as it is known for in different places like Jaipur, Benares, and Lucknow.
Kathakali is another traditional dance form of India which is said to be a distinct way of storytelling. It originated from the Southern part of the country which is Kerala. Kathakali is one of the most renowned and religious dance forms of India. It vividly portrays tales from the life of Shiva and Ramayana.
Kathakali is characteristic of the intriguing face movements and heavy costumes. The vocal music in whose rhythm the art unfolds is known as soppanam.
The storytelling of the epic Hindu mythology depicting both evil and good is portrayed through a conversation that takes place in the form of body gestures and facial expressions. No wonder one feels oneself rare among rares, after witnessing this jewel of a dance form.
As one meanders towards the North-eastern part of India rich in tradition and culture, Manipuri emerges as an important symbol of the state of Manipur. This dance form is a manifestation of platonic romance between the Hindu gods Radha and Krishna, famously known as Raas Leela.
This art form is performed in a team with the traditional Manipuri costumes and makeup. The dance is performed with intervals of narrative chanting and in sync with the beat of the Indian classical instruments.
Born in the state of Andhra Pradesh, Kuchipudi is probably the toughest form of classical dance in India. Kuchipudi is not just a dance but a form of devotion dedicated to God. It includes certain rituals such as the sprinkling of the holy water, burning incense sticks and praying to God.
Kuchipudi requires both singing and dancing thus, raising its level of difficulty. In the past, Kuchipudi was performed only by the male dancers in the temples, specifically cherished by those belonging to the Brahmin caste. But with the passage of time, women gained mastery over the art surpassing men to the extent that nowadays, women are seen as the sole masters of the art.
Odissi dance form comes from the state of Odisha in the eastern part of India. The traditional dance has been derived from the Hindu temples in Odisha. Most of the gestures and movements (Mudras) are inspired by the sculptures and idols that adorn the ancient temples of India.
The dance is performed as a way to express the mythological tales of Hindu gods, including that of Shiva and Surya. The dance is accompanied by a mythical story, conveyed through mellifluous music and poignant lyrics.
Odissi is considered as the oldest dance form of India which has survived to this day. Odissi dance is performed mostly by women, and it consists of more than 50 artistic mudras.
A famous dance form beheld in the state of Punjab, Bhangra is the other name of joy where the beat of the heart is more sonorous to sound than the chord of the many instruments. This beat of the heart along with the beat of the dhol makes the sky gallop and dive towards the earth. This dance of victory in which the victors are the sole performers is not just a dance, but a celebration.
Bhangra folk dance and music infused with the blend of western popular beats has turned out into a dream whose manifestation could be seen whenever India wins a cricket match, or to be more in general any victory, small or big, worth celebrating.
The term Bhangra literally designated as a particular dance form performed by Sikh and Muslimival men in the rural districts of the Punjab region in South Asia. The dance was associated with Baisakhi which is celebrated in the spring harvest season.
The tantalizing fruit liquor—bhang(hemp) with which the farmers relieve themselves of all the stress, strain and toil for a good harvest is considered to be the origin of the name Bhangra.
A typical type of Bhangra includes several dancers executing vigorous kicks, leaps, and bends of the body with the accompaniment of short songs called boliyan turning the atmosphere to one full of life likened to the waves of an ocean.
Garba, a creative dance form from the state of Gujarat is performed in devotion to the Goddess Durga. It is performed by a couple in the backdrop of a typical Gujarati music, each step breaking all stillness to awe and life.
Garba, also spelt garaba, singular garbo, is a typical Indian dance commonly performed at festivals and on other special occasions in the state of Gujarat, India. It has a distinct style based on a circular pattern and characterized by a sweeping action from side to side.
Garba performances often include singing accompanied by rhythmic-crisp music that resounds from the surface of the dhol and clapping of hands. Historically, the shehnai (a double-reed instrument) guided the singers, but by the early 21st century that instrument had largely been replaced by the synthesizer or harmonium.
Garba dance celebrates fertility, honour womanhood, and performed as a means of devotion to an array of mother goddesses. In Gujarat, the dance customarily marks a girl’s first menstrual cycle and, later, her imminent marriage. Garba dancing also takes place during the nine-day Navratri festival, held annually during the Hindu month of Ashvina (September–October).
Although men do participate on some occasions, women are the indubitable maestros of the art. The basic dance formation is that of a circle that moves counterclockwise; if space is constrained or there are many participants, dancers form concentric circles that move in opposite directions.
Garba dance has spread beyond Gujarat gaining much popularity not only in many other parts of India but in Hindu communities worldwide. The dance comes to life during Holi, with colours and cheers that rent the sky to a thousand glittering pieces. Especially, since the late 20th century, there has been a notable proliferation of Garba competitions and university dance troupes.
Folk dances similar to Garba can also be found in other parts of India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, in the southeast, and in Rajasthan, the northeastern neighbour of Gujarat.
A dance form performed by the Kashmiri people as the celebration of their festivals and important occasions. Rouf is an artistic form of dance in which each step, movement and expression are intricately designed and drawn at par with the mellifluous traditional Kashmiri music.
Maidens decked in jewellery and vivacious colours dance in complete freedom and joy to the beat of a crescendo of sweet notes, such is the magnificence that the parched earth of Rajasthan suddenly brims with greenery and life. Ghoomar includes the intriguing circular movements complemented by distinct hand gestures.
Women dressed in elegance, and beauty pirouette with their whole being, performing the art of Chhau as proof that Kolkata is indeed the city of joy. A popular art whose wings spread from the eastern part of India is also considered a dance of martial arts.
Young men and women indulge in this joyous folk dance of Assam during the Bihu festival. The dancers follow a pattern of rapid hand movements, quick steps and a rhythmic swaying of hips as their traditional Assamese clothing billows magnificently in the breeze.
Marking the beginning of the spring season, Bihu is a recitation of the happiness and heritage of Assam and is performed on the occasion of Rangali Bihu. The dhol, Xutuli, Toka, Baanhi, Gogona are the instruments used to play the traditional tunes that facilitate the performance.
The origin of Bihu is not well-known, although the records state that its origin lies in the Bisu dance performed by communities of Upper Assam like the Sonowal Kacharis, Deoris, Moran, Chutias and Borahis. This popular Indian Dance form was performed at the London Olympics in 2012.
Once a celebration of the Maratha empire, Lavani is a famous dance form of Maharashtra. The female-oriented dance is a blend of traditional music and tales of deities. The origin of Lavani comes from the word Lavanya which means beauty.
Apart from a facilitator in the upliftment of the Marathi folk theatre, the dance form was also a morale booster during the war in the 18th century. Lavani has two forms; one that’s philosophical – Nirguni Lavani and the other that’s sensual- Shringar Lavani.
With the powerful and quick foot-tapping tempo, the dance form is performed along with the beats of the Dholak. The stories or subjects this dance is based on revolves around themes of religion, politics, society and mostly romance. Dancers are dressed in nine-yards of saree with golden jewellery.
The dance was initially staged at local temples in the form of worship, but now it’s a sensual dance rocked with the boisterousness of desires, at the same time the fulfilment that comes with those desires.
In Indian mythology, Mohini is the female avatar of Lord Vishnu, and the meaning of ‘Attam’ in Malayalam is rhythmic motion hence, adhering to the dance of the divine enchantress. It is the second most popular dance form of Kerala. This classical Indian dance has its roots in the age-old Sanskrit text – Natya Shastra.
It is traditionally performed by women following a repertoire of Carnatic music, singing and acting a play. At times, the song, a typical mixture of Malayalam and Sanskrit also called Manipravalam, is sung by the performer herself.
With a school of instruments such a Mridangam, Madhalam, Flute, Idakka, Veena and Kuzhitalam, the music is gifted in ragas and performed in a slow melodic style. Although the dance is often portrayed as gentle, graceful and feminine, it also exhibits a vigorous Tandav relating to Lord Vishnu.
Besides its popularity, the dance was condemned during the colonial British Raj as a Devdasi system of prostitution. The ban was withdrawn as an aftermath to the vehement protests by the locals of Kerala. Thus, the art of Mohiniyattam was once again revived and rejoiced.
Astonishing it is to ponder about the dance forms unique to each state of India. These artistic dance forms reflect the cultural richness of India and are integral to our united diversity.