Classical Dances of india: everything you need to know about for UPSC, PCS

Classical Dances of India

Classical dances (or Shastriya Nritya) of India are performance arts rooted in religious Musical theatre styles in Hindu. The theory & practice are mentioned in the ancient sanskrit text Natya Shastra. Mostly the classical dances of India has its origin in temples.

There are Eight classical dances recognized by Sangeet Natak Akademi (national level academy of performing arts set up by Indian Government). They are:

  1. Bharat Natyam
  2. Kathak
  3. Kathakali
  4. Kuchipudi
  5. Odissi
  6. Sattriya
  7. Manipuri
  8. Mohiniyattam


Lets see all the classical dances of India in detail. After reading this no question from classical dances will seem difficult for you whether it is UPSC prelims or mains or any state level pcs exam.

All pic in the site has been taken from &

 Bharat Natyam

Classical dances of India

  • Bharat Natyam — Also called Sadir.
  • Bharatanatyam is the oldest form among classical dances of India.
  • It is also the most popular Classical Dances of India
  • Originated in Tamil Nadu.
  • Silappatikaram (where its existence was mentioned in this ancient Tamil epic).
  • Its a solo dance performed only by women.
  • Expresses Religious themes of Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism.
  •  Its foundation trace in ancient Sanskrit text by  Bharata Muni, Natya Shastra.
  • It is noted for its fixed upper torso, legs bent or knees flexed out combined with spectacular footwork, a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language based on gestures of hands, eyes and face muscles.
  • It is in symbolism both in its abhinaya (acting) and its goals The roots of abhinaya are found in the Natyashastra text.


Classical dances of India

  • Kathak is traditionally attributed to the traveling bards of ancient northern India known as Kathakars or storytellers.
  • Kathak is derived from the Vedic Sanskrit word Katha which means “story”, and Kathaka which means “the one who tells a story“, or “to do with stories”.
  • It communicates stories from the great epics and ancient mythology through dance, their hand movements and footwork & through their facial expressions, songs and music.
  • Kathak evolved during the Bhakti movement. It includes the childhood and stories of the Lord Krishna.
  • Found in three distinct forms, called gharanas from where kathak dance evolved – banaras, lucknow & jaipur.
  • This dance form emphasizes rhythmic foot movements, adorned with small bells (Ghungroo), and the movement in context to the music
  • The legs and torso are generally straight, and the story is told through a developed vocabulary based on the gestures of arms and upper body movement, facial expressions, stage movements, bends and turns.
  • The main focus of the dance becomes the eyes and the foot movements.


Classical dances of India

  • It is also a “story play” genre of art but differed by the elaborate colorful make-up, costumes and facemasks.
  • The costumes and facemasks wore by male actor-dancers.
  • This dance form was developed in the Malayalam speaking region, Kerala.
  • Kathakali has its roots in the temple and folk arts.
  • Dancing along with facial gesture, it also incorporates movements from ancient Indian martial arts.
  • Kathakali themes are religious legends, folk mythologies, and spiritual ideas from the Hindu Puranas & epics.
  • Women artists were included in Indian Kathakali troupes and also adapted Western stories and plays like those by Shakespeare and from Christianity.


Classical dances of India

  • Kuchipudi originated in a village named Kuchipudi in Andhra Pradesh.
  • It has its roots in the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text  Natya Shastra.
  • Kuchipudi  is influenced & developed around Lord Krishna oriented Vaishnavism tradition.
  • It is closely related to Bhagavata Mela performance art found in Tamil Nadu.
  • Before Kuchipudi performance starts a short preliminary dance set to music is performed.
  • In Kuchipudi, rhythmic hand gestures help convey the story.
  • Instrumental & vocal Carnatic music in Telugu language accompanies the performance.
  • Instruments includes  tambur, veena, mridangam, cymbals, flute.
  • This dance form is named after the village in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh named Kuchipudi.


Classical dancs of India

  • One of the Eight classical dance forms of India, Odissi also known as Orissi has its origin in eastern state of India, Odisha.
  • Originated in the temples of the eastern coastal state of Odisha in India.
  • In Odissi the performance includes, nritya (expressive dance),  nritta (pure dance), natya (dance drama) & moksha (dance climax connoting freedom of the soul and spiritual release).
  • Dance form includes themes from Vaishnavism & Shiva, Shakti & Surya.
  • Religious stories, devotional poems and spiritual ideas emoted by dancer with some excellent body movements, sign languages, expressions & impressive gestures are part of it.
  • Dance-drama genre includes performance arts.
  • Boys & girls both perform this individually.
  • It involves lower (footwork), mid (torso) and upper (hand and head).
  • Has its roots in the ancient text of Natya Shastra.
  • Natya Shastra is attributed to the ancient scholar Bharata Muni
  • Odissi dance tradition declined during the Islamic & British rule era.


Classical dances of India

  • Sattriya (this dance from Assam) is a dance drama performance art devoted to Lord Krishna centered Vaishnavism monasteries of Assam.
  • Sattriya  attributed to the 15th century Bhakti movement scholar and saint named Srimanta Sankardev.
  • One-act plays called Ankiya Nat are part of Sattriya.
  • This theme centric dance plays relates to Radhey Krishna & Sita Ram along with other Lord Vishnu Avatars.
  • This dance play got recognition in the year 2000 as a classical dance by Sangeet Natak Akademi of India.


  • Manipuri dance originated in Manipur.
  • The love story of Radha and Krishna are commonly acted out in Manipuri dance drama performance.
  • Manipuri dance, also known as Jagoi.
  • It is exquisite performances of love-inspired dance drama of Radha-Krishna called Raslila.
  • The dance performance also has theme related to Shaivism, Shaktism & regional deities, Umang Lai during the festival Lai Haraoba.  
  • Festival Lai Haraoba is celebrated in the honour of Umang lai.
  • Manipuri dance is a team performance.
  • Greater emphasis on hand and upper body gestures in the Manipuri dance.
  • Kartal or Manjira and Sankirtan are instruments used in Manipuri dance.
  • Aim of this dance form is expression of spiritual values.
  • Celebrated during Hindu festivals and weddings among the Manipuri people, especially  in the ethnic majority of Meitei people.
  • Meitei people are majority ethnic group of Manipur, a north easter state in India.


  • Mohiniyattam or Mohini-attam is another classical dance from Malayalam speaking state, Kerala.
  • One of the eight  classical dances of India and quiet popular there.
  • Its roots are also from ancient Hindu Sanskrit text on performance art Natya Shastra.
  • It follows the Lasya style as mentioned in Natya Shastra.
  • Lasya Style dance is delicate,feminine and erotic in nature.
  • Mainly a solo dance form performed by Women.
  • It includes Carnatic music.
  • Song is a Malayalam-Sanskrit mix inspired called Manipravalam.



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