Indian Dance a 5000 Year Old Tradition

Dancing was thus one of the oldest forms of art in India. It can be said without any hesitation that humanity expressed its primeval urge for communication through movements.

In India, dance is considered to be not of divine origin. Unlike in the west where people believe the Word to be the beginning, we in India believe movement to be the Beginning. Movement signifies a continuous ebb and tide of tension. Movement emerges from a whirl of energy and its subsequent patterning. This is the concept that has found concrete expression in the time -honoured icon of the dancing Shiva. The Indian mind conceived of this timeless phenomenon in the shape of Nataraja, achieving two-fold results: first, identification of the source of creation and giving it a credible form; and second, providing people with a magnificent God in whom they could see power, grace and mystery. Whets we come back to the dance proper as practised today, two elements emerge very clearly – one that is powerful, majestic and vigorous, very masculine and therefore known as tandav, the other element which is graceful, sensuous and tender is called and is distinctly feminine in movements.

The dance tradition comprises both the folk and classical dance. Practically every region has its own unique culture of many different types of folk and tribal dance. There are however a number of established classical dances some of which are mentioned below.


Legends has it that while searching for a suitable place to hold his dance with wife Parvati, Lord Shiva came across a beautiful green place but full of water. So, Shiva thrust his trident right through the side of one of the hills to drain the entire water, thus creating a crater. Here the cosmic dance went on for seven days and seven nights, while the music was provided by the Gandharvas and Gods, and Nagdeva provided the light with his mani (gem).The Rasa Lila dance of Manipur comprises three forms – Maha Rasa, Vasant Rasa and Kunja Rasa. Maha Rasa was performed by Lord Krishana with the gopis in Vrindavan, Vasant Rasa is Krishna’s dalliance with a sakhi (friend) which arouses Radha’s jealousy; and Kunja Rasa is the meeting of Radha and krishana with the help of sakhis.


Odissi is a lot about Jaydeva’s Geeta Govinda of the 12th century, and harks back to the days of devadasis or Sevadasis who offered their souls to the gods through dance and music in the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri. It sang the praises of Lord Krishna and Sri Radha. Odissi still makes use of pirouettes, leaps, glides and gaits, most likely amazing process of continuing tradition through the allied disciplines of painting and sculpture.


Kathakali belongs to kerala. It is a tough dance from requiring tremendous control over the body and mind. Special exercises are imparted at a very young age, to perfect the movement of the brow, eyebrows, lips, chin, cheeks and eyes. The eyes have to swivel in their sockets in any direction. Kathakali Requires elaborate facial make -up, which takes hours to complete Puranic and epic legends to the audience by various mudras of his hands and through expressions on his face. Kathakali, like Kuchipudi, is more a dance-theatre. The Kuchipudi dance drama belongs to the Bhakti cult of the 17th century Andhra Pradesh. It was once completely male dominated with men playing the female parts and sang and spoke dialogues and spoke dialogues as well. Enacted on an improvised stage in the open air, Kuchipudi is performed only at night. This dance form is more earthly, concentrating more on rasas like Sringara while the music is pure classical Carnatic.


With the popularization of the Radha Krishna legend and the Rasa Lila, which was inspired by the songs of Braj poets like Surdas, Nandadas and Krishnadas, Kathak was originally performed only in the temples. But with the advent of the Muslim rule and the patronage it received from the rajas and nawabs during the 15th and 16th centuries, it was taken to the courts of Jaipur, Delhi, Agra and Lucknow. Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of oudh, is known to have had a life – long passion for Kathak. In later years Kathak divided into two gharanas – the Jaipur gharana and the Lucknow gharana. This beautiful dance from relies greatly on intricate rhythms and corresponding foot-work.


The Bharatanatyam style of classical dancing from South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is one of the world’s oldest dance traditions. According to Bharatanatyasastra, it embraces poetry, sculpture and music. The word can be broken up Bha for Bhava, Ra for Raga and Ta for Tala. The term Natyam implies theatre. The Bharatanatyam recital begins by saluting and praising the lord, an item called Alarippu. The movements of the eyebrows, eyes, neck, shoulders, arms and feet are executed in rhythmic succession, and at the end the whole body dances in harmony, making the recital dedications to the Lord. This dance from is aesthetically very exhaustive and its range of expressiveness enormous.

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