Classical dance in India is based upon and influenced by the Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian text that is the foundation for performing arts. With so many unique and beautiful dance forms—each with a different purpose and message—it is hard to keep up with Indian classical dances. To help understand this breath-taking art form, check out our list of 6 major classical dance forms found in India with a description of origin and symbolism. Also Read - Madhuri Dixit’s Online Dance Academy And Shilpa Shetty’s Wellness App Joins Bolo Meets

1. Bharatanatyam

bharatnatyam dancer
Most popular in South India, Bharatanatyam is the most ancient of all the classical Indian dance forms. Originating in the temples of Tamil Nadu, today it is the most popular and widely performed of all the classical Indian dance styles. Considered to be a fire-dance, the movements of the Bharatanatyam dance resembles a dancing flame. Traditionally, this dance is a solo dance form that can be performed by male or female dancers and is characterized by different features—lasya for feminine movements and tandava for the masculine aspect. In more modern times, this dance has been performed by groups. Also Read - This Elderly Couple Grooving to the Evergreen Woh Chali Woh Chali is Wowing the Internet

2. Kathakali

kathakali dancer
This dance form consists of a group of dancers who portray various roles with content based on Hindu mythology. This dance form originated in southwest India in Kerala. Characterized by its dramatic makeup and elaborate costumes, audiences are taken on a visual journey in this dance form. Colors are used to describe character’s moods and status. Angry and evil characters wear red makeup, women are adorned with yellow faces, and the dancers wear large headdresses to add to the dramatic effect.
The hands, facial expressions, and body movements embody and tell the stories in the Kathakali dance form. Traditionally, these dances would start in the evening and last through the night, but now Kathakali can be performed in three-hour presentations. Also Read - Bhojpuri Goes International: American Dad Grooves to 'Lollypop Lagelu' & Wins Desi Hearts | Watch

3. Kathak

kathak dancer
This dance can be traced to northern India in Uttar Pradesh and the storytellers of that time who would recite tales to music. The word Kathak means “to tell a story” and this dance form is characterized by elements that tell the story—emotional facial movement with elements of mime incorporated in the movements. The main focus is the foot movement. This dance is performed with ankle bells well-controlled by the dancer.

4. Manipuri

manipuri dance
Considered to be one of the most meaningful of the dances, the Manipuri dance originated in Northeast India. Purely a religious dance and its aim is a spiritual experience. This dance form is associated with rituals and traditional festivals. Manipuri, like Bharatanatyam, incorporates the tandava and lasya movements. This dance is smooth and fluid with no sharp, jerky movements. A dance-drama, the cymbals, and drums are usually a part of the visual performance.

5. Kuchipudi

kuchipudi dance
Kuchipudi was traditionally an all-male dance but is now performed by more women than men. This dance form originated in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh but is popular all over south India. The Kuchipudi dance style tells a story through fluid, graceful and brisk movements that are well-controlled and bring the piece alive. The dances are based on Hindu religion, spirituality and mythology.

The dance style and many elements of the dance are similar to Bharatanatyam. Certain movements are specific to this dance form, and a special feature of the Kuchipudi is the use of dialogue.

6. Odissi

odissi dancers

Originating from the state of Odisha in eastern India, this dance from has its very own strong characteristic movements that clearly separates it from the other classical Indian dance forms. It is distinguished by stamping of the foot and striking sculptural poses, and the specific importance of the independent, and more contorted movement of the head, chest and pelvis (Tribhangi). Use of the hand movements (mudras) is very important in the Odissi dance, as it represents important things that help to tell the story. Themes for this dance are religious and emphasize Krishna and local themes.