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Top 15 best classical dance forms of India

The Indian dance forms originated in ancient times. The sculptures that belong to the Indus Valley Civilization show dancing figures. The cave paintings of Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh portray dancing images. The text relating to the origin of dance in India can be found in Natya Shastra, which was written by sage Bharata.

Our country India is indeed united in diversity as several unique dance forms can be found within each state itself. These dance forms reflect the cultural richness of India. From the graceful Mohiniyattam to the Ghoomar folk dance of Rajasthan, the dances vary from each other but are equally spellbinding.

Indian dances can be classical, folk or tribal dance and all are simply magical. All the incredible classical dances originated within the country during ancient times, Bharatanatyam being one of the oldest and most popular of the classical dance forms. Let us take a look at some of the incredible dance forms of our country.

Best Indian Classical Dance Forms List –

1. Bharatanatyam:  Tamil Nadu, South India

Bharatanatyam originated way back in around 1000 B.C. and it originated in the ancient temples of Tamil Nadu. This dance form is also called the mother of all other classical styles and is considered one of the oldest dance forms in India. Bharatanatyam expresses the religious themes and spiritual beliefs of South India, especially Shaivism and Vaishnavism. Visual proofs of this elegant dance form can be found in the ancient stones and pillars of ancient Hindu temples.

2. Kathak: Uttar Pradesh, North India

Kathak is derived from the word ‘katha’ which means story in Hindi and this graceful dance form conveys stories through rhythmic foot movements, hand mudras and facial expressions. The stories about the life of the Hindu God Krishna form the major theme of Kathak. This form of dance focuses highly on ankle movements. Musical instruments like tabla, harmonium, sarangi, etc. are used in kathak performances.

3. Kathakali: Kerala

The term ‘ kathakali ‘ is derived from Katha meaning ‘ story or conversation’ and ‘kali’ meaning ‘performance and art’ in Sanskrit. The dance form is distinguished by elaborate colorful make-up, costumes and masks worn by the dancers. These dance performances tell us stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharat. The dance is mostly performed by male dancers even for the female characters.

4. Kuchipudi: Andhra Pradesh

This classical dance form originated in a village called Kuchelapuri in Andhra Pradesh. It originated as an adoration of the Hindu God Krishna. This dance form requires the performer to dance as well as sing, and so it is tougher than other dance forms. In the earlier times, Kuchipudi was performed only by the male dancers specifically by the Brahmins but as time passed, it became famous among the women too.   

5. Manipuri: Manipur

 The dance form is characterized by gentle eyes and soft, peaceful body movements. Manipuri is known for its Hindu Vaishnavism themes and Radha-Krishna’s love-inspired dance dramas. The popularity of this dance form suffered during the British time. It got a second lease of life through the efforts of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.

6. Odissi: Odisha

Odissi dance form originates from the Indian state of Odisha in the eastern part of the country.  This dance form is one of the oldest of the surviving classical dance forms based on archeological findings. It is performed basically by women dancers and includes more than 50 hand mudras.

7. Mohiniyattam: Kerala, South India

This dance form has love and devotion to God as its major themes. This dance is performed mainly by women dancers and means ‘dance of the enchantress’. It was banned during the British time but the ban was later repealed and with the help of locals, the dance form was revived again.   

8. Bhangra: Punjab

This energetic folk dance of Punjab originated with the farmers as a community celebration during the harvest season. Bhangra now is performed all over the world by both men and women. Bhangra is performed to the beats of dhol (drum).

9. Garba: Gujarat, Western India

Garba is a Gujarati folk dance performed during the Navaratri – a celebration that lasts over nine nights. It is performed in a circle in front of a big lamp or statue of the Mother Goddess. Garba is a community dance that pays respect to the nine forms of the Mother goddess. Men and women wearing colorful traditional clothes perform garba to the beats of dhol (drum).

10. Rouf:  Kashmir, North India

Rouf dance is performed to celebrate the arrival of spring in the valley of Kashmir. This dance was initially performed by Muslims in the valley but was later adopted by everyone. Harvesting season is a special occasion for the farmers and so women celebrate it through this dance. Rouf is a simple dance that people enjoy to celebrate the arrival of spring in the valley.

11. Ghoomar: Rajasthan

Ghoomar is a traditional folk dance of the northern state of Rajasthan. It was earlier performed by the Bhil community to worship Goddess Saraswati but is nowadays performed by other Rajasthani communities as well. Ghoomar involves a lot of legwork and hand movements that need a lot of synchronization among the dancers as they dance together, forming a circle. Another thing that catches the attention of viewers is the colorful attire of the dancers while performing the ghoomar. This beautiful folk dance showcases the rich art and culture of Rajasthan.

12. Chhau : Mayurbhanj, Odisha

Chhau dance is a folk dance from Odisha in the eastern part of the country. The origin of Chhau can be traced to indigenous forms of dance and martial practices. In this dance episodes from epics like Ramayana, Mahabharat and local folklore are presented. The dance brings together people from different socio-economic backgrounds.

13. Bihu: Assam

Bihu is a folk dance from the state of Assam and is performed during the Assamese festival Bihu. The Bihu dance can be found depicted in the 9th-century sculptures found in Assam. The dance is performed by young men and women dressed in traditional attire. Bihu is performed to express the joy in the hearts of people.

14. Lavani: Maharastra, West India

 This dance is performed by female dancers telling stories that revolve around religion, politics, society etc. The dancers are dressed in the traditional saree, and they dance to foot-tapping music, leaving the audience thoroughly entertained.

15. Sattriya dance: Assam, Northeast India

The Sattriya dance was introduced in 15 Century A.D. by the renowned Assamese saint and reformer Mahapurusha Sankaradeva. Traditionally this dance was performed by male monks to present religious and mythological teachings artistically. Nowadays this dance is performed even by women and the theme is not just about mythological teachings.

So these were some of the dance forms of our culturally rich country. They bring joy to the people and bind them together irrespective of their socio-economic status.

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