We all know that India has a rich culture in every field, including dance forms, food, and music. This article will explore the top 10 authentic or ancient Indian dance forms that have become famous globally. These dance forms are not just an exercise or hobby; these dances are kind of art forms in their own beautiful way. With the help of dance, you can express your emotions and convey a very strong message to everyone around you.
Indian dance moves are popular for their simplicity and natural beauty. There are many traditional dances in Indian culture that you can learn, and its main speciality is that in India, you will get to see that every state has its own folk dances, and they all are unique in their own way. In India, even at every festival, you see different dance styles with their unique dance form.
Kuchipudi is one of those Indian dances related to the Bhagavata Mela performance art of Tamil Nadu. This Indian dance is one of the eight major classical Indian dances, and its name originated from a village name called Kuchipudi, which is located in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. This dance form is also performed in many other states of India in modern time period.
There are several instruments that are used in this classical dance, like Cymbals, Veena, Flute, Tambura, and Mridangam. Kuchipudi is a drama-dance performance, and it is one of those classical dances that has roots in the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text of Natya Shastra. You can find evidence of this Indian classical dance in inscriptions of 10th-century and 15th-century texts such as Machupalli Kaifat.
There are some of the major Kuchipudi dramas where you can see what an actual traditional Indian dance looks like. Some of the drama’s names are Bhama Kalapam of Sidhyendra Yogi which is based on lord Krishna’s life from his birth to his marriage with Rukmini Devi. Another popular drama is Golla Kalapam written by Ramaiah Sastri which depicts the theme of ethical conversation between a Gopi and a Brahmin.
2. Bharata Natyam
This classical dance form is one of those classical Indian dances which has flourished in courts and temples of Southern India since ancient times. This dance drama originated in Tamil Nadu, and it is also briefly mentioned in the Kannada text as ‘Bharat Natya Veda’. This style is a pure dance performed as a solo act exclusively by female dancers on religious themes like Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Shaivism.
This Indian dance also contains at least 20 asanas of Yoga, and you will also get to see the sign language based on eye movements, facial expressions and hands. Bharatanatyam expanded after India got independence in 1947 and it now become one of the most popular classical dance styles which is supported by Indian communities in a very positive way. You can say that Bharatanatyam has been big enough to Indian dance tradition, same as Ballet in western countries.
Even outside India, you can see the academic institutes in Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia, Singapore, etc. that hosts thousands of shows every year and nowadays you can see even male dancers start to openly participate in Bharatanatyam which shows a very supportive sign. In 2020, almost 10,000 Bharatanatyam dancers got together in Chennai to break the world record for the biggest Bharatanatyam performance.
Kathak dance tradition is one of those folk forms whose name is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Katha’, which means story, and ‘Kathakar’ means storytelling; together, it means to communicate the stories of great Hindu mythical stories and epics through dance, music and song. Kathak dancers tell a story through extensive footwork movements and hand gestures.
During the rule of Mughals emperors, the Kathak dance got famous, and many Mughal rulers got interested in this temple dance. So this dance form got promoted to performed in royal courts, and that is the reason that Kathak performances have Urdu Ghazals and some of the instruments from the Mughal period.
All this makes Kathak the only Indian dance form to feature Persian elements. Kathak is found in three unique forms called ‘Gharanas’, name based on the cities where these types of dance styles got evolved i.e. Banaras, Jaipur and Lucknow. Kathak emphasizes rhythmic foot movements, which look more beautiful with small bells (ghungroo).
This dance style is only performed with traditional music and it is performed in almost all parts of India, in eastern India, North India, and South India. These types of dance form gives your mind peace and introduce you to real beauty of art of dance.
This Indian dance is a unique style that originated in Karnataka. Yakshagana is one of those other art forms performed in traditional Indian theatre that combines Carnatic music, dialogue, dance, costume, make up and stage techniques with creative form and style. This Indian dance got evolved from pre-classical theatre and music during the period of the Bhakti movement.
Yakshagana is presented from dusk to dawn by depicting stories about Hindu gods and temples like Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavata and other epics from both Jain and Hindu traditions. Some instruments are used during this Indian dance, like Maddale, Taala (bells) and Chande (drums).
Yakshagana is one of those classical Indian dance forms that are the result of slow evolution because of drawing its elements from ritual theatre, secular arts and temple arts like ‘Bahrupi’. Over the centuries, many artists performed Yakshagana, but some of them have that unique or charming style that earns them a star value.
Some famous artists’ name for this Indian dance is Kuriya Vithala Shastry, Balipa Narayana Bhagawat, Kalinga Nevada, etc. This Indian dance also gained popularity outside India as some amateur troupes who emerged in the USA, Ontario, and California started their schools to teach this ancient dance form.
The traditional Kathakali foundation and theory are the same as other Indian dances mentioned in Natya Shastra. Kathakali is a story-play genre of art, and what makes it unique is its colourful makeup, face masks and beautiful costumes that traditionally wear by male actor-dancers. Nowadays, even female dancers have started participating in this ancient dance form, and that makes this dance form very special.
This Indian dance is normally native to the Malayalam-speaking region of Kerala, and it is entirely practised and appreciated by the Malayali people. A normal Kathakali act is like any other dance form, synthesising vocal performers, music, hand gestures and facial expressions together to express creative ideas. Common instruments that are used in this Indian dance are three different types of drums i.e. Maddalam, Idakka and Chenda.
Kathakali is a little different from other Indian dance forms according to the structure and details of art forms developed in theatres and courts of Hindu principalities, unlike other classic Indian dances which primarily evolved in Hindu temples. Kathakali is performed on the occasion of Onam (an Indian festival), which makes these types of festival dance festivals.
Kathakali has become a tradition passed from one generation to another. You can find Kathakali schools all over India now run by artists’ families and after a certain period of time guru chooses his/her disciple who will run the academy. You can also see some Kathakali schools in the United States and some parts of Western Europe
6. Odissi Classical Dance
This is the classical Indian dance that is originated in Odisha and predominantly performed by female dancers. This dance style expresses spiritual stories, religious ideas and Vaishnavism through songs composed and written according to talas and ragas of Odissi music. This dance style particularly depicts Jagannath religious stories as well as lord Shiva, Shaktism and Surya god.
Theoretical foundations of this ancient Indian dance form are also mentioned in an ancient Sanskrit text, ‘Natya Shastra’, and for evidence, you can see the dance poses of Odissi in sculptures of Kalingan temples. This dance form faced suppression during the British rule time period, but after gaining independence, this Indian dance form started to expand all over India. Even the Indian Institute of Technology Bhubaneswar is the college that has Odissi in its syllabus since 2015.
Traditional Odissi exists in two unique styles. First, one is the perfected woman and focused on solemn, which is a spiritual temple dance also called Maharis. The second style is perfected by boys dressed as girls; this style also goes by the name Gotipuas. An Odissi dance form repertoire includes Nritta, invocation, Natya, Nritya and Moksha, which are the main factors that make a dance form cultural and ancient.
Some of the well-known performers of Odissi are Kelucharan Mohapatra, Pankaj Charan Das, Deba Prasad Das, etc. These are the gurus that revived and evolved the Odissi dance form in the early fifties. Indian artists present modern Odissi with experimental ideas, unique themes, plays and cultural fusion. Odissi is the only Indian form featured in Michael Jackson’s 1991 hit single named ‘Black or White.
Bhangra is a traditional Indian dance that originated in the Sialkot area of Punjab. You can see people performing it during the season of harvesting in Punjab, and this Indian dance form is also associated with the vernal Vaisakhi festival. This Indian dance form is typical because dancers or performers need to do vigorous leaps, kicks and bends with upraised shoulder movements or thrusting arms to accompany a short song called Boliyan and, most importantly, to beat the Dhol (drum).
Bhangra is one of the most energetic Indian dance forms of all time. Traditionally this dance form is performed during communal and cultural celebrations, but in today’s time, you get to see this Indian dance form in every marriage or any kind of fun occasion as these days Punjabi songs get insane popularity in every state or city. One of the other reasons for the popularity of This Indian dance form is that it is very energetic and once you start dancing to the beats of Dhol, then you are not gonna stop for at least half an hour.
Modern-day evolution allows Bhangra to retain its traditional roots while broadening its popularity through popular music, DJing, group-based competitions and dance programs in schools and studios. There is also some other Punjabi dance form like Luddi and Giddha, which also have become the heritage of Jammu. In the past 30 years, Bhangda has been established all over the world after getting mixed with house, hip-hop and reggae styles music.
Many people of India also do the Bhangra as an exercise which is n excellent substitution for the gym for old age people. We can now see both men and women equally participate in Bhangra with great enthusiasm and positive vibes as this Indian dance form is supported by all religious communities, and that is the factor that every dance form should have because dance is one of those things that brings unity and happiness among all peoples of different religions.
8. Gaudiya Nritya
Gaudiya Nritya is one of those Indian dance forms that is a mixture of everything like history, drama, poetry, music and colour. This Indian dance form is a classical Bengali dance style which is originated from Gauda, which is also known as Gaur (capital city of Bengal) in Bengal. This Indian dance form has been recognized as Indian classical dance by the Ministry of Culture and is also eligible for scholarships from the Ministry of culture of India.
But with the span of time, there are very less followers left for this ancient Indian dance form. You can say that This dance form has been long forgotten by people but still, but some artists still taking this forgotten Indian dance form among the world. A 24-year-old girl is trying to revive this dance form by performing regular shows in Bengal. She even performed this ancient classical dance at the UNESCO dance congress in Tokyo, at the 54th World congress of dance.
This dance form has been reconstructed or revived by Guru Mahua Mukherjee. This is a shame because Indian people forget their culture over western culture’s popular dance forms. The next generation may not even know whether these ancient Indian dance forms exist. These dance forms are the roots of our culture, and we should try our best to make these ancient dance forms alive by performing them occasionally or at Indian festivals.
If you ever visit Bankura, then you can see the temples have sculptures depicting this dance style. Dancing with the Chaamar (flying whisk) means to dance with all five elements, i.e. Fire, Earth, Space, Water and Air.
9. Chhau Dance
Chaau dance which also goes by the name Chhou dance, is a classical Indian dance form that is a mixture of folk and martial traditions. It originates in eastern India, and it is performed in Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Chhau masks of Purulia are registered under geographical indications. This Indian dance form is unique because it combines acrobatics, athletics and martial arts, which is performed in the festive theme of folk dance.
Costumes use in this act vary according to the story it depicts, with Serakeilla and Purulia using masks to identify the character. Chaau dancers generally enact stories from the Hindu Epics and Other Indian Literature like Ramayana and Mahabharata. This Indian dance form is traditionally a male troupe, and this dance style is particularly celebrated during the spring season every year.
This Indian dance form is charming and brings people together from diverse socio-economic backgrounds with a religious and festive spirit. Two styles of Chaau dance that use the mask for their performance practice mock combat techniques and stylized gaits of animals and birds. This Indian dance form is rhythmic and played on Shehnai and Mohri’s red pipes. Female dance elements of Chhau introduced the aspects of Lasya Bhavya, taken from Natya Shastra, that brought sensuality, beauty and elegance to the dance form. In contrast, male dancers perform Shiva’s Tandava style of dance.
Chaau dance form is listed on UNESCO’s world heritage list of dances, and one of the main reasons for this is its creative and unique masks used in acts or performances. These masks add a different type of energy to the act and help represent the mythical character in a more proper and realistic way. The Colour of the masks depends on the act that male dancers are performing, and after the colour, they paint the face of the character.
The Manipuri dance, also goes by the name Manipuri Raas Leela is also one of the eight major classical Indian dance forms. Manipuri dance forms are generally based on religious themes like Shaktism, Shaivism and Regional Deities. This Indian dance form’s devotional themes are characterized by soft, peaceful body movements and gentle eyes. Whether the dancer is Hindu or not, This dance form encourages unity among all religions and promotes equality.
This Indian dance form is based on scriptures of Vaishnavism and exclusively on the worship of Radha and Krishna. This dance style portrays the divine and pure love of Radha and Krishna in the cowherd damsel of Vrindavan; It also goes by the name Raas Leela. You can see the evidence of this ancient Indian dance form in Vishnu temples in the medieval era, and that knowledge has transferred from generation to generation.
Manipuri is considered to be a purely spiritual experience, and it is accompanied by devotional music that can be created with many instruments like Cymbals (Kartal or Manjira) and a double-headed drum (Manipuri Mrdanga or Pung). Manipuri dance also consists of Cholom, Huyen Langlon and Jagoi. This dance form is one of two dance styles that shows violence as Motif (the other dance form is Chaau).
The classical Indian dance form features unique costumes, women characters are dressed in Potloi costumes which design was created in a dream by Vaishnavite Meitei King Bhagyachandra of Manipur, in which he saw his daughter dancing in doll-like Potloi. There are also head accessories available like Kotkombi, Koknam and Meikhumbi which wear by female dancers to symbolize elusiveness. The male dancers there are Chura and Leittreng.
These all are the Indian dance forms that became famous globally and are recognized by Sangeet Natak Academy. These classical dances are different from the other dance forms that are performed in today’s time. Classical dance is total different art that cannot be copied, this art can only be done when you learn it properly from the real Gurus and practice it with all your focus.
You can always see these dance forms mentioned in Sanskrit texts Natya Shastra. But in today’s life, most of the youth of India get attracted to the western culture and their music and the number of followers of Cultural Indian dance and Music dropping day by day. The style of Indian classical dancing is very motivational and vibrant. That not only allows you to relax your body but also helps to increase your focusing power.
The dancers performing this kind of dance form are professionals who can only make it to this level by practicing and rehearsing for a long time. These Indian dance forms are not that simple art that you can watch the video and you will learn it. To learn these dancing techniques you need to join a proper dance school or academy, that is the only way you can do the classical dancing techniques in the right way. Classical dance also give relaxation and peace to our mind.
When the dancers or professionals perform this classical art on stage they need to wear the traditional costume of the respective dance form that he/she is performing. Costumes are a very important factor of any act too, they wear different dresses like Kurtas, Saree and Lenghas, etc.
These costumes are important enough as dance forms in any kind of performance. Dance is always equal for all male and female dancers and it does not discriminate between rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim, Black and White. Dance only symbolizes love and emotions which are very important in today’s world for the citizens of the whole country.