List Of 8 Indian Classical Dance Forms : Natya Shastra, Origin And Famous Artists Of Classical Dance Forms

India, a colourful land which has a wide range of cultural diversity and this is what makes it unique and stands tall among others. Here one such representative of cultural diversity is the Indian Classical Dance form. Classical, which is taken from Sanskrit word "Shastriya", denotes the Shastra-based performing arts of Ancient India. The Nataraja idol of Shiva embodies classical dance.


In Bharatmuni's Natya-Shastra which is considered as the foundational treaties of Classical dance forms in India, there 8 major Classical dance forms are mentioned. These forms cover South to North India. In this article you will learn about these 8 classical dance forms along with their States and the names of the prominent artists associated with that dance form.

 List Of 8 Indian Classical Dance Forms

Natya Shastra- Bharat Muni

Before learning about the famous dance forms let's have some information on Natya-shastra. The most studied version of the Natya Shastra comprises 6000 verses which are structured into 36 chapters. The text, states Natalia Lidova, describes the theory of Tandava dance (Shiva), the theory of rasa, of bhava, expression, gestures, acting techniques, basic steps, standing postures, all of these are a part of Indian Classical Dance. These dance forms are considered as a way to attain the supreme spirituality. Now Let's start with the first dance form: Bharatnatyam.

Bharatnatyam Dance: Tamilnadu

Bharatnatyam is a famous classical dance form of Tamilnadu. The dance form has grown out of the art of dancers dedicated to temples. Bharatnatyam was earlier known as Sadir or Dasi Attam.

The original sources of Bharatnatyam are considered as Bharata Muni's Natya Shastra and Nandikeshvara's Abhinaya Darpana ; the Mirror of gesture. The briefing regarding Bharatnatyam can also be found in the Kannada text Manasollasa written by Someshwara III.

Bharatnatyam is a very popular solo dance form of Tamil culture dating back more than 2000 years. The dance begins with the Stuti and ends at Tillana. The music of Bharatnatyam classical dance form is taken from the Carnatic system of Southern India.

The musicians along with a dance recital include at least one vocalist, a Mridangam (drum)-player, and a flautist or violinist or Veena-player. The group also includes a Nattuvanar which is known as dance conductor and recites the dance syllables while playing a pair of small bronze cymbals.

Renowned Artists Of Bharatnatyam Are: Yamini Krishnamurthi, Sonal Mansingh, Rukmini Devi, Padma Subrahmanyam, Vyjayanthimala, Sheema Kermani Padmini.

Kathakali Dance : Kerala

Kathakali is one of the famous Southern classical dance forms. Kathakali originated in Kerala and derived its inspiration from folk dramas Koodiyattam and Krishanattam. It is a kind of story play and found its roots in the 17th century when the prince of Karnataka started to write plays based on the epic characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

In kathakali, the faces of actors are painted according to the type of character they represent -

  • Green: For heroes, kings, and divinities,
  • Red: For someone with an evil streak such as Dushasana and Hiranyakashipu.
  • Black: For forest dwellers, hunters, and middle ground characters.

The costume of male character is a large, billowing skirt. In kathakali the whole story is narrated by using a vocabulary of facial expressions and hand-gestures.

Renowned Artists of Kathakali are: Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Rita Ganguli, Kalamandalam Ramankutti Nair.

Mohiniattam Dance : Kerala

Mohiniattam is another famous classical dance form of Kerala. It is believed that Mohiniattam developed from the story of Vishnu taking the form of Mohini to kill Bhasmasura. It's a dance form of feminine grace. There is a fusion of movement with emotion, expression of physical gestures such as eyes, hands and with music. Restraint in movement is the hallmark of Mohiniattam.

The prince Swati Tirunal of Travancore who is known as the chief architect of Mohiniyattam in the nineteenth century, composed a large repertoire of songs which accompany the performance.

Renowned Artists of Mohiniattam Are: Hema Malini, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, Shobhana, Sunanda Nair, Kalamandalam Radhika, Thankamani, Kalamandalam Hymavathy, Pallavi Krishnan.

Kuchipudi Dance: Andhra Pradesh

This dance form originated in Andhra Pradesh in the 7th century AD during the Bhakti Movement. The name Kuchipudi is taken from the village Kuchelapuram, the place where it was nurtured by great scholars and artists who built up the repertoire and refined the dance techniques. There is a tradition of dancing with feet in a brass saucer.

Kuchipudi is a condensed form of song and dance whose basis is found in Bhagavata Purana. The hand gestures and pad sanchalan both are equally important in this dance form. That's why it is known as the dance-drama of Nritta, Nritya and Natya.

Renowned Artists of Kuchipudi Are: Mallika Sarabhai, V. Satyanarayana Sarma, Deepa Shashindran, Radha Reddy, Bhavna Reddy, Yamini Reddy etc.

Odissi Dance : Orissa (Eastern India)

Odissi dance originated in Orissa which was initially performed by 'Devdasis' and 'Maharis'. Due to the influence of Vaishnavism on this dance in the 12th century, it became a way to worship Lord Vishnu. The traces of this dance form can be found in the inscriptions of Sun Temple, Konark and Brahmeshwar Temples.

Its verses are taken from the Sanskrit scripture Gita Govinda. Odissi classical dance is performed in Tribhanga Mudra. Codified footwork of 'Pada bheda', gaits and walks termed 'chalis', and spins or 'bhramaris' are other components of the technique of Odissi dance.

Renowned Artists of Odissi Are: Sujata Mohapatra, Madhavi Mudgal, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Surendra Nath Jena, Shobana Sahajananan, Sonal Mansingh etc.

Manipuri Dance: Manipur

Manipuri Dance which is also known as Manipuri Raas Leela or Raas Jagoi is a famous dance form of Nort-Eastern India. The dance form originated from Manipur. Manipuri dance evolved in the 18th century along with the Vaishnava Sect. So the predominant theme of Manipuri dance is devotion, and the rich lore of Radha and Krishna lends it episodic content.

The two main divisions of this dance form are: Jagoi and cholom; the first one is gentle while the second one is vigorous, corresponding to the lasya and tandava elements described in Sanskrit literature. Ghungroos are not used in this but drums are the soul of Manipuri Dance.The movements are circular and continuous, each merging into the other. Mudras or hand-gestures are subtly absorbed in the flow of the movement overall. The Pung, a drum, and flute are the principal instruments used in Manipuri dance.

Renowned Artists Of Manipuri Dance Are: Guru Bipin Singh, Darshana Jhaveri, Jhaveri Sisters, Devjani Chaliha, Amala Shankar, Guru Nabh Kumar, Darshna, Nayana etc.

Sattriya Dance : Assam

Sattriyya found its roots in the 15th and 16th century when it was evolved by the Vaishnava Saint Shankardeva (1449- 1586). 'Sattriya dance' refers to the body of dance and dance drama developed in the sattras or monasteries of Assam. It is a unique Classical dance form with an evolved language of hand gesture (hasta), footwork, movement and expression (Nritya and Abhinaya), and a repertoire centred on devotion to Krishna.

The dance starts with invocation to the deity, Krishna or Rama, which is followed by the dance of the sutradhar, the conductor of performances in the sattra. This dance is divided into Apsara dance, Chali dance, Dashavatar dance, Raas dance etc.

Renowned Artists of Sattriya Dance are: Krishnakshi Kashyap, Ramkrishna Tallukdar etc.

Kathak Dance : Northern India

Kathak is one of the main Classical Dance forms of North India. Kathak originated from the word Katha which literally means to tell a story. This dance form is widely practised in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

This art form developed in mediaeval India and achieved its finest flowering under Mughal rule. In the nineteenth century, Lucknow, Jaipur, Raigarh and Banaras Gharanas mainly emerged as leading centres of Kathak dance.

Kathak which is characterised stylistically by its pirouettes and Footwork, is pre-eminently a dance of rhythm-play. The music of traditional Kathak consists of the Thumri and other lyrical song-forms, and the essential musical instruments are the Tabla, Pakhawaj, and Sarangi. Thumri acquired a special connection with Kathak dance in the court of Wajid Ali Shah at Lucknow in the nineteenth century.

Renowned Artists Of Kathak Are : Birju Maharaj, Nahid Siddiqui, Lacchu Maharaj, Gopi Krishna, Saswati Sen etc.

List Of Indian Classical Dance Forms

Classical Dance FormStateArtists
Yamini Krishnamurthi, Sonal Mansingh, Rukmini Devi, Padma Subrahmanyam
KathakUttar Pradesh
Birju Maharaj, Nahid Siddiqui, Lacchu Maharaj, Gopi Krishna
Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Rita Ganguli, Kalamandalam Ramankutti Nair.
KuchipudiAndhra Pradesh
Mallika Sarabhai, V. Satyanarayana Sarma, Deepa Shashindran, Radha Reddy
SattriyaAssamKrishnakshi Kashyap, Ramkrishna Tallukdar
Guru Bipin Singh, Darshana Jhaveri, Jhaveri Sisters, Devjani Chaliha
Sujata Mohapatra, Madhavi Mudgal, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Surendra Nath Jena
Hema Malini, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, Shobhana, Sunanda Nair
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