There are many types of dance in India, from
those which are deeply religious in content to those which
are danced on more trivial happy occasions. Classical
dances of India are usually always spiritual in content, although
this is often true also of Folk dances.
Kathakali literally means story-play and is an elaborate
dance depicting the victory of truth over falsehood.
A Striking feature of Kathakali is the use of elaborate make-up and
colourful costumes. This is to emphasize that the
characters are superbeings from another world, and their
make-up is easily recognisable to the trained eye as
satvik or godlike, rajasik or heroic,
and tamasik or demonic.
Some poses of Mohini Attam
The theme of Mohini attam dance is love and devotion to god. Vishnu or Krishna is most often the hero. The spectators can feel His invisible presence when the heroine or her maid details dreams and ambitions through circular movements, delicate footsteps and subtle expressions. Through slow and medium tempos, the dancer is able to find adequate space for improvisations and suggestive bhavas or emotions.
The basic dance steps are the Adavus which are
of four kinds: Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammisram. These names are
derived from the nomenclature called vaittari.
The Mohini attam dancer maintains realistic
make-up and adorns a simple costume, in comparison
to costumes of other dances, such as Kathakali.
The dancer is attired in a beautiful white with
gold border Kasavu saree of Kerala, with the
distinctive white jasmin flowers around a French bun at
the side of her head.
A typical nritya pose of
Bharata Natyam dance with abhinaya.
Bharata Natyam dance has been handed down through the centuries
by dance teachers (or gurus) called nattuwanars and the
temple dancers, called devadasis. In the sacred
environment of the temple these familes developed and
propagated their heritage. The training traditionally took around
seven years under the direction of the nattuwanar who were scholars
and persons of great learning. The four great nattuwanars of
Tanjore were known as the Tanjore Quartet and were brothers
named Chinnaiah, Ponnaiah, Vadivelu and Shivanandam. The Bharata
Natyam repertiore as we know it today was constructed by
this talented Tanjore Quartet.
Raja and Radha Reddy in a striking pose of
The dance drama that stil exists today and can most
closely be associated with the Sanskrit theatrical tradition
is Kuchipudi which is also known as Bhagavata Mela Natakam.
The actors sing and dance, and the style is a blend of folk
and classical. Arguably this is why this technique has
greater freedom and fluidity than other dance styles.
Bhagavata mela natakam was always performed as
an offering to the temples of either Merratur, Soolamangalam,
Oothkadu, Nallur or Theperumanallur.
Gorgeous Odissi pose. Picture courtesy
of the Odissi Kala Kendra.
Odissi is based on the popular devotion to
Lord Krishna and the verses of the Sanskrit
play Geet Govinda are used to depict the love
and devotion to God. The Odissi dancers use
their head, bust and torso in soft flowing
movements to express specific moods and
The form is curvaceous, concentrating
on the tribhang or the division of the body
into three parts, head, bust and torso; the
mudras and the expressions are similar to
those of Bharatnatyam. Odissi performances
are replete with lores of the eighth
incarnation of Vishnu, Lord Krishna. It is a
soft, lyrical classical dance which depicts the
ambience of Orissa and the philosophy of its
most popular deity, Lord Jagannath, whose temple is in Puri.
On the temple walls of Bhubaneshwar, Puri and
Konark the dance sculptures of Odissi are clearly visible.
This north Indian dance form is inextricably bound with
classical Hindustani music, and the rhythmic nimbleness
of the feet is accompanied by the table or pakhawaj. Traditionally
the stories were of Radha and Krishna, in the Natwari style (as it was
then called) but the Moghul invasion of North India had a
serious impact on the dance. The dance was taken to Muslim courts and
thus it became more entertaining and less religious in content. More
emphasis was laid on nritta, the pure dance aspect and less on
abhinaya (expression and emotion).
Manipuri from Manipur
Singhajit Singh and Charu Siya Mathur.
This dance style was originally called jogai
which means circular movement. In ancient texts it
has been compared to the movement of the planets around
It is said that when Krishna, Radha and the gopis
danced the Ras Leela, Shiva made sure that no one
disturbed the beauty of the dancing. Parvati, the consort of
Lord Shiva also wished to see this dance, so to please
her he chose the beautiful area of manipur and re-enacted
the Ras Leela. Hundreds of centuries later, in the 11th
century, during the reign of Raja Loyamba, prince Khamba of the
Khomal dynasty and Princess Thaibi of the Mairang dynasty
re-enacted the dance and it became known as Lai-Haraoba, the most ancient
dance of Manipur.
The Indian States
Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are in the South; Orissa lies along the the mid-eastern coast; Manipur is in the far East and Uttar Pradesh is in the northern regions.