Indian dances

Newer dance forms

Indian dances

Most traditional dances in India, other than dance movements, use drama, music and poetry. In some cases the facial expressions and colors of the clothing are as important to the performance as the dance itself.


Kathakali comes from Southern India. The first evidence of the dance under this name dates from the 16th century, but it is believed that it is 1500 years older since it implements a lot of movements from various ancient dances.

The Kathakali is a classical Indian dance-drama. It combines all five art forms- literature, music, painting, acting and dance.

Kathakali does not rely on stage sets or props. It uses highly coded systems of costumes, makeup and headpieces. Dancers re-create moods or emotions with the help of vocal and drum accompaniment. The dancers don’t speak, Instead they use hand gestures, mudras, and facial expressions to represent what the vocalists are singing.


Kuchipudi is typical in Southeast India. It can be traced back to the 2nd century BC. However, the dance in its current form was developed in the 14th century.

Like Kathakali, it is a type of dance drama which combines speech, mime and dance.

The dance would usually start with South Indian Carnatic music. The lyrics in the songs for Kuchipudi are usually in Telugu and sometimes in Sanskrit.

Fast elegant moves and delicate footsteps are typical for Kuchipudi. Dancers dance on a brass plate with their feet upon the raised edges. They hold two small candles- diyas, while dancing upon the plate. Also, they are balancing a small vessel full of water called “kundi” on their heads.

Normally, the dancers would put out the candles and wash their hands with the water from the kundi at the end of the performance.


Manipuri is a completely religious dance and its main purpose is to worship the gods Radha and Krishna. It originates from the province of Manipur, Northeast India.

The dance as it is known today appeared in the 15th century, but some of its basic steps date back to the 2nd century AD.

Characteristics of traditional manipuri are soft and graceful, rounded movements.

The instruments which accompany a manipuri dance are pung - a percussion instrument, small cymbals, pena - a string instrument, a wind instrument and a singer. The musicians who play the pung are also taught now to dance while playing.

The lyrics for manipuri can be in Sanskrit, Maithili or Brij Bhasha.


Mohiniyattam is a traditional dance from Kerala, South India, which appeared in the 16th century. It is the youngest of the classical Indian dances.

The word “Mohiniyattam” means “dance of an enchantress”. The dance illustrates the absolute love towards God.

Unlike other typical Indian dances, Mohiniyattam is a solo performance. It is danced by women only. It refers to other typical dances like Bharatanatayam and Kathakali.

Mohiniyattam dancers perform dressed in simple and elegant costumes - a white sari with gold embroidered edges. The hair of the dancer is tied in a bun which is decorated with jasmine flowers.

Mohiniyattam consists of about 40 dance steps called adavukal (or atavukal). Dance movements are slow and gentle. Dancers maintain their upright posture throughout the whole dance. The woman who dances mohiniyattam has to be able to “dance” with her eyes and express with them both shyness and sensuality.


Sattriya comes from the word “Sattra”- monastery, which is where the dance was performed in the old days. Traditionally, it was performed by male monks who lived in the monastery as part of their daily routine. Nowadays, it is danced by both men and women.

Sattriya combines drama and dance, as well as singing and poetry. The typical musical instruments include drums- “khols”, cymbals - “taals” and flute which play special compositions called borgeets.

The typical clothing for sattriya dancing is made of a type of silk called pat. This cloth, as well as the ornaments on the dance uniforms are typical for the Assam region.

Further reading

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