Classical Dance of India: List of 8 Classical Dances of India

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

India is the land of cultures and traditions. Extensive evidence of the classical dance of India has been found in the processes of excavations, the existing inscriptions, literary sources, sculptures, and paintings that existed for decades and centuries in India. Musical performances are originally known as sangeet nataka and they were performed from the 12th to 19th centuries, which gave rise to the contemporary Indian classical dance forms. There are two fundamental components of Indian classical dances, the first is Tandav, which involves movement and rhythm, and the second is Lasya which involves grace bhava and rasa. In classical dance, there are three main components:

  1. Natya, which is the theatrical aspect.
  2. Nritta, which involves basic dance movements performed without mood or expressions
  3. Nritya involves Mudras and expressional components.

As far as the concept of rasa is concerned, there are 9 rasas in any classical dance of India – peace, disgust, love, pathos, heroism, humour, anger, fear, and wonder. There are different classical dance forms in India that are explained in detail in this article that every UPSC aspirant must know about.

History of Classical Dance of India

All the types of classical dances has a historical background and the source of origin centuries and centuries ago.

  • Archaeological evidence for early dance includes the 3300 BC Egyptian Tomb paintings depicting dancing peoples and a 9000-year-old mural on the rocks of Bhimbetka.
  • It has been suggested that before the invention of written languages, classical dances of India were the crucial component of transmitting stories from one generation to another.
  • Dancers frequently perform their dances during festivals, religious services, and in front of deities, especially in the form of adoration.
  • In modern India, like in ancient India, deities are still worshipped via religious, classical dance styles.
  • Indian classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam also employ hand gestures, popularly known as Mudras, to reenact scenes from some epic stories of Krishna slaying Kalia.
  • According to the Natya Shastra of Bharat Muni, when God instructed Lord Brahma to create something nice for recreation, then Brahma combined the aspect of the four Vedas to create the Natya Veda, which is the fifth Veda.
  • Sam Vedic dance, theater, music, and Atharva Vedic rasa are all combined in Natya.
  • Two of the very most common dancing styles in India are classical dances and folk dances.
  • There is a lengthy history of classical dance and Natya Shastra, which describes the distinct components of all the types of classical dances of India.
  • Folk dances are available in various forms and numbers based on the states’ regional traditions.

8 Classical Dances of India

The Sanskrit scripture named Natya Shastra, which explains the concept of Indian classical dance and how to perform it. It compasses a wide range of musical theatre-based performing arts. A plethora of knowledge regarding the classical dance of India may be found in chronicles, excavations, sculptures, and paintings from various eras. Following are the 8 classical dances of India that are followed and practised by many aspiring dancers:

S.No. Classical Dance Form Place of Origin
1. Bharatanatyam Tamil Nadu
2. Kathak North India
3. Kathakali Kerala
4. Kuchipudi Andhra Pradesh
5. Manipuri Manipur
6. Odissi Odisha
7. Mohiniattam Kerala
8. Sattariya Assam

There are certain aspects of classical dances that are applied to all the dances. Before that, we need to learn what Natya Shastra is. A Natya Shastra is a handbook of dramatic art that provides details dealing with all the classical dances and theatres performed in Sanskrit. Now there are two aspects of Natya Shastra one is Lasya and the second is Tandva.

  • Lasya symbolizes the Grace, Bhav, Rasa, and Abhinay of classical dance. Lasya, generally symbolizes the feminine features of representation of a classical dance form. Tandava is the strong and dauntless representation of this dance form and generally emphasizes the masculine aspects emphasizing the rhythm and movement.
  • Apart from these two aspects, there are three other fundamental components of classical dance forms.

The basic dancing move called Nritta is executed methodically without emotion or mood. The word Natya which means theatrical representations alludes to the plot that is developed throughout the dance recital. Nritya is the name of the passion and feelings that dancing elicits. It incorporates mime and a variety of expressive techniques, such as dancing mudras.

  • Also, in the concept of Indian classical dance forms, there is a Guru Shishya Parampara, which is the core of such dances. The simple Funda of Guru Shishya Parampara is that each dance form is related to a Guru and that knowledge of classical dance form is transferred to the Shishya.

Apart from these aspects, there are also 9 rasas in the classical dance of India. All of these 9 rasas symbolize some attributes, which are as follows:

Classical Dance Rasas Attributes
Shringaara Love
Raudra Anger
Bibhatsa Disgust
Veera Heroism
Shaanta Peace and tranquillity
Hasya Laughter and comedy
Karuna Tragedy
Bhayanaka Horror
Adbhuta Wonder

Classical Dance Forms of India

There are a total of 8 classical dance forms in India. All of these dance forms are practised in different parts of India initially, and with the passage of time, many enthusiastic dancers are following them.


  • Bharatanatyam is one of the most popular classical dances of India that has got its recognition from Sangeet Natak Academy, which is the national level Academy for performing arts established by the Indian Government. The origin of Bharatanatyam came from the temples of Tamil Nadu where it was performed by devadasis.
  • This dance form is about 2000 years old, as the relevant information related to Bharatanatyam is mentioned in the text of Natya Shastra by Bharat Muni.
  • Natya, Nritya, and Nritta are Bharatanatyam’s 3 key characteristics. Bharatanatyam dance form can be performed by both men and women.
  • While dancing in Bharatanatyam, the performers wear bright-coloured clothes where men wear dhotis while women wear sarees.
  • It is an extremely expressive dance form where the facial emotions of actors and their body language are highlighted by the heavy use of makeup and vibrant accessories.
  • The music played in Bharatanatyam includes mridang, violin, and flute.
  • In Bharatanatyam, gestures are known as mudras.
  • It is a worldwide popular classical dance form in India. In fact, being so popular, this dance form is included even in the curriculum of schools and colleges.
  • Mrinalini Sarabhai, Yamini Krishnamurti, Padma Subramanyam, and Shobana are some of the best-known Bharatanatyam performers in India.


  • Kathak is the North Indian classical dance form that is said to originate from the wanderers who were known as Kathakars in Hindi, which means storytellers. These kathakars travelled from one place to another and depicted various stories by means of dancing and singing.
  • They use rhythmic hand gestures, facial expressions, foot motions, and eye movements to express different stories.
  • Kathak’s performance technique weaves together myths from ancient folklore and magnificent Indian tales, mostly from the life of Krishna, which became very popular in the North Indian kingdoms.
  • The Lucknow Gharana, Jaipur Gharana, and Banaras Gharana are three distinct subtypes of this genre which usually differ in the emphasis placed on footwork as opposed to acting and are more well-known.
  • 12 traditional instruments are used in Kathak performance which depends on the intensity and the depth required for a performance.
  • However, other instruments are frequently used in a Kathak performance, like tabla, that harmonizes well with the artist’s musical footwork and frequently imitates the sound of such footwork advances. Also, the tabla is another way to create a beautiful jugalbandi between two performers on the same stage.
  • Hand cymbals, Sarangi, and Harmonium, are very commonly used instruments while performing this dance.
  • Birju Maharaj, Lachhu Maharaj, Rani Karnaa, Durga Lal, Sitara Devi, and Gopi Krishna are some of the best-known Kathak dancers in India.


  • The art of Kathakali developed from a variety of socio-religious theatre forms that were practised in ancient South India.
  • A few ritual performance arts from Kerala- Chakiarkoothu, Koodiyattam, Krishnanattam, and Ramanattam- directly influenced the look and style of Kathakali.
  • Kathakali’s classical dance form has also been influenced by Kerala’s traditional martial arts.
  • Kerala temple structures and paintings that are of the 16th century at the Mattancherry temple both have elements of Kathakali.
  • It is a combination of art, music, dance, acting, and other related themes inspired by Indian traditional epics.
  • It involves Abhinay, which is made up of 4 parts Angika, Acharya, Vijika, Satvika, and Natya, to make up a complete art form.
  • The makeup code of Kathakali determines the characters in the deeds and categorizes them as being sattva, rajas, and tamas, which are all parts of the personality theory that comes from the traditional School of Hindu Philosophy-Samkhya.


  • Kuchipudi is the regional classical dance of Andhra Pradesh. It got its name from an ancient city-Kuchelapuram.
  • Originally, Kuchipudi was performed by men only. Women were given permission to perform this art quite later.
  • Kuchipudi classical dance form is a methodical dance art to offer prayers and representations of the life of Krishna. It symbolizes the inseparable bond between the god and the devotee.
  • Kuchipudi dance includes more turns rather than steps.
  • The fan of the dress of the Kuchipudi dance is way bigger than that of the Bharatnatyam dance.
  • Raja Reddy, Radha Reddy, Yamini Reddy, Kaushalya Reddy, and Bhavana Reddy are all famous Kuchipudi dancers of India.


  • The beginning of the Manipuri dance form dates back to antiquity, even before history was first written down of it.
  • The earliest type of dance in Manipur is called Lai Haraoba, and it serves as the foundation for all others.
  • In the state of Manipur Lai Haraoba is a celebration that is still celebrated. The literal meaning of Lai Haraoba is the revelry of god.
  • The priests, sometimes called ‘maibas’, are the main performers of Manipuri dance.
  • The prime subjects depicted by Manipuri dance are of it is playing the love tales between Krishna and Radha, along with other themes as per performance.
  • Manipuri culture is a synthesis of Indian civilization, and this can be seen in the dances that are performed there.
  • There are three different types of Raslila performed in Manipuri dance. These three styles are Tal Rasak means the dancer claps while dancing, the second style is Danda Rasak in which the dancers beat the drum with two sticks while being in the position of geometric patterns and the last one is Mandal Rasak in which Krishna stays in the center, whereas Gopis dance around him.
  • The major instruments used in Manipuri dance are the barrel drum, cymbal, and other string instruments.
  • Guru Vipin Sinha, Darshan Jhaveri, and Nirmala Mehta are some famous Manipuri dancers.


  • The stories of Lord Vishnu’s past life and lyrics from Jaideva’s Geeta Govindam serve as the main topics for the performances of the Odissi dance form.
  • Odissi dance is a gentle and coming dance having soothing lyrics that share mudras and facial gestures with Bharatnatyam.
  • Odissi dance is referred to as mobile scripture and includes Darbhanga and Chowk positions in which the body is bent at the knees, neck, and torso.
  • The top performers of this classical dance of India are Sonal Mansingh and Kelu Charan Mohapatra.


  • The dance of Mohiniyattam is based on the Lasya style of Natya Shastra.
  • It includes more feminine facial expressions and delicate motions. The motions are smooth and gliding and do not move in quick rhythmic movements.
  • The hand motions and facial expressions are given more attention in this classical dance form.
  • There are elements that have been adapted from thiruvathirakali and nangiar koothu, which are two additional dance styles from Kerala.
  • The Mohiniyattam dance form is performed only by women traditionally.
  • Some analysts estimate that will that form is 700 years old.
  • The 16th-century Indian legal treaty Vyavaharamala, written by Mazhamagalam Narayanan Namboodiri, has one of the oldest references to Mohiniyattam.
  • Sunanda Nair, Jayaprabha Menon, Pallavi Krishnan, Gopika Verma, and Vijayalakshmi are some of the best-known Mohiniyattam dancers in India.


  • Sattriya is an Assamese dance form that was established by the great reformer Mahapurusha Sankaradeva in the 15th century. He initiated this dance form as a potent means of spreading the Vaishnava religion.
  • Later, this Indian classical dance form developed and broadened into a separate dance style.
  • Sattriya was properly given its name due to its religious nature and connection to Sattras.
  • Sattriya dance form was invented by Shankar Deva, whose dancing style was used with local traditional dance and his unique perspective along with diverse components from many treatises.

Difference Between Classical Dance of India and Folk Dance

Many times, classical dance and folk dance are considered to be the same. This is because both have grace and are enjoyed while being performed. However, this is not true. The simple difference between classical and folk dance is that the former is more complex, having lots of gestures and mudras, whereas folk dances are light-mood and performed for pleasure. Let’s see more differences between the classical dance of India and folk dance.

Classical Dance of India Folk Dances of India
The source of classical dance in India is Natya Shastra. The fundamental parts of classical dance are Lasya and Tandava. The source of folk dances is the local people living in a society or a particular geographical area. Folk dances reflect their culture and are performed by them on local music.
Classical dances are mostly performed as the devotion towards their deities and are full of spirituality. Folk dances are generally related to festivals, especially harvesting festivals like Baisakhi or any other happy occasion.
Classical dances have more gestures, eye movements, and facial expressions; hence they are a bit difficult to learn and perform. Folk dances are comparatively easier and more enjoyable in form and have no difficult steps or mudras to perform.
The performers of classical dance in India are highly trained and experienced and have taken special classes and studies for a particular type of dance. To perform folk dance, there is no prior requirement of any course or experience. Performing folk dance does not require any professional dancer, a local person can dance too.
Classical dances are more sophisticated and elegant forms of dancing and are full of grace. Folk dances are more about enjoying the strength, passion, and happiness.
There are 8th classical dances of India, namely Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam, Manipuri, Odissi, and sattriya Folk dances in India are more than 30 types. For instance, in Rajasthan only, there are different types of folk dances like Ghoomar and Kalbeliya Chirmi. Apart from that, in Gujarat Garba is very famous.

Classical Dance of India UPSC

Classical dance of India UPSC topic is part of the art and culture section of the UPSC syllabus. Classical dances of India, along with other forms like singing, painting scriptures, and sculptures, are a very important part of the UPSC exam, and it allows one to broaden the area of knowledge of existing cultures of a country for aspiring IAS officers. Although the questions asked from the art and culture portion are comparatively fewer, the UPSC exam is not for taking chances. Hence every section is important to learn in depth.

Classical Dances of India UPSC Question

Classical dance in India is a vast topic. To practice this topic for UPSC exams, one shall try answering these sample questions from the previous year’s question bank.

Q1. Consider the following statements in terms of the Kuchipudi classical dance form of India and answer the question.

  1. Kuchipudi dance represents the composition of the body made up of earthly components.
  2. Kuchipudi dance is performed on Carnatic music.

Which of the statements given is/ are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. 1 and 2 both
  4. None of the above

Answer – Option 3

Q2. Mohiniyattam is a classical dance of which state?

  1. Kerala
  2. Karnataka
  3. Tamil Nadu
  4. Andhra Pradesh

Answer – Option 1

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