The amazing amalgamation of diversity that India is, it is indeed no surprise that the cultural elements running through the country is as varied and distinctive. Be it in food or in dress, in language or in religion, in dance or in songs, all the states of India have their own unique identity. Perpetuating this diversity is the following list of the different dance forms of the 29 states of India which embodies the vastness of Indian culture-
Originating from the namesake Kuchipudi village in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Kuchipudi is one of the eleven major classical dance forms of the country and is basically a dance- drama performance. Originally a male exclusive domain, the dance form gradually evolved over time to also allow women danseuses in its fold. An elaborate, meticulous form of the traditional performing arts practised in India, Kuchipudi developed as a Hindu god Krishna-oriented Vaishnavism tradition and evokes a ritualistic performance on classical Carnatic music to this very date.
The classical dance form stemming from the north eastern state of Assam is the Sattriya dance. Introduced by the eminent Vaishava saint and reformer Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankardeva in the 15th century, Sattriya received exaltation as a classical dance form only in 2000. This performing art also is a dance- drama setup, with mythological teachings sought to be artistically presented through its many postures and gestures, even as musical compositions called Borgeets accompany some parts of the rendition. Traditionally ruling the domain of Hindu monasteries called Sattras, Sattriya is now a dance form also extensively of the stage and enjoys wide popularity even in the global realm.
The indigenous folk dance of Assam, Bihu enjoys a special place in the cultural sphere of the state and is a really vibrant and unique dance of the Assamese people. A celebration of spring- in nature as well as of life, the Bihu dance is a joyous experience that sees men and women alike perform to folk Bihu songs. Traditional Assamese wear and jewelry enhances further the spritely zest of the dance performances characterised by rapid hand movements and a rhythmic swaying of hips that is in itself quite a delight to watch.
The folk dance of the Sherdukpens, a community of people in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, Bardo Chham is a celebration of the victory of good over evil. Translating as Dance of the Zodiac, Bardo Chham sees both men and women wearing colorful masks while dancing to the beat of drums to enact a dramatic fight that purportedly drives out the evil and ushers in peace an d joy.
The most popular folk dance of Bihar that is in essence a dance drama feature of the preforming arts, Bidesiya is prevalent in the Bhojpuri speaking region of the state. Vibrant dances and evoking music characterise this dramatic presentation of social issues that is indeed a true representation of the Bhojpuri culture.
A traditional dance in various regions of central and eastern India, the Karma naach is performed during the Karma festival that worships and celebrates Karma devta. A tribal dance form prevalent in Chhatisgarh, the karma dance is centered around trees that are symbolic of the God of Fate, believed to shower blessing on the devotees and bringing prosperity in their lives.
A traditional dance form of the western state of Gujarat, Garba has a religious significance attached to it and is traditionally performed during the festival of Navratri. Performed by both men and women wearing colorful traditional costumes on Garba songs that revolve around the nine goddesses. An energetic dance performed in circular movements, Garba is symbolic of the Hindu view of life being a cyclical entity.
A semi classical dance form from the Indian state of Goa, Dekhni means bewitching beauty and is a dance with origins in the Devadasi system of the people of the region. An women exclusive performance that is a fusion of Indian melody and western rhythm, Dekhni draws considerable influence from classical Indian dance forms like Kathak and Bharatnatyam.
A popular traditional dance from the state of Haryana, Saang stems from folklores relating to Hindu mythology and is a mimicry dance that tells religious stories and lores. As a dance- theater art form, Saang performances also delivers on dialogues and is an enactment to the beat of drums with or without any music. The Haryanvi style of singing called Raagani often finds expression in this folk dance form that sometimes go beyond religious interpretation to also dwell on social themes.
The largest folk dance according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Nati is indigenous to the state of Himachal Pradesh and sees manifestation in diverse performances. Also one of the earliest of folk dances stemming from the northern Indian states, Nati performances encompass folk tales in its songs and dance that is an elaborate affair involving a large group of energetic men and women for a really long period of time. Nati dance performance is generally a circular repetition of simple rhythmic steps that are played out by the dancers with their hands tied with one another.
Jammu and Kashmir
A folk dance form originating in the Muslim community of Kashmir, Rouf is a celebration of the spring season that sees womenfolk in colorful attire dancing to traditional Kashmiri music. Simple footwork called Chakri characterise this form of dance that has the dancers line up in two rows while facing each other and synchronising to mystical poetic recitations.
Performed by the Munda community of Jharkhand, Paika is a folk dance form that is basically an artistic depiction of the many rituals connected with the preparation of war. A very integral part of the Dussehra celebrations in the region, Paika can also be interpreted as a more artistic depiction of the martial arts even as swords and shields, bows and arrows are yielded by the Munda dancers to symbolize the war of their community against the British.
A popular drum dance of Karnataka, Dollu Kunitha is basically a dance form with religious leanings that is an invocation of the the presiding deity of Beereshwara or Beeralingeswara. The instantaneous beating of the dollu is the most prominent aspect of this dance form which sees performers form a semi-circle while doing swift movements. Performed to Dollu songs in every religious and ritualistic ceremony, this is a traditional dance form that demands high levels of agility and power.
Another storytelling variation in the list of different dance forms of India, Kathakali is native to the southern state of Kerala and comes across as a very distinctive dance form also because of the associated costume. The Hindu performance art is replete with really colorful make up as well as equally headgear and face masks and elaborate dresses that lend this dance its instantly distinguishable identity. Performed on the traditional sopana sangeet of Kerala as well as to certain variations of Carnatic music, Kathakali incorporates movements from ancient Indian martial arts and athletic traditions of South India. Facial expressions dominantly play out the majority of storytelling in the Kathakali mode of dance that symbolises the eternal fight between good and evil
Another dance form that has its origins in the state of Kerala is Mohiniyattam which like most other classical dance of southern roots is a performance with the Carnatic style of music. The dance form gets its name from Mohini, the mythical enchantress avatar of Lord Vishnu and is therefore a performing art that is delicately feminine and women exclusive. Performed as solo recitals by women, Mohiniyattam was traditionally an act of the temples with the theme of love forming its core. In contrast to the other state dance of Kerala Kathakali, that feature elaborate appearances, the Mohiniyattam dancers dress up simply but gracefully in a plain white or off-white Kerala Kasavu sari and minimal yet elegant jewelry.
A lyrical folk ballet originating from Madhya Pradesh, Maanch is a dance- drama visualisation that seeks to invoke the Gods through singing of holy prayers before the commencement of the dance performance. A freestyle form of dance with not many rigid restrictions in place, Maanch is usually a performance by the male folk of the village.
A very popular folk dance that stems from the Indian state of Mizoram, Cheraw or the bamboo dance is a really unique form of dance that is also a sight to behold in its rhythmic performance. Horizontally and crossly arranged bamboo staves on the ground are clapped by the male dancers even as girls decked in traditional attire perform intricate steps between the beating bamboos. While Cheraw came forth as a dance form with ritualistic basis, it became popular for also its unique synchronicity and is now a staple performance in all Mizo festivals.
Manipuri dance (Jagoi)
The state of Manipur takes pride in its namesake dance, that is another of the classical dance interpretations prevalent in the Indian tradition. Also called Jagoi, Manipuri dance is an evocation of the raas leela of Hindu deities Radha and Krishna and sees performance as a lyrical drama narration with graceful moves seeking to bring out the romantic theme on which it is essentially based. However, religious themes are also sometimes at the core of the Jagoi with themes related to Shaivism, Shaktism and regional deities finding manifestation in the dance performances. A religious art form that has spiritual expression also as the basis, Manipuri dance is performed to poetic recitations and is marked by unique costumes, that is as pretty a spectacle as it is artistic and spiritualistic.
A highly popular traditional dance form, Lavani has its roots in the state of Maharashatra and was originated in the Maratha empire. Characterised by energetic dance moves performed to powerful rhythmic beats and Lavani songs, this is a female oriented dance form that has social issues as the underlying theme. Lavani performances are a delightful blend of traditional music and religious tales, even when the erotic lyrics and societal sentiment pervading its essence make it also an amalgamation of diverse influences. Traditionally performed at local temples, the modern times has seen Lavani becoming a highly popular and entertaining dance form thanks to its energy and high tempo music.
A really unique dance form that does not require any musical instruments for its performance, Laho is a popular folk dance that has its origin in Meghalaya. Men and women alike participate in this entertaining dance performance that has a cheerleader reciting couplets for the dancers to find their beat in sync. Starting of with a slow pace, the Laho dance gradually gains momentum and is a prominent feature of the Behdienkhlam festival.
Chang Lo or Sua La is the folk dance of the Indian state of Nagaland that is a performance of the people celebrating victory over their enemies. Developed by the Chang tribal community, the Chang Lo is essentially a warrior dance performed to the beats of the drum by men and women in traditional Naga attire. Clapping and chanting characterise this dance move that is otherwise almost exclusively a distinctive art form with its rapid foot movements.
An eponymous dance form with its roots in the state of Odisha, Odissi is also a dance drama genre of the performing arts that can be an expressive art with both northern and southern Indian music making it the only among the classical dances to be all encompassing. Interestingly, Odissi also caters to Odissi music that is an encompassment of the Indian classical music genre of Odramagadhi. An expression of many mythological tales rooted in both Vaishnavism and Shaktism, Odissi performances are accompanied by story or poem recitations and is basically a women centric performance, enacted also by boys dressed up as females.
The high energy, infectious spirited dance originating from the state of Punjab, Bhangra is easily one of the more popular of Indian folk dance forms. Essentially a celebration of the harvest festival heralded by the spring, Bhangra dance and music is marked by the loud beats of the dhol even as men and women alike decked in colorful flowy costumes swing and dance vivaciously to the lively music.
The traditional folk dance of Rajasthan, Ghoomar developed as a performance by the womenfolk dedicated to worshipping Goddess Saraswati. Veiled women generally twirl their way in and out in a circular pattern as traditional melodies are played out in a performance that is also the symbolism of womanhood in traditional culture.
Translating literally as the Lion Dance, Singhi Chaam or Kanchendzonga Dance is a traditional dance form native to the Indian state of Sikkim. A domain of the dances exclusive to the malefolk who dress up in lion costumes, the masked dance is a performance very integral to the worship of the Kanchenjunga peak usually during the Panglapsool festival.
A very prominent dance among the list of classical dance forms of India, Bharatnatyam has its origin in the state of Tamil Nadu. With the expression of South Indian religious themes and spiritual ideas at its core, this dance form came into existence way back in 1000 BC in the many temples of the state. Graceful body movements and perfect gestures and postures characterise the performance of this particular form of dance, that presents itself as a vision extraordinaire. While traditionally it has always been a solo dancer who presents the dance even as a troupe of musicians and singers accompany her, the modern version is more flexible with group performances being quite a common feature. The Bharatnatyam dance is generally a dance performance to the tune of Carnatic classical music and is quite a powerful yet graceful evocation in its every movement.
Performed by the Gonds of Telangana who believe that they are the descendants of Pandavas, Dandari is a folk dance of the state which sees male dancers dance with their Dandas and go from village to village to host functions.
One of the popular folk dances performed in Tripura is Hojagiri, specially during the Hojagiri festivals. Women and young girls perform the dance while balancing bottles and lamps on their head and hands even as the menfolk sing the lyrics and play the accompanying instruments. A cultural expression of the tradition of jhum cultivation, the Hojagiri dance is indeed a meticulous interpretation among the performing arts.
The traditional sword dance stemming from the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, Choliya is intricately linked to martial art practices prevalent in the region. Also bearing tremendous religious significance, the performance of this dance supposedly wards away the evil and is therefore a prominent feature in marriages and other such auspicious occasions. Accompanied by music streaming from bagpipes and drums, shield and sword yielding male folk dance the Choliya in pairs. The Choliya dance might be one replete with celebratory undertone but it still is essentially the dance of the warriors.
Hailing from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the classical dance form of Kathak developed as a religious tale singing paeans of Radha and Krishna. This very popular of the different dance forms of India assumes its name from the word katha which means story and is therefore a storytelling performance through dance movements. Referred to as the dance of love courtesy its prevalent theme of the Radha- Krishna saga, Kathak is the only form of classical dance that is performed to the beats of the Hindustani or North Indian music. Also the only classical dance form that boasts of links to Muslim culture, Kathak is often an attributive to the kathakars or storytellers of ancient India and is prominently a characterisation by the ghungroo beats apart from other distinguishing features.
The most popular of the folk dances of West Bengal is Chhau, a performance that also forms a dominant traditional feature in the states of Jharkhand and Odisha. Chhau is a semi classical Indian dance that derives from martial, tribal as well as folk traditions and is performed mainly during the Sun Festival. Tales from the epics as well as from the puranas find expression in this dance form that sees performers don masks as they dance rhythmically to traditional folk music. The Purulia Chau, the Chau dance interpretation native to Bengal, is also listed on UNESCO’s world heritage list of dances furthering its importance as a traditional dance form of India.