Dances in India, folk dances UPSC

Dances are part of Art and Culture. There are folk dances that are particular to a region. Classical dances recognized by the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Here first we will cover all forms of dances in India.

Eight classical dances in India with images

1.Bharatnatyam(Tamil Nadu):

Bharatnatyam Dance

Bharatnatyam is the oldest classical dance form. It derives its name from Bharatmuni and Natyam which means dance in Tamil. The origins of this dance form can be traced back to ‘Sadir’- the solo dance performance of temple dancers or ‘Devadasis’ in Tamil Nadu, hence it was also referred to as ‘Dashiattam’.

Four dance teachers of Thanjavur defined the elements of a Bharatnatyam recital. The elements are:

Alarippu: It is an invocatory piece of performance which includes basic dance postures and is accompanied by rhythmic syllables. It is meant to seek the blessings of God.

alarippu bharatnatyam

Jatiswaram: It is the Nritta component and is devoid of expressions, it includes the different poses and movements.

Jatiswaram: It is the Nritta component and is devoid of expressions, it includes the different poses and movements.

Shabnam: It is the dramatic element with expressed words, which includes the abhinaya in the song. It is generally in praise of the glory of God.

Varnam: It is the Nritya component. It is a combination of dance and emotions and is the most important part of the whole performance.

Padam: It refers to a mastery over the abhinaya(expression) of the spiritual message, by the artist. Music becomes light, dance becomes emotional.

Jawali: These are short live lyrical dance performed at a faster tempo.

Thillana: It is the concluding stage of the performance, and comprises pure dance(Nritta) with exuberant movement and intricate rhythmic variations.

Bharatnatyam is often referred to as the ‘fire dance’, as it is the manifestation of fire in the human body. One of the principal mudras is ‘Kataka Mukha Hasta’ in which he three fingers are joined to symbolize ‘Om’.

kataka mukha hasta
Kataka Mukha Hasta Mudra

In Bharatnatyam recital, the knees are mostly bent and the weight is equally distributed across both the feet. It is also characterized by the ‘Ekcharya Lasyam’ style in which one dancer plays many different roles.

2.Kuchipudi(Andhra Pradesh):

Kuchipudi Dance
Kuchipudi Dance

Originally performed by a group of actors going from village to village, known as Kusselavas, Kuchipudi derives its name from the Andhra. Stories of Bhagavat Purana became a central theme of the recitals, and the dancers came to be known as Bhagavathalus. The dance form gained prominence under the patronage of Vijayanagar and Golconda rulers.

  • It involves difficult foot movements, and is generally a team performance.
  • Most of the Kuchipudi recitals are based on stories of Bhagwata purana but have a secular theme.
  • Each principal character introduces itself on the stage with a 'daaru', which is a small composition of dance and song.
  • The dance involves all three components of classical dances: Nritta, Nritya and Natya. It is similar to Bharatnatyam but has its own features.
  • The Kuchipudi dance style is a manifestation of the earthly elements in the human body.
  • Both Lasya and Tandava elements are importent in the Kuchipudi dance form.
  • Manduk shabdam- Tells the story of a frog.
  • Tarangam- The dancer performs with his/her feet on the edges of a brass plate and balancing apot of water on the head or a set of diyas.
  • Jala Chitra Nrityam- In the item, the dancer draws pictures on the floor with his or her toes while dancing.
  • Accompanied with Carnatic music, Violin and Mridgangam being the principal instruments. The recital is in Telugu language.


In the temples of Kerala, two forms of dance-drama, Ramanattam and Krishnattam, evolved under the patronage of feudal lords, narrating episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Some features of Kathakali dance are:

Kathakali Dance
Kathakali Dance
  • Kathakali is essentially an all male troupe performance.
  • Minimal use of props in the Kathakali recital. However, very elaborate facial make up along with a head gear is used for different characters. Different colors have their own significance:
    Green indicates nobility, divinity and virtue.
    Red patches beside the nose indicate royalty.
    Black colour is used to indicate evil and wickedness.
    Yellow colour is for saints and women.
    Completely Red painted face indicates evil
    White beard indicates beings with higher consciousness and divinity.
  • It is also called as the 'ballad of the east'
  • Kathakali recitals are grand representation of the eternal conflict between good and evil. It draws its themes from the stories narrated in the epics and the purans.
  • Music is importent to rightfully convey the entire drama to the viewers. Different compositions of music are used during performance to give depth to the drama.
  • Gestures are very importent. Kathakali is remarkable in the representation of the rasas through movements of eye and eyebrows, through which story is conveyed. Nine importent facial expressions called 'Navarasas' are taught to convey the different emotions.
  • Kathakali is generally performed in open air theatres covered with coarse mats or temple premises with lush green trees of Kerala provinding a backdrop. A brass lamp is used for lightning.
  • The arrival of dawn, accompanied with a continuous sound of drums, chhenda and maddala marks the beginning and end of a Kathakali recital.
  • Kathakali symbolises the element of sky or ether.


Mohiniyattom Dance
Mohiniyattom Dance

Mohiniattam or the Dance of an Enchantress is essentially a solo dance performance by women that was further developed by Vadivelu in 19th century and gained prominence uner the rulers of Travancore in the present state of Kerala.

  • Mohiniattam dance combines the grace and elegance of Bharatnatyam with the vigour of Kathakali. There is a marked absence of thumping of footsteps and the footwork is gentle.
  • Mohiniattam generally narrates the story of feminine dance of Vishnu.
  • It has its own Nritta and Nritya aspects like that of other classical dances.
  • The Lasya aspect(beauty, grace) of dance is dominant in a Mohiniattam recital. Hence, it is mainly performed by female dancers.
  • The dance is accompanied by music and songs.
  • Costume is of special importance in Mohiniattam, with white and off-white being the principal colours and presence of gold coloured brocade designs. There is no elaborate facial make-up. The dancer wears a leather strap with bells(Ghungroo) on her ankles.
  • The element of air is symbolised through a Mohiniattam performance.
  • 'Atavakul or Atavus' is the collection of fourty basic dance movements.
  • Musical instruments used are: cymbals, veena, drums, flute, etc


Odissi Dance
Odissi Dance

The caves of Udayagiri-Khandagiri provide some of the earliest examples of Odissi dance. It was primarily practised by the ‘maharis’ and patronised by he Jain king Kheravela. In the mid-twentieth century, Odissi gained international acclaim due to the efforts of Charles Fabri and Indrani Rehman. Some of the features of Odissi are:

  • It is similar to Bharatnatyam in the use of Mudras and postures to express emotions.
  • The tribhaga posture, i.e. the three-bended form of the body is innate to Odissi dance form. Also the 'Chowk posture' with hands spread out depicts masculinity.
  • Odissi dance form is unique in its representation of gracefulness, sensuality and beauty. The dancers create intricate geometrical shapes and patterns with her body. Hence, it is known as 'mobile sculpture'.
  • The elements of Odissi dance form include:
    Mangalacharan or the beginning where a flower is offered to mother earth.
    Batu nritya comprising of dance. It has the Tribhaga and Chowk postures.
    Pallavi which includes the facial expressions and the representation of the song.
    Tharijham consisting of pure dance before the conclusion.
    The concluding item is of two types. Moksha includes joyous movements signifying liberation. Trikhanda majura is another way of concluding, in which the performer takes leave from the gods, the audience and the stage.
    Odissi dance is accompanied by Hindustani classical music and instruments generally used are Manjira(Cymbals), Pakhwaj(Drums), Sitar, Flute, etc.
    The dance form symbolises the element of water.
    The woman dancer wears an elaborate hair-style, silver jewellery, long necklace,etc.


Manipuri Dance
Manipuri Dance

Manipuri dance form finds its mythological origin to the celestial dance of Shiva and Pravati in the valleys of Manipur along with the local ‘Gandharvas’. The dance form traces its origin to the festival of Lai Haraoba where many dances were performed. It is performed generally by females. Some of the features of Manipuri dance are as follows:

  • Manipuri dance is unique in its emphasis on devotion and not sensuality.
  • While the dance incorporates both Tandava and Lasya, emphasis is laid on the latter.
  • The females wear unique long skirts. The focus is mainly on slow and gracious movements of hand and knee positions.
  • Naga Bandha mudra, in which the body is connected through cuves in the shape of '8' is an importent posture in Manipuri dance form.
  • Ras Leela(Radha-Krishna love story) is a recurring theme of the Manipuri dance recital.
  • The drum - pung - is an intricate element of the recital. Flute, Khartals(wood clapper), dhols, etc also accompany music. Compositions of Jayadeva and Chandidas are used extensively.
  • Thang-Ta and Sankirtana are also influenced by Manipuri dance.


Kathak dance
Kathak dance

Tracing its origins from the Ras Leela of Brajbhoomi , Kathak dance is the traditional dance form of Uttar Pradesh. Kathak derived its name from the ‘Kathika’ or the story-tellers who recited verses from the epics, with gestures and music. It was also influenced by Persian costumes and styles of dancing. The classical style of Kathak was revived by Lady Leela Sokhey in twentieth century. Some of the features of Kathak are:

An importent feature of Kathak is the development of different Gharanas as it is based on Hindustani style of music:

  • Lucknow: Reached its peak under the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Khan.
  • Jaipur: Initiated by Bhanuji, it emphasised fluency, speed and long rhythmic patterns.
  • Raigarh: It developed under the patronage of Raja Chakradhar Singh.
  • Banaras: It developed under Janakiprasad. It sees a greater use of floorwork and lays special emphasis on symmetry.

Kathak dance form is characterised by the use of intricate  footworks and pirouttes. The elements of a Kathak recital are:

  • Ananda or the introductory item through which the dancer enters the stage.
  • Thaat comprising soft and varied movements.
  • Todas and Tukdas are small pieces of fast rhythm.
  • Jugalbandi is the main attraction of kathak recital which shows competitive play between the dancer and the table player.
  • Tarana is similar to thillana, which comprises of pure rhythmic movements before the end.
  • Gat bhaav is dance without any music or chanting. This is used to outline different mythological episodes.
  • Kathak is generally accompanied with dhrupad music. Taranas, thumris and ghazals were also introduced during the Mughal period.


Sattriya Dance
Sattriya Dance

Sattriya dance in modern-form was introduced by the Vaishnava saint Shankaradeva in the 15th century A.D in Assam. Dance derives its name from the Vaishnava monasteries known as ‘Sattras’, where it was primarily practised. Some of the features of Sattriya dance include:

  • The dance form was an amalgamation of various dance forms prevalent in Assam, mainly Ojapali and Devdasi.
  • The focus of Sattriya recitals is own the devotional aspect of dance and narrates mythological stories of Vishnu.
  • Sattriya dance also includes Nritta, Nritya and Natya.
  • The dance is generally performed in group by male monks known as 'Bhokots' as part of their daily rituals or even on festivals.
  • Khol(Drum), Cymbals(Manjira) and flute form the major accompanying instruments of this dance form.
  • There is great emphasis on rhythmic syllables and dance postures along with footwork. It combines both Lasya and Tandava elements.
  • The Sattriya dance tradtion has strictly laid down rules in respect of hand gestures and footwork, and it plays a very importent role.

Folk Dances Of India

The folk dance forms are generally spontaneous, crude and performed by the masses without any formal training. This simplicity gives the art form an inherent beauty. However these dance forms have remained confined to a certain sect of people or at a perticular locality, to whom the knowledge has been passed down the ages. For more details click.

Chhau Dance:

Saraikella Chhau dance Jharkhand (Uses Mask)

Mayurbhanj Chhau dance – Odisha (No Mask Is Used)

Purulia Chhau dance – West Bengal (Uses Mask)

There are three main styles of Chhau dance, Saraikella Chhau in Jharkhand, Mayurbhanj Chhau in Odisha and Purulia Chhau in West Bengal. Of these, Mayurbhanj Chhau artists don’t wear masks. In 2010, UNESCO inscribed Chhau in the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Saraikella Chhau Dance
Saraikella Chhau Dance
Mayurbhanj Chhau Dance
Mayurbhanj Chhau Dance
Purulia Chhau Dance
Purulia Chhau Dance


Garba Dance
Garba Dance

Garba is a popular folk dance of Gujrat, held at the time of Navaratra. Garba actually refers to ‘Garba Deep’ – an earthern pot with holes, in which a lamp is lit and women dance around it in circular movements with rhythmic clapping.

Daandiya Raas:

Daandiya Raas
Daandiya Raas

It is an energetic dance, lively dance form in which polished sticks or dandiyas are used. It represents a mock fight between Durga and Mahishasura.


It is folk dance of Goa that celebrates the youthfulness of region. It is performed during Dussehra and Holi. People wear rainbow like constumes with multi coloured flags and streamers make it a visual spectacle.

Ghoomar or Gangore(Rajasthan):

Ghoomar Dance
Ghoomar Dance

This dance is performed by women of Bhil tribe in Rajasthan. It is characterised by the pirouetting movements of the women, which brings into prominence the multi-coloured vibrancies of the flowing Ghaghra.


Kalbelia Dance

Performed by women of Kalbelia community of Rajasthan. The costumes and dance movement are similar to that of serpents.

Charba(Himachal Pradesh):

It is the popular folk dance of Himachal Pradesh, performed during the Dussehra festivities.


Bhangra Dance
Bhangra Dance

Bhangra is the highly energetic folk dance of Punjab. Giddha is the female counterpart of male Bhangra.

Raslila(Uttar Pradesh):

Raas leela Dance
Raaslila Dance

Braj Raslila is a popular folk dance of region of Uttar Pradesh, revolving around the adolscent love stories of Radha and Krishna.

Dadra(Uttar Pradesh):

It is the semi-classical form of dance popular in Uttar Pradesh, accompanied by the music of same style. It was extremely popular among the courtesans of Lucknow region.

Jawara(Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh):

Jawara Dance
Jawara Dance

Jawara is the harvest dance popular in Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. The dance, which includes balancing a basket full of jawar on the head, is accompanied by a heavy instrumental music.

Matki(Malwa region):

Matki dance is performed by the women of Malwa region on the occasions of wedding and other festivities. It is mainly performed solo, while balancing a number of earthen pots on the head. Aada and Khada Nach are popular variants of Matki dance.

Gaur Maria(Chhattisgarh):

Gaur Maria Dance
Gaur Maria Dance

Gaur Maria is an importent ritualistic dance form of the Bison Horn Maria tribes who live in the Bastar region of Chattisgarh. Done by both men and women.

Alkap(Jharkhand, West Bengal):

Alkap is a rural dance-drama performance prevalent in Jharkhand and West Bengal. The dance is generally associated with the Gajan festival of Shiva. 


Biraha dance along with its variant, Bidesia is a popular form of entertainment  in rural Bihar. It is a portrayal of pain of the women, whose partners are away from home. However this dance form is practised solely by males, who play the role of female characters as well.


Paika is a martial folk dance performed in the southern parts of Odisha. Paika is a form of long spear. The work Paika signifies battle.


Jat-Jatin is popular in the northern parts of Bihar, especially in the regions of Mithila. This dance form is unique in its representation of the tender love and quarrel of a married couple.

Jhumar(Jharkhand, Odisha):

Jhumar Dance
Jhumar Dance

Jhumar is a popular harvest dance, performed by the tribal people of Jharkhand and Odisha. It has two variations – Janani Jhumar, performed by women and Mardana Jhumar, performed by men. It is a major attraction at many fairs and festivals.


The Danda Nata or the Danda Jatra is one of the oldest folk arts of India. Mainly popular in Odisha, it is a unique blend of dance, drama and music. While it mainly narrates stories and lore about Shiva, the theme is generally social harmony and brotherhood.


Bihu Dance
Bihu Dance

Bihu is the popular dance of Assam, performed in group by both men and women. The dancers are dressed in colorful traditional dresses to celebrate the pomp and gaiety. The dance performance includes group formations, rapid hand movement and brisk footsteps.

Thang Ta(Manipur):

Thang Ta Dance
Thang Ta Dance

Thang Ta is the exclusive martial dance form of Manipur. Thang means sword and Ta means spear. The dance performance is a unique display of skill, creativity and agility in which the performers enact a mock fight sequence – leaping to attack and defend.

Rangma/Bamboo dance(Nagas):

Bamboo Dance
Bamboo Dance

The Rangma is the war dance of Nagas. Dressed in colourful costumes, jewellery and colourful headgears, the dancers enact mock war formations and traditions.

Singhi Chham(Sikkim):

Singhi Chham Dance
Singhi Chham Dance

The Singhi Chham is a popular mask dance of Sikkim. The dancers are dressed in furry costumes, symbolising the snow lion and pay tribute to Khang-chen Dzong Pa(Kanchenjunga peak).

Kummi(Tamil Nadu and Kerala):

Kummi Dance
Kummi Dance

Performed by women, standing in a circular formation. A unique feature of the dance performance is the absence of any accompanying music. The dance is generally performed during Pongal and other religious festivities.

Mayilattam(Kerala, Tamil Nadu):

Mayillattam Dance
Mayillattam Dance

Mayilattam is afolk dance of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in which young girls are dressed as peacoks, with colourful headgears, beaks and feathers. It is also known as peacock dance.

Burrakatha(Andhra Pradesh):

Burrakatha or jangam Katha, is a form of dance narration from Andhra Pradesh, in which a single performer narrates stories from the puranas.

Butta Bommalu(Andhra Pradesh):

Butta Bommalu literally means basket toys and is a popular dance form of the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. The dancers wear masks of different characters, resembling toy like shapes, and entertain through delicate movements and non-verbal music.


Kaikottikali is a popular temple dance of Kerala. It is performed by both men and women at the time of Onam to celebrate rich harvest. Airukali and Tattamakali are similar forms of this dance.


Padayani Dance
Padayani Dance

Padayani is a martial art dance performed in the temples of southern Kerala. Padayani literally means row of infantry, and it’s a very rich and colourful affair. The dancers wear huge masks known as kolams, and present interpretations of divine and semi divine narratives. Some of the popular characters are Bhairavi, Kalan(god of death), Yakshi and Pakshi, etc.

Kolkali-Parichakali(Kerala and Lakshwadeep):

Martial dance in southern Kerala and Lakshwadeep. Kol means stick and Parcha means shield. The dancers use mock weapons made of wood and enact fight sequences.

Bhootha Aradhane(Karnataka):

Bhoota Aradhane
Bhoota Aradhane

Bhootha Aradhane or devil worship is a popular dance form in Karnataka. Prior to the performance, idols depicting devils are placed on a plinth and the performer then dances vigorously, as if a possessed person.Dance form popular in Mysore region. It is primarily a religious dance performed by men who use long bamboo poles decorated with colourful exuberance makes it a visual spectacle and is extemely popular among the masses of all religion.

Pata Kunitha(Mysore):

Pata Kunitha
Pata Kunitha

Dance form popular in Mysore region. It is primarily a religious dance performed by men who use long bamboo poles decorated with colourful exuberance makes it a visual spectacle and is extemely popular among the masses of all religion.

Chakyar Koothu(Kerala):

Chakyar Koothu
Chakyar Koothu

It is a art form of Kerala. It is a solo performance, where the performer desses himself as a snake. It is combination of prose and poetry, and is generally a narration in Malayalam. It has been traditionally performed by the Chakyar community. The performer wear a colourful headgear, a large black moustache and red spots all over his body.

Jhoomar(by tribal sikhs in Punjab):

It is performed by tribal sikhs in Punjab and adjoining areas during the harvest season. Movement of arms is the most importent part, on the tune of the drums. Costumes are same as in Bhangra. It was carried to India by the traders of Balochistan.

Karma naach(Chota Nagpur Plateau):

Karma naach Dance
Karma naach Dance

During the tribal festival of ‘Karma’ by many tribes of Eastern India especially in the Chota Nagpur plateau. Dancers from circle and dance with arms around each other’s waist

Raut Naach(Chattisgarh):

Raut Naach
Raut Naach

Performed in Chattisgarh by the Yadav community, especially during the festival of Diwali.

Dumhal(By Wattal tribe in Jammu and Kashmir):

Dumhal Dance

It is performed in Jammu and Kashmir by Wattal tribes. It involves colourful costumes with a tall conical hat for men. Performers dance and sing to the drum beats.

Fugdi(Konkan region of Goa):

Fugdi Dance
Fugdi Dance
Fugdi Dance
Fugdi Dance

These dance in varied formations, mostly in circles and rows. It has many subtypes according to local customs. It is performed in the Kongan region of Goa.


Cheraw Dance
Cheraw Dance
Cheraw Dance
Cheraw Dance

It is folk dance of Mizoram and performed using bamboo sticks. It is likely to have a foreign origin. Men tap long  pairs of bamboo in rhythmic beats, and girls dance to the beats of bamboo.


Dalkhai Dance
Dalkhai Dance

Mostly peformed during festival of Dussehra in Odisha. It is peformed by the tribes and many instruments are used. Events of Mahabharata, Ramayana, etc are represented.

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