Indian classical dance

Indian classical dance is an umbrella term for various performance arts rooted in musical theatre styles, whose theory and practice can be traced to the Sanskrit text, Natyashastra. The number of classical dances range from eight to more, depending on the source and scholar. The w:Sangeet Natak Academy recognizes eight – Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakali, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam. Scholars such as Drid Williams add Chhau, Yakshagana and Bhagavata Mela to the list. Additionally, the Indian Ministry of Culture includes Chhau in its classical list. These dances are traditionally regional. They consist of compositions in Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, or any other Indian language and they represent a unity of core ideas in a diversity of styles, costumes and expression. At present officially there are 9 classical dances in India.


  • In Hinduism, classical dance is conceived as an internalized spiritual practice: using movement, sound and emotion to internalize the cosmology and epistemology within the dancer's body. It is the only major world religion to have been successfully transmitted through such embodiment for so long. This is exemplified by the iconographic depiction of Shiva-Nataraja, which is a stylized projection of Shiva manifested as the ascetic master of sacred dance. Similarly, the narratives and iconography of Krishna dancing with his devotees exemplifies, evokes and reinforces the 'rasa' (inner emotional states) of the devotees as they attempt to unite inwardly with their 'ishta-devata' (personal deity). Such expressions are not reserved for use by a spiritual elite; rather, they inform and engage the entire culture and are part of the folk narratives known to every Hindu.
    • Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.
  • Muslim rulers and nobles always patronised music throughout the medieval times... Indian classical music survived throughout the Sultanate period, although classical Indian dancing almost died out in northern India because it had drifted from the aesthetic sphere into that of the courtesans and the dancing girls.
    • K.S. Lal, Twilight of the Sultanate (1963) 242
  • Music in India has a history of at least three thousand years. The Vedic hymns, like all Hindu poetry, were written to be sung; poetry and song, music and dance, were made one art in the ancient ritual.
  • Then there are ragas and raginis designated for dance. Dance in its art form is as elaborate as music, and is based on Hindu natya-shastra. Sculptures of dancers and musicians carved on ancient and medieval temples, now mostly surviving in south India, bear testimony to their excellence, popularity and widespread practice.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 8 (quoting Gaurishankar Hirachand Ojha, Madhya Kalin Bharatiya Sanskriti, pp. 193-94. )

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