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Title: Natya  
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Subject: Outline of theatre, Indian classical dance, Satya Yuga, Religious drama, Mani Madhava Chakyar, Dance in Thailand, Nātyakalpadrumam, Jayapa Nayudu
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Indian classical dance is a relatively new umbrella term for various codified art forms rooted in Natya, the sacred Hindu musical theatre styles, whose theory can be traced back to the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni (400 BCE).


These are:

  • Dances performed inside the sanctum of the temple according to the rituals were called Agama Nartanam. Natya Shastra classifies this type of dance form as margi, or the soul-liberating dance.
  • Dances performed in royal courts to the accompaniment of classical music were called Carnatakam. This was an intellectual art form.

For lack of any better equivalents in the European culture, the British colonial authorities called any performing art forms found in India as "Indian dance". Even though the art of Natya includes nritta, or dance proper, Natya has never been limited to dancing and includes singing, abhinaya (mime acting). These features are common to all the Indian classical styles. In the margi form Nritta is composed of karanas, while the desi nritta consists mainly of adavus.

The term "classical" (Sanskrit: "Shastriya") was introduced by Sangeet Natak Akademi to denote the Natya Shastra-based performing art styles. A very important feature of Indian classical dances is the use of the mudra or hand gestures by the artists as a shorthand sign language to narrate a story and to demonstrate certain concepts such as objects, weather, nature and emotions. Many classical dances include facial expressions as an integral part of the dance form.

Dance forms

The Natya Shastra authored by Bharata Muni, mentions the names of no classical dance form recognized today, but in its fourteenth chapter the four Pravrittis are listed as: Dakshinatya, Audramagadhi, Avanti, and Panchali. All these traditional dance forms declined in popularity during the British colonial rule. Revival of these dance forms started around the middle of the 20th century.

Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Mohiniyattam were evolved from the Pravritti named Dakshinatya. The Audramagadhi represents the dance of Audramagadha, comprising territories of Anga, Banga, North part of Kalinga and Vatsa (Sloka is angabangautkalingavatsachaiva audramagadha). From this Odissi in Odisha, Satriya in Assam and Gaudiya Nritya in Bengal were evolved. Little is known about the two other forms of Avanti and Panchali.

Sangeet Natak Akademi has given their awards to eight[1] Indian dance styles, and in their Natya Sangam (festival of dance), artistes from other classical dance forms have been invited to perform. Some sources have a different view about the listings of Indian classical dance forms.[2][3] Like, the Encyclopædia Britannica mentions six recognized schools.[4] The Ministry of Culture of Government of India, has increased the dance forms that it accepts as a part of Indian classical dance repertory by providing scholarships to young artistes in Indian Classical Dance/ Dance Music. It currently confers the classical dance status to eleven dance forms.[5] The recognized classical dance forms by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and Ministry of Culture is represented below:

Dance form State(s) of origin Recognition by
Sangeet Natak
Recognition by
Ministry of
Culture, India
Bharatanatyam Tamil Nadu Yes Yes
Chhau Odisha No Yes
Gaudiya Nritya West Bengal No Yes
Kathak Uttar Pradesh Yes Yes
Kathakali Kerala Yes Yes
Kuchipudi Andhra Pradesh Yes Yes
Manipuri Manipur Yes Yes
Mohiniyattam Kerala Yes Yes
Odissi Odisha Yes Yes
Sattriya Assam Yes Yes
Thangta Manipur No Yes

A dance style is classical to the extent it incorporates the Natya Shastra techniques. Some of the styles such as Kathak use very few elements found in Natya Shastra. Other art dances yet to be conferred as classical dances, whose theories and techniques can also be traced back to the Natya Shastra are:

  1. Andhra Natyam - Telugu art dance
  2. Vilasini Nrityam/Natyam - Telugu art dance
  3. Kerala Natanam - Kerala classical dance

Of the recognized dance forms, the only two temple dance styles that have their origin in Natya Shastra and are prescribed by the Agamas are Bharata Natyam and Odissi. These two most faithfully adhere to the Natya Shastra but currently do not include Vaachikaabhinaya (dialog acts), although some styles of Bharata Natyam, such as Melattur style, prescribe the lip and eye movements indicating Vaachikaabhinaya.

Kuchipudi, which also prescribes the lip movements indicating Vaachikaabhinaya, and Mohiniyattam are relatively recent Darbari Aatam forms, just as Kathakali, and two eastern Indian styles, Manipuri and Sattriya, that are quite similar.

Kathak originated as a court dance and some believe it evolved from Lord Krishna's raas lilas, forms of which have also evolved into the popular Garba-style dances popular in North India and Gujarat. The style gradually changed during the Mughal period under the influence of Persian dance, a major change being straight knees instead of the bent knees used in most other Indian classical forms. Intricate footwork and spins, as well as abhinaya, are the highlights of Kathak.

Currently, Sangeet Natak Akademi does not consider the recently reconstructed dance styles of Andhra Pradesh such as Andhra Natyam and Vilasini Natyam as "classical". Bharatanrithyam, despite being the one most closely following Natya Shastra's precepts, is considered as a variety of Bharata Natyam.


Sabhas are the organizations involved in the promotion of classical art forms in South India. Ganamukundhapriya is one such Sabha that specialises in classical dances. Various events are held each year to celebrate classical dance.


Further reading

Revealing the Art of Natyasastra by Narayanan Chittoor Namboodiripad ISBN 10: 8121512182 / ISBN 13: 9788121512183

External links

  • DMOZTemplate:Dance in India
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