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Indian Classical Dance and Entertainment

Indian Classical Dance and Entertainment

By CarolUpdated Mar. 2, 2022

India has a busy cultural scene that offers concerts and performances of Indian classical music and dance, theatre productions, art exhibitions, and Bollywood movies. There are many types of classical music and traditional dances in India, such as Hindustani Music and Chhau Dance. All of them originated from different regions across India.

The cinema scene is the main source of entertainment in the country. One of the most popular Bollywood movies is the ‘3 Idiots'. There are many entertainment venues across India that display art pieces, holds musical concerts as well as cultural plays and dramas.

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  • Hindustani classical music originated in north India around the 13th and 14th centuries.
  • Kathak is the Hindustani name for one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance.
  • The origin of puppetry in India dates back to the era of the 5th Century BC.
  • The cinema is the most popular form of entertainment in India.
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Indian classical dance

India has thousands of year old tradition of fine arts, classical and folk music, and dances. Most of the Indian arts, music and culture are related to Hindu gods and goddesses that speaks of their life stories, such as Shiva and Vishnu.

Today India still performs and practices ancient traditional fine arts like classical and folk music and dances. Most of Indian art, music, and culture is related to Hindu gods and goddesses and tell stories of their lives, such as the stories of Shiva and Vishnu.

Indian classical dance originated as a form of worship in temples and gradually acquired a more resplendent style with royal patronage. Originally these styles of dance were based on ancient texts that were compiled from the 5th century BC to the 5th century AD.

A range of hand gestures, facial expressions, body postures, acting techniques, and the theory of rasa constitute the "language" of Indian classical dance forms. Every movement of Indian dance is meant to express emotions, spiritual ideas, and the teachings of scriptures. Every mood, from love, hate, sadness, and comedy can be presented through the actor's art of communication.

dancer exponent of Indian Every mood, from love, hate, sadness, and comedy can be presented through the actor

Generally, Indian classical dance is categorized as a form of margi, or a spiritual path that's purpose is to explore one's inner self and liberate the soul. While folk performances are called desi and are a more popular dance form that varies from region to region.

Some of the world-famous dance forms that originated and evolved in India are Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam, and Odissi. The most famous is Kathak which features two styles of performance, Nritta, and Nritya. Nritta moves from slow to a faster pace while Nritya uses facial expression to convey a story.


Kathak is one of the main genres of ancient Indian classical dance and also once the favorite dance of the royal courts of North India.

Kathak is traditionally thought to have originated from the traveling groups known as Kathakars, or storytellers, whose performances told various traditional stories and communicated feelings through the dancers' gestures, body motions, and facial expressions.

  • Jaipur, Banaras, and Lucknow's form of Kathak

There are three distinct forms, or gharanas, of Kathak that can be found from in the cities of Jaipur, Banaras, and Lucknow. The Jaipur gharana emphasizes foot movements in beat to the music. In this style, the dancers' ankles are adorned with small metallic bells called Ghungroo, which accentuate the rhythm.

indian classical dance The dancers' ankles are adorned with small metallic bells

The Banaras and Lucknow gharana tell stories more through facial expressions and hand movements. The graceful gestures of arms, bends and turns of the upper body, and facial expressions help transport the dancer into a sensual inner state and helps arouse emotion and joy from the spectators.

  • Nritta and Nritya

There are two styles of performing Kathak dance. In Nritta style, the performances center on slower gestures of the wrist, neck, and eyebrows. Gradually, the dancer brings the show to a faster pace by increasing each movement's speed and energy.

Then reaching a crescendo when the dancer engages the audience with intense footwork and turns. Finally, the sequence is completed by a turn of the head.

The second style is called Nritya which is an expressive dance where actors use facial expressions, hand gestures, and body gestures to convey a story and communicate feelings with the audience.

According to ancient Sanskrit texts, the emphasis of Nritya is to engage every aspect of life, in order to glorify and gift a state of joyful consciousness. Four aspects including Angik (gestures), Vachik (rhythm), Aharya (costume), and Satvik (emotional expressions) are the keys to a successful performance.

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Bharatanatyam is a major form of Indian classical dance form, presumably the oldest classical dance heritage of India. It is regarded as the mother of many Indian classical dance forms. It is indigenous to the Tamil Nadu region and prevalent in southern India.

Bharatanatyam style features a fixed upper torso, bent legs, and flexed knees combined with symmetrical stances. Accompanied by classical music and a leading singer, in this style, a female sole dancer often enacts spirituals ideas and scenes from great legends and via chiseled movements and eloquent eye and facial expressions.

 dancer exponent of Indian A female sole dancer often enacts spirituals ideas

In Bharatanatyam dance, the solo artist is dressed in a beautiful silk sari and wears with elaborate jewelry with fresh flowers decorating the hair. Her hands and feet are painted red to draw attention to the intricate movements synchronized with the music.

Following the correct sequence, the dancer will devote all herself to the rhythm and music to express the spirit of the story. Some Bharatanatyam dance troupes adapt the performance to involve more than one dancer with each playing specific characters in a story.

A program of Bharatanatyam usually lasts two hours without interruption and includes a specific list of procedures, all performed by one dancer, who does not leave the stage or change costume. The accompanying orchestra, composing of drums, drone, and singer, occupies the back of the stage.

dancer exponent of Indian The dancer will devote all herself to the rhythm


Kathakali dance is a highly evolved classical form of dance, drama, and music that also incorporates elements from Indian athletic traditions. Originating from South India, Kathakali has fully developed around the 17th century and features spectacular masks worn by male actor-dancers.

The actor-dancers do not speak but instead use symbolic hand gestures and facial expressions to create the show. They wear colorful skirts and elaborate headdresses and jewelry to enact folk mythologies, spiritual ideas, and religious stories from the Puranas and Hindu epics like the Mahabharata.

Applying the make-up for this dance style is a complicated process that takes several hours. The purpose of the makeup is to help the audience easily identify characters and understand who is a god, demon, saints, or animal. Mineral pigments are the main ingredients of the makeup.

make up Applying the make-up

The costumes of the dancers use symbolic colors. Green signifies divine and heroic characters, such as Arjuna and Krishna, the archer and charioteer from the Bhagavad Gita.

A red patch applied over the bridge of the nose on a green background is used to symbolize royalty and arrogant personalities, such as that of Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka. Yellow is used for monks and black for demons.

 Kathakali Face Makeup Mineral pigments are the main ingredients of the makeup


Odissi is a classical dance form originated in the Hindu temples of the eastern coastal state of Orissa in India. The traditional Odissi dance is accompanied with musical instruments, such as the drums, flute, string instruments, vocals, and a spoken beat called "bol".

Odissi is a dance of love and passion touching on the divine and the human, the sublime, and the mundane. This dance form includes themes from Vaishnavism and others associated with Hindu gods and goddesses like Shiva, Surya, and Shakti.

Classical Female Odissi Dancer Odissi is a dance of love and passion


Kuchipudi is a pre-eminent Indian classical dance counted among ten leading classical dance form of India. It is originated in a village of Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi is based on the Natya Shastra, a codified text on dance, music, and theater.

Today, a Kuchioudi performance is primarily performed on a stage, accompanied by a live orchestra consisting of a singer, a percussionist, a violinist, and a flutist. Together, they play notes and melodies from Carnatic music that supports the dancer's performance.


Manipuri dance is regarded as one of the major classical dance forms of India. This style of dance is indigenous to Manipur. Themes are generally taken from episodes in the life of Krishna, the pastoral god.

Manipuri is smooth, graceful and technically easier, and more limited than the other classic styles. During the dance interpretations, a narrator may chant a dialogue and descriptive action, interspersed with choral singing.


Sattriya is a highly dramatic dance form from the eastern state of Assam. This style has its roots in the Krishna monasteries and combines religious ideas with beautiful choreography. The themes of Sattriya are mostly based on Krishna's life and the legends of other avatars of the god Vishnu.

Sattriya performances consist of three parts. The first is in nritta style which presents sinuous motions in speed and pattern via the beautiful swirling skirt of the dancer. The second is nritya, a solo expressive dance to communicate feelings via facial expression and gestures. The third is natya dramatic play performed in groups to expand the viewer's sensory experience.


Mohiniyattam, a dance style from the state of Kerala, enacts the story of Mohini, a femme fatale, and the only female avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu who uses her feminine powers to restore moral order. Mohiniyattam is traditionally a graceful solo dance performed by a female artist accompanied by singing and music.

The sequence of Mohiniyattam follows a structured story-telling line and comprises main postures of parted feet, knees bent outwards, and an erect upper torso. The female dancer usually wears a plain white sari embroidered with golden brocade, simple jewelry, and light make-up.

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Indian folk theater, music, and dance

Stemming from the ancient Vedic culture, live traditional Indian folk theatre forms are coveted around the world. Their rich legacy and classical facets are immersed in regional, local, and folk coloring.

In the theatrical art forms of India, all emotions such as sorrow, joy, frustration, hatred, and love have a role and place.

Hindustani Music

Hindustani classical music originated in north India around the 13th and 14th centuries. The classical music was influenced by ancient Hindu musical traditions and Vedic philosophy. It is the most popular stream of Indian music.

Hindustani music is based on the raga system. The Raga is a melodic scale, comprising of notes from the basic seven which are Sa, Re, Ga, Ma Pa, Dha, and Ni, and the form is determined by the particular pattern of ascent and descent of the notes.

traditional Indian drums The drum is played to accompany the melody


The Chhau dance is a popular form of tribal dance in India that incorporates elements of martial arts into its movements. Predominantly seen in the states of Odisha, West Bengal, and Jharkhand, this dance form is a unique spectacle.

This dance is usually performed during important ceremonies that have a strong religious significance, such as the Gajan Festival, weddings, and on the Sun Festival.

These dances are mostly performed on the floor with the audience sitting in a circle or a semi-circle around them to watch.


Garba is a dance form originated in Gujarat, performed during Navratri which is a 9-day festival of the Goddess Durga. It is also known as Garbi, Garbha or Garbha Deep. It is a joyful style of dance, based on a circular pattern and characterized by a sweeping action from side to side.

Garba dances celebrate fertility, honor womanhood, and pay respect to an array of mother goddesses. In Gujarat, the dances customarily mark a girl's first menstrual cycle and, later, her imminent marriage.


The Manganiyars are professional Muslim folk musicians belonging to Jaisalmer, Barmer, parts of Jalor, Bikaner, and Jodhpur districts in western Rajasthan. Since generations, they provide musical service to their patrons to receive cattle, camels, goats, or cash as a gift.

The music is an indispensable component of functions such as weddings, engagements, and births. Many songs are associated with planting and harvesting. In these activities, the villagers routinely sing about their hopes, fears, and aspirations.

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Indian puppet shows

Puppetry or the puppet theatre is one of the ancient forms of entertainment in India. The origin of puppetry in India somewhat dates back to the long-gone era of the 5th Century BC. It has been an important part of folk culture depicting the folk traditions of India.

There are four basic kinds of puppets. They are a glove, string, rod, and shadow. The glove puppets are mainly found in Orissa, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.

The puppets are worn on the hand and the puppeteer manipulates their heads and arms with his fingers. Kunchei Nacha in Orissa and Pava Koothu in Keral fall under this category.

String puppets are found in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. With string puppets, the stress is more on the manipulative skill of the puppeteer.

The Katapuli shows of Rajasthan and the Sakhi Kundhei of Orissa are examples of this category.

puppet String puppets in Rajasthan

Exhibitions and galleries in India

There are many art galleries in India. Major exhibitions are usually held at the National Museum, the National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Art Heritage and Craft Museum which are all located in Delhi. Special collections of rare sculptures and paintings from museums all around the world are displayed there.

The Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata is one of the most significant art galleries in India. Some of the famous paintings displayed include the 'Girl with a pitcher' and 'A Winter's Evening' by Rabindra Nath Tagore.

The Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh consist of sections for Indian miniature paintings, contemporary art, and portraits. Paintings by some of the most illustrious artists like Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil, Jamini Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, and Abanindranath Tagore are part of the museum.

Procession of maharajah on horse Indian miniature A miniature painting

The National Gallery of Modern Art in Bangalore is one of the newer art galleries in India. Currently, the art gallery houses more than 500 paintings from both traditional and modern genres. The paintings are sorted and displayed according to time periods, artists, and the School of Art.

Entertainment venues in India

In Mumbai, the National Center for the Performing Arts or NCPA is India's premiere multi-venue and multi-genre cultural institute. Music, dance, theatre, film, literature, and photography events are held in this venue.

Bollywood dancers are holding their vivid costumes Music, dance, and theatre are held

In Delhi, Kamani on Copernicus Marg is the largest auditorium. The venue hosts concerts, plays, classical music and dance performances throughout the year. The Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium is also another popular venue for music concerts.

The Kamani Auditorium is a popular place in Delhi where concerts, musical dramas, and cultural performances are held. The Sirifort Auditorium is a popular place for comedy shows and musical performances.

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Indian cinema

Cinema is the most popular form of entertainment in India, especially the extravagant blockbusters from Bollywood. It has major film studios in Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. Most films screened are in Hindi and other Indian languages. English-language films are mostly mainstream Hollywood movies.

These studios turn out more than 1000 films a year to a hugely appreciative audience around the world. Cinemas are widespread, from small local theatres and art centers to large regional and national chain multiplexes in shopping malls.

It was in early 1913 that an Indian film received a public screening. The film was Raja Harischandra. Since then, there have been many Indian movies that have been renowned worldwide such as the ‘3 Idiots ‘, ‘My Name is Khan', and ‘Dhoom'.

How to book tickets

The simplest way to book tickets is just by going to the cinema in person and buying the ticket at a counter. You can also use mobile apps to book your tickets. Some examples of these apps include BookMyShow, Paytm, INOX, Cinepolis India, and PVR Cinemas-Movie Tickets.

It is advised to book your movie tickets in advance, especially for the more popular movies as tickets may be sold out early. Hotels or tour operators can often arrange tickets for you as well.

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