The Ultimate Guide to Indian Dance

The Ultimate Guide to Indian Dance

The Ultimate Guide to Indian Dance

Blog126_IndianDance_CoupleDancing-300x200 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceIn our last post, we looked at different dance styles from around the world. Of course, multiple dance styles can be associated with any one country. India, for example—a land defined by its diversity and plurality—is well known for its many different styles of dance, all so distinct, yet all unifying at the same time. In this post, we will delve deeper into the various styles of Indian dance. We will start by exploring the eight types of classical Indian dance, most of which have their roots in religious or devotional traditions. From there, we will have a look at the folk dances of each of the Indian states. Where available, we will include links to YouTube videos of these different dance styles. This post as well timed, as our Global Small Business (GSB) partner, A&M Studio, based in Mumbai, India, is having a virtual music festival over the next several days featuring musicians from all over the world. You can watch these talented performers on A&M Studio’s Facebook page. Let’s get started and dance our way through India!

Blog126_IndianDance_Bharatnatyam-300x200 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceBharatnatyam: Bharatnatyam is the first of the classical Indian dance styles. This form of dance originated in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and has religious roots. Its main features are a fixed upper torso and flexed knees, and it makes use of the hands, eyes, and face. Bharatnatyam entails a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language. The dance is accompanied by singing, tabla (Indian drum), and a guru.

Blog126_IndianDance_Kuchipudi-300x200 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceKuchipudi: Kuchipudi comes from the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Eyes are an important part of this dance form, as Kuchipudi is a form of drama and storytelling. Major movements are more minimal. It has roots in the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text of Nakthya Shastra. Dancers in male roles typically wear a “dhoti,” or a piece of cloth hanging from the waist, while dancers in a female role wear a sari with light makeup.

Blog126_IndianDance_Odissi2-300x201 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceOdissi: Odissi comes from the Hindu temples of Odisha, a coastal state in Eastern India. Like other Indian classical dances, it expresses religious ideas, particularly related to Vaishnavism (devotion to the Hindu god Vishnu). Dancers, who are traditionally women, play out a mythical story or devotional poem. Gestures, expressions, and symmetry are key features of Odissi.

Blog126_IndianDance_Sattriya-300x168 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceSattriya: Sattriya traces its origin to the East Indian state of Assam. The key themes of this type of dance-drama are love and passion. The performance depicts the relationship of Hindu god Krishna and goddess Radha.

Blog126_IndianDance_Manipuri-300x235 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceManipuri: Manipuri comes from the East Indian state of Manipur. Like Sattriya, Manipuri depicts the Radha-Krishna love story, also known as Raslila. The dance is graceful and fluid and is marked by hand and upper body gestures. One of the defining features of Manipuri is its costumes, which include a barrel-shaped skirt known as a “kumil,” and in some cases, a translucent veil covering the head. The accompanying music of Manipuri typically includes cymbals and a double-headed drum.

Blog126_IndianDance_Mohiniyattam-300x201 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceMohiniyattam: Mohiniyattam is a classical dance that comes from and is popular in the South Indian state of Kerala. It gets its name from Mohini—a divine enchantress in Hindu mythology. The dance is seductive in nature and is typically performed by women. The basic posture of Mohiniyattam is parted feet, knees bent outward, and a straight upper torso with gentle hip swaying and soft footwork. The costumes typically include a white or off-white sari with golden borders and simple jewelry. Mohiniyattam is associated with the Malayalam harvest festival of Onam.

Blog126_IndianDance_Kathak-300x200 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceKathak: The name Kathak comes from the Vedic Sanskrit word “katha,” which means story. The dance originated in the states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in Northern India. While extensive hand movements and footwork are part of Kathak, facial expressions are critical to this form of dance, especially expressions involving the eyebrows. The legs and torso are generally straight, with the upper body doing most of the work. Kathak has both Hindu and Muslim cultural elements. Like in many other forms of Indian classical dance, dancers typically have small bells adorning their feet.

Blog126_IndianDance_Kathakali-300x200 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceKathakali: Kathakali comes from Kerala. It is a more humorous form of Kathak marked by elaborate and colorful costumes, makeup, and masks. The dance expresses folk mythologies, religious legends, and spiritual ideas from Hindu epics and ancient texts. It incorporates movements from ancient Indian martial arts and South Indian athletic traditions.

Blog126_IndianDance_YoungGirl-300x200 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceNow that we know a little bit about the eight classical Indian dance styles, let’s have a look at some more modern regional dances, many of which include features of the classical styles. Similar to what we discussed in our last post, all regions have multiple associated dance styles. But for the purposes of this post, we will be focusing on one per state.

Blog126_IndianDance_Lambadi-300x206 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceAndhra Pradesh – Lambadi: Lambadi is a colorful, joyous, and festive dance that is associated with agrarian tasks such as harvesting, planting, and sowing. The dance is a tribute to the gods for a healthy harvest. It is performed by a semi-nomadic tribe in Andhra Pradesh called the Banjaras. Typically, a group of women dances while men play drums. Lambadi costumes are ornate and embroidered with glass beads and mirrors. The music is highlighted with ivory bangles and brass anklets.

Arunachal Pradesh – Buiya: In Buiya, dancers stand in a single-file line and walk in a procession. One of the dancers plays a drum, another plays a gong, and if available, another plays cymbals. To the beats of the instruments, the dancers perform a series of repetitive movements, usually involving skipping, until they reach the end of the procession

Blog126_IndianDance_Bihu-300x177 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceAssam – Bihu: The Bihu dance is an important part of Assamese culture and performed as part of the Bihu festival, which celebrates the spring harvest, fertility, and passion. Characteristics of Bihu include brisk steps and fast hand movements. Costumes are typically red, symbolizing happiness and strength.

Bihar – Bidesia: Bidesia is prevalent in the Bhojpuri-speaking region of Bihar. It is typically a satirical performance dealing with social and emotional issues, for example the poor status of women and the conflict between traditional and modern, urban and rural, and rich and poor. The dance aims to bring awareness to some of these often hard-to-discuss societal problems. Performers are usually men, who might wear wigs or feminine costumes to act out female parts.

Blog126_IndianDance_Panthi-300x169 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceChhattisgarh – Panthi: Panthi is a ritual of the Satnami community of Chhatisgarh typically performed by male dancers. The dance conveys ideologies of Nirvana. It usually begins with slow body movements, bent torsos, and swinging arms. As the song gets faster, the performers engage in acrobatics and even form human pyramids. There is usually a leader of the group who sings while the rest follow in refrain. Accompanying music often entails drum beats, and costumes are simple.

Goa – Taranga Mel: Taranga Mel is a high-energy dance typically performed by young kids during festivals, particularly Dushehra and Holi. The name comes from the word “tarang,” which means streamer. Performers wave multi-colored flags and streamers while wearing colorful costumes. It is usually accompanied by the dhol, a large two-sided drum.

Blog126_IndianDance_Garba2-300x200 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceGujarat – Garba: Garba is traditionally performed during the Hindu festival of Navratri as a tribute to the goddess Durga. The dancers dance in a circle, which represents the Hindu view of time as cyclical, around a clay lantern, representing life—specifically the fetus. Today, Garba also includes some aspects of the dance Dandiya Raas, which involves dancers banging colorful sticks together. Costumes are colorful and ornate, with women wearing large, shimmering pieces of jewelry, bindis, and three-piece dresses and men wearing kurtas.

Haryana – Jhumar: Jhumar is popular in both Punjab and Haryana. It is known as the dance of bliss. The name comes from the word “jhum,” which means swaying. It is a slow, rhythmic dance style whose songs deal with love and emotion. The moves resemble the movements of animals (especially birds), plowing, sowing, and harvesting. Aspects of Jhumar have been integrated into Bhangra, the traditional dance of Punjab.

Blog126_IndianDance_Nati-300x238 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceHimachal Pradesh – Nati: Nati’s claim to fame is being the Guinness Book of World Records’ largest folk dance in terms of number of participants. Its movements are slow and relaxed, and some are even mime-like. Some of the movements represent sowing and reaping.

Jammu and Kashmir – Rauf: Rauf is an interactive dance traditionally performed by women in the Kashmiri valley. They line up in two rows facing each other and dance in colorful costumes and jewelry with their heads covered in handkerchiefs. The dance is a celebration of spring.

Jharkhand – Paika: Paika is a dance typically performed by males. The name comes from the group of soldiers who protected the safety of the kingdom. Dancers carry a shield in one hand and a sword in another as they carry out martial arts-like movements. Accompanying instruments include drums and bagpipes.

Blog126_IndianDance_DolluKunitha The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceKarnataka – Dollu Kunitha: Dollu Kunita is a popular drum dance. It is a tribute to the god Beereshwara. The dance involves beating a large two-sided drum that is tied around the performer’s waist with sticks and requires a great deal of physical strength and coordination.

Blog126_IndianDance_OttanThillul-300x201 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceKerala – Ottan Thullal: Ottan Thullal is a poetic, typically solo performance dating back to the eighteenth century. The world “thullal” comes from the Malayalam word for jump. Accompanying instruments usually include mridangam (barrel-shaped double-headed drum) and idakka (drum and cymbal). The performer generally wears green makeup and a colorful costume with red and white bands and painted wooden ornaments.

Lakshwadeep – Lava: The word “lava” means beautiful. Usually performed by males, the dancers enter in lines, form a circle, and move to the beats of drums that they carry. The dancers wear a white top with bright red trousers.

Madhya Pradesh – Jawara: Jawara is a harvest celebration dance marked by joy and good fortune and is typically performed in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. The dance is performed together by men and women clad in colorful costumes. Throughout the vigorous dance, women carry large baskets filled with jawara on their heads, which certainly requires physical strength and balance. Accompanying music includes a combination of percussion, string, and wind instruments.

Blog126_IndianDance_Lavani The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceMaharashtra – Lavani: Lavani is known for its powerful percussive rhythms and is accompanied by the dholki, a two-sided drum. The performers, typically women, wear nine-yard saris, heavy jewelry, bindis, and their hair in a bun. The songs are fast in tempo and deal with a variety of topics. Historically, the dance was meant to entertain tired soldiers and boost their morale.

Blog126_IndianDance_PungCholom-300x170 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceManipur – Pung Cholam: The name “Pung Cholam” means roar of the drums. In the dance, performers play a drum called the pung while dancing. The dance usually starts off with a gentle rhythm that builds up into rigorous acrobatics taken from Manipuri martial arts. Pung Cholam is usually a prelude to the Raslila discussed earlier.

Blog126_IndianDance_KaShadSukMynsiem-300x197 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceMeghalaya – Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem: Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem is an annual spring dance that celebrates harvesting and sowing. Dancers dance in two circles, with females in the inner circle and males in the outer circle. The females’ movements are minimal compared to the males’ more energetic, galloping movements and mock duels and sword fights. The men wear golden silk turbans with a plume, silver chains across their shoulders, silver quivers, and maroon silk cloths while carrying swords. The women wear long-sleeve blouses, gold or silver crowns with flowers, bracelets, and necklaces and their hair in braids. Per tradition, female dancers must be unmarried.

Blog126_IndianDance_CherawDance-300x168 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceMizoram – Cheraw Dance: The Cheraw dance is an intricate dance style involving six to eight people holding bamboo sticks horizontally on the ground. The male dancers clap the sticks together while the female dancers perform elaborate steps between the beating sticks. The Cheraw dance resembles the Tinikling dance of the Philippines discussed in our last post.

Nagaland – Zeliang: Zeliang is performed primarily by males, though some women participate as well. The movements resemble those of fighting in a war. The performers enter the dance space and form a circle or some other shape. Their foot tapping forms the rhythm of the dance, which has no musical accompaniment. The use of spears and war cries are features of Zeliang, and the performers wear metal ornaments as their costumes.

Blog126_IndianDance_Bhangra-300x176 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DancePunjab – Bhangra: Bhangra is a lively and colorful dance that originally was a celebration of the harvest. It is characterized by kicks, jumps, and bouncing shoulders. Bhangra music is typically loud and upbeat and includes the dhol (two-sided drum). Practicing even basic bhangra steps will give you quite the workout.

Rajasthan – Chakri: Chakri is traditionally performed by women. The name comes from the word “chakra,” which means circle. As the name implies, the dance involves fast and vigorous spinning. Performers wear colorful, flowing dresses and scarves on their head, allowing their movements to resemble that of a top when they spin. Accompanying music is typically singing and robust drum beats.

Blog126_IndianDance_SnowLion-300x217 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceSikkim – Singhi Chham: “Singhi Chham” means snow lion. The dance is performed by men during the worship of the snowy range Kanchenjunga every September. Kanchenjunga is represented as a red-faced deity with a crown of five skulls riding a mythical snow lion and waving a banner. The performers wear masks, silks, brocades, and embroidered boots.

Tamil Nadu – Kumi: Kumi is typically danced by women in a circle during festivals. There are different variations of the dance. In some variations, it is simple, entailing rhythmic clapping or drum beats. Other variations involve movements imitating harvest activities.

Blog126_IndianDance_Hojagiri-300x169 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceTripura – Hojagiri: Hojagiri is typically performed by female dancers, while males participate in the musical accompaniment, either singing songs or playing instruments. The dance is a tribute to the goddess Lakshmi. The performers move only the lower parts of their bodies—typically their hips and their waists—while balancing earthen pitchers, bottles, plates, lamps, and other objects on their heads and in their hands. A typical Hojagiri sequence takes about 30 minutes. The accompanying music includes wind instruments and simple lyrics.

Blog126_IndianDance_Chholiya-300x175 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceUttarkhand – Chholiya: Chholiya is practiced in the Kumaun region of Uttarkhand. It is a sword dance that was traditionally performed at marriages but is now performed at other auspicious occasions as well. It is believed to provide protection from evil spirits. It is accompanied by bellicose music with brass, percussion, and woodwind instruments and in some cases, even bagpipes. Performers are completely synchronized, and the movements resemble those of fighting in a war.

West Bengal – Gambhira: Ghambhira is a significant part of Bengali culture. It is a duo dance with performers representing a man and his maternal grandmother. The beats of a large drum accompany the dance.

Screen-Shot-2020-06-18-at-12.37.29-AM-208x300 The Ultimate Guide to Indian DanceIf you’d like to learn or teach any of these dances or talk about any of these regions of India, you can do so on Konversai—your one-stop shop for any and all personal human knowledge. The global online platform brings together knowledge providers and knowledge seekers on any topic of interest through live video conversations. The only limit is your imagination. Knowledge providers can charge as much as they want for their sessions, knowledge seekers can enjoy personalized sessions from an actual human being on exactly what they’re looking to learn, and sessions take place at times that are mutually convenient for all parties involved. All users are encouraged to be both knowledge providers and knowledge seekers on any and as many topics as they wish. Konversai’s mission is to democratize knowledge, put the human connection back into technology, and make the world better by enabling meaningful and authentic conversations that enrich and improve people’s lives. Get in on the fun by joining Konversai today!


By Pavita Singh

Special thanks to Konverser Oshin Hephzibah for her assisted with content development on the eight classical dance styles. If you’d like to learn more from Oshin, you can connect with her on Konversai.



  1. Department of Arts and Culture, Government of Meghalaya. (2019). Festivals and Ceremonies of the Khasis. National Informatics Centre.
  2. Goyal, Shikha. (2019). List of Folk Dances of Different States of India. Jagran Josh.
  3. Hephzibah, Oshin. (2020). Personal interview.
  4. (2014). Buiya Dance, Arunachal Pradesh.
  5. Online Highways, LLC. (2014). Singhi Chham Dance. India 9.
  6. Mythical India. Jhumar and other popular folk dances of Jharkhand.
  7. Panthi Dance – Chhatisgarh
  8. Seasons India. Folk Dance Forms of India: Jawara.
  9. Travel Guru. (2015). Folk Dance. Beautiful Indian Tourist Spots.
  10. Wikipedia.
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