History of Indian Dance
by K. L. Kamat
First Online: August 13, 2000
Last Updated: April 04, 2014
History of Indian Dance
The dance heritage of India is at least 5000 years old. A dancing girl figurine was found in the
ruins of Mohenjodaro and is dated approximately 2nd Century B.C. Many group
dancing sequences are depicted in
exquisite rock paintings of Bhimbetaka caves of Madhya Pradesh. The apsaras
dancers are carved at the gateways of Sanchi. The wall paintings of Ajanta
and Ellora, the
sculptures of Khajuraho, the temple walls of Hoysala dynasty, stand ample evidence for
popularity of Indian dances from ancient times.
Through the centuries the dances have been used as a vehicle of worship and expression of
emotions in India. The temple dancers (Devadasis) have led a very austere lives in order to perform
sacred dances to please Gods and Goddesses. The
Devadasi system is still prevalent in
some states of India. In Karnataka they are dedicated to the Goddess Yellamma of
Savadatti. In Orissa, they are appointed to perform various activities of the temple.
A Temple Woman Dancing to Please Goddess
Dancer from a Medieval Sculpture
Lord Shiva and His Cosmic Dance
The Portuguese traveler, Domingo Paes visited the Vijayanagar kingdom in 1520-22 A.D. and
behind a vivid description of the dancers he saw in the kingdom. His original chronicles
have been preserved in the Bibliotheque nationale de France, in Paris. He visited special dancing
halls where young female dancers were given intensive training. The walls were decorated
with paintings depicting various dancing poses which helped the dancers to correct their
steps. The king, Krishna Devaraya himself took very keen interest in their dance education
and periodically visited these halls. During the Navaratri festival celebrations the dance
performances were given great importance. The dancers were adorned with innumerable
ornaments, made out of gold, pearls, and diamonds. "At times the jewelry they wore use to
be so heavy that the dancers were supported by the other women who accompany
Dance in Indian Society
Nataraja, the dancing Lord Shiva, is the supreme manifestation of Indian dance. The moon
which he adorns in his head is the symbol complete control of senses. The serpents wound
around his body is the proof of his complete control over vital life forces. His foot
raised high over the wicked demon, a symbol of triumph over the ego.
The Indian dances have sprung from the religious urges of her people. Its thematic
contents are based on the rich mythological lore of the country. The dance technique is
based on a few ancient treatises, like the Natya Shastra of sage
Bharata, which were written
nearly two millennia ago. The Indian dances consists of three distinct types.
"Nritta" is pure and simple dance with movements of body and limbs.
"Nritya" is linked with facial expressions, hand gestures and symbolic body
poses. "Natya" has the elements of a drama which is introduced through the use
of spoken world. All the types involve the use of "mudras",
which are well developed types of gestures during the dance. The dancers use their entire body to communicate with the audience.
The major Indian classical dances are: Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Kathak and
Manipuri, Kuchipudi, Odissi and Mohini Attam. In addition, there are innumerable folk and tribal
dances spread all over the country.