India can boast of an innumerable number of folk dances, each dance forming a specialty of a particular region or tribe. Each form will have its own specialty & grace, along with a set pattern of costumes & make-up.
The classical dance forms which have developed, have set rules that have been followed traditionally over the years. On the basic model, various gurus incorporate their own imaginative innovations, leading to various schools within a particular dance form. Apart from the gracious hand & leg postures & movements, the dancers have to acquire the skill of portraying various emotions faithfully in each expression on their face & each fluid movement of their hand, legs & in fact their whole body. Every part conveys some meaning in their graceful motion.
India has thousands of year old tradition of fine arts and classical and folk music and dances. Some of the world-famous dance forms that originated and evolved in India are Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam and Odissi. All these dance forms use basically the same 'mudras' or signs of hand as a common language of expression and were originally performed in the temples to entertain various Gods and Goddesses. They were also effective in carrying forward the various mythological stories from generation to generation while entertaining the audiences. It eventually became a part of 'Natya Shashtra', as propounded by Sage Bharata to compile and forge some rules and regulations of entertaining arts.
The various dance forms have also developed a particular form of make-up for the performance, which is a skill by itself. Several dance schools today, incorporate costume designing & make-up as special section of the curriculum. The costumes for all forms are elaborate & rich, but each form & style have their own traditional patterns set down. Jewels for the dancers are also specially created to suit their purpose. Flowers adorn their hair & in the case of portrayal of Gods, their necks as garlands. The hall is also richly decorated with flowers. Application of mehendi in various styles is also an essential part of the make-up in most forms.
With time, the classical dances evolved to include the expressions and themes from social life and experiences. Lord Shiva is said to be the 'Nataraja' meaning 'King of All Dances', who is said to perform the Cosmic Dance that delicately balances life and death and all that is happening in the Universe in harmonious cycles. Bharatnatyam, popular in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is said to be revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata. Kathak is the art to tell a story and is a form of North Indian classical dance. Later, it became courtly entertainment.
Kathakali from Kerala makes use of colorful masks and costumes and belongs to Kerala. Kuchipudi is the dance drama of Andhra Pradesh that combines Natya, Nritta and Nritya. Manipuri, as the name suggests, is from Manipur, the Northeastern state of India, and is a combination of many dances prevalent in the region. Mohiniattam from Kerala is a solo female dance and is known for its rhythmic and unbroken flow of the body movements. Odissi from Orissa is a dance of love, joy and intense passion.
Bharatanatyam is the most popular of Indian dances and belongs to the South Indian state of Tamilnadu. Its antiquity is well established. In the past it was practised ad performed in the temples by a class of dancers known as the devadasis. It was a part of the religious rituals and has a long and hoary past. The kings and the princely courts patronised the temples, as well as the various traditions sustaining the dance form.
Prevalent in the North as a classical dance form, Kathak has a long history. Nurtured in the holy precincts of the Hindu temples, Kathak has over the centuries attained refinement and enriched itself with various hues and embellishments. Kathak means a story teller and it developed as a dance form in which a solo dancer tells and interprets stories from mythology.
Kathakali means a story play or a dance drama. Katha means story. Belonging to the South-Western coastal state of Kerala, Kathakali is primarily a dance drama form and is extremely colourful with billowing costumes, flowing scarves, ornaments and crowns. The dancers use a specific type of symbolic makeup to portray various roles which are character-types rather than individual characters. Various qualities, human, godlike, demonic, etc., are all represented through fantastic make-up and costumes.
Kuchipudi, like Kathakali is also a dance-drama tradition and derives its name from the vilage of Kuchipudi in the Southern State of Andra Pradesh. In recent years, it has evolved as a solo dance for the concert platform and is performed by women, though like Kathakali it was formerly the preserve of men. The female roles were enacted by men and even today, the tradition boasts of gifted male dancers enacting female roles with such consummate artistry that hardly anyone would notice them as male dancers.
Odissi has been revived in the past fifty years and can be considered as the oldest classical Indian dance on the basis of archival evidence. The form belongs to the East Indian state of Orissa. Odissi has a close association with the temples and its striking feature is its intimate relationship with temple sculpture. Tribhanga, the three-body bend characterises this dance form. It has a vast range of sculptural body movements which gives one the illusion of the sculptures coming to life.