Ancient Indian Culture Dacning: Apart from Shiva even Ganesha and Srikrishna have been associated with dance and music. India boasts of several classical dance styles. The oldest text dealing with aesthetics covering various art forms including dance was the Natyashastra authored by Bharatamuni.

All the Indian classical dance styles namely Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Manipuri, etc., are derived from the Natyashastra. Some of these dance styles have evolved from folk dances. They are intimately connected with the art of storytelling.

Ancient Indian Culture Dacning

Most of these stories are drawn from our epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Also, tales from collections like the Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Katha Sarit Sagara, etc., provide subject matter of these dance styles. In fact, the Kathak and Kathakali from U.P. and Kerala derived their names from the term Katha. Katha means a story in Sanskrit. As the story is told in the form of dance, these dance styles can actually be called dance-dramas. The only difference between the two is the absence of dialogues.

Ancient Indian Culture Dacning
Brihadishwara Temple, Bharatanatyam dancers

The Charkul dance-drama of Central India revolved around a story generally from the Indian epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Similar traditions of dance-dramas are prevalent in other parts of India too. In Maharashtra, there was Dashavatara, while Karnataka had Yakshagana.

The story has to be told solely through actions. Hence an elaborate pattern of facial expressions (Mudra), movement of hands (Hasta) and the simulation of various moods like anger (Krodha), envy (Matsara), greed (Lobha), lust (Kama), ego (Mada), etc., have been evolved. The mastery of perfect expression of these feelings by the subtle movement of the lips and eyes forms the root of all the classical Indian dance styles.

In fact, the combination of three qualities goes into the determination of the term Bha-Ra-Ta. These are viz. expression, rhyme, and rhythm which stand for Bhava, Raga, and Tala. All these are used as the name of one dance style viz. Bharata Natyam.

Indian Classical Dance

The integration of Indian classical dance with the physical exercises of Yoga and the breath control of “Pranayam” has perfected the dance styles. Yoga especially had given the dance styles an excellent footwork which is called Padanyasa and Padalalitya. Another feature of these dance styles was that they were integrated with theology and worship.

Ancient Indian Culture Theater and Drama

Traditionally these dances were patronized by the temples. During festivals and other religious occasions, these dances were performed in the temple premises to propitiate the deity. Thus the dance came to combine both art and worship. Even today every recital of any Indian classical dance begins with an invocation to Nataraja or Nateshwara the god of dance.


In Indian folklore and legend, the God of Dance himself was shown to be dancing in a form called the Tandava. This has also been depicted in the statues and carvings in temples like Khajuraho and Konark in Northern India, and at Chidambaram, Madurai, Rameshwaram, etc. in the South.

Ancient Indian Culture Dacning

Indian dances have also evolved styles based on the Tandava like the Urdhra Tandava, Sandhya Tandava, etc. Indian classical dance found its way outside India, especially to the countries of Southeast Asia. The dance styles of Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, etc., have heavily borrowed from the Indian classical dance traditions.

The resemblance is so much that to a casual observer there would seem to be hardly any difference between the two. Western dance, on the other hand, has not directly borrowed anything from Indian classical dance. But it has borrowed from Indian folk dance through the medium of the Gypsies.


The Gypsies are believed to have been migrated from India to the west many centuries ago. The Gypsies spoke a language called Romany which had many common words with Indian languages. The religion of the Gypsies was also a modified form of early Hinduism.

Ancient Indian Culture Dacning

The Gypsies seemed to have been the Banjara nomads who are still found in India. Being a very carefree nomadic community the Gypsies earned their living by giving the performance of folk dances. This was done along with the pursuing of other nomadic activities.

Gypsy dance influenced western dance styles like the Waltz and the foxtrot. Even the American Breakdance and other dances associated with jazz music have borrowed elements from the gypsy folk dance. The Gypsy folk dance is itself a free-flowing and cares free dance. In fact, it is a modified version of the folk dances of many Adivasi and nomadic tribal communities in India.