Folk Dances

  • Garba: popular folk dance form originating in Gujarat. This dance form is usually performed by ladies.performed in autumn before the festival of navratri. This dance is performed by placing an object called “garba” in the center and dancing around it in a circular motion with an accompaniment of clapping. The most popular folk dance from Gujarat. Every year, this dance picks up around the hindu calendar month of Aashadh(July-Aug) as the festival of navratri comes closer. The Hindu goddess Amba is praised in this dance. Devotees express their devotion to the goddess Amba. Women, men, and children perform this dance before navratri. The goddess is represented by using a lamp that is placed in a pot with a hole in it. The goddess is placed in the center and all dancers-young, old, men, women,children-dance around it in a circular formation. It is usually performed with clapping, but sometimes it is also performed by holding sticks called dandiya in the hand. The musical accompaniment is usually provided by dhol and shehnai. Sometimes a manjira is employed.
  • Ghoomar: Ghoomar is the primary folk dance from Rajasthan. This dance is usually performed by women in long veils through artistic and rhythmic coordination of hand movements. Ghoomar is performed on joyous occasions such as weddings, the festival of holi, childbirth, etc.
  • Bhangda: Bhangda is a popular folk dance from Punjab. This dance is performed during the Baisakhi festival. This is a joyous dance that people perform with every new harvest.Bhangda is a dance that is done with vigor. Men and women dance in multicolored clothes making this dance quite delightful to watch. Large drums(dhol/nagaada) are the primary instruments used to accompany the dance.An Indian flute(Bansuri) is also used as an accompanying instrument. Dancers tie bells(ghungaroo) around their feet and colorful handkerchiefs in their hands which fly in the air as they dance.

Folk Dance and Modern Dance (Uday Shankar Style)


  • Folk dance:  As the name suggests, folk dance is the dance of the common people. This dance is primarily performed by Adivasis (Tribal folks). This dance form is quite different from classical dance in many ways. Learning the folk dance does not require classical techniques and yet, this is considered as a traditional dance form. Specialized training is not required to learn folk dance. It can be easily learned by observing the performance of other dancers. After a long hard day’s work, Adivasis assemble in the evening and dance to the beat of Dhol and Nagada in an open field to entertain their tired selves. This dance and the accompanying musical beats are referred to as folk dance. A classical dancer typically performs for an objective. The dance is performed either in praise of gods/goddesses or for entertaining an audience. In contrast, the collective dancing of the Adivasis is not for others, but for their own enjoyment. This dance form has easy accompanying music, set to the songs based on rustic themes. This music is not bound by the rigors and rules of any special raga or taal. The dance attire is either representative of their normal daily lifestyle or the distinctive local tradition of the region. In essence, folk dance has simple clothing requirements. An attractive aspect of the folk dance of any region is that all folk dances are performed with vim and vigor. Folk dances employ the region’s simple and colloquial language, making it very popular and entertaining among the locals.  People often also include themes from their regional professions in their folk songs and dances. For example, the dance movements of Koli dancers from Maharashtra include themes like catching fish, weaving nets, and rowing boats, because they are fisherfolk by profession. Several folk dance forms exist in India, such as Bhangra in Punjab, Koli in Maharashtra, Raas-Garba in Gujarat, Ghumar in Rajasthan, Chapeli in Kumaon, etc.


  • Modern dance: There was a time when only classical dances or regional folk dances were performed in India. It was not easy for common people to follow classical dance, because it is important to understand the dance technique in order to appreciate the nuances of the dance. Seeing the flagging popularity of classical dance, Uday Shankar, himself an accomplished classical dancer, observed that it was very important to make the Indian performing arts form more entertaining for the masses. He also concluded that many essential improvements needed to be introduced in Indian dance. He started blending facets of western dances into the Indian dance form to create a modern dance style that came to be known as the “Uday Shankar Dance Style.” He created a fusion of Indian classical music with western musical harmonies and melodies. New dance movements were created by blending Indian and Western dance sensibilities. The traditional classical dance attire, which had been in prevalence amongst dancers since ancient times, was replaced with modern clothing styles. Whereas traditional dances took their story inspirations from devotional works like Ramayana and Mahabharat, Uday Shankar chose to create song and dance creations based on modern themes. The lighting arrangement of stage performances (Rangmanch) of Indian dances significantly lagged behind international standards. He spruced up the stage presentation by utilizing various creative lighting concepts. A stellar example of his creativity is Shadow Dance (Chhaya Nritya). Thus, the new dance style created by Uday Shankar through holistic advances in story concepts, dance attire, stage arrangements, modern music and body movements, with an inspired fusion of concepts from both Western and Indian classical dance philosophy is now known as Contemporary or Modern Dance. 

History of the Kathak dance form 

  • The word kathak means a storyteller or their entire community. In earlier days, when people performed devotional stories and songs, dance, song, and music were utilized to narrate the stories of god. Later on, these people were also known as kathi.In this time, however, Muslims established their rule over India. The same kathak dance that was performed in the devotion of the gods in temples was now performed in the court of kings with alterations. The kings and nobles gave lots of praise for this dance form. Some artists were appointed as dancers. They were also provided with accommodations. Wajid Ali Shah was a big supporter of the kathak dance form. Not only did he provide accommodations for the artists, but he also danced along with them. He excelled in the kathak dance form.
  • India came into British rule after this. The British did not make any effort to preserve the Indian art form. Consequently, this art form remained in the dark for a long time under British rule. Ever since achieving independence from the British, the Indian government had tried hard to revive Indian art and culture. As a result, this art form is popular even in literate circles. 
  • No hard evidence is available that definitively points at the place or date of origin of the Kathak dance form. However, it is accepted that Kathak is at least as old as the accompanying musical instruments of Mrudang and Been. This is borne out by the observation that Kathak notes (bol) borrow freely from the sounds of pakhawaj and been. The gurus of all gharanas danced to the notes of the pakhawaj. In addition, pakhawaj and mrudang are as ancient as Lords Shiva and Krishna themselves. Furthermore, the mrudang is mentioned in the Rigveda, which is one of the most ancient Hindu scriptures. On this basis, it won’t be a stretch to claim that Kathak is as old as the times of Lord Krishna.
  • The word Nritya (dance) is mentioned in the Rigveda. However, it is hard to deduce the exact dance form referred to in the scriptures. Lord Krishna created the Raas Leela in the times of the Mahabharat. Dance has been mentioned more frequently in the Mahabharat than in any preceding scriptures. 
  • There is another explanation for the evolution of the Kathak dance form in this era. Krishna was given to frolic and play in his childhood, which used to attract people to him. Later, when Krishna left Vrindavan for Mathura, the girls (gopis and friends) that were left behind sang songs in his memory, narrating his tales. These songs went on to become the tales of Krishna Leela. Later, people started dancing to these same songs. The narrator of these stories (katha) typically also played the role of Krishna, and other participants plays the roles of Radha and other friends. Over time, the word Katha was employed to describe dances and the community of people involved in similar religious storytelling in temples, eventually transforming into the word Kathak to describe this art form.  
  • The dance that was performed on the temple premises was slowly destroyed with the establishment of the Mughal Empire in India. The Kathak dancers who used to dance with bhajans in temples were replaced by Thumri. Deity worship with bhajans faded from its glory days and was replaced by ghazals and the dance movements known as gath nikaas. Over time, the original purity of the Kathak dance was destroyed as it found more use for entertainment than devotion to god. The clothes are worn by the dancers also saw dramatic changes. Earlier, ghaghra-choli and odhni were worn by dancers but was later supplanted by Muslim attire. 
  • It is commonly accepted that Swami Haridas was the earliest guru of Kathak dance. He was equally proficient in singing, instrument playing and dancing, and trained artists like Baiju Bawra and Tansen. He had a large student body. His students spread out to various places after completing their training and started their own dance style, or Gharana, based on the name of their adopted city. Thus, the who migrated to Lucknow formed the Lucknow Gharana, the one who went to Benares formed the Benares Gharana, and so on.
  • The Mughals were supplanted by the British Empire. The art form underwent another transformation in this period. Emotions and expressions lost prevalence and beat making (layakari) gained prominence. Thus, each period left an imprint on the Kathak dance form. 
  • It is difficult to definitively identify the original dance form that was performed in temples. The later dancers who performed in royal courts, and trained the courtesans, brought in levity to the art at the expense of original purity. The Jaipur Gharana is an exception in that it still retains aspects of purity and deity worship. This is because the dancers of Jaipur Gharana were mostly employed by Hindu rulers. Their attire is also inspired by Hindu culture.   
  • The situation has improved considerably in recent times. These days, girls from cultured and well-to-do families are flocking to this dance, which is leading to upliftment and advancement of Kathak dance. 

Upaanya Visharad


  • Genesis of Dance and the Tradition of Dance

The tradition of dance in India is about as old as the civilization and culture of India itself. Unfortunately, not much is known about the ancient history of this country, and ancient folklores and legends form the basis of all that is known about ancient India. The same applies in the context of Kathak. That being said, if there is any foundational tome on the Indian art of dance, then it must be none other than the text called ‘Natya Shastra’ by Bharatmuni. This book presents a thoughtful and detailed description of dance in India. Although the age of this book is not definitely known, a key observation provides an estimate of the vintage of this text. Even as the four Vedas are understood to be the ancient scriptures that define Indian Civilization, the Natya Shastra composed by Bharatmuni is often considered the fifth Veda. It is then reasonable to infer that the document referred to as the fifth Veda was created in the same timeframe as the other four Vedas. This document is also known as ‘Gandharva Veda’ in Vedic literature. 

Nandikeshwar wrote a book titled ‘Abhinaya Darpan’ (The Mirror of Gesture) describing the genesis and development of the art of dance in great detail. According to the book, there was a time when the world had no idea about fine arts and the concept of entertainment was non-existent. In such a time, the people of Devlok collectively approached Brahmaji and beseeched him to create a medium for entertainment that would dispel all pain and sorrow, and whose practice would provide generosity, stability, patience, and pleasure. Not only this, but regular practice by the student of this medium should also yield glory, influence, good fortune, and proficiency. In the end, practicing this medium should provide happiness that even exceeds the bliss of spiritual enlightenment and joy in Brahma (Brahmanand) himself.

In response to this request, Brahmaji picked the text (paathya) from Rg Veda, acting (abhinaya) from Yajur Veda, music (Sangeet) from Sam Veda, and emotion (ras) from Atharva Veda to create the knowledge of performance (Natya Veda) that leads to righteousness (Dharma), riches (Artha), deeds (karma) and salvation (moksha). For this reason, Natya Shastra (science of performance) is considered to be a pure and ancient as the four Vedas. 

Brahmaji first gifted his creation of the Natya Veda to Bharatmuni. Bharatmuni used this foundational knowledge to create theatrical (natya), morbid (mrut) and dance (nritya) forms of performing arts. He then brought along Gandharvas, Kinnars and celestial beauties (apsara) to present these art forms to Lord Shiva for the first time. It is said that Lord Shiva was reminded of his own Tandav dance upon watching these performances, which he had taught to his disciple Tandu.  Lord Shiva asked Tandu to teach the Tandav form and Parvatiji to teach the Lasya form to Bharatmuni. 

This very same Tandav dance became known to humans through the munis, whereas Lasya dance was personally passed on by Parvatiji to the daughter of Banasur, Usha. Usha came to Dwarka and taught the lasya dance to the local Gopikas. The Gopikas, in turn, popularized this dance among the women of Saurashtra. Glimpses of this dance are seen in the Garba-Ras folk dance of Gujarat. Lord Krishna adopted this dance and popularized it via his Rasleela dances. This dance is particularly seen in places like Mathura and Vrindavan to this day. This dance underwent natural modifications over the course of time, eventually giving rise to the Kathak dance. 


The Tradition of The Performing Arts

Ancient Indian tradition was unique in its own way. In ancient times, it was known as Natya (theatre) or Drishya (view) or Prekshya Kavya (Viewable Poetry). Often it was simply referred to as Rupak (metaphor). Whichever way it was referred, it continues to be connected with today’s theatrical performances with great harmony. And yet, it had elements that drifted away from the origins.

Ancient Sanskrit plays were referred to as Drishya Kavya (Visual Poetry) instead of Natya (theatre). This gives us an idea that Sanskrit plays had a higher significance than merely a theatrical performance. In a literal sense, Drishya Kavya implies a form of poetic storytelling that is enjoyed more by watching rather than reading or listening. These Drishya Kavyas were presented on a Manch (Stage), or it can be said that these poems were acted out on the stage. Although these works of art were presented on a stage, they usually lacked the performance style that is contemporarily recognized as Acting. The Drishya Kavyas that are now known as ancient plays completely neglected the aspect of visual expressions and acting. 

The word Natya itself reveals some information about the form of these works of art. It needs to be interpreted as a type of poetry. The genesis of the word Natya is based on the root word ‘Nat’ which refers to the act of dancing. It can be concluded that ancient Sanskrit plays were closely associated with rhythm (sur) and tone (taal), but they had no place for enactment.

These plays lacked the component of actually emoting or creating a sense of realism. Audiences were also accustomed to the artificiality of the Drishya Kavya. Audiences took cues from the pictorial and informational characters presented during the performance, and then used their imagination and intelligence to surmise the gist of the Natya. Scholars of the time maintained that a sophisticated appreciation was only possible when presented on the high tower of imagination, and that there was no place for realism in art. If the theatrical style of old times were to be summarized in a single sentence, it would suffice to say that the poet does not actually say anything directly, he merely hints at his motives. 

Everyone in those times accepted this philosophy. The Drishya Kavyas were more akin to western Operas than Indian theatre. Western Opera is orchestra centric with prominence given to music played on multiple organs and a primary singer, but not to acting or emoting. The presentation objective of artists in those days was different from that of contemporary performers. Further, the artists and audiences alike had a different perspective on the art form.