Indian Dance Forms

Category: Performing Arts

Indian classical dance forms are rooted in an ancient text, the Natya Shastra, which contains verses related to gestures, expressions, steps and postures of Indian classical dances. These dance forms include bharatanatyam, kathakali, kathak, manipuri, kuchipudi and odissi, amongst others.

Indian Dancers in Singapore in the 1960sIndian Dancers in Singapore in the 1960s. Source: Roots.sg

Bharatanatyam is commonly associated with Tamil Nadu in South India. It was originally performed at religious events, and features a solo performance that is performed exclusively by women. The dance contains a sophisticated set of expressions using hand gestures and movements of eyes and face muscles, while the narration is usually based on mythical legends from ancient texts.

Kathak is associated with North India, and it was similarly performed for temple-based bhakti (devotional) purposes before it became a form of court entertainment during the Mughal period in India. The word ”kathak” is derived from the root Sanskrit word meaning ”story” or ”narrative”, and is considered to have been first conceived by professional storytellers who weaved dance moves into their productions. Kathak can be performed by both men and women.

Kathakali originates from the area of Kerala, in Southwest India. Kathakali performances involve an interplay of theatre and dance, while the translation for kathakali literally means “story play”. The stories depicted in kathakali performances often draw upon Hindu epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and from the devotional Bhagavata Purana. Kathakali performances traditionally feature only male performers.

In Singapore, there had been reports on presence of Indian dances, theatre and other performing art forms since the early 20th century. According to these reports, the performers came from India and the length of each performance was dependent on the size of the crowd – the larger the crowd, the longer the performance would be.

Today, Indian classical dance in Singapore is performed at festivals, staged as productions, and taught through various performing arts schools and arts groups. 


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