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It is written in Manusmriti “Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah”, which means “Dharma protects the one who protects Dharma”.

Performing Art | Indian Traditional Art | Folk Art

Various facets of Indian performing arts are all pervading bringing color and joy to numerous festivals and ceremonies, and reaffirming the faith of the people in their heritage. These facets have been responsible for sustaining the long continuities of ancient traditions. They are the link between the past and the present. It thus exemplifies the complex, organic interaction of all aspects of life implicit in all tribal and folk art forms; art is not seen as something apart from life, a mere ornamentation or entertainment, but as an intrinsic part of it.

Performing Art forms have a incredible significance in the civilization and tradition of Indian Society. Indian Performing arts are well praised by people, around the globe. 


The traditional forms of Art developed for the magnificence of temple and palace, reaching their peak about India around 2nd C.E. forwards and under the dominant Gupta Empire. Through the ages, competitor kings and nawabs competed with each other to attract the most famous artists and performers to their courts. The Natya Shastra, written through the 2nd century has laid the formation of music, dance and drama. The traditional music custom in India has constantly been a form of meditation, awareness and worship. The musical sounds of music can suggest the deepest emotions and moods of the audience, expert and non-connoisseurs equally. Few related points should be mentioned here;

  • Bharatmuni’s Natyashashtra is the earliest text related to performing arts.
  • In Matanga’s Brihaddesi ragas were named and discussed.
  • Performing arts were also patronized by various rulers such as Samudragupta, King Bhoja of Dhara, Akbar, etc.
  • Ibrahim Adil Shah II wrote Kitabe Navras which is a collection of songs in praise of Hindu deities and Muslim saints.
  • During the initial phases of the emergence of performing arts, these were used for the propagation of religion and for various other socio-religious purposes.
  • Performing arts became means for generating awareness among the masses during Vedic, medieval periods.
  • For instance, in Vedas rules were given for chanting hymns.

Categories of Performing Arts | Performing Arts have been counted in these four major performing art categories of India; Music, Dance, Drama, and Cinema.

Following are the types of Performing Arts of India:

Indian Traditional Music | Folk Art


Evolution of Indian Music goes back to the Vedas. Two types of classical music, Carnatic and Hindustani have been commenced following the 5th century and had been influenced by Bhakti traditions. Other varieties of Indian Music are the folk, popular and pop. Indian filmy music and Punjabi pop (Bhangra) are considered as world-class melodic genres. The Muslims aggressors influenced the Hindustani instruments, styles and schools of performance. Few related points should be mentioned here;

  • It is a performing art form where different types of musical instruments, styles are used to produce various genres of music.
  • Music has been India’s most popular art form since time immemorial.
  • The origins of Indian music can be traced back to the Sama Veda, which contained the slokas that were set to music.
  • Religious rituals still include the chanting of Vedic hymns with prescribed pitch and accent.
  • Jayadeva of Orissa created the most brilliant raga kavya, the Gita Govinda, in the twelfth century, with each song set in a raga and composed on the theme of Radha and Krishna’s love.
  • Abhinavabharati by Abhinavagupta (993-1055) contains useful information about music.
  • Tamil music contains a number of terms and concepts that are similar to those found in Sanskrit texts.
  • Psalms (poems) were also set to music by the Saivite Nayanars and Vaishnavite Alvars.
  • Similarly, Sufi and Bhakti saints encouraged music during the medieval period.
  • Qawwalis were performed in Sufi khanqahs, and devotional music such as kirtan and bhajan became popular among Bhakti saints.

Indian music during medieval times was divided into these categories;

  • Hindustani classical music can be traced back to the Delhi Sultanate and Amir Khusrau (AD 1253-1325), who encouraged musical performance with specific instruments.
  • He is credited with inventing the sitar and tabla, as well as introducing new ragas.
  • Tansen is the ancestor of the majority of Hindustani musicians.
  • Dhrupad, Dhamar, Thumri, Khayal, and Tappa are Hindustani music styles.
  • Some of the popular ragas are – Bahar, Bhairavi, Sindhu Bhairavi, Bhim Palasi, Darbari, Desh, Hamsadhwani, Jai Jayanti, Megha Malhar, Todi, Yaman, Pilu, Shyam Kalyan, and Khambaj.
  • India also has a wide range of musical instruments of various types.
  • Hindustani classical musicians are usually associated with a gharana or a specific style of music.
  • Gharanas are hereditary musical linkages that represent the core of the style and distinguish it from others.
  • Gharanas work in guru shishya parampara, which means that disciples learning under a specific guru and transmitting his musical knowledge and style will belong to the same gharana.
  • Gwalior gharana, Kirana gharana, and Jaipur gharana are some well-known gharanas.
  • Carnatic music compositions can be attributed to three composers who lived between AD 1700 and 1850. They were – Shyam Shastri, Thyagaraja, and Mutthuswami Dikshitar.
  • Purandardasa was another great Carnatic composer.
  • Thyagaraja is revered as a saint as well as an artist, and he embodies the essence of Carnatic music.
  • The main compositions, known as kriti, are devotional in nature.
  • Maha Vaidyanath Ayyar (1844-93), Patnam Subrahmanya Ayyar (l854-1902) and Ramnad Srinivasa Lyengar were among the notable musicians of this era (1860-1919).
  • Carnatic music is accompanied by instruments such as the flute, veena, nadaswaram, mridangam, and ghatam.
  • Despite the differences between Hindustani and Carnatic music, some similarities can be found. For example, the Carnatic alapana is similar to the alap in Hindustani classical music. Tilana in Carnatic architecture is similar to Tarana in Hindustani architecture. Both put emphasis on tala or talam.
  • Aside from classical music, India has a rich folk or popular music tradition. This music embodies the feelings of the masses.
  • The simple songs are written to commemorate every event in life. It could be a festival, the start of a new season, a marriage, or the birth of a child.
  • Rajasthani folk songs such as Mand and Bhatiali of Bengal are well-known throughout India. Ragini is a popular Haryana folk song style.
  • Folk songs have unique meanings or messages. They frequently describe historical events and significant rituals.
  • Gulraj from Kashmir is folklore, and Pandyani from Madhya Pradesh is a story set to music.
  • During Muharram, Muslims sing Sojkhwani, or mournful songs, and Christmas carols and choral music are sung in groups on festive occasions.

Indian Traditional Dance | Folk Art


Indian Dance dates back to the earliest Indus Valley Civilization. It is traced on carved stones which the earliest Indian civilization gave importance to diverse forms of Dance. Dance when combined with song and storytelling, dance metamorphosed into theatre. The different dance form of India offers scintillating experiences to the viewers. Along with the major dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Mohiniyattam, Koodiyattam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, and Odissi, some other local and tribal versions of dances are also practiced in India. Kathakali gained much eminence from the universal community. Chakyar Kootthu, a dance practiced in Northern Kerala is accepted by the United Nations. The Kathak style started in northern India and stressed on musical footwork. Manipuri of Manipur uses elegant turning and winning in its dances. The Natya Shastra, the initial Indian text on the subject, speaks of ekaharya (solo dance) and the anekaharya (dance as performed by more than one person) which was written between 200 BC – AD 200 by Bharatamuni. Few related points should be mentioned here;

  • The Rig Veda refers to dance (nrti) and a danseuse (nrtu), and compares the brilliant dawn (usas) to a brightly attrived danseuse.
  • Dance and music are mentioned together in the Brahmanas by Jaiminiya and Kausitaki.
  • The Epics are rife with references to earthly and heavenly dances.
  • Indian dance, like music, has a rich classical tradition. It has a great deal of expressive and emotional power when telling a story.
  • The art of dancing can be traced back to the Harappan culture in India.
  • The discovery of a bronze statue of a dancing girl demonstrates that some women in Harappa danced.
  • Dance served as a symbolic expression of religious ideas in traditional Indian culture.
  • The figure of Lord Shiva as Nataraja represents the cosmic cycle’s creation and destruction.
  • There isn’t a single temple in the country, at least not in the south, that doesn’t have sculptures of dancers in various poses.
  • In fact, classical dance forms such as Kathakali, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Manipuri, Kuchi pudi, and Odishi are important components of our cultural heritage.

Few of the Indian Traditional Dance Categories are mentioned here;


Kathak is one the eight classical dance forms in India. The name itself is derived from the Sanskrit word – Katha (Story). The narrator of a story is called Katthaka in Sanskrit. Hence this dance form which narrates a story through the expressions and body movements came to be called Kathak. The dance form of Kathak has three main schools which have their own unique style and instruments. The schools known as Gharanas are Lucknow Gharana, Banaras Gharana and Jaipur Gharana.

The first two Gharanas are the ones from Uttar Pradesh. The Lucknow Gharana has a lot of Mughal influence reflected in it. The Banaras Gharana showcases a lot of use of the dance floor, not only for movement of the feet but also a flop down movement which shows the danseuse hugging the floor.

As per the literary records at Kameshwar library at Mithila, Kathak had its origin in the 3rd or 4th century BC. Even mythological stories like the Mahabharata talk about Kathak. It was during the Mughal era; in 16th century A.D. that Kathak received Royal patronage and was performed in the courts to entertain the Royals. During this period, Kathak received elements of fusion from other dance forms like the Persian dance form wherein the art of straight leg movements was introduced as also the spinning movement.

In the following years, Kathak received the royal patronage of the Nawab of Awadh – Wajid Ali Shah who was the main moving force behind the creation of the Lucknow Gharana in the 19th century. The Lucknow Gharana reached its pinnacle of perfection under the guidance of Thakur Prasad Maharaj who was the chief court dancer in the Nawab’s court. His legacy was carried forward by his sons- Bindadin Maharaj and Kalkadin Maharaj.

Around the same time the Banaras Gharana also evolved. This Gharana was developed by a gentleman by the name of Janakiprasad. During British rule in India, Kathak came to be referred to as an uncouth entertainment form stereo cast as something associated with the trade of immoral women. Here on, Kathak saw a sharp decline in its popularity. During early 20th century, Kalka Prasad Maharaj, a decendent of Thakur Prasad Maharaj brought Kathak back on to the world stage. His work was carried forward by his following generations.

Notably, there are two styles of performing Kathak. The first one is Nritta which has a structure of pure dance in which the performances moves from slow to a faster pace and then reaching a crescendo at the climax. It often has two kinds of compositions. The shorter ones are called tukra and the longer pieces are known as toda.

The second style is called Nritya which focuses on expressions as the main mode. This style uses pieces of expressions to convey a story. This performance style is also known Bhaav Bataanaa. The modern day Kathak uses more of Nritya style. The Nritya style is more associated with the Lucknow Gharana while Nritta is associated more so with the Banaras Gharana.

In early years, the performers wore sarees due to the Hindu influence. With the advent of the Mughal influence, the attire changed to anarkali suits with pyjamas and lehenga with choli. A Dupatta or an Odhni (veil) is tied across from the right shoulder to the left side towards the waist. A kamarbandh (Waist belt) made of either zari with precious stones or cloth with meenakari work is used. Ghungroos (anklets) are for the feet. The unique aspect of Ghungroos in Kathak is that unlike other classical dance forms, the bells are not fixed on to a patch of leather. Instead, they are woven through a thick string. The Ghungroos also possess 100 bells.


Lavani is a combination of song and dance that is most commonly associated with the state of Maharashtra as well as the surrounding areas in the Konkan or Coastal Region. The word ‘Lavani’ is derived from the word Lavanya, which means ‘beauty’. Lavani aims to take various aspects of social life such as politics, religion, romance, etc. and present them in an entertaining form.

The Lavani dance originated as a form of morale booster for warring troops during the 18th and the 19th century when the state of Maharashtra was embroiled in conflict and turmoil. The dance form reached the peak of its popularity during the rule of the Peshawari Dynasty that was seated in Pune during which it was given support by the ruling elite.

The Lavani dance is generally performed by Dhangars or shepherds living in the Sholapur district of Maharashtra. They are inspired by nature and the dance form contains tales of the birth of Biruba, their deity. The more commonly performed forms of the Lavani dance are concentrated in Maharashtra and are not restricted to the Dhangar community.

It is performed by women who dance to the beats of a Dholak, which is an Indian drum. It isn’t uncommon for the Dholak to be accompanied by other instruments like a cymbal called the Manjeera, a string instrument called a Tuntuni, a Daf which is quite similar to a tambourine but has a single leather surface, along with a harmonium. The tempo of the music and the dance is quite fast and the music is supported by the performers themselves who wear ankle bells called the Ghungroo. The quick tempo helps pump up the dances as well as the crowd and a Lavani performance is generally quite vivacious and energetic.

Lavani performance can be broadly categorized into two parts. The Nirguni Lavani, which deals with philosophy and Shringari Lavani which deals with sensuality. Shrinagri Lavani is more popular than Nirguni Lavani and is performed in theaters as well as Bollywood movies. Shringari Lavani deals with a multitude of genres, with the love between a man and a woman being the most prominent.

The quintessential part of each performance is the saree. The saree worn by the performers is longer than the usual and is called a nauvari, which is wrapped around in a kashta drape.

nauvari saree measures 9 yards in length. The unique kashta drape is not only much more comfortable as compared to other forms of draping a saree, but allows for a greater movement. Since the Nauvari saree generally goes hand-in-hand with the kashta drape, and the dance requires fast-paced movement, traditional cotton sarees are the ideal choice.


The Chhau Dance is a popular form of tribal dance in India that incorporates elements of martial arts into its movements. This dance form is predominantly seen in the states of Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand. According to certain literary scholars, the word Chhau is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Chhaya’ which essentially means masks, shadow or image while other scholars believe that the word is derived from ‘Chhauni‘ which means military camp. There are three subtypes of this dance form; namely Purulia Chhau, Mayurbanj Chhau and Seraikella Chhau. Differences between the three are dependent on their regions of origin.

The Chhau Dance originates in the Purulia district in West Bengal and draws inspiration from martial arts and combative training. This form of dance is a means to portray stories to the audience, which is why elaborate masks and headgear associated with battle and war are worn during the performance. The story itself revolves around the two great epics of Indian Mythology – Ramayana and Mahabharata. Over a century old, this dance form was widely endorsed by patrons belonging to the royal families, rich landlords and British governors in the region. These performances are predominantly put up during the Gajan Festival, which takes place to honor Lord Shiva.

Purulia’s Chhau Dance is usually performed during important ceremonies that have a strong religious significance, such as the Gajan Festival. They are also, at times, performed during weddings and on the Sun Festival. Mostly, these dances are performed on the floor, as opposed to an elevated stage, with the audience members sitting in a circle or a semi-circle around them to watch.

To be a Purulia Chhau Dancer, students enroll in dance academies at an extremely young age. Various artisans throughout the state earn their livelihood by painting masks and headgear that can be worn by these dancers.

Purulia Chhau Dance is not just a performance of dancers enacting religious epics; musicians play an extremely large role in making the recital come to life as well. Three main types of Indian instruments accompany the performance – these are the DholShehnai and Dhamsa (percussion instrument and Indian clarinets).

The costume plays a vital role in this performance as the Purulia Chhau Dance is known for its distinctive set and costumes. The male dancers wear brightly colored dhotis (flared bottoms) with a matching kurta on top. The kurta is usually obscured by the vast amount of costume jewelry that is worn in the form of necklaces. These are large in size, not just in number, and extremely heavy. Female dancers, or male dancers depicting female characters, are known to wear colorful sarees.

The masks worn during this performance are of vital importance as they are used to convey emotions and the nature of the character, much like the way Grecian Masks functioned in plays. Popular and highly commended for creating some of the best masks in the State, Chorida is a village that these performers have come to rely on for their masks. All members of a household are involved in creating these masks, whether that translates to procuring clay, painting, drying or decorating these masks. They are also known for making the headgear that goes with the masks.

The style and variety of the costume of the dancers largely depends on the characters being portrayed by them. Usually, there are three types of characters – Gods and Goddesses, Demons and Monsters.

When depicting Gods and Goddesses, the color red is a prominent aspect of the clothing, as is elaborate costume jewelry around the neck and the headgear. The costume for Gods and Goddesses can also include a few extra sets of arms along with trademark weapons that a particular God or Goddess was known for wielding. For instance, Kali Ma would be accompanied by a string of decapitated human heads. Demons, while also elaborately dressed, are most likely to have different colored faces, for example, a blue face. Apart from this, the costume itself does not vary that much. For monsters and animals, suits made to depict an animal or monster along with appropriate masks are worn. For instance, while depicting a lion, a dancer will don a lion suit along with a lion mask. This may or may not be accompanied by a weapon such as a sword.


‘Dandiya’ or ‘Dandiya Raas’ is a dance form performed during the time of Navratri, with its origins in Gujarat. The dance attire comprises of bamboo sticks painted in bright colors, women are dressed in three-piece attires called chaniya choli with bandhni dupattas, while men wear sherwani or kurta-pyjama. The performers strike the wooden sticks in rhythmic beats, and a drummer standing in the center of the circle commands the rhythm of the dance. People assemble in two circular formations, with the inner circle moving in a clockwise direction, and the other circle moving in the opposite direction. Though often clubbed with another dance form called Garba’, it differs from Garba. The celebrations start after the performance of the ritual of ‘aarti’, whereas Garba is performed prior to it.

Originally performed in honor of Goddess Durga, the dance form represents a battle between the demon Mahishasura and the Goddess. Another legend states that the dance form originated from Krishna & Radha’s ‘raas leela’, hence the name ‘Dandiya Raas’. Also, it was earlier performed only by men, who sometimes used swords instead of sticks in the dance performance.

Dandiya as a dance form has its origins in Gujarat. However, other forms include ‘Dang Lila’ from Rajasthan, where a single stick is used.


Puppetry is one of the oldest forms of entertainment in India. There are many different forms of puppetry in the country and each region has its own style in terms of movement, costumes and musical accompaniments.

Puppetry in India dates back to 2500 BC, which was the dawn of civilization in the region. Archaeological excavations have unearthed a wide variety of relics such as a bull made of terracotta that had a detachable head that could be manipulated by string.

There are also references to it in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. When Uttara, the princess and her friends urged Arjuna to bring back fine garment for their dolls, the allusion was to their puppets. However, the best reference to puppetry can be found in the Bhagvad Gita which is the holy book of the Hindus. It says that all men have three qualities in them i.e. the Sattah, the Rajah and the Tamah and that these are the three strings that are pulled by the divine to lead mankind in life. There are also Ashokan rock edicts from the 3rd century BC which alluded to Jambudweep, the ancient name of India, as a theater for puppetry.

There are 4 different styles of puppets that are used in puppetry, namely glove, rod, shadow and string. Their name alludes to the way that they are manipulated. In India, all four styles can be found.

Glove Puppets

As the name suggests, glove puppets are worn on the hands just like a glove. Usually, the middle-finger and the thumb act as the hands of the puppet while the index finger acts as the head. Since it only requires one hand, one puppeteer can simultaneously perform with two puppets.

Glove puppets in Kerala are called Pava-kathakali. The puppets that are used in this form are very colorful and resemble a Katthakali performer including the costume as well as the makeup. The height of the puppet varies from one to two feet. The puppets are painted to resemble their real life counterparts and wear jewelry made of a variety of materials such as tin, carapaces of large bees, transparent coral and stem of peacocks. The theme of the play is usually based on the Mahabharata or the Ramayana.

Another form of glove puppetry in India is the Kundheinach of Orissa that depicts the story of KrishnaRadha and the milkmaids. These puppets are made of three wooden pieces that consist of the head and two hands with holes that are used to insert the fingers which are then joined together in long flamboyantly dressed costumes. Faces of the puppets are carved in such a way that they show definite expressions to depict emotion. The puppet of Radha is made to look different from the others as the puppet wears a cummerbund made of semi-precious metals around her waist which is called Chandra Badani. The other hand of the puppeteer plays the Dholak (an Indian percussion instrument). The dialogues, the puppet as well as the beat are all in sync, to create a very dramatic atmosphere.

Rod Puppets

Rod puppets are manipulated by rods as the name suggests, and usually have 3 main joints. Due to their design, rod puppets usually do not have legs and hence the movements made by them are quite dramatic. The themes of the performances are usually based on the Ramayana and the Satee Behula.

The Kathi Kandhe is a form a rod puppetry in Orissa. The size of the puppets is usually between twelve to eighteen inches and the themes showcased, are based on a wide range of subjects ranging from mythology, fantasy and social themes.

The rod puppet of West Bengal is made of wood and clay. The body is painted on the wooden structure, but they give a clay-and-cloth layer on the face and paint on it. Drawings are strongly related to the style of pat or cloth painting, using primary colors. They use oil colors and varnish. Puppets have holes in both their hands to insert bow, arrow, etc., in the hole. For a single puppet-body there are several heads, so that replacing only the head and costumes can change the character of the puppet.

Shadow Puppets

The puppets that are used in shadow puppetry are flat and are performed against a white cloth screen that is tightly stretched. Shadow puppets are made of leather which is specially treated to make it translucent. This puppetry is performed by pressing the puppets against the screen and placing a strong light source behind the screen. For the audience sitting in front, it creates colorful shadows or silhouettes. Puppets are usually perforated and either split bamboo or cane sticks are vertically attached for manipulation and for handling.

Andhra Pradesh’s Tholu Bomalata has one of the richest traditions of shadow puppetry. The puppets are made using goat skin and are brightly colored. These puppets are about five to six feet in height and generally have joints at the shoulders, elbows and knees although they can also have joints at the waist, the neck and the ankles. The puppets are colored on both sides using vegetable dyes. The music that is played is usually based in the classical music of the region and the themes of the plays are usually taken from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas.

String Puppets

The tradition of marionettes or string puppets in India is ancient. String puppets are quite versatile and can be made using wood, wire or even cloth that is stuffed with cotton, rags or saw dust. The puppet is suspended from control strings that are attached to different parts of the puppeteer’s body. Since the joints are controlled by strings, they have much greater flexibility than others and are hence, more articulate. Control is achieved by either loosening or pulling the corresponding strings.

String puppet shows in Assam are called Putul-natch. In this, the body and the hands of the puppets are made of softwood and the puppets range in size from one and a half to two and a half feet. Puppets that depict hums have joints for manipulation and since they use long flowing cloth to over the bottom, there is no need for legs.While the costume of the puppets may vary, the face paint remains the same. Heroes such as Rama and Krishna are painted blue while their consorts are painted light yellow or pink. Evil characters such as demons are painted deep green or blue.

The string puppets in Orissa are called Gopalila Kundhei. These puppets are wooden half dolls and have detachable arms. Since the puppets have no legs, they wear long flowing skirts. The costumes worn by the puppet are based on the actors of Jatra, which is the tradition performance art of the region. The music is heavily influenced by the music of the Odissi dance.

Kathputli is the traditional form of puppetry in Rajasthan. The puppets are carved from a single piece of wood and resemble large dolls that are colorfully dressed and the strings are attached to the head for manipulation. The faces of the puppets are painted yellow, white or any other bright color. The puppets have no legs and wear long trailing skits while the body is made from stuffed rags, cotton or bits of cloth. Unlike other string puppets in India, then hands of the puppets do not have any joints. The puppets can have anywhere from two to five strings for manipulation and those strings are tied to their fingers and not to any kind of prop. The puppets generally wear traditional clothes from Rajasthan such as angrakhas for the males and ghagra cholis for the women but may differ depending of the type of play that is being performed.

In Tamil Nadu, the Bommalattam combines the techniques of rod and string puppetry together. These puppets are some of the largest, heaviest and the most articulate of all traditional Indian puppets. They are usually four to four and a half feet in height and could weigh eight to ten kilos. There are joints at the shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and wrists which give it excellent flexibility. They are made from wood and the strings are tied to an iron ring which the puppeteer wears on his or her head.


Dandi Gair is a variation of the Gair dance performed in the Marwar region of Rajasthan. This folk dance is performed by the men and women of the Bhil community. The word Gair means ‘circle’ in the regional language and therefore is performed within circular formations. The Dandi Gair is different from the overarching Gair group in that its movements are performed in circular formations.  Other than that, the movements themselves, the music and the costumes remain similar.

The Bhil community of Rajasthan is one among the many Adivasi groups or aboriginal people of India. During the Rajputana rule, they were employed in various capacities such as shikaris (hunters) and as army personnel. It is believed by the local people that the movements and the formations in the Dandi Gair is drawn from the military lives of the Bhil people. Inspired by the military experience of the Bhil people, the Gair dance (and by extension Dandi Gair) involves costumes, accessories and movements that are reminiscent of that life. The Bhil people perform the Dandi Gair on upbeat music accompanied by beats lent by percussion instruments as well as the long thin sticks that the men and women performers wield. In recent years the Gair and Dandi Gair have gained popularity at festival-time, like Holi and Janamashtami. The celebrations of these festivals in Rajasthan are incomplete without the Gair dance by the Bhil folk.

The Dandi Gair dance is performed in a huge circle that surrounds the singers and musicians. While the background score is a mix of the singers singing melodious folk songs to the beats of the dholaknagada and dhol, the dancers use the sticks in their hands known as the Khanda. The performers move in and out of the circle during the performance and also move in circular motion. During each turn, the performers beat the sticks and create thumping beats that complement to the melody. The movements follow a particular pattern wherein the dancers first move clockwise and then anti-clockwise. While these are the basic movements, complicated patterns are also made with turns and other complex movements, based on the proficiency of the troupe.

The costumes of the men who perform the Dandi Gair include a long Kurta that has a fitted bodice till the waist and then goes on to open up into a flared pleated skirt. These kurtas can be either white or red in color and may be embellished with either silver or gold gota patti work on the pleats and the borders as well as the sleeves and the neckline. The ends of the kurta also usually have blue ribbons on the edges that give the performance a very colorful appearance when the performers twist and turn in circles. These kurtas are usually paired with white churidar pants and saffron color turbans for the head. In certain variations of the dance, red colored fabric can also be used for turbans. The costumes also involve the tying of a simple cloth around the waist like a sash in a color similar to that of the kurta.

The accessories that go with the costume are heavy. For instance, the men tie ghungroos or bells around the ankles that chime along with the movements of the performers. Besides the sticks or the Khanda, the performers also carry swords and a shield that is fastened at the back.

The traditional Dandi Gair performance is done barefoot although, in recent years, men have begun using comfortable running shoes that make such emphatic movements easier on the legs.


The cultural flavors of South India are filled with layers of ethnicity, especially when it spreads onto the regions of Tamil Nadu, beauty and elegance is at its traditional best. Bharatnatyam is one of the most famous and popular dance forms, which define the true essence of the region.

As we integrate ourselves with the cultural soil of Tamil Nadu, we are ethnically introduced with the cultural fragrance of the city in the form of art. The purity and grace, is reflected with sheer tenderness and marveling elegance to depict Bharatnatyam’s chemistry with the multilayer Indian heritage.

The birth of this art form as well as the donning of these traditional costumes traces its origin way back to the 17th century, wherein devdasis, who were the temple dancers, practiced Bharatnatyam to worship gods and goddesses. They wore heavy studded and embroidered saris and were depicted as ‘Apsaras’ who were known as the celestial dancers who performed this classical art dance on earth. This costume was believed to showcase the art of Sukshma Sharira, which meant the aura in the materialistic version of the world. This dance tradition went on to attain the platform of popularity, fame and recognition when it got patronized by the Marathi King Saraboji, and there descendant brothers who carried the legacy of teaching this art form all over the world.

There are 2 most popular styles, which are artistically used in the Bharatnatyam costumes. One is the Skirt style (Saree), which is donned in an artistic manner and the other fashionable version is the Pyjama style. In these styles the costumes are intrinsically embroidered with different religious motifs and designs in threads of pure gold and shimmering silk. The pleats of the sari are draped in a such a way that it opens out in a beautiful manner which showcases the entire zari work especially during symbolic postures like muzhu mandi, which is a full sitting pose and aria mandi which shows a half sitting pose.


Garba is a dance form originated in Gujarat, performed during Navratri – a 9-day festival of Goddess Durga. It is also known as Garbi, Garbha or Garbha Deep. In ‘Garbha Deep’, the word ‘Garbha’ is a Sanskrit term, which means womb and ‘Deep’ means little earthen lamps. It is usually performed in a circle around a big lamp or the statue of Goddess Shakti. This dance form is often confused with Dandiya, which is another dance form of Gujarat performed during Navratri, but originated in Vrindavan. The major difference between the two dance forms is that the dance is performed in circular movements with hands and feet, while Dandiya is played with colorful sticks.

It was traditionally performed around a big Garbha Deep, representing life just as fetus in the mother’s womb. This dance form worships the divinity and power of Goddess Durga or Amba. It is performed in a ring form with circular movements that is quite similar to the Sufi dancers, who too move in a spiral.

While the dancers perform in colorful costumes to the rhythm of a dhol or a drum, the men and women look vibrant and full of life in their attires. Women wear Chaniya Choli – a traditional Gujarati three-piece outfit comprising Choli or a Blouse, a Chaniya, which is a long flared skirt and an embellished dupatta. Chaniya Choli is characterized by their colorful designs and the embroidery or the mirror work done on them. The whole costume is teamed up with Silver or Black Metal Necklaces, Big Earrings, Kamarband, Bajuband, Maang Teeka and Juttis. The men who perform the Garba wear a Kediyu – a short round Kurta along with Kafni Pajamas along with a Pagdi on their head, and Mojri or Nagras.

The modern day dance is actually a fusion of Dandiya Raas and Garba. The mix of two has become very popular amongst the young generation, all over the world.


Bhangra refers to several forms of folk dance and music that originate in the Punjab region of India. The dance is generally performed during the Vaisakhi festival that celebrates the harvest. Bhangra has a very energetic and lively tone and the dance is equally vivacious. The festival is celebrated with much pomp and fervor and the dresses worn by the male and female dancers are quite different from each other although both are a reflection of the joyous celebrations.

The Bhangra is said to have started by Punjabi farmers in the 14th or 15th century to celebrate the harvest season. As time progressed, the Bhangra became used in almost all major celebrations in Punjab such as weddings or festivals. The Bhangra is danced to the rhythm of a drum, known as the dhol. One of the other accounts of its origin dates it to the 1880s as a community dance in the month leading up to the Vaisakhi festival. While the dance has now spread to not just Punjab in its entirety, but India and many parts of the world, at the time of its origin it was prominent only in Gujranwala, Sialkot, Gurdaspur and Sheikhpur areas of Punjab.

The dresses that are worn during a Bhangra performance are very bright, bold and colorful to symbolize the joyful and celebratory nature of the occasion. Since there is a lot of movement associated with this dance form, it is very important that the dresses allow the dancers to move freely. This is why the clothing worn by the dancers are loose fitting so as to ensure that body movement isn’t constricted. Bright shades generally mean different things. For example, Yellow is used to symbolize sarson or mustard, green symbolizes prosperity and red/saffron symbolize the auspicious occasion itself. The wearing of the Turban by male dancers is very important as it represents the pride as well as honor of the people of Punjab. Women wear long flowing clothes as well as fine jewelry for elegance and grace.

The Bhangra dress is quite vivid and colorful and is quite similar to the clothes worn every day in Punjab although the hues of the clothes worn on a daily basis are lighter. The style of clothing worn by men when performing Bhangra is different than the type of clothes worn by women. However, they share certain similarities such as color and fabric.

Bhangra Dresses for Men

These are the parts of the Bhangra dress worn by men:

  • Pag: The turban which is stylized in a particular way to be named the ‘pag’. It can also be highlighted with a Gota, or a broad lace.
  • Turla/Torla: An adornment on the turban that looks like a fan
  • Kaintha: A necklace
  • Kurta: A type of long shirt
  • Lungi/Chadar/Tehmat: A decorated cloth that is tied around the waist
  • Jugi: A waistcoat that has no buttons
  • Rammal: Scarves that are worn on the fingers

All elements of the costume is made of light yet shimmery, silken material. The Chadar along with the Jugi and Pag may have embroidery or embellishments along their borders. The Jugi especially is one of the most heavily embroidered elements in this entire ensemble, reflecting the grandeur of this celebration.

Bhangra Dress for Women

These are the parts of the Bhangra dress worn by women:

  • Dupatta: A scarf
  • Kameez: A type of shirt
  • Salwaar: Loose-fitting pants
  • Tikka: Jewelry that is worn on the forehead
  • Jhumka: Long earrings that dangle
  • Paranda: Tassels worn in the braid
  • Suggi-Phul: A type of jewelry worn on the head
  • Haar-Hamela: A gold necklace that is studded with gems
  • Baazu-Band: a cloth worn around the upper arm
  • Pazaibs: Anklets

While a Salwar Kameez is the most commonly worn clothing worn by dancers during a Bhangra performance, some choose a Lehenga Choli or a Sharrara instead. One characteristic feature of the Giddha dance is the paranda, which is a tassel that is woven into the braid. Because this dance is performed at the most auspicious occasion of Vaisakhi, the tassels at the end of the paranda are golden in color. The dupatta usually has gold gota work along the border which adds to the regale feeling of the celebration. A short waistcoat can also be worn by the women, which like the men’s is elaborately embroidered.

The performers both men and women wear bright colors, as already mentioned. However, it is essential to note that many-a-times the top wear can be in a completely different color from the bottom wear. Moreover, it is not necessary that all the men in the performing group or all the women in the group stick to a uniform color scheme. It is possible for all individuals within the performing group to wear different colors and still add to the vividness and vibrancy of the dance. The pag has to be tied before each show and is not readymade like a hat. Dancers usually require assistance when tying a pag. The Pag is undoubtedly the most important part of the male dress. It is different from a normal Sikh turban in the way that it is tied. The style Pag is more along the lines of the head dress of the community of Jatts in rural Punjab. The turla is usually made from one end of a pag that is heavily starched. Dancers may also choose to tie a chunni around their waist and sport juttis for their feet. However, they usually prefer to dance barefoot. The dupatta worn by women is usually draped over the head and is fasted to the dress with safety pins so as to ensure that it doesn’t fall during the performance. The parandha is woven into the braid and long parandhas are preffered by the women folk. When wearing a Salwar Kameez, the Kameez is usually of a contrasting color from the dupatta and the salwar.  They also like to adorn themselves with a lot of jewelry when performing the dance.

The turla that is worn on pags are a fairly recent addition to the dress worn by bhangra dancers and so is the Phummans which are small balls attached to ropes on each arm.


The Kalbelia or Kalbeliya or Karberia, as it is sometimes spelled is a dance form that is associated with a Rajasthani tribe of the same name. The dance form consists of swirling, graceful movements that make this dance a treat to behold. The movements associated with the Kalbelia also make it one of the most sensuous forms of folk dance in India. The Kalbelia dance is generally performed for any joyous celebration and is considered to be an integral part of the Kalbelia culture. Another unique aspect of the Kalbelia dance is that it is only performed by women while the men play the instruments and provide the music.

As previously mentioned, the Kalbelia dance is closely associated with the Kalbelia tribe of Rajasthan. The Kalbelia tribe follows Hindusim and is a nomadic tribe and is considered to be a fringe group in society. They prefer to live in paces just outside of villages and cities in makeshift camps called Deras. One of the most well known aspects of the Kalbelia tribe is their expertise as snake charmers and snake catchers. This connection to snakes can be seen in the Kalbelia dance as the costume, as well as the dance movements, resemble the movements made by serpents.

The Kalbelia is almost exclusively performed on stage by females while the men play the instruments. There are a number of traditional Indian instruments used during the performance of the Kalbelia such as the pakhwaja, the dholakjhanjharsarangi as well as the harmonium. However, the most characteristic instrument played during a performance of the Kalbelia has to be the Pungi. The pungi, or been, is a wooden wind instrument that is played with no pauses. It’s synonymous with snake charming in India and ties in perfectly with the heritage of the Kalbelia tribe. During the performance, the women sway, twirl and gyrate to the music and use acrobatic dance steps which showcase the dancers’ flexibility and litheness. As the performance goes on, the tempo of the Kalbelia dance increases and so does the pace of the dance steps. Due to the demanding nature of the dance, the performance is usually carried out in pairs with at least two pairs who swap stage-presence seamlessly. This lets the one half of the group catch their breath while at the same time not letting the pace of the dance slows down.

The Kalbelia dancers wear traditional dresses of their tribe when they are performing. The performers wear an Angrakhi on their upper body whose sleeves can either be half length or full length while their head is covered by an Odhani. They also wear a long skirt on their lower body which is called a Lehenga or a Ghagra which has a wide circumference. The whole dress is essentially black in colour with red decorative laces. It also employs silver thread that is sewed in an assortment of patterns on the black dress. This makes the dress resemble a black snake that has white spots or stripes more closely. It also features a lot of colorful patters and designs along with mirror work that help the dancer attract the attention of the audience. Kalbelia dancers prefer to wear traditional jewelries during their performances. They wear beads and jewellery around their neck and their head in the form of elaborate necklaces and Maang-tikka. They also wear bangles and armlets. These can either be worn till the elbow or all the way up the arm. If the sleeve of the Angrakhi is full length, bangles need not be worn by the Kalbelia performers.


Yakshajana is a theatre form that is most common along the coast as well as in the Malenadur region of Karnataka. The term Yakshajana is a combination of yaksha, who are nature spirits, with jana or gana which means song. Like most theatre forms found in South India, Yakshajana combines dance, music, dialogue, costume, make up as well as stage techniques and as such it closely resembles western opera. In Karnataka, it sometimes simply referred to as ‘the play’.

One of the earliest known evidence of theater in the region dates back to 1556 CE and can be found in the Lakshminarayana Temple in Kurugodu in the form of an inscription. The inscription talks about land that was donated to the performers so that the people would be able to enjoy watching it at the temple. It originated as a way to entertain people in villages and cities while at the same time, informing them about the epics.  Many experts do agree that Yakshajana originated sometime between the 11th and the 16th century and the current form of Yakshajana is believed to be strongly influenced by the Vaishnava Bhakti movement during the medieval period.

The themes present in Yakshajana are generally taken from the epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata or the Puras which are ancient Hindu texts. When performing Yakshajana, the actors are generally wearing large headgear with intricate facial make up as well as colourful costumes with elaborate ornaments which help give a superhuman appearance to the characters that are being presented. The current form of Yakshajana has been inspired by many different art forms such as ritual theater, temple arts, royal theater and secular arts. However, the most important source of inspiration for the performance is up to the imagination of the artists as well as of the performers as improvisation is quite common with Yakshajana.

A performance of the Yakshajana consists of a group of background musicians called Himmela as well as the dance and dialogue group called the Mummelawho perform the Yakshaga prasanga. The Himmela consists of a Bhagawata who is also the singer, a harmonium called maddale for the drone and loud drums called Chande. The Bhagavata is usually the producer, the director as well as the master of ceremonies during the event and is generally the leader of the troupe. He helps to understand the prasanga or script and provides the background story as well as the role and responsibility of each of the characters. During the performance, the Bhagavata acts as the chief narrator and also indulges in banter with the jester or Vidukash. The performance consists of gods and goddesses as well as kiratas who perform mischief along with mythological demons called kimpurushas. There are also key characters called Kattuveshas who appear after the Bhagawata in order keep the audience hooked on the performance.

A Yakshajana performance differs depending on the area and region where it is being performed. The two most common forms of Yakshajana are Badagutittu and Tenkuttitu. Badagutittu is prevalent in the Udupi to Kundapura area in the Uttara Kannada district. This form of Yakshajana places more emphasis on the facial expressions, dialogues or Matugarike and dances that are suitable for each character. The use of the Chadne is quite typical with this school of Yakshajana. The Tenkutittu school of Yakshajana is common in Kasaragod, the Mangalore district, Sampaaje and the surrounding areas. A performance of Tenkutittu Yakshajana clearly shows the influence of Karnatic music due to the type of Maddale that is used. This school of Yakshajana depends more on folk art as well as classical dance aspects. The Himmela in the Tenkutittu style is more connected with the production. Tenkutittu is well known for its incredible dance steps and high flying dance moves as well as its extravagant Rakshasas or demons.

The ornaments used in Badaguttitu Yakshajana are made out of light wood and feature mirror work as well as colored stones and are covered in gold foil. The ornaments worn in Badagutittu consist of a head gear called Kireeta or Pagade, a Kavacha that decorates the chest, armlets called Buja Keerthi that decorate the shoulder as well as a belt called Dabu. The mirror work on the ornaments helps reflect light and make the whole costume feel more colorful. These ornaments are generally worn as a vest and generally cover the top half of the body. A red, black and orange checkered Dhoti is worn on the lower half of the body. Tenkutittu ornaments use less wood in their construction and make more use of padded cloth more. The ornaments that are worn consist of a Bhujakeerti that is worn on the elbow and looks like wings, an Edehara or a chest piece that is made of wood and is passed with paper and glass pieces and a Veeragase that is tied around the waist.

The headgear worn by the actors depend on the character that they are portraying. Less important characters wear simple turbans or cloth while more important characters wear a Mundasu which is a heavy set headgear. The Mundasu is broader in the middle than at the bottom and tapers off as it rises which gives it the appearance of a lotus leaf. A Mandasu is quite heavy and as such requires a lot of skill not only to wear it, but also dance with it. Female costumes are usually quite simple and straight forward and are a stark contrast to the male costumes. The facial make up of the actors vary from simple to very elaborate designs.  The motif on the face differs and depends if the actor is portraying a hero, demon or a female character. The makeup for a demon is quite elaborate and features artificial eyelids as well as white dots to showcase the violent and fierce nature of demons. These types of makeup can take many hours to complete.

Yakshajana has become quite popular around the globe and has troupes in the United States as well as in Canada. Yakshagana Kalavrinda and Yaksharanga are popular Yakshajana troupes in the United States while Yakshamitra is a popular troupe in Canada. The performers have also started to incorporate modern materials in the get ups so as to lighten the weight of the traditional costumes. Modern fabrics are worn instead of traditional material and thermocol is used in place of wood when making ornaments.


Bhawai is a folk dance with swaying and twirling movements that is performed by women from certain tribes from the state of Rajasthan. This folk dance is one of the state’s most exciting dance performances as it involves tricky balancing acts, right from balancing seven to nine brass pots on the head to balancing oneself (along with the pots) on narrow and unstable objects like a glass bottle, brass plate or the edge of a sword. The brass pots can, and are often, substituted by an even greater number of earthen pots. Bhawai is also one of the most colorful performances of the state as the women wear bright colored ghaghra cholis and Dupattas. The men from these communities offer the music to this dance, using string and percussion instruments. Bhavai dance is often misinterpreted from ‘Bhavai’ which is a folk theatre form of Gujarat.

Although many believe that this dance originated in Gujarat and was inspired by a folk theatre art form of the same name, the Bhawai folk dance of Rajasthan has been a part of the state’s culture for a number of years. This thrilling art form is known to be a special custom of the following tribes: Bhils, Raigers, Charmars, Kumhars, Jats, Meenas and even Kalbelias. The Bhawai dance is usually performed during fairs and festivals as well as special occasions such as weddings. The emergence of this dance form can be traced to the household needs of Rajasthani folk, wherein the women were responsible for traveling long distances each day with numerous brass pots in order to fetch water for the family.

This dance is inspired by the fact that in the age of feudalism, and to some extent even today, the women of Rajasthan have had to walk for miles on end with a number of pots in order to fill water. When translated into dance, the women carry seven to nine pots on their heads and perform some of the most exciting feats with grace and ease. The highlight of this dance, besides the balancing of or on objects, is also the depiction of the strength, nimbleness and absolute grace in the posture of the women as they travel back and forth each day from the communal well. This dance is especially colorful due to the bright and vivid hues of the performers’ costumes. This is so because; the culture of the Rajasthani people is to add color to the aridness of their surroundings through their clothes and ornaments.

Women Attire

The women, irrespective of which tribe they belong to, wear ghaghra choli along with colorful dupattas and silver ornaments. The ghaghra as opposed to the lehenga is slightly shorter but is ideal for dancing, especially one as tricky as the Bhawai, as it allows absolute freedom of movement while also safeguarding the wearer from tripping over their own clothes. The costume can be in any color the performer wishes to wear as long as it is vibrant. It is not uncommon to see the performers sporting palette that would otherwise be termed as stark contrasts, such as pink and yellow, red and blue and more. The cholis worn by the women are essentially fitted blouses that end at the waist. They are short sleeved so as to give space to the extensive ornamentation for the arms. The whole ensemble is usually of the tie and dye print, which is one of the most popular craft forms in Rajasthan. Alongside, there are a number of embellishments on the choli as well as ghaghra, the most common being mirror work and gota patti work. There are also colorful tassels in the form of little balls of thread that hang from the sleeves of the blouse or the waist. The dupatta is the primary accessory for the performers. It is draped over the head and made to fall loosely around the shoulders. However, this is only the appearance the drape gives, the dupatta is actually is pinned to the choli at various points. The tassels on the border of the dupatta frame the woman’s face. The border itself is embellished heavily, in contrast to the body of the dupatta which is usually minimalistic. The women wear silver bangles as well as silver armlets, a set of a dozen at least, on each arm. While this is the preferred accessory, women can also wear colorful glass bangles to go with the attire.

Men Attire

There are any numbers of ensembles that men who give the background score to the Bhawai dance can sport. The most common of these is the white or off-white dhoti kurta. This look is completed by the adornment of a colorful sleeveless jacket and a kamarbandh. When the dhoti kurta is plain, the jacket and kamarbandh become the heavily embellished elements of the ensemble. These can have mirror work and can be in a number of bright colors. On the other hand, the menfolk involved in this dance also tend to wear colorful kurtas that end a little below the hips, paired with colorful pajamas. The common aspect of both these ensembles however, is the colorful headdress. Tied using a colorful bandhani cloth, this headdress is a defining characteristic of Rajasthani men.

While this is a disparate element, the pots on the women’s heads also play a great part in enhancing the overall style of the dance. Since balancing of the pots is the premise of Bhawai, the artists take great care to decorate the pots as beautifully as possible. Whether it is brass or clay, there is a lot of effort that goes into beautifying the pots. The way in which the vessels are decorated depends on the customs or beliefs of the tribe and the individual taste of the performers.

Bhavai is rapidly declining as an art form. For this reason, the governments of Rajasthan, as well as a number of non-governmental agencies, are investing a lot of time and effort into reviving and sustaining it. In the recent years, it has become a major tourist attraction at the many fairs and festivals that are hosted in Rajasthan. For instance, at the Marwar and Desert Festivals of Rajasthan, Bhawai is a popular tourist attraction.


Apart from/ Along with these, few Indian Folk Dances are mentioned here;

Origin States
List of Indian Traditional/Folk Dance forms
Andhra Pradesh
Vilasini Natyam, Bhamakalpam, Veeranatyam, Dappu, Tappeta Gullu, Lambadi, Dhimsa, Kolattam.
Arunachal Pradesh
Buiya, Chalo, Wancho, Pasi Kongki, Ponung, Popir
Bihu, Bichhua, Natpuja, Maharas, Kaligopal, Bagurumba, Naga dance, Khel Gopal.
Jata-Jatin, Bakho-Bakhain, Panwariya
Gaur Maria, Panthi, Raut Nacha, Pandwani, Vedamati, Kapalik
Garba, Dandiya Raas, Tippani Juriun, Bhavai
Tarangamel, Koli, Dekhni, Fugdi, Shigmo, Ghode, Modni, Samayi nrutya, Jagar, Ranmale
Jhumar, Phag, Daph, Dhamal, Loor, Gugga, Khor.
Himachal Pradesh
Jhora, Jhali, Chharhi, Dhaman, Chhapeli, Mahasu
Jammu & Kashmir
Rauf, Hikat, Mandjas, Kud Dandi Nach
Alkap, Karma Munda, Agni, Jhumar, Janani Jhumar, Mardana Jhumar, Paika, Phagua
Yakshagana, Huttari, Suggi, Kunitha, Karga
Ottam Thullal, Kaikottikali
Lavani, Nakata, Koli, Lezim, Gafa, Dahikala Dasavtar
Madhya Pradesh
Jawara, Matki, Aada, Khada Nach, Phulpati, Grida Dance, Selalarki, Selabhadoni
Dol Cholam, Thang Ta, Lai Haraoba, Pung Cholom
Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem, Nongkrem, Laho
Cheraw Dance, Khuallam, Chailam, Sawlakin, Chawnglaizawn, Zangtalam
Rangma, Zeliang, Nsuirolians, Gethinglim
Savari, Ghumara, Painka, Munari
Bhangra, Giddha, Daff, Dhaman, Bhand
Ghumar, Chakri, Ganagor, Jhulan Leela, Jhuma, Suisini, Ghapal
Chu Faat, Sikmari, Singhi Chaam or the Snow Lion, Yak Chaam, Denzong Gnenha, Tashi Yangku
Tamil Nadu
Kumi, Kolattam, Kavadi
Uttar Pradesh
Nautanki, Raslila, Kajri, Jhora, Chappeli
Garhwali, Kumaoni, Kajari, Jhora, Raslila

These art categories are recognized as most popular dances of India; hence these art forms are needed to be preserved for the next generations.

Indian Traditional Drama/Theater | Folk Art


It may be staged on any kind of stage: proscenium stage or open stage. Traditional ‘Jatra’ in Odisha, for example, was staged on a theatre-in-the round around which the audience sit and view the play. Its difference from dance is that the drama has a plot, i.e. a series of events based on meaningful narratives leading to a structural unity. Each part of the plot is related to the other parts in such a way that if any one part is dropped, displaced or removed the whole plot may mean something else or may become meaningless. The plot can be divided into episodes, which can again be divided into actions. There are dramatic characters to play various roles in the play as required by the plot. Actors play out these roles of the characters. The dialogue or the monologue or even the soliloquies are meant for an audience. A drama must have a well-knit plot with some characters and actions. Giti Natya or Dance drama has dramatic plot but the whole theme is narrated through dance. Few related points should be mentioned here;

  • The origins of Indian drama can be traced back to the Vedas, according to indigenous tradition and modern research.
  • The Ramayana mentions female drama troupes, while Kautilya’s Arthshastra mentions musicians, dancers, and dramatic performances.
  • Drama is a performing art that has been practised since the dawn of time.
  • Since ancient times, mythological stories of war between the gods, goddesses, and devils have been told.
  • Bharata penned Natyashastra and the plays Asura Parajaya and Amrit Manthan.
  • Natyashastra is one of the most important texts in the history of drama and other performing arts.
  • The next epoch is that of the great Bhasa, who wrote plays based on the stories of Udayana, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, his masterpiece being Swapana Vasabdatta.
  • Patanjali’s Mahabhasya, written in the second century B.C., refers to several aspects of drama, including the actors, music, stage, and rasa in the performances known as Kamsavadha and Balibandha.
  • In the context of drama, two types emerged: classic drama, which featured intricate themes and subtle nuances of dramatic traits, and folk theatre. It was impromptu and on the spur of the moment.
  • Local dialect was used in folk theatre, and as a result, many different types of folk theatres developed in different provinces.
  • Acting with music and dance accompaniment was a common practice.
  • In various provinces, various forms of folk theatre were given various names, such as:
    • Bengal – Jatra, Kirtania Natak
    • Bihar – Bideshia
    • Rajasthan – Raas, Jhumar, Dhola Maru
    • Uttar Pradesh – Raas, Nautanki, Svaang, Bhaand
    • Gujarat – Bhawaii
    • Maharashtra – Larite, Tamasha
    • Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka – Kathakali, Yakshagana
  • Some props used in folk theatre included dhol, kartal, manjira, and khanjira instruments.
  • Although the mediaeval period was rich in music and dance, theatre did not receive much attention.
  • Wajid Ali Shah, a great patron of the arts, was also a major supporter of drama. He encouraged and supported artists to participate in theatre.
  • The arrival of the British altered the character of the society. An Englishman founded a theatre in Calcutta in the eighteenth century.
  • Horasim Lebedev, a Russian, founded a Bengali theatre, which marked the beginning of modern Indian theatre in India.
  • Shakespeare’s English drama, in particular, influenced Indian drama.


Some of the popular forms of drama in India are: Stage theatre, Radio theatre, Nukkar or street plays, Mono drama (one-man show), Musical theatre, and Short skits etc. In India, while some folk theatre forms like raslila, nautanki and ramlila are recognized all over the country, there are some which, in spite of being equally amazing, remain largely unnoticed. Here is a list of 12 beautiful yet lesser known folk theatre forms from across India.


One of the oldest traditional theatre forms of India, Koodiyattam follows the performative principles of the ancient tradition of Sanskrit theatre. However, it has its own distinctive characteristics that are firmly rooted in the culture of Kerala. This theatre was traditionally a part of temple rituals performed in sacred theaters, called Koothambalams. In 2001, Koodiyattam was officially recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.


Yakshagana is a popular folk theatre form of Karnataka with a long history of nearly four hundred years. It is a unique harmony of musical tradition, eye-catching costumes, and authentic styles of dance, improvised gestures and acting, with its extemporaneous dialogue holding a wide appeal. The themes are generally derived from the mythological stories and epics. Traditionally presented from dusk to dawn, this folk theatre is predominantly seen in the coastal districts of Karnataka.


A popular folk theatre form in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, Swang is centered around music. In this folk theatre, religious stories and folk tales are enacted and sung by a group of a dozen or so artistes. Characterized by loud rendering of dialogues and songs (a legacy of its open air performances in the past), Swang has two important styles – one that belong to Rohtak (performed in the Bangru language)and the other that belongs to Haathras (performed in the Brajbhasha language).


The centuries old traditional theatre form of Kashmir, bhand pather is a unique combination of dance, music and acting. Satire, wit and parody are commonly used in this folk drama that incorporates local mythological legends and contemporary social commentary. Traditionally, the performances begin in the evening with a ritualistic dance called chhok. The play unfolds gradually after this and ends in the early hours of the morning. Interestingly, the performers or bhands dance to the tune of specific instruments like the mukam, swarnai, dhol and nagara.


Bhaona is a presentation of the Ankiya Naat, a one-act play that has its roots in rural Assam. A creation of Srimanta Sankardeva (an Assamese saint-scholar), these plays were written in Brajavali, a unique Assamese-Maithili mixed language, and are primarily centered on Hindu diety, Krishna. The dialogues, costumes, ornaments, entry and foot movements of bhaona are unique and set this theatre form apart from others in India.


A traditional folk theatre form of Maharashtra, tamasha flourished in the courts of Maratha rulers of the 18th and 19th centuries and attained its artistic peak during the reign of Baji Rao II . It has evolved from the folk forms such as gondhal, jagran and kirtan. Unlike other theatre forms, in tamasha, the female actress is the lead performer and the chief exponent of dance in the play. Classical music, the lightning fast footwork of the lavani dance, and vivid gestures of the performers gives this folk theatre a distinctive charachter.


A unique form of rural entertainment in Tamil Nadu, therukoothu literally means street theatre. Some influence of classical Sanskrit drama on it is apparent. Performed in the open, mostly during temple festivals in villages, this theatre primarily draws from mythological stories and epics. The performance includes lively dances and songs sung in a high pitch by the male actors (even the female roles are played by males) who wear wide colorful costumes, sparkling shoulder plates, elaborate head-dresses and thick bright make-up.


The jatra, also popular in Odisha and eastern Bihar, originated in Bengal in the 15th century as a result of the Bhakti movement – it was initially known as Krishna jatra due to Chaitanya’s (spiritual founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism) influence. Over the years, the jatra repertoire swelled with love stories and socio-political themes. While initially this theatre was primarily musical, today, jatra performances consists mainly of action-packed dialogues with few songs.


Bhavai is the traditional theatre form of the Kutch and Katiawar region of Gujarat. Subtle social criticism laced with humour is the speciality of this theatre that also uses instruments like the bhungal, pakhaawaj, rabaab, sarangi and manjeera. This folk theatre is as much a dramatic form of entertainment as it is a kind of ritual offering made to the Hindu goddess, Amba. The genesis of bhavai is traced back to a 14th century Brahmin priest, Asaita Thakar, who is believed to have written as many as 360 bhavai performances out of which only 60 survive today.


Dashavatar is a folk theatre form practiced by farmers of the Konkan coast, especially in the Sindhudurg district of of Maharashtra and the North Goa district of Goa. In dashavatar, the performers personify the ten incarnations of Vishnu, the Hindu God Vishnu of preservation and creativity – Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narsimha (lion-man), Vaman (dwarf), Parashuram, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. It is traditionally performed after midnight during the annual festival of the village deity. Apart from stylized make-up, the dashavatar performers also wear masks of wood and papier mache. The performance is accompanied by three musical instruments: a paddle harmonium, tabla and zanj (cymbals).


A traditional folk theatre form of Himachal Pradesh, karyala is normally performed around the Dussehra festival, i.e. in October-November. With local variants all over Himachal Pradesh (banthada in Mandi, budechhu in Sirmaur and bhagtu in Kangra), karyala generally derives its theme from the daily life and concerns of the villagers. The open-air performance is prefaced by virtuoso drumming, uses minimal props and often incorporates dance and comic acts.


Ramman is a ritual theatre that is a part of a religious festival in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. Every year in late April, the twin villages of Saloor-Dungra in the state of Uttarakhand (northern India) celebrate a religious festival in honour of the village deity, Bhumiyal Devta. An eponymous art form unique to these villages (it is neither replicated nor performed anywhere else in the country), ramman is made up of highly complex rituals that involve the recitation of a version of the epic Ramayana and various legends. This is also accompanied by the performance of local songs and masked dances.


Indian Traditional Cinema | Folk Art


Indian films command a vast domestic market and are well-liked in overseas, mainly in Asia, Africa and West Asia. The period of Dhundiraj Govind Phalke is considered as the date of development of Indian films. Phalke’s ‘Raja Harishchandra’ is considered as the primary film of India. The major Indian movie centres are Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Despite popular entertainment through commercial cinema, art cinema deals with serious themes chiefly related to Indian society.

Indian cinematic history is far older than independent India. In the 70 years of independence, Indian films have traversed their own journey—from individually funded, high-risk ventures to a systematic industry with an audience across the world. Nearly 2,000 films made in around 20 languages every year make India the world’s largest film-producing nation.


Indian culture is one that has been passed on from generation to generation through traditions and folklores. These Indian folk arts are a representation of the Indian culture. It is a form of art that has been created in by the people in India, for the people in India. Therefore, we should share and promote these Indian folk art forms to raise awareness among the masses about their existence. Sharing them on social media platforms, traditional media platforms such as Electronic Media, Print Media, Web Channels, and International Magazines etc. are a great way to generate interest for these art forms.

Art is one of our most sacred medium to communicate with others especially when it comes to culture and heritage of a region or nation. Let’s celebrate the rich culture of Indian folk art and do our bit to deliver it on to the next generation. This will be counted in the great acts of kindness.


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