Dance has been an vital part of the Indian cultural heritage. In Hindu mythology, the image of the Nataraj, a dancing embodiment of Lord Shiva, is a symbol of both cosmic destruction and divine creation of the Universe. Dance has also been an ancient method of pleasing the god performed by the celestial dancers also referred to as the apsaras. Temple dancing has been a ritual passed on from generation to generation by the Devdasis of southern India or Maharis of Odisha. This divine practice was later exploited and portrayed as unholy. In fact dance has been a fundamental part of our culture as depicted in the ancient text of Natyashastra, which dates back to 200 BC. Here we find the mention different aspects of dance and performing art. This text gives us the details of four basic requirements of any performance namely Aangik (use of body language), Vachik(use of dialogue), Aharya(use of costumes) and Satwik(the soul). But I shall delve into these intricacies later when I write about Natyashastra.
On a more general and introductory note, Indian dances can be broadly classified into Shashtriya Nritya (Classical Dance) and Lok Nritya (Folk Dance). As it currently stands, Indian classical dance has eight different varieties.
These divisions are not only based on the region from which they originated but also on the unique attributes of each dance form. Some of the forms like Bharatnatyam and Kathak are very popular and easy to recognize. But others like the recently incorporated Sattriya from Assam and Manipuri from fellow north-east state of Manipur are not very popular globally.
It is interesting to notice as we move from south to north east of India the dance forms become softer in nature. The harsh angles in postures of Bharatnatyam and Kathakali become toned down in Odissi and are completely absent in Manipuri.