The Seven Classical Dance Styles of India and Their Costumes!

by Shatika, July 8, 2015


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BharataNatyam is one of the eight Indian classical dance forms of India. This dance form originated in the temples and courts of southern India. Later it was documented as a performing art in the 19th century by four brothers known as the Tanjore Quartet (musicians). Their musical compositions are use for BharataNatyam dance repertoire even today. The art form used to performs by generation to generation under the Devadasi system;today BharataNatyam is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over India and abroad. Its verity of movements and postures and the balanced of the rhythmic aspects take this art form in a higher level and other aspects lend itself well to experimental and fusion choreography.

Costume: Traditional Bharatnatyam costume includes a beautiful Pallu called Thallaippu in the front making the costume very rich and colorful. While small children have a blouse with a small pleat in the front, for adults, there is a piece covering the blouse called Thavani.


Anwesa Mahanta - Sattriya 2- Photographer Avinash Pasricha

This dance form origined from the groups of poets of ancient northern India, known as Kathaks, or story tellers. These poets, performing in village squares and temple courtyards, mostly specialized in recounting mythological and moral tales from the scriptures. They use to perform those stories with hand gestures and facial expressions. It was a high class theatre, using instrumental and vocal music along with stylized gestures, to telling the stories. The technique of Kathak is easy to understand by fast rhythmic footwork set to complex time cycles. The footwork is matched by the accompanying percussion instruments such as tabla and pakhawaj, and the dancer and percussionists often play with speed and ending in statuesque poses. Lucknow, Banaras and Jaipur are recognized as the three schools, or gharanas, where this art was born and where the aspects were refined to a high standard.

Costume: Traditional costume sometimes consists of a sari, whether worn in an everyday style, or tied up to allow greater freedom of movement during dance. However, more commonly, the costume is a lehenga-choli combination, with an optional odhni or veil.



Kathakali is one of the oldest theatre forms in the world. It originated in the area of southwestern India now known as the state of Kerala. Kathakali is a group presentation, in which dancers take various roles in performances traditionally based on themes from Hindu mythology, especially the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. One of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code and extraordinary costumes. The technique of Kathakali is a highly developed language of hand gestures; through hand gestures the artist can tell the whole sentences and stories. The body movements and footwork are very rigorous. Kathakali dancer undergoes a very hard course of training, and special periods of body massage.

Costume: A voluminous skirt made out of 55 yards of fabric. The headgear is a kontakettu, which gives the illusion of hair being worn in an old-fashioned style, then covered in a veil (Menon 1979). The band of silver along the edge of the kontakettu at the forehead is the kurunira (see image below). The kazhuttaram, the collar with strings of beads dropping from it which partially covers the chest, is worn by both female and male characters (Menon 1979). The hair seen peeking out from under the veil is fake and part of the strivesham look.


Kuchipudi performer

Kuchipudi is one of the well-known Classical Indian Dance forms from Andhra Pradesh, India. The name Kuchipudi has its origin from the name of a village “KUCHELAPURAM” with resident Brahmins practicing this traditional dance form at Andhra pradesh.The movements in Kuchipudi are comparatively faster than other Indian classical dance form and scintillating, rounded and fleet-footed. Performed to not only classical Carnatic music also Hindustani classical music, it shares many common elements with Bharatanatyam.

Costume: A long pleat in the centre with a border and a back katcham and also a side small fan makes for a typical Kuchipudi style.



Manipuri is one of the most beautiful dance styles of India. Nurtured in the mountainous region of the northeast, it takes its name from the name of the place Manipur, which is now a state. Manipur literally means a jewel of a land, and the state is set like a gem in the verdant hills.Among the important feature of the Manipuri repertoire are the Sankirtana and the RaasLeela, based on the devotional theme of Krishna and Radha.

Costume: The choli or tight fitting bodice is usually of velvet with tight sleeves trimmed with gold embroidery. The gagra or flounced skirt is of a striking colour, yellow, red or green and usually of silk with a wide border at the bottom of the skirt consisting of a design of sequins.



The dance form of Mohiniattyam was nurtured in the region of Kerala in southwestern India. The name Mohiniattyam literally means ‘Dance of the Enchantress,’ and it does have a mesmerizing quality. The white and gold costume, the hairstyle and the highly graceful movements in medium tempo bring out the aesthetic effect.The eyes play an important role in the direction of the movement. Over the past few decades, the repertoire of Mohiniattam has been developed and expanded by dedicated performers who have ensured that this beautiful dance style retains a distinct identity among the classical dance styles of India.

Costume: The costume color is white with gold zari borders. The Skirt is fully pleated from front to back.



Odissi has originated from ancient northern India. The name Odissi refers to the dance style of the state of Orissa in eastern India.The divine love tales of Radha and the cowherd God Krishna are favorite themes for interpretation, and a typical recital of Odissi will contain at least one or two ashtapadis (poem of eight couplets) from Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam, which shows the complex relationship between Radha and her Lord. The technique of Odissi includes repeated use of the tribhangi, (thrice deflected posture) in which the body is bent in three places, the shape of a helix. This posture and the characteristic shifting of the torso from side to side, make Odissi a difficult style to execute. The language of the music is Oriya.

Costume: The costume is similar to that of traditional Bharathanatyam costume.

While we look at the ancient dance forms and their elaborate costumes, one thing that is very striking is that all female costumes are in one way or the other, inspired by sari- an oldest piece of garment on earth!

An ardent fan of Indian culture and art, Shatika deals in exclusive handloom sarees brought to you from the length and breadth of the country. You may visit our website to take a look at our collection.



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