My Favorite Indian Dance Forms

Alan Watts once said ‘life’s a dance of energy’. In the same way dance is also a way to express the energy of emotions and feelings. So here are my favourite dance forms.

Bihu Dance

By Rohan Gautam 002 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86530098

Bihu is a popular folk dance associated with the state of Assam in India and it is performed generally during the Bihu festival. It is generally performed during the springtime. The energetic dance steps and quick hand movements define the Bihu dance of Assam. A lot of vibrancy can be seen in the dance outfit of Bihu, the male performers of Bihu are dressed in dhotis and gamocha. The women who perform Bihu usually wear traditional Assamese attire for the performance. Women team up their outfits with gaudy and heavy jewelry and they also decorate their braids with pretty flowers that perfectly match the color of the dress worn by them.There are many instruments that are utilized during a Bihu performance namely a Dhol, Pepa, Taal, Toka, Xutuli, Gogona and Baanhi. Watching the Bihu dance is mesmerising, the music enchants the atmosphere while the women and men of Assam joyfully dance.

Samai Dance

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The word samayi means brass. It is called Samai dance because men and women dance with brass lamps or deepak put on their heads. Samai dance is performed by people of Goa during Holi and Shigmo festival. During the Samai dance, the women wear bright and colourful sarees and men wear kurta with pajamas. The men have a head ribbon tied to their heads while taking part in the lamp dance. Women wear gajra in their hair along with other traditional jewelry such as bangles, bindi, earrings, nose pins, and necklaces.The brass lamp used in the Samayi dance is one foot long with burning wicks which dancers need to balance while dancing. Samayi dance consists of very slow dance movements as dancers need to balance lamps on their heads. Dancers dance to traditional folk songs while making exquisite movements.The main instruments used in samai dance are Harmonium, Shehnai, Ghumat, Samel, Surt, and Zanj.

Chhau Dance

The Chhau Dance is a popular form of tribal dance in India that also integrates elements of martial arts into its movements. It is generally performed in in the states of Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand.The dance form has three subtypes; namely Purulia Chhau, Mayurbanj Chhau and Seraikella Chhau, named differently because of the place of their origin.The dance developed a means to portray stories to the audience. The fables revolve around Ramayana and Mahabharata, Puranas and other India Literature with religious themes. Indian instruments – Dhol, Shehnai and Dhamsa make the recital come to life. The male dancers wear brightly colored dhotis with a matching kurta on top. A vast amount of costume jewelry is worn in the form of necklaces. Female dancers, or male dancers depicting female characters, are known to wear colorful sarees.The style and variety of the costume of the dancers largely depends on the characters being portrayed by them. The dancers also use different objects to display weapons. 

Cultural Heritage Sites in India

India is a country which has a host of spectacular sites, ranging from glorious historical monuments to diverse natural heritage sites. UNESCO World Heritage Convention has recognised many sites across the world for their cultural heritage. India has the 6th largest number of world heritage sites with 38 such sites. Here are some sites among those, which one shouldn’t miss while exploring the country.

Photo by Victor Lavaud on Pexels.com

Taj Mahal, Agra

The Taj Mahal is a funerary mosque, built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife Begum Mumtaz Mahal. Set against the Mughal Gardens, it is a pristine architectural monument made of white marble. It was built in 16 years by thousands of artisans under the Chief Architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri and is considered as a masterpiece.

Khajurao, Madhya Pradesh

The Khajurao is a group of monuments located in Madhya Pradesh and is attributed to the Chandela dynasty. It is known for its unique artistic architecture which has survived since the 10th century. Out of the 85 temples built originally, only 22 temples are there at present.

The PInk City, Jaipur

Jaipur is a fort city in Rajasthan, built according to grid plans of Vedic architecture. The urban planning of the city shows influence of ancient Hindu, modern Mughal and western cultures. Originally built as a commercial capital, the city is an intersection of commercial, artisanal and traditional center.

Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra

The Elephanta Caves is a group of sculpted caves on Elephanta island, located in Mumbai harbour. It is dated to 5th century and it consists of 5 Hindu caves and 2 Buddhist caves. The architecture is characterised by rock cut stone sculptures.

Sundarbans, West Bengal

The Sundarbans are the largest mangrove forests in the world and is both a national park and a tiger reserve. It is situated in the Sundarbans Ganges river delta and is formed by the deposition of sediments from 3 rivers – the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. It consists of dense mangrove forests which is the home to the Bengal tiger, the salt water crocodile and various birds.

Fatehpur Sikri

Also known as the City of Victory, the Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Emperor Akbar. It includes a set of mosques, monuments and temples built in Mughal architectural style. It was built as a city which had several monuments, buildings, palaces, public spaces and courts. The site has monuments like – the Jama Masjid, the Buland Darwaza, the Panch Mahal, and the Tomb of Salim Chishti which are popular tourist attractions.

Monuments at Hampi, Karnataka

These are a group of monuments in the Hampi town in Karnataka. Located on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, it consists of Dravidian temples and palaces. It has been admired by travelers of the 14th and 16th century and is still a very important cultural and religious center for Hindus and Jains.

Sun Temple, Konark, Odisha

The Konark Sun temple is a renowned temple, located on the coast of the Bay of Bengal and built in the form of the chariot of Surya, the sun god. It is constructed with sandstone and decorated with beautiful stone carvings. It was constructed under the rule of King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty.

Indian Folk Art

India has always been portrayed as a land of cultural and traditional diversity. Every corner of the country has a distinctive cultural identity which is represented through different art forms. These art forms can be collectively put under the topic of Indian Folk Art. Each region has a different style and pattern of art which is practised by the rural folks. These art forms are colourful, simple and reflect the rich heritage. The country is home to around 2500 tribes and ethnic groups. So every state has a unique and interesting form of folk art.

Previously these were done using natural dyes and mostly used for decorating walls and houses. These forms which still exist today, have undergone many changes through all these years including change of medium, colours and pattern. Here are such art forms which give us a peek into the cultural heritage of different regions of the country.

MADHUBANI

Madhubani, also known as Mithila art, was developed by women of Mithila in Northern Bihar. It is characterised by line drawings, colourful patterns and motives. These were practised for hundreds of years but were discovered in 1934 by a British collonial officer during an inspection after an earthquake on house walls.

PATACHITRA

The word ‘patachitra’ derives from the Sanskrit words patta, meaning canvas and chitra, meaning picture. It is one of the oldest art forms of Odisha. It is done on canvas and portrays simple mythological themes through rich colours and motives. Some of the themes include Thia Badhia – depicting the temple of Jagannath, and Panchamukhi – depicting Lord Ganesh as a five-headed deity.

WARLI

Warli is the name of cultivator tribes belonging to Northern Maharashtra and Gujarat. Though discovered in early seventies, the roots of the art form can be traced back to as early as 10th century A.D. Mostly featuring geometrical shapes, they potray daily life, hunting, fishing and festival scenes. They show a common human figure through a circle and two triangles, which move in circles resembling the circle of life.

RAJASTHANI MINIATURE PAINTING

The art form is introduced by Mughals who brought in persian artists for creating the art. The Mughal emperor Akbar built an atelier for them to promote the artwork. They trained Indian artists who produced it in a new style inspired by the royal lives of Mughals. Eventually the paintings made by these Indian artists came to be known as Rajput or Rajasthani miniature. They are characterized by strong lines and bold colours made from minerals, precious stones, even pure gold and silver.

TANJORE ART

Orijinating in Tanjavore, about 300kms from Chennai, this art form evolved under the rulers of the Chola empire. Characterized by brilliant colour schemes, decorative jewellery with stones and remarkable gold leaf work, these paintings mostly consist themes of gods and goddesses.

KALAMEZUTHU

Simmilar to Rangoli and Kolam, this art form originated in Kerala. It mostly consists of the representation of deities like Kali and Lord Ayyappa on temple floors. Natural pigments and powders of mostly 5 colours are used by the makers and the art is done by bare fingers without the use of any tools. The 5 colour shades are made from natural pigments like – rice powder for white, burnt husk for black, turmeric for yellow, a mixture of lime and turmeric for red and the leaves of certain trees for green. Lighted oil lamps brighten the colours in the figures which usually feature anger or other emotions.

6 Unique Indian Customs & Traditions

Indian culture and traditions are something that has now become renowned all across the planet. We all ask India and its culture as something very diverse and unique. But seldom can we provide a thought to why things are wiped out certain specific ways. Indian culture is filled with several unique customs and traditions, which outsiders might find intriguing. Most of those originate from the traditional Indian scriptures and texts, which have dictated the way of life in India for thousands of years.
Here are 6 fascinating cultures and traditions of India:

  1. Festivals & Religion- India also sees a large number of festivals, mainly because of the prevalence of diverse religions and groups. The Muslims celebrate Eid, the Christians have Christmas and Good Friday, the Sikhs have Baisakhi (harvesting of the crop), and therefore the birthdays of their Gurus and the Hindus have Diwali, Holi, Makar Sakranti, the Jains have Mahavir Jayanti, the Buddhists celebrate the Buddha’s birthday on Buddha Poornima, and quite honestly, the amount is endless. All of those translate to holidays in our book, of course.
  2. Architecture:The Science Behind Temples- Most temples are located along magnetic wave lines of the Earth, which help in maximizing the available positive energy. The copper plate (called Garbhagriha or Moolasthan) buried under the most idol absorbs and resonates this energy to its surroundings. Going to the temple often helps in having a positive mind and garnering positive energies, which successively causes healthier functioning.
  3. Traditions of Treating Guests- In India, the saying ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’ is also integral. It means ‘the guest is equivalent to god’. It is a Sanskrit verse taken from the Hindu scriptures, which later became a neighborhood of the ‘Code of conduct for Hindu society since the guest has always been of supreme importance in the Culture of India.
  4. Indian Dances- India is a land of ‘unity in diversity’, and our dances are no different. Different sorts of dance(classified as folk or classical) find origin from different parts of the country, and that they are how of representation of the actual culture from which they originate. Eight classical dances, which are classified as Indian classical dances and find a mention within the Hindu Sanskrit text ‘Natyashashtra’, (a text of performing arts) are:
  • Bharatnatyam from Tamil Nadu
  • Kathakali from Kerela
  • Kathak from North, West and Central India
  • Mohiniyattam from Kerela
  • Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh
  • Oddisi from Odhisa
  • Manipuri from Manipur
  • Sattriya from Assam

All the dance mentioned above forms are an entire dance drama, wherein a dancer or performer narrates a whole story, almost entirely and exclusively through gestures. Such stories are mostly supported the vast Indian mythology. These performances are mostly based on stories that are orally passed on from one generation to the other. Folk dances mainly trace their importance to the rural areas, where performances depict the day to day life of rural inhabitants.

  1. Cuisine- Indian food and cuisine not only form an integral part of the culture of India but are also one of the critical factors of India’s popularity worldwide. The style of cooking varies from region to region, though unanimously, Indian food features a significant reputation for its extensive use of spices and herbs. Almost every region is understood for a signature dish or ingredient. The staple, however, throughout the state consists mostly of rice, wheat, and Bengal gram (Chana). While vegetarian food is an integral part of Gujrati South Indian and Rajasthani cuisines, non-vegetarian dishes form a central part of Mughlai, Bengali, North Indian and Punjabi cuisine. It is also interesting to note that specific cuisines like that of Kashmir have also been influenced by foreign cooking styles from Central Asia, Persia, and Afghanistan.
  2. Languages- India is socially, culturally, and linguistically very diverse. Hindi and English are widely spoken and recognized for official purposes. Other than than, there are 22 scheduled languages recognized by the constitution of India. However, more than 400 languages and dialects in India are still not known. Dialects change even with a few kilometres of travel in the state. Over the years, about 190 languages became endangered thanks to only a few surviving speakers.

There exist thousands of traditions and culture in India, and quite a few of them would leave outsiders rather curious. But the crux of Indian society and culture has always been to be mannered, polite, respect others, and progress together.