Bollywood and Indian Classical Dance: A Series of Unfortunate Events

The relationship between the Bollywood industry (namely, many of its choreographers) and Indian classical styles of dance is controversial and has been somewhat problematic for a long time. This is a rant that may seem repetitive but comes as a necessary response to the following video I encountered, in which a famous Indian choreographer has created a guide to Indian classical dance. Take a look…

Some brief context about Terence Lewis – he is an excellent contemporary dance artist with lots of experience in other Western styles of dance (having been a judge and choreographer for many Indian dance reality shows, films, and award functions). During the first minute or so of the video where Terence explained the hastas/mudras (hand gestures), I was pleasantly surprised at how accurate and true to the form he was being. Unfortunately, what came afterwards was a slow downward spiral. From demonstrating subpar adavus in an even more subpar araimandi to incorrectly labeling other mudras, it is clear that Terence Lewis is not an expert on teaching Bharatanatyam, yet it is unclear why he made this video considering his lack of expertise.

What I find even more appalling and disappointing than the misinformation and lack of proper technique in this video is how Indian classical art forms are generally reduced to something that can be easily learned and picked up, as evidenced by the random insertion of Indian classical dance steps into mainstream Bollywood film songs and by many Bollywood fusion dance teams and groups around the world. This degrades the amount of dedication, determination, discipline, and hard work required to learn and perfect Indian classical dance, which is a lifelong pursuit and journey for many artists.

Bharatanatyam and Bollywood are both so dear to me that it really breaks my heart to see the former’s consistent misrepresentation in the latter. Part of me is compelled to feel hopeful for the future but the other part of me knows how slow (or unlikely) change can be in a society that values fusion over form.

Note: This is by no means an attack on all choreographers who incorporate Indian classical styles of dance into their work. While there are non-trained dancers who do it improperly, it is important to recognize that there are others who approach Indian classical dance with the sincerity and respect it deserves.


Bollywood and South India: Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation?

As an Indian-American with a hybrid identity living in the US, I love Bollywood. There are great films out there that fall into the category of meaningful, thought-provoking, and inspiring cinema, while others are cute, entertaining romantic comedies. However, as an Indian classical dancer with origins from South India, I have a problem with the way the Bollywood industry portrays all things related to South Indianness or South Indian classical arts.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 4.05.35 PM

For example, let’s take the latest music video release from the upcoming film Kapoor & Sons called “Let’s Nacho”. The first 20 seconds of this song features Tamil lyrics and background dancers with Kathakali esque makeup and white veshti/dhoti miserably trying to put talam and trying to play what looks like a glittering mridangam. Appreciation or appropriation?

Recently, the phrase “cultural appropriation” has been being thrown all over the internet in response to Coldplay’s latest music video featuring Beyonce and Sonam Kapoor, as well as the latest episode of Fuller House. But when Indian people do the same thing to people from their own country (mind you, South India is another region of India, not a different country), somehow it seems more acceptable to audiences. From actors playing South Indian characters overdramatizing a Hindi accent in films to the extraction of essential elements (like face makeup) from South Indian classical dance and placing it out of context in a club number like “Let’s Nacho”, Bollywood has a history of mocking South Indian culture. Many old and recent films – Padosan, Nayee Padosan, Chennai Express, and Dilwale – have been guilty of this mockery.


One typically does not see North Indian classical dance styles like Kathak incorrectly portrayed in Bollywood. On the contrary, after watching Madhuri Dixit in Devdas, everyone wanted to learn Kathak and dance like her! Alas, only Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Carnatic Music, and the like fall prey to being “exoticized” in Hindi cinema. Indian classical dance is a sacred and deeply spiritual art form and as a student and practitioner of it, it saddens me when aspects of it are simply thrown into club numbers that I would have otherwise enjoyed if it weren’t for the appropriation.

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Just as Indianness is not a costume in the West, South Indian culture should not be seen as a costume in Bollywood. Hopefully, one day, Bollywood will understand, respect, and stand by this sentiment, going beyond the stereotypes to learn and absorb all that Southern India truly has to offer.

Indonesia Diaries: Top 10 Must-See Things in Bali!

My second week in Indonesia took me to the island of Bali, the Indonesian tourist hotspot known for its beautiful beaches, picturesque nature, and Hindu culture. From people with names like “Artha” and “Putra” to statues of Gatotgacha and Kumbakarna all over the island, Bali (in the words of my mother) felt like a journey back in time to ancient India with an Indonesian flavor! As expected there is a lot to do and see in Bali and while I covered quite a bit in my 4-day stay, there is still much to be explored.

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A few things to note:

  • Almost every attraction (including temples) has an entrance fee that usually ranges from Rp 10,000 to Rp 30,000
  • All temples require visitors to be dressed appropriately (i.e. skin covered below the knee – for both men and women). Most temples let visitors borrow sarongs for free (included as part of the entrance fee), while others may require an extra donation for sarongs.
  • Bali is extremely hot. Wear light clothing and comfortable shoes, stay hydrated, and apply sunscreen!

Without further ado, here are the top 10 must-see attractions in and fun facts about Bali!

  1. Tegallalang Rice Terrace

The staple food in almost all of Southeast Asia is rice. What is interesting and famous about the Tegallalang Rice Terrace is the cultivation and growth of rice in a multilevel fashion. This technique not only saves water but also provides a picturesque view of a productive agricultural process. The best view is from the main road across the rice terraces. The road is filled with markets, coffee shops, and painters inspired by nature to create works of art.

Tegallalang Rice Terrace

  1. Kintamani Volcano & Batur Lake

Kintamani is a small town located in central/somewhat northeastern Bali (see map below). While it is a bit of a trek from Ubud and the touristy beach areas in southern Bali, it’s definitely worth the 1.5 to 2-hour drive. For adventure junkies, there are options to hike up the active volcano. However, for those who are less inclined to climb, there are many restaurants with balconies along the main road offering fantastic views of the volcano and lake.

  1. Ubud Art Market

If you’ve been to outdoor markets in Phuket, this is a very similar setup, with small cobblestone pathways (for pedestrians and motorbikes only) lined with shops on both sides. Ubud Art Market has all types of products, from paintings and wooden carvings to sandals and batik clothing. You absolutely have to bargain with the shopkeepers, as they quote exorbitant prices. Typically, start the bargaining process by quoting 50% (or less) of the price they stated; eventually you and the shopkeeper will reach a compromise but it all depends on your persistence and bargaining skills! Shopaholics and tourists looking for nicknacks and souvenirs will love Ubud Art Market! Even if you’re not into shopping very much, stroll through the market to get a good idea of another aspect of Bali’s tourism industry.

  1. Coffee Plantation & Kopi Luwak

Bali, particularly the Kintamani area, is filled with coffee plantations that specialize in many variants of coffee. A particularly interesting type of coffee, called Kopi Luwak or Luwak Coffee, is very famous in Bali. Basically, a baby Luwak (Asian palm civet) is fed coffee beans, which go through the animal’s digestive tract and are ejected as feces. The seeds are then extracted, cleansed, and made into Luwak coffee powder. Supposedly, a reason for doing this is to remove any excess bacteria from the coffee beans before transforming them into coffee powder. Kopi Luwak is extremely expensive and being vegetarian, we didn’t taste it. At the end of the tour, Santi Coffee Plantation offered various teas, coffees, and chocolates to taste, with an extra fee to taste Kopi Luwak. Nevertheless, a coffee plantation tour is definitely recommended for tea and coffee lovers alike!

  1. Taman Ayun Temple

Located in the town of Mengwi, Taman Ayun Temple is a large complex consisting of temple structures in the middle and walking trails with small meditation huts all around. The main temple area is open only to devotees and closed to visitors but you can take a walk around the temple complex. Structured like a garden, Taman Ayun is one of the few temples with both open space and lots of greenery and trees. A beautiful spot for nature photo shoots!

  1. Padang Padang Beach

Known for its appearance in the film Eat, Pray, Love, Padang Padang Beach is one of the cleaner beaches in Bali that is filled with almost exclusively foreigners. Accessing this beach is a bit of a challenge – there is a narrow stairway path that has been carved through the rock cliff and as soon as you come out of it, you can see the pristine white sand and wide expanse of the clear blue ocean. In addition to picturesque nature, Padang Padang Beach is replete with beautiful men and women clad in swimsuits – a great place to spot eye candy!

Padang Padang Beach

  1. Tanah Lot Temple

Tanah Lot is a cliffside temple with multiple shrines. Since it is a highly dangerous area and was high tide when we went, no one was allowed to go to the actual temple structure but depending on the time of day and tide, you may be allowed at the base of the structure. Tanah Lot gets very hot during the day so the best time to visit is early in the morning or late in the evening. The temple faces the west so sunset watching at Tanah Lot is definitely a must on the Bali bucket list!

  1. Krisna Souvenir Shop

Located in the capital city of Denpasar, Krisna is the best one-stop shop for all souvenirs and random nicknacks in Bali. While the quality of goods is not great here, all products are sold at local fixed prices so everything is extremely cheap. Things you find at Ubud Art Market might be seen here at half the price but remember that they may also be half the quality. Essentially, Krisna = Costco + Big Bazaar. Not necessarily an attraction but a must-see if you are on a tight budget or looking for cheap souvenirs in Bali!

  1. Watch a Balinese music/dance performance

What’s a trip to Bali without some cultural arts immersion! There are many opportunities to check out music and dance shows in Bali, especially in the Ubud area. Just like India has many different styles of dance, Bali too has various types, including Kecak, Barong, and Legong. The two shows we saw were Kecak and Fire Dance at Sahadewa Stage and Legong Dance at Taman Pura Saraswati. Both give different flavors of the cultural arts scene in Bali. Kecak and Fire Dance occurs everyday from 6:30-7:30pm at Sahadewa Stage, while Taman Pura Saraswati offers different performances on each night. Shows are generally ticketed and last about 60-90 minutes. For more details, check out my performance review of “Chandra Wirabhuana” at Taman Pura Saraswati!

  1. Pura Tirta Empul

This is a unique temple with a natural spring for devotees to engage in Hindu rituals and cleanse/purify themselves in the holy water. Apparently, Lord Indra created the spring to revive his forces when they were poisoned. Thus, it is believed that Tirta Empul has curative properties and is seen as a fountain of immortality. Since there is quite a bit of history associated with this temple, it would be good to get a guide when visiting this temple just to have an idea of the significance of the rituals the devotees engage in. We saw visitors wearing sarongs and getting into the spring, however it is best to confirm whether visitors are allowed to bathe in the water.

Pura Tirta Empul

As always, for all you Bollywood aficionados, here’s an extra tidbit I learned as I was departing from Bali:

  1. Bali has an Indian radio station.

On our way to the airport, our hotel driver showed us a channel on the radio that plays Bollywood music 24/7 in Bali. As we were exiting the van, the radio station was just starting to play the song “Gerua” from Dilwale! Our driver also mentioned that he saw the film 3 Idiots and really liked it!

Check back soon for more updates on my travels through Indonesia!

Performance Review: “Chandra Wirabhuana” Balinese Dance

On Saturday, January 16, 2016, I attended “Chandra Wirabhauana”, a traditional Balinese dance performance accompanied by live orchestra music. Set in the beautiful outdoor environment of Taman Pura Saraswati Temple’s Lotus Pond in Ubud, Bali, Chandra Wirabhuana was formed in 2000 and performs Balinese music and dance every week at the Lotus Pond. The orchestra consisted of 16 musicians playing a variety of instruments, including gamelan, flute, percussion, gong, and cymbals.

The show began with “Tabuh Liar Samas”, an instrumental piece whose composition was inspired by the beautiful beaches of Kuta in Southern Bali. This was followed by “Tari Penyambutan”, an introductory dance piece similar to a pushpanjali from Indian classical dance repertoire. The three graceful female dancers entered holding plates filled with flower offerings, which they later showered onto the audience.

Legong Dance

The third item was “Kebyar Duduk”, a powerful solo number characterized by dynamic hand and body gestures and sharp eye movements. The male dancer used a fan and flowing cloth from his outfit throughout the dance.

The fourth piece called “Legong Semarandhana” was in the Legong style of dance. It began with pure dance movements, followed by the Hindu tale of Manmatha and his wife Ratih. Manmatha and Ratih are sent to break Lord Shiva’s meditation and do so by striking him with an arrow. In the Balinese version of this tale, when Lord Shiva awakens, he opens his third eye and burns the couple to flames. In this dance, it was very interesting to see a slightly different version of a Hindu story portrayed in a unique style of dance.

“Oleg Tamulilingan”, the fifth item, was a duet describing the courtship between two bumblebees. Representing a Balinese love story, this piece was full of sringara abhinaya and was characterized by cute duet moments and poses.


Following the bumblebee courtship was “Topeng Tua”, or the Mask Dance. It is typically performed for religious functions and the dancer wearing the mask typically portrays demons or other evil spirits.


The performance ended with a vibrant number titled “Tari Satya Brasta”. It was based on an excerpt from the Mahabharata in which Karna fights and kills Gatotkacha on the Kurukshetra battlefield. The intricate formations and unique usage of props by all 6 male dancers in this piece was simply phenomenal!

There are many similarities between Balinese dance and styles of Indian classical dance. For example, Balinese dance has certain stances, as well as large, dynamic eye movements, that are similar to Kathakali and Mohiniattam. At the same time, the delicate hand gestures and soft footwork are reminiscent of Manipuri. It is evident that a lot of body control is required to master any style of Balinese dance, be it Legong or Kecak. The musical orchestra complemented the mood of all the dance pieces very well, exaggerating and subduing as appropriate to the story being told. The outdoor setting of Taman Pura Saraswati’s Lotus Pond, while prone to mother nature’s whims and fancies if it decides to rain, is absolutely beautiful, and allows visitors to watch a culturally rich performance beneath the moon and stars.

Definitely don’t miss out on this show if visiting Bali! Chandra Wirabhuana performs every Saturday at 7:30pm in Taman Pura Saraswati in Ubud, Bali. You will certainly be in for a treat!

Performance Review: “Tulsi” and “Dwita”

The second evening of Dakshina Dance Company’s 12th Annual Fall Festival in Washington, DC, was filled with back-to-back mesmerizing performances.

Daniel Phoenix Singh’s company began the show with their production “Tulsi: A Life in Balance”. An empowering take questioning the trials and tribulations of Tulsi, this production infuses Bharatanatyam and modern dance vocabulary to depict a less well-known tale by incorporating ideals and values of contemporary society. While the concept was powerful, the repetitive choreography and varying qualities of the dancers’ Bharatanatyam abilities detracted slightly from the execution. Taking into consideration that the Dakshina Dance Company has performers with backgrounds in varying styles of dance, it was a commendable effort by the company.

“Dwita: Duality of Life” – the feature presentation of the evening – was presented by the mother-daughter duo Rama Vaidyanathan and Dakshina Vaidyanathan. In this production, the dancers explore duality, which pervades many aspects of life. The invocatory item depicts the dualism of knowledge (represented by Goddess Saraswati) vs. wealth (represented by Goddess Lakshmi). This was a brisk opening number that set the high standard for the rest of the performance. The unique choreography weaving Saraswati and Lakshmi movements into the Sankeerna Alarippu was fascinating and challenging.

lakshmi saraswati

Varnam – the second piece – contrasts a heroine’s feelings of passion and devotion for Lord Shiva. Performed as a solo by Rama, this highlighted her strengths in abhinaya (expression) as she expanded upon various concepts (such as the procession of Lord Shiva) throughout the piece.


A solo piece by Dakshina, the next item (my personal favorite) focuses on creation and destruction by describing the “Ardhanari” – half female, half male – form of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Dakshina exemplified the contrasting elements of thaandavam (strength) and laasyam (grace) that characterize this two-fold nature of Shiva and Parvati.


The fourth dance was a poem exploring a mother-daughter relationship, where the mother is conflicted between protecting her daughter and setting her free. In contrast to the other pieces which are heavily devotional and Hindu-centric in nature, this item is more secular and concentrates on human nature in general. The analogies that allow a mother to set her daughter free are absolutely brilliant and resonate with international audiences very well. The ball game between mother and daughter towards the end of this piece further highlights this mother-daughter duo’s onstage chemistry. The artists concluded with a non-traditional finale summarizing the overall concept of duality by depicting the finite and infinite.

“Dwita” demonstrated duality in every sense of the word, from two dancers to two singers/nattuvanars (who took turns performing and switching each role). Rama and Dakshina are the embodiment of precision and control, and throughout the show, there were many “wow” moments that Indian dancers and musicians alike will appreciate. Rama challenges both the performers and learned audience members with her choreography by incorporating complex rhythmic patterns. Additionally, the duality of strong footwork and subtle expression came through in Rama and Dakshina’s dancing.

Due credit must also be given to the team of live musicians – Dr. S. Vasudevan and K. Venkateshwaran alternating vocal and nattuvangam (cymbals), Ramamoorthy Sriganesh on mridangam, and Rajat Prasanna on flute. The melodic harmonies in certain pieces – particularly in the Ardhanari solo by Dakshina – were simply amazing. It is evident that the musicians and dancers have all worked extremely hard to put together a production of this high caliber.


Final Verdict: If you enjoy Indian classical dance or music and “Dwita” is touring to a city near you, jump at the opportunity to check it out!

Performance Review: Camille Brown’s “Black Girl – Linguistic Play”

What are some words that come to mind when you hear the phrase “black girl”?  In the words of dancer and choreographer Camille A Brown,

“When I asked people this question, the responses I got were: Loud. Ratchet. Annoying. This is why I want to present Black Girl.”

“Black Girl – Linguistic Play” revolves around the subtleties and nuances of what it means to be a black woman in an urban 21st century society. Weaving familiar images from childhood play and the power of relationships and friendships, Camille A Brown and her team of dancers bring to life the empowering aspects of black womanhood that are often neglected in the media. Through this work, Camille challenges the audience’s beliefs and stereotypes by displaying common elements from their background that they do not expect would resonate with them.

Photo by: Christopher Duggan

Photo by: Christopher Duggan

In the first duet, the dancers create a tapestry of rhythms, with sections of silence (without music) where only the dancers’ footwork is heard. The second duet presents camaraderie through sisterhood, with the fighting that everyone sees but also the forgiving that nobody sees. The last duet is a poignant mother-daughter relationship where the mother exists as a safe haven and a secure base as the daughter explores the world on her own. Following the dance was “The Dialogue”, an open discussion of questions and reflections between the artists and audience about the production.

Photo by: Christopher Duggan

Photo by: Christopher Duggan

It is very clear that all the performers from Camille Brown’s company are well-trained, extremely strong dancers. The live music by Scott Patterson on piano and Tracy Wormworth on guitar add depth and dimension to the performance. The allusions to hand games from childhood resonate with audience members, allowing them to connect more deeply with the production.

Photo by: Christopher Duggan

Photo by: Christopher Duggan

Final Verdict: “Black Girl” is a reflective, relatable, and relevant work in the context of the current political climate. It provides individuals with an opportunity to shatter their own implicit and explicit stereotypes regarding black femininity. Definitely don’t miss this production if it’s coming to a city near you!

For more information about Camille A Brown and her upcoming performances, check out her website.

Performance Review: Sheejith Krishna’s “Don Quixote”

Last Saturday, October 3, 2015,  Sheejith Krishna (a well-known Bharatanatyam dancer from Kalakshetra) and his troupe of dancers from Sahrdaya Foundation presented the dance drama production “Don Quixote” at The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC. Based on Miguel Cervantes‘ novel, “Don Quixote” is about a man who loves adventure and magic and traces Don Quixote’s adventures with his sidekick and best friend, Sancho Panza.


Sheejith Krishna’s choreography was absolutely brilliant in this production! From the innovative windmill jathis to depicting the tall Sierra Mountains of España, Krishna made the entire audience experience Don Quixote’s adventures along with the characters themselves. To bring in the cross-cultural flavor of Spain, Krishna also briefly experimented with some flamenco choreography.

The Sahrdya Foundation will present "Don Quixote-An Indian Stage Interpretation" at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Tue Sep 15 15:16:05 -0600 2015 1442351765 FILENAME: 199019.jpg

The music, composed by Jyothishmathi (Sheejith’s wife), was absolutely beautiful and featured some famous voices from the Chennai Carnatic Music scene, including OS Arun. Each dancer executed his or her role to perfection and performed with conviction. Their costume changes were so swift and efficient, adding to the overall believability of the story. Special shoutout to Radha Ganesan, a local dance teacher from the Washington DC area who was also part of this production.

While the production value and quality of dance was very high, it was a rather long production, around 2 hours and 15 minutes without intermission.


Check out Sahrdaya Foundation’s US tour schedule to catch “Don Quixote” in a city near you!

Indian Dance Series: Style #7 – Manipuri

Presenting Manipuri, the 7th style in the Indian Dance Series!

Manipuri is an Indian classical dance style that originates from the northeastern state of Manipur. Though it is one of the younger dance forms in its current style and structure (compared to other Indian classical dance styles), Manipuri has roots in ancient ritualistic dances performed during the Vedic era. With the spread of Hinduism in Manipur, these ritualistic dances began to evolve and take on elements of Vaishnavism, resulting in an art form that consists of both older traditions of ritual practice and new Vaishnavite themes.

manipuri silhouette edited

Development of the bhakti (devotional) aspects of Manipuri can be attributed to Maharaja Bhagyachandra, who is credited with giving Manipuri its structure and form in the 18th Century. Awareness of this highly spiritual art form beyond the state of Manipur was propagated by Rabindranath Tagore in the early 20th Century.

Manipuri Nartanalaya School of Dance

Manipuri Nartanalaya School of Dance

In light of its history and development, Manipuri has three main styles or types of dance:

  1. Raas Lila
      • High emphasis on bhakti (devotional surrender)
      • Use of physical longing as a metaphor for spiritual union with Lord Krishna


  2. Lai Haraoba
      • Based on the older ritualistic dances from Vedic times
      • Like Kathakali, it uses elements from martial arts, specifically Thang-Ta, the Manipuri equivalent to Kalaripayattu in Kerala
      • Typically performed to please and invoke the blessings of ancestors and can also signify or depict creation


  3. Cholom
    • Part of Sankeertana tradition – using music and dance to unite with Lord Krishna
    • High-energy piece in which dancers move gracefully, incorporating jumps and leaps while playing the Pung (percussive drum) or Kartal (cymbals)
Pung Cholom Photo Credit: A.M.Faruqui

Pung Cholom
Photo Credit: A.M.Faruqui

Manipuri is characterized by soft, rounded, subtle movements and can be performed as a solo or group. Unlike Bharatanatyam, the hand gestures used in Manipuri are more delicate and add a lightness to the art form. Interestingly, Manipuri dancers do not wear ghungroos (bells) on their feet. In fact, their footwork and lower body movements are very subdued, compared to practitioners of other Indian classical styles.


Finding prominent Manipuri dancers is as rare, if not rarer, than seeing Kathakali artists. Nevertheless, some well-known Manipuri performers in India include: Late Guru Bipin Singh, Padmasri Rajkumar Singhajit Singh, and Padmasri Darshana Jhaveri. In addition to being a leading exponent of Manipuri, Padmasri Elam Endira Devi has also performed in the film Matamgi Manipur, which won the 1972 National Award for best film in Manipur.

Padmasri Darshana Jhaveri

Padmasri Darshana Jhaveri

As the styles of Indian classical dance come to a close, tune in to check out some of the folk dances of India that will be introduced very soon, only on the Indian Dance Series!



History of Manipuri Dance

Manipuri Dance

Elam Endira Devi


Dance Styles – Manipuri

Indian Dance Series: Style #6 – Kathakali

Introducing Kathakali, the next style of the Indian Dance Series!

Kathakali is a form of Indian dance-drama that originates from Kerala. Dating back to the late 16th/early 17th century, Kathakali was performed in both temples and palaces of India. The word “kathakali” comes from the Malayalam root words “katha”, meaning story, and “kali”, meaning play.

Unlike Mohiniattam, which is typically performed solo, Kathakali is a group theatre presentation in which the dancers take on the roles of different characters from Hindu epics. Kathakali dance dramas typically last from dusk until dawn the next day, as the tales are depicted in great detail. Although only male dancers used to perform this art form back in the day, many more women have been entering the arena of Kathakali today.

female kathakali

An integral feature of Kathakali is costume and makeup (known as chutti), which enhance the dancers’ expressions. Costume and makeup change depending on the character an individual portrays in the dance drama. For instance, if a dancer is playing a villain (such as Ravana from the Ramayana), then he will wear mostly red color paint on his face, hands, and feet. Green paint is typically used for characters of high-birth, such as kings and other nobles, whereas black is used for more aggressive characters of lower-birth.

kathakali makeup

In addition to paint and makeup Kathakali artists wear heavy headdresses to raise their characters above the mortal level and make them seem more powerful and other-worldly. They also wear large bulging umbrella-like skirts.


In order to cultivate the physical and mental stamina required to perform Kathakali, dancers undergo intensive training in Kalaripayattu (a form of martial arts in Kerala). Like other Indian classical dancers, Kathakali performers also use mudras (hand gestures).

Photo Credit: Ranjith Shenoy

Photo Credit: Ranjith Shenoy

The music that accompanies Kathakali has some similarities to South Indian Carnatic Music but is also decidedly different in its sound and tonal quality. Similar to Mohiniattam, vocalists sing in the Sopanam style with songs in Manipravalam (mix of Sanskrit and Malayalam). The instruments that are usually found in a Kathakali orchestra represent traditional Kerala percussion and include: chenda, maddalam, edakka, and elethalam or manjira (cymbals similar to the nattuvangam used in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam).


Since Kathakali is a rather rare style of Indian classical dance, the number of mainstream Kathakali performers is scarce. However, some well-known artists and gurus are Padmasri Guru Chenganur Raman Pillai, Padma Bhushan Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, and Padmasri Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair. In addition to being a Kathakali dancer, Kalamandalam Gopi has also starred in a few Malayalam films.

Kalamandalam Gopi





Indian Dance Series: Style #2 – Kuchipudi

*Content originally posted on Urban Asian*

Introducing Kuchipudi, the second style of the Indian Dance Series!

With origins in the southern state of Andhra PradeshKuchipudi derives its name from a small village called “Kuchelapuram” and dates back to the 5th century when it was practiced by temple dancers. With a strong dramatic element and deep religiosity, Kuchipudi used to be performed exclusively by male dancers, who portrayed both male and female roles in dance dramas. However, it has evolved to currently include female dancers and more emphasis on solo performance. Around the 13th century, Kuchipudi was given structure by Siddhendra Yogi.

Siddhendra Yogi

Siddhendra Yogi

Like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi incorporates nritta (pure dance) and abhinaya (emotional expression), with stories from Hindu myths. The main elements of Kuchipudi abhinaya are Natyadharmi, which refers to stylistic, theatre-oriented expression, and Lokadharmi, which draws on realistic experiences from the world. Kuchipudi also has a strong emphasis on grace (laasya) embodied in the pure dance movements as well as the storytelling.

Malayalam actress Manju Warrier

A quintessential component of the Kuchipudi art form is the tarangam, or plate dance. It is a piece in which the dancer demonstrates his or her rhythmic prowess by dancing on the rim of a brass plate. In solo performances, the tarangam is typically the centerpiece and is preceded by a combination of jathis (pure dance sequences) and extensive storytelling.


Padmabhushan Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam is the prominent figure known for establishing the framework for solo Kuchipudi performance. He founded the Kuchipudi Art Academy in Chennai, India, and has composed over 100 pieces and 15 dance dramas. Other famous Kuchipudi dancers include: Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry (Vempati Chinna Satyam’s guru), Raja and Radha ReddyShobha Naidu, and Malayalam actress Manju Warrier.

Padmabhushan Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam