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Costumes and Ethnic Wear for Classical Dances of India

India has an immense wealth of traditions, arts, and crafts. Its unmatched, amazing Classical Dances are art forms, which surely are impossible to miss. In total, there are 8 accepted classical dance forms – with a few more regional ones. The great Sanskrit text Natya Shastra by the ancient scholar Bharata Muni contains the largest discourse on Indian dance forms and performing arts. Covering Tandava – the dance of fury by Lord Shiva and the 9 Rasas of human life, the revered epic treatise talks in detail about the various classical dances, which originally were dance-dramas – an extension of local theatre arts - performed for religious and social purposes.

Much like expressions and postures, costumes to are an integral aspect of these dances. Each of the 8-10 listed Indian Classical Dances – be it Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakkali or any other – has a set pattern of dance – practice or performance – ensembles, jewelry, accessories and get-up, which may also undergo some changes with the varying sub-set of a dance. The place of origin, culture and era during which a dance got established/ popularized also has a significant impact on the costume and look adopted for it.


For example, Kathak is a dance form with its roots primarily in Northern India – and it got a definitive impetus during the Mughal rule – so influences from these eras and areas are visible in the Anarkalis, Angarakhas and Churidaars of this dance. With its varying Gharanas, Kathak also has costume variations. For Lucknow Gharana, you would see dancers wearing Nawabi style Anarkali suits with prim trousers or even churidars, while in Banaras Gharana performances, the famous Benarasi brocades or even Banarasi Sarees make an appearance. For Jaipur Gharana, dancers wear frock-style, flared ethnic suits and similar Indian dresses. Though the silhouettes are similar to Anarkali suits, the styling is slightly different and so are jewelry and hair adornments.

Classical Dances from Southern India 

In Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam, and Kathakali, there is a marked influence of weaves and fabrics from Southern India, as these dances evolved in the Southern states of India. Though, the costumes of all these dance forms are entirely divergent from each other, you would always see those trademark South Silks and distinctive Kanchipuram borders on all of these. Same goes for flowers and key jewelry, barring Kathakali with its dramatically differing theatrical ensembles, worn during performances.

Kathakali, which is a story play, is one of the most dramatic and distinctive dance forms – and that is true for its get up and outfits. Elaborate colorful mask-like makeup, even masks, vivid headgear and stiff skirts are often seen on articulate Kathakali dancers, known to show their expressions even through the minute finger and eye movements.

In one of the most popular classical dance forms, Bharatnatyam, dancers wear costumes made from rich south silk sarees and kanjivaram sarees for performances, while Kanchi cotton sarees and Guntur sarees are typically worn for practice sessions and informal presentations. The dress for Bharatnatyam is worn in two variants – the skirt style and the pajama style. These are pre-stitched dresses, as usually no one these days takes the effort of painstakingly typing a 9 yards long saree into a Bharatnatyam costume.


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