Indian Classical Dance

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I. The Hindu culture worships various female goddesses who represent female energy and power. Indian classical dance is used to represent and pay tribute to these goddesses of female energy. 

II. This concept of the Hindu goddess is empowering for the contemporary women who perform the classical dances of their ancient culture.


I. Although it is rooted in ancient Vedic texts and is thousands of years old, the concept of Goddess, or Devi,  continues to be a vital influence in Indian culture. The Goddess is present in Indian myth, art, popular culture, and current religious divinity and philosophical thought.

A. Hindus worships various Goddesses who can be role models for contemporary women.

1. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and is seen to provide good luck and prosperity to her worshippers. She can be empowering for working women. 

2. Radha is seen as the original goddess and is widely worshipped as being the wife of Krishna. She can be empowering for wives.

3. Shakti is the Goddess worshipped by classical dancers as she is the embodiment of creativity. She represents all that is fertile and is empowering for all women.

II. The idea of feminine divinity, which has expression even in western myths and Native American myths, can energize not just women of Indian origin but others; rendering strength to the psyche. 

A. For Indian women, classical dance represents this divinity and the dances come in many forms to express the individual experiences of the women who perform them.

1. Bharatanatym is a form of dance from the southern part of India. The dance is an individual dance which celebrates the female form.

2. Khatak is a form of dance from the northern part of India that is used to tell the stories of the goddesses. The retelling of these stories empowers young girls hearing them for the first time.

III. Even though women in India have over time acquired many freedoms denied to them traditionally, the burdens of juggling work, family, and their community remain. The spiritual and psychological comfort offered by the Goddess and classical dance is still relevant.

A. A shifting culture where women are given more freedom and power can be conflicting for women to negotiate. Classical dance allows women an arena in that they can continue to be traditional while feeling empowered at the same time.

B. “Through this journey, dance and dancers have negotiated and struggled with processes of tradition and transformation” (Chakravorty, 2006).

IV. Evident in the works of poets- such as Mahadevi Akka- and choreographers-such as Chandralekha- is the Goddess as a challenge to patriarchal traditions. This feminist perspective is relevant in the immigrant community of the United States where women continue to struggle against patriarchal structures.

A. Classical dance has played a part in political arenas as artists have attempted to use the dance as a means to get their message out to the community.

1. Mallika Sarabhai was a classically trained dancer who would use the art form of Kathak to become a feminist activist, fighting the political structure

2. “It presents her vision of what makes a politically engaged feminist artist, looking at the inspiration for her works as well as the kind of movement vocabulary she chooses for her choreographies” (Grau, 2007).


I. Indian classical dance is an empowering form of art which can relieve the pressures faced by Indian women who face a conflict between the traditional way of life and the modern era that allows women more freedom.


Chakravorty, P., & Srivastava, R. (2006). Bells of Change. Kathak Dance, Women and Modernity in India. Oxford.

Grau, A. (2007). Political Activism and South Asian Dance The Case of Mallika Sarabhai. South Asia Research, 27(1), 43-55.