The multitude of folklore, legends and myth prevalent in various parts of India, combined with local song and dance traditions, results in a rich mix of composite art. The folk dance forms are generally spontaneous, crude and performed by the masses without any formal training. This simplicity gives the art form an inherent beauty. However, these art forms have remained confined to a certain sect of people or at a particular locality, to whom the knowledge has been passed down the ages. Some of the well known folk dances of India are:



The word Chhau originates from Chhaya’ meaning shadow. It is a form of mask dance that uses vigourous martial movements to narrate mythological stories. Some narrations also use natural themes such as Sarpa nritya (serpent dance) or Mayur Nritya (peacock dance).

There are three main styles of Chhau dance – Saraikella Chhau  in Jharkhand, Mayurbhanj Chhau in Odisha and Purulia Chhau in West Bengal. Of these, Mayurbhanj Chhau artists don’t wear masks. In 2010, UNESCO inscribed Chhau in the Representative tist of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.



Garba is a popular folk dance of Gujarat, held at the time of Navaratra. Garba actually refers to “Garbha deep” – an earthern pot with holes, in which a lamp is lit and women dance around it in circular movements with rhythmic clapping.

Dandiya Raas

It is an energetic, lively dance form in which polished sticks or dandiyas are used. It represents a mock fight between Durga and Mahishasura.



It is the folk dance of Goa that celebrates the youthfulness of the region. It is performed during Dussehra and Holi. The use of rainbow-like costumes with multi coloured flags and streamers make it a visual spectacle.

Ghoomar or Gangore

It is a traditional folk dance performed by the women of the Bhil tribe in Rajasthan. It is characterised by the pirouetting movements of the women, which brings into prominence the multi-coloured vibrancies of the flowing Ghaghra.


It is a sensuous folk dance performed by the women of the Kalbelia community of Rajasthan The costumes and dance movement are similar to that of the serpents. Been (wind instrument played by snake charmers) is the popular musical instrument of this dance form. The UNESCO has inscribed Kalbelia folk songs and dances in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010


It is the popular folk dance of Himachal Pradesh, performed during the Dussehra festivities.



Bhangra is the highly energetic folk dance of Punjab. Accompanied with infectious and catchy drum beats, it is a popular form of celebration during festivities. Giddha is the female counterpart of the male Bhangra.


Braj Raslila is a popular folk dance of the region of Uttar Pradesh, revolving around the adolescent love stories of Radha and Krishna.


It is the semi-classical form of dance popular in Uttar Pradesh, accompanied by the music of the same style. It was extremely popular among the courtesans of the Lucknow region.


Jawara is the harvest dance popular in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. The dance, which includes balancing a basket full of jawar on the head, is accompanied by a heavy instrumental music.


Matki is performed by the women of Malwa region on the occasions of wedding and other festivities. It is mainly performed solo, while balancing a number of earthen pots on the head. Aada and Khada Nach are popular variants of the Matki dance.

Gaur Maria

Gaur Maria is an important ritualistic dance form of the Bison Horn Maria tribes who live in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. The dance imitates the movements of a bison and is performed in group by both men and women.


Alkap is a rural dance-drama performance prevalent in the Rajmahal hills of Jharkhand and Rajshahi, Murshidabad and Malda regions of West Bengal. It is performed by troops of 10-12 dancers, accompanied by one or two lead singers known as gayens. The troops perform popular folk lore and mythological stories, in which the dance is interspersed with comical sketches known as kap. The dance is generally associated with the Gajan festival of Shiva.


Biraha dance along with its variant, Bidesia, is a popular form of entertainment in rural Bihar. It is a portrayal of pain of the women, whose partners are away from home. However, this dance form is practised solely by males, who play the role of female characters as well.


Paika is a martial folk dance performed in the southern parts of Odisha. Paika is a form of long spear. The dancers are armed with wooden spears and shields, and show off their skills and agility in infantry like formations. It has a martial art character. The word Paika signifies battle.



Jat-Jatin is popular in the northern parts of Bihar, especially in the regions of Mithila. This dance form is unique in its representation of the tender love and quarrel of a married couple.


Jhumar is a popular harvest dance, performed by the tribal people of Jharkhand and Odisha. It has two variations – Janani Jhumar, performed by women and Mardana Jhumar, performed by men. It is a major attraction at many fairs and festivals.



The Danda Nata or the Danda Jatra is one of the oldest folk arts of India. Mainly popular in Odisha, it is a unique blend of dance, drama and music. While it mainly narrates stories and lore about Shiva, the theme is generally social harmony and brotherhood.


Bihu is the popular dance of Assam, performed in group by both men and women. The dancers are dressed in colourful traditional dresses to celebrate the pomp and gaiety. The dance performance includes group formations, rapid hand movements and brisk footsteps.

Thang Ta

Thang Ta is the exclusive martial dance form of Manipur. Thang means sword and Ta means spear. The dance performance is a unique display of skill, creativity and agility in which the performers enact a mock fight sequence – leaping to attack and defend.

Rangma/Bamboo dance

The Rangma is the war dance of the Nagas. Dressed in colourful costumes, jewellery and colourful headgears, the dancers enact mock war formations and traditions.

Singhi Chham

The Singhi Chham is a popular mask dance of Sikkim. The dancers are dressed in furry costumes, symbolising the snow lion and pay tribute to Khang-Chen Dzong Pa (Kanchenjunga peak).


Kummi is a popular folk dance in the region of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The dance is performed by the women, standing in a circular formation. A unique feature of the dance performance is the absence of any accompanying music. The beats are generated by  the rhythmic clapping. The dance is generally performed during Pongal and other religious festivities. Kolattam and Pinnal Kolattam are close variants of this dance form.


Mayilattam is a folk dance of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in which young girls are dressed as peacocks, with colourful headgears, beaks and feathers. It is also known as peacock dance. Similar dances include Kaalai Attam (bull dance), Karadi Attam (bear dance), Aali Attam (demon dance), and Pampu Attam (snake dance).


Burrakatha or Jangam Katha, is a form of dance narration from Andhra Pradesh, in which a single performer narrates stories from the puranas.

Butta Bommalu

Butta Bommalu literally means basket toys and is a popular dance form of the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. The dancers wear masks of different characters, resembling toy like shapes, and entertain through delicate movements and non-verbal music.


Kaikottikali is a popular temple dance of Kerala. It is performed by both men and women at the time of Onam to celebrate the rich harvest. Airukali and Tattamakali are similar forms of this dance.



Kaikottikali is a popular temple dance of Kerala. It is performed by both men and women at the time of Onam to celebrate the rich harvest. Airukali and Tattamakali are similar forms of this dance.


Padayani is a martial dance performed in the temples of southern Kerala. Padayani literally means rows of infantry, and it’s a very rich and colourful affair. The dancers wear huge masks known as kolams, and present interpretations of divine and semi divine narratives. Some of the popular characters are Bhairavi, Kalan (god of death), Yakshi and Pakshi, etc.



It is a popular martial dance in the areas of southern Kerala and Lakshwadeep. Kol means stick and Paricha means shield. The dancers use mock weapons made of wood and enact fight sequences. The performance starts at a slow pace, but slowly builds up the tempo and reaches climax in a frenzy.

Bhootha Aradhane

Bhootha Aradhane or devil worship is a popular dance form of Karnataka. Prior to the performance, idols depicting devils are placed on a plinth and the performer then dances vigorously, as if a possessed person.

Pata kunitha

It is the dance form popular in the Mysore region. It is primarily a religious dance performed by men who use long bamboo poles decorated with colourful ribbons, known as pata. The colourful exuberance makes it a visual spectacle and is extremely popular among the masses of all religion. Puja Kunitha is a variant of this dance form popular in the region around Bengaluru and Mandya districts.

Chakyar Koothu

It is an art form of Kerala. It is a solo performance, where the performer dresses himself as a snake. It is combination of prose and poetry, and is generally a narration in Malayalam. It has been traditionally performed by the Chakyar community (a priestly caste). The performer wears a colourful headgear, a large black moustache and red spots all over his body.


It is performed by tribal Sikhs in Punjab and adjoining areas during the harvest season. It is performed in a circle. Movement of arms is the most important part, on the tune of the drums. Costumes are same as in Bhangra. It was carried to India by the Balochistan.

Karma Naach

It is performed during the tribal festival of ‘Karma‘ by many tribes of Eastern India especially in the Chota Nagpur plateau. Dancers form circle and dance with arms around each other’s waist.

Raut Naach

Performed in Chhattisgarh by the Yadav community, especially during the festival of Diwali.


It is performed in Jammu & Kashmir, by the Wattal tribe. It involves colourful costumes with a tall conical hat for men. Performers dance and sing to the drum beats.


it is performed in the Konkan region of Goa during festivals by women. They dance in varied formations, mostly in circles or rows. It has many sub-types according to local customs.


It is folk dance of Mizoram and is performed using bamboo sticks. It is likely to have a foreign origin. Men tap long pairs of bamboo in rhythmic beats, and girls dance to the beats of bamboo.


Mostly performed during the festival of Dussehra in Odisha. It is performed by the tribes and many musical instruments are used. Events from Ramayana and Mahabharata, stories of Lord Krishna, etc are represented.


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