The dances of Karnataka can be classified under two major
categories - classical and folk. Depending upon the content
and purpose of the folk dances, these are further classified
under two categories, namely religious and secular. Most of
the folk dances of Karnataka have evolved from religion, and
as such they are religious in nature and are mostly
performed during festivals, fairs and religious occasions,
which are celebrated by the local tribes and communities
with lots of jest.
There are folk dances of Karnataka which are dedicated to
major deities like Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and the Goddess
Parvathy Devi. Some of the dances
dedicated to Lord Shiva include Nandi Dhwaja, Lingada-Berana,
Gorava dance and Beesu Kamsale, while Bhagawanthike, Pata
Kunitha and Bana Devara Kunitha are dances dedicated to Lord
Vishnu. Dollu Kunitha, Karaga, Soman Kuntiha, Bhoota Nrutya,
Naga Nrutya, are the folk dances performed to worship the
different incarnations of Mother Shakthi, who is believed to
be the deity of power. Dollu Kunitha, Puja Kunitha, Devare
Thatte Kunitha, Yellammana Kunitha, Suggi Kunitha and Pata
Kunitha, etc. are some of the folk dance forms of Karnataka.
These dances are highly popular in Karnataka and are
accompanied by the heavy and fast beats of drums and
In the dance ritual of Nandi Dhwaja, the skilled and
experienced dancers use bamboo poles, which are attractively
decorated and are about 20 to 25 feet long and 4 inches
wide. The pole is placed in a pouch worn by the dancer and
is balanced at 90 degrees angle, while the dancer performs
rhythmic movements and complex acrobats while dancing to the
heavy beating of drums and other musical instruments. This
dance is performed throughout Karnataka, except in the
Kodugu district, and is an important dance of Karnataka.
The Dolu Kunitha is a dance which is performed by the men of
the shepherd community, also known as the Kuruba community.
Here the dancers dance in a synchronized manner in group
formations, making quick movements to the vigorous drum
beats, keeping with the quick pace of the dance. Drums are
decorated with coloured cloth, and they are slung from the
In Puja Kunitha, Devare Thatte Kunitha, Yellammana Kunitha
and Suggi Kunitha, the dancers carry the deity on a wooden
structure, on their heads or in their hands, while dancing.
In Pata Kunitha, the men dancers carry tall bamboo poles
which are colourfully decorated with ribbons and are crowned
with tiny silver or brass umbrellas. In Puja Kunitha,
emphasis is given more to the body movements of the dancers
which are very skillful in nature, where the dancers perform
with colourfully decorated bamboo poles to the heavy beats
of the drums.
Most of the dance forms of Karnataka are ritualistic dances,
performed by the various tribes. Some dances are also
performed using percussion instruments and flutes.You can
see these dances being performed in Bangaluru and Mandya
districts of Karnataka. Most of these religious folk dances
are named after the deity or the symbol or instruments used
in the dance performances. These are either held in the
dancers' hands or heads, while they dance to the fast beat
of the drums. The dancers also wear colourful clothes and
anklets, which make rhythmic sounds while they tap their
feet to the beat of the drums.
Besides the folk dance tradition, Karnataka also has a rich
legacy of classical dance forms. The Mysore style of
Bharatanatyam, which is the oldest and the most popular form
of classical dance, is very famous in Karnataka. You can
also see Kuchipudi and Kathak dance forms here.