Mamallapuram Dance Festival

The month of December not only draws winter season, marks the end of the year and invite the New Year, but also welcomes the celebration of many cultural festivals. In South India too musical season is celebrated from the mid of December to mid of January (until the celebration of the Pongal, the harvest festival of the Tamilnadu). The later part of the December is renowned for an exclusive dance festival, celebrated for a few weeks, honoring the various traditional and authentic dance forms of the South India. It is the Mamallapuram Dance Festival.


Dates of the Mamallapuram Festival

Usually, the dance festival commences on the Day of Christmas, 25th December every year and conducted up to first week of February. However, the Mamallapuram Dance Festival for the period 2015 – 2016 starts from 5th January 2016 and ends on 4th February 2016.

Although the dance festival is celebrated for a month, the dance and music performances are conducted on all Saturdays, i.e. Weekends and all Government Holidays of Tamilnadu that fall during this festival season.

The History of Mamallapuram

Mamallapuram, also commonly termed as Mahabalipuram is a small coastal town, located at a distance of 60 kilometers from Chennai, the capital City of Tamilnadu.

Mamallapuram is one of the historical places as well as a most popular tourist place in South India. It was the yesteryear seaport of the Pallava Kingdom, of the Ancient Tamilnadu. Mamallapuram aka Mahabalipuram is known for its carved rock cave sculptures and seashore temple. The beach town attracts a lot of travelers as a famed travel attraction. During the last days of every year, Mamallapuram transforms into a cultural city featuring one of the most revered Dance Festivals.

According to the legends, Mamallapuram was once called ‘Kadalmalai’ which translates to the land of sea and mountain. The term truly represents the atmosphere of the city. The mountains and rocks were carved during the ancient period, which transformed this place into a momentous attraction.

During the reign of the Pallava, the artisans and craftsmen under the guidance and supervision of the king carved the sculptures from the rock caves.  The rocks carved can still be seen in seashore temple. Until now, this art of Pallava artisans is considered to be a marvel. The massive chariot, the shore temple, cave sanctuaries, open air auditorium, the story of the river Ganges and a lot of tiny, medium and big sculptures depict the glory of Lord Shiva.

Mamallapuram is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its great architectural and sculptural work.

Mamallapuram Dance Festival – Celebration of the Indian Dance Culture

Mamallapuram Dance Festival is the perfect blend of authentic traditional dances and folk dances. Many cultural groups in South India, especially in Tamilnadu specialize in folk dances, who enthusiastically take part in this festival.

An Initiative of the State Government of Tamilnadu

Mamallapuram Dance Festival is an initiative of the State Government of Tamilnadu. The Dance Festival is organized by the Department of Tamilnadu Tourism and Development, a Government undertaking.

The rulers of ancient Kingdoms appreciated various forms of arts and loved to relish themselves in dance and musical performances from the revered artisans. Inherited from the ancient rulers, the Mamallapuram Dance Festival is a festival that appreciates the ancient traditions, with a notion to spread and create awareness about the arts.

A Globally Renowned Fiesta

It is an internationally acclaimed festival and hosts global travelers, cultural enthusiasts, dancers and artists from various countries, who specialize in any of the traditional dance forms. Reputed dancers, dance schools, musicians, and vocal artists from India as well as abroad engage the huge crowd every year.

The Open-Air Arena and its aesthetic effects

The dance performances of various groups are a feast for the eyes. The major attraction of the dance festival is the ancient open air auditorium. The open-air stage was created in the 7th century, during the reign of the Pallavas, who almost ruled the South Indian Kingdom.

The rock cave sculptures serve as the backdrop to the open air stage. The mesmeric backdrop of the monolithic sculptures adjacent to the sea, the passion of the dance artists, natural musical rhythm of the waves, provides a unique, mesmeric and truly unforgettable experience to cherish forever.

The Importance of Mamallapuram Dance Festival

This dance festival is considered of great importance by the veteran dancers, all over the country. In addition, the foreigners who learn the traditional and classic dance forms of India yearn to be a part of this cultural dance festival. The festival is considered a pride of the exponent dancers in the traditional dance forms as well as the folk dances.

Revered dancers and dance schools consider being a part of this festival. Leading dancers from different parts of the South India never miss being part of the festival.

Mamallapuram Dance Festival provides the dance and music lovers with the best performances from the exponents and expert dancers, truly unique to experience.

Classical Dances Performed at the Mamallapuram Dance Festival

Being one of the biggest dance festivals of India, and a prominent dance festival in South India, Mamallapuram dance festival features all regional dances of various states in the South India. In addition to the classic dances, folklores and different forms of folk dances and musical performances form part of this dance festival.


Bharatnatyam is one of the ancient classic dances of India, attributed to Lord Shiva as the God of this dance form. This is the authentic dance form of Tamilnadu. It is also considered as a ‘Dance Yoga’ which, physically, emotionally and spiritually rejuvenates the dancers and the viewers. Most of the Bharatanatyam dance performances depict the devotion, love and passion towards the gods.

Rich silk costumes (heavy silk saree worn in a unique way), beautiful makeup featuring the vibrant eyes, and traditional jewelry worn from top to toe are the specialties of the dancers apart from of course, their expressions.


Originated in the State of Andhra Pradesh, this classical dance is founded by Siddhendra Yogi. It is believed that Kuchipudi is inspired from Bharatanatyam. It is like a dance-drama on stage. Each dancer before they start performing, introduce themselves by dancing for a small unique song composition. The dancers wear light weight  jewelry, although it appears equally luxurious as the traditional jewelry worn by Bharatanatyam dancers.


The term Kathakali literally makes us remember a face or a person with elaborated costume, colorfully painted face with headdresses. Kathakali is an authentic dance form of the state of Kerala, originated 1500 years ago. It is a form of dance drama, inspired from the folklores, dramas and dances of the ancient Kerala. Kathakali is a blend of various folk dances and art forms. The facial painting, which forms a major part of this dance art, is called Theyyam. Most of the dance drama narrates the stories of various gods and goddesses.

Detailed gestures, eccentric facial expressions, and sharp body movements in tune with the music and percussions gives a divine sensation.


Often many people confuse Kathak with Kathakali. Kathak is one of the classic dances of India, originated in North India. It is inspired by the Persian dance and developed during the Mughal period. The term Kathak literally refers to Story. Although this dance is popular in North India, it also forms a major part of the Mamallapuram Dance Festival.

Mohini Attam

Mohini attam is a semi-classical dance form, originated and famed in Kerala. The term Mohini refers to a beautiful unmarried girl who steals the heart of the onlookers! This dance is performed only by women. The specialty and uniqueness of this dance are the traditional white and gold sari of Kerala. The dancers wear the white silk sari embellished with elaborated patterns of gold zari, draped in a unique way and deck-up with layers of gold jeweler, striking makeup and a side-top bun decorated with flowers. Slow and rhythmic dance movements blended with beautiful expressions enthralls the visitors.


According to the archeological studies and reports, Odissi, native to the state of Orissa is the oldest classical dance of India.

Odissi is a mild form of dance, neither too aggressive as Bharatanatyam nor too soft as Mohini attam. The dance is differentiated by the independent moves of the head, the chest and the pelvis. These movements are characterized by different stances representing the various postures of the sculptures and idols of Indian gods. Another uniqueness of Odissi is the hairstyle! An elaborated hair bun is worn with the embellishing Tahiya (a decorative hair accessory) along with other jewelry.

Most of the classical dances enact a story or a part of the story from the epics, folklores, gods and goddesses, Puranas, etc.  Lovers of classical dances find Mammalapuram dance festival an event not to be missed.

Folk Dances

In addition to the classical dances, folk dances also attract a lot of visitors to the Mammalapuram  dance festival. Following are some of the popular folk dances performed at the festival.


It is more precisely known as a puppet show. Most of the puppet shows narrate a story of a god or folklore.


Also called as Kali attam, (which means dancing with extreme happiness), it is performed with sticks. The sticks are painted with two contrasting colors and when they collide, they make a sharp sound. Each dancer has two sticks and makes the movements by swinging the sticks for every movement. The specialty of this dance is sudden twists, turns, and sharp movements,.


Dancers make appropriate movements to the folk songs by clapping hands. Instead of the sticks, hands are used as prop to make the sound. Every dance movement is accompanied by clapping.


Karagam refers to a set of clay pots or metal pots placed one after another on the dancer’s head. The dancer should make the movements by balancing the pots kept on the head. This is one of the most difficult dances to execute as it needs a lot of precision, alertness and of course, practice.

Kazhai Kothu

It is nothing but very similar to the modern day gymnastics performed by the veteran gymnasts.


It refers to peacock dance! Men and women dress up as peacocks and make rhythmic movements. The elaborated feathers, glittering head and beak are quite attractive.

Just like peacock dance, folk dancers disguise as tiger, bear, horse, etc.

Quick facts about the Mamallapuram Dance Festival

  • All dancers are provided with the certificate and medals as a token of appreciation.
  • The beach town transforms into a cultural carnival that celebrates the Indian Dance Culture.
  • Since it is performed in an open air arena, there are no restrictions for the visitors.
  • Being organized by the Tamilnadu Tourism and Government, appropriate authentication and permission is required to take part in the festival as an artist.
  • Special buses are arranged by the Government on all Saturdays and government holidays during the festive season.

The Mammalapuram  dance festival brings together the artists from various parts of the country and joins them together for a single cause! It truly depicts the Unity in Diversity! The cultural unity of diversity in India!

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