Tandav Dances in Indian Cinema

Sunday, October 10, 2010

One of my favorite forms of dance in Indian films is the Tandav dance.  When I first saw the dance form, I was amazed by the passion and energy displayed despite the choreography appearing simplistic at first glance.

The dance's origin comes from Hindu mythology, a subject which I am so pitifully unknowledgeable about that I'm going to borrow a few sentences from Wikipedia to help me out:  "Tandava or Tandava Nrtya, the divine art form, is a dance performed by the Hindu god Shiva. According to Hindu mythology, Shiva’s Tandava is a vigorous dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. While the Rudra Tandava depicts his violent nature, first as the creator and later as the destroyer of the universe, even of death itself; the Ananda Tandava depicts him as the enjoyer of his creation - the universe. Shiva as Nataraja (lit. "Lord of dance") is considered the supreme lord of dance. [...] No doubt the root idea behind all of these dances is more or less one and the same, the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy."

It is this "primal rhythmic energy" that seems to supply these dances with their electricity and verve.  In commercial films, the scenario that often plays out is that of a character being overwhelmed by extreme grief, rage, or frustration, which is expressed in a frenzied and passionate Tandav dance.  There are, of course, an entire genre of mythological/devotional films that contain lots of these kinds of dances in their more "pure" form.  Since the dance form is more commonly referred on the internets as "Tandav" rather than "Tandava," I'm going to stick with that usage.

The following is a list of Tandav dances in Indian films that I am particularly fond of grouped into three categories (because Minai is a compulsive list organizer!): The Stunning (top notch favorites), The Enjoyable and Entertaining, and The "So Bad It's Good".  For the most part, I've chosen songs from commercial films rather than mythological. Enjoy!


Sivangangai Seemai (Tamil, 1959) - Climax Scene - Since Halloween is drawing near, I'm posting this very 'apt for the season' song first. Kamala Lakshman gives a stunning Tandav performance of grief and hysteria starting at :47. The entire thing is brilliantly directed; the off-kilter music and dance is eerily matched by the lighting and set details. I'm particularly creeped out by the way Kamala rises from the ground at 1:43 and rolls in turns at 2:32- it looks like something out of an antique horror film. Her various dances are intercut with scenes of a man being hung, and I presume he is someone important in Kamala's character's life or a famous historical character. A very sad, passionate performance. Update: This dance was the subject of its own post here.

Damini (Hindi, 1993) - Perhaps the best-known Tandav dance, this song features Meenakshi Seshadri giving a powerhouse performance with lightning-fast moves. She is a trained dancer, and it shows!

Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983) - "Shiva Thandava"- This Tandav dance competition features the same male and female dancers from the stunning Kuchipudi dance in my color dances post, and I am completely mesmerized by it. The varied rhythm gives it a driving energy and force, and so does the editing (although I wish there were even longer shots of them dancing!). Edit 12/11: Better quality version embedded; corrected title and release date.

Pavai Villaku (Tamil, 1960) - "Nan Unnai" - Starting at 2:00 minutes in, this awesome Bharatanatyam performance by Kamala Lakshman turns into a beautiful Tandav dance complete with "twin" (and "quadruplet!") special effects. Can a Kamala dance be anything but awesome?

Starts :39

Saptapadhi (Telugu, 1981) - This is another fantastic but slower Tandav dance from a fantastic movie. It's a kind of Tandav dance where we're shown scenes of what is going on in the dancer's mind before she is driven to dance so powerfully that the sky fills with lightning and the imagery of flowing water flashes on the screen (creation/destruction imagery?). I think this was one of the first Tandav dances I saw, and I was simply blown away.

Starts 29:50

Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada, 1983) - Ending Tandav Dance - At the end of this film, the Brahmin dance instructor (Girish Karnad) performs a Tandav dance in his mind that is brimming with understated masculine energy and fierce expressions. It's incredibly poignant as well, but I won't spoil the end of the film. It's too bad the print of the film is constantly changing colors and contrast and the sound is muffled.  Immediately prior to this clip is the first part of the song where the bride interrupts her own wedding with a passionate short tandav dance.  Have I mentioned enough how awesome the songs in this movie are?  Edit: Embedded the Kannada version of the film which is better in quality and changed release date to 1983.

Ek Duje Ke Liye (Hindi, 1981) - Starting at 1:18, Kamal Hassan gives a desperate, passionate performance in front of his love to express his frustration. The choreography is very creative; my favorite move is what I've named the "flails of woe" at 1:55. Kamal is obviously an excellent dancer and really shows off his timing and quick moves here (which makes me wonder how that girl could just stare emotionlessly at him like that!). The film is a remake of the Telugu film Maro Charitra, so of course it has awesome Kamal dances!  I think its non-tandav song equivalent would be Kamal's passionate dance in front of a similarly-unimpressed woman from Punnagai Mannan.

Starts 1:18


Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje (Hindi, 1955) - At the very end of this film, Gopi Krishna and Sandhya perform a thrilling Tandav dance as Shiva and Parvati. I think this is Gopi Krishna's most passionate, frenzied, flail-about dance I've seen. Note that Sandhya's character isn't feeling well at this point in the film (she stands in for another dancer who couldn't perform the part), hence her dazed look and dance.

Starts 32:42

Kathavarayan (Tamil, 1958)- "Sambhoo" - This "Shiva and Parvati" dance by Kamala Lakshman and Gopi Krishna was directed by Gopi Krishna himself. It seems to be what the Wikipedia text up above called an "Ananda Tandavam" given the imagery at the beginning of Shiva (I presume) enjoying his creations (waterfall, snowstorm).

Starts 2:58

Rajasilpi (Malayalam, 1992) - At the climax of this film, Mohanlal performs a fiery Tandav dance accompanied by lightning bolts and glowing silhouettes and other groovy special effects! And can I say how fabulous I think he looks with long hair?

Starts 3:33

Sarangathara (Tamil, 1958) - "Ethukkithanai Modi" - In the middle of this nice Bharatanatyam performance by Kamala Laskhman, she switches into a Tandav dance dressed in the likeness of Shiva. It was a nice surprise to find such a dance tucked in the middle!

Starts 1:48

Apathbandhavudu (Telugu, 1992)- "Parama Sivudu" - Chiranjeevi looks spectacular in the costuming and styling he's been given in this song. I particularly love his super-fierce expression throughout, and the sets and all-over design are deliciously gaudy. I almost put it in the "So Bad It's Good" category, but I'm so charmed by it that it belongs here! Update: Updated name to "Parama Sivudu," fixed broken link.

Sagara Sangamam (Telugu, 1983) - Kamal Hassan performs a short Tandav-like dance in front of a Ganesh statue during the first third of the film. He is so wrapped up in the dance that he has to be forcefully "awakened" by the person trying to get his attention.

Starts 4:10

Chaalbaaz (Hindi, 1989) - Sridevi does a Tandav-like dance here that's very fun. I love how the beat of the music seems to course through her and energize her performance, and she looks simply gorgeous. The choreography is downright humorous at times, but the whole thing just works.

Jaag Utha Insaan (Hindi, 1984) - This is the Hindi remake of Saptapadhi and Sridevi's take on the awesome Tandav dance I posted above. The original had a magical sense of passion and un-selfconsciousness that seems lessened here, but it's still quite wonderful.

Starts 1:40:18

Guruvayoorappan (Malayalam, 1964) - This song starts off slow but picks up in the last third--I'm assuming it is supposed to be Shiva and Parvati dancing. It was nice to find an example from an old Malayalam film!

Others that didn't quite make the list: the mythological Tandav dances in the black and white films Seeta Rama Kalyanam and Annai Abhirami; Sridevi's short Tandav with requisite 90s hair in Chandramukhi.  Kamal Hassan's semi-Tandavish moves in "Nada Vinodhangal" from Sagara Sangamam; Ones I can't find: Gopi Krishna's Tandav in Bhookailas and Ramya Krishna's in Padayappa.  I suppose Madhuri's lovely dance in Koyla would qualify in theory although the dance style isn't quite Tandavish.


Dakshayagnam (Telugu, 1962) - NTR's dance here is so ridiculously fun, and instead of looking overcome by emotion he just looks dazed and confused!  Though the treatment is silly, the song appears to be enacting the story (Wikipedia to the rescue!) of "when Sati [...] jumped into the Agni Kunda (sacrificial fire) in Daksha's Yagna and gave up her life, Shiva is said to have performed the Rudra Tandava to express his grief and anger."

Starts 7:38

Thiruvilaiyadal (Tamil, 1965) - Shivaji's physical presence (and costume) in this song are very entertaining. I think I'll sum it up by categorizing it as a "cracktastic technicolor Tandav."

Starts 10:50

Waqt: The Race Against Time (Hindi, 2005) - When I first saw the title of this video, I just HAD to check it out. Yes, Akshay Kumar does a Tandav dance. As if that weren't entertaining enough, he does it while donning a see-through mesh shirt, in front of a panel of judges, and set to some groovy techno-fusion music! Go Akshay!

Narasimha Naidu (Telugu, 2001) - This dance performance by Balakrishna is on here for giggles. I mean, it's Balakrishna! Cheesy editing makes for the icing on the cake. Not sure why it's so squished vertically...

Ekalavya (Telugu, 1992) - "Mrogindi Damarukim" - I think this is the most painfully-bad Tandav dance on the list. Who is this guy, anyway? Enjoy!

Number 5 Ekka (Kannada) - Apparently the old dude dancing here is named Musuri; I gleaned this from the humorous description on the video: "Musuri can really roll his eyes from side to side, up and down like no one can!" Indeed, and with sound effects!

Video no longer available.

Ones that didn't make the list: Jayapradha's attempt in Maharadhi, and the Tandav dance in Pranali which is surprisingly bad considering it was apparently choreographed by Kathak-master Birju Maharaj.

That concludes the list! I'm sure there are many more enjoyable filmi Tandav dances out there- please suggest others if you know of any!


  1. Minai, you have outdone yourself. How did you find all those great Kamala Lakshman dances that I had never seen? (One with Gopi Krishna, no less!) The Sivagangai Seemai dance remains my favorite of the ones above (and yes, he is a famous historical character, a freedom fighter), but I love the others also.

    I wonder if Kamala's dance in Pavai Villaku was an influence on Padmini's dance for the song "Mannavan Vanthanadi"...


    Anyway, I think you will be pleased to know that I have liked that Kamal Hassan dance for a while, and I think most of the others up there are very good too.

    And look, it seems as though there's a new Daily Motion channel that I'm going to have to add to my links list also!

  2. richard , re mannavan vanthanadi, the trope of statues coming to life and dancing is part of tamil cinema (and most south indian cinema) choreography from the Ranjan/chandralekha days. there is even a song in tiruvilayadal where shivaji plays all the instruments in a south indian orchestra,


  3. Hi Richard - Glad you enjoyed the post! I came upon a really good source of old Tamil film dances, but "if I tell you I'll have to kill you," haha :) I would email you, but I can't find your email ID. I also went on a hunt for songs after reading all those wonderful articles on Kamala's dance school site (http://www.sribharatakamalalaya.org/photo_gallery1.html) that talk about her foray into films- it had some great film names I hadn't heard of before.

    You should watch the rest of Pavai Vilakku! I haven't had a chance to yet, but my quick browsing revealed that Kamala actually has a part and acts in it vs. just having dance numbers. There's another dance number of hers at the end, I believe. The movie starts here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n--6GiT2kZU

    That's a great catch regarding the statue theme showing up in other places. It seems like there have been others but I can't remember their IDs.

    And how did you get Pavai Vilaku to "embed" in appearance on your recent blog entry though the uploader disabled embedding? I'm guessing maybe you pasted the link into existing embed code? I will have to try that!

    Ramesh - That is a delightful Thiruvilaiyadal link! I think it would fit in with my "twin" theme as an example of a "quintuplet" effect! :) NTR did a similar thing in Jagadeka Veeruni Katha: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h52bKVbvfMg

  4. Minai - your blog is so amazing! Thanks for all your dedication to dance - I'm so humbled by it. It's so wonderful to see clips of all the dance sequences my mom made us watch when I was young on here.

    Also, I was wondering if you have seen the Rajshri movie Payal Ki Jhankar starring Komal Mahuvakar? It's one of my favorite dance movies and she was simply lovely in it. Highly recommend if you haven't already seen it.

  5. Hello Amaluu from Bollystalgia! :) Thank you for the kind words. Well your mother sure had good taste, didn't she! :) I just discovered recently that Payal Ki Jhankar is available on Induna- I'm hoping to order (and watch) it soon. Glad to hear someone else recommending it- I had learned about it when someone posted the Odissi-inspired competition on BollyWhat, but it seemed a bit obscure or not as well known as other films. I think it's only available in VCD though, unfortunately, so no subs (cry!!).

  6. About dance from Ekalavya ("Mrogindi Damarukim") - that's superstar Krishna (Mahesh Babu father:D)
    As I've read he is considered as one of the worst dancers in telugu cinema ever:D

  7. Mariola - Thanks for the ID! I had no idea! Wow, Mahesh's family has quite a few film-industry folks in it. Wouldn't it be fun to see Mahesh do a modern remake version of that dance? :D

  8. And they are quite easy to recognise: by protruding ears:D
    But considering how 'many' movies does Mahesh recently there are small chances I think:D

  9. Sorry for commenting so late on an old post but I just really started reading your blog today and I love this post!

    My first exposure to Tandav was Sridevi's in Chandni, which I thought was beautiful. I'd be interested to know your opinion of it! :)

  10. Hi Bombay Talkies! While I don't really consider
    Sridevi's dance in Chandni in tandav-style, what makes that song so awesome is the driving and powerful music. I actually used it as the climax music of my Indian Classical Dance Extravaganza which you would probably like: http://cinemanrityagharana.blogspot.com/2010/08/indian-classical-dance-extravaganza.html

  11. Greetings from the Czech Republic and thanks for this great article! I had been wondering for a while what "Tandav dance" was because I found some videos on YouTube but knew it wasn't one of the seven most well-known classical dances of India.
    And I was wondering at the Sridevi dance from Chandni because the name on YouTube said "Classical Indian dance Tandav" but some elements of it didn't seem to be classical Indian. So thanks a lot for making things clear!

  12. Hello anon from the Czech Republic! Glad my article helped, though I definitely don't consider myself an expert but was just trying to explain what made these dances distinct. I had the same confusion with that Chandni dance as well at first; not sure why the uploader called it a Tandav because while the music has lots of energy Sridevi is more interested in looking sexy than dancing powerfully. :)

  13. Hi Minai - I just uploaded this tandav(ish) dance by Chiranjeevi in Sivudu Sivudu Sivudu. I know nothing about the film - it was a 90 cent VCD impulse buy but it has already repaid that tiny investment :)

    1. I LOVE IT! What an awesome Chiru tandav! He takes the task so seriously and gives it his full energies, silly costuming and all! :) And I see among your other uploads that you have the SNAKE ORCHESTRA from Naag Devi!!! I've been trying to find a way to sneak this into one of my posts for a while; it's completely hilarious. And I'm happy that you've uploaded clear copies of Chiru's dances in Apathbandhavudu. :)

    2. I love that Snake Orchestra! They are among the more lively looking snake musicians I've seen :) Glad you enjoyed Chiru. He does bear out the theory that the best way to overcome lack of technique is enthusiasm and energy as at least people will appreciate your performance. I loved the snakey embellishments on his costume too :)

  14. Ananda Bhairavi is a Telugu movie not a Kannada movie.

    1. I mean the original is Telugu. It might have been re-made/dubbed to Kannada.

    2. Anon - Hello! For my post about the film and Malavika's dances, I watched both the Kannada and Telugu versions of the film and discovered that the dialogue and character-specific scenes were reshot for each version while the dances seem to be edited slightly differently but not reshot (except for dialogue segments). I think you're right that the "original" was probably the Telugu version, though they could have been made/released simultaneously.

  15. Help me somebody ! I am not able to leave this site ! And I have things to do...

  16. Hi, one of the more famous Tamil film Tandavs is from the movie Karaikaal Ammyar: https://youtu.be/q1mYqaa6ek8
    It contains some sampling of tandavs. Not just aggressive ones, but more joyful ones as well. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
    And thank you for introducing me to Kumari Kamala. That first video was breathtakingly epic and sad. I cried so much.


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