Indian classical dance is a varied form of art and has numerous styles to boast of. The different styles of dancing broadly pertain to the different geographic regions in the country. Each one of them proudly presents its own style, rhythm, grace and costume. Irrespective of these differences, most Indian classical dances have one thing in common – the “Ghungroo” or the ankle bells that are tied around the ankle of the Indian dancers.
The ghungroo (ankle bell) is considered very special and are regarded with great respect by the Indian classical dancers. It is regarded as an inseparable part of the Indian classical dancing tradition for many forms of Indian classical dance such as the Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam, etc.
Although, today the custom of wearing ankle bells has become prevalent in many dances such as the belly dance and most Indian classical dances; and is blindly followed as a tradition by many Indian classical dancers; there is a definite reason behind why this practice came into existence.
The ghungroo or ankle bells are nothing but small metallic balls (usually made of brass) with a smaller metallic ball inside each one of them. They are strung together and tied to the ankle of a dancer. In modern days, for ease of use, these metallic balls are fixed on a leather or cloth strap that can be easily worn around the ankle of the dancer. Whenever the dancer moves his/her leg, the metallic balls in the ghungroo originate a sound that is in rhythm with the leg movements.
Swift and graceful movements of different parts of the dancer's body such as the eyes, head, hands and feet in tune with the music is what constitutes a dance in most of the Indian classical dance forms. For an observer it is easy to decipher the movement of the eyes, head and hand while it might not be so easy to distinguish and appreciate the leg movements. Most of these dances tend to use complex leg movements that serve to highlight the dancing skills of the individual. However all this will just go unnoticed if there is nothing to accentuate these movements. And that is the exact purpose why the practice of using ankle bells while performing a dance came into being.
Apart from emphasizing the complexity of the leg movements, the sound from the ankle bell also keeps the dancer in tune to the music and stay in rhythm, gives more life to the dancing and simply adds to the grandeur.