The relation between anklets and Indian classical dance

An anklet, also known as Ghungroo, Salangai, or Tinklebells is a musical accessory that Indian classical dancers tie to their feet. A pair of anklets will sound different depending on the size and metallic composition. An anklet is used to highlight the rhythmic aspects of the dance. A novice may wear a 50-bells anklet. Whereas, an experienced classical dancer may put on an anklet of 200 bells. This is because to bear more weight a dancer needs to gain experience. 


An anklet or a ghungroo is usually composed of brass balls and inside each one of them, there are smaller balls. The smaller balls are not visible, hence they are made of iron. That is why they produce a tinkling sound. When a dancer moves their leg, the metallic balls produce a rhythmic sound along with the movement. For easy handling, the metal balls are tied on a cotton or leather strap. The strap is worn just above the ankle. Hence, it is conveniently known as anklets.


There are eight major Indian classical dance forms: Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakali, Sattriya, Manipuri, and Mohiniyattam. All these forms are very different and have distinctive costumes, music, language, and rhythm. But among all these features, the anklets are common and can be identified in each form. Hence, the anklets are considered an inseparable part of the classical dance culture. 


The origin of anklets comes from an old tradition. In earlier times, the courtesans used to wear them while dancing. Hence, the common women dreaded to use it due to societal norms. But, somewhere down the timeline, royal women became fascinated by them. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out due to the same reason. So, the royal women tuned down the anklet to make a ‘Payal’. 

Today, the ghungroo has reached a cultural status reinforced through poetry, cinema, and literature. Although the ghungroo is known to be just an ornament of a dancer, it has been traditionally worn by classical dancers for centuries. 


The purpose of anklets in classical dance is to highlight the swift movements of eyes, heads, and limbs. It is easy to interpret the movements of the head, eyes, and hand. But the observer often cannot follow the movements of the leg. In Indian classical dance, the dancers use complex leg movements to denote their skills. The anklets illuminate these complex movements in front of the audience. Hence, a spectator finds it easy to follow the rhythmic aspects of choreography. Apart from that, the sound from the anklets also keeps a dancer in tune with the music and helps to stay in rhythm. Hence, the anklets are both functional and decorative elements that serve as an emblem for the classical dancers.


The anklet is also available in brass, bronze, and silver. Hence, each one has its signature sound. These are only used as dance accessories. 

Now, let’s talk about the modification. Everything evolves with time and so did the anklets. Hence, modernization of the anklets gave birth to the ‘Payal’. The Payal is available in various forms of intricate jewelry. You will find gold and silver Payals with little gems and precious stones on them. Even the metallic Payals which are affordable come in beautiful designs that you can choose from. These are available in even lighter and simpler designs which are worn by very young girls who want something that is least intrusive. The Payal is considered lucky in the Indian tradition and quite versatile to match with various outfits. 

Influence over the world

Egyptian women has been known to wear anklets in ancient times. But conforming to conservative Islamic traditions, they no longer use them. Belly dancers over the world also use anklets as embellishments. Some young women in the U.S. are known to wear casual anklets lately. 

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