Indian classical dance includes diverse dance forms and multitude of styles, each significantly different from the other but at the same time sharing many features in common. All eight classical dance forms are primarily region specific, from Manipur in the North East to Kerala in the south, with their own distinct rhythm, beauty, costume, music, language and lyrics, though all are known to have descended from the Natya Shastra and hence borrow heavily from Sanskrit language and literature. Of all the common things, Gunghroo, the ankle bell, is probably the most noticeable and important across all dance forms in India. In fact it is also used in most folk dances of India too, sometimes also as a piece of orchestra.
Ghungroo, also known as Salangai in Tamil, are small metal bells, mostly made of brass, strung together to form a musical anklet, worn by the dancers be it Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam or Oddisi. For ease of use, these metallic balls are fixed on a leather or cotton/velvet strap that can be easily worn around the ankle of the dancer. The sound produced varies depending upon the metal and the size of the individual bell. Worn immediately above the ankle, they are more than a piece of jewellery or adornment. Ranging anywhere from 50 to 200 in number on each anklet, ghungroos help to emphasise the rhythmic facet of the particular dance highlighting the complex footwork attempted by the dancers.
The ghungroo gains special significance as it is primarily an ornament which differentiates a dancer from a non-dancer and specifically a dancer ready for performance. In the Devdasi tradition, as most classical dances were, this was of crucial importance and as such appropriate deference was accorded to it. In Bharatnatyam for example, Gejjai puja or Sailanga Puja, the worshipping of the ghungroos is an important ceremony as a pre cursor to an Arangetram, the debut on stage. An integral part of Indian classical dance Ghungroos accentuate the rhythmic percussion acoustics produced by the complex foot movements of the dancers.
Elegant movements of different parts of the body such as the eyes, head, hands and feet in tune with the music, telling a story is what constitutes a dance in most of the Indian classical dance forms. For the audience it is easy to notice and appreciate the movement of the eyes, head and hands as they are more visible and enhanced by the makeup and jewellery while it might not be so easy to distinguish and follow the foot movements. All the classical dances tend to use complex foot movements that serve to accentuate the dancing skills of the dancer, for which purpose the sound produces by the ghungroos is a vital aid.
Apart from emphasizing the complexity of the foot movements, the sound produced by the ghungroos also keeps the dancer in tune to the music and stay in rhythm by providing a template of sorts. Hence we can say that Ghungroos are almost like a badge for dancers helping them highlight their skills while being decorative and functional at the same time.