India is rich in cultural and artistic heritages. Classical dances are one of those significant arts demonstrating the spiritual and social life of ancient times. Various sculptures, inscriptions, literature, painting and other art work confirms the popularity of dance in Indian tradition. The Indian Classical dances faced a heavy threat during colonialism. Under the British rule, many Indian art forms were were discouraged with the use of law. Have you ever thought why?
Any kind of art practiced by the peoples of a nation serves a purpose to unite them and give them a strong identity, by almost outlawing these arts, the imperialist government was trying to take away what was so dear to the people of the subcontinent. The Britisher were trying to enforce their culture upon India and in order to establish their ‘SUPERIOR’ cultural practices, arts, dance, education, prayer, religion etc they also ridiculed the Indian ones. Though these art forms were revived after Independence, the damage had already been done to the Indian psyche. The result is that there are hardly any takers for the classical forms of dance or music, people in contemporary India do not take pride or do not even possess knowledge about their impressive cultural past.
So lets take a look at the classical dances of India and learn some cool things about them.
The Sanskrit text Natyashashtra is the root of all the classical dances of India, it contains all the basic steps, postures, techniques, gestures, expressions, ideas of this art. According to Natyashashtra, most of the major dances have three sections: Nritta, Nritya and Natya.
- Nritta category is epitome of the dance. This part focuses on engaging the audience with fast, rhythmic, pattern and beauty of the performance.
- The Nritya is an gesticulation to represents the storyline, to give silent messages, to convey the ideas. This part attempts to engage the emotions and minds of the audience.
- The Natyam modulates the elements of Nritya. This section is usually performed by team but solo dancer can also act to allude a new character.
All the classical dances convey the rasa or bhava (emotions,sentiments, feelings) through facial and hand gestures (mudra) to interpret the storylines. The significant aspects of Indian classical dances are:
- Angika-gestures and body language,
- Aharya- stage setting, costume, make-up, jewelry
- Satvika- performers emotional connection with the story and viewers
- Abhinaya- the act to represent the bhava and mood.
The eight popular Indian classical dance practices:
Bharatnatyam is one of the most popular dances of India consisting a solo dancer with a group of musician and singers. This dance was basically originated in South India in Hindu Temples. Its entity could be noted in ancient Tamil epic “Cilapattikaram”. The dance is popularly known as the “mother art” of all the dances of India. It has been an inspiration for many other art forms like sculpture, painting and icon-making.
Presently it is widely performed by male and female in all over the India and abroad. The dancer is dressed in colourful Sari and adorned with jeweleries. The postures and rhythm makes this dance apparently beautiful. The hand and facial gestures is used to recite spiritual ideas, prayers or some legends. Bharatanatyam style is noted for its fixed upper torso, legs bent or knees flexed out combined with spectacular footwork, a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language based on gestures of hands, eyes and face muscles.
This prevalent dance form has its origin in Northern India. The word Kathak is inherited from Sanskrit word Katha means ‘story’ and Kathaka implies ‘one who tells stories’. It was extensively performed during Mughal Empire. Then it dealt with a great decline in British era but again this art rediscovered itself after Independence.
Kathak performance consist three forms including: the invocation (when dancer comes to stage), one pure dance recital and one expressive dance. The dance can be performed solo, duo or by team. The costumes of Hindu and Muslim Kathak are different. The dance movements include facial, hands gestures. During the performances singers or Kathak artists sometimes interact with audience to explain something or to recite a song.
Kuchipudi was originated from Andhra Pradesh. Like most Indian classical dances but unlike Bharatntyam, it has a team performance. Though there are many similarities in Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi gestures but the former is iinclined towards a more spiritual and geometric perfection, while the latter one tends towarda more sensual companionship. The Kuchipudi dance includes Carnatic music and the recital is in Telugu language.
As the name suggests, the dance emanates from Odisha. Its roots lie in Vaishnavism. It was prominently performed by women(maharis) in groups but now men have joined it too and it has undergone through many changes in the modern era. Previously the dance form was used to express Vaishnavism and the stories of other Hindu gods and goddesses.
It involves lower (footwork), mid (torso) and upper (hand and head) as three sources of perfecting expression and audience engagement with geometric symmetry and rhythmic musical resonance. The song recital is performed in Odia and the music includes both Hindustani and Carnatic one. The Odissi dancers wear bright coloured silk saris with pleat to move freely during performances. The sari have Odisha print on it providing it an Odia touch.
According to Sanskrit text ‘Natyashashtra’, the roots of this theatrical form could be find in southwestern India. It is basically a group based presentation in which dancers perform various roles through their dancing. The dance prominently tell stories of ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Ramayana’ through their body languages and hand gestures (mudras), while emotions and moods are presented through “facial and eye” movements.
This dance form has the most perfected make-up code, heavy costumes, painted faces and masks, which play an important part in popularity of this dance form.
Having its origin in Assam, the dance form is stated to be attributed to Bhakti movement and its great saint Srimanta Sankardev. The dancing gestures are same as other Indian classical dances. Traditionally it was performed by the bhokots (male monks) in monasteries but today it is widely performed by the men and women outside Sattras. The theme of the dance focuses on Krishna-Radha love stories.
Having its origin in Manipur, the Manipuri dance is also known as Jagoi. The dance particularly presents the theme of Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Raslila of Radha-Krishna. Unlike other Indian classical dances, Manipuri dance does not include anklet bells. The dance style is more tender, delicate and gentle as compared to other dance forms. It represents the darting motion of men and sensual movements of women. The female characters are dressed like a Manipuri bride called Potloi costumes, while the male artists wear Dhoti.
Mohiniyattam also has its roots in Kerala and it was named after an avatar of Vishnu called Mohini. Vishnu had taken the form of a beautiful woman, Mohini to annihilate the rakshasa Bhasmasura. The dance is delicately performed in Lasya style with calm music and singing. Mohiniattam has music that is a hybrid of sanskrit and Malyalam called Manipravala. The posture of dance includes parted feet, knees bent upwards with a calmly facial and body movements. The costume of this art is white sari or any calm colour like cream etc. The make-up remains natural and the performer is adorned with light jewelry.