The mention of the word dance conjures up images of Nataraja (Lord of dance) as the Indian God Shiva is portrayed. Apart from Shiva even Ganesha and Srikrishna are associated with dance and music. India has many classical dance styles. The oldest text dealing with aesthetics covering various art forms including dance is the Natyashastra which is authored by Bharatamuni.
All the Indian classical dance styles viz. Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Manipuri, etc., are derived from the Natyashastra. Some of these dance styles have evolved from folk dances and are intimately connected with the art of story telling.
Most of these stories are drawn from our epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, tales from collections like the Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Katha Sarit Sagara, etc., also from the subject matter of these dance styles. In fact the Kathak and Kathakali from U.P. and Kerala respectively, derive their names from the term Katha which in Sanskrit means a story. As the story is told in the form of dance, these dance styles can actually be called dance-dramas, the only difference is the absence of dialogues.
The Charkul dance-drama of Central India revolves around a story generally from the Indian epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Similar traditions of dance-dramas are prevalent in other parts of India too. In Maharashtra, you have the Dashavatara, in Karnataka you have the Yakshagana The Kathak dance of North India and the ktha*ali dance of Kerala also originated as dance dramas and derive their names from the Sanskrit work 'Katha' which means a story.
The story has to be told solely through actions and hence an elaborate pattern of facial expressions (Mudra), movement of hands (Hasta) and the simulation of various moods like anger (Krodha), envy (Matsara), greed (Lobha), lust (Kama), ego (Mada), etc., have been evolved. The mastery of perfect expression of these feelings by subtle movement of the lips and eyes forms the root of all the classical Indian dance styles.
In fact the combination of the three qualities viz. expression, rhyme and rhythm i.e. Bhava, Raga, and Tala go into the determination of the term Bha-Ra-Ta, which is used as the name of one dance style viz. Bharata Natyam. The integration of Indian classical dance with the physical exercises of Yoga and the breath control of "Pranayam" has perfected the dance styles.
Yoga especially had given the dance styles an excellent footwork which is called Padanyasa and Padalalitya. Another feature of these dance styles is that they are integrated with theology and worship. Traditionally these dances were partronised by the temples. During festivals and other religious occasions, these dances were performed in the temple premises to propitiate the deity. Thus the dance came to combine both art and worship.
Even today every recital of any Indian classical dance begins with an invocation to Nataraja or Nateshwara the god of dance.
In Indian folklore and legend, the God of Dance is himself shown to be dancing in a form called the Tandava. This has also been depicted in the statues and carvings in temples like, Khajuraho and Konark in Northern India, and at Chidambaram, Madurai, Rameshwaram, etc. in the South.
Indian dances have also evolved styles based on the Tandava like the Urdhra Tandava, Sandhya Tandava, etc. Indian classical dance found its way outside India, especially to the countries of Southeast Asia. The dance styles of Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, etc., have so heavily borrowed from the Indian classical dance traditions that to a casual observer there would seem to be hardly any difference between the two. While Western dance has not directly borrowed anything from Indian classical dance, it has borrowed from Indian folk dance through the medium of the Gypsies.
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