Monday, April 29, 2024

Classical Dances of India

India boasts a rich tapestry of classical dance forms, each originating from different regions, with unique styles, techniques, and cultural significance. Here are some of the prominent classical dance forms of India. Indian classical dance is a vibrant and captivating art form that has been passed down through generations. It preserves the rich cultural heritage of the country. These dances are a harmonious blend of graceful movements and expressive gestures. They have their roots in ancient traditions and mythology. Each dance form represents the unique cultural identity of a specific region in India. These dances captivate audiences with their beauty and storytelling. 

History And Evolution of Classical Dances in India :-

According to Bharata’s Natya Shastra, Lord Brahma combined elements from the four Vedas to form the fifth Veda, known as Natya Veda, after being asked by the Gods to create a pastime.

With words from the Rig Veda, gestures from the Yajur Veda, music from the Sam Veda and emotions from the Atharva Veda, the Natya Veda is a combination of dance, drama, and music. This demonstrates the spiritual significance dance holds in Indian cultural tradition.  Indian mythology is rife with examples of dance styles and expressions, from Shiva’s tandava dance, which symbolizes the cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction, to Parvati’s feminine response. The importance of dance as a form of social entertainment is also highlighted by the engravings of community dancing at Bhimbetka and the sculpture of a Harappan dancing girl made of bronze. In Bharata’s renowned work Natyashastra, which is a very thorough and vivid treatise on the various facets of Indian classical dance, dance was first mentioned in writing. The work, which was probably put together between 200 BC and 200 AD, goes into great detail about the ornaments, stage, costumes, techniques, postures, feelings, and even the audience.  Dance, according to Bharata Muni, is the “Complete art,” and it encompasses all other art forms, including music, sculpture, poetry, and drama.

According to Natya Shastra, Indian classical dance is composed of two fundamental elements.

Lasya: This word means grace, bhava, rasa, and abhinaya. It represents dance as an art form’s feminine characteristics.

Tandava: This dance is more focused on rhythm and movement and is symbolic of the male aspects of dance.

According to Nandikeshwara’s renowned treatise on dance, the Abhinaya Darpan (c. 5th–4th century BC), an act can be further subdivided into three fundamental components:

Nritta: This term describes the fundamental dance movements that are rhythmically performed but lack any emotion or mood. It is the movement of the limbs of the body and face.

Natya: which is a Hindi word that means dramatic representations, alludes to the dance recital’s elaborate story.

Nritya: The expression of sentiment and feelings through dance is referred to as Nritya. It incorporates mime and various forms of expression, such as dance mudras. The use of the hand and face plays an important role in conveying various emotions.

Eight classical dances recognised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Ministry of Culture

1)Bharatanatyam, from Tamil Nadu (South) 

2) Kathakali from Kerala (South) 

3) Mohiniyattam from Kerala (South) 

4) Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh (South) 

5) Odissi from Odisha (North East)

6) Kathak from Uttar Pradesh (North) 

7) Manipuri from Manipur  (North) 

8) Sattriya from Assam  (North) 

Hasta mudras, or hand gestures, are fundamental to Indian classical dance forms, serving as a primary means of expression and communication for dancers. They add depth, nuance, and visual richness to Indian classical dance forms such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, and Mohiniyattam.

Navarasas provide dancers with a structured framework to express various emotions  including, Sringar (love ) Hasya (comic, laugh) Karun (pathetic, sad) Raudra (anger, fury) Veer  (bravery, heroic) Bhayanak  (fear) Bheebtsa (disgust) Adbhut (wondrous) Shant (Peace). By mastering the Navarasas, dancers can effectively communicate the intended emotions to the audience, creating a powerful and immersive experience.

1) Bharatanatyam :- Originating in Tamil Nadu, Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest classical dance forms of India.The origin of Bharatanatyam dates back more than 2000 years. 

Some of the important features of Bharatanatyam :- 

*Adherence to tradition: Bharatanatyam follows traditional repertoire, compositions, and techniques that have been passed down through generations. Dancers undergo rigorous training to master the classical elements of the dance form while also infusing their performances with creativity and innovation.

*With a focus on mudras, the Tandava and Lasya components of dance are equally significant in this dance style.

*Ornaments :- Temple Jewelry: Bharatanatyam dancers adorn themselves with elaborate temple jewelry crafted in gold or gold-plated metal. Temple jewelry typically includes a variety of ornaments such as the headpiece (mukut), earrings (jhumkas), necklaces (haar), bangles (kadas), armlets (vanki), and waist belts (oddiyanam).

*Dancers mainly wear costumes which are made of silk sarees with gold zari embroidery designs. The sari is usually made of silk or silk-cotton blend fabric, featuring bold colors and rich textures. Dhoti (Mundu)-  Male Bharatanatyam dancers may wear a dhoti, a traditional garment consisting of a pleated cloth wrapped around the waist and legs, paired with a fitted shirt or vest.

*Instruments used in Bharatanatyam :- Mridangam, Nadaswaram, Nattuvangam, cymbals, Flute, Veena, Violin, Manjira, Kanjira, Surpeti

*Famous dancers of Bharatnatyam  :– Rukmini Devi Arundale, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Yamini Krishnamurthy,  Padma Subrahmanyam,  Alarmél Valli, Sudha Chandran, Leela Samson etc. 

2) Kathakali :- Kathakali, a classical dance-drama form from Kerala, India, is known for its distinctive features that make it a visually stunning and emotionally captivating art form. Two types of dance dramas, Ramanattam and Krishnattam, which depict scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, emerged in Kerala temples under the patronage of feudal lords, which is believed to have been the precursor to Kathakali. 

Here are some key features of Kathakali:-

*Elaborate Makeup (Paccham): One of the most striking features of Kathakali is its elaborate makeup, known as paccham. The makeup involves the use of natural colors and intricate designs to portray different characters, with green representing noble and virtuous characters, red symbolizing evil and villainous characters, black for forest dwellers or demons, and yellow for female characters.

*Colorful Costumes: Kathakali costumes are vibrant and colorful, featuring elaborate skirts, headdresses, and accessories adorned with intricate embroidery and detailing. The costumes help distinguish between various characters and add to the visual spectacle of the performance.

*Facial Expressions (Navarasas): Kathakali actors use facial expressions, known as navarasas, to convey a wide range of emotions such as love, anger, fear, and compassion. The actors undergo rigorous training to master the subtle nuances of facial expressions, which are essential for portraying characters effectively.

*Eye Movements (Netrabhinaya): Eye movements play a crucial role in Kathakali, with performers using their eyes to communicate emotions, intentions, and reactions. The expressive use of eyes, known as netrabhinaya, enhances the dramatic impact of the performance and adds depth to character portrayal.

*The dance form is mainly performed by male dancers. 

*Instruments used in Kathakali dance  :- Chenda, Maddalam and Edakka.

*Famous dancers of Kathakali :-  Kalamandalam Gopi, Kalamandalam Krishna Prasad, Kottakal Sivaraman, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Kalamandalam Vasu Pisharody, Kavungal Chathunni Panicker.

3) Mohiniyattam :- Mohiniyattam originated from the word ‘Mohini,’ which means beautiful woman, and ‘attam’ means dance. It is also known as the Dance of an Enchantress. Mohiniyattam is a solo dance performance by women that was further developed by Vadivelu in the 19th century and rose to prominence under the rulers of Travancore in the present state of Kerala.

Some of the features of Mohiniyattam are as follows:

*Lasya dominance: Mohiniyattam is known for its emphasis on lasya, the feminine and graceful aspect of dance, characterized by gentle, fluid movements, subtle expressions, and delicate footwork. This lends the dance form a soft and enchanting quality, often described as "the dance of the enchantress."

*Kauthuvam and Padams: Mohiniyattam repertoire includes solo and group compositions, such as kauthuvams (invocatory pieces) and padams (lyrical compositions), which are set to poetic verses in Malayalam or Sanskrit. These compositions explore themes of love, devotion, mythology, and nature, providing a rich tapestry for artistic expression and storytelling. Atavakul, or Atavus, is a collection of 40 fundamental dance movements.

*Costumes and Attire: Mohiniyattam costumes are elegant and traditional, typically consisting of a white or off-white saree with golden borders (kasavu), worn in the traditional Kerala style. 

*Instruments associated with Mohiniyattam:-  Mridangam or Madhalam (barrel drum), Idakka (hourglass drum), flute, Veena and Kuzhitalam (cymbals).

*Famous dancers of Mohiniyattam  :- Sunanda Nair, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, Kalamandalam Kshemavathy, Dr. Vyjayanthimala Bali, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Jayaprabha Menon, Pallavi Krishnan, Gopika Varma.Vijayalakshmi, Radha Dutta, Rema Shrikant

4) Kuchipudi :- The dance form is known to have been named after the Andhra Pradesh village of Kuchelapuram. The South-East Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is home to the classical dance style known as Kuchipudi. 

Some of the features of Kuchipudi are as follows:

*Blend of Dance and Drama: Kuchipudi is unique in its integration of dance and drama, combining expressive dance movements with narrative storytelling, making it a complete theatrical experience.

*Sutradhara Tradition: Kuchipudi performances often feature a Sutradhara, a narrator or conductor, who guides the audience through the storyline and facilitates seamless transitions between dance sequences and dramatic elements.

*For Women Kanchipuram Silk Sari: Kuchipudi dancers often wear traditional Kanchipuram silk saris, which are known for their rich colors, intricate designs, and lustrous texture. The saris are draped in the Nivi style, with  fan-shaped pleats arranged neatly and pallu elegantly draped over the shoulder. The name for the costumes used by males is known as Bagalbandi. 

*Instruments used in the Kuchipudi  : - Mridangam, Cymbals, Veena, Flute, Tambura

*Famous dancers of Kuchipudi  :– Guru Smt. Vijaya Prasad, Vempati Chinna Satyam, A Lakshmana Swamy, Sharmila Biswas, Sanchita Bhattacharya, Radha Reddy and Raja Reddy, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Vyjayanthi Kashi etc.

5) Odissi :-The earliest reference to the Odissi dance can be found in the caves of Udayagiri-Khandagiri. The dance form gets its name from the ‘Odra nritya’ mentioned in Natya Shastra. It was primarily practiced by the meharis’ and was supported by Jain King Kharavela. 

Some of the features of odissi are given below:

*Curvilinear Movements: - Odissi is characterized by its fluid and curvilinear movements, inspired by the sculptures of ancient Odisha temples. Dancers execute graceful poses, bends, and arcs with precision, creating a visual tapestry of flowing lines and sculptural beauty.

*Tribhangi and Chauka: - Odissi incorporates the tribhangi (three bends) and chauka (square) stances, which are fundamental to the dance technique. The tribhangi posture involves deftly bending the body at the neck, torso, and hips, creating elegant S-shaped curves. The chauka stance, with its firm and grounded posture, symbolizes stability, balance, and symmetry.

*Female dancers wear brightly colored saris made of local silk and embellished with traditional and local designs, such as the Bomkai Saree and the Sambalpuri Saree. The front of the sari is worn with pleats or a separate pleated cloth stitched in front to allow the dancer to move freely while displaying excellent footwork.

*Jewellery :- Necklaces, earrings, bangles, and anklets- all adorned with silver jewellery. 

*Instruments used for odissi dance : - Veena, Tabla, Pakhawaj, Harmonium, Cymbals, Violin, Flute, Sitar

*Famous dancers of Odissi dance :- Guru Pankaj Charan Das, Guru Kelu Charan Mohapatra, Deba Prasad Das, Sujata Mohapatra, Sonal Mansingh 

For more details click on Link :-

6) Kathak :- Kathak literally means ‘storytelling’. Kathak traces its origins to northern India, particularly in the states of Uttar Pradesh. This led to the evolution of Kathak dance as early as 400 BCE. The kathakaras are a caste of storytellers who moved from place to place to disperse their art of storytelling. The modern form of kathak dance gained popularity due to the efforts of Wajid Ali Shah.  

Here are some special and important features of Kathak:

*Narrative Tradition: Kathak has a strong narrative tradition, where dancers tell stories, legends, and mythological tales through expressive movements, gestures, and facial expressions.

*Gharana System: Kathak is known for its gharana system, where different lineages or schools (gharanas) have distinct styles, techniques, and repertoire, such as Lucknow, Jaipur, and Benaras gharanas.

*Taal and Layakari: Kathak emphasizes intricate rhythm patterns (taal) and rhythmic improvisation (layakari), showcasing the dancer's skill in maintaining complex rhythms and executing rhythmic variations.

*Expressive Abhinaya: Kathak places a strong emphasis on abhinaya, or expressive storytelling, where dancers convey emotions, characters, and moods through facial expressions, hand gestures (mudras), and body language.

*Footwork and Spins: Kathak is renowned for its intricate footwork (tatkar) and graceful spins (chakkars), which require precision, control, and agility from the dancer, often accompanied by the rhythmic sounds of ankle bells (ghungroo).

*Improvisation and Creativity: Kathak allows for improvisation and creativity within the framework of traditional compositions, giving dancers the freedom to interpret and embellish movements while staying true to the essence of the dance form.

*Interaction with Musicians: Kathak dancers often have a close interaction with musicians during performances, engaging in rhythmic dialogues (tabla-bols) and musical exchanges (bol-bant), creating a dynamic and collaborative atmosphere.

*The accompaniments used in kathak dance are: - Harmonium, Tabla, Flute, Sitar and Padhant 

*Costumes worn by kathak dancers :- Ghagara Choli Odhani/Dupatta or Anarkali suits and Ghungroo.

*Ornaments :- Earrings, necklaces, bangles  and bindi have their unique importance in kathak performances.

*Famous dancers associated with kathak dancers :- Janaki Prasad, Shambhu Maharaj, Damayanti Joshi, Sitara Devi, Uma Sharma, Gopi Krishna, Birju Maharaj, Kumudini Lakhia etc.

7) Manipuri:- The mythological origin of the Manipuri dance style can be traced to the celestial dance of Shiva and Parvati in the Manipur valleys, along with the local “Gandharvas.”

Some of the features of Manipuri dance are as follows:

*Ras Leela and Krishna Bhakti: Manipuri dance is deeply rooted in devotion and spirituality, with a significant emphasis on the Ras Leela, a form of devotional dance-drama depicting the love story of Lord Krishna and the gopis (cowherd maidens). The dance celebrates the divine love of Radha and Krishna, embodying themes of devotion, surrender, and divine union.  

*The dance form is performed mainly by Females.

*The female dancers wear “patloi” dresses. The lehenga is called “Kumin,” and it is intricately woven with mirrors and zari work into beautiful designs. It is layered with transparent silk, also known as “Pasuan.” The choli is also embroidered with zari, silk, or gota. They wear a transparent odhni on their heads, covering their faces, allowing the dancer’s expression and emotion to be seen. Gopis are usually dressed in red, whereas Radha is dressed in green. Krishna, the male dancer, is dressed in saffron.

*The male performers wear a dhoti, kurta, and turban, which is white in colour, apart from a shawl folded on the left shoulder.

*Instruments associated with Manipuri dance : -Drums, Cymbals, String instruments

*Famous dancers associated with Manipuri dance :- Darshana Jhaveri, Yumlembam Gambhini Devi, Guru Bipin Sinh, Nirmala Mehta, Guru Bipin Singh, Charu Mathur, Nayana, Ranjana & Suverna, Devyani Chalia

8) Sattariya :- Sattriya dance, in its modern form, was introduced in Assam by Vaishnava Saint Sankaradeva in the 15th century AD. The name Sattariya comes from the Vaishnava monasteries known as ‘Sattras,’ where it was primarily practiced. The dance form finds mention in the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni. It was influenced by the Bhakti Movement.

Some of the features of the Sattriya dance are as follows:

*Liturgical Dance: Sattriya is primarily a liturgical dance form, performed as part of religious rituals, festivals, and devotional ceremonies in the Sattras. It serves as a form of worship (seva) and offering to Lord Krishna and other deities, embodying the spiritual connection between the dancer, the audience, and the divine.

*Themes and Mythology: Sattriya repertoire draws inspiration from Hindu mythology, particularly the stories of Lord Krishna, Radha, and the divine love (bhakti) between them. Dancers portray various characters and episodes from the epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as compositions of Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva, enriching the dance with mythological narratives and cultural symbolism.

*Costumes: Sattriya costumes are traditional and elegant, reflecting the cultural heritage of Assam. Female dancers wear a set of costumes comprising a richly woven Mekhela (wrap-around skirt) and Chador (upper body wrap), adorned with traditional Assamese motifs and designs. Male dancers wear Dhoti-Kurta or Cheleng-Sador, complemented by traditional Assamese headgear.  Traditionally, the costumes were white or raw silk, with red, blue, and yellow accents for specific dance numbers.

*Instruments used in Sattariya dance : - Khol, Cymbals, Flute

*Famous Sattariya dancers :- Bayanacharya Ghanakanta Bora Muktiyar, Jatin Goswami, Manik Barbayan and Bhabananda Barbayan, Moniram Dutta, Sharodi Saikia, Indira PP Bora, Anita Sharma, Anwesha Mahanta and Mallika Kandali, 

The classical dance forms of India represent a treasure trove of cultural heritage, artistic expression, and spiritual depth. From the majestic movements of Bharatanatyam to the lyrical grace of Odissi, from the devotional fervor of Sattriya to the storytelling charm of Kathakali, each dance form carries with it centuries of tradition, innovation, and cultural significance.

Sankalan by Meetkalakar Team


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