Home Special Interest Trail Dance Group Tours Dances of INDIA

dance tour indiaUsing the body as a medium of communication, the expression of dance is perhaps the most intricate and developed, yet easily understood art form. Dance in India has seeped into several other realms like poetry, sculpture, architecture, literature, music and theatre. The earliest archaeological evidence is a beautiful statuette of a dancing girl, dated around 6000 B.C. Bharata's Natya Shastra (believed to be penned between second century B.C. and second century A.D.) is the earliest available treatise on dramaturgy. All forms of Indianclassical dances owe allegiance to Natya Shastra, regarded as the fifth Veda.

It is said that Brahma, the Creator, created Natya, taking literature from the Rig Veda, song from the Sama Veda, abhinaya or expression from the Yajur Veda and rasa or aesthetic experience from the Atharvana Veda. It also contains deliberations on the different kind of postures, the mudras or hand formations and their meanings, the kind of emotions and their categorisation, not to mention the kind of attire, the stage, the ornaments and even the audience. All dance forms are thus structured around the nine rasas or emotions, hasya (happiness), krodha (anger), bhibasta (disgust), bhaya (fear), shoka (sorrow), viram (courage), karuna (compassion), adbhuta (wonder) and shanta (serenity). All dance forms follow the same hand gestures or hasta mudras for each of these rasas. The dances differ where the local genius has adapted it tolocal demands and needs.

One of the most enduring symbols of India is the figure of Nataraja - Shiva, the King of Dancers. Shiva's cosmic dance is believed to encompass creation, preservation, and destruction and this idea has been embedded in Hindu thought and ritual since the dawn of civilisation. He holds a small drum (damaru) in his upper right hand. His lower right hand shows the fear-negating gesture (abhaya), his upper left hand is in half-moon pose (ardhachandramudra) which holds a tongue of flame which is the fire(agni) that finally destroys the world and is then quenched in cosmic waters. Thus the hand holding the drum and the one holding fire balance the forces of creation and destruction. The second left arm is held gracefully across the chest (gajahastamudra) with the hand pointing to the uplifted foot, denoting favour or grace for the devotee. One foot rests on Apasmara or Mauyalka, the embodiment of human cruelty and ignorance. Surrounding Shiva’s figure and emanating from him is an immense aureole of flames (prabhamandala) representing the vital processes of nature, sustained by the tremendous energy of the dancing God within. The flames represent the transcendental power of wisdom and truth, as well as the mantra ‘Om’ which signifies the totality of creation. Also known as the Ananda Tandava, this dance is a metaphor for the belief that life is essentially a dynamic balancing of good and bad, where opposites are interdependent. The dance of Shivais the dance of life.

dances tour of indiaIndian dance is a blend of nritta - the rhythmic elements, nritya - the combination of rhythm with expression and natya - the dramatic element. Nritta is the rhythmic movement of the body in dance, pure dance. It does not express any emotion. Nritya is usually expressed through the eyes, hands and facial movements. Nritya combined with nritta makes up the usual dance programmes. Nritya comprises abhinaya, depicting rasa (sentiment) and bhava (mood).To appreciate natya or dance drama, one has tounderstand and appreciate Indian legends. Most Indian dances take their themes from India's rich mythology and folk legends. Hindu gods and goddesses like Vishnu and Lakshmi, Rama and Sita, Krishna and Radha are all depicted in classical Indian dances. Each dance form also draws inspiration from stories depicting the life, ethics and beliefs of the Indian people.

The fascination for Indian dance all over the world is indicative of the deep-felt need to use the human body to express and celebrate the great universal truths. Indian dance does just that in a heightened, reverential form. Also, since dance is physical and visual, it illuminates India's culture in a direct manner, playing on the sensibilities of the onlooker. Thus, those who are attracted to India will find the idiom of dance the best introduction to India's rich ethos and traditions.


Dancing for God

classical dances of indiaThe earliest historical illustration of Nataraja preaching Natyagama in its pure form originates in the Chalukyan sanctuaries of Badami and Aihole in the mid 6th century A.D. The temple rituals necessitated the physical presence of women replacing the imaginative celestials, propitiating the Gods. The allegorical view of dance used for the purpose of the pleasure of devas, transformed into a divine service in the medieval temple traditions. As a result temples vied with one another in having the best dancers and musicians in their services. Thus temple dancing was institutionalised and the dancing girls were patronised by the kings and mahajans and were often respectfully mentioned in many inscriptions of temples built in the medieval age. The famous temple of Belur has several epithets glorifying the Hoysala queen Shantala as Natya Saraswati, Vichitra Suthradhare etc.

The dancing girls of the temples were called devadasis and the temple activity was considered as a means of dedication. In the times of Vijayanagar the entire South India and parts of Orissa came under one rule and by this time the bhakti movement had lost its essence and the temples were the place of grandeur and celebration of events, the dancing girls were more exhibitionistic in their presentation.

The temples of Khajuraho, Bhubaneswar and Puri echoed with the lyrics of poet Jayadeva. The devadasi system in these temples was a living tradition till recently. Later due to factors like economic constraints, tantric practices and free sex enjoyed by the siddhas, jangamas, charanas, patrons and priests, these dancers in the temples were victimised to become public women and they were completely equated with prostitutes. The term devadasi which was used in the divine sense was replaced by the term Bhogastree and dance and music were used as a means of attracting clients.

The British government in India in order to uplift the women, their emancipation in education and to protect them from social evils abolished the devadasi system. The present Bharatanatyam style finds its substance from the Dassiattam of colonial times. If at all we regard Indian dance as the spectacular contribution to human endeavour we should recall today with great reverence the entire class of devadasis who were the repository of delivering the tradition in most difficult situations from vedic to colonial times.

Classical Dances of INDIA

India offers a number of classical dance forms, each of which can be traced to different parts of the country. Each form represents the culture and
ethos of a particular region or a group of people. The most famous classical forms are BHARATANATYAM of Tamilnad, KATHAKAL Iand MOHINIYATTAM of Kerala, ODISSIof Orissa, KATHAK of Uttarpradesh, KUCHIPUDI of Andhrapradesh and MANIPURI of Manipur. Apart from these classical dance forms, India is particularly rich in folk idioms. Each area has its own special varieties, be they martial, seasonal, ritual, sacrificial or celebratory. It can vary from village to village but they all share a common heritage of myths and symbols. "Folk" in our practice today indicates community and expressions that are spontaneous. The expression is total. There is little difference between verbal and non verbal communication systems and techniques. Their expressions reflect their geographical postponing and their relationship to nature. They may be spontaneous expressions, innocent and done for no commercial gain. The common root of all classical dance forms can be traced to Bharatha's NATYASASTRA. It is a common text for all the Indian dance forms. It contains the different kinds of postures, the mudras or hand movements each depicting a particular meaning, and about the construction of stage , makeup and about orchestra. All dance forms are thus structured around the nine rasas or emotions. hasya (happiness),  krodha (anger),  bhibatsa (disgust), bhaya (fear),  viram (courage),  karuna (compassion),  adbhuta (wonder) and shanta (serenity).
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