Dance and music are an integral part of Indian life. The Natya Shastra, written by Baratha between 2 B.C. and 2 A.D., is the source for all forms of Indian classical dance. It is regarded as the fifth Veda.
Bharatnatyam is one of the most popular dances of India. It is believed that Brahma, the supreme Creator, created Natya by taking literature from the Rig Veda, songs from the Sama Veda, abhinaya or expression from the Yajur Veda and rasa or aesthetic experience from the Arthava Veda. Natya speaks in great detail of the different kinds of postures, facial expressions, mudra or hand expressions, including the attire and ornaments to be used. All the dance forms are structured around the nine rasas or emotions. They are hasya (happiness), shoka (sorrow), krodha (anger), karuna (compassion), bhibasta (disgust), adhbhuta (wonder) bhaya (fear), vikram (courage) and shanta (serenity). The uniqueness of Indian classical dances, is that they are all devotional in content. In fact Bharata Natyam one of the most important traditional Indian dances was till the early 20th century, only performed by `devadasis or maids of God`, in temples. Almost every village has its own folk dance, which is performed by the village folk itself. These are performed on festivals, ceremonies, special occasions, etc. All night dance dramas are popular throughout India and mark all the major festivals. This dance is the oldest of the Indian classical dance forms, and its origin can be traced to Bharatha`s Natya Shastra. It is a very traditional and stylized dance form. Strict about the techniques used in performing, it disallows any kind of innovations except in the repertoire forms of presentation. It developed in South India, in its present form, two hundred years ago. The musicians of the Tanjore court of the 18th and 19th centuries, lent the thematic as well as musical content to the dance. It is essentially a solo dance and has close affinities with the traditional dance-drama form called Bhagvat Mela performed only by men, and folk operettas called Kuruvanji performed only by women.
Another form of traditional Indian dances is Kathakali, which marks its origin in the courts of the kings of Kerala. It is one of the most refined and most scientific dance forms of Kerala. Its present form is not more than 300 years old. This art demands complete control over every part of the body. Kathakali draws heavily from drama, utilising elaborate masks and costumes. The stories or attakathas, which are depicted via Kathakali are selected from epics and mythologies. These are written in a highly Sanskritised verse form in Malayalam. Here, the dancer expresses himself through highly complicated mudras, closely following the text being sung. The splendour of the costumes, ornaments and especially the facial make-up are absolutely striking.
Kuchipudi is one of fascinating Indian classical dances, performed in Andhra Pradesh, which originates from Kuchelapuram in Andhra Pradesh, is the corresponding style of the Bhagvata Mela Nataka of Tamil Nadu. Except that the emphasis is on the animation, the grammar is derived from the Natya Shastra. Each principal character in Kuchipudi dance introduces himself or herself on the stage with a brief composition of dance and song, specially designed for the character to help reveal his or her identity and show the performers` skill in the art. These compositions are called dharu, and there are nearly 80 dharus or dance sequences in the dance drama. The most popular dance is the pot dance, where the dancer keeps a pot on her head and on the rims of a steel plate places her feet. She moves on the stage manipulating the brass plate without spilling a drop of water on the ground. The music in Kuchipudi is classical Karnatic. The mridanga, violin and clarinet are the common instruments employed as an accompaniment.
This form like other traditional Indian dances too belongs to the Devadasi dance heritage, like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi. The word `mohini` literally means the `maiden who steals the hearts of men`. It is believed that Lord Vishnu took the guise of a `Mohini` to enthrall people, during the churning of the ocean as well as the slaying of Bhasmasura. Thus, the Vaishnava devotees gave the name `Mohiniyattam` to this dance form. It is a solo dance which is similar to Bharatanatyam, its movements are graceful like Odissi and the costumes are attractive but sober. The first reference of solo dance is found in the `Vyavaharamala`, composed in the 16th Century. The dance is very popular in Kerala.
The origin of this can be traced to the rural areas of Karnataka. This form of traditional Indian Dances is about 400 years old and is a blend of dance as well as drama. The language used for the `Gana` meaning `music` is Kannada and the themes are based on Hindu epics. The costumes are almost akin to the Kathakali dance costumes and the style too seems to have drawn inspiration from it. As prescribed in the Natya Shastra, it has the Sutra Dhara (conductor) and the Vidhushaka (the jester).
This is also based on the Natya Sashtra and it can be traced back to the 2 B.C. when the Jain king Shastra ruled. He himself was an expert dancer and musician, who arranged a performance of Thandava and Abhinaya. In the 17th century a class of boys known as the Gotipuas came into being. They dressed as women and danced in the temples. The present Odissi as a solo form, evolved out of all these. Its technique is built round a basic motif in which the human body takes the thrice deflected (tribhanga) position of Indian sculpture. The dances are performed to poetry ranging from invocations of Ganesha to the verses of the Gita Govinda. The dancer has scope to improve within the beats, the framework in the dance patterns and the freedom to interpret the poetic line in a variety of ways to evoke a single mood.
Kathak, the beautiful form of Indian classical dances finds its roots in `katha` meaning 'story'. A band of storytellers attached to temples in Northern India, narrated stories from epics. Later they added mime and gesture to their recitation. The popularity of the Radha-Krishna legend, led to further innovations in the dance form. With the advent of the Muslim rule, it was brought out of the temples and in to the courts of the rulers. Since then it has been commonly identified with the court traditions of the later Nawabs of northern India. It is really an amalgam of several folk traditions, the traditional dance drama forms prevalent in the temples of Mathura and Vrindavan known as Krishna and Radha - Lila. Jaipur, Benaras and Lucknow became the main centers of the dance. While Benaras maintained the purity of the dance, Jaipur gave emphasis to rhythm and Lucknow introduced erotic steps. The Kathak dance goes through a regular format, mostly concentrating on rhythm,its variation being - Tatkar, Paltas, Thoras, Amad and Parans.
Popular dances of India also include the Manipuri dance. This dance form of Manipur and is inextricably woven into the life of the people of the state. The dance form is mostly ritualistic, which draws heavily from the rich lore of the legend and mythology. The dances known as the rasa dances evolved only as a result of the interaction of the Vaishnava cult and several highly developed forms of ritual and religious dances which were prevalent in the area, in the 18th century. The costumes used in this dance are colourful and bright, and the music is slow as well as rhythmic. The numbers presented are Lai Haraoba and Rasa Leela. The former deals with the creation of the world and the latter deals with the intimacy between Krishna and his consort - Radha. A large variety of intricate rhythmic patterns are played on the drums and cymbals.
Indian Dances - Region Wise
Tamil Nadu Dances
Jammu And Kashmir Dances
Madhya Pradesh Dances
Andhra Pradesh Dance
West Bengal Dances
Andaman And Nicobar Dances