Sunday, May 24, 2020

Origin of Dances in India

Dance is an ancient cultural tradition in India. The Indian art of dance is the expression of inner beauty and divine self. Being a classical dancer, I was always curious to know about the origin of Indian classical dance. When I looked into the history of Indian dance I found that the evidence of earliest dance related texts are found in ‘Natya Shastra’ which was written by Bharat Muni. The title ‘Natya Shastra’ consists of two words, ‘Natya’, which means to act or represent and ‘Shastra’, which refers to manual, book or treatise. ‘Natya Shastra’ is a Sanskrit text on performing arts. Its most studied version consists of 6000 poetic verses divided into 36 chapters describing performing art. The estimation of the composition date of ‘Natya Shastra’ varies between 500BCE to 500CE. Indian dance tradition has roots in the aesthetics of ‘Natya Shastra’.

India is a huge country with rich traditions and customs. Different forms of dance originated in different parts of India and developed according to the local traditions and cultures. Generally, Indian dance can be classified into two broad categories. They are folk dance and classical dance.

A folk dance is one whose traditions have been learnt and mostly passed down from one generation to the next generation through word of mouth and casual joint practice. It is a simple dance with minimum steps or movement and is usually performed by people to express joy and happiness. Folk dances are performed on different festivals or occasions. For example, a wedding, birth of a child, arrival of a new season, etc. Sometimes folk dance is exclusively performed by men or women while sometimes it is performed by men and women together. Each folk dance form has a specific costume with exclusive jewelry. Different states of India have different folk dances such as Dandia and Garba of Gujarat, Bihu and Ojapali of Assam, Fugdi and Dekhni of Goa, Chiraw of Mizoram, Lavni and Tamasha of Maharashtra, Bhangra and Giddha of Punjab, Ghumar and Gangaur of Rajasthan, etc. 

Indian classical dance has a deep rooted relationship with ‘Natya Shastra’. Its training, theory, means and rationale for expressive practice are documented and traceable to the ‘Natya Shastra’. According to ‘Natya Shastra’ the performance of a classical dancer is considered accomplished when it manages to evoke an emotion or ‘rasa’ among the audience by invoking a particular gesture or facial expression called ‘bhava’. Most classical dances enact stories from Hindu mythology and also represent the culture and ethos of a particular region. Indian classical dancers follow ‘guru-shishya parampara’ .The guru [teacher] - shishya [student]-parampara [tradition] rests on one simple principle : for a disciple, the guru is the last word on the subject of dance. This is the ancient traditional methodology used by guru to pass on their knowledge and experience through oral tradition to his or her shishya so that they could propagate it and pass it on to the next generation.

The national academy for performing arts in India called ‘Sangeet Natya Academy’ recognizes eight traditional dances as Indian classical dances. They are- Bharatanatyam from Tamil Nadu, Kathak from Uttar Pradesh, Kathakali from Kerala, Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh, Odissi from Odisha, Sattriya from Assam, Manipuri from Manipur, Mohiniyattam from Kerala.
So we can conclude that the main difference between Indian classical dance and Indian folk dance is that Indian classical dance is regulated by the rules and guidelines laid down in the ‘Natya Shastra’ where as Indian folk dance is not regulated by the ‘Natya Shastra’. On the other hand folk dance represents the local traditions and customs which are normally passed from one generation to the other.

Hope my quest for knowing more about the history of Indian dance enlightened you too.
Let’s dance and celebrate life.


Saturday, May 16, 2020

I am a passionate Indian classical dancer. My journey for learning dance started when I was only seven years old. I started learning dance as a hobby but as years passed my hobby turned into my passion for dancing. Now I am a trained Kathak dancer (Jaipur Gharana).

Dance gives me an immense pleasure. During this time of pandemic when most of the people are stressful, anxious, depressed and uncertain about future, I think dancing acts like a stress buster. Whenever I feel low and stressful, I start practising Kathak. It acts like a meditation for me with so much positive effect on body and mind. I feel so much energetic, happy, relaxed and confident. Being a passionate dancer, I was always curious to know about the origin of dance. If we think about the origin of dance and look into ancient time, we find that archaeological evidence for early dance are found in Egypt and India. 3300 BC Egyptian tomb paintings depicted dancing figures. In India, more than 9000 years old rock paintings at Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh also depicted dancing figures. Bhimbetka caves are also UNESCO World Heritage Site. Recently I got a chance to visit Bhimbetka caves. I was amazed to see the dancing figures in these Palaeolithic and Neolithic caves which is a clear evidence of the passion for dance in ancient human beings. 

Many contemporary dance forms can be traced back to historical, traditional, ceremonial and ethnic dance.Dance is a form of performing art which consists of purposefully selected sequences of human movements in a rhythmic way usually to music and within a given space. The purpose of dance could be anything like expressing an emotion or an idea, releasing energy or simply taking delight in that movement itself.  According to Joh Weaver (1721), “dancing is an elegant and regular movement harmoniously composed of beautiful attitudes and contrasted graceful posture of the body and parts thereof.”
Broadly dance can be divided into two categories- “theatrical dance” and “participatory dance” although these two categories are not always completely separated.
Theatrical dance is also called a concert or performance dance. It is often performed upon a stage by virtuous dancers. It often tells a story using mime, scenery, and costume. Sometimes it may simply interpret specially composed musical accompaniment. Classical dance, modern dance, Western Ballet, Chinese and Japanese song and dance dramas are some examples of theatrical dance.
Participatory dance is commonly undertaken for a common purpose, such as exercise or social interaction of participants rather than onlookers. Some of its examples are folk dance, a social dance, a group dance such as circle, chain or line dance, partner dance such as western ballroom dance etc.
Dance was always an important part of the oral and performance methods of passing stories down from one generation to next even before the invention of written language.
We can conclude that for many thousands of years across nations, culture and people dancing has been an integral part of human life as we shall discover in my next blogs.

Till then let’s dance and celebrate life.