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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 the text called ‘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 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.


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