Indian classical dances is a tapestry woven with threads of tradition, spirituality, and artistic brilliance. These dances are not just a form of entertainment; they are a reflection of India’s rich cultural heritage, expressing deep emotions, stories, and devotion. Rooted in ancient traditions and guided by sacred texts like the Natya Shastra, Indian classical dances can be divided into several distinctive forms, each with its unique style, history, and significance.
The Natya Shastra and the Eight Rasas
The foundation of Indian classical dances lies in the Natya Shastra, an ancient Sanskrit text dating back to 200 BCE – 200 CE. This monumental work classifies these dances into four main categories based on how sound is produced:
Tata Vadya or Chordophones – Stringed Instruments.
Sushira Vadya or Aerophones – Wind Instruments.
Avanaddha Vadya or Membranophones – Percussion Instruments.
Ghana Vadya or Idiophones – Solid Instruments that do not require tuning.
The Natya Shastra also introduces the concept of the Eight Rasas, the ultimate emotional experiences conveyed through these dances. These Rasas are:
- Shringar (Love)
- Hasya (Humor)
- Karuna (Sorrow)
- Raudra (Anger)
- Veer (Heroism)
- Bhayanak (Fear)
- Bibhats (Disgust)
- Adbhoot (Wonder)
In later times, Abhinav Gupta added a ninth Rasa, Shanta (Peace), to this list.
Nine Classical Dance Forms
Indian classical dances are distinguished by their technicality and adherence to strict rules, as outlined in texts like Acharya Nandikeshawara’s ‘Abhinaya Darpan’ and Sharangdev’s ‘Sangeetha Ratnakar.’ The Ministry of Culture, Government of India recognizes nine classical dance forms.
Bharatanatyam, often referred to as ‘Sadir,’ originated in South India and is one of the oldest classical dance forms, dating back around 2000 years. It encompasses Bhav (emotion), Rag (musical notes), Ras (aesthetic experience), and Taal (rhythm). Bharatanatyam follows the conventions of the Natya Shastra and is characterized by its expressive hand gestures and intricate footwork.
Originating in North India, Kathak is known for its graceful footwork, spins, and storytelling. It often revolves around themes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Krishna’s tales. Kathak’s spectacular footwork and rhythmic patterns set it apart from other dance forms.
Odissi, from the state of Odisha, is a dance form that combines Lasya and Tandav elements. It gracefully depicts stories from poet Jayadev’s work and uses fluid movements to create the illusion of waves. The dance costume includes traditional materials from Odisha and elaborate jewelry.
Originating in Andhra Pradesh, Kuchipudi is a dance-drama style that blends elements of Bharatanatyam and Odissi. It is known for its Tarangam, where dancers balance on the edges of brass plates, and its storytelling aspect.
Kathakali, from Kerala, is a vibrant dance-drama with elaborate costumes, makeup, and face masks. It primarily depicts stories from Hindu mythology and involves intricate facial expressions and powerful movements.
Hailing from Kerala, Mohiniattam is characterized by soft, gentle movements and expressive hand gestures. It often tells stories of Radha and Krishna and is performed by women in traditional white costumes.
Sattriya, from Assam, is deeply rooted in Vaishnavism and was traditionally performed in monasteries. It features themes from Hindu epics and showcases both masculine and feminine styles.
Chhau, a blend of folk, tribal, and martial arts, is known for its vibrant costumes and masks. It draws inspiration from various regions and includes themes from Hindu deities.
|Forms of Chhau||Features|
|Seraikella Chhau:||Origin: Seraikella Kharsawan District of Jharkhand.Prominent Information: Patronized by local administrators skilled in dance and mask making. It is a martial dance form performed exclusively by men.Mask Usage: Yes, symbolic masks are used.Description of Masks: These masks come in three types – those representing human or mythological characters, those depicting animals and birds, and those symbolizing ideas and seasons like Basanta.|
|Mayurbhanj Chhau:||Origin: Mayurbhanj District of Odisha.Prominent Information: Mayurbhanj Chhau encompasses tribal, martial, folk, local, classical, and traditional art forms. It doesn’t use specific vocal music. Technically, it is similar to Seraikella Chhau but without masks.Mask Usage: No masks are used.|
|Purulia Chhau:||Origin: Purulia District of West Bengal.Prominent Information: Purulia Chhau conveys a single message – the triumph of good over evil. It is stylized, acrobatic, and features impressive spins.Mask Usage: Yes, masks are used, representing characters from Hindu mythology. These masks often include large headgears.|
Manipuri, from Manipur, combines elements of Indian and South-East Asian culture. It is known for its soft, graceful movements and themes related to Vaishnavism.
Indian classical dances serve as a bridge between the past and the present, conveying stories, emotions, and spirituality through the language of movement, rhythm, and expression. As these dance forms continue to evolve and adapt to the modern world, they remain a source of pride and inspiration for generations to come.
FAQs on Classical Dance
Q: What is classical dance?
A: Classical dance is a traditional form of artistic expression that has its roots in ancient cultures. It is characterized by a highly stylized and disciplined approach to movement, often with a strong emphasis on storytelling, symbolism, and intricate choreography. Different cultures around the world have their own forms of classical dance, each with its unique techniques, gestures, and cultural significance.
Q: What are the key features of classical dance?
A: Classical dance is known for its emphasis on precise and intricate movements, along with a strong connection to music and rhythm. Dancers often follow specific hand gestures, facial expressions, and body postures to convey stories or themes. The formality and structure of classical dance distinguish it from more contemporary and improvised dance styles.
Q: How many types of classical dance are there?
A: There are several types of classical dance, each originating from distinct cultural traditions. Some well-known examples include Bharatanatyam and Kathak from India, Ballet from Western Europe, Odissi and Kathakali from India, and traditional Chinese classical dance. Each form has its own set of techniques, costumes, and cultural narratives.
Q: What is the significance of classical dance in preserving cultural heritage?
A: Classical dance plays a crucial role in preserving cultural heritage by passing down traditional stories, values, and artistic expressions from one generation to the next. Through intricate movements and symbolic gestures, classical dance serves as a visual representation of a culture’s history, mythology, and social customs.
Q: Can anyone learn classical dance, or is it reserved for specific groups?
A: Classical dance is open to anyone interested in learning and appreciating its artistry. While some forms of classical dance may have cultural or religious roots, many dance schools and instructors welcome students from diverse backgrounds. It’s important to find a qualified teacher who can guide you through the techniques and cultural nuances of the specific classical dance style you wish to learn.
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