What are some famous Indian classical dances

Classic Indian dance

Classical Indian dance, one of the most highly developed art forms in Indian culture, is an ancient and complex art form with roots stretching back several millennia. In India, classical dance has a religious origin. In Hindu mythology it is a sacred act that is older than the earth itself and represents a form of communication with the gods. Accordingly, Shiva, the god of creation and destruction, is said to have destroyed and re-created the world with his dance. The dance mainly originated in the temples and was danced by the Devadasis (temple dancers), who linked it with mythological, philosophical and spiritual views of Hindu culture. Dance has long since moved from the temples to the secular stages. Nevertheless, its religious character can hardly be denied. Even for the most prominent dancers, the dance remains a kind of divine service and every performance begins with devotion to the gods.

1. The eight Indian dance styles // 2. Devadasis - the history of classical Indian dance //
3. Natyashastra - Basics of Classical Indian Dance // 4. Literature

1. The eight Indian dance styles

Eight classical Indian dance styles have developed in India: Bharatanatyam (Tamil Nadu), Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), Kathak (north), Odissi (Orissa), Manipuri (north-east), Sattriya (north-east), Kathakali (Kerala) and Mohiniyattam (Kerala). The huge geographical area of ​​India is characterized by an enormous variety of landscapes, peoples, cultures and languages. This is reflected in various forms of art and dance. Thus, classical Indian dances have their origin in locally widespread folk art forms that were influenced by social, political, religious influences and behavioral patterns of the people of the region. The classical dance forms have taken on these characteristics and characteristics and developed their own clear characteristics from them. Although the respective dance styles have their unmistakable technique and presentation, they always follow the basic rules and guidelines of Natyashastra. In addition to the classical dances, there are countless folk dances to this day, including ballroom dances for festivities such as weddings, dances for work, for women or men.

2. Devadasis - The history of classical Indian dance

Almost all classical Indian dance styles, such as the Bharatanatyam, the Odissi, the Manipuri and the Mohiniyattam have their origins in the temple dance and thus the tradition of the Devadasis. Numerous statues at the temples and historical reports attest to this. Local rulers served as patrons and supporters of the respective temple, which was the focus of community life. The temples praised and thanked the gods with carefully thought out and elaborate rituals in the form of chants and dances. In this respect, it was first the local temples that supported and promoted the art form of dance. Selected dancers, the so-called Devadasis (Deva = God, Dasi = servant), were dedicated to the gods by symbolically wedging them to the respective god of the temple at the age of six. On the one hand, they were no longer allowed to marry a human being, on the other hand, as the wife of an immortal god, they could never become widows. Devadasis were respected women who enjoyed high status in society. They lived in their own districts that belonged to the temple or the king and later formed their own caste. As "servants of the gods" they had many tasks to perform: for example, arranging flowers, dressing and undressing statues of gods or reciting prayers were among their tasks. They danced at daily rituals and ceremonies and on the occasion of major temple festivals. After that, their special training began with the brahmins in the temple. The six-year training included 64 arts, including singing, rhythm teaching and of course dance. With the arrival of foreign immigrants in the 16th century, the power of the royal courts and local patrons waned. The temples lost the support of their local rulers. In this context, the arts were prevented from performing and developing and thus devalued.

With the onset of British colonial power and the introduction of British law and Victorian values, traditional dance was neglected, even frowned upon, and the practice of Devadasis should be banned by law. As a result, the arts, which had developed over centuries, were completely decimated by the beginning of the 20th century, and temples and their inhabitants were utterly impoverished. It was not until the first half of the 20th century, the time of the independence movement, that pioneers such as Rabindranath Tagore and other pioneering gurus, dancers and critics began to revive, redefine and secure the rich legacy of dance. These pioneers did a lot for the reputation of dance and laid the foundation for the enormous boom of the art form after India's independence in 1947. Since then there has been a steadily growing number of Indian dancers, dance teachers, students, ensembles and dance schools in India.

3. Natyashastra - basics of classical Indian dance

The gods needed entertainment. So they asked Brahma, the creator of the universe, to create something against their boredom. With the help of Saraswati, the goddess of art and learning, Brahma was able to gain the support of the wise Baratha Munis. He wrote the fifth book of the holy Vedas or Natyashastra, a master work on drama, dance and music. The gods were thrilled and could be entertained from now on. It was also an ideal way to embody and illustrate the gods on earth. Through the medium of dance and music, people were able to gain a better understanding of terms such as God and the devil, moral and immoral. Natyashastra is considered the basis of all eight classical Indian dances. Different scholars indicate different times of origin, which date from 300 BC. BC to AD 400 vary. On the one hand, this treatise lays down the rules of drama, consisting of speech, pantomime, dance and music, and defines the technical and aesthetic principles. On the other hand, there are precise instructions on the architecture and the design of the auditorium. In the section on facial expressions, the movements of the eyes, eyebrows, eyelids, lips, cheeks and chin are specified extremely precisely. The looks are already divided into 36 shapes, which are supported by seven ways to move the eyebrows. There is also a precise theoretical division into nritta, nritya and natya. Nritta is the technical aspect of dance and natya the expressive one. The combination of these is nritya, which relates to the gestural and dramatic representation. Nritya also includes abhinaya, which includes the famous hand gestures, the mudras, and their execution, the so-called hastas. The number of mudras is given in the Natyashastra as 64. With the help of this “wordless language”, both concrete things such as colors or animals, but also abstract concepts such as wish or future can be represented.

4. Literature

  • Vatsyayan, Kapila: Indian Classical Dance, New Dehli, 1992.
  • Khokar, Ashish Mohan: Classical Dance, New Dehli, 2004.
  • Vatsyayan, Kapila: Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, New Dehli, 1968.

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