Traditional Forms of Dance
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. The famous traditional classical dances of India have captured the imagination of the spectators with their graceful charm. The colourful attire with dazzling ornaments add more colour to the classical dance performance in India. 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 dance, is that they are all devotional in content.
Bharat Natyam is the oldest dance of the classical forms originated from Bharatha’s Natya Shastra which finds its roots in the southern state of Tamilnadu. It is a very traditional and stylized dance form. The dance form has been named after Bharata Muni, the author of the Natya Shastra (ancient treatise on classical Indian dance). The word Bharatanatyam is composed of three terms, Bha meaning Bhava or abhinaya (expression), Ra meaning raga (melody) and Ta meaning tala (rhythm). In other words, dance form is a communion of expression, melody and rhythm. In the early 20th century, it was performed only by ‘ devadasis or maids of Gods’, in temples. Almost every village has its own folk dance, which is performed by the village folk themselves. These are performed on festivals, ceremonies, special occasions, etc. Bharat Natyam is a dance which is strict about the techniques in performance and does not allows any kind of innovations except in the repertoire forms of presentation. Bharat Natyam was 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 operattas called Kuruvanji performed only by women.
Kathakali has 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, utilizing 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 Sankritised verse form in Malayalam. Here, the dancer express 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. Kathakali is performed only by men and if the script requires females characters, their roles are also performed by men dressed in the female attires. A Kathakali performance is a major social event if organized in a community. It is attended by almost everyone in that community and goes on till the wee hours of night.
Kuchipudi is a classical dance that has its origin in Andhra Pradesh. The name ‘Kuchipudi’ is acquired from the name of a small village of Kuchelapuram near Vijayawada in Andhrapradesh, India. It has the corresponding style of the Bhagvata Mela Nataka of Tamilnadu. 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 performer’s 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 dance form too belongs to the Devdasi 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.