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All about Classical Dance Of India

The term 'Indian classical dance' or 'Shastriya Devesh' refers to a range of performance arts that have their roots in religious Hindu......


  • The term ‘Indian classical dance’ or ‘Shastriya Devesh’ refers to a range of performance arts that have their roots in religious Hindu musical theatre styles, and we can trace their theory and practice back to the Sanskrit text Natya Shastra.
  • The Sangeet Natak Academy recognizes eight Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakali, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam. Additionally, the Indian Ministry of Culture includes Chhau in its classical list.
Dance FormsStateKey Features
BHARATANATYAMTamil Nadu··         National dance of India
o    Originally known as Sadiraattam or Thevarattam
o    noted in the ancient Tamil epic Silappatikaram
o    oldest classical dance form of all dance forms
o    derives its name from Bharatamuni and Natyam
o    origin of this dance is traced to the solo dance performance of Devadasis (Temple’s dancers)
o    described as ekaharya in which one dancer depicts many roles. Siva as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance is depicted in various dance forms.
o    includes nrita (pure dance), nritya (solo expressive dance) and natya (group dramatic dance)
o    leans heavily on the abhinaya or mime aspect of dance – the nritya, where the dancer expresses the sahitya through movement and mime (gestures and facial expression)
o    The person who conducts the dance recitation is the Nattuvanar.
o    Practiced by male and female dancers
o    Thanjavur, Brihadeshwara temple dedicated to Shiva has been a major center 
o    Follows a seven-part order of presentation: Alarippu- Jatiswaram- Shabdam- Varnam- Padam-Tillana- Shlokam or a Mangalam
o    Rukmini Devi Arundale, Mallika Sarabhai, Yamini Krishnamurthy
KATHAKUttar Pradesho    evolved during the Bhakti movement
o    Derives its name from the ‘ Kathika’ or storyteller who recites verses from the epics with music and gestures.
o    Found in three distinct forms, called “gharanas”, named after the cities where the Kathak dance tradition evolved – Jaipur, Banaras and Lucknow.
o    The Lucknow tradition of Kathak dance attributes the style to a Bhakti movement
o    Combination of music, dance and narrative
o    The costumes vary among Kathak performers, and find their sources in either Hindu or Muslim culture
o    ensemble of musical instruments vary ranging from two to twelve & most common instruments that go with Kathak are tabla
o    During the Mughal times, it was influenced by Islamic features, especially in costume and dancing style.
o    Later in the twentieth century, Lady Leela Sokhey revived the classical style of Kathak.
o    It is commonly identified with the court tradition in North India.
o    In the technique, Kathak follows Vertical lines with no breaks and deflection. Footwork is very important in training of dancers.
o    Only form of classical dance wedded to Hindustani or the North Indian music.
o    It consists of different kharanas like Lucknow, Jaipur, Raigarh, and Banaras.
o    Jugalbandi is one of the main features of Kathak recital. It shows a competitive play between dancer and tabla player.
o    Gatbhaar is the dance without music or chanting. Mythological episodes are outlined by this.
o    Kathak is accompanied by dhrupad music. During the Mughal period, Taranas, Thumris, and Gazals were introduced.
o    Lachha Maharaj, Shambu Maharaj and Pandit Birju Maharaj etc are the main proponents of Kathak.
o    Kathak expressions – particularly in Hindu devotional styles – are more introverted and withdrawn, while Bharatanatyam is more extroverted and expansive.
o    Kathak is normally performed in a standing form with legs and torso typically straight, while Bharatanatyam extensively utilizes bent knee form (ara mandi, half sitting position that is somewhat similar to Demi Plié ballet move).
o    Kathak is also different from Kathakali which is distinctive in its elaborate codified colorful makeup, masks and costumes.
KATHAKALIKeralao    a “story play” genre of art, but one distinguished by the elaborately colorful make-up, costumes and face masks that the traditionally male actor-dancers wear
o    a dance-drama where the actor does not speak their lines
o    performed in open air theatre or in temple premises
o    a Hindu performance art in the Malayalam-speaking southwestern region of Kerala
o    synthesizes music, vocal performers, choreography and hand and facial gestures together to express ideas.
o    incorporates movements from ancient Indian martial arts and athletic traditions of South India
o    depicts the eternal conflict between God and Evil
o    Reddening white portion of the eye is a peculiar feature
o    the structure and details of its art form developed in the courts and theatres of Hindu principalities, unlike other classical Indian dances which primarily developed in Hindu temples and monastic schools.
o    Kathakali follows the Hastha Lakshanadeepika most closely, unlike other classical dances
o    Thodayam and Purappadu performances, which are preliminary ‘pure’ (abstract) dances
o    Some major musical patterns-Chempada, Adantha, Muri Adantha
o    Kathakalī has lineages or distinctive schools of play interpretation and dance performance called Sampradayam
o    The Kidangoor style is one of the two, that developed in Travancore, and it is strongly influenced by Kutiyattam
o    Kabuki, another Japanese art form, has similarities to Kathakali
o    The Kalluvazhi style is second of the two, which developed in Palakkad (Olappamanna Mana) in central Kerala, and it is a synthesis of the older Kaplingadan and Kalladikkotan performance arts
o    traditional themes of the Kathakalī are folk mythologies, religious legends and spiritual ideas from the Hindu epics and the Puranas
o    modern compositions, Indian Kathakali troupes have included women artistes, and adapted Western stories and plays such as those by Shakespeare
o    Chakiarkoothu, Koodiyattam, Krishnattam and Ramanattam are few of the ritual performing arts of Kerala which have had a direct influence on Kathakali in its form and technique.
o    Guru Kunchu Kurup, Gopi Nath, Rita Ganguli etc. are the famous proponents
KUCHIPUDIAndhra Pradesho    originated in a village named Kuchipudi
o    The advent of Bhagavatism made the dance a monopoly of male brahmins and began to be performed at the temple.
o    The recital is based on Bhagavata Purana but has a secular theme and dancers came to be known as Bhagathalus.
o    It was known under the generic name of Yakshagaana.
o    Kuchipudi became prominent under the patronage of Vijayanagara and Golconda rulers.
o    Kuchipudi consists of divisions such as Adavus, Jatis, Jatiswara, Tirmanas, and Thillanas.
o    The dance also expresses through Padas, Varnas, Shabdas, and slokas.
o    These features are also found in Bharatnatyam also.
o    Kavutvams are a feature of the performance that is distinctive to Kuchipudi. 
o    Lasya and tandava elements are important in kuchipudi dance form.
o    It is performed as dance drama i.e. performance in groups and also as solo items.
o    The court records of the Vijayanagara Empire – known for its patronage of the arts – indicate that drama-dance troupes of Bhagavatas from Kuchipudi village performed at the royal court
o    Costumes, ornaments and jewellery occupy an important place.
o    The dance style is a manifestation of earthly elements in the human body.
o    The dancer may undertake the role of the singer
o    The singer is accompanied by mridangam (a classical South Indian percussion instrument), violin, flute and tambura.
o    The music of dance is Carnatic.
o    Lakshmi Narayana Shastri bought renown to Kuchipudi dance form.
o    Dance-songs (kritis) of Thyagaraja
o    Popular dance-drama is Bhama Kalapam of Sidhyendra Yogi
ODISSIOdishao    originated in the Hindu temples of Odisha – an eastern coastal state
o    was performed predominantly by women, and expressed religious stories and spiritual ideas, particularly of Vaishnavism (Vishnu as Jagannath)
o    also expressed ideas of other traditions such as those related to Hindu gods Shiva and Surya, as well as Hindu goddesses (Shaktism).
o    theoretical foundations of Odissi trace to the ancient Sanskrit text Natya Shastra
o    traditionally a dance-drama genre of performance art, where the artist(s) and musicians play out a mythical story, a spiritual message or devotional poem from the Hindu texts
o    three bent form of dance called Tribangha posture is an important feature
o    Mudras and postures for expressing emotions are similar to that of Bharatanatyam.
o    Accompanied by both northern Indian (Hindustani) and southern Indian (Carnatic) music, though mainly, recitals are in Odia and Sanskrit language in the Odissi Music tradition
o    The basic unit of Odissi are called bhangas.
o    The primary Odissi ragas are Kalyana, Nata, Shree Gowda, Baradi, Panchama, Dhanashri, Karnata, Bhairavee and Shokabaradi.
– The Odissi tradition existed in three schools:
– Maharis were Oriya devadasis or temple girls
– Gotipuas were boys dressed up as girls and taught the dance by the Maharis
– Nartaki dance took place in the royal courts.
– Noted Odissi exponents are: Kelucharan Mohapatra, Gangadhar Pradhan, Pankaj Charan Das, Deba Prasad Das and Raghunath Dutta, Sonal Mansingh
SATTRIYAAssamo    Dance-drama performance art with origins in the Krishna centered Vaishnavism monasteries of Assam
o    Attributed to the 15th century Bhakti movement scholar and saint Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev
o    One-act plays of Sattriya are called Ankiya Nat, which combine the aesthetic and the religious through a ballad, dance and drama
o    performed in the dance community halls (namghar) of monastery temples (sattras).
o    themes played are related to Lord Krishna, sometimes other Vishnu avatars such as Rama and Sita and stories from epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana
o    Sattriya derives its name from the Vaishnava Monastries Known as Sattras.
o    governed by strictly laid down principles in respect of hastamudras, footworks, aharyas, music etc.
o    Consists of dhemali, drum playing, known as gayan bayan, where several men play drums, in various talas and also use hand gestures.
o    Natya Shastra, Abhinaya Darpana, and Shakaradeva’s Sangit Ratnakara
o    The Mati Akharas are the basic exercise and grammar of Sattriya Dance
o    It focuses more on the devotional aspect of dance, It narrates the mythological stories of Vishnu.
o    The dance form is performed in a group by male monks known as Bhokots as part of their daily rituals.
o    Accompanied by musical compositions called borgeets
o    Khol and Flute are the main instruments played in Sattriya dance.
o    Rhythmic syllables and dance postures along with footwork has given greater emphasis in Sattriya dance. Traditional Assamese jewellery is used.
o    Key musical instrument that accompanies a Sattriya performance are khols played with fingers
o    It combines the elements of Lasya and Tandava.
o    There is a strict guideline laid down for the hand gestures and footwork
o    Corpus of Sattriya dances thus consist of ankiya bhaona, dance-dramas in Brajabuli which is understood by common people.
o    They also consist of Ojapali dances in which the main singer sings and enacts abhinaya, telling stories and a group of dancers dance as back up dancers playing small cymbals.
MANIPURIManipuro    also known as Jagoi
o    encompasses both classical and folk-dance forms.
o    attributed to regional deities such as Umang Lai and performed during Lai Haraoba, and also the dances of the different tribal communities
o    classical Manipuri Raas Leela is one of the major Indian classical dance forms
o    dance form is based on Hindu Vaishnavism themes, and exquisite performances of love-inspired dance drama of Radha-Krishna called Raas Leela
o    Manipuri emphasis on devotion. It incorporates both Tandava and Lasya in which more emphasis is given to Lasya.
o    The body connected through curves in the shape of ‘8’ called Nagabhanda Mudra is an important feature of this dance form.
o    Drums, flute, horns, esraj, tamboura, cymbals, and mridang are some of the important instruments used in Manipuri dance.
o    Manipur dance has a large repertoire; however, the most popular forms are the Ras, the Sankirtana and the Thang-Ta.
o    The Kirtan form of congregational singing accompanies the dance which is known as Sankirtana in Manipur. The male dancers play the Pung and Kartal while dancing.
o    Generally known for its lyrical and graceful movements, Manipuri dance has an elusive quality. 
o    Manipuri abhinaya does not play up the mukhabhinaya very much – the facial expressions are natural and not exaggerated –sarvangabhinaya, or the use of the whole body to convey a certain rasa, is its forte.
o    Chali or Chari is the basic dance movement in Manipuri Raas dances.
MOHINIYATTAMKeralao    the celestial enchantress of the Hindu mythology, is the classical solo dance form
o    it follows the Lasya style described in Natya Shastra, that is a dance which is delicate, eros-filled and feminine
o    includes music in the Carnatic style, singing and acting a play through the dance, where the recitation may be either by a separate vocalist or the dancer herself.
o    The song is typically in Malayalam-Sanskrit hybrid called Manipravalam
o    The dancers were called by different names during different periods of time.
o    They were called as TaiNangai or Nangachi (one with beautiful hand), Dasi (servant), Tevitichi or Deva-Adi-Achi (the one who served at the feet of the Lord), Koothachi (who performed koothu or dance).
o    Their dances were known as ‘Nangai Natakam, Dasiyattam, Tevitichiyattam, etc. 
o    The Nangiars, who are the women folk of Nambiar community, still follow a strict code of dance, performed in a small performing space, within the temple precincts, as practised in the olden times.
o    Mohiniyattam is characterized by graceful, swaying body movements with no abrupt jerks or sudden leaps.
o    The hand gestures, 24 in number, are mainly adopted from Hastalakshana Deepika, a text followed by Kathakali.
o    The basic dance units in Mohiniyattam are known as atavus or atavukal, and these are grouped into four: Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammisram.
o    The repertoire sequence of Mohiniyattam is similar to that of Bharatanatyam,
o    The musical instruments usually used in Mohiniyattam are Mridangam or Madhalam (barrel drum), Idakka (hour glass drum), flute, Veena, and Kuzhitalam (cymbals). 

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