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Sunday, July 18, 2010


Bharata natyam dancer Chitra Visweswaran. Phot...Image via Wikipedia

The exact origin of Indian dance is still uncertain. To analyze and summarize widely available data completely and to give a common opinion is not possible for researchers. It is found in all areas of Poetry, literature, paintings, sculptures and old relics.

There are beautiful descriptions of dance are found in Vedas. Lord Indra, Maruthi, Ashwani and angels were described in dancing. It has gained importance as social campaign and one of the important part of every livelihood.

Prince’s used to practice traditional dances. Lord Rama, Arjuna were experts in dance. Lord Krishna expertised dance.

Modern Indian traditional dances are Bharata natyam, Khatakali, Manipuri, Odissi, and Khattak. These are known to develop in the medieval age around 1300A.D and 1800A.D along with Kuchipudi. These dances represent one of the great asset of Indian tradition and culture.

In olden days

Bharata natyam is the oldest of all these. The word “Bharata” reveal its origin. Not only relating to dance, it is also related to literature, idols, historical and there is evidence for this. Approximately 2000 years old, to rebuild this dance is not possible easily. The evidence is in the form of idols of 5th century to 10th century. After 10th century this dance confined to south India and now is confined to Tamil nadu.

Kings of Cholas and Pallava were very fond of Bharata Natyam. With the help of idols and symbols of Sarangapani Temple in Kumbhakonam, four altars of Natraj Temple in Chidambaram, Kanchipuram temples we can understand the importance given to this dance by the rulers and kings of that time. In telugu, tamil and kannada literatures the descriptions of this dance became more popular and gave a vital evidence. Poets and music experts on south India gave immense contribution in development of this dance. They gave life to this dance by their music and lyrics.

Out of all traditional dances which are wide spread throughout India, Bharata Natyam is major dance in solo version. In olden days there were dancers in kings’ court as well as temples. The difference is court dancers used to praise the kings, on the other hand dancers of temple praised god.

In 17,18,19 centuries in Tanjore’s court Bharata Natyam developed into another version. The perfect shape of Sadir dance developed in their presence. In contributing to today’s form of Bharata Natyam, we owe the credit to four brothers of Tanjore court namely Chinnaya, Ponnaya, Vadi velu and Sivanandam. They worked in court of King Tula Raja and educated many of them in music and stage shows. Tula Raja wrote in Sanskrit about the divinity of dance and the perfect shape for this dance was given by these four brothers.

Bharata Natyam is particularly performed in two main aspects, moves and expressions. Every part of the body is involved. Face plays a major role here. There are different names to various poses are given accordingly depending on the body part involved. Movement involving ankles, thighs, fore hands, knees, hands, neck, head, eyes called as “ADAVU”. depending upon various families and traditions Adavu is classified into classes. Most of the part is family tradition and divided into 9 major groups and each group is again divided into many units.

When we see performance of Bharata Natyam, we will observe either it will be a solo performance or group dance. Presently most of them are solo performances only. Keeping the basis of old relics and revising periodically Bharata Natyam is moving forward in a healthy way and these changes are always invited. Now it is gaining more and more importance day by day.

Expanding process

There is perfect difference regarding dance style and dance-drama style between Bharata Natyam and Khattak. But in balanced Khatakali to create such boundaries is not easy coz this art is an expanding process and a mixture of various relations in drama.

Khatakali will be in dance-drama mode. The outfits will depict gods, evils, kings and rulers. Khatakali will take us into olden traditional days by their outfits. It originated from various arts of stage from south west India. Kerala was home place for many performing arts.

Outfits made of coconut leaves, facial paints and mesmerizing facial expressions are the key features of Khatakali. The individual performer is called as “THEYYAM”. The forms of Kuttu, Attam, Bhagavathi and Kaali are very famous in Kerala. Facial paints and masks on head for facial expressions are features of this art. It gained popularity in 17th century. With individual new themes, personal acting it is perpetuating itself. The temples in Kerala depict features of this art.

Walking style, movement of eyes in pace with hands and fingers and sudden avalanche of facial expression are the important parts to be learnt here. Since there will be huge masks on head facial expressions have so much of importance. There will be 24 prints in relation to movement of hands. Depending on the importance one print can be used with other. The language of hand is used as aid in expressing thousands of words, feelings, situations and languages. The tales of Hyndava Purana form the basis of Khatakali. Though there were many varieties of this art, in past 150-200 years it is confined to 6 types. Makeup is the key point in this dance. The role which the performer is playing should be depicted clearly for the audience. The paints are used according to the mood of the role. Depending on the requirement the use of beard is called as “THADI” and the masks on head called as “MUDI”. They vary according to the need.

Traditional dance

On the basis of researches made on old relics and literatures they say Odissi is the oldest mod of dance in India. The main evidence for this is Rani Gumpha Caves of 2nd century B.C. Irrespective of the dancing style, on the basis of positions of the idols and pictures of this cave it was established that this dance originated as an important art in east India. This art was previously known as “ODHAMGRATHA” which taught about dance of various regions. This art now emerged as Odissi. The caves in Udaygiri and Kandagiri of stone age form the first records.

Orissa is a place for many kingdoms. During 2nd century B.C. to 5th century A.D Buddhists, Jains, Shaiva’s and others have ruled it. The altars of Buddhists found in excavations done in present Ratnagiri and Lalithagiri showed that many dancing symbols bearing on them.

In a span of 300 years about 500 temples were built in Orissa. This depicts that the rulers of that time gave high importance in preserving the treasure of dance in the form of idols. The major temples to be noted here are Mukteshwara Temple, King-Queen Temple and Lingaraju Temple.

There were many dancers in King’s court as well as in temples. They mainly dedicate their dance to Lord Shiva or Lord Vishnu. There are surplus of poses in the temple of Konark of 13th century and they reflect the art of Odissi. The origin and methods of Odissi is found in book Abhinaya Chandrika. The movements of various body parts is written in Sangeetha Ratnaakara.

According to historical proofs the female dancers known as “Maharis” were know to dance inside and outside the temple. The first group is called as “Beethar gaanis” and the second group is called as “Bahar gaanis”. The male dancers known as “Gopi pas” were used to dance as females outside the temple and this tradition was continued upto 20th century.

During the festivals in Jagannath temple annually, many of them get chance to perform Odissi. During Dol yatra, Janmashtami, Ratha yatra there is importance to dance and music. There is practice of tribal dance in Orissa and it forms a major part of life in people of Orissa. Many of the rural people have expertised themselves in their relavant dances.

The present form of Odissi is a reconstruction of traditions from Maharis to Gotipav, Bandhan Ritya tradition, martial arts and Chauha tradition. The new reconstructed form is very young and originated in 1950’s.

Odissi follows the basic principles of dance exactly and as they are. There are three major parts of body in this dance-head, hip and buttocks. Similar to Bharata Natyam and Khatakali, Odissi also uses movements of hands. The initial move in Odissi is called as “KHANDI”. There are many changes in present form of Odissi. Tulasi Das gave many literatures regarding the acting part of Odissi.

Literature is important

Once it is called as the oldest of all traditional dances and once it is called as the youngest of them. The history of Manipuri dance is yet to be written. At the borders of east India there are beautiful mountain ranges. They attracted many people, in them the important group is ‘Nagas’ and the other group is ‘cookeys’. There is a description of these groups in Mahabharata. The present group of ‘Mythis’ are known for their beautiful livelihood, basket making, wood work and many skills. There is no comparison for their dancing skills. Their dance is called as Manipuri.

Mythis are divided into 7 types. Their festivals are unique. When they sow and reap their crops i.e. between April-may months they celebrate long festivals. Goddesses are settled in four directions and they give more importance to dance at this time.

After the emergence of Vyshnava tradition Manipuri gained much importance. As there are 16 stages in Hyndava tradition, in Manipuri for every stage of life there is a lullaby. Birthday, first education, marriage etc for every stage there is a lullaby and they form the basement of all Manipuri taraditions.

There are many traditions on Manipuri. It’s a mixture of passion. Many of them feel this is confined to females only but in Manipuri its not. The information is stored in book “Sangeeth Leela Vikas”.

Along with pure tradition of Manipuri there is mixture of Sri Mad Bhagavad traditions in it. Hence Manipuri is different from other dances. The body is divided into 8 parts and will bend according to it. The movements in dance are called as “CHALI”. There is no rule of place in movements; it can be forward or backward. Romantic and passion forms of dance are very popular.

An era of new trend

Subjected to various changes throughout the history and ages, the expanded dance is Khattak. The foundation of this dance lies at the time Mughalai. History of Khattak reveals 3 miniature paintings. Paintings of Jains, which depicted the dancing positions. Particularly between 1475A.D and 1500A.D there are several dancing positions in Kalpa Sootra, Simhadri Sootra and Deva Sampada. Some of them term these as Odissi and some as Khattak. The main proof of Khattak is Rajasthani paintings. The union of Mughaalai courts, Rajasthani courts, temples and princes’ resulted in formation of Khattak.

There have been changes in dancing styles. In 16th century female dancers used to wear tight chudidars and pyjamas. In 17th century dancers used to expose only their heels. They used to wear manjeeras. Sometimes they used to carry pots in hands and on their heads. They also dance on the edges of a plate. Researchers found pictures that in early 18th century female dancers used to wear tabala, dol and drums. The north Indian Vyshnava tradition not only affected Khattak but also destined its fate and direction. Khattak also follows two distinct styles. It follows the rhythm. Dancer should follow Rhythmic movements and metrical cycle. There is importance to movement of hip. Hands are also moved accordingly. It is called as “HAMSASWAHASTYA” (Swan movements). The routine moves seen are ‘Chandrakala’ and ‘Alapadma’. Moving round on foot is the specialty of Khattak. It is called as ‘Chakkara’. Movement of eyebrows in Laasyanga is the important mark of Khattak. Bending neck moves is called as ‘Sundari’

Traditionally Khattak dancer is solo female dancer.

Dance of Andhra Pradesh

Another old form of dance is Kuchipudi. It is the dance of south India, Andhra Pradesh. It is also called as Kuchipudi Bhagavatam, Kuchipudi Yakshagaanam, and Kuchipudi Bharatam.

Vyshnava Brahmins of Andhra practiced this dance as an aid to impress gods. They used to travel for 8 months in a year and perform in various places with an aim to provide education and awareness among rural people. Villagers felt as an honor to host them. The basis of Kuchipudi lies in Kuchipudi village in Krishna district.

According to religious relics, Bharata muni(saint) along with his 100 sons tried to bring the art of dance from heaven to earth. He started this dance only with male dancers. There is belief that he introduced this dance along with his son or with one of his follower. Both roles, male and female were caste by males only.

The Buddhist artifacts found in the excavations at Nagarjuna Konda, Amaravathi, Ghantasala, Jaggayapeta, Bhattiprolu and the temple of Ramappa in Warangal form evidence of Kuchipudi in Andhra Pradesh.

Various kings have encouraged the development of Kuchipudi. During 1672A.D and 1689A.D. Kuchipudi village came under the rule of Golconda Nawab. When he saw a Brahmin boy performing Kuchipudi he sanctioned 600 acres of land to that village. Since then Brahmins have mastered this profession. Like other dances Kuchipudi was also performed in temples. To gain particular posture they used to keep their body in condition by doing exercise.

The union of movements between hands and legs is called as “KAARANA”. Kuchipudi proceeds with movement of 108 parts of body. There will be 9 classes of movements for head. In that 8 sight differences, 6 eyebrow movements, 4 neck movements are present. The dance will begin with Ganapathi sthuthi.

Kuchipudi is a balance between ‘Thandava’ and ‘Lasya’. Thandava is performed by males and Lasya by females. The music for Kuchipudi should be strictly traditional.

After 18th century there is an increase in dancing types. And in this 21st century in between many western dances there is a need to remember about the historic dance of India

Thank you


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