Facts Behind The Indian Dance Forms

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Dance is a of the form of art which has consequently selected postures and sequences of human movement. This movements have certain aesthetic values along with symbolic values. Dance forms are categorized on the basis of choreography. It has been accepted as one the many ways  to stay fit and lead a healthy lifestyle with grace.  Dance performances were also accepted as a part of oral and performance method of passing stories from generation to generation.

India as we all know is the land of art and culture. Likewise, different forms of dance has been appreciated in the country since time immemorial. Some of the many dance forms are categorized below.

  1. Bharatnatyam : The name suggests the dance form where bhava, raga and tala are expressed. Bharatanatyam, a pre-eminent Indian classical dance form presumably the oldest classical dance heritage of India is regarded as mother of many other Indian classical dance forms . A form of illustrative anecdote of Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas emoted by dancer with excellent footwork and impressive gestures its performance repertoire includes nrita, nritya and natya. Accompanists include a singer, music and particularly the guru who directs and conducts the performance.The style of dressing of a Bharatanatyam dancer is more or less similar to that of a Tamil Hindu bride. She wears a gorgeous tailor-made sari that consists of a cloth specially stitched in pleats that falls in the front from the waist and when the dancer performs spectacular footwork that include stretching or bending her knees, the cloth widens up like a hand fan. The sari worn in a special manner is well complimented with traditional jewellery that include the ones that adorn her head, nose, ear and neck and vivid face make-up specially highlighting her eyes so that audience can view her expressions properly. Her hair neatly plaited in conventional way is often beautified with flowers. The four Nattuvanars namely Ponaiyah, Vadivelu, Sivanandam and Chinnaiya who are renowned as Tanjaore Bandhu and who thrived in the Durbar of Maratha ruler, Sarfoji-II from 1798 to 1832 shaped up the modern day Bharatanatyam.

    Bharatnatyam Dance

  2. Kathak: Kathak is one of the main genres of ancient Indian classical dance and is traditionally regarded to have originated from the travelling bards of North India referred as Kathakars or storytellers. This performing art that incorporates legends from ancient mythology and great Indian epics, especially from the life of Lord Krishna became quite popular in the courts of North Indian kingdoms. Three specific forms of this genre that is three gharanas (schools), which mostly differ in emphasis given to footwork versus acting, are more famous namely, the Jaipur gharana, the Banaras gharana and the Lucknow gharana. The roots of this dance form trace back to Sanskrit Hindu text on performing arts called ‘Natya Shastra’ written by ancient Indian theatrologist and musicologist Bharata Muni. This ancient classical dance form that was majorly associated with Hindu epics was well acknowledged by the courts and nobles of the Mughal period. The dance performed in Mughal courts however adapted a more erotic form without having much reference to particular themes applied earlier that communicated religious or spiritual concepts. Improvisations were made by the dancers predominantly to entertain the Muslim audience with sensuous and sexual performances which although were different from the age-old dancing concept but contained a subtle message in it like the love of Radha-Krishna. As Kathak is popular both in Hindu and Muslim communities the costumes of this dance form are made in line with traditions of the respective communities. There are two types of Hindu costumes for female dancers. While the first one includes a sari worn in a unique fashion complimented with a choli or blouse that covers the upper body and a scarf or urhni worn in some places, the other costume includes a long embroidered skirt with a contrasting choli and a transparent urhni. Costume is well complimented with traditional jewellery, usually gold, that includes the ones adorning her hair, nose, ear, neck and hand. Musical anklets called ghunghru made of leather straps with small metallic bells attached to it are wrapped in her ankles that produce rhythmic sound while she performs excellent and spectacular footwork. Head jewellery adorns her in the second case. Vivid face make-up put on helps highlight her facial expressions. Hindu male Kathak dancers usually wear a silk dhoti with a silk scarf tied on the upper part of the body which usually remain bare or may be covered by a loose jacket. Jewellery of male dancers is quite simple compared to their female counterparts and are usually made of stone.The costume for Muslim female dancers includes a skirt along with a tight fitting trouser called churidar or pyjama and a long coat to cover the upper body and hands. A scarf covering the head compliments the whole attire which is completed with light jewellery.  Imminent personalities associated with Kathak include among others the founders of the different gharanas or schools of this form of classical dance namely Bhanuji  of the Jaipur Gharana; Janaki Prasad of the Banaras Gharana; Ishwari Prasad of the Lucknow Gharana; and Raja Chakradhar Singh of the Raigarh Gharana. Shambhu Maharaj was a renowned guru of the Lucknow Gharana.

    Kathak Dance

  3. Manipuri: Manipuri dance is counted among major classical dance forms of India, especially noted for themes based on Vaishnavism and spectacular execution of ‘Ras Lila’, dance dramas based on love between Radha and Krishna. Other themes included in this art form associate with Shaktism, Shaivism and on the sylvan deities called Umang Lai during Manipuri festival ‘Lai Haraoba’. This dance form is named after the north-eastern state of Manipur, India from where it originated but it has its roots in ‘Natya Shastra’, the age-old Sanskrit Hindu text. The repertoire and basic play of this dance form revolves around different seasons. The traditional style of this art form incorporates graceful, gentle and lyrical movements. The fundamental dance movement of Ras dances of Manipur is Chari or Chali. Manipuri dances are performed thrice in autumn from August to November and once in spring sometime around March-April, all on full moon nights. While Vasant Ras is scheduled in spring when Holi, the festival of colours is celebrated by the Hindus, the other dances are scheduled around post-harvest festivals like Diwali. Themes of the songs and plays comprise of love and association of Radha and Krishna in company of the Gopis namely Sudevi, Rangadevi, Lalita, Indurekha , Tungavidya, Vishakha, Champaklata and Chitra. The costumes for Manipuri dancers, particularly for women are quite unique from other Indian classical dance forms. A male dancer wears a bright coloured dhoti, also referred as dhora or dhotra that covers lower part of his body from waist. The unique style of wearing it gives the dancer the flexibility to perform his footwork. A crown decorated with peacock feather adorns the dancer’s head, who portrays the character of Lord Krishna. The costume of female dancers resembles that of a Manipuri bride, referred as Potloi costumes. Imminent Manipuri performers include Guru Bipin Singh, his disciple Darshana Jhaveri and her sisters Nayana, Ranjana and Suverna, Charu Mathur and Devyani Chalia among others.

    Manipuri Dance

  4. Odissi : Odissi or Orissi is one of the eminent classical dance forms of India which originated in the Hindu temples of the eastern coastal state of Odisha in India. Its theoretical base trace back to ‘Natya Shastra’, the ancient Sanskrit Hindu text on the performing arts.The antiquity of this dance form is evident from its roots that trace back to the ancient Sanskrit Hindu text called ‘Natya Shastra’ which deals with different performing arts. Performance repertoire of Odissi sequentially includes an invocation followed by nritta, nritya, natya, and moksha. The invocation called Mangalacharana is performed followed by offering of flowers called Pushpanjali and salutation to mother earth referred as Bhumi Pranam. The female dancers wear brightly coloured sari usually made of local silk adorned with traditional and local designs such as the Bomkai Saree and the Sambalpuri Saree. The front part of the sari is worn with pleats or a separate pleated cloth stitched in front to ensure flexibility of movements of the dancer while showcasing excellent footwork. Silver Jewellery adorns her head, ear, neck, arms and wrists. Musical anklets called ghunghru made of leather straps with small metallic bells attached to it are wrapped in her ankles while her waist is tied with an elaborate belt. Her feet and palms are brightened with red coloured dyes called alta. She wears a tikka on forehead and outlines her eyes prominently with Kajal so as to make her eye movements more visible. Her hair is tied in a bun and beautified with Seenthi. A moon shaped crest of white flowers or a Mukoot that is a reed crown with peacock feathers symbolizing Lord Krishna may adorn the hairdo. The Odissi maestros who revived the art form in the late 1940s include Kelucharan Mohapatra, Raghunath Dutta, Deba Prasad Das, Pankaj Charan Das and Gangadhar Pradhan.

    Odissi Dance

  5.  Mohininattam : Mohiniattam or Mohiniyattam is an Indian classical dance form that evolved in the state of Kerala, India, and is counted among the two popular dance arts of the state, the other being Kathakali. Traditionally the repertoire of Mohiniyattam follows two performance categories namely, ‘Nritta’ and  ‘Nritya’ mentioned in ‘Natya Shastra’. It follows the Lasya type of dance that showcases a more graceful, gentle and feminine form of dancing and displays excellence in ‘Ekaharya Abhinaya’ form in other words a solo and expressive dance art complimented with music and songs. The dancer wears a white or off-white plain sari embellished with bright golden or gold laced coloured brocade embroidered in its borders complimented with a matching choli or blouse. A pleated cloth having concentric golden or saffron coloured bands adorns the front part of the sari from the waist. This embellishment not only lets the artist perform her spectacular footwork flexibly but also highlights it, allowing the audience to watch it from a distance. She also wears a golden belt around her waist. Jewellery adorns her head, hair, ears, neck, wrists and fingers. Musical anklets called ghunghru made of leather straps with small metallic bells attached to it are wrapped in her ankles. These produce rhythmic sound while she showcases excellent footwork. Her feet and fingers are brightened with red coloured natural dyes so as to highlight gestures of her hands. Face make-up of the dancer is usually light with a Hindu tikka on her forehead while her lips are vividly coloured red and her eyes are lined prominently so as to make her eye movements more visible. Her hair tied typically on left side of her head is in tight round chignon hairstyle and beautified with flowers, usually jasmine, ringed around the bun.Imminent 20th century exponents of Mohiniattam apart from Vallathol Narayana Menon were Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, Thankamony, Krishna Panicker and Mukundraja. Present day exponents include Sunanda Nair; Smitha Rajan, granddaughter of Kalyanikutty Amma; Radha Dutta; Vijayalakshmi; Gopika Varma and Jayaprabha Menon among others.

Mohiniattam Dance

The dance forms mentioned above are the common forms of dance. I am a non-dancer but have seen many performances and frankly speaking the postures and expressions that is given in the performances is not comparable to any of the western forms. Hats-off to those who performs wearing all those heavy costumes and jewelries but still can hold the expression so well.

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