Thursday, March 20, 2008

Indian Classical Dance - a journey

The Sangeet Natak Akademi currently confers classical status on eight Indian dance forms –
For lack of any equivalents in the European culture, the British colonial authorities called any performing art forms found in India as "Indian dance". Even though the art of Natya includes nritta, or dance proper, Natya has never been limited to dancing alone and in fact includes singing, abhinaya or expressive acting, mimetic acting and movement, and these features are common to all the Indian classical styles.
'Indian classical dance' is a relatively new umbrella term for the various codified art forms which are rooted in Natya, the sacred Hindu musical theatre styles, whose theory can be traced back to the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni (400 BC).
Dances performed inside the sanctum of the temple according to the rituals were called Agama Nartanam. This was a spiritual dance form.
Dances performed in royal courts to the accompaniment of classical music were called Carnatakam. This was an intellectual art form.
Darbari Aattam form of dance appealed more to the commoners and it educated them about their religion, culture and social life. These dances were performed outside the temple precincts in the courtyards.
Out of the 8 styles, the most ancient ones and the ones that have their origin in Agama Nartanam are Bharatanatyam and Odissi. These two most faithfully adhere to the Natya Shastra.
Kuchipudi and Mohiniaattam are relatively recent Darbari Aatam forms, just as Kathakali, and two eastern Indian styles, Manipuri and Sattriya, that are quite similar. Kathak was influenced in the Mughal period by various other dance forms, including Persian dance.
A very important feature of Indian classical dances is the use of the mudra or hand gestures by the artists as a short-hand sign language to narrate a story and to demonstrate certain concepts such as objects, weather, nature and emotion.
Classical Indian dance in the Raj and since 1947
The British Raj in India was a time of cultural hardship where these traditional dances were viewed by the British rulers as debauched and of doubtful morality. Furthermore, they were all labelled broadly as 'Indian dance' with no regard to the specifics of style. Later, linking dance with tawaifs and devadasis (both groups whom the government considered to be nothing more than simple prostitutes), British rule prohibited public performance of dance. In 1947, India won her freedom and for dance an ambience where it could regain its past glory. Classical forms and regional distinctions were re-discovered, ethnic specialties were honored.

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