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Classical Indian Dance Forms!

Classical Dance are expression of Art by bodily postures and hand gestures (mudras). It’s a very old form of Art. Early cave paintings and sculptures depict dance. Dance has been used as leisure art form for entertainment to societies as well as religious performances. There have been numerous dance forms in different traditions. India has been an epicenter of beautiful classical dance arts since long.  The Classical Dance forms are considered to be “Classical” because they are performed in accordance of the Natya-Shastra of Bharat Muni (400 BC) and they are regulated by the same.

The term ‘classical’ was introduced by the ‘Sangeet Natak Academy’ to present the Natya-Shastra based performing art forms.

In the earlier times classical dances were performed in the temples as the devotional offering to the god and later in King’s courts by performers as entertainment art.  In contemporary time the classical dance forms are performed on stage and theatres. Learning and gaining mastery in a classical dance form demands training under the guidance of a ‘Guru’/ trainer. The feature that distinguishes the classical dance forms from any other dance involves the ‘Mudras’. Classical dance forms also include facial expressions, eye and head movements as elements to express different moods, emotions, nature, weather and objects. The incorporation of the techniques of the Natya Shastra is crucial for a dance to be considered as a Classical. Every classical Dance form has two parts; ‘Abhinaya’ (facial expressions) and ‘Hastas’ (hand gestures).  The Sangeet Natak Academy acknowledges, Eights Indian Dance forms under the category of Indian classical dances elaborated under.

  1. BHARATNATYAM: This is one of the oldest and most popular Indian classical dance forms originated around 2000 years ago in the state of Tamil Nadu, southern part of India. This dance form is influenced by the ancient sculpture art of temple of Chidambaram. This dance is performed by both females and the males. In the 19th century four brothers known as the Thanjavur Quartet documented and classified Bharatnatyam as a performing art. Thanjavur Quartet had given several musical compositions for this dance which form a bulk of Bharatnatyam collection even today. As an art form, it is multi-featured. It incorporates Natyam(drama), poetry, an imitator, melody. The basic postures are balanced positions, hand positions that frames the body in symmetrical lines and in geometrical patterns. This dance proposes bodily movements that emphasize on hitting the floor with the feet, jumping and turning, the footwork is quick, rhythmical and mathematical, and the movements are demonstrated in space either along straight lines or triangles. The whole dance is performed on bent knees. The symmetrical positions executed in this dance conveys that there is an intricate relationship between the dancer and the universe around her. The costume of this dance is elaborated, the sari is specifically designed, the ornaments are traditional.
  2. KATHAK is one of the oldest Indian classical dance forms that had its origin in the North Indian States. In the ancient Hindu temples, there were storytellers who used to narrate the stories of gods and goddesses to the audience. Traditionally these were known as ‘Kathakar’ (the ones who narrate a story or a ‘Katha’) and the dance they used to perform to convey their Katha got named as ‘Kathak’. Immense influence of ritual and temple dances and also the Bhakti movement are seen over this dance form. That is why the themes like Krishna’s Holi or Raas-Leela and mythological characters; Radha, Shiva and Paravti are very much parts of this dance form. 16th century onwards the Kathak dance began to absorb certain characteristics of central Asian dance and Persian dance which were basically brought by the royal courts of the Mughals’ phase. Kathak has three main and important ‘gharanas’ or schools of lineage these are; Lucknow Gharana, Banaras (Varanasi) Gharana and Jaipur Gharana. Kathak is featured by the rhythmic footwork and pirouettes that is amazingly fast and rigorous executed on the music played by the instruments table and harmonium. This dance doesn’t use any extreme torso and waist’s bend. The feet are adorned with bells sprung around the ankles which give a loud, audible and cordial sound. The costume of female dancers of this this dance form is a long-flowing ankle length skirts with ethnic jewelry. The dancer tries to invoke different ‘rasa’ or moods by his/her expressions during the performance.
  3. KUCHIPUDI is a classical dance of South Indian state; Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi dance has acquired its name on the name of a village in the Divi Taluka of Krishna District that just borders the Bay of Bengal and also has the Brahimin people who practice this dance form. This dance form is similar to Bharatnatyam in terms of the rhythmic footwork and symmetrical lines. But it has a distinctive feature called ‘Tarangam’ that is performed by the dancer by balancing the body on the rim of a brass plate and moving it all around the stage. The movements of Kuchipudi dance are flat-footed, scintillating, round and quicksilver. It is performed on pure Carnatic music and it is a perfect blend of Nritta (rhythmic sequence includes a verse or song), Nritya (rhythmic body movements) and Natya (drama with a story line and characters). The costume of this dance that the dancer wears is similar to the dance of Bharatnatyam but unlike it the jewelry is made of lightweight wood called boorugu.
  4. KATHAKALI is an elaborated and stylized classical dance originated in the South Indian state of Kerela. This dance form is performed only by men who profoundly enact different scenes and characters from mythological stories and scriptures. Ramayana and Mahabharta are the two mostly enacted epics. Kathakali is featured by bright billowing costumes, huge head gears, colorful makeup, ornaments, long silver nails, hyper music and exaggerated expressions. The dancer of Kathakali uses a symbolic makeup and express the character or person they are representing. Various emotions and characters are enacted through fantastic costumes and makeups. This dance is moreover expressions based. The movement of eyebrows, micro and macro of face, eyeballs and cheeks play indispensable role in overall performance. The dancers never speak but they dance upon the musical compositions which include dialogues, drama and narrations. The dancers practice hand gestures as language that not only enhance their facial expressions but also unfolds the text of the drama.
  5. MANIPURI is a feminine dance form that comes from the mountainous region of Manipur; situated on the North-Eastern border of India. The movements of Manipuri dance are very tender, lyrical and slow. The moves are not done by force but they contain force that’s a distinctive feature about it. The dancers very gently move their arms in arcs and circular motions, there are in fact no sharp edges to any of the movements. All the movements of the dance are in a flow that gives a fluidity and suppleness to the performance and make the dance quite different from the other styles which include quick and rigorous footwork and pirouettes. Even the facial expression is subtle and gentle. A Manipuri dance form has been influenced by the religious movements of Vaishnaivism, the Raasleelas and the worship of Lord Vishnu. A Manipuri dancer wears a long, embroidered skirts with transparent veil. The male dancers play drums called as ‘pung’ and execute twirls and turns on a fast rhythm.
  6. ODISSI dance is originated from the eastern India state of Odisha. According to the archeological surveys Odissi dance is the oldest dance form that has survived the longest till date. This dance is also known as Orissi. This dance form can be described as ‘visual poetry’. The most interesting feature about this dance form is that, the body position/posture is not merely a part of vocabulary but it is also a statement. A body position in Odissi dance posture can convey a mood and message directly. The movements in this dance are lyrical, the limbs remain firm, the knees are bent outwards, the neck follows a natural tilt of the head, and a central line is maintained in regard of the upper half of the body. The torso movements are a special feature of this dance. The hands are moved in many different ways such as circular movements, semi-circular extensions and moving the arms in an upwards or downwards from the center of the chest to the sides. Odissi dance reflects a close relationship with temple sculptures. But the most distinctive feature that distinguishes Odissi dance from other styles of dances is its ‘Tribhanga’ form that includes the independent movements of the three body parts at the same time i.e., the head, chest and pelvis. This dance form is visually delightful, aesthetically appealing and difficult to grasp.

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