2. Background of the dance
3. History of the dance styles
4. Purpose of the dance
5. Classification of the dance
6. Dance decorations
7. Persons allowed to dance
Historically, dance played an important role in the life of
Indian people. It should be said that the earliest dance forms
originate to the antiquity. At the same time, dance has never
lost its significance to Indian people who were always interested
in dance and who made this a real form of art. In fact, Indian
culture is characterized by the richness and variety of forms
of expression but, at the same time, despite certain variations
the traditional Indian culture remains a solid and powerful
tool that unites the whole nation.
It should be pointed out that there exist various styles of
dance which may vary depending on the region or the origin.
Basically, Indian dance is performed on different occasion
but, nevertheless, it does not make Indian dance less expressive
or significant. In actuality, it is possible to speak about
dance in India as a part of cultural identity of Indian people
and as a form of communication between Indians which has gradually
evolved and transformed in the great art.
It is important to underline that Indian dance is so important
to Indians that they never abandon their historical traditions
of dance. No wonder that even in the modern world, when Indians
are dispersed throughout the world and when Indian communities
may be found in absolutely different parts of the world living
in different socio-cultural environment, Indian dance still
distinguishes Indian people from other communities of the
History of the dance styles
Speaking about the history of Indian dance, it is necessary
to point out that as any other form of art in India, dance
was closely related to the religious beliefs of Indian people
and actually is considered to be a kind of divine gift. It
should be said that the origin of Indian dance styles may
be traced back to the Natya Shastra of Bharat Muni about 400
BC. However, this was rather a theoretical representation
of Indian dance which had being existed for a long time before
their theoretical adaptation.
In actuality, it is possible to refer the origin of Indian
dance styles to the epochs as old as 2000-1500 BC. The first
development of dance styles is associated with the invasion
of India by Aryans who founded a prosperous civilization in
India and developed practically all forms of art, including
dance. At the same time, any form of art in India was traditionally
believed to be of a divine origin and dance was not an exception.
the first elaborate and eloquent references to art of dancing
are abound in the Rig Veda, containing sacred texts, which
was compiled about 1500 BC (Samson 1987). In such a way, it
is obvious that dance was one of the ancient forms of art
In Indian tradition, it is believed that dance was created
by Lord Brahma (the Creator) as the treatises on dance such
as Natya Shastra and Abhinaya Darpana read. In fact, the Natya
Shastra is the earliest Indian text in the history of performing
arts which is believed to be created by Gods as a form of
entertainment. It is worthy of note, the four traditional
Veda, containing sacred texts, were not accessible to all
castes and, thus certain categories of Indian population were
deprived of opportunity to get acquainted with them, while
the Natya Shastra was perceived as the fifth Veda accessible
to absolutely all people. According to Indian legends, it
was the gift of Gods and initially, the Natya Shastra and,
thus dance, was supposed to be destined to Gods only, but
later were presented to people.
Naturally, in the course of time, views on dance in India
evolved as well as dance styles themselves .This is why nowadays
it is possible to single out several classical dance forms,
including Bharatnatyam, Kuchi[pudi, Mohini Attam, Kathak,
Odissi and Manipuri. It is worthy of mention that dance styles
in India may vary depending on the region so that different
regions have their own unique dance styles, which, nonetheless,
basically meet Indian tradition of dance and Indian philosophy
Purpose of the dance
Taking into consideration the significance of dance to Indian
people, it seems to be quite natural that the dance serves
to different purposes in Indian culture. Obviously, the dance
is an ancient form of art and this is why, in the modern context,
it is possible to view the dance as a means of preservation
of the national culture and traditions. In other words, classical
dance forms of India may be viewed as a cultural heritage
of Indian people which underlines the uniqueness of Indian
people and Indian culture contributing to the development
of national and cultural identity of Indian people. To a significant
extent, it is due to the dance Indian people living in different
parts of the world feel that they belong to the same culture
and they are representatives of one and the same nation.
At the same time, the dance in India also serves to more practical
purposes. For instance, it is not a secret that Indian dances
are very informative and actually the dance for Indians is
more than dance or art, it is rather a form of communication
since with the help of gestures, movements, dressing, etc.
dancers can express their feelings, emotions, intentions,
etc. This is why the communicative purpose of Indian dance
Furthermore, it is necessary to remember about the traditional
purpose of dance that can be traced throughout the history
of its development, this is the performance. Unquestionably,
traditionally picturesque, emotional and highly informative
Indian dances always represented a great performance and served
as a means of entertainment of large audience that may be
compared to the modern concerts and, in this respect, Indian
dances may be viewed as similar to performance art in any
However, often the dance as a performance served to religious
purposes which emphasized the divine origin of dance. In this
respect, it is worthy of mention that the Shiva temple of
Chidambaram was sculpted with 108 Karanas (units of dance
in which gesture, step and attitude are coordinated in a harmonious
rhythmic movement) on the inner walls of the four gateways
leading to the temple (Bowers 1967). In suhc a way, it is
obvious that Indian dance was extremely important to the local
Naturally, despite its divine origin, Indian dance also served
to human purposes and often it was a perfect way to get socialized
or accepted by the community. In this respect, it should be
said that the participation in dance was traditionally a symbol
of the acceptance of an individual by the community since
it was a symbolic unification of the individual with his social
environment. Thus, the variety of purposes of Indian dance
made it extremely important part of social life of Indian
people and its significance is still relevant even nowadays.
Classification of the dance, decorations and participants
As Indian dance played an important social role, the fulfillment
of its basic purposes implied the existence of a variety of
dance forms and styles. Moreover, the huge territory inhabited
by Indian people contributed dramatically to the regional
diversification of dance forms and styles. This is why among
the variety of Indian dance forms it is possible to single
out eight classical dance form, which has already been mentioned
above. But the more general classification helps structure
Indian dance into three major groups.
First of all, these are religious dances which are performed
inside the sanctum of the temple. According to the rituals
these dance forms were classified as Agama Nartanam. This
was a spiritual dance form. Secondly, it is possible to single
out dances that fulfilled socio-political function and were
performed in royal courts to the accompaniment of classical
music and were traditionally called Carnatakam. Finally, it
is possible to speak about dances which fulfilled a kind of
universal or uniting the community function since the form
of dance known as Darbari Aatam appealed more to the commoners
and it educated them about their religion, their culture and
social life. These dances were performed outside the temple
precincts in the courtyard (Auntrose 2002).
However, in order to fully understand the diversity of Indian
dance forms, its essence and ambiance, it is necessary to
dwell upon the classical Indian dance forms. Primarily, it
should be said that practically all Indian classical dances
are spiritual. For instance, Kathakali, which literally means
story-play, is an elaborate dance depicting the victory of
truth over the falsehood. The particular feature of this form
of dance is the use of elaborate make-up and colorful costumes
which are used to emphasize that the characters are super-beings
from another world, and their make-up is easily recognizable
as godlike, heroic, or demonic. Another dance form is Mohimi
Attam. The theme of this dance is love and devotion to God,
who is usuall Vishnu or Krishna. The Mohini Attam dancer maintains
realistic make-up and a simple costume. Usually, the dancer
is attired in a beautiful white with gold borderKasavu saree
of Kerala, with the distinctive white jasmine flowers around
a French bun at the side of her head.
Bharata Natyam dance has been handed down through the centuries
by dance teachers and the temple dancers. In the sacred environment
of the temple these families developed and propagated their
heritage. In such a way, this dance was basically performed
by this limited group of people while the others were unable
to perform this dance.
Kuchipudi, another classical dance, is actually the dance
drama that still exists today and can be closely associated
with the Sanskrit theatrical tradition. During this dance,
the actors sing and dance, and the style is the blend of folk
and classical. Probably this is why the technique has greater
freedom and fluidity than other dance styles. Kuchipudi was
always performed as an offering to the temples.
Odissi dance form is based on the popular devotion to Lord
Krrishna and the verses of the Sanskrit play Geet Govinda
are used to depict love and devotion to God. The Odissi dancers
use their heads, bust and torso in soft flowing movements
to express specific mood and emotions. The form is curvaceous,
concentrating on the division of the body into three parts:
head, bust and torso. This is a soft, lyrical, classical dance
which depicts the ambiance of Orissa and the philosophy of
its most popular deity. This dance may be considered regional
and typical for the state of Orissa.
Kathak is a North Indian dance form which is inextricably
bound with classical Hindustani music and the rhythmic nimbleness
of the feet is accompanied by the table. Traditionally, the
dance was taken to Muslim courts and, consequently, it became
more entertaining and less religious in content. The emphasis
is traditionally made on the pure dance aspects and less on
expression and emotions. Finally, there is Manipuri, a dance
style based on circular movements. Specialists (Nayagam 1970)
estimate that in ancient texts it has been compared to the
movement of planets around the sun.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible
to conclude that Indian dance is an ancient form of art that
has developed throughout the history of Indian culture and
still represents a constituent part of Indian cultural heritage.
In actuality, there exist a variety of dance forms and style
but basically they preserved their religious origin and, as
a rule, Indian dance forms are characterized as highly spiritual.
At the same time, the purposes and functions of Indian dance
forms also vary substantially, though such a diversity of
purposes only underlines the uniqueness of Indian dance which
may characterized as highly informative form of performance
and art which may be used equally successful to communication,
entertainment, socialization of individuals, etc. In such
a way, Indian dance is the national symbol, the art that shapes
national identity of Indian people.
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New York: Routledge.
2. Banerjee, Projesh (1983). Indian Ballet Dancing. New Jersey:
3. Bowers, Faubion (1967). The Dance in India. New York: AMS
4. Kilger, George (1993). Bharata Natyam in Cultural Perspective.
New Delhi: Manohar American Institute of Indian Studies.
5. Thacker, Chaula (1989). Introduction to Bharat Natyam.
Michigan: Nadanta, Inc.
6. Nayagam, X.S. Thani (1970). Tamil Culture and Civilization.
London: Asia Publishing House.
7. Samson, Leela (1987). Rhythm in Joy: Classical Indian Dance
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