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India Traditional dances


Traditional Indian dance, in particularly Bharatanatyam and Odissi, as Balasaraswati puts it, is an artistic yoga (natya yoga), for revealing the spiritual through the corporeal. Bharatanatyam is the most widely practised of Indian traditional dances worldwide, as it is the style that most faithfully adheres to the Bible of the traditional Indian dance, the Natya Shastra, and most cozmrehensively embodies it. It is also the most ancient of all the traditional dance forms in India.

Traditional dances of India

Indian Traditional dance: the origins

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Traditional dances of India


Gods and Godesses pleaded with Lord Brahma for another Veda to be created that would be simple for the common man to understand, which is particularly important in Kali Yuga. Granting their wish, Lord Brahma created the Panchamaveda, the Fifth Veda, or NatyaVeda, a quintessence of the main four Vedas. Brahma took pathya (words) form the Rigveda, abhinaya (communicative elements of the body movements, cf. mime) from the Yajurveda, geeth (music and chant) from Samaveda, and rasa (vital sentiment and emotional element) from Atharvaveda to form the fifth Veda, NatyaVeda. After creating this Veda, Lord Brahma handed it to sage Bharata and asked him to propagate it on earth. Obeying the fiat of Lord Brahma, sage Bharata wrote down Natyashastra.

Traditional dances of India

The legend and the inspiration

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Traditional dances of India

Bharata together with groups of the Gandharavas and Apsaras performed natya, nrtta and nrtya before Siva. It became the most authoritative text on the artistic technique of traditional Indian dances, especially traditional Indian dances of Bharatanatyam and Odissi.

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“This art is not merely for your pleasure, but exhibits cosmic expression (bhava) for all the worlds. This art has been created following the movements of the world in work and play, profit, peace, laughter, battle and slaughter, yielding the fruit of righteousness to those who follow the moral law, a restraint for the unruly, and a discipline for the followers of the rule; to create wisdom in the ignorant, learning in scholars, afford sport to kings, and endurance to the sorrow-stricken; it is replete with the diverse moods, informed with varying passions of the soul, and linked to the deeds of mankind — the best, the middling and the low — affording excellent counsel pastime and all else.” Bharata along with the apsaras and gandharvas demonstrated Traditional

Indian dance to Shiva who improved and modified the art as demonstrated by Bharata and instructed the science of dance to Thandu Maharishi. This field of dance derived the name Thandava, the Cosmic Dance of Shiva. Shiva instructed Lasya Natya to Parvathi who passed it on to Usha,

Traditional dances of India

The Natya Shastra reads, “When the world had become steeped in greed and desire, in jealousy and anger, in pleasure and pain, the Supreme One (Brahma) was asked by the people to create an entertainment which could be seen and heard by all, for the scriptures were not enjoyed by the masses, being too learned and ambiguous.”

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the daughter of Banasura. Through Usha this art form was passed on to the Gopis of Dwaraka who in turn passed on the same to the maidens of Sowrashtra.

The Gods and the Goddesses, being dancers themselves, have been passing the art of the heavenly dance through


Traditional dances of India

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many other human channels, whose aptitude, understanding, and personal idiosyncrasies naturally varied from person to person, and created a number of styles ranging from Odissi to Bharatanatyam.


Traditional dances of India

Most innovative period in the history of traditional Indian dance

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19th century is one of the most innovative periods in the history of traditional Indian dance. Traditional Indian dance of Bharatanatyam has been undergoing a lot of change over the centuries. It used to be and is still mostly performed by women dancers. In the first half of the 19th century much of traditional Indian dance of Bharatanatyam was redefined by the contributions of four talented brothers known today as the Tanjore Quartet: Chinniah, Sivanandam, Ponniah and Vadivelu. Styles of traditional Indian dance of Bharatanatyam were preserved in practice mostly by the guru’s and performers of the Isai Velalar community of Tamil Nadu. The Tanjore Quartet organized all the basic traditional Indian dance of Bharatanatyam movements of pure dance into a progressive series, adavus.Each adavu is a basic unit taught in systematic order and then combined with others to produce choreo-


Traditional dances of India

graphed traditional Indian dance of Bharatanatyam sequences based upon the rhythmic pattern of a musical composition. The brothers composed new music specifically for traditional Indian dance of Bharatanatyam, and introduced a different sequence of items which integrated various aspects of dance and music into a carefully coordinated, aesthetically sound progression. This infusion of creative energy marks the early 19th century as one of the most innovative periods in the history of traditional Indian dance.

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From the 20th century to nowadays In the 20th century, such prominent personalities as Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer and Krishna Iyer made their significant contributions. The social status and image of traditional Indian dance was restored by Rukminidevi Arundale, the founder of Kalakshetra, who started teaching a simplified, Kalakshetra style invented by her after having learnt some of the Pandanallur style of traditional Indian dance of Bharatanatyam in a record 3 years’ time. Traditional Indian dance has undergone much change but is still deeply rooted in the spiritual Hindu heritage. Contemporary traditional Indian dancers are both male and female artists. While most learn it as a hobby, very few make it their career and a lifestyle, as it is extremely demanding and complex in terms

of dedication and daily practice. While most university degree courses offer mainly a theoretical base in traditional Indian dance, there are institutions that offer certificate and diploma courses with the focus on the practical skills. The true traditional Indian dance, it has to be stated clearly, is not a vulgar form of entertainment but a sacred ritual that is supposed to bring the rasanubhava (catharsis, or spiritual upliftment) to the rasika (audience) and the dancer.


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Traditional dances of India


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Traditional dances of India


Balasaraswati has said: “Traditional Indian dance, in its highest moment, is the embodiment of music in its visual form.... For more than thousand years, the sastra’s have confirmed that an individual dedicated to dance must be equally dedicated to music and must receive thorough training in both the arts.. In demonstrating the art of traditional Indian dance abroad, I have made a special point of showing audiences how delicately linked is the realisation of movement to raga expression in abhinaya, including the subtle expression of gamaka’s, intonation of sruti, and the unfolding of improvisation in niraval. In the same way that we look for perfect blending of raga and tala and of raga and bhava in abhinaya, so also it is essential that the raga and the sahitya be perfectly matched and i

n accordance with the necessities of expression in the dance.” “Sringara stands supreme in this range of emotions. No other emotion is capable of better reflecting the mystic union of the human with the divine. I say this with great personal experience of dancing to many great devotional songs, which have had no element of sringara in them. Devotional songs are, of course, necessary. However, sringara is the cardinal emotion, which gives the fullest scope for artistic improvisation, branching off continually, as it does, into the portrayal of innumerable moods full of newness and nuance. If we approach traditional Indian dance with humility, learn it with dedication and practice it with

Traditional dances of India

Traditional Indian dance technique

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devotion to God, sringara which brings out the great beauties of this dance can be portrayed with all the purity of the spirit. The flesh, which is considered to be an enemy of the spirit and the greatest obstacle to spiritual realization, has itself been made a vehicle of the divine in the discipline of the dance. Sringara thus is an instrument for uniting the dancer with Divinity. Since the dancer has universalized her experience, all that she goes through is also felt and experienced by the spectator�.


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Traditional dances of India


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India: Traditional Dances