BEST OF INDIA - Volume 1

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of what appears to be a young female dancer from Mohenjo-daro (ca.2300-1750 BC). There may be a historical link between these ancient temple dancers and the later institution of the Devadasis which flourished in India in the Middle Ages. History records the importance of dance as a performing art in Indian culture in general and in specific in south Indian society where this dance originated and evolved. From the 9th to the 13th century AD, rock cut temples, the building and embellishment of structural temples, and the evolution of temple worship attracted many types of creative talent in architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, music and dance. The 14th century witnessed the plundering and destruction of the temples in the South at the hands of the Muslim invaders that brought about a decline in the royal patronage to the arts and forced musicians and dancers into other vocations. It is likely, say cultural historians, that as a consequence, some techniques and styles of dance were lost forever. With the establishment of the Vijayanagar Empire in the South, patronage of the arts resumed. Epigraphical evidence, the great monuments of Hampi, the capital of the Vijayanagar kings and accounts by travellers indicate that dance, music and other arts flourished during this period as did the institution of the Devadasis, the servants of God.

the world of sense and has to be reverential for that which her spiritual insight reveals to her. She uses her art both as a method of communicating these feelings and as a symbol of the reality which arouses them. She creates undeniable beauty through her art but this beauty is ancillary to the main aim, that of expression of spiritual truth. The impulse to create a beautiful movement and the impulse to express the feelings of veneration and awe evoked by the mysteries of one’s religion operate together so that the endeavours of the dancer harmoniously blend to become one. I believe that there is more enthusiasm and interest in classical dance today than there was even 30-40 years ago. The Indian diaspora is partly responsible for this revival of interest in the learning and teaching of classical dance because more and more Indians living abroad want their children to be in touch with their roots. In India too, more people are aware of the long term benefits of children learning classical dance. The human mind constantly aspires to newer things and just as society is continuously changing, so is art. Indian classical dances are living, dynamic traditions and are continuously adapting, imbibing, expanding each time a creative artiste works with their tools intelligently. The emphasis here is to know the tools well enough to be able to rearrange or extend its reach responsibly.” - Prathibha Prahlad

It is interesting here to note that the Natyashastra classifies the dance/drama art into four regional types - Avanti, Dakshinatya, Panchali and Odhra-Magadhi. Owing its genesis to the great text, thus emerged the style of Odissi in the Kalinga region (now Orissa), Koodiyattam in Kerala (Kathakali is a more recent form that emerged from Krishnattam), Manipuri in the North-East, Bharatanatyam in the south, Bhagavatha Mela in the South (now developed into the Kuchipudi style), and Kathak in the North. The north Indian dance form of Kathak came from a tradition of storytellers, who sang and danced about the gods. It was thus a simple form of expressional dance. In the 15th and 16th centuries, a form of operatic play Raas Lila came to be popular in the North and inspired by the Braj poets Surdas, Nandadas and Krishnadas, it became a form of folk theatre with song, narrative, acting and dancing. With the advent of Muslim rule, Kathak was taken from the temple to the court and two distinct traditions developed - one under Hindu patronage in the courts of Jaipur and the other under the Muslim rulers in Delhi, Agra and Lucknow. It became a highly technical and stylised art for the delectation of a few and was almost always performed solo. All the dance forms flourished under the patronage of the temples initially, and of kings and rich landlords later. Dance, in particular, flourished in the latter part of the Bhakti movement – the 15th and 16th centuries AD. The Vaisnavite Alwars and the Saivite Nayannars, among many others from other geographical regions, wandered throughout the country singing and spreading the message of total subjugation at the feet of the Lord. But a more interesting characteristic of the Bhakti cult, which later translated to the arts, particularly dance, notes AK Ramanujam (poet and art historian), was experiencing one’s relation to God as that of a lover, on the analogy of human sexual passion – the predominant mood here being that of a lover’s longing for union with the beloved, technically known as Viraha Bhakti rather than the bliss of union. “The noblest purpose of dance has been the adoration of the Lord…,” says C Sivaramamurti, scholar and philosopher. You cannot, it may be said, describe God in words; nor can you in the language of everyday life convey your conception of the innermost reality of life. But you may be able to do these things in art. Intensely sensitive, the dancer has to be conscious of the spiritual reality that underlies

Prathibha Prahlad is a performer, teacher, choreographer, researcher, cultural organiser, arts administrator and media person. She has established the Prasiddha Foundation and is Festival Director of the Delhi International Arts Festival which she conceptualised.

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