14 December 2015

The Indian Schools of Dance

Tracing the history of Indian classical dance is tough. According to historians (who, in turn, have turned to the Puranas for help), dance and music was created by Lord Shiva, who is also referred to as the Nataraja, the king of dance. Lord Brahma learnt this cosmic art from Shiva himself, and passed on this knowledge to his sons Narada, Rambha, Huhu, Tambru and Bharata. It was Bharata Muni who composed the Natya Shastra in 400 BCE, thus bringing dance to the land of mortals.
Classical dances were initially performed in the sanctum or garbha griha of temples by "Devdasis"(young women who devoted themselves to the Lord). The deity was considered to be a revered guest in his temple, and therefore was offered the sixteen hospitalities, which included dance and music. With the passage of time, however, classical dance gained immense popularity with the masses, and has grown to be one of the most sought after professions today. There are mainly eight classical schools of dance in India.

Bharatnatyam :- 

Bharatnatyam, also known as Dasi Attam, belongs to Tamil Nadu. This word is a formed by the combination of the syllables Bha (expression), Ra (music), Ta (rhythm) and Natyam (dance). This form is an embodiment of music and was originally an act of devotion, performed by the temple dancers or Devdasis in praise of their Lord. Bharatnatyam is essentially a fire dance- it is the mystic manifestation of the element of fire in the human body, the movements used in the authentic form of this dance resembling a dancing flame. The dance has two main aspects to it- lasya, depicting the grace and tenderness of femininity, and tandava, representing the vigour and power of the male.

Odissi :-

Based on archaeological evidence, Odissi is the oldest surviving dance form of the subcontinent. It is native to Orissa or Odisha.
The dance form is particularly unique due to the importance it lays on the Tribhangi, that is, the independent movement of the head, pelvis and chest. The entire posture of the dancer stands on the Chauka or Chouka which symbolizes Lord Jagannath. The dancer stomps her feet and strikes different postures that are often seen in various Indian sculptures. The common stances or bhangas associated with Odissi are , abhanga, atibhanga, bhanga and tribhanga.

Kathak :-

Famous Kathakali dancers Sharmila Sharma and Rajendra Kumar

This dance form derives its name from the Sanskrit word Katha, meaning story, It was originally performed by the nomadic tribes of northern India, known as kathakars (story tellers)., who used exquisite movements and expressions to narrate stories from the Puranas. There are three schools (gharanas) of this form- Lucknow, Jaipur and the relatively new Raigarh gharana.
The three elements in this form are nritta, comprising pure and vigorous dance, natya, which is pure drama and nritya. A balanced juxtaposition of nritta and natya. The most attractive feature of Kathak is definitely its chakkars or spins, which manifest themselves at the end of each short piece (bol) and vary greatly in number- ranging from five to a hundred.

Kuchipudi :- 

Though Kuchipudi has its origins in Andhra Pradesh, it is popular all over South India. Legend has it that an orphan named Siddhendra Yogi had discovered this tradition of dance drama in the seventh century.
The performance of this dance usually begins with stage rites, followed by the entry of each performer, who introduces herself in a dharavu (a small composition consisting of both song and dance). The purpose of the dharavu is to establish the identity of the character and set its mood. The drama then commences and is accompanied by Carnatic music. Though this dance form shares many similarities with Bharatnatyam, there are certain aspects which are exclusive to it- specifically the tarangam, in which the dancer holds a plate with two diyas in her hands while balancing a kindi (a small vessel) containing water.

Manipuri :-

This dance form, belonging to the state of Manipur, is also known as Meeta Jagoi. It is purely religious, and its sole aim is spiritual exuberance. The striking feature of this classical form, which separates it from the rest, is that the dancers never wear ankle bells to accentuate their footsteps, a custom that is mandatory for all the other forms. The movements of the body and feet, as well as the facial expressions, depict complete serenity and the performers aim at a spiritual fulfillment through their dance. The entire from is a collection of smooth, delicate and lyrical movements.

Kathakali :- 

This dance form, mainly based in Kerala, is remarkable because of the eye catching make-up of the performers, meticulously designed costumes, well-defined gestures and intricate body movements presented in synchronization with music and percussion. Traditionally, there are 101 plays in the Kathakali drama, but due to their excessive length, less than a third of them are staged in modern times. The performances start in the night and end early in the morning,
Kathakali dancers require immense concentration, strength and physical stamina, and they gain this from regular training based on Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art form of Kerala. The expressions of the performers generally depict the navarasmas or the nine tastes- Hasyam (humor), Roudram (anger), Veeram (valour), Bhayanakam (fear), Bheebatsam (disgust), Adbhutam (amazement) and Shantam (peace).

Mohiniattam :- 

The word mohini literally translates into enchantress and therefore Mohiniattam means dance of the enchantress. This dance form incorporates graceful and slightly sensual movements, designed to enchant the mind of the viewer. It involves swaying of broad hips, with an erect posture- a movement reminiscent of the swinging palm trees and gently flowing rivers of Kerala, the land to which this form belongs. The costume includes a white sari embroidered with golden border, with the hair tied into a neat bun on one side of the head.

Sattriya :-

This Assamese dance form is the most recent entrant in the list of Indian classical dances. The core of this form is mythology. It was initially the domain of the celibate male monks, or the bhaktas, though nowadays Sattriya is performed by both male and female artistes. Sattriya has strictly adhered to the rule laid down in the shastras, which has enabled it to maintain its classical exactitude.


Debopriya Samanta, is an English Honours student from Loreto college, Kolkata. Her interests lie in music, books and movies. Apart from being a dance enthusiast, she is a trained classical dancer herself! 

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