Indian classical dance is an expression of life, involving the body as well as the emotions. Indian Dance is based on texts from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language – also thought to be the mother of not only Indian languages but also modern European languages.It has evolved with the concepts of self and world.
According to Hindu mythology, the Taandav (the frenzied dance performed by Lord Shiva, in grief after his consort Sati’s tragic demise) symbolises the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, birth and death. His dance is therefore the dance of the Universe, the throb of eternal life. An interesting parallel may be seen in modern physics, which depicts that the cycle of creation and destruction is not only reflected in the turn of seasons and in the birth and death of living creatures but also in the life cycle of inorganic matter.
Nataraja (literally the king of dancers) or Lord Shiva in a graceful dancing pose is worshipped all over India, by classical dancers, and also a collector’s item for connoisseurs of art.
Nataraja – the divine dancer
The origin of Indian dance can be traced back to Bharata Muni (a learned saint) who lived between the 1st and 2nd century and composed a magnum opus on dance, which is known to the world as Natya Shastra. In ancient times, dance was not merely a form of entertainment. On the contrary it was considered a medium of instruction of morality, good values, and scriptures and the expression of reality.
Natya Shastra serves as a common text for all the varieties of Indian classical dance forms. It contains elaborate details on various types of postures, mudras or hand movements depicting different meanings, besides the construction of a stage, the art of make-up and lastly the orchestra. All dance forms make ample use of the nine basic rasas or emotions – hasya (joy and happiness), krodha (anger), bibhatsa (disgust), bhaya (fear), vira (courage), karuna (compassion), adbhuta (wonder) and shanta (serenity).
Natya Shastra further divides classical dance into nritta- the rhythmic elements, nritya- the combination of rhythm and expression, and finally, natya – comprising the dramatic elements embedded in the dance recital. To appreciate natya or dance drama, an individual needs to possess sound knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Indian legends and mythology and folklore. Hindu deities like Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva and Lakshmi, Rama and Sita are commonly depicted in these dances. Each dance form also draws inspiration from stories depicting the life and traditional beliefs of the Indians.
Ancient Indian history reveals that several centuries before Christ, India’s art forms of dance, music and theatre were fairly well-advanced. The performing arts, i.e. dance and music reached the acme of their glory, during the reign of the Chola dynasty in Southern India.