Indian classical dance from Bharatanatyam to Sattriya

The Sangeet Natak Akademi currently confers classical status on eight Indian classical dance styles: Bharatanatyam (Tamil Nadu), Kathak (North, West and Central India), Kathakali (Kerala), Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), Odissi (Odissa), Manipuri (Manipur), Mohiniyattam (Kerala), and Sattriya (Assam).

1.Bharatnatyam – Tamil naduIndian classical dance Bharatanatyam

  • Oldest among all classical dances.
  • Bharatnatyam – where one dancer takes on many roles in a single performance.
  • Style was kept alive by the devadasis, who were young girls ‘gifted’ by their parents to the temples and who were married to the gods.
  • Devadasis performed music & dance as offerings to the deities, in the temple courtyards.
  • As a solo dance, Bharatnatyam leans heavily on the abhinaya or mime aspect of dance – the nritya, where the dancer expresses the sahitya through movement and mime.
  • Varnam – most important composition of the Bharatnatyam repertoire, encompasses both nritta and nritya & epitomises the essence of this classical dance form.

What is Bharatanatyam ??

  • Bha – Bhaav
  • Ra – Raag
  • ta – Taal
  • Natya – Dance (in Tamil)
  • Bhava or rasa is woven into the sahitya & then expressed by the dancer.
  • Bharatnatyam performance ends with a tillana which has its origin in the tarana of Hindustani music.
  • The finale of the piece is a series of well designed rhythmic lines reaching a climax.
  • The performance ends with a mangalam invoking the blessings of the Gods.
  • The accompanying orchestra consists of a vocalist, a mridangam player, violinist or veena player, a flautist and a cymbal player.
  • The person who conducts the dance recitation is the Nattuvanar.
  • Sanskrit, Tamil & Kannada are traditional languages of Bharatanatyam.
  • Exponents: Rukmini Arundale, Radha Krishnamurthy & Sonal Mansingh.

2.Kathak- Uttar pradeshKathak- Uttar pradesh

  • Kathakars or story-tellers, are people who narrate stories largely based on episodes from the epics, myths and legends.
  • It probably started as an oral tradition. Mime & gestures were perhaps added later on to make the recitation more effective.
  • Vaishnavite cult which swept North India in the 15th century & the resultant bhakti movement contributed to a whole new range of lyrics and musical forms.
  • Dance in Rasleela, however, was mainly an extension of the basic mime and gestures of the Kathakars or story-tellers which blended easily with the existing traditional dance.
  • In both Hindu & Muslim courts, Kathak became highly stylized and came to be regarded as a sophisticated form of entertainment.
  • Under the Muslims there was a greater stress on nritya and bhava giving the dance graceful, expressive & sensuous dimensions.
  • Being the only classical dance of India having links with Muslim culture, it represents a unique synthesis of Hindu & Muslim genius in art.
  • Further, Kathak is the only form of classical dance wedded to Hindustani or the North Indian music.
  • Exponents: Lacchu Maharaja, Birju Maharaja & Sitara devi

3.Kuchipudi – Andhra pradeshIndian classical dance

  • Named after the village of Kuchipudi.
  • Introduced by a yogi called ‘Siddendra
  • ‘At times, even though the dramatic situation did not demand, solo dancing was being presented to punctuate the presentation and to enhance the appeal.
  • One such number is tarangam inspired by the Krishna-leela tarangini of Teerthanarayana Yogi.
  • Acrobatic dancing became part of the collection.
  • There are now 2 forms of Kuchipudi; the traditional musical dance-drama & the solo dance.
  • A recital of Kuchipudi begins with an invocatory number, as is done in some other classical dance styles.
  • Earlier the invocation was limited to Ganesha Vandana. Now other gods are also invoked.
  • It is followed by nritta, that is, non-narrative and abstract dancing. A Kuchipudi recital is usually concluded with tarangam.
  • Music that accompanies the dance is according to the classical school of Carnatic music & is delightfully syncopation.
  • Orchestra – mridangam, violin / veena & cymbal.
  • Exponents: Radha & Raja Reddy (wife & Husband), Yamini Krishnamurthy and Indarani rehman.

4.Kathakali- keralaIndian classical dance

  • Comparatively recent origin.
  • Chakiarkoothu, Koodiyattam, Krishnattam and Ramanattam are few of the ritual performing arts of Kerala which have had a direct influence on Kathakali in its form and technique.
  • Kathakali is a blend of dance, music and acting and dramatizes stories, which are mostly adapted from the Indian epics.
  • Kathakali is a visual art where aharya, costume and make-up are suited to the characters, as per the tenets laid down in the Natya Shastra.
  • The face of the artist is painted over to appear as though a mask is worn.
  • The lips, the eyelashes and the eyebrows are made to look prominent. A mixture of rice paste and lime is applied to make the chutti on the face which highlights the facial make-up.
  • The characters in a Kathakali performance are broadly divided into satvika, rajasika & tamasika types.
  • Satvika characters are noble, heroic, generous & refined.
  • A large oil-fed lamp is placed in front of the stage and two people hold a curtain called Tirasseela on the stage, the main dancers stand behind it before the performance.
  • The movement of the eyebrows, the eye-balls and the lower eye-lids as described in the Natya Shastra are not used to such an extent in any other dance style.
  • Exponents: Kalamandalam gopi & Kalamandalam murli.

5.Odissi – OdishaOdissi - Odisha

  • Archaeological evidence of this dance form dating back to the 2nd century B.C. is found in the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri near Bhubaneshwar.
  • With Hinduism taking roots in Orissa by about the 7th century A.D., many imposing temples were erected.
  • The Sun Temple at Konarak, built in the 13th century, with its Natya mandap or Hall of dance, marks the culmination of the temple building activity in Orissa.
  • These dance movements, frozen in stone, continue to inspire Odissi dancers even today.
  • The maharis, who were originally temple dancers came to be employed in royal courts which resulted in the degeneration of the art form.
  • Around this time, a class of boys called gotipuas were trained in the art, they danced in the temples and also for general entertainment.
  • Many of today’s gurus of this style belong to the gotipua tradition.
  • Facial expressions, hand gestures and body movements are used to suggest a certain feeling, an emotion or one of the nine rasas.
  • orchestra – pakhawaj , flute, sitar / violin and manjira
  • In each performance, even a modern Odissi dancer still reaffirms the faith of the devadasis or maharis where they sought liberation or moksha through the medium of dance.
  • Exponents: Kalicharan Patnayak, Sonal Mansingh, Sharan lower (U.SA) & Myrla Barve (Argentina)

6.Sattriya- Assam

  • Introduced in the 15th century A.D by the great Vaishnava saint & reformer of Assam, ‘Mahapurusha Sankaradeva as a powerful medium for propagation of the Vaishnava faith.Sattriya- Assam
  • There were 2 dance forms prevalent in Assam before the neo-Vaishnava movement such as Ojapali & Devadasi with many classical elements.
  • 2 varieties of Ojapali dances are still prevalent in Assam i.e. Sukananni or Maroi Goa Ojah & Vyah Goa Ojah. Sukananni Oja paali is of Shakti cult and Vyah Goa Oja paali is of Vaishnava cult.
  • Sankaradeva included Vyah Goa Ojah into his daily rituals in Sattra. Till now Vyah Goa Ojah is a part of rituals of the Sattras of Assam.
  • The dancers in a Oja paali chorus not only sing & dance but also explain the narration by gestures and stylized movements.
  • As far as Devadasi dance is concerned, resemblance of a good number of rhythmic syllables and dance postures along with footwork with Sattriya dance is a clear indication of the influence of the former on the latter.
  • Other visible influences on Sattriya dance are those from Assamese folk dances namely Bihu, Bodos etc.
  • Sattriya dance tradition is governed by strictly laid down principles in respect of hastamudras, footworks, aharyas, music etc.
  • Exponents: Bapuram Barbayan Atai & Pradip chaliha.
7.Manipuri – ManipurIndian classical dance
  • Lai Haraobav (merrymaking of the gods) is one of the main festivals still performed in Manipur which has its roots in the pre-Vaishnavite period.
  • The principal performers are the maibas and maibis (priests and priestesses) who re-enact the theme of the creation of the world.
  • With the arrival of Vaishnavism in the 15th century A.D., new compositions based on episodes from the life of Radha and Krishna were gradually introduced.
  • Manipur dance has a large repertoire, however, the most popular forms are the Ras, the Sankirtana and the Thang-Ta.
  • There are five principal Ras dances of which four are linked with specific seasons, while the fifth can be presented at any time of the year. In
  • Manipuri Ras, the main characters are Radha, Krishna and the gopis.
  • A short fine white muslin skirt is worn over it. A dark coloured velvet blouse covers the upper part of the body and a traditional white veil is worn over a special hair-do which falls gracefully over the face.
  • Krishna wears a yellow dhoti, a dark velvet jacket and a crown of peacock feathers.
  • The Kirtan form of congregational singing accompanies the dance which is known as Sankirtana in Manipur.
  • The martial dancers of Manipur – the Thang-ta – have their origins in the days when man’s survival depended on his ability to defend himself from wild animals.
  • The main musical instrument is the Pung or the Manipuri classical drum.
  • Besides the Ras and other leelas, each stage in one’s life is celebrated with Sankirtana performances – child birth, upanayanam, wedding and shradha are all occasions for singing and dancing in Manipur.
  • The whole community participates as song and dance form part of daily life expressions.
  • Exponents: Thaveri sisters (4); Nayana, Suvarna, Ranjana & Darshana
8.Mohiniyattam- keralaIndian classical dance
  • Mohini means beautiful women & Attam means dance.
  • Literally meaning the Dance of the Enchantress, it is deeply rooted in femininity, GRACE (Lasya) and BEAUTY (Sringara) forming the quintessence of this dance form.
  • Of all the classical South Indian styles, Mohiniyattam can be singled out with admirable distinction, for it’s characteristic body movements, marked by the graceful sway of the torso.
  • The traditional costume worn in Mohiniyattam is white with a gold border, and gold ornaments are worn.
  • The regional system of music that Mohiniyattam follows is the SOPANA style which in it’s lyricism is evocative of the spiritual element.
  • Exponents: Madhavi amma, Chinnavi amma & Sunanda nair

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