India - History of Indian Classical Dance

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

History of Indian Classical Dance

When a group of Gods and Godesses pleaded with Lord Brahma for another simple Veda for the common man in Kaliyuga to be created, he created the Panchamaveda, the Fifth Veda, or NatyaVeda. He took pathya, the words from the Rigveda, abhinaya, the communicating elements of the body from the Yajurveda, geet, the music and chant from the Samaveda, and rasa, the vital sentiment and emotional element from the 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 the earth. The sage Bharata then wrote “Natyasastra, which is the common root for all classical dance forms of India. It is the common text for all the Indian dance forms.

Another legend has that the Goddess Parvathi taught this dance art to Usha, the daughter of demon Banasura. Later, Usha handed it to the Gopikas of the city of Dwaraka, the Lord Krishna's birth place. In reality, the Gods and the Goddesses, being dancers themselves, have been passing the art of the heavenly dance through many human channels.

The earliest historical illustration of Nataraja preaching Natyagama in its pure form originates in the Chalukyan sanctuaries of Badami and Aihole in the mid 6th century A.D. The temple dancing was institutionalised and the dancing girls were patronised by the kings and mahajans and were often respectfully mentioned in many inscriptions of temples built in the medieval age.

The temples of Khajuraho, Bhubaneswar and Puri echoed with the lyrics of poet Jayadeva. Later due to factors like economic constraints, tantric practices and free sex enjoyed by the siddhas, jangamas, charanas, patrons and priests, these dancers in the temples were victimised to become public women and they were completely equated with prostitutes.

The British government in India in order to uplift the women, their emancipation in education and to protect them from social evils abolished the devadasi system.

Today, the Indian classical dance has undergone a lot of changes over the centuries. Most of the contemporary dancers use the formal classical Indian dance technique to stage ballets presenting various themes such as nationalism, unity of religions, the sanctity of the environment, the animal rights activism, the greatness of a king or a political party, evils of the current education system, the caste and reservation systems, threat of nuclear weapons, AIDS, the population explosion, corruption in politics, bribery, religious fanaticism, secularism, the greed for riches, the Chinese aggression, the Dandi March, literacy, agriculture etc.


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