India - Introduction to Indian Classical Dance

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

Introduction to Indian Classical Dance

Dance is a symbol of communication which brings out the innermost feelings. It depicts the cultural aspects of a civilization.

In India, it is believed as a form of worship or yoga through which a dancer can reach the Almighty. Indian classical dances are the vibrations of the mind and the soul. They are extremely traditional following the strict rules set down by the Bharatha Muni (a saint) in the Natyashastra which is the oldest surviving text on the stagecraft in the world.

India has a very rich tradition of classical dance. It is a misnomer, and actually refers to Natya, the sacred Hindu musical theatre styles. The Indian classical dance aims to experience the liberation and growth of righteousness as man, by manifesting the glory of the God. It was born and bred in the temples till it reached the royal courts after few centuries. It even took a few more centuries to reach the public platforms.

The dancing girls of the temples were called devadasis and the temple activity was considered as a means of dedication. So, the Indian dance culture has been influenced by temple traditions having its root deep in the religious aspects and thematically depends on the rich mythological tales of the Hindus. It is associated with the evolution and development of Temple arts. Today, Indian dance forms have captured the global attention in all the cultural vistas of the world.

Lord Shiva in the dancing posture is referred as the Nataraja, the King of Dance. He accomplished the destruction of the world by performing his Tandava which as a cosmic dance, represents symbolically the destruction of the illusory world of maya or nescience (illusion). For centuries, the Indian dance culture has accepted that the dance of Shiva is the dance of life, myths, symbolism, mystic responses and philosophical explanations. He dances both in joy and sorrow as the god of rhythm and movement.

The Nataraja symbolises the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, birth and death. So, the dance of Shiva is the dance of the Universe. It is parallel to the cycle of creation and destruction which is not only reflected in the turn of seasons but is also the very essence of inorganic matter.

The Nataraja posture of Shiva implies many things. The right hand holds the drum of creation, symbolising a new awakening, the left hand holds fire, representing destruction of the old apart from the right hand being raised in blessing and the left hand pointing to the left foot, which has crushed demon Muyalaka.

Lord Krishna is also one of the most significant dancing divinities of the Hindus. His famous Tandava on top of the evil, hundred-hooded serpent, Kalinga, is a fierce and violent dance which symbolises the aspect of divinity controlling and destroying all evils forces opposed to the dharma, the righteousness and the upright living.

The dances of Apsaras in the court of Indra symbolise the delights and joys of heaven. Urvasi, Menka, Rambha and Tilottama are the most famous and are well versed in the art of music dancing.


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