Dance is an ancient art form that very much influences the society and also gets influenced and prone to social norms at the same time.  As a temple art, especially meant for the purpose of offering to Gods, Indian classical dances have traversed varied time frames of being possessed with royal honours to undergoing social stigmas; struggling with its existence whilst spreading its vitality with structured curriculum and recently globalizing it with similar or contemporary art forms.

In India, there are many ancient temples and historical monuments that prove the age old relation of not only humans but also of the Gods with dance. Dance here is considered to be sacred and is believed to be a creation of the God. Many carved statues and idols of Gods and Goddesses depicts moments of dancing and playing musical instruments like the dancing Nataraja, Goddess Saraswati playing Veena, Lord Ganesha playing Mridangam, Lord Krishna playing flute, etc.

PC: Google

According to many mythological and legendary scriptures, it was the spiritual beings that practiced dance art form in Heaven and later it came to earth. The myths and legends related to the origin and emergence of Indian traditional dances emphasizes on its sacredness and divine origin.

The Vedic Scriptures, mention about personalities like Nat, Nartak, Sutradhaar, Gayak, Plavak, Sadasya, Sabhasad, etc. which establishes with evidence that, these characters used to be present and be part of the rituals (YathaYogya). According to Kalidasa’s ‘Malavikagnimitra’ there used to be dance competitions in the Gupta period wherein there were people who used to assess the dancers’ talents, qualifications and disqualifications and at the completion of the whole presentation, they used to present their thoughts and award the Guru (instructor) of the winning danseuse.

The Chola period is rightly named as the GOLDEN AGE. It is during this glorious period of Chola Dynasty in the South of India when all sorts of arts, be it dance, music, sculpture, architecture, etc. flourished extensively.

During the periods of the great Indian epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, dance was soulfully connected within the characters itself and also in those of its people. In the Ramayana period, people of different social status were not only interested in dance but they also possessed the knowledge of this art form.

The three ingredients of music (Sangeet) i.e. instrumental, vocal and dancing were enhanced and developed by the kings and other authorities. In the Mahabharata period, the term especially ‘dance’ was fully developed since the main characters involved in the epic were themselves in the field of art. Lord Krishna as we all Know Him as ‘Natwar’ has mesmerised the milkmaids of Braj with His dancing skills in the form of Raas Nritya.

During the Jain and Buddhist period, there are several books related to arts. In the popular Buddhist text Lalit Vistar, around 79 art forms are mentioned wherein music, dance, drama, Lashya, etc. are termed. This period produced one of the greatest dancers ever named, ‘Amrapali’.

Dance during the Pre-Medieval period got a new dimension due to the Vaishnavi movement. In this period, dance developed and flourished to the ultimate extent. The Vaishnavi religion supported music, dance, drama, etc. and these art forms were conceived as a sacred way to worship Gods and attain salvation.

Dancing duo Rudro Jayanta Bhagawati & Pranaame Bhagawati. PC: www.amrapali.org.in

In the Mughal period, dance took a new look. Although the Mughals were great lovers and supporters of dance, music and other art forms, but, the age old tradition that was meant to practice in front of the Gods and to spread mythological stories has stepped into a different form of presentation and that, as an entertainment. The Mughal period has deeply influenced the dances in terms of its presentation, costume, gestures and identification. It was a blend of culture, literature and concept of the two different religions. There were many kings and kingdoms, Nawabs and Empires that promoted and patronised the dances. Especially in the north India, dance and music happened to be a synthesis and blend of both the Hindu and Muslim culture. Concept of Tarana, Khayal, Ghazal, etc. was included in performance presentations. This is why, the Kathak is the only Indian classical dance, which has the blend of both these cultural and religious panorama.

In the period of the Colonial rule, the English also brought with them their culture and art forms from the west. Their culture, music and art forms made a remarkable impact on India’s culture. The British rule banned many of the activities that centred on the temples. This affected the cultural happenings that used to take place in the temples. Due to this, the Deva Dasis, who used to earn their livelihood from the temple fund by providing her presence, service and art to the temple deity and during the rituals, suffered.

In 1875 during the tour of the Prince of Wales in India, he visited Jaipur where he was highly impressed to witness the performance of a local dancing group in Chandra Mahal. On January 1, 1903 in the Dilli-Darbar, several Kings and Emperors brought with them dancers and musicians to the occasion where they presented their performance at the Red Fort. In this period there also emerged many institutions and organisations to promote Indian art and music. Several profound institutions were established for the benefit of promoting, inculcating and spreading the knowledge and course of such ancient dance arts. With the efforts of Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande and Pt. Vishnu Digambar Palushkar was introduced the Notation System.

PC: Sarbani Nandy, Odissi danseuse

After its independence, India got a much more wider platform to showcase its ancient dance heritage and also mingling with other continental dances or music. There emerged a set of standard dancers, exponents, cultural activists and dance revolutionists who with much enthusiasm carried ahead their respective dance art forms to the rest of the world and at the same time they themselves explored other dances too.

With emergence of the cinema and theatre industry, performers and choreographers unfurl a new dimension in their respective dance art forms. Autonomous bodies, cultural societies and government enabled organizations propose new projects and cultural festivals time to time and encourage soloist as well as groups to perform and undergo cultural exchanges. Opening of Indian classical dance classes in abroad and incorporating foreign students in such classes have also marked its growth at the international level.

Moreover, getting involved in vast industries like the Bollywood, etc. with technical knowledge of choreography as well as that of handling the camera, have incredibly brought global essence to its entire outlook. Television shows and global events in the recent time are other ways for the professional growth of dancers/choreographers.

INSTITUTE

ESTABLISHMENT

PLACE
Gayan Samaj 1874 Pune
Gandharva Sangeet Mahavidyalay 1901 Lahore
Maharaj Sayaajirao Sangeet Mahavidyalaya 1916 Badora
Madhav Sangeet Mahavidyalaya 1918 Gwalior
Merris College of Hindustani Music (present Bhatkhande Sangeet Mahavidyalaya) 1926 Lucknow
Prayag Sangeet Samiti 1926 Allahabad

Author Details
Founder – Artistic Director , Amrapali (Society for ARTS)

Pranaame Bhagawati is an accomplished danseuse, choreographer, actor, writer and cultural activist. She has done her Masters in Mass Communications and and have showcased her artistic potentialities and collaborative works at places like Germany, USA, Guyana, U.A.E, UK, Tanzania, Maldives, Dubai, etc. She made her State Assam proud by attaining 2 Gold Medals at the national front for her Kathak dance performances and honoured several times at the national and international level.