Indian classical dance

Indian classical dance, or Shastriya Nritya, is an umbrella term for various performance arts rooted in religious Hindu musical theatre styles,[1][2][3] whose theory and practice can be traced to the Sanskrit text Natya Shastra.[4][5][6]

The number of recognized classical dances range from eight to more, depending on the source and scholar.[7] The Sangeet Natak Akademi recognizes eight – Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakali, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam.[8] Scholars such as Drid Williams add Chhau, Yaksagana and Bhagavata Mela to the list.[9][3] While the Culture Ministry of the Government of India recognizes Chhau as well. These dances have been regional, all of them include music and recitation in local language or Sanskrit, and they represent a unity of core ideas in a diversity of styles, costumes and expression.

Texts and roots

The Natya Shastra is the foundational treatise for classical dances of India,[4][10] and this text is attributed to the ancient scholar Bharata Muni.[6][11][12] Its first complete compilation is dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE,[13][14] but estimates vary between 500 BCE and 500 CE.[15] The most studied version of the Natya Shastra text consists of about 6000 verses structured into 36 chapters.[13][16] The text, states Natalia Lidova, describes the theory of Tāṇḍava dance (Shiva), the theory of rasa, of bhāva, expression, gestures, acting techniques, basic steps, standing postures – all of which are part of Indian classical dances.[13][17] Dance and performance arts, states this ancient text, are a form of expression of spiritual ideas, virtues and the essence of scriptures.[18][19]

Performance arts and culture

Let Nātya (drama and dance) be the fifth vedic scripture.
Combined with an epic story,
tending to virtue, wealth, joy and spiritual freedom,
it must contain the significance of every scripture,
and forward every art.

Nātyaśāstra 1.14–15[18][20]

While the Natya Shastra is the revered ancient text in the Hindu tradition, there are numerous other ancient and medieval Sanskrit dance-drama related texts that further discuss and expand on the classical repertoire of performance arts, such as the Abhinaya Darpana, Abhinaba Bharati, Natya Darpana, Bhava Prakasa and many others.[21][22][23] The term "classical" (Sanskrit: "Shastriya") denotes the Natya Shastra-based performing arts.

The text Natya Shastra describes religious arts as a form as margi, or a "spiritual traditional path" that liberates the soul, while the folk entertainment is called desi, or a "regional popular practice".[24][25][26]

Indian classical dances are traditionally performed as an expressive drama-dance form of religious performance art,[3] related to Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, pan-Hindu Epics and the Vedic literature, or a folksy entertainment that includes story-telling from Sanskrit or regional language plays.[27] As a religious art, they are either performed inside the sanctum of a Hindu temple, or near it.[1][2] Folksy entertainment may also be performed in temple grounds or any fairground, typically in a rural setting by traveling troupes of artists; alternatively, they have been performed inside the halls of royal courts or public squares during festivals.[28]

Dance forms

The Natya Shastra mentions four Pravrittis (traditions, genres) of ancient dance-drama in vogue when it was composed – Avanti (Ujjain, central), Dakshinatya (south), Panchali (north, west) and Odra-Magadhi (Odisha-Bihar-Bengal, east).[29]

Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Mohiniyattam found in South India, evolved from the Pravritti form called Dakshinatya. Audramagadhi represents the regional dance of Audramagadha, comprising the territories of Anga, Banga, the northern part of Kalinga and Vatsa (Sloka is angabangautkalingavatsachaiva audramagadha). This led to the evolution of Odissi in Odisha, Satriya in Assam and Gaudiya Nritya in Bengal.

Sources differ in their list of Indian classical dance forms.[30][31] Encyclopædia Britannica mentions six dances.[32] The Sangeet Natak Akademi has given recognition to eight Indian dances.[33] The Indian government's Ministry of Culture includes eleven dance forms.[34] Scholars such as Drid Williams and others include Chhau, Yaksagana and Bhagavata Mela to the eight classical Indian dances in the Sangeet Natak Akademi list.[3][35]

The classical dance forms recognised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Ministry of Culture are as represented below:

Dance form State(s) of origin Recognition by
Sangeet Natak
Recognition by
Ministry of
Bharatanatyam Tamil Nadu Yes Yes
Kathak Northern and Western India Yes Yes
Kathakali Kerala Yes Yes
Kuchipudi Andhra Pradesh Yes Yes
Odissi Odisha Yes Yes
Sattriya Assam Yes Yes
Manipuri Manipur Yes Yes
Mohiniyattam Kerala Yes Yes
Chhau Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand No Yes
Gaudiya Nritya West Bengal Yes Yes
Ghoomar Rajasthan No Yes
Thang Ta Manipur No Yes

Shared aspects

All major classical Indian dance forms include in repertoire, three categories of performance in the Natya Shastra. These are Nritta, Nritya and Natya:[38]

All classical dances of India used similar symbolism and rules of gestures in abhinaya (acting). The roots of abhinaya are found in the Natyashastra text which defines drama in verse 6.10 as that which aesthetically arouses joy in the spectator, through the medium of actor's art of communication, that helps connect and transport the individual into a super sensual inner state of being.[44] A performance art, asserts Natyashastra, connects the artists and the audience through abhinaya (literally, "carrying to the spectators"), that is applying body-speech-mind and scene, wherein the actors communicate to the audience, through song and music.[44] Drama in this ancient Sanskrit text, thus is an art to engage every aspect of life, in order to glorify and gift a state of joyful consciousness.[45]

The communication through symbols is in the form of expressive gestures (mudras or hastas) and pantomime set to music. The gestures and facial expressions convey the ras (sentiment, emotional taste) and bhava (mood) of the underlying story.[46] In Hindu classical dances, the artist successfully expresses the spiritual ideas by paying attention to four aspects of a performance: Angika (gestures and body language), Vachika (song, recitation, music and rhythm), Aharya (stage setting, costume, make up, jewelry), and Sattvika (artist's mental disposition and emotional connection with the story and audience, wherein the artist's inner and outer state resonates).[46] Abhinaya draws out the bhava (mood, psychological states).[46]

See also


  1. 1 2 Julius Lipner (2012). Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Routledge. p. 206. ISBN 978-1-135-24061-5., Quote: "It would be appropriate here to comment on Hindu classical dance. This developed in a religious context and was given high profile as part of temple worship. There are a number of regional and other styles as well as source texts, but the point we wish to stress is the participative nature of such dance. In form and content, the heart of dance as worship in Hinduism has always been 'expression' (abhinaya), i.e. the enacting of various themes".
  2. 1 2 Jean Holm; John Bowker (1994). Worship. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-85567-111-9., Quote: Hindu classical dance-forms, like Hindu music, are associated with worship. References to dance and music are found in the vedic literature, (...)".
  3. 1 2 3 4 Frank Burch Brown (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts. Oxford University Press. pp. 195–196. ISBN 978-0-19-972103-0., Quote: All of the dances considered to be part of the Indian classical canon (Bharata Natyam,Gaudiya Nritya, Chhau, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam, Odissi, Sattriya,Gaudiya Nritya and Yakshagana) trace their roots to religious practices (...) the Indian diaspora has led to the translocation of Hindu dances to Europe, North America and the world."
  4. 1 2 James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 467. ISBN 978-0-8239-3180-4., Quote: "the Natyashastra remains the ultimate authority for any dance form that claims to be 'classical' dance, rather than 'folk' dance".
  5. Ragini Devi 1990, pp. 60-68.
  6. 1 2 Mohan Khokar (1984). Traditions of Indian classical dance. Clarion Books. pp. 57–58.
  7. Sarwal, Amit; Walker, David (2015). "Staging a Cultural Collaboration: Louise Lightfoot and Ananda Shivaram". Dance Chronicle. 38 (3): 305–335. doi:10.1080/01472526.2015.1088286.
  8. Bishnupriya Dutt; Urmimala Sarkar Munsi (2010). Engendering Performance: Indian Women Performers in Search of an Identity. SAGE Publications. p. 216. ISBN 978-81-321-0612-8.
  9. Williams 2004, pp. 83-84, the other major classical Indian dances are: Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Sattriya, Cchau, Manipuri, Yaksagana and Bhagavata Mela.
  10. Tanvi Bajaj; Swasti Shrimali Vohra (2015). Performing Arts and Therapeutic Implications. Routledge. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1-317-32572-7.
  11. Schramm, Harold (1968). "Musical Theatre in India". Asian Music. University of Texas Press. 1 (1): 31–40. doi:10.2307/834008.
  12. Coorlawala, Uttara Asha (1993). "The Toronto conference on "new directions in Indian dance"". Dance Chronicle. Routledge. 16 (3): 391–396. doi:10.1080/01472529308569140.
  13. 1 2 3 Natalia Lidova 2014.
  14. Tarla Mehta 1995, pp. xxiv, 19–20.
  15. Wallace Dace 1963, p. 249.
  16. Emmie Te Nijenhuis 1974, pp. 1–25.
  17. Kapila Vatsyayan 2001.
  18. 1 2 Coormaraswamy and Duggirala (1917). "The Mirror of Gesture". Harvard University Press. p. 4.; Also see chapter 36
  19. Guy L. Beck (2012). Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 138–139. ISBN 978-1-61117-108-2. Quote: "A summation of the signal importance of the Natyasastra for Hindu religion and culture has been provided by Susan Schwartz, "In short, the Natyasastra is an exhaustive encyclopedic dissertation of the arts, with an emphasis on performing arts as its central feature. It is also full of invocations to deities, acknowledging the divine origins of the arts and the central role of performance arts in achieving divine goals (...)".
  20. "Natyashastra" (PDF). Sanskrit Documents.
  21. Tarla Mehta 1995, pp. xxix, 131-137.
  22. Mandakranta Bose (2012). Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition. Springer. pp. 13–32, 108–112. ISBN 978-94-011-3594-8.
  23. Ragini Devi 1990, pp. 18-37.
  24. Reginald Massey 2004, p. 32.
  25. Ragini Devi 1990, pp. 67, context: 60-68.
  26. Thera Mahanama-sthavira. Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka. Jain Publishing. pp. 40–41. ISBN 978-0-89581-906-2.
  27. Ragini Devi 1990, pp. 25-30, 67-68, 166.
  28. Farley P. Richmond, Darius L. Swann & Phillip B. Zarrilli 1993, pp. 3, 34-36, 47, 171-173, 215, 327-329.
  29. Sunil Kothari; Avinash Pasricha (1990). Odissi, Indian classical dance art. Marg Publications. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-81-85026-13-8.
  30. "Indian Classical Dance". One India. 2009-04-19. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  31. Narayan, Shovana (2005). Indian classical dances: "ekam sat vipraah bahudaa vadanti". Shubhi Publications. p. 5.
  32. Encyclopædia Britannica. dance (performing arts) : Indian classical dance. Retrieved 03-11-2010.
  33. "SNA: Guidelines for Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards::". Archived from the original on October 14, 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-06.
  34. "Scholarship to Young Artistes". Retrieved 2013-11-06.
  35. Williams 2004, pp. 83-84, the other major classical Indian dances are: Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Sattriya, Cchau, Manipuri, Garba, Yaksagana and Bhagavata Mela.
  36. Sangeet Natak Akademi
  37. Ministry of Culture
  38. 1 2 3 4 Meduri, Avanthi (1988). "Bharatha Natyam-What Are You?". Asian Theatre Journal. University of Hawaii Press. 5 (1): 3–4. doi:10.2307/1124019.
  39. 1 2 Ellen Koskoff (2008). The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: The Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia. Routledge. p. 955. ISBN 978-0-415-99404-0.
  40. 1 2 Janet Descutner (2010). Asian Dance. Infobase. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-1-4381-3078-1.
  41. Kavitha Jayakrishnan (2011), Dancing Architecture: the parallel evolution of Bharatanātyam and South Indian Architecture, MA Thesis, Awarded by University of Waterloo, Canada, page 25
  42. Reginald Massey 2004, pp. 33-38, 83-84, 207-214.
  43. Bruno Nettl; Ruth M. Stone; James Porter; et al. (1998). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: South Asia : the Indian subcontinent. Routledge. pp. 516–521. ISBN 978-0-8240-4946-1.
  44. 1 2 Tarla Mehta 1995, p. 3.
  45. Tarla Mehta 1995, p. 5.
  46. 1 2 3 Tanvi Bajaj; Swasti Shrimali Vohra (2015). Performing Arts and Therapeutic Implications. Routledge. pp. 82–84. ISBN 978-1-317-32572-7.


External links

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