Indian classical dance, or Shastriya Nritya, is an Umbrella Term for various performance arts rooted in religious Hindu Musical Theatre styles, whose theory and practice can be traced back to the millennia-old Sanskrit Text Natya Shastra.
The number of recognized Indian Classical Dances range from eight to more, depending on the source and scholar.
All these dances are traditionally 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.
Natya Shastra states that Dance and Performance Arts are a form of expression of spiritual ideas and the essence of Hindu Scriptures.
Bharatanatyam, is a major genre of Indian Classical Dance that originated in Tamil Nadu. Traditionally, Bharatanatyam has been a Solo Dance, that was performed exclusively by women, and expressed Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas, particularly of Shaivism, but also of Vaishnavism and Shaktism.
The dance is accompanied by music and a singer, and typically the dancer’s Guru is present as the director and conductor of the performance and art.
The dance, as already mentioned, has traditionally been a form of a narration of Hindu Mythology and Hindu Spiritual Ideas from the Hindu Scriptures.
Bharatanatyam remained exclusive to Hindu temples through the 19th century. It was banned by the colonial British government in 1910. The Indian community protested against the ban and expanded it outside the temples in the 20th century.
Mohiniyattam Dance gets its name from the word Mohini ; a ‘Hindu Mythological Enchantress’, an Incarnation of the Hindu God Maha Vishnu, who helps the good prevail over evil, by deploying His feminine powers.
Mohiniyattam’s roots, like all Classical Indian Dances, are in the NatyaShastra , the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text on Performance Arts.
It is traditionally a solo dance performed by women after extensive training.
The repertoire of Mohiniyattam includes music in the South Indian Carnatic style, singing and acting a play through the dance. The song is typically in Malayalam-Sanskrit hybrid.
The dance was ridiculed as a Devadasi prostitution system during the colonial British Raj, & banned by a series of laws from 1931 through 1938. The ban that was protested and partially repealed in 1940.
The socio-political conflict ultimately led to renewed interest, revival and reconstruction of Mohiniyattam by the people of Kerala.
The theoretical foundations of Odissi trace back to the same ancient Sanskrit text NatyaShastra . Its existence in antiquity is evidenced by the Odissi dance poses in the sculptures of Hindu temples, and archeological sites related to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The Odissi dance tradition declined during the Islamic rule era, and was suppressed under the British Rule. The suppression was protested by the Indians, which was followed by its revival, reconstruction and expansion, since India gained independence from the colonial rule.
Modern Odissi productions by Indian artists have presented a diverse range of experimental ideas, culture fusions, themes and plays.
Kathak dance form emphasizes rhythmic foot movements, adorned with small bells (Ghungroo), and the movement harmonized to the music.
The main focus of the dance becomes the eyes and the foot movements. The eyes work as a medium of communication of the story the dancer is trying to communicate. With the eyebrows the dancer gives various facial expressions.
Kathak as a performance art survived and thrived as an Oral Tradition, learnt and innovated from one generation to another verbally and through practice.
It was adapted by the Royal Mughal Courts in the 16th and 17th century particularly the Mughal Emperor Akbar .
It was ridiculed by the British Raj and hence declined in the colonial British era. It was reborn once again, as India gained independence and sought to rediscover its ancient roots with a patriotic sense of national identity through the ancient art-forms.
Kuchipudi is a dance-drama performance art, with its roots in the same ancient Sanskrit text of Natya Shastra of the Hindus. It grew as a religious art linked to temples and spiritual beliefs, and traveling bards, like all other major Classical Dances of India.
Kuchipudi performance usually begins with an invocation. Then, each costumed actor is introduced, their role stated, who then performs a short dance prelim to music.
Next, the performance presents pure dance. This is followed with expressive part of the performance (Nritya) . Vocalists and musicians accompany the artist, with the song recited in Telugu language, and the Tala and Raaga set to Indian Classical (Carnatic Music).
Yakshagana is a traditional theatre form that combines dance, music, dialogue, costume, make-up, and stage techniques with a unique style and form. This theatre style is mainly found in Tulunadu and some parts of Malenadu region’s of Karnataka and Kerala. Yakshagana is traditionally presented from dusk to dawn.
Yakshagana literally means the song (Gana) of the Yaksha (Nature Spirits).
Yakshagana is a separate genre of music, independent of Classical Carnatic Sangeetha and the Hindustani Music of India. It is believed to have survived as an indigenous phenomenon only in Karnataka.
A typical Yakshagana performance consists of background music, played by a group of musicians (known as the Himmela); and a dance and dialog group (known as the Mummela), who together enact poetic epics on stage.
A Yakshagana performance typically begins in the twilight hours, with an initial beating of the drums of several fixed compositions, called Abbara or Peetike.
This may last for up to an hour before the actors finally arrive on the stage. The actors wear resplendent costumes, head-dresses, and face paints.
It consists of a story teller (the Bhagavatha) who narrates the story by singing (which includes prepared character dialogues) as the actors dance to the music, portraying elements of the story as it is being narrated.