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Classical Dances of India.
 
Bharata Natyam.
Bharatnatyam is the oldest of all the classical dance forms in India. It is believed to be nearly 3000 years old. It originated and is mainly practiced in the present day region of Tamilnadu. Bharatnatyam derives its name from the Bharata's Natya Shastra - the earliest treatise on dance and drama.
Bharatnatyam is an amalgam of Bhava [expressions], Raga [music], Tala [rhythm], and Natyam [dance]. It mainly features mythological stories. This dance form makes prominent use of hand and eye movements to covey its message. Bharatnatyam signifies the man's quest for the God and his desire to unite with the Omniscient. Its core philosophy is the search of human soul for the ideal.
Since its evolution Bharatnatyam has undergone several transformations. During the medieval era Bharatnatyam prospered in the temples of the South India where Devdasis [servants of the God] performed this dance as a matter of religious devotion, under the royal patronage. In the colonial period the system of Devdasis degenerated into prostitution and Bharatnatyam dancers were eventually outlawed from performing at the temples. In the early part of the 20th century nationalists and cultural reformers seeking to preserve and promote India's cultural heritage restored Bharatnatyam to its original glory. Today, Bharatnatyam is an integral curriculum of girls' upbringing in Tamilnadu.
Kathak.
Kathak is a unique classical dance form in the sense that it originated in north India. Literally meaning 'to tell a story' it originated from the story telling manners of the nomadic bards of ancient northern India known as Kathaks. These bards were Vaishnava devotees and recounted tales from the life of lord Krishna in temples and village squares. The recital was embellished with hand gestures and facial expressions
The advent of Mughal rule completely transformed Kathak. From being a devotional practice it became a mode of royal entertainment. During this period Kathak enriched itself by borrowing ideas from the Persian culture. In this process of fusion Kathak distanced itself from the traditional Indian classical dance forms and developed a distinct style of its own. The straight leg stance and the signature 'chakrs' [spins] were introduced during this period. Kathak enjoyed great patronage and prospered under Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow.
There are three main gharanas or schools of Kathak - Lucknow, Jaipur and Banaras gharana - named after the geographical region in which they developed. There are subtle differences between them. While the Lucknow gharana emphasised on the sensuous expressive emotions, the Jaipur gharana harped on highly intricate and complex footwork.
Today Kathak includes elements of both devotional and court forms. Expressive emotions, rhythmic accuracy, graceful turning, poised stances, technical clarity, hand gestures and subtle expressions are the important components of modern day Kathak.
Kathakali.
Classical dance of Kathakali originated some 500 years ago in the present day state of Kerala. Literally meaning 'story-play', this dance form re-enacts stories from the Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. It is a group dance and a typical Kathakali troupe includes actors, singers, drummers, make-up artists and costumers.
One of the highlights of the Kathakali is the elaborate use of make-up code. Dancers are coloured according to the shades of their characters. The faces of the noble male characters are colored green. Characters of high birth having an evil streak are allotted a similar green make-up, slashed with red marks on their cheek. Extremely angry or excessively evil characters have predominantly red make-up with a flowing red beard. Forest dwellers such as hunters are represented with a predominantly black make-up base. Women and ascetics have lustrous, yellowish faces.
Kathakali combines facial expressions and body movements to potray the thoughts and emotions of the character. The body movement and footwork is very rigorous. Kathakali demands immense concentration, skill and physical stamina. To develop this an artist undergoes training in Kalari Payttu - the ancient martial art of Kerala.
A traditional Kathakali perfomance begins in the evening continues throughout the night and culminates with the eventual victory of the Good over the Evil in the dawn. Now a day it has been modified according to the changing times and the whole performance is over in 3-4 hours.
Mohinin Attam.
Mohiniattam is the feminine dance form of Kerala. Its literal meaning is 'mesmerizing woman'. Legend has it that lord Vishnu under the guise of enchanting Mohini seduced 'Asuras' to regain Amrit [nectar] on the occasion of churning of the ocean. Mohiniattam signifies the dance of enchanters that causes destruction of the wicked and brings delight and pleasure to the good.
Mohiniattam though born out of the fusion of Kathakali and Bharatnatyam, has developed its own identity. Unlike other classical dance forms, Mohiniattam draws upon secular and social themes rather than religious mythology. The dance is erotic in nature and is characterized by graceful movements, wide swinging steps and swaying of the torso from side to side. Mohiniattam is renowned for its grace, fluidity, simple looking footwork and rotating rhythmic movement.
One of the distinctive features of the Mohiniattam is the simplicity of the costumes. They usually consist of a choli and a white sari with a gold border worn in such a manner that a pleated fan is formed like an apron in front of the waist. Hairs are tied in a bun to the side of the head and flowers are worn around them.
There is reservation in some sections in calling Mohiniattam a classical dance, as it has very little acceptance in non-Malyali communities and until recently it was looked down upon in elite sections of the society.
Kuchipudi.
Kuchipudi is the classical dance form of the state of Andhra Pradesh. It derives its name from the village of Kachelapuram near Vijaywada, where it developed as a result of Bhakti movement in seventh century A.D. Sidhendra Yogi is believed to be the formulator of the Kuchipudi dance form.
Kuchipudi imbibes features from Bharatnatyam and folk forms such as Yakshagan. It combines the elements of speech, mime and pure dance. The Kuchipudi dancer exhibits multiple characters on the stage and this multiplicity is achieved by the swift variation in mime. Kuchipudi is renowned for its fast and intricate footwork, graceful movements and the use of eyes to express emotions. The highlight of the Kuchipudi is the thrilling dance on the rims of a brass plate.
Over the years Kuchipudi has changed considerably. Originally it was meant to be a ritualistic performance full of religious fervor and devotion. Men and boys who undergo rigorous training presented the dance in the open air on an improvised stage. The play began by paying obeisance to the Ganesha. Today Kuchipudi has become a solo affair with most of the performances given by female dancers. The devotional element has also been dispensed with and it has become a secular affair having predominantly erotic flavour.
Manipuri.
Manipuri dance is an all-encompassing term, which includes all the dance forms of the northeastern state of Manipur. Though there are many myths and legends associated with the Manipuri dance it is widely believed that Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha were the original authors of this dance.
Manipuri dances are intensely devotional in nature and are performed as group dance. The dancers wear colourful costumes and mesmerize everyone with their rhythm and grace. The unique feature of Manipuri dance is its emphasis on Sarvanga Abhinaya [use of entire body] than Mukha Abhinaya [facial expressions]. Emotions are conveyed through entire body. The dance is a continuous flow, curved and rounded, one movement delicately culminating into another.
Ras Lila depicting the transcendental love between love between Radha and Krishna is the essence of Manipuri dance. The dance is so expansive that it requires tremendous control over the body to achieve the graceful movements. Ras Lila is generally performed in an enclosure in front of temple throughout the night. Another vital feature of Manipuri dance is the Pung Cholam or drum dance in which the dancers play on the drum known as Pung while dancing with thrilling leaps and turns to a fast rhythm.
There are several variations of Manipuri dance. These include Khamba Thoibi - a duet of male and female partners dedicated to the sylvan deity; Maibi - performed during festivals, this dance is a way of reliving life as in past; Nupa Pala - also known as Kartal Cholom, it act as a prologue to Ras Lila dances. Manipuri dance has become an integral part of the rituals of daily life, such as festivals and weddings.
Odissi.
Odissi is the classical dance form of Orissa that originated in serene ambience of temples. Devdasis [servants of the God] used to perform it in the honour of Lord Jagannath - the temple deity of Puri. Due to political and social changes in the society and suppression of Devdasi system during British rule, Odissi moved out of the temples and acquired a place in the wider Indian society. It was revived to its earlier glory during the cultural renaissance that started at the time of freedom struggle.
Odissi is a lyrical form of dance with subtlety as its keynote. It is a 'sculpturesque' style of dance with a harmony of line and movement. Odissi has developed its own vocabulary of foot positions, head movements, eye movements, body positions, hand gestures, rhythmic footwork, jumps, turns and spins. The major difference between Odissi and Bharatnatyam is that Odissi has more curves of the body, which makes it more sensual as compared to the athleticism, and angular nature of the Bharatnatyam.
The music accompanying Odissi is a mix of Hindustani and Carnatic systems. The instruments traditionally used are drums, flute and small cymbals. The dancers adorn themselves with the traditional silver jewellery and wear a stitched costume, which has five pieces including the angrakha, blouse and pajama. The major Odissi dance styles are - Mangalacharan, Battu, Pallavi, Adhinaya and Moksha.
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