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Classical Dance
Classical Dance
Description
Introduction

The gods needed entertaining. They requested the most learned among them, Brahma, who created the Universe itself, to invent something to help them get over their boredom. Brahma, with the help of Saraswati, the goddess specially devoted to higher learning and the arts, enlisted Bharata Muni's support in writing the fifth veda, or Natyashastra, a guidebook on drama, dance and music. Thus readied, they collectively presented their work to an august audience comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – the holy Hindu Trinity – and the response they received made them feel their efforts were fruitful. The gods were entertained, but more importantly, they realized that this was the ideal way for them to be represented and depicted on earth. Through the medium of dance and music, human beings could understand the concepts of good and evil, moral and immoral, temporary and permanent. Since then, legend has it, India has danced.

Due to its divine origins, the earliest support to the art of dance came from temples, which were also the hub of community life. Local chieftains supported the temples and were its patrons. The temples reverberated with devotion to the gods through elaborate rituals, part of which were also the twin arts of singing and dancing. Local patrons took pride in their temples and provided it with the best available talent. It was also a matter of honour for artistes to be associated with service to God. A special class of dancers dedicated to God – deva (god) dasi (servant) – came about and whose accomplishments were heralded and celebrated. By custom, as they were dedicated and "married" to the gods, they could not marry a human being. Originally, they were a highly respected class of women whose learning and accomplishment in the arts ensured a very high status for them in society.

The royalty was not far behind in extending patronage to artistes and they did much to support temples. Material support and grants of land for temples helped these places of worship thrive. Each temple was, therefore, assured not only of local support from their zamindaars but royal patronage too, thus increasing the power and prestige of each temples and its resident dancers.

With the arrival of foreign powers to India in the sixteenth century, first for trade and then for permanent stay and rule, the power of the royal courts declined, affecting the power of local chieftains. This led to the slow but sure decline in support to and patronage of temples, in turn leading to the decline of the local arts. The indigenous arts of India were looked down upon by colonialists and discouraged when Victorian mores and morals took over. The process took some time but, by the time India attained independence from foreign rule in 1947, most temples and its inhabitants had been reduced to near penury. In the absence of support, they had no sustenance. The British went further and created laws debasing and banning the practice of devadasis. Arts that had evolved and developed over centuries were reduced to nothing by the time India became free.

It was during the struggle for independence and inspired by several nationalists that the revival of Indian arts began. All over the country, from the beginning of the twentieth century, individuals tried to help save old dance forms. In the South, the spirit of resurgence led to the saving of Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi and Mohiniattam. In the North, Kathak was revived, and in the North-East, Manipuri. The pioneering gurus, dancers and critics of the early twentieth century played a major role in helping save these dance forms. After independence, several dance institutions and individuals took on the responsibility of serving the arts. The government too – by not directly interfering with the creative process – created an atmosphere where dance forms could be nurtured. Soon other forms like Yakshagana, Chhau (Mayurbhanj in Orissa, Purulia in Bengal and Seraikella in Jharkhand) found a place of importance too. Orissi was not recognized as a classical form until the late '50s, when gurus, practitioners and scholars met and decided it had all the requirements of a classical form in terms of codified grammar, distinct identity, language, music and a basic repertoire to build upon.

As recently as the year 2000, the National Academy for Dance and Music, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, under the Culture Ministry, recognized a new classical form from Assam, called Sattriya. This form was confined to the satras, or the seminaries of Assam and only celibate monks could perform it.

Fortunately, the various folk dances had continued unaffected as they were not supported by temples but by the farming community who sang and danced without formal training during harvest and sowing seasons.

By the end of the twentieth century, not only were classical forms of dance fully revived and thriving, the new generation of dancers were looking at the latest trends and modernizing their traditions. Those who had exposure to the West or had come under the influence of visiting artistes from abroad, learnt to think afresh and slowly created a new, contemporary approach. New themes such as the environment and the empowerment of women led to a new direction in dance. Although it is in its infancy still, it may find fruition in the twenty-first century.

Essence

The essence of Indian classical dance lies in the celebration of spirituality. Indian classical dance is a form of communication with the gods. Through dance (and music) divine beings are celebrated, even treated as friends. There is a communion between the dancer and God.

Often, the material for dance is based on the worship of God in one form or other. An overall environment of inner beauty rather than outer manifestation is projected. There is a complete identification with the Supreme Being and literature based on divinity is fodder for dance presentations. The inner core of poetry expressed as praise or worship to please God is the basic source for dance. Generally, the content for dance are compositions penned by saints, savants, scholar-poets. Most dancers depend on traditional material, although a few have culled it from modern works too.

For a dancer, the guru or master is very important. A guru is revered; if he or she is present at a performance. The dancer shows respect by touching his or her feet, the Indian custom of acknowledging a persons' seniority, wisdom and knowledge. Since a guru has taught and prepared the dancer for the stage, the dancer in turn honours the guru as well as the other musicians present on stage. Devotion to his or her guru is taken as a major part of a dancer's psyche.

Indian classical dance is essentially the art of a soloist. Each form – although a group effort in terms of a teacher, a group of musicians, etc., - remains basically the work and artistry of a solo performer on stage. Thus, there are not as many team or group performances as soloists, although some forms like Kathakali and Manipuri are performed by a group of dancers. There too, a central character, often of godly or royal origin, forms the centre of the depiction.

How to View

Most performances start with an invocation, a prayer, to Ganesha, Vishnu or Shiva. They are propitiated at the beginning of the presentation itself to invoke their blessings and ensure that the performance goes well. The spiritual or religious sentiment is thus established right at the outset. This also helps the audience get into a spiritual mood.

Often, a form consists of six to seven basic presentations. Normally, the first two presentations are brief and display the artiste's expertise in the technique of the form. From the third presentation onwards, the mime aspect, or abhinaya as it is called, becomes the leit-motif. These presentations can be longer in duration, intercepted by musical interludes. The concluding presentations, again, are a show of technical prowess or dexterity.

An intermission often takes place but there are no elaborate set changes. At best, dancers, especially soloists, may change costumes. The musicians sit on the left of the stage, facing the dancer perpendicularly; the dancer essentially performs facing the audience. On the right of the stage, a figure of either Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, Ganesha or Jagannath/Vishnu is placed decorated with some flowers, fruits and incense sticks. In some case, a burning oil lamp adorns the stage.

There are no extensive backdrops in classical dance; in fact, none, since it is an art where suggestion dominates, rather than the obvious. An average performance in today's urban milieu is 90-120 minutes. It is not necessary to meet the artistes after the performance, although one is welcome to, even if not known personally.

Mohinattam also roughly follows the Bharatanatyam format, although it is much shorter. It starts with an invocatory number, then shollakettu or mukhachalam, a pure dance piece devoid of story followed by a jatiswaram, varnam or padam, or love-song, concluding with a tillana.

All of the above form the bedrock of a repertoire, although an artiste may take liberties.

From the Jacket

The essence of Indian dance is celebration of spirituality and life.

The traditions of Indian classical dance encompass Indian's artistic and aesthetic wealth. The various classical forms, not merely help project and platform a culture, but are an act of propitiation too. The inner spiritual core of a race comes through in its classical arts. These dance forms have withstood invasions and interventions, changes and contradictions and yet continue to shine in their pristine beauty.

This book presents the complex layers of Indian classical dance traditions in a very simple and easy-to-comprehend manner, so that both the lay reader and the connoisseur may enjoy it and grasp its history and heritage, content and context.

The cultural expression of India is as varied in style as it is in form and this is due partly to the size of the land, its myriad religions, races, beliefs, customs and its many layered history.

The series combines pieces of this splendid mosaic with an eye on the apparent as well as the hidden nuances; on tradition and continuity as well as the winds of change.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is an active and authoritative voice in the dance world of India. Trained in several forms, he hails from a distinguished dance family of India. He was a Grantee of the Swedish Institute and awarded a Govt. of India Scholarship, in addition to a Ford Foundation Grant. He also worked as an arts administrator internationally co-ordinating the Festivals of India in France, Sweden, Germany and China and was Director of INTACH and Martand Singh Consultants.

A critic and columnist for world's largest circulated English daily, The Times of India, he also wrote as a columnist for First City, The Eye, Life Positive and the India Magazine. He has authored over a dozen books on Indian arts, culture and spirituality. He is responsible for India's largest archival collection on dance created by his father Prof. Mohan Khokar. He publishes and edits India's first and only year-book on dance.

Contents

Introductionvi
Dance Forms 1
Dance Accoutrements 41
Dance Exponents 68
Dance Festivals 71
Dance Institutions 73

Classical Dance

Item Code:
IDK229
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2004
ISBN:
8171678599
Size:
8.5" X 8.2"
Pages:
77 (Illustrated Throughout In Full Color)
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$30.00
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Introduction

The gods needed entertaining. They requested the most learned among them, Brahma, who created the Universe itself, to invent something to help them get over their boredom. Brahma, with the help of Saraswati, the goddess specially devoted to higher learning and the arts, enlisted Bharata Muni's support in writing the fifth veda, or Natyashastra, a guidebook on drama, dance and music. Thus readied, they collectively presented their work to an august audience comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – the holy Hindu Trinity – and the response they received made them feel their efforts were fruitful. The gods were entertained, but more importantly, they realized that this was the ideal way for them to be represented and depicted on earth. Through the medium of dance and music, human beings could understand the concepts of good and evil, moral and immoral, temporary and permanent. Since then, legend has it, India has danced.

Due to its divine origins, the earliest support to the art of dance came from temples, which were also the hub of community life. Local chieftains supported the temples and were its patrons. The temples reverberated with devotion to the gods through elaborate rituals, part of which were also the twin arts of singing and dancing. Local patrons took pride in their temples and provided it with the best available talent. It was also a matter of honour for artistes to be associated with service to God. A special class of dancers dedicated to God – deva (god) dasi (servant) – came about and whose accomplishments were heralded and celebrated. By custom, as they were dedicated and "married" to the gods, they could not marry a human being. Originally, they were a highly respected class of women whose learning and accomplishment in the arts ensured a very high status for them in society.

The royalty was not far behind in extending patronage to artistes and they did much to support temples. Material support and grants of land for temples helped these places of worship thrive. Each temple was, therefore, assured not only of local support from their zamindaars but royal patronage too, thus increasing the power and prestige of each temples and its resident dancers.

With the arrival of foreign powers to India in the sixteenth century, first for trade and then for permanent stay and rule, the power of the royal courts declined, affecting the power of local chieftains. This led to the slow but sure decline in support to and patronage of temples, in turn leading to the decline of the local arts. The indigenous arts of India were looked down upon by colonialists and discouraged when Victorian mores and morals took over. The process took some time but, by the time India attained independence from foreign rule in 1947, most temples and its inhabitants had been reduced to near penury. In the absence of support, they had no sustenance. The British went further and created laws debasing and banning the practice of devadasis. Arts that had evolved and developed over centuries were reduced to nothing by the time India became free.

It was during the struggle for independence and inspired by several nationalists that the revival of Indian arts began. All over the country, from the beginning of the twentieth century, individuals tried to help save old dance forms. In the South, the spirit of resurgence led to the saving of Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi and Mohiniattam. In the North, Kathak was revived, and in the North-East, Manipuri. The pioneering gurus, dancers and critics of the early twentieth century played a major role in helping save these dance forms. After independence, several dance institutions and individuals took on the responsibility of serving the arts. The government too – by not directly interfering with the creative process – created an atmosphere where dance forms could be nurtured. Soon other forms like Yakshagana, Chhau (Mayurbhanj in Orissa, Purulia in Bengal and Seraikella in Jharkhand) found a place of importance too. Orissi was not recognized as a classical form until the late '50s, when gurus, practitioners and scholars met and decided it had all the requirements of a classical form in terms of codified grammar, distinct identity, language, music and a basic repertoire to build upon.

As recently as the year 2000, the National Academy for Dance and Music, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, under the Culture Ministry, recognized a new classical form from Assam, called Sattriya. This form was confined to the satras, or the seminaries of Assam and only celibate monks could perform it.

Fortunately, the various folk dances had continued unaffected as they were not supported by temples but by the farming community who sang and danced without formal training during harvest and sowing seasons.

By the end of the twentieth century, not only were classical forms of dance fully revived and thriving, the new generation of dancers were looking at the latest trends and modernizing their traditions. Those who had exposure to the West or had come under the influence of visiting artistes from abroad, learnt to think afresh and slowly created a new, contemporary approach. New themes such as the environment and the empowerment of women led to a new direction in dance. Although it is in its infancy still, it may find fruition in the twenty-first century.

Essence

The essence of Indian classical dance lies in the celebration of spirituality. Indian classical dance is a form of communication with the gods. Through dance (and music) divine beings are celebrated, even treated as friends. There is a communion between the dancer and God.

Often, the material for dance is based on the worship of God in one form or other. An overall environment of inner beauty rather than outer manifestation is projected. There is a complete identification with the Supreme Being and literature based on divinity is fodder for dance presentations. The inner core of poetry expressed as praise or worship to please God is the basic source for dance. Generally, the content for dance are compositions penned by saints, savants, scholar-poets. Most dancers depend on traditional material, although a few have culled it from modern works too.

For a dancer, the guru or master is very important. A guru is revered; if he or she is present at a performance. The dancer shows respect by touching his or her feet, the Indian custom of acknowledging a persons' seniority, wisdom and knowledge. Since a guru has taught and prepared the dancer for the stage, the dancer in turn honours the guru as well as the other musicians present on stage. Devotion to his or her guru is taken as a major part of a dancer's psyche.

Indian classical dance is essentially the art of a soloist. Each form – although a group effort in terms of a teacher, a group of musicians, etc., - remains basically the work and artistry of a solo performer on stage. Thus, there are not as many team or group performances as soloists, although some forms like Kathakali and Manipuri are performed by a group of dancers. There too, a central character, often of godly or royal origin, forms the centre of the depiction.

How to View

Most performances start with an invocation, a prayer, to Ganesha, Vishnu or Shiva. They are propitiated at the beginning of the presentation itself to invoke their blessings and ensure that the performance goes well. The spiritual or religious sentiment is thus established right at the outset. This also helps the audience get into a spiritual mood.

Often, a form consists of six to seven basic presentations. Normally, the first two presentations are brief and display the artiste's expertise in the technique of the form. From the third presentation onwards, the mime aspect, or abhinaya as it is called, becomes the leit-motif. These presentations can be longer in duration, intercepted by musical interludes. The concluding presentations, again, are a show of technical prowess or dexterity.

An intermission often takes place but there are no elaborate set changes. At best, dancers, especially soloists, may change costumes. The musicians sit on the left of the stage, facing the dancer perpendicularly; the dancer essentially performs facing the audience. On the right of the stage, a figure of either Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, Ganesha or Jagannath/Vishnu is placed decorated with some flowers, fruits and incense sticks. In some case, a burning oil lamp adorns the stage.

There are no extensive backdrops in classical dance; in fact, none, since it is an art where suggestion dominates, rather than the obvious. An average performance in today's urban milieu is 90-120 minutes. It is not necessary to meet the artistes after the performance, although one is welcome to, even if not known personally.

Mohinattam also roughly follows the Bharatanatyam format, although it is much shorter. It starts with an invocatory number, then shollakettu or mukhachalam, a pure dance piece devoid of story followed by a jatiswaram, varnam or padam, or love-song, concluding with a tillana.

All of the above form the bedrock of a repertoire, although an artiste may take liberties.

From the Jacket

The essence of Indian dance is celebration of spirituality and life.

The traditions of Indian classical dance encompass Indian's artistic and aesthetic wealth. The various classical forms, not merely help project and platform a culture, but are an act of propitiation too. The inner spiritual core of a race comes through in its classical arts. These dance forms have withstood invasions and interventions, changes and contradictions and yet continue to shine in their pristine beauty.

This book presents the complex layers of Indian classical dance traditions in a very simple and easy-to-comprehend manner, so that both the lay reader and the connoisseur may enjoy it and grasp its history and heritage, content and context.

The cultural expression of India is as varied in style as it is in form and this is due partly to the size of the land, its myriad religions, races, beliefs, customs and its many layered history.

The series combines pieces of this splendid mosaic with an eye on the apparent as well as the hidden nuances; on tradition and continuity as well as the winds of change.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is an active and authoritative voice in the dance world of India. Trained in several forms, he hails from a distinguished dance family of India. He was a Grantee of the Swedish Institute and awarded a Govt. of India Scholarship, in addition to a Ford Foundation Grant. He also worked as an arts administrator internationally co-ordinating the Festivals of India in France, Sweden, Germany and China and was Director of INTACH and Martand Singh Consultants.

A critic and columnist for world's largest circulated English daily, The Times of India, he also wrote as a columnist for First City, The Eye, Life Positive and the India Magazine. He has authored over a dozen books on Indian arts, culture and spirituality. He is responsible for India's largest archival collection on dance created by his father Prof. Mohan Khokar. He publishes and edits India's first and only year-book on dance.

Contents

Introductionvi
Dance Forms 1
Dance Accoutrements 41
Dance Exponents 68
Dance Festivals 71
Dance Institutions 73
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