Indian dance timeline.
Created by uncgdcl on Aug 13, 2008
Last updated: 06/16/11 at 04:08 PM
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Indian Folk art and music continue to thrive today. You’ll recall that around the 1950s a social movement was launched in India that took the art of dance out of the hands of the devadasis, or temple dancers. The art form was saved, however, and today in south India, the dance form has been reinterpreted and taken over by educated elite Indian male teachers, known as gurus. Changing Trends in Kathakali Performance. While Kathakali remains much as it was in the past, there are aspects of it which have been forced to adapt to the modern age. Before, Kathakali performances were held in courtyards, temples, or the palaces of kings, but have today moved to auditoriums where a broader audience will be able to see them. In addition, the dance took very long to perform. A show would start in the evening, continuing throughout the night before coming to a close at dawn. A modern Kathakali performance takes, at most, two hours. Still, the more traditional performances are presented at temples during festivals, so the tradition has not been completely modernized. Influence Around the World. Traditional Indian forms appear to influence other countries. As Westerners travel abroad and discover culturally unique art forms such as Indian dance, they often feel compelled to share their experiences with people back home. It is through these cultural interactions that Indian dance has permeated various cultures throughout the world, and entered the postmodern age. Many schools of Indian dance are opening across America. Within India, theater and dance productions are still diverse, ranging from Sanskrit plays to more modern realistic works. Indian dance can be seen as going mainstream in Bollywood productions, a not-so-distant relative to the light-hearted American musical, representing a romantic and optimistic world view, as well as in the highly popular American television show So You Think You Can Dance, which has featured Indian dance-influenced performances. Click here to enjoy a sample Bollywood-style singing and dancing number. Or, watch the video on Vimeo. Click here to watch a thrilling Indian dance influenced performance by contestants Katee & Joshua on the Fox television show, So You Think You Can Dance. Or, watch the video on YouTube.
In 1953 the National Academy of Music, Dance, and Drama was founded to teach and promote all the performing arts. It was set up by the Indian Education Ministry on May 31, 1952 and became functional the following year, with the appointment of its first Chairman, Dr. P. V. Rajamannar. On January 28, 1953, the Academy was inaugurated by Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India. Click here to watch a video of Indian Yoga
On August 15, 1947, India gained its independence from Great Britain. Mahatma Ghandi led the Indian Independence Movement (pictured above). Around the 1950s, the folk arts re-formed definite distinctions as the Indian arts began a revival. A social movement was launched that took the art of dance out of the hands of the devadasis, i.e., the temple dancers, demoting them to the status of low-caste women, even being labeled prostitutes by the British. The art form was saved, however, and today in south India, the form was reinterpreted and taken over by educated elite Indian male teachers (gurus).
Although its exact chronological origins have been shrouded by the passage of time, many scholars suggest that northeastern India is the birthplace of the Chhau, one of the Indian classical dance forms. It is believed that it dates back at least a hundred years, before 1900. The name “Chhau” comes from a Sanskrit word root, “Chhaya,” which can be translated to “shade.” Literally, “Chhau” means mask—a fitting name for a dance form that has as an important feature the use of elaborate masks. Click here to watch a brief video of Chhau dancers putting on their masks while waiting in the wings as they get set to perform. These Indian dances are performed during the spring festivals that celebrate the god Siva. From Hinduism, Siva personifies one of three aspects of Brahman, the "Supreme World-Soul.” Click here for more information about Hinduism. When encountering another culture we need not always follow our initial impulses. We need to try to grasp and appreciate the bigger picture as we seek to understand others in our world. Using solos, duets, and dance-dramas, the Chhau dances interpret mythology, sacred history, legend, and nature. The Chhau uses many of its own as well as prescribed conventions noted in the Natya Sastra. Wearing gold and silver brocaded costumes, elaborate headdresses, and intricate molded and painted masks made of paper mache and wood, the dancer performed to the rhythms of drumming. The Chhau dances are performed entirely by men. Click here to enjoy a sample performance of a Chhau dance.
In the 1890's, Indian nationalism began to reemerge, and the Bharata Natyam, noted as one of the oldest forms of Indian classical dance, came back into prominence. The Bhararta Natyam dance developed from the temple and court dances once performed by the devadasis and court dancers throughout southern India. Originally performed by more than one dancer, this traditional form has become a woman's solo dance noted for its grace. Click here and here to enjoy some sample Bharata Natyam performances. Or, watch the videos on YouTube (Video 1 | Video 2
The British ruled the Indian Continent from 1858 to 1947. Under British colonialism, Hindu kingdoms declined, sending Indian dance into a period of stagnation. India gained its independence on August 15, 1947.
Three- to four-hundred-year-old Katha/kali (“story”/“dance”) originated from the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. More dance theater than standard dance, the Kathakali are greatly renowned within India. The performances take place in the courtyards of temples or palaces of Kings of Kerala. In a short span, Kathakali achieved remarkable heights. The stories portrayed are primarily Hindu epics, or an amalgamation of history, legend and myth. Like the Odyssey and Iliad, which the ancient Greeks used frequently in their dramas, Mahabharata and Ramayana may have been two epic stories used in the Indian Kathakali. Stories about the passions and furies of the gods, Kathakali uses pantomime and exaggerated features from Sanskrit drama. The dancers rely primarily on dance, mime, costumes, and make-up although musicians also assist in telling the story through narrative and musical accompaniment. In keeping with the many-faceted nature of Kathakali, the dance is a blend of five different art forms: Sahithyam (literature), Sangeetham (music), Chithram (painting), Natyam (acting) and Nritham (dance). “Total Theatre” is the word often used to describe this highly evolved art. Again, from the Natya Sastra, the gestural language of this dance form included 500 separate "signs" (Brockett). Click here and here to enjoy clips from sample performances of the Kathakali dance form. Kathakali Make-up or Aharya. In keeping with the artistic tradition of Cthithram, one of the most visually notable aspects of Kathakli is that of the Aharya, the elaborate makeup that the dancers wear. Applying the makeup can take anywhere between 8 and 10 hours, with the dancers trained to apply it on their own. The elaborate costumes and make-up represents a symbolism understood by the audiences. The larger than life form created by the dancers transports the audience to an ancient world representing their past, reaffirming the ancient roots of their religion. Gender Concerns. Female roles were played by boys. Dancers trained from an early age and were not considered mature artists until they had played/danced a role for 20 years. If we had grown up learning the signs and gestures of the culture from childhood, we would be more likely to understand the stories of Kathakali. To our western eye, the Indian dances, with their elaborate costumes and colorful make-up, tend to look exaggerated and foreign. A closer inspection reveals much that we can identify with, such as the myths and stories of our own histories, the customs and values passed down through our families, and also the western inheritance of myths and legends, for example, from Greece and Rome.
Indian dance flourished during the early period (4th-8th centuries CE) when temple and court complexes were at the center of powerful Hindu dynasties desiring to maintain divine order here on earth. Dance played a role in the lives of the people as entertainment, education, and sacred ritual. The “Devadasi,” or temple dancers, were women whose lives were dedicated to dance in the Indian Hindu temples. They enjoyed power and religious prestige within the society. Originally, devadasi were girls who were married and subsequently devoted to a specific deity. The term also described the ritual through which the girls were devoted. In addition to taking care of the temple, they learned and practiced Bharata Natyam and other Indian arts traditions.
Indian Sanskrit plays demonstrate a connection between dance and theatre. Deriving in some cases from Sanskrit plays, Indian dance has followed a similar path to that of theatre and literary drama. The Natya Sastra (“The Art of the Theatre”), written by Sage Bharata, is the authoritative Indian text regarding the performing arts in India. It describes and systematizes dramatic writing and performance. It is the oldest known surviving text on stage performance in the world! Although its exact date of authorship is unknown, it is believed to have been written sometime between the 2nd century BCE and the 3rd century CE. (The other important book on Indian dance addressed in this timeline—The Abhinaya Darpana by Nandikeshwara—is believed to have been written sometime after the Natya Shastra, but appears earlier in this timeline for conceptual purposes.) As the definitive and ancient Sanskrit treatise, the Natya Sastra suggests the origins of dance from which all Indian dance traditions take their basic form. Accordingly, the text suggests that actors/performers used primarily four major resources to convey character and story: significant elements in Indian drama. The four major resources are as follows: Gesture and movement Speech and song Costumes and make-up Psychological insight The Natya Sastra: Gesture and Movement Concentrating for a moment on the raw material of dance, movement, and gesture: we can learn something of what the movement of dance may have looked like. Although said to have been based on a natural behavior, movement and gesture were codified into a system described in the Natya Sastra and other Hindu writings. Though Indian dance not only involved the physical body but the mind and emotions as well, movement and gesture were described according to parts of the body, inner feelings, and gestures in a complex system. Described in detail, gestures include 13 movements of the head, 6 of the nose, 6 of the cheek, 7 of the eyebrow, 9 of the neck, 7 of the chin, 5 of the chest, 36 of the eyes, 32 of the feet, and 24 of a single hand. The performer's stance and gait were also prescribed, specifying the elements to be combined, creating a complex sign language expressive of a given character's type, emotion, and situation. Think of the way we use gesture today in hip-hop, break dancing and other street dances to communicate a sense of belonging, as well as separation from particular groups. Contemporary dance as well uses gesture to convey a variety of concrete and abstract ideas to communicate meaning. According to the Natya Sastra, all dance falls into three categories with regard to movement and gesture: Category #1: Nritta: “Pure dance.” The poses and gestures are entirely abstract, emphasizing the physical form. Category #2: Nritya: “Lyrical dance.” Bodily stance, movement, hand gestures (known as hastas or madras), and facial expressions are used to convey the meaning of the lyrics of the accompanying song. Emphasis is placed on the symbolic or psychic elements. Category #3: Natya: “Dramatic dance.” Expression predominates and determines the subtle aesthetic value of Indian dance.
Combinations of hand positions (mudras) are used in Manipuri Indian classical dance to help tell a story. Click here to view a series of pictures demonstrating hand positions and their associated meanings. Your assignment is to combine at least six of these mudras to create a story. Write your story out in text form and write in parentheses as you go along the corresponding photograph numbers. In the alternative, you may videotape yourself performing the appropriate hand gestures as you tell the story, upload the video to YouTube, and post the link to your video in place of a written submission in Blackboard. Get inspired! Click here to watch a tutorial video about Manipuri dance hand gestures. Post your blog entry on your group’s blog page in Blackboard. Responses to your peers may cover the following topics: Tell them what you found interesting about their contribution. Ask them questions about their work. Make comparisons.
Originating in the state of Manipur, located in northeastern India, Manipuri dance is one of the divisions of Indian classical dance. Although the dance form has evolved greatly since its inception, King Khuyoi Tompok, a great patron of the arts, is credited with having first developed Manipuri around the 2nd century CE. In contrast to other Indian dance forms, ankle bells are not worn in Manipuri dance, nor are the feet struck hard against the ground; rather, Manipuri is known for its swaying and gliding movements, with the focus more on subtle grace and devotion in motion. Click here to watch a Manipuri dance performance. Pay attention to the astoundingly graceful movements of the dancer.
Kathak is one of the Indian classical dance forms. It is a dance characterized by intricate footwork and precise rhythm. Although its precise origins are unknown, there are literary references to “kathakas” from the 3rd and 4th centuries BCE. Kathakas were the professional storytellers who are credited with having developed the dance form. They combined the telling or singing of stories from epics and mythology with some elements of dance. Kathak dances are hereditary, passed down from one generation to another, resulting in a clear style that has remained largely unchanged through the ages.
Welcome to the Indian Dance Timeline! We begin sometime around the 5th Century BCE, with the Abhinaya Darpana, (“Mirror of Expression”), written by the great Indian stagecraft theorist Nandikeshwara. Although it was not written until sometime around the 2nd Century CE, the school of dance it describes goes back much further. According to Dr. Roxanne Gupta (author of A Yoga of Indian Classical Dance), this book is probably the most important text on Indian classical dance. One of the oldest dance traditions in the world, Indian classical dance is also the oldest known dance still performed that is associated with one of the world's major religions. Indian classical dance forms typically have their roots in local folk art forms. Generally speaking, each was deeply influenced by the unique characteristics of the region from which the dance originated, including such factors as local politics, religion, and the general character of the people. Here are some Indian classical dance forms that are still performed today. You’ll encounter each of these in greater depth later in the timeline: Manipuri Kathak Chhau Kathakali