All you need to know about Indian Classical Dance forms

India is a country known for its rich cultural heritage, and exhibits rich diversity in dance forms. They consists mainly of two types i.e. Folk and Classical/Tradition. Now, the classical styles such as Bharatnatayam, Kathak etc are extremely popular in the country these days, with schools available throughout the country. However, there are several facts about ‘Indian Classical Dance’ forms that you might be aware of. So, here is illustrating a few vital features about traditional Indian dance that you need to know.

Kuchipudi performer

a. The origin of ‘Indian Classical Dance’ forms, why and how was it created? 

‘Religion’ has played a major role in the development of the ‘Indian Classical Dance’ forms. With India comprising of an approximately 80% Hindu population, it is obvious that there exists a number of shrines in the country. It is within the premises of these temples that the classical form of Indian dance was created. Furthermore, it was developed essentially to pay homage to Hindu God/Goddesses. However, these traditional dance styles have their roots embedded in an ancient Hindu treatise on performing arts known as ‘Natyashastra’. It was thus using fundamentals of dancing mentioned in this book that the classical forms of Indian dance was created.

b. The ‘Rasa Theory’, what is its role in ‘Indian Classical Dance’?

‘Eight Rasas’ mentioned in the ‘Natyashastra’ forms the foundation upon which all the  ‘Indian Classical Dance’ forms have been created. These ‘Rasas’ (which means juice, essence, or taste when translated) are essentially forms of expression used by the performer which eventually evokes an emotion in the audience. According to the  ‘Natyashastra’, there are in total ‘8 Rasas’ that are used in traditional Indian dance styles which express various shades of human emotions. They are as follows:

  1. Shringar: Love
  2. Hasya: Humorous
  3. Karuna: Sorrow
  4. Raudra: Anger
  5. Veer: Heroism
  6. Bhayanak: Fear
  7. Bibhats: Disgust
  8. Adbhoot: Wonder

These 8 rasas together when taken together form what is commonly referred to as the ‘Rasa Theory’.

c. The ‘music, make up, and costumes’, and their role in ‘Indian Classical Dance’ forms:

Apart from the ‘Rasa Theory’ which plays a major role in all 9 ‘Indian Classical Dance’ forms, music along with make up and costumes also are important. In terms of music, instruments used are of two types i.e. stringed or hollow. The vocals depends on the dance being performed. For example, in  the case of Bharatanatyam, it is ‘Carnatic’ (i.e. South Indian style) music which is used. While, in Kathak it is mainly Hindustani (i.e North Indian) music that is used. With regards to costumes and make up, all the major traditional  Indian dance styles require the following:

a.  Bharatanatyam

Costumes: Bright colored Sari- female and Dhoti- male..

Make up: Colourful make up.

b. Kathak:

Costumes: Sari, Ghagra-Choli, Chudidar Frock, Jacket, and Dupatta- female and Chudidar Kurta and Dupatta tied at the waist- male.

Make up: Makeup is not heavy.

c. Odissi:

Costumes: Sari- female and Dhoti- male.

Make up: Makeup is not heavy.

d. Kuchipudi:

Costumes: Sari- female and ‘Angivastra’ known as ‘Bagalbandi’ and a dhoti- male.

Make up: Similar to Bharatanatyam.

e. Kathakali

Costumes: Elaborate head gear, face masks and painted face.

Make up: Three colours Green, Red, and Black are mainly used. Green represents a noble character, Red represents evil, and Black represents hunters and monsters.

f. Mohiniattam:

Costumes: White/Off-White Saree- female.

Make up: One-sided hairstyle (bun) also called as ‘Kuduma’.

g. Manipuri:

Costumes: Decorative barrel-shaped drum like long stiff skirt till bottom with decorative embellishments, dark colored velvet blouse covers the upper part of the body, and veil worn- female. Dhoti kurta white turban, a folded shawl over the left shoulder and the drum strap over the right shoulder- Male.

Make up: Similar to Bharatanatyam.

h. Sattriya:

Costumes: Dhoti, chadar, paguri (turban)- Male.and Ghuri, chadar, Kanchi (waist cloth)- Female.

Make up: Masks are worn.

i. Chhau Dance:

Costumes: Bright colored costumes and ornamental headgears used.

Make up: Masks are used according to the story expressed.

Image Credits: Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons






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