Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “In India the borderline between “classical” (margi) and “folk/regional” styles (desi) is not always clear. During the 20th century it became established that six and later eight major schools of dance were defined as “classical” styles. The former classification includes bharatanatyam (originally from Tamil Nadu), manipuri (Manipur), kathak (a Persian-influenced, originally North Indian style), kathakali (Kerala), kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), and orissi (Orissa). [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“Most of them are now most often performed as solo forms and were originally performed by the devadasis, or the female temple servants, who were given to the temple to be “married” to the main deity of the temple. This practice was closely linked with the devotional bhakti sect of Hinduism. One more regional variety of this kind of female solo dance has already been discussed in connection with the performing arts of the State of Kerala. It is mohiniattam, which for some strange reason was not added to the list of the “classical” forms. /=/

All these forms can be, according to the ancient Drama Manual, the Natyashastra, classified as soft, feminine lasya dances. Two different dance categories are mentioned in the Natyashastra. They are lasya and tandava. Strong or “masculine” tandava is related to the god Shiva’s creative and destructive cosmic dance, while graceful or “feminine” lasya is said to have been created by Shiva’s spouse, the goddess Parvati. Lasya also indicates a type of performance in which a solo performer both dances as well as enacts, through gestures and mime, a text sung by a singer. One characteristic of lasya solo dances is the fact that they combine both non-narrative nrtta sequences with the mimetic abhinaya sequences, in which the solo dancers play all the characters mentioned in the text sung by the singer. Of these lasya-style dances, bharatanatyam has, for historical reasons discussed later, been the dominant one. One could almost speak about the bharatanatyamisation of other solo forms, since both mohiniattam and kuchipudi have been deeply influenced by its style and particularly by its repertoire./=/

“Northern Indian kathak, however, stems from a very different context. In the north, following invasions from Central Asia in the 10th–12th centuries, large areas came under the rule of the Islamic Delhi Sultanate and, later in the 16th century, the Moghul Empire. Thus North India was influenced by the Islamic, particularly the Persian, culture. Kathak is a fruit of the fusion of the Persian-influenced Moghul culture and a local, northern Indian tradition. Kathak, however, like bharatanatyam, is no longer a style limited only to the region of its birth. Both are studied and performed around India as well as abroad. Internationally they are probably the best-known forms of Indian dance today.” /=/


Natyashastra: India’s Ancient Dance Drama Manual

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “The myth of the origin of theatre in India, told at the very beginning of the Natyashastra, or the Drama Manual, shows the central role of theatre and dance in Indian culture. Natya, the art of theatre (including dance), was the work of God Brahma, the creator, who was asked to give mankind a fifth Veda, which, unlike the four earlier Vedas, could be understood by everyone, even those who did not know Sanskrit (i.e., the two lowest casts). Thus Brahma created the Natya Veda, with the assistance of other gods. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“Natya was then taught by God Brahma to the mythic sage Bharata, who is said to have recorded this teaching in the Natyashastra. The origin of the book is thus shrouded in mythology, but the work itself is indeed living reality. The Natyashastra is probably the world’s largest and most comprehensive theatre and dance manual, and it still forms the foundation of the classical forms of theatre and dance in India. /=/

“The instructions of the Natyashastra became established through centuries of practical theatre work. The compilation of this treatise dates back most probably to the second century AD, although the tradition formulated in it was older. Most probably it preserves information and practices that for generations had already originally been conveyed orally. /=/

Text of the Natyashastra

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “ Natyashastra’s 36 chapters give instructions on almost all aspects of theatre and dance: the theatre building, the stage, the theory of poetry, the use of the voice, make-up, costume, acting styles, dance techniques, and even theatre criticism. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“Bharata points out that the word or text is the basis of theatre. The Natyashastra thus gives much space to the construction of a play. Its chief protagonist is usually a hero, often a king or a prince, and the five stages of the play are seen from his point of view. They are (1) the beginning, (2) the effort, (3) the possibility of attainment, (4) the possibility of resolution still overshadowed by conflicts and/or obstacles and, finally, (5) the fruition. /=/

“The Natyashastra gives four different styles of natya or stylised acting: (1) the graceful, (2) the energetic, (3) the grand, and (4) the verbal. The last one is probably is the nearest equivalent to Western spoken theatre. In the Natyashastra the dance is divided into two basic categories; they are nrtta or the abstract, “pure” dance, which does not convey any story or specific mood, and nritya or dance with rasa moods, often serving as a medium to convey a story. Nritya is also often called abhinaya and this term will also be used here. The nrtta is constructed of the technique of rendering the rhythm (tala) through movements that do not have any specific meaning, and the skill of projecting frozen, sculptural poses within a given rhythmic cycle. /=/

“In the present dance traditions a dance number or a whole recital often combine nrtta dances and abhinaya numbers. Abhinaya technique in itself is a complicated “science” of body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions culminating in the eye movements. The term abhinaya indicates all that which “brings the thing to the audience”. /=/

Theory of Rasa

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “ The Natyashastra introduced the theory of bhava and rasa, so central to Indian aesthetics. It had a profound effect on most of the traditional art forms of India. Bhava means an emotional state or mood, portrayed by the dancer-actor. Rasa, “taste” or “essence”, refers to the sentiment that the bhava, manifested by the actor, should evoke in the audience. The rasas were originally eight in number, but the post-Natyashastra tradition added a ninth one: 1) The Erotic (srngara); 2) The Comic (hasya); 3) The Pathetic (karuna); 4) The Furious (raudra); 5) The Heroic (vira); 6) The Terrible (bhayanaka); 7) The Odious (bibhatsa); 8) The Marvellous (abhuta); and 9)The Tranquil (santa). [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“According to this theory, one of these permanent sentiments should govern any good work of art. According to Bharata, the actor-dancer should be able to elicit the rasa experience in the audience through the stahyi bhava or permanent emotion, which is supported by the determinants (vibhava) and stimulants (anubhava). These are further elaborated upon through different transitory states of mind. If all goes well, the spectator then receives these various signals, which awake the particular sentiment in question in his or her mind. However, not everyone is able to experience it. In order to be able to recognise or receive the rasa, or the “essence”, the spectator should be a sensitive and cultivated person, a rasika. /=/

“The rasa theory has been discussed above only in simplified outlines. In fact, the process of creating the rasa sentiment is more complicated. An often used example is the creation of rasa of love on the stage. When a character on stage is in love, the sentiment of love is the ruling and continuing emotional state or stahyibhava manifested by the actor. The context for this emotional state is provided by text describing the lovers, appropriate music, costumes, make-up system etc. The emotion of love is further manifested by facial expressions, such as amorous glances, smiles, flirting etc. These physical actions are called anubhavas. /=/

“The manifestation of love needs to be elaborated. Accessory feelings, such as hope, doubt, jealousy, longing etc. are intermingled with the basic emotion of love. These rising and falling supporting emotions are called vyabhicaribhavas and they are 37 in number. All these leading and accessory emotions, as well as voluntary and involuntary actions, aim to create the sentiment of love in the audience.” /=/

Body Language and Mudras (Symbolic Hand Gestures)

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “ There are two main styles of conveying drama, the stylised or symbolic one, natya, and the realistic one, loka. The stylised way, natya, combines dance or dance-like movements with facial expression. Dance was an integral part of stylised acting, while later it also became an independent form of art, as described in several post-Natyashastra treatises. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“The classical Indian dance technique described in the Natyashastra is one of the most detailed and complex in the world. It includes 108 karanas or basic dance units, four ways of standing, 32 movements of the feet and hips, nine neck movements, seven movements for eyebrows, 36 types of gaze, and symbolic hand gestures, 24 for one hand and 13 for both hands etc. The dancer-actor’s whole body, from the soles of his or her feet to the eyelids and fingertips, are trained to be a versatile means of expression through years of work in order to be able the express the rasa. /=/

“The use of mudra (also hasta), the symbolic hand gestures, is especially characteristic of Indian dance and theatrical expression. The mudras most probably developed from the magic gestures of the ancient Veda rituals. In Indian theatre and dance, various combinations of mudras permit the dancer-actor to express himself or herself with distinct and nuanced language of gestures. /=/

“The need for such a form of expression appears to have been based on the fact that the early drama texts were in often in Sanskrit, which was understood only by the two higher casts, while the gesture language could be, at least in principle, comprehended by all. In South-East Asia, symbolic hand gestures are also an essential feature of dance, but they did not develop into a specific gesture language. For example, Javanese, classical dance involves only four gestures of the hands, which have different meanings in various contexts or no specific literary meaning at all. /=/

Physical Storytelling and the Lasya (Feminine) Style

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “The Natyashastra mentions two different dance styles. They are lasya and tandava. Tandava is related to the powerful creative and destructive cosmic dance of God Shiva, while lasya is said to have been created by Shiva’s spouse, Goddess Parvati. Traditionally these terms are used to indicate the style of dance, i.e. lasya is a soft and graceful style, while tandava is strong, even aggressive, in style. Both styles can be performed by either male or female dancers. Lasya also indicates a performance style in which a solo performer enacts a text sung by a singer by means of gestures and mime. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“The facial muscles, eyes, eyebrows, etc., are trained and developed as consistently as the body, hands, and feet. Facial technique is central to the expression of the rasa mood, and it can even be developed to the level where the actor can express joy with one half of his face and sorrow with the other. In fact, the culmination of the whole acting happens in the eyes of the performer. His or her gaze must follow the hand movements, while the facial expression then gives meaning to the gesture. Thus, when a dancer, with his or her hand movements, depicts, for example, the opening of a lotus flower, his or her eyes are able to give different emphases to the gesture. /=/

“For example, if the flower is especially beautiful, the facial expression and the eyes may express the sentiment of wonder. However, if there is a poisonous snake in it, the actor’s eyes and face may express horror. Thus the eye and facial movements in general, with their ability to convey a mood, are able to give almost endlessly different meanings to the symbolic hand gestures. If it is compared with the traditional Western acting technique, the natya differs from it in one particular aspect. In the West the focus is on the action manifested by the actor while in classical Indian acting technique the focus is on the character’s reactions to that action. The whole complicated process of conveying the rasa through the natya technique is crystallised in the famous dictum: Where the hand goes, eyes follow. Where the eye goes, there the mood follows. Where the mind goes, there arises the sentiment.” /=/

Bharata Natyam

“Bharata natyam” is one of India's most well-known forms of classical dance. Originating in Tamil Nadu in southern India, it features women dancers doing a wide variety of dance movements accompanied by the rhythm of her stamping feet. It is based on old temple dances dedicated to Shiva but was assembled in its present form in the late 18th century by four brothers from Tanjore. Bharata stands for Bhavana (bha), which is mood; Raga (ra), a kind of music; and tala (ta), rhythm. Natyam stands for Nritya (pure dance). Movement, mime and music all have equal importance. The dance form is known for its movements of pure rhythm and rendering a story dramatically in different moods.

“Bharata natyam” has traditionally been handed down from generation to generation under the Devadasi system and has a long association with Hindu temples. Women were dedicated to temples to serve the deities at the temple as dancers and musicians. These women and their male gurus were the sole practitioners of this art form until the 20th century. One of the most well-known bharata natyam performers is Aniruddha Knight, a 10th generation dancer and musician. His grandmother Balasaraswait and mother Lakshima are both legendary.

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “ Bharatanatyam is often claimed that it is the oldest form of dance still being performed in India. This is emphasised by its present name, given to it in the 1930s, which means “Bharata’s dance”, which refers to the name of the legendary author of the 2nd century AD Drama Manual, the Natyashastra. Bharatanatyam is now best known as a solo form, most often performed by women. However, male dancers also perform it every now and then. It is also known that group dances and even dance-dramas in this style were common earlier. Bharatanatyam’s classical repertoire was enriched by new compositions in the 20th century, and during recent decades its technique has also served as the basis for contemporary choreographies. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“In its tiniest details bharatanatyam technique follows the instructions of the Natyashastra. Like other lasya forms, bharatanatyam also combines the expressive abhinaya mime with pure nrtta dance. Theoretically the dancer’s body is divided into units, such as the head, the torso and the lower body. There are different ways of standing, which dictate the central median and thus the balance of the body. A co-ordinated sequence of movements, combining the movements and positions of feet, knees, arms, torso, and hands, is called adavu (karana in the Natyashastra). These are divided into nine types, and they form the basis of pure nrtta dance. In its abhinaya acting bharatanatyam also follows Natyashastra’s instructions. Both mudras, the symbolic hand gestures and the facial expression with its chin, eye, and eyebrow micro-techniques, are employed. /=/

“A bharatanatyam recital is accompanied by classical South Indian Karnatak music. The small orchestra usually consists of a South Indian mrdangam drum, a flute, and cymbals, although other instruments may also be included. The singer has an important role as the leader of the performance by singing the poems of the mimetic abhinaya sections as well as the series of syllables marking the rhythmic patterns of the pure nrtta sections.” /=/

History of Bharatanatyam

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “ Bharatanatyam, as well as the other lasya style solo dances, has its roots in a certain type of dance that had already been described in the Natyashastra in the 2nd century AD. It seems that this kind of solo form, in which the soloist presents an entire story by herself by enacting all its characters, was widely known in India during that time. During the Middle Ages, around the 10th century, bharatanatyam became a style mainly practised in Tamil Nadu, while other, nearly similar sub-categories of this genre evolved in other parts of India. There exists an exceptionally vast amount of literary, sculptural and historical evidence by which the history of bharatanatyam can be reconstructed. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen,Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“The heyday of bharatanatyam was during the Chola dynasty in the 10th–11th centuries, when the southern temples had hundreds of devadasis in their service to take care of the dance rituals. Court dancers seem to have also practised a similar style. Several of the South Indian temple complexes have reliefs showing the poses of bharatanatyam. The most famous of them are those carved on the 9th century towering gateways of the Shiva temple in Chidambaram. They include ninety-three of the 108 karanas or basic dance sequences described in the Natyashastra. These small relief panels, together with other similar series and contemporaneous murals depicting dancers, constitute important source material when one is trying to reconstruct the development of bharatanatyam. /=/

Another important phase in the development of bharatanatyam happened in the early 19th century, when four brothers, Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Vedivelu and Sivanandam, shaped bharatanayam’s repertoire. They were all disciples of the composer Muthuswami Dikshitar. The four brothers are also known as the “Tanjavur Quartet”, referring to the city where they worked. It is believed that the Tanjavur Quartet focused on the solo form of bharatanatyam, which, in fact, had earlier also been performed (and still is today) as a dance-drama, such as bhagavatamela and kuvaranji. They are now nearly extinct, although attempts have been made to revive or reconstruct them. /=/

“During the British colonial period the decline of the devadasi institution into prostitution led to a censorship of temple dances, which were finally prohibited by law in the 1920s. The revival of bharatanatyam was started in the 1930s by an upper-caste revivalist, Rukmini Devi, who also gave the style its present name. Bharatanatyam is today the most widely spread of all Indian dance styles. It is studied and performed around India and abroad. Many brilliant artists have enriched its repertoire, among them being Balasaraswati in the mid-20th century, renowned for her expressive abhinaya technique, and later Alarmel Valli with her exquisite technique.” /=/

Bharatanatyam Costumes

“Bharata natyam” is known of its elaborate silk costumes and extensive use of jewelry. Female dancers wear skirts that resemble draped trousers with a fan pleat piece in the front; a separate piece around the hips; and a traditional choli (blouse) for a top. The male costume is essentially the same. The male belt is made of silver mango leaves. Sometimes male dancers wear armlets, bracelets, necklaces and earrings.

Female dance wear a tikka (forehead pendant), which covers the hair parting and is attached to a string of pearls and gems A round clip on the right side of the hair represents the sun. A clip on the left side in the hair represents the moon. Armlets and bracelets are worn on the arms. Hair is worn as a long plait that hangs down the back and is covered with a hooded serpent ornament, called a “jadal naga”, which symbolizes space and eternity. Ankle bells and palms and feet that have been dyed pink complete the costume.

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “The overwhelming sculptural documentation on bharatanatyam’s history clearly shows that during the early periods the dancers were very scantily dressed. Different kinds of ornaments were worn on the neck, ears, shoulders, wrists and forearms. Otherwise the costume seems to have consisted only of a small loincloth. It seems natural that bharatanatyam’s nuanced dance technique, which employs the whole body and all the limbs, was indeed meant to be seen in detail, not covered with heavy costume. However, changing moral attitudes, first brought by the Islamic rulers and then by the British colonial administrators, changed the costuming. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“Even by the late 19th century photographs of devadasis, who formerly performed bharatanatyam, show them dressed in sari-type costumes.A new kind of dance “uniform” was invented during the period of bharatanatyam’s revival in the 1930s. It consists of a sari-kind of basic dress, which is made suitable for dance by the addition of fan-like extensions to its front, which makes the low bending positions possible. An important addition to the dancer’s appearance is given by various ornaments, which follow the ancient conventions seen in old sculptures. Furthermore, henna ornamentation is painted on the hands and feet, while fresh flowers decorate the female dancer’s hair.

Bharatanatyam Repertoire

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “The traditional repertoire of a bharatanatyam recital was to a great extent shaped by the above-mentioned four “Tanjavur Brothers” in the early 19th century. It starts with alarippu, which is a pure nrtta dance introducing different elements of the technique such as the basic stance and its deviations, the foot, arm, and neck movements culminating in the face and eye movements. After this display of the technique’s basic components follows jatisvaram, another pure nrtta number in which the wider movement patterns are combined with a certain type of melody. In the third part called sabdam, the dancer enacts the poem sung by the singer by means of abhinaya technique. It ends with a short, abstract nrtta sequence. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“Once the dancer has introduced, in alarippu, the basic elements of the dance, in jatisvaram the combination of a whole series of movements, and in sabdam the abhinaya technique, follows the fourth part, varnam. It is usually the longest and most intricate of all the numbers. All the elements and sub-techniques that have already been introduced are interwoven when the dancer performs a song, partly improvising.The song usually depicts a short episode related to one of the Hindu gods. /=/

“Then one or several padams usually follow. By means of the abhinaya technique they also illustrate poems that usually tell about love, either human or divine. In terms of dance technique padams may seem simple. However, they give the performer a chance to display the mimetic abhinaya technique and elaborate the emotional states. In tillana, the final number, all the various aspects of bharatanatyam and the themes introduced in the beginning finally dissolve into a firework-like, virtuosic pure nrtta dance. /=/

“There is no doubt that the traditional bharatanatyam repertoire covers a vast range of human movements from complicated footwork to various micro-techniques and further to mimetic narration. However, nowadays many dancers also admit its limitations and rigidity. This has led to various attempts to revitalise and enlarge the repertoire. New compositions have been created, the history of the style has been researched, and contemporary themes, such as gender and environmental issues, have recently been included in its themes.” /=/

Rukmini Devi and the Revival of Southern Classical Dance

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “ Rukmini Devi (1904–1986), a dancer, choreographer and revivalist, married an Englishman. They were both active in the theosophical movement, which had its headquarters in India. Rukmini Devi was very interested in Western ballet, but after she had had discussions with the period’s most famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who was visiting India, she concentrated her energies on reviving the classical dance style of southern India. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“At that time, Indian dance was seen by the educated classes as something vulgar and degenerated. This was partly because of the decline of the devadasi system and partly because of the despising attitudes of the colonial administrators. Thus it was a great shock for many when a highly educated Brahman lady started to study “temple dance” and to perform it publicly on a theatre stage. Despite strong public protests, Rukmini Devi and her husband founded a centre for dance and music, Kalakshetra, in Chennai (Madras) in 1936. Its main aim was to revive the southern Indian dance tradition. /=/

“In this process Rukmini Devi somewhat reformulated the whole style according to the tastes and moral codes of the period. The erotic aspect was, to a great extent, wiped out, the present type of dance costume was created, a violin was added to the orchestra, and the dance style was renamed bharatanatyam, or “Bharata’s dance”, in order to legitimise its ancient origins. Rukmini Devi made many experiments. She introduced modern stage lighting to her performances and choreographed large dance-dramas employing bharatantyam. Nothing of this would, of course, have been possible had she not had first-class teachers at her new institute.” /=/

Uday Shankar, the Father of Modern Indian Dance

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “The person who is honoured to be the “founder of modern dance” in India did not originally have any kind of background in dance. Uday Shankar (1900–77), the older brother of the musician Ravi Shankar, belonged to a Rajasthani family with origins in what is now Bangladesh. He was originally interested in painting. For a while he studied law before he became an amateur impresario. In 1920 he went to London to study at the Royal College of Art. It was the period of “Orientalism” in Europe. Anything that was thought to have something to do with the “Exotic East” was highly fashionable. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“Uday Shankar performed as an “Indian dancer” at one of the charity events organised by his father in London. Among the spectators was also Anna Pavlova (1882–1931), the most famous Russian ballerina of the time. Pavlova also had ambitions to create her own orientalistic choreographies and she chose Uday Shankar to be her partner. Their co-production, the Krishna-Radha ballet, had a highly successful première at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1923. Later they also produced the ballets Ajanta Frescoes and Oriental Impressions. /=/

“In Europe and in America Uday Shankar first of all embraced the prevalent Western stage aesthetics with all the possibilities of stage décor and electric lighting. He worked very much along the same lines as did the Western artists trying to capture the romantic conception of Oriental Mysticism in their creations. They included, among many others, Ruth Saint Denis, La Meri, and the most famous of them all, the notorious Mata Hari. /=/

“Uday Shankar was a celebrity when he returned to India in 1927. He went back to Europe in 1937 and founded Europe’s first Indian dance troupe in Paris. At the same time as Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and Rolf de Maré’s Ballet Suédois toured the world with repertoires including oriental numbers, Uday Shankar performed seven years throughout Europe and America with his group called Uday Shankar and his Hindo Ballet. /=/

“In 1960 Uday Shankar settled in Calkutta, where he established his Uday Shankar Centre of Dance in 1965. His influence can be mainly recognised in the spread of the conception of Indian Ballet, in which various Indian systems of movement are adapted to Western stage aesthetics. His only dance film Kalpana or Imagination (1948) is, however, in its brave expressionistic style, a remarkable attempt to combine dance, visual arts and film.” /=/

New Trends in Indian Dance

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki wrote: “As has been seen, the early pioneers of “modern” Indian dance and dance-drama were, to a great extent, busy in adapting the Indian traditions to basically Western stage aesthetics, dominated by the proscenium stage, the stage décor and modern lighting. The old art forms were removed from their originally religious context to that of theatre. While this took place, the original religious-philosophical content of the traditional performing arts was replaced by a new kind of concept of “spirituality” or “mysticism” reflecting two international trends, that of theosophical thinking, so popular both in the West and in India, as well as the yearning for everything “Eastern” and “Exotic”, dominating the Orientalistic movement around the Western world. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theatre Academy Helsinki /=/]

“On the practical level, the new productions were created by the modern pioneers themselves, who were familiar with the Western trends. Many of them, as well as many of their followers, aimed to create dance-dramas. Thus many dance-dramas based on bharatanatyam, kathak, Manipuri etc. technique came into being. The artist who took a step towards a more modern concept of dance in India was Chandralekha (1928–2006). She was born in Gujarat and, after a short period of studying law, she started her studies in southern Indian classical dance. /=/

“In her many works, such as Angika, Lilavati, Prana, Sri Yantra, Raga, Sloka etc., she fused the techniques bharatanatyam, kathakali, kalaripayatty, and even yoga. She did not merely borrow their movement materials and qualities but, indeed, was able to “deconstruct” Indian dance to its basics and to create something totally new. She was critical of traditional Indian society and the clichés of things Indian. She was a crusader of equality, women’s rights and human rights in general. She removed Indian dance from its religious context and proclaimed that her art was simply a “celebration of the human body”. /=/

“Simply because of the enormous proportions of the country and its population it is impossible at the moment to get a coherent overall view of the present trends in theatre and dance in India. In the field of spoken drama, most of India’s numerous language regions have had their own circumstances, trends and developments. The same is also the case in the field of traditional arts. Many forms, as has been seen above, have had their processes of revival. Many of them are now seriously studied and performed in their historical contexts while, at the same time, they also provide indigenous Indian material for new creations for numerous artists working in both India and the West.” /=/

According to the Guinness Book of Records, world champion limbo dancer on roller skates is 4.7 inches by Syamala Gowri at Hyderabad, India in May 1993.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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