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Guru Brahma

Guru Vishnu

Guru Devo Maheswaraha

Guru Sakshaad Parambrahma

Tasmay Shri Guruveh Namaha

(This sloka or verse can roughly be translated to mean

Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, (My) Guru

I bow to you, the ultimate Lord/Guru. )

India takes pride in her rich heritage of classical dances which has evolved over centuries,  from the days of the Vedas. For more than 2000 years, dance has been a sacred art cherished and preserved in this country. Dance in India is not merely a spontaneous emotion or idea translated into movement but a form of worship through which a dancer reaches the Almighty. It is a form of Yoga. A dancer can only reach this stage through continuous training i.e. sadhana and constant effort. 

The Origin: Natya Shastra 

The origin of Indian Classical Dances can be traced to the beginning of Treta Yug when the Natya Shastra was created by Brahma on the request of Indra and other devas. As the lower castes (Shudras) were not entitled to listen to the four Vedas (Sama, Yajur, Rig and Atharav), Brahma created the Natya Shastra as the fifth Veda which was open to all, irrespective of caste and creed. Murti Trivanga

Prior to the creation of the Natya Veda, Brahma entered a yogic trance in which he recalled the four Vedas. He drew the recitative (Paathya) from the Rig, songs (Geeta) from the Sama, historic representation (Abhinaya) from the Yajur and sentiments (Rasa) from the Atharv. These aspects are the four main constituents of the Natya Veda.

When the Natya Veda was ready, the Gods expressed their inability to practise it, and Brahma passed it to Bharata Muni and his one hundred sons who were asked to practise it. The dance was first seen at the Flag Festival of Indra to celebrate the victory of the Devas against the Danavas. Shiva learnt the Tandava (masculine) form of the dance, whereas Parvati, his consort learnt the Lasya (feminine) form.

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The Purpose  

"To worship God by Natya is to fulfill all desire and to that one is unfolded the path of salvation.  The Dance gives prestige and longevity and destroys all misery.  The art gives guidance to the dull witted and increases the good fortune of humanity"

:- quotation from the Vishnudharmottara Purana

Apart from spirituality there is a definite purpose in Indian classical dances. The purpose is to educate the illiterates, to enlighten the literate and entertain the enlightened ones.  According to gradations of the mind, Uttama (the great one), Madhyama (ordinary) and Adhama (the lesser one), Natya generates morality and an awareness of well being.  It instructs and gives motivation to achieve perfection in every action.  It relaxes the mind of sick persons, distressed ones, tired souls, bereaved family members and also the Tapaswi (sages) after their meditation.   Natya gives dharmopadesa (the path of righteousness) to happy ones, instructs the way to praise the worthy and also to live long.  Natya sharpens the mind, increases the intellect.  As such Natya gives all things needed for the well being of the people. 

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The Forms

India offers a number of classical dance forms, each of which can be traced to different parts of the country. Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region. The most popular classical styles seen on the Indian stage are Odissi of Orissa, Bharatanatyam of Tamil Nadu, Kathak of Uttar Pradesh, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam of Kerala,   Kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh and Manipuri of Manipur.

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The Elements

All Indian Classical  dances consist of three elements Nritta, Nritya and Natya.

Nritta is pure dance or rhythmic movement of the body.  It features striking and aesthetic poses, but have no expressional meaning and symbolism.  

Nritya is the application of physical movement in conjunction with the mind and is expressed through abhinaya. According to Natya Shastra there are four types of abhinaya.

Angika (physical) - Movements of every part of the body to convey meaning, with hastamudras (hand gestures), mandis (postures) and even the walk of the dancer.

Vachikabhinaya (verbal) - Now a days it is used by members of the orchestra or supporting, non-dancing cast.

Aharyabhinaya (external) - Expression, mood and background as conveyed by costume, make-up, accessories and sets.

Satvikabhinaya (psychological) - Expressed by the eyes in particular and as a whole by the entire being of the performer, who feels the mood, the character and the emotion as emanating from the self, not as an act or practical presentation.

Natya is dramatic representation of stories from mythology.  The concept of dance actually originated in the form of dance dramas and later gained importance as a solo performance.  Even here the dramatic representation is prominent.  The solo dancer portrays different characters while narrating stories. 

Bharatha Muni has described four kinds of dramatic presentations known as Chaturvrithi in Natya Sastra.  They are Bharathi (expression through speech), Sathwathi (expression achieved through thinking and feeling), Kaisiki (the lyrical, subtle movement for ladies) and Arabhati (an acrobatic, forceful movement to represent war, duels, etc.).

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Last updated February 20, 2004