“The Natya Shastra is India’s oldest exposition of the arts, attributed to sage Bharata. Classical Indian dance, whose purest practitioners are from South India, is called Bharat Natyam, named for that ancient text & it’s author. The Natya Shastra dates back to about 2nd century AD, but is sometimes called the “fifth veda”, teaching that all arts were’created by the gods’, first for their own diversion, and also for the entertainment of mortals, including lowly Shudras. The latter, never permitted to hear or recite Vedic mantras, were thus allowed to dance, reaching towards gods with gestures & gyrations. The Bhakti movement of Vaishanavism opened gates of salvation to low-caste Hindus & women. Shudras and even outcastes joined roving bands of singers, dancers & entertainers, like the gypsies of Rajasthan, who staged performances in open fields at night, or if good, in royal palaces. Hindu temples became venues of Bharat Natyam dances by devdasis (slaves of God), abandoned girls, left on temple steps by parents too poor to feed them, reared by Brahmin priests for their own pleasures.
Indian art is believed to reflect varieties of taste (rasa) and states of mind (bhava). The Natya Shastra originally noted four basic rasas, the erotic, heroic, violent & odious, from which evolved nine major taste-moods: love, courage, joy, hatred, fury, pity, terror, surprise & spiritual peace. There are at least thirty-three Bhavas. Love is generally associated with happy states of mind. Fatal illness is so odious as to lead to ‘pathetic’ states of mind.
Classical Indian artistes must, of course, internalize each rasa & bhava to convey it properly, but the audience is also enjoined to try it’s best to appreciate every performers art by learning the varieties of rasa & bhava. Such empathy may take an otherwise mundane performance to dizzy heights.
Bharat Natyam dancers are usually beautiful women, garbed in tightly draped multicolored saris, adorned with knotted hair garlands of jasmine, elaborate head jewels, golden bracelets and noisy ankle-bells. Individual performances may take a few hours to complete, opening with a devotional tribute to lord Krishna. The next segment is a series of graceful body gyrations punctuated by the loud stomping of belled feet, followed by a number of devotional songs. The last and most exhausting portion of dancing begins, a physically taxing climax of swift whirls and accelerated stomping, until the entire stage rocks & vibrates. That climatic burst of explosive energy often leaves an audience almost breathless as the artist, whose surefooted dexterity is truly remarkable”.
Kuchipudi dance form also originated in South & the dominant theme is the blend of sacred & profane emotion – the story of lord Krishna’s jealous wife, Satyabhama, who hated sharing her lord with his 16000 other women.
Kathakali originated in Kerala. Kathakali productions may take up to 12 hours & employ a team of artists, all male. The themes of kathakali are all epic dimensions, either Ramayana or Mahabharata. The costumes are so complex that it may take several hours to put on. Huge monstrous masks are put on by the dancers, who jump around & shriek wildly to accompaniment of drums, cymbal-clapping singers.
On the other hand, North Indian dances are influenced by Islamic tastes. The theme is normally the pathos of unrequited love. The Kathak dance is quite popular & performed by women. These were the popular nautch girls or the courtesans of Raj days.
” Music & song emerged as integral to classical dance-drama. Basically improvisational, it is melodic & rhythmic, but lacks harmony & counterpoint. Ragas are normally 5 or 7 notes in descending or ascending order. Each raga has a principal mood: erotic, heroic, pathetic or tranquil, each is also associated with a particular time of the day or year. Six ragas are considered basic: Bhairva, Kaushika, Dipaka, Hindola, Shriraga & Megha.
Raga Bhairava: The most powerful raga & must be played at dawn. The dominant moods are awe & fear.
Hindola: Is the raga of love, to be played at night.
Megha: is music of peace & calm meditation.
Western music artists & singers like the Beatles, have integrated Indian classical music & instruments, especially Sitar & Tabla, into modern Global musical forms that have recently emerged from a harmonious syncretism of Indo-Western arts”.