[ North India | South India ]
India is a very diverse country, about a third the size of the United States.
It has more than 22 states in which there are many distinct languages, each
having its own alphabet, a different mode of dress, dance, song, and different
flavors to the food! In each region of India, as in most places in the world,
people have their own kinds of folk dances, which are very diverse. Some
use clapping, swirling, dancing on stilts, tapping rhythms on sticks with
partners; there are harvest dances, fisherman dances, all kinds.
Most young Indians living in urban areas are up to date with Western
pop culture, MTV and rap as well, and may be very fond of Indian cinema
which features singing and dancing. While folk and "filmi" dances
are different from the classical dance forms, they do share some gestures
and movement vocabulary.
North India is one of India’s three main geographical regions. The
Vindhya mountains mark the southern boundary of North India and the Son
river and the Kosi river marks its eastern border. North India consists
of thirteen Indian states: Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh,
Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand,
Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. India’s capital,
New Delhi, is in this region.
"Kathakars," were nomadic storytellers who used a combination of music,
dance, and acting to narrate religious tales from the Hindu epics,
MAHABHARATA and RAMAYANA. Kathak's primary role, during that period,
was to evoke devotion, "Bhakti" in the audience.
is among the six major classical dances of India, originating from the temples of North India. The word kathak is derived from
the Sanskrit word "katha," meaning
Kathak today has two distinct styles, the The Muslim conquest of
India led to the Mughal Empires of the 15th through 19th centuries,
creating a distinctive Indian-Islamic civilization, manifested largely
through the arts. It was here that the Hindu Maharajas and the Muslim Mughal leaders hired Kathakas to
entertain them in their lavish courts, transforming kathak
from a form of devotion to more secular entertainment. Due to the
which forbade the representation of God in human forms, the dancers
needed to modify and disguise religious movements. The simple Hindu
storytelling style was also enhanced to reflect court entertainment
etiquettes, which included a high degree of formalization, style and a
vivid sensuous quality to the dance. Rhythmic footwork, fast
pirouettes, and subtle intricate movements became its signature.Lucknow
and the Jaipur gharana
. While the Jaipur gharana
emphasizes the technical mastery of pure dance and swift turns, the Lucknow gharana
emphasizes expressive content including refined gesture and abhinaya
(expression). Combining the devoutness of the Hindu temple with
luscious entertainment from the Mughal and Rajput courts, the tradition
of Kathak dance continues to evolve throughout the world in the
twenty-first century. Enriched by contemporary literature, music and
performance, Kathak responds to an increasingly global culture.
Footwork and "Bols"
is the basic footwork of kathak. While the origin of this footwork
still remains uncertain, it is considered to have been derived from the
natawari bols (syllables) ta,
thei, and tat. In
kathak, the idea of worship through dance involves the spiritual
relationship of the dancer in contact with the earth, in order to reach
, body (from Tanu
, Earth (from Sthela
, Lord (from Eishwara
The body that dances on the earth for the Lord
has developed into a very sophisticated system of footwork and rhythmic
is also a study into the power of energy. The soles of the feet
generate a flow of energy which streams through all the cells in the
muscles and bones of the body as the body moves in tune with the
energy. The energy flows up to the crown of the mind, dissolving
thought as it unites with the energy, and a harmony of body and mind is
realized. It is at this level that dance becomes a yogic practice.
South India is one of India’s three main geographical regions. South
India traditionally includes the entire Indian Peninsula south of the
Satpura and Vindhya mountains. The region is made up of the five south
Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil
One of the most ancient of the dance styles is what is now called
Bharata natyam. Bharatha is a combination of 'bha' for Bhava meaning expressions, 'ra' for ragam meaning music and 'tha' for thalam meaning rhythm. Natyam means dance. An encyclopedia of dance, music and theatre was written
in India two thousand years ago, called the Natya Shastra, so we know that formal
performing arts were already established by then and the rules governing
the training and performance of dancers was already well established.
Up to about a hundred years ago, dancers were dedicated to perform
in the temple for the deities, in order to chase away bad spirits and
bring good fortune to the king, and all those who came to worship at
the temple. They also danced and played music to wake up the gods in
the early morning, and sang lullabies to put them to bed at night.
During the 200 years that the British ruled India they gradually impoverished
the royal patrons and royal temples that had once lavishly supported
temple dance and other ceremonial arts. Only in those regions where
strong local rajas maintained political power did these courtly arts
continue to flourish.
Part of the Indian Independence movement, starting from the late 19th century,
focused on the recovery of India's unique cultural legacies. One such
individual involved in this process of recovery was Rukmini Devi Arundale
who established the "Kalakshetra" school in 1936 in Madras (Chennai).
As soon as India won independence from Britain in 1947 the new Indian
government set up arts scholarships and festivals to encourage Indian
culture once again. Now Indians of elite social classes, which once
would have nothing to do with temple dancing, form the vast majority
of practitioners of Bharata natyam, an extraordinary social phenomenon
in less than 60 years!
Tamilnadu is considered the homeland of Bharata natyam, though it
is danced by women and men from all over India and the world. In fact,
the Bay Area has one of the largest concentrations of Bharata natyam
dancers in the world with estimates of over 600 dancers studying and
Today, typically, students begin training at the age of six or seven,
and they will be teenagers by the time they have become good performers.
They first learn simple steps to give strength and coordination, later
they add more complex movements using many different foot patterns
and geometric poses, all which must be performed in fast speeds perfectly
in time with the music. The students need to learn a whole language
of mudras, or hand gestures, in order to act out the words of the songs,
and, ideally, they learn the dance songs themselves.
With these carefully taught mudras (see the Why
and How We Dance page in the Thinking and Talking activities
section for pictures of some mudras), mathematically precise footsteps,
and perfect geometric measures in the movements and poses, storytelling
emanates from the heavens to the people of earth, to nimble dancers
dressed in jewels and gold threaded silks in rainbow colors who,
at one time, performed their ceremonial dances in the Hindu temples.
Bharata natyam is not the only Indian classical dance style - almost
every region has a classical style with a solo dance tradition and
a drama style to enact whole stories that last all night. The stories,
in Bharata natyam, are told through song and the songs are about the
gods. The main theme is the victory of good over evil. The main feature
of Bharat natyam is the use of the face, eyes and fingers to tell these
stories with wonderful theatrical expressions. In a solo dance, the
performer must play all the roles, but in a dance-drama a different
performer will take each part.
mythological tales of ancient India, which have been told for thousands
of years, are narrated through the unique language of gestures and
dramatic mime of Bharatanatyam. They are tales of the gods and heroes,
about the great king Rama, banished to the forest, whose wife was kidnapped
by a ravenous ten-headed king, and how he rescued her with the help
of Hanuman, the monkey general, and all the animals. There are tories
of how the beautiful Goddess Meenakshi, skilled in all the arts including
the art of warfare, challenged Shiva, the most powerful of all the
gods, to a duel, and how, on the battlefield, they fell in love…