Ancient Tales of The Birth of Indian Classical Dance

Ancient Tales of The Birth of Indian Classical Dance

Origin Of Indian Classical Dance 

Dance is an art almost as old as mankind itself and it is impossible to trace back the exact date or events which led to the birth of Indian classical dance. Although, specifics of Indian classical music, dance, acting and other arts can be found in the Natyashastra composed by Bharat muni dated somewhere around 500 BC to 300 BC. 

Moreover, there are other mythical lores about the origin of dance in Bharata (Ancient name of India) which relate dancing with Hindu Gods and Goddesses along with substantial and more believable archaeological evidence which imply that Indian classical dance is the oldest form of dance known to mankind. 

Mythical References 

The Hindu mythology provides several instances that indicate the origin of the Indian classical dance forms from various Gods. Following are two popular mythical references to the origin of dance or the roots of Indian classical dance forms.

Dancers Created by Lord Brahma: Dance is believed to have originated in the court of Indra (the king of Gods) when Lord Brahma (creator of the universe) created Apsaras (graceful female dancers and performers) to accompany Manu's sons as female partners of a performance. 

Shiva & Parvati as the First Dancers: While the earlier reference was to the celestial origin of dance prevalent in the Hindu culture, the mythology also elaborates how this divine art came to the earth. It is said that Lord Shiva was infuriated by all the evils and agony of the people and he began dancing furiously in anger. This form of dance was known to be the Taandava and Goddess Parvati performed Lasya, a softer, more feminine dance form to calm him down. Taandava became the masculine dance form named Kuttiyattam and Lasya gave rise to Mohiniyattam. 

Natyashastra by Bharat Muni

Along with mythical stories, there is a complete composition by Bharat muni (saint) known as Natyashastra that elaborates the art of Indian classical dance in the form of various Rasa (emotions) and Bhav (expressions). Placed somewhere between the 5th to 3rd century BC, the composition belongs to the Vedic period and is often referred to as the fifth Veda. 

The book focuses on three main forms of dance, namely 

Nritta: The pure art of dancing to the beats and rhythm. 

Nritya: The art of using expressions along with dance. 

Natya: A theatrical type of dance used to depict plays and acts. 

Natyashastra identifies five main classical Indian dances based on the five elements that comprise the whole universe. 

  • Bharatnatyam represents the element of fire.

  • Odissi represents the element of water.

  • Kuchipudi is the element of earth. 

  • Mohiniattam represents the element of air. 

  • Kathakali represents the element of space or sky. 

Besides these five main classical Indian dance forms, Kathak is another popular classical dance that finds its roots in the Natyashastra. Like the above-mentioned dance forms, it also uses the gestures, poses, rasa and bhav as explained by sage Bharat's composition. 

Archaeological Evidence 

The Indian subcontinent is one of the first places where humans emerged and learned to establish and sustain customs, traditions, culture, art and civilization. There is plenty of archaeological evidence regarding the origin of Indian classical dance that can be found in the ruins of ancient civilizations all over India. 

Bhimbetka Rock Shelters: A popular archaeological site in Madhya Pradesh, India, the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters show the earliest form of human life in India. Dated almost 10,000 years old, some of the rock shelters have cave paintings depicting prehistoric civilizations and activities like hunting, gathering and dance.  

The Dancing Girl Statue: It is a bronze statue found in the excavation of Mohenjodaro and Harappa now in Pakistan. The statue belongs to the Indus Valley Civilization which flourished from 2700 BC to 1750 BC. The date of this historic bronze sculpture is set between 2300 BC and 1800 BC. 

Temple Complexes in South India: The various dance poses (karanas) carved on the walls and pillars of temples in South India are directly taken from the Natyashastra which describes a total of 108 Karana. The temple of Lord Shiva in Chidambaram has 93 out of these 108 poses carved on its gateway which was built in the 9th century. 

Bharhut Stupa: The Bharhut stupa, as the name suggests, was found in the village of Bharhut, Satna, Madhya Pradesh. It is dated back to 200 BC and depicts four dancers with poses similar to both Kathak and Bharatnatyam. While modern-day Kathak has evolved due to the influence of Mughal and British rule, the pataka mudra, a characteristic of Kathak dance, can be seen along with other poses in which hand postures depict the dance being performed by Apsaras. 

Learn Indian Classical Dance 

The popularity of Indian classical dance is blooming, and new students have started enrolling in various online classical dance classes.

All the Indian classical dance forms are very typical and require the student to learn from professionals. Thankfully, there are enough academies in Philadelphia that provide classical dance classes where students can learn a combination of various classical dance forms. 

Moreover, if you are on the lookout for a specialist teacher then you can also find classes for individual styles like Kathak dance classes or Bharatnatyam dance classes. You can also follow popular artists like Sophia Salingarose (Instagram: @sophiasalingarose) and Kassiyet (Instagram: @kassiyet), US-based classical dance artists specialising in Bharatnatyam to learn more about Indian classical dance. 

Although, if you are not sure about joining a regular classical dance class, you can always find other options. Begin learning Indian classical dance by exploring online dance classes at PiggyRide. There are a lot of options to choose a classical dance class that caters to your needs. Besides, renowned artists are providing Bharatnatyam dance classes, kathak dance classes, Odissi dance classes, and more. 

Related Articles