The arts of dance and music are of great importance to the culture of India. Both arts are extremely old and have close links not only with each other but also with religion, literature, and drama. For hundreds of years the artistic forms of classical dance and music were learned by a few intensively trained artists from teachers of the previous generation. Performances were restricted mainly to royal courts, temples, and the houses of wealthy people. But in the 1900's, dance and music began to feature in films, radio and television, and sound and videotape recordings. As a result, millions of ordinary people now have the chance to enjoy and learn more about classical dance and music.
Popular styles of dance and music have developed alongside the classical forms. In addition, each region of India has a long tradition of folk dance and music. Some classical styles originally developed from folk dances and folk music.
Classical Indian dances are among the most graceful and beautiful in the world. They all make use of a complicated, visual language, consisting of hand gestures, body movements, and postures. Movements of the eyes and hands, arms and legs, chest, waist, hip, knee, and foot, either alone or in combination with each other, all make up this complicated language. Indian dance uses a set of emotions or feelings known as rasas. The job of the artist is to take in emotions, such as amazement, anger, hatred, humour, or love, and communicate them to the audience. The creation of a piece of art, including dance or musical composition, comes out of a deep sense of feeling at one with the universe. This deep sense of inner harmony combined with discipline of the mind and body makes dance similar to yoga.
Classical styles. There are five major styles of classical dance in India: (1) Bharata Natyam, (2) Kathak, (3) Kathakali, (4) Manipuri, and (5) Orissi. Each of these styles developed in a specific region of India. They differ in their languages of gesture. But they are all founded on the principles of rasa and they all draw upon stories and poems that tell about the lives of the Hindu gods. These include gods such as Shiva, (the god of the dance), Krishna, and many more.
All dances may be used in combination with mime.
Some dances are set to music. Others are accompanied by spoken poetry. The musical accompaniment may consist of a vocalist or singer, a drummer, and a person playing the cymbals. In most cases, there is also a person playing a stringed instrument. The dancer uses movement to interpret the sense of the poetry sung by the singer and communicates the feelings evoked by the music. Dancers are free to make up their own movements.
Bharata Natyam is a style of solo dance (one person dancing) that comes from southern India. It is one of the most important and probably one of the oldest of the classical styles. Although closely linked with local traditional dance-drama, it was used mainly in Hindu religious ceremonies. The movements of this dance style are developed from a basic pose, in which the thighs are turned outward, the knees are flexed, and the feet are close together and are also turned outward. The feet beat out complex rhythms. Performances may last for about two hours and follow a set list of procedures.
Kathak is the major dance style of northern India and combines local folk elements with dance forms that developed in the courts of the Mughal emperors and later Indian princes
The folk and temple traditions from which the Kathak style has developed consist mostly of Hindu dance-dramas. Kathak owes much of its present form to developments made in the 1800's at the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the ruler of Lucknow. Dancers perform Kathak keeping their bodies straight. Clever footwork, including highly rhythmical walks, glides, and fast pirouettes (spinning on one foot), gives the style its vital, dazzling, skilful character. Delicate movements of the eyes, eyebrows, neck, and shoulders are also used in some dances. Both men and women perform Kathak dances. Many dances express love or devotion to Krishna.
Kathakali, from the state of Kerala in southwestern India, is a true dance-drama. The Kathakali dancers act out the parts of different characters in a play. They dress up in outsize costumes to give themselves a larger-than-life appearance. They also wear masklike face make-up, in colours that have a strong, symbolic meaning. Kathakali performances are often held outdoors and sometimes go on all night. They are accompanied by a person who sings or speaks the poetry, while the dancers convey the meaning of each line with movements and gestures, including finger pointing, sweeping body movements, and wide, circling arm movements. In former times, male dancers took all the parts in a Kathakali play. But women now also perform in them.
Manipuri developed in eastern India. The dancer's feet face forward and knees are slightly bent. The dancer moves his or her chest and waist in opposite directions, making a figure-of-eight shape with the body. The dancer's arms make graceful, curved movements. His or her fingers trace out delicate circles and curves in the air. The Manipuri style includes several types of repertoire (range of dances). Five types, consisting of dancing by whole troupes, as well as dance solos and duets, deal with a story about Krishna. Another body of dances, the Sankirtanas, involves male dancers performing jumps to the sound of drums, cymbals, and clapping.
Orissi is a dance form from the state of Orissa, in eastern India. Sculptures found in Orissa, dating from the 100's B.C., show dancers in distinctive poses characteristic of the Orissi style. The style developed from musical plays and was common in temples and village entertainments. Orissi dances were first performed by women. Later, men dressed as women performed them around temples. Now the Orissi style is a solo dance form, usually performed by a woman. It has many of the same patterns and poses as Bharata Natyam. But it makes greater use of curves in its body movements and postures. Jumps add vitality to the Orissi style.
Other styles, apart from the five major classical dance styles, are performed in other regions of India. They include the Yakshagana of Mysore, in southwestern India, the Kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh, and the Chham of eastern India.
A great variety of folk dances exists throughout India. Unlike the classical forms, these dances are not tied down by rules but are more flexible and spontaneous. Most of them are connected with religious or seasonal festivals. In many of these dances, the performers use sticks or even swords. Examples of folk dance styles include bhangra, a harvest dance from the Punjab, and kolatam, a circular stick dance performed by women in Tamil
Classical Indian music is a studied art. Until about 1900, it was passed down from teacher to pupil and was not usually heard much outside the temple or the royal court. But during the 1900's, it has reached a wide audience both within and outside India. Northern India's music has been much influenced by the musical tradition of Iran and other neighbouring countries.
In the 1800's and 1900's, the music borrowed a few Western features, mainly in the use of instruments such as the violin and harmonium. Despite this fact, however, Indian music sounds strange to Western ears because of the style of performance and the unusual character of the instrumental and vocal sound involved.
Classical music in India belongs to either of the two main, traditional styles. One is Hindustani music, which developed in northern India and is much influenced by forms from Persia, Arabia, and central Asia. The other is Karnatak music, which developed as part of the Dravidian culture of southern India
Both these styles make use of the raga or rag, which is one of many different musical scales that form the melodic framework upon which a piece of music is based. They also use the tala or tal, which is the rhythmical cycle or recurring pattern of musical beats that the piece uses. Each raga is appropriate to a particular mood or time of day. Both Hindustani and Karnatak music also use performing groups. Some groups have a solo vocalist who is either a singer or a reciter. In other groups, the soloist plays an instrument. The soloist is accompanied by a drummer, who provides rhythmic support. Another member of the group plays a tamboura to provide a drone, a long-held, unchanging chord, around which the music is woven. The vocalist or instrumentalist performs the melody. In most cases, the melody is improvised (made up on the spot) within the restrictions of the raga. If the melody is performed by a vocalist, there is usually an additional melody provided by the instrumentalist. Indian musicians provide accompaniment for dances as well as performing alone.
Hindustani music developed as a distinct tradition after the 1200's, following the first Muslim settlements in India. It resulted from the influence of Iranian and Arab music upon India's traditional music. In Hindustani music, there is a greater emphasis upon instrumental music than in Karnatak music. There is a larger range of musical instruments. The musical form known as gat (a theme with improvised variations) is purely instrumental. Performances usually begin with an alap, a slow introduction over a drone but having no rhythm. This introduction is followed by the composition itself where the raga is set to a tala provided by drums. Hindustani music often has a romantic and relaxed quality. Vocal music in such styles as dhrupad, khayal, or ghazal use religious texts or love poems.
Karnatak music is the music of southern India. It is rooted in ancient Hindu traditions and was relatively unaffected by the Muslim influences that partly shaped the music of northern India after the 1100's. Vocal music is much more prominent in Karnatak music than it is in Hindustani music. The melodies of instrumental compositions are vocal in character and even use the type of musical decorations that singers would be expected to perform. Karnatak musical compositions follow a more classical pattern than those of Hindustani music.
Musical instruments. The chief, melody instrument in Hindustani music is the sitar, which was introduced in the 1200's. It is a fretted, stringed instrument that is plucked with the fingers. As the player plucks the instrument, another set of strings fitted beneath the first set vibrate in sympathy with the strings being plucked.
Another well-known stringed instrument used for melodies is the sarangi. This instrument is played with a bow. In modern Indian music, musicians also use the Western violin or the harmonium or organ to provide the melody. The unfretted strings of a tamboura may provide a drone that lasts throughout the performance and around which the melody is improvised. The rhythm is usually provided by drums, to which cymbals, and bells can be added. The best-known rhythm instrument is the tabla, a pair of drums consisting of a dahina (right-hand drum) and a bahina (left-hand drum). The dahina is a small, high-pitched drum made of skin stretched over wood and tuned to the basic note of the raga being used. The behina is a larger drum made from skin stretched over a copper vessel. By using the heel of one hand the player can change the pitch of the bahina while playing. The tabla is played with the fingers.
The chief wind instrument is the shahnai. This is a reed instrument similar to an oboe.
The most important instruments of Karnatak music are the flute, the violin, and the vina, which is a sitar-like instrument played alone.
Dance and music first emerged as part of festivals and religious worship and of dramatic arts in India. The oldest archaeological evidence of dance exists in the form of pictures and sculptures dating from about 2500 B.C. Because of their close links with religion and ritual, dances are mentioned in the Vedas
Both dance and music, collectively known as sangit, became connected with drama. The earliest written work dealing with all aspects of music and dance was the Natyashastra (Handbook on Dramatic Arts). A legend says that this text was composed by a wise old man named Bharatamuni. Experts now believe that the Natyashastra was begun in the A.D. 200's. Many of India's classical dance styles are descended from styles described in this book. The Brihaddesi, dating from the 700's, records the first references to ragas. In the Sangitaratnakara, which dates from the 1200's, Indian music was brought into a comprehensive system.
With the first period of Muslim rule in India in the 1200's, music became split into the northern tradition of Hindustani music and the southern tradition of Karnatak music. Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) was the first great composer-musician of Hindustani music. Some people believe that he invented the sitar and tabla. The greatest composer-musician of Hindustani music was Tansen, a vocalist and instrumentalist at the court of Akbar in the 1500's. Descendants of Tansen in the 1700's founded a tradition upon which modern Indian classical music is based. The most outstanding composer-musicians of Karnatak music were a group of three musicians of the 1700's and early 1800's called the Trinity--Shyama Shastri, Tyagaraja, and Muthuswami Dikshitar.
The greatest composers and performers of Indian music of the 1900's include the internationally famous sitar player Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha, a virtuoso on the tabla.
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