About the Dance Forms

A Glossary of Classical Indian Dance Forms Represented in the Festival

Kathak – North Indian Classical Dance
Kathakali – Kerala Classical Dance
Odissi – Orissa Classical dance
Kuchipudi – Telugu Classical dance
Manipuri – Manipur Classical Dance
Bharatanatyam – Tamil Classical Dance


Kathak

Kathak is one of the most dynamic theater arts in the world. The word Kathak is derived from katha, meaning “the art of storytelling.” It is also synonymous with the community of artists known as Kathakas whose hereditary profession it was to narrate history while entertaining. With dance, music and mime these storytellers of ancient India would bring to life the great scriptures and epic so ancient times, especially the great Indian epics – the Mahabharata and the Ramayana – and the Puranas of Sanskrit literature.

From its early form as a devotional expression dedicated to the Hindu gods, Kathak gradually moved out of the temples and into the courts of the rulers; the Hindu maharajas and the Muslim nawabs (kings). With these rulers’ cultural wealth and preoccupation with lavish entertainment, a class of dancing girls and courtesans emerged to entertain the palaces. Much later, during the mid-1800′s, Kathak enjoyed a renaissance and gained prominence among the kings and zamindars (feudal overlords) not only as a form of entertainment, but as a classical art form. In the Hindu courts of the vast semi-desert of the principality of Rajasthan, kathak developed in the Jaipur gharana (school), a regional style emphasizing the technical mastery of pure dance. To the east in the court of Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Oudh and himself a student of Kathak, the dance emphasized dramatic and sensuous expression and developed into the style characteristic of the Lucknow gharana. This gharana is said to have originated with Wajid Ali Shah’s court dancer Thakur Prasadji.

The lineage of Kathak dance can be traced from generation to generation, father to son, guru to disciple. Thakur Prasadji’s nephews, Binda Din Maharaj and Kalka Prasad, excelled in the study of Kathak. Binda Din’s three nephews, Achhan, Lacchu and Shambhu Maharaj, helped carry the Kathak tradition into the twentieth century. Achhan Maharaj, and upon his death, Shambhu Maharaj, had among his many disciples Ram Narayan Misra and Prohlad Das, respectively guru and father of Chitresh Das.


Kathakali

Kathakali is a highly stylized classical Indian dance-drama noted for its attractive make-up of characters, their elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements presented in tune with the anchor playback music and complementary percussion. It originated in the country’s present day state of Kerala during the 17th century AD. Kathakali originated from a precursor dance-drama form called Ramanattam and owes it share of techniques also to Krishnanattam. The word “attam” means enactment. In short, these two forerunning forms to Kathakali dealt with presentation of the stories of Hindu gods Rama and Krishna.

Traditionally there are 101 classical Kathakali stories, though the commonly staged among them these days total less than one-third that number. Almost all of them were initially composed to last a whole night.

The language of the songs used for Kathakali is Manipravalam. Even though most of the songs are set in ragas based on the microtone-heavy Carnatic music, there is a distinct style of plain-note rendition, which is known as the Sopanam style. This typically Kerala style of rendition takes its roots from the temple songs which used to be sung (continues even now at several temples) at the time when Kathakali was born.

One of the most interesting aspects of Kathakali is its elaborate make-up code. Most often, the make-up can be classified into five basic sets namely Pachcha, Kathi, Kari, Thaadi, and Minukku. The differences between these sets lie in the predominant colours that are applied on the face. Pachcha (meaning green) has green as the dominant colour and is used to portray noble male characters who are said to have a mixture of “Satvik” (pious) and “Rajasik” (kingly) nature. Rajasik characters having an evil streak and portrayed with streaks of red in a green-painted face. Excessively “Tamasik” (evil) characters such as demons have a predominantly red make-up and a red beard. They are called Chuvanna Thaadi (Red Beard). Tamasic characters such as uncivilized hunters and woodsmen are represented with a predominantly black make-up base and a black beard and are called Kari/Karutha Thaadi (meaning black beard). Women and ascetics, the fifth class, have lustrous, yellowish faces. In addition, there are modifications of the five basic sets described above such as Vella Thadi (white beard) used to depict Hanuman (the Monkey-God) and Pazhuppu, which is primarily used for Lord Shiva and Balabhadra.


Odissi

Odissi originates from the state of Orissa, in eastern India. It is the oldest surviving dance form of India on the basis of archaeological evidences. The classic treatise of Indian dance, Natya Shastra, refers to it as Odra-Magadhi. It is particularly distinguished from other classical Indian dance forms by the importance it places upon the tribhangi (literally: three parts break), the independent movement of head, chest and pelvis, and the basic square stance known as chauka.

The Odissi tradition existed in three schools; Mahari, Nartaki, and Gotipua. Maharis were Orissan devadasis or temple girls, particularly those at the temple of Jagganath at Puri. By the sixth century the Gotipua tradition was emerging. One of the reasons given for the emergence of Gotipuas is that Vaishnavas did not approve of dancing by women. Gotipuas were young boys dressed as girls and taught the dance by the Maharis. The Gotipuas stepped out of the precincts of the temples. Nartaki dance took place in the royal courts, where it was much cultivated before the British period.

Padma Vibushan Kelucharan Mohapatra, Guru Pankaj Charan Das and Guru Deba Prasad Das were the three major gurus who revived Odissi in the late forties and early fifties.

Traditional Odissi repertoire consists of:

Mangalacharan
An invocational piece paying homage to Lord Jagganath.

Battu Nrutya
A dance piece offered to the Lord of dance – Lord Shiva in his ‘Batuka Bhairava’ form.

Pallavi
A pure dance item in which a raga is elaborated through eye movements, body postures & intricate footwork. Pallavi literally means “blossoming”.

Abhinaya
An expressional dance where a story conveyed to the audience through mudra or hand gestures (the language of Indian classical dance), facial expression and body movement. Abhinaya can be performed on verses in Sanskrit or Oriya.

Dance drama
Usually longer than Abhinaya and typically performed by more than one dancers.

Moksha
The concluding item of a recital. Moksha means “spiritual liberation”. This dance represents a spiritual culmination for the dancer who soars into the realm of pure aesthetic delight.


Kuchipudi

Kuchipudi is a classical dance form from Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi is the name of a village in the Divi Taluka. Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh which borders the Bay of Bengal. With resident Brahmins from this district practicing this traditional dance form, it acquired the present name.

A kuchipudi performance usually begins with a series stage rites, after which each of the characters comes onto the stage and introduces him/herself with a daru (a small composition of both song and dance) to introduce the identity and set the mood, of the character in the drama. The drama then begins. The dance is accompanied by a classical Carnatic ensemble usually comprising of mridangam, violin, flute and the tambura.

Kuchipudi shares many common elements with Bharatanatyam. In its solo exposition Kuchipudi numbers include pure dance pieces such as ‘jatiswaram’ and ’tillana’ and nritya pieces with lyrical compositions reflecting the desire of a devotee to merge with God.

Beyond the stylistic differences of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam steps, there are certain types of dances that are unique to Kuchipudi. Specifically there is the Tarangam of Kuchipudi, which is unique in that the dancer must dance upon a brass plate, placing the feet upon the raised edges. The dancer moves the plate with much balance as the individual is traditionally dancing on the plate with two diyas (small oil-burning candles) in his or her hands while balancing a “kundi” (small vessel) containing water on their head.


Manipuri

Manipuri originates from Manipur, a state in north-eastern India on the border with Myanmar (also known as Burma). In Manipur, surrounded by mountains and geographically isolated at the meeting point of the orient and mainland India, the form developed its own specific aesthetics, values, conventions and ethics. The cult of Radha and Krishna, particularly the raslila, is central to its themes but the dances, unusually, incorporate the characteristic cymbals (kartal or manjira) and double-headed drum (pung or Manipuri mridang) of sankirtan into the visual performance.

Manipuri dancers do not wear ankle bells to accentuate the beats tapped out by the feet, in contrast with other Indian dance forms, and the dancers’ feet never strike the ground hard. Movements of the body and feet and facial expressions in Manipuri dance are subtle and aim at devotion and grace.

A copper plate inscription credits King Khuoyi Tompok (c. 2nd century CE) with introducing drums and cymbals into Manipuri dance. However, it is unlikely that the style resembled the form known today before the introduction of Krishna bhakti in the 15th century CCE. Maharaja Bhagyachandra (r. 1759 – 1798 CE) codified the style and  composed three of the five types of Ras Lilas, the Maha Ras, the Basanta Ras and the Kunja Ras,

This genre of dance became better known outside the region through the efforts of Rabindranath Tagore. In 1919, he was so impressed after seeing a dance composition, the Goshtha Lila in Sylhet (in present day Bangladesh) that he invited Guru Budhimantra Singh to Shantiniketan.

The musical accompaniment for Manipuri dance comes from a percussion instrument called the Pung, a singer, small cymbals, a stringed instrument called the pena and wind instrument such as a flute. The drummers are always male artistes and, after learning to play the pung, students are trained to dance with it while drumming. This dance is known as Pung cholom. The lyrics used in Manipuri are usually from the classical poetry of Jayadeva, Vidyapati, Chandidas, Govindadas or Gyandas and may be in Sanskrit, Maithili, Brij Bhasha or others.


Bharatanatyam

Bharata Natyam originates from Tamil Nadu. It was nurtured in the temples and courts of southern India since ancient times. Later it was codified and documented as a performing art in the 19th century by four brothers known as the Tanjore Quartet whose musical compositions for dance form the bulk of the Bharata Natyam repertoire even today. The art was handed down as a living tradition from generation to generation under the Devadasi system under which women were dedicated to temples to serve the deity as dancers and musicians forming part of the elaborate rituals. These highly talented artists and the male gurus (nattuvanars) were the sole repository of the art until the early 20th century when a renewal of interest in India’s cultural heritage prompted the educated elite to discover its beauty.


The revival of Bharata Natyam by pioneers such as E Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale brought the dance out of the temple precincts and onto the proscenium stage though it retained its essentially devotional character. Today Bharata Natyam is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over India.


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