The first thing that conjures up after we hear the word 'Dance' is Shiva’s ‘Nataraja
’ avtar. According to Hindu mythology, Taandav
was performed by Lord Shiva in grief after his consort Sati’s demise. This symbolized the cycle of creation and destruction or birth and death. Taandav is considered to be the first appearance of this art form and Nataraja
is till today worshiped by the dancers. Even God Ganesha and Srikrishna are associated with dance and music.
The dancing girl figurine found in the ruins of Mohenjodaro suggests that the dance heritage of India is at least 5000 years old. The cave paintings, engravings, sculptures from the Mohenjodaro civilization and other literary works mark the beginning of dance. The sculptures in the different temples of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari showed that dance was a rich and vibrant dance form in the early times.
Dance is a sacred movement of the various limbs creating an intense divine feeling. It makes the union of Jeevatma
(Individual Self) with the Paramatma
(Divine Self). Natyashastra
written by Bharata Muni describes the aesthetic aspect of dance. Brahma, the creator of universe was asked to create something for entertainment of people when the world had become steeped in greed and desire, in jealousy and anger, in pleasure and pain. Brahma thus, created the divine art of Dance in the fifth veda, Natya Veda taking elements from all the other four vedas (Scriptures). He revealed this Veda to Sage Bharata. The Sage went to Lord Shiva to learn and add dance movements to the drama he had created according to the Veda. And thus dance and drama were created. It is the basis for the Indian classical tradition of music, dance, drama and iconography.
Dance in Ancient India developed from religious themes. Dances have been used as a means of worship and expression of emotions in India during Vedic Age. During the Buddist, Gupta and medieval periods, dance played an important role in achieving the spiritual inspiration and identification of the people of that time.
Young female dancers were given intensive training during Vijaynagar Kingdom. The walls were decorated with paintings depicting various dancing poses which helped the dancers to correct their steps. Dance was performed in the temples before God by young girls called Devadasis to worship him. The British rulers did not saw dance as a form of education or moral tradition and banned on temple dance and gradually the art died. But still some states like Karnataka managed to revive the traditional Devadasi system.
With the invasion of the Muslim, dance found its way into the courts and was taken as a means of entertainment. Many people in the society used dance for erotic pleasure. During the reign of the last Mughals and Nawabs of Awadh the status of dance fell down and the dancers were named 'nautch'.
British rule prohibited public performance of dance, linking dance with immoral trafficking and prostitution. Classical forms and regional distinctions were re-discovered, ethnic specialties were honored after India got independent in 1947.
The dance in India can be tribal, folk or classical. The tribal dance is the rhythmic expression of joys and beliefs of ‘aborigines’ or people living mostly in jungle. Folk dances are almost similar to tribal dance form but are less ritualistic in content. Classical dance evolved by the crystallization and transmission of stylized interpretations of divine activities of the other two dance forms.