Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dance and Music of India (Detailed Analysis) - Art & Culture of India

Dance and Music - Surrender to the Bliss

The Indian mind having traversed all regions of knowledge surrenders to the bliss of Dance of Shaiva, who plays, and longs, and creates. Amid the flower of His creation, Shiva lingers in a kiss. Blinded by the beauty, He rushes, frolics, dances, and whirls. He is all rapture, all bliss. In this lila, in this love-struggle, He is free, divine, in consciousness and in love alone, He bears the nature of His divine being. He is an eternal negation – neti. By negation of all forms, previously lived through, every moment in life is created in blossoming. Enjoying His dance, choking in this whirlwind, He takes swift flight into the domain of ecstasy, into the unceasing change. In the power of will, alone and free, He comprehends Himself. Ever-creating, all irradiating, all-verifying, divinely playing in the multiplicity of forms, He comprehends himself. He dwells in the heart and in dreams of the world. He is all a wave of freedom and bliss. By a general conflagration –maha-pralaya, the universe – samsar – is embraced. The spirit is at the hight of beings, and He feels the unending tide of the divine power – Shakti, of the free will. He is all-daring. He universe resounds with the joyful cry ‘I AM’.

Lord Shiva is Nataraja, Lord of Dances, or King of Actors. The cosmos is His theatre. He Himself is actor and audience. When He beats the drum, every-body comes to witness the show. He collects the stage properties. He abides alone in His happiness. The belief is that dancing came into being at the beginning of all things. It does not mean that all those, who first danced in frantic, intoxicated energy, had the profound interpretation of Shiva’s dance. A great motif and a great symbol in religion or art, naturally, becomes all things to all men. With the passage of time it yields to men such treasure as they find in their own hearts. Whatever, the origins of Shiva’s dance, it became in time the most transparent image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of Indian dances owe their origin to this great motif, to this great symbol.

The dance of Lord Shiva has three aspects which are graphically described in the Shiva Pradosha Stotra. 

The first aspect is as follow -

“placing the Mother of the three worlds upon golden throne studded with precious gems, Shiva dances on the heights of Kailash. All the gods gather round him. Sarasvati plays on the vina, Indra on the flute, Brahma holds the time-marking cymbals. Lakshmi begins a song, Vishnua plays on a drum and all the gods stand round about. Gandharvas, Yakshas, Siddhas, Apsaras and all the beings dwelling in the three worlds assemble there to witness the celestial dance and hear the music of the divine choir at the hour of twilight.” The evening dance is for sheer joy. Shaiva literature does not provide any special interpretation to this aspect.
The second aspect is Tandava. It belongs to His tamasic nature as Bhairava or Vira Bhadra. It is performed in cemeteries and burning grounds, where Shiva, usually in ten-armed form, dances wildly with Devi, accompanied by troops of catering imps. Ancient sculptures at Elora, Elephanta and Bhuvaneshvara commoly comprise of this dance form. Tandava is symbolized as destruction of illusion and evil.
The third aspect is the Nadanta dance, the ultimate of Nataraja. It is held in the golden assembly of Chidambaram, the centre of the universe. A legend coming from the Koyil purana is worth summarizing -
“once there was a forest named Taragam. In this forest a multitude of rishis were living. They were involved in serious discourse. One day Shiva arrived there accompanied by Vishnu. Both were in disguise, the first as a beautiful woman and the latter as adi-sheshan. The purpose of their intrusion was to confute the heretics. The rishis were in violent dispute among themselves. At the sight of the intruders, their anger was directed against the beautiful woman. They began chanting incantation to destroy her. A fierce tiger was created in sacrificial fires who rushed upon her. But smiling gently, she seized it and, with the nail of the little finger, stripped off its skin and wrapped it about herself like a silken cloth. Undaunted by failure, the sages renewed their incantations and created a monstrous serpent. However, Shiva seized the serpent and wreathed it about His neck like a garland, and began to dance. But there rushed upon Him a last monster in the shape of a malignant dwaft. The God pressed the trip of His foot upon the monster and broke its back. It writhed upon the ground. With the last toe prostrate, Shiva resumed the dance witnessed by gods and rishis. Then Vishnu worshipped Shiva and prayed above all things for the boon, once more to behold the mystic dance. Shiva promised that he should behold the dance again in the sacred centre of the universe – Chidambaram.”
The ultimate in the dance by Nataraja is accompanied with an image of Shiva having four hands with braided and bejeweled hair of which the lower locks are whirling in the dance. The hair may also be seen with a wreathing cobra, a skull and a mermaid figure of the Ganga; upon it rests the crescent moon which is crowned with a wreath of cassia leaves. The dancing image of Nataraja wears a man’s earring in his right ear and a woman’s in the left. He is adorned with necklaces, and armlets, a bejeweled belt, anklets, bracelets, finger and toe rings. The main part of the costume consists of tightly fitting breeches, a fluttering scarf and a sacred thread. One right hand holds a drum, the other is uplifted in the sign of abhaya; one left hand holds fire, the other points down upon the demon Muvalaka, a dwarf holding a cobra; the left foot is raised. An encircling glory springs from a lotus pedestal fringed with flame and touched within by the hands holding the drum and fire.
The meaning inherent in the dance reveals that the Lord is the Dancer, who, like the heat latent in firewood, diffuses His power in mind and matter and makes them dance in their turn. The Nadanta dance represents Shiva’s five activities, namely: shrishti –creation, evolution; sthiti – preservation, support; samhara-destruction, evolution; tirobhava – veiling, illusion, rest; anugraha – release, salvation, grace. Separately looking, these are activities of Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Maheshvara and Sadashiva. This cosmic activity if the central motif of Nadanta dance. Further, the drum causes creation, the hand protects, the fire destroys and the foot held aloft gives release. The lifted foot is the refuge of the soul. Shiva is a destroyer. He loves burning grounds. He does not only destroy the heavens and earth at the close of a world-cycle. He also does away with the fetters that bind each soul. The burning ground is alluded to the hearts of His devotees or lovers – the abode of ego and illusions is burnt away, and the ultimate state is achieved; the state where lies total surrender to the bliss. To sum up, the essential significance of Shiva’s dance is: (a) it is the image of His rhythmic play as the source of all movement within the cosmos which is represented by the arch; (b) the purpose of his dance is to release the countless souls of men from the snare of illusion; (c) the place of the dance – Chidambaram or the centre of the universe, is within the heart.
The grandeur of this conceptions smiles is the synthesis of science, religion and art. With an amazing range of thought and sympathy the rishi-artists conceived an image of reality, a key to the complex tissue of life, a theory of nature which satisfies not only a single cultural clique or race, but to the universal man who represents the philosopher, the lover, and the artist of all countries and all ages. That is why the dancing image of Nataraja radiated power and grace in supreme greatness to all those who strove in dance forms to give expression to their intuition of life, which saw no division or compartmentalization. Rather it discovered a mode so expressive of fundamental rhythms and so profoundly significant and inevitable. A mode that is called the Indian dance, an evident fact exactly and wisely creating an image of the Energy which science postulates behind all phenomena. To reconcile Time with Eternity is, and has been, the ultimate aim of the Indian dance which extends over vast regions of space and great tracts of time. Indian dancing is a manifold phenomenon. It symbolizes rising of divine rapture, sending through mert matter, pulsating waves of awakened sound, and appearing as a glory all around. Indian dance is fullness of time destroying all forms and names and giving new repose. This is poetry as well as science. The figure of Nataraja is adorned as the prime source of Indian dances -

As a king to his subjects, as a guru to his disciples
Even so the master-motif is lord of all other motifs.

Lord Shiva, the Nataraja, is the master-motif, the lord and the fountain of all other motifs pulsating in Indian dancing. It is like the sun reflecting though the endless creations of beauty, making each creation distinct, live and warm. The Indian muse surrenders to the bliss in multitude of dance-forms, an unprecedented and an unsurpassable world of emotions depicting personal, social, national, spiritual and universal being; holding mirror of illumination to truth, beauty and well-being. The Indian muse is inspired by the primeval state of Nataraja, is abounded in dances hallowed by the grand variety of Indian soil, clime, people and their infinite stream of hope and aspiration in order to build a new mansion of beauty out of each moment in life. From Himalayas in the north to Kanyakumari in the south and from the land of five rivers in the west to the land of early dawn in the east, the entire expanse of India resounds with innumerable dance forms creating a unique universe of colour and gaiety and looking forward to newer social horizons. In the following pages is given a brief description of a few Indian dances. They carry with them the fragrance of a total surrender to the bliss. They mirror the multiforms inherent in the eternal source of the dance of Shiva.
Bharat Natyam, historically speaking, has been the most common national and classical dance art of India whose principles and techniques were systematized and codified about 1800 years ago in Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra. This ancient treaties has been followed by practitioners of Bharat Natyam. Though repertoire and modes of presentation might have changed from time to time, and from region to region, the basic principles and techniques of the art have remained unchanged to the present day. The two thousand years old dance form is still as fresh and fascinating as it must have been ages ago. It is an art of eternity. No wonder, it commands the admiration and reverence of East and West alike. On close scrutiny, it may be found that Bharat Natyam has been the mother of other classical dance systems of India. It has also been the main source of inspiration for the allied arts of sculpture, painting and icon-making. Though it has been best preserved and developed with system and purity in Tamil Nadu, it cannot be dismissed as a mere regional art of a southern State.
Kathak school in north India gave the fullest expression to the classical dance. Great devotees of the art, deeply versed in the scriptures, and inspired by Bhakti, like Bindadin Maharaj, and his brother Kalka Prasad Maharaj, have been responsible for the preservation of this ancient art for giving to it much of its lyrical character and brilliant technique. Kathak is also as ancient a dance form as Bharat Natyam with all its powerful dramatic content detailed and codified in Natya Shastra. Kathak is a dance style full of skill and drama. In its emotional expression, Kathak possesses a fund of subjects and lyrics gleaned from sacred legends and mythology. With the great renaissance of arts since. Independence a rediscovery of the dance in its various regional styles has taken place.
Kathakali is indigenous to Kerala. It is unique in many respects. It is a marvel of perfection in Indian art. For themes, Kathakali draws upon the inexhaustible treasure-house of ancient Puranas chronicling the lives, loves and conflicts of the gods and supermen of Indian mythology. Actors and actresses transform themselves into malignant demon or benign god, blood-thirsty ogre or dutiful heroine, highlighting in each case, the emotional characteristic of the role. The traditional venu for this dance form has been the courtyard of a temple or of a family mansion. A wooden tripod improvises as a throne or seat of honour. A huge brass oil lamp is the most important piece on the stage whose quivering wick flame accentuates every shade of expression on the brighty painted face of the performer. To the accompaniment of Chenda and the Madalam – the typical drums of Kerala – and gongs and cymbals, a pair musicians sing the theme songs while the actors, mute of word, but eloquent of expression, recreate the epic and bring to life a dream world of sheer fantasy. The Kathakali songs, couched in rich poetic diction, are among the gems of Malayalam literature. Originally, based on Natya Shastra, this dance form derived added replenishment from Hastalakshana Deepika and Abhinaya Darpana. Kathakali presents in a unique manner both the Tandava and Lasys style of dancing. The three fundamentals of Indian dancing laid down in Natya Shastra, namely, Nritta, Nritya and Natya, form the basis of this dance form. Abhinaya may be said to be the backbone of Kathakali and its four varieties such as angika, vachika, aharya and satvika are utilized in a remarkable manner to bring out various emotions through the media of gesture or mudras. In fact, the mudras are the alphabets of the language of gestures employed in Kathakali.
Odissi, like other ancient Indian dance forms, has its roots in devotional ritual. It consists of one long theme starting form the invocation to the deities, the Earth and the guru, and ending with a highly technical finale of pure dance. But like the Bharat Natyam, Odissi also is generally done in stages so as to bring to the fullest its beautiful stances of posture and the art of interpretation. The Odissi dance has been preserved not only by the great gurus, their descendants, and their pupils the Mahar is or Devadasis, but the temples themselves have brought to posterity thousands of exemples in sculpture that are a prolific orientation of the techniques of the art. The institution of the Maharis, who were temple dancers and worked in the service of religious centres, goes back almost to the 2nd century A.D. We know from inscription and related literature that the establishment of the Shiva temple of Bhuvaneshwar, these handmaidens of God were encouraged and assisted to preserve the classical dance. At about the same time, the Vishnu temple of Jagannath also introduced the tradition of temple dancing. In those days, the Maharis were held in great esteem and enjoyed a good social status. Girls of good families including those of royalties took temple dance as an honourable profession.
Kuchipudi is bhagawata dance mela. The recent excavations in Andhra Pradesh reveal traditions in the art of dance since the times of the Satvahana kings in the second century B.C. The sculptures inform us about two main schools of dance – Devadasi and Kelika. The sites of excavations are situated within a radius of 6 miles from Kuchipudi in the Krishna district. Hence the name of the dance form. The Vaishnava movement helped in the evolution of Kuchipudi and shaped it up as a bhagwata dance mela. The richness of the style of music, sentimental display and sway over the audience are special features of this dance form, which also allows place for lasya and tandava. Its forms are woven around realistic as well as conventional values.
Manipuri is from of group dance wherein girls wear bright coloured satin ankle-deep skirts that are heavily embroidered and ornamented with sequins and tiny ventilating mirrors. The richness of the embroidery makes the garment stand out stiffly. Over this a transparent silver over-skirt is worn, reaching the knees. This piece is also heavily and gracefully embroidered with mirror and silver work. A velvet jacket and diapharous head-kerchief covering the face and slightly raised on the top of the head by means of a conical head jewel does not complete the costume. A waist belt of gilt and sequins and mirrors with a front piece ending in a square that is richly embroidered and sparkle with a myriad facets, and rows of silver bracelets add a necklace add lusture to the costume. Sometime a garland is worn or flowers encircle the wrists. No dance bells are used. The boy dancer, who generally plays the role of Krishna, wears fine gold coloured waist cloth that falls to the ankles. Breast pieces crossed on the chest are worked with silver beads and tinsel. He uses a magnificent headdress topped with fan-shapped plume of peacock features interspersed with red and tinsel. Bejewelled pendants and necklaces add the finishing touches. The men with the drum and kartal use simple dresses.
The lustrous costume is mirror to the natural beauty of the eastern frontier of Assam where Manipuri dance has evolved in the most charming art form. According to a legend, once when Shiva and Parvati came to visit the earth, they chose this beautiful region where they found Radha and Krishna dancing the Ras. Parvati was so much enamoured that she expressed her desire to dance with Shiva who readily agreed and with supreme joy, accompanied by heavenly music, the eternal couple danced to the glory of the universe. Tradition has been carrying on this dance-drama invoking the gods and providing pleasure for them.
Chau is a dance which is exclusively performed by men. Originated from Seraikela, a former princely state in Orissa, now in Bihar, this dance form follows certain fundamental traditions of the classical modes. It is dedicated to the twin aspects of Shiva and Shakti. It is a dance of festival which culminates in a three-day ceremonial worship in the Shiva temple to be followed by grand procession. Lighted by brilliant displays of torches, lanterns and many flickering oil lamps, these dances are done in solo, duet and drama form. They interpret mythology, sacred history, legend and nature. The style is precise and vigorous comprising of intricate steps, jumps, quick turns, gliding walks and various gaits. The choreography is well thought out and impressive.
Mohini Atam is one of the important forms of the classical dance tradition of Kerala, presenting a perfect mode for solo performance that incorporates lasya and tandava styles. Its technique in based on the Kathakali mode, which includes the peculiar manner of dancing with the feet and legs apart, knees greatly bent, and utilizing fine rhythmic syllable words in the recitation and play of the drum, with perfect synchronization of the dancer’s feet. Starting at a medium tempo, and increasing the speed gradually to reach thrilling climax, the series of pure dance sequences blossom into superb pattern of movements, grace and strength combining the design of footwork, posture, varied arm movements and mudras.

Krishna Atam, as the name suggests, is a dance drama associated with Krishna legends. It is believed that Kathakali originated from Krishna Atam. Sometime in the middle of the 17th century A.D., the Zamorin king of Calicut named Mahadevan, who was a poet of distinction and a votary of Lord Krishna, composed eight dramatic lyrical plays dealing with various episodes of Krishna’s life. The poet king incorporated them into an ensemble which he named as Krishna Atam. The pure dances are solo performances with rhythmic patterns in stepping and splendid postural stances.
The Bhagavat Mela dance dramas of Tamil Nadu appear to have gained importance about 300 years ago, when Tirtha Narayan Yati, author of the Krishna Lila Tarangini in Sanskrit, migrated from Andhra to Tanjore district. He began the Bhagavata Mela tradition on the pattern of dance drama as expounded in the Natya Shastra by Bharat Muni. It was his belief that true devotion to God could be achieved when the great philosophic truths of the Bhagavata Purana were enacted in drama with classical music and Bharat Natyam dance and abhinaya. With these ideals before him, he composed several dance dramas such as Parijataharnam and Rukmangada. After him, the art was continued through generations, and among his followers was Gopala Krishna Shastri, the author of Sita Kalayanam, Rukmani Kalayanam, Dhruva and Gauri. But it was his son Venkatarama Shastri who brought the art to its highest peak of honour and fame. His celebrated dance drama composition like Prahalaad, Harishchandra, Usha Parinayam and Gollabhama, were not only enacted all over Tamil Nadu but they became a part of people’s life. They were performed annually at the great festival dedicated to God Narsimham.
Yakshangana originated from one of the very early and indigenous musical dramas known as Bahu Nataka composed by Pakkuribi Somnath in about A.D. 1250 and portrayed in several varieties of the Shiva-lila episodes. In times, these took the form of the Yakshangana plays common to many regions of India. Originally a solo performance, this form, later, developed into two and then four principal characters. Gradually it assumed the form of a regular dance drama picking up themes from mythology and legend.

If the classical dances in India tend to be a subject for a definite order, a recognized strict form, and a complicated system of gesture language, footwork, bodily movements and rhythm, the folk dances are generally spontaneous and are creation of people’s imagination and desire for artistic and emotional express. Displaying no inclination toward a rigid form, the whole depiction of folk art is guided more by the subject of the songs that either glorify nature, express occupational traditions or offer devotion to the deities. Seasonal and religious, they have a sense of freedom, with regional affinities and differences, embodying warmth and charm and beauty that are refreshing by their very untutored quality. In folk dances of India, the creative urge of the people is reflected throughout the ages by way of actual performance and resemblance of song and motif. Through these dances, unsupported by the written word, and established by its tremendous sociological impact, customs and tradition have been established and people’s aesthetics enriched. With national consciousness for the arts growing from day to day, many of these beautiful expressive dances are coming to urban audiences and are being received with the enthusiasm and success they deserve. Now, they are taking their rightful place along with the classical dances in the furtherance of our cultural heritage. The number of folk dances in India being legion, only a selective representation is being discussed below.


Kolattam is a dance by young girls with little lacquered sticks held in hands to celebrate the birthday of Rama. Originating from Tamil Nadu, this dance form is popular throughout India. Another variety of this dance is known as Pinnal Kotattam accompanied with song or chorus that speak of the trapping of the sticks in rhythm, of the twinning of the streamers, of happy youth and that of happy dance.

Vasanta Atam is a dance of spring. When the trees are in blossom and the air is crisp with the perfume of flowers, the peasants dance to celebrate the birth of nature. Palms coloured with turmeric and bodies dressed in orange saries with vivid contrasting borders, girls and young women foregather before the village deity and crown her with garlands. Little boys and girls bring mango buds and sing in chorus to the accompaniment of cymbals, hand claps and the dholuk. They sing and dance extolling mother goddess, the Earth. 
Kummi dance usually takes place in Tamil Nadu during the Hindu New year of the South which falls in January just after the Pongal festival. Groups of young girls dance with varying steps and clapping hands using their little mincing steps in circles upon circles. Kummi takes several forms in Tamil Nadu. There is also a flower dance to a song that extols the beauty of many blossoms.
One of the most picturesque and interesting performance is the Dummy Horse Dance play done in rural south India near the temple towards autumn. Heavily attired in colourful costumes, dances stand in a frame of a horse made of paper, cloth and light wood, brilliantly painted and draped. The dance lasts for hours together on wooden legs to the rhythm of music and drums. These dance-plays depict mythological stories.
Ootam Tulal is a type of pantomine akin to Kathakali. It is usually performed by a single artiste accompanied by a singer, a drummer and a cymbal player. The pantomine interprets some of the choicest and select excerpts of Malayalam literature in an amazing enchanting manner.
Kaikottikali is performed by young women and girls in Kerala. The chorus songs based on mythological stories build the crescendo of the dance in circles with slow and measured speed.
Tappattikkali is performed by young women and girls in Kerala during the festival of Lord Shivaa. One of the elder women in the group commerce the song and leads the dancer, the others repeating what she sings and following her movements. Circling round and round and clapping their hands to the rhythm of their steps and the music, the dance mirrors the rural simplicity and the vivaciousness.

Kajri is an occasion when the peasants in north India propitiate the Vedic God Indra and pray for the nourishment of the earth and fire and a successful harvest. Done in rainy season, the dance movements follow the songs that are accompanied by the rhythmic beat of the dholuk and cymbals. There is the soft Inllabye of a jhula that is moved in rhthm and is artistically decorated with flowers and coloured tassels. As no particular hand gestures are indicated, usually clapping and buoyant singing joy and eagerness.
Nautanki is one of the most popular folk dance dramas of Uttar Pradesh with songs recited in operatic style. Acting and dance movements interpret stories connected with mythology and also modern social problems.
Ras Lila is an equally popular dance form originating in Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, which are closely connected with the birth and play of Krishna. To the accompaniment of songs telling of the childhood, boyhood and early manhood of Lord Krishna, and the sound of drums and cymbals and the flute, the popular group dance is enacted during the days dedicated to the God. Fine movements, some of them being common with those of the Kathak, are most attractive. Playing parts of the Gopies and Radha, now imitating, now being shy and now lively, the expression of the dancers is full of freshness and charm.
Karan is a dance, originating in Shahabad, to worship the holy tree marking the happy period when the harvest is over. The dance festival commerces with fasting during the day. The whole village takes part performing feats of strength and dancing. Women dressed in bright colours with marigolds in their hair, and  men in their best apparel stand in a row and commerce singing and dancing to the beat of the drum.
Up in the lovely Himalayan resort of Ranikhet in the Kumaon hills group dances are done in celebration of the autumn festival of Dussehra. Men, dressed in long white tunics, tight trousers and red sashes, form circles moving round and round facing one another at intervals. In these Kumaon dances, songs are sung in the glory of life and history. The music blares forth, and the rhythm is strong as the dancers move faster and faster, now facing one another and now circling. Traditional yet spontaneous, these dances have come down through the ages to celebrate festivals and social events.
Unlike the Kumaon dance proper, which is done entirely by men, the Jhora is a community dance and is done by both men and women, all castes joining in the celebration. Dancing to a count of four or eight beats, they stand and bend, sit down, and them prance around in a merry alternation of movement and counter movement. Life and joy seem to spring from this lively performance and draw the whole crowed into the spirit of joyousness.
Chappeli is one of the romantic dances of the Kumaon hills which is often performed at weddings and spring time. Depicting as it does the spirit of romance, dancers perform in twos, holding a mirror in one hand and a coloured handkerchief in the other which they gracefully wave, as they advance forwards and backwards in rhythmic stepping. Lively, gentle and romantic, the dance is accompanied by songs on dholuk.
Himachal dances are as charming as the nature in this part of Himalayas. There are many folk dances in the region each as enchanting as the other. The Thali dance, done entirely by Jaunsar women, is an embodiment of grace. Holding brass trays, forming circles, moving forward and backward, the dancers move with slow steps with songs on their lips. The Thali dance is a commemoration of the ancient days of chivalry when men danced before going into battle. The dance is very forceful, full of firm stepping and as men brandish swords, they move faster to the accompaniment of the nagara drums and curling trumpets.
In Chamba, another beautiful part of Himachal Pradesh, there is the charming pastoral dance of the Goddi women or shephardesses. The peasant dances of Chamba, composed of two circles going round and round with measured steps and pretty hand gestures weave fine rhthm accompanied by chorus songs. The men also dance, but they make a group of their own and their style is Tandava with much faster tempo.
Kulu dances in the valley of gods are done in procession during weekly fairs and festivals in which hundreds of silver-headed deities are placed on beautifully decorated planquins. The biggest dance festivals are held in spring and autumn at Dussehra time.
Rauf dances are performed essentially by women in Jammu during harvesting season. Dancing in two rows, about fifteen girls in each, form a sort of a chain by placing their arms across one another’s backs. Dressed in bright skirts and draperies with heavy ornaments of silver, their faces laden with smiles and animation, the dancers create a heavenly charm and delight.
Hikat is another dance of Jammu in which groups of young girls and boys express sheer joy and exuberance. Their hands held crosswise, pairs of dancers spin in fast circles. This is a feat requiring good balance, perfect timing and precise movement of the feet.
Bhanagar is the most popular and best known dance of Punjab, performed on all festive occasions. It is symbolic of exuberance and gaiety generally associated with the nature of people living in this part of India. Forming into usually large circle, dancers start going round with as many new entrants as the time or occasion demands. The drummer is in the centre giving fillip to dancers’ speed and movement. Three dancers standing just behind the drummers lead the movements. As the performance unfolds, lively movements of whirling round, beating of feet, clapping of hands or sticks take on. As the dancers get into the spirit of the dance, they produce a rhythmic cry of ‘Hoi Hoi (Up Up), to raise the excitement and fun. They also leap into the air. At intervals, a short pause in the dancing is filled by boli or dholla, receited in fine rhthm. Following this traditional folk song the dance is resumed. Baisakhi is the usual season for Bhangar. It is done only by men. Its performance at full moon in open fields reflects the dynamism of the folk life. A similar type of Bhangar is prevalent in the Dogra community of Jammu. It is essentially a marital dance popular with warrior community.
Rajasthan is a treasure house of folk dances. Even a brief mention of all the folk dances will require a separate volume. Ginad is one of the most popular items which danced by people of all castes. This dance is performed before the spring festival of Holi. Gay and joyous with the spirit of friendship, this dance can be seen in every group of people to welcome the onset of the carnival of colours.
Gangore is a picturesque dance form peculiar of Rajasthan. This is dedication to Parvati also known as Gauri. Marking the beginning of the Hindu New Year in Rajasthan, women, dressed and ornamented gorgeously, from a circle and dance round the deity, moving rhythmically in a one-step pattern, holding hands and going round and round while singing in chorus.
Khayal is a folk dance drama popular in rural Rajasthan. Love and legend form the theme of this old art which originated in the 10th century A.D. Inspired by charming love stories like that of Dhola and Maru, these dance dramas have a rich repertoire. Powerful movements, mime and chanting characterize these performances which are done to the accompaniment of drums, stringed instruments and cymbals. Colourful costumes, a strong point among the people of this region, and decorative effects add attraction to these old world dances.

Dhandya Ras is the most popular group dance of Gujarat. Singing in chorus, the dancers form an intricate series of movements, first with a rhythmic six-stepping, holding hands and moving round in a circle. Then increasing the speed, they beat their sticks and each dancer makes a swift pirouette; after this, they beat one another’s sticks and wave them with supple wrists over and over; change places and move in a complete circle; and finally from into an inner and an outer circle. The dance is vigorous, the timing akin to a pair of drums. The catchy, lithe and lilting syncoption adds a tune to drum beats and enhances the poetic metre of the songs.
Garba dance is believed to b a gift to Saurashtra from the Assamese princess Usha, the grand daughter-in-law of Lord Krishna. Village dancers carrying decorated pitchers and pots of clay dance round houses ushering in the festival of Dussehra invoking fertility and prosperity. Dance stepping is simple and is done by groups bending to the right and left and forwards. Songs accompanying dancer are light and gay. The popular dance has now been introduced to the urban scene with their themes more sophisticated. It is a favourite item at Gujarat gatherings and stage performances.
Tamasha is an operatic folk dance from Maharashtra with a certain amount of dancing in it. The players sing and narrate stories with mime interwoven by dancers. Men do forceful marital movements and women sing in high tones with their dancing steps that are quick, concise and staccato accentuating the gusto by rhythmic pauses. Chorus and solo, alternately high pitched and low voiced, vivid mime and brilliant costume give it a character of uniqueness.
No survey of folk dances will be considered complete, without the mention of tribal contribution. Tribal dances too are full of spontaneity, freedom and natural grace. Born in natural surroundings they are vivid, temperamental, strong, often primeval and  are filled with the zest of living. Costumed in colourful apparel, these are the oldest yearnings in artistic expression adding to the rich heritage. These dances carry songs that are pregnant with a music which mirrors the sociological, psychological and historical moorings of the tribal people. As tribal population is to be found in every direction of India’s map, so are their dance forms. North, South, East or West, everywhere the tribal existence is inevitably accompanied by this creativity.

Language is dumb before music. That has been perhaps the reason why there came occasions when violent polemics rose against the greatest joy of the world. For example, Pali Buddhism whose enthusiasm for the truth surpassed even that of the Upanishads, declared beauty and love, the eternal companions of music not merely evanescent, but snares to be avoided at all costs. It was also declared that living beings on account of their love and devotion to the sensations excited by forms and other objects of sense, misplace high honour to painters, musicians, performers, cooks, elixir-prescribing physicians and other like persons who furnish us with objects of sense. Similar disdain against this aspect of human sensibility is to be found in Manu who forbids the hourseholder to dance or sing or play on musical instruments. Manu reckons architects, actors and singers among the unworthy men who should not be invited to the ceremony of offering to the dead. Even Chanakya, though he tolerates musicians and actors, classes them with courtesans.
Despite such hedonistic digression in Indian culture, the music remained at the supreme pedestal of man’s spiritual comprehension. Music was put at par with the highest of human achievements. Sam, the embodiment of music, is one of the four Vedas. The chant has been an essential element of Vedic ritual. The references in later Vedic, Buddhist and Brahminical leteratuce indicate that it was already highly developed as a secular art in centuries preceding the beginning of the Christian era. The Indian music reached its zenith during the imperial age of the Guptas – from the fourth to the sixth century A.D. This was the classic period of Sanskrit literature, climaxing in the dramas of Kalidas. Same is the time when Bharat Muni wrote his mommental treatise on the theory of music and drama entitled Natya Shastra.
The music of the present day in India is direct descendant of the ancient schools whose traditions have been handed down with comment and expansion in the guilds of the hereditary musicians. Not only the Indian, but the oriental music as a whole, extending all the way from Morocco to Malay Archipelago, spanning five thousand years from the remotest antiquity to the present day, has, despite its differences in space and time, a common stock of features sharply distinct from primitive music and also from western and northern music. What distinguishes oriental music more than anything else is its surprising stability, tenacity and inertia. Oriental music has no the whole been stationary; it has changed only at a rate which seems negligible when measured against the amazing speed of western developments in the last one thousand years from parallel organa down to Beethoven and the styles of Schoenberg and Stravinsky.
When we look at the Chinese music, we find many traits of the classical age,  namely, of times two thousand years age. The principal instruments of China’s national music, mentioned as early as 1000 B.C., are the same chimes of bells or stones, India has been in similar position. In all the fourteen or more centuries gone by since Bharat wrote his Sanskrit treatise, the country has faithfully kept her complicated system of srutis, or microtones, as the component parts of her tones and semitones; she has kept all the intricacies of ragas and talas, or the pattern of melody and rhythm. No matter how many instruments – lutes, riddles, aboes and drums – reached the country through the Indus valley in the north-west during the centuries after Bharat, they were never able to change the age-old spirit of Indian music. As in other arts and in life, so here in music also, India presents to the world a wonderful spectacle of the survival of ancient consciousness with a range of emotional experience rarely accessible to those who are pre-occupied by the economic insecurity of a social order based on blind competitiveness.
Under the umbrella of benign patronage Indian music has developed its own intimate environment corresponding to all that is most classical in the European tradition. It grew as a chamber music of aristocracy or divinity. The public concert was unknown till very recently. The musician  is protected not by temptation but by devotion that he is nothing but a musician. His education begins in infancy and his art remains a vocation. Indian music is like the outward poverty of God, where-by His glory is nakedly revealed. Indian music is not written, so, it cannot be learnt from books, except in theory. It is an inner spirit with a psychic sensitivity to microtonal inflections. The sruti, which may be best defined as a melody, mould or the ground plan of a song. The possible number of ragas is very large, but the majority of systems recognize thirty-six, i.e. six ragas, and each with five raginis. The origin of the ragas varies. Some, like Pahari, are derived from local folk songs; others, like Jog, from the songs of wandering ascetics; and still others are the creation of great musician by whose names they are known. A Sanskrit-Tibetan vocabulary of the seventh century mentions more than sixty ragas with names such as ‘With-a-voice like-a cloud’, ‘like-the god-Indra’ and ‘Delighting-the-heart’.
The psyche involved in raga is pregnant with colour or passion or mood as ancient Greeks understood from the word ethods. The raga does not concern itself with the confusion of life. It is dedicated to depict and arouse a particular passion of body and soul in man and nature. Each raga is intimately related with the hour of the day or night and also with a particular season. They raga is believed to posses definite magic effects. The well-known story of the musician who sang Dipak Raga, under royal command, and burst into flames confirms the magic myth. It is said that the flames which enveloped the musician could not be extinguished even though he sprang into the waters of the Yamuna. The element of magic and the rhythmic ritual of daily and seasonal life associated with ragas carve out clear outlines which must not be blurred by modulation. Ragas are personified as musical geni. The story of Narada is case in point. While still a learner, Narada thought that he had mastered the art of music. A sense of pride entered in his mind. Then came Vishnu who revealed to him a world of gods, a spacious building with men and women weeping over their broken limbs and legs. They were none else than the ragas and raginis. They complained to Vishnu that a certain sage named Narada, ignorant of music and unskillful in performance, had sung them amiss, with the result that their misery was that they be sung truly. Hearing and seeing all this Narada was humbled. Kneeling before Vishnu the sage prayed to be taught the art of music more perfectly, and in due course he became the great musician priest of the Gods.
Purely melodic in spirit, Indian music is devoid of any harmonized accompaniment except a drone. It is intonation in its divine purity forgetting all implied harmonies. It is an elaborate grace unlike European or Western music wherein grace is a unnecessary elaboration, not a structural factor. In Indian music the grace is microtonal., i.e, it fulfils the function of adding light and shade which, in harmonized music, is attained by the variance of assonance. It is the interval rather than the note that is sung or played and a continuity of sound is arranged. Strict rhythm, which are founded on contrasts of long and short duration, bind all songs except alaps. The frequent use of cross rhythms also complicates the form. Besides being melodic, as is affirmed earlier, Indian music at times is modal as well. The best way to approach the Indian rhythm is to pay attention to the phrasing and ignore pulsation. Here the words are merely a vehicle of the music. They are brief, just voicing a mood rather than telling any story. The words loose their own logic and are used to support the music. In alap, an improvisation on the raga theme, this preponderance of the music is carried so far that only meaningless sysllables are used. The voice is more than the musical instrument, the song more than the words. The voice has a higher status, reminding its precious affinity with the first sound OM. Rabindranath Tagore has said -

“How does that unknown bird go to any away from the cage
Could I but catch it, I would set the chain of my mind about its feet!”

Essentially impersonal, Indian music reflects the rainbow of emotions and experiences that are deeper and wider and higher and older than the emotion or experience of any single individual. Its sorrow is without tears, its joys without exultation. It is all human. Its inspiration emanates from Sam Veda which is supposed to be eternal. The singer is to see and hear Saraswati, the goddess of speech and hearing, performing, and not he. He finds Narada, the musician priest of gods, disseminating occult knowledge in the sound of the strings. He also sees Krishna – the lover and the yogi – calling through his flute to leave the duties of the world and follow Him.
It is these, rather than any human individual, who speak through the singer’s voice and are seen in the movements of the dancer. Indian music is an intimation of the music of the heaven, the cosmos. It is nad reaching out the extremities anahad. Indian musician is a pupil of god. While learning, he visits the heaven-world to ascertain in the perfection in his skill with the music of the spheres. The waking consciousness is empirically activated and the knowledge of music springs from a course far away from the surface.
While expounding the heart of the drama to Bharat Muni – the well-known creator of Natya Shastra – Lord Shiva proposes that human art must be subject to law, as in men the inner and outer are still in conflict . . . The harmony of art rises above good and evil. Indian music reflects the affection of the inner life. In it, the perfect spontaneity – the identity of intuition and expressions – builds the kingdom of heaven upon the earth, in the heart. It is an art that is nearer life than any fact can be. It if life itself. The transience and partiality in experience disappear only for the inner reality to ascend. Here all songs are a part of Him who wears a form of sound. ‘Sing here, sing God;’ says Shankar. It is a negation of meaningless episodes in life, the meaninglessness of countless pitfalls of burning hearths separated by the limited self; and it takes on through ragas – the essential elements of ranjan – like a dance of victory unlimited; and in perpetual readiness to adopt oneness with the self as its basic soul note. Indian music is a state of beauty – as part of Him, crystal and transcendental. A monumental articulation of elements, the Indian music is a perfect form of unity between the masculine and the feminine, a glow in the timeless Absolute, in the Nature with endless variety of colour and energy. Indian music is redemption afforded by the ecstasies of love and art. It is a katharsis of the Greeks which is aptly captured by Goethe when he muses on modern Europe -

For beauty they have sought in every age
He who perceives it is from himself set free
Indian music is reason of time that the Paradise is reality without hindering the next contact. Here the hearer has to surrender to the bliss without a place for curiosity or admiration at will.

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