his or her performance, the dancer touches the Ground
(Floor) to ask permission to batter the floor with his
or her feet and, at the finish, he or she asks
forgiveness for having done so.
This gesture demonstrates how everything in India
precipitates a mystic, higher connotation. From
the simplest functions to the greatest gestures,
everything is lived in a sacred manner.
are seven classical dance forms from India: Bharata
Natyam (the most ancient), Kathak (which contains the
origins of Spanish flamenco), Manipuri (influenced by
local folk dances), Odissi (sinuous and sensual that had
inspired the temple builders), Kathakali (potent and
masculine: a dance where even the female character was
impersonated by a man), Mohini Attam (feminine and close
to the mysticism of Mother Earth. The female role of the
Kathakali), Kuchipudhi (where dancers sometimes perform
their dances on top of metal plates balancing a jug full
of water on their heads).
Indian dance has its roots deep in Indian mysticism,
legends and Indian rituals, depicting achievements of
heroes and Gods. The stories are told by the body, face
mimic and different positions of the hands, each
movement expressing a well defined role. Kajal rimmed
eyes draw attention to facial expressions. The body,
seen as the temple of the soul, is adorned with jewels;
the ankles and feet, beating the rhythm, symbolize the
creative vibration as well as dissolution of the
Universe. The hands and feet draw geometric forms in
the air, the so called yantra describe the qualities and
symbols of each divinity or the tale; those who
understand Indian symbology can easily read and
interpret these movements.
In an ancient scripture, the Natya Shastra, it is
the hands go, the eyes follow...
spirit rests, a state of being manifests itself,
where a state of being intensifies, supreme joy is
general, a performance of Indian dance, with its
magnificent costumes and enchanting atmosphere becomes
an emotive experience displaying a high level of
hands open like the petals of a lotus flower and her
fingers splayed out plunge and soar like birds in
flight. Her body movements are proud, now sensual, now
they manifest devotion or great power….femininity and
Her facial expressions are constantly changing,
mimicking sentiments and emotions. The eyes and
particularly eyebrows express love, then contempt,
suspicion, compassion, disgust, horror and great
devotion”. This dance rises from the heart, the soul and
the spirit. The movements are scouring a millennia old
concept, and in its melodies they find something
special, something impalpable which escapes our normal
ways of interpretation.
provoke deep emotions which are difficult to control
rationally. India is a world far removed from us and yet
well anchored within
well-defined common framework; and this is why those who
start to follow and interpret this dance can seldom
leave it …..
dance is considered to be a form of yoga because it
focuses on connecting the physical energy with spiritual
strength. In effect, Indian dance is represents a
trait-d’union between the philosophical thought
derived from the complex science of yoga and the simple
mind, pure and partly instinctive and partly a product
of human ingenuity.
In the beginning it was only performed by the sacred
Devadasi celibate temple dancers and priestesses, who
dedicated their lives to prayer, were offering their
bodies and their dance to divinity.
Later, during the reign of a Moghul emperor, it was
banned under Muslim tradition which forbade women to
expose their bodies in public.
Even with the intervention of the British domination
this practice was not allowed. British Puritans did not
approve of dancing by women as a pretext for worship.
There was a dancer, Rukmini Devi, who belonged to a
higher cast and was passionate about Indian culture and
traditions. A towering personality, she was the pioneer
of the revival of Indian classical dance. She married an
Englishman and with courage and determination she
dedicated herself to dance, which was almost extinct,
taking it from the temples to an academic level.
Rukmini Devi was a great supporter of Indian dance and
fought against discrimination and prejudices to bring
back the splendour and mysticism of the past and this
most fascinating Indian classical dance known as Bharata
Natyam, by reassessing it and re-establishing its sacral
values held in the past.
She believed that: If the Bharata Natyam could not be
performed in a temple, we would bring sacredness into
was during the political disorders at the beginning of
the century that she offered hospitality to artists,
authors, musicians and nattuanars at one of her
properties in Madras, thus saving them from repression
and……starvation. She established the Kalakshetra Academy
of Art, which is still a major centre for performing
arts education, known and recognized throughout the
world for extreme quality, authenticity and prestige.
who practice this dance it is said that they bear a
regal countenance. The warming up (practice) before the
proper dance (using many positions of the Hatha Yoga),
is measured by the strength of articulations and
elasticity of the vertebral column. The movement of
micro muscles of the face and eyes during the Abhinaya
(mimic) describes the high concepts of oriental
philosophy; this, in addition to the physical
development and facial mobility, turns into a real
knowledge leading to personal spiritual growth. The
movement of the hands (called Mudra) and the whole body
allows an exceptional ability to control movement and
coordination, serving to develop and synchronise both
cerebral hemispheres, which is useful in achieving
Every dance uses the body as an effective means of
communication; the expression of a dance is perhaps the
most intricate and developed, but it’s also a form of
art which is far the easiest to understand.
In India dance is expressed through poetry, sculpture,
architecture, literature, music and theatre. It was born
more than 8000 years ago. In fact, the first
archaeological findings include a pretty statuette of a
dancing girl, dating back to 6000 years BC.
However, dance was formally mentioned only recently. It
is believed that the Natya Shastra of Bharata writings
(sacred Indian scriptures on the art of dance and
theatre) was written between the second century BC and
second century AD and represents the earliest valid
example of dramaturgy. All forms of classical Indian
allegiance to Natya Shastra,
as the fifth Veda.
There are four Vedas and it is said that Brahma, the
Creator, created Natya by taking the literature from
RgVeda, the holy songs from SamaVeda, the abhinaya (expressiveness
or mimics) from YajurVeda and rasa (states of
mind or aesthetic experience) from AtharvaVeda.
All the dances are structured around the nine rasas
or emotions: lasya (happiness), krodha (anger), bhibasta
(disgust), bhaya (fear), shoka (regret), viram
(courage), karuna (compassion), adbhuta (surprise) and
The dances differ from one another due to different
ethnic reasons however, the hand movements or hasta
mudra are the same for all the rasas.
Most Indian dances take their themes from India's rich
mythology and folk legends. This is the
trait d’union between the science, the level of
consciousness raised to the level of the soul and the
simple human mind.
The genesis of the contemporary styles of classical
dances can be traced as far back as 1300-1400 AD. India
offers a number of classical dance forms, each of which
can be traced to different parts of the country or
Baratha Natyam from Tamil Nadu, Kathak from Uttar
Pradesh and Rajastan, Kathakali from Kerala as a pure
Mohini Attam, Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh, Manipuri
from the homonymous Manipur and Odissi from Orissa.
this dance inspired by the Indian origins of gypsies
from Andalusia is the mother of flamenco.
Kathak is recognized as one of the seven classical
Indian dance forms and one of the youngest.
Originally it was practiced by wandering monks who sang
and enacted mythological stories called “Kathaka”,
giving it its name, by using facial expressions and a
complex series of hand and body gestures (Mudra).
Following the Islamic invasion of India, Kathak dance
travelled from the temples to the Moghul courts,
becoming richer in choreography, movements and profane
elements which make this dance one of the most
sophisticated forms of art found in Northern India.
Being no longer tied to the original devotional cult so
typical of the most ancient Bharata Natyam, during the
Moghul period the Kathak dance had a significant value
as pure entertainment and was an art form in itself.
Hindustani music is the music normally found in the
accompaniment of Kathak dancers – this genre is the
closest to the Western taste – the rhythmic element has
a superior character and contains cyclical rhythmic
patterns known as “TAALAS”.
A traditional Kathak performance is characterized by
rhythmic footwork, i.e. complex feet movements developed
to extreme levels that can not be rivalled by any other
type of dance and although performed in bare feet, they
reveal the past’s influence on flamenco. Numerous quick
spinning movements (Chakkar), graceful and harmonious
movements of the hands and wrists, and tiny cymbals and
characteristic castanets which can also be found in
flamenco as well as most ancient Middle Eastern dances
(Egypt-Tunisia-Morocco). After enduring severe and
protracted persecution by the Temurs, Indian gypsies
finally reached the destination of their pilgrimage.
Another inseparable component of Indian dance is called
Abhinaya, the mimic part of the dance through which the
dancer communicates her interpretation of internal
psychological states. Compared to other over-codified
styles, Kathak appears very formal, offering more room
As I was saying, the Kathak dance form originated in the
North although its true roots lie in Central India, and
as is true of almost all classical Indian dances, the
common root of all classical dance forms can be traced
to Bharata Natyam. Subsequently it acquires its very own
Persian and Muslim influences as well as the Mughul
tradition are still evident in its virtuosisms
We have said that it came with the story tellers who
used songs and dance to embellish their stories. In
Central India this took the form of Kathakalakshepam, in
Southern India Harikatha and in the North Kathak.
The dance witnessed an abrupt change around the 15th
century to the influence of Persian culture in the
Moghul courts. During the sixteenth century the costumes
changed too. They became regal and the tight fitting
churidar pyjama became the staple attire of a Kathak
Contrary to other Indian dances, another characteristic
of this dance, apart from feet stamping, intricate
pirouettes, sinuous and quick movement of the wrists,
the basic standing position for Kathak is a straight
Whilst in other classical dances (more or less) dancers
work mainly with their legs bent, the Kathak dancer
keeps his legs straight. The Katak dancers also wear
pellet bells tied around their ankles. Costumes become
increasingly elaborate, made of precious brocades and
As in other classical dances Mudras described in the
ancient scriptures as the Fifth Veda, the Natya Shasta,
are used in the Kathak. The stories are inspired by the
great epics of India, found in Ramayana, Mahabharata and
The story-tellers' songs about the life of Krishna have
remained almost unchanged throughout the ages and even
today the choreography still focuses mainly on the
cosmic love between Radha and Krishna and his spiritual
love for the shepherdess.
In the beginning it was a solo dance with one dancer who
played alternatively Krishna and Radha
(Today it is performed by a couple or even a group of
Kathak dancers must learn the basics of Hindu music;
they must have a conventionally beautiful voice, must
know how to sing, know the music well and have rhythmic
ability to play percussions, Tabla, and other
accompanying instruments, Sitar, harmonium, and finally,
to have a great scenic presence in order to select
positions reminiscent of fine specimens of Moghul
by Emy Blesio