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History of Dance in India

Tansen Sangeet Mahavidyalaya
06/12/2016 0 1

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Dance can be defined as movement of the body or body parts. It is usually accompanied by music and it should be rhythmic and aesthetically pleasing. Dance has been an important part of ceremony, rituals, celebrations, and entertainments since before the birth of the earliest human civilizations.  One of the earliest uses of dances may have been in the performance and in the telling of myths. Before the production of written languages, dance was one of the methods of passing these stories down from generation to generation. Another early use of dance may have been healing and prayer rituals. It was also sometimes used to show feelings for one of the opposite gender. Dance is, of course, also performed by animals. For examples, peacocks dance.

Many earlier forms of music and dance evolved together and this trend continues even together. On the other hand some musical forms also have a parallel dance form whereas other developed separately.  Although dance is often accompanied by music, it can also be presented independently or provide its own accompaniment.


According to Hindu mythology, the Taandav of Lord Shiva symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, birth and death. His dance is therefore the dance of the Universe, the throb of eternal life. Nataraja (literally the king of dancers), or Lord Shiva in a graceful dancing pose, is worshipped all over India, by classical dancers.

When a group of Gods and Godesses pleaded with Lord Brahma for another simple Veda for the common man in Kaliyuga to be created, he created the Panchamaveda, the Fifth Veda, or NatyaVeda. He took pathya, the words from the Rigveda, abhinaya, the communicating elements of the body from the Yajurveda, geet, the music and chant from the Samaveda, and rasa, the vital sentiment and emotional element from the Atharvaveda to form the fifth Veda, NatyaVeda.

After creating this Veda, Lord Brahma handed it to sage Bharata and asked him to propagate it on the earth. The sage Bharata then wrote Natyasastra, which is the common root for all classical dance forms of India. It is the common text for all the Indian dance forms.

Another legend has that the Goddess Parvathi taught art of dance to Usha, the daughter of demon Banasura. Later, Usha handed it to the Gopikas of the city of Dwaraka, the Lord Krishna's birth place. In reality, the Gods and the Goddesses, being dancers themselves, have been passing the art of the heavenly dance through many human channels.


The prehistoric times 9,000 year old Bhimbetka rock shelters paintings depict some form of dance The first concrete evidence of dance in India can be traced back to the period of the Indus Valley Civilization, where beautiful bronze sculptures of dancing girl have been found. Other sculptures found at the Indus Valley Civilization sites indicate that dance was a well developed art. Moving into the Vedic age, we once again find evidence of the continuing tradition of dance with the Vedas speaking eloquently on this art form. Dance was respected as a profession as well as a social activity. Even the Gods have been shown to appreciate dance, with Lord Krishna known as the Supreme Dancer.


Essentially one can divide the history of dance or classical dance in India into two periods, the first one from the 2nd Century BC to the 9th Century BC and the second from the 10th Century BC to the 18th Century BC. During the first period, Sanskrit was the main language for arts and hence had an influence on dance as well. This resulted in the dances being more or less uniform throughout the country. This period followed the Natyasastra with very little deviation from the principles it set down, and hence during this period dance, drama and music were one. The second period is characterized by regional diversifications and experimentations with newer ideas. Regional languages which had come up played an important role in diversifying the dance traditions, as did the inclination to deviate from the principles of the Natyasastra . They, however, still followed the essential concepts of the Natyasastra . The classical dance forms began developing during this period. Another notable literary work on dance that was written during this period is the Abhinaya Darpana

The temple dancing was institutionalized and the dancing girls or devdasis were patronized by the kings and mahajans and were often respectfully mentioned in many inscriptions of temples built in the medieval age. However, later, this system was exploited by temple authorities and it degenerated and was abolished in early 20th century.

Indian dance almost died out during the British rule, but a tradition of over five thousand years could not be wiped out that easily, and by the early part of the 20th Century a revival of the dances took place, and today there are many excellent artistes for each dance.

Today, the Indian classical dance has undergone a lot of changes over the centuries. Most of the contemporary dancers use the formal classical Indian dance technique to stage ballets presenting various themes.

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Deepti B. | 01/12/2016

Thanks for sharing. Very useful

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