Indian culture and civilisation, one of the oldest in the world, has a long association with its vibrant past. India`s culture takes into cognisance the confluence of various movements and cultures and their intellectual influences which have been woven into a canvas of many hues.
It incorporates cultures which were present in pre-historic India, those that had a momentary association with the country, those which were foreign in nature but assimilated themselves, besides the historic movements that erupted in India in different spheres of music, dance, drama, language, religion, and so on.
Samans, the earliest music of India are mentioned in the vedas. All later music in India is considered to have developed from the Saman, which means music. The music lore is said to be derived from the Sama Veda and the primary treatise is Gandharva Veda with 36,000 sections. Unfortunately the text is no longer available.The basic scale (grama) of Indian music is heptatonic and it`s seven notes or svara, -sadja, rishabha, gandhara, madhyama, panchama, dhaivata and nishada abbreviated to sa, ri, ga ma ,pa, dha, ni.
These correspond approximately to the notes of the European major scale. The fundamentals of Indian classical music are ragas and tala. Raga is a series of five or more notes, upon which a melody is based. Talas are rhythmic cycles, where the flow of time is divided by adjuncts like clapping hands, beating sticks, or playing on drum. The fundamental units of the Indian rhythmic structure are thisri (three), chatusra (four), khanda (five), misra (seven) and sankeertan a (nine). The two main classical school of music in India are called Hindustani, popular in the northern, eastern and western parts of the country, and Carnatic, which has its roots in south India. How and when they developed as two different streams is not quite clear.
It is believed that in the medieval age the branching out became prominent. While the names of ragas remained the same in both styles, the corresponding contents vary in each case; in the intonation of notes and the method of elaborating and expounding ragas. Both the styles of music over a passage of time have developed different forms. The major forms of Hindustani music are; Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumri, Tarana, Ghazal etc. The major forms of Carnatic music are; Kriti, Varanam, Padam and Javali, Tillana etc. There are various schools in each of these music forms. For example, Gharanas of Gwalior, Agra, Jaipur and Patiala are major schools of Khayal.
What makes Indian classical music unique are the possibilities for infinite permutations and combinations of svaras. In Western classical piano one octave consists of 12 notes, while there are 22 (srutis) notes in same octave of Indian music. The classical music tradition has survived through the practice of Guru-shishya parampara, where Guru(teacher) passing on his skills orally to the shishya (disciple).
The statuette of dancing girl from Mohenjo-daro in the Indus valley dates back to 2500 B.C. denoting the earliest evidence of formalised dance. The Natya Shastra, believed to be the work of Bharata, comprising 37 chapters and 5,569 slokas is dated back to 2nd Century BC. It is the basis of classical Indian dance, music and drama and is known as the fifth veda. Indian dance, like other Indian arts, has always been conscious of the relationship between the human being and God.
The divine concept of the cosmos and the philosophy of the Indian thought pervade and form a backdrop to the dance techniques. Dance was a ritual form of worship in the temples. The much-denigrated devadasis, in their rituals of worship, kept alive the art form, until a cultural revival brought the dances out of the temples into the theatres of the present. There are two basic aspects to Indian classical dance, namely; Tandava and Lasya. If the former denotes movement and rhythm, the latter denotes grace. The variation in Tandava and Lasya has given rise to different forms of classical dances in India. Each region has evolved its distinct style with its special nuances, though the basic roots are the same.
Bharatanatyam: This ancient dance form has been nurtured in Tamil Nadu and most probably derived from the Sadir- the solo dance performances by the devadasis. Bharatnatyam developed in its present form about two hundred years ago as a temple dance dedicated to worship. The two famous styles of Bharatnatyam are the Pandanallur and the Tanjore styles. It has unique system of movement patterns called karanas . No other Indian classical dance form has a dance grammar to match the karanas in number, complexity and variety.
Kuchipudi: The dance is named after the village of its origin, Kuchelapuram in Andhra Pradesh. It combines Lasya and Tandava elements, folk and classical shades. Prescribed costumes and ornaments are strictly followed.
Odissi: The dance form of Orissa has been appropriately termed as “mobile sculpture”. It has a graceful, sensuous, lyrical dance style. The tribanga (three bends) posture - so well expressed in the Indian sculpture - is innate to it. Beyond the physical limits of the poses, these bends and movements symbolise the means of escape from the limitations of the body.
Kathakali: Identified with elaborate make-up and arresting eye expressions, this dance form was born in the temples of Kerala. The main sources of Kathakali (Katha =story; Kali = drama) are folk drama traditions of Kerala. It is best suited to an open-air stage against the lush greenery of scenic Kerala. It generally requires no props, as the dancers use their gestures and expressions to suggest the scene.
Mohiniattam: Famous dance form, also, from Kerala. It has elements of both Bharatnatyam and Kathakali- the grace and elegance of the former and the vigour of the latter. Danced solo by girls, it has more erotic, lyrical and delicate elements than the other two. Unlike other classical dances, it does not have strong religious overtone.
Manipuri: A dance form of Manipur, which emphasises on Bhakti or Devotion and not at all on sensuous pleasure. Characterised by lyrical grace and soft undulating movements and serene expression, the Manipuri dance style is well known for it`s typically gorgeous costumes. It has a limited use of mudras and the dancer wears no ankle bells.
Kathak: Born in Uttar Pradesh, Kathak most probably had it`s origin in the Raasleela of Lord Krishna.The typical characteristic of Kathak are its intricate foot work and pirouettes. The knees are not bent nor flexed. Both Indian and Persian costumes are used .The themes range from Dhrupads to Taranas, Thumris and Gazals.
Some other dance forms in vogue in India are Chakiarkoothu, Koodiyattam, Krishnanattam, Yaksha Gana and Ottan Thullal.