Saturday, October 8, 2011


(Discourse to Vedanta Class by N.R. Srinivasan)


Fine Arts of Hindus owe their origin to the Eternal Tradition (Sanatana Dharma) popularly designated and known as Hindu Religion by the West. "Our law and politics, our arts and sciences, our manners and morals are derived from our fundamental faith, which makes for the spiritual unity of our community. There is a law which governs the rise and fall of nations. Adherence to the moral law of Dharma elevates a nation; non-adherence to it degrades it. If we are to progress we must adopt path of virtue. We had in our country from time to time of the Rigveda down to our own days a long line of torch bearers who stress the primacy of spiritual values. From time to time this fabric of spiritual unity is reinforced by the presence of poets, writers, philosophers and saint artists whose contributions have upheld this faith" says Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. If we are to progress we must adopt the path of virtue in all our walks of life. Hindu ancient sages notably Narada, Bharata and Vyasa, Hindu saint-composers, Valmiki, Tulasidas, Tyagaraja and Purandara Dasa, poet saints Meera, Kabir and Tukaram and dramatists Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bhartruhari and Bhasa were all highly spiritual and their adoration to the Supreme was through the medium of art and science of Fine Arts. This creative art was spontaneous, coming from their inner feelings towards the Supreme. The outcome was the blend of classical fine arts and spiritualism that has become the very powerful vehicle for devotional form of worship (Bhaktimarga) and the basis for Indian Fine Arts today. To the Hindu God is One but his manifestations are many.

The most familiar and simple meter in Indian music called Sloka Meter sprang out of strong human emotion of grief called Soeka (grief) in Sanskrit from Sage Valmiki, the author of Epic Ramayana—"Soekah Sloekatvamaagatah"—Sloka meter arose out of grief. Valmiki burst into tears listening to the cry of the Krauncha bird whose partner he shot with his arrow starting his composition of Adikavya (the first poetic composition in the world). Lava and Kusa, the twin sons of Rama sang the entire composition of Valmiki (25000 slokas) before Rama and his audience in their sweet Voices. This was the origin of Music according to Mythology (Puraana).

Nataraja, the dancing incarnation of Siva is one of the Trinities. He is the unseen director of the world's drama and performs his cosmic dance in the heart of each individual. He dances the world into and out of being, his fire consuming inflated egos, greed, anger, jealousy, lust and all aspects of darkness. Rhythm of His dance is felt in the play of children, the wars of nations, in movement of stars, in earth quake, conflagration, deluge, in a drop of water, in the raging torrent and others. To dance with Siva is to know freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

Indian music and dance, though had its origin in its ancient Eternal Tradition, called Hindu Religion, has often transcended the religious barriers and exhibited its great impact on society promoting harmony amongst various religions of India. Some of the Muslim singers' and poets' lives symbolize Hindu-Muslim harmony as seen in the music of Kabir, Bismillah Khan and Ghalib. The poet composer Ghalib sang in praise of Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus thus: "May God protect the city of Benaras from the evil eyes; a heaven of mirth; this Garden of Eden. This place of worship for the conch shell blowers (meaning Hindus); this is certainly the Kaba of India… (Kaba stands for Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims)". A renowned exponent of instrumental (Shehnai) music, Ustad Bismillah Khan, a devout Shia Muslim was also a devotee of Goddess Saraswathi, Hindu goddess of Learning. He sang often invocation songs on Goddess Saraswathi, in the temple of Varanasi. Jesudas has sung several Kritis on Hindu deities, though a Christian.

Hindu Gods are invariably associated with Musical instruments in their iconic representation. Vishnu is associated with wind instruments like the flute, bansuri or the conch, Sankha. Siva is always seen with his percussion instrument Damaru. Devi, as Saraswati the goddess of learning makes music with stringed instrument lute (veena). As Lakshmi, she is fond of her flute or conch that is wind instrument like her counterpart Vishnu. As Parvati she rattles the drum (damaru), a percussion instrument like her consort Siva.

Hindu Goddess Saraswathi, the goddess of learning, art and wisdom is generally shown in iconography as having four arms. With one hand she is holding a book, with second and third she is playing on a Veena (lute), and with the fourth hand she is holding Rosary (Akshamala). The book stands for all secular knowledge, the lute for fine arts and the rosary for spiritual wisdom. Secular knowledge helps a human being to earn his livelihood. Fine arts enrich his life giving aesthetic pleasure and emotional satisfaction. Spiritual wisdom fulfills the ultimate purpose of life, spiritual evolution.

Sangita- ratnakara says: "Samavedamidam Geetam sanjugaaha Pitaamahah"—Brahma, the Lord of Creation, evolved music from the Samaveda". Lord Brahma shared this knowledge with his wife Saraswathi who later revealed it to Sage Narada. Kasyapa received this knowledge from Narada and imparted it to Bharata.

Hindu art has several facets: drawing and painting; sculpture; dance; drama; and music. Actually, these arts are enumerated as 64 including floral designs (Rangoli), magic, culinary arts, carpentry, composing poems, physical exercises, Yoga and so on. But drawing and painting, sculpture, dance, drama and music are highly developed and most popular as Fine Arts. Rangoli owes its origin to a sage called Sudharma. (Please refer to my article on Rangoli and Kolam).

Chitrakala or drawing and painting is said to have originated from the Sage Narayana, the eternal companion of Sage Nara. He is said to have created Urvashi, the most beautiful heavenly nymph by drawing a picture on his thigh (uru) and then filling it with life. His work Chitrasootra (drawing manual) which was taught to Viswakarma, the divine builder is not available now.

A good drawing or painting must have several features like form, proportion, expression of emotion, grace and colors. The details are available in Kuttanimitta of Damodara Gupta, Vishnudharmottara Purana (500AD), Markandeya Purana (300AD) Abhilaashitaartha-chintaamani (AD1129) and Silparatna.

There are four stages involved in painting: a) Preparing the basic surface like a white cloth; b) making it stiff by starching or similar materials; c) drawing the outlines with charcoal or a black pencil and d) finishing with appropriate colors.

Paintings can be prepared depicting nine sentiments (nava rasas) : amour (sringara); humor (haasya); heroism( veera); compassion (karuna); wonder (adbhuta); fear (bhayanaka); horror (raudra); aversion (bheebasta); and peace (shaanta). Among these humor, amour, and peace are mostly favored and sought after.

These manuals also give detailed instructions regarding painting: whether they are objects of nature like uneven surfaces of earth, waves of ocean, fire, smoke and clouds or living beings including every limb of the human beings.

The oldest pictures so far discovered in India are located in the caves of Kaimur, Vindhya Hills, Raigarh and Mirzapur in Madhya Pradesh, belonging to prehistoric age, drawn using crude implements of stone, depicting mostly hunting scenes. The earliest paintings discovered are around 200 BC.

The World famous Ajanta paintings are the creation of expert artists (100 BC to 700 AD). Various aspects of nature like trees, flowers, animals, human beings, kings and queens, gods of heavenly region, Buddha and Bhodisattvas are the themes of these paintings. These paintings are outstanding due to their perfection in the shape of lines, proportion and combination of colors, variety and expression of emotions.

Paintings of the Bagh caves; Badami caves of Karnataka (700 AD); Sittanivaasal of Pudukote, Tamil Nadu; Ellora (Kailasa Temple, AD 800); Brihadeeshwara Temple, Tanjavur (AD 1100), Kerala Temples (AD 1100—1700) are other styles of paintings from the medieval period.

The next phase of development in Hindu art is the evolution of Rajasthan School from 15th to 18th century popularly known as Rajputana or Rajput style of art. This style extended to Punjab and Sub-Himalayan region and got a new name –The Pahaadi School and reached its glory during the 15th and 17th century.

Rabindranath Tagore referred to as Father of Modern Art has introduced Asian styles and Avant Garde Western styles into Indian art. Jaimini Roy and S H Raza have taken inspiration from folk traditions.

Allied with the art of drawing and painting is sculpting. During the Vedic age, images were being fashioned out of wood, stone, metal clay and precious stones. Silpasastra (the science of sculpturing) is too vast a subject to be dealt here. Though closely connected with drawing and painting, its development proceeded along with temple architecture rather than with fine arts.

The icon as an object of reverence satisfies not only the religious impulses of its user, but the aesthetic expectations also. The iconographic involvement in India has been continuous at least for about seven thousand years. Rigveda provides the background for the nationwide iconographic tradition that has held the field till this day. Under the Maurya royal patronage the Gandhara School of Arts flourished around 304 BC. The Gandhara type was more portraits than icons. It had the Greek influence under the Mauryan rule. It was however short lived. Mathura under the Kushans, emphasized the Indian idiom with idealistic symbolism. It developed the art-form that was indigenous to India. The Bhagavata cult encouraged the building of public shrines later. Polytheism is fundamental to Indian iconography like any iconography in the world.

The casting of bronze icons was perfected in India even during the days of Indus Valley Civilization. During modern period, craftsmanship involved in South Indian bronze icons has become world renowned. The bronze worker mainly works with wax while modeling. Finishing the bronze is craftsman skill while wax model is the work of art. Hallow casting in the North Indian sculpture in Nepal and Tibet is to make provision for inserting into the image a magical formula inscribed on a scroll, a piece of scriptural writing or a guru's message to accommodate supernatural energy.

The excellence reached today in stone, wood and bronze sculptures owes its gratitude to the encouragement given for its growth and development under the patronage of royal kingdoms in India till 1947, right from the Mauryan period long before the dawn of Christian era. Some of the notable kingdoms that encouraged this art are Maurya, Gupta, Chola, Pallava, Hoysala, Chalukya, Rashtrkoota, Vijayanagara and Kalinga dynasties. Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are famous today for their marble work, Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu for bronze work and Mysore in Karnataka for its intricate sandalwood carvings with minute details.

Today four distinct schools of sculpting are firmly established in India. They are; Madurai Style; Kanchi Style; Chalukya-Hoysola Style; and Bengali Style (current in Bengal, Assam and Orissa), exhibiting their special features, though all of them follow the general rules of iconography as given in the standard works.

Sage Bharata said that music takes its birth from Saamaveda: "saamabhyoe geetameva cha". Saamaveda is the "Book of Music" or the "Knowledge of Melodies". Saama in Sanskrit means a metrical hymn or song of praise like the word "psalm" in English. In Saamaveda seven sounds (svaras) are used. These seven svaras (notes) satisfy the hunger of gods, human beings, animals, birds, Gandharvas, Apsaras, demons and immobile things.

Samaveda was taught by Vedavyasa to Jaimini and from him the tradition of Samaveda started. Jaimini propounded only songs from Vedas can be taken as Sama mantras. The material on music scattered around was collected, contemplated and systematized in Samaveda. Sage Bharata, the father of music was therefore not wrong in saying, music took its birth from Samaveda—Saamabhyoe geetamevacha. Samaveda represents all the Vedas--contains poetic mantras of Rigveda, mantras in prose form of Yajurveda and in addition has lyrical songs. The songs sung in villages were known as Uhagaana and songs in forests were known as Uhyagaana. With all these Samaveda becomes a complete Veda by itself and it is therefore no wonder when Lord Krishna said in Bhagvadgeeta: "Amongst Vedas I am Samaveda".

Hindu sages have christened music as "Naadayoga" dedicating it to the Supreme "Naadabrhama". "Naadoepaasanayaa devaa brahmaavishnumaheshwarah | Bhaav- yantyupaaseetaa noonam yasmaadete tadaatmikaah ||"—The Trinities Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are worshipped by worshipping 'Naada' which is the basis of Gandharvaveda. Hindu music allied itself with religion and spiritual values from the very early Vedic period. Celestial beings, Gandharvas are believed to be engaged in dance and music. Thus having a divine origin, these arts were considered integral to the temple worship and were used as an offering of one's devotion. Samaveda has been considered to be the origin of Indian music. The three basic notes of Vedic chanting are the fundamental notes of Indian music—Udaatta, Anudaatta and Svarita. These three notes developed later into seven in Samaveda. They are: Krutsa, prathama, dviteeya, triteeya, chaturtha, mandra and atisvaara. They correspond to the notes Panchama (Pa), Madhyma (Ma), Ghaandhaara (GA), Rishabha (Ri), Sadja (Sa), Daivata (Da) and Nisaada (Ni), in modern music. Being connected to the sounds of various animals and birds the seven notes are said to strike harmony with nature. From the Sapta swaraas (the seven notes) are formed the 72 Melakarta raagaas or Janaka Raagaas (parental scales). And from these have developed countless musical modes called Janya Raagaas.

The Gandhrvas were demigods born out of the sweet fragrance of flowers. Once they stole the Soma plant, the favorite of Devas with its inebriating and invigorating elixir sap. Its juice was also considered sacred in Yajnas (Soma Yajna) and the Devas missed it badly for their rituals. This made Devas unhappy who sought the help of Devi Saraswati. Saraswati mesmerized the Gandharvas with the music played on her lute (Veena); Gandharvas became eager to learn the music from her. Saraswati agreed to teach them music in exchange of their restoring the Soma plant to Devas. Gandharvas learnt the music from Saraswati and Gandharvas returned the Soma plant to Devas as promised. In due course, Gandharvas became celestial musicians. Their music had more power to bring pleasure to the mind than even the divine elixir, Soma juice.

Ancient Vedic literature mentions Gandharva Veda as a branch of Saama Veda (Upaveda). It includes Bharatanaatya Saastra, Dattilam, Sangeeta Ratnaakara, Mallinaatha Ratnaakara and Sangeeta Darpana.

Later, Saint-composers like Tyagaraja, Purandaradasa, Meerabhai, Kabir, and Tukaram contributed significantly for its growth and development. They expressed their inner feelings towards God through the medium of music which served as a powerful and very appealing medium for the spread of Bhaktimarga (devotional form of worship). Mythological saint composer was sage Narada, who is invariably shown carrying his Taanpura.

During the early period of Indian history, music, dance and drama were treated as one unit, called Natyasastra. Sage Bharata's Natyasastra (100 AD) is the earliest authoritative treatise on the subject. The later works are: Sangita Ratnamala by Mammata (AD 1100), Sangita Ratnakara by Sarangadhara (AD 1260), Sangitasaara by Vidyaranya (AD1380), and Swaramelakalaanidhi by Raamayaamaatya Todaramalla (AD 1600).

In Indian music the two invariable basic notes are 'sa' and 'pa'. the others—'ri', 'ga', 'ma' 'da', and ni are of two varieties each making a total of 12 notes. Sometimes 16 notes are described, though for all practical purposes 12 notes are enough. Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni, Sa are like Do, Ri, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do in Western music.

The various Raagas or tunes are capable of rendering a variety of feelings and sentiments such as love, anger, tenderness, sorrow, disappointment pity and joy and so on. Specific Raagas assigned to specific periods of the day or night. For example, Raagas like Bhairavi (Maayaamaalava gaula) are sung in the early morning and Raagas like Yaamani(Or Kalyaani) are sung in the night. The derived Raagas can be limitless and are invented every now and then by talented musicians.

Sruti (drone or basic musical sound as the one produced by the Taanpoora), Raaga (tune), Taala (fixed number of beats for each unit) and Laya (uniform speed for the beats) are the basics for the Indian music, like the symphony which is the heart of Western music. Unlike the Western music which is based on harmony, Indian music is linear—Melody (Raaga); complex nature of time measure (Taala); use of ornamentation techniques (Gamakas).

A Raaga is described by musicians as the sound adorned with Svaras and motives which delight the mind of listeners. Taala is meter in music and is cyclic (aavartana) in nature. Gamaka, a melodic device is unique to Indian music; when a set of svaras is accented and intoned in such a manner that the raga gains an emotional content, those nuances are known as Gamakas. They depend on the talent and ingenuity of the musician adding great beauty to his music. Each Raaga has peculiar Gamakas giving it a distinct quality. Besides Taala, Rhythm also includes Laya, tempo, which may be Slow (Vilambitha) Medium (Madhyama) or Fast (Druta). Taala and Laya are essential elements providing rhythm to the music. In the Carnatic music the proportion of Tempi (Layas) are precise whereas in the North Indian music the different Tempi are relative without precise ratio.

With the Persian influence exerted during the Mughal Period, Indian music branched into two schools: the North Indian Style called the Uttaradi and the South Indian Style called the Dakshinadri, more popularly known as Carnatic Music, named after the coastal region from where the music came. After the Sangita Ratnakara of Sarangadeva (1210 to 1247) the word "Carnatic" came to represent South Indian music as a separate system of music.

During Mughal Emperor Akbar's time the North Indian music flourished under the royal patronage and the famous composer and singer Tansen. He was one of the Nine Gems in Akbar's court. He wrote two books on the theory of Hindustani music, the Sangeeta Saara and Raajamaala. There are many similarities between the two styles as well as notable distinctions. The North Indian style got subdivided into Gharaanas or Traditions which are actively popular today.

Rabindranath Tagore added a new dimension to the musical concept of India in general and Bengal in particular. Rabindra Sangeet has evolved into a distinct school of music. Songs of Rabindranath Tagore are the outcome of 500 years of literary and cultural churning that Bengali community has gone through. These songs transcend the mundane to the aesthetic and express all ranges and categories of human emotions. The poet has given a voice to all—big or small, rich or poor, says Dhan Gopal Mukherji.

Musical performances are generally centered round a vocalist in both the styles. Usually the Carnatic Music is accompanied by the Violin and Mridangam (two sided percussion stretched instrument) players. The Taanpoora is a must as the basic instrument (sruti). Occasionally the vocalist is also accompanied additionally by other instruments like Ghatam (a mud pot) and Ganjira (a disc like percussion instrument and Morsing (a tiny metal instrument played by mouth and hand). In the North Indian classical music vocalist is accompanied by Harmonium and Tabla (a percussion instrument in two pieces). Here also, Taanpoora is a must. Sometimes the vocalist is also accompanied by stringed instruments like Saarangi or Dilruba.

Dhanurveena of the Vedic period is said to be the forerunner of violin which is now a Western instrumen adapted to Indian style. Veena, Vaana (an instrument with 100 strings) Dhanurveena, Dundhubi (drum), Aadambara and others find references in Vedic and puranic literature. Many other instruments like, Baansuri, Flute, Sitar, Gottuvaadyam, Pakhvaj, Khol, Naadaswaram, Tavil, and Shehnai have been in use from the medieval period. Some of them are played in solo consorts accompanied by suitable instruments. Of late Indian instrument players have successfully adopted Clarinet, Mandolin, Saxophone and other instruments from different cultures to play Indian Music.

According to Hindu Mythology music was originally composed by celestial beings called Gandharvas and their compositions were known as Gandharva Veda. But we have no proof of that today. Hindu mythology also frequently speaks of heavenly musicians called Kinnaras singing during joyous occasions. These are the followers of Kubera the God of Wealth, with human bodies and horse heads. They were either sons of the sage Kashyapa or those who sprang from the toes of Brahma. The last six chapters of Natyasastra, written by the sage Bharata in 300 AD, deals with music and it is said that some part of the music was written by the mythological sage Naarada who is always shown in iconography with a Taanpoora in his hand.

It is Hinduism that recognized fine arts as one of its ways to please God and enjoy his company. Gods have inspired music showing their leniency to Music. Only Hinduism you will see Sarswati Goddess of Learning with Veena (a stringed instrument),  Narada with Tamboora (A stringed instrument), Krishna with his Flute Wind instrument)  and Nandi with Mridangam, a percussion instrument.

Human beings try to give expression to their inner feelings through the medium of dance, like music. Rustic villagers even now express their gratitude to the deities through their folk dances during harvest season and Holi. In most of the societies there are dances for every social occasion.

Indian dance is said to have originated from Lord Siva and his consort Parvati, the divine couple. Hindu dances originated from Lord Shiva's famous dance, namely, Tandava Nritya, which is the most horrendous dance of Lord Shiva with his crew (gana) after the annihilation of his father-in-law Daksha. Another one is "Dance of Death" accompanied by Bhringi, a skeleton attendant. A third form popularly known as Nadanta, in which the dancer as a toothless old man desperately dances the vigorous dance of Lord Shiva. The last one is the dance of Shiva mounting Nandi (his bull), and this dance results in the creation of earth. Mythology also tells that fine arts of dance and music flourished under the patronage of Lord Indra, the King of Devas. Chitrasena, a Gandharva, was the leader of the royal crew of artists. Urvashi, Rambha, Menaka and other nymphs were the celestial bewitching dancers in his court. Arjuna, the son of Indra and one of the Pandavas later mastered both music and dance under the guidance of Chitrasena. This helped him to play his disguised role as Brihannala effectively in King Viraata's place, teaching dance to Sudishna and Uttara. Nandikeshwara learning Nritta (Pure form of dance) from Shiva taught the same to Bharata. This had two styles—Tandava, forceful form and Laasya, soft form. Here the whole body is a means of depicting symmetry in movement.

Sarangadeva of 12th century AD and other scholars refer to Nritya, which represents both Nritta and Abhinaya. Abhinaya, gesticulation, refers to the art of communication and consists of four media of expression—Aangika, Vaachika, Aahaarya and Saatvika. Aangika pertains to graceful movements of major and minor limbs, hand gestures (mudras) leg gaits etc. Vaachaka includes dialogues and songs. Aahaarya consists of make-up, cosmetics, ornamentation etc. Saatvika consists of facial expressions invoking emotions and feelings.

We often find icons in dancing poses in all Indian sculptures and paintings—Siva-Parvati, Ganesha, Krishna-Radha, Bhringi, Saraswathi indicating Gods are pleased with dancing as a medium of expression of love from the devotees. Nataraja and Ganesha are invoked at the beginning of the dance like Saraswati and saint-composers at the beginning of music performance. Dance is used as a powerful media for Bhaktimarga (devotional form of worship) by the Hindus.

Sangeetaratnakara (AD1260) names the art of dancing as a branch of Vedas called the Naatyaveda. Lord Brahma, the Creator taught dance to Sage Bharata, who exhibited it before Shiva in Mount Kailasa. Then Shiva taught the Tandava dance to Sage Tandu, who later taught this dance to Bharata. Parvati, Siva's spouse taught the Daasya dance to Usha, the daughter of Baana, specially suited to women. Hindu Mythology thus speaks of the origin of the dances and how it got spread in this world. Vedas refer to dancing as also several musical instruments. Indus Valley excavations as early as 3000 BC reveal figurines in the dancing poses.

Under the royal patronage the art of dancing, music and sculpture flourished and developed further right from the Mauryan period till Independence in India. The Devadasi custom, despite its evil effects, also helped in the development of the art of dancing by the devoted artists. The Devadasi (God's servant) institution is no longer in vogue in India which earned a bad name as an institution of prostitution over a period. All dancers are treated with respect and admiration throughout India today and every girl tries to learn dancing in India and abroad including some boys, under the direction of some Guru. Union Government also encourages fine arts by instituting State-awards the highest of which is Bharat Ratna. Bharat Ratna has been awarded to top artists Satyajit Ray, M.S. Subbalakshmi, M.G. Ramachandran (posthmus), Ustad Bismillah Khan, and Bhimsen Joshi in recognition of their valuable contribution to Fine Arts.

The standard works dealing with the art of dancing are; Natyasastra of Bharata, Bharataarnava of Nandikeshwara and Abhinayadarpana of Nandikeswara. Both the authors seem to be legendary figures like Narada. These might have been works of hundreds of saints whose identity is not revealed. Natyasaastra in some aspects resembles Aristotle's Poetics.

Hindu dance is closely linked with emotions. It resembles a perfect harmony between classical music and body movement. In fact, its objective can be summed up as the creation of different moods in the minds of the audience. Outward expression of inner emotions is the heart of the dancing art. It is done by abhinaya or rhythmic movements of limbs, various types of stances and mudras or poses with hands. Dresses suitable for the occasion and music with all the accompaniments enhance the total effect. Modern light and sound effects has enhanced this further. The themes are generally chosen from the Epics and Puranas. 

Only in Hinduism we come across Gods  in dancing posture.Vishnu is shown in the  dance stance only as Krishna (Kaaleeya Mardhana), dancing on the   hood of the dragon  Kaaleeya, and Navaneeta Krishna dancing with butter ball in one hand or in  both hands, A  pillar in the Tirumalai Hills shows Narasimha dancing; and this is altogether a rare depiction.  Siva as Nataraja is a celebrated image. But there are several variant postures in this, which are not so well known as the famous Tiruvalngaadu icon. Ganpati and Saraawati are also shown sometimes as dancing. Several Devis  with Tantrik background, L like kaali and Aparajita are also shown in dancing posture or in semi-dancing (aaleedha) postures. 

The major dance traditions under classical dances today as recognized by the Sangeeta Natak Academy of India are: Bharata Natyam; Kathak; Kathakali; Mohini-aattam; Kuchipudi; Manipuri; Odissi-Naatya; Sattriya Natya; and Yakshagana.


Bharata naatya is the art and science of dance taught by sage Bharata. It is popular in South India. In this form of dancing supple body grace coordinated movement of hands, feet, fingers etc. are blended with facial expression including movement of eyes, eyebrows etc. A Bharata Natya dancer is more or less a Yoga practitioner because through various poses and exercises the dancer has to attain full control of the body. No movement is isolated but is synchronized into an expression of dancing form.

Earlier Vijaya Nagara Empire in Hampi was the center for this art; later the artists migrated to Tamil Nadu and developed it further especially in Tanjaavur. The word Bharata aptly describes the various components that constitute this art. Bha stands for Bhaava (abstract idea); ra stands for Rasa (emotion); and ta stands for Taala (musical time or measure). It has now branched off into three traditions: The Sadir Nritya; the Bhaagavata Melaa and Kuravanji.

There are six varieties of Bharata Naatya. These are: 1) Alaripu--an introductory and short form of dance; 2) Jethi Svaram—more advanced form of dance; a rhythmic form of footwork and body movements associated with different patterns of music; 3) Varnam—This is the dance which can make the audience spell-bound by its vigorous tempo, very elaborate and complex; 4) Saadanam—a dance associated with a poem; 5) Padam—another dance associated with a poem; and, 6) Tillaana—closely associated with Carnatic Music. It is most popular with the audience.

A full-length Bharatanatyam  recital is typically two hours long. It follows traditional structure, opening with a dance of invocation, climaxing with the intense and intricate Varnam, leisurely moving through several expression pieces and concluding with the fast, joyous Tillaana. It is customary to end the dance with Mangalam seeking the blessings of a chosen deity.
The Sadir Nritya was originally performed by the temple dancers (devadasis) to the background of Carnatic Music with greater stress on foot-work. The Bhaagavata Melas are actually dance dramas with religious themes and are enacted in temples. Kuravanji is a religious dance performed in temples. The dance represents the individual soul in search of the divine who is the deity of the temple.

Bharata Naatyam starts with obeisance  to Siva in his  Nataraja  form who is seen in his cosmic dance pose, lighting a lamp which is kept Burning through the entire length of the dance, symbolic of Divine Light guiding the artist.

"Yatho hasta tatho Drishti Yato Drishti tatho Manah ||
Yatho manah thatho Bhaava, yatho Bhaava tatho Rasah ||

Where the hands are, go the eyes; where the eyes are, goes the mind; where   the mind goes, there is an expression of inner feeling (bhaava)  and where is inner feeling, mood or sentiment is evoked (Rasa)

Kathak means story teller. In ancient days the story teller at the religious discourses or gatherings used to make suitable gestures. These gestures later on took the separate form of the dance style called Kathak.

The Kathak dance tradition has its origin in the devotional dances (by Devadasis) current in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The dance calls for proper combination of Abhinaya, Mudra and Gati. It is based on different mythological stories out of which the dance of Lord Krishna and his beloved consort Radha is very popular with the audience. Devotees of lord Krishna used to dance to the accompaniment of Bhajans (devotional songs) trying to express the sentiments contained therein. Kathak dancing was patronized by Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow who transformed the dance to the palace court. Kathak is now branched into two traditions; the Jaipur Tradition and, the Lucknow Tradition. Subtlety and speed are the characteristics of the former and latter is marked by acting and grace.

Kathakali dancing originated in Malabar in Kerala. Kathakali means a play depicting a story. This is a dance-drama form narrating mythological stories in dance format lasting almost the entire night. Almost all the dancers are men and they are masked to depict the mythological characters. It has three varieties: Kuttu; Raamanaattam; and Krishnanaattam.

The Kuttu dance used to be exhibited in temples during dance festival days; the themes chosen are from mythology including famous incidents called from the history. The other two are identical form of depicting episodes from the epics Ramayana and Bhagavata. In Kathakali, the dancers do not sing or speak but express their sentiments through acting.

In this dancing ankle bells are worn and the foot and hand movements express beats, expression, emotion and situation. The dancers wear gaudy dresses, head gears with heavy face paintings and the dress of the dancer includes an inflated umbrella like skirt. The coloring on the face of the dancer indicates the moods and status of the personality represented in the dance—the green painted face represents nobility, valor etc., while green with red patch is the status of a noble foe.

Announcing about the Kathakali program, invocating verses from behind the scenes, beating of the drums, entry of the first dancer, narration of the story from the back-ground, dance and acting by the artists playing the various roles, their conversation being narrated from the back-ground mark the features of this color rich program.

The word Mohiniyaattam means "Dance of the Enchantress". This is a traditional dance from Kerala. This name might have been coined after "Mohini" the bewitching incarnation of Vishnu as a female who bewitched both Lord Shiva as well as the assembly of Asuras (demons) during churning the ocean of milk to obtain divine nectarine, Amrita. Devadasis used to perform this dance in temples. The main theme of the dance is love and devotion to Lord Krishna or Vishnu. It has also elements of "Koothu" and "Kottiyaattam". It is a drama in dance and verse.

This dance has elements of both Bharata Naatya and Kathakali. There are forty basic movements known as "atavukal". This dance was formulated by Vadivelu in the court of the famous music exponent King Swathi Thirunaal. The dance involves the swaying of broad hips and the gentle movements of erect postures from side to side, reminiscent of the swinging of palm leaves and the gentle flowing rivers which abound in Kerala.

The dance is performed exclusively by ladies. The costume includes white Kerala Sari with golden brocade known as "Kasavu" at the edges. The vocal music involves variations in rhythmic structures known as "chollu". The lyrics are in Manipravalam a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam. The subtle gesture of footwork and the movement of eye lids in a very coy and yet sensual manner to enchant the mind without enticing the senses highlight the enchanting dance.

During Vijaya Nagara Empire, this typical dance of Andhra Pradesh flourished under the royal patronage. It is known for its saatvik (benign) sentiments and acting. The themes usually selected are from the 17th century works of Brahmakalpam and Paarijaatam of Siddhaananda Yogi and Gollakalpam containing Vedantic conversations between a cowherd and a Brahmin and others. Dasaavataram (Ten Incarnations) themes are also popular.

The protagonists of Manipuri dance claim that this form of dance was started by Lord Shiva himself at the instance of his consort Parvati. Legends tell that Arjuna of Mahabharata fame married Chitrangadha, princess of a royal family from Manipur, who was an accomplished dancer of this type.

Manipuri dancing is usually performed by the hill people residing in Manipur in the State of Assam in India. Both men and women take part in this dance accompanied by chorus singers. The costumes of the dances are very colorful, with girls wearing long, wide skirts. These dances are centered round Lord Shiva and Parvati, and, Lord Krishna and his beloved consort Radha. Bhaagyachandra, the king of Manipur (18th century) after building a temple for Lord Krishna introduced Raasaleela dance. With passing of time, six modes of dancing suitable for six seasons (ritus) evolved. These are: Vasantaraasa; Nartaraasa; Kunjaraasa; Kartaaraasa; Divaaraasa; and Mahaaraasa. Another style called Laay-harayba is also current. This is deemed to be very ancient and considered to be the original of Manipuri dances. It includes enactment of the various stages of creation by God and is generally spread over a month. Raasaleela, the dance of Lord Krishna with the Gopis (cowherds) of Vrindaavan is another school of Manipuri dance. It also depicts the various incidents from the incarnation of lord Krishna and the performance is spread over the whole night.


This is an ancient tradition of dancing based on Sage Bharata's Natyasaastra influenced by the Oriya style of music. It was originally a dance by the Devadasis (temple danseuse) before Lord Jagannath in the famous temple of Puri around 12th century. Around 14th century, the tradition of boy-dancers (Nartaka Baalakas) was also introduced to this art of dancing.

The Odissi dance today has integrated both North Indian and South Indian styles. The back-ground music is North Indian. Some characteristic features of Bharata Naatya, Kathakali and Kathak are also found in this art of dancing. Present day Odissi dance centers round Jayadeva's (AD1200) Ashtapadi devoted to Lord Krishna and his consort Radha.

The religious Vaishnava Monasteries (Matths) established by Sankaradeva (AD 1486-1568) in Assam started Sattras, which are centers for religious instructions. These Sattras introduced devotional dances called Saattriya Naatya to propagate their religious Vaishnava tradition. These dances have two branches—Jamursaali and raas. The former is connected with Krishna's life and the latter with the Raasleelaa or Krishna's dance with Gopis (cowherds). The Jamursaali is a kind of religious exercise specially practiced and enacted by young men of the Sattras who dedicate their lives for this purpose. The old teachers who train them support the dance with the background music.

Yakshas are celestial beings celebrated in Puranas talented in the fine arts of music, and dance. Yakshagaana, named after them is prevalent in parts of Karnataka in India, also known as Bayalaatta (Field play), a dance drama similar to Kathakali. This is also based on Bharata's Naatyasaastra with added local colors. The artists not only dance but also sing and talk according to the roles they play. The themes are invariably taken from the mythological stories.

There are several varieties of folk dances spread all over the country in addition to traditional dances described above, the defined and the cultured systems of dancing developed as an art. The folk dances are intended for joyous occasions like marriages, child births, festivals and sacred days, harvest seasons etc., by the common folks. Men and women, young and old dance in their own style. These have become popular over the ages in different parts of the country. They are: Bhaangraa (Punjab); Garbhaa (Gujrat); Ghamar (Rajasthan); Holi (Manipur); Kolaatta (Karnataka): Luadi (Punjab); Pangi (Himachal Pradesh); Suggi Kunita (Karnataka); Tabal Congbi (Manipur); Tiyaan -Baaghi (Punjab); and Kummiyaattm (Kerala) etc.

Dances have not only enriched our national culture but have also added new dimension of joy and pleasure to the life of our masses though motivated originally by the devotion to the Supreme.

Hindu dances represent the vibration (spandhanam) in every being and every atom in the universe. Lord Nataraja, the Lord of Dances, symbolizes the rhythm of the universe—the perpetual cycle of creation and annihilation. In his famous book, The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra explains dance as the most basic and relevant of all forms of expression, and uses such phrases as "the dance of creation and destruction" and "energy dance", probably inspired by the dancing poses of Nataraja, who is the dancing incarnation of Shiva.

The basic theme of the Drama is conveyed through conversations and music with appropriate acting. The total effect is enhanced by proper dresses, ornaments and equipment. The code of practice for all these is dealt at length in the Naatyasaastra of Bharata. Dresses and ornaments and also different hair styles appropriate for the roles played are described in detail in the works of Naatyasaastra. Masks are also in use. It may be safely assumed that dramatics was a well developed art even during the very early period of Christian era.

For the enactment of a drama a suitable place called "Rangasthala" was planned during the old days. It could be rectangular, square, circular or semicircular. This was divided into two parts—Rangabhoomi (Stage), and Prekshaagriha (auditorium). In earlier period these two were almost equal. These gradually improved to have a green room, a back stage, a front stage and a rest room. Screens were very much in use. The sound and light effect with rotating stages and screens with multi scene stages have enhanced the audience appeal despite the keen competition and popularity of cinema theaters.

In ancient days the themes of the drama have been chosen from the mythological literature. With the advent classical Sanskrit literature, social themes also became popular as evidenced by the dramas of Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti (8th century), Sudraka (3rd century) and others.

Today dramatics have developed further in theme, style and design of theaters to compete with cinema theatres. There are innumerable numbers of drama literature available in all the major regional languages of India today, catering to the varied tastes and interests of the people.

Hindu Fine arts over the years have reached high standards of artistic sophistication. India witnessed a vast outpouring of literature in the form of plays, songs, dance-dramas and epics from the Gupta dynasty onward. Performing Arts were noted for portraying human emotions—the nine Rasas: love; humor; compassion; anger; heroism; fear; disgust; tranquility and wonder. Through Fine Arts Early and Medieval Vedic Culture brought Hindu Principles and Values into the lives of common people very effectively. For a devoted Hindu artist, his fine arts have originated from the Supreme itself. For a dedicated Hindu artist, his art is the best means of worship and best medium for the expression his love to Supreme. All Hindu Fine Arts performances begin with the worship and salutation to one's favored deities Ganesha or Nataraja (Siva) or Radha and Krishna or Saraswati or great saints like Tyagarja, Purandaradasa, Meera, Kabir and others.


This lecture has been prepared for the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple by N.R.Srinivasan by extracting texts and suitably and editing from the following sources which is gratefully acknowledged:
  1. Swami Harshananda, An Introduction to Hindu Culture, Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore, India.
  2. S.K. Ramachandra, Early Indian Thoughts, Kalpataru Research Academy, Bangalore 560004, India.
  3. Ed. Viswanathan, Am I A Hindu? Rupa & Co., New Delhi 110002
  4. Wikepedia, Indian Classical Dances, Internet.
  5. Alpha Books, Outstanding Indians, Alpha Land Books, Chennai, 600034, India.
  6. Suzanne Fisher Staples, Shiva's Fire, Harper Trophy, New York, NY 10019.
  7. A.K. Mitra, Know about India, Sai Books, New Delhi 110014.
  8. Sunita Ramaswamy & Sundar Ramaswamy, Vedic Heritage Teaching Program, Swami Dayananda Ashram, Rishikesh


The Role of Dance Sculptures in Tamil Nadu
Posted by Sampradaya Sun | Jun 18, 2010 |

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The twin arts of dance and sculpture developed together in close spiritual association with the concept of the Divine Being himself as a dancer in Tamil Nadu. The fusion of these two arts dates back to the dawn of our civilization.
The figure of a dancer unearthed in Mohenja-daro of proto-historic India explains the genetic relationship between the various dance styles of India. The pose of this icon is still found in the varied dances of our country. Some dances have been mentioned as purely indigenous in Tolkappiyam. We infer from the description that they were rather rustic and had not attained high development or codification.
The first well lighted epoch in the history of the Tamil land is that reflected in the literature of Sangam (the first 3 or 4 centuries A.D.). In this age, the Panar and Viraliyar were said to have been roving bands of musicians and dancers, who preserved the folk songs and dances of  earlier age. Their dance seemed to have also included certain hand gestures as mentioned in Bharata’s Natya Sastra. Thus a conscious attempt to synthesize the indigenous pre-Aryan modes with those of the north resulted in the development of the dance art, as seen in the later work Cilappatikaram.
Dance Sculptures
The dance sculptures not only reveal the origin and evolution of the art in Tamil Nadu, but also show that the Tamils were free from all linguistic inhibitions in their endless quest for knowledge. They derived inspiration not only from Tamil but also from Sanskrit sources for the development of their culture. Treatises on all arts written in Sanskrit were in the normal course absorbed and preserved in Tamil Nadu. Translations and abridged editions arose in Tamil.
The earliest extant literature on dramaturgy is said to be the Natya Sastra by sage Bharata.  All the works that came to be written on dance in the post Bharata period had the influence of the Natya Sastra. Silappatikaram is no exception to this. The very titles, Bharatasenapatiyam and Pancha-bharatiyam mentioned as Tamil works in the commentary of Adiyarkunallar prove the recognition that Bharata enjoyed in Tamil country. All these works deal with the theory of dance; the practical aspect is seen in the sculpture of Tamil Nadu.
The association of the various Gods with dance made it necessary for the sculptor to study the Natyasastra before depicting these deities in stone. This knowledge was one of the main factors that contributed to the refinement of sculpture. The presence of an accomplished Nartaki – the dancer – attached to the temple induced the sculpture to create dance sculptures. In turn, such sculptures remain as everlasting guides for successive generations of dance enthusiasts. They served to codify and preserve the art for all time. Among such closely inter-related creations,  are benefiting each other, the most important is the karanam in the field of dance and sculpture. It is a matter of pride for Tamil Nadu that it has been able to preserve in pristine purity the Kashmiriyan sage, Bharata’s style of dance in the form of sculpture. Though there are dance sculptures all over India, such close adherence to the Bharata tradition cannot be seen anywhere else.
Karanam is a technical term, derived from its Sanskrit route, kr – meaning ‘to do’. In short, it is a unit of dance which was the basis for concert items in ancient times. The karanam is generally mistaken to be a static pose. As it is a combination of the three elements, namely cari (movement for the legs), nrtta hastan (gesture for hands) and stanam (posture for the body), it is a full movement and not a static concept. Thus a karanam can be compared with the adavu of contemporary dance. Just as many adavus make a tirmanam and many tirmanams an item, according to the number of karanas specified, they were called kalapaka, matrka, bhandaka, sanghataka and angahdra. To compare it with the components of language, the elements of karanas are alphabets, the karanas are words and the rest are phrases and sentences.
Bharata’s Natya Saastra is the earliest extant literature giving details about these karanas. Bharata has described 108 karanas in his fourth chapter. In Adiyarkunallar’s commentary on Silappaikaram a reference to karanam is found. While describing the requisite qualities of the dance master, llango says: “he is supposed to know the rules pertaining to the two types of dances”.
These types are explained as santi kuttu and vinoda kuttu by Adiyarkunallar. Santi küttu is of four types, namely sokkam, mey kuttu, avinaya kuttu and natakam. The explanation for sokkam is given as ‘it is made up of 108 karanas’. It is also called Suddha nrittam or abstract dance. Thus the 108 karanas were commonly in practice in Tamil Nadu.
Tanjore Sculptures
Apart from the literary evidence for the popularity of Bharata’s karanams, the dance sculptures in the temples of Tamil Nadu prove beyond doubt that the Tamils took great pains in preserving Bharata’s style.
Just as the earliest extant literature on karanas is the Natya Sastra, the earliest extant visual representationof these are found in the Brhadiswara temple at Tanjore. The credit of identifying them as Bharata’s karanas goes to Padmabhushan Dr. T. N. Ramachandran, the eminent archeologist. When the Chola king Rajaraja built the Tanjore temple in the beginning of the 11th century, dance art enjoyed such a high status in society that he had the karana figures chiselled as sculptures in the first tier of the Vimana.
Natya Sastra was already about  1000 years old during Rajaraja’s time. It is quite possible that the karanas were developing on new lines, some of them even becoming obsolete; it was his genius that gave immortality to Bharata’s karanas by such sculptural codification. Thus we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Chola Emperor for this service in the cause of dance art.
The karana figures in Tanjore are about two feet in height and are found one after the other in a serial order as prescribed by Bharata. Starting from talapuspaputam, there are only 81 figures found. Slabs for the rest are found left incomplete. But it is beyond doubt that each sculpture has been carved after a deep understanding of the description of the relevant karanas as found in Natya Sastra as well as its commentary the Abhinavabharati, written by Abhinavagupta.
Kumbakonam Sculptures
Chronologically speaking, next to the Tanjore representation, the karanas are found in the Sãrangapani temple at Kumbakonam. These belong to a century and a half later than those at Tanjore. Here, though all the 108 were carved, they are not in Bharata’s serial order, as we see them to-day. But the most interesting feature is that under each figure, the name of the respective karanam has been inscribed in Tamil Grantha script.
Chidambaram Sculptures
The Nataraja temple at Chidambaram marks the next phase in such sculptural codification. The four gopurams were built during the course of three centuries, 13th to 16th. All the 108 figures are beautifully carved in the entrance of these gopurams. The eastern and western gopurams are particularly important as they have the inscriptions in Tamil Grantha script which are transliterations of Bharata’s text pertaining to each karanam. This was the first and perhaps the last time too that the karanas were carved with their sutras inscribed in full. It is evident that these were not mere architectural embellishments, but they were to guide the dance enthusiasts with regard to Bharata’s work. It is really amazing that the work of the scholarly sage of Kashmir had been transplanted in Tamil soil so effectively without any linguistic, political or geographic barrier. This clearly shows the spirit of assimilation of the Tamils to imbibe and foster all that is best.

Odissi Dance

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Odissi dance is the typical classical dance form of Orissa and has its origin in the temples. The rhythm, the bhangis and mudras used in Odissi dance have a distinctive quality of their own. Odissi dance deals largely with the love theme of Radha and Krishna.
This dance tradition was kept alive by the devadasis. Those who were attached to the Jagannath Temple were all Vaishnavas and those at Bhubaneswar were attached to Shaivite temples. Before the introduction of the Gita-govinda in temples, the devadasi used to dance to the recitation of hymns and bols of talas. But after Gita-govinda became part and parcel of the rituals, the devadasis performed abhinaya with different bhavas and rasas.
The Gotipua system of dance was performed by young boys dressed as girls. In this tradition one can detect jerking movements in place of smooth translations from one posture to another. Ray Ramananda the Governor of Rajamahcndri as a musician dancer and dramatist who taught dancing to a group of boys selected to enact his dance drama, jagannath Vallabha Nataka. It was performed in the Gotipua style.
The different items of the Odissi dance style are Managlacharna, Batunrya or Sthayi Nata, Pallavi, Abhinaya and moksha. In mangalacharana the dancer dedicates herself to the Lord and begs forgiveness of the Mother Earth for stamping her feet upon her; she apologizes to her audience for any shortcomings and offers salutations to the Guru. Batu Nrytya is pure dance. It begins with a series of sculpturesque poses symbolizing the playing of the veena, drum, flute or cymbals. Pallivi is extremely graceful and lyrical. The tune is in some raga and is sung to the accompaniment of Sargam and Bols. Through facial expressions abhinaya depicts rasa and bhava to bring out the meaning and mood of songs. Generally the songs written by poets, Banamali, Upendra Bhanja, Baladeva Rath, Gopala and Jayadeva are sung. Moksha Nrutya is the last item, performed to the accompaniment of rhythmic syllables. It has a fast tempo. The soul of the dancer is to merge with the Divine as the dancer becomes ecstatic. Odissi dance is an effort to come near God and experience true bliss.
Commendable efforts were made in recent times by many enthusiasts to promote Odissi among whom stands out the name of late Kavichandra Kalicharan Patnaik. The gurus who raised the dance form to the level of international eminence are padmabhusan Kelu Charan Mahapatra, winner of Kalidas Samman, Padmashree Pankaj Charan Das and Deba Prasad Das. Renowned artists of Odissi Dance include Priyambada Hejmadi, Padmashree Sanjukta Panigrahi, Minati Mishra, Kumkum Mohanty, Oopalie Oparajita, Sangeeta Das, etc.

Danda Nata of Orissa, also known as the Danda Jatra, it happens to be one amongst the most ancient form of histrionic arts of the state. Associated with ritualistic services, Danda Nata forms an institution of dance, music and dramatics blended with religions, social reformation and an association of Universal Brotherhood. Mainly a worship of Lord Shiva, the God of destruction, who is also the Lord of histrionic arts (Nata Raj), this theatrical form brings into its fold a harmonious feeling of co-existence between followers of different philosophical doctrines, between political principles and set of opinions. Along with votive dedications to Lord Shiva (Rudra, Hara, Mahadeva, Shankar, Bholanath, etc.) in a Danda Nata, the greatness of other Gods and Goddesses such as Vishnu, Krishna Ganesh, Durga, Kali etc. are also equally invoked. Similarly while the original participants in a Danda Nata were said to be only the low-caste Hindus people, however people belonging to all other higher castes such as Kshatriyas and Brahmins also participate in this institution with equal interest.
Animal Mask Dances are prevalent in village of south Orissa specially in the district of Ganjam. Particularly during Thankurani Yatra, when the idols are taken out on the streets, the animal mask dancers go on dancing before the procession. During the marriage ceremonies also they lead the bridegrooms procession all the way to the brides house. The three animal mask dances typical of the area are the tiger, bull and horse dances. Two persons get into cane frame and conceal themselves within it. Their legs become the legs of the animals they are representing.
Ghoomra is a typical drum. It is just like a big pitcher with a long stem made of clay. The mouth is covered with the skin of a Godhi (a reptile). When played with both hands, it produces a peculiar sound quite different from other varieties of drums. The dance performed to the accompaniment of this drum is called Ghoomra Nata. It begins fifteen days earlier of Gamha Purnima (full moon in September) and culminates on that night in a ceremonial performance. Young men of various communities fix a Ghoomra each on the chest with string tied the body simultaneously dance and play. The performance begins will slow circular movements. The Nisan is a smaller variety of Kettle-drum played with two leather-sticks. The player always places himself in the centre and controls the tempo of the dance. He also indicates change over the movements. After a brief dance sequence in different rhythmic patterns all the dancers move in a concentric circle and then stand erect in a line. Then enters the singer, who first sings in praise of Saraswati and other gods and goddesses. During the song the drums remain silent. After the prayer-song Chhanda, Chaupadi other literary folk-songs are sung. Each couplet of a song is followed by a dance-peace. At the end of the each couplet the singer adds Takita Dhe, which is a numonic syllable for the time-beats and indicates the dance to begin.

Karam or Karma literally means fate. This pastoral dance is performed during the worship of the God or Goddess of fate (Karam Devta or Karamsani Devi), whom the people consider the cause of good and bad fortune. It begins from Bhadra Shukla Ekadasi (eleventh day of the brightmoon of the month of Bhadra) and lasts for several days. This is popular among the scheduled class tribes (e.g., the Binjhal, Kharia, Kisan and Kol tribes) in the districts of Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh, Sambalpur and Dhenkanal. In Dhenkanal and Sambalpur the dance is in honour of Karamsani, the deity who bestows children and good crops. However, the rituals connected with the dance remain the same everywhere. In the afternoon of the auspicious day two young unmarried girls cut and bring two branches of the Karam tree from a nearby jungle. They are accompanied by drummers and musicians.
The two branches are then ceremonially planted on the altar of worship and symbolise the God. Germinated grains, grass flowers and country liquor are offered to the deity. After completing the ritual the village-priest tells the story or legend connected with it. This is followed by singing and dancing in accompaniment of drum (madal), cymbal etc. The dance performance full of vigour and energy combined with charm of the youth decked with colourful costumes in exuberance of red cloth, set in peacock feathers skillfully designed ornaments made of small conch shells, brings the onlookers as well as the performers to a mood of trance and ecstasy. In this dance both men and women take part and continue to engross themselves for the whole night. The skillful movement of the young boys with mirror in hand indicates the traditional pattern of love-making in course of dancing and singing. The dance is performed sometimes by boys in group, sometimes by girls in group and sometimes both the sexes together.
The subject matter of songs constitutes the description of nature, invocation to Karmasani, desires, aspiration of people, love and humour. The Karam dance continues from dusk to dawn. Group after group drawn from nearby villages dance alternately throughout the night. In the early morning they carry the Karam branches singing and dancing and then immerse them ceremonially in a river or tank and then disperse. The technique of the Karma dance varies a little from tribe to tribe. The Kharias, Kisans and Oraons dance in a circular pattern, where men and women dance together. It is always headed by a leader and generally the men at the head of the line. Only the best of dancers join in right next to or near him. Very young girls and children join in at the tail end to learn the steps. When the dancing grows fast the dancers of the tail end drop out to let the true dancers show their skill. The dancers hold hands in different ways in different dances. Sometimes they simply hold hands and sometimes hands are placed on the neighbors waist band or are crossed. It is the legs and the feet which play the principal part in the dance.
The dance begins lightly with simple steps forward and backward, left and right, then gradually the steps grow smaller and faster, growing more and more complicated, until that dance reaches its height. Then it goes gradually to the first steps as the music leads to give dancers rest. The dancers have no special costume for the occasion. They dance with their usual attires which they wear daily. The dance is usually held in the courtyard of a village where performance is arranged. In the center of the courtyard a bamboo is fixed and it is split into four up to a certain height and then bent to form the arches. Each split is fixed with a pole on the outerside to form the arch. Then it is decorated with festoons of mango leaves and water lilies giving it a festive look. The ground is neatly plastered with cow-dung. Men and women dance winding in an out beneath the arches.

Puppets dance known as Kandhei or Sakhi Nata, a rare and unusual type of stylised indigenous drama and dance based on stories, is being performed today in various parts of Orissa. The puppets are usually the representations of various characters and animals of a particular drama. It is difficult to speak anything about its origin but undoubtedly is an old art. The making of dolls with paintings, dresses and ornaments is a typical folk art for the enjoyment of people of all categories. Together with puppets there evolved another art popularly known as the expressive shadow plays which has the added advantage of being able to cater to large audiences. The puppetry of Orissa may be classified into three categories, such as hand puppets, string puppets and rod puppets.

This dance type named after the accompanying Jhoomar songs is prevalent among the Mahanta and Munda communities of the Sundargarh district. Among the Mahantas the dance is performed by the men only. Among the Mundas the singers who accompany the dancers sing songs and the dancers follow them in chorus in accompaniment of Madal. The Mundas are especially experts in this dance particularly in intricate footsteps, movement of hip and wrists  

Changu is rural variety of the tambourine. It is played by the male-members of the Bhuiyan, Bathudi, Kharia, Juang, Mechi and Kondha communities of Sundergarh, keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Phulbani. The dance in accompaniment to the Changu is performed by women alone. The men only sing songs, play on the Changu and move with the female dancers with simple steps. While the women advance they recede back and on their advance the females retreat. In between, the male dancers perform vigorous stunts in which they leap into the air and make wide circling movements. Peculiarly enough the women cover up their persons with long local made Saris. Only their bangled hands and feet remain visible. In a group the female dancers dance in a half-sitting position with swaying and sometimes jerky movements. During festivals and on any moon-lit night the young boys and girls assemble and dance to express their joy in living.

For the whole month of Chaitra the village streets in Orissa reverberate with the sound of Ghanta (brass gong) played by Ghanta Patuas in accompaniment to their peculiar dance on the stilts which is very similar to the Karaga dance of Mysore. In Orissa, it is closely associated with the worship of Mother Goddess who has various names as Sarala, Hingula, Charchika, Bhagavati, Chandi etc. Ghanta patuas are the non-Brahmin Sevaks or servants of the deities. With the blessings of the respective deities attached to the shrines, they set out in two to four in a group. One of them dresses himself as a female with a black colour is tied on the head like a round cap while the flowing two ends are held by him in both the hands separately. He places the Ghata (sacred pitcher) on his head which is profusely decorated with flowers, vermilion, sandlepaste and coloured threads. With the Ghata on the head, he displays a variety of Yogic postures. Then he dances a while with bare-feet with the ropes. Without any support for the hands the dancer displays rare skill, with dance movements.
Dhol and Ghanta are the accompanying instruments and their players, while working out uncanny rhythms control the tempo of the dance. After the performance the performers distribute the holy vermilion paste to the villager sand collect money and cereals. Like this they keep on moving for the whole month and return to their respective shrines for their annual celebration on the first day of the Hindu new year, Visuva Sankranti. Such celebrations are marked by small fairs and ornate rituals connected with the worship of Goddesses together with performances of dance and music.
The Kelas are a nomadic class of people in Orissa. Except for a few months in the year they mostly remain out of their homes. Originally they are snake-charmers and bird-catchers who roam about the countryside to earn their livelihood. Besides, they also display tight-rope walking and other varieties of gymnastic events along with dance and songs. In the dance only two persons take part, a Kela and Keluni (a female of the tribe). The Kela plays a peculiar string instrument Ghuduki which produces a peculiar sound. He works out rhythms by playing his fingers in strokes on a string. He dances with the Keluni and also sings. The dance of the Keluni is fast with swaying movements of legs, hips and the head. There are also exalted action in half-sitting position. Generally it is she who carries the show. The songs are of a special variety and are popularly known as Kela-Keluni Geeta in which love and humour predominate. This dance is fast dying out. But it is being adopted by professional Yatra troupes and other groups of entertainers.

A colourful and popular performance is rendered by two members, one signer (Gayaka) and the other accompanist (Palia). The very word (Dasakathia) is derived from the word Das which means worshipper and Kathi means two pieces of sticks which produce a very sweet sound. This performance is ritualistic and secular in nature. The performers each holding a pair of sticks begin their performance in chorus with invocatory verses composed by the local poets, each one striking his own sticks in perfect tune. The recitation of themes in usually at the top of voice hypnotizes folk listeners. The dramatic performance includes verbose stanzas of various types including pauranic episodes mixed with manly vigour. Luxurious in dress and with turban on head and wearing a long luish or silken coat, the two dasas create a visual attraction of the listeners by their gestures and postures. This vocal recital is based on some patterns of tunes of inherent southern rural character. The form of inimitable type of music is a distinctive contribution of Ganjam district of South Orissa. Accentuation of the languages, breaking of syllables with notes, rigid pronunciations indicate a clear fusion of southern patterns in Oriya.

Chaitighoda Nacha (Horse dance in the month of Chitra): This folk items is connected with the Sakti cult of coastal Orissa confined to the people of Kaibarta caste only. This festival is observed by the Kaibartas in the month of Chaitra from the fool moon day to eight day of Vaisakha in honour of their caste deity Vasuli devi. A horse ridden man with the head of a horse well-dressed and trunk built of bamboo, dances to the tune of Dhola and Mahuri accompanied by songs composed by the local poets. The dancing party consists of two dancers, one male and one female, a drummer and a piper. The Kaibarta song of Achutananda das, (one of the poets of Pancha Sakha group flourished in the sixteenth century) is believed to be only religious text of the Kaibartas. The origin of this dance goes back to the hoary past. The Goddess Vasuli is held very high among the Kaibartas. Here it may be mentioned that the Goddess has a wide distribution in Orissa, but is considered to be the oldest in Puri where Raja of Puri provided land grants for regular worship of the deity. Vasuli in many places is taken to be one of the manifestations of the Durga and one of sixty-four Yoginis. The horse dance is very popular and attracts a large audience. The performing group consists of three main characters – Rauta, Rautani and the Horse dancer, besides the drummer and the piper. The songs recited in the performance consists of the episode from Rautani, with as Rautas Co-dancer and Co-singer.

Though Dusserah is the occasion of Dalkhai the most popular folk-dance of western Orissa, its performance is very common on all other festivals such as Bhaijauntia, Phangun Puni, Nuakhai etc. This is mostly danced by young women of Binjhal, Kuda, Mirdha, Sama and some other tribes of Sambalpur, Bolangir, Sundargarh and Dhenkanal districts of Orissa in which men join them as drummers and musicians. The dance is accompanied by a rich orchestra of folk music played by a number of instruments known as Dhol, Nisan (a typically giant sized drum made of iron case), Tamki (a tiny one sided drum 6″ in diameter played by two sticks), Tasa (a one sided drum) and Mahuri. However, the Dhol player controls the tempo while dancing in front of the girls. It is known as Dalkhai because in the beginning and end of every stanza the word is used as an address to a girl-friend.
The love story of Radha and Krishna, the episodes from Ramayana and Mahabaharata, the description of natural scenery are represented through the songs. The young women dance and sing intermittently. The songs are of special variety with the additive Dalkhai Bo which is an address to a girl-friend. While dancing to the uncanny rhythms of the Dhol, they place the legs close together and bend the knees. In another movement they move forward and backward in a half-sitting position. Sometimes they make concentric circles clock-wise and anti-clock-wise. The women generally dress themselves with the colourful Sambalpuri Sari and wear a scarf on the shoulders holding the ends below in both the hands. Bedecked with traditional jewelry their robust framers sustain the strains of the dance for long hours. The Dalkhai dance has several adjunctive forms known as Mayalajada, Rasarkeli, Gunji kuta, Jamudali, Banki, Jhulki, Sainladi etc. On account of its style, theme and performance Dalkhai is basically a secular form.

A type of theatrical presentation very interesting for the local people and prevalent in Sambalpur district. In this performance subject matter being a part of Krishna lila, the river Jira is conceived as the sacred river Yamaha, Amapali as Gopapur and Badagada as Mahura. The main characteristics of the Jatra, besides other highlights, is Kansas elephant ride in the street of the kingdom, his high Mancha from where he falls and dies, and his Durbar, everything is so well planned and improvised that perhaps no where in the world, a play has been made to achieve such a vast magnitude bringing that central goal in dramatics, the unity, the team spirit and the universal brotherhood. All the villages, town and the river turn to be acting zones, naturally all the inhabitants and visitors also turn to be characters.