India is endowed with a rich cultural heritage founded on the profound faith of the Indians on religion. If one were to trace the history of Indian classical dance, one would find that the temples provided an ideal platform for expression of many forms of art, particularly dance, which had bhakti or devotion, as its underlying essence.
This book written by an exponent of Kathak dance and who hails from an illustrious family of freedom fighters, throws light on eight classical dance styles?Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniyattam, Odissi and Sattriya highlighting their individual styles and presentations. Evolution of each dance form has had a gradual process with each undergoing a mingling of drama, music and rhythm with emphasis on stylisation, individualism, concentration and elaboration relating to major deities in Hinduism.
Bhakti was represented through dance in order to uplift both the viewer and the performer?thus the practice of performing arts was considered to be a high form of ?yoga?. The dancer went through all forms of mediation or yoga, leaving the audience touched because the emotional process undergone through a dance performance transported the audience along with the dancer into a realm of beauty, binding them together in a bond of rasa (ultimate bliss). It was this experience and realisation of spiritual ananda (sublime joy) that proved emotionally satisfying and well beyond mere entertainment.
In Hinduism, God manifests Himself in the ?many?, thus creating divinity out of oneness while emphasising oneness within this diversity. Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, though seen in reverence, are also manifestations of dancers. Hence Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu, was known as the Natwari, while Lord Shiva as the Nataraja symbolised the ?king of dancers?.
Author-dancer Shovana adds that the Natyashastra dwells on the deep relationship between bhava (mood) and rasa, the two important limbs of abhinaya (expression). In their journey towards classicality, each of the dance forms laid emphasis on stylisation, individuality, concentration and elaboration of themes relating to major deities of Hinduism, use of Sanskrit verses and texts, and incorporation of major karanas and angaharas of the Natyashastra. Then she proceeds to describe each dance form in detail.
Talking of Bharatanatyam, she describes the institution of devadasis (female devotees dedicated to the service of temples) who received patronage from the Chola rulers in south India and kept the tradition of dance alive. She mentions particularly E. Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale who took up related tasks of formalisation and stylisation, giving Bharatanatyam a noble status.
On reading this book one gets a panoramic view of Indian classical dances which reveal that despite diverse cultural heritage of the different regions of India, a thread of religious, cultural and philosophical unity runs through the length and breadth of the country imparting it a particular character.
(New Dawn Press, A-59, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase II, New Delhi-110020.)