MUSIC AND DANCE

Music is way of life in India- almost every one of its festivals calls for an instrument to the community in dance; it is a rare home where there is not a member trained in the classical traditions. The sheer variety of musical forms, classical and folk, can astound.

Indian music and dance are both ways of worshipping and expressing the exuberance of life. Firmly codified in ancient Vedic texts, the origins of classical Indian forms lie in ancient temples where they were performed regularly. In modern times, they have emerged from temples into the secular space of the stage.


Classical Indian dance is based on the "Natya Shastra", which outlines the nines "rasas" or moods. Also codified are the various "mudras (gestures), expressions and "talas" (rhythms). The various rasas are tragic, comic, erotic, pathetic, odious, marvelous, fearsome, quiescent and brave. By and large, Indian classical music follows one of two schools- the Hindustani (primarily North Indian) and the Carnatic (South Indian). However, while the former has spread across regions, the latter retains a regional following. Initially taught orally within a strictly disciplined "guru-shishya-parampara" (maestro- disciple tradition), the foundation of Hindustani classical music is the "raga", each following a specific "tala". The building blocks are the "saptakas" of seven notes identified with the calls of seven seven animals (sharaj, reeshav, gandhar, madhyam, pancham, dhaivat and neeshad or sa-re-ga-ma-pa-dha-nee for short). The Western equivalent is do-re-mi. Starting with the very basic (undimensional) and proceeding to the most complex, there are over 100 ragas. In addition, within the two broad categories, there are various "gharanas" or traditions.


A glorious tradition of classical instrumental music exists as well. Perhaps best known in the West is Pandit Ravi Shankar, who popularized Indian classical music worldwide, holding audiences spellbound with his sitar, a string instrument constructed of two gourds. Based again on the Natya Shastra, the forms of classical dance vary with the region. Bharatnatyam from Tamil Nadu specializes in eloquent mudras and symmetrical stances, while the Andhra Kuchipudi is a highly dramatic vehicle for tales from the epics. Odissi, with its sculptural poses, remains reminiscent of its temple home. Complex footwork and pirouettes characterize Kathak, the dance of the northern courts. While the hallmark of the veiled and stiff-skirted Manipuri dancer's repertoire are legends of Krishna's courtship of Radha, Mohiniattam takes its cue from Vishnu's sensuous form of Mohini. Each form above has its peculiar costume and the ornaments worn with them are traditional. The distinctive 'story- play' of Kathakali features elaborate facial expressions, enhanced by stylized make-up. Folk dances also abound and are instead more celebratory.


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