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MUSIC & DANCE TRADTION OF INDIA
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Music and Dance tradition in India: On the Indian Sub-continent there is strong archaeological evidence of a relatively high degree of sophistication in dance as early as the Indus Valley Civilization that originated sometime around 9,000 BCE and reached the height of its development around 3,000 BCE. Music and dance are referred in various contexts in the four Vedas, the great philosophic literature of the Aryan period that started around 2,000 BCE. Historically the earliest of Vedas was Rig Veda followed by Yajur Veda, Sam Veda and Atharva Veda in that chronological order. Sam Veda has the most references to music relating to accurate utterance of the compositions in the Vedas. Many other Hindu philosophic literary works followed these initial compositions. The philosophic work that relates to poetry, song, music (instrumental), drama and dance is ‘Natya Shastra’ composed by Bharat some time in the period between 200 BCE and 200 CE. This voluminous literary work comprised of about 37 chapters. ‘Natya Shastra’ is believed to be composed because the ‘Shudra’ or the lowest caste people were prohibited to read the Vedas and some scripture was required that would be accessible to Shurda caste also. In this work dance is not treated alone by itself. It is considered one part of all the disciplines that are discussed in ‘Natya Shastra’. This work covers a wide range of issues related to poetry, music, dance and drama. It describes in great detail issues of literary composition, analysis of musical scales and ‘Murchhanas’ or movements. It also considers how the viewer is impacted by the types of physical movements of various parts of the human body through gestures and facial expressions. The details of acting and directing the actors are also explained and analyzed
This detailed and analytical work has influenced the generations of artists in these disciplines for thousands of years and its significance is still relevant in twenty-first century India. During this long period in the history of India all the disciplines mentioned in ‘Natya Shastra’ have evolved and in their modern forms are most probably quite different from how they may have been practiced in ancient times. It is fascinating and interesting that the traditions that evolved from a treatise around the beginning of Christian Era still continue to be the guiding principle in poetry, music, drama and dance in modern India. After the tenth century CE there was a strong Islamic influence in almost all facets of life in northern India. Poetry, music, dance and drama were also influenced by the Islamic rulers who brought different ideas from central Asia and Persia. Dance that had been an essential part of the Hindu religious ritual got a secular incarnation when it was patronized by the Hindu and Muslim rulers.
Silence called ‘Anhad’ is the essence of music. It is the eternal and ever creative ocean of silence that the musician aspires to reach through ‘Nad’. Anhad becomes ‘Nad’ or intelligible sound when it is audible to human ears. When Nad is organized though the melodic scale of Indian classical music called ‘Saptak’, it becomes music. In the ancient Hindu texts ‘Nad’ is believed to be the original sound, that is the sound that created the entire universe. In its pure form it is called the ‘Nad Brahma’ or the supreme reality that is manifested through sound to manifest or create the universe. The silence has to be ‘Aghat’ (struck or wounded) to create ‘Nad’.
Saptak is comprised of seven ‘Swaras’ or tonal registers. The word ‘Swara’ literally means that which shines of itself. Tonal registers describes the Swara better than the word ‘Note’ that is used in the western music because note is a fixed and definite pitch whereas the tone is fluid and elusive. The Indian classical music has ‘Saptak’ or seven ‘Swaras’ in contrast to the ‘Octave’ with eight notes of the western music. The seven Swaras are: Sa (Sadha), Re (Rishabh), Ga (Gandhar), Ma (Madhyam), Pa (Pancham), Dha (Dhaivat) and Ni (Nishad). There is a space between each Swara in its rendering and this space allows the introduction of another pitch in between to expand the Saptak to twelve Swaras. The Swaras when flattened are called ‘Komal’ or soft. The sharpened Swaras are called ‘Teevra’. The Komal and Teevra Swaras are called ‘Vikrit Swaras’ whereas the original seven Swaras are called ‘Shuddha’ or pure tones. The ‘Aroha’ or ascending scale and ‘Avaroha’ or descending scale of Swaras create the Raga. The word ‘Raga’ in Sanskrit language literally means color or mood. Each different Raga prescribes a specific set of rules to create a melody.
The Ragas employ various combinations of Aroha and Avaroha Swaras. There are six Janak or parent Ragas: Bhairav, Malkauns, Hindol, Shree, Deepak and Megh. The six Janak Ragas depict six seasons of two months each during the year. Each of these six Ragas have one consort each that are called ‘Raginis’. Each union of Raga and Raginis procreate a ‘Ragaputra’ or son of a Raga. These ‘Ragaputra’ in turn have their own Raginis or consorts. Many but not all of the Ragas that were described in ancient genealogies are practiced in modern times. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande was a famous Sitar player and a great scholar of Indian Classical Music who was born in 1860 in Mumbai. A national musical institute in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, is named after him. He developed a classification system for Indian music that is commonly called Thatt system of Bhatkhande. He identified ten Thatts: Bilawal, Khamaj, Kafi, Asavari, Bhairav, Bhairavi, Kalyan, Marwa, Poorvi and Todi. The Bhatkhande system of classification is for north Indian music called the Hindustani Music. Its southern Indian counterpart is called the Melakarta that has 72 Ragas. The southern Indian music is called the Carnatik Music and it is generally considered older than Hindustani Music. There is further classification of music according to Gharanas or families. The Gharanas developed mostly when rulers patronized certain artists and encouraged them to accept disciples in the ancient Indian tradition of Guru Shishya (Teacher pupil) relationship. Thus lineages of artists developed that for generations practiced certain Ragas until they reached perfection. Delhi, Agra, Patiala, Gwalior, Jaipur, Rampur and Banaras are some of the important Gharanas whose artists are still very famous in India and abroad.
The best way to ‘Aghat’ or strike the ‘Anhad’ or silence is by human voice. All other ways to strike the Anhad are merely to imitate the human voice. The other ways can be by striking by palms (clapping), with nails when using ‘Tat Vadya’ or ‘Tantri Vadya’ that are stringed instruments like Veena, Sitar, Tanpura, Sarod or Sarangi; with wind or breath when using ‘Sushira Vadya’ that are blowing instruments like the ‘Bansuri Flute’ or ‘Shahnai’ or with leather when using ‘Avanaddha Vadya’ or percussion instruments like Pakhawaj, Mradangam or Tabla. Apart from these there are ‘Ghan Vadya’ or solid instruments like ‘Manjira’ or cymbals, various types of gongs and bells. Among the ‘Tantri Vadya’ Veena is the most ancient. It has been referred to in Vedic literature and is the instrument of ‘Saraswati’ the Goddess of all knowledge. Veena is similar to Sitar but it has two gourds on either end of a bamboo stem. It is one of the most rarely played instruments in India. Rudra Veena is the original and most ancient form of Veena. Among the players of Rudra Veena Ustad Asad Ali Khan and Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar are very popular. The most popular Tantri instrument is the Sitar that became internationally known when players like Ravi Shankar, Amjad Ali Khan and Imrat Khan became famous outside India. The ‘Tantri’ instrument that creates the sound nearest to the human voice is the ‘Sarangi’ that is a stringed instrument played with a bow and Pandit Ram Narayan is its most well know player. Hari Prasad Chowrasiya is certainly the most famous player of the ‘Shushira Vadya’, Bansuri Flute. The most famous player of another ‘Shushira Vadya’, the Shahnai was Ustad Bismillah Khan of Varanasi. Among the Avanaddha Vadya players Ustad Alla Rakha was the most famous Tabla player. His son, Zakir Hussain, is now perhaps the most versatile Tabla player. Ram Kishore Das is very well regarded for his mastery of the Pakhawaj that is a two-faced drum that gives a much heavier and deeper sound than the Tabla drum instrument.
The ancient treatise ‘Natya Shastra’, as mentioned above, has been historically the guiding principle behind most of the dance forms practiced on the sub-continent of India. Dance is classified in broadly two distinct categories, the first being ‘Margi’ or the dance that used to be performed in temples to honor the various deities. This category of dance was further classified into Tandav, the dance that the Lord Shiva of the Hindu Trinity of Gods performed. This is a dance in which actions and feelings are expressed strength and vigor. Despite the fact that Lord Shiva is the originator of ‘Tandav’ dance, it is performed by both men and women. The second form of ‘Margi’ dance is ‘Lasya’ and this dance was originated by the Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. ‘Usha’, the daughter of ‘Rishi’ (sage) Bana learnt this dance from Parvati and in turn passed it on to the women of India. The ‘Lasya’ form of dance is graceful, delicate and expresses gentle and subtle emotions. The classical dances of India can generally be assigned to Tandav or Lasya forms of ‘Margi’ category. Because these dances are historically linked to Hindu religion, a whole range of Gods, Goddesses and even demons from the Hindu mythology figure in these dances, like Indra, Surya, Vishnu, Agni Saraswati, Lakshmi, Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Vayu, Kali, Ravana, Krishna, Rama, Naga, Varuna, Some, Usha, Kinnare, Manu and Yama (the God of death)
The ‘Desi’ (native) dance in contrast to ‘Margi’ form of dance is for the pleasure of human beings. The folk dances come in this category although some of them may have originated in the Indus Valley Civilization much before the ‘Early Aryan’ or ‘Vedic’ period dating from 2000 to 1500 years BCE.
Bharatnatyam (Tamilnadu State in south-eastern India)
Kathakali (Kerala State in south-eastern India)
Kucchipudi (Andhra Pradesh State in southern India)
Mohiniattam (Kerala State in south-eastern India)
Manipuri (Manipur in eastern India on the border of Myanmar or Burma)
Odissi or Orissi (Orissa State, south of Bengal in eastern India)
Satriya (Assam State in eastern India – it was initiated to promote religion by Srimanta Shankar Dev about 600 years ago)
Kathak (Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in northern India)
The Indian Classical Dances have 3 important aspects that are Nritta, Nritya and Natya. These aspects are common to almost all classical dances of India. ‘Nritta’ is a dance of pure rhythm, which visualises and reproduces music and rhythm by means of abstract gesture of the body, hands and precise use of footwork. ‘Nritya’ is the element of dance whose main point is to express emotion and feelings which are conveyed through facial expressions and gestures. Thus it suggests ‘Ras’ or sentiment and ‘Bhava’ or mood. ‘Natya’ is the dramatic element, which has a story in the dramatic dances. It shows emotions and feelings for the story with gestures and poses. There is a subtle difference between ‘Natya’ and ‘Abhinaya’ (that is much more related to theatrical performance. There are four types of ‘Abhinaya’:
‘Angika’ is derived from the word ‘Ang’ or body part. Under ‘Angika’ physical movements of the body are described in all their subtle intricacies. Physical gestures and facial expressions are used for the ‘Angikabhinaya’ or the ‘Abhinaya’ of ‘Angika type’. Great emphasis is laid on a perfect coordination between gestures and facial expressions.
‘Vacika’ describes the vocal component in the dance and theatre.
‘Aharya’ describes the manner in which make-up and costume assist in communicating the message in a particular performance.
‘Sattvika’ explains how precise representation of the mental and emotional feelings contributes in the theatrical and dance communication.
9 ‘Rasas’ or aesthetics of Indian Dance that depict emotional experience and sentiments:
Adbhuta (surprise or amazement)
The Indian classical dancer endeavors to portray these 8 emotions through facial expressions and gestures. The reason for long years of training to achieve perfection in a particular dance form is because it takes coordination of so many different functions to represent what is expected and expressed through song by the vocal and instrumental musicians who accompany the dancer.
Mudras in Indian Dance
There are various classifications of Mudras that are used by the Indian classical dancers. According to one system there are 28 ‘Aasanyukta Mudras’ or single handed gestures: Pataka, Tripataka, Ardhapataka, Kartarimukha, Mayura, Ardhacandra, Arala, Sukatunda, Musti, Sikhara, Kapittha, Katakamukha, Suci, Candrakala, Padmakosa, Sarpasiras, Mrgasirsa, Simhamukha, Kangula, Alapadma, Catura, Bhramara, Hamsasya, Hamsapaksa, Sandamsa, Mukula, Tamracuda and Trisula In the same system of classification there are 23 ‘Sawyakta Mudras’ or both handed gestures: Anjali, Kapota, Karkata, Svastika, Dola, Puspaputa, Utsanga, Sivalinga, Katakavardhana, Kartarisvastika, Sakata, Sankha, Cakra, Samputa, Pasa, kilaka, Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Garuda, Nagabandha, Khatva and Bherunda
In the texts relating to Yoga the Mudras are utilized for wellness as well as for curative therapies.
By its evolution and nature the folk dances are entirely different from the classical dances. The common characteristic of almost all folk dances of the world is the spontaneity and participation of many people. Nonetheless the inherited traditions from ancient times have influenced the folk dances also in India in subtle ways. India has a wide variety of people of different ethnic, racial and linguistic origin in the states of the union. The folk dance reflects the dialect, language, religion, customs, traditions, festivals and a vast variety of costumes of the particular state or region within the state where it is popular. Folk dances certainly have a distinct connection with the tribal people of India whose population is by some estimates about 40 million. The tribal regions are spread in the northwestern Himalayas, Rajasthan, Gujarat, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Chota Nagpur and parts of Madhya Pradesh, southwestern Ghat region of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bengal, eastern hills of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya. Apart from tribal people the folk dances are also popular among the people of villages of India where they are related to the festivities for celebrating the harvest. Natas, Bhavais, Charans, Bhandas and Kathakars are some other groups that have continued to maintain the vibrant traditions of folk dance in India. A brief list of some of the important folk dances of India is:
Bihu dance - Assam
Naga dance - Nagaland
Jatra and Baul - West Bengal
Burra rasa - Bihar
Bhangra and Gidda - Punjab
Dandiya - Gujarat & Rajasthan
Dhamal and Loor – Haryana
Kullu Nati and Thoda - Himachal Pradesh
Roff - Kashmir
Gindad , Kataputori, Ghummar, Shankeriya, Kachi Ghodi - Rajasthan
Gotupua - Orissa (name changed to Odisha)
Karuma - Madhya Pradesh
Jadur Dance - Orissa
Tamasha and Lavani -Maharashtra
Dandia Raas,Garba Dance,Bhavai,Tipni and Koli dance - Gujarat
Yakshaganam - Karnataka
Kummi dance - Goa
Limbadi - Andhra Pradesh
Kurabanji – Tamilnadu
Poetry has an ancient tradition in India. Vedas, the earliest Hindu scriptures were composed in a complex Sanskrit poetic form. Many later texts that followed were also composed in poetry form. These works are still recited and read in India. Throughout the history of India waves of foreign invaders and adventurers came to the sub-continent. They brought with them the literary and other traditions from their former homelands. These foreign influences were absorbed into the Indian culture. Poetry concerts and competitions have been held in India from earliest historic times. In modern India ‘Kavi Sammelans’ (meeting of poets for recitation) are still popular for Hindi poetry. Especially during the Holi (festival of colors) these poetry concerts are held in cities, towns and villages in which the poets poke fun at famous personalities, political and other leaders using satire and comedy. For ‘Urdu’ language poetry the ‘Mushairas’ are similarly held in which not only there are recitations but sometimes famous singers compose music to accompany the Urdu poetry. These compositions are called ‘Gazals’ that are mostly but not always love songs. The most famous Gazal singers in India are Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali (from Pakistan), Udhas Brothers – Pankaj, Nirmal and Manhar and Mehndi Hasan. Another very popular singing tradition in India is that of Qawwali music. This music started in the Sufi monasteries mainly as devotional music. Among the most popular Qawwali musicians in India are the late Nusrat Ali Khan (from Pakistan), Warsi Brothers and Badauni Group comprising of Jafar Husain Khan Badauni, Wahajat Hussain Khan, Talib Hussain Sultani, Salim Jaffar, Rafiq Ahmed, Iltafat Hussain Khan and Dillan Khan among many other Qawwali musicians of newer generations. The concerts of these famous musician are usually held during the celebration of the death anniversaries of famous Sufi saints like Hazrat Muinuddin of Ajmer or Hazrat Nizamuddin of Delhi. People from all over India and even from Pakistan come to these all night Qawwali concerts.
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