A Moghul Miniature.
The origins of Indian dance are shrouded in the mist of antiquity. The dainty figurine of the dancing girl discovered in the 4000-year old ruins of Mohenjodaro is the earliest artifact relating to dance. The countless carvings, paintings and icons of dance in temples and shrines all over the country bear witness to the development of dance in the centuries gone by.
Exquisite paintings of primitive dance in Pachmarhi caves, apsaras or celestial dancers at the gateways of Sanchi and Bharhut, in Bagh, Ajanta-Ellora, the sculpture of Chidambaram and Khajuraho, or the temple walls of Belur and Halebid have to be seen to be believed. Here, captured in lime and vegetable dye, in carved stone, in sculptured friezes and in giant granite carvings, can be seen the splendid blend of movement and rhythm that is Indian dance.
In India, dance has been used both as a vehicle of worship and as an expression to mans most profound emotions his various states of mind.In keeping with the sacred nature of Indian dance, there has been the tradition of temple dancers. The Devadasis, literally handmaids of god, were dedicated to the temples of South India at an early age and led austere lives to perform their sacred task. The Maharis, traditional exponents of Odissi, were also attached to temples.
The supreme manifestation of the essence of Indian dance is the image of Shiva as Nataraja the jeweled ornament of the crescent moon a symbol of complete control of the senses, the serpentswound around his arms and wrists proof of his control over vital life forces, his foot raised high over the wicked demon a symbol of triumph over the ego. The great historian of Indian art, Ananda Coomaraswamy described the dancing Shiva as "the clearest image of the activity of god which any art or religion can boast of.
Nityagram site for the Guru-Shishya Parampara.
A fundamental attribute of all Indian classical dance forms is that they have sprung from the religious urges of the people and, for their thematic content, depend almost wholly on the rich mythological lore of the Hindus. Their technique is based, directly or otherwise, on certain ancient treatises, of which the earliest, the Natya Shastra, was written nearly two millennia ago.
The dancer's technique involves the use of the entire body, from the
smallest eye muscle to the arms, hands, legs, feet, the torso and the
face. He has at his command that wondrous languagehasta mudra
or hand gestures, that enables him to use now one hand, now both
hands, to suggest a world of imagery lotus buds open slowly to invite
the kisses of honey bees, deer roam the forest, and fish weave in and
out of unseen ponds. A swift clench of the hand and it becomes a
warrior's fist, hooded is the cobra poised to strike. Fingers spread
out close to the lips become Krishna with his flute, arched they
are the tiger's tensed claw.