Indian classical dance is a relatively new umbrella term for various codified art forms rooted in Natya, the sacred Hindu musical theatre styles, whose theory can be traced back to the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni (400 BC).
• Dances performed inside the sanctum of the temple according to the rituals were called Agama Nartanam. Natya Shastra classifies this type of dance form as margi, or the soul-liberating dance, unlike the desi (purely entertaining) forms.
• Dances performed in royal courts to the accompaniment of classical music were called Carnatakam. This was an intellectual art form.
• Darbari Aattam form of dance appealed more to the commoners and it educated them about their religion, culture and social life. These dances were performed outside the temple precincts in the courtyards. Both Carnatakam and Darbari Aattam in particular were predominantly desi forms.
For lack of any better equivalents in the European culture, the British colonial authorities called any performing art forms found in India as “Indian dance”. Even though the art of Natya includes nritta, or dance proper, Natya has never been limited to dancing and includes singing, abhinaya (mime acting). These features are common to all the Indian classical styles. In the margi form Nritta is composed of karanas, while the desi nritta consists mainly of adavus.
The term “classical” (Sanscr. “Shastriya”) was introduced by Sangeet Natak Akademi to denote the Natya Shastra-based performing art styles. A very important feature of Indian classical dances is the use of the mudra or hand gestures by the artists as a short-hand sign language to narrate a story and to demonstrate certain concepts such as objects, weather, nature and emotion. Many classical dances include facial expressions as an integral part of the dance form.
Eight classical dances :
Sangeet Natak Akademi currently confers classical status on eight Indian dance styles:citation needed]
1. Bharatanatyam – Tamil Classical Dance
2. Odissi – Orissa Classical dance
3. Kuchipudi – Telugu Classical dance
4. Manipuri – Manipur Classical Dance
5. Mohiniaattam – Kerala Classical Dance
6. Sattriya – Asamese Classical Dance
7. Kathakali – Malayalam Classical Dance
8. Kathak – North Indian Classical Dance
Out of the eight styles, the only two temple dance styles that have their origin in Natya Shastra and are prescribed by the Agamas are Bharatanatyam and Odissi. These two most faithfully adhere to the Natya Shastra but currently do not include Vaachikaabhinaya (dialog acts), although some styles of Bharatanatyam, such as Melattur style, prescribe the lip movements indicating Vaachikaabhinaya.
Kuchipudi, which also prescribes the lip movements indicating Vaachikaabhinaya, and Mohiniaattam are relatively recent Darbari Aatam forms, just as Kathakali, and two eastern Indian styles, Manipuri and Sattriya, that are quite similar.
Kathak was created in the Mughal period under the influence of Persian dance and various other folk dance forms. As it does not adhere to any shastra and cannot be called Shastriya (classical).
Currently, Sangeet Natak Akademi does not consider the recently reconstructed dance styles of Andhra Pradesh such as Andhra Natyam and Vilasini Natyam as “classical”. Bharatanrithyam, despite being the one most closely following Natya Shastra’s precepts, is considered as a variety of Bharatanatyam.
History : The British Raj in India was a time of cultural hardship where these traditional dances were viewed by the British rulers as debauched and of doubtful morality. Furthermore, they were all labelled broadly as ‘Indian dance’ with no regard to the specifics of style. Later, linking dance with tawaifs and devadasis (both groups whom the government considered to be prostitutes), British rule prohibited public performance of dance. In 1947, India achieved independence. The classical forms and regional distinctions of dance were re-discovered, ethnic specialities were honoured.