Classical dance in India is an eloquent expression of an ancient civilization. Shiva, the god of dance represents both creation and destruction, while the dance itself nurtured in the precincts of the temple and dedicated to the divine, is the highest form of worship. In ancient India, the arts of dance, drama, and music were fused into one, as seen in the treatise called the Natya Shastra-the Science of Dramatics, written by the sage Bharata around the second century BC in Sanskrit.
The dance style known today as Bharatanatyam flourished in the areas around the current state of Tamil Nadu. Adhering most closely to the principles laid down in Bharata’s Natya Shastra, Bharatanatyam was nurtured over the ages in the temples of South India. This style is one of the most ancient and arguably the best-known classical dance form of India. Graceful movement, mime, and music contribute in equal measure to this traditional and beautiful dance. Speaking a universal language of gestures, replete with diverse moods and emotions and portraying rhythmic precision, the dance essentially brings to life the glorious sculptures of the temples as well as the mythology of the land. In the word Bharata are the three components of the dance: Bha for Bhava (expression), Ra for raga (melody), and Ta for tala (rhythm). Bharatanatyam is a highly complex and stylized combination of these three features .
The distinguishing features of Bharatanatyam are the almost geometrical angularity of line, precise and forceful footwork, and the varied facial expressions. The music is of the Carnatic style, while the rhythm is kept by the cymbals and the mridangam -(horizontal drum). The dancer wears anklets of small bells to emphasize the rhythm.
Proficiency in the art is attained only after several years of intensive training, at which point a student is ready to ‘ascend the stage’ (arangetram) and present a concert-length solo recital to the public.
The objective of all Indian dance is to evoke in the performer and the beholder, aesthetic enjoyment of the highest order “rasa”.
Whither the hand goes there the glances follows,
Whither the glances lead there the mind folllows,
Whither the mind goes there the mood follows,
Whither the mood goes, there is ‘rasa’ born.
Abhinaya supports the teaching activities of Kuchipudi and Odissi artists as well.
The Kuchipudi style of dance has its origins in the village of Kuchelapuram, in Andhra Pradesh, where dancers would present themes from the Puranas in a village setting. In the narration of Hindu religious folklore in Kuchipudi, the dramatic element is strongly emphasized and the artists participate by singing and speaking along with the dance.
Odissi developed as a distinct dance style from the traditions in the state of Orissa.
The art form was kept alive through the Gotipuas and Maharis (temple dancers) who dedicated their art to the Divine. The characteristic feature of this style is a hip deflection, giving rise to the tribhanga or 3-bend posture of the body. Odissi is known for its lyrical and sinuous quality, and abounds with sculpturesque poses from the temples of Orissa.