Cultures around the world have their own forms of self-expression. For many cultures, even different regions have their own unique “dialects” of culture. The following sample essay outlines how classical dance has evolved over the years in India. Moreover, the essay describes what impact Indian dance has had on feminine expression.
Background on Indian dance
Classic Indian dance has expanded and evolved throughout the years, and each region of the country has its own style of dance. Classic Indian dance has rules that have been followed throughout the years as dance is a virtual form of art. Classic Indian dance encompasses:
- Hindu myths
- Poetic aesthetics
This particular art form has brought about a shift within the secular modern world. Classic Indian dance has played a pivotal role in defining gender roles in society and being an effective tool in feminine expression expanding itself throughout both the Indian communities as well as globally.
Issues with defining meaning of Indian dance
Discussions on classical Indian dance have often proved to be problematic. The problem is rooted in the definition of the word classical and the nature of Indian dance forms. There are typically three benchmarks that underscore the word classical:
- Ethnic boundaries
- Class associations
Age is the first benchmark to come to anyone’s mind. It is generally acknowledged that for something to be considered classical, it must have great age. This seems simple at first, but it begs the obvious question of how one determines age. The ability to span different ethnic groups is best illustrated by a simple model put forth by anthropological research by Robert Redfield in the early to middle part of the 20th century.
According to Redfield’s model, there are great and little traditions.
“We may simplify theses concepts by saying that ‘little’ traditions are the folk traditions while the great traditions are the classical traditions. Cultural connotations are also a benchmark for determining whether something is classical. Classical arts tend to be used by the upper classes to define their cultural identity” (Courtney).
While these benchmarks have proved to be challenging in a community dialogue on the nature of the dance forms, classical Indian dance discussion has allowed for many constructive aspects.
Cultural dialogue and ethnic heritage
The Indian dance provides a positive outlook on life and opens up community dialogue. Community dialogue on Indian dance provides an opportunity to discuss the treatment of aesthetics that is seen through it. The rasa offers a transformative potency when performed due to the Brahman apprehension that is achieved. Brahman apprehension is a state of supreme bliss akin to the Hindu religion that is attained through rhythmic meditation.
The treatment of aesthetics that the dances use is what is usually discussed in community dialogue as through the rasas, transcendence occurs. The classic Indian dance allows the mind to be serene and introduces a pure and perfect harmony. The state of perfect bliss is often what has been deemed the most enjoyable aspect of the classic Indian dance (Mukerjee).
Religious attributes of Indian Dance
Indian culture focuses on inner beauty and oneness with the universe. There are nine rasas of Indian fine arts that each have their ultimate derivation from the three basic attributes that according to Indian thought enter into the making of the human personality. They are:
- Compassion (karuna)
- Love (syligdra)
- Valor (vira)
- Laughter (hasya)
- >Wonder (adbhata)
- Fury (raudra)
- Loathsomeness (bibhatsa)
- Awesomeness (bhayankara)
Each rasa is derived from one or the other of the three essential guws and is a stable, generic or impersonal feeling or imaginative mood based on the artist’s vision of a certain fundamental aspect of Life, Universe, and Reality. The consolidation and evocation of rasa, then, represent the function of all the fine arts. This is the central conception in India since Bharata’s Natyaimtra first expounded the doctrine of rasa with its eight categories:
- Love or Happiness
- Gaiety or Humor
The intention of the rasa is to function as the core expression of the dancer’s vision of life, how they view God and reality.
Religious messages and ritualistic symbology of Indian dance
Indian dance has a strong Hindu influence. Hindu is not like other major world religions as it seeks to advance beyond the temporal world and unify with the spiritual existence of all living things. The conceptualization of transcendence and dance has often been an interesting topic irrespective of classic Indian dance.
There are several ways in which a culture may transmit a universal or religious message and this is where the discussion on transcendence bears mentioning. Content is expressed through the sensory means rather than through the conceptual and utilization of space and time in dance serves to express God or the Ultimate Reality.
There are levels of symbolism and messaging within the framework of dance and arts in general. For the Hindu [which is the undercurrent of classic Indian dance], God:
“Encompasses all. He is considered to have both abstract and incarnate forms. In consequence, since life in this world is but an extension of the Absolute, existence also evidences a plethora of dual tensions” (al Faruqi).
The Indian women are able to express their spirituality and understand God through the movements and symbols depicted in the dance. The dance allows one to take into the spiritual essence of themselves and in the beyond.
“The Hindu, dance is not mere entertainment but a way of achieving good works, right thinking and contemplation” (al Faruqi) thus the dance helps one develop a relationship to reality and God. “These “nine rasas (“tastes” or “flavors” or moods), and the corresponding lasting attitudes and sentiments (sthdyz-bhbva) are rendered not only by dramatic performances on the stage but also by mzirtis in the temples” (Mukerjee).
Indian dance as a means of cultural connection
To the Indian women, dancing connects them both to the roots of their culture in spite of the globalization and assimilation process impacting their native homes and villages. Despite the cultural differences being different once the Indian women leave their proverbial boundaries, adaptations can be created; but for the most part, the women consistently hold true to the artistic expression that is understood through the classic Indian dance.
The phenomenon is one of melodic emotion and familiarity rather than anything being assimilated into their new culture. The women may mention the cultural differences as dance has evolved globally; yet hold true to the idea of transcendence that classic Indian dance offers and provides.
Maintaining one’s roots among globalization
Notwithstanding the insistence of Indian women to keep within the roots of what they were brought up in regarding dance, the acculturation process is often very strong causing the Indian women to adapt the dance to the cultural distinctions that do not necessarily represent the culture of their world. The acculturation process has created the birth of the modern Indian dance movement which is diametrically different than the classic Indian dance. The differences in classical versus modern Indian dance are guided by the means of body communication.
“Modern dance is a movement of the human form for its own sake, primary and not dependent upon the poetry line. Dance is created first and then the music is composed. Movement evolves and is not guided by any point or articulation of the body.
There is hardly any vocal accompaniment in the compositions. It is instrumental music which either heightens the effect of the dance or is subordinate to the movement” (“Contemporary Classical and Modern Indian Dance”).
“These changes reveal sophisticated strategies at work. Popular culture and its dance forms may have contributed to the traditional forms of dance and caused a change in the shift of what is exhibited by the women that practice it.
The acculturation process has had a significant influence on the dance genre and thus the discourse on the traditional rhythmic form that [this] particular dance uses. Control over aesthetic values is at the center of the debate that [Indian women] often have as to the authenticity of what modern dance depicts” (David)
The difference between contemporary and classical Indian dance is in the movements that are performed in them. Many contemporary dance classes and performances have incorporated traits of traditional Indian diasporic complexities. The changes are subtle in appearance but the backdrop of the universal aspects and the essential nature has remained the same. This makes for an easy assimilation into the current dynamics of the visual arts form.
Impact of globalization
While globalization of dance has allowed the movement of modern dance to be birthed, the majority of Indian women continue to stay within the context of their own roots and culture.
“What is significant in the classic Indian treatment of aesthetics is the process of impersonalization or universalization which dissociates the natural or mundane emotion from the particular character and specific situation so that it is relished simply as abstract, aesthetic sentiment in the supramundane (aloukika) plane” (Mukerjee).
Regardless of the daring behavior of some of the immigrant Indian women who have reinterpreted some of the old myths to defy the standard bearing traditional concept of the classic Indian dance, the universal aspect of the rasa remains. In this way, Indian dance represents an intimate and complex type of non-verbal communication between genders.
The world of dance in today’s atmosphere has evolved with an ever changing increasing understanding of nature of the state of India and the identity of dance itself. While transcendence has become a central focal point of classical Indian dance and remains to be the case, the traditional context of dance has continued to undergo constant interrogation, reorganization as there has been an increasing need to discuss the traditional fruits of the art form compared to the modernistic outlook that the rasas have taken on. Many Indian women maintain to discuss and ruminate about traditional, classical Indian dance as it continues to transcend borders and expand through the acculturation process.
Al Faruqi, Lois L. “God in Visual Aesthetic Expression: A Comparative Study In Transcendence Symbolization.” Online posting. International Institute of Islamic Thought, 30 Dec. 1981. Web. 7 Apr. 2013. http://www.iiit.org/Portals/0/faruqi/Godvisualaestheticexpression-.pdf.
“Contemporary Classical and Modern Indian Dance.” Online posting. Laysa Dance Company, n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2013. http://www.lasya.org/docs/academia/file8.pdf.
Courtney, David. “Overview of Indian Dance.” Chandrakantha, 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. http://chandrakantha.com/articles/indian_music/nritya.html.
David, Anna R. “Dancing the diasporic dream? Embodied desires and the changing audiences for Bollywood film dance.” Participations 7 (2010): 215-234. Print.
Mukerjee, Radhakamal. “”Rasas” as Springs of Art in Indian Aesthetics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 24 (1965): 91-96. Print.