The origin of Indian classical dance
Once Gods called a council and were surprised to find out that they had nothing
to do. There was absolutely nothing to occupy their minds with or draw their
attention to. They realized that they must
put an end to such situation and after taking council with each other they
decided to retell stories with the help of gestures and motions. So the art of
dance and drama came into being.
All this happened approximately in the era which is called the Golden Age or
Krita Yuga in Indian mythology. No one heard anything about the art of neither
dance nor drama then. The Golden Age lasted for hundreds of thousands of years
and then according to cosmic laws Krita Yuga was replaced by Treta Yuga and
everything in the world underwent great changes. Ideals, morals, ethics were
distorted. People were unsatisfied and bored.
then Indra, after calling the council of Gods suggested that they made a request
to Brahma to create such an art that would be pleasant for both eyes and ears
like the most beautiful things in the world, the art for the highest castes and
at the same time available even to the lowest castes which were forbidden to
The Lord Brahma heeded their request and went into the state of meditation. In
his mind he called for the four sacred Vedas, the embodiment of "the eternal
truths" in Hinduism, and took the very essence from each of the four.
He took music from the Samaveda,
And words from the Rigveda,
And the law of gestures from the Yajurveda,
And the element of sentimentality (rasa) from the Atharvaveda.
He united all these components into a harmonious form and added a little of his
divine talent. He created a brand new art, the art of drama or Natyaveda.
Now it was necessary to put all this into practice. To do that Brahma called for
assistance to his loyal helper sage Bharata. Bharata had 100 sons and with their
help he started the work. But soon he realized that his work would be too
monotonous if he used only men in his project. Brahma solved the problem
immediately by embracing his fingers to materialize 23 apsaras (nymphs) whom he
gave to Bharata to successfully make the art of Natya come true.
Initially Bharata could use only 3 Vritis (ways of expression):
-Arabhati-expression of manhood
-Sattwati-expression of emotions
These proved to be not enough and then Brahma, upon Bharata's request, created
the 4th way:
Sage Narada and gandharwas (celestial musicians) provided musical accompaniment,
and the divine ensemble called Natya Brindam was formed.
Time flew fast and everyone waited for the performance impatiently. It was
decided that "Indra Dwajamaha" (or festival of Indra's banner) would be the
suitable event. When all preparations were over and the great day came, the art
of Natya was introduced to the audience of Devas (gods) and Danavas (demons).
It happened so that the theme of the first drama called "Asuraparajyam" was the
conflict between Gods and Demons, where Gods were victorious. Seeing this, the
Demons became furious and started to weave magic spells to stop the performance
and paralyze the dancers.
But Brahma stopped them and explained that it was just entertainment aimed at
showing the idea of superiority of one creature over another in war or peace. A
group of people only pretended to be those whom they wanted to portray and
reproduced events from the past. However, the aim of the performance is not only
entertainment but also the enlightenment.
Brahma said: "Do know that what I have created reflects life of three worlds -
worlds of gods, demons and men and is destined equally for the High and the Low.
The art of Natya will show you the value of the Good and vices of the Evil, it
has absorbed the essence of all arts of all the three worlds and is going to be
the never ending source of rest and enlightenment from which each one will get
what he/she is looking for".
So the first performance of Natya took place.
Then Brahma offered to show the art of Natya to the great Shiva.
Shiva gladly agreed. It was decided that two dramas "Amrita Manthana" (The
Churning of the Ocean)
and "Tripura Daha" (The Burning of Three Palaces) would be staged in the
Himalayas. Shiva surrounded by bhuts and gans enjoyed the wonderful performance.
He congratulated Brahma and noted that while he was watching the drama he
unintentionally remembered of his cosmic dance Nritta (or its other name -
Tandava). Shiva said that it would be a great idea to unite Tandava and Natya
into a single whole.
Brahma supported this idea enthusiastically and asked Shiva to train Bharata in
dance technique. Shiva in his turn ordered his disciple Tanda to train Bharata.
So the dance united with the art of Natya and became its integral part. The
written source Natyashastra written by sage Bharata became the climax.
They say that while Tanda was training Bharata in Tandava, Shiva's spouse the
goddess Parvati offered her own dance style - Lasya. Later she trained the demon
Banu's daughter Ushu in this style, who in her turn passed this knowledge down
to the women of Saurashtra (western India).
So two main lines in Indian dance, Tandava and Lasya, spread all around the
In spite of the fact that the art of Natya was created by Brahma as a source of
entertainment and enlightenment it is important to remember that it is also a
sacrament. That's why Brahma gave instructions to all dancers that before
performance they are sure to do Puja (or Puravangaram Vriti - rituals of
worshipping the Deity before performance; there are 19 of them, 9 are performed
behind the scenes, the other 10 are performed on stage after curtain rise).
It is believed that if Puravangaram Vriti is ignored or performed incorrectly by
performers or their teachers, such people will be in woe. Their performance will
be Nicha Natyam (vulgar) and those who watch such a performance will be
reincarnated as animals in next lives.
Whereas performing Puja according to all rules and with proper respect will let
even mortal dancers get grace and place in heaven from Gods.
Thus the art of dance is the incarnation of the highest form of deity. That's
why classical dance in India has been considered to be worthy of Gods' view for
so many centuries.