India Music and Dance


According to Securitypology, Indian music has very ancient origins, having always been considered an essential component of the mystical-religious ritual. Indirect evidence can be found in the early Vedic books; in the Nāṭyaśāstra, a real handbook of dramaturgy dating back, perhaps, to the century. II d. C. and attributed to a mythical Bhārata, six chapters dedicated to music offer a first direct document. The main source of Indian music theory however remains the Saṃgītaratnākara (13th century; Ocean of music), very rich in cosmogonic and metaphysical implications, which is referred to to mean almost all Indian musical languages, which have remained substantially unchanged even if diversified according to the region and social class of diffusion. In practice, only towards the century. XIV began a significant distinction between the musical tradition of northern India, conditioned by Islam and Persian music, and that of southern India, faithful to the ancient tradition. The Indian harmonic theory is very complex and denotes singular similarities with that of ancient Greece. In classical Indian theory, the octave is divided into 22 śruti, approximately equal to each other. By superimposing the śruti according to precise rules, three fundamental heptaphonic scales are obtained and from these, with appropriate alterations and transpositions, 56 derived modes, in turn transformable to obtain pentatonic and hexatonic scales. The modes (jāti) of common use, however, were only seven; in later times, however, a particular symbolic meaning was given to each mode (now called rāga), a rigid hierarchy was established among the notes and the system acquired possibilities of practically infinite variations and combinations. The performances, however, do not follow rigid formal schemes and are usually freely improvised on known themes. The rhythm develops according to very elaborate models, largely improvised. The instruments used are very different: various idiophones, drums (the tablā and pakhawāj), wind instruments (sānai and sṛnga), string (the vīṇā and numerous derivatives including kinnarī, sārod and sitār). Indian music which developed later, in the contemporary age, followed three main lines of development: traditional forms, so-called classical music and pop music. In the first area, the bhangra, a kind of folk music, accompanied by dances, originated in Punjab, was very popular. Of more cultured ancestry, the musical current called rabindra sangeet, widespread especially in West Bengal, which interprets the more than 2000 songs written by Rabindranāth Tagore. The greatest musical personality of contemporary India is undoubtedly Zubin Mehta (b. 1936), world-famous conductor (Philharmonic orchestras of Vienna, Berlin, New York, Israel and others); The contribution of Anil Biswas (1914-2003) and Ali Naushad (1919-2006), whose work by composers has allowed a prolific mix of classical, traditional and popular elements, is also noteworthy, mainly flowing into film music. Finally, the major Indian pop production is connected to this, the filmi, a genre that is identified with the soundtracks of musical films.


Of divine origin according to its followers, Indian dance is linked to ancient rites and religious ceremonies: the evolution of the universe is expressed in India in the form of an eternal dance performed by Śiva (called Natarāja, that is master and lord of dancers and of the actors), “which creates the orbe carolando”. Brahmā himself is credited with creating the Nātyaveda which encodes two types for dance and music (Mārgi for the gods, Desi for mortals) and two genders (the graceful and feminine Lasya and the strong and virile Taṇḍava). In Vedic theogony, dance is therefore part of divine thought and such appears in the ancient Indian treatise on dance and dramatic art, the Nāṭyaśāstra (perhaps 2nd century AD), whose tradition is still alive today in some areas (Ceylon, Bali) and in which the 108 Karana, the basic units of classical dance (illustrated by the bas-reliefs of the portals of the Śiva temple in Chidambaram). There are three fundamental forms or styles of Indian dance and they descend from a root nṛṭ which expresses dance (hence the theater, the actor, the dancer): nāṭya, the dance used in the drama, a kind of pantomime; nṛtta, the pure dance in music; nṛṭya, the mimic dance in its finest form. The latter is the expression of a feeling (bhāva) through gestures and mimicry (ankur) and language of the hands (mudrā) and, therefore, aesthetic expression (rasa) of the mood. The interpretation of bhāva and rasa is called abhinaya and is realized with the fusion of four different modes of expression: angikā, concerning the movements of the body (figurative expression); ā hārya, concerning sets, costumes, make-up, lighting (choreographic interpretation); vacīka, verbal expression, and sāttvika or representation of the eight original psychic conditions (calm or balance, fixity, horror, shame, pain, pride, fatigue, unbridled joy). Among the Indian classical dances, four styles and types can be distinguished, operating according to criteria of geographical origin: the bhārata nāṭyam of the south-east coast, an ancient and solemn cultic dance of the devadāsi (handmaids of god), a religious and ritual form of the contemplative life in which hand language is rigidly coded; the Kathakali, coming from the southwest coast (Malabar), and like Bharata Natyam, national dance, fusion of drama, pantomime and dance, with the use of facial expressions and dramatic accentuation of the language of the hands, performed outdoors during one night and with the theme of the story of life, with the intervention of gods and demons; the manipuri, which takes its name from the northwestern state of Manipur from which it originates, a dance also performed outdoors and at night and which tells the divine love of Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā with a style characterized by the extreme delicacy of the movements of the whole body, the result of a very difficult and complex technique and the most picturesque – also for the richness of the costumes – among the classical Indian styles; finally, the kathak, sensual and dynamic court dance of northern India. Classical Indian dance, after a period of darkening (18th and 19th centuries) coincided with the decline of śivaism, has regained its meaning and power, supported by performers who have become numerous again after the cultural recovery operation conducted in India in the sec. XX and widely disseminated also abroad to the point of influencing contemporary western dance, by the dancer and choreographer Uday Shankar (1900-1977), considered the “father” of modern dance in India, by the dancer Yamini Krishnamurti and, in the school of Santiniketan, by the poet Tagore. In contemporary dance Manjushree Chaki-Sarkar revealed herself as the author of a new body language, called Nava Nrityam, while a prominent figure today is Jayachandran Palazhy.

India Music

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