Has Indian classical dance lost its spiritual purpose?

A couple of days or months are not sufficient if we have to talk about “Indian classical dance” or the various forms of dances that came to existence in India. It is a “divine art” which needs years and years of practise and knowledge to attain perfection in it. Above all one needs to be spiritual from mind and soul in order to analyse about classical dance forms. If one knows nothing about these dance forms and has no clue about them, then he has got no right to condemn them and talk low about it.

Well, today I intend to talk about the lost spirituality and importance of classical dance forms in India. May it be the gurus (teachers), shishyas (students or the disciples), its performers or the audience watch the performance merely as an entertainment treat and not through the eyes of art or spirituality. The competition for performing, the glamour, commercialism, money and fame has eaten up all of these ethics that were earlier followed and practised in the olden days.

Purity and Practice…

Classical dance forms evolved in India are Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam. Each one of them has an origin, significance and identity of its own. Practiced from thousands of years and each one is originated from different parts of India. Nataraja (Shiva) being worshipped as “the lord of dance”, the dancers bow down to him first and then touch the feet of their gurus. The slokas (prayer) recited before performing the dance includes a deeper meaning of worshipping the sky, earth, Nataraja, the guru, the audience and each and every creature that watches them perform.

The ornaments and attire used by the performers are worshipped, it is not just a mere jewerelly and clothes but each aspect has a significance of its own. Among all these the one that stands out is the “Ghunghroo” (Anklet) also known as Ghungur in Bengali and Bel in Telugu, is one of many small metallic bells sting together to form Ghungroos, a musical anklet tied to the feet of classical Indian dancers. It is believed that the Ghunghroo worn by the dancers gives them the energy and they literally go to another divine world and forget about the world they exist. They are known to be lost to the tunes of the Ghunghroo.

The performers in the olden times practiced and learned these dance forms as a pure form of worshipping the lord and performed in front of god as an offer of prayer. These dancers were called the “Devadasis” in the earlier times. They had no form of music playing in background; instead they sang on their own and danced alone. They neither had audience to watch them. The practise of audience watching and the stage shows started much later in the 20th century.

The core intention is somewhere lost!!

Classical dance had lost its practice and importance during the British era. And later gained back its recognition after the Independence period. One fact which I would like to highlight here, is that in the later stages of the 20th and the 21st century, classical dance forms have become a mere form of entertainment and lost its purity. Seeing the glamour in their teachers, these students grow up learning the “Tricks of the trade”.

Dance has become a form of a showoff and a medium to travel distant places and perform there for that audience who watch it as a pure form of entertainment. Yes, Indian classical dance has crossed borders and reached beyond the 7 seas. It is taught and practiced even outside India now. This of course broadens our shoulders. But is this proudness actually worth it? Each one of us needs to have a thought over this.

The teachers in the present times are more travellers to abroad and place rather than training their students. The tradition of “Gurukul” (where the students used to spend years together to gain knowledge and values from the teacher) no more exists. And the students intending to learn the art of classical dance have just one vision in mind of giving a stage performance in front of hundreds and thousands of audience and gain fame as their teachers.

If you analyse and find out, some names of the classical dancers are unknown to the world because they do not intend to showcase their art and performance to the crowd. They dance for self -satisfaction and the craze for learning the spiritual art of dance. All that they gain is nothing materialistic but only “food to soul”!! These are the real dancers passing on art to the future generations and these are ones who keep up the dignity of the divine art of classical dance in India.

Source: https://www.sanskritimagazine.com/culture/indian-classical-dance-lost-spiritual-purpose/

Shiki Shetty


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