Back of the Book
"Her canvas is wide, almost wider than that of late Dr. V. Raghavan who was the first to bring to light the wealth of material in Sanskrit relating to dance, music and theatre
The work needs to be read very carefully by serious students of and researchers on dance."- Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan
About the Book
The antiquity of dance of India is well known but its precise characteristics are not. What, exactly, constituted dancing? How was it distinguished from other performing arts? These and other fundamental questions about the nature of dancing can best be answered by delving into the rich corpus of extant Sanskrit treatises on dancing, which extend over two thousand years. Of all sources of the history of dancing, these works remain the most eloquent witness, for they record not only the precepts of the art but also the details of its practice. The present book reconstructs the evolving discourse on dancing in India by making an exhaustive comparative study, the first of its kind, of all available Sanskrit works. The author traces the growth of the techniques and forms of dancing and shows how the central tradition of the art, and also the oldest, expanded by contact with peripheral by contact with peripheral foreign ones, and eventually merged with them into a synthesis that forms the basis of present day classical dances of India.
Mandakranta Bose's research in the Sanskritic tradition of Indian dance and drama has led her to view these arts equally in their historical, theoretical and performance aspects.
About the Author
Mandakranta bose, Professor Emerita, and till her retirement Director of the Center for south Asia and India Research at the University of British Columbia, has made the Sanskrit tradition of dance and theatre arts the subject of her lifelong study. She has published major studies in the field, including Classical Indian Dancing: A Glossary, speaking of Dance: The Indian Critique, and critical editions of Sanskrit texts on music and dance. Her interests also comprise gender issues and Ramayana studies, represented by Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval and Modern India, The Ramayana Culture, and The Ramayana Revisited. Dr. Bose is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain.
The most comprehensive view of the evolution of dancing in India is one that is derived from Sanskrit textual sources. These texts are the basis material that students of the dance in India must examine in order to uncover its past. Since the rebirth of informed interest in dancing in early twentieth century, its antiquity has been acknowledged but precisely what the art was in antiquity remains unclear. Discovering the oldest forms of dancing in India requires, as do other historical quests, a reconstruction of the past and again as in other historical investigations, the primary source of knowledge are records from the past. In this case the records are treatises and manuals in Sanskrit that discuss and describe dancing. These are the sources that the present work sets our to mine.
These texts taken collectively are more than records f particular state of the art. They testify to the growth of the theory and practice of the art and thus establish it as an evolving rather than a fixed art form that changed as much in response to its own expanding aesthetic boundaries as to parallel or complementary forms of dance, drama and music that impinged upon it as India's social and political situation changed. When we place the Sanskrit treatises in chronological sequence it becomes clear that the understanding of the art has changed through time, in its infancy as well as in maturer periods. Following these changes through the treatises is essential to an historical investigation because not only do theoretical discussions in the texts reflect dancing as it was but the practice of dancing in turn seems sometimes to have followed the precepts laid down in the texts correlating dancing with other performing arts and setting its aesthetic objectives.
These texts are part of a tradition of discourse in the arts that was at once scholarly and practical. The earliest extant example of this tradition is the Natyasastra of Bharata Muni, in which all the performing arts of the times are discussed and in which dancing is regarded as a technique for adding the beauty of bodily motion to dramatic performances. An ancillary to drama rather than an independent art, dancing carried no meaning and elicited no emotional response. In the works of later writers, however, its autonomy was recognized as also its ability to express thoughts and feelings and it began to be discussed fully in works devoted particularly to it rather than in works on drama or poetics a clear sign of its growing importance in India's cultural life.
Bharata's work, however, remained of seminar importance. His description of the body movements in dancing and their interrelationship not only provided the taxonomy for all subsequent authors on dancing but much of the information on its actual technique. But Bharata described only what he considered to be artistically the most cultivated of all the existing dance styles, leaving out regional and popular varieties. These styles, similar in their basic technique to Bharata's style but comprising new types of movements and methods of composition, began to be included in later studies. These later works, most notably the Sangitaratnakara of Sarngadeva and the Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala, indicate a shift of emphasis towards previously neglected styles whereby the art of dancing underwent substantial structural and aesthetic changes. By the 16th century the newer styles came to occupy the central position in the accounts of contemporary dancing and coalesced into a distinct tradition that has remained essentially unchanged to the present time. This is the tradition, the present study argues, from which the present day dance styles of India are directly derived, for modern styles, such as Kathak and Odissi, show striking parallels to techniques found only in the treatises of the later tradition, not in works of the earlier tradition of Bharata. Necessarily, this study rests on an understanding of the technical terms of dancing to facilitate which a glossary is appended at the end of the book.
This study begins by setting out the broad periods into which the texts fall. Next, chapter 2 offers a chronological review of all the extant and available Sanskrit works on dancing, including works that discuss dancing as part of a larger interest in the performing art in general. In doing so, the dating and interrelationship of some of the texts are considered. This is followed in chapter 3 by a close examination of Bharata's views on dancing, including its legendary origin, its purpose and function, its types, and its relationship to drama and acting. Chapter 4 deals with lasya, a type of performance basic to Bharata's understanding of the dramatic arts, which has caused much confusion because of the attempt of later authors to categorize it as dancing. In chapter 5 we turn to nrtya and uparupaka, which became major elements of the conception of dancing after Bharata but, like lasya, were variously understood. Chapter 6 discusses a new method of categorizing dance forms that was devised in the early seventeenth century: the categories were bandha and anibandha, which seem to have been adapted from the literature of music to indicate two distinct systems, the formulaic and the non-formulaic of structuring dance performances. These terms manifest an altogether new approach to dancing that signaled a widening of the dancer's technical and aesthetic horizons and one that corresponded with the growing strength of new forms. These forms, broadly classified under the rubric desi, coalesced into a distinct tradition that assimilated older forms; this later tradition is the subject of chapter 7. Chapter 8 concludes the study by summarizing the historical process of the development of dancing in India as found in the text examined here and arguing that this process was not a building upon rather than imitating the past. The process, therefore, was a flexible one that permitted the assimilation of new forms and techniques and the redefinition its purpose, function and aesthatic scope. This flexibility explains why the dance in India has not merely survived but has continued to develop, even though sometimes at an uneven pace, through centuries of social and political turmoil.
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