Indian temples are not only popular for holding of religious rituals and festivals with pomp and grandeur but have also been the venues where classical and folk dances and music evolved that retold the various mythological stories to the masses. For this reason, temples are considered as places of cultural importance from where the spiritual and traditional forms of entertainment were born.
According to the tradition of Hindu religion, dance and music are a beautiful and a complex way of praising God which requires much learning and practise. To become an expert in doing dance and music in temples in days of yore, extensive training was required. For this reason, dance and music became a celebrated and worthy form of worshipping God which only a few can perform skilfully and properly in a temple. As dance and music became a form of art, it came to be judged and people began to adore it as a form of entertainment and a wonderful skill worthy of acquiring it and deserving a good measure of praise. With the passage of time, dance and music did not only stay as a form of worshipping God but became branches of learning which requires much passion, concentration and struggle to achieve it. Dance and music competitions also came to be held after the status of these performing arts became top-notch. Many people of old Indian royal families hired skilled musicians and dancers to teach their offspring about the various forms of performing arts.
Moreover, dance and music are also considered as essential form of skills even today and many parents try to get their children enrolled in reputed schools of performing arts so that they can learn from eminent instructors. Today, there are many colleges and universities offering degrees in performing arts. The competition for performing arts only became more stiff and high over time. Therefore, it can be said that the ancient study of performing arts in the country which developed and witnessed changes with the mix of international elements continue to maintain its venerability.
The theory about the divine origin of classical dances was first mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit text Natya Shastra authored by Sage Bharata or Bharata Muni who is considered as the father of Indian theatrical art forms. However, as per Hindu mythology, Natya Shastra was created as the fifth Veda by Lord Brahma. The story goes that Lord Brahma entered into a deep meditation and created the Natya Veda by incorporating literature from Rig Veda, song from Sama Veda, expression (abhinaya) from Yajur Veda and rasa or aesthetic experience from Atharva Veda. The Lord then taught the Natya Shastra to his son Sage Bharata. The sage along with his hundred sons and Apsaras then staged their first play in front of Lord Shiva. After having been mesmerizingly enthralled by the performance, Lord Shiva sent his disciple Tandu to Sage Bharata and his disciples to teach them the true elements of dance. Tandu instructed the sage and his disciples in the use of Angaharas and Karanas. The 32 Angaharas and 108 Karanas form an important aspect of most classical dance forms. According to the Sangeet Natak Academy, the eight classical dances in India include Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Odissi, Mohiniyattam, Manipuri and Satriya.
The traditional dances of India is a blend of Nritta, Nritya and Natya. Nritta composes of the body movements and is derived of expression of emotions whereas Nritya accompanies the use of emotional expression along with body movements. Natya consists of the dramatic element. Most of the usual and basic classical dance programmes uses a combination of Nritta and Nritya. However, dance dramas or Natyas require a detail knowledge of a story and the ability to depict it skilfully through Nritta and Nritya. Meanwhile expressions used in a dance are primarily of three types- Mudra (hand gestures), Bhanga (postures of the body) and Rasa (facial expressions). Traditional dances depicts these nine kinds of main emotions – Adbhuta (wonder), Bhaya (terror), Bhibatsa (disgust), Hasya ( humour), Karuna (sadness), Rudra ( anger), Shringara (love), Vira (heroism) and Shanta (peace). The postures or movements used in classical dances are of four types – Abhanga, Samabhanga, Atibhanga and Tribhanga. Abhanga depicts a slightly askew standing position. Samabhanga is the equal distribution of the body limbs on a central line, whether standing or sitting. Atibhanga is the great bend with the torso diagonally inclined and the knees bent. Tribhanga is the triple bend with one hip raised, the torso curved to the opposite side and the head tilted at an angle.
Among all the classical dances, Bharatnatyam is one of the oldest dance forms which originated in the temples of Tamil Nadu. One of the complex and enchanting types of classical dances, Bharatnatyam showcases the teachings of Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism with its intricate forms of movement and expressions. Meanwhile, Kathak which had its origins in Uttar Pradesh and mainly popular in North India narrates a Katha or story with its rhythmic movements accompanied with the beats of ghungroos. Kuchipudi, which is believed to have originated from a village Kuchelapuram (or Kuchipudi) in Andhra Pradesh’s Krishna district, depicts various mythological stories. Another classical dance form Kathakali of Kerala depicts mainly stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata with its attractive expressions and body movements. Odissi, which was born from the temples of Odisha is considered as one of the most melodious classical dances and comprises acts on songs sung in praise of Radha and Krishna. Mohiniyattam, which belongs to Kerala is performed after taking inspiration from the female avatar of Lord Vishnu named Mohini. Taking cue from the feminine aspect, Mohiniyattam thus comprises of soft, graceful body movements along with enchanting expressions. The Manipuri dance, which originated in Manipur narrates the stories of Rasleela, the divine love stories of Radha and Krishna with its circular and steady movements. While performing Manipuri dance, the artist never maintains eye contact with the audience and the expressions in this dance form are generally subdued and never exaggerated as in other types of classical dances. Satriya dance which was developed by the Vaishanava saint Sankardeva had its origins in the satras (monasteries) of Assam and comprises of graceful body movements and expressions done to enact tales of Lord Krishna or Lord Ram.
Folk dances also came to being at a particular region as a form of worshipping God. Although the beautiful forms of traditional dances seems to have lose its popularity as more modern dances accompanied with loud music made its way into India, the charm of the ancient performing arts of the country still continues to lure every person even today. To keep the traditional dance forms alive in the modern era, various kinds of dance festivals are organized by state government in cooperation with different organizations. Apart from displaying the traditional forms of performing arts prevalent in the region, these dance festivals also hosts exhibitions, contests and food fests to attract a large footfall. Marketing and promotion of dance festivals are also done with large expenses so that it can be a hit among the people. Some of the popular dance festivals include Kameswari Dance Festival (Assam), Khajuraho Dance Festival (Madhya Pradesh), Konark Dance Festival (Odisha), Mamallapuram Dance Festival (Tamil Nadu), Nishagandhi Dance Festival (Kerala), Hampi Dance Utsav (Karnataka).