DANCE in the Vedas!

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Written by London Swaminathan

Research Article No.1766;  Dated 1April 2015.

Uploaded at London time 21-22 (GMT 20-22)

Dance and music are mentioned in the Vedas in several places. It shows that the Vedic society was a happy and prosperous society. Scores of musical instruments are mentioned and scores of ornaments are also mentioned in the Vedic literature. Unless a society is content in the three basic needs Roti, Kapda aur Makan (Food, clothing and housing), no art form would have developed. Those who study the Vedas in full can see a developed society and advanced civilization. The marriage hymns show that they are an organised community. There were rules guiding a humans from birth to death. They had rules for everything. The existence of highly developed form of dance is confirmed by the dancing statue found in the Indus valley Civilization. Mention of agriculture shows that they cultivated the lands. So naturally there would be harvest season and celebrations following it.

The Vedic women had something like Garba or the Maypole dance. Dancing Gods are found in the Vedas. Indra has been thought of in the Rig Veda (1-130-7) as one who also made others to dance and delight (RV 2-22-4, 8-24-9, 8-24-12, 8-92-2)

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‘Nrtuh’ equals ‘nartayitaa’ in one of the epithets (RV 8-92-3). His close associates the Maruts and the Asvins, are also dancers. As the leaders of a troupe of dancers (RV 5-52-12, 8-20-22) the Maruts are extolled. Dancing and singing are also attributed to Asvins, who dance in association with Surya (RV6-63-5). Dancing is one of the accomplishments of these gods.

Gandharvas are praised as celestial singers. They are also associated with dance and music in later literature.

Dancing Nymphs

The concept of nymphs is closely related to the dancing gods. They are consorts of the Gandharvas (RV 10-123-5, 7-33-9, 7-33-12, 7-10-95, 10-132-6) but do not belong to the category of gods; they are the semi divine people. By the time of Atharva Veda, they became Indra’s favourite dancers.

Description of the Apsaras as dancing with the Gandharvas are found in abundance in AV (4-371, 4-37-4, 4-37-5). Men and women sang and danced even amidst the disease and pestilence they feared. They gathered in the assembly house (AV 7-12-2) ‘sabha’, which was meeting place for social entertainment including dance and music.

The hymn addressed to the Earth (AV. 12-1-1, 12-1-41) presents picture of joyous life, where the mortals sing and dance. Dancing Gandharvas and the Apsarasses help us visualize the picture of a society where dancing and music were regarded as an integral part of everyday life, whether in joy or in sorrow, as a profession or as an important communal activity.

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Source: A Cultural Index to Vedic Literature, Edited by N N Bhattacharya, Rabindra Bharat University, 2007

A B Keith and A A Macdonell adds in Vedic Index adds:–

Silpa in the Vedas means art, of which three kinds – nrtya/dance, gita/music and Vaadita/instrumental music, are enumerated in the Kausitaki Brahmana (29-5)

‘Nrti’ in one passage of the RV 3-514 means dancer in Ludwig’s translation

‘Nrtu’ occurs once in the RV denoting female dancer 1-92-4. Dancing is often referred to in the RV (1-10-1, 1-92-4).

Nrta-Gita (dance and song) are mentioned in the Jaiminiya Brahmana.

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If we put all the terms on Music, Musical Instruments, Dance, Jewellery and Ornaments in the four Vedas together, that will give us a beautiful picture of the Vedic society. No wonder Bharata wrote a beautiful treatise on dance in Sanskrit in the post-Vedic period.

Pictures of dancing statues in Foreign museums.

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