Classical Indian Dance Vs Dance in the West (Post No.3306)

Compiled  by London Swaminathan


Date: 31 October 2016


Time uploaded in London: 6-05 AM


Post No.3306


Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks to Facebook friends.



Following is the superficial comparison of classical dance in the East and the West by Arthur Miles




“In the West the dissociation of art and the Church has left a chasm which neither can bridge. Whatever lofty idealism it is always judged as alone, and is never linked with a spiritual thought which might have inspired it.


In the East art and devotion are one and the same, it would be impossible for the West to make the dance other than theatrical, for the restlessness of cities demands amusement and diversion, and seeks to achieve forgetfulness in spectacular thrill. When Eastern dances are taken to the West it is for the sake of novelty and amusement, and consequently at once a false note is struck. The authenticity of the dance is lost; Indian dancing being essentially a rite, a symbol of the race spirit.


The dance has been one of the chief forms of religious expression in India since the beginning of her history. The earliest Vedic scripture mentions the divine singers, the dancing nymphs, and the players of musical instruments, and chants to the various gods were accompanied by dancing. Siva was the first dancer, and his the dance of creation, the ecstasy of motion, the preservation and destruction of cosmic energy.


Krishna danced and played his flute, while women, overcome by his music and his dancing, left home and husband to follow him. Lakshmi, the Hindu Venus, the goddess who was born from a lotus and the consort of Vishnu, was the dancer of heaven. Arrayed with anklets and bells she won the acclaim of the heavenly court and taught the apsaras (the heavenly nymphs) to dance. The eight energies were the saktis of Indra’s court, before they degenerated into the disgusting spectacles they are to-day.


The early Hindus spiritualized their emotions. Everything emanated from one divine source, namely from God. In ancient India dancing and music were supposed to regulate the emotions, to winnow from them any chaff which did not originate in the spiritual idea.


Brahma, the creator, entered into divine meditation and brought forth the arts of music, dancing, and drama. His nayaka (dancing master) had a character without blemish, and only people who were without ty and clean of mind were permitted to witness the dance.


Emotions in Dance

The emotions were classified as sringara, the sex emotion, which lies at the heart of creation; vir, heroism; karuna, compassion; adbhuta, wonder: hasya, laughter; bhayankara; bibhatsa, the grotesque; raudra, the terrible;shanti,peace; dasya, devotion; sakhya, friendship; vatsalya, paternal feeling; madhura, romance.  And all these have their symbols in the dance.


Kama, the Indian Eros, represents awakening and desire, and his is the dance of spring, the dance of love. In his dance he uses five arrows to pierce the five senses.


The dance of Durga signifies the mother aspect, and is the harvest dance, the dance of fulfilment. An old Indian legend relates that when the saint Rishabha Deva saw a dance per formed by Nilanjasa, a woman dancer in the service of the god Indra, he lost all desire for the world and retired to Kailasa (Siva’s heaven) to meditate upon eternal bliss.


Sri Chaitanya, a famous dancer of the sixteenth century, used to go about singing hymns in the praise of Krishna, and, continually thinking of the god, he was moved to execute some of the most beautiful dances the East has ever seen. Many who witnessed his performance became his pupils and devotees.

Tandava and Lasya


Dancing is divided into two types, known as Tandava and Lasya. Tandava is the expression of intense excitement and characterizes cosmic activity, divine and heroic. The conquest of evil and the attainment of bliss are moods of the Tandava. The prekshani mood of Tandava is a movement of the limbs without facial expression, and might be compared to the Noh dance of Japan, which is an Eastern adaptation of the masque dance of early Greece. Siva expresses himself in the Tandava of which his dance of joy, his evening dance, his dance to slay evil and ignorance, his dances with his two consorts, Uma and Gauri and his dance of death in the burning ground, signifying the soul’s release from illusion, are all phases.


The dance of Kali (one of Siva’s wives), the slayer of demons with garlands of skulls and death dealing weapons, also belongs to the Tandava, as does the dance of Krishna which expresses ecstatic and supreme joy.


Lasya is the mood of desire, and in this movement the expression is amorous and the gestures inviting. It is the dance of the woman before her lover.


The buffoon dance has its place in Hindu ritual, and is called the rudushaka

The dance Macabre is known as the bhringi, and Siva’s skeleton attendant dances it in the burning-ground. Hindu art, having originated with the gods, was taught to mortals by the rishis. The attainment of spiritual power is associated with certain postures of the body capable invoking inner vision, and Yoga was the growth of the early dance rituals.


The Nautch dance and the Manipuri dance of Bengal have been influenced by the Moghul and later schools. In these dances more attention is paid to the stepping of the measure than to the hand and arm gestures. The Indians are the only dancers who can be graceful on the flat of the foot, and so flexible are their feet, they convey the impression of dancing on the toes. The costume of the Nautch has taken on something of Western influence, the skirt being very wide and sewn with glittering spangles. Transparent veils are waved to create an effect.

Snake Dance and Peacock Dance


The Ajanta dance has toe movement, and in this it differs from most of the dances in India. It is the dance usually copied by Western devotees, and the dance of attraction is favourite phase of it. This movement seeks to disturb meditations of Lord Buddha, and betray him to the emotions. There are puzzling contrasts in the Ajanta, which are intended to portray good and evil. There is much head movement, and the arms are waved and folded in a series of gestures. Inspired by the Hindu dances and Western ideas, the Indians have evolved a new style of dancing. There is a snake dance, a peacock dance, a sword dance, and many others. In the peacock dance, which I watched in Bengal, powder was spread on the floor and the dancer, when her dance was finished, had traced the movements of the peacock in the powder. This dance entirely depends upon the movement, and lacks the expression or the of the classical dance.


In South India alone have the original dances been preserved. The temple dance of the Devadasi is seen in the south, and watching it might be attending the Dionysia of Greece, when the whole country was in a state of sanctity, under taboo, or in the grip of heroic drama. We see Clytemnestra waiting to slay Agamemnon as he returns from Troy; the hate of Medea and the slaying of her children; the love of Phedra and Hippolytos. We see the vestal virgins tending their god – worshipping him, singing to him, dancing for delight. We see the pure, natural dance of joy, with its roots in the ritual; the only dance that in the true meaning of the word can be called classic.


The ancient people knew that before you could perform a rite, something must be actually done. You could not content yourself in merely thinking about anything. Here they called on the law of magic, and perhaps it is a law, one the fundamental laws of the universe. We however have allowed it to become the weapon of charlatans.


All ancient religions were founded upon such a law –namely on formula, chants, and cadence; as might we say, on an enchantment produced by voice and sounds. There was not enough faith behind the desire for rain to make corn to grow, or to cause the soul to pass from the body. Accordingly, the fall of the rain, the sowing of the seed, the soul’s release all had to be danced. The mind required to be impressed by the movement of the body, in the same way that to-day the mind is impressed by prayers and services.


The ancient people worked themselves up with pantomime, as we work ourselves up with prayers and poetry. Their war dance and hunting dance stood in the place of our prayers. They occurred before the event, when something was desired, and again when something was finished or fulfilled.


The dances were performed at fixed times, until they became rites, and were closely associated in the mind with the object for which they came into being. The corn dance was associated with corn, the rain dance with rain, and one was seen in terms of the other. We must not forget that if our own forms are more practical, they are nevertheless ritual; for it is across the bridge of ritual we must pass to religion, science, art, or anything that needs a formula.


Adivasi dance in the Nilgris, South India

The ecstasy and triumph in Siva’s dance of creation were founded, no doubt, upon an expression of pure joy which had nothing to do with pleasure. The dance of pleasure came later. More and more sensuality entered into the dance with each succeeding generation, until it became the dance of lust, the present ………. sakta.


The cessation of the Hindu dances (with the exception of the Sakta) would be a great loss to art. The ……. words of some of the songs could be changed without weakening the stories they tell”.