The evolution of classical Indian dance literature : a study of the Sanskritic tradition
The most comprehensive view of the evolution of dancing in India is one that is derived from Sanskrit textual sources. In the beginning of the tradition of discourse on dancing, of which the earliest extant example is the Natyasastra of Bharata Muni, dancing was regarded as a technique for adding the beauty of abstract form to dramatic performances. An ancillary to drama rather than an independent art, it carried no meaning and elicited no emotional response. Gradually, however, its autonomy was recognized as also its communicative power and it began to be discussed fully in treatises rather than in works on drama or poetics-a clear sign of its growing importance in India's cultural life. Bharata's 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. However, 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. By the 16th century they 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. Striking technical parallels relate modern styles such as Kathak and Odissi to the later tradition rather than to Bharata's. The textual evidence thus shows that dancing in India evolved by assimilating new forms and techniques and by moving away from its early dependency on drama. In the process it also widened its aesthetic scope beyond decorative grace to encompass emotive communication. Beauty of form was thus wedded to the matter of emotional content, resulting in the growth of a complex art form.