India is a land of rich culture and heritage. Since the beginning of our civilisation music, dance and drama have been an integral aspect of our culture. Initially, these artforms were used as a medium of propagation for religion and social reforms.
From the Vedic era to the medieval period, the performing arts remained an important source of educating the masses. Culture plays an important role in the development of any nation; it represents a set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices. A country as diverse as India is symbolised by the plurality of its culture. We have the largest collection of songs, music, dance, theatre, folk traditions, performing arts, paintings and writings.
What is art?
“Art is an aesthetic expression of human emotions, known as ‘Rasa’. It signifies the ultimate satisfaction of pleasure. Human emotions can be categorised into nine sub-headings or ‘Navras’. The intellectual mind merges with the artistic streak, giving birth to art. Some of these are expressed through live performances and others through visual arts.
Evolution of performing arts
Tradition of classical dance and music is ancient. In Indian tradition, dance and music are based on devotion. They form an integral part of the socio-religious rituals and festivities. Great Indian poet Kalidas mentions in Meghaduta that the Mahakal temple in Ujjain resounded with the sound of the ankle bells of the dancing girls.
The oldest archaeological evidence of dance exists in the form of pictures and sculptures dating from about 2500 BC.
Sangeet Ratnakara written by Sarangdeva in the 13th century mentions 264 ragas. A variety of string and wind instruments were invented over the period of time. Many rulers patronised music and dance. The Gupta monarch Samudra Gupta was himself an accomplished musician. In some of his coins, he is shown playing the Veena.
Similarly in the medieval period the Sufi and Bhakti saints encouraged music… Qawwalis were sung in Sufi khanqahs, shrine and devotional music like Kirtan and Bhajan became popular with the Bhakti Saints. Names of Kabir, Mira bai, Surdas, Tulsidas, Vidyapati are closely associated with religious music. Many scholars have invented many instruments and ragas. Great scholars like Amir Khusrau contributed equally to the promotion of music. Kitabe Navras written by Ibrahim Adil Shah II during the 17th century is a collection of songs in praise of Hindu deities and Muslim saints.
There were many famous musicians of Mughal’s court, the patronage given to these artists by the ancient and medieval rulers have been instrumental in keeping the traditions alive. The great musician Tansen, was a vocalist and instrumentalist at the court of Akbar in the 15th Century. Descendants of Tansen founded a tradition upon which modern Indian classical music is based upon.
The soul of Indian Music
The soul of Hindustani sangeet is spiritual communication to the almighty. The dancers and musicians convey their emotions through this medium.
Guru Shishya Parampara
This parampara is about disciples learning under a particular guru, transmitting his musical knowledge and style, and belonging to the same gharana. Indian traditional dance styles are more than 2,000 years old and there arises the need to create awareness and interest in the younger generation so that they get the real sense of the term keeping our age-old tradition and culture intact.
The modern guru-shishya relationship is an inter-mingling of the traditional gurukul system and the modern teacher-student relationship. It is constantly evolving through new methods of teaching, innovative choreographies, different interpretations our mythological stories but trying their best to follow the tradition. In India, this concept has survived despite all the modern mechanisms. Though the modern relationship is yet to find its space between tradition and modernity.
The Gharana System
Without mentioning the Gharana, Guru-Shishya Parampara seems incomplete. Different Gharanas are like different flowers and each flower has its own fragrance. They are the school of thoughts and each of them have a different vision. A Gharana needs a continuity of at least three generations.
Unlike the West, where the dance and music are written heritage, the Indian performing art also includes oral understanding and is a flowing tradition. Every nuance imbibed/interpreted by individuals is different and the signature of an artist is to contribute to the flow of the tradition making it relevant for the contemporary time.
Thursday, 05 March 2020 | Pioneer
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