Dance… though a mere rhythmic movement but has so many meanings. It inspires, it evokes emotions, joy, and awe in us. Communities from centuries danced to celebrate and ultimately experience moving like one wave one body and one being. Professionals dance to experience aesthetics, perfection, life to name a few.

                         Lord Shiva as ‘Nataraj’

     Lord Shiva as ‘Nataraj’


Dancing is this and much more but Indian classical dance is a dance in which dance becomes a medium to achieve salvation, liberation and yoga. Yoga is the union with the collective consciousness. It has its roots in Hinduism and is believed to originate from Lord Shiva who is also called ‘Nataraj’, i.e. lord of Dance. Lord Shiva as ‘Nataraj’ has four hands, one holding the drum- symbolizing creation, the other holds the fire- symbolizing destruction and other two signifying protection. One foot is firm on the ground and on top of the demon of ignorance-signifying that he is the destroyer of ignorance and the other foot is lifted up and symbolizes that he is also the liberator.


Lord Shiva then passed on this divine art to Bharat Muni, a sage and was asked by the Lord to impart it to human beings. Indian Classical dance unlike other dance forms in the world is based on an ancient treatise ‘Natyashastra’, one of the oldest text on classical dance, music and theatre. It is believed that on the request of the Gods, Lord Brahma (creator of the universe) created this holy text. This was later compiled by Bharat Muni. As per the text there are four aspects of Classical Dance- Angikam (body movement), vachikam (lyrics, music), aharya (costume) and Sattwika (emotions).


The word Sattwika in sanskrit means pure and this is the most important element in the Indian classical arts. The dancer through his abhinaya (facial expressions) and Bhaav (gestures and expressions) creates Rasa (mental state and the dominant emotional theme of the work of art) in the audience. This is the ultimate purpose of the dance performance and is believed to be accomplished only when the dancer herself becomes Sattwik or pure. The purity of the dancer’s soul reflects in the performance and aids the audience to experience the rasa and transcend into a state of bliss and ultimately achieve ‘Yoga’. Hence, Indian classical dance is a journey that one takes in which one masters the body, mind and the self in order to empty oneself of all that is detrimental to our spirit.


Odissi is one of the eight classical dance forms belonging to the eastern state of Orissa is characterized by flowing, graceful movements and sculpturesque poses and as per archival evidence is one of the earliest dance forms (2nd century B.C). The dance was performed by the Devadasis or Maharis in the temples and has striking resemblance to the sculptures in the temples of the region.


By Neha Nerma,  Odissi Exponent