Exploring Art & Religion

Hinduism- the Base of Indian Classical Arts

The spirit of the Natya Shastra, the primordial text of pedagogy for the Indian classical arts is summed up in the natya-arambha (beginning of dance) sloka below-

प्रणम्य शिरसा देवौ पितामहमहेश्वरौ ।

नाट्यशास्त्रं प्रवक्ष्यामि ब्रह्मणा यदुदाहृतम् ॥

The Natya Shastra in its very first words invokes the Gods of the Hindu religion where the Pithamaha refers to the great father Lord Brahma and Maheshwara refers to the great god of dance Lord Shiva. The involvement of the Puranic Gods explained by the sloka gives a sneak peek into how the Hindu religion takes a very important place in Indian Classical performance.

Connection between Dance and Ritual Worship

These forms of worship require repeated action and therefore have a performative element to them similar to dance, where one needs to be in continued practice with the art. This repetition can be called tapas or meditation. Being mindful of the body as a process to reach beyond the self is seen in both forms. The body represents the Saguna or the personified worship where both the bhaktin and God are represented through a body. The Nirguna is the divine consciousness of the ultimate that can be experienced. Through meditation, it is said that a bhaktin can experience this ultimate reality that is beyond themselves.

How are Saguna and Nirguna represented through dance?

When there is a Saguna representation of the God through the iconographies of the Puranic deities, since they are personified, the narration of their ‘life-stories’ become the performative mode of communication. Here, the dancer takes the roop or embodies the character of the God. The Kathakali (Katha means story, kali means performance) form of classical dance and Kathak (done by kathakaars or storytellers) are some examples where such characterisation is done by the performer. Here, characterisation makes the religious deities become the subject of performance.

If the Nirguna is an experience, how does one express it in performance? Through metaphoric symbolism, the essence of the divine experience, the feeling and emotions that are felt in the journey towards the nirguna can be expressed. Aditi Mangaldas is a particular example. In her contemporary kathak productions, the effects created using movement, costumes, sound and lighting play a major role in the magical experience or “Anubhav” of abstracted topics. The movements take inspiration from the Saguna mythologies, they draw from the essence, rather than the direct iconosiation and move beyond in a performative sense too to represent the Nirguna. She says,

“I am not a religious person but that does not mean I’m spiritual. I believe in the goodness of humanity and the beauty of nature. I do not find my spirituality within any normative Indian religion. To me, it is about a vast reservoir of imagination, where there are narratives within narrative, magic within magic, and that itself unfolds the wonder of life. My piece “immersed” is about Krishna where he is all the manifestations of life. The same goes for the various iconographies of Shiva. Not one God or person, but the thousands of years of different imaginations of humanity becomes my reservoir of imaginations. From here is where I source my inspiration and let my imagination expand into the beauty and wonder of life and, that is my way of entering into the mythologies.”

The philosophy of the Saguna and Nirguna will remain

Even if one were to move away from the traditional storytelling methods that impart the values of the religion, these values and philosophies become the core content and subject of inspiration for the performance that take from mythology and expand beyond in application.

Therefore, Indian classical dance is reflective of religious practices and shares a similar performative language. We see that the core philosophy of the hindu religion remains even if we were to move away from religion being the subject. However, Art in general need not be not limited to being reflective of religion. As a performative language, art could act as a medium of expression to create an experience. To what degree can religion be removed from the language of dance , especially in the context of Indian classical arts, is up for further question.

In this section we site an incident where Kuchipudi dance went beyond religion and became a tool of social change.

The earliest reference that links a place called Kuchipudi to a dance tradition is a never-seen though oft-referenced document known as the Machupalli Kaifiyat (Jonnalagadda 1996:37; Kothari 2001:31; Soneji 2004:164). In most accounts, the Kaifiyat is said to describe an episode in 1502 wherein a group of Kuchipudi bhāgavatulu (literally, men from Kuchipudi who perform stories from the Bhāgavatam)13 performed at the Vijayanagara court for King Veera Narasimharaya (r. 1503–1505). During their performance, these men re-enacted a scene they had witnessed, in order to bring the misdeeds of a local chieftain to the King’s attention.


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-Article by Kritika Sharma of ThePrint | Read Here

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Legendary Kuchipudi Dancing couple, Raja and Radha Reddy, is responsible for bringing Kuchipudi dance, the pride of Andhra Pradesh, onto the cultural map of the world.

Legendary Kuchipudi Dancing couple, Raja and Radha Reddy, is responsible for bringing Kuchipudi dance, the pride of Andhra Pradesh, onto the cultural map of the world.
For their contribution to the art form they have been decorated with many awards nationally and internationally. They have had the honor of performing for presidents and prime ministers of many countries such as President Ford, Bill Clinton, Fidel Castro etc. They have conducted charity shows for Red Cross Society, Blind Relief Association, and the home for the aged people in Bombay and CRY. They had the honor of being invited as the first Indian dancers to participate in the International Dance festival of Avignon in France and Salzburg in Austria.

The couple’s contribution to the festival of India in the USA and the UK was considered outstanding. They were the star attraction of the All Star Ballet Gala festival in Japan. The Reddys inaugurated the India Festival in Bangladesh. Raja and Radha Reddy have created history by becoming the first couple to receive Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan award individually and simultaneously for the same cause by the President of India, the Sangeet Natak Academy award, International Meridian award etc.