Classical Indian dance forms and Kandyan dance | Daily News

Classical Indian dance forms and Kandyan dance

India and Sri Lanka are closely bound by historical, geographical, cultural and religious ties. Even languages and the formation of letters resemble each other to some extent.

Silappathikaram, the Tamil classic, describes Santhi Koothu which consists of four main Koothu forms, namely, Chokam, Mei Koothu, Abhinaya, and Nadakam. Chokam is the pure Nirtha dance.

The Mei Koothu consists of three main categories: Desi, Vaduku, and Sinhalam.

Desi was a dance form belonging to the Tamil country. Vaduku was a dance form belonging to Telugu Desam, and the word Sinhalam, was a reference to a dance form belonging to Sinhala country.

Unfortunately, apart from the word Sinhala, there is nothing about the dance form in Silappathikaram. Even the great Tamil poet Subramaniya Bharathi spoke of constructing a bridge to Sinhala Deepa.

Royal patronage

Traditional Kandyan dance is a pure Nirtha dance firmly based on Thala, Laya, and on Thandava Karana stance and based on rhythm. Like Bharatha Natyam, Kandyan dance was also danced in temples, and at temple festivals. Both these dance forms enjoyed royal patronage.

Today, Bharatha Natyam has moved from temples to public halls. Kandyan dance is still danced in temple peraheras (processions), and sometimes in social functions. In ancient times Sathir was performed in temples.

According to Dr M.D Raghavan, one of the eminent research scholars on oriental dances earlier a dance form called Degge Natuma or the dance of Devalaya existed like Sadir, but today, Degge Natuma is no longer in existence. In Bharatha Natyam, many items have disappeared in the course of time, and today all that remains are the references found in literary works.

Most of the Indian classical dance forms are based on Natya Sastra. But those dances developed and were influenced by the regional, religious, cultural and social traditions of each region. Kandyan dance appears to have grown out of Natya Sastra as there are discernible similarities between the classical dance forms of India.

In Bharatha Natyam the term Adavu (a pure Nirtha) is confined to a step (footwork), a body movement accompanied with a hand movement, and hand mudras (hastas) based on a particular thala and laya. In Kandyan dance, the term Adavu is used for a collection of pure Nirtha movements.

Dancer’s costume

According to Dr Raghavan, ‘the most alluring of Kandyan dance is the Ves’. He said ‘Among these are features which point to a certain affinity in the Ves dancer’s costumes, to the highly ornamental and elaborate makeup of the dancer in Kathakali of Kerala’. There are many links between Kandyan and Kathakali Dance.

Vannam, one of the Kandyan dances, is the latest inclusion in the dance. There are altogether 18 Vannams. Each Vannam is based on a separate theme. The addition of Vannam to Kandyan Dance provided limited scope for some Nirthya movements in Kandyan Dance.

Like Bharatha Natyam, female dancers also play a significant role in Kandyan Dance. Some of the similarities between Kandyan Dance and Bharatha Natyam are the half-sitting position, separation of feet, (the gap between the two legs are wider in Kandyan dance than in Bharatha Natyam), knee facing two different directions (right and left), stretching the arms at the shoulder level, neck movements following the hand movements.

In Bharatha Natyam, also certain pure classical pieces are seen (Allaripu, and Jetheswaram), but these are anyhow interwoven with Classical Carnatic music, Thala, and Laya. However, in Kandyan dance pure Nirtha is interwoven with Thala, Laya, and Rhythm.

In Kandyan Dance Udekki is another important category of dance, which derives its name from the drum named Udukku.

In Bharatha Natyam, this drum plays an important role. In the division of Sabtha Thandava and the 108 Thandavas, the drum Udekki is always found in the hands of Thandava Murthi Lord Nataraja. The drum is called Udduku. It is believed that all the creations arose out of the sound of Udduku, according to Thiru Manthiram thotram thudi thanil. The Udduku also plays an important role in Hindu rituals.

Hindu mythology

There are a lot of similarities in the terminologies between Bharatha Natyam and Vannam. In Kandyan dance, for instance, Gajaga Vannama (elephant), Nagavannama (cobra), Hanuman Vannama (god hanuman), Musaladi Vannama, (rabbit) and Mayura Vannama (peacock), are some of the common terms found in both.

Some of the Vannams are based on Hindu mythology. For instance, Vannama in praise of Lord Ganesha and Kukkuda Vannama are some of them. Bharatha Natyam, Odissi, Manipuri, Kuchipudi, and Kathakali are deeply devotional and these dances are firmly based on Hindu mythology.

The North Indian Classical dance form Kathak has a certain affinity with Kandyan dances. For instance, both are firmly based on Thala and Laya and firm Nirtha movements. Both these dance forms have fast and circular movements.

In Manipuri, the East Indian dance, male dancers wear the turban, and carry drums while they dance, as the male dancers in Kandyan dance.


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