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Indian dance is an extremely intricate art requiring skill, hard work and discipline. Every dance posture has a specific meaning. All Indian dances portray some expression of life. Themes used in Indian dance are from Indian folklore and mythology. Most of the dances portray an Indian god coupled with an Indian goddess such as ‘Vishnu and Lakshmi’, ‘Rama and Sita’, ‘Krishna and Radha’.

Indian dance is said to have originated from ‘Natya Shastra’, which is a detailed script written on all aspects of Indian dance. The author of ‘Natya Shastra’ was ‘Bharata Muni’ who wrote this some time in the 2nd century B.C.

The ‘Natya Shastra’ has been instrumental in providing the clothing, ornaments, the stage setting and, mainly, the various gestures and emoting techniques for all types of Indian dance. Indian dance consists of rhythm called ‘nritta’, expression called ‘nritya’ and drama called ‘natya’. The ‘mudras’ [gestures with the hands] for all types of Indian dances are the same. ‘Mudras’ are used for ‘nritta’ and ‘natya’. The ‘rasas’ [portrayal of emotions] are used for ‘nritya’. There are mainly nine types of emotions portrayed in Indian dance – ‘hasya’ [happiness], ‘krodha’ [anger], ‘bhibasta’ [disgust], ‘bhaya’ [fear], shoka [sorrow], ‘viram’ [courage], ‘karuna’ [compassion], ‘adbhuta’ [wonder] and ‘shanta’ [serenity].

The most significant symbol of dance in India is the ‘Natraj’. This is a dance poise of the god ‘Shiva’ in a posture signifying various aspects of human life. ‘Shiva's dance signifies creation, preservation, and destruction. ‘Shiva’ is a male god with blue skin, long hair tied up on the top of his head, and a strong body and two pairs of arms.

In the ‘Natraj’ poise, ‘Shiva’ holds a ‘damaru’ [small drum] in his upper right hand and a tongue of flames in his upper left hand. The drum and the fire signify the opposing forces of creation and destruction. The lower right hand gestures ‘abhaya’ [to remove fear] and the lower left hand gestures favoring the devotee.

‘Shiva’ is balancing on one foot with the other leg raised from the knee. His body, surrounded by flames, portrays his intense energy. ‘Shiva’s’ dance is the dance of life.

Indian dancers paint their faces elaborately. They apply ‘kajal’ [black eye pencil] around their eyes to make them look bigger and more expressive, dark red lipstick and rouge and wear a ‘bindi’ [a small ornament in the shape of a tear drop, a circle, a diamond or a moon and star] on the center of their forehead. They wear large ornaments such as earrings, necklaces, armlets, anklets, rings and an Indian jewel, which is used to ornate the head. Dancers wear bright-colored ‘saris’ [a rectangle clothe made of silk or cotton tied around the waist and draped around the shoulder] with gold and silver embroidered borders. They apply ‘mehndi’ [a coloring agent made out of natural products applied on the skin as a lotion] on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet.

All Indian dances use traditional ‘Hindustani’ classical music with instruments such as the flute, ‘tabla’, ‘sitar’, harmonium and ‘tanpura’.

Bright color, beauty and tradition come to mind when one thinks of Indian dance.