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SYMPHONY IN STONES

Documentary Film Series on Indian Classical Dances, Music & Musical Instruments in Indian Architecture


The state of Karnataka is home to marvels in architecture and sculpture. It is no exaggeration to say that the temples In Karnataka have almost become synonymous with beautiful structures sculpted with great care, The most interesting part of these monuments are that no two of them are alike as each monument stands majestically with its head held high. In fact, the study of each monument throws light on the rich cultural heritage of our country, while also mirroring the tastes of rulers starting from the Chalukyas of Badami up to the Vijayanagar monarchs. The fact that each of these rulers gave their sculptors immense freedom to play around with their tools only adds up to the uniqueness of these monuments. Sculptors, on their part, have used dance as a medium to portray the elements of beauty thereby enriching sculptures. These sculptures in different poses of dance with musicians and their musical instruments have lent beauty to the architectural flourishes of India. It is surprising to note that though music dance and sculpture are entirely different forms of art, they blend, very well resulting in aesthetically appealing structures. Music and dance have together become almost inseparable with Indian sculpture, lending credence to the fact that India has a rich tradition of music and dance.

A close study of these sculptures reveals the styles adopted by the sculptors of different periods. While the art of the Hoysalas and the Kakatiyas are often variants of later Chalukyan styles, the Hoysalas laid much stress on dance forms and music. Though Vijayanagar continued to some extent the heritage of earlier forms, it also developed new ones. The treatment of both dance and music during the Vijayanagar period can be well observed in certain temples such as Hazare Rama and Vithala at Hampi at Penukonda the later capital and at Lepaksi and Tadapatri. It is sad to note that the downfall of the Vijayanagar empire marked an end to meaningful contribution to the field of sculpture. Though later rulers like the Wodeyars of Mysore and the Nayaks of Keladi and lkkeri tried their best to continue the tradition of Vijayanagar empire, their efforts were in vain.

The depiction of intricate dance nuances through sculptures bear testimony to the sculptors' knowledge of Indian classical dance forms as each and every dance representation conforms to Bharata's Natyasastra. Music and dance in India's cultural life are not merely for visual enjoyment They were, and are, very much a part of life. It should, however, not be forgotten, that the evolution of dance started with the desire of human beings to express themselves and their emotions. Hence, the various forms of dance that are region-specific, age-specific and religion-specific too. But most of the issues they dealt with were heavily influenced by Hindu thought, philosophy and mythology. The importance accorded to dance and music was so great that they were even regarded as the most important modes of pleasing gods. especially so during the Vedic age. The celestial nymphs, known as the apsaras and the celestial musicians known as the Gandharvas were treated as masters of music and dance, who provided gods with celestial entertainment in the Heaven.

There is also a debate raging on which form of art came first - dance or drama? But this argument can be put to rest once and for all as references to dance in the Vedic age points to the fact that drama came only after dance.

It is generally believed that the origin of Hindu dance is ascribed to the Vedas and is known as Panchamaveda. Natya veda or the veda relating to the dance is considered unique as Brahma, the creator of the universe, formed this by selecting some characters from each of the four vedas, namely Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. Natya Veda enjoys the distinction of being only next to the four Vedas speaking so much for the importance it was accorded with.

But apsaras were not the only ones who danced, mythological references throw light on the fact that gods too danced on certain occasions to express their emotions. Shiva, also known as Nataraja, is considered the supreme lord of dance. It also believed that Shiva taught Nrityasastra, dance in it purest form to Tandu to spread pure dance in planet earth.
Tandu, on his part, dutifully carried out Lord Shiva's command and taught it to Bharata who is credited with the authorship of one of the earliest systematic work on the subject, the Natyasastra.

After Bharata's Natyasastra the credit of writing on dramatology goes to Nandikesvara. His works, Abhinayadarpana and Bharatarnava are of great importance where dance is treated as different from drama and music. while all the other writers of the period treated dance to be on par with drama and music. However, it cannot be ignored that the philosophy underlying Indian dance, drama, music and histrionics is the same and Rasa or the emotion each form of art evokes, is the binding force of all arts The fundamental concepts of Indian dance are Nritta, Nrtya, Natya, Tandava. Lasya, Marga. Desi. Abhinaya, Hastas, etc. It is interesting to note the meaning of each concept mentioned above, for a better understanding Indian dance, Nrtta is an ornamental form of dance following a particular rhythm, while Nrtya is a poetical or lyrical depiction of expressions through facial gestures and emotions. Natya, which is a combination of Nrtta and Nriya, balances dancing and acting to narrate a story, Tandava which may have derived its name from Tandu, the disciple of Shiva, is the dance technique which Lord Shiva Tandu asked to teach Bharata.

The Tandava form of dance is depicted widely in most sculptures of the medieval times. Different books on this form of dance technique describes different varieties of Tandava, like the Ananda Tandava, Sandhya Tandava, Uma Tandava, Gauri Tandava, Kalika Tandava, Tripura Tandava and Samhara Tandava.

Though the term Lasya has been used by Bharata almost as a synonym for Tandava, it means a gentler form of dance movement for the expression of erotic sentiments. It is generally believed that Parvati taught Lasya or the gentler form of dance to Usha, the daughter of Banasura and popularlised this form of dance among women.

While marga is the original form of dance by Brahma choosing the required aspect from the four Vedas, Desi is that form of the Marga technique of dance that mirrors changes owing to regional variations.

Abhinaya is the most fundamental concepts of dance as it forms the base of all the other techniques of dance. There are four different forms of Abhinaya - Aagikabhinaya, the intricate movements of the limbs of the body, Bacikabhinaya or the verbal aspect, Aharyabhinaya or the decorative aspect and Satvikabhinaya or the mental expression of feeling and emotion. In short, dance is the harmonious blend of all these aspects.

Epigraphical sources found in Karnataka mirrors the aesthetic sense of people of the times. While there are many evidences to show that kings were themselves great lovers of art, the role of queens in the promotion of arts cannot be ignored. To name a few, Jagadekamalla, Somesvara, Vikramaditya and their queens were great patrons of art. One name that deserves a mention in this context is that of King Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysala dynasty. The temples built during his time are regarded as second to none, in fact, they are masterpieces of Indian art.

Courtesans too have made significant contribution to the field of Indian art. Known well for their beauty, wit and other accomplishments they took pride in the fact that they are courtesans. They were no less than kings and queens in gifting gods and having them inscribed on stones. According to Bharata courtesans were ones who excelled in 64 arts. Going by the epigraphical evidence available, these courtesans surrendered their wealth to gods, contributing to the construction of temples.

Rangabhoga or the entertainment of the god was a daily temples which the people of the town participated. Beautiful and spacious Ranga Mantapas. the place where the artistes performed before the god, were a 'must' in each temple. Inscriptions relating to all these aspects are found in most temples and they belong to Early Chalukyan, Later Chalukyan, Hoysala and Vijayanagar times. Early Chalukyan inscriptions, found in the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal, refer to Achalan, an actor who, perhaps is Karnataka's first actor and dancer. The epigraph also states that Achalan was an authority on Bharata's Natyasastra.

The Later Chalukyan inscriptions, which are found mostly in North Karnataka, highlight the fact that the kings of this period brought out fine concepts in art forms.

The Hoysala period inscriptions, found in Belur, Halebid, Sravanabelagola and other places sing praises of King Vishnuvardhana and his wife Shantala. The inscriptions on the inner wall of the treasury of Channakesava temple in Belur are a good example.

The inscriptions of Vijayanagar times are spread far and wide in Karnataka and in the neighbouring states too, in the languages specific to those regions. As the kings of this period took interest in the renovation of temples too, inscriptions relating to this period are found in old temples built before the Vijayanagar period too.
These instructions, especially the ones In the Chennakesava temple at Belur, mentions dance and music as of the divine services to be offered to Lord Kesava.

There are many such inscriptions in the temples of Kesavaswami in Kurnool and at Gorrepalli in Anantapur, both in Andhra Pradesh, that record grants being given to artistes to promote dance and music, while also confirming the fact that dance, music and drama played a very important role in the lives of people since time immemorial.

Literary works are also a rich source of information about the style of fine arts of the corresponding period. According to inscriptions available, Natyasastra, Sangitasastra and Silpasastra were given as much of importance as any other discipline in educational institutions during the period of Chalukyas of Badami. However, Pampa's works - Adipurana and Vikramarjuna Vijaya - tops the list of literary references of art forms. Pampa,

widely regarded as the first poet of Kannada literature, had a thorough knowledge of the various forms of art which is well evident in his writings where he peppers dance sequences with technical terms used In Natyasastra. For Instance, the manner in which Pampa has described the dance of Devanganas to celebrate the birth of Vrshabhadeva and the dance Nilanjana, performed to divert the mind of Vrsabhadeva from worldly life, deserve a mention as these descriptions are regarded as eternally memorable in Kannada literature.

While Pampa was the first writer to introduce dance and music with great effect in literary works, Ponna, another noted Kannada writer, was a successful narrator of music and dance sequences. Very close to Pampa and Ponna come Nagavarma, Ranna, Harihara and Nemichandra, other noted writers who have given a detailed narration of contemporary art forms, not only did their writings mirror the depth of their knowledge but also succeeded in evoking rasa in the readers' minds. Harihara's description of dance sequences bring out the contrast between classical and folk dance forms.

Ratnakara Varni, a jain poet of repute, transports us to the 16th century through his descriptions of dance in his Bharatasena Vaibhava. Further, Ratnakara Varni's works also throw light on the folk and tribal dancers of his days like the Koravanji, Jogininatya and Koramanatya.

Chandrasekhara's Pampasthana Varmanam is another source for providing Information on regional styles that existed at that time, like the classical Margi dances of Pekkana, Perana, Kunda, Danda and Rasaka. Chandrasekhara also describes in great detail the dancer's entrance, attire and ornamentation. So does Bahubali, in his Nagakumaracharitam.

Nijaguna Sivayogi, a dedicated. musicologist of the early 16th century, has devoted an entire chapter in his Vivekachintamani to the theoretical aspect of music. He was also a pioneer of Kirtanas. His descriptions also include the different methods of playing instrumental music and different types of stringed instruments.

During the regime of Vijayanagar rulers, the Haridasas of Karnataka made waves in the world of music. Purandaradasa, considered as the father of Karnatic music, opened a new epoch in the theory and practice of Karnatic music. The spread of Bhakti Sangeeta or devotional music was the mission of his life. He is credited with about 5,00,000 compositions. The Mayamalavagaula Raga adopted by him has to this day regarded as the base for South Indian music today.
The tradition of Purandaradasa was continued by the dasas of later age. However, there are no second thoughts about the fact that Purandaradasa's works provided stimulus to the music trinity of modern music-Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syamasastry.

It is not just Kannada literary works that throw light on the dance and music scene of Karnataka but many Sanskrit works have also done the same though most of them were based upon Bharata's Natyasastra. Another notable work on music is Matanga's Brhaddesi that elaborately deals with the science of music of his times. The word raga was perhaps first used by Matanga Somesvara, son of King Vikramaditya, was no less in contributing to the history of dance and music. Notable for information regarding the regional style of music and dance, Somesvara was rightly called the Sangita Bharata Sastra Visarada.

These various works on dance and music have both nourished the tradition of music and dance and helped the evolution of dance and music Karnataka. It has to be admitted that tradition was dynamic, absorbing influences and new elements willingly resulting in new genres of dance and music.

Another notable feature of these sculptures is the depiction of god in the different forms of dance. For instance, the different forms of dance of Shiva are shown in different poses in the caves of Badami. Again, the beautiful Nataraja of the Badami Cave is a fine example of Chalukyan art where Shiva is dancing Ananda Tandava. Ardhanarisvara is another favourite representation of Shiva. At Aihole too is a lively presentation of dancing Shiva. The Ravanaphadi temple at Aihole has a gigantic panel of Shiva dancing with Saptamatrkas and Parvati. There is also the depiction of Shiva as Gajasura Samhara, protecting Markandeya.

Another god who is widely depicted in sculptures is Mahavishnu, often in one of the forms of his incarnations, Trivikrama, Govardhanagiridhari Narasimha, Kalingamardhana, Arjuna and Krishna are very popular them.

Ganapati, the presiding deity of any auspicious celebrations, is almost always sculpted with dancing Shiva. As Ganapati is most popularly known as Ganadhipathi or as the ruler of Ganas, he is generally accompanied by the dancing Ganas. The most popular representation is in the Hoysalesvara Temple in Halebid, where he is dancing amongst the Ashtadikpalas Goddesses who have been sculpted include Natya Saraswati, Dancing Lakshmi, Mahishamardini, Bhairavi and Durga. The dancing Lakshmi icons are found in Halebid, Nuggehali and Hosaholalu. While Durga's dance movements are fabulously depicted in Haranahalli.
Gods and Goddesses are never alone. They are always guarded and so are their abodes. These guarding deities are none other than Dwarapalas, seen in the Vaisnava and Saiva temples, both near the main entrance and also the garbhagriha. The Dwarapalas of various periods like the Early Chalukyan, Later Chalukyan and Hoysala periods are represented with attractive postures and poses. They also add beauty to the door frame. The sculptors have made good use of them to accentuate the look of the temple For instance. Dwarapalas are found in the entrance of the Badami Cave II, As mentioned earlier, sculptures depict dance forms in a very fine manner. Care was also taken to sculpt the various forms of dance that signified the season. For instance, the colourful extravaganza of Holi dance is found in all its glory in almost all the temples of the Vijayanagar period and so is Kolata, the traditional folk dance of Karnataka. It seems like this form of dance gained importance during the Vijayanagar period. The temples in Hampi, Tadapatri, Penukonda and Srisailam offer beautiful examples of this form of dance. So are the dances of fortune teller or a gypsy, most popularly known as Koravanji and the Viragase Nrtya or the sword dance.


Paintings too throw light on the form of art prevalent during their period. The earliest record of painting appears in an inscription of Mangalesa in Cave III at Badami known as Vaisnava Cave, Paintings also show the mastery of artistes over Natyasastra.

Shrungara or the way of dressing and ornaments have a long history and they are inseparable from dance. In fact, Indian classical dancers and actors are untouched by the air of westernisation and modernisation sweeping the country. Every aspect of decoration is influenced by Hindu ideology. Sculptures definitely throw light on these various aspects of decoration. Be it hair style or jewellery or ornaments decorating the ear and nose or Arupya (ornaments decorating neck, shoulder, arm and wrist) or Bandhaniya (waist ornaments, girdles, bands, etc) or Prashkapya (anklets and other foot ornaments), temple sculptures visually represent them well Badami, Ajanta, Nagarjunakonda, Pattadakal, Balligamve, Laukkundi, Kurivatti, Halebid, Belur….. the list can go on.

The same holds good for costumes too, as they play a prime role in highlighting the beauty of any art form. The fact that they are absolutely necessary adds beauty to their importance. Once again, sculptures of different period visually represents the kind of costumes or style in vogue during that period. For instance, the dress of Mahishamardhini of Aihole is a fine example for tight fitting dress and textile design of the early Chalukya times. Hoysala sculptures too demonstrate different types of ensembles.

According to ancient Indian texts on music and dance, musical instruments fall into four categories-Tata (stringed), Susira (wind blow) Ghana (cymbals) and Avanaddha (drums). However, it is the stringed instruments that out-number the other varieties of musical instruments in sculptural representation.

To sum it up, it can only be said that Indian temples are not just places of worship, but historical monuments that speak for the age they were sculpted in and the influences they came under. Sculptures in such temples are, in fact, the only visual representations of the various forms of art, especially dance and music.