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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.