Indian classical dance is a globally acclaimed art and much more than just following the beats or indulging in heavy makeup. The confluence of Yoga and Indian classical dance forms has been an important research topic and discussion over the past many years. Indian classical dance is extremely holistic in approach with a panoramic objective of providing the whole body’s movement. In India, there are several local and national dance forms. The eight most popular and traditionally acclaimed classical dances of India are Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Mohiniattam, Odissi, Manipuri, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, and Satria.
When deconstructing the ancient trials and origin of the major classical dances of India, the roots speak of yoga as a central pillar. Reminiscences and anecdotes from the best dance books and the art forms of India discover the engagement of dance forms with yoga in the most artistic way across the Indian classical dance forms. The efflorescence of yoga in the past century as a global trend has put India almost at the top of the list to be celebrated amongst all the other ancient dance forms.
To be more precise, yoga follows diverse principles. While some forms concentrate only on meditation and self-retrospection by developing a strong, intimate, and undeniable connection with the soul, some other yogic forms also speak of vigorous body movements, as in Patanjali’s ashtanga or the various ancient Hatha yoga schools (Indo-Tibetan origin).
Institutes like Central Sangeet Natak Akademi and Indira Gandhi Center for the Arts are focusing more on this theme. They have even organized workshops and seminars on this theme to promote a better understanding of the connection between yoga and dance.
The Resemblance in the Core Principles or Idea
Yoga and Indian classical dance both speak of eight central pillars which form their backbones. They are as follows:
- Yama – Restraint
- Dharna – Steady Mind
- Niyama – Discipline
- Asana – Body postures
- Dhyana – Concentration or focusing the mind
- Samadhi-Supra – Conscious absorption
- Dhyana – Fixing the mind internally
The principle of meditation is vital in this regard. Many people connect yoga with meditation, and that is true extensively. Yoga is one of the best ways through which you can align your mind and body together. But the classical dances of India also focus on the same principles. Let us explore what those principles are exactly:
Shiva – The Central Energy Source
The universe is a manifestation of the self. Yoga and Indian classical dance consider Shiva the ultimate source of energy (also referred to as the Kundalini energy in Indian tantra) source. This is why, at the center of every room where Indian classical dance forms are practiced, you would find the deity Nataraja and his mudras worshiped by Indian dancers. Similarly, Shiva is known as the Yogi Deva in Indian history because he is the Adipurush who conceived the idea of dhyana and yoga. Shiv Tandava is the most primitive form of dance and involves the convergence of various principles of Hatha Yoga. Shiva’s movement and the beautiful alignment with the Earth’s energy profile (Shakti) gave birth to yoga and traditional Indian classical dance forms.
For yoga and classical dances of India, guru parampara is the Adarsha or the idealistic approach. This is nothing but devotion to a mentor. Since time immemorial, India has been the epicenter of the Guru parampara, where an expert mentor guides his disciples or students to achieve their best. The literal ideology and principle behind this Guru concept lie in ‘illumination.’ Yama, or the principle of restraint, discusses the interaction between a Guru and a disciple. The guru will teach their disciples the proper form of art, be it yoga or dance, and help remove the darkness of ignorance and illuminate their path with the light of knowledge and wisdom.
The Similarity in the Physical Forms
Many Hatha Yoga principles and movements are parallel to those of classical dances of India. For example, the first of the 108 karanas of dance is the Brahma Sthanak. This is precisely analogous to the Padmasana of yoga. The Gotipura poses of the famous Odissi dance resemble the Chakrasana of Indian Yoga. The mudras or hand positions are an integral element of all Indian classical dance forms, and they are truly integral to conveying any communication through dance. Mudras are fundamental in yoga to awaken the prana chakra or the body’s vitality. Advanced hand gestures or mudras are expressional forms to elevate concentration and focus in dance or yoga. They can unlock several mystic powers of the body and soul. Siddhi Prapti prevails in the context of Yoga and Indian Classical Dance.
Connecting Soul, Mind, and Body
Indian classical dance and yoga asanas involve basic forms of body movements and contortions that lead to building a connection with the soul which leads to retrospection of the self. The classical dance forms of India are not just about rhythmic body movements, but they are also about expression, storytelling, and, most importantly, connecting with the self. Yoga also focuses on strengthening the core connection of the body and self. The idea is to align the energy profile of the body with bodily movements. This connection creates a sense of control, alertness, and consciousness of the mind and soul that furthers individuals in exploring and finding the universe’s energy inside the human body, mind, and soul.
Yoga and classical dances of India enhance body fitness but, more importantly, help to connect with our body and mind, centering and grounding ourselves. It is a way to Siddhi Prapti that is nothing but a brilliant way leading to Gyan Marga according to the Sanatan traditions of India.