Festivals, dance and music

Indian festivalsIndians love celebrating! Every little occasion from the harvesting of crops, welcoming the spring or rain, to seeing the full moon lends itself to joyous celebrations splashed with colours, drama, dances, music and songs. Natya is an amalgamation of dance, music, song and drama. Natya Shastra 1.14-15 states that natya can be the fifth Veda based on itihasa (ancient Vedic histories) to convey the message of Dharma (righteousness), artha (material wealth), kama (romantic desires) and moksha (salvation). Natya must contain the significance of every Vedic scripture and forward every art.

Even the birthdays of divine beings are celebrated, including Rama-navami, Krishna janmashtami, Hanuman Jayanti, Mahaveer Jayanti, Guru Nanak Jayanti, Buddha Poornima etc. The homes are neatly decorated, new dresses are worn, prayers offered to Gods, and lot of sweets are cooked.

Most of these festivals are common to most part of India however they may be known by different names in different parts of the country:

  • Harvest festival called Makar sankranti or Pongal. In Gujarat, Makar Sankranti is celebrated by the flying of kites.
  • Vasant Panchami is a festival in the honour of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and learning.
  • Maha Shivaratri is a day of fasting dedicated to Lord Shiva, the third deity of the Hindu trinity.
  • Holi is one of the most exuberant and colorful of all festivals.
  • Baisakhi is the new year as per the solar calendar.
  • Lord Jagannatha’s great temple chariot makes its stately journey from his temple in Puri, Odisha.
  • Naga panchami is dedicated to Ananta, the serpent of Lord Vishnu.
  • Onam is celebrated in Kerala and other neighbouring states.
  • Raksha Bandhan is an integral part of the Hindu family whereby a woman ties a rakhi (decorative thread) on the wrist of her brother to remind him to protect her if the need arises.
  • Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with great fervour in Maharashtra and other regions
  • Navaratri, the Festival of nine Nights, is celebrated in honour of Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. The tenth day, Dussehra, commemorates the victory of Lord Rama of the epic Ramayana, over Ravana.
  • Diwali is the happiest of Hindu festivals. Countless number of lamps are lighted at night, giving the impression that the stars have descended on Earth.
  • The fasting festival of Karva Chauth is considered an important and auspicious day for married women.
  • Govardhan pooja is a Hindu festival dedicated to the holiest of animals for the Hindus, the cow.
  • Other religious festivals include Easter, Christmas, Id-ul-fitr, Ramazan, Bakri Id etc. 

Special Local Festivals:

In addition, there are local festivals celebrated accompanied by music, dance, and gaiety. In many temples, images are taken in procession in chariots pulled through the street by devotees. Most temple festivals are accompanied by village fairs, cattle, camel, or elephant fairs, and last three days to a month. Some of the popular ones are:

  • Alleppey Boat Races: Kerala’s backwaters are the picturesque setting for the annual snake-boat races held in the second week of August.
  • Pushkar Fair: The largest camel trading fair in the world is held in this small town in Rajasthan, which manages to attract world attention during this three day period.
  • Nagaur Fair: A major camel & cattle trading fair held in Nagaur, Rajasthan. This is a trading event with cattle & camels being sold or bought.
  • Ladakh Festival: Ladakh (in the mighty Himalayas) is a blend of various cultures- Central Asian, Tibetan, Northern India etc. Sports (polo and archery), its folk dances and songs, its age-old social and cultural ceremonies, its art and handicrafts, all come alive in a colorful kaleidoscope.
  • Kumbh Mela: Traditionally celebrated every 12 years, it is commemorated annually, usually on the banks of the Ganga & other holy rivers where large numbers of sadhus (holy men) gather.
  • Surajkund Mela: Held in the month of February in Surajkund, Haryana, it is the annual venue of India’s finest handlooms and handicraft fair where the heritage & skill of the Indian craft world is highlighted.
  • The Sonepur Fair: This fair held in Sonepur, Bihar, at the site dating back to the 6th Century BC, has become the venue for one of Asia’s largest cattle fair.
  • Sarkhej Fair: The Sarkhej Fair, the most important Muslim fair, is held at Sarkhej on the southern outskirts of Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
  • Khajuraho Fairs: Every month an Amavasya festival is held when a bazaar (haat) is put up where one can purchase various kinds of consumer items. The entertainment during these festivals includes tribal dances and puppet shows. People take holy dip in the tank and worship at the Matangeshwar temple. The Khajuraho Dance Festival, held in open-air theatre every year during March has renowned classical dancers perform every evening for a week. This festival of music and dance is the most important cultural event of India.

Classical dances

Folk dances of India

Lord Brahma created natya by taking literature from the Rig Veda, songs from Sama Veda, abhinaya (expressions) from Yajur Veda and rasa (aesthetics) from Atharva Veda. Then, the Natya Shastra was compiled by Bharatha as the source of all forms of Indian classical dance. It is regarded as the fifth Veda. The Natya Shastra details different kinds of postures, facial expressions, mudra (hand expressions), attire and ornaments to be used. All dance forms are structured around the nine rasa (emotions) viz. hasya (happiness), shoka (sorrow), krodha (anger), karuna (compassion), bhibasta (disgust), adhbhuta (wonder) bhaya (fear), viram (courage) and shanta (serenity). Thus, the body is beautifully used as a medium of communication to effectively express the various emotions.

classical dances of IndiaAll Indian classical dances are devotional in content including:

  • Bharata Natyam is the oldest of the classical dance forms, and its origins can be traced to Bharatha’s Natya Shastra. It is strict about the techniques and disallows any kind of innovations except in the forms of presentation.
  • Kathak finds its roots in katha (stories) based on Indian epics.
  • Kathakali is one of the most refined art based on complete control over practically every fibre of the body. Kathakali draws heavily from epics and is danced with elaborate masks and costumes.
  • Kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh is the corresponding style of the Bhagavata mela nataka of Tamil Nadu.
  • Manipuri is mostly ritualistic and draws heavily from the rich lore of the legend .
  • Mohiniyattam is essentially a solo dance.
  • Odissi is also based on the Natya Sashtra and is a solo form. Its technique is in which the human bodies takes the thrice deflected (tribhanga) position of Indian sculpture.
  • Yaksha-gana of Karnataka is an blend of dance and drama based on Hindu epics. The costumes are almost akin to the Kathakali dance costumes and the style too seems to have drawn inspiration from it. As prescribed in the Natya Shastra, it has the sutradhara (conductor) and the Vidhushaka (the jester).
  • Other dance forms in vogue in India are Chakiarkoothu, Krishnanattam and Ottanthullal.

Lord Folk dances are easier to understand and perform. They do not require the expertise of a classical dance performer. They are extremely enjoyable. All-night dance dramas are popular throughout India and are performed during all major festivals, ceremonies etc. Folk dances vary according to the region and sub-cultures. Puppet dances/ drama are also dominant in Indian folklore.

Indian classical music

Origin of music in India is traced to the shabdha brahma i.e. Om. The Vedas, representing the most ancient literature known to the world, are set to a distinctive melody that is absolutely soothing. Music is the soul of the cosmos. In India, music has been categorized by the scriptures into two major streams known as the margi (classical) and the desi (folk). The origins of classical music can be traced to the Natya Shastra, a Sanskrit treatise on drama and music. The 2 classical traditions are Hindustani in north India and Carnatic in the south. Both traditions derive inspiration from the indigenous Bhakti (“devotional”) movements.

The seven notes called sapta svaras of Indian classical music are Sa (Shadjam), ri (Rishabham), ga (Gaandhaaram), Ma (Madhyamam), Pa (Panchamam), dha (Dhaivatam) and ni (Nishaadham). A raga is a scale of notes and melody. Raga (over 100 different melodies) is India’s contribution to the world of music. The other fundamental element of Indian classical music is tala, the rhythm or the cyclic pattern. There are 35 principal talas. The most common tala is the Adi (first) tala.

The two main vocal traditions in Hindustani music are dhrupad and khayal. Dhrupad developed as a part of worship in temples and various rituals such as yajnas. Khayal (imagination) has a romantic content. Other light classical music varieties include bhajans, kirtans, dadra, thumris, tappaas, etc. Gharanas (schools) were established under the patronage of princely states. Each of the gharanas developed distinct facets and styles of presentation and performance.

Indian classical musicIndian musical instruments either carry the main melody or accompany. These are of four types viz. tantu (stringed like sitar, sarod, vina); susir (wind like flute); avanada (percussion) and ghana (bells, cymbals and jal-tarang). The popular instruments include tambura, sarangi, harmonium, mridangam, kanjira, ghatam, tabla, dholak, ektara, tanpura, santoor, shanka etc.