It is time, the classical dance form of Bengal got its due.
January 18, 2018: Old age doesn’t always portend oblivion. While several Indian dance forms like Cham (the 1,300-year-old mystical dance of Tibet), Ojha (the religious dance of Assam) and Domni (a folk dance drama from Maldah) are gradually declining in popularity, Gaudiya Nritya is gaining in both reach and recognition. Although unrecognized by the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) as one of India’s classical dance forms, it is increasingly acknowledged as the classical dance form of Bengal.
Shashtriya Nritya, can be traced back to Natya Shastra, a Sanskrit Hindu text written by Bharata Muni between 200 BCE and 200 CE. The text details the various requirements of a performing art: composition, structure, design of the stage, acting and its genres, body language, ornaments, make up, costumes, musical scales and notes.
The text distinguishes parts of the Indian classical dance form including the theory of tandava (Shiva’s dance), rasa, bhava (Expression), postures and movements.
The SNA recognizes eight forms to be the classical dance forms of India — Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathakali, Sattriya, Manipuri and Mohiniyattam. Over the past four decades, however, Gaudiya Nritya has emerged as a strong contender to be included in this pantheon of dance. It’s acknowledged as one of the oldest dance forms of the country, evident in temple sculpture from 18th century.
Mahua Mukherjee, head of the department of dance at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, has been key to its recent revival. She says the sculptures of dancers and musicians at Ananta Vasudeva Temple in Hoogly district triggered the existence of the classical dance form in Bengal.
In fact, multiple references to the dance form are seen in Matanga Muni’s Brihaddeshi (the Sanskrit text dealing with classical music), Sarangadeva’s Sangeet Ratnakara (the musicology on Hindustani and Carnatic music) and regional texts like Abhinayachandrika (an ancient treatise on Odissi) by Mahesavara Mohapatra.
The origins of Gaudiya lie in the regional folk forms of Audramagadha like Chau, Gambhira, Gajan, Bratachari-Raibeshe, Laghur Nritya, Natua, Jhumur, and Kirtan. Its Bengali connection is evident in various other art forms like literature, sculpture, and paintings.
For instance, in Behula, from Vijaya Gupta’s Manasha Mangal Kavya, there is a scene where a housewife, known to be of Bengali origin is performing classical dance in the court of Indra. There is also a mention of Ananda Tandava or the dance of Shiva, on which the basic structure of the form of Gaudiya was established. The devdasi tradition of Bengal saw an upsurge of the dance form during the time of Pala Dynasty from RamcharitaKavya.
The dance moves need to be poised and fearless, light and acrobatic yet balanced in vigorous sequences. In certain pieces like Dashavatara or Ashta Nayika, a dancer enacts multiple characters while performing a solo act which might range from 45 minutes to an hour.
While Prof. Mukherjee is working on reviving the dance form, her husband Amitava Mukherjee is bringing back the songs and music which were earlier composed to accompany the dance in the particular items to be performed. The songs mostly follow the pattern of the Hindustani Ragas, while the lyrics are the works of Sri Bhavaprithananda Ojha, Asvaghose.