Few countries in the world have such an ancient and diverse culture as India's., India's culture has been enriched by successive waves of migration which were absorbed into the Indian way of life. Its physical, religious and racial variety is as immense as its linguistic diversity. Underneath this diversity lies the continuity of Indian civilization and social structure from the very earliest times until the present day. Modern India presents a picture of unity in diversity to which history provides no parallel.
Using the body as a medium of communication, the expression of dance is perhaps the most intricate and developed, yet easily understood art form. The fascination for Indian dance all over the world is indicative of the deep-felt need to use the human body to express and celebrate the great universal truths. Indian dance does just that in a heightened, reverential form. Also, since dance is physical and visual, it illuminates India's culture in a direct manner, playing on the sensibilities of the onlooker. Thus, those who are attracted to India will find the idiom of dance the best introduction to India's rich ethos and traditions. In India, dance and music pervade all aspects of life and bring colour, joy and gaiety to a number of festivals and ceremonies. In fact, dance and music are tied inextricably to festivity of any kind.
Classical Dance forms of India
India offers a number of classical dance forms, each of which can be traced to a different part of the country. Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people. The most popular classical styles seen on the Indian stage are Bharatanatyam of Tamil Nadu, Kathakali of Kerala, Odissi of Orissa, Kathak of Uttar Pradesh, and Manipuri of Manipur. Besides these, there are several semi-classical and folk dances that contribute to the plethora of Indian dances. The common root of all classical dance forms can be traced to Natyasastra, ascribed to Sage Bharata who is believed to have lived between the 1st and 2nd Century AD. The Indian dance forms are based on the instructions in the Natyasastra. It also contains deliberations on the different kind of postures, the mudras or hand formations and their meanings, the kind of emotions and their categorization, not to mention the kind of attire, the stage, the ornaments and even the audience. All dance forms are thus structured around the nine rasas or emotions, hasya (happiness), krodha (anger), bhibasta (disgust), bhaya (fear), shoka (sorrow), viram (courage), karuna (compassion), adbhuta (wonder) and shanta (serenity). All dance forms follow the same hand gestures or hasta mudras for each of these rasas. The dances differ where the local genius has adapted it to local demands and needs. Indian dance is divided into nritta - the rhythmic elements, nritya - the combination of rhythm with expression and natya - the dramatic element. Nritya is usually expressed through the eyes, hands and facial movements. Nritya combined with nritta makes up the usual dance programmes. To appreciate natya or dance drama, one has to understand and appreciate Indian legends. Most Indian dances take their themes from India's rich mythology and folk legends. Hindu gods and goddesses like Vishnu and Lakshmi, Rama and Sita, Krishna and Radha are all depicted in classical Indian dances. Each dance form also draws inspiration from stories depicting the life, ethics and beliefs of the Indian people.