Indian Art and Culture III

Delhi Law Academy


What is art?

•            Art is an expression of all characteristics of the human mind aesthetically.

•            These characteristics, i.e. the varied human emotions, are known as ‘Ras’. In Hindi, ‘ras’ literally means a sugary juice. It signifies the ultimate satisfaction of ‘aanand’.

•            Human emotions can be categorized into nine sub-headings or ‘navras’.

They are:

1. Hasya — laughter

2. Bhayanak — evil Shringaar — aesthetics

3. Rudra — chivalrous

4. Karun — pathos

5. Vir — courage

6. Adbhut — astonishing

7. Vibhatsa — terrifying glory

8. Shaanti — peace

9. Shringaar — decorating one’s self

•            Art reflects human emotions and human beings spontaneously express their frame of mind through various art forms. The expression is reflected in various styles like singing, dancing, drawing, painting, acting, sculpture.

•            Some of these are expressed through live performances and others through visual arts. Singing, dancing, acting are attributes of performing arts.

•            The earliest tradition of Indian music may be traced to Sama Veda which contained the slokas that were put to music. Chanting of Vedic hymns with prescribed pitch and accent still form a part of religious rituals.

•            The earliest text dealing exclusively with performing arts is Bharata’s Natyashashtra (compiled between second century BC and second century AD) which has six chapters on music.

•            Another major text is Matanga’s Brihaddesi compiled between eight and ninth century AD. In this work ragas were first named and discussed at great length.

•            Sangeet Ratnakara written by Sarangdeva in the thirteenth century mentions 264 ragas.

•             A variety of string and wind instruments were invented over the period of time. In ancient texts references have been made to flutes, drums, veena, and cymbals.

•            Many rulers such as Samudragupta, King Bhoja of Dhara and King Someshavra of Kalyana patronised music. The Gupta monarch Samudra Gupta was himself an accompolished musician. In some of his coins, he is shown playing on the Veena.

•            Music was also associated with the worship of Gods and Goddess in the temples.

•            In the twelfth century, Jayadeva of Orissa produced the most brilliant raga kavya, the Gita Govinda, each song of which was set in a raga and was composed on the theme of love of Radha and Krishna.

•            Abhinavagupta’s (993-1055) Abhinavabharati provides useful information about music.

•            Tamil music has a number of terms and concepts parallel to what is found in Sanskrit texts.

•            The Saivite Nayanars and Vaishnavite Alvars too set their psalms (poems) to music.

•            Similarly in the medieval period the Sufi and Bhakti saints encouraged music. Qawwalis were sung in Sufi khanqahs and devotional music like kirtan and bhajan became popular with the Bhakti saints.

•            Names of Kabir, Mirabai, Surdasa, Chandidasa, Tulsidasa, Vidyapati are closely associated with religious music.

•            Great scholars like Amir Khusrau contributed equally to the promotion of music.

•            The legendary ruler of Malwa, Baz Bahadur and his wife Rupmati introduced new ragas.

•            Kitabe Navras written by Ibrahim Adil Shah II during the seventeenth century is a collection of songs in praise of Hindu deities as well as Muslim saints.

•            The most famous musician of Akbar’s court was Tansen and there was nobody to match him, even though there were all kinds of singers.

•            Baiju Bawra was also a well-known musician during Akbar’s time.

•            The patronage given to these artists by the ancient and medieval rulers have been instrumental in keeping the traditions alive. In fact the Mughal rulers were great patrons of music.

•            Babar himself was fond of music. He is supposed to have developed some very popular musical style forms like Qawalis, Khayal, etc. Humayun was said to have illustrated Indian texts on music. Akbar composed songs and encouraged musicians.

•            Swami Haridas and his disciples composed many songs in different tunes.

•            Pundarika Vittal was a great scholar of music who wrote the famous Ragamala.

•            Hindustani Music was also enriched by devotional songs sung by Mira Bai, Tulsidas and Surdas.


•            During the medieval period Indian classical music was broadly based on two traditions, the Hindustani classical music prevalent in North India and the Carnatic music of South India.

Hindustani Classical Music

•            Hindustani classical music may be traced back to the period of the Delhi Sultanate and to Amir Khusrau (AD 1253-1325) who encouraged the practice of musical performance with particular instruments. He is believed to have invented the sitar and the tabla and is said to have introduced new ragas.

•            Most of the Hindustani musicians trace their descent to Tansen. It is said that Tansen’s music had the effect of magic. He could stop the rising waves of the Yamuna and by the force of his ‘Megh Rag’ he could cause the rain to fall. Some of Akbar’s courtiers patronised Musicians like Baiju Bawra, Surdas etc.

•            Different styles of Hindustani music are Dhrupad, Dhamar, Thumri, Khayal and Tappa. The most popular ragas are: Bahar, Bhairavi, Sindhu Bhairavi, Bhim Palasi, Darbari, Desh, Hamsadhwani, Jai Jayanti, Megha Malhar, Todi, Yaman, Pilu, Shyam Kalyan, Khambaj.

•            India also has a rich variety of musical instruments of different types. Amongst the stringed instruments the most famous are sitar, sarod, santoor and sarangi. Pakhawaj, tabla and Mridangam are precussion or tal giving instruments. Likewise, flute, shehnai and nadaswaram are some of the chief wind instruments.

•            The musicians of Hindustani classical music are usually associated to a gharana or a particular style of music. Gharanas refer to hereditary linkages of musicians which represent the core of the style and distinguish them from the other. The gharanas function in gurushishya parampara, that is, disciples learning under a particular guru, transmitting his musical knowledge and style, will belong to the same gharana. Some famous gharanas are Gwalior gharana, Kirana gharana, and Jaipur gharana.

•            Devotional music like kirtan, bhajan, ragas contained in the Adi Grantha and singing in the Majlis during Muharram also deserve a special place in Indian music. Along with this, folk music also shows a very rich cultural heritage.


•            The compositions in Carnatic music may be attributed collectively to three composers who lived between AD 1700 and 1850. They were Shyam Shastri, Thyagaraja and Mutthuswami Dikshitar. Purandardasa was another great composer of Carnatic music.

•            Thyagaraja is revered both as a saint and an artist and epitomises the essence of Carnatic music. The main compositions are known as kriti and are devotional in nature. The three great musicians experimented with new forms.

•            Some notable musicians of this period are Maha Vaidyanath Ayyar (1844-93), Patnam Subrahmanya Ayyar (l854-1902) and Ramnad Srinivasa lyengar (l860-1919).

•            Flute, veena, nadaswaram, mridangam, ghatam are some of the instruments to accompany Carnatic music.

•            Despite contrasting features between Hindustani and Carnatic music, one can find some similarities, for example, the Carnatic alapana is similar to alap in Hindustani classical. Tilana in Carnatic resembles Tarana of Hindustani. Both lay stress on tala or talam.


•            In India, the art of dancing may be traced back to the Harappan culture. The discovery of the bronze statue of a dancing girl testifies to the fact that some women in Harappa performed dances.

•            The Rig Veda mentions dance (nrti) and danseuse (nrtu) and compares the brilliant dawn (usas) to a brightly attired danseuse.

•            In the Brahmanas, Jaiminiya and Kausitaki dance and music are mentioned together. The Epics are full of references to dances on earth and heaven.

•            In traditional Indian culture the function of dance was to give symbolic expression to religious ideas.

•            The figure of Lord Shiva as Nataraja represents the creation and destruction of the cosmic cycle. The popular image of Shiva in the form of Nataraja clearly shows the popularity of dance form on the Indian people.

•            There is not a single temple atleast in the southern part of the country which does not show the sculptures of the dancers in their different forms.  The classical dance forms like Kathakali, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Manipuri, Kuchipudi and Odishi are an important part of our cultural heritage.

•            It is difficult to say at what point of time dance originated, but it is obvious that dance came into existence as an effort to express joy. Gradually dances came to be divided as folk and classical. The classical form of dance was performed in temples as well as in royal courts.

•            The dance in temples had a religious objective whereas in courts it was used purely for entertainment. In both cases for the artists devoted to this art form, it was no less than praying to God.

•            In southern India Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam developed as an important aspect of the rituals in temples.

•            Yakshagana, a form of Kathakali in Kerala, tells us stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata whereas Kathak and Manipuri are mostly related to the stories of Krishna and his leela (exploits).

•            Performance of Odissi is related to the worship of Lord Jagannath. Though the Krishna leela and the stories related to Lord Shiva was the theme of Kathak, this dance came to be performed in royal courts in medieval times.

•            Romantic gestures contained in Thumri and Ghazal, that were also performed with accompanists for the kings, reflect this aspect.

•            Manipuri dance was also preformed for religious purposes.

•            Folk dances evolved from the lives of common people and were performed in unison.

•            In Assam people celebrate most of the harvesting season through Bihu.

•            Similarly Garba of Gujarat, Bhangra and Gidda of Punjab, bamboo dance of Mizoram, Koli, the fisherman’s dance of Maharashtra, Dhumal of Kashmir, and Chhau of Bengal are unique examples of performing arts that gave expression to the joys and sorrows of the masses.

•            As far as the analytical study of this art form is concerned, the Natyashastra of Bharata, is a primary source of information, and basically deals with drama.

•            Bharata has discussed dance and its various angas (limbs) in detail.

•            Facial expressions, body movements, hasta mudras and the footsteps have all been brought together under three broad categories namely, as nritta (pada sanchalan), nritya (anga sanchalan) and natya (abhinay).

•            In the medieval period Kathak dance form was promoted by the Muslim rulers. We hear of these performances in the courts of most of the Mughal rulers except for Aurangzeb.

•            In the south, temple ‘courts’ and other parts of the building provided an important stage for all dancers.

•            Navaras, mythological tales of Rama, Krishna, Ganesh, Durga were all enacted in the form of dance.

•            Some rulers of the north like Wajid Ali Shah was a great patron of music and dance and here the seeds of the Lucknow gharana or ‘school of dance’ was sown. The modern day dancers like Pt. Birju Maharaj all have come from the Lucknow school of dance.

•            In the medieval period, the south remained very rigid with the rules of dances that were imbibed from ancient Sanskrit texts. It became a seat of learning and institutions of dance sprung up first in the southern region.

•            In the modern period, we find maximum dance forms in the south Indian classical dance stream.

•            They are Kucchipudi, Bharatnatyam, Mohiniatyam, Kathakali. On the eastern side, Odissi dance flourished greatly.

Well-known Dancers of Modern India


·            Pt. Birju Maharaj, Pt. Shambhu Maharaj, Sitara Devi, Pt. Gopi Krishna, and Pt. Lacchu Maharaj.


·            Saroja Vaidyanathan, Padma Subhramaniam, Geeta Chandran.


·            Kelucharan Mahapatra, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Kiran Sehgal and Madhavi Mudgal.


·            Swapna Sundari, Satya Narayan Sarma, Raja Reddy, Radha Reddy and Sonal Mansingh.


·            Bharata, Matangamuni, Naradamuni, Pt. Sharangadeva, Pt. Somnath, and Pt. Ahobala.

·            Pt. Vyankatmakhi, Pt. Ramamatya, S.M. Tagore, and Acharya K.C.D.Brihaspati.


•            Indigeneous tradition as well as modern research trace the origin of Indian drama to the Vedas.

•            In the Ramayana we hear of drama troupes of women while Kautilyas Arthshastra mentions musicians, dancers and dramatic shows.

•            Drama is a performing art, which has also been practised since times immemorial. Since early times mythological stories of war between the gods, goddesses and the devils is known.

•            Bharata wrote Natyashastra and created the plays known as Asura Parajaya and Amrit Manthan. Natyashastra is one of the greatest texts written in the field of drama and other performing arts.

•            The next epoch is that of the great Bhasa who wrote plays based on the stories of Udayana, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Swapana Vasabdatta being his masterpiece.

•            In the second century B.C. Patanjalis’ Mahabhasya refers to several aspects of drama i.e. the actors, the music, the stage, rasa in the performances called Kamsavadha and Balibandha.

•            While referring to drama, Bharata has mentioned nat (male artists), and nati (female artist), music, dance, musical instruments, dialogues, themes and stage.

•            Thus we find that drama achieved a great level of perfection during the age of Bharata. He also started the concept of an enclosed area for drama.

•            There is mention of a community called’ shailoosh’ which had professional drama companies. The practice of singing heroic tales became popular. As a result professional singers called kushilavas came into existence.

•            During the age of the Buddha and Mahavira, drama was a means of communicating the principles of their respective religions. Short skits and long plays were enacted to preach  and educate the masses. Music and dance also played a vital role in increasing the appeal of drama.

•            In the ancient period till the tenth century, the language of the educated was Sanskrit. So dramas were performed mostly in this language. However, characters belonging to lower classes and women were made to speak Prakrit.

•            Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Vatsyayan’s Kamasutra, Kalidasa’s Abhijnan Shakuntalam were all written in Sanskrit and were significant plays of those times.

•            Bhasa was another celebrated dramatist who wrote thirteen plays.

•            Prakrit plays became popular by the tenth century AD. Vidyapati who lived sometime during the fourteenth century was an important dramatist. He introduced Hindi and other regional languages in the form of songs.

•            Umapati Mishra and Sharada Tanaya were also instrumental in promoting drama during this time.

•            In the context of drama, two types developed — the classic drama, which had intricacies of theme and subtle nuances of dramatic traits; and folk theatre which was of spontaneous and extempore nature.

•            Local dialect was used in folk theatre and hence in different provinces many types of folk theatres developed. Acting with accompaniment of music and dance was the popular practice.

•            Many names were given to the forms of folk theatre in different provinces like:

1)           Bengal – Jatra, Kirtania Natak

2)           Bihar-Bideshia

3)           Rajasthan – Raas, Jhumar, Dhola Maru

4)           Uttar Pradesh – Raas, Nautanki, Svaang, Bhaand

5)           Gujarat – Bhawai

6)           Maharashtra – Laritey, Tamasha

7)           Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka – Kathakali, Yakshagana

Some Important Dramas and their Writers

•            Drama is an art form which has a long historical background in India but its analytical review and grammatical study was presented by Bharata in Natyashastra.

•            In this text, it has been mentioned that music and dance are essential parts of drama.

•            Ramayana, Mahabharata and the plays, written by Kalidasa, Bana Bhatta and Bhasa are examples of the combination of all the three art forms- music, dance and drama.

•            Some of the popular dramas are listed below:

S.No.    Name                                              Writer

1.           Meghadutam                               Kalidasa

2.           Abhijnan Shakuntalam             Kalidasa

3.           Padmavati                                     Madhusudan

4.           Harshacharitam                         Bana Bhatta

5.           Neel Devi                                       Bharatendu

6.           Satya Harish Chandra               Bharatendu

7.           Andher Nagri                               Bharatendu

8.           Chandraval                                   Jai Shankar Prasad

9.           Ajatshatru                                     Jai Shankar Prasad

10.        Rajyashri                                        Jai Shankar Prasad

11.        Chandragupta                                            Jai Shankar Prasad

12.        Prayashchit                                   Jai Shankar Prasad

13.        Bharatendu                                  Jai Shankar Prasad