Uncategorized Dance of the gods

Dance of the gods

When you think of India, four things usually come to mind: spiritual journeys to “find” oneself, Indian food, cricket and Bollywood.

All things Indian is rapidly becoming part of the “ethnic” trend in popular culture, leaving us with the question: what is India and Indian culture really like?

During the British rule of India between 1858 and 1947, Indian culture was regarded as indecent and of doubtful morality. With no regard for the various forms and styles, dance was labeled “Indian dance” and at one time all public performances were banned.

Are we experiencing a similar disregard for authentic Indian culture, post-Slumdog, in 2009?

The six-member Manipuri Dance Troupe, sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (New Delhi) and the Indian Cultural Centre of the Consulate General of India (Durban), is touring South Africa, and will be performing at the Festival this week. The purpose of their tour is to promote Indian culture in South Africa.

The gods' stage
Manipuri dance originates from Manipur, one of India’s smallest states, in the northeast corner of the country. According to legend, the gods drained a lake there and used it as a stage on which to dance. Dance has subsequently become an important part of daily life in the area.

The development of dance in Manipur has been greatly influenced by the Vaishnava religion and accordingly, Manipuri dance is focused on the worship of the Vaishnava gods, Radha and Krishna. According to the Manipuri legend, the dance is a medium for worship and enjoyment and a door to the divine.

There are two distinct types of devotional Manipuri dance, Sankirtana and Rasa Lila. Sankirtana, a community prayer, involves chanting hymns or mantras and is often accompanied by music.

Rasa Lila embodies the many facets of natya, the sacred Hindu musical theatre styles of 400 BC. During the Rasa Lila, the dancer’s head, hands and eyes move in a graceful but natural manner.

The dance is accompanied by music and dialogue.

Manipuri dance is very different from other classical Indian forms, largely because of the way the body is used. In Manipuri dance the vertical line of the body is never broken. There are no sharp movements or transitions. The dance style is lyrical, delicate and graceful.

“The graceful style of Manipuri has attracted me from my childhood,” said Dr Sruti Bandopadhay, India’s leading Manipuri dancer and member of the dance troupe.

“I find the expressions of my thought in the movements of my body and my training in Manipuri dance supports me to realise them.”

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