Music and Dance in Ancient India

The arts of dance and music developed a very rich variety on the foundations laid down in ancient India. The chanting of Vedic hymns provide us the earliest traditions of Indian music. Till this day, the Vedic hymns are chanted in music, Bharatas Nat yasastra, the earliest work on Indian music, dance and drama belongs to the second century B.C. Another work on dance and music is Matonga’s Brihaddesi which was composed a thousand years later. This work deals with the Ragas at great length. Seven basic notes or ‘swars’ and five others of the Indian music both vocal and instrumental, were developed. Gradually the musicians developed a variety of string, wind and drum instruments. Many rulers were themselves accomplished musicians. The Lyrist type of coins of Samudra Gupta exhibit his proficiency in fine arts and music. In the Allahabäd pillar inscription, he is compared to Narda and Tumburu which suggest the achievements of Samudragupta in the art of music. The rulers also patronised musicians and gave them grants.

During the medieval period, the Sufi saints contributed much to the development of dance and music. Many new types of musical instruments were developed. It is said that Mir Khusuru invented some musical instruments. Khusuru was also the inventor of the popular musical style known as Qawali. In the 16th century, Baz Bahadur, the ruler of kingdom of Maiwa and his queen Rupmati were not only accomplished musicians but also introduced new Ragas.

The Mughal rulers, except only Aurangzeb, greatly patronised the arts of music and dance. Babur was fond of both vocal and instrumental music. He is himself said to have written a treatise on music. Humayun was also greatly interested in music. He enjoyed the company of singers and listened to their music on Mondays and Wednesdays. Akbar excelled his predecessors in patronising the art of music. The most distinguished musician at the court of Akbar was Mian Tansen of Gwalior. Abul Fazal writes, “a singer like Tansen had not been seen in India for the last one thousand years. So sweet was his melody that it induced intoxication in some and sobriety in others”. Tansen is said to have invented some new Ragas and contributed a good deal to the development of this art. Some other musicians of Akbar’s court were Baba Ram Das, Baiju Bawara and Sur Das. The courtiers of Akbar with some exceptions also patronised music. Many works on music were translated into Persian during this period. A style of music known as Hindustani music came into existence which was a blend of Hindu and Muslim ideas in music.

Jahangir and Shan Jahan retained the traditions of Akbar. The Iqbalnamah-i-Jahangiri gives the names of notable musicians in the court of Jahangir. Jahangir himself was a musician and composed many Hindi songs. Shah Jahan was also greatly devoted to music. He listened to the best musicians of his court before he went to bed. The chief musicians of his court were Jagannath, Janar Das Bhatta of Bikaner, Mahampati and many others.

After the death of Shah Jahan the art of music declined rapidly. Aurangzeb disliked music and dismissed his court musicians. He even officially banned music. But despite all these restrictions, music remained popular with his courtiers and nobles and they continued patronising it.
The Bhakti reformers and the Muslim Sufi saints also contributed to the development of music.A book Kitab-i-Nauras, a collection of songs in praise of Hindu deities and Muslim saints was written by Ibrahim Adil Shah II in the seventeenth century A.D. The growth of classical music in India is a great heritage of the country. Most of the words and the themes of the classical music have been derived from Hindu mythology. But both Muslim and Hindu musicians have keenly learnt and practised this art. A large number of renowned classical musicians were Muslims. The two main classical styles of music are Hindustani and Carnatic. The two styles have different identities but have many common features. India has also a rich tradition of folk music.

India has a tradition of highly developed art of classical dance. The classical dance is a unique medium of expression of emotions and telling a story. The carvings on the walls of the ancient Indian temples exhibit the scenes of dancing people is different poses. The image of Shiva in the form of Nataraja indicates that the art of dance was popular in ancient and medieval times. There are various styles of classical dance such as Kathakali, Kachipuri, Odissi, Bharat Natayam and Manipuri. Besides, different types of folk dances were popular in different regions of the country.

Modern Age: During the British rule, Rabindra Nath Tagore made great efforts to promote the art of music. Numerous institutions for imparting education in music were opened in the country Many schools of classical dance were established to impart education and training in dancing.
Eminent musicians like Vishnu Digambar, Omkar Nath Thakur, P.V. Pulaskar, have Kishori Amolkar, Bhim Sam Joshi and Pt. Jasraj have contributed much to popularise the vocal classical music. Great contribution has been made by Ustad Bisamullah Khan, Hariparshad Chaurasia, Ravi Shankar, Ustad Akbar Au Khan, Allah Rakha Khan and Amjad Au Khan in the field of instrumental music.

The Indian musicians, along with Indian musical instruments like Sitar, Veena, Sarangi, Bansuri use western musical instruments like violen, harmonium, clarent, piano, guitar and accordion. To promote Indian classical dance, many institutions like Shanti Niketan in Bihar, Kala Mandir of Kerala, and Lalit Kala Academy have done commendable work. Many eminent classical dancers like Gopi Krishan, Shambhu Maharaja, Udhay Shankar, Rukmani Devi, Sitara Devi and Sonal Man Singh have contributed much to revive the classical dance in India. They have also visited foreign countries to popularise the art of Indian classical dance.

The western dance styles have also become popular in India.
Thus we see that music and dance are important components of our cultural heritage.

Dress, Ornaments, Amusements

During the early ancient period, clothes of cotton, dear skin and wool of different hues were worn by the people. Often garments were embroidered with gold. The use of gold ornaments and of floral wreaths on festive occasions was common. Both men and women wore turbans. They were long hair and beautifully combed. Women’s long locks were folded in broad plaits. The contemporary paintings and sculptures show the gracefulness of different ornaments worn by women. During the Gupta period, gracefully designed ear-rings, gold and pearl necklaces, and jewelled bangles were in vogue. The paintings in the Ajanta caves show that the fashions of dressing the hair were as numerous as graceful. The women often used paints, pastes and lipsticks to beautify the faces. Kohl, a fine powder of antimony, was used to darken the edges of eyelids.

In the ancient times, gambling, war-dancing, chariot-racing and hunting were the favourite interests of the people. The people were fond of dancing and singing accompanied by the flutex and drum. Women in particular loved to display their skill in dancing and music accompanied by the lute and cymbal players. Ball games (Kanduka Krida) was very popular with children and young girls.