Dances of India – Book Review
Dances of India – Book Review
Indian dances: By Rina Singha and Reginald Massey (Faber & Faber, 63s)
By MOHAN D. NADKARNI
The Times of India, February 25, 1968
INDIAN dance, like Indian music, has a record of achievement through the ages. It once enjoyed pride of place in temple and court. But the extent of neglect it suffered under alien rule was truly appalling. Such was the abject state of the art that not till long ago the impression persisted abroad that there were no living traditions of the dance in India.
The revival came rather suddenly in the mid-twenties, thanks to the unremitting labours of Tagore, Menaka, Rukmini Devi, Vallathol, E. Krishna Iyer and many others. One immediate result of this development was the rehabilitation of Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Kathak and Manipuri, the four principal classical dances. So quick and complete was their assimilation in India’s art milien that to most people these were the only forms of her traditional dance. In fact, till about a decade ago, even writers on the subject mostly dealt with only these four styles of dancing.
It is only in recent years that Kuchipudi, Mohini Attam, Odissi and several other lesser known forms have received due attention and recognition as independent styles rooted in the classical tradition. Many of these now form part of the repertoire of Balasaraswati, Indrani Rahman, Shanta Rao, Yamini Krishnamurthi and other celebrities.
In this context, the book under review makes a welcome contribution to India’s dance literature. Divided into five parts, it presents a historical survey of over a dozen styles of contemporary Indian dancing (the probable sole exception being the Chhow dance of Seraikella), besides the four major ones. There is also a section each devoted to Uday Shankar’s dance and the popular modes from Santiniketan.
The authors have discussed interalia the religious, social and political factors which have shaped the evolution and development of Indian dances. The feathers, technique, makeup and costumes of the various styles have been explained in a simple and clear style. The book also contains information on technical terms and mudras. Each part is illustrated with superb photographs. The appendix giving biographical sketches of the great gurus and performers, past and present, adds to the utility of the book. So do the glossary and the index.
In essence, however, the book represents a study of Indian dances in a Western context. Western interest in Indian classical dance, as in music, is now one of discerning appreciation, even active participation, and it is just as well that the co-authors one of whom is a foreigner and the other a Kathak danseuse should have foreign readership specially in view in writing the book.
The book largely fulfils one of the three purposes set forth by the authors namely, “To act as a guide for anyone who simply wants to know what to look for in a performance.”