In the area of music too we have many indigenously Indian
muscial instruments like Sarangi, Sitar, Tabla, Tambora,
Tanpura, etc., Two schools of vocal music also have evolved
in India viz. the Hindustani School and Carnatic School.
Exponents of Indian vocal music and dance like Bhimsen
Joshi Subbalakshmi, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Sanjukta Panigrahi,
etc. have become popular with foreign audiences. The series
of 'Festivals of India' that were organised in Britain,
U.S.A., France, the former U.S.S.R. and Japan, did much
to inform the peoples of these countries about Indian
culture. But a large part of ancient India's achievements
in the fine arts remain unknown to Indians.
Vedic times, Indians had been required to correctly recite,
the Vedas. The correctness in recitation was very important
as the Vedas were, in those days, transmitted through
memory (Smriti) and were learnt through hearing (Shruti).
This was so, as writing was absent in early Vedic times.
Even today the Vedas are traditionally learnt through
kind of an emphasis on recitation the correct pronounciation
lead to studies in phonetics and sound manupulation. This
was the birthplace of Indian Musical Raga (metre) and
Swaras (rhymes). That Music in ancient India was given
considerable recognition is illustrated by the fact that
Saraswati, the Indian goddess of learning is shown to
be holding a musical instrument (Veena) in her hand.
vocal music in India has tended to be devotional music
(Bhakti-geet), and temples have been places (as they still
are) where musicians used to practice music to please
the deity and the devotees. Indian vocal music is broadly
divided into two schools viz. the Hindustani or north
Indian school and the Carnatic or South Indian school.
As far as instrumental music goes there is a general identity
of instruments that have been used.The main Indian musical
instru ments are the Sarod, the Veena, the Sarangi, the
Tambora, the Harmonium, the Ghata, the Tabla, the Tanpura,
the Satar, etc.
As compared to art and architecture Indian music has had
less impact on the outside world. This was so as most
of Indian musical instruments require specialised ma terial
and craftsmanship for their manufac ture. And in the absence
of transmission of these skills and the absence of trade
in mu sical instruments, alongwith the necessity of long
and ardous practice which was required to master these
instruments, made the transmission of music a difficult
as far as, devotional vocal music goes, Indian musical
traditions did travel to the countries of South east Asia.
The instru mental and vocal music of Korea has many elements
of Indian music, which it received alongwith the Buddhist
invocative and devo tional songs and slokas (religious
couplets). Alongwith Buddhism, some Indian musical instruments
like the flute (bansi), temples bell (Ghanta), etc., went
to the countries of south-east Asia. Even Europe owes
certain instruments to India. Two popular European musical
instruments namely the flute and violin are believed to
be of Indian origin. Though we do not know about the process
of transmission of these instruments, however in India
the flute (bansi) and the violin (a variant of the Veena)
are definitely indigenously Indian.
pointer to the fact that these instruments have been in
usage in India since a very long time is that the bansi
is associated with Sri Krishna and the Veena with the
apart, in modern times the western musical instruments
like the Tambourin and the Tambour are adaptations of
the Indian Tambora and Tanpura. The names Tambourin and
Tambour are also derived from the word Tambora. The Saralngi,
another Indian musical instrument has also found its place
in western music. The acceptance of these musical instruments
in the west is also evident from the fact that the words
Tambora, Sarangi and Tabla are mentioned in the Oxford
The very first works of visual art created in the Indian
sub-continent were primitive cave or rock paintings. Many
are assumed to exist, but the largest number of discoveries
are in Central India, on sandstone rock shelters within
a hundred mile radius around Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
these paintings are dated at around 5500 B.C. i.e. they
are 1500 years old. Some of these paintings have been
overlaid with later paintings and graffiti.
paintings generally depict animals, in scenes such as
hunting. Human figures are also shown with bows and arrows,
and swords and shields. The colours used An intricately
carved pillar at Ellora in Maharashtra dating back to
the 7th century. are made up of natural minerals and are
in various shades of red and orange. These paintings are
the forerunners of the frescos of a later age which are
seen at Ajanta, Ellora and elsewhere in India. But unfortunately
no well preserved art remains, to document the period
between the coming of the Aryans i.e. 1500 B.C. to about
the time of Buddha i.e. 550 B.C.
are told by the literary sources that the art of painting
was practiced. In the Buddhist texts, elaborate palaces
of kings and houses of the wealthy are described as being
embellished with wall paintings. But actual evidence about
this art is lost. How this art could have been, can be
guessed from the paintings on stone surfaces found at
Ajanta and Ellora which are said to have been done in
around 400 A.D.
paintings at Ajanta and Ellora depict Buddhist tales from
the Jatakas. Though the paintings are today 1500 years
old, the paint has not only retained its colour but also
much of its lustre. The technique of painting has been
thus described by a student of Indian Art,"The surface
of the stone was first prepared by a coating of potter's
clay, mixed variously with cow dung, straw, and animal
hair. Once this was levelled to a thickness of half an
inch to two inches, it was coated with a smooth fine white
lime plaster which became the actual painting surface.
the still-damp wall, the artist first laid out his composition
with a red cinnabar line and then defined the subjects
with an undercoat of grey or terre verte. This was followed
by the addition of local colours, and once the whole wall
was completely coloured, a brown or black line restated
the drawing to finish the composition. A last burnishing
with a smooth stone gave it a rich lustrous surface. The
colours which were natural and water soluble, consisted
of purple, browns, yellow, blue, white, green, reds and
it is evident that the technique of painting had developed
to an advanced level This monumental bull was carved in
marble in the 3rd century B.C.
stood on a column built by Emperor Ashoka, which was inscribed
with Buddhist edicts of sophistication due which the paintings
could survive for 1500 years. Though the colours used
are supposed to have been derived from minerals and vegetables
they had been treated to last long.The above description
also illustrates how,complicated
procedures of preparing the surface to be painted had
evolved in India.
technique of painting had also spread to central Asia
and South-east Asia. Some strains of Indian painting can
even be identified in western church paintings and mosaics.
Indian influence is clearly evident in the paintings at
Bamiyan in Afghanistan and in Miran and Domko in Central
Asia. Not only do these paintings depict the Buddha but
also Hindu deities such as Shiva, Ganesha and Surya.
statues in the caves at Kizil in central Asia depict Lord
Krishna with Gopis (shepard maidens). The cult of Narayana
had also spread to Soviet Central Asia. This is corrobotated
by the discovery of Kharosthi inscriptions of the Kushana
period which have been deciphered as 'Narayana be victorious'.
Another panel at Kizil shows the performance of a dance
style which has a close resemblance with the frescos at
mentioned earlier, some Indian motifs can be traced in
Gothic sculptures and paintings. The occurence of images
of the lotus, elephants and the Swastika support the fact
that they could have been borrowed from India as these
images are traditionally Indian. Strzygowski an European
archealogist has compared the masonic background of the
Ajanta caves, that we referred to earlier, with the Ravenna
mosaics found in Europe.
The mention of the word dance conjures up images of Nataraja
(Lord of dance) as the Indian God Shiva is portrayed.
Apart from Shiva even Ganesha and Srikrishna are associated
with dance and music. India has many classical dance styles.
The oldest text dealing with aesthetics covering various
art forms including dance is the Natyashastra which is
authored by Bharatamuni.
the Indian classical dance styles viz. Bharata Natyam,
Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Manipuri,
etc., are derived from the Natyashastra. Some of these
dance styles have evolved from folk dances and are intimately
connected with the art of story telling.
Most of these stories are drawn from our epics like the
Ramayana and Mahabharata, tales from collections like
the Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Katha Sarit Sagara, etc.,
also from the subject matter of these dance styles. In
fact the Kathak and Kathakali from U.P. and Kerala respectively,
derive their names from the term Katha which in Sanskrit
means a story. As the story is told in the form of dance,
these dance styles can actually be called dance-dramas,
the only difference is the absence of dialogues.
Charkul dance-drama of Central India revolves around a
story generally from the Indian epics like the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata. Similar traditions of dance-dramas
are prevalent in other parts of India too. In Maharashtra,
you have the Dashavatara, in Karnataka you have the Yakshagana
The Kathak dance of North India and the ktha*ali dance
of Kerala also originated as dance dramas and derive their
names from the Sanskrit work 'Katha' which means a story.
story has to be told solely through actions and hence
an elaborate pattern of facial expressions (Mudra), movement
of hands (Hasta) and the simulation of various moods like
anger (Krodha), envy (Matsara), greed (Lobha), lust (Kama),
ego (Mada), etc., have been evolved. The mastery of perfect
expression of these feelings by subtle movement of the
lips and eyes forms the root of all the classical Indian
fact the combination of the three qualities viz. expression,
rhyme and rhythm i.e. Bhava, Raga, and Tala go into the
determination of the term Bha-Ra-Ta, which is used as
the name of one dance style viz. Bharata Natyam. The integration
of Indian classical dance with the physical exercises
of Yoga and the breath control of "Pranayam" has perfected
the dance styles.
Yoga especially had given the dance styles an excellent
footwork which is called Padanyasa and Padalalitya. Another
feature of these dance styles is that they are integrated
with theology and worship. Traditionally these dances
were partronised by the temples. During festivals and
other religious occasions, these dances were performed
in the temple premises to propitiate the deity. Thus the
dance came to combine both art and worship.
today every recital of any Indian classical dance begins
with an invocation to Nataraja or Nateshwara the god of
In Indian folklore and legend, the God of Dance is himself
shown to be dancing in a form called the Tandava. This
has also been depicted in the statues and carvings in
temples like, Khajuraho and Konark in Northern India,
and at Chidambaram, Madurai, Rameshwaram, etc. in the
dances have also evolved styles based on the Tandava like
the Urdhra Tandava, Sandhya Tandava, etc. Indian classical
dance found its way outside India, especially to the countries
of Southeast Asia. The dance styles of Thailand, Indonesia,
Burma, etc., have so heavily borrowed from the Indian
classical dance traditions that to a casual observer there
would seem to be hardly any difference between the two.
While Western dance has not directly borrowed anything
from Indian classical dance, it has borrowed from Indian
folk dance through the medium of the Gypsies.
Gypsies originated in India: The Gypsies have been
established today, migrated from India to the west many
centuries ago. The Gypsies speak a language called Romany
which has many common words with Indian languages. The
religion of the Gypsies is a modified form of early Hinduism.
The Gypsies seem to have been the Banjar nomads who are
still found in India. Being a very carefree nomadic community
the Gypsies earned their living by giving performance
of folk dances, alongwith the pursuing of other nomadic
dance has influenced western dance styles like the Waltz
and the Foxtrot. Even the American Break dance and other
dances associated with jazz music have borrowed elements
from the gypsy folk dance. The Gypsy folk dance, is itself
a free flowing and care free dance, a modified version
of which is found in the folk dances of many Adivasi and
nomadic tribal communities in India.
THEATRE: The origin of the Indian theatre or rather
folk theatre and dramatics can be traced to religious
ritualism of the Vedic Aryans. This folk theatre of the
misty past was mixed with dance, ritualism, plus a depiction
of events from daily life. It was
the last element which made it the origin of the classical
theatre of later times. Many historians, notably D.D.
Kosambi, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, Adya Rangacharaya,
etc. have referred to the prevalance of ritualism amongst
Aryan tribes in which some members of the tribe acted
as if they were wild animals and some others were the
hunters. Those who acted as animals like goats, buffaloes,
reindeer, monkeys, etc. were chased by those playing the
role of hunters and a mock hunt was enacted.
such a simple and crude manner did the theatre originate
in India nearly 4000 years back in the tribal Aryans of
Rig Vedic times. There also must have existed a theatrical
tradition in the Indus valley cities, but of this we have
no literary numismatic or any other material proof.
The origin of drama and the theatre has been told to us
in an aptly dramatic manner by Bharatamuni, the author
of Natyashastra an ancient Indian text on dance and drama.
Bharatamuni is said to have lived around the 4th century
but even he is not aware of the actual origin of the theatre
He has cleverly stated in a dramatic manner that it was
the lord of creation Brahma who also created the original
Natyashastra (Drama). According to Bharatamuni, since
the lord Brahma created the entire universe we need not
question his ability in creating dramas. But Bharatamuni
goes on to tell us that the original Natyashastra of Brahma
was too unwieldy and obscure to be of any practical use.
Hence, Bharatamuni, himself took up the task of making
Natyashastra simple, intelligible and interesting.
Thus the Natyashastra of Bharatamuni was supported to
be understood by lay people. So the Natyashastra of Bharatamuni
is not the oldest text on dance and drama, as Bharata
himself says that he has only simplified the original
work of lord Brahma. The Natyashastra assumes the existence
of many plays before it was composed, and says that most
of the early plays did not follow the rules set down in
the Natyashastra. But the Natyashastra itself seems to
be the first attempt to develop the technique or rather
art, of drama in a systematic manner. The Natya Shastra
tells us not only what is to be portrayed in a drama,
but how the portrayal is to be done.
as Bharatamuni says, is the imitation of men and their
doings (loka-vritti). As men and their doings have to
be respected on the stage, so drama in Sanskrit is also
known by the term roopaka which means portrayal. According
to the Natyashastra all the modes of expression employed
by an individual viz. speech, gestures, movements and
intonation must be used. The representation of these expressions
can have different modes (vritti) according to the predominance
and emphasis on one mode or another. Bharatamuni recognises
four main modes viz., Speech and Poetry (Bharati Vritti),
Dance and Music (Kaishiki Vritti), Action (Arabhatti Vritti)
and Emotions (Sattvatti Vritti). Bharatamuni also specifies
where and how a play is to be performed.
In ancient India plays were generally performed either
in temple-yard or within palace precints. During public
performances, plays were generally performed in the open.
For such public performances, Bharatamuni has advocated
the construction of a mandapa. According to the Natyashastra
in the construction of a mandapa, pillars must be set
up in four corners. With the help of these pillars a paltform
is built of wooden planks. The area of the mandapa is
divided into two parts. The front part, which is the back
stage is called the ranga-shrishu. Behind the ranga-shirsha
is what was called the nepathya-griha, where the characters
dress up before entering the stage.
Bharatamuni has also specified that every play should
have a Sutradhara which literally means 'holder of a string'.
The Sutradhara was like the producer-director of today.
Every play had to begin with an innovation of God. This
invocation was called the poorvaranga. Even today, plays
in Indian languages begin with a devotional song called
Naandi. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata can be called
the first recognised plays that originated in India. These
epics also provided the inspiration to the earliest Indian
dramatists and they do even today. One of the earliest
Indian dramatists was Bhasa whose plays have been inspired
by the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Bhasa's date cannot be
definitely ascertained, but that he lived before Kalidasa
is proved by the latter's reference to Bhasa as one of
the early leading playwrights.
As Kalidasa lived in the 4th century, Bhasa should have
lived in the early centuries of our era. Bhasa was a natural
dramatist who drew heavily from the epics, but Kalidasa
can be called an original playwright. Kalidasa has written
many plays, some of which are;AbhijananShakuntalam, Kumarsambhavam,
Meghadutam and Malavikagnimitram. Kalidasa was the court
playwright at the Gupta court. He lived at Ujjaini, the
capital of the Guptas and was for some days the Gupta
Ambassador at the court of the Vakatakas at Amaravati
where he wrote the play Meghadutam.
The next great Indian dramatist was Bhavabhuti. He is
said to have written the following three plays viz. Malati-Madhava,
Mahaviracharita and Uttar Ramacharita. Among these three,
the last two cover between them the entire epic, Ramayana.
Bhavabhuti lived around the 7th century A.D., when Sanskrit
drama was on its decline, mainly due to the lack of royal
patronage. The last royal patron of Sanskrit drama seems
to be king Harshavardhana of the 7th century. Harshavardhana
is himself credited with having written three plays viz.
Ratnavali, Priyadarshika and Nagananda.
But nevertheless despite lack of patronage two more leading
playwrights came after Bhavabhuti, they were Shudraka
whose main play was the Mricchakatikam, and the second
dramatist was Rajashekhara whose play was titled Karpuramanjari.
But the decline of Sanskrit theatre is evident from the
fact that while Mricchakatikam was in Sanskrit, the Karpuramanjari
was in Prakrit which was a colloquial form of Sanskrit.
Rajashekhara has himself said that he chose to write in
Prakrit as the language was soft while Sanskrit was harsh.
Sanskrit plays continued to be written upto the 17th century
in distant pockets of the country, mainly in the Vijayanagara
empire of the South. But they had passed their prime,
the later Sanskrit dramas are mostly imitations of Kalidasa
As in the case of the other fine arts, the Indian theatre
has left its mark on the countries of South-east Asia.
In Thailand, especially it has been a tradition from the
middle ages to stage plays based on plots drawn from Indian
epics. This had been so even in Cambodia where, at the
ancient capital Angkor Wat, stories from the Ramayana
and Mahabharata have been carved on the walls of temples
and palaces. Similar, bas reliefs are found at Borobudur
Thus, the Indian theatre has been one of the vehicles
of enriching the culture of our neighbouring countries
since ancient times.