Performing arts has a well-placed status in the culture and tradition of Indian society. Indian performing arts are well acclaimed by people from across the globe. Love, humor, pathos, anger, heroism, terror, disgust, wonder and serenity are the nava rasas or nine basic emotions, which are fundamental to all Indian aesthetics. Based on the nava rasas or the nine basic emotions, the Indian performing arts exist. The four major performing arts of India are dance, music, theatre, and film.
Indian Dance dates back to the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. It is recorded on carved stones that the ancient Indian civilization gave prominence to different forms of Dance. Dance is the primeval expression of joy and wonder in any part of the world, transcending barriers of culture and development. Ancient humans were probably imitating the movements of birds and animals in an attempt to acquire or depict their unconscious grace and freedom of form and motion. Dance as a structured entity was essentially part of the devotional process. When combined with song and story telling, dance metamorphosed into theatre.
Tracing back to the history of India, we get enough evidences of dance being performed during that period. The Natyashastra, the earliest Indian text on the subject, speaks of ekaharya (solo dance) and the anekaharya (dance as performed by more than one person). Written between 200 BC - AD 200 by Bharatamuni, the work divides dance into Nritta i.e. pure dance and Nritya i.e. expressional dance or pantomime. While the former is an act of beauty, not seeking to convey any meaning, the latter depicts emotions through facial expressions, movements of the eyes, and stylized gestures of the hands (mudras, less commonly known as hastas). The different dance form of India offers scintillating experiences to the viewers. Along with the major dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Mohiniyattom, Koodiyattom, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, and Odissi, several other local and tribal versions of dances are also practiced in India. Among the dance forms, Kathakali gained much prominence from the global community. Chakyar Kootthu, a dance practiced in Northern Kerala is accepted by the United Nations.
Music in is one of the archaic unbroken traditions in the world. It is said that the evolution of Indian Music goes back to the Vedas. Music has always been connected to the emotional context, and as such has a profound influence on the listener. Undoubtedly an intangible and wonderful gift from one human being to another, music is rightfully considered the language of the gods. Even otherwise, a transition from the relative silence of unformed speech to 'spontaneous sound' is a very powerful journey. As Wordsworth opines of Poetry as “a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, music in India can be considered similar.
Music in India is divided mainly into two classical forms, the Carnatic (in the South) and the Hindustani. Other varieties of Indian Music are the folk, popular, and pop. Music provides both roots and wings, if one may borrow the phrase. An awareness of the world around as the listener succumbs to the physical experience of sound; awareness too of the other-worldliness of the experience for it cannot be held. Ancient melodies return, new ones are born. Classical music of all cultures carries this sublime quality of music through centuries and generations. Indian filmi music and Punjabi pop (Bhangra) are considered as world-class musical genres and is accepted by people from all over the world.
The period of Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (early twentieth century) is considered as the date of evolution of Indian films. Phalke’s ‘Raja Harishchandra’ is considered as the first film of India. Life in India would not be the same without the exuberance of cinema. Song and dance, melodrama, relevant messages - Indian films have them all, and usually people can expect all together in one film. Many Indians relate better to their screen favorites than to the people around. Stars and superstars, hits and failures, outright commercial films and the art genre of films are woven together in the Indian mind as entertainment supreme.
Indian films command a huge domestic market and are popular abroad, particularly in Asia, Africa and West Asia. India leads the world in the output of films, with more than 800 Indian films produced annually. The major Indian movie centers are Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Apart from popular entertainment through commercial cinema, art cinema deals with serious themes particularly relevant to Indian society. There has been widespread recognition of Indian artists and directors at film festivals in different parts of the world including Festival de Cannes.
The evolution of Indian theatres can be traced back to 200 BC and AD 200, during the time when Bharatamuni wrote the Natyashastra. The dates cannot be ascertained with any certainty. The word 'Natya' means drama and 'Shastra' means science. According to this text, theatre was created by Brahma himself on the request of Indra, the king of the gods. Indra felt that the world needed a diversion that would appeal and be available to all occupational groups. Out of Brahma's profound meditation was born 'Natya' which Brahma alluded to as the fifth Veda. Brahma required Indra to compose plays. Since Indra held that it would be inappropriate for gods to perform, Brahmins were to be the actors. To this end, Bharatamuni and his sons were summoned and taught the art by Brahma himself.
The sacredness of the theatre art form was reflected in every aspect associated with it. The actors had to be of the priestly class; the dancers were the apsaras (heavenly nymphs) especially created by Brahma for the purpose; and later, the performing area had to be sanctified through rituals, as done so by Visvakarma, the architect to the gods. Visvakarma had constructed the first platform (or theatre structure) to keep the actors safe from demons that objected to the depiction of their defeat. This measure had proved fruitless, and Brahma thereby explained at length the purpose of theatre - to educate and entertain.