Indian culture – Performing arts, dance, music, paintings, architecture and sculpture

Performing artsEdit

Odissi dance.

Bhangra folk dance.


Main article: Dance in India

Let drama and dance (Nātya, नाट्य) be the fifth vedic scripture. Combined with an epic story, tending to virtue, wealth, joy and spiritual freedom, it must contain the significance of every scripture, and forward every art.

— First chapter of Nātyaśāstra, sometime between 200BC – 200AD[107][108]

India has had a long romance with the art of dance. Nātyaśāstra (Science of Dance) andAbhinaya Darpana (Mirror of Gesture) are two surviving Sanskrit documents, both estimated to be between 1700 to 2200 years old.[108]

The Indian art of dance as taught in these ancient books, according to Ragini Devi, is the expression of inner beauty and the divine in man.[109] It is a deliberate art, nothing is left to chance, each gesture seeks to communicate the ideas, each facial expression the emotions.

Indian dance includes eight classical dance forms, many in narrative forms withmythological elements. The eight classical forms accorded classical dance status by India’s National Academy of Music, Dance, and Drama are: bharatanatyam of the state ofTamil Nadukathak of Uttar Pradeshkathakaliand mohiniattam of Keralakuchipudi ofAndhra Pradeshyakshagana of Karnataka,manipuri of Manipurodissi (orissi) of the state of Odisha and the sattriya of Assam.[110][111]

In addition to the formal arts of dance, Indian regions have a strong free form, folksy dance tradition. Some of the folk dances include thebhangra of Punjab; the bihu of Assam; the zeliang of Nagaland; the chhau of Jharkhandand Bengal; the Ghumura DanceGotipua,Mahari dance and Dalkhai of Odisha; the qauwwalis, birhas and charkulas of Uttar Pradesh; the jat-jatin, nat-natin and saturi ofBihar; the ghoomar of Rajasthan; the dandiyaand garba of Gujarat; the kolattam of Andhra Pradesh; the yakshagana of Karnataka ; lavaniof Maharashtra;Dekhnni of Goa. Recent developments include adoption of international dance forms particularly in the urban centres of India, and the extension of Indian classical dance arts by the Kerala Christian community, to tell stories from the Bible.[112]

Drama and theatreEdit

Main article: Theatre in India

Indian drama and theatre has a long history alongside its music and dance. Kalidasa‘s plays like Shakuntala and Meghadoota are some of the older dramas, following those of Bhasa. One of the oldest surviving theatre traditions of the world is the 2,000-year-oldKutiyattam of Kerala. It strictly follows theNatya Shastra.[113] Nātyāchārya Māni Mādhava Chākyār is credited for reviving the age old drama tradition from extinction. He was known for mastery of Rasa Abhinaya. He started to perform the Kalidasa plays likeAbhijñānaśākuntalaVikramorvaśīya andMālavikāgnimitra; Bhasa’s Swapnavāsavadattaand PancharātraHarsha‘s Nagananda.[114][115]


Images of musical instruments drawn by Pierre Sonnerat, the French explorer, in 1782 during his voyage through India.
Main article: Music of India

Music is an integral part of India’s culture.Natyasastra, a 2000-year-old Sanskrit text, describes five systems of taxonomy to classify musical instruments.[116] One of these ancient Indian systems classifies musical instruments into four groups according to four primary sources of vibration: strings, membranes, cymbals, and air. According to Reis Flora, this is similar to the Western theory of organology. Archeologists have also reported the discovery of a 3000-year-old, 20-key, carefully shaped polished basalt lithophone in thehighlands of Odisha.[117]

The oldest preserved examples of Indian music are the melodies of the Samaveda(1000 BC) that are still sung in certain VedicŚrauta sacrifices; this is the earliest account of Indian musical hymns.[118] It proposed a tonal structure consisting of seven notes, which were named, in descending order, asKrushtPrathamDwitiyaTritiyaChaturth,Mandra and Atiswār. These refer to the notes of a flute, which was the only fixed frequency instrument. The Samaveda, and other Hindutexts, heavily influenced India’s classical music tradition, which is known today in two distinct styles: Carnatic and Hindustani music. Both the Carnatic music and Hindustani music systems are based on the melodic base (known as Rāga), sung to a rhythmic cycle (known as Tāla); these principles were refined in the nātyaśāstra(200 BC) and the dattilam (300 AD).[119]

The current music of India includes multiple varieties of religious, classical, folk, popular and pop music.

Prominent contemporary Indian musical forms included filmi and Indipop. Filmi refers to the wide range of music written and performed for mainstream Indian cinema, primarily Bollywood, and accounts for more than 70 percent of all music sales in the country.[120] Indipop is one of the most popular contemporary styles of Indian music which is either a fusion of Indian folk, classical or Sufi music with Western musical traditions.[121]

Visual artsEdit

Main article: Indian art


Main article: Indian painting

Cave paintings from AjantaBaghEllora andSittanavasal and temple paintings testify to a love of naturalism. Most early and medieval art in India is Hindu, Buddhist or Jain. A freshly made coloured floor design (Rangoli) is still a common sight outside the doorstep of many (mostly South Indian) Indian homes.Raja Ravi Varma is one of the classical painters from medieval India.

PattachitraMadhubani paintingMysore paintingRajput paintingTanjore painting,Mughal painting are some notable Genres of Indian Art; while Nandalal BoseM. F. Husain,S. H. RazaGeeta VadheraJamini Roy and B. Venkatappa[122] are some modern painters. Among the present day artists, Atul Dodiya, Bose Krishnamacnahri, Devajyoti Ray and Shibu Natesan represent a new era of Indian art where global art shows direct amalgamation with Indian classical styles. These recent artists have acquired international recognition. Jehangir Art Gallery,MumbaiMysore Palace has on display a few good Indian paintings.


The 5th-century Buddhistvishvakarma cave at Ellora, Maharashtra.

Marble Sculpture of female, c. 1450, Rajasthan
Main article: Sculpture in India

The first sculptures in India date back to theIndus Valley civilisation, where stone and bronze figures have been discovered. Later, as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism developed further, India produced some extremely intricate bronzes as well as temple carvings. Some huge shrines, such as the one at Ellora were not constructed by using blocks but carved out of solid rock.

Sculptures produced in the northwest, instuccoschist, or clay, display a very strong blend of Indian and Classical Hellenistic or possibly even Greco-Roman influence. The pink sandstone sculptures of Mathuraevolved almost simultaneously. During theGupta period (4th to 6th centuries) sculpture reached a very high standard in execution and delicacy in modeling. These styles and others elsewhere in India evolved leading to classical Indian art that contributed to Buddhist and Hindu sculpture throughout Southeast Central and East Asia.


Main article: Architecture of India

Considered to be an “unrivaled architectural wonder”,[123] the Taj Mahal in Agra is a prime example ofIndo-Islamic architecture. One of the world’s seven wonders.

Indian architecture encompasses a multitude of expressions over space and time, constantly absorbing new ideas. The result is an evolving range of architectural production that nonetheless retains a certain amount of continuity across history. Some of its earliest production are found in the Indus Valley Civilisation (2600–1900 BC) which is characterised by well planned cities and houses. Religion and kingship do not seem to have played an important role in the planning and layout of these towns.

The Konark Sun Temple in Odisha, is one of many World Heritage Sites in India.[124]

During the period of the Mauryan and Guptaempires and their successors, several Buddhist architectural complexes, such as the caves of Ajanta and Ellora and the monumental Sanchi Stupa were built. Later on, South India produced several Hindu temples like Chennakesava Temple at Belur, the Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, and the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura,Brihadeeswara TempleThanjavur built by Raja Raja Chola, the Sun TempleKonarkSri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam, and the Buddha stupa (Chinna Lanja dibba and Vikramarka kota dibba) at BhattiproluAngkor Wat, Borobudur and other Buddhist and Hindutemples indicate strong Indian influence on South East Asian architecture, as they are built in styles almost identical to traditional Indian religious buildings.

The Umaid Bhawan Palace inJodhpur, one of the largest private residences in the world.[125]

The traditional system of Vaastu Shastraserves as India’s version of Feng Shui, influencing town planning, architecture, and ergonomics. It is unclear which system is older, but they contain certain similarities. Feng Shui is more commonly used throughout the world. Though Vastu is conceptually similar to Feng Shui in that it also tries to harmonise the flow of energy, (also called life-force or Prana in Sanskrit andChi/Ki in Chinese/Japanese), through the house, it differs in the details, such as the exact directions in which various objects, rooms, materials, etc. are to be placed..

With the advent of Islamic influence from the west, Indian architecture was adapted to allow the traditions of the new religion.Fatehpur SikriTaj MahalGol GumbazQutub MinarRed Fort of Delhi are creations of this era, and are often used as the stereotypical symbols of India. The colonial rule of the British Empire saw the development of Indo-Saracenic style, and mixing of several other styles, such as European Gothic. The Victoria Memorial or the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminusare notable examples.

The Victoria Memorial in Kolkatailluminated at night.

Indian architecture has influenced eastern and southeastern Asia, due to the spread of Buddhism. A number of Indian architectural features such as the temple mound or stupa, temple spire or sikhara, temple tower orpagoda and temple gate or torana, have become famous symbols of Asian culture, used extensively in East Asia and South East Asia. The central spire is also sometimes called a vimanam. The southern temple gate, or gopuram is noted for its intricacy and majesty.

Contemporary Indian architecture is more cosmopolitan. Cities are extremely compact and densely populated. Mumbai’s Nariman Point is famous for its Art Deco buildings. Recent creations such as the Lotus Temple, and the various modern urban developments of India like Bhubaneswar and Chandigarh, are notable.

Please look for my next episode Culture 8 for more information about Indian culture.


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