Friday 15 March 2013

Article - Role and function of dance: Historical context (Part 5) - Dr. Anonna Guha

(Final excerpt from the Phd thesis ‘Dance in the urban culture’ under the guidance of Dr. Sharit Bhowmik.)
The fact that scholars and theoreticians found the performing arts worthy of their attention from a very early period is a significant indication of attitudes toward dance and drama. However this interest was not the sole force governing the relationships of dance and dancers to society in general. Gradually many changes took place in the performing arts. Art became a product of India’s caste system and the practice of developing traditions of art within specific communities indeed within families was observed. The schools of art descended through teacher to disciple lineages. Since professional dancers traditionally tended to belong to specific communities within the caste system and they earned their livelihood through it, amateur performers were rare. The castes from which dancers and musicians were drawn, like those supplying sculptors and painters were comparatively low on the ancient systematic scale of ritual purity and social status. There were some exceptions where some forms of music and dance drama were performed by brahmans, exclusively by males. The performing communities of brahmans were marked lower on hierarchy as compared to those brahmans whose special duties involved learning and teaching of the Vedas or other ancient texts. Even the communities of dancers, had to be of sufficient ritual purity to be allowed to perform within temple premises. In Orissa for example, female temple dancers – maharis - actually performed before the sanctum, while boys impersonating female dancers – gotipuas - performed in less exalted surroundings in other outer precincts. The actor - dancers of Kutiyattam Sanskrit drama in Kerala who perform in specially built theatres within the temple grounds are lower ranked brahmans according to some authorities, according to others they are the highest among the Kerala Ambalavasis or temple servants. The actresses and musicians of Kutiyattam are of the next highest rank.

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