Dance, drama, and music have been an integral part of the Indian subcontinent since ancient times. Gaudiya dance originating from West Bengal is an example of the richness of the ancient culture of India. With its roots in the bygone era Gaudiya Nritya or dance is identified as a classical dance form, through which many other classical Indian dances have originated. Though the dance no more exists in its original form, efforts are being made by contemporary artists to revive and preserve this ancient tradition.
The dance For The Gods & Goddesses
As per history, the Gaudiya dance was traditionally performed in temples by Devdasis or maidens, who have renounced worldly life for devotion to God. No one knows the exact origin of the dance form, but it has been mentioned in many old scriptures. It has been mentioned in Natyashashtra, the oldest Indian book on dance-drama and in some mythological tales. As per one mythological story, a housewife named Mehula had performed the dance to appease the Lord of Rains – Lord Indra.
Gaudiya dance has been named after the ancient capital of the region – Gauda, which now is a ruined city on the India-Bangladesh border. The remnants of the Gauda city still exist and one can visit the place from Malda district of West Bengal. Many temples and ancient structures have sculptures depicting the Gauda dance form, but lot has been ruined with time. There are still some relics preserved in museums in Bengal.
Dance for devotion
The dance has a glorious past where beautiful women, dressed in fineries, performed elegant moves in the temple premises in front of the deities. It was more for spiritual and devotional experience, than entertainment. The Devdasis used to wear traditional Bengali sarees, adorn themselves with intricate jewelleries and large bindi for their performance. They danced in front of the idols of gods as if it were their beloved.
The moves of the dance form are very intense and require rigorous practice to perfect it. There is great emphasis on the expressions of the dancer as they sway to the songs of love for the God. Over the years the dance form evolved and was learned by women outside of the temple as well. However, like every ancient art forms, Gaudiya Nritya had started to fade away. With advent of the British colonial era in India the tradition of Devdasis in temples ceased, and so with it the dance in the temples as well.
Reviving the ancient dance form
It was only in the 20th century when there was an interest in the ancient dance forms of India and its revival. Gaudiya Nritya too got some attention and there were efforts made to rejuvenate the temple dance form. The dance form is said to have contributed to development of other classical dance forms like Odissi, Manipuri and Kuchipudi. Though it is no more practiced in its original form, people like Professor Mahua Mukherjee, Head at Department of Dance Rabindra Bharati University are making consistent efforts to keep the dance form alive. There is also a study centre dedicated to Gaudiya dance under the Rabindra Bharati University.
Many classical Indian dance practitioners are taking up Gaudiya Nritya and performing it at various events. Though Gaudiya Nritya may not be witnessed in its ancient form, the efforts by various artists to bring it to larger audiences surely gives hope to the revival of the art form.