Every dance form has its origin embedded in history which also delineates the evolution of the costumes worn by the dancers during the performance. Regardless of the dance forms, costumes are known to complement the artistic movement and the profound emotions that the performers try to convey accompanied by music. In Indian classical dances of India, the costumes are like the silent confederates of the performers that enliven the performances of the artists. The sensory pleasure that the audience experiences while watching classical dances of India Performance is augmented manifold due to the vibrant costumes of every dance form. As far as the technical requirements are concerned, each of the dance costumes is precisely designed and tailored to suit the chorographical needs of the art.
Over the years, the rich cultural history of India symbolised by the classical dances of India forms of India charmed the entire world and much of its enigma can be attributed to the costumes, accessories, and makeup that adorns the beauty of the art. It is the shimmery outfits, the dazzling jewellery, and the outstanding facial makeup that brighten up the whole performance on stage. Much of the appreciation that is garnered by the classical dances of India is accredited to the prominent makeup and overall costume of the performers.
Here’s a brief guide on the evolution of dance costumes as integral parts of classical dances of India forms:
Kathak: The origin of this elegant dance style goes back to Lucknow and Banaras, modern-day Varanasi. This dance form primarily is performed in two different varieties of costumes. The rich history of this dance form is an amalgamation of both the Hindu and Islamic cultures, and the choice of the kathak costume varies accordingly. If the performer is a Muslim female, the costume would comprise a long skirt, a tight-fitting churidar, and a headscarf. On the other hand, if the performer is a male, he would usually wear a silk dhoti with a silk scarf tied around the waist. If the performer is a Hindu, then she would wear a sari or a long skirt also known as ghagra. The specialty of this long skirt with countless pleats is that it accentuates the terrific spins performed by the kathak dancers.
Bharatnatyam: In the ancient history of India, Bharatnatyam was mainly known to be a dance form of the temple dancers dedicated to the deities, however, in modern times Bharatanatyam has evolved to become one of the leading classical dances of India as well as the world. The entire costume design of the Bharatnatyam dance form is done along the lines of the bridal costume of Tamil Hindus. The most illustrious part of a Bharatanatyam costume is the pleated stitched cloth that is stitched in front of the silk sari which spreads out during any kind of leg movement in the performance. Besides that, the Bharatanatyam costume is not a single drape and includes multiple pieces of clothes of different designs and varieties which, when worn with proper technique, bring out the hypnotic beauty of the dance form. To complement this beauty, accessories are worn in the hair along with traditional South Indian jewellery on the nose, ears, head, and neck. Both Kathak and Bharatanatyam, are incomplete without the ghungroo, which resonates with every foot movement of the dancers, leaving the audience enamoured.
Kathakali: One cannot imagine the Kathakali dance form without the ornate facial makeup and the traditional dance costume. What gives the kathakali dance costume a distinct identity is the green colour also known as the pachha, with which the performers paint their faces while portraying the roles of gods or sages. To make the performance more pronounced, especially while portraying characters that are evil incarnate, like that of Ravana, the red paint, also known as Tati is used, and the colour black or Kari symbolizes mainly the hunters. As for women characters, the performers usually paint their faces with a yellow colour. Therefore, it is evident that each of the colours in the makeup of the kathakali dance form has its own meaning relevant to the interpretation of the characters they are portraying.
Odissi: The dance form of Odissi is like the celebration of feminine grace and elegance multiplied 1000 times because of the unique drape of the costume and the decorative jewellery it uses. The fabric that is used to make the Odissi costume is called patta sari, and the traditional designs in the costumes are either Sambalpuri or Bomkai, which are the local designs of Odisha. Unlike the bridal jewellery of Bharatnatyam, Odissi dance form can be identified for its rigid preference for silver ornaments and a metal earring known as kappa which covers the two sides of the performer’s head as well.
Each of the classical dances of India can be identified individually not only because of their unique styles, as well as moves, but also the striking costumes that reflect the rich tapestry of the culture and heritage of the state of its origination. This regional touch and flavour of the local culture in every classical Indian dance costume is the evolution of Indian culture and art, however, keeping the beauty and diversity of the same constant even in contemporary times.