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Culture Corner: Sanskriti

India is a land of rich culture and heritage - music, dance and drama is an integral aspect of our culture. It also comes in diverse formats due to the cultural traditions and religious practices prevalent in various regions. Initially, these art forms were used as a medium of propagation for religious and social reforms in which music and dance were incorporated to gain popularity. From the Vedic era to the medieval period, the performing arts remained an important source of educating the masses.

Traditionally, the Indian experience of music has been bound to the perception of the divine in the context of religious activities, through Puja or devotional worship of various gods and goddesses. From the singing of the ancient Vedic hymns to the devotional chants, Indian music is deeply grounded in the theological principles of the sacred sound “OM” as mentioned in Hindu scriptures.

During the medieval period Indian classical music was broadly based on two traditions, the Hindustani classical music prevalent in North India and the Carnatic music of South India. Besides classical music, India has a rich legacy of folk or popular music that represents the emotion of the masses to typically mark every milestone event in life. They may be festivals, advent of a new season, birth or the marriage of a child. They used to reflect the socio-religious customs and practices of the rural people earlier, but now they are a part of modern city culture too.

Like music, Indian dance is also rooted in a rich classical tradition. Each dance form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people. The origin of dancing in Indian folklore is said to have come from the chief deity, Brahma, who inspired the creation of the Natyashastra, a treatise from which a codified tradition of dance and drama emerged. Many other deities also required the use of music and dancing in their worship with temples adopting dancing and singing as integral parts of religious functions during holidays and other similar celebrations. In traditional Indian culture the function of dance was to give symbolic expression to religious ideas. The figure of Lord Shiva as Nataraja - the Lord of Dance represents the creation and destruction of the cosmic cycle.

The classical form of dance was performed in temples as well as in royal courts. The dance in temples had a religious objective whereas in courts it was used purely for entertainment. Classical dance is distinguished from folk dance because it has been regulated by the rules of the Natyashastra and all classical dances are performed only in accordance with them. Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Odissi are some of the popular classical dance forms.

Given the importance of music, dance and drama in Hinduism, the North Bay Hindu Center has collaborated with Sangam Arts to showcase this rich Indian cultural heritage through our annual festival, Sanskriti. This event features performances of classical dance and music from across the subcontinent by world-renowned artists and emerging local talent. While Sanskriti serves primarily as a fundraiser for the North Bay Hindu Temple project it also creates deep appreciation of our culture and heritage and instills a sense of pride in our youth and community at large.

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