At first, glance, though both Indian Classical Dance and Architecture can be perceived as art forms, there doesn’t seem to be much else in common between the two. In Classical Indian Dance, diverse poses are momentary glimpses, which get linked in our memory through a sequence of movements. Thus, the overall structure of the dance can be held only in the mind and is therefore temporal. Whereas the elements of any architectural composition are arranged statically in space, their positions and interrelationships fixed.
But architecture, conceptually, also has a temporal structure, of which a given spatial arrangement can be considered as a static glimpse, and a succession of such glimpses, seen several times, at different stages, evolving and proliferating. And the dynamism of dance can also be seen to have a static attribute if we consider that the human body has an unchanging identity in space. From this perspective, both art-forms can be seen to represent a series of glimpses of space through motion.
Another parallel is the concept, in both art forms, of movement as originating at a single point, and relating to a vertical axis. In the tradition of dance, the point of origin is the navel conceived as the mid-point of a circular mandala, positioned frontally and vertically, divided into four quarters by vertical and horizontal axes passing through the navel. In ancient Indian architecture, the underlying axiality is strikingly similar to this. Here the mandala is both horizontal, aligned with the four cardinal directions, and three-dimensional, with a central, vertical axis rising to the point at the summit.
Traditional Indian dance is an art form that portrays the spiritual through the physical. India has a very rich tradition of classical dance. Some acknowledged classical styles are Bharatnatyam of Tamil Nadu, Kathakali of Kerala, Kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh, Manipuri of Northeast India, Odissi from Orissa, and Kathak from north India and Pakistan. Each of these styles has a strong regional connection. The techniques of communicating a message within a dance are Abinaya. Emphasis is more on facial expressions and gestures. Unless a traditional Indian dance recital is held in a small hall, a close-up, high-resolution video is the only adequate medium of presenting the Abhinaya since the subtle expressions are so hard to see from far away.
The Natya Shastra, which is a treatise on drama and dance, talks about stagecraft and covers virtually every other aspect of stagecraft such as stage design, music, dance, and makeup. It is also very important to the history of Indian classical music because it is the only text which gives details about the music and instruments of the period. Thus, it can be seen that the Natya Shastra is the foundation of the fine arts in India. It reveals the status of the performing arts as equivalent to any other devotional path, as it is capable of raising the consciousness of participants to a higher plane. Thus, both dance and dancer are considered as vehicles for divine invocation and dance is thus a mediator between the human body and the cosmos. The setting for the dance performance shares this quality of immersing its participants in a multi-sensory spatial experience.
The compositional elements of ancient Indian architecture are in the form of shrine-images or aediculae, conceived three-dimensionally and as if embedded in the body of the edifice. An analogy was drawn between the aedicule and the Karana, described in the Natya Shastra as a unit of dance movement.
In either art form, the basic components are grouped into larger wholes within the overall composition. In dance, the larger groupings of karanas are the angaharas, movement sequences composed of three or more karanas. If the temple is thought of as an entire dance, then the architectural equivalents of angaharas are the architectural sub-groupings of elements within the overall composition.
Bharatanatyam is the most popular and widely practiced of Classical Indian Dance worldwide as it is the style that most faithfully adheres to the Natya Shastra, and most comprehensively embodies it. It originated in the South Indian state of Tamilnadu. In Bharatanatyam, the movements are conceived in space mostly along straight lines or triangles. The dancer weaves a series of triangles throughout the dance. The torso is used as a unit, the legs are in a semi-plie form and the stance achieves the basic posture called araimandi.
Though Odissi has been revived in the past fifty years, it can be considered as the oldest classical dance. It originated in the East Indian state of Orissa. Odissi’s striking feature is Tribhanga (Tri-bent pose), which consists of three bends in the body; at the neck, waist and knee. It has a vast range of sculptural body movements which gives one the illusion of the sculptures coming to life.
The linear temple architectural pattern of the temples of Tamil Nadu has influenced the geometric patterns of Kuchipudi and Bharatnatyam. Likewise, the circular temple architecture of the Jagannatha Temple at Puri has influenced the geometric movements of Odissi. Thus, linear and circular architectural patterns of the temples of Tamilnadu and Orissa, have influenced the evolution of the movements of the dance forms of Bharatanatyam, and Odissi.
The VastuVidya, a treatise on the science of Architectural Construction, stipulates design and construction methods for small scale dwellings through temples and large structures, to city planning. Its philosophy is rooted in the Vastu Purusha Mandala, linking building science, aesthetics, and community. Site specificity as an extension of the dance culture was seen as vital to anchoring a community. The juxtaposition of the built and unbuilt environments glued the overall structure to a solid yet continually evolving environment.
Thus we can see the deeply rooted connects between classical Indian dance and ancient Indian architecture, and see the symbiotic relationship that existed between both these art-forms. Following this relationship into our contemporary world, architecture can be perceived both as a static artifact and as bridging city spaces through a type of choreographed continual evolution.