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The Role of Sanskrit Literature in the Creation of Classical Dance Traditions in India

Project conducted in the École française d'Extrême-Orient in Pondicherry, under the EFEO Junior Field Research Fellowship scheme

Coordinator: Katarzyna Skiba MA

Duration: November 2013 - March 2014, India

The aim of the project was to investigate the role of Sanskrit legacy in the process of the emergence and reinvention of classical Indian dance art, focusing on the example of the Kathak tradition. The research included a content analysis of Sanskrit treatises, which codify the rules governing the ‘classical' performing arts, in relation to the theory and praxis of Kathak dance. The analysis also encompassed the stories from the Hindu epics, Puranas and Sanskrit dramas, incorporated into the Kathak repertoire in the 20th century. The presence of Sanskrit aesthetics, as well as the popularity of motives drawn from Sanskrit literature in classical Kathak dance were considered in the context of the historical and socio-cultural factors of Indian dance ‘renaissance'. The project was aimed at demonstrating the tendency of the "sanskritisation" of Kathak in the process of its restitution, and concurrent changes in patronage structures, knowledge transmission, social functions, location and status of the dancers. The research explored the issue, whether, and how, contemporary Kathak dancers refer to Sanskrit treatises (Nāṭyaśāstra, Abhinayadarpaṇa, Saṅgītaratnākara, Saṅgītadarpaṇa, Nartananirṇaya), the application of conventions described in these works in contemporary dance practice and training methods, as well as the use of Sanskrit literature in the present Kathak repertoire, and the strategies for reinterpreting the classical canon in the context of modernity.

The methods applied in the research include: analysis of texts, dance performances, recordings and archival sources, observations and interviews conducted with choreographers, teachers and students in national academies and private schools of dance in Bangalore, Delhi, Lucknow, Baroda, Ahmedabad and Mumbai.