Ramayana through Dance

Music and dance are core aspects of retellings of the Ramayana. As part of the Hero's Journey Project, ORIAS contributors interviewed dancer and choreographer, Jyoti Rout. Footage of the dance she choreographed and performed for ORIAS, the Navarasa, has been lost. However, comments from her interview can help unfamiliar viewers interpret performances.

On The Classical East Indian Temple Dance of Orissa 

Odissi is an ancient, breathtakingly beautiful form of sacred dance, which was originally developed in the temple of Jagannath in Orissa, East India, as a form of worship and meditation. It was first encountered outside the temple in the early part of the sixteenth century. A class of tender aged dancers known as Gotipuas began performing Odissi for the masses to convey the spiritual stories, while the Maharis (temple dancers) continued the tradition within the temples. Odissi is an expressive and sophisticated art form, which features poetic nuance and fanciful storytelling. Highly stylized in nature, it utilizes powerful, energetic footwork (tandava), juxtaposed with sinuous, graceful feminine postures and movements (Lasya). Handed down from teacher to disciple for thousands of years, Odissi emphasizes, and in fact, centers around spirituality and devotion. - Jyoti Rout

Ramayana Navarasa


The Orissa Dance Academy, which performed the version of the Ramayana Navarasa shown above, described the moods conveyed in their performance on their website:

In sringara, hand gestures and facial expressions are used to show Rama and Sita sharing in the joys of love. Even nature rejoices.

As Rama breaks Shiva's bow to win the hand of Sita, he is the embodiment of veera rasa or chivalry.

When the demoness Shooparnaka is sent back and forth between Lakshmana and Rama, humor and laughter or hasya rasa is evoked.

The whole forest of Panchavati is filled with fearful sounds as Sita is abducted by Ravana. The mood is one of bhayaanaka.

When Rama sees his friend and devotee, Jatayu, dying in his hands, he is full of compassion or karuna rasa.

Rama is full of wonderment (adbhuta) as the army of monkeys builds the bridge the Setu Bandha, the bridge that connects to Ravan's Lanka.

Seeing the battlefield strewn with dead and maimed bodies makes one full of disgust or bibhatsa rasa.

Raudhra rasa or wrath is produced when Rama confronts Ravana in the battlefield.

Navarasas Video - Nine moods, facial expressions, classical dance of India

Navarasa (Nine Moods)

This dance, performed by the Orissa Dance Academy, is related to the one created and performed for ORIAS by Jyoti Rout. Like her performance, it incorporates principles of abhinaya. Abhinaya is dramatic mime conveying the meaning or mood of a song, tune or rhythm. In some cases, the solo dancer plays all the roles without the aid of props, sets, or specific costumes, rapidly shifting from woman to man, youth to adult, god to demon.

Navarasa is a compostion of stories from The Ramayana which express nine rasas (moods or emotions) that we experience in our everyday lives. Jyoti Rout described the nine moods, as depicted in her dance. You'll note that the moods and scenes are not exactly the same order as the ones in the video.

Sringar (Love): Lord Ram and his wife Sita are enjoying the beauty of nature -- the trees, flowers, birds, butterfly, water, fish and the dancing peacocks. They both experience inner, pure love.

Vira (Virtue): Strength is positive when humbleness is present; many proud and herioc kings try to lift the special, holy bow of Lord Siva. If one accomplishes this feat, he is given Sita's hand in marriage. Only Lord Ram is able to lift and break the bow due to his humility.

Karunya (Sorrow): A great devotee, the bird Jatayu, sacrifices his life for his master and god, Lord Ram. Ram offers water and blesses the bird, feeling deep sorrow.

Adbhuta (Astonishment or Surprise): To cross the ocean, Lord Ram and his devotee monkeys make a bridge of heavy rocks on the water. By the touch of Lord Ram, the rocks float on the water, this astonishes everyone present.

Hasya (Laughter): By chopping off the nose of the demon sister of Ravana, the Ram's brother Lakshman, makes everyone laugh. Truth always overcomes evil.

Bhaya (Fear): Sita is full of fear because she sees the ugly image of the demon Ravana everywhere.

Bhibatsya (Disgust): After the battle, vultures and other animals are tearing and eating the flesh of the dead bodies and licking the blood. this disgusts Sita.

Raudra (Anger): Anger on the battlefield is displayed by Lord Ram's troops in order to defeat the enemy.

Shanta (Peace): Where there is peace, there are no waves of emotion. All emotions merge in peace. Saints and yogis enjoy the feelings of devotion and peace.

On the Role of Dance in the Ramayana Tradition

It's very common in India. The art forms of the spiritual stories are conveyed to people through paintings, through singing, dancing.

It's a common thing in Indian household to have evening rituals and morning rituals when the old people read scriptures Ramayana, Mahabharata, and discuss it with kids. It's very much alive in the culture and in the homes there are prayers about Lord Ram and Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita. They're there pretty much every day so we grew up hearing about it.

A lot of the time, particularly Ramayana, once a year there is the festival called Ram Lila. And that particular time the story of Rama and Ramayana is performed in different parts of India, different languages, and in different traditions. - Jyoti Rout