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Monthly Archives: September 2018

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Three

Continued from Part Two 

 Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya

shiva_dancing_for_parvati

Intro.

As it has been said very often; the Natyashastra is the earliest available text of Indian Dancing traditions. It combines in itself the fundamentals of the principles, practices and techniques of Dance. it thus serves as the principal text of the Dance. And, therefore, the influence exerted by it on the growth and development of all Dance-forms, has been deep and vast.  The Natyashastra, an authoritative text to which the Masters and learners alike turn to, seeking instructions, guidance, and inspiration, is central to any discussion on classical Dance. And, therefore, no discussion on classical Dance is complete without referring to the concepts  of the  Natyashastra.

[Having said that; let me also mention that in the context of Dance , as it is practiced in the present day, besides Natyashastra , several other texts are followed. The Natyashastra provides the earliest theoretical framework; but, the practice of Dance  and the techniques of dancing were  molded and improved by many texts of the later periods. What we have today is the culmination of several textual traditions and their practices. We shall come to those aspects later in the series.]

Because of the position that Natyashastra occupies in the evolution of the Arts and its forms, it would help to try to understand the early concepts and their relationships to Dance. And, thereafter, we may follow the unfolding and transformation of those concepts acquiring different meanings and applications; as also the emergence of new terms and art-forms, during the later times.

In that context, we may, in particular, discuss the three terms; their derivation; their manifestation and transformation; as also the mutual relations among the three. In the process, we may also look at the related concepts; and their evolution over the centuries. The three terms that I am referring to are the Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya, which are fundamental to most of the Dance formats.

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As regards the  other texts that discuss the theories, practices and techniques of Dancing, there are no significant works between the period of Bharata and that of Abhinavagupta and Dhananjaya (eleventh century). Even if any were there, none has come down to us. But during this period, the dance and its concepts had changed significantly. And, the manuscript editions of the Natyashastra had also undergone alterations.

Over the different periods, the concepts of Natyashastra, along with that of its basic terms such as Nrtta, Natya etc., came to be interpreted in number of amazingly different ways, depending, largely, upon the attitudes and the approach of the authors coming from diverse backgrounds and following varied regional cultural practices. It is a labyrinth, a virtual maze, in which one can easily get lost.

It would, therefore, hopefully, make sense if we try to understand these terms in the context of each period that spans the course of the long history of Dancing in India, instead of trying to take an overall or summary view.

In the following pages, let us try to understand these terms and their applications in relation to the  concepts and the techniques of dancing, as it emerged in various stages, during the three phases of Indian Art history: the period of the  Natyashastra of Bharata; the theories and commentaries by the authors of the medieval period; and, dance as practiced in the present-day.

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Before we get into the specifics, let’s briefly talk about Dance in general, within the context of Natyashastra.

Bharata’s Natyashastra represents the first known stage of Indian Art-history where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics etc., combined harmoniously, to fruitfully produce an enjoyable play. 

It is quite possible that the authors prior to the time of Bharata did speak of Dance; its forms and practices.  But, it was, primarily, Bharata who recognized the communicative power of Dance; and, laid down its concepts.

Bharata described what he considered to be the most cultivated dance styles, which formed the core of the dominant art-practice (prayoga) in his time, the Drama.

The framework within which Bharata describes Dance is, largely, related to Drama. And, his primary interest seemed to be to explore the ways to enhance the beauty of a dramatic presentation. Thus, Dance in association with music was treated as an ornamental overlay upon Drama.  As Nandikesvara said, the Dance should have songs (gitam). And, the song must be sung, displaying (pradarshayet) the meaning (Artha) and emotions (Bhavam) of the lyrics through the gestures of the hands (hastenatha); shown through the eyes (chakshuryo darshaved); and, in tune with rhythm and corresponding foot-work (padabhyam talam-achareth).

Asyena alambaved gitam, hastena artha pradarshayet/chakshuryo darshaved bhavam, padabhyam talam-achareth (Ab.Da.36)

Dance, at that stage, was an ancillary part (Anga) or one of the ingredients that lent elegance and grace to theatrical performance; and, it was not yet an independent art-form, by itself. Bharata , at that stage, is credited with  devising a more creative Dance-form , which was adorned with elegant, evocative and graceful body-movements; performed in unison with attractive rhythm and enthralling music; in order to effectively interpret and illustrate the lyrics of a song; and, also to depict the emotional content of a dramatic sequence.But, he had not assigned it a name.

It was only in the later times, when the concepts and descriptions provided by Bharata were adopted and improved upon, that Dance gained the status of a self-regulating, independent specialized form of art, as Nrtya.

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The scholars opine that in the evolution of Dance, first comes Nrtta; then Natya; and, later Nrtya appeared. Here, Nrtta is said to be pure dance; while Nrtya emerged when Abhinayas of four types (Angika; Vachika; Sattvika; and Aharya) were combined with Nrtta. And, Natya included both these (Nrtta and Nrtya), even while the speech and the songs remained prominent. Thus, Natya comprises all the three features – Dance, music and speech (song) – which are very essential for the production and enactment of Drama.

To put the entire series of developments, in the context of Natyashastra, in a summary form:

Nrtta, as described in Natyashastra, had been in practice even during the very ancient times. The Nrtta, according to Bharata, was a dance form created by Shiva; and, which, he taught to his disciple Tandu.  It seems to have been older than Natya

Natya too goes back to the very distant past. Even by the time of Bharata, say by   about the fourth to second century BCE, Natya was already a highly developed and accomplished Art. It was regarded as the best; and, also as the culmination of all Art forms. Though Nrtta was older, Natya was not derived from it. Both the Nrtta and the Natya had independent origins; and, developed independent of each other. And, later too, the two ran on parallel lines.

It was during Bharata’s time that Nrtta was integrated into Natya. Even though the two came together, they never merged into each other. And, up to the present-day they have retained their identity; and, run parallel in ways peculiar to them. (Even in a Bharatanatya performance the treatment and presentation of the Nrtta is different from that of the rest.)

 By combining Nrtta, the pure Dance, with the Abhinaya of Natya, a new form of Dance viz., the Nrtya came into being. Bharata is credited with this creative, innovative act of bringing together two of the most enjoyable Art forms (Bhartopajanaka). But, it developed to its full extant only after the time of Bharata.

But, at the time of Bharata, that resultant new-art was not assigned a separate name; nor was it then classified into Tandava and Lasya types.  In fact, the terms Nrtya and Lasya do not appear either in the Natyashastra or in its early commentaries. It was only during the later times that Nrtya gained an independent recognition as an expressive, eloquent representational Art, which projects human experiences, with amazing fluidity and grace.

Nrtya, a blend of two well studied, well developed and well codified Art forms – the dance of Nrtta and Abhinayas of Natya – over a period, advanced  vibrantly, imbibing on its way numerous novel features; and, soon became hugely popular among all classes of the society. It gained recognition as the most delightful Art-form; and in particular, as the most admired phrase or form of Dance.

With this general backdrop, let’s go further.

Hamsa 4

A. Nrtta in Natyasahastra

Nrtta

Initially, Bharata, in the fourth Chapter of the Natyashastra, titled Tandava Lakshanam, deals with the Dance. The term that he used to denote Dance was Nrtta (pure dancing or limb movements, not associated with any particular emotion, Bhava).

The Nrtta comprised two varieties of Dances (Nrtta-prayoga) : The Tandava and Sukumara. The Tandava was not necessarily aggressive; nor danced only by men. And, the gentler, graceful form of dance was Sukumara-prayoga

And, in the context of Drama, both of these were said to refer to the physical structure of dance movements. And, both were performed during the preliminaries before the commencement of the play – Purvaranga – while offering prayers to the deities, Deva-stuti   ; and, not in the drama per se.

Mayāpīdam smta ntta sandhyākāleu Ntttā nānā karaa sayuktai raga hārair vibhūitam 4.13

Pūrva-raga-vidhā avasmistvayā samyak prayojyatām vardhamāna kayogeu gītevāsāriteu ca 4.14

The Dance performed during the Purvaranga was accompanied by vocal and instrumental music. It is said; the songs that were sung during the Purvaranga were of the Marga class- sacred, somber and well regulated (Niyata). Such Marga songs were in praise of Shiva (Shiva-stuti). Bharata explains Marga or Gandharva as the Music dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā), giving great pleasure to Gandharvas; and, therefore it is called Gandharva.

Atyartham iṣṭa devānā tathā prīti-kara puna | gandharvāā ca yasmād dhi tasmād gāndharvam ucyate – NS Ch. 28, 9

shiva dance

Almost the entire Chapter Four of Natyashastra is devoted to Nrtta. That is because, the term that Bharata generally used to symbolize  Dance, was Nrtta.  And, the Nrtta, Bharata said, was created to give expression to beauty and grace – śobhā prajanayediti Ntta pravartitam (NS.4.264). The Nrtta is visual art. The term Nrtta, in the context of the Natyashastra, is explained by Abhinavagupta as (Angavikshepa), the graceful composition of the limbs – gatram vilasena kshepaha.

The Nrtta stands for pure, abstract and beautiful dance, performed in tune with the rhythm and tempo, to the accompaniment of vocal and instrumental music.

The Nrtta performed during the Purvaranga was not as an auxiliary to Natya. And, therefore, Nrtta was considered to be independent and complete by itself.

Nrtta is described in terms of the motion of the limbs; the beauty of its form; the balanced geometrical structure; creative use of space; and rhythm (time). It gives form to the formless.  Here, the body speaks its own language; an expression of the self. It delights the eye with its posture, rhythm and synchronized movements of the dancer’s body.

Nrtta is the spontaneous rhythmic movement of different parts of the body (Angas, Upangas and Pratyangas). Nrtta is also associated with the surrounding nature and its beauty. For instance; Shiva does his Nrtta in the evening, before sun set, (Sandhyayam nrtyaha Shamboh) surrounded by the salubrious shining snow peaks of the Himalayas, while he is in the company of Devi Parvathi and his Ganas.

It is said; the sense of Nrtta is ingrained in the nature. For instance; the peacocks burst into simple rhythmic movements at the sight of rain-bearing clouds; and, the waves in the sea swing in ebb and flow as the full moon rises up in a clear cloudless night.

Nrtta is a kind of architecture. It is an Art-form whose life is the beauty of its form. But, Nrtta was not meant for giving forth meaningful expressions. It did not look for a purpose; not even of narrating a theme.

Thus, Nrtta could be understood as a metaphor of Dance made of coordinated movement of hands and feet (Cari and Karana or dance units or postures), in a single graceful flow.  Nrtta is useful for its beautiful visual appeal; as that which pleases the eye (Shobha hetuvena).

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Tandava

shiva tandava

And, Tandava is said to be the Nrtta that Shiva taught to his disciple Tandu (Tando rayam Tandavah).  It was composed by combining the circular movement of a limb (Recaka) and the sequence of dance movements (KaranasAngaharas) . It is not clear  how these movements were utilized.

The term Tandava could also be understood as Bharata’s term for Nrtta , the Dance (Nrtta-prayoga) – Nrtta-prayoga sṛṣṭo ya sa Tāṇḍava iti smta. NS.4.261. And, Tandava is often used as a synonym for Nrtta.

[Abhinavagupta, in his typical style, provides a totally different sort of explanation to the term Tandava. According to him, the term ṇḍava is derived from the sounds like ‘Tando; tam-tam’, produced by the accompanying Damaru shaped drums. It follows the manner, in Grammar (vyākaraa), of naming an object, based on the sound it produces – śabda-anukti.  For instance; Yaska, in his Nirukta (318) had mentioned that a kaka (crow) is so called, because of the sound it makes – kāka, iti Śabda, anuktis, tad idam, śakunisu bahulam.

Abhinavagupta also mentions that the Bhaṇḍam (percussion instruments), which produce sounds like ‘Bhan, Than’ etc., are important for the performance of the Ntta.]

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And, in regard to the Drama, the Tandava,  a form of Nrtta, is performed before the commencement of the play, as a prayer-offering to gods (Deva stuti). It is a dance that creates beauty of form; and, is submitted to gods, just as one offers flowers (pushpanjali).

The Tandava, at this stage, did not necessarily mean a violent dance; nor was it performed only by men.

According to Bharata, the Tandava Nrtta, during Purvaranga, iperformed to accompaniment of appropriate songs and drums. And, it is composed of Recakas, Angaharas and the Pindibandhas; (NS. 4. 259-61).

Recakā Agahārāśca Piṇḍībandhā tasthaiva ca 4.259 sṛṣṭvā bhagavatā dattās Taṇḍave munaye tadā tenāpi hi tata samyag-gāna-bhāṇḍa-samanvita 4.260 Ntta-prayoga sṛṣṭo ya sa Tāṇḍava iti smta 4.261

[Please also check this link http://www.tarrdaniel.com/documents/Yoga-Yogacara/nata_yoga.html ]

Sukumara

devi lasya.

And , Sukumara Prayoga is the tender and graceful type of dance performed by the Devi Parvathi.

It is said; Shiva’s Tandava dance comprising Angaharas and Recakas inspired Devi Parvathi to perform her own type of dance, adorned with graceful and delicate movements (sukumara-prayoga) – (Sukumāra-prayogeṇa Nṛttam caiva Pārvatīm –NS.4.250). 

Recakair-agahāraiś ca Ntyanta vīkya Sakaram 249 Sukumāra-prayogea Ntyantī caiva Pārvatīm (NS. 4. 249-50)

Parvathi ‘s  dance was also adorned with graceful gestures – Recakas and Angaharas. But, her dance cannot be construed as s counterpart to Tandava. It was her own form of Dance.

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Abhinavagupta explains; the Angaharas of Parvathi’s Dance was rich in loveliness and subtle beauty (Lalitha Angahara); celebrating the erotic sentiment, Sṛṅgāra, the love that binds male and female – (Sukumāra-prayogaśca śṛṅgāra-rasa-sambhavaḥ – NS.4.269). Her Dance was bedecked with emotion; and, was full of meaning (Abhinaya prāptyartham arthānā tajjñair abhinaya kta NS.4. 261).

Yattu śṛṅgāra sabaddha gāna strī puruā aśrayam Devī ktair agahārair lalitais tat prayojayet NS.4. 312

Abhinavagupta says; the fruit (phala) of the gentle dance is that it pleases the Goddess (Devī); and that of ṇḍava is that it pleases Shiva who is with Soma. He also mentions that while performing the dance-gestures (abhinaya) for Puṣhpāñjali, the dancer’s looks must not be diverted towards the audience. That is because; that dance-offering is not addressed to the spectators. Therefore, it must be performed looking into one’s own soul.

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[ We need to remember that the Tandava and the Sukumara, the pure types of Dances, were discussed by Bharata in the context of the purvaranga, not in that of drama proper (yaścāya pūrva-ragastu tvayā śuddha prayojita – NS.4. 15). And, such a Purvaranga was called Chitra (Citro nāma bhaviyati); Chitra meant diagrams/formations. These dances , at that stage , were not associated with expression of emotions.

However, Abhinavagupta, in his commentary, at many places, interprets Natyashastra in the light of contemporary concepts and practices. He also introduces certain ideas and terms that were not present during the time of Bharata.

For instance; during the time of Bharata, there was no clear theoretical division of Dance into Tandava and Sukumara. And, the term Lasya, which in the later period meant gentle, delicate and graceful, does not also appear in Natyashastra. But, the concept of the element of grace and beauty did exist; and, was named as Sukumara-prayoga.

The Tandava as described in the Natyashastra was Nrtta (pure dance); and, it was not necessarily aggressive; though Abhinavagupta interpreted Tandava as Uddhata (vigorous). But, in the Natyashastra, Tandava does not convey the sense of Uddhata.

Similarly, though Tandava is mentioned as Nrtta; it, in no way, refers to, or is related to furious dance, which in the present-day goes by the name Tandava-nrtta

Abhinavagupta states that Lasya (which term he uses to substitute Sukumara-prayoga), the graceful dance with delicate, graceful movements , performed by Devi Parvathi was in contrast to Shiva’s forceful (Uddhata Angaharas) and fast paced Tandava Nrtta. But, nether term Lasya, nor such distinctions or contrasts are mentioned in the Natyashastra.

Both Tandava and Sukumara come under Nrtta – the pure Dance, devoid of meaning and emotion. But, Abhinavagupta describes the Sukumara of Devi as being ‘bedecked with emotion and full of meaning’.

Abhinavagupta also brings in the notion of relating Tandava and Sukumara to male (Purusha) and female (Stri) dances. But, such gender-based associations were not mentioned in the Natyashastra.]

NataYoga10-12

Recaka, Karana and Angahara

As mentioned earlier, according to Bharata, the Tandava Nrtta, performed to the accompaniment of appropriate songs and drum-beats, is composed of Recakas, Angaharas and the Pindibandhas – (Recakā Agahārāśca Piṇḍībandhā tasthaiva caNS. 4. 259-61). The Tandava, at this stage, as said earlier, did not necessarily mean a violent dance; nor was it performed only by men.

Recaka

Here, Recaka (derived from Recita, relating to limbs) is understood as the extending movements of the feet (pāda), waist (kai), hands (hasta) and neck (grīva or kanta):  pāda-recaka eka syat dvitīya kai-recaka kararecakas tritīyas tu caturta kaṇṭha-recakaḥ (NS.4. 248). The Recakas are said to be separate  movements; and, are not parts of Karanas or Cari.

Movement of the feet from one side to the other with faltering or unsteady gaits as also of other types of feet movement is called Pada-recaka. Rising up, stretching up and turning round the waist as well as drawing it back characterize the Kati-recaka. Throwing up,putting forward, throwing sideways, swinging round and drawing back of the hands are called Hasta-recaka. Raising up, lowering, and bending the neck sideways to left and right or such other movements form the Kanta-recaka.

In each of the four varieties of major joint movements, the limb is moved or turned from one position to another. These four basic oscillating movements, which lend grace and elegance to the postures, are regarded as fundamental to dancing.

Abhinavagupta also says; it is through the Recakas that the Karanas and the Angaharas derive their beauty and grace. He gives some guidelines to be observed while performing a Recaka of the foot (Pada-recaka) , neck (Griva-recaka) and the hands (Hastha-recaka) .

According to him; while performing the Recaka of the foot one should pay attention to the movements of the big toe; in the Recaka of the hands one should perform  Hamsa-paksha Hastha in quick circular movements; and, in the Recaka of the neck one should execute it with slow graceful movements.

Padayoreva chalanam na cha parnir bhutayor antar bahisha sannatam namanonna manavyamsitam gamanam Angustasya cha /Hasthareva chalanam Hamsapakshayo paryayena dhruta bramanam/ Grivayastu Recitatvam vidhuta brantata//

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It is said; on entering the stage, with flowers in her hands (pupāñjali-dharā bhūtvā praviśed raga-maṇtapam), the female dancer should be in vaisakha sthana (posture) ; and , perform all the four Recakas (those of feet, waist, hands and neck) – vaiśākha-sthāna-keneha sarva-recaka-cāriī ॥ 274॥

And, only then , she should go round the stage scattering flowers , in submission to gods. After bowing to gods, she should perform her Abhinaya .

pupāñjali visjyātha ragapīha parītya ca 275 praamya devatābhyaś ca tato abhinayam-ācaret 276

Abhinavagupta also says, the Recakas are basically related to tender graceful movements, where music is prominent (Sukumara-Samgita-Vadya pradanene cha prayoga esham)

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Somehow, there is not much discussion about Recaka in the major texts. Kallinātha, the commentator, merely states that Recakas form part of the Agahāras; and, is useful in adjusting the Taala (time units).

Hamsa 4

Karanas

According to the Natyashastra, the Nrtta is Angahara, which is made of Karanas – Nānā Karaa sayuktair Agahārair vibhūitam (NS.4.13)

And, Karana is defined by Bharata as the perfect combination of the hands and feet – Hasta-pada samyoga Nrttasya Karanam bhavet (NS.4.30). The Karanas are classified under Nrtta.

And, the Karanas are themselves made up of Sthanas (static postures), Caris and Nrtta-hastas (movement of the feet and the hands). It involves both the aspects: movement and position.

Abhinavagupta also explains; Karana is indeed the harmonious combination (sam-militam) of Gati (movement of feet), Sthanaka (stance), Cari (foot position) and Nrtta-hastha (hand-gestures)

Gatau tu Caryah / purvakaye tu Gatau Nrttahastha drusta-yashcha / sthithau pathakadyaha tena Gati-Sthithi – sam-militam Karanam

According to him, the Sthanaka, Cari and Nrtta-hastha can be compared to subject (kartru-pada), object (Karma-pada) and verb (Kriya-pada) in a meaningful sentence.

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Thus, Karaa is not a mere pose, a stance or a posture that is isolated and frozen in time. Karaa is the stylized synthesis of Sthiti (a fixed position-static) and Gati (motion-dynamic). That is to say; a Karana made of Sthanas, Caris and Nrtttahastas is a dynamic process.  It is an aesthetically appealing, well coordinated movement of the hands and feet, capturing an image of beauty and grace .

A Karana functions as a fundamental unit of dance. It is a technical component, which helps to provide a structural framework, on which dance movements and formations are built and developed,

Bharata enumerates 108 types of Karanas in the Fourth Chapter of the Natyashastra. He devotes a two-line verse (Karika) to each of the Karanas, mentioning the associated hand gestures (hastas), foot movements (Caris), and body positions (Mandalas).

Abhinavagupta explains Karaa as action (Kriyā Karaam); and, as the very life (jivitam) of Ntta. It is a Kriya, an act which starts from a given place and terminates after reaching the proper one. It involves both the static and dynamic aspects: pose (Sthiti) and movement (Gati). And that is why, he says, Karaa is called as ‘Ntta Karaa’.

In the Karanas, the balance, equipoise, the ease, is the key. The movement of each limb must be in relation with that of the other, which is either following it in the same direction or is playing as the counterpart in the other direction. The flow must be fluid and harmonious. Every Karana is well thought out; and, is complete by itself.

Nrtta is the art that solely depends on the form. Its purpose is to achieve beauty in forms. That is the reason; Karana is defined as the perfect composition of the entire body. Unless each and every Karana is individually illustrated, it might not be possible to point out whether it is perfect; and whether all the elements that are required for that Karana are present.

karana (1)

Abhinavagupta explains; Karana is different from the actions of normal life (Lokadharmi). And, it is not a mere placement, replacement or displacement. Such throws (kepa) of the limbs must be guided by a sense of beauty and grace (vilasa-ksepasya). Hence, Karana is a free movement of limbs in a pleasing, unbroken flow (ekā kriyā). That is why, though the Karaa is defined ‘kriyā karaam’, Abhinavagupta says: a Karana has to be intellectually and spiritually satisfying. The word nttasya in Bharata’s definition is meant to emphasize this aspect of dance.

Pūrva-ketre sayoga-tyāgena samucita ketrāntara-prapti-paryantatayā ekā kriyā tattaranmityamartha

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As said earlier; Karaa was defined by Bharata as ‘hasta-pāda-sayoga nttasya karaa bhavet’ (BhN_4.30); meaning that the combination of hand and foot movements in dance (Ntta) are called Karaa.  

Abhinavagupta explains that ‘hasta’ and ‘pāda’, here, do not denote merely the hand and foot. But, hasta implies all actions pertaining to the upper part (Purva-kaya) of the body (Anga); and, it’s Shākhā-aga (branches, the various movements of the hands – Kara varhana), and Upāga (subsidiaries like the eyebrows, the nose, the lower lip, the cheeks and the chin etc).

Similarly, pāda stands for all actions of the lower limbs of the body (Apara-kaya); such as sides, waist, thighs, trunk and feet.

Thus, Karana involves the movement of the feet (pada karmani); shifting of a single foot (Cari) and postures of the legs (Sthana), along with hand gestures (hastas– single as also combined Nrtta gestures).

And, all the actions of the hands and feet must be suitably and coherently combined with those of the waist, sides, thighs, chest and back – Hasta, pada samyogaha  Nrtta Karanam bhavet.

That is to say; when the Anga moves, the Pratyanga and Upanga also move accordingly. The flow of the movement (gatravikshepa) should be such that the entire body is involved in the curves and bends.

hastau śiras-sannata ca gagāvataraa tviti / yāni sthānāni yāścāryo vyāyāme kathitāni tu // BhN_4.169 // ādapracārastveā tu karaānāmaya bhavet / ye cāpi ntta hastāstu gaditā nttakarmai // BhN_4.170 //

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There is an elaborate discussion on two important features of a Karana execution: (1) Sausthava (keeping different limbs in their proper position) – about which Bharata says that the whole beauty of Nrtta rests on the Sausthava , so the performer never shines unless he pays attention to this – Shobha sarvaiva nityam hi Sausthavam; and, (2) Chaturasrya (square composition of the body, mainly in relation to the chest) – about which Abhinavagupta remarks that the very vital principle (jivitam)  of the body, in dance, is based on  its square position (Chaturasrya-mulam Nrttena  angasya jivitam), and adds that the very object of Sausthava is to attain a perfect Chaturasrya ,

This again emphasizes that Nrtta rests on the notion of formal-beauty, which is achieved through the perfect composition of the whole body. This involves not merely the geometrical values, but also the balance and harmony among the body parts.

While commenting on the Karaas, Abhinavagupta says that such static elements within the dynamics of the Karaas are useful in dance, not only as factors that beautify the presentation , but also as mediums of expression for communicating the meaning of the lyrics through vākyā-arthā-abhinaya (actions interpreting the meanings of its sentences). According to him, the Karanas are not mere physical actions; they can give form to ideas and thoughts. He opines that Nrtta can produce Bhavas. And, Nrtta, in reality, is Art par excellence.

While commenting on the fifteenth Karaa (the Svastika), Abhinavagupta asserts that every Karaa is capable of conveying a certain idea (Artha) or a thought, at least in a very subtle way. (But, such notions of associating Karanas with representation are not found in the Natyashastra.)

Sarangadeva in his Sangitaratnakara (Chapter 7, Nrttakarana, verses 548-49) also defines the Nrtta Karana as a beautiful (vilasena) combination of the actions (kriya) of the hands (Kara), feet (pada) etc., appropriate to the Rasa it intends to evoke.

Nrttakarana

Thus, while many of the 108-karanas are primarily associated with stylized movements, some Ntta Karaas are used, also, to express various emotions; going beyond the conventional Nrtta format. And, the depiction of such Karanas is a dynamic process. There is scope for innovation and experimentation.

For instance; while explaining the 10th Karana – the Ardha-nikuttaka karana (placing one hand on the shoulder; striking it with outstretched fingers; and then striking the ground with one of the heels) – which employs ancita (curve) of the hands, Abhinavagupta mentions that Sankuka’s description was different from that of Bharata; and, cannot be accepted. Further, he says; this Karana can be performed in two or more different ways; and, therefore, concludes that the performer has some degree of freedom in interpreting a Karana.

He mentions that a Karana can be performed both in the sitting posture and by moving about on a stage by employing Nrtta-hastas (hand postures) and Drsti (glances) – Tatravastane karakayopayogi sthanakam. Gatau tu caryah; purvakaye to gatanau Nrtta-hasta Drstaya ca

And, again, along with his explanation of the 66th Karaa (Atikranta moving forward with each foot treading alternatively with a flourish and swing), he states that wherever the use of the Karaa is not specifically stated, it is left to the imagination of the performer.

[In the later times, Karanas came to be described as the means to convey a meaning (Artha) or a pattern, such as: svastikarcita or mandala-svastika. But, in the Natyashastra, the Nrtta or the Karanas are not associated with such representations.]

And, in the later times, the idioms and phrases (Karanas and Angahara) of these dances, as also the ways of expressing the intent and meaning (Abhinaya) of a situation or of a lyric, were adopted into the play-proper, as also into various Dance forms; thus , enhancing the quality of those art-forms.

It is said; even during the course of the play , one should adopt the physical movements – Uddhata Angaharas of Tandava, created by Shiva, while depicting action in fighting scenes. And, for rendering love-scenes, one should adopt the Sukumara Angaharas created by the Devi.

Since the Karanas epitomize the beauty of form; and, symbolize the concept of aesthetics, they served as models for the artist; and, inspired them to create sculptures of lasting beauty. The sculptors (Shilpis) regarded the Karanas as the vital breath (Prana) of their Art. The much admired Indian sculptures are, indeed, the frozen forms of Karanas. The linear measurements or the deviation from the vertical median (Brahma Sutra); the stances; and, iconometry of the Indian sculptures are all rooted in the Karanas of the Nrtta, the idiom of visual delight. These wondrous sculptures, poems in stone, continue to fascinate and do evoke admiration and pleasure (Rasa) in the hearts of the viewers.

[Please do not fail to read the Doctoral thesis on the Dance imagery in south Indian temples : study of the 108-karana sculptures, prepared by Dr. Bindu S. Shankar]

And, in the present-day dance curriculum, the Karanas are used as the phrases or the basic units of the dance structure.   Nrtta is taught as a combination of basic dance motions called Adavus for which there is a corresponding pattern of phonetic syllables. The Adavus of Bharatanatya are based in limb movements, postures, hand gestures and geometry as in the Karanas; though the Adavus might differ from Karanas, in their execution.

Adavus are regarded as the building blocks of Bharatanatya. Different combinations of Adavus create varieties of body movements.

[The Adavus (smallest units of dance patterns) are composed as dance-modulations (Nrtta), where all the movements relate to the vertical median (Brahma-sutra) on the one hand; and to the stable equipoise, fixed position of one-half of the dancer’s body, on the other. The Adavus are, thus, primary units of movements, where the position of the feet (Sthana), posture of our standing (Mandala), walking movements (Cari), gestures of the hands (Nrtta hasthas) and other limbs of the body together form a precise dance pattern. It is said; there are about ten or more basic types of Adavus (Dasha-vidha); and, more number of variations could be formed de pending on the School of Dancing (Bani).]

adavus2-16b3d

Agahāra

Nrtta in Natyashastra is of Angaharas, which are made of Karanas – Nānā Karaa sayuktair Agahārair vibhūitam (NS.4.13)

Abhinavagupta explains Agahāra as the process of sending the limbs of the body from a given position to the other proper one (Angavikshepa). It could also be taken to mean, twisting and bending of the limbs in a graceful manner.

And, such Angavikshepa is said to be a dominant feature of the Nrtta. And, as mentioned earlier, that term stands for graceful composition of limbs (gatram vilasena kshepaha). Thus, the Angaharas, basically, are Nrtta movements, the Angika-abhinaya, involving six Angas or segments of the body.

Abhinavagupta relates Angavikshepa to the Angaharas; and says, they could be taken, almost, as synonyms . But, they are not the same.

The Angaharas along with Recakas and Karanas constitute the essential aspects of the Nrtta; especially in the in the Purvaranga, and at times on the stage, as a part of the prelude (Naandi),  by female dancers dressed as goddesses – nikrāntāsu ca sarvāsu nartakīsu tata param 5. 156.  Bharata lists 32 Angaharas in verses 19 to 26 of Chapter Four.

[Towards the end of his comments on the 32 Angaharas, Abhinavagupta mentions that these could be produced in separate two sets of 16 each. One set of sixteen could be performed as a part of the Purvanga; and, the other set of sixteen after lifting the curtain, in full view of the spectators. While on the stage, four female dancers could perform four Angaharas each. Eight of them could be in Trisra Taala and the other eight in Chatursra Taala (Trysratalakah sodasa Esam; caturasra sryastav avantaratah).]

A Karana, as said earlier, is a basic unit of dance, constructed of well coordinated static postures and dynamic movements. The Nrtta technique consists in constructing a series of short compositions, by using the Karanas.

The Natyashastra mentions that a unit of two Karanas makes one Matrka; three Karanas makes one Kalapaka; four Karanas make a Sandaka; and, five Karanas make one Samghataka.  Thus, it says, The Angaharas consist of six, seven, eight or nine Karanas.

A meaningful combination of six to nine Karanas is said to constitute an Angahara, which could be called as a basic dance sequence (abhirvā saptabhirvāpi aṣṭabhir navabhis tathākaraairiha sayuktā agahārā prakīrtāḥ – NS.4.33).

It is said; the Angahara is like a garland where the selected Karanas (like flowers) are strung together, weaving a delightful pattern. It is basically a visual delight (prekshaniya).

Angahara is, thus, a dance sequence composed of uninterrupted series of Karanas. Such combination of Karanas cannot be done randomly; but, it should follow a method. That is because; the nature of an Angahāra is defined by the appropriate arrangement (yojana) or the order of the occurrence of its constituent Karaas. Out of the 108, say, six to nine suitable Karanas are, therefore, selected and strung together in various permutations to form a meaningful Angahara sequences or a Dance segment. Chapter Four (verses 31 to 55) of the Natyashastra describes 32 selected Angaharas, to choose from.

[Pundarika Vittala, the author of Nartana -nirnaya , mentions that by his time, the sixteenth century, the 108 Karanas had , in effect , been reduced to sixteen.] 

Abhinavagupta, while explaining the fourth Angahara (the Apaviddha) remarks that even the best of the theoreticians (Lakshnakaro) cannot rationally and adequately explain the sequence of Karanas that should occur in an Angahara. Hence, whatever sequence is given by authorities should not be taken as final. The performers should go by their experience and intuition. The choreographer / performer, therefore, enjoy a certain degree of freedom in composing an Angahara sequence.

Nahi susiksitopi lakshnakaro vakyanam pratipadam laksanam keutum saknoti / Asya pascadidam prayojyamiti jnapitena kincid atmaano yojana ca samhita karya / Niyeimanamagre vak ityuktam /

Though Angaharas and Karanas have much in common, the two are not said to be the same. The Angaharas are not mere the sum or totality of Karanas. Each possesses a distinctive character of its own. The Angaharas are distinct from Karanas. That is the reason Bharata says: Nana karaa sayuktān vyākhyāsyāmi sarecakān (NS.4.19)

The Angaharas, though mainly made up of Karanas, also need Recakas, which are the stylized movements of four limbs: neck (griva), hands (hasta), waist (kati) and feet (carana). The Recakas fulfill two purposes. One, it provides beauty and grace to the presentation; and, two, it ensures a smooth and seamless movement in such a way as to adjust the entire Angahara to the given Tala.

*

Thus, in short, the Dance choreography of Nrtta is the series of body-movements, composed of Angaharas. The Angaharas in turn are made of appropriate Karanas. And, the Karanas are themselves made up of Caris, Nrtta-hastas and Sthanas. 

Nrtta, as articulated by Bharata, is of the Marga class. And, according to Abhinavagupta, it is capable of evoking Rasa, although it is non-representational.

padmakarana2

Which is the basic unit of Nrtta..?

Now, we have in sequence Caris; Nrttahastas; Sthanas; Karanas and Angaharas.

And, Abhinavagupta questions, which of these should be considered as the basic unit of Nrtta. He says the combination of two karanas, called Nrtta-matrka (Nrtta alphabet) is the basic unit of Nrtta; because, until the two Karanas are performed, you will not get the sense that you are dancing (Nrttyati).

But, that view was disputed by the later scholars. They counter questioned why only two Karanas; why not three or four or more.

They point out that the components of a Karana; like Caris; Nrtta-hastas; Sthanas, by themselves, individually cannot convey the sense of the Nrtta. They argued that Karana is, indeed, the factor, that characterizes Nrtta, which is built up by the clever arrangement of its patterns, just as in architecture. That form of beauty is achieved through the perfect geometrical qualities and harmonious composition of various body-parts. The sense of balance, ease and poise is the key. Therefore, a well thought out Karana, which is complete by itself, is regarded as the basic unit of Nrtta.

dance pose

Bharatanatya

Eventually, the Karanas, Angaharas and Nrtta, all, form part of Nrtya, the expressive dance. And, a Dance form like Bharatanatya is not complete without adaptation of the Nrtta techniques.

Bharatanatya is a composite Dance form, which brings together Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya formats. It draws its references (apart from Natyashastra) from various other texts of regional nature. Besides, it has developed its own specialized forms.

The Indian classical dance of today (Bharatanatya) has, over a period, evolved its own Grammar; and, has constructed its own devices. Its Nrtta element too has changed greatly from what it meant during the days of Bharata. Its structure and style is based in different units of movements, postures, and hand gestures such as Adavus etc., which are the combination of steps and gestures artistically woven into Nrtta sequences.

The basic Nrtta items in the Bharatanatya repertoire are the Alarippu (invocation); Jatiswaram (perhaps a successor of Yati Nrtta, where the Jati patterns are interspersed with appropriate Svara); and , Tillana (brisk, short rhythmic passages presented towards the close of the performance

Such Nrtta items in a Bharatanatya performance are dominated by the technique of the Angikabhinaya, which is defined as acting by means of body movements.

[ Alarippu

Alarippu is a dance invocation, which , at the same time, executes a series of pure Dance movements (Nrtta) following rhythmic patterns. It is an ideal introduction or prologue to a Dance performance. It commences with perfect repose, a well balanced poise (Sama-bhanga). Then, the individual movements of the neck, the shoulders, and the arms follow. And, next is the Ardha-mandali (the flexed position of the knees) and the full Mandali.  Thus, the Alarippu introduces the movements of the major limbs (Anga) and the minor limbs (Upanga) , in their simple formations. The dancer, thus, is able to check on her limb-movements; attaining positions of perfect  balance; and, the ease of her performance. The Alarippu sets the Dancer and the Dance performance to take off with eloquence and composure.

Jatisvaram

The Jatisvaram, which follows the Alarippu, is also a dance form of the Nrtta class. It properly introduces the music element into the dance. The Jatisvaram follows the rules of the Svara-jati , in its musical structure. And, it consists three movements: the Pallavi, the Anu-pallavi and the Charanam. The music of the Jatisvaram is distinguished from the musical composition called Gita (song) ; as also from the Varnam , which is a complex composition. In the Jatisvaram, the music is not composed of meaningful words. But, here, the series of sol-fa passages (Svaras) are very highly important. A Jatisvaram composition is set to five Jatis (time-units) of metrical – cyclic patterns (Taala) – say, of 3,4,5,7,9. The basic Taala cycle guides the dancer; and she weaves different types of rhythmic patterns, in terms of the primary units of the dance (the Adavus).

The execution of Jatisvaram is based on the principle of repetition of the musical notes (Svara) of the melody, set to a given Taala. Following that principle, the dancer weaves a variety of dance-patterns.

Thus, what is pure Svara in music becomes pure dance (Nrtta) modulation in the Jatisvaram. The dancer and the musician may begin together on the first note of the melody; and, synchronize to return to the first beat of the Taala cycle; or, the dancer may begin the dance-pattern on the third beat, and yet may synchronize at the end of the phrase of the melodic line. But, the variety of punctuations and combinations within the Jatisvaram format are truly countless. It is up to the ingenuity, the skill and imagination of the dancer to weave as many complex patterns as she is capable of.

Tillana

Tillana is a rhythmic dance that is generally performed towards the end of a concert. A Tillana uses Taala-like phrases in the Pallavi and Anupallavi, and lyrics in the Charanam. It  is predominantly a rhythmic composition.

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Varnam

The Varnam is a highly interesting and complex composition in the Karnataka Samgita. And, when adopted into Dance-form, Varnam is transformed into the richest composition in Bharatanatya. The Varnam, either in music or dance, is a finely crafted exquisite works of art; and, it gives full scope to the musician and also to the dancer to display ones knowledge, skill and expertise.

And , in Dance , its alternating passages of Sahitya (lyrics) and Svaras (notes of the melody) gives scope to the dancer to perform both the Nrtya (dance with Abhinaya) and Nrtta (pure dance movements) aspects. In its performance, a Varnam employs all the three tempos. The movement of a Varnam, which is crisp and tightly knit, is strictly controlled; and, it’s rendering demands discipline and skill. It also calls for complete understanding between the singer and the dancer; and also for the dancer’s ability to interpret not only the words (Sahitya) but also the musical notes (Svaras) as per the requisite time units (Taala). The dancer presents, in varied ways, through Angika-abhinaya the dance elements, which the singer brings forth through the rendering of the Svaras]

Hamsa 4

The Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeshvara is widely used by the teachers and learners of Bharatanatya. The text is concerned mainly with the descriptions and applications of Angikabhinaya in dance. These are body movements composed by combining the movements of body parts; such as: Angas (major limbs); Upangas (minor limbs), and Pratayangas (smaller parts like fingers, etc).

[The Abhinaya Darpana (Chapter 8, Angika Abhinaya Pages: 47 to71) lists, in great detail, the following kinds of body movements under Angika-abhinaya. And, these are followed by the students and the teachers of Bharatanatya.

Shirobheda (movements of the head); Dristibheda (movements of the eyes); Grivabheda (movements of the neck); Asamyukta-hasta (gestures of one hand); Samyukta-hasta (gestures by both hands together); Padabheda (standing postures with Hasta); Sthanaka (Simple standing posture); Utplavana (jumps); Chari-s (different ways of walking, or moving of feet/soles); and, Gati-s (different ways of walking)

In addition, there are other kinds of movements and activities of various parts of the body that are important to Nrtta.]

[The following well known verses said to be of the Abhinaya Darpana are very often quoted

Khantaanyat Lambayat Geetam; Hastena Artha Pradakshayat; Chakshubhyam Darshayat Bhavom; Padabhyam Tala Acherait

Keep your throat full of song; Let your hands bring out the meaning; May your glance be full of expression, While your feet maintain the rhythm

Yato Hasta tato Drushti; Yato Drushti tato Manaha; Yato Manaha tato Bhavaha; Yato Bhava tato Rasaha

Where the hand goes, there the eyes should follow; Where the eyes are, there the mind should follow; Where the mind is, there the expression should be brought out; Where there is  expression , there the Rasa will manifest.]

Hamsa 4

Pindlbandhas

Pindlbandhas (Pindi = cluster or lump) are basically group dances that constitute a distinct phase of the preliminaries (purvaranga) to a play. According to Bharata, the Pindlbandhas were patterned after the dance performed by Shiva along with his Ganas and disciples such as Nandi and Bhadramukha. The purpose of performing the Pindlbandhas, before the commencement of the play proper, was to please the gods; and, to invoke their blessings.

After the exit of the dancer who performed the Pushpanjali (flower offering to gods), The Pindis are danced , by another set of women, to the accompaniment of songs and instrumental music –  anyāścā anukrameātha piṇḍī badhnanti yā striyaḥ- ॥ 279॥

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While describing the physical structure and composition of the Pindibandhas; and the various types of clusters and patterns formed by its dancers, Bharata mentions four types of Pindibandhas that were performed during his time: Pindi (Gulma-lump-like formation); Latha (entwined creeper or net like formation, where dancers put their arms around each other); Srinkhalika (chain like formation by holding each other’s hands); and, Bhedyaka (where the dancers break away from the group and perform individual numbers).

piṇḍī śṛṅkhalikā caiva latābandho’tha bhedyaka piṇḍībandhastu piṇḍatvādgulma śṛṅkhalikā bhavet 288

In short; the Pindibandha is the technique of group formations; and, weaving patterns. Abhinavagupta describes it as ‘piṇḍī ādhāra agādi saghāta,’- a collection of all those basic elements which make a composite whole. It is called Pindibandha, because it draws in all other aspects; and, ties them together. He also states that Agahāras form the core of the Pindibandhas.

 It is said; each variation of a cluster-formation (Pindi) was dedicated to and named after a god or a goddess, who was denoted by the weapons, vehicles, insignia or emblems associated with that deity; and, her/his glory was celebrated through the formation created by the dancers.

Abhinavagupta also explains Pindibandha as the term which refers to the insignia or weapon etc; and, which reminds one of the divinity or concept associated with it.

Pindi adhara-angadi sanghatah; taya badhyate buddhau pravesyate tanu-bhavena sakalaya va vyoma-adaviti pindibandha akrti-visesah

(For instance: Īśvara piṇḍī for Īśvara; Sihavāhinī for Caṇḍikā; Śikhī piṇḍī for Kumar and so on).


*

Abhinavagupta explains that in the Pindibandha, the  dancers coming together, can combine in two ways : as  Sajatiya , in which the two dancers would appear as two lotuses from a common stalk;  or as Vijatiya,  in which one dancer will remain in one pose like the swan and the other will be in a different pose to give the effect of lotus with stalk, held by the swan-lady. And, in the gulma-srnkhalika formation, three women would combine; and in the Latha, creeper like formation, four women would combine.

Bharata provides a list of such Pindis in verses 253-258 of Chapter Four. Bharata states that in order to be able to create such auspicious diagrams/formations (citra), in an appropriate manner, the dancers need to undergo systematic training (śikāyogas tathā caiva prayoktavya prayoktbhiḥ – NS.4.291)

The presentation of the preliminaries seemed to be quite an elaborate affair, with the participation of singers, drummers, and groups of dancers.

Tikuli art

The most celebrated type of the Pindibandha Nrtta is, of course, is the Rasalila that Sri Krishna performed with the Goips amidst the mango and Kadamba groves along the banks of the gentle flowing Yamuna under resplendent full moon of the Sharad-ritu.

Srimamad Bhagavatha sings the glory and joy of Rasa-Lila with love and divine ecstasy, in five Chapters from 29 to 33 of the Tenth Canto (Dashama-skanda) titled as ‘Rasa-panca-adhyayi’. (Harivamsa also describes this dance; but, calls it as Hallisaka)

“That night beautified by the autumnal moon (sharad indu), the almighty Lord having seen the night rendered delightful with the blooming of autumnal jasmines  sported with  the Gopis, while he played on his flute melodious tunes and songs captivating the hearts of the Gopis.

Then having stationed himself between every two of these damsels the Lord of all Yoga, commenced in that circle of the Gopis the festive dance known as Rasa-Lila. Then that ring of dancers was filled with the sounds of bracelets, bangles and the kinkinis of the damsels. While they sang sweet and melodious songs filled with love, the Gopis gesticulated with their hands to express various Bhavas of the Srngara-rasa.

With their measured steps, with the movements of their hands, with their smiles, with the graceful and amorous contraction of their eyebrows, with their dancing bodies, their moving locks of hair covering their foreheads with drops of perspiration trickling down tneir gentle cheeks  and with the knots of their hair loosened, Gopis began to sing. The music of their song filled the Universe.”

Rasa Lila – from Vishnu Purana

The Raasa Dance of today is the re-enactment of Krishna’s celestial Rasa-Lila. It is a Pindibandha type of  dance performed by a well coordinated group of eight, sixteen or thirty two men and women , alternatively positioned, holding each other’s hands; forming a circle (Mandala); going round in rhythmic steps  , singing songs of love made of soft and sweet sounding words; clapping each other’s hands rhythmically; and,  throwing gentle looks at each other (bhrubhanga vikasita). Laya and Taala in combination with vocal and instrumental music play an important role in the Rasa dance.

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The direct descendants of the Rasa-Lila Pindibandhas described in the Puranas  are the many types of folk and other types of group in many parts of India :  Raslīlā, Daṇḍaras, Kummi, Perani, Kolāṭṭam and similar other dances. The most famous of them all is the Maha-Rasa of Manipur, performed with the singing of the verses of Srimad Bhagavata.

manipur-ras-lila-

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[When you take an overview, you can see that during the time of Bharata, Nrtta meant a Marga class of dance. And, Tandava and Sukumara were also of the Nrtta type. Though the connotation of those terms has since changed vastly, their underlying principles are relevant even to this day.

In the textual tradition, the framework devised by Bharata continued to be followed by the later authors, in principle, for classification and descriptions of several of dance forms – (even though Nrtta and Nrtya were no longer confined to Drama –Natya). The norms laid down by Bharata were treated as the standard or the criterion (Marga, Nibaddha), in comparison with regional (Desi) other types of improvised (Anibaddha) dance forms, in their discussions. The regional dance-forms , despite their specialized formats,  were primarily based in the basic principles of Natyashastra.

This amazing continuity in the tradition of the Natyashastra is preserved in all the Indian classical Dance forms.]

lotus-flower-and-bud

In the next Part we will talk about Nrtta, Natya and Nritya as they were understood, interpreted and commented upon in the Post-Bharata period, i.e., the medieval times and in the present-day.

Continued

 In

Part Four

References and sources

All images are from the Internet

 
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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Two

Continued from Part One

Let me digress here for a while

Before we get to the texts that are devoted to the discussion on the Theories (Lakshana) and practice (Lakshya) of Dance and its various forms, let us talk, in general on the issues related to Art, Art-form, Dance and Dance-forms.

  classical dancer

Art and Art-form

When we talk of a particular type of dance we call it a Dance form. And, when we talk of Dance, in general, we call it an Art form. What does this form mean? What is the relationship between Art and Dance? And, how is that formed?

Further, it appears there is a sort of genealogical relation that spans Art, Dance and Dance-form: Art ->Art form ->Dance ->Dance form.

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A form could be taken to mean as that which is formed. It suggests that something has gone through the process of formation; and, that has resulted in a distinctly cognizable ‘form’.

Mahidasa Aitareya (one among the earliest philosophers, revered as  a sage who showed the way to other thinkers that succeeded him), in his Aitareya Aranyakawhile elucidating his views on evolution of matter, explains that the evolution has a unity of its own; and , that unity implies identity and continuity, with change, of a common substratum. He says: matter (Pradanam) is that out of which a thing becomes; and, that matter is the ground of all plurality of forms, just as speech is the ground for all plurality of names.

And, a form is that which emerges out of a common substratum. A form (Murti) is that which is manifested. And, it is related to its principal or origin; just as a shoot (Tula) is to its root (Mula) – (AA.2.1.8.1 please check page 107).

Mahidasa did not look upon changes that take place from one stage of matter to another as unrelated or isolated events. It is a progression or a purposeful order, he said, where something that is nebulous and unstructured evolves into its next stage, which is more cognizable and better structured; developing its own individual features. According to Mahidasa, the more evolved an entity is, the more manifest or recognizable or better defined it becomes.

The same principle applies to Art and Art-forms.

mandala4

Origin

There are various references to Art in the ancient texts, at different levels.

Abhinavagupta (10th-11th century), says; the Art, indeed, has no beginning (Anadi). The origin of Art cannot, truly, be traced. Even when Shiva taught his disciples, he recollected and renewed the ancient art (Vijnana); and, passed it on. According to Abhinavagupta, what matters, therefore, is not the debate about the origin of Art at a certain point of time. But, our concern should be about its uninterrupted flow; and, its genius to create beauty of lasting value.

He explains the term Datta, as one who is inspired by his own creative brilliance; who independently creates verities of expressions of uncommon nature; and, gives (Datta) to this world a fresh perspective of beauty. The Datta, verily, is the creator, the artist, who is blessed with such clear perception, Vijnana.

Vijnana (a special type of knowledge) was the term that was used, in much a earlier period, to refer to what we call Art. Banabhatta in his Harshacharita regards painting and sculpture as branches of Vijnana. And, he calls those artists as Vijnani-s (viśva-karma-mandiram iti vijñānibhi).

And, such special knowledge (vijñānam) was admired as a gift of god. It said; Shiva taught the art of Dance to his disciple Tandu. And, Narayana , who was engaged in penance, created the art of painting (Chitram), for the welfare of the world; and, taught it to Visvakarma, to spread its knowledge in the world (Narayanena munina lokanam hita-kamyaya; kritva chitram lakshana samyuktamVishnudharmottara. 3.35.2-5)

The Mahabharata attributes all forms of arts to Vishnu (vijñānam etat sarva janārdanāt)

Yogo jñāna tathā sākhya vidyā śilpāni karma ca vedā  śāstrāi vijñānam  etat sarva janārdanāt – MBh. 13.135.139

mandala4

What is Art, kalaa –कला ..?

Since, Dance and Dance-forms are regarded as forms of Art, let’s start with the question: what does this concept of Art signify?

The most common term that is used to signify Art, is kalaa –कला. And, in the Indian traditions, it is said; Kala (Art) is that which delights (kam anandam lathi iti kalah). It stands for various modes of aesthetic expressions that enchant, gladden the hearts (hrudaya-ranjaka); and, that which requires some knowledge as also skill or felicity in expressing its creative impulse – kaushala.  Bharata, in his Natyashastra, according to some scholars, uses the term Kala to suggest fine (Charu) arts, as also the dexterity, skill in art-creation.  (Na sā vidyā na sā kalā NS. 1.116)

The Paramara king, Raja Bhoja of Dhara (1000–1055 AD), in his Samarangana –sutradhara, remarks that the best artists combine the knowledge of the theory of Art with proficiency in its practice (Bhudyante kepi shastranam kechid karmani kurvate: Samarangana-sutradhara -74)

Thus, Kala (Art) stands not only for what is ultimately expressed; but also for the process of expressing it.  The Art can, therefore, be understood in two ways. One: art is that which is expressed as an art-form (objective); and, two, the manner in which that is expressed – the process, the skill (subjective).

There was a belief that an object of art, say a painting, is basically subjective; and, it, usually, takes after the nature and merits of the artist; just as a literary work mirrors the intellect of the poet. (Yadrisas chitrakaras tadrisi chitra-karma-rupa-rekha; yadrisah kavis tadrisis kavya-bandha-chhaya iti– Viddhasalabhajika-1).

That is to say; the effort and the process of creating a poem or a painting, brings one face-to-face with one’s own personality with all its limitations as also its potentials.

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As per Grammar, it is said, the basic meaning of Kalā (कला) is ‘a part’, especially ‘sixteenth part of the moon’- Chandra-kala (e.g. Bhadārayakopaniad 1.5.14). The moon waxes and wanes in periods of fifteen days; each day it gains or losses one kalā. The sixteenth kalā is the amtakalā, abiding digit, which never fades away, even at the dark of the moon (Bh.Up.1.5.17). Thus, kalā is the symbolic expression of number sixteen.

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But, there is also another interpretation, which is more significant.

It said; the etymological meaning of the term Kala (कला) is derived from its root Kal, meaning to count or compute. In the broader sense, it also suggests the meaning of:  to do; to make; or, to calculate. The term Kala, thus, covers larger set of factors, apart from sheer abstract notions.

Artists are makers or creators. Any artistic activity involves creative perception to visualize; and, the intellect to estimate and to compute, in order to articulate and give a form to ones vision and to ones inner experience.

This etymological meaning of the word Kala, led to further exposition and development of mathematical and quantitative standards for artistic practices in India, especially in creative and performing arts. Most of the Indian Schools of thought, right from the Samkhya, adopted the analytical method of Anveshiki to enumerate categories of existence and experiences. The texts on technical subjects like Nyaya, Ayurveda etc., also followed the Anveshiki method of listing, in order to bring clarity into the analytical investigation of issues.

The texts on performing arts also followed the similar method of enumeration.

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There is an interesting argument which binds mathematics and art together. Both try to transport an abstract concept into the real world of structures and forms. And, both search for beauty and aesthetics, in the structural harmony of their creations.

Following that premise, the Art theoreticians of ancient India attempted to quantify artistic activities; and, also the process of manifesting or articulating creative experiences. They developed a complex system of measures and proportions, which defies rigid definitions. It is called Talamana paddathi, iconometry, included under Prathima-lakshanam, the discussion on the features and nature of images to be created.

In the field of painting and sculpture, elaborate and precise tables of aesthetic measurements and proportions (Taala and Maana) were drawn up for ensuring a harmonious creation, endowed with well proportioned physical features (lakshana) – for each class and each type of images. It was meant to achieve a meaningful correlation between the nature, the content and the form of the subject.

This systematic process of specifying measures and proportions became an essential tool in visual arts; such as, painting and image-making. And, such conceptual standards of aesthetics were followed by all the regional and religious Schools of Arts in India.

Such mathematical standards and regulations served as the medium, in the process to translate abstract concepts into postures, structures that are, at once, beautiful, illustrative and meaningful. They helped to bridge the artistic quantification and aesthetic presentation.

For instance; the Vishnudharmottara, while detailing how a painter should go about his task, mentions: “the painter should think of the proportionate size of the thing to be painted; and think of it as having been put on a wall. Then calculating its size in his mind, he should draw the outline marking the limbs. It should be bright in prominent places and dark in depressed places. It may be drawn in a single colour, where comparative distinction is required. If depressed places are required to be bright, jet black should be used. “

The Taala-Maana system was also extended to the field of Music, dance and theatre, where the units of measurement were interpreted in terms of the units of time (Taala, rhythmic cycles; and Laya, tempo). 

And, in Dance, the number of hand spans between feet in a particular posture (Karana); or the length of the step that should be taken, in harmony with the units of rhythmic cycles (Taala), is also regulated by a similar system of measures and proportions. In a way; the Taala could said to be the calculus of aesthetics, which allows the artist to explore the forms of beauty and their variations. This Grammar is followed by the artists, intrusively.

Prof. Vinod Viawans, in his very learned article Expressing with grey cells: Indian perspectives on new media arts, observes:

There is an important dimension of Art that has not been due consideration so far: ‘art as computation’. There appears to be tendency among the artists to treat Art as anti-analytical. They can learn from the Indian traditions, which have made some valuable advances in this direction. They have demonstrated that calculation and quantification can be an integral part of artistic practices. It is all the more relevant in the modern days. The artists, in the new age, need to be taught how abstract constructs and spaces could be created in virtual reality environment, with the use of mathematical values.

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Art expressions

At another level, art expressions are regarded as fundamental to human nature

According to Gargyayana, a sage–king who appears in the Kausitiki Upanishad (and, said to be one of the teachers of Uddalaka Aruni), Art (Chitram) is how the human mind, essentially, conceives and experiences the nature and the surrounding life (maanasi pratirupa chaksusi); how it expresses that experience in its own way; and, how it imposes its own forms and interpretations on nature.

Centuries later, the Buddha amplifying Gargyayana‘s view of art,  regarded Art as a product of human experience and imagination; a representation of ideas that take birth in human mind, in relation to diverse forms of life and human experiences – (caranam cittam citten eva cintitam – Samyukta Nikaya, 5.8 , quoted in the Atthasalini-204.)

Though there is no universally accepted definition of art,  it could, broadly, be understood as  an act of creating, expressing or making.   Art could said to be a means to present or represent ideas, thoughts, feelings and experiences by skillful, meaningful, and imaginative devises, through a chosen medium, employing its appropriate instruments.  It is both the means and the end.

Artistic encounter arises from the ways and manners how the humans react to the world around them.  And, it is also a mode of sharing ones experience, feelings and thoughts with the society at large, through ones creative expressions.

The performing artist, endowed with creative imagination and the requisite skills, ingeniously creates an imaginary world, by use of artistic devises such as:  language adorned with poetic phrases or enchanting sounds (Vachica); beautiful hand gestures and body postures (Angica), and costumes (Aharya) etc.

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Idealistic view of life

The Indian theories of aesthetics (Alamkara) adopted the concepts and idioms of philosophical schools, like Samkhya and Vedanta. According to Prof. M. Hiriyanna (Art experience; 1954), the Samkhya takes a realistic view; while the Vedanta prefers an idealistic vision of the world which lies beyond the phenomenal one of appearance. Following the Samkhya way, one could say that the Art is the mode of representing the reality. And, the Vedanta way is one of deflection from the reality.

However, the Indian theories of aesthetics went along independently, synthesizing all shades of views and opinions. But, it agreed upon the universal character of Art; and, its purpose as that of providing a unique aesthetic experience (Rasa). And, it, generally, moved away from mere realistic presentation; and, positively leaned towards idealism in its representations.

According to such idealistic view of life, the ultimate objective of any artistic creation is to evoke Rasa; and, to transport the viewer or the listener to an imaginative ideal world (Aloukika).

The artist, in his endeavor, can use various devises of art, such as: words, sounds, rhythm, balance, aesthetic proportions, etc., to help to derive such out-of-the world, virtual experience. For instance; in the theater, as Abhinavagupta puts it, the audience witnessing a theatrical/dance performance reside in the physical space; and, they are aware of it. But, at the same time, they can leap into the simulated world. In a way of speaking, an engrossed spectator enjoys the best of the both the worlds. Abhinavagupta suggests that Art is not absence of life; but, it is an extension of life – every element of life appears in one or the other forms of Art. And, the aesthetic experience derived from Art is free from mundane passions and its limitations; it is indeed Wondrous, Chamatkara.

The art-creation in India has, therefore, been a process of life. The creation of the beauty of form, for the painter or the sculptor, was said to be a joyous rediscovery of the glory and beauty of the whole of creation. The Vishnudharmottara (a text of about the sixth century) states: The purpose of Art is to show one, the grace that underlies all of creation, to help one on the path towards reintegration with that which pervades the Universe

Further, the Vishnudharmottara asserts that the images which are made with the understanding of the harmony of life are immensely beneficial for the viewer. Thus, it states: Art is the greatest treasure of mankind, far more valuable than gold or jewels.

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Art creation

It is said; the artist employs matter and techniques to embody an idea, a vision. Such created art-object is not only a source of beauty; but, is also an invitation to explore and enjoy the meaning (Artha) of that beauty. Artha, in the context of Art, is, thus, not merely the objective property of art-work; but, it is also a deep subjective aesthetic experience.

In other words; Art-creation is about the experience of a person; and, his own interpretation of it. And, that calls for her/ his unique creative genius, imagination, enterprise and individuality as an artist. It is not about how the world appears to one and all, but how the artist experiences and visualizes it.

The Chitrasutra says; the concern of the artist should not be to just faithfully reproduce the forms around him. It suggests that the artist should try to look beyond the tangible world, the beauty of form that meets the eye. He should lift that veil and look within. The artist’s vision should reach beyond “the phenomenal world of separated beings and objects that blind the reality beyond”.

What is expressed need not be a replica of the day-to-day objects and experiences. It should be aesthetically beautiful, in its own way; and, it should be able to communicate with the receptive connoisseur. Abhinavagupta remarked that a creation in art is the expression of a feeling that is freed from localized distinctions; it is the generalization (Sadharanikarana) of a particular feeling. It comes into being through the creative genius (prathibha) of the artist.

This is particularly true in the case of Dance (Natya-dharmi- stylized movements and expressions) and painting (Bhava – techniques to draw out the inner world of the subject).

Even in the case of Drama, it is said, ‘Theater is a practice of artistic expression and communication’. Abhinavagupta makes a distinction between the world of drama (Nātyadharmī) and the real but ordinary life (Lokadharmī). The daily experiences are different from the aesthetic experiences. The relation between the actor and the audience during a performance is out of the ordinary.

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Art – forms

The Chitrasutra says, “Anything be it beautiful or ugly, dignified or despicable, dreadful or of a pleasing appearance, deep or deformed, object or non-object, whatever it be, could be transformed in to Rasa, by an artist’s imagination and skill”.

Such transformation of a concept or an idea into cognizable well structured forms could be called Art or Art-expression. The varied shapes it assumes, depending upon the medium that it employs, gives rise to different Art-forms. Following the principle stated by sage Mahidasa; the more evolved such a form is, the more manifest or recognizable or better defined it becomes. That is how, each Art-form branches out into well cultivated individualized sub-forms; each with its own characteristic modes of presentation, ethos and appeal.

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The Art and its concepts are, rather, amorphous (Amurta); not having a specified concrete form (Murti). It, therefore, needs a medium through which it can emerge.  It might assume different forms depending upon its medium of expression. For instance; sounds are the medium of songs and music; so are the lines and colours for painting. And, for the art of dancing, the body-movements, the gestures and facial expressions are the essential instruments. Such mediums of expressions also define the ways or ‘forms’ in which the artist’s emotions, imagination and excellence could be displayed. Had there been no variety in these mediums of expression, there would not have been varieties of Art-forms.

As said earlier, an artist in the Indian tradition is considered as the creator. He is regarded as an earthly representation of Vishvakarman; the deity of the creative power; the supreme artist who brought all things into existence. An artist, on earth, creates Art by transforming a given object of the world into a thing of beauty. The voice is given; and, melody is created. The language is given; and, poetry is created. The lines and colors are given; and, forms are created. And, so on. Thus, transformations are taking place, all the time, in the creation of newer modes of Art forms.

Thus, an artist is one who strives to express through her/his chosen form of art. The medium of expression that the artist chooses would also decide and regulate the skill or the faculty of expression that she/he would need to possess, develop and hone it to, almost, near-perfection. That would, consequently, enable the artist to possess the corresponding bodily efficiency, the knowledge and the proficiency to express his/her feelings and thoughts.

Sound

If the medium of expression is sound, the artist may use voice and express her/his art in the form of music. Such an artist is then called as a singer. Apart from learning the theoretical knowledge (Lakshana), imbibing the practical skill (Lakshya), the singer would also have to work on improving the voice-culture and the ways of presentation.

And, for the same medium of sound, another artist might, instead, use her/his palms and fingers. or breath or whatever, to play on a musical instrument. The artist is then known as an instrumentalist. The instrumentalist, according to the demands of the chosen instrument, needs to develop a certain level of competence and skill in playing it.

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Poetry

For any artist, either as a musician or a painter or poet, there is an inexhaustible richness and diversity in the world we live in. And, there is also abundant freedom to experience and to express in countless innovative ways. And, that freedom is not something  that is given  to him by someone else; it is his own inborn genius.

Every notion can be expressed in infinite number of forms. One has access to the largest possible number of variations. The virtue of freedom , here, lies  in  choosing and employing the most appropriate of them all. That again , calls for the mastery over ones medium of expression – be it language , sounds or lines and colors. 

As regards poetry; it is also considered as a distinct art expression – Kavya kala. Poetry is a unique form of knowledge (Vidya), an art or a skill. It combines in itself, the virtues of countless variations in the wonders of speech (ukti vaichitrya), delighting the heart of a responsive listener (sahrudaya- hrdaya ranjana), It also reveals the ceaseless mysteries of varieties of experiences (anubhuti) and thought processes (vichara vividyata).

Abhinavagupta muses: what is this ukti-vaichitryam (kimidam-uktivaicitryam?); and; responds by saying: it is the ever renewing (nava-navonvesha) wonder in speech that arises not only from the novelty of descriptions, but also, indeed, from the novelty of the object of utterance as well – uktirhi vācya-viśea-pratipādi vacanam / tad vaicitrye katha na vācya vaicitryam

Hemachandra Suri (late 11th century), a Jain scholar and author of Kavya-anushasana, a work on poetics, says: a poet endowed with the power of creative imagination (Pratibha), rearranges his world according to his wish. He has a vision. And, that vision is the power of unraveling, intuitively, both the reality and the idealism underlying the manifold material world and its aspects.

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Poetry and painting

The painter and the poet have much in common.  Conventionally the painter  deals with forms, moods and their representations in lines and colors . And, the poet is more immersed in the world of concepts, ideas, doubts and queries often tending to be philosophical. Both symbolize their emotions, sensations and ideas through concrete images and words;, each in his own manner.

Bhartrhari compares the communication through language (by use of sentences) to creation of a painting. Bhartrhari describes the painter as going through three stages when he paints a picture : “ when an artist wishes to paint a figure of a man, he first visualizes the object and its spirit as a composite unit  ; then , as of a figure having parts; and, thereafter, gradually, in a sequence , he paints it on the surface of a cloth or whatever”.

That is to say; a painter conceives a picture in his mind; and, thereafter gives its parts a substance on the canvass by using variety of strokes, different colors, varying shades etc. Which means; an artist paints the picture in parts though he visualizes it as a single image. The viewer of the painting, rightly, also takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral unit; and , he  does not look for individual strokes, shades etc or the permutation of such details that went into making the picture.  

The same could be said of a poem and its individual words.The poetry and painting have much in common.It is said; poetry is picture in words; and, painting is poetry with form.

But , at the same time , the two Art-forms have their individual characteristics. Painting is a static object in space in front of us, allowing our eyes to roam over it at our will, in any manner. The poem, on the other hand, is an ordered sequence. It unfolds progressively in time and space.  And, at the same time, the poem is also an illustration. The painting and poem are, thus, complementary; but, not in identical terms.

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Painting and sculpture

According to the Vishnudharmottara, the Shilpa (sculpture) and Chitra (painting) are closely related to Nritya (dance) They all  are based on a system of medians (sutras), measures (maanas), postures of symmetry (bhangas)   and asymmetry (abhanga, dvibhanga and tribhanga); and on the sthanas (positions of standing, sitting, and reclining). The concept of perfect symmetry is present in Shilpa and Chitra as in Nritya; and that is indicated by the term Sama, equipoise.

But, making a sculpture is infinitely harder than making a painting. That is because; painting as a two-dimensional form, can communicate;  and, can articulate space, distance, time and the more complex ideas in way that is easier than in sculpture.

The inconvenient realities of the three dimensional existence restrict the fluidity and eloquence of the sculpture. It is almost not possible to depict, directly,   in a sculptural panel the time of the day or night – darkness, evening, twilight or bright light etc.. That difficulty also applies to depiction of colors (color, in fact, is not a medium directly compatible with sculpting). And, it is also not easy to bring out the differences between a dead body and a sleeping person, particularly if the two are placed side by side.  The sculptor – artist (shilpi) will have to resort to some other clever suggestions to bring out the differences. That depends on the ingenuity of the artist. 

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Dance

When we come to Dance and its forms, the medium of expression is the dancer’s body. The precise movements of hands, face, eyes, feet and body positions; the gestures; and, aesthetic expressions that are put forth, are indeed, the modes its art-expression. There is a complete physical, mental harmony and emotional involvement with the dancer’s performance.

Thus, for a dancer, her/his body is the instrument. The knowledge and skill that the dancer gained through the long years of hard work, pursued with discipline and devotion, are manifested through the rhythmic body-movements, meaningful and expressive gestures.

As said earlier, Art (Kala) stands not only for what is ultimately expressed; but also for the way it is expressed.  The same is the case with dance also. What is presented through body-movements, gestures and expressions is called Dance. Similarly, the ‘processes’ and the ‘manners’ in which it is expressed are also called as Dance. The former meaning refers to a dance-item or a dance-production. However, it is the latter meaning that has gradually given birth to various dance-forms.

In other words; just as other Art forms, the Dance also has two aspects: what is expressed; and, the second, the way or the process it is expressed. The ‘outer’ form of art is the means to approach the beauty and purpose of its inner meaning. Accordingly, the various artistic processes by which dance-items are created by the artists; as also, the varied manners in which those dance-items are presented, has  , over a period, led to the birth of several dance-forms.

At a given level, a particular dance-form could be described as an entity, which has its own unique characteristics that are intrinsic to it. This is what distinguishes one Dance form from the other; and, lends its special appeal.

Such varieties of Dance-forms might have come about due to factors and influences, such as: historical, social and cultural etc. However, what, truly, makes a Dance-form exclusive, lending it a distinct character and charm; and, that which sets it apart from other forms,  is the dedication of the generations of artists – teachers and learners alike – who have striven to nurture its vitality, safeguard its purity and to enhance its creative  ingenuity .

And, once a well developed Dance-form establishes its identity, it acquires an eminent status within the art- community; and, also enjoys a long-lasting relationship with the society, at large.

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Convergence of Art-forms

In the Vishnudharmottara , the sage Markandeya explains to King Vajra, the interdependence of various art-forms ; and, takes him , step by step, from learning to make sculptures, the art of image-making ; to painting; to Dance; to instrumental music; to vocal music; composing, songs, poetry and prose; to literature , languages, grammar , logic, figures of speech; to aesthetic experience ; to theatrical arts etc.

That emphasized the convergence of all types of art-forms.  And, asserts that, Dance, music, painting, sculpture, linguistics, and grammar etc., are not isolated and mutually exclusive.

In any case, be it music, painting, poetry or dance, the person; her/his knowledge; and physical-artistic skills, in a way, all turn into the ‘instruments’ of expression of Art and an Art-form. But, while the Art or Art-form might be objective; the forms of its expressions are highly subjective.

That is to say; there are countless varieties and modes of expression, as each artist brings in to play her/his own ingenuity and creative genius. Hence, the expression of the same Art-form – both, in its process and in the manner of expressing it, as well as in its outcome – differs from artist to artist. That is how, for example, a song rendered by one singer might appeal differently than the same song sung by another singer. Similarly, the same theme, when it is choreographed and performed by different theater-artists, has differing degrees of success and appeal. In this way, this dynamic relation that binds the Art, the Art-form and the Artist together,  holds true in the case of  all Art-forms across the world and all artists across all times.

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Art experience

In the artistic process, where presentations are  made with the aid of various kinds of dramatic features such as Abhinayas and  synthetic creations  ,  we are moving from the gross  and un-stylized movements of  daily life towards more subtle forms of expressions and experiences; we move from individualized experiences to general representations; and from multiplicity to unity.

Its object is to elicit an emotional response, the viewer’s experience. And, it finds its fulfillment in the heart of the viewer, who derives Ananda the joy of aesthetic experience, the Rasa.

A work of art  is not a mere inert object; but, it is so rich in meaning that  it is capable of evoking manifold emotions and transforming the aesthete. A true aesthetic object, Abhinavagupta declares, not merely stimulates the senses but also ignites the imagination of the viewer. It can communicate through suggestions; and, evoke layers of meanings and emotion. Such artistic pleasure must not, however, bind the viewer; but, must liberate him from his limited confines of place, time and ego (self). Thus, he says, art experience is not mundane; it is alaukika, beyond the ordinary.

Thus, an Art-experience is a dynamic process that bridges the art-object and the connoisseur.

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Art is One

The Natya of Natyashastra encompasses drama, dance and music. At the time the Natyashastra was compiled, the arts of poetry, dance, music and drama; and even painting, and sculpture were not viewed as separate and individualized streams of art forms.

For instance; the ‘Music’ that the Natyashastra talks about is, indeed, the Samgita. The term Samgita, here, is a composite art-form, comprising vocal (Gitam) and instrumental (Vadyam) music; as also Nrtyam the dance movements or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, tatha Nrtyam trayam Samgitam uccyate).  The last one, Nrtyam, the dance, is composed of all those three elements.

It was only later that each of these developed into specialized Art-forms. And, even the components of the Drama of the Natyashastra-times later evolved and grew apart, assuming independent identities, such as: Opera, Poetic-drama, realistic plays and so on.

Thus, the Natyashastra presents an integral vision of art, which blossomed in multiplicity. All art expressions were viewed as vehicles of beauty providing both pleasure and education, through refinement of senses and sense perceptions.

The Vishnudharmottara also observes: One who does not know the laws of painting (Chitra) can never understand the laws of image-making (Shilpa); and, it is difficult to understand the laws of painting (Chitra) without any knowledge of the technique of dancing (Nrtya); and, that, in turn, is difficult to understand Nrtya without a thorough knowledge of the laws of instrumental music (vadya); But, the laws of instrumental music cannot be learnt without a deep knowledge of the art of vocal music (gana).

That is to say; the arts of Music->Dance->painting->sculpture are inter related.

Thus, in these texts, Art, essentially, is One. It is the common substratum. As it evolved, grew rich in content; and, with the passage of time, the Art branched into numerous Art-forms. And, each of those Art-forms, in turn, developed into specialized streams of art-creations.

That underlines the fact that Art has a fundamental unity of its own; and, that unity implies continuity, with change, while retaining its essential identity. The developments that take place during the course of its evolution; and, the varied forms it acquires, in the process, are neither unrelated nor isolated events. They all spring from a common substratum.

The principle that is involved here is based in the dictum that diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah).  In other words, it says, where there is difference or division, there must be a fundamental identity underneath it; else, each cannot relate to the other; and, each object in the world would be independent of, or remain unconnected to every other thing in existence.

This concept provides the foundation for treating all forms of Art as emanating from a single source. The various forms and levels of art, from the most subtle to the tangible, are, therefore, treated as different facets of a unitary art-system.

The entire process of the evolution of Art  resembles the imagery of the ancient mythical inverted tree – which the earlier Indian texts refer to so often – hanging down, with its roots in the air and with its branches spread downward (urdhva mulam, adah shakham). Its roots are ancient; but, its growing shoots, leaves, buds, flowers and fruits are ever green, tender and fresh. The roots of our art are in the very distant past.  Though those roots are no longer visible to us, the branches and extensions of those roots in vivid forms that have come down to us, are very alive; and, its fruits are within our experience.

In other words; what we call as Art is essentially One. But, depending upon the mediums and instruments chosen for expression, this essential Art gets molded into various forms. These Art –forms, born from that single essence, are patterned into numerous distinct expressions, according to the artists who work with varying mediums and Art-forms.

Therefore, growth, change and adaptation are essential aspects of a living organism, called Art. It is distinguished by continuity with change; as also by its diversity and creativity. That is the genius of the Indian traditions.

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Lalita Kala and Upayogi kala

The earlier Indian texts, such as Kama Sutra, make a mention of sixty-four types of Kalas (Chatus-shasti Kala). These include:

: – arts such as singing (Gayakatvam), dancing (Nrtyam), painting (Chitra-kriya), drama (Natya), poetry (Kavya-kala) etc;

: – branches of knowledge such as:  Grammar (Vyakarana); meter (Chhandas); logic (Nyaya); metals (Dhatuvada) or skillful management of state affairs (Rajyabhara);

: – practical arts (bahya-kala) such as: personal makeup (Vishesha-Kacchedya), costumes (Aharya); applying cosmetics, perfumes (Gandhavaadam); cooking (Suuda-karma) etc;

: – secret arts (abhyantara-kala) like erotic devices and knowledge of sexual arts (Kama kala) ;

: – crafts such as : as pottery (Mrutt-kriya), carpentry (Daaru-kriya), weaving (Ambara-Kriya), jewelry-making (mani-karma), garland-making or flower-arrangement (Pushpastaran), and so on; and,

: – dexterous skills such as swordsmanship (Khadga-vidya), horse riding (Asva-Kausalam) , riding chariots (Ratha-vidya) or even thievery (chora karma)  etc.

All these and such other arts, crafts and skills are regarded as art expressions. But, these are classified under two broad heads: Lalita-kala or Charu-kala (fine arts); and, Upayogi kala (crafts and skills of utility).

Many of the art-forms are categorized as Upayogi, because they serve a purpose; fulfill a certain need; and, are of practical utility. Take for instance; the crafts such as carpentry, fashion-designing, flower-arrangement and such others, which serve the consumers’ needs and the demands of the society. And, the diversity of such works also generates consumption patterns. And, in many cases, these utilities are practical necessities in the day-to-day living of the common people. And, the producers of these articles depend on their art/craft, as a means of their livelihood. The Upayogi kala is thus a part of the dynamics of life and living.

Another dimension of the issue is the status-image of the consumers that these objects tend to project; and, define her/his relationship with the society. For instance, the wearer of a piece of jewelry or a designer-costume makes a certain statement about herself; her taste, her economic capability; her social status; and, how she desires to be looked upon by those around her. It is, in a way, a natural extension of her identity; or defining who she is.  And, that also helps the wearer to construct a certain relationship with the society.

Similarly, the tasteful furniture, elegant crockery and classy accessories etc., do project an impressive image of the user’s sense of aesthetics, social class and economic power.

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The Lalita-kala, on the other hand, has a more subtle relationship with the society. The term Lalita suggests something that is playful, delicate and graceful. Thus, Lalita-Kala is one that delights; and, ushers in a sense of beauty (Charu) and grace into life.

Lalita Kala is said to be distinct from the Upayogi kala, inasmuch as it is non-utilitarian, in a limited sense; and, it does not provide material objects or articles of daily necessities. It is, mostly, a matter of individual taste, choice, and attitude to life. It, therefore, enjoys a greater degree of the freedom of expression.

 Ideally, an artist should be under no obligation to please anyone, but himself. In a Utopian world, the artists who pursue these fine-art-forms need not be bound by the requirements, norms and demands of the society. In an ideal world, the acceptance or otherwise of her/his creation, could, plausibly, be left, with some disdain, to the whim of the onlookers. And, whatever be that, it should, normally, not greatly affect the artist.  But, that very rarely happens.

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Unlike Upayogi kala, the Lalita kala might not produce tangible, common place objects of day-to-day use.  But, the fine-arts do bring in its own unique adorable values that render life more meaningful and enjoyable.  For instance; the soulful music brings along a certain tranquil joy, beauty and loveliness into ones heart and mind. And, Dance, which reflects the charm, delight, rhythm and harmony in all this existence, does enliven one to the splendor that surrounds us.

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Apart from bringing joy, beauty and harmony to an individual’s life, the fine arts and performing arts also help in binding the society together in a common aesthetic experience.

Further, an Art-form forges relationships between the artists who create and develop it, and the common people of the society who, ultimately, receive it. This applies both to the Lalita-kala (fine arts) and to the Upayogi-kala (utilitarian) arts. Depending upon a particular art-form and the function it performs, its relation with the society also varies; and, such relation is categorized according to each ones’ perception of it.

Having said that; let me also mention that the line separating these two categories – Lalita and Upayogi – is rather very thin. And, these two, often, overlap. The differentiating Art from craft is rather recent; and, it is rather futile.

For instance; an artist who paints should necessarily have some knowledge of the use of brushes, colors, as also the skill to apply them. And, on the other side; a jewel-smith, who develops and uses tools that mold and give a variety of shapes to metals, should be gifted with refined artistic sensibility, to produce delicate, attractive and brilliant pieces of jewelry. He should be able to imagine various aesthetic designs; and, visualize the beauty solidified in the form of jewellery, say a necklace or a bangle etc.

Thus,  be it an art-form  or an artifact ; it , essentially, is an artistic invention , inspired  out of human ingenuity  and creative genius; and, is intimately related  to human nature , behavior and aspirations.

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Effects of Time and Technology

With the passage of time; and, with numerous artists exploring various dimensions of wide-ranging art-forms, these forms have grown and expanded into newer and more sophisticated art-creations.

In the present day, the individual artists have the liberty and privilege to choose their theoretical positions. They can twist, bend and wield their newly acquired medium of expression in any manner they love to do. They can carry forward their tradition; or innovate and leap on to modern or post-modern technology as a tool for their art expressions. They might even attempt to fuse the two together. Sometimes, their creations might have unpredictable impact on the viewers or listeners. 

 In the process, the content or the repertoire of each Art-form has grown in terms of quantity, quality, as well as in their elegance.  Consequently, they have become part of the ongoing tradition (parampara); and, gained acceptability both among the connoisseurs and the art-lovers, at large.  And, each well nurtured Art-form has become an intimate part of a society’s culture.

Further, each generation of Visual artists, musicians, writers and performers, in their creative pursuits, deem it their responsibility to preserve the integrity of the Art they inherited; and, hand it over to the next generation, in its purity.  Thus, the formation, growth and development of an Art-form is not an event or an incident; but, is a gradual process spread across generations of artists ; and , of enlightened teachers and ardent  students.

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In the very ancient days, for the gentlemen of leisure, fine arts like music, dance painting and sculpture were the source of one’s own pleasure and amusement (vaiharika-silpa or vinodasthana). It is said; Nagarakas (city-dwellers), connoisseurs of art, accomplished courtesans, painters, and sculptors among others studied standard texts on painting. Such widespread studies naturally brought forth principles of art criticisms as in alankara-sastra

But, there were also several professionals who practiced these arts and art-forms as a craft, the main stay of their life. Kautilya deemed it a responsibility of the State to support all such art-masters, who spread knowledge among youngsters.

Another very telling effect of the passage of time; and, the effects it has brought upon some of the Art-forms is that those who purse arts as a leisure-activity are far less in number than those who have turned their art-pursuit  into professions. For instance; singing, dancing, painting, song-writing, acting or even sculpting etc., are now careers. And, those practicing such art-forms are known as professional- artists. With the change of times; and, with the growing social demands and economic pressures, a distinct class of such professional-artists has crystallized into recognizable groups, each with its own ethos and attitudes.

Whatever might be the past, one should recognize that these dedicated artists, in their own right, are well trained, qualified specialists in their discipline. And, they do constitute an important and a legitimate dimension of the cultural life of the society. There is absolutely no justification in taking a dim view on their professional tag; they indeed are Artists, in essence.

Their unique talents are utilized by various other trades and services (say, films, promotions, decorations of various sorts etc.) They render their expert service to the society; and, their professional achievements are recognized and appreciated by conferring awards and accolades.  The thin line separating Lalita-kala and Upayogi kala has almost completely faded out. And, that has to be accepted as one of the characteristics of the times we live in (yuga-dharma).

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Art and Technology

The relation between Art and technology has always been complex. And, at the same time, there is an affinity between the two.

Technology, broadly, is a human endeavor to shape, re-shape its physical environment to solve certain problems; or even to go beyond. And, Art is an act of beautifully making and shaping. At every stage in human life, available materials, tools and knowledge were put to use, to search for innovative applications. The degree of sophistication, in each age, went with the advancement in science and technology, at that stage.

The advent of technology and its innovations, it is needless to mention, has exerted a tremendous impact on all forms of art-expressions; and, have brought about transformation in the realm of fine-arts. Technology has also given rise to altogether new art-forms. In some cases, the association of technology with certain fine-art-forms has become highly essential; and is, in fact, inseparable.

One such art-form is photography, whose medium of expression is similar to that of the art of drawing and painting. Their concepts of form, shades and depth are alike. Here, the camera became the indispensable, principle medium of expression (in place of the brush), guided by the photographer’s intelligent understanding of the picture-composition; and, his creative skill in manipulating light, shades and focus.

In its initial stages, photography replaced portrait painting, which only the wealthy could afford. With the spread of the habit of taking photos, even the common people started going to the studios to get themselves photographed; or, hire photographers to take pictures of the auspicious and cultural events in their homes. In due course, photography came to be regarded as a credible Art-form, a pastime as also a craft. Thus, photography is at once a fine art as also a utility-based professional career.

The impact of technology on the visual media is awesome. With the advent of improved technologies, photography has taken astounding strides since its birth during the nineteenth century. In the recent times, the techno-artistic improvisations, in combination with the computer technology has elevated its art-craft and technique to an altogether different level.

Photography, in turn, has given rise to yet another art-form, which is Cinematography. It has brought along with it few more techno-artistic domains such as editing, art-direction, sound-engineering and so on. Further, the computer generated animation movies, in which images or objects are manipulated to appear as moving images, has emerged as the most astounding dynamic medium. It is the most amazing art-form, created with élan and superb artistry, which could not even be thought of in the earlier days.

 [There is also a flip side to this.  With the invasion of mobile phones, photo-video-graph is either for fun or for recording events; most of it being trivial. The persons who record these, as also the Selfies, for sharing on social networks, do not, basically, regard themselves as artists.  It is, at best, an upayogi tool.]

In a way of speaking, the movies* are the present-day equivalents of the Natya (Drama) of the Bharatha’s days; attempting to engage and entertain the audience as best as they can.  Various specialized domains of Art are converging into this media (just as it happened in era of Natyashastra).  Their theatrical performances combine, in themselves, all the elements of the Drama; and, even more. And, here too, as in the ancient days, its Sangita, indeed, is the skillful unison of drama, song, music and dance. It also signifies the Unit’s intense engagement with various forms of craft and art-forms. At the same time, the business of movie-making has the compulsion to pay serious attention to the commercial aspects of production and marketing.

 [*BTW, the term Films, itself, seems to have become redundant; since, in this digital age, the carbon films are no longer used for recording the actions or the stills.]

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Digital age

Now, with the arrival of the digital age, new vistas have opened up.

New media technology offers enormous scope, in terms of self-generating and self-modifying images, texts and sounds etc. Digital world is not bound by the limitations of the material world. You can get all the colors the human eye can see; you can change their vividness and brightness; you can mix and erase them without a trace.

Although digital art is not bound by the rules of traditional art, it often simulates the real; and, renders the whole process more intuitive.  It facilitates the artistic quest for a newer form of beauty and aesthetic experience. It transforms the abstract constructs into completely novel and beautiful reality. And, the entire process of developing the algorithms, by itself, is highly imaginative; and, that too is Art, as per the ancient sages of India.

Art has always been a presentation, representation or reflection of the contemporary ethos.  Artworks are objects of interpretation; and, they are also subjective. Today artists have many more options to give expression to their thoughts, feelings, fantasies, ambitions etc. With the arrival of new technology, Art might become more cerebral in its manifestation; yet, it cannot lose its sensitivity. At the end, it is, essentially, tied to human reaction towards it.

Thus, even in the digital age of new technologies, with all its possibilities of convergence, interactive flows etc., the Art, in essence, still retains its Universal character.

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As mentioned earlier, all such Art-forms are Lalita and Upayogi Kalas, at the same time. The fusion of art, craft and technology is so intimate and inseparable, complimenting one another, as to make it next to impossible to view each as distinct element in the composition of the final product. Perhaps, these could be called as ‘technology-based-art-forms’.

As you can see from the above, the world of Art is a highly complex entity, not only in terms of its multiplicity of forms and types; but, also in terms of its historical, cultural and technological roots. Yet; though the modes of presentation and the instruments of its execution, over the centuries, have varied greatly, the principle of Art – expression of ideas and emotions  that take birth in human mind; and , its effective communication – have remained the same.

All this again suggests that Art is essentially One; though it has countless forms. It is both the end and the means.

abstract-forms-

In the next part let’s talk about Dance and, Dance-forms, before we come to the texts dealing with the theory and practice of Dance

Continued

In the

Next Part

Sources and References

 

1.A Brief History of Indian Painting

2. http://chitrolekha.com/art-forms-and-dance-forms/  by  Ojasi Sukhatankar

3.Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Artby Melvin L. Alexenberg

4. http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/art-definition.htm

5. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/60376/13/13_chapter%205.pdf

6. https://ausdance.org.au/articles/details/new-directions-in-Indian-dance

All images are from Internet 

 

 

 
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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part One

 

Natya Sastra (1)

Lakshana-granthas – texts concerning the performing arts of India

Some time back – as a part of the series on the Music of India  – I had posted brief profiles of some of the well known texts on Samgita-shastra (Musicology), which established a sound theoretical basis (Lakshana) for the structural framework of the classical Music traditions; and, their practice (Lakshya). Those texts, produced over a long period of time, described, in precise terms, the concepts of   Music; its concerns; how it should be taught, learnt and performed; and, how it should be experienced and enjoyed.  It was an evolutionary process cascading towards greater sophistication.

Those Lakshana-granthas projected their vision of how the Music should develop and prosper in future, at the same time retaining the pristine purity of the time-honoured tradition. In the process, those texts, produced over the centuries, defined and protected the principles; as also, guided and regulated the performance of the chaste Music of India.

Some friends and readers inquired whether I could write, on similar lines, about the texts concerning the evolution of the principles and techniques of the performing arts of India; and, particularly , about Dance , which  is the most enchanting form of them all; rich in elegance and beauty ; comprehensive; and highly challenging.

Various thinkers and writers of the Lakshana granthas, over a long period, have put forward several theories based on their concept of the essential core, the heart or the soul of the art of Dance (Natyasya Atma).

In the series of articles that are to follow, I have attempted to trace the unfolding of the principles and practice of the performing arts of India, as discussed in various texts spread over several centuries.

In the present installment of the series, let’s take an overview of the texts of the Indian Dancing traditions. In the subsequent parts, we may discuss each of the selected texts, in fair detail.

This may also be treated as a sort of General Introduction to the theories of Indian Dancing.

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The Natyashastra

It is customary to commence with Natyashastra, when it comes to any discussion related to the art-forms of India. To start with, we shall, briefly, talk about the text of the Natyashastra, in general; and, then move on to Natyashastra in the context of Dance.

The Natyashastra of Bharata is regarded as the seminal and the earliest text extant text, represents the first stage of Indian arts where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics etc., combined harmoniously in order to produce an enjoyable play. It is the source book for all art forms of India. The yaśāstra, surely, is a work of great antiquity. Yet; the scholars opine that looking at the way the text has been compiled and structured; it appears to be based on earlier works.

It is said that the text which we know as Natya-Shastra was based on an earlier text that was much larger. That seems very likely; because, the Natyasastra, as we know, which has about 6,000  karikas (verses), is also known as Sat-sahasri. The later authors and commentators (Dhanika, Abhinavagupta and Sarada-tanaya) refer to the text as Sat-sahari; and, its author as Sat-sahasri-kara. But, the text having 6,000 verses is said to be a condensed version of an earlier and larger text having about 12,000 verses (dwadasha-sahasri). It is said; the larger version was known as Natya- agama and the shorter as Natya-shastra.

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And, again, According to Prof. KM Varma, there were three types of works which preceded the Natyashastra that we know: (1) Sutra – a work on Natya; (2) Bhashya – a commentary on it; and (3) Anuvamsya – a collection of verses , from which Bharata often quotes.

He also points out that Bharata mentions in the Samgraha (the table of contents to Natyashastra) that the subjects to be discussed in the text have reference to what is stated in the Sutra and the Bhashya. That leads to the conclusion that a comprehensive theory of Natya existed much before the time of Bharata; and that he incorporated some of that into his work – the Natyashastra.

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Further, Panini also suggests there were texts on Natya even much prior to Natyashastra.

Panini (Ca.500 BCE) the great Grammarian, in his Astadhyayi (4.3.110-11), mentions two ancient Schools  –  of  Krsava and Silalin – that were in existence during  his time –Parasarya Silalibhyam bhikshu nata-sutreyoh  (4.3.110); karmanda krushas shvadinihi  (4.3.111)It appears that Parasara, Silalin, karmanda and Krsava were the authors of Bhikshu Sutras and Nata Sutras. Of these, Silalin and Krsava were said to have prepared the Sutras (codes) for the Nata (actors or dancers). At times, Natyashastra refers to the performers (Nata) as Sailalaka -s. The assumption is that the Silalin-school, at one time, might have been a prominent theatrical tradition. Some scholars opine that the Nata-sutras of Silalin (coming under the Amnaya tradition) might have influenced the preliminary part (Purvanga) of the Natyashastra, with its elements of worship (Puja).

However, in the preface to his great work Natya-shastra of Bharatamuni (Volume I, Second Edition, 1956) Pundit M. Ramakrishna Kavi mentions that in the Natyavarga of Amara-kosha (2.8.1419-20) there is reference to three schools of Nata-sutra-kara: Silalin; Krasava; and, Bharata.

Śailālinas tu śailūā jāyājīvā kśāśvina bharatā   ityapi naāś cāraās tu kuśīlavā

It appears that in the later times,  the former two Schools (Silali and Krasava) , which flourished earlier to Bharata , went out of existence or merged with the School of Bharata; and, nothing much has come down to us  about these older Schools. And, it is also said, the Bharata himself was preceded by Adi-Bharata, the originator and Vriddha (senior) Bharata. And, all the actors, of whatever earlier Schools, later came to be known as Bharata-s.

All these suggest that there were texts on Natya even before the time of Bharata; and, by his time Natya was already a well established Art.

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The Natyasastra, that we know, is dated around about the second century BCE . The scholars surmise that the text was in circulation for a very long period of time, in its oral form; and, it was reduced to writing several centuries after it was articulated. Until then, the text was preserved and transmitted in oral form.

The written text facilitated its reach to different parts of the country; and, to the neighboring states as well. In the process, each region, where the text became popular, produced its own version of Natyasastra; in its own script. For instance, Natyasastra spread to Nepal, Almora to Ujjain, Darbhanga and also to the Southern states. The earliest known manuscripts which come from Nepal were in Newari script. The text also became available in many other scripts – Devanagari, Grantha, and several regional languages. It became rather difficult for the later-day scholars, to evolve criteria for determining the authenticity and purity of the text, particularly with grammatical mistakes and scribes errors that crept in during the protracted process of transliterations. Therefore, written texts as they have come down to us through manuscripts , merely represent the residual record or an approximation to the original; but, not the exact communication of the oral tradition that originated from Bharata.

It is the general contention that the text of the Natyashastra, as it is available today, was not written at one point of time. Its form, as it has come down to us, includes several additions and alterations. It is also said; many views presented in Natya-Shastra might possibly have been adopted from the works of other scholars. That seems quite likely; because, there are frequent references to other writers and other views; there are repetitions; there are contradictory passages; there are technical terms, which are not supported by the tradition.

And, in regard to Dance, in particular, the Chapter Four (Tandava-lakshanam) is the most important portion, as it details the dance-techniques. The editor of  ya Śāstra, Sri. Ramaswami Sastri, however remarks  that ‘this section of ya Śāstra dealing with Karaas, being of a highly technical nature, was less understood and was rendered more difficult by numerous errors committed by the scribes as well as by the omissions of large portions in the manuscripts’.

Though such additions, deletions and alterations have not been pinpointed precisely, some scholars, particularly Prof. KM Varma, surmise that the verses of a long portion of the Fourth Chapter beginning from Sloka number 274 and ending with the chapter seem to be interpolated.  These verses do not also fit into the context. Abhinavagupta also admits the possibility of their insertions.

Further, Prof. KM Varma also mentions that the portion from the Samanya-abhinaya chapter (Chapter 22) to the beginning of the chapter on Siddhi; as also the portions beginning after the chapter on Avanaddha to the end of the present text, are the later additions.

And, by about the tenth century, two recessions of the yaśāstra were in circulation. One was the longer version; and, the other the shorter. There have been long drawn out debates arguing which of the two is the authentic version. Abhinavagupta in his commentary of the yaśāstra used the shorter recession as the basis of his work; while some authors of the medieval period like Raja Bhoja used the longer version. However, Pandit Ramakrishna Kavi, who examined as many as about forty Manuscripts of the text, opined that the longer recession seemed to be ancient, although it contains some interpolation. But, in any case, now, both the versions are treated as ‘authentic’; and, are used depending upon the choice of the commentator.

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Natyashastra in the context of Dance

Natyashastra was mainly concerned with successful play-production. And, the role of Music and Dance, in conjunction with other components, was primarily to beautify and to heighten the dramatic effects of the acts and scenes in the play. These were treated as enchanting artistic devices that articulate the moods of various theatrical situations in the Drama. The Dance, at that stage, was an ancillary part (Anga) or one of the ingredients that lent elegance and grace to theatrical performance. That is to say; though Music and Dance were very essential to Drama, neither of the two, at that stage, was considered as an independent Art-form.

Further, for a considerable length of time, say up to the middle period, both music and dance were covered by a single term Samgita.  The term Samgita in the early Indian context meant a composite art-form comprising Gita (vocal singing), Vadya (instrumental accompaniments) and Nrtta the limb movement or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, Nrttam Samgita-mucchyate).  The third component of Samgita, viz., Nrtta, involved the use of other two components (Gita and Vadya).

Thus, the term Samgita combined in itself all the different phases of music, including dance. For Dance (Nrtta), just as in the case of vocal (Gita) and instrumental (Vadya) music, the rhythm (Laya) is very vital. The Dance too was regarded as a kind of music. This is analogous to human body where its different limbs function in harmony with the body’s rhythm.

It was said; all the three elements should, ideally, coordinate and perform harmoniously – supporting and strengthening each other with great relish. And, the three Kutapa-s, in combination should suggest a seamless movement like a circle of fire (Alaata chakra); and, should brighten (Ujjvalayati) the stage.

Thus, till about the middle periods, Dance was regarded as a supporting decorative factor; but, not an independent Art form.

Shiva dancing Halebidu

Coming back to Natyashastra, the Dance that it deals in fair detail is, indeed, Nrtta, the pure dance movements – with its Tandava and Sukumara variations – that carry no particular meaning.  The Nrtta was described as pure dancing or limb movements (agavikepa), not associated with any particular emotion, Bhava. And, it was performed during the preliminaries (Purvaranga), before the commencement of the play proper. The Nrtta was meant as a praise offering (Deva-stuti) to the gods.

And, later Bharata did try to combine the pure dance movements of Nrtta (involving poses, gestures, foot-work etc.) with Abhinaya (lit., to bring near, to present before the eyes), to create an expressive dance-form that was adorned with elegant, evocative and graceful body-movements, performed in unison with attractive rhythm and enthralling music, in order to effectively interpret and illustrate the lyrics of a song; and, also to depict the emotional content of a dramatic sequence.

But, for some reason, Bharata did not see the need to assign a name or a title to this newly created amalgam of Nrtta and Abhinaya. (This art-form in the later period came to be celebrated as Nrtya).

Even at this stage, Dance was not an independent art-form; and, it continued to be treated as one of the beautifying factors of the Drama.

Bharata had not discussed, in detail, about Dance; nor had he put forward any theories to explain his concepts about Dance. The reason for that might be, as the scholars explain, Bharata had left that task to his disciple Kohala; asking him to come up with a treatise on dancing, explaining whatever details he could not mention in the Natyashastra. In fact, Bharata, towards the end of his work says: ‘the rest will be done by Kohala through a supplementary treatise’ – śeam-uttara-tantrea kohalastu kariyati (NS.37.18.)

But, unfortunately, that work of Kohala did not survive for long. And, by the time of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century), it was totally lost.

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Texts concerning dance

When it comes to the texts concerning dance there are certain issues or limiting factors.

There is reason to believe that many works on dancing were written during the period following that of Bharata. But most of those works were lost.

For instance; the ancient writers such as Dattila or Dantila (perhaps belonging to the period just after that of Bharata) and Matanga or Matanga Muni (sixth or the seventh century) who wrote authoritatively on Music, it appears, had also commented on Dance. But again, the verses pertaining to Dance in their works, have not come down to us entirely. Some of those verses have survived as fragments quoted by the commentators of the later periods; say , for example, the references pertaining to Taala and Dance from the Brihaddeshi  of Matanga .

Similarly, between the time of Natyashastra (Ca. 200 BCE) and the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century), several commentaries were said to have been produced on the subject of Drama, Music, Dance and related subjects. Some of such ancient authorities mentioned by Abhinavagupta are: Kohala, Nandi, Rahula, Dattila, Narada, Matanga, Shandilya, Kirtidhara, Matrigupta, Udbhata, Sri Sanuka, Lottata, Bhattanayaka and his Guru Bhatta Tauta and others. But, sadly the works of those Masters are lost to us; and, they survive in fragments as cited by the later authors.

Abhinavagupta, states that much of the older traditions had faded out of practice. And he says that one of the reasons, which prompted him to write his work, was to save the tradition from further erosion.

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Texts on Music etc., which also dealt with Dance

There are not many ancient texts that are particularly devoted to discussions on Dance, its theories and techniques.

In the earlier texts on Dance, the techniques of Dancing are seldom discussed in isolation. It invariably is discussed with music and literature (Kavya).  Similarly, the treatise on sculpture (Shilpa) , Drama(Natya), music (Gitam) and painting (Chitra) , do devote a portion , either to Dance itself or to discuss certain technical elements of these art forms in terms of the technique of Dance (Nrtya or Nrtta). For instance; the  treatises on painting discuss the Rasa-drsti in terms of the glances (Drsti) of the Natyashastra; and, the  treatises on sculpture enumerate in great detail the Nrtta-murti (dancing aspects) of the various gods and goddesses(prathima-lakshanam) , and discuss the symbolism of the hasta -mudra in terms of the hasta-abhinaya of the Natyashastra.

The Vishnudharmottara emphasizes the inter relation between the various art forms.  Sage Markandeya instructs : One who does not know the laws of painting (Chitra) can never understand the laws of image-making (Shilpa); and, it is difficult to understand the laws of painting (Chitra) without any knowledge of the technique of dancing (Nrtya); and, that, in turn, is difficult to understand without a thorough knowledge of the laws of instrumental music (vadya); But, the laws of instrumental music cannot be learnt without a deep knowledge of the art of vocal music (gana).

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Therefore, most of the texts and treatise which dealt with Music, primarily, also talked about dance, in comparatively briefly manner, towards the end. For instance:

[Here, in this portion, I have followed Dr. Mandakranta Bose, as in her very well researched paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition )  . I gratefully acknowledge her help and guidance.]

(1) Visnudharmottara Purana (Ca. fifth or sixth century) a   text encyclopedic in nature.  Apart from painting, image-making, Dancing and dramaturgy, it also deals with varied subjects such as astronomy, astrology, politics, war strategies, treatment of diseases etc. The text, which is divided into three khandas (parts), has in all 570 Adhyayas (chapters). It deals with dance, in its third segment – chapters twenty to thirty-four.

The author follows the Natyasastra in describing the abstract dance form, Nrtta; and, in defining its function as one of beautifying a dramatic presentation. The focus of the text is on Nrtta, defining its vital elements such as Karanas, Cari etc., required in dancing. In addition, the author briefly touches upon the Pindibandhas or group dances mentioned by Bharata; and, goes on to describe VrttiPravrtti and Siddhi; that is – the style, the means of application and the nature of competence.

(2) The Abhinavabharati of   Abhinavagupta (11th century) though famed as a commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra, is, for all purposes, an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, music, poetry, poetics (alakāra-śhāstra), art , Tantra, Pratyabhijnana School of Shaiva Siddanta etc.   Abhinavabharati is considered a landmark work; and is regarded important for the study of Natyasastra.

Abhinavabharati is the oldest commentary available on Natyasastra. All the other previous commentaries are now totally lost. The fact such commentaries once existed came to light only because Abhinavagupta referred to them in his work; and, discussed their views. Further, Abhinavagupta also brought to light and breathed life into ancient and forgotten scholarship of fine rhetoricians Bhamaha, Dandin and Rajashekhara.

Abhinavagupta also drew upon the later authors to explain the application of the rules and principles of Dance. As Prof. Mandakranta Bose observes : One of the most illuminating features of Abhinavagupta’s work is his practice of citing  and drawing upon the older authorities critically , presenting their views to elucidate Bharata’s views ; and , often rejecting their views , putting forth  his own observations to  provide evidence to the contrary.

Abhinavagupta, thus, not only expands on Bharata’s cryptic statements and concepts; but also interprets them in the light of his own experience and knowledge, in the context of the contemporary practices. And, therefore, the importance of Abhinavagupta’s work can hardly be overstated.

He also discusses, in detail, the Rasa-sutra of Bharata in the light of theories Dhvani (aesthetic suggestion) and Abhivyakti (expression). And, Dance is one of the subjects that Abhinavabharati deals with. As regards Dance, Abhinavabharati is particularly known for the explanations it offers on Angikabhinaya and Karanas. The later authors and commentators followed the lead given by Abhinavagupta.

(3) The Dasarupaka of Dhananjaya (10-11th century), is a work on dramaturgy; and, basically is a summary or compilation of rules concerning Drama (Rupaka), extracted from the Natyashastra of Bharata. As regards Dance, Dhananjaya, in Book One of his work, which provides lists of definitions, mentions the broad categories of Dance-forms as: the Marga (the pure or pristine); and, the Desi (the regional or improvised). And, under each class, he makes a two-fold division: Lasya, the graceful, gentle and fluid pleasing dance; and, Tandava, the vigorous, energetic and brisk invigorating movements (lasya-tandava-rupena natakad-dyupakarakam.). The rest of his work is devoted to discussion on ten forms of Drama (Dasarupaka)

(4) The Srngaraprakasa of Raja Bhoja (10-11th century) is again a work; spread over thirty-six chapters, which deal principally with poetics (Alamkara shastra) and dramaturgy. In so far as Dance is concerned, it is relevant for the discussion carried out in its Eleventh Chapter on minor types of plays (Uparupakas) or musical Dance-dramas.

(5) The Natya-darpana of Ramacandra and Gunacandra (twelfth century) is also a treatise, having four chapters, devoted mainly to dramaturgy; discussing characteristics of Drama. The text is useful to Dance, because in its third chapter while discussing Anigikabhinaya, it lists the names of the movements of the different parts of the body, as well as extended sequences and compositions.

(6) Another text of great interest from the twelfth century is the  Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD). It  is an encyclopedic work, divided into one hundred chapters, clustered under  five sections, covering a wide variety of subjects, ranging from the means of acquiring a kingdom, methods of establishing it, to medicine, magic, veterinary science, valuation of precious stones, fortifications, painting , art, games ,  amusements , culinary art and so on . 

As regards Dance, the Manasollasa deals with the subject in the sixteenth chapter, having in 457 verses, titled Nrtya-vinoda, coming under the Fourth Section of the text – the Vinoda vimsathi- dealing with types of amusements.

Manasollasa is also the earliest extant work having a thorough and sustained discussion on dancing. It is also the earliest work, which laid emphasis on the Desi aspect for which later writers on this subject are indebted. Another important contribution of Nrtya Vinoda is that it serves as a source material for reconstruction of the dance styles that were prevalent in medieval India. For these and other reasons, the Nrtya Vinoda of Manasollasa, occupies a significant place in the body of dance literature. 

Someshwara introduces the subject of dancing by saying that dances should be performed at every festive occasion, to celebrate conquests, success in competitions and examinations as well as occasions of joy, passion, pleasure and renouncement. He names six varieties of dancing and six types of Nartakas. The term Nartaka, here, stands for performers in general; and, includes Nartaki (danseuse), Nata (actor), Nartaka (dancer), Vaitalika (bard), Carana (wandering performer) and kollatika (acrobat).

Manasollasa is also significant to the theory of Dance, because it classified the whole of dancing into two major classes:  the Marga (that which adheres to codified rules) and Desi (types of unregulated dance forms with their regional variations).  Manasollasa also introduced four-fold categories of dance forms: Nrtya, Lasya, Marga and Desi.

At another place, Someshwara uses the term Nartana to denote Dancing, in general, covering six types: Natya (dance), Lasya (delicate), Tandava (vigorous), Visama (acrobatic), Vikata (comical) and Laghu (light and graceful).

 The other authors, such as Sarangadeva, Pundarika Vittala and others followed the classifications given Manasollasa.

In regard to Dance-movements, Someshwara classifies them into  six Angas, eight Upangas and six Pratyangas. The last mentioned sub-division viz. Pratyanga is an introduction made by Someshwara into Natya terminology; the Natyashastra had not mentioned this minor sub-category.

The other important contribution of Someshwara is the introduction of eighteen Desi karanas, (dance poses) that were not mentioned in other texts.

 (7) A work from this period, but not dated with certainty, which deal with drama is the Nataka-laksana-ratna-kosa of Sagaranandin. The text, as the name suggests, discusses, in detail, the nature and characteristics of Nataka as well as other varieties of drama. This work is of interest to Dance insofar as it lists and describes ten types of Lasyanga that are used in the Lasya variety of dance.

(8) The Bhavaprakasana of Saradatanaya (1175 -1250 A.D.) containing ten Adhikaras or chapters, is a compendium of poetics and dramaturgy based on the critical works written right from the period of Natyashastra. Its relevance to dance is in its discussions on glances that express Bhavas, as given at the end of the fifth chapter. And, the tenth and final chapter explains the distinction between Nrtta and Nrtya; and, between Marga and Desi.

He contradicts Dhananjaya; and, asserts that   Nrtta, the pure dance, is rooted in Rasa (Nrttam rasa-ahrayam). Saradatanaya’s definition meant that Nrtta not only beautifies a presentation, but is also capable of generating Rasa. This, during his time, was, indeed, a novel view.

(9) The Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva (a Jain Acharya of 12th or early 13thcentury) is an important work, which is devoted to musicology. It is its seventh chapter that is of interest to Dance.  It is not until the Sangita Samayasara that we find any description of a complete dance.

The Sangita Samayasara, though it deals, mainly, with Music, is of great relevance to Dance. The Seventh Chapter is devoted entirely to Desi dance (referred to as Nrtta); its definition; and, the Angas or body movements (Angika), the features of Desi dances (Desiya-Angani).

This text not only describes specific Nrtta dance pieces (such as: Perana, Pekkhana, Gundali and Dandarasa), but also adds a number of new movements of the Cari, the Sthanas and the Karanas of the Desi variety, all of which involving complicated leaping movements. Here, Parsvadeva describes the utplatti-karanas, needed for the Desi dances; eleven Desi karanas with different Desi-sthanas; and, five Bhramaris.

Towards the end of the Seventh Chapter, Parsvadeva describes the requirements of a good dancer; her physical appearance; and, the way she should be dressed etc.

(10) By about the 13th century, dance had its own existence; and was no longer an ancillary to drama, as it was during the time of Natyashastra. The concept of Nrtta was still present; Nritya as a delightful art form was fully established; and, the two forms retained their individual identity. And, both were discussed along with Natya.  This is reflected in the appearance of numerous works on the art of Music, Dance and Drama, the most significant of which was the Samgita Ratnakara of Sarangadeva 

The Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara (first half of 13th century) is one of the most influential works on music and dance. The Sangita-ratnakara is a great compilation, not an original work, which ably brings together various strands of the past music traditions found in earlier works like Nāţyashastra, Dattilam, Bŗhaddēśī, and Sarasvatī-hŗdayālańkāra-hāra. It is greatly influenced by Abhinavagupta’s    Abhinavabharati. But for Samgita-ratnakara, it might have been more difficult to understand Natyasastra, Brhaddesi and other ancient texts. But, while dealing with Desi class of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Manasollasa of Someshwara.

The text of Sangita-ratnakara has 1678 verses spread over seven chapters (Saptaadhyayi) covering the aspects of GitaVadya and NrttaSvaragat-adhyaya; Ragavivek-adhyaya; Prakirnaka-adhyayaPrabandh-adhyayaTaala-adhyaya; Vadya-adhyaya and   Nartana-adhyaya. The first six chapters deal with various facets of music and music-instruments; and, the last chapter deals with Dance. Sangita-ratnakara’s contribution to dance is very significant.

Chapter Seven– Nartana: The seventh and the last chapter, is in two parts; the first one deals with Nartana.  Sarangadeva, following Someshwara, uses a common term Nartana to denote the arts of Nŗtta, Nŗtya and Nāţya.  In describing the Marga tradition of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Natyashastra. As regards the Desi class of Dance he improves upon the explanations offered in Manasollasa of King Someshwara and Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva.

According to Sarangadeva, the Nrtya covers rhythmic limb movements (Nrtta) as also eloquent gestures expressing emotions through Abhinaya. It is a harmonious combination of facial expressions, various glances, poses and meaningful movements of the hands, fingers and feet. Nrtyam, the dance, delightfully brings together and presents in a very highly expressive, attractive visual and auditory form, the import of the lyrics (sahitya), the nuances of its emotional content to the accompaniment of soulful music and rhythmic patterns (tala-laya).

Although he follows Bharata in describing the movements of the body, he differs from Bharata in dividing the limbs into three categories, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga.

He also differs from Natyashastra which identifies Tandava as Shiva’s dance and Sukumara (Lasya) as Parvati’s. According to Sarangadeva, Tandava requires Uddhata (forceful) and Lasya requires Lalita (delicate) movements.

Sarangadeva’s description of Cari, Sthana, Karana and Angaharas of the Marga type are the same as in the Natyashastra. But the Desi Caris, Sthanas and Utputikaranas are according to Manasollasa of Someshwara.

Sarangadeva explains the importance of aesthetic beauty; and also lays down the rules of exercise. He also describes the qualities and faults of a performer (including a description of her make-up and costume); and, those of the teacher and the group of supporting performers. Then he describes the sequential process of a performance, including the musical accompaniment, in the pure mode or suddha-paddhati.

(11) The Sangita Upanishad Saroddhara  is a treatise on music and dance written in the fourteenth century (1350 A.D.) by the Jaina writer Sudhakalasa. The work is in six chapters, the first four of which are on Gita (vocal music), Vadya (musical instruments) and on Taala (rhythm). The fifth and the sixth chapters are related to dancing.

The term he uses for dance is Nrtya. His understanding of the terms Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya varied from that of his predecessors. According to him, Nrtta is danced by men, Nrtya by women, while Natya is Nataka, performed by both men and women. And, his treatment of the movements of the feet (pada-karmas) and the postures (Sthanas and Sthanakas) differs from that of other texts. According to him, Sthanas are postures meant for women; while, Sthanakas are postures meant for men. Karanas, according to Sudhakalasa, are components of Lasyangas and Nrtya. Obviously, he was recording the contemporary practice, without specific reference to the earlier texts and traditions.

(12) The Sangitacandra is a work containing 2168 verses by Suklapandita, also known as Vipradasa (Ca. fourteenth century). He explains the procedures of the Purvaranga; and classifies its dance Nrtta into three categories:  Visama (heavy), Vikata (deviated) and Laghu (light). Such classification of Nrtta and such terms to describe Nrtta had not been used earlier by any author.

He then, initially, divides Nrtya, the dance, into two classes: Marga-nrtya which expresses Rasa; and, Natya-nrtya, which expresses Bhava. And, then, brings in the third variety of Nrtya, the Desiya Nrtya, the regional types. Thereafter, he divides each of the three varieties of Nrtya into Tandava and Lasya.

Again, Vipradasa‘s understanding of the terms and concepts of Dance and their treatment; and, emphasis on the Desi dances, reflect the contemporary practices of the medieval period.

(13) A major work of the medieval period is the Sangita-damodara by Subhankara (ca. Fifteenth century).  Although the Sangita-damodara is principally a work on music and dance, it includes substantial discussions on drama as well. Of its Five Chapters, the Fourth one relates to Dance. Here, dancing is discussed under two broad heads:  Angahara (Angaviksepa, movements of the body) and Nrtya (the dance proper).

Under Angahara, the author includes Angikabhinaya, as related to Drama, because it means acting by using the movements of the limbs. As regards Nrtya, he treats it, mostly, as Desi Nrtya, the regional dances. Nrtya is divided into two types: Tandava, the Purusha-nrtya, danced by men; and, Lasya, the Stri-nrtya, danced by women.

Under Natya, Subhankara includes twenty-seven major type of Dramas (Rupaka) and minor types of Drama (Uparupaka). He classifies them under the heading Nrtye naksatramala, the garland of stars in Nrtya.

Thus, the concept of dance in its male and female forms had crept in. And, the Dance-drama, based in music, was treated as a form of Nrtya. The Nrtya was generally understood as Desi Nrtya.

(14) Another important work from this period is the Nrtyadhyaya of Asokamalla (Ca. fourteenth century). The Nrtyadhyaya consisting of 1611 verses follows the Desi tradition of dance, as in Sangita-ratnakara and the Nrtta-ratna-vali.

The text describes, in detail, the hand gestures followed by the movements of the major and minor limbs, that is, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga.

It also describes Vicitra-abhinaya (various ways of acting), dividing it into elements of Bhava-abhinaya (expressions displaying emotions); and, Indriya-abhinaya (gestures through use of limbs), resembling the Samanya-abhinaya and Citra-abhinaya, as in Natyashastra. The author also describes one hundred and eight Karanas of Bharata. The text ends with descriptions of Kalasas, generally understood as dance movements with which a performance concludes.

(15) The Rasakaumudi of Srlkantha (a contemporary and student of Pundarika Vitthala – 16th-17th century) is again a work of general nature that deals with vocal music (Gana), instrumental music (Vadya), Dance (Natya) , Drama (Rupaka) and aesthetics (Rasa) etc. The text is of interest to Dance, mainly because of the contemporary scene of dancing it portrays.  It mentions ten divisions of Natya as: Natya, Nrtya, Nrtta, Tandava, Lasya, Visama, Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gaundali. But, he calls only the first variety Natya as being authentic.

But, the main contribution of Rasakaumudi is the introduction of the concept of ‘Prana’ or the essential elements of the performance; the summation of what a dancer should aim at, while performing. The ten Pranas listed are : the line (Rekha); the steadiness (Sthirata); the swiftness (Vega); the pirouettes (Bhramari), the glance (Dristi); the desirous smile (Smita); the pleasing appearance (Priti); the intellect (Medha); the speech (Vachya); and , the song (Gitam) – RK. 5. 162.

(16) The Sangltadarpana of Chatura Damodara (a poet at Jahangir’s court, which places him in the seventeenth century) is, again, a work on music and dance. Its seventh, the final chapter, is related to dancing; and, it generally follows Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala. It also adopts Nartana as the general name for dancing; and, mentions Nrtta, Nrtya, Natya, Tandava and Lasya as the types of Nartana. It then divides Nrtya into five sub-divisions: Visama, Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gaundali, all of which are Desi forms.

There is greater emphasis on Desi forms, in its discussions. And, the authors of this period followed and adopted the views of the Nartananirnaya; and, there was a steady drift taking the discussions away from the concepts and terminologies of the Natyashastra.

(17) Sangitanarayana by Purusottama Misra, a poet at the court of Gajapati Narayanadeva of Orissa (seventeenth century), in its four chapters deals with music and dance. For a greater part, it reproduces the concepts and terms of dancing as in the other texts, particularly Nartananirnaya.  The new information it provides relates to the enumeration of the names of twelve varieties of Desi-Nrttas; five varieties of Prakara-Natya of the Desi type; eleven varieties of Marga Natyas and sixteen varieties of Desi Natyas – dramatic presentations ; and, names of thirty-two Kalasa-karanas

(18) The Sangita-makaranda of Vedasuri (early seventeenth century) follows Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala. The new information it provides is with regard to the Gatis. He treats each Gati like a dance sequence; and, describes each Gati with all its components of movements. For instance; while describing the Marga-gati, the author gives all the movements necessary for its presentation, such as the appropriate Karana, Sthanas, Cari, the hand-gestures, the head movements and glances.

He seems to have been interested mainly in the structure of dance compositions as combinations of smaller movements. He describes these movements step by step; and, includes with each movement the appropriate rhythm and tempo that it should go with.

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Texts dealing mainly with the theory and practice of Dance

There were also texts and treatise, which were wholly devoted to the discussions on the theory, practice and techniques of Dance. The numbers of such texts are not many; but, are relevant to the contemporary Dance training and learning. The following are the more significant ones, among them:

 (1) The date of the Abhimaya Darpana of Nandikeshvara is rather uncertain. The scholars tend to place it in or close to the medieval period; because, it divides dance into three branches: Natya, Nrtta and Nrtya. But, such distinctions did not come about until the time of Sangita-ratnakara (13th century). Also, the Abhinaya Darpana views Tandava and Lasya as forms of masculine and feminine dancing, which again was an approach adopted during the medieval times.

Abhinaya Darpana deals predominantly with the Angikabhinaya (body movements) of the Nrtta class; and, is a text that is used extensively by the Bharatanatya dancers. It describes Angikabhinaya, composed by the combination of the movements of Angas (major limbs- the head, neck, torso and the waist), Upangas (minor limbs – the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the lower lip, the cheeks and the chin), Pratayangas (neck, stomach, thighs, knees back and shoulders, etc) and the expressions on the countenance. When the Anga moves, Pratyanga and Upanga also move accordingly. The text also specifies how such movements and expressions should be put to use in a dance sequence.

According to the text, the perfect posture that is, Anga-sausthava, which helps in balancing the inter relationship between the body and the mind, is the central component for dance; and, is most important for ease in the execution and carriage. For instance; the Anga-sausthava awareness demands that the performer hold her head steady; look straight ahead with a level gaze; with shoulders pushed back (not raised artificially); and, to open out the chest so that back is erect. The arms are spread out parallel to the ground; and, the stomach with the pelvic bone is pushed in.

The techniques of dance, body movements, postures etc. described in this text, is a part of the curriculum of the present-day performing arts.

The emphasis on Angikabhinaya in Nrtta requires the dancer to be in a fit physical condition, in order to be able to execute all the dance movements with grace and agility, especially during the sparkling Nrtta items according to the Laya (tempo) and Taala (beat).

(2) Closely following upon the Sangita-ratnakara, the Nrtta-ratnavali by Jaya Senapati was written in the thirteenth century A.D. This is the only work of that period, which deals exclusively with dance, in such detail. Nrtta-ratnavali devotes all its eight chapters to dance; and, discusses vocal or instrumental music only in the context of dance.

The first four chapters of the text discuss the Marga tradition, following the Natyashastra; and, the other four discuss the Desi.

The Marga, according to Jaya Senapati, is that which is faithful to the tradition of Bharata; and, is precise and systematic. While dealing with the Marga, although he broadly follows the Bharata, Jaya Senapati provides specific details of the execution of the Karanas and Caris.  He also quotes the views of earlier writers, in order to trace the evolution of Dance and its forms.

The First Chapter describes the four modes of Abhinaya, i.e., Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Sattvika; as also the six forms of dancing – Nrtta, Nrtya, Marga, Desi, Tandava and Lasya.  The Chapter Two deals with Abhinaya, describing in detail the movements of the major and minor limbs: six Angas, six Pratyangas and six Upangas. The Third Chapter is on Caris (movements of one leg); Sthanas (postures); Nyaya (rules of performance); Vyayama (exercise); Sausthava (grace); more Sthanas and Mandalas (combinations of Caris). The Fourth Chapter describes Karanas (dance-units) and Angaharas (sequences of dance-units); and, ends with Recakas (extending movements of the neck, the hands, the waist and the feet) mainly following their descriptions as given in the Natyasastra.

The second half of the text is devoted to the Desi tradition.  The more significant contribution of Nrttaratnavali is in its detailed descriptions of the Desi Karanas, Angaharas and Desi Caris. And, of particular interest is its enumeration and description of Desi dance pieces.

The Fifth Chapter defines the term Desi; and, goes on to describe the Desi sthanas, Utpati-karanas (Desi karanas) and Bhramaris (spin and turns). The sixth chapter deals with movements of the feet, Desi Caris. Jaya Senapati then describes forty-six varieties of Desi Lasyangas, which include the Desi Angas, following the Sangita-samaya-sara. The Gatis or gaits are described next. The Seventh Chapter mainly deals with individual Desi dance pieces, Desi-nrtta. These include Perani, Pekkhana, Suda, Rasaka, Carcari, Natyarasaka, Sivapriya, Cintu, Kanduka, Bhandika, Ghatisani, Carana, Bahurupa, Kollata and Gaundali. The Eighth and Final Chapter , provides information regarding presentation in general, the recital, the appropriate time for its presentation, the arrival of the chief guest and the welcome accorded the king, other members of the audience, the qualities required in a dancer, her costume, the orchestra, the sitting arrangements, the entrance of a dancer,  the use of three curtains on the stage and their removal. The Chapter ends with advice on honoring the dancer, the musicians and the poet.

(3) The Nrtya-ratna-kosa of Maharana Kumbha (a scholar king of the fifteenth century), is part of a larger work, the Sangita-raja, which closely follows the Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva. It is the Fourth Chapter of Sangita-raja; and, deals with Nrtya. The Nrtya-ratna-kosa is divided into four ullasas or parts; each consisting of four pariksanas or sections. It is mostly a compilation of the concepts, definitions, theories and practices concerning Dance – both Marga and Desi– culled out from earlier texts, particularly from Sangita-ratnakara. While describing various types of dance-movements, the emphasis is more on the Desi types.

The first section of the first part describes the origin of the theories of Natya (shastra); the rules of building the performance-hall; the qualifications of the person presiding; and, of the audience. It also offers definitions of certain fundamental terms.

Raja Kumbha defines the terms Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya. According to him, Nrtta is made up of combination of Karanas and Angaharas (Karanam angaharani caiva Nrttam); Nrtya is Rasa (Nrtya sabdena ca Rasam punaha); and, Natya is Abhinaya (Natyena abhinayam).

The Nrtya is classified as Marga; and, Nrtta as Desi. The Pindibandhas or group dances, performed by sixteen female dancers as part of the preliminaries are included under Nrtta.

The rest of the verses are devoted to Angikabhinaya or the movements of the body. The text discusses, in detail, about limb movements like Pratyangas, Upangas etc.; and, also about Aharya-bhinaya or costume, make-up and stage properties.

There are also descriptions of Marga and Desi Caris, Shanakas or postures, meant for men and women, for sitting and reclining. Similarly, the Karanas are classified as Shuddha karanas (pure) of the Marga class; and, as Desi Karanas.

That is followed description of four Vrttis or styles and six kalasas (dance movements with which a performance concludes), with its twenty-two sub-varieties.

Towards the end, it enumerates the qualities and faults of a performer.  It discusses make-up; different schools of performing artists; their qualities and faults; the Shuddha-paddhati or the pure way of presentation; and, states the ways of imparting instructions to performers.

(4) The Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala (16th-17th centuries) is a very significant work in the history of Indian Dancing. Till about the time of Raja Kumbha, the Dance was discussed mainly in terms of Marga and Desi. Pundarika Vitthala introduces a novel feature (hitherto not tried by anyone else), which is the principles of Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured) for stratifying the dance forms into two separate classes. Even though the later texts on dancing generally followed the Sangita-ratnakara, they did take into consideration Nartana-nirnaya’s classification of Bhaddha and Anibaddha, as a part of their conceptual framework. His classification of Dance forms into Baddha and Anibaddha was a significant theoretical development.

The Nartana-nirnaya was written in the sixteenth century, while Pundarika Vitthala  (or Pandari Vitthala) was in the service of the Mughal Court. It comes  about five hundred years after Sangitaratnakara. This period between these two texts was marked by several interesting and rather radical changes and transformations that were taking place in India , in the field of Arts.

The Nartananirnaya was composed in an altogether different ambiance.  The courts of Raja Man Singh, Raja Madhav Singh and Akbar provided the forum for interaction between the North and South Indian traditions on one hand; and between Indian and Persian practices on the other. This was an interesting period when diverse streams of Art came together.

Pundarika Vittala mentions that he wrote the Nartananirnaya, concerning music and dance, at the suggestion of Akbar, to cater to his taste – Akbara-nrupa rucyartham

The subject matter central to Nartana-nirnaya is dancing. The technical details of dance as detailed in the Nartananirnaya are an important source for reconstructing the history of Indian music and dance during the middle period. This was also the time when the old practices were fading out and new concepts were stepping in. For instance, by the time of Pundarika Vittala, the 108 Karanas were reduced to sixteen. At the same time , dance formats such as Jakkini, Raasa nrtya were finding place among traditional type of Dances.

In his work, Pundarika Vitthala does not confine only to the traditional dances of India and Persia; but, he also describes the various dance traditions of the different regions of India that were practiced during his time. The information he provides on regional dance forms is quite specific, in the sense that he points to the part/s of India from where the particular style originated, the language of the accompanying songs and the modes its presentation. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, an invaluable treasure house on the state of regional dance forms as they existed in the sixteenth century IndiaThus, Nartana-nirnaya serves as a bridge between the older and present-day traditions of classical Indian dancing.

The chapter titled Nartana-prakarana, dealing with Nrtta and Nartana, is relevant to Dancing. The Nrtta deals with the abstract aesthetic movements and configuration of various body parts. And, Nartana is about the representational art of dancing, giving expression to emotions through Abhinaya. The Nartana employs the Nrtta as a communicative instrument to give a form to its expressions.

Another chapter, Nrttadhikarana is virtually about the Grammar of Dance. It describes the Nrtta element of Dancing with reference to the special configuration of the static and moving elements of the Dance, such as: Sthanaka, Karana, Angahara, Cari, Hasta, Angri, Recaka, Vartana etc.

Then the text goes on to enumerate the items of the dance recital: entry of the dancer (Mukhacali, including Pushpanjali); Nanadi Slokas invoking the blessings of the gods; the kinds of Urupa, Dhavada, Kvada, Laga and Bhramari. It also mentions the dance forms originating from various regions: Sabda, Svarabhinaya, Svaramantha, Gita, Cindu, Dharu, Dhruvapada, Jakkadi and Raasa.

Some of these are classified under Bandhanrtta, the group dances with complex configurations and formations. These are also of the Anibaddha type, the graceful, simple dances, not restricted by the regimen of the rules etc.

The Nartana-nirnaya is indeed a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Odissi – that are prevalent today

[We shall discuss many of the texts enumerated above, in fair detail, later in the series.]

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Overview

All the texts enumerated above deal with the subject of dance in some detail; exclusively or along with music, drama and poetics.

When you take an over view, you will notice that three texts stand out as landmarks, defining the nature and treatment of dance in the corresponding period. These three are: Natyashastra of Bharata (Ca. 200 BCE); Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century) and Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva (13th century).

Natyashastra is, of course, the seminal text that not only enunciated the principles of Dancing, but also brought them into practice. Though the emphasis of Natyashastra was on the production and presentation of the play, it successfully brought together the arts of poetry, music, dance and other decorative elements, all of which contributed to the elegance of the theater.

The Dance that Bharata specifically refers to is Nrtta, pure dance, which was primarily performed before the commencement of the play proper (Purvaranga) as a prayer offered to gods. The elements of the Nrtta were also brought into Drama by fusing it with Abhinnaya. Though the resultant art-form was not assigned a name by Bharata, its essence was very much a part of the theatrical performance. And, this delightful art form came to be celebrated as Nrtya, during the later periods. And, in its early stages, Dance was not considered as an independent Art-form.

Several commentaries on the Natyashastra that were produced between the period of Bharata and Abhinavagupta are lost. And, the Abhinavabhatarati is the earliest available commentary on the Natyashastra; and, is, therefore, highly valuable. Abhinavagupta followed Bharata, in general; and, adhered to his terminologies. For instance, while discussing on Dance, Abhinava consistently uses the term Nrtta; and, avoids the term Nrtya (perhaps because it does not appear in Natyashastra). During his time, dance, music and dramatics were continued to be treated as integral to each other, as in the times of Natyashastra.

Yet; Abhinavagupta, brought in fresh perspective to the Natyashastra; and, interpreted it in the light of his own experience and knowledge. His commentary, therefore, presents the dynamic and evolving state of the art of his time, rather than a description of Dancing   as was frozen in Bharata’s time.  As it has often been said; Abhinavabharati is a bridge between the world of the ancient and forgotten wisdom and the scholarship of the succeeding generations.

Abhinavagupta’s influence has been profound and pervasive. Succeeding generations of writers on Natya were guided by his concepts and theories of Rasa, Bhava, aesthetics and dramaturgy. No writer or commentator of a later period could afford to ignore Abhinavagupta.

The commentaries written during the period following that of Abhinavagupta continued to employ the terminologies of the Natyashastra. But, the treatment of its basic terms such as, Nrtta, Natya, Tandava and Lasya was highly inconsistent. These terms were interpreted variously, in any number of ways, depending upon the understanding and disposition of the author; as also according to contemporary usage of those terms and the application of their concepts. Standardisation was conspicuous by its absence.

A significant development during this period was assigning greater importance to the regional types of Dances. Though based on the Natyashastra, these texts recognized and paid greater attention to the dance forms that were popular among the people of different geographic regions and of different cultural groups. In the process, the concepts of Marga, which signified the chaste, traditional form of Dance as per the rules of Natyashastra, came to be distinguished from the regional, popular, free flowing types of Dance, termed as Desi.

By about the 13th century, dance came into its own; and, was no longer an ancillary to drama, as was the case during the time of Natyashastra. Yet; the Dance, in this period, continued to be discussed along with the main subjects such as Music and Drama.

The concept of Nrtta continued to exist and Nritya was established; each with its own individual identity. The term Natya which signified the combination of Nrtta (pure dance) and Abhinaya (meaningful expressions) had come into wide use.

The Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva marks the beginning of the period when Dance began to be discussed in its own right, rather than as an adjunct to Drama. It was during this period, the Desi types of Dance along with its individual forms were discussed in detail.  And, the other significant development was the fusing of the special techniques of Angikabhinayas of both the Nrtta and the Desi types into the graceful Natya form. And, new trends in Dance were recognized.

Though the ancient terms Nrtta, Tandava, Lasya and Natya continued to be interpreted in various ways, the term Nartana came to be accepted as the general class name of Dance, comprising its three sub-divisions: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta.

In the period beginning with the sixteenth century, Pundarika Vittala introduced the new concept of classifying dance forms into two separate classes, as the Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured). The later texts, while discussing Dance, apart from following Marga and Desi classification, also took into consideration Nartana-nirnaya’s classification of Bhaddha and Anibaddha, as a part of their conceptual framework.

It was during this period, the Persian influence, through the Mughal Court , entered into Indian dancing, giving rise to a new style of  Dance form, the Kathak.  This period was also marked by the emergence of the Dance forms that were not specifically mentioned in the Natyashastra – the Uparupakas. This genre of musical dance dramas not only came to be admitted into the mainstream of dancing, but eventually became the dominant type of performing art, giving rise dance forms such as Odissi, Kuchipudi etc.

The emphasis of the later texts shifted away from the Marga of the Natyashastra; but, leaned towards the newer forms of Desi Dances with their improvised techniques and structural principles. Apart from increase in the varieties of regional dance forms, a number of manuals in regional languages began to appear. These regional texts provide a glimpse of the state of Dance as was practiced in different regions.

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

Bharata’s account represented only a small part of the total body of dance styles of the time. When new styles became prominent in the medieval period they had to be included in the descriptions of dancing. Such a widening of frontiers meant a great increment of technical description in the texts.

The distinction between the Natyashastra and the later texts is not merely one of detail. Of greater significance is the fact that unlike the Natyashastra, the later texts recognize different styles. These are distinct from the one described by Bharata, the main path or Marga tradition of dancing. The later texts concern themselves more and more with other styles, known, generically, as Desi, whose technique and structural principles are sufficiently different from the style described by Bharata..

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Further, the principle of Anibaddha allowed the dancer a considerable degree of freedom, encouraging her to search far and to create, through her ingenuity, novel aesthetic expressions. This was a major departure from the regimen that required the dancer to rigorously follow the prescriptions of the texts. The opportunities to come up with artistic innovations, within the framework of the tradition, helped to infuse enterprise and vitality into dance performances. The dance became more alive.

At the same time, the Natyashastra continues to be the authoritative source book, which lays down the basic principles of the performing arts; and, identifies the range of body movements that constitute dancing.

The Bharatanatya of today represents such a dynamic phase of the traditional Indian Dancing.  It does not, specifically, have a text of its own; its roots are in the principles, practices and techniques that are detailed in Natyashastra, Abhinava Darpana and such other ancient texts. Though it is basically ingrained in the principles of Natyashastra, it delightfully combines in itself the Angikabhinaya of the Nrtta; the four Abhinayas of the Natya (Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Sattvika); the interpretative musical narrative element of the Uparupakas, for enacting a theme; and the improved techniques of the later times.

Besides, the Bharatanatya developed its own Grammar through Dance idioms such as: Adavus (combination of postures – Sthana, foot movement – Chari, and hand gestures-Hasta); Jati (feet movement in tune with the Sollakattu syllables); Tirmanam (brilliant bursts of complicated dance rhythms towards the ‘end’ section of the dance). Besides, the Bharatanatya, in the context of its time, enriched its repertoire of the Nrtta by items such as Alaripu, Jatiswara and Tillana.

Thus, the evolution of Indian Dance system is a dynamic process that absorbed new elements and techniques without compromising its basic tenets. It, thus, demonstrates the time-honored Indian principle of growth: continuity along with change.

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Before we discuss Dance and its forms, let’s take a look at the Art and Art-forms, in general.

nayana88

Continued

In

Part Two

References and sources

1.Movements and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition  by Dr.Mandakranta Bose

2 . Literature used in Dance/ Dance Sahitva

3. Natyashastra

 

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2018 in Art, Natya

 

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