Over the centuries, a considerable body of literature has been created detailing the theories, techniques, terminologies and practices of Dance in its various forms. In some of the texts of the later period, many technical terms and concepts that appeared in Natyashastra were redefined and provided an altogether fresh interpretation in the light of the contemporary cultural practices prevailing in the region. And, in many cases, the traditional dance formats were given a new form; and, infused with new techniques. Thus, Dance traditions in India, at each stage, were given a fresh lease of life, bringing into its movement a new vigor; and, rendering it relevant to its time. It is its enduring quality of moving on with the times, without compromising with its basic principles that has kept the classical dances of alive and thriving even to this day.
It could be said; the longevity of the traditional Dances of India is, to an extent, facilitated by these texts and manuals, which have, over a period, protected, guided and regulated the chaste practice and performance of the various dance forms in their classical formats; and, at the same time introduced new concepts and techniques.
In most of these texts, the principal subject matter is either Drama (Natya) or Music (Samgita); and often, along with the main theme, Dance is also discussed as an allied form of Art. But, there are also some texts or manuals which are exclusively devoted to the study of Dance (Nrtta, Nrtya), its theories, its practices; and, more importantly to its performance techniques.
The texts of both the genre are of great importance; because they mark the stages in the evolution and development of this Art-form. They record the changes that took place in the flow of Indian Dance, in terms of theories, concepts and the varied influences – cultural, regional and foreign – that shaped its course.
An attempt is made to list some texts concerning Indian classical Dance in their chronological sequence.
|Vishnudharmottata||5-6th century CE||Purana?|
|Srngara-prakasa||11th century||Raja Bhoja|
|Natya-darpana||12th century||Ramachandra and
|Manasollasa||12th century||King Somesvara|
|Nrtta-ratnavali||13th century||Jaya Senapati|
|Sahitya –darpana||14th century||Visvanatha|
|Nrtya-ratna-kosa||15th century||Maharana Kumbha|
|Nartananirnaya||16-17th century||Pundarika Vitthala|
|Sangita-narayana||17th century||Purushottama Misra|
|Sangita-sara-samgraha||19th century||Ghana shyama dasa|
(Source: Dr.Mandakranta Bose)
It is needless to mention that it is impossible, impractical and also far beyond my ken, to present here a systematic and detailed study of all the texts enumerated above. We may, at best, attempt to gain familiarity with few of those texts. We may briefly discuss their structure, particular features, their underlying principles and their relevance or contribution to the growth of Indian Dance systems. We may also get to know the concepts and techniques they developed in the context of their cultural and regional ethos.
The series, hopefully, might, at least to a limited extent, help in getting to know a bit about the textual traditions of Dancing in India; and, in understanding the concepts behind certain technical terms and some of its essential features.
As always, we may commence with the Natyashastra. In the previous posts, we have talked about the various aspects of its text, such as: its history, its versions, and its importance as the source material for study of all the Art-forms of India.
Now, let’s focus on the theoretical and technical features of Dance, as described in the Natyashastra.
Of the thirty-seven Chapters in the Natyashastra; about twelve Chapters are related to Dance. Those are the Chapter numbers: 4, 5, 8-13, 19, 21, 22, 25 and 31.
The Fourth Chapter Tandava-lakshanam is, mainly, about the rules of Dance (Tandava-vidhi). It starts with a narration about the first play written by Brahma and its enactment.
Then the focus shifts to Nrtta, the pure dance form that delights the eye; but, not intent on conveying a meaning. Here, it goes on to describe two kinds of Nrttas – Tandava and Sukumara – performed during the preliminaries (Purvaranga). And, thereafter, speaks of the basic units of composite movements (Karanas); oscillating limb movements (Recakas); and, the choreographic sequences (Angaharas) composed by the combination of those dance elements. But, it is not clear how these movements were combined and utilised.
In addition, it describes group dances (Pindi).
Apart from defining the Karanas, Angaharas, Recakas and Pindibandhas, the Chapter Four gives the descriptions of 108 types of Karanas (verses 62 to 169) ; 32 types of Angaharas (verses 170-245) and the names of the Pindis associated with various gods and goddesses (verses 257-263).
In this chapter Bharata details five concepts – Nrtta, Tandava, Sukumara-prayoga, Pindlbandha and Abhinaya – that are fundamental to the Art of dancing. Therefore, Chapter Four is of great importance to the theory and practice of Dance.
The Fifth Chapter of the Natyashastra continues the discussion of the components of the preliminaries (Purvaranga). Here, it is with particular reference to the details of the sequences to be followed during the performance of the Purvaranga ceremonies (verses 8-30).
The Chapters 8 to 12 are essential to understand the nature of the Nrtta, its elements as also of the movements of the major and minor limbs (Angas and the Upangas). Bharata explains how the different movements are combined into composite movements known as Caris, Mandalas, and Sthanas, which , in turn , are combined to form Karanas, which again are put together to create Angaharas.
The Eighth Chapter is devoted to the movements of the head, eyelids, eyebrows, pupils, the nose, cheeks, lips, the chin, the mouth and the neck. All these are said to be the components of Abhinaya, the art of illustrating the meaning of different things. The Abhinaya is of four kinds: Angika (gestures); Vachika (words); Aharya (costumes, makeup and supporting aids) ; and Sattvika ( emotional).
It goes into enormous details of the Angika Abhinaya , under its three broad categories : limbs (Sarira); face (Mukhaja) and the entire body (kshetra) including the six major limbs (Anga) – head, hands, chest, sides, waist and feet; and six minor limbs (Upanga) – eyes, eyebrows , nose, lower lip and chin. Further, under each of those sub-divisions it goes into exhaustive and meticulous details.
The Ninth Chapter is given to the movements of the important elements of the hand gestures (hastha) and its uses (viniyoga) in the Abhinaya. It its elaboration, a major portion of the text describes sixty-seven kinds of hand- gestures (Hastha) and their uses in Dance , Drama in various situations (verses 4 to 211); ten types of movements of arms (verses 212 to213)
This Chapter also deals with the movements of other parts, such as: the chest, sides, belly, waist, thighs, shanks and the feet. In the case of these other parts of the body, the movement of the particular part is described first ; and, it is followed by its viniyoga, which constitutes a part of the Abhinaya technique.
Both chapters – 8 and 9 – describe the use of these movements in conveying meaning (Artha). And, the hand-gestures meant for abstract dancing (Nrtta) and also for acting are described in great detail.
The Chapter Ten is in continuation of the previous Chapter. According one version, it is a short chapter having only 54 verses (the longer version has 103 verses) . The shorter version (see pages from 191 to 196) deals mainly with the movements of the chest, belly, waist, sides, thigh, shanks and feet; and, their applications in Dance and Drama (verses 1-51). And, it ends with an introduction to Caris (verses 52 to 54)
The Chapter Eleven of the shorter version (from pages 197 to 206) is devoted to Cari, the most important single unit of movement in the Nrtta technique as enunciated by Bharata. The Caris are movements using one foot; and, are used both in Dance and Drama. Thirty two kinds of Caris are defined; of these sixteen are termed Bhaumi (ground) – verses 13 to 28; and, the other sixteen are called Akasiki (aerial) – verses 29 to 49.
The six types Sthanas or standing postures and their applications are described in verses 50 to 64.
In addition to describing these movements, Bharata speaks of the general principles of effective exercise, Vyayama, as well as aesthetic discipline of Sausthava (keeping different limbs in their proper position- verses 89 to 91) and Chaturasrya (square composition of the body posture, mainly in relation to the chest- verses 89 to 91).
In Chapter Twelve (see pages 207 to 212) Bharata then goes on to describe Mandalas, which are more complicated movements of the legs involving combinations of Caris. The Mandalas are, again, classified into two categories: Akasiki (aerial)-10 types (verses 6-41); and, Bhaumi (ground)- 8types (verses 42-68).
The Chapter 13 (see pages from 213-228) describes Gatis or gaits, suitable for different types of characters, such as the Kings and superior characters as also for middling characters. Walking styles for women of various classes are also described. The gaits suitable for each type of character in each of the Bhavas (sentiments) are described in verses 25 to 75. Similarly, the sitting postures (Sthana) for men and women of different types and classes, in their different moods are described in verses 195 to 220. And, the lying-down postures (Shayana) for different types of characters are described in verses 221 to 227.
The Chapter 19 (verses 119 to 135) considers the constituents of Lasya, a dramatic form that is created from delicate body movements is common to both the Dance and the Drama.
The Chapter 21 deals with Aharyabhinaya, that is, the use of costumes, stage properties and other external aids which are essential both to dance and drama.
This Chapter also discusses the distinction between the Lokadharmi and Natyadharmi modes of presentation, corresponding to natural and stylized modes.
In Chapter 22 , Bharata takes up the general technique of expression in acting, calling it Samanya-abhinaya (basic or general representation), and gives directions for expressing states of mind and responses to sensory experience, such as touching or smelling.
śiro hasta-kaṭī-vakṣo-jaṅgho-uru karaṇeṣu tu । samaḥ karmavibhāgo yaḥ sāmānyā-abhinayastu saḥ ॥ 22.73॥
These movements are considered to be usually self-explanatory, so that although they are codified into a discipline, they are not seen as stylized, with special, symbolic meanings attached to them. The hand-gestures in this category, for instance, are formed with the purpose of imitating objects.
The Chapter 25, in contrast, describes the special (viśeṣaḥ) mode of Citra-abhinaya, in which each movement carries a particular meaning specific to it.
aṅgā-abhinayasyaiva yo viśeṣaḥ kvacit kvacit । anukta ucyate citraḥ citrābhinayassmṛtaḥ ॥ 25.1॥
The four types of Abhinaya and its various elements and technique of Samanya-abhinaya (general representation), generally, indicate external objects (bahya) that are commonly seen. But, certain other objects, phenomenon in nature, feelings etc., need special techniques.
Bharata, therefore, says those other internal (abhyantara) more subtle or abstract elements in nature, inner feelings etc., need to be indicated by special (viśeṣaḥ) modes of representations Citra-abhinaya. The Chapter 25 gives detailed instructions how to represent through gestures the nature and its various elements such as : day, night, air , sun, moon, stars , lightning, shooting stars, seasons, dust, smoke, hot wind etc. There are also indications how to represent through gestures, the audible and visible objects, sharp objects, ornaments, flowers etc. Instructions are also given how to express emotions such as: happiness, deep and exalted feelings etc., as to indicate the states of mind and responses to sensory experience, such as touching or smelling. The hand-gestures (hastha) in the category of Citra, for instance, are formed with the purpose of simulating the objects or feelings.
For instance; Bharata mentions that to indicate morning and evening; day and night; seasons; extreme darkness; wide expanse of water; directions; planets; stars; and anything that is not fixed ; one can employ the following gestures : two hands raised with Pathaka and Swastika gestures; Urdhva head – looking upward with various eye movements that are appropriate to the context.
uttānau tu karau kṛtvā svastikau pārśva-saṃsthitau । udvāhitena śirasā tathā urdhva-nirīkṣaṇāt ॥ 25.2॥
prabhātaṃ gaganaṃ rātriḥ pradoṣaṃ divasaṃ tathā । ṛtūn ghanān vanāntāṃśca vistīrṇāṃśca jalāśayān ॥25.3॥ diśo grahān sanakṣatrān kiñcit svasthaṃ ca yadbhavet। tasya tva abhinayaḥ kāryo nānā dṛṣṭi samanvitaḥ ॥ 25.4॥
The Chapter 35 is partly on Taala, or rhythm, but it also touches the subject of Lasya, describing the movements and the music that are required for each of its several varieties.
One of the problems in the study of the Natyashastra is that the subjects therein are not arranged systematically as per an order; but, are scattered. For instance; to understand and get a clear picture of the nature of Nrtta, which is introduced in Chapter 4, we have to go further and refer to Chapters 8 and 9 which analyse the movements of major and minor limbs; and, thereafter refer to Chapters 12, 13 and 4 for gaining an understanding of the scheme of combining the primary movements such as Cari, Mandala, Karana, Angahara etc.
Similarly, Karanas are introduced in Chapter 4; and, Caris in chapter 10. We have study the Chapters 9, 10 and 11, together, in order to understand the concept and execution of the Karanas.
A note on Pindibandhas
The Pindibandhas, group formations and group dances are discussed in Chapter Four. According to Bharata, the Tandava Nrtta, during Purvaranga, is performed to accompaniment of appropriate songs and drums. And, it is composed of Recakas, Angaharas and the Pindibandhas – (Recakā-Aṅgahārāśca-Piṇḍībandhā tatha -iva ca – NS. 4. 259-61).
The Pindibandhas are thus a form Nrtta, pure dance movements. According to Bharata, the Pindlbandhas were patterned after the dance (Nrtta) performed by Shiva along with his Ganas and disciples such as Nandi and Bhadramukha.
In the context of a play, the Pindlbandhas were performed during the preliminaries (Purvaranga); that is before the commencement of the play proper. Its object was to please the gods; and, to invoke their blessings. As regards the sequence of occurrence in the Purvaranga, the Pindibandhas followed soon 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 anukrameṇātha piṇḍīṃ badhnanti yāḥ striyaḥ– ॥ 279॥
The term Pindibandha is understood as weaving or forming clusters or groups. Thus, the Pindibandha is the technique of group formations; and, weaving patterns. 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. For instance: Īśvara piṇḍī for Īśvara; Siṁhavāhinī for Caṇḍikā; Śikhī piṇḍī for Kumar and so on.
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).
Abhinavagupta describes it as ‘piṇḍī ādhāra aṅgādi saṅghātaḥ,’- 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 Aṅgahāras form the core of the Pindibandhas.
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 various Pindis in verses 253-258 of Chapter Four. He 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 (śikṣāyogas tathā caiva prayoktavyaḥ prayoktṛbhiḥ – NS.4.291)
In the next Part we shall dwell on the Abhinaya and Angika-abhinaya, in particular, with the descriptions of its various elements such as: Mukhaja (parts of the face); Hastha (the hands, fingers); Pada (feet); Sarira (major limbs, arms, chest, waist, sides, thighs, shanks, etc); Sthana (standing, sitting and laying-down postures); and Gati ( gaits) so on.
References and Sources
By Dr Mandakranta Bose
- Theory and Technique by Dr. Sunil Kothari
ALL PICTURES ARE FROM INTERNET