Lakshana Granthas – continued
The Abhinaya Darpana, a comprehensive text describing various gestures, postures and movements in Dance is ascribed to Nandikeshvara. However, the identity of this Nandikeshvara; his period; and, the other works associated with him are much debated. It is very likely that were many persons during the ancient periods that went by the name of Nandikeshvara. And, quite a few of them seemed to have been scholars, who were well versed in the theoretical principles of Dance, Music and other branches of knowledge.
Two works on dancing are traditionally attributed to Nandikesvara: the Abhinaya Darpana and the Bharatarnava. But, the question whether they were written by the same Nandikesvara is again debated. It, however, looks doubtful; because, the contents of the two texts differ a great deal. Further, the date of the Bharatarnava is also not decided.
The edition of Bharatarnava, available in the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute–Pune, is said to be a larger work, having 998 verses spread over 15 Chapters. And, in addition, it has an Appendix (Parisista) consisting of 251 verses. The scholarly opinion deems it prudent to assume that the Abhinaya Darpana and the Bharatarnava were authored by two different persons who, perhaps, lived during different periods. We shall briefly talk about Bharatarnava in the next part.
The date of the Abhinaya 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 about the twelfth century, just prior to the time of Sangita-ratnakara (13th century). Also, the Abhinay Darpana views Tandava and Lasya as forms of masculine and feminine dancing, which again was an approach that was adopted during the medieval times.
Though Nandikesvara acknowledges the importance of all four kinds of Abhinayas, in his work Abhinaya Darpana, he focuses, almost exclusively, on the Angika-abhinaya – gestures, postures and movements of the hands, feet and other limbs, in Dance.
Abhinaya literally means carrying forward towards the spectator. The Angika-abhinaya or gestures is an essential part of the dance-language. It is that which expresses Bhavas (states) by means of bodily gestures and movements (Angika), in Nrtya.
Abhinaya also includes elements of Vachika and Sattvika, which are meant for suggesting actions thoughts and emotional states of the character (Bhaved abhinayo vasthanukarana).
And, the other element of the Abhinaya is Aharya, the costumes, makeup of the performers as also other accessories on the stage.
Angika-abhinaya, in Drama and Dance, uses artistic gestures, regulated by the character’s bearing, walk and movements of features and limbs. It follows the stylized Natyadharmi mode of depiction.
Nandikesvara’s primary concern in his work is Angika-abhinaya; and, he presents a detailed analysis of various kinds of gestures, postures, movements, their symbolic meanings and their applications in Dance. In addition, he also cautions which of the gestures or movements may not be used in a given context. But, at the same time, Nandikesvara takes care to ensure that the Abhinaya aspect is not entirely overlooked.
The Abhinaya-Darpana deals, predominantly, with the Angikabhinaya (body movements) or Gesture-language 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 the Angas (major limbs- the head, neck, torso and the waist); the Upangas (minor limbs – the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the lower lip, the cheeks and the chin); the Pratayangas (neck, stomach, thighs, knees back and shoulders, etc) ; and, the expressions on the countenance. The text specifies, when the Anga moves, Pratyanga and Upanga also move accordingly. The text also suggests how such movements and expressions should be put to use in a dance sequence.
[Abhinayadarpanam- A Manual of Gesture and Posture used in Hindu Dance and Drama by Nandikeshvara , is translated into English by Manmohan Ghosh (Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, Calcutta – 1957)
The Abhinaya Darpana has been translated into English , under the title ‘The Mirror of Gesture – Being the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikesvara by Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy and Gopala Kristnayya Duggirala (Harvard University Press – 1917)
The Abhinaya Darpana is widely used as a practical reliable guide by the performing artists, the teachers and the learners alike, in order to hone and refine the technique of Angika- abhinaya. The Bharatanatya, as it is taught and practiced today, is closely associated with Abhinava Darpana, which it regards as a sort of comprehensive training manual or a part of the curriculum on the techniques of dance, body movements, postures etc., especially related to the Nrtta aspects of Dance performance.
Nrtta is Angikabhinaya, which is pure and abstract dance, with stylized beautiful movements of limbs, neck, head, hands; feet etc., performed to music and especially to rhythm. Here, the Hastas (Nrtta-hastas) are not intended to convey any particular meaning; and, they do not also communicate a Bhava or a Rasa; but, they do contribute to the grace and beauty that the Dance offers. Nrtta, as Angikabhinaya, is much more than a decorative element; it, indeed, is a specific and technical aspect of a perfect dance performance.
Nrtya signifies an Art that combines in itself the beautiful movements of Nrtta (Angikabhinaya) with meaningful expressive eloquent gestures of Hastas, to convey thoughts, emotions and also to indicate objects (Abhinaya).
Though the gestures of the Abhinaya Darpana are primarily related to Nrtta, its repertoire of Hasta, Mukhaja, and Caris etc can very well be adopted (Viniyoga) to the Abhinaya aspects in narrative depiction of a theme through dance movements, providing expressive interpretations of the various shades of the meaning of the words, sentences of the song (Sahitya), bringing out its emotional content. The Nrtya, in the present day, is the very epitome, symbol and the soul of chaste classical Dance. And, Nrtta plays a very large part in that aesthetic Art expression.
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).
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.
Nandikeshvara’s Abhinaya Darpana is a comprehensive text (laghu grantha) with only 324 verses. As compared to the Natyashastra, the Abhinaya Darpana is written in a much simpler style. It focuses mainly on the Angika Abhinaya aspect; and, presents its subject in an orderly fashion. Here, Nandikesvara enumerates the various gestures, postures and movements related to the different limbs, separately, under three broad categories; Anga, Pratyanga and Upanga. He merely catalogues these independent gestures movements etc., with a brief note on their possible applications. The Natyashastra, on the other hand, follows the synthetic as also the analytical method. It not only enumerates different limb-movements, but also suggests their combinations in the form of Karanas, Recakas and Angaharas.
The Abhinaya Darpana often refers to Bharata-shastra (not the Natyashastra); and also to the Chapters Eight and Nine of the Natyashastra, dealing with Angika Abhinaya (gestures)
After submitting a prayer to Lord Shiva through the famous prayer-verse (Dhyana-sloka), the introductory part (verses 1-48), moves onto other subjects:
Angikam Bhuvanam Yasya, Vachikam Sarva Vangmayam, Aaharyam Chandra Taradi, Tam Namah Saattvikam Shivam
Whose bodily movements is the entire universe; whose speech is the language and literature of the entire Universe; whose ornaments are the moon and the stars; Him we worship, the serene Lord Shiva. ..!
At the outset, the author establishes the importance of Abhinaya; and briefly discusses the characteristics of its four kinds. This whole opening section takes up only forty verses; and, the rest are devoted to describing the movements of the individual parts of the body, which, according to the author, are of vital importance for a performance. Then the author instructs the performer to begin the performance with various stylized body movements.
The introductory portion (1-48) covers such matters as : the origin of Natya – Natyopatti (1-7); tribute to lore and knowledge of Natya – Natya Prashamsha (7-11); the variety of Dances (Natana); the occasions for performing dances ; and the definitions of terms Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya – Natana-bedha (11-16); required qualifications of various persons involved with dance performance, including the audience (17-23); the desired qualifications and virtues of the dancer (23-30); and, the details of the preliminaries, Purvaranga (31-37)
[The text explains the term Natya or Nataka as an adorable Art, having some traditional story as its theme (Natyam tannatakam caiva purva-katha yutam); Nrtta, the pure dance as that which is void of Bhava (moods) and Abhinaya (representations)- Bhava-Abhinaya-hinam tu Nrtta ity abhijayate ; and, Natya as dance which suggests Bhava and Rasa, and, fit for a King’s Court (yetan Nrtyam Maharaja-sabhayam kalpayet sada.
Natyam tannatakam caiva purva-katha yutam; Bhava-Abhinaya-hinam tu Nrttam-abhijayate; Rasa-Bhava vyanjanadi yukta Nrtyam itiryate; Ye tan Nrtyam Maharaja-sabhayam kalpayet sada . Ab.D.verse 15-16 ]
Describing the desired attributes of a dancer (Patra) the text mentions (AD.23-25): she, Nartaki, should be slender; neither stout nor very thin; be neither very tall nor short; very lovely, beautiful, young, having beautiful large eyes, possessing a happy countenance, and round breasts; self-confident, witty, pleasing and splendidly dressed; dexterous in handling the critical passages ; knowing well when to begin a dance and when to end it; able to perform to the accompaniment of vocal and instrumental music, properly keeping with the Tala (beats and rhythm).
Tanvi rupavathi shyama peenonnata-payodhara / pragalbha sarasa kantha Kushala graham-mokshayo /vishala-locana gita-vadya-tala anuvartani // paradarya-bhusha samapanna prasanna-mukha –pankaja / yevam vidha gunopeta Nartaki samudirita // AD.23-25 //
And, again, the Abhinaya Darpana describing the essential inner virtues (Antah-prana) of a good dancer says: A dancer must have the inherent sensibility which can be enhanced by training. Agility, steadiness, sense of line, practice in circular movement, a sharp and steady eye, effortlessness, memory, devotion, clarity of speech, sense of music – these ten are the essential qualities of a dancer.
Javaha Sthiratwam Rekha cha /27/ Bhramari Drishti Shramaha; Medha Shraddha Vacho Geetham; Paatra pranaa Dasa Smruthaha/Ab. Da.28/
[A version of the Abhinaya Darpana makes a mention of the ‘outer-life of a dancer’ (Patrasya bahir pranah): : the drum; cymbals of a good tone; the flute; the chorus; the drone (Sruti); the lute (Veena); the bells, and a male singer (Gayaka) of renown.]
As a part of her preparation, the dancer should offer her respects to the well-shaped dainty (Surupa) little (Sukshma) ankle-bells (Kinkini) made of bronze (Kamsya-racita), giving pleasant sounds (Susvara), with insignia of the presiding star-deities (Nakshatra-devata), and tied together with an indigo string (Nila-sutrena). Before wearing the anklet-bells, the dancer should reverently touch her forehead and eyes with them; and repeat a brief prayer (AD. Kinkini-lakshanam, 29-30)
As regards the positioning of the dancer on the stage, the Abhinaya Darpana (AD.21-22) specifies : the dancer (Patra) should place herself at the centre of the stage; next to her should be the best male-dancer (Nata); on to her right should stand the cymbalist (Taladhari); she should be flanked on either side by the drummers (Mrdanga-players); between them and behind stand the group of chorus-singers (Gitakarah) ; and , the one who keeps the Sruti (drone) a little behind them. Each of those, thus well ordered, should take their positions on the stage.
Ranga-madhya sthithe Patre , tat sameepe Natottamah / Dakshine Taladhari cha, parshva dvandve Mrudangakau / tayor-madhye Gitakari, Sruti-kara stahdintake// Yevam thistetah kramernava natyadau Ranga-mandale/
After having completed the Purvaranga and offering flowers (Pushpanjali) the Dancer should commence her performance of the Nrtya. The Abhinaya Darpana etches a lovely picture of the Dancer as she commences her performance with a soulful, melodious song. It says: Her throat full of song; her hands expressing the meaning of the lyrics; her eyes and glances full of expression (Bhava); and, her feet dancing to the rhythm (Taala), thus she enters the stage.
Khantaanyat Lambayat Geetam; Hastena Artha Pradarshayet; Chakshubhyam Darshayat Bhavam; Padabhyam Tala Acherait ॥ AD. 36॥
That is followed by the famous verse that instructs: ‘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.’
Yato Hasta tato Drushti; Yato Drushti tato Manaha; Yato Manaha tato Bhavaha; Yato Bhava tato Rasaha ॥ AD.37॥
This famous dictum is followed in all the Schools of dancing, while performing Abhinaya.
[The Natyashastra also includes a similar verse. It instructs that even when there is verbal acting (Vacica-abhinaya) the gaze (Dristi) should be directed to points at which the hand gestures are moving (tattad dṛṣṭi vilokanaiḥ); and, there should be proper punctuation so that the meaning may be clearly expressed. The intention is to enhance the appeal and total effect so that the language and the hand gestures support each other; and, become more eloquent.
yatra vyagrāvubhau hastau tattad dṛṣṭivilokanaiḥ । vācakābhinayaṃ kuryādvirāmairtha darśakaiḥ ॥ NS.9. 181॥ ]
The text then briefly describes (in verses 38-42) the four kinds of Abhinayas: Angika (of various body-parts); Vachika (of speech), Aharya (of costumes, makeup etc); and, Sattvika (involuntary bodily reactions)
[ Vachika-abhinaya is the expression of thoughts and emotions through words. In classical dance, though the dancer might sing; she does not speak, as in a Drama. But, she does interpret the words/sentences of the song rendered by the main singer (Gayaka) , through her facial and body expression , and the lucid movement of the limbs. As regards the singer, she/he should be endowed with a beauty of voice; clarity in utterances and expressions; and, should synchronize with the time-beats (Taala) of the accompanying drum or the cymbals . Here, a perfect coordination between the Gayaka and the Nartaki is highly essential.
Aharya concerns makeup, ornamentation and costumes suitable for the character that is being depicted.
Sarangadeva in the Sangeeta Ratnakara describes the dancer as having well-dressed and oiled hair worn in a plait decorated with flowers or with pearls. Necklaces of pearls, golden bracelets, studded with jewels and rings are the ornaments to be worn. The tilak mark in the centre of the forehead is artistic, done with kasturi and chandana (sandal paste), and flower patterns are / painted above the eye brows, the eyes are lined with collyrium and ears decorated with ear-rings. The cheeks are decorated with intricate designs (Patralekha). Bharata had suggested the four types of facial colours: Svabhavika (natural); Prasanna (pleasant); Rakta (red); and, Shyama (dark) , depending upon the context and the nature of the character.
And, the Sattvika, the involuntary body-reactions, are enumerated in eight in ways: (1) Stambha – motionlessness, numbness out of emotional shock ; (2) Sveda – perspiration; (3) Romanca -thrilled, with the hair standing erect ; (4) Svarabhanga – loss or change of voice; (5) Vepathu- trembling; (6) Vaivarnya – change of facial colour , going pale; (7) Ashru – swelling tears ; and, (8) Pralaya – swoon, faint. ]
Then in verses 42-49, it describes the three broad elements of the Angika. Here, it mentions that it is called Angika because it is expressed through the segments categorized in three ways: Anga, Pratyanga and Upanga.
The text mentions (42-43); the Angas are six: head, hands, chest, sides, waist and feet. It says, some others include neck in this category
And, it says (42-45) the Pratyangas are also six; and, these include shoulder-blades; arms; back; belly, thigh; and shanks. It is also mentioned that some other include three more under this category: wrists, elbow and knees; and, sometimes also the neck
The Upangas , the minor limbs are said to include (verses 45-49) eyes, eyebrows; eyeballs; cheeks; nose; jaw; lips; teeth; tongue; chin and face. And, sometimes shoulder is as also considered as a Upanga. Thus, the Upangas in the head are twelve in number.
And, when an Anga (major limb) moves, the Pratyanga and Upanga also move, in coordination.
[The classifications of the Angas, Pratyangas and Upangas in the Abhinaya Darpana, broadly follow that in the Natyashastra. But, the numbers of elements in each category, as listed in either text, vary.
According to Natyashastra:
1) Anga: The main parts of the body are known as Anga. The Natyashastra identifies them as the following six: head, hands, feet, Vaksha or the chest region, Kati or the waist and Parshava or the sides. Some experts add Griva (neck) to this as well.
2) Pratyanga: The parts that connect the main parts of the body are Pratyanga. These too are of six types: the shoulders, the arms, the spine, the midriff, the thighs and the abdomen. Some experts also consider the neck, knees and elbows in this
3) Upanga: Smaller constituent parts of the body are called Upanga. They are different according to each body part. Mainly the Upanga exist on the head/ face, hands and legs, because the waist, chest and sides are complete on their own. There cannot be an Upanga for these.]
The text then goes into the enumeration of the Gestures, Postures and Gaits. Along with that, it also provides the description of each feature and its applications (Viniyoga).
The Abhinaya Darpana lists nine gestures of the head; eight of the eyes; four of the neck; twenty-eight of one hand plus four additional gestures; twenty-three of both hands; gestures to represent gods; the ten Avatars of Vishnu; the different classes of people; the various relations; gestures of hands for dance in general; and, the method of moving hands in dance, and the nine planetary deities.
The Abhinaya Darpana also describes, in detail, the postures and gaits, as the body moves in dance, especially on the feet. The carriage of the dancer’s body with the different movements as codified is presented as Mandalas or Sthanakas which are sixteen modes of standing and resting, Utplavanas are the leaps, the Bhramaris or pirouettes, and finally, the Caris and the Gatis.
The Abhinaya Darpana details the following kinds of gestures
- Nine kinds of gestures of head- Shirobedha (49-65)
- Eight gestures (glances) of the eyes –Dristibedha (66-79)
- Four gestures of the neck- Grivabedha (79-87)
- Twenty-eight gesture by one hand – Asamyukta-hastha (87-165) and four additional gestures (166-172)
- Twenty-three gestures by combination of both the hands-Samyukta-hastha (172-203)
- Gestures representing gods – Devahastha (204-215)
- Gestures representing Avatars of Vishnu- Dashavatara hastha (216-225)
- Gestures representing different class of people – Chaturjatiya-hastha (226-231)
- Gestures for representing various relations- Bandhava-hastha (231-244)
- Gestures of hand for dance in general; and the method of moving hands in dance –Nrttahastha (244-249)
- Gestures for representing nine planetary deities-Navagraha-hastha (250-258)
Postures and Gaits:
After treating the gestures, the Abhinaya Darpana deals with the postures and various movements of the body (259-332)
Depending on the carriage of the body and its various movements that characterize a person, the following postures, and movements of the body in relation to feet (Padabedha – 259) are indicated;
- Mandala and Sthanakas or sixteen modes of standing and resting (260-282)
- Utplavanas or leaping movements of five kinds (282-289)
- Bhramaris or flight movements of seven kinds (298-332)
- Caris (Caribedha) and Gatis (Gatibedha) or eighteen kinds of gaits (298-332)
As regards the application (viniyoga) of these gestures it is said:
Mandalas, Utplavanas, Bhramaris, Caris and Gatis according to their relation to one another are, indeed, endless in their number and variety. Their uses in Dance and Drama are to be learnt from Shastras, the tradition of the School and through the favor of good people and not otherwise (322-324)
Gestures of the head – Shirobedha
According to Natyashastra (Ch.8) there are thirteen gestures of the head (Shirobedha); while Abhinaya Darpana has only nine: Sama; Udvahita; Adhomukha; Alolita; Dhuta; Kampita; Paravrtta; Utksipta and Parivahita.
Among these, five gestures carry the same names in both the works (Dhuta, Kampita, Parivahita, Paravrtta and Utksipta); besides, the names of two gestures agree partially (Udvahita and Alolita)
As regards the head-gestures: Adhomukha, Alolita (or Lolita), Dhuta, Kampita, Paravrtta and Parivahita, they are defined in both the works in a similar manner. As regards their applications also, the two works offer similar explanations.
Besides, the definition of Udvahita in Angika Abhinaya is similar to that of Utkispta of Natyashastra.
[The Abhinaya Darpana does not discuss actions related to certain Anga– features, such as: Chest; sides; and, Waist.]
Gestures of the Eyes (Glances) – Dristibedha
According to Natyashastra (Ch.8. 101 onward), there are three classes of Eye-gestures (Dristibedha) : (1) Glances for expressing eight Rasas; (2) Glances for expressing Sthayi bhavas ; and, (3) the Glances for expressing Sanchari-bhavas.
Each of these of the categories in (1) and (2) have in turn eight varieties each; while (3) has twenty varieties. Thus, in all, the Natyashastra describes thirty-six types of eye-glances (Dristibedha), along with their applications (Viniyoga).
But, in Abhinaya Darpana (Dristibedha – 66-79) the treatment of the Eye-gestures is not so elaborate. It only enumerates only eight of eye-gestures; Sama; Alokita; Saci; Pralokita; Nimilita; Ullokita; Anuvrtta and Avalokita.
But, in fact, these eight are listed in the Natyashastra as eight additional types of eyeball positions (Taraka karma)
Samam Alokitam Saachi pralokita Nimility Ullokita-anuvritte cha tatha chaiva-avalokitam Ithyashtho drishthi bhedaha syu kirtitah purvasuribhi
Apart from this, the Abhinaya Darpana does not mention other Eye-gestures.
[The Abhinaya Darpana does not also discuss actions related to certain Upanga-features, such as: eye-brows; eye-lids; pupils; cheeks; nose (nostrils); lips; cheeks; chin; mouth; and facial colors.
However in other texts, a variety of eye movements are described under Rasa-drshti and Bhava-drshti. Rasa-drshti, as the name suggests, are those that are to be employed for the presentation of the nine Rasas.
The text, Balarama-bharata classifies the Drshtis into Bahir-vishaya-drshti; Bhava-drshti; Rasa-anubhava-sucaka-drshti; and, Kriya-artha-phala-drshti. The different movements of the head, eye, neck, hands and feet are generally employed in Bharatanatya, with some schools following Abhinayadarpana and some Natyasastra.
In Kathak, not much importance is attached to the different movements. The emphasis is more on ‘what meets the eye seems not merely true to what is represented, but winsome in itself’.
However, the movements of the Bhru (eyebrows) are emphasized with facial movements kept down to a minimum. It is perhaps in Kathakali that the movements of the Bhru (eyebrows), eyelids, Ganda (cheek), Adhara (lips), Nasika (nose) and Mukha (face) are employed using the entire gamut of variations.
Whereas the movements of Ganda (cheek) and Adhara (lower-lip) as described in Natyasastra are particularly used in Mohiniyattam.
In Manipuri, the facial expression is serene almost throughout, in part perhaps a result of the veil that is draped over the head, falling across the face. The wrist movements along with that of the hands and fingers results in a fluid movement of the hands, a typical of Manipuri and so are the closing in and opening out of the fingers described as Hasta-karana in Natyasastra.]
Neck gestures (Grivabedha)
The neck-movement is very important in Dance; because the movements of the head and the face pivot around it.
Gestures of the neck are all to follow the gestures of the head; and, the head gestures are also reflected in those of the neck. And, in this manner, Bharata enumerates and describes the gestures of the head and the connected minor limbs (Upanga) and their uses.
The Natyashastra (Ch.8.164) enumerates nine kinds of neck-gestures- Grivabedha: Sama, Nata, Unnata, Tryasra, Recita, Kuncita, Ancita, Vahita and Vivarta.
While the Abhinaya Darpana (Grivabedha – 79-87) gives only four kinds: Sundari, Tirascina, Parivartita and Prakampita.
And, the two enumerations do not have common names.
[The Abhinaya Darpana does not discuss actions related to certain Prtyanga –elements such as: Thighs; Shanks; Belly; and Back (spine).]
Hand- gestures (Hastha-bedha)
It is said; the Indian classical dance the joints, rather than the muscles, play an important role. The Hastha (hand-gestures) generated through the movement of the wrists and the fingers are a portal of an entire language system articulated through animated gestures. They are like the words in a poem. It is around such Hasthas verities denoting suggestive Dance-expressions; the appropriate gestures are composed to covey thoughts and emotions, and to indicate objects.
Though both the Natyashastra and the Abhinaya Darpana classify the hand-gestures into three categories, they differ in regard to the number in each class; as well as in their definition; and, also in their uses.
Single-hand gestures (Asamyukta-hastha):
For illustrations of the Hasthas –Please click here
According to Natyashastra (Ch.9), there are twenty-four gestures in this class, while in Abhinaya Darpana; their number is twenty-eight. In both the works, twenty-two gestures have common names. Their descriptions are also similar.
On a review, one finds that the definitions of the following thirteen gestures are similar, in both the works:
Pathaka; Tripathaka; Ardhachandra; Arala; Sukatunda; Musti; Shikara; Padmakosa; Sarpasiras; Mrigasira; Catura; Bhramara and Mukula
The following gestures have certain common aspects in their application. The number of such common aspects differs from one gesture to another;
Pathaka (2); Tripathaka (2); Ardhachandra; Musti (1); Katakamukha (4); Padmakosa (3); Sarpasiras (5) and Mukula (2)
Except in these cases, the Viniyoga, the applications of the other gestures vary.
The definitions of the following gestures differ in both the works:
Kartarimukha; Katamukha; Kapitta; Suci; Kangula; Alapadma (Alapallava); Hamsapaksa; Sadamsa; and Tamracuda
The following hand-gestures of the Natyashastra are subdivided according to their Viniyoga; and special instructions are given on how such subdivisions are to be used in different groups: Pathaka, Tripathaka, Arala, Sucimukha,Catura and Sadamsa
Combined- hand-gestures (Samyukta-hastha):
For illustrations of the Hasthas – please click here
The Natyashastra (Ch.9) names thirteen gestures;
while Abhinaya Darpana gives twenty-three
On a comparison of the two sets of combined-hand-gestures given both the texts, one finds:
The following gestures in both the works have almost the same descriptions and uses: Anjali; Kapota; Karkata; and ushpaputa
Other Hasthas not mentioned in the Natyashastra:
The Abhinaya Darpana mentions certain classes of Hand-gestures (Hasthas) that were not mentioned in the Natyashastra. It is said; these are meant aid dramatic representations and sculpting the images of the deities
:- Hasthas representing deities – Devahastha (204-215) – lists sixteen gods and goddesses-(Brahma; Shiva; Vishnu; Sarasvathi; Parvathi; Lakshmi; Ganesha; Kartikeya; Manmatha; Indra; Agni ; Yama; Nirrti; Varuna; Vayu and Kubera)
:- Hasthas representing ten Avatars of Vishnu- Dashavatara hastha (216-225) – (Matsya; Kurma; Varaha; Nrsimha; Vamana; Parasurama; Ramachandra; Balarama; Krishna and Kalki)
:-Hasthas representing different class of people – Chaturjatiya-hastha (226-231)
:-Hasthas representing various relatives – Bandhava-hastha (231-244 ); and
: – Hasthas representing nine planetary deities –Navagraha-hastha (250-258)
According to Natyashastra (Ch.9.173) there are twenty-seven Nrtta-hasthas; and, they are not the same as the single-hand or the combined-hand gestures.(Another version lists thirty Nrtta-hasthas).
But the number of Nrtta-hastha in Abhinaya Darpana is thirteen; and, they are not different from the single-hand or the combined-hand gestures. Those names are repeated here.
Among the thirteen listed in the Abhinaya Darpana, six single-hand-gestures (Pathaka, Tripathaka, Shikara, Kapitta, Alapadma and Hamsasya) are the same as the single-hand gestures carrying the same name in the Natyashastra. And, the other seven combined-hand gestures (Anjali, Svastika, Dola, Kataka-vardhana, Sakara, Pasa and Kilaka) are the same as the combined –hand gestures of the same name in the Natyashastra.
Thus, overall, the total number of hand-gestures related to Dance in Natyashastra is sixty-four; and, that in Abhinaya Darpana is fifty-one.
And, one version of the Abhinaya Darpana (page 47) states: there are as many meanings as there are hand-gestures (Hasthas). Their usage is to be regulated by their literal meaning, category, gender, and suitability. Only so much can be said in an abridged form. Those following careful research; and, those who are acquainted with the ways of displaying the Bhavas in various should use the hands with due care, after consulting the texts, as may be required, and the teachers.
Dr. Priyashri Rao in her article The Textual Traditions in Indian Classical Dances–published in The Music Academy Journal 2011 (Volume 82)- pages 93 -111- writes :
There are differences and variations in the enumeration and interpretation of the terms in the different texts as for instance with the Hasta-s.
In some forms like Kathak there is not much use of various variations of the different limbs of the body nor is too much of importance ascribed to the different movements of the limbs instead the idea is to present a ‘winsome’ presentation as such.
There are some differences in the Hasta-s as prescribed/ described in the texts and their uses in present times.
In Kathak, the use of Hastas is not to a great extant in both the non-representational and, representational aspects of dance.
In Kathakali, the use of Hastas has evolved to a complex and sophisticated level. The Hasta-lakshana-dlpika is the source text and it is quite different from the Natyasastra and Sangita-ratnakara traditions. So is the case with Abhinayadarpana too.
In Mohiniyattam, the influence of Abhinayadarpana, Hasta-lakshana-dlpika and Balarama-bharata can be observed, though more often than not the hasta-s of Hasta-lakshana-dlpika are followed.
In Kucipudi some schools follow Abhinayadarpana, while some Natyasastra.
In Odissi, Abhinayacandrika is the text that is generally followed
The Hastas as mentioned in the Abhinayadarpana are the ones employed in Bharatanatyam, in both Nrtta and the Abhinaya. Although Abhinayadarpana does mention a separate category of the Nrtta-hasta, in practice however the Hastas described under the Asamyuta and Samyuta are the ones that are predominantly employed both for Nrtta and Abhinaya.
Vyaghra, Ardha-suci, Kataka and Palli-hastas are not included in the Asamyuta-hasta slokas; but are described along with their Viniyogas after the Tamracuda-hasta in (AD v. 166-171)
The reason for that could be these types of Hastas were perhaps sparingly used. The Ardha-suci is generally used to denote anything in ‘minor or lesser degree’ In fact, Salake (thorns, AD v, 130a) described as a Suci-hasta-viniyoga, is more often than not denoted by Ardha-suci. The sprout of a seed, young ones of the bird and big worms are the viniyoga-s for this Hasta in Abhinayadarpana (AD v.l68ab).
However, it is quite difficult to envisage the use of this Hasta to show ‘young ones of the bird’ The description of the Palli-hasta as per Abhinayadarpana is a little different from that in actual practice (AD v.l70cd-171ab).
In fact, in practice, it matches the description of the Vardhamanaka-hasta described in Hasta-lakshana-dilpika (Sudha, 2001:14-15, Part II), which is the text followed by the exponents of Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. It is used to show the ‘lips’ but we could also use to show the forehead or an ornament or also use it in an Adavu.
Banahasta, Trilinga, Pralambha and Kangula- bheda are four other Hasta not mentioned in Abhinayadarpana; but, is in use.
Banahasta is listed in the Mahabarata-cudamani (MBC v.162) , with a note that it is not mentioned in other texts. The description of the Hasta is same as that in practice. It is employed to show Krishna lifting Govardhana Mountain or the stalk of the lily flower or the eyes.
Trilinga is used to refer to ‘little’, a ‘a negative feature’ like ‘cunning’ among others.
Pralambha is employed to ‘question’, ‘show the forehead’ or ‘chest’. In Mohiniyattam, this Hasta is referred to as Ardha-chandra.
Kangula-bheda (where the ring finger is bent, while the other fingers are stretched out) is used to show pearl, angry eyes, the Jumkas (earrings), bells worn by children or a flower-bud among others.
Interestingly Mahabarata-cudamani, apart from describing the Hastas and listing its uses, also gives variations of Hasta-s.
For instance, after describing Pataka-hasta and listing its uses, variations of Pataka – sankirna-patakam, Cilitta-patakam and Tala-patakam, again along with their descriptions and uses are also described (MBC, v. 169-174). And, the two variations for Kangula are Cilittak-angulam and Sankirnaka- kangulam .
There is no mention of Kangula-bheda. Urnanabha is mentioned in texts like Natyasastra, Agni-Purana; but from the point of view of the description of the Hasta as employed in present times, it is as per that in Manasollasa and Nartana-nirnaya. The Mahabarata-Cudamani lists this as Purnanabam (MBC v.162). This Hasta is generally employed to represent a ‘tiger’; and, Abhinayadarpana mentions the use of Vyaghra for the same.]
Feet in Dance
The Abhinaya Darpana in its verses 259-260, mentions Mandala (postures); Utplavana (leaps); Bhramari (flights or turns) and Cari or Padacari (gait) as postures and movements related to feet.
These refer to the carriage of the dancer’s body with the different movements codified, that is presented as Mandalas or Sthanakas which are sixteen modes of standing and resting. The Utplavanas are the leaps; the Bhramaris or pirouettes; and finally, the Caris and the Gatis.
But, in this text, the descriptions of the feet movements are not accompanied by their Viniyogas. The explanation provided by the scholars is that the Mandalas, Utplavanas, Bhramaris etc., are to be applied according to their relation to one another; and, these are, indeed, endless in number and variety.
Another feature of this text is that in describing the basic hand-gestures and the eye-movements, the author follows the Natyashastra. But, his treatment of the movements of the feet is his own. He also includes some new gestures, not found in other texts.
The Abhinaya Darpana does not specifically discuss movements of the feet. It factors the whole leg, from thighs to toes, as a single Pada-bheda outlining the actions like standing, walking, roaming, and jumping. In its discussion of the jumps (utplavanas), spiral movements or turns (Bhramaris) and the different types of walking Caris and Padacari, it utilizes the various positions of the feet, as described in the Natyashastra.
[The Abhinayadarpana classified the varieties of foot movements as four – Mandala (static position), Utplavana (jump), Bhramari (pirouette) and Padacari (gait) (AD 259-260ab).
With reference to the movements of the Pada (feet), the Kuncita and the Agratala-sancara movements of the feet are extensively used in Manipuri.
The Ancita and the Kuncita movements of the feet are much used in Odissi.
The Bhramari-s or the pirouettes are performed in a variety of ways in the different dance forms. For instance, the Eka-pada-Bhramari (AD v.295) and the Kuncita-Bhramari (AD v.296ab) described in Abhinayadarpana are typical of Bharatanatyam
The Utpluta – Bhramari (AD v. 292) described in Abhinayadarpana is used in Odissi. The reverse of this the Viparita-Bhramari is also in use .
In Kathak, the Bhramaris called ‘Chakkars’ are employed as in no other dance form.]
In contrast, the Chapter Eleven of the shorter version (from pages 197 to 206) of the Natyashastra 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.
One of the explanations adduced justifying the brief treatment of Caris in the Abhinaya Darpana (verses 323-324) is: the mutual relations of the Caris, Mandalas, Utplavanas, Brhramaris etc., are endless in number and variety. Their uses in dance and drama are to be learnt from the practices and tradition of the School, under the guidance of a wise teacher.
A similar advice is tendered with regard to the applications of the Hasthas (on page 47).
Mandalas are complicated movements of the legs involving combinations of Caris. According to Natyashastra ( Chapter Twelve , see pages 207 to 212)), Mandalas are twenty in number; and, are again divided into two classes: Bhuma (earthly, ground) and Akasika (aerial).
The Abhinaya Darpana, however, names only ten Mandalas (Mandala-bedha); and, all are of the same class (260-261) : Sthanaka ; Ayata ; Alidha ; Pratyalidha ; Prenkhana ; Prerita ; Svastika; Motita ; Samasuci ; and , Parsvasuci
The names of the Mandalas in the two works differ.
Any special position of the body which is motionless is called Sthana, stance. The Abhinaya Darpana lists six such Stanakas (274-275): Sampada; Ekapada; Nagabandha; Aindra; Garuda; and, Brahma. The Natyashastra treats the subject of Sthanas in greater detail. It mentions as many as forty Sthanas or standing postures, under six categories of static postures along with their applications.
Utplavana (leaps) are of five kinds (282-283): Alaga; Kartari; Asva; Motita; and, Krpalga.
Bhramari (flights or turns) are seven (289-291); and are the same as in the Natyashastra: Utpluta; Cakra; Garuda; Ekapada; Kuncita; Akasha; and Anga.
Gati (gaits): the gaits or the walking styles (Gati) are said to be of eight kinds: Calana; Sankramana; Sarana; Vegini; Kuttana; Luhita; Lolita; and Visrama.
The treatment of the Gatis (gatipracāra) in the Natyashastra is much more elaborate. It 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. Natyashastra mentions that the gaits are to be executed in – slow, medium and quick – tempos (Kaalas), according to the nature of 45 different characters.
The Abhinaya Darpana (298-308) treats Caris and Gatis alike. They are not differentiated, as in the Natyashastra.
The Caris are movements using one foot; and, are used both in Dance and Drama. The Natyashastra (Ch.9.10) lists thirty-two Caris, divided into two groups of sixteen each: the Bhuma (earthly, ground) and Akasika (aerial). Cari is that activity where in the various beautiful movements of the hands, feet calves, thighs and the hip are kept in mutual concordance, in a single flow.
The Abhinaya Darpana, however, gives eight kinds of Cari; and they all are of the same class. There are no divisions here. And, the listing of the feet movements is not accompanied by their Viniyoga-s: Calana; Sankramana; Sarana; Vegini; Kuttana; Luthita; Lolita; Visrama.
The names of the Caris in Abhinaya Darpana are the same as that of the Gatis (gaits) it enumerates.
The names of the Caris in the two texts- Abhinaya Darpana and Natyashastra- also differ.
[Nyayas: The Natyashastra makes a mention of four types of Nyayas (Bharata, Sattvata, Varsaganya and Kaisika). These are the ways regulating (niyante) how the various weapons are to be handled while staging a fight on the stage; and, how the actors move about on the stage using various Caris and Angaharas (combinations of Caris and Karanas).
The Abhinaya Darpana does not, however, mention Nyayas.]
Obviously, there is vast difference between the Natyashastra and the Abhinaya Darpana in their approach to and in the treatment of Angika-abhinaya.
The Natyashastra is the primary text. It lays down the theoretical principles; enumerates the gestures and postures to give a form to its concepts; and, also provides practical examples of their applications. The explanations in the Natyashastra seem to be based on a study of actual performances; and, on a detailed analysis of the actual dance movements.
It not merely enumerates the individual dance-gestures, but also suggests how those elements could be combined to form graceful and meaningful dance movements like Karanas and Angaharas, forming a sequence of completed action. Since the entire process was involved with production of Drama; and, its presentation before enlightened spectators, it appears the complete sequences of movements were carefully studied, structurally analyzed to ensure a correct presentation finally emerged , as envisaged by the choreographer.
Thus the approach of the Natyashastra was broad based, covering the theoretical, analytical and practical aspects of Dance and its varied gestures, stances and movements.
The Abhinaya Darpana, in contrast, does not delve much into the theoretical aspects of Dance movements. Its focus is mainly on Angika-abhinaya, the gestures, postures and movements of the limbs and parts of the three major segments of the body. It enumerates in a comprehensive, codified and systematic manner the actions of a limb, in isolation; and, suggests the means to its application. The Abhinaya Darpana trains a dancer in the basic movements.
It does not try to combine those various dance-elements, in order to present a seamless, graceful and meaningful sequence of actions. It is said; the Abhinaya Darpana is like a practical, working manual, a tool of communication. It is up to the teachers and learners to make a good use of the material it provides to choreograph charming, enjoyable and expressive dance sequences. The various individual gestures, stances and movements that the text catalogs are like words (Padas); and, they have to be employed with skill and imagination to form countless verities of meaningful sentences (Vakya). The uses of the Dance-elements that the text provides have to be studied diligently and practiced earnestly under the guidance of a well informed and experienced teacher.
There are elaborate descriptions of movements that are neatly categorized and presented. For example; ten movements of the head, fifteen ways to move the eyeballs and two ways to turn the knee-joint indicate the several combinations available to the conscious and imaginative dancer and teacher to create their dance sequences.
The scholar Raghavabhatta, in his Arthadyotanika (1886), a commentary on the play Abhijanana Sakuntala of the poet Kalidasa, compares the Abhinaya Darpana to Grammar of dance movements. The text suggests various hand and body gestures. But, the skill, he says, resides in combining those elements to compose a beautiful and graceful, meaningful presentation. Raghavabhatta, in his commentary, suggests choreographic patterns (on page 12 of the Book / page 26 of the pdf doc) for depicting certain actions that take place in the play. For instance:
:- Watering the plants (Vrksha sincana) : first show Nalina and padmakosa hands, palms downwards, then raise them to the shoulder; slightly bend the body with Avadhuta head position and Adhomukha face looking down; with Padmakosa hands downwards to suggest ‘ pouring out’.
In the Nalina-padmakosa, the dancer’s hands are crossed; the palms turned down; but not touching, but not touching; turned a little backward, and made to resemble Padmakosa (lotus bud). To move the Nalina-padmakosa hands downwards is said to be ‘ pouring out
: – Plucking the flower (pushpa-vachayana): hold the left hand horizontally in Uttana Arala; the right hand taken side-ways in Hamsasya extended forward at the side. The left hand here represents a basket; and, the imaginary flowers are plucked with the right hand and transferred to the left.
:- Make up (Prasadana) : putting Tilaka mark on the forehead with ring finger of the Tripathaka hand; wearing the garland with Paranmukha and Sandasmsa (right and left) hands; putting on Tatakas (ornaments of upper arms) and earrings with two Bhramara hands ; painting lac-dye on the feet with Kartari-mukha hands ; and, wearing a ring with Hamsasya and Cyuta-sadamsa hands.
:- Attack by the bee (Bhrama badha): move the head quickly to and fro (Vidhulam) with the Viduta head; the Kampita lips are quivering and turned down; while the Tripathaka hands are held unsteadily against the face, palms inward.
: – Despair (Visada): with the Dhuta head and the Vinasana eye.
: – Avoiding an attempt to raise one’s chin (mukhonnayana parihara) with the Paravtta head and Viniguhita lips.
: – Obstacles in walking (Gati-bhanga) with Urudhrta Cari
: – Coming down from a high place (Avatarana); with Gangavatarana
: – Mounting a Chariot (Rathadi-rohana) with Urdhvajanu Cari; “the knees are to be raised, the leg being bent and lifted, so that the knee is level with the chest, and there held; and then the same is done with the other foot.”
Similarly, the classic dance forms of India developed various dance movements by adopting the idioms and phrases from the basic ‘Grammar’ of the Abhinaya Darpana. For instance; the Bharatanatya derived the Araimandi as the basic dance position from the Ardha-mandala or Ayata, which is defined in the Abhinaya Darpana as: “standing in Chaturasra, bending the knees slightly and obliquely and keeping a distance of Vitasati between the two feet “(A.D 263).
Vitastrya antaritau paadau krutva tu chatursrakau . Tiryak kunchita janubhyam sthithirayath mandalam //AD.263 //
On the same principle, the Kathak developed Sampada; in Odissi it was Chauk; and, in Manipuri the Agratala.
Apart from the Hastas and their uses, many texts also enumerate and/or describe Hasta-karanas (movement of the fingers); Hasta-karmas; Hasta-kshetras (position of the hasta) and Hasta-pracars (directions for the movement of the hands). These, in combination with the Bhedas (variations) of the Angas, Pratyangas and the Upangas (different limbs of the body), prove to be extremely useful whilst notating a dance movement or a complete dance composition.
A number of movements of the Pada, Jarigha, Padacaris, Bhramaris etc., described in texts can be seen in practice in the different forms of dance. The Adavu system also appears to have gradually evolved.
With reference to the concept of Nrtta and Abhinaya, there appears to be no change in principle.
Bharatha’s idea of settling the audience before the presentation of actual drama seems to have been adopted in principal in Kathak as in ‘mijaja banana’.
Many practices in actual performance can be observed in the different dance forms described in the different texts. Concepts of Sollukattus, Padartha-Abhinaya and Vakyartha-Abhinaya, content of a Padam, presentation of dance to both Svara and Pata, advanced use of the Kinkini or the bells and the description of Kalasa can be seen in the different forms of Dance.
Again, the principles of accompaniment to dance with reference to drumming can be seen echoed in present times too. The role of the accompanying musicians with specific reference to Nattuv-angam is quite similar to that essayed in present day.
The seating arrangements for the accompanying musicians are also quite interesting. Without doubt each aspect of each of the topics referred above perhaps merits an in depth questioning and analysis.]
The Abhinaya Darpana occupies a unique position in the literature of classical Indian dance. Unlike in the case of other ancient texts , the Abhinaya Darpana is a text that is regularly consulted , even in the present-day, by the practicing artists and the students, regularly, as a part of the learning process. It is a practical text that is very much alive.
It not only has helped to preserve the Art of Dancing by imparting instructions to the learners (siṣyebhyaśca tadanyebhyaḥ); but, has also helped in spreading the performing Art through its practice (prayacchāmaḥ prayogataḥ). It is a framework of principles of praxis or practice. Its efficacy lies in the practice of Dance; and, in providing inspiration for reconstructing innovative Dance-expressions by experimentation (prayoga); and, by combining, with skill and imagination, the varieties of gestures, stances and movements of Angikabhinaya that it has enumerated so systematically. Thus, the Abhinaya Darpana is at once, a Sadhana shastra and a Prayoga shastra.
In the next part, we shall briefly talk about Bharatarnava; and, then move on to other texts.
The Next Part
References and Sources
- Nandikesvara’s Abhinayadarpanam by Prof. Manmohan Ghosh
- The Mirror of Gesture by Ananda Coomaraswamy and Gopala Kristnayya Duggirala
- Natyashastra and Abhinaya Darpana
- Nritta in Bharatanatyam
- The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition by Dr. Mandakranta Bose
- Dance imagery in South Indian temples: study by Dr. Bindu S. Shankar
ALL IMAGES AND TABLES ARE FROM INTERNET