Tag Archives: Bharatarnava

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Twelve

Continued From Part Eleven

Lakshana Granthas – continued

 7. Bharatarnava

shiva dancing333

There is a School of thought, which holds the view that the two texts relating to the practice of Dancing – Abhinaya Darpana and Bharatarnava – were both composed by Nandikesvara. It also asserts that the Abhinaya Darpana is, in fact, an abridged edition or a summary of the Bharatarnava; literally, the Ocean of Bharata’s Art.

But, that proposition is hotly debated; because, it is riddled with too many problems.


The Author.. ?

To start with, it is not clear who this Nandikesvara, said to be the author of Bharatarnava, really was. The identity of this Nandikeshvara; his period; and, the other works associated with him are much debated. There have been, in the past, many scholars, who went by the name of Nandikeshvara; and, some of them were well versed in the theoretical principles of Dance, Music and other branches of knowledge.

For instance;

:- Tandu mentioned in the Natyashastra, after whom the Tandava Nrtta was named , is also identified with Nandikesvara;

:- Matanga in his Brhaddeshi (dated around the eighth century) mentions a Nandikesvara along with ancient authorities like : Kasyapa, Kohala, Dattiia Durgasakti and Narada and others ;

:-Rajasekhara (8th-9thcentury), in his Kavya Mimamsa,  credits  Nandikesvara  as being a pioneer in the subject of poetics ‘ Sahitya Shastra’; and , as ‘the first writer on Rasa’.

:- Abbinavagupta (11th century) reproduces  lengthy passages attributed to a certain Nandikesvara, as quoted by Kirtidharacharya; and, remarks that he himself had not seen  the work of Nandikesvara;

:- Sagītaśiromai , a standard work on Music,  was a compilation made by a group of scholars during the year 1428 , at the instance of Sultan Malika Sahi (a Muslim convert , who ruled the region to the west of Allahabad) refers to the views of Nandikesvara  at several places ( e.g. verses 150-151;268-271);

: – Bharatarnava , a text on Dancing, is attributed to Nandikesvara;

: – And, we have the Abhimaya Darpana, also ascribed to Nandikesvara.

All these scholars, each named as Nandikesvara, may not refer to one and the same person.


The identity of Nandikesvara who is said to have authored the Abhinaya Darpana is not, therefore, clearly established; and, his time is also uncertain, ranging anywhere between second century BCE to the Sixteenth century CE. And, there is no means to establish which Nandikesvara authored the Abhinaya Darpana and the Bharatarnava.

The two works could have been written by the same author; or, were written by different authors carrying the same name. To say the least, it is confusing.

But, Prof. Manmohan Ghosh, the scholar who has translated the Natyashastra of Bharata and the Abhinaya Darpana ascribed to Nandikesvara , mentions that he did study closely the manuscript of the so-called Bharatarnava that was preserved the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute at Pune. According to him, the work he examined was NOT the work of Nandikesvara.

 In any case, 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.


[There are two publications of Bharatarnava. Sadly, they do not seem to be available either in print or on the net.

Nandikesvara, Bharatarnava, ed. Vachaspati Gairola, Chowkhamba Amarabharati Prakashan, (Varanasi, 1978).

Nandikesvara, Bharatarnava, with translation into English and Tamil, edited by S. K. Vasudeva Sastri, Tanjore Sarasvati Mahal Series no. 74, Tanjore 1957. ]



As regards the period of Nandikesvara, some have opined that he might even predate Bharata the author of Natyashastra. But, such speculations have, largely, been put to rest.

The noted scholar Emmie Te Nijenhuis, in her Indian Music: History and Structure, writes: the dating of Nandikesvara’s two works Bharatarnava and Abhinaya Darpana still remains undecided. A certain Nandikesvara is quoted by Matanga in connection with the Murchanas of twelve notes. But, I doubt whether the author mentioned by Matanga is the same person as our dance expert. According to Ramakrishna Kavi, the Bharatarnava was written after the eleventh century. Personally, I would date this work even later; that is to say, after the twelfth century, since it often cites the twelfth century author Haripala.

Dr. Mandakranta Bose also states:  though the manuscript – fragment bears the title Bharatarnava, there is no internal evidence supporting this identification; and, the material comes from a different school of dancing; and, does not belong to the school which is represented in the Abhinaya Darpana. She dates Bharatarnava as belonging to the Sixteenth century.

According to her, the Abhinaya Darpana and the Bharatarnava seem unquestionably by two different authors; and, from two different periods. The material in the Bharatarnava, she opines, comes from a different School of dancing; and, it does not belong to the School which is represented in the Abhinaya-Darpana.

 Dr. Bose places the Abhinaya Darpana in or close to medieval period; and, says, on the basis of its treatment of several topics, the Bharatarnava seems to be of a later date than the Abhinaya Darpana. And, the Appendix (Parisista) to the Bharatarnava, according to her, belongs to a much later date. Thus, the three works were composed during three different periods; and, by three different authors.

The Bharatarnava which appeared later, Dr. Bose says, deals with the same subject as the Abhinaya Darpana, though differ in the treatment of its details or in their emphases. And, therefore, it gives an impression as if the two texts complement each other.  And, such proximity might have given room for airing unfounded explanations speculating that the two works might have been written by the same author.

The reasons she adduces for treating Abhinaya Darpana and Bharatarnava as texts of the medieval times, as she points out, are:

: –   Here, the Dance is divided 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). Even as late as in the eleventh century, Abhinavagupta avoided using the term Natya; and, restricted himself to using the term Nrtta, presumably because such a term as Natya did not appear in the Natyashastra.

: – Also, the Abhinaya-Darpana views Tandava and Lasya as forms of masculine and feminine dancing, which again was an approach that was adopted during the medieval times.

:- The Bharatarnava follows the practice of describing individual dance pieces along with the specific recommended / prescribed dance-movements – Caris, Sthanas, Karanas and Tala – for each of them, which is typical of texts that appeared later than the Sangita-ratnakara and the Nrttaratnavali of Jaya Senapati (13th century). And, such a practice became more common in the works produced during the sixteenth century and onwards. Some of these texts, therefore, came to be treated almost as Dance-manuals.

:- Certain technical terms derived from regional (Desi) languages, used in the Bharatarnava, as well as in its Appendix, such as: Udupa, Dhuvada, Kuvada and Sulu, came to be used in the Sanskrit works on dancing only after the sixteenth century; and not earlier.

:- Further, the Bharatarnava gives more prominence to the Desi Tandava and Angaharas or basic-dance sequences of the Desi variety, rather than to the Marga types described in the Natyashastra. The practice of encouraging and developing Desi traditions in Dance came into being only during or after the medieval times, lending a new sense of direction to the regional Dances. Following that, the approach to Dance and its descriptions changed significantly during the later periods.



The Bharatarnava, as compared to Abhinaya Darpana, is larger in size, scope and in description of details.

Abhinaya Darpana is a comprehensive text (laghu grantha) with only 324 verses.  It is confined mainly the categorization of several elements of the Angika-abhinaya; and, suggesting their applications, without getting into theoretical discussions.  As compared to the Natyashastra, the Abhinaya Darpana is written in a much simpler style; and, presents its subject in an orderly fashion.

In contrast; the edition of Bharatarnava, which is available in the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute–Pune, is said to be a larger work, having 996 verses spread over 15 Chapters. And, in addition, it has an Appendix (Parisista) consisting of 251 verses.  

As regards its scope, the Bharatarnava includes descriptions of different varieties of Pure (Marga) as also the Tandava and Lasya dance forms of the Desi traditions, along with the descriptions of specific Sthanas, Caris, Karanas and Talas suitable for each of them; as also detailed instructions on the execution of various movements in each dance sequence.  It devotes an entire Chapter (Seven) for a discussion on Talas; prescribing how the Talas are to be used in various dance sequences.

Unlike the Abhinaya Darpana, which just lists the individual dance-gestures and postures, the Bharatarnava describes various Angaharas (combinations of the Karanas); seven of which are new, not described in other texts.

Here, the author takes up the components of dance-units (the Sthanas, Caris and Karanas), which make up a total composition (Angahara); and analyzes them systematically by giving their definitions, their divisions, and the Tala required. He introduces a new set of Angaharas, nine in all.

Further, the Bharatarnava describes in detail, with definitions and examples, the nine types of Srnganatya, a dance form derived from the combinations of the various types of Caris, Sthanas and Angaharas. The Srnganatya described here, is said to be a new form of dance that was not mentioned in any of the earlier texts. The author describes the specific Talas, gestures (Hasthas) and postures (Sthana) suitable for each type of Srnganatya.

dance padma


Thus, though the two texts deal with the same subject, they differ substantially in matters of detail, enumeration, descriptions and on emphasis of the various elements of the Angika-abhinaya , such as : the gestures (Hasthas),  postures (Sthana) , gaits (Gati) , movements of the feet (Pada-bedha) , feet position (Cari) and even the  eye-glances (Dristi-bedha). These differ not only in their numbers and names, but also in their descriptions and applications. All these, again, go to strengthen the argument against   the assumption of the single authorship of the two works.

Further, the numbers, the actions and their application of the various elements of the Angas, Upangas and the Prtyangas vary significantly from the descriptions given in the Natyashastra. Obviously, both Abhinaya Darpana and Bharatarnava sourced their material from other texts.

For instance:

Hasthas (Hastha-bedha)

The Abhinaya Darpana lists 28 Asamyukta-hasthas (single-hand gestures); while there are 27 in the Bharatarnava. The Natyashastra had enumerated 24 Asamyukta-hasthas.

As against 13 Samyukta-hasthas (both hands combined) in the Abhinaya Darpana; the Bharatarnava mentions 16. The Natyashastra had named 13 Samyukta-hasthas.

The Nrtta-hasthas (abstract-dance gestures) in the Abhinaya Darpana are only 13; while there are as many as 22 in the Bharatarnava, which follows, in this case, the Natyashastra. Not only are there differences in numbers, but are also in the names, definitions and applications of the movements.

Besides such Dance-gestures, the Abhinaya Darpana describes Hasthas to denote Devas (gods-Devahastha); Avatars (ten Avatars of Vishnu – Dashavatara hastha); relatives and members in a family (Bandhava-hastha); persons of different social groups (Chaturjatiya-hastha); and the nine planets (Navagraha-hastha). The Natyashastra had not mentioned these types of hand-gestures (Hasthas) ; the  Abhinaya Darpana might have adopted these from some other source.

The Bharatarnava does not mention any of such Hasthas; instead, it names an altogether a different set of Hasthas – Nanana-artha-dyotaka hastha- the hand-gestures, which convey an assortment of meanings. Such types of Hasthas were not mentioned in any of the earlier texts.


Dristi-bedha, eye-glances

The treatment of the Drstis also varies. The Abhinaya Darpana adopts only eight Darshana-karmas (eye-glances) from among those mentioned in the Natyashastra; and, describes them as eight Drstis. Whereas, the Bharatarnava follows the Natyashastra’s enumeration of the Drstis; and, describes thirty-six Drstis that express aesthetic pleasure and emotions (Rasa and Bhava).


Gatipracāra –walking styles

The Abhinaya Darpana mentions eight kinds Gati, the gaits or the walking styles. But, it does not indicate their applications (viniyoga). In contrast, the Bharatarnava focuses on how those gaits could be employed in different kinds of Tandavas dances, of both the Marga and the Desi class. 

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. The 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.


Pada bedha and Cari

The Abhinaya Darpana does not specifically discuss movements of the feet. It utilizes the various positions of the feet, as described in the Natyashastra. The Abhinaya Darpana mentions four types of movements of the feet:  Mandala  (postures);  Utplavana  (leaps);  Bhramari  (flights or turns) and  Cari  or  Padacari  (gait)  as postures and movements related to feet. But, in this text, the descriptions of the feet movements are not accompanied by their Viniyogas.

The Bharatarnava describes twenty-two types of the movements of the feet, which are a mixture of Bharata’s Pada-bheda (feet movements of five kinds) and Cari (movements using one foot of thirty-two kinds).

Thus, the Caris of the Abhinaya Darpana and the Bharatarnava differ not only in their names but in their definitions as well

The Bharatarnava describes nine types of Srnganatya, a dance form derived from the combinations of the various types of Caris, Sthanas and Angaharas. It is said; the Nrttaratnavali and the Nrtyadhyaya are the only two other texts that talk about Srngabhinaya. But, they do not describe them. The Bharatarnava gives detailed descriptions of the nine types of Srnganatya, along the composition of each of them.

text and structure

The Text –its structure

Dr. Bose mentions that the edition of the Bharatarnava, which is at present available, has fifteen Chapters, with 996 verses. And, that is followed by an Appendix (Parisista) consisting of 251 verses.

:- The beginning of the main text of the Bharatarnava is missing and the text commences with the descriptions of single hand-gestures.

:- The Second Chapter describes double hand-gestures

:- The Third Chapter names the hand-gestures used specially in dancing (Nrtta).

:- The Fourth Chapter gives other varieties of single hand-gestures as taught by Brhaspati. It also describes glances and movements of the head and the feet, citing the views of other authorities as well.

:- The Fifth Chapter describes different postures.

:- The Sixth Chapter deals with the application of the postures and the applications of combinations of hand gestures.

:- The Seventh Chapter deals with Tala and rhythm.

:- The Eighth Chapter deals with Caris.

:-  The Ninth Chapter describes a new kind of Angahara, of seven types, which is not described in other texts.

:- The Tenth Chapter again deals with more hand-gestures that express a variety of meanings (Nana-artha-dyotaka).

:-  The Eleventh and Twelfth Chapters deal with yet another new form, Srnganatya of which nine types are mentioned. This form, again, was not described in any other text.

:- The Thirteenth Chapter describes seven types of Lasyas and seven types of Tandavas, The names of the seven Lasyas given here are the same as the Desi dance pieces described in the Sangita-ratnakara and the It also describes five types of Desi Tandavas.

:- The Fourteenth Chapter describes the use of Tala, Gati, Karana and Cari, in delineating Suddha (Marga) and Desi Tandava, a type of Tandava found only in this text. The treatment of Tala is also entirely new; instead of merely naming the Talas required in dancing, it instructs how the prescribed Talas are to be used in actual dance sequences.

:- The Fifteenth Chapter is entirely on Pushpanjali, the right manner of flower offerings, and other such matters relating to presentation. The descriptions of all the movements include their meaning and application, except for the Nrtta-hasthas, which are not meant for representational performance.

The text refers to two types of Pushpanjali, one meant for the gods (Daivika); and the other for human beings (Manusa). In the former type, traditional dancing follows the Pushpanjali; and in the latter the Mukhacali follows Pushpanjali. The worshipping of different gods and semi-divine beings are prescribed for this presentation. It goes on to describe specific Sthanas, specific flowers and specific Karanas meant for each god; the procedures of invoking gods, of offering flowers; of specific sides for offering flowers to each god.

Then the main presentation follows. Caccatputa or Dhruva Tala is prescribed. The dance starts with the recitation of the syllables: Ta Tai to Nam, which is called Alpa-riti when done in its shorter form. This is the most detailed description of a Pushpanjali found in any of the texts

dance rasas

The Appendix to the Bharatarnava is almost an independent work. It opens with prescribing the details of the preliminaries to a performance. Then it goes on to instruct  the appropriate arrangements for holding a performance; the manner in which singers should make their entrances; how the opening music should be played to Tala; and the kind of competence and training required in the musicians.

Then it offers general instructions concerning movements. That is followed by instructions on how the actual performance should begin, with citations from Kohala. The rest of this section deals with more hand-gestures, many of them new and not found either in the Abhinaya Darpana or in other texts.



The Bharatarnava introduces certain concepts that were not mentioned in other texts. The more important among them were the Desi-Angaharas and Srnganatya, a dance form derived from the combinations of the various types of Caris, Sthanas and Angaharas.


It is said; until then, the Angahars (basic dance-sequences) of the Desi variety had not been discussed by any of the authors.  The Bharatarnava seemed to the first text to do so.  It seems that the regional (Desi) dances, during the medieval times, depended less on the dance-movements prescribed by Bharata.

The Bharatarnava introduces a new set of Angaharas, of the Desi variety, nine in all: Lalita; Vikrama; Karunika; Vicitra; Vikala; Bhima; Vikrta; Ugratara and Santija. But, Nandikesvara claims these Angaharas, which are derived from the combinations of the Karanas, were formulated by him based on the principles stated by Bharata.

At another place, he explains Angahara as a dance performed in the morning.


Each of these nine Angaharas has several sub-varieties: Lalita of five kinds; Vikrama of three; Karunika of four; and, Vicitra, Vikala, Bhima, Vikrta, Ugratara and Santija, each of two kinds.

The five varieties of Lalita use different types of postures; and three verities of Vikrama use a swaying movement termed Sulu.

Specific hand-gestures (Hasthas), glances (Dristibedha), feet-movements (Padabedha) and Mandalas (standing posture) are prescribed for each sub-variety of Angaharas.

But, each of those sub variety has its own characteristics. For instance; Vikrama (swaying or movements, Sulu); Karunika (facial expression of Karuna or compassion); the second variety of Karunika (also by swaying, Sulu); and Vicitra and others have their own set of hand-gestures, glances and feet movements (but nothing is said about facial expression).

But, it is not clear how these Angahara were executed; and, in what manner they differed from the Angaharas derived from the Natyashastra.

dance yamini


The Srnganatya is said to be a sequence of Dance movements that is composed by the combination of Two Caris; One Angahara; and, Three Sthanas. The Caris are selected from among the sixteen aerial (Akasiki) and the sixteen ground (Bhuma) Caris, as described in the Natyashastra.

The Srnganatya are believed to be some type of dances that were suggested in the Natyashastra, formed by the combination of different kind of Caris. The Caris are movements using one foot; and, are used both in Dance and Drama. And, are regarded as the most important single unit of movement in the Nrtta technique, as enunciated by Bharata (Chapter 11, verses 7 to 9 ; page 197)

piṇḍīnā vidhayaścaiva catvāra samprakīrtitā 287 piṇḍī śṛṅkhalikā caiva latābandho’tha bhedyaka


The Bharatarnava describes nine verities of Srnganatya, each comprised by the combination of Two Caris; One Angahara; and, Three Sthanas. As you can see, it does sound very complicated. And, it is not clear how these were actually executed; and, what they were intended to convey. I do not pretend that I understand all that has been said in the Text regarding the Srnganatya.

 The Angaharas named in this section do not seem to come from Bharata’s tradition.

:- In the First Srnganatya, the movements are outlined in the following order: Samapreksana-Cari is performed, followed by Lalita Angahara and Samapada –bhumi-Cari. As regards the Sthanas: the Samapreksana-Cari is followed by Ayata-Sthana; Lalita-Angahara by Avahittha-Sthana; and Samapada-bhumi-Cari by Asvakranta- Sthana (Bh. Ar. 11. 643-45).

:- The Second Srnganatya begins with Sarika-Cari, followed by Vikrama-Angahara and Casagati-Cari. As regards the Sthanas: the Sarika-Cari is followed by Motita Sthana; the Vikrama-Angahara by Vinivrtta-Sthana; and, the Casagati-Cari by Aindra-Sthana (Bh. Ar. 11. 645-47).

:- The Third Srnganatya is constituted by Agrapluta-Cari, KarunikaAngahara and Sthitavarta-Cari. The Candika-Sthana follows Agrapluta-Cari; the Vaisnava-Sthana follows Karunika-Angahara; and, the Samapada-Sthana follows Sthitavarta-bhumi-Cari (Bh. Ar. 11. 648-49).

:- The Fourth Srnganatya starts with Vidyudllila-Cari, followed by Vicitra-Angahara and Vicyava-bhumi-Cari. And, the Vaisakha-Sthana follows Vidyudllila-Cari; the Mandala-Sthana follows Vicitra-Angahara; and Alidha-Sthana follows Vicyava –bhumi-Cari (Bh. Ar.11. 650-52).

:- The Fifth Srnganatya is characterized by Khadga-bandha-Cari, Vikala-Angahara and Urdva-vrtta-bhumi-Cari. The Khadga-bandha-Cari requires Pratyalidha -Sthana, Samapada-Sthana in Vikala-Angahara, and Svastika-Sthana in Urdva-vrtta-Cari (Bh. Ar.11. 652-54).

:- The Sixth Srnganatya is constituted of Rekha-bandha-Cari, Bhima-Angahara and Addita-bhumi-Cari. The Rekha-bandha-Cari requires Vardhamana-Sthana; the Bhima-Angahara requires Nandiya-Sthana; and, the Addita-Cari requires Parsnipida-Sthana (. (Bh. Ar.11. 655-56).

:- The Seventh Srnganatya is characterized by Luthitollalita-Cari, Vikrta-Angahara and Vakra-bandha-bhumi-Cari. The Eka-parsva-Sthana is done in Luthitollalita –Cari; the Eka-januka-Sthana is done in Vikrta-Angahara; and, Parivrtta-Sthana is done in Vakra-bandha -bhumi-Cari (Bh. Ar.11. 657-59).

:- The Eighth Srnganatya is characterized by Kundala-vartaka-Cari, Ugratara-Angahara and Janita-bhumi-Cari. The Prsthottanatala-Sthanaka follows Kundala-vartaka-Cari; the Ekapada-Sthana follows Ugra-Angahara; and, Brahma-Sthana follows Janita-Cari (Bh. Ar.11. 660-62).

:- The Ninth and the Final Srnganatya requires Vicitra-Cari, Shantaja-Angahara and Utsandita-bhumi-Cari. The Vicitra-Cari is followed by Vaisnava-Sthana; Shantaja-Angahara is followed by Shaiva-Sthana; and, Utsandita-bhumi-Cari is followed by Garuda-Sthana (Bh. Ar.11. 662-64).

In the next Chapter of this text, the author describes, in detail, the specific Talas required for these Srnganatyas, as well as the specific hand-gestures used in each particular Sthana. (Bh. Ar. 12).


Tandava and Lasya

The Bharatarnava, in its Chapter Thirteen, describes seven verities of Tandava and seven verities Lasya. The names of some of the Lasya described here are also mentioned in other texts, such as: Sangita-ratnakara and Nrtta-ratnavali. But, the Tandavas mentioned here are not found in any other text.

The seven Tandavas of the Nrtta class mentioned in Bharatarnava are: Dakshina-bhramana; Vama-bhramana; Lila-bhramana; Bhujanga-bhramana; Vidyud-bhramana; Lata-bhramana; and Urdhva-Tandava.

These are Pure (Marga) Nrtta-dance movements, which use six different Gatis (gaits) such as: Mayura; Rajahamsa; Krsnasara; Gaja; Simha; and, Suka. These are the gaits of birds (peacock, swan and parrot) ; and, of animals (elephant, lion and blackbuck).

In these Tandavas, the Karanas and Caris are performed after the Gatis. These seven Tandava Dance movements are used in the Nrtya (Dance) and also in Natya (Drama).


The Desi Tandava described in this text has five different varieties, namely: Nikuncita; Kuncita; Akuncita, Parsva-kuncita and Ardha-kuncita; and, they use five specific Gatis, five specific Caris and five specific Karanas.

Thereafter, the specific Gatis, Caris, Karanas and Talas applicable to the seven varieties of pure (Marga) Tandavas and five varieties of Desi Tandavas are dealt with in Chapter  Fourteen (Bh. Ar. 14.770-870).


The text also talks about seven types of Lasyas, which are meant to enhance the beauty of the Caris. They can be either pure (Marga) or Desi.  They are named as Suddha, Desi, Prerana; Prenkhana, Kundali (or Gundali); Dandika (or Dana-lasya) and Kalasa (Bh. Ar. 13. 732-33). The author then discusses the specific Caris, Sthanas, Karanas and Talas applicable to these Lasya-Dances; and the gods associated each of them (Bh.Ar.14.871-93).

desi tradition

Desi tradition

Towards the end of the early medieval period and in the late medieval period the approach to describing the dances changed. With the growing popularity of the regional dances, the scholars, by around the twelfth century, began to include, in their manuals on dancing, the dance-forms of the Desi tradition along with those of the older Marga tradition, initiated by Bharata. And, that trend continued through the succeeding centuries, into the nineteenth.

The treatment of the Desi type of Dances seemed to differ from the Marga types in two major ways :  first, by emphasizing on the style of presentation rather than on the content of the composition; and, secondly, by encouraging  natural, more attractive and  swift movements.

Yet, the Desi Dances described in the medieval texts were not completely different from those of the Marga class. They were, in fact, based on the framework of the tradition of Bharata. The Desi format continued to follow the Marga method of constructing a composition by forming small units consisting of individual movements and moving on to the large units of a composition. In Desi, this basic method of constructing a composition did not change. But, it brought in more varieties of limb movements that were rather acrobatic and brisk.

The Bharatarnava is, in a way, a very significant text of the medieval period. It contributes to enrich the Desi tradition by providing the details, in specific terms, of the movements needed for each dance-sequence, along with its accompanying music and rhythm. Nandikesvara introduces new sets of Angaharas with their sub-divisions; along with the Sthanas, Caris, Karanas and Tala they need. The Bharatarnava also introduced the Srnganatya with its nine verities, each composed by a set of Caris, Angaharas and Sthanas.

dance shakthi

Dr. Mandakranta Bose sums up saying:

The Bharatarnava is as important as the Abhinaya Darpana as an instruction-manual, although it is not so used now; nor do we know if it was ever so used. Nonetheless, its importance as an excellent practical guide cannot be denied. If the Abhinaya Darpana trains a dancer in the basic movements, the Bharatarnava teaches a dancer to compose a dance piece. Both pursue the same purpose of instructing practising artists and not merely of recording the Art form of their times. The Bharatarnava may be regarded as being complementary to the Abhinaya Darpana; and, put to better use.

dance odissi

In the next part, we shall move on to other texts.



The Next Part

References and Sources


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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Eleven

Continued From Part Ten

Lakshana Granthas – continued

6.Abhinaya Darpana


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, which available in the Bhandarkar Oriental Research InstitutePune, 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.


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)

Shiva tandava -Shri SRajam

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 sloka

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 NatyaNatyopatti (1-7); tribute to lore and knowledge of NatyaNatya 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 Nrtta as a dance which is void of  Bhava (moods) and Abhinaya (representations) – Bhava-Abhinaya-hinam tu Nrtta ity abhijayate ; the Nrtya as that which embodies Rasa, Bhava and suggestion- Rasa-Bhava-Vyanjana-adi  yuktam Nrtya ity abhijayate ; and, the Natya as dancing used in a drama (Nataka) combined with the original plot – yetan Nrtyam maharaja-sabhayam kalpayet sada.]

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 vilokanai); 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 dṛṣṭivilokanai   vācakābhinaya kuryādvirāmairtha darśakai  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)

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

  1. Nine kinds of gestures of head- Shirobedha (49-65)
  2. Eight gestures (glances) of the eyes –Dristibedha (66-79)
  3. Four gestures of the neck- Grivabedha (79-87)
  4. Twenty-eight gesture by one hand – Asamyukta-hastha (87-165) and four additional gestures (166-172)
  5. Twenty-three gestures by combination of both the hands-Samyukta-hastha (172-203)
  6. Gestures representing gods – Devahastha (204-215)
  7. Gestures representing Avatars of Vishnu- Dashavatara hastha (216-225)
  8. Gestures representing different class of people – Chaturjatiya-hastha (226-231)
  9. Gestures for representing various relations- Bandhava-hastha (231-244)
  10. Gestures of hand for dance in general; and the method of moving hands in dance –Nrttahastha (244-249)
  11. 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;

  1. Mandala and Sthanakas or sixteen modes of standing and resting (260-282)
  2. Utplavanas or leaping movements of five kinds (282-289)
  3. Bhramaris or flight movements of seven kinds (298-332)
  4. 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

Head and neck 1

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.

Head and neck 2

[The Abhinaya Darpana does not discuss actions related to certain Anga– features, such as: Chest; sides; and, Waist.]


Gestures of the Eyes (Glances) – Dristibedha

eyes 01

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 (Dristibedha66-79) 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.]


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 (Grivabedha79-87) 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.

In fact, Bharata devotes the entire Chapter Nine  to Hasthas and their uses in the Natya (hastā-dīnāpravakyāmi karma Nātya-prayojakam – NS.9.3)



Single-hand gestures (Asamyukta-hastha):

For illustrations of the Hasthas –Please click here

single-hand gestures0001


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.


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.

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 NatyashastraChapter 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.]

dance images22

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 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 with the Vidura 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.

: – 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.


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 (siyebhyaśca tadanyebhya); but, has also helped in spreading the performing Art through its practice (prayacchāma  prayogata). 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

  1. Nandikesvara’s Abhinayadarpanam by Prof. Manmohan Ghosh
  2. The Mirror of Gesture by Ananda Coomaraswamy and Gopala Kristnayya Duggirala
  3. Natyashastra and Abhinaya Darpana
  4. Nritta in Bharatanatyam
  5. The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition by Dr. Mandakranta Bose
  6. Dance imagery in South Indian temples: study by Dr. Bindu S. Shankar


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Posted by on November 7, 2018 in Art, Natya


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