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Sri Shyama Shastry (1763-1827) – Part Eight

Continued from Part Seven

Sri Shyama Shastry – Music-Continued

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The Kriti is a composite Art form. A good Kriti is the sublime blend of the Mathu (Sahitya) and Dhathu, the Music and its rhythm. All the constituent elements (Angas) – the sentiment, the diction, the music and the  rhythm– that combine to form a Kriti, have to be in harmony, supporting each other; each helping the others to shine forth and to manifest in their best form. The Kriti is indeed a living, fluid, organic entity.

In the Karnataka Samgita, Mathu or Sahitya and the prosody (Kavya-lakshana) assume great importance. Raga, essentially, is a representation or an outpouring of the emotional content (Raga-bhava) of the Kriti, evoking a distinct feeling of happiness, sweetness (Madhurya) or poignancy (Karuna-rasa). But, Raga, by its very nature; is rather amorphous; and, truly having no physical or material existence. It does need a medium to articulate in a tangible form that draws the listener into the music; and to communicate with her/ him. It is only then there will be fulfillment (Dhanyata-bhava); and, music becomes a shared experience between the composer, performer and the listener.

And, even otherwise, the lyrics of a Kriti has its own importance. A composition is known and recognized by its Sahitya; particularly by it’s opening lines (Pallavi), than by the mere name of the Raga, which attires its lyrical appeal. There might be numerous Kritis in a particular Raga; but, it is its Sahitya that lends an identity to a given composition.

A well composed , expressive , lyrical beauty that blends amicably with melody and rhythm is a distinctly bright feature of the Karnataka Samgita. Perhaps no other system of music, anywhere in the world, can boast of such a wealth of exquisitely structured compositions set to music.

If an erudite composer also happens to be a gifted poet, endowed with innate poetic genius (Kavya-Prathibha), which is nurtured and developed through training Utpatti (detailed study of Grammar, the literary works and scriptures); and Abhyasa, Abhiyoga, Prayatna (constant practice) of composing poetry set to Music, then his Kriti will blossom into most delectable poetic presentation  adorned with enjoyable music and pulsating rhythm.

It creates an idyllic ambiance that is shared by the creator, the performer and the Rasika (enjoyer). It, somehow, touches the very core of our being. And, as Abhinavagupta says, it is a Chamatkara, which bestows on all an Alaukika Ananda, an out-of-the-world wondrous aesthetic joy. Thus, at the end, very little would separate the composer, the singer and the Sahrudaya, the well informed connoisseur.

In the traditional kritis, composing a Sahitya that conforms to the laws of the prosody (Kavya Agama) is very vital. All the renowned composers of the Karnataka Samgita were well learned in Vyakarana, Chhandas and other Prayogas of Padya Sahithya. Their Kritis show the remarkable mastery they had gained over the Alamkaras – literary embellishments—such as: Prasa, Yati, Yamaka, Gamaka, Svarakshara patterns and others.

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Prasa is a type of Sabda-alamkara, a literary ornamentation.  The term Prasa refers to the sound or the phonetic sequence. In a composition; similar sounds (Prasa) could be employed either at the commencement of each Paada (line) of the composition (Adi or Adyakshara-prasa); or as ‘Anu-prasa’ , where similar letters or sounds  recur repeatedly in the same Paada; or in the second syllables of each Paada (Dvitiyakshara-prasa); or in the concluding line where the rhyming occurs towards the ending (Antyakshara-prasa).  

And, Adi or Adyakshara-prasa, mainly, involves rhyming, where each Paada (line) starts with the same Akshara; or, where the first letter is repeated between the Avartas.   

Anu prasa is where similar letters recur repeatedly in the same Paada.

Dvitiya-kshara-prasa is the repetition of the second letter (Jiva-akshara) of the first Avarta in the same position in the subsequent Avartas, as well. This is concerned only with consonants, not vowels.   Such a Prasa can be for a single letter and also for a group of letters.

Antya-prasa is the repetition of a letter or group of letters at the end of the Avartas. It differs from Prasa; because, while the Prasa is confined to consonants, here the vowels are also included.   For instance, a word like Netram can have Antyaprasa only with words like Gatram, Sutram, etc., and not with words like Satrum, Atrim etc.

The Muhana is the repetition of the first letter between the Avartas. The Antya-prasa is the repetition of a letter or group of letters at the end of the Avarta.

Muhana is a type of Sabdalankara, in which the same letter as in the beginning of an Avarta or any of its substitutes should occur in the beginning of the second Avarta. For example,‘ Dinakara Kula dipa / Dhrita divya sara chapa!’

The term Antar+ukti, literally means the ‘in-between utterance’. The method of Antarukti is by way of inserting one or more syllables between two words.  It is done mostly for the sake of maintaining the flow of the Taala.


In his Kritis, many of which are technically classified as Telugu works, the essential and the prime body of the lyrics is in chaste, refined classical Sanskrit-based terms.

His Telugu words, though often are informal and colloquial expressions, are infused with emotion trying to express the natural feelings of tenderness, love and affection of a child reaching out to its Mother. Many of these songs are a sort of conversations, pleading with the Mother, questioning her why she is not paying attention to him, not responding to his desperate appeals and so on.

And, in such Kritis, though he has mostly employed the spoken form of Telugu language, either as verbs (Akhyata) – say like brovu, vinu, matladu etc. or for addressing (Sambhodana) the Mother Deity as Talli, Mayamma etc., the string of sweet-sounding names and eloquent, picturesque adjectives he uses for describing the beauty, splendour and the countless virtues of the Supreme Mother Goddess are all in delightful Sanskrit phrases.


Further, the nature of the Telugu- Sahitya of his Kritis markedly differs from the Sahitya of the Svarajatis.

The Telugu-Sahitya of his Svarajatis, in contrast, is more poetic; orderly and, is often  interspersed with philosophical expressions.


Sri Shyama Shastry has adopted the time-honored (Sampradaya-baddha) poetic traditions (Kavya-agama) followed in the ancient Prabandhas as also in the Kirtanas and   Kritis that came into being during the seventeenth and the eighteenth . Such essential poetic virtues (Kavya-guna) are found in the Kritis of the other Masters also.

Many of the Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastry are adorned with the metaphors of Kavya-Alamkara and Sabda-Alamkaras, such as Anuprasa and Antya-prasa. And, Muhana (the first letter repetition between the Avartas) and Prasa (the second letter repetition) are also used. But, more Kritis are found with the Prasa-Yati. Sri Shyama Shastri used the method of splitting up the words i.e. Antarukti for introducing Prasa- Yati

Smt. Sharadambal explains :   with regard to the occurrence of the Prasa-aksharas in the compositions of Sri Shyama Shastry, they can be divided into four categories,.

  1. Dhirgha (long) syllables preceding the Prasa-akshara in the Carana alone.
  2. Dhirgha (long) syllable proceeds in the all the three Angas.
  3. Hrasva (short) letter is found throughout the composition.
  4. 4. Dhirgha (long) syllable is found in Pallavi and Anupallavi; and, the Hrasva (short) syllable is used in the Carana.

This KritiDevi nee paada sarasamule’ (Khambhoji); and, Mayamma (Ahiri) are cited as instances, where both the long and the short syllable are used in the Kriti


Sri Shyama Shastry used the Prasas like Adi-Prasa; Anu-prasa; Dvitiya-kshara-Prasa and Antya-Prasa.

For instance; the Sambhodana-vibhakthi, as an Adyakshara-prasa is used in Sri Shyama Shastry’s KritiEmani Migula’ (Todi).

Here, every Paada (line) of the second Carana commences with similar sounds, calling out to the Divine Mother:  O Janani Karuni….  Om Anina JanmaO Moha- vratulai O Rajadhi-rajendra.


Examples of alliteration of the first letter

Saroja-dala-netri (Shankarabharanam)

Saroja dala-netri Himagiri-putri nipada-mbujamule

 Sada nammina-namma subhamimma Sri Minakshamma

Mariveregati (Anandabhairavi)

 Madhura-puri nilaya vani rama sevita pada kamala

Madhu kaitabha bhanjani katyani marala-gamana


Sri Shyama Shastry has employed Anu-prasa (repetition of a vowel or consonant or both), in some of his Kritis. For instance; in the Kriti ‘Kanaka-shaila’ (Punnagavarali), the syllable ‘da’ is repeatedly used in the second Carana as follows:

Chanda-munda-kandana-panditesu;danda-kodanda-mandita-pani; pundarika  -nayana-archita-paade

In the Kriti Parvati Ninnu (Kalkada) the Anuprasa is seen in many places such as:

Anupallavi: Sangita-lole, Suguna-jale, and Jala- mele

Carana-1:Banda-daitya-Khandana-Khandala-vinuta-Mârthand-Neeraja-kshi Nikhila-sakshi

Carana(2):Indu-vadana-Kunda-radana-Sindura-gamana-makaranda-vâni,Nila megha-veni Girvani.


In the First Carana of the Kriti O Jagadamba (Anandabhairavi), the Dvitiya-kshara Prasa for the sound ‘Inna’ occurs in all the four Avartas, till the last line:

Kanna-talli;- Kannada-salupaga ;- Ninnu-ne; –  Anni-bhuvana ; – Prasanna-murti; -Vinna-pambu; Vipanna-bhaya


And , in the Kriti Meenalochana (Dhanyasi) the Dvitiya-kshara ’Na’ has been maintained in the Anupallavi and in  the First Carana as ; Meena; Gana; Kanna; Panna etc.

In the Anupallavi of the Kriti Saroja-dala-netri (Shankarabharanam), the letter ‘ra’ occurs as the second (Dvitiya) letter (Akshara) of its lines.

Paraku seyaka varadayaki nivale daivamu-lokamulo-galada

 Purani sukapani Madhukara veni Sadasivuniki rani


Sri Shyama Shastry  used the device of Antarukti for splitting up the words, for introducing Prasa-yati, in some cases.

In the Kriti O Jagadamba (Anandabhairavi), the Antarukti is used to bring the Prasa Yati.

Pallavi:  O Jagadamba nannu (Na…..- Antarukti Vujavamuna) brovumu …..
Anupallavi: Rajamukhi ……. (Suguna –Antarukti Rajarajita) Kamakshi


Antya-prasa is found in all the three Angas of Sri Shyama Shastry’s Kriti   Shankari Shamkaru (Saveri), where the Pallavi reads: ‘Akhilandeshwari–Vandite Gauri’.

That is followed by Anupallavi: Kalyani–Jagatjanani; and, First Carana: Jagadavanollasini—Kapaladarini sulini


Another type of Antya-prasa used by him was to repeat the same word at the end of all the Caranas.

For instance; the word ‘birana’ is repeated at the end of the Pallavi and at the end of the last line of all the three Caranas of the Kriti Brovavamma (Manji).

Similar is the case with the word ‘Na-talli’ in Devi brova samayamide’ (Chintamani) ; and , the word  ‘Brochutaku’ in the Kriti Ninnu-vinaga (Purvikalyani)

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Yati is a generic term, having different connotations in Kavya, Taala (Mrdanga) and in Music. In regard to the Kritis in Karnataka samgita, Yati is a Dhatu-Mathu-Samyukta Alamkara. This Anga is meant to decorate the texture of the compositions. Yati could also control the arrangement of various tempos.  It is, thus, an ornamentation that enhances the beauty of the Sahitya and the flow of the Musical presentation of the Kriti.

If the Yati is taken to mean the arrangement of Sahitya phrases along with its Dhatu, there would be different types of Yatis in music. Here the Sahitya phrases would be ingeniously arranged to form varied patterns, such as: Sama Yati, Gopuchcha Yati, Srotovaha Yati, Damaru Yati, Mridanga Yati and Vishama Yati.

Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar, in particular was a Master in crafting such various patterns of Yatis. And, some Yati-prayogas are also seen in the Kritis of Sri Thyagaraja.  But, Sri Shyama Shastry did not seem to have attempted Yati-prasa to that extent; except perhaps the Sama Yati, which is an even flow of the Sahitya phrases; and, follows a uniform length of lines (Sama). If two letters of Yati and Prasa are of one and the same character and magnitude, it is called as Sama-yati -Prasa.

According to Prof. Sambamurthy, alliterating the initial syllables or their sequence in Avartas could be taken as Yati. The purpose of the Yati is to create a pleasant musical resonance.

In Sri Shyama Shastri Kritis, the Dhatu as well as its rhythm are arranged; for example; in the Kriti Palainchu-Kamakshi (Madhyamavathi),  the phrase ‘Paalinchu Kamakshi pavani …..Paapa-shamanee‘, the appearance of the second Pa is called Sama-yati-Prasa.

In the Kriti Mayamma (Ahiri), the Yatis that occur are of the same character and magnitude.


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This is a literary beauty, where in the same word, will be repeated but with different meaning and sense. For instance; In the Anupallavi of the Kriti Mayamma (Natakuranji), the word ‘Ananda‘ is applied in many ways so as to give different layers of meaning (True bliss -Happy one – Eternally blissful -Blissful):

Saty(A)nandA – SAnandA – Nity(A)nandA AnandA

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The term Gamaka derived from the root ’gam’ suggests movement (Gamana, Gamya). Gamakas are graces or ornamented flourishes of the Svaras which characterize the gait of a Raga (Raga-sanchara); and, establish the melodic nature of the Dhathu of a musical composition (Raga-svarupa). They are the varied musical effects (Alamkaras) that can transform a plain note into something that is attractive, charming and pleasant on the ears (Gamakau–srotra-sukhadai-lalithair-asthu).

Gamakas  are executed in varied forms, such as: graceful turn, curve or sliding touch given to a single note or a group of notes, which animates Svaras to bring out the melodic character and expression (bhava) of a Raga. Gamaka-rendering is a highly individualistic and a specialized skill. Gamakas are very vital factors of Karnataka Samgita. I am not sure if any other system of music has a worthy equivalent to Gamaka of Karnataka Samgita.

Gamaka (ornamented note) is thus any graceful turn, curve or cornering touch given to a single note or a group of notes, which adds emphasis to each Raga’s unique character. Gamaka, in short, is the movement of Svaras which bounce, slide, glide, shivers, rapidly oscillates or skips. It provides movement and animates Svaras to bring out the melodic character and expression (bhava) of a Raga. Each Raga has specific rules on the types of Gamakas that might be applied to specific notes, and the types that may not. Every Raga has, therefore, to be necessarily rendered with the appropriate Gamakas. They depend on the manner of quivering, oscillations or shaking that the Svaras can be endowed with.

Sarangadeva (11th Century) in his Sangita-ratnakara , enumerates fifteen (pancha-dasha) varieties of Gamakas – Tiripa, Sphurita, Kampita, Leena, Andolita, Vali, Tribhinna, Kurula, Ahata, Ullasita, Humpita, Plavita, Mudrita, Namita and Misrita

And, while describing the   virtues and the desired qualities of a highly accomplished singer (Uttama Gayaka) who belongs to a good tradition (Su-sampradayo) , Sarangadeva says, such a one should have the intelligence to improvise the Gamakas in all their movements (Sarva-sthanao-ttha-Gamake-sarva-kaku-vishesha-vit,-aneka-sthai- sancharah); and, in all the three registers (Sthanas)


The Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastry are remarkable for their Gamaka Prayogas. His Kritis, set in leisurely Vilamba laya, excelling in Chowka kala, are ideal for illuminating and  elaborately bringing out the varied nuances of a Raga through the application of many improvised  Gamaka movements like Kampita, Jaru etc..

As a composer of great merit, Sri Shyama Shastry creatively transformed the traditional concept and application of the Gamakas. In his Prayogas, the Gamaka is not a mere ornamentation of a Svara; but, it is also a soulful means of expressing anguish, devotion, joy  and such other emotions. It lends a new color and a new dimension to both the Dhatu (Music) and the Mathu (Sahitya) of his Kritis. Sri Shyama Shastry was indeed a pioneer in delineating the Raga-bhava through Gamaka Prayoga.

Any number of instances could be cited in this regard. But, just to mention a few:

His different compositions in Anandabhairavi bring out diverse shades and aspects of the Raga. It could be either a simple delineation of the Raga as in his Kriti ‘Himaachala-tanaya’; or the Jaru Gamakas (glides) in the Madhyama-kala tempo in Rupaka Taala as in the Kriti ‘Pahi Sri’; or it could also be the Jaru Gamakas in Vilamba-kala set to Misra –Chapu-Taala as in the Kriti ‘Marivere’; and, finally, it could be an elaborate Raga portrayal in the Adi Taala , Madhyama gati,  in  the Kriti ‘O Jagadamba’.

The two varieties of Kampita -Gamaka are applied to the same phrase ‘Amba ni’ in the Kriti ‘Sari-evvaramma’ (Bhairavi) to express two different emotions. Similar features can be seen in his other Kritis also.

In the Kriti ‘O Jagadamba’ (Anandabhairavi), the opening exclamation ‘Oh’ is repeated thrice, with three different Gamakas. Initially, it is in a lower Svara, as an Etra-jaru (a glide from a lower Svara-sthana to a higher one). The second ‘Oh‘ is expressed through oscillations (Kampita) in higher notes, in a circling movement. And, the third ‘Oh’ is an Erakka-jaru (a slide from a higher Svara-sthana to a lower one).

In the Svarasahitya of the Kriti Kamakshi Bangaru (36-Varali, Misra Chapu), where the word ‘Mayamma’ starts with a Jaru (glide) from the Daivata; and, reaches Tara-shadja in the passage ‘Mayamma Vegame Karuna-judavamma’


Many examples of Gamakas can also be found in Sri Shyama Shastry’s Svarajatis. His Todi-Svarajati ‘Raave’ begins with a Mandra-sthayi-Dheergha-Dhaivata, which is sung with Kampita Gamaka (oscillations).

His very famous Bhairavi Svarajati ‘Kamakshi’ has eight Caranas starting in the ascending order, the Arohana, as ‘Sa RI Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa’. In the opening lines of the Pallavi, which are in Mandara Sthayi, in a contemplative mood, the Kampita (oscillation) and Jaru (glides) Gamakas follow in succession.

The Yadhukula-kambodhi Svarajati has many instances of Jaru Gamakas as well as the Pratyahata Gamaka (Sphurita in the descent, a Samabandha Gamaka produced from the higher note in a Janta svara prayoga), which is a characteristic of the Raga.


Even in his Varnas, there are many Gamaka-prayogas.

For instance; the Varna in Anandabhairavi, ‘Sami ninne’ not only begins with a characteristic Jaru Gamaka (s/s-d-p-m-g-m); but , it also appears at many other parts of the composition.

[For a detailed discussion on the Gamakas, please do read the Chapter 5 – Concept of Gamaka in the compositions of Syamasastriof Dr.Manju Gopal’s research paper.]

 [** Svarajati, as the name suggests, is a combination of Svaras (notes) and Jati (rhythmical sol-fa passages). Sri Shyama Shastry revised the form of the Svarajatis by eliminating the Jatis; and, letting the Svaras to arrange themselves into Jati-patterns. The Svarajati composition commences with a Pallavi; and, is followed by Carana/s. While rendering the Carana, the Svaras are sung first; and, then its corresponding Sahitya is presented.

The beauty of the Svarajatis composed by Sri Shyama Shastry is in its natural flow of the Taala, Laya and Svaras. ]


Taala and Laya

Taala and Laya, over which Sri Shyama Shastry had gained mastery, and their dexterous combination with the Sahitya are among the outstanding features of his compositions.

He had experimented with altering the sequence of Matras in the Misra Chapu, transforming it into its reverse, the Viloma Chapau.

He had employed various Grahas or Eduppus (starting Points) in his Misra Chapu Kritis


Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (on page 15 of the segment Vaggeyakara Caritam  included in his monumental work  Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini),  while writing a biographical note about Sri Shyama Shastry says;

Since his compositions are like ‘narikela-paka’ ”(as tough as breaking a coconut), with rich poetry, containing  Atita, Anagata Grahas , with beautiful words, some lazy musicians, who could neither comprehend nor had the mettle to sing them in the manner that pleased the audience, called them tough.


Sri Shyama Shastry’s expertise in Taala and Laya is very evident from his treatment of the Misra Chapu Taala.

[In regard to the Taala; Graha or Eduppu denotes the point within the Āvartanam of a Taala, when a composition or stanza in a composition begins.  Graha (Eduppu) can be two ways. One is Sama; and, the other is Vishama.

When a song begins at the first beat of a Taala it is Sama. And, when song begins either before or after the stroke of Taala it is Vishama.

Vishama is classified into two, as: (a) Athitha Graha: When the song begins first; and, it is then followed by Taala beat; and, (b) Anagata Graha is when a Taala begins first; and, the song follows it later.]

The Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastry (like those of Sri Dikshitar) do not start on Athitha-Graha. But, this feature occurs within the body of the Kriti, perhaps to satisfy the requirements of prosody. Usually, the Pallavi and, at times, Anu Pallavi of his Kritis commence in Anagata-Graha; while the Anu-Pallavi and Carana begin with Sama-Graha.

For instance; the Kriti ‘Devi nee padasarasa ‘(Kambhoji) commences in Anagata Graha with ‘Pa’ as the Graha-Svara; while, its Carana begins in Sama Graha.

[ It is mentioned that in Patantara – the texts of the Kritis- that came into use after 1930, the construction of the musical elements; especially of the Eduppus changed much ; and the 4+3 format was not maintained throughout.

For instance; in the Kriti ‘Ninnu vina’, the Pallavi is framed as 2+2+3; the Anupallavi ‘Pannaga-bhushannudaina’ and the Carana ‘Parama-lobu-lanu’ are of the usual 2+7 Eduppu; not consistent with the 4+3 formation of the Pallavi.

For more on this issue, please see the extracts from the work of Smt. Sharadambal, given in later in this post]


An excellent feature of his Kritis is that the Sahitya is arranged in concordance (Samanvaya) with the Taalajatis (beats of the rhythm cycles).

Sri Shyama Shastri has used the different combinations of Svara syllables as well as Sahitya syllables to weave new patterns, within the framework of the Taala.

In his compositions, we find many words constituting of five syllables corresponding to the tâd-in-gina-tom in a natural way.

In the compositions as well as in Svara-Sahithya we find words as ‘Anu-dina-mu, Tarunamidi, durusu-ganu, kamala.mukhi, samayamidi and so on.

His compositions have plenty of Sahitya syllables, which are in the same time-units as the Dirgha-svaras and Hrasva-Svarâs, forming different patterns within the Taala structure


Another versatile feature in the Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastri, with regard to Taala, is that he has composed Kritis in Taalas and Gatis (sub-divisions of a beat in a composition) that are interchangeable.

He has composed a few Kritis suggestive of two rhythms. Here, one is the inherent rhythm (Sthapita-Taala); and, the other is the suggested rhythm (Suchita-Taala).

For instance; in the Kriti Shankari-Shamkuru (Saveri), Rupaka (1+1) is the Sthapita Taala; and Adi Taala (Tisra-gati, 3) would be the Suchita-Taala. The Pallavi and Anu-Pallavi, at the outset, are in Rupaka Taala; and, the Carana follows the Adi Taala (Tisra-gati).

And, similar is the case with another Kriti, Birana-varalichi’ (Kalyani) , which can be rendered in both Rupaka Taala (Chatursra- gati, 2+4) and also in Adi Taala (Tisra gati-3).

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Laya, Taala, Sruti and Kala are intricate concepts in Karnataka Samgita. They are as nebulous as one often flows into another.

Laya is commonly translated as tempo; which is inseparable from rhythm. And, rhythm is the ordered movement in time and space

 It is also said; Laya is the pulse of the rhythm, which has three major speeds: Vilamba (slow), Madhyama (medium or normal) and Dhruta (fast).

Thus, Laya is said to include both rhythm and tempo; which are measured by the uniform flow of the time-duration (Kala). With that, Laya is the ordered movement of rhythm in time.

Suffice it to say that Laya could be taken as rhythm.

And, rhythm in our music is two-dimensional; the one that is related to the pitch is termed Shruti-Laya; and, the other related to the time-units is called Taala-Laya.

[Dr S A K Durga explains ‘The Laya stands for the interval of time between the beats and movement in time. Thus the term “Laya” means both rhythm and tempo created by the even measured flow of the uniform duration of Kala (time).

Prof .P.S. Narayanaswami: Rhythm gives stability and form to music. It can be described as the tangible gait of any musical movement. In Carnatic music, this is referred to as Laya. The common fallacy is that rhythm or laya is confined to percussion instruments and the rhythmic patterns produced therein. But laya is not limited to just that. It is present not only in melodic compositions, which usually have a rhythmic metre in an apparent manner but also in the creative aspects, sometimes conspicuously (like in Neraval or Kalpana-svara) and subtly at others (Raga Alapana and Tanam)]


Laya, for all its beauty, is abstract. You need a device, which measures and monitors this abstract time-flow. And, that function is performed by Taala.

If Laya is the rhythmical movement, Taala is that which measures the tempo of that movement. So, Laya implies movement; and, it can be perceived when there is a motion.

Taala (derived from the root tada or tadana) signifies a ‘beat’. The time-interval between the beats and its movement could also be taken as Laya, the rhythm.

Taala is the measurement of time-units in our music. And, the degree of speed with which the time-units, in each division of a Taala-cycle, follow each other is termed as Kala.

{But, Kala is also used to indicate Laya; say, as in: Madhyama Kala, Chowka Kala etc.]

The structural units of a Taala are called Angas.  Such Angas are of different kinds.

Here, Anu-Dhruta (One Aksharakala) consists only the beat with palm. Dhruta (2 Aksharakala) is a beat followed a waving of hand. Laghu-Dhruta (4+2 Aksharakala) consists beat and finger counts (Laghu+Dhruta). And, Guru-Dhruta (8+2 Aksharakala) is rendered in Dhruva-kala and Patita-(Guru+Dhruta) wave to left and right or circle with thumb-up + beat with palm + turn (wave).

Anudruta Drutha Sankeerna Laghu

Taala, in turn, is reckoned by the finger counts, beats and wave of the hand. This manner of counting and keeping time is termed as Kriya. And, Kriya is the action of fingers, palms, hands, in order to keep track of the Taala-units.

And, when it is done without making audible sounds, it is called Ni-shabda-Kriya. And, when the beats are counted and played on cymbals etc., it is Sa-shabda-Kriya.

In the execution of a Taala, between two successive Kriyas, there is a period of rest or pause; and, that has to be maintained consistently.

The action of Kriya (manifesting as Taala sequence) and the interval between two elements of Kriya are interrelated. Further, each Kriya is an extension of its previous one. Here, the duration of such time-lag between two Kriyas assumes importance; and, with its increase or decrease, the Laya becomes faster or slower.


In Dhruta-Laya (fast), the Kriyas follow each other in quick succession, as the time-lag between them is very short. In Madhya- Laya or medium tempo, the Laya gets doubled; and, a further doubling of laya results in Vilambita laya.

This suggests; an increase in Laya results in decrease of the speed, i.e., the speed or tempo of a piece is inversely proportional to its laya.


The tempo of the musical composition in Indian Music is not marked by the composers as Indian music is learnt through oral tradition; and, the composers did not write their compositions with notation, unlike the composers of Western music. In Indian music , the compositions are performed in the tempo according to the Rasa and Bhava of the Raga and Sahitya, besides the performer’s own decision according to her/his  concept of aesthetics,  in the presentation



 Smt. Sharadambal observes  : regarding the tempo or Kala-pramana of the Compositions:

Though, most of the songs of Shyama Shastry are in slow medium tempo in Adi-Taala, there are some songs in fast and medium tempo.

The songs in Misra-Chapu and Triputa-Taalas also are mostly sung in slow medium tempo. The long drawn out rhythm with many pauses is seen in Chapu-Taala compositions with less number of words; and, with pauses here and there in these Kritis.

Some of his compositions in Adi-Taala have a tight knit relation between the Taala–Aksharas and the Sahitya letters. Almost all the Svara-letters have Sahitya-letters; and ,  Hrasva letters found in profusion.

For example; songs like’ Sarojadala-netri’ in Shankarabharana Raga; and in ‘Devi Brova’ in Chintamani Raga, though are set in Adi-Taala, the tempo seems to be increased and gives the impression that the song is set in Madhyama-kala. We do not find extensive pauses in these songs. The pauses are limited; and, words are many; and, this makes it appear as though the tempo is increased.

The songs set in Adi, Rupaka and other Taalas are in fast medium tempo. ‘Parvati-ninnu’ in Kalkada, ‘BiranaVaralicci’ in Kalyani can be cited as examples. Thus we find three different tempos such as slow, slow medium and fast medium tempos among the compositions of Shyama Shastri.

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Pada-garbha / Arudi

Arudi or Pada-garbha is a pause that occurs in between the Taala- Avartas. Usually it occurs at the middle of the two Kalai Adi Taala or in the beginning of the next Avarta; or in the beginning of the third Avarta; or in Rupaka Taala or Chapu Taala.

The Kritis:  ‘Kanaka-shaila’ (Punnagavarali); ‘Mayamma’ (Ahiri), ‘Emani-migula’ (Todi), ‘Palinchu Kamakshi ‘ (Madhyamavathi); ‘Devi-ni-padasarasa’ (Kambhoji); ‘Devi-mina-netri’ (Shankarabharana );  ‘Devi brova’ (Chintamani ), in Adi Taala  two Kalai, all have the Pada-garbha exactly at the middle of the Avarta;  that is, on the first Druta.

Here, the pause occurs dividing the Avarta into two; and, after a pause for two or four or three Aksharas, the song proceeds further.

In the songs having two Avartas in the Pallavi, the Arudi occurs in both the Avartas. For instance; we find Pada-garghas in the two Avartas in the kriti ‘Mayamma’ (Natakuranji); one in the first Avarta; and, the second in the second Avarta.

Mayam | ma nannu | Brova vam || ma+ ma ha ma | ya …u | ma … ||

Similarly in the song ‘Saroja-dala-netri’ in Shankarabharana Raga, we find two Pada-garbhas for the pallavi

Saroja dala netri Himagiripu | tri … ni | padam
Sada nammina namma subhamim | ma …O Sri 

In    Adi Taala, this pause occurs at the beginning of the next Avarta as in the song ‘Karuna judu’ in Sri Raga

Karuna judu ninnu | nammina | va-duga ||
da …in ta | parake | lanamma ||

The kriti ‘Karuna-judu’ as rendered in Misra Chapu Taala, in the 4 + 3 gait, has the Pada-garbham at the beginning of the fifth Avarta in the word ‘ga’ 


The Kritis in Rupaka Taala and Chapu Taala have the Pada-garbham at the commencement of the third Avarta.

Ninne’ in Todi Raga and Chapu Taala’ has two lines of Sahitya; and; had pause for the two lines at the beginning of the third Avarta

Ninnenam || mi na ……… || nu ……… sa || da ……… ne ||
Vin na pa || mu vi ni || nan …… nu || bro ……vumu ||

The other examples are :Mina-locana’ in Dhanyasi Raga in Chapu-Taala and  ‘Nannu-brovu’ in Lalita Raga are in Chapu Taala; ‘Pahi Sri’ in Ânandabhairavi Raga  in Rupaka Taala;  ‘Karuna juda’ in Varali Raga in Chapu Taala; ‘Birana vara’ in Kalyani Raga in Rupaka Taala;  ‘Ninnuvina’ in Ritigaula Raga in Rupaka Taala


Pauses found in different places

There are some kritis, in which pauses occur in different places i.e. at the end of the pallavi; or  at the end of the first Avarta and so on.

There are kritis which do not have pauses in between the Avartas; but, pause occurs only after finishing the Pallavi at the end of the second Avarta.

For example; in the kriti ‘Durusuga’ in Saveri Raga, we find pause only at the end of the Pallavi, whereas in the kriti ‘Marivere’ in Anandabhairavi Raga, we find a pause at the end of the first Avarta itself in both the lines as

Marive ……| ……………re | ga ti ye vva | ram … ma ||
Mahilo ……| …………….I. | mahilo ….. | brocu taku ||

Similarly in the kriti ‘Janani’ in Saveri Raga  we find a pause in the beginning, but after that words follow without any pause up to the end and the pause occurs after the words as :

Janani ………… Nata | jana pari | pa lini …
pahivambhava | ni ……….| …………


In some kritis, pauses occur in the beginning; at the end of the Avartas in some; and,  in many places in some kritis ; whereas there is no pause at all in some kritis.

The kritis in Chapu Taala are found with fewer words; with more pauses occurring in different places.

In the kriti ‘Talli-ninnu’ in Kalyani Raga in Chapu Taala, a pause occurs at the end of the second Avarta;  and,  it is continued in the beginning of the third Avarta.

Talli | Ninnu nera | …………… nammi | na nu vino | ve ..

In the kriti ‘Ninnu-vinaga’ in Purvikalyani Raga in Viloma Chapu Taala, we find karvai at the end of the first and third Avarta. The karvai is found in the second line also.

Ninnu vina …… | …… ga mari | dikk-evarun ……| na ……ru ||

In the kriti ‘Brôvavamma’ in Manji Raga ,in Chapu Taala, pauses occur in many ; and, not at specified places.

Brova vam ……|……ma …… ta … | masa me ……| le … ………………| ………….
bi ……..| ra …………na …… || ……
Devita ………|…… la le ………| ne …………bi | ra …… na ……

Similar type of kriti is ‘Nilayata-kshi’ in Pharaz Raga. We can find pause here and there controlling the flow of the rhythm.

Ni …… la …… ya || ta ………kshi || ni …… ve …||
jagatsa ……kshi ||


In order to control the less number of words employed in an Avarta in the above mentioned kritis in Chapu Taala; Shyama Shastri might have used these pauses wherever necessary.

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Aspect of Laya

The advent of the Trinity with their compositions paved the way for a new era in the growth of Kriti. They gave importance not only to melody but also to the temporal aspect or laya.

Eduppu or Graha is the place where in the song starts in the Taala.  This plays an important role in the construction of a composition.

There are songs which start on Sama Eduppu; that is, the Taala as well as music start at the same time from the beginning of the Taala count.

There are some songs which start after the Taala begins. This is called Anagata Eduppu.

Some songs start before the Taala Avarta, that is in the previous Avarta itself; and, that is called Atitha Eduppu.

Usually in songs, the Eduppu will uniformly be the same in all the three Angas, either Sama or Anagata

We also find different Eduppus among the different sections within a song of Shyama Shastri.

There are some songs in which two Angas start on the same Eduppu; and, the other Anga has a different Eduppu. They are as follows:

1.Birana – Kalyani – Rupaka
2. Shankari – Saveri – Rupaka
3. Himadrisute – Kalyani – Rupaka
4. Devi-mina-netri – Shankarabharana – Adi
5. Devi-neepada – Khambhoji – Adi
6. Enneramum – Punnagavarali – Adi
7. Mayamma – Natakuranji – Adi
8. Karuna-juda – Varali – Chapu
9. Shankari – Kalyani – Ata

 The song ‘Birana Varâlicci’ in Kalyani Raga and the song `Himadrisute’ are with the same structure, but in Sanskrit, a special Eduppu is found in Rupaka Taala

The Pallavi and Anupallavi start after the first beat; that is, in the second beat or after four Akshra kaalas. The Carana of the song start after two Akshara Kaalas.

In this song, the Pada-garbham (Arudi) falls on the sixth beat; and, again the words start after a karvai of eight Aksharas.  This gives a grip to the song over the Taala.

Another song in which the Carana alone starts after two Aksharas, while the Pallavi and Anupallavi start on some Eduppu is ‘Shankari’ in Saveri Raga. These two Kritis belong to the group of Kritis prevailing since early thirties.


There are some Kritis, which figure only after 1930.

Among them, the two Kritis each in the Ragas Shankarabharana and Kambhoji alone figure in the notation of Shyama Shastri II; and, the rest figure in the books of others of the same period.

In the four Kritis in Adi Taala, mentioned above, either Sama or Anagata Eduppu is kept for one Anga; and, the other two Angas have different ones.

For example, in the song ‘Devi ni pada’ in Kambhoji, the pallavi starts after two Aksharas; while Anupallavi and Carana have Sama Eduppu.

In the kriti ‘Mayamma’ in Natakuranji Raga, this is reversed. Pallavi has Sama Eduppu; and the Anupallavi and Carana start after two Aksharas.

In the Kritis ‘Devi-mina-netri’ in Shankarabharana Raga and ‘Ennçramum’ in Punnagavarali Raga, the Pallavi and Carana start after four Aksharas; while the Anupallavi start on Sama.

In the kriti ‘Karuna juda’ in Varali Raga, Chapu Taala, the Anupallavi alone starts after one Akshara; and, the other two Angas start on Sama

 In the kriti ‘Shankari’ in Kalyani raga, Chatushra Atta Taala, the Carana alone start after one Akshara and the others on Sama.

There are some songs set in Misra Chapu Taala in the Krama order as 3+4; but, the Eduppu gives the impression as if the songs are sung in Viloma Chapu.

 The songs start in the last beat of the Taala; and so the structure is formed as 2 + 3 + 2. The Kritis ‘Nannu-brovu’ in Lalita Raga and ‘Talli-ninnu’ in Kalyani Raga and ‘Mina-locana’ in Dhanyasi Raga can be cited as examples.

The song ‘Ninnu-vinaga’ in Purvikalyani Raga  is the only song set in regular Viloma Chapu , which starts in the place Taka-dimi and then taki-ta follows as in HW of Shyama Shastri II, says S.Rajah.

In the HW of Shyama Shastri II , all the songs are written only in the form 4+3; but, the Eduppu alone is denoted either as 4+3 or 3+4 or 2+3+2 by an asterisk mark.

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The Taalas handled by Sri Shyama Shastry

Sri Shyama Shastri has composed Kritis and other compositions in various types of Taalas;  such as:  Adi, Rupaka, Misra Chapu, Mathya, Triputa, Jhampa and Ata Taala. All the Taalas come under the Sapta- Taala group.

[In the Karnataka Samgita concerts, the four Taalas that are commonly used are – Adi, Rupaka, Misra-Chapu and Khanda-Chapu.  And, most number of songs is in Adi Taala.

Popular Taalas

Adi Taala has several compositions, each in a different tempo and gait. These could be effectively used to bring out contrast within the concert. Variety can also be brought out by singing compositions with different starting points. For example, a composition can start at the very first beat of the Taala. Or it can start at the next beat or after a few counts within the beats. The starting point is known as Eduppu or Graha. – Dr. P S. Narayanaswamy]

As regards the number of compositions in each type of Taala:

each type

 (Source: Dr. Manju Gopal)

Adi Taala

Of the thirty compositions set in Adi Taala, as many as twenty-seven are the Kritis. And the rest three are: a Gita (Santatam-Pharaju); a Varna (Dayanidhe –Begada); and, a Svarajati (Rave Himagiri –Todi).

All the Kritis are of the Eka Kala and Dvi Kala type.  The Laya is Vilambita in most cases. Sometimes the Madhya Laya is also used.

Of the thirty compositions in Adi Taala, as many as twenty-three start on Sama Graha; and , seven on Anagata Graha (half Eduppu).

 For the three Kritis: Karuna-nidhi-ilalo (Todi); Shankari Shamakuru (Saveri) and Parvathi ninnu ne (Kalgada), the Tisra Gati is employed.  In Tisra -Gati, each unit of the Taala will be counted as ‘ta-ki-ta’ (a unit of three Aksharas)

The variation in the Akshara-kala of each count of a Taala (Gati-bedha) is another feature here.

It is said; the compositions in Tisra Gati –Adi- Taala (with a total Akshara kala duration of 24) could also be rendered in Rupaka Taala (12  Akshara kala duration).

Following that; the Tisra Gati Kritis in Todi and Saveri Ragas are sometimes sung to Rupaka Taala.

And in the other way; the Rupaka-Taala-Kritis – Ninnu-vina (Ritigaula) ; Birana Varalichi (Kalyani) ; and , Himadrisute (Kalyani) can also be sung to Tisra-Gati-Adi -Taala.


Chapu Taala

It is a very common saying that among the Ragas, the Anandabhairavi; and, among the Taala, the Misra Chapu Taala are the favorites of Sri Shyama Shastry. He did, indeed, pay special attention to these two; and, transformed their modes of presentation.

The Chapu Taala is believed to have originated from the folk tradition; and, it was much used in the Bhagavatamela plays, which Sri Shastry as a youngster loved to watch while his family was Thiruvarur.

The beat (ghata) is the only kind of Kriya used in the Chapu Taala; and, there are no other Angas here such as Dhruta or Laghu etc. And, its Kriyas are not of uniform duration.

The Chapu Taala (which is said to be an abbreviated form of Tisra-Jati-Triputa-Taala) has four variations:  Tisra-Chapu (1+2=3) ; Khanda-Chapu (2+3=5); Misra Chapu (3+4=7) ; and, Sankirna-Chapu (4+5=9).

Of these variations, Sri Shyama Shastry adopted the Misra Chapu of seven Akshara kala duration  for many of his compositions.

As said; Misra Chapu has two parts. The first part (3) is three-fourths the duration of the second (4). In sum, it would be reckoned as having two beats (3 and 4). But, in practice, it is played in two beats. And, sometimes, instead of the first beat, the Taala would commence with a wave-motion (Visarjita).

Sri Shyama Shastry revised the mode of rendering the Chapu Taala ( 3+4) by reversing the  sequence of its beats and transforming it into Viloma Chapu Taala (4+3). And, this became a hallmark of his preferred Taala structures.

The following are the compositions of Sri Shyama Shastry set to Misra Chapu and  to Viloma Chapu

Misra Chapu

Among the eleven compositions in Misra Chapu Taala, five compositions viz.,   the two Svarajatis; the two Kritis in Varali; and one Kriti in Anandabhairavi, all start with Sama Graha . And, the rest six, start in Anagata Graha.

Viloma Chapu

Of the seven Kritis in Viloma Chapu Taala, the two Kritis Trilokamata (Pharaju) and Ninnu-vinaga-mari (Purvikalyani) start on the Sama Graha. And, the other five Kritis start on Anagata Graha, on the second beat. [The Kriti Karuna-judu (Sri) is sung by some in Adi Taala.]


Triputa Taala

There are nine compositions set in Triputa Taala; and, these include three Gitas.

Of these nine compositions: three Gitas – Kamakshi (Pharaju); Kamakshi (Madhyamavathi); and Sarasakshi (Saveri); as also the three Kritis – Paramukha-melanamma (Kalyani); Palayasumam (Arabhi) and Nilayatakshi (Pharaju) – all start Sama Graha (Eduppu).

The other three Kritis in this group: Nannubrova (Janaranjani); Adinamu-ninchi (Ananadabhairavi) ; and, Ennerum (Punnagavarali) – start on Anagata Graha (half Eduppu).


Other Taalas

As regards the compositions in other Taalas

other Taalas

In the case of the Taalas of the twenty compositions, the Akshara value, in each case, amounts to 7 or to multiples of 7.

The Taalas that are involved here are: Tisra-Jati-Triputa (7 Aksharas); Misra Chapu (7 Aksharas); Khanda-Jati-Ata (14 Aksharas); and, Viloma Chapu (7 Aksharas).

Of such twenty compositions, 9 are in Tisra Triputa; 12 in Misra Chapu; 7 in Viloma Chapu; and 2 in Khanda Ata. (Source: Dr. Manju Gopal)


Of the 72 known compositions of Sri Shyama Shastri, 47 start with Sama Eduppu; and , 25 compositions with Anagata Eduppu.

Examples of Sama Eduppu are: Emani migula (Todi, Adi Taala); Palayasumam (Arabhi, Triputa Taala); Sari evvaramma (Bhairavi, Khanda Jhampa Taala); and Shankari-Shankari (Kalyani, Khanda Ata Taala).

Examples of Anagata Eduppu are: Palimpavamma (Mukhari , Adi Taala , half Eduppu); Birana Varalichi (Kalyani,  Rupaka Taala,  Eduppu in the second beat); Nannubrova (Janaranjani, Triputa Taala, half Eduppu); Talli-ninnu (Kalyani, Viloma Chapu- Eduppu on the second beat)


Though there are no compositions among Sri Shyama Shastry’s creations, that explicitly commence with Atitha Eduppu, shades of this feature can be noticed in some of his verses. For example, in Mayamma (Ahiri, Adi Taala), the Carana of which reads:

Sarasija-bhava Hari-Hara-nuta sulaita nee/ Pada-pankaja-mula-sthira-mani Nammiti -Nammiti -Nammiti ni

Here, the portion from ‘pada pankaja’ is said to start with the last count of the previous Avarta. This could be taken as Atitha Eduppu.


A unique feature of the compositions of Sri Shyama Shastry is the modulation of the rhythm (bigu-sugu), which emphasizes certain notes and stretches them.

Another noticeable feature is the rhythmical improvisations (Laya, Taala) do not in any manner hamper the melody (Dhathu) and the consistency of the Sahitya.

In the Kritis and Svarajatis of Sri Shyama Shastri, the Sahitya phrases and the sequence of rhythmic patterns (Taala Jati) blend harmoniously.  The long Sahitya syllables are matched by long (Dheerga) Svaras; and the short ones are in tune with the short (Hrasva) Svaras.

 For instance; the sequence of the units of Akshara kala (of three different kinds- 5, 7 and 9) combines well, in each case, with the corresponding flow of the Sahitya.

In each case, the Sahitya segment is broken up into the number of units of its Taala.



 We shall talk about the Languages of the Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastry

as also about his other types of Compositions



The Next Part

Sources and References

All images are taken from Internet

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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 is merely summarizing  the views of Nandikesvara on the authority of Kirtidhara though he himself had not seen  the work of Nandikesvara;

Yat Kirtidharena Nandikeshvaramatham alragamitvena darsitam tadsmabhih seksan na drstam tatpratyayat tu likhyate samskshepatah

:- 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.

[In describing the hand gestures meant to denote the planet Sani, one of the Nava-graha-hastas, the Abhinayadarpana prescribes the Sikhara and Trisula hand-gestures for the two hands, while the Bharatarnava prescribes Sandarhsa and Alapadma. And for indicating the Budhagraha, the Abhinayadarpana mentions Musti and Pataka, while in the Bharatarnava mentions Mukula and Sandarhsa. Such discrepancies seem rather common in regard to the other gestures (such as Dristi, Gati , Cari etc.) as well.]


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, 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.

[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)

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 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.]

gejjeAs 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)

[ 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

  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.

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 (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.


Dr. Priyashri Rao in her article The Textual Traditions in Indian Classical Dancespublished 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 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 (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.


[Dr. Priyashri Rao writes:

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 (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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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine

Lakshana Granthas – continued

5, Abhinavabharati

Illustration of Abhinava Gupta by Elke Avis

The Natyaveda-Vivritti, more famously celebrated as Abhinava-bharati is the most well known commentary by Abhinavagupta on the Natyashastra of Bharata.  It is one among the handful of commentaries that are as renowned, if not more, as the texts on which they commented upon. Abhinavagupta illumines and interprets the text of Bharata at many levels: conceptual, structural and technical. He comments, practically, on its every aspect; and his commentary is a companion volume to Bharata’s text.

The earliest surviving commentary on the Natyashastra is the Abhinavabharati by Abhinavagupta. It was followed by the works of commentators like Saradatanaya (12th century), Sarangadeva (13th century) and Kallinatha (16th century). However, Abhinavabharati is regarded as the most authoritative commentary on Natyashastra ; because, Abhinavagupta provides not only his own illuminating observations and interpretations, but also gives wide range of information about the works of the scholars earlier to his period , most of which are now lost.

Abhinavagupta, who lived in Kashmir by about the late tenth and early eleventh century, was a visionary endowed with incisive intellectual powers of a philosopher who combined in himself the experiences of a mystic and a Tantric. He was equipped with extraordinary skills of a commentator and an art critic

Abhinavagupta dealt with almost every important aspect of Indian aesthetics in his two commentaries – Kavya-loka-locana (called, in short, as Locana, a commentary on the Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana); and, the Abhinavabharati (a detailed commentary on the Natyashastra of Bharata).

These are the two well known aesthetic works of Abhinavagupta; for which he is celebrated as the principal exponent of aesthetic theory (Rasa-vada). In his Locana, he firmly established the concept of Vyanjana -Vritti or Dhvani or the suggestive power of the words as the best form of poetic expression. And, the Abhinavabharati is the best guide to understand Bharata

These two commentaries influenced and guided the subsequent generations of authors and critics; especially in regard to the aesthetic experience (Rasanubhava). No succeeding writer or commentator could ignore Abhinavagupta’s commentary; and his discussions on two crucial chapters of the Natyashastra namely, the Sixth and the Seventh on Rasa and Bhava.

His work came to be recognized as a text of indisputable authority (Pramana grantha); and, was regarded as the standard work, not only on Music and Dance, but also on poetics (Almkara shastra) as well. Hemachandra in his Kavyanusasana; Ramachandra and Gunachandra in their Natyadarpana; Kallinatha in his commentary on the Sangita-ratnakara; and, Saradatanaya in his Bhava-prakasana, very often refer to Abhinavagupta.  The chapter on Dance in Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara is almost entirely based on Abhinava’s work. And, similar is the case with Jaya Senapati’s Nrttaratnavalli. The noted scholar Dr. V Raghavan, therefore, remarked: ‘So what is often taken today as the influence of the Natyashastra in these texts is in reality the influence of Abhinavagupta.’


Between the time of Bharata and the Eleventh century , many commentaries on Natyashastra were written ; and, many other independent treatise on dramatics were composed by several authors such as Kohala, Rahula, Dattila, Harsha, Nandikesvara , Varattikakara and others . But, those works are no longer extant, except for a few verses cited in the later texts on Drama, Dancing and Music.

And, many scholars who hailed from the region of Kashmir; and, who preceded Abhinavagupta, had also produced brilliant commentaries on Poetics , Music and Dramaturgy , with special reference to Rasa, Bhava, Abhinaya, Nayika Nayaka’s and construction and presentation of drama with its varieties. Among those scholars were Bhattalollata, Udbhata, Shankuka, Bhattanayaka and Kirtidhara, as mentioned in Sangita-ratnakara.

 But, sadly, all those works are no longer extant; except for a few verses cited in the later texts on Drama, Dancing and Music.

It is only through the efforts of Abhinavagupta that the works of all those masters can only be partially reconstructed through references to them in his Abhinavabharati. Further, Abhinavagupta also brought to light and breathed life into ancient and forgotten scholarship of fine rhetoricians Bhamaha, Dandin and Rajashekhara.

It is through Abhinavagupta’s quotations from Kohala, whose work is occasionally referred to in the Natyashastra, that one can reconstruct some of the changes that took place in the intervening period between his time and that of Bharata’s.

And, in regard to Dance, since a number of works on dancing that were  known to have been written after Bharata are now lost, it is difficult to follow the discussions  concerning the developments in the field  of Dancing that took place during the early period of its evolution , without the aid of Abhinavabharati.

Abhinavagupta also drew upon the later authors to explain the application of the rules and principles of Natya. For instance; he quotes from Ratnavali of Sri Harsha (7th century); Venisamhara of Bhatta Narayana (8th century); as also cites examples from Tapaas-vatsa-rajam of Ananga Harsa Amataraja  (8th century) and Krtyaravanam .

In addition, Abhinavagupta introduced many improvements and new thoughts into the system of Sanskrit literary criticism, which have been accepted by all the later writes and commentators, beginning with Mammata Bhatta in the eleventh century and ending with Jagannatha Pandita in the 17th century

The  Abhinavabharati thus serves as a bridge between the world of the ancient and forgotten wisdom and the scholarship of the succeeding generations. And, Abhinavagupta himself said that he wrote the commentary in order to save and perpetuate the ancient tradition.

Evam anyad api ūhyam iti an-upayogyāt samasta na likhitam āgama-bhrasa-rakanāya tu di nirupitā


The Abhinavabharati, though basically a commentary on and a companion volume to Bharata’s Natyashastra, is, for all purposes, an independent work in its own right. It, again, is a detailed exposition on various subjects such as: drama, dance, poetry, music, art, prosody and also aesthetics with reference to Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka (820-890). Abhinavagupta comments on a range of subjects, at different levels. He cites and discusses the views of many ancient authorities who wrote on drama, dance, music etc. He illustrates the principles and its application in Natya, through examples taken from well-known Dramatic works.

Abhinavagupta not only expands on Bharata, but also interprets him in the light of his own experience and knowledge; and, also with references to the then current practices. And, at many places, he differs from Bharata; and, introduces concepts and practices that were not present during Bharata’s time. For instance; the concept of minor dramas was absent in the Natyashastra. But, Abhinavagupta, in his commentary, speaks of minor categories of drama (Uparupakas); and calls them as Nrtta-kavya and Raga-kavya. These were the type of plays where the narration through Dance and Music is prominent.  

Similarly, Abhinavagupta provides the details of several dance forms that are mentioned but not described in the Natyashastra. For instance; he describes Bhadrasana, one of the group dances termed Pindibandha by Bharata but not described by him- piṇḍīnā vividhā yoniryantra bhadrāsana tathā NS.4. 290

Abhinavagupta, thus, comments, practically, on every aspect of Natyashastra. Further, he brings in the concepts of his School pratyabhijna, while interpreting Bharata’s text.

The works of the later writers (such as: Mammata, Hemachandra, Saradatanaya and others) clearly bear the influence of Abhinavagupta.

[Dr. Mandakranta Bose, who examined the text critically, observes: Even though his commentary is illuminating in general, there are places where his explanations are not enough to visualize the movements he describes. Since the edited text is often corrupt, the task of understanding is even harder. The movements are sometimes unclear and impossible to reproduce. However, as the single extant commentary on Bharata’s seminal text, Abhinavagupta’s work has exerted great influence on subsequent writers on dance, drama and on Alamkara as well.]


The importance of Abhinavagupta’s work can hardly be overstated. And, Abhinavabharati is the best guide to understand Bharata. The learned scholar Dr. K Krishnamoorthy in his Indian Literary Theories (1985) writes:

If Bharata is the father figure hallowed by the tradition, and revered by all the later writers; Abhinavagupta is the sole interpreter to us of not only Bharata’s thoughts, but also of the writers of those authors over several centuries ,  between the time of Bharata and Abhinavagupta, since he sums up all the traditions of various Schools and enlivens it by his own illuminating and original thinking.

His work is the only source for all the accumulated knowledge of on the subject in the golden age of Indian history. There is perhaps no other single work in the wide range of literary, technical and philosophical treatise that matches the Abhinavabharati. Such is the incandescent lustre of the far- flung genius of Abhinavagupta.

If Bharata is the Panini of the Indian theatrical lore, then Abhinavagupta is his Patanjali. His work is not a mere commentary; but, often an original dissertation.

Abinavagupta - Version 3

The Abhinava-bharati follows the Natyashastra, chapter by chapter, except for the Seventh, the Eighth, and the Thirty-third to Thirty-seventh.

Abhinavagupta’s text ends with Chapter Thirty-seven while most of the other versions of the text end with the Thirty-sixth. At the commencement of his commentary, Abhinavagupta mentions that the Natyashastra of Bharata consists Thirty-six Chapters. Thereafter, at the beginning of each successive Chapter of his commentary, he praises the deity representing the corresponding Tattva, beginning with Bhumi or Prithi, the principle of Earth. And, the last Chapter of his commentary, that is the Thirty-seventh, commences with salutations to Anuttara, the Supreme Reality beyond which there is nothing, therefore, free from all limitations – Na vidyate uttaram prana prati vacorupam yatra. And, Anuttara is Parama Shiva, the Absolute, the primal source of all existence.

[The 36 Tattvas as per Kashmir Shaiva philosophy are : Five Physical Elements or Mahabhuta (Prithvi, Jala, Agni, Vayu and Akasha); Five sensations or Tanmatras (Rupa, Sparsha , Rasa, Gandha, and Sabda); Five sense organs or Jnanedriyas (Upastha, Payu, Pada, Pani and Vac); Five Sense experiences (Grahana, Tvacha, Rasana, Chakshu, and Srotra); Three mental functions (Manas, Ahamkara and Buddhi); Prakrti; Purusha; Six limited individual experiences (Niyati, Kala, Raga, Vidya, Kala and Maya); Five Tattvas of Universal experience (Shudda vidya, Isvara, Sadashiva , Shakthi and Shiva)- please check here  and then go to page 25 of the Book (page 36  of PDF document).]

The reason for the extension of the number in Abhinava-bharati seems to be that the Shaiva Siddantha recognizes Thirty-six Tattvas (principles); and  when that is extended, the  Thirty-seventh  is said to represent the concept of Anuttara (the ultimate or nothing beyond) a doctrine of the Pratyabhijna System of philosophy propounded by Utpaladeva the Parama-guru (the teacher’s teacher) of Abhinavagupta

Of the thirty-seven Chapters in the Natyashastra; about twelve Chapters are related to Dance. They are the Chapter numbers: 4, 5, 8-13, 19, 21, 22, 25 and 31.

[Please click here for volumes of Natyashastra with commentary of Abhinavabharati: For Volume One by Dr. K .Krishnamoorthy; For Volume Two by Pandit M. Ramakrishna Kavi; and, Volume Three by Pandit M. Ramakrishna Kavi.]


As regards the Angikabhinaya, Abhinavagupta, generally, follows Bharata, rather closely.

In the Fourth Chapter of his commentary, Abhinavagupta deals with the definition and the division of 108 Karanas which constitute the fundamental dancing poses.

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

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

As regards Gati (gait) , Abhinavagupta also mentions that in the Nrtta though the Gati could generally follow the Natyadharmi, one should also keep in view the context of the times, the situation (desham, kalam) and the prevalent practices

Cari, Mandala prasangasya chitta-vrttitvad Gati viniyoga meva pratijanite/ Gatisha prakrutim rasa-avastham desham kalam cha apekshya vakthavya prati purusha abhidanath

According to Abhinavagupta, Karaa is action (Kriyā Karaam); and, as the very life (jivitam) of Ntta, the pure dance movements. It is a Kriya, an act which starts from a given place and terminates after reaching the proper one. It involves both the static and dynamic aspects: pose (Sthiti) and movement (Gati).

And that is why, he says, Karaa is called as ‘Ntta Karaa’. Such throws (kepa) of the limbs must be guided by a sense of beauty and grace (vilasa-ksepasya). A Karana has to be intellectually and spiritually satisfying. The word nttasya in Bharata’s definition is meant to emphasize this aspect of dance.

Kriya karanam. Kasya kriya. nrttasya gatranam vilasakhepasya heyopadeya visaya kriya adibhyaf; vyatirikta ya tatkriya karanam itya artha.

According to him, the Sthanaka (posture), Cari (foot-position) and Nrtta-hastha (hand-movements) can be compared to subject (kartru-pada), object (Karma-pada) and verb (Kriya-pada) in a meaningful sentence; while the resultant Karana could be compared to a sentence.

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

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

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

After the discussion of Karanas, Abhinavagupta deals with the definition and division of Angaharas, which are made of Karanas – Nānā Karaa sayuktair Agahārair vibhūitam (NS.4.13). Abhinavagupta explains Agahāra as the process of ‘sending the limbs of the body from a given position to the other proper one (Angavikshepa). And, such Angavikshepa is said to be a dominant feature of the Nrtta. And, that term stands for graceful composition of limbs (gatram vilasena-kshepaha). Thus, the Angaharas, basicallyare Nrtta movements, the Angika-abhinaya, involving six Angas or segments of the body.


Abhinavagupta comments on seven divisions of Nrtta. The first three are to be used in independent Laukika dance, for the satisfaction of the deities. The last four are employed in the preliminaries.

Abhinavagupta classifies Nrtta into two broad Groups; the first group having three types; and, the second having four types.  Thus, the Nrtta, in all, is classified by Abhinavagupta into seven types.

The First Group belongs to the pure Nrtta type; whereas, the Second Group relates to of what came to be known as Nrtya, which involves Abhinaya. Abhinavagupta, in his explanations, did not, however, use the term Nrtya.

The First Group of Nrtta that Abhinavagupta formulated has the three types: (1) Shuddha-Nrtta; (2) Gitakad-abhinayao-nmukha-Nrtta; and, (3) Vadya –Talanusari Nrtta.

Here, Shuddha, that is, pure or abstract dance; the Gitakad-abhinay-onmukha is a dance that expresses the meaning of a song; and, the Vadya-talanusari is a dance that follows instrumental music and rhythm.

The Second Group of Nrtta has four types: (1) Uddhata Nrtta ;(2) Masrana-Nrtta; (3) Misra Uddhata Nrtta; and,(4)  Misar-Masarna Nrtta.

And, here, the Uddhata is a vigorous dance; the Masrana is a dance with delicate and graceful movements (Sukumara); the Misra Uddhata Nrtta is a vigorous dance mixed with delicate movements; and, the Misar-Masarna Nrtta is a delicate dance mixed with vigorous movements.

Since many of these dances in the Second group were expressive, they required Abhinaya or interpretative movements. Such dances, then, fall into the category that later became known as Nrtya. Abhinavagupta, however, does not use the term Nrtya, perhaps because Bharata spoke only of Nrtta; and, had not used the term Nrtya.


The commentary on the Fifth Chapter expands on Bharata’s description of the preliminaries of the performance of the play and remarks on theatrical terms like Purvaranga, Naandi, and Dhruva etc.

The subject of Dhruva, which is the song to be sung in the course of the play, is discussed in detail.  Natyashastra (NS: 32.32) explained the Dhruva Gana as the well composed songs that are steadfast (Dhruva) in  the principles of Pada  (words),  Varna  (syllables) and Chhandas (meter)

Natyashastra had devoted one entire and a lengthy chapter (Chapter 32) to discuss the Dhruva songs. That was because; the songs formed an essential ingredient of the play. And, Bharata said:  without songs, the Drama is incapable of providing joy (NS. 32. 482): Just as a well-built dwelling house (citraniveśana) does not become beautiful and provide a pleasant ambiance without any colour; so also a Drama without any songs does not provide much joy.

Abhinavagupta, accordingly, deals with the Dhruva songs, in fair detail. He explains that the Dhruva songs help to enhance the artistic sense of the important themes that occur in various situations in a play.

 While commenting on the term Dhruva, Abhinavagupta  explains that these types of songs were called Dhruva ( = standpoint; locus of reference)  because in it, the Vakya (sentence), Varna (syllables) , Alamkara (grace notes), Yatis (succession of rhythm patterns) , Panyah (use or non-use of drums) and Laya (beats) were  harmoniously fixed ( Dhruvam) in relation to each other – (anyonya sambandha) .

Vakya –Varna–Alamkara yatyaha -panayo-layah I   Dhruvam-anyonya sambandha yasmath smada Dhruva smrutah II

He further says, the composition (pada samuha) structured as per a rule (niyatah) and that which supports (adhara) singing could be called Dhruva (Dhruvah- Gitya-adhara niyatah pada –samuha).

At another place, Abhinavagupta explains Dhruva as the basis or the support (adhara) on which the song rests. Abhinavagupta says: just as the painting is supported by wall, the Dhruva song is supported by Pada (word). And, Pada in turn is supported by, the Chhandas (meter) – (Abhinavagupta: NS.32.8).

Thus, in the Dhruva Gana, the words of the song are regulated by Chhandas. And, the words are then set to appropriate tunes and Taala-s.


The Sixth Chapter is described as Rasadhyaya; because it mainly deals with concept and the theories of Rasa, the aesthetic pleasure, the essence of all Art experience. Though this Chapter is not directly related to Dance, we may take a brief look at it; because, this Chapter is considered as one of the very important Chapters in the Natyashastra ; and also because , Abhinavagupta discussed the various aspects of the Rasa-doctrine (Rasa-siddantha) in great detail.  And, in the process, he dealt with almost every important facet of Indian aesthetics. Abhinavagupta’s contribution to the revision of Indian aesthetics is truly outstanding.

In this Chapter, Abhinavagupta interprets, mainly, eleven elements of the Natya. They are: Rasa, Bhava, Abhinaya, Dharmi, Vrtti, Pravrtti, Siddhi, Svara, Atodya, Gana and Ranga. Among these, the Rasa is regarded as one of the most important theoretical aspects of the Natyashastra. According to Bharata, Rasa is the sum and substance of all Art- expressions; and, no sense proceeds without RasaNa hi rasādte kaścid artha pravartate (prose passage after verse 31, in Chapter Six).

The Natyashastra asserts that the goal of any Art form is to invoke Rasa, the aesthetic enjoyment in the mind and heart of the cultured spectator (sumanasa prekakā or Sahrudaya). And, such enjoyment is an emotional or an intellectual experienceāsvādayanti manasā tasman nāya- rasā sm (N.S.6.33).

The Chapters Six and Seven in the Natyashastra have been the mainstay of the Rasa concept in all traditional literature, dance and theatre arts in India. Bharata says that which can be relished – like the taste of food – is RasaRasyate anena iti rasaha (asvadayatva). Though the term Rasa is associated with palate, it is equally well applicable to the delight afforded by all forms of Art; and, the pleasure that people derive from their art experience. It is literally the activity of savouring an emotion in its full flavour. The term might also be taken to mean the essence of human feelings.

[The Rasa-doctrine is also relevant to classical dance, particularly since its performance is pervaded by emotion; and, its presentation, in varied graceful and meaningful forms (Abhinaya), attempts to express those emotions. Further, the Rasa-principle also provides a philosophical framework for explaining the fundamentals of an aesthetic experience; and, how it relates to the human psychological processes.]

The famous Rasa sutra or the basic formula to invoke Rasa, as stated in the Nātyashāstra, is: vibhāva anubhāva vyabbhicāri samyogāt rasa nispattih (prose passage after verse 31, in Chapter Six).

Here, the Vibhāva represents the causes, while Anubhāva is the manifestation or the performance of its effect communicated through the Abhinaya.  The more important Vibhāva and Anubhāva are those that invoke the Sthāyi-bhāva, or the principle emotion at the moment of the performance. The Sthayi-bhava combines and transforms all other Bhavas; and, integrates them with itself.

Thus, the Rasa-sutra states that the Vibhāva, Anubhāva, and Sanchari or the Vyabhicāri-bhāvas coming together (samyogād) with the Sthayi-bhava result in Rasa (rasa nispattih).

Abhinavagupta, in his commentary, initially takes a review of the explanations given by the previous authorities and scholars; then sums them up; and, later provides his own comments and explanations. He remarks that he is formulating his own theories on the foundation laid by others; and, his views are only an improvement on what has been said by the earlier interpreters.

Abhinavagupta begins by explaining his view of aesthetics and its nature. Then goes on to state how that aesthetic experience is created. During the process, he comments on Bharata’s concepts and categories of Rasa and Sthayi-bhava, the dominant emotive states, and of Sattvika, the involuntary bodily reflexesHe also examines Bharata’s other concepts of Vibhava, Anubhava and vyabhichari (Sanchari) bhavas and their subcategories Uddipana (stimulantand Aalambana (ancillaries).

Abhinavagupta comments on these concepts in the light of Shaiva Pratyabhijna philosophyand explains the process of One becoming many and returning to the state of repose (vishranthi)). He also brings in the elements of Abhivyakti (an expression that suggests release from ignorance, resulting in Camatkara); and Dhvani (aesthetic-suggestions) as expounded by Anandavardhana (820-890) in his Dhvanyaloka.

 [At places, Abhinavagupta uses the term Samvitti, in place of Rasa, as a synonym. He also uses the term Visranti to denote the state of aesthetic experience, which is a state of complete repose. These terms (Samvitti and vishranthi) are used in the Shaiva Pratyabhijna philosophy to represent Ananda, the absolute bliss. And, Abhivyakti is also a term of that branch of philosophy.]

For Abhinavagupta, soaked in sublime principles of Shaiva Siddantha, the aesthetic experience is Ananda, the unique bliss. He regards such aesthetic experience as different from any ordinary experience; and, as a subjective realization. It is Alukika (out of the ordinary world), he said, and is akin to mystic experience. That experience occurs in a flash as of a lightening; it is a Chamatkara, the state of blissful aesthetic experience. It is free from earthly limitations; and, is self luminous (svaprakasha). It is Ananda; a direct experience; a state of pure and undefiled joy. This Rasa-ananda, he says, is almost to be equivalent to the philosophic bliss (Brahma-ananda)

Abhinavagupta interpreted Rasa as a ‘stream of consciousness’ (Caitanya-Vahini) that is not restricted by time and place.

Sa ca rasana na pramanya vyaparo na kara kavya aparah svayam tu na apramanikah /

As regards poetic experience, according to Abhinavagupta, its Rasa is in understanding (rasana ca bodha-rupaiva) the essential inner meaning of Kavyatatkavyartho rasah. It is realized by the cultured reader with empathy (Sahrdaya) who has a clear perspective – Adhikari catra vimala pratibhana sahrdayah. He states that the poet’s experience is the seed of poetry; the poem he composes is the tree; and, the reader’s experience is the fruit of the tree

Tadevam mulam bijasthaniyat kavigatah rasah; Kavirhi samajikatulya eva tatah vrksa sthaniyam kavyam tatra puspadi-sthaniyo abhinayadinata-vyaparah; tatra phala-sthaniyah; samajika-rasa-asvadah tena rasa-maya-meva visvam.

According to Abhinavagupta, a real work of art, in addition to possessing emotive charge carries a strong sense of suggestion (Dhvani) and the potential to produce various meanings (Artha). It can communicate through suggestions and evoke layers of meanings and emotions.

A true aesthetic object, Abhinavagupta declares, not merely stimulates the senses but also ignites the imagination of the viewer. With that, the spectator is transported to a world of his own creation. That experience sets the individual free from the confines of place, time and ego (self); and elevates him to the level of universal experience.  It is liberating experience. Thus art is not mundane; it is Alaukika in its nature.

Abhinavagupta also talks about Sadharanikarana, the generalization. He points out that while enjoying the aesthetic experience, the mind of the spectator is liberated from the obstacles caused by the ego and other disturbances. Thus transported from the limited to the realm of the general and universal, we are capable of experiencing Nirvada, or blissfulness. In such aesthetic process, we are transported to a trans-personal level. This is a process of de-individual or universal – the Sadharanikarana.


 He then goes on to expand the scope and content of the Rasa spectrum by adding the ninth Rasa to the eight enumerated by Bharata: and, to establish the Shantha-rasa, the Rasa of tranquility and peace, as the most significant Rasa.

Abhinavagupta considered Shantha Rasa (peace, tranquillity) – where there is no duality of sorrow or happiness; or of hatred or envy; and, where there is equanimity towards all beings – as being not merely an additional Rasa; but, as the highest virtue of all Rasas. It is one attribute, he said, that permeates everything else; and, in to which everything moves back to reside (hridaya_vishranthi). 

na yatra dukha na sukha na dveo nāpi matsara sama sarveu bhūteu sa śānta prathito rasa

Following Abhinavagupta, the theory of Nine-Rasas, the Navarasa, became universally acceptable in all branches of Indian aesthetics. And, Shantha Rasa has come to be regarded as the Rasa of Rasas.


The Eighth Chapter discusses the detailed description of the fourfold Abhinaya (Angika, Satvika, Vachika and Aaharya). These relate to physical representations through the use of various gestures and postures. That is followed by the descriptions of the expressions the movements of the head, glances, action with pupils, the eye-lids, the eyebrows, the nose and Nostrils, cheeks, lower-lip, neck; and through the colours of the face.

It also deals with two types of Angika-abhinaya. The first one analyses the movement of the principal and subsidiary limbs (Anga, Pratyanga and Upanga); and, the second deals with the combination of these primary movements such as Caris and Mandala. The topics in Chapter Eight are directly connected with the general discussions in the first five Chapters and therefore, the eighth Chapter could be considered as the continuation of the first five Chapters


The commentaries on Chapter Nine to Twelve of the Natyashastra provide abundant details on the Angikabhinaya. But, Abhinavagupta does not offer any fresh or additional information on the subject; although his comments help us to visualize the required body movements.

In Chapter Nine, the Angikabhinaya, various expressions produced by the gestures and movements of the hands (Hastha) and the limbs are discussed. Here, he details 24 kinds of single-hand gestures (Asamyukta-hasta-bheda); 13 kinds of gestures devised by the combination of both the hands (Samyukta hasta bheda); and, 27 kinds of Nrtta-hasthas, gestures in pure Dance movements.

He explains the Abhinaya-hasthas (expressive gestures through hands) as the indicators of the inner thoughts and emotions. He says; while inner feelings, thoughts etc., are the causes (Vibhava), their manifestations through Abhinaya, the expressions through hand-gestures (Abhinaya-hasthas) is Anubhāva. The two together, in combination with the Sthayi-bhava (dominant mood or sentiment) produce Rasa.

As regards the movements of the arms (Bahu), Abhinavagupta says, with the numerous circular movements (vaichitrena bahu paryayayena) of the arms in different speeds, combined with various hand and wrist positions, can generate innumerable Hastha gestures:

Yetheshu karaneshu chatushra drutha Madhya vilambitadi vaichitrena bahu paryayayena cha samasthani yojina yada niyujyante tada patha vartanadi shatasaharenyvam ta brthani


The tenth Chapter of the commentary deals with the actions and movements of actions related with chest, sides, belly, waist, thighs, shanks and feet. In all these descriptions, Abhinavagupta, generally, follows Bharata.

Here, while dealing with Angika-abhinaya related to the actions of the feet (Cari-vidhana), Abhinavagupta enumerates and defines thirty-two kinds of Caris, of which sixteen are termed Bhaumi (ground) and the other sixteen are called Akasiki (aerial).The Caris are considered as the most important single unit of movement in the Nrtta technique.

Further, as many as forty Sthanas or standing postures are discussed under six category of static postures along with their applications. They are: Vaisnava, Samapada, Vaisakha, Mandala, Alidha and Pratyalidha, which are used variously.

There are also the descriptions of four types of Nyayas   (Bharata, Sattvata, Varsaganya and Kaisika). These are the ways of 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 Eleventh Chapter of Abhinavabharati interprets Mandala-vikalpanam, which are more complicated movements of the legs involving combinations of Caris. These Mandals are again classified into two categories:  Akasa-mandala (aerial, having ten varieties); and,   Bhu-mamandala (ground, having eight varieties).


The Chapter Twelve of the commentary describes different types of gaits (Gati) to be adopted by various types of characters in different contexts and in different states (Bhavas). It mentions the different gaits for men, women, the stout, the intoxicated, the Jester etc. It also enumerates the Gatis or gaits suitable for Kings and superior characters as also for middling characters. The walking styles for women of various classes are also described.

Abhinavagupta quotes the ancient authority Kohala while discussing the Gatis; and suggests specific Taalas and Layas (beats and tempo) that are suitable for each type of character depending upon the context.


Chapters Twenty-one and Twenty-two provide detailed descriptions of Aharya-bhinaya (use of costumes, stage properties and other external aids which are essential both to dance and drama); Samanyabhinaya and Chitrabhinaya (general and special histrionic expressions).

While dealing with Aharya-bhinaya, Abhinavagupta stresses the importance of Aharya among other Abhinayas. He details the different types of costumes of various characters of different classes; the various types of dresses which should be used in dramatic representation; the makeup of different characters ; and , the stage settings (Nepathya). He also mentions the details of the ornaments suitable for men and women; making up the face and other limbs with grease paints etc; the use of natural and subsidiary colours; appliance of false hair; wearing of masks etc. These details help us to understand the technicalities of stage presentation as practiced in the Eleventh century.


Then Abhinavagupta describes the physical, natural, involuntary graces in women, men; twelve forms of voice expression; eight varieties of heroines in love (Astavidha Nayikas); ten kinds of Kama-avasthas (states of being in love) ; the acting of various types of women in love ; and, the general exclusions on the stage


At the beginning of twenty-fifth chapter of Abhinavagupta’s commentary, there is the explanation of Citra-abhinaya.

While the Samanya-abhinaya is the harmonious use of four kinds of Abhinayas; the Citra-abhinaya applies only to the special representation of various objects and ideas. The latter is employed for indicating morning, sunset etc. Seasons, birds, animals, demons, celestials, expression in soliloquies, aside etc. In addition, Abhinavagupta mentions the representation of some other objects and ideas like God Skanda, Goddess Sarasvati etc. according to the view of Kohala and others.

Abhinavagupta remarks; whether it is Samanya-abhinaya or Chitra-abhinaya, what is more important is the ardent practice (Shikshitum abhyasitam) and the state of mind of the performer (Chitt-vrtti pradanam).

Shikshitum abhyasitam va prayoktam drustam va, chitta-vrtti pradanam chedam natyamiti tadeva vakyum nyayam


In Chapter Thirty-one, Abhinavagupta discusses Taala (time units); Laya (rhythm or tempo); the qualities of singer and instrumentalists; and delicate, graceful dance (Lasya)

According to him, Taala is the foundation of music and also of dance. He says the Taalas are of two types, Tryasra and Caturasra.  He explains three kinds of Laya (tempo) – Druta (slow), Madhya (medium) and Vilambita (fast).  He also explains Kala as the measure of time in the musical sphere. He interprets the Margas of rhythm which are of three kinds – Citra, Vrtti and Daksina.

Abhinavagupta interprets Lasya as a form of graceful dance. Lasya is the term that Abhinavagupta uses to indicate the Sukumara-prayoga of the Natyashastra. There, the Sukumara-prayoga meant a graceful dance with delicate movements (Angaharas). And, Sukumara-prayoga did not mean a feminine style of dancing, as was interpreted later. Such distinctions, as between masculine and feminine dances, were not made in the Natyashastra.

Abhinavagupta seemed to be following the contemporary usage of the term Lasya to mean a feminine style of dancing.

 He also used the term Masrana-Nrtta to indicate the softer type of dance (Lasya) aligned with Srngara, Karuna Rasas and so on. This, he described, as the feminine type of dance.


Abhinavagupta’s commentary ends with chapter Thirty-seven. There is a narration (Guhya-tattva-kathana) of the mythical account of how King Nahusha encouraged Bharata to promulgate Natyaveda on the earth.  

This final Chapter praises the Anuttara-marga (or Anupaya-marga) as the highest and the best method (upaya) to attain liberation – tato pi paramam jnanam upayadi-vivarjitam…Anuttaram.

Bharata also concluded his work with the Benediction:

What more should I say? Let there be  peace and plenty  on this Earth ; and let it be free from famine and diseases, for all times. Let there be peace and prosperity among all beings and humans; and, let the Ruler protect thus the entire earth.

ki cānyat samprapūrā bhavatu vasumatī, naṣṭa-durbhika-rogā śāntir go brāhmaānā bhavatu , narapati pātu pthvī samagrām NS.37.31

Nātyaśāstram sampūram



In the next part we shall move on to other texts dealing with Dance and its several aspects




Part Eleven

References and Sources

  1. Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition by Dr Mandakranta Bose
  2. Abhinavabharati – Chapter Three
  3. The Natyashastra
  4. Natyashastra and Rasa
  5. Abhinavagupta’s philosophy of Rasa
  6. Abhinavagupta 
  7. Abhinavabharati





Posted by on November 3, 2018 in Art, Natya


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