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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.]


Neck gestures (Grivabedha)

The neck-movement is very important in Dance; because the movements of the head and the face pivot around it.

Gestures of the neck are all to follow the gestures of the head; and, the head gestures are also reflected in those of the neck. And, in this manner, Bharata enumerates and describes the gestures of the head and the connected minor limbs (Upanga) and their uses.

 The Natyashastra (Ch.8.164) enumerates nine kinds of neck-gestures- Grivabedha: Sama, Nata, Unnata, Tryasra, Recita, Kuncita, Ancita, Vahita and Vivarta.

While the Abhinaya Darpana (Grivabedha79-87) gives only four kinds: Sundari, Tirascina, Parivartita and Prakampita.

And, the two enumerations do not have common names.

[The Abhinaya Darpana does not discuss actions related to certain Prtyanga –elements such as: Thighs; Shanks; Belly; and Back (spine).]


Hand- gestures (Hastha-bedha)

It is said; the Indian classical dance the joints, rather than the muscles, play an important role.  The Hastha (hand-gestures) generated through the movement of the wrists and the fingers are a portal of an entire language system articulated through animated gestures. They are like the words in a poem. It is around such Hasthas verities denoting suggestive Dance-expressions; the appropriate gestures are composed to covey thoughts and emotions, and to indicate objects.

Though both the Natyashastra and the Abhinaya Darpana classify the hand-gestures into three categories, they differ in regard to the number in each class; as well as in their definition; and, also in their uses.

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



Single-hand gestures (Asamyukta-hastha):

For illustrations of the Hasthas –Please click here

single-hand gestures0001


According to Natyashastra (Ch.9), there are twenty-four gestures in this class, while in Abhinaya Darpana; their number is twenty-eight. In both the works, twenty-two gestures have common names. Their descriptions are also similar.

On a review, one finds that the definitions of the following thirteen gestures are similar, in both the works:

Pathaka; Tripathaka; Ardhachandra; Arala; Sukatunda; Musti; Shikara; Padmakosa; Sarpasiras; Mrigasira;  Catura; Bhramara and Mukula

The following gestures have certain common aspects in their application. The number of such common aspects differs from one gesture to another;

Pathaka (2); Tripathaka (2); Ardhachandra; Musti (1); Katakamukha (4); Padmakosa (3); Sarpasiras (5) and Mukula (2)

Except in these cases, the Viniyoga, the applications of the other gestures vary.


The definitions of the following gestures differ in both the works:

Kartarimukha; Katamukha; Kapitta; Suci; Kangula; Alapadma (Alapallava); Hamsapaksa;   Sadamsa; and Tamracuda


The following hand-gestures of the Natyashastra are subdivided according to their Viniyoga; and special instructions are given on how such subdivisions are to be used in different groups: Pathaka, Tripathaka, Arala, Sucimukha,Catura and Sadamsa



Combined- hand-gestures (Samyukta-hastha):

For illustrations of the Hasthas – please click here






The Natyashastra (Ch.9) names thirteen gestures;

while Abhinaya Darpana gives twenty-three

On a comparison of the two sets of combined-hand-gestures given both the texts, one finds:

The following gestures in both the works have almost the same descriptions and uses: Anjali; Kapota; Karkata; and ushpaputa










Other Hasthas not mentioned in the Natyashastra:

The Abhinaya Darpana mentions certain classes of Hand-gestures (Hasthas) that were not mentioned in the Natyashastra. It is said; these are meant aid dramatic representations and sculpting the images of the deities

:- Hasthas representing deities – Devahastha (204-215) – lists sixteen gods and goddesses-(Brahma; Shiva; Vishnu; Sarasvathi; Parvathi; Lakshmi; Ganesha; Kartikeya;  Manmatha; Indra; Agni ; Yama; Nirrti; Varuna; Vayu and Kubera)

:- Hasthas representing  ten Avatars of Vishnu- Dashavatara hastha  (216-225) – (Matsya; Kurma; Varaha; Nrsimha; Vamana; Parasurama; Ramachandra; Balarama; Krishna  and Kalki)

:-Hasthas representing different class of people – Chaturjatiya-hastha (226-231)

:-Hasthas representing various relatives – Bandhava-hastha (231-244 ); and

: – Hasthas representing nine planetary deities –Navagraha-hastha (250-258)



According to Natyashastra (Ch.9.173) there are twenty-seven Nrtta-hasthas; and, they are not the same as the single-hand or the combined-hand gestures.(Another version lists thirty Nrtta-hasthas).

But the number of Nrtta-hastha in Abhinaya Darpana is thirteen; and, they are not different from the single-hand or the combined-hand gestures. Those names are repeated here.

Among the thirteen listed in the Abhinaya Darpana, six single-hand-gestures (Pathaka, Tripathaka, Shikara, Kapitta, Alapadma and Hamsasya) are the same as the single-hand gestures carrying the same name in the Natyashastra. And, the other seven combined-hand gestures (Anjali, Svastika, Dola, Kataka-vardhana, Sakara, Pasa and Kilaka) are the same as the combined –hand gestures of the same name in the Natyashastra.

Thus, overall, the total number of hand-gestures related to Dance in Natyashastra is sixty-four; and, that in Abhinaya Darpana is fifty-one.

And, one version of the Abhinaya Darpana  (page 47) states: there are as many meanings as there are hand-gestures (Hasthas). Their usage is to be regulated by their literal meaning, category, gender, and suitability. Only so much can be said in an abridged form. Those following careful research; and, those who are acquainted with the ways of displaying the Bhavas in various should use the hands with due care, after consulting the texts, as may be required, and the teachers.


Feet in Dance


The Abhinaya Darpana in its verses 259-260, mentions Mandala (postures); Utplavana (leaps); Bhramari (flights or turns) and Cari or Padacari (gait) as postures and movements related to feet.

These refer to the carriage of the dancer’s body with the different movements codified, that is presented as Mandalas or Sthanakas which are sixteen modes of standing and resting. The Utplavanas are the leaps; the Bhramaris or pirouettes; and finally, the Caris and the Gatis.

But, in this text, the descriptions of the feet movements are not accompanied by their Viniyogas. The explanation provided by the scholars is that the Mandalas, Utplavanas, Bhramaris etc., are to be applied according to their relation to one another; and, these are, indeed, endless in number and variety.

Another feature of this text is that in describing the basic hand-gestures and the eye-movements, the author follows the Natyashastra. But, his treatment of the movements of the feet is his own. He also includes some new gestures, not found in other texts.


The Abhinaya Darpana does not specifically discuss movements of the feet. It factors the whole leg, from thighs to toes, as a single Pada-bheda outlining the actions like standing, walking, roaming, and jumping. In its discussion of the jumps (utplavanas), spiral movements or turns (Bhramaris) and the different types of walking Caris and Padacari, it utilizes the various positions of the feet, as described in the Natyashastra.

In contrast, the Chapter Eleven of the shorter version (from pages 197 to 206) of the Natyashastra is devoted to Cari, the most important single unit of movement in the Nrtta technique as enunciated by Bharata. The Caris are movements using one foot; and, are used both in Dance and Drama. Thirty two kinds of Caris are defined; of these sixteen are termed Bhaumi (ground) – verses 13 to 28; and, the other sixteen are called Akasiki (aerial) – verses 29 to 49.

One of the explanations adduced justifying the brief treatment of Caris in the Abhinaya Darpana (verses 323-324) is:  the mutual relations of the Caris, Mandalas, Utplavanas, Brhramaris etc., are endless in number and variety. Their uses in dance and drama are to be learnt from the practices and tradition of the School, under the guidance of a wise teacher.

A similar advice is tendered with regard to the applications of the Hasthas (on page 47).



Mandalas are complicated movements of the legs involving combinations of Caris. According to NatyashastraChapter Twelve , see pages 207 to 212)), Mandalas are twenty in number; and, are again divided into two classes: Bhuma (earthly, ground) and Akasika (aerial).

The Abhinaya Darpana, however, names only ten Mandalas (Mandala-bedha); and, all are of the same class (260-261) : Sthanaka ; Ayata ; Alidha ; Pratyalidha ; Prenkhana ; Prerita ; Svastika; Motita ; Samasuci ; and , Parsvasuci

The names of the Mandalas in the two works differ.


Any special position of the body which is motionless is called Sthana, stance. The Abhinaya Darpana lists six such Stanakas (274-275): Sampada; Ekapada; Nagabandha; Aindra; Garuda; and, Brahma. The Natyashastra treats the subject of Sthanas in greater detail. It mentions as many as forty Sthanas or standing postures, under six categories of static postures along with their applications.

Utplavana (leaps) are of five kinds (282-283): Alaga; Kartari; Asva; Motita; and, Krpalga.

Bhramari (flights or turns) are seven (289-291); and are the same as in the Natyashastra: Utpluta; Cakra; Garuda; Ekapada; Kuncita; Akasha; and Anga.

Gati (gaits): the gaits or the walking styles (Gati) are said to be of eight kinds: Calana; Sankramana; Sarana; Vegini; Kuttana; Luhita; Lolita; and Visrama.

The treatment of the Gatis (gatipracāra) in the Natyashastra is much more elaborate. It describes Gatis or gaits, suitable for different types of characters, such as the Kings and superior characters as also for middling characters. Walking styles for women of various classes are also described.  Natyashastra mentions that the gaits are to be executed in – slow, medium and quick – tempos (Kaalas), according to the nature of 45 different characters.



The Abhinaya Darpana (298-308) treats Caris and Gatis alike. They are not differentiated, as in the Natyashastra.

The Caris are movements using one foot; and, are used both in Dance and Drama. The Natyashastra (Ch.9.10) lists thirty-two Caris, divided into two groups of sixteen each: the Bhuma (earthly, ground) and Akasika (aerial). Cari is that activity where in the various beautiful movements of the hands, feet calves, thighs and the hip are kept in mutual concordance, in a single flow.

The Abhinaya Darpana, however, gives eight kinds of Cari; and they all are of the same class. There are no divisions here.  And, the listing of the feet movements is not accompanied by their Viniyoga-s: Calana; Sankramana; Sarana; Vegini; Kuttana; Luthita; Lolita; Visrama.

The names of the Caris in Abhinaya Darpana are the same as that of the Gatis (gaits) it enumerates.

The names of the Caris in the two texts- Abhinaya Darpana and Natyashastra- also differ.

[Nyayas: The Natyashastra makes a mention of four types of Nyayas   (Bharata, Sattvata, Varsaganya and Kaisika). These are the ways regulating (niyante)  how the various  weapons are to be handled while staging a fight on the stage; and, how the actors move about on the stage using various Caris and Angaharas (combinations of Caris and Karanas).

The Abhinaya Darpana does not, however, mention Nyayas.]

dance images22

Obviously, there is vast difference between the Natyashastra and the Abhinaya Darpana in their approach to and in the treatment of Angika-abhinaya.

The Natyashastra is the primary text. It lays down the theoretical principles; enumerates the gestures and postures to give a form to its concepts; and, also provides practical examples of their applications. The explanations in the Natyashastra seem to be based on a study of actual performances; and, on a detailed analysis of the actual dance movements.

It not merely enumerates the individual dance-gestures, but also suggests how those elements could be combined to form graceful and meaningful dance movements like Karanas and Angaharas, forming a sequence of completed action. Since the entire process was involved with production of Drama; and, its presentation before enlightened spectators, it appears the complete sequences of movements were carefully studied, structurally analyzed to ensure a correct presentation finally  emerged , as envisaged by the choreographer.

Thus the approach of the Natyashastra was broad based, covering the theoretical, analytical and practical aspects of Dance and its varied gestures, stances and movements.

The Abhinaya Darpana, in contrast, does not delve much into the theoretical aspects of Dance movements. Its focus is mainly on Angika-abhinaya, the gestures, postures and movements of the limbs and parts of the three major segments of the body. It enumerates in a comprehensive, codified and systematic manner the actions of a limb, in isolation; and, suggests the means to its application. The Abhinaya Darpana trains a dancer in the basic movements.

It does not try to combine those various dance-elements, in order to present a seamless, graceful and meaningful sequence of actions. It is said; the Abhinaya Darpana is like a practical, working manual, a tool of communication. It is up to the teachers and learners to make a good use of the material it provides to choreograph charming, enjoyable and expressive dance sequences. The various individual gestures, stances and movements that the text catalogs are like words (Padas); and, they have to be employed with skill and imagination to form countless verities of meaningful sentences (Vakya). The uses of the Dance-elements that the text provides have to be studied diligently and practiced earnestly under the guidance of a well informed and experienced teacher.

There are elaborate descriptions of movements  that are neatly categorized and presented. For example; ten movements of the head, fifteen ways to move the eyeballs and two ways to turn the knee-joint indicate the several combinations available to the conscious and imaginative dancer and teacher to create their dance sequences.


The scholar Raghavabhatta, in his Arthadyotanika (1886), a commentary on the play Abhijanana Sakuntala of the poet Kalidasa, compares the Abhinaya Darpana to Grammar of dance movements. The text suggests various hand and body gestures. But, the skill, he says, resides in combining those elements to compose a beautiful and graceful, meaningful presentation. Raghavabhatta, in his commentary, suggests choreographic patterns (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.


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 Eight

Continued from Part Seven


1.Natyashastra –continued


The Natyashastra developed a remarkable approach to the structure of the human body; and delineated the relation between its central point (Nabhi, the navel), the verticals and horizontals. It then coordinated them, first with the positions and movements of the principal joints of neck, pelvis, knees and ankles; and, then with the emotive states, the expressions. Based on these principles, Natya-shastra enumerated many standing and sitting positions.

Accordingly, the various dance-poses and postures (like Cari and Karanas) are based on a system of medians (sutras), measures (maanas), postures of symmetry (bhangas)   and asymmetry (abhanga, dvibhanga and tribhanga); and, on the sthanas (positions of standing, sitting, and reclining). The concept of perfect symmetry is present in Nrtta; and, that is indicated by the term Sama. These principles were followed in the Shilpa (sculpture) and also in the Chitra  (painting) .

[As regards the Sutras, the vertical axis or the medians passing through the human body:

The Shilpa-shastra adopts the Angula as an unit of Tala. Different texts work out the exact proportions for the human form in terms of the Angula and Tala. But, Tala could be taken to be the length of the palm (from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger).

 The human form is not only divided into Tala on the basis of actual surface proportions but is also measured along various axes on different planes: the measures along these different sections guided the Indian sculptor in the making of images.  Five principal vertical axis (Sutra) are enumerated by the Shilpa-shastra texts.


The Brahma-sutra is the vertical axis or the imaginary line passing through the centre of the image and represents the direction of the pull of gravity. The Madhya-sutra is the medial line drawn from the centre of the crown of the head, through the centre of the chest, the navel, the knees, down to the inner sides of the feet. The Parsva-sutra is the vertical drawn from the side of the forehead, the cheek, the side of the arm, the centre of the thighs, the centre of the knee, and the centre of the ankle-joint. The Kaksa-sutra is drawn from the arm-pit, by the side of the hip and the calf, and terminates on the fifth toe of the foot. The Bahu-sutra is the vertical drawn from the shoulder-joint to the ground

The three horizontal axes which are commonly used are the Hikka-sutra (the line passing through the base of the neck), the Bhadra-sutra (passing through the navel) and the Kati-sutra which passes through the hips and the pelvic girdle.  The sculptor is thus provided with rules both for surface dimensions and for measurements along different vertical and horizontal planes and sections for every type of image.


Based on this, Any  movement  whatsoever  can be  comprehended  into  the deflexions (bhanga) i.e., the Sama-bhanga, the Abhanga, the Tribhanga and the Atibhanga, within the complex structure of the Angula, the Tala and the Sutra measures.

nataraja onenataraja two

It is said; indeed, the Nrtta technique can be better understood if one understands the concept of the Sutras and Mana of the Shilpa. .

In Indian dancing, all its movements can be analyzed in terms of the relation of the different parts of the human body to the vertical median (the Brahma-sutra) on the one hand ; and,  the measurements along the different planes denoted by the area which would be covered by the Mana, the Pramana and the Unmana corresponding to the dimensions of height, breadth and thickness and the measurements of the inter spaces (upamana) and the periphery along the circumference (the Parimana) on the other.

The leg extensions of Mandalas and Sthanas of Indian dancing can be measured along the Pramana; the movements of different parts of the body, specially the chest etc, can be measured along the Unmana; the movements of the Recita type and the Bhramaris take into consideration the Parimana measurements. 

Just as Shilpa conceives of the deflections and poses of the human body along these different planes and areas of space, so also Nrtta conceives of movement in space along the three planes. There is no attempt to spread out, or to extend the limbs to the furthest point from the center of the body. The point of perfect balance (Sama) can be maintained if there is the minimum possible deviation from the center of gravity.


From this moment of complete poise and perfect balance, the next step is when slight movement is suggested without covering space ; but by shift of weight: this is the Abhanga pose, the point of unrest and not of movement: here there is only a slight flexing of one knee. Although the plumb line passes from the crown of the head to a point midway between the heels, it passes through the right of the navel (Nabhi) and not through the navel as in the Sama-bhanga pose. There is thus a shift of weight, which results in either a change in the position of the hip (Kati) or the placing of the foot, or sometimes by the deviation of the torso to one side.

But the placing of the feet is by far the most important method of depicting the Abhanga pose in both dancing and sculpture: the Tryasra placing of one foot, without the knee bend or the controlled Udvahita movement of the hips results in this stance: the sides (Parsva) move but slightly. In dancing, this pose is mentioned in the context of Sthanas for women, the Ayata and Avahittha sthana are fine examples of the Abhanga pose. Both in Indian sculpture and dancing, the Abhanga pose is never shown by a Kunchita or an Anchita foot; it is always the Sama-pada frontal position of one foot and slight Tryasra placing of the other


The Tribhanga indicates a complete shift of weight from one leg to the other; for, here, one leg is in contact with the ground, the other can be lifted up and drawn away and in doing so the balance has invariably to be maintained by shifting the torso to the opposite direction. There are, therefore, three distinct deviations of the head, torso, and the legs from the vertical median. The central plumb line passes through the left or right pupil, the middle of the chest, the left or right of the navel down to the heels.

The human figure is divided along the three horizontal Sutras and each unit moves in an opposite direction to the first: thus if the head and hips deflect to the right the torso deviates to the left. This is one of the significant similarities of technique between Indian sculpture and Indian dancing. The conception of the Tribhanga indicates clearly the basic laws which are followed in the depiction of human movement: the human form is broken up into the units of the head, the torso (above the navel line) and the lower limbs below the Kati sutra (hip line) and these are then manipulated in different ways.

The most striking similarity between the two arts is seen in the manipulation of the hands, termed Hastabhinaya in dancing and Hasta or Mudra in Indian sculpture. As in Indian dancing, so also in sculpture, the hand positions and movements constitute an important aspect of technique. Much of the sculpture-like quality of the dance lies in the accurate depiction of the hand movements and the arm position along with the Tribhanga posture.

All dance poses   can be classified and analyzed in terms of the Sama-bhanga, Abhanga and Tribhanga; and, conversely all examples of Indian sculpture can be analyzed in terms of the Anga and the Upanga of dancing, especially in terms of the static positions and individual movements of the different parts of the human body as described in the Natyashastra.

I acknowledge with thanks the source: Celebration of Life: A study of sculptural and mural depictions of Dance and Music in Buddhist Art of India ]

Belur temple sepia

These, demonstrate the principles of stasis, balance, repose and perfect symmetry; And, they are of fundamental importance in Indian arts; especially in, dance, painting and sculpture.

In the Bharatanatya, the principal stance of a dancer is one in which the body is segmented into a series of triangles. As, Dr. Kapila Vatsayana explains: 

The first triangle is formed with the line joining the shoulder points as the base; and, with the waist (navel, Nabhi) as the Apex. This inverted triangle is further highlighted by the outstretched arms, which make another triangle, in space, on either side of the vertical median.

Another triangle is formed with the waist as the apex; the line joining the knees, in their extended position,  as the base.

The third triangle is formed with the line joining the two knees (flexed and outstretched), as the base; and, with its apex at the heels (where the feet are outstretched).

It is said; while performing Bharatanatya, the artist visualizes her body as made up of triangles; and, conceives her movements in space as following either straight lines or triangles. The steps of the dance are based upon a balanced distribution of body weight and firm positions of the lower limbs, allowing the hands to cut into a line, to flow around the body, or to take positions that enhance the basic form.

There is an incredible relation between dance, geometry and numbers. The postures are characterized by linear formations and circular patterns. The straight line patterns, circular movements and the symmetry in formation of the postures, all these are vital aspects of dance.  Certain postures create a wonderful symmetry, as in geometry, adding neat elegance and beauty to the performance. A combination of good posture, balance, centering symmetry and the geometric correctness gives you Angasudhi.

As regards the numbers, almost every movement of a  Bharatanatya composition is related to  numbers, such as :  3 (Thishram); 4 (Chaturashram); 5 (Khandam), 7 (Misram) and 9 (Sankirnam) in various permutations and combinations .

The flexed position of the knees, known as Ardha-mandala (or, Araimandi), is an integral body posture and an essential aspect of the Bharatanatya; and, almost the entire dance is executed in this positions. (For instance; the basic dance movements the Adavus are performed in Araimandi.) It is the starting position of Bharatanatya

araimandi (1)

In the Araimandi, which basically means half sitting posture, the body is divided into two equal triangles with their apex meeting at the navel (Nabhi) inside a square (Mandala). 

This is based in the concept of Mandala, where the human body is said to symbolize the unity and harmony that exists in the universe. It other words; the human body is conceived as a schematic visual representation of the universe. And, it is characterized by a concentric configuration of geometric shapes.

Mandala, in Dance, is basically a standing posture. The Abhinaya Darpana describes ten such standing postures (Mandla-bedha) – Sthanaka (simple standing), Ayata, Alidha, Pratyalidha, Penkhana, Prewritten, Svastika, Motita, Samasuci and Parsvasuci.

Of which, the second one, the Ardha-mandala or Ayata Mandala is defined 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 //


The execution of this posture is related to two basic requirements: the Sausthava and Chaturasrya :  

(1) Sausthava (keeping different limbs in their proper position) – about which Bharata says that the whole beauty of Nrtta rests on the Sausthava , so the performer never shines unless he pays attention to this – Shobha sarvaiva nityam hi Sausthavam; and,

(2) Chaturasrya (square composition of the body, mainly in relation to the chest) – about which Abhinavagupta remarks that the very vital principle (jivitam)  of the body, in dance, is based on  its square position (Chaturasrya-mulam Nrttena  angasya jivitam), and adds that the very object of Sausthava is to attain a perfect Chaturasrya.

The Araimandi or Mandala Sthana closely resembles Ayata Mandala (placing heels together and the toes facing outside, with the knees bent at a distance of 24 inches). And, therefore, maintaining Sausthava, keeping the body erect without a hunch, is an important of Araimandi. And, the distance from the navel to the head should be equal to the distance from the navel to the ground.

In this posture, the performer must half-sit i.e. at a position which is 3/4th of her height. The height of the dancer determines the actual measures and distances in an Araimandi.


The body should maintain a very upright posture with a good Sausthava or a straight back without any hunching.  The spine should be erect with the hands either stretched out or lodged securely on the waist. The raised elbows should in line with the shoulders, which should neither be raised nor drooped. The hands should be always kept a span away from the chest. The knees must be bent laterally making an angle. There must be a gap between the ankles which is probably equivalent to three fingers of your hand. This will give a perfect symmetry of the body (Anga Shuddam); forming dual typical triangular shape for the body and stability to dance.  The eyes must look straight and of course with a beautiful smile!

In the Araimandi, the dancer taps the floor with foot in (half-squatting) position with the heels of both feet together, and toes of both foot pointed to the opposite direction, a diamond shape will be maintained between the thighs and legs.

The Araimandi closely resembles the demi-plié of western ballet, where there is greater emphasis on the knee turn out

demi pile




The most striking feature of classical Indian dances is the use of hands, the Hasthas, in the Angikabhinaya. It is of vital importance both in the enactment of Abhinaya and in Nrtta pure dance gestures. The hands , in Dance, are said to be like the voice for a singer. It is the medium for giving expression to a thought, emotion or for symbolizing an object.

[Though Natyashastra is the basic text, the practitioners of today are, mostly, guided by the Abhinaya Darpana and other texts, particularly in regard to Angika Abhinaya.]

Bharata devotes Chapter Nine to Hasthas and their uses in the Natya (hastā-dīnā pravakyāmi karma Nātya-prayojakam NS.9.3)

Bharata elaborately discusses the use of hand-gestures under both the Abhinaya and the Nrtta. Then again, he classifies the Hasthas as those indicated by a single hand (Asamyukta-hastha) and those by the combination of both the hands (Samkukta-hastha).

Under the Asamyukta-hastha (single hand), twenty-four types of gestures are described. And, under the Samkukta-hastha (hands combined), thirteen types of gestures are described. Further, under the Nrtta (pure-dance movements), thirty types of Nrtta-hasthas (movements of wrist and fingers) are described.

Thus, in all, Bharata enumerates sixty-seven Hastha gestures under three broad categories. Each of these sixty-seven hand-gestures is assigned a name. And, in most cases, the object or idea denoted by that name constitutes the principle application (Viniyoga) of that Hastha.


Asamyuta-hastas: (Chapter 9-Verses 4 to 7) :

  • (1) Pataka (flag);
  • (2) Tripataka (flag denoted by three fingers);
  • (3) Kartarimukha (sissors-blades);
  • (4)  Ardhachandra  (crescent moon);
  • (5) Arala (bent);
  • (6) Shukatunda (parrot’s beak);
  • (7) Musti (fist);
  • (8) Shikhara (peak);
  • (9) Kapittha (elephant-apple);
  • (10) Katakamukha (crab-face);
  • (11)Sucyasya (Sucimukha-needle);
  • (12) Padmakosa (lotus-bud);
  • (13) Sarpasirsa (snake-head);
  • (14) Mrigasirsa (deer-head);
  • (15) Kangula (Langula-for denting fruits);
  • (16) Alapadma (Alapadya, Alapallava – full blown lotus);
  • (17) Chatura (four fingered);
  • (18) Bhramara (bees);
  • (19) Hamsasya (swan-beak);
  • (20) Hamsapaksa (swan-wings);
  • (21) Sandamsa (pincers) ;
  • (22) Mukula (flower-bud) ; (23) Uranabhana (spider); , and
  • (24) Tamracuda .

[For illustrations of the Asumyukta Hastas, please click here]


Samyuta-hastas: (Chapter 9-Verses 8 to 10) :

  • (1) Anjali ( putting together two Patakas ; joining the two palms together);
  • (2) Kapota (pigeon);
  • (3) Karkata (crab);
  • (4) Svastika ;
  • (5) Kataka-vardhamanaka (khataka – one kataka or half-closed hand is placed upon another);
  • (6) Utsanga ( two Arala-hands are contrarily placed);
  • (7) Nishadha (the Mukula -hand covers the Kapittah hand);
  • (8) Dola (two Pataka-hands hanging down);
  • (9) Pushpaputa (two Sarpa-sarira -hands with their fingers close to one another meeting on oneside closely);
  • (10) Makara (two Pataka-hands placed one over the other and facing downward);
  • (11) Gajadanta (elbows and shoulders in sarpasirsa-hands bent toward each other);
  • (12) Avahittha (two sukatunda-hands meet each other on the chest ; are bent; and , then slowly lowered); , and 
  • (13) Vardhamana ( two hamsapaksa -hands held in opposite direction) 

[For illustrations of the Samyukta-hastas, please click here.]


Nrrtta-hastas : (Chapter 9 -Verses 11-17) :

The Nrtta-hastas , though suggest movement of the fingers , are invariably related to movement of the arms. Here, the position and the direction of the movement of the palms are considered important.The movement of the wrist also determines the nature the Hastha. A different meaning is suggested if the movement of the wrist and the facing of the palm are changed. Thus, the Nrtta-hasthas are related to the direction and the movement of the wrists, arms and shoulders ; and, the manipulation of the fingers and palms.

  • (1) Chaturasra;
  • (2) Udvrttha;
  • (3) Talamukha;
  • (4) Svastika;
  • (5) Viprakirna;
  • (6) Arala Katakamukha;
  • (7) Aviddhavakra ;
  • (8) Suchimukha;
  • (9) Rechita;
  • (10) Ardharechita ;
  • (11) Uttanavanchita ;
  • (12) Pallava ;
  • (13) Nitamba;
  • (14) Kesabandha;
  • (15) Lata;
  • (16) Karihasta;
  • (17) Pakshavanchitaka ;
  • (18)Pakshapradyotaka;
  •  (19)Garudapaksha
  •  (20)Dandapaksha;
  •  (21) Urdhvomandali;
  •  (22) Parshvamandali ;
  •  (23) Uromandali; 
  • (24) Urahparsvardha-mandali;
  •  (25) Mushtikasvastika;
  • (26) Nalinipadmakosa ; 
  • (27) Alapallava;
  • (28) Ulbana
  •  (29) Lalita; and
  • (30) Valita.

[For illustrations of the Nrtta-hastas, please click here]

The Vishnudharmottara (3.26.95) observes that the essential aspect of the Nrtta-hasthas is the element of grace and beauty (Lalitya). the actions should be eloquent , smooth and graceful. The movement of the arms should go with those of the other limbs (Pratyanga and Upanga); and , contribute to enhance the Bhava and the Rasa of the performance



Among  all these Hasthas, there are some basic Hasthas such as: (1) the pataka-hastha , with the hand held upright, fingers fully extended  and the thumb bent so as to touch the base of the forefingers; (2) the Musti-hastha in which all the forefingers are folded, with the thumb resting on them ; or , (3) the padmakosa-hastha , which is made of hallow palms with fingers slightly apart and cupped. the remaining gestures seem to be variations of these basic Hasthas. 


(1) In other texts, the Hasthas are often referred to as ‘Mudra-s’)

(2) In some versions of the Natyashastra, the total number of these three types of Hasthas is given as Sixty four – Catuhsasthi. Dr. ManMohan Ghosh notes on page 171, foot note 3, states that Catuhsasthi in the text should be amended to read as Saptasasthi; for, the actual numbers amounts to 67 and not 64.  I have followed Dr. Ghosh’s version.

(3) The Abhinaya Darpana also carries enumerations and descriptions of the uses of the Hasthas: 28 Asamyukta-hastas (verses 88-92, and their uses in Verses 88-171); 23 Samyukta-hastas (Verses 172-175; and their uses in verses 176-203); and 13 Nrtta-hasthas (Verses 248-249).

Thus, the numbers in each type of the Hasthas varies from those given in the Natyashastra. And, the number of the three types of Hasthas together amount to 64 (as compared to 67 in the Natyashastra).

In many cases, the names of the Hasthas and their uses differ from those given in the Natyashastra.

Natyashastra describes the thirty Nrtta-hastas – pure dance hands. It also refers to their uses in verses 184-209 of Chapter 9. There is description of three basic movements of these hastas (Hasta-pracara) viz. palms kept upwards (Uttana); downwards or oblique (Adhomuka); finger pointing sideways (Parsvaga). These movements are found both while performing pure dance (Nrtta) and for the representation of Abhinaya.

Some of the hand gestures for pure dance (Nrtta) in Abhinaya Darpana are different from those mentioned in the Natyashastra. The Abhinaya Darpana has only thirteen number of Nrtta hastas.  These Nrtta hastas are all adopted from the Asamyukta and Samyukta hastas listed in its own text (Abhinaya Darpana). In the Natyashastra, the Nrtta-hastas are all different.]

All most all the Hasthas find use in the Nritya (the dance movements with Abhinaya). But, in the Nrtta (pure dance) the commonly used Nrtta-hasthas are only the: Pataka, Tripataka, Suchi, Katakamukha, Musti and Alapadma.

The Hand-gestures constitute a very important aspect of the Abhinaya rendering to indicate or to suggest ideas, emotions, actions and objects; and, to bring out the meaning of the words sung or of the story. They also express concepts like truth, beauty, or the passage of time. The same Hasta, used with different arm movements or in a different context, can have a different meaning. It is, therefore, essential that the Hasthas should be well coordinated with the expressions of the face, of the eyes and the eye-brows to depict the apt transitory states (Sanchari-bhavas) of the dominant emotional state (Sthayi-bhava) of the Dance-item.


Natyashastra also provides instructions regarding the appropriateness and the mode of use of the gestures, according to popular practice lokopacarena, so that they may be understood even by the common people. The text also allows considerable degree of freedom to the artist to choose the Hasthas, keeping in view the suitability of their form, movement, significance and class.

anye cāpyarthasayuktā laukikā ye karāstviha chandataste niyoktavyā rasa bhāva viceṣṭitai NS. 9.164

It is said; almost all objects and ideas can be indicated by the gestures. Besides, one can intuitively create gestures, when inspired by the sentiments and the states of the situation.  Natyashastra gives description of varied movements where such gestures are related with the different sentiments and states (Bhavas). These are enumerated as follows: drawing upwards, dragging, drawing out, accepting, killing, becoming, urging, bringing together, separating, protecting releasing, throwing, shaking, giving away, threatening, cutting, piercing, squeezing and beating.(NS.9.161-163)

The text also specifies to the use of the Hastas, according to the social status of the character that is portrayed.  It states; in case of the superior type of characters the hand gestures should be slight and gentle; in the middling type medium sort of movement; and, ordinary acting should have exaggerated movements of hand gestures.


The Natyashastra also provides instructions when not to use the hand gestures. It mentions that in the following instances the Dancer should not use hand gestures; but, should employ appropriate representations ; should adopt the temperament that is most apt; and, should also resort to change of voice that is suitable to different sates and sentiments (nānā –bhava-rasānvitaḥ):

na hastābhinaya kārya kārya sattvasya sagraha tathā kākuviśeaśca nānābhavarasānvita NS.9.180

when a person is to represent himself as sad, fainting terrified, overcome with disgust or sorrow, weak, asleep, hand-less, inactive, drowsy, inert, sick, attacked with fever, seized with panic, attacked with cold, intoxicated, bewildered, mad, thoughtful, practicing austerities, residing in a cold region, prison or under arrest, running very swiftly, speaking in dream, suddenly moving away and cutting nails (NS.9.177-179)


But, at the same time, the Natyashastra instructs that even when there is verbal acting (Vacicabhinaya) the eyes and the look (Dristi) should be directed to points at which the hand gestures are moving (tattad dṛṣṭi vilokanaiḥ), and there should be proper punctuation  so that the meaning may be clearly expressed. The intention is to enhance the appeal and total effect so that the language and the hand gestures support each other; and, become more eloquent.

yatra vyagrāvubhau hastau tattad dṛṣṭivilokanai vācakābhinaya kuryādvirāmairtha darśakai NS.9. 181

A similar rule appears in the Abhinaya Darpana: ‘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 enacting Abhinaya.


As regards the Karanas, four categories of the Karanas of the hand are mentioned: Avestita, Udvestita, Vyavartita and Parivartita.  The Hasthas (hand-gestures), in their various movements, when applied either in Dance or Drama, should be followed by Karanas having appropriate expression of the face, the eyebrows and the eyes.

The movements of the Hasthas can be in three ways: upwards, sideways and downwards. These movements have to be in tune with the suitable expressions in the eyes, the eye-brows and the face.

In regard to their application of the Hasthas, they can again be classified into three broad types: natural; interpretative; and, symbolic.

:- The Natural gestures generate from intentions calling for natural actions, which are simpler in communication; like come, go, stop, yes and no etc.

: – The Interpretative hand gestures are executed in imitative manner to represent objects; say, like birds, animals. The hand-gestures, in such cases, take their name after the objects they represent. They are also often used to translate a poetic image e.g. comparing the eyes of a Nayika with those of a deer (Mrganayani) or comparing them with lotus (Padmakshi) or the shape of a fish (Meenakshi). This category of hand-gestures may also be used to suggest actions like holding a sword and shield; or of movement of the wheels of a chariot, riding, movement of a horse etc.

: – The Symbolic hand-gestures are used mostly to express abstract notions; and, are best appreciated contextually. Concepts like truth and beauty are exquisitely expressed through hand gestures in the right context of  the unfolding of the plot of a story or description or narration.

This technique is to be utilized along with other aspects of Angikabhinaya, facial gestures, expressions reflected in the eyes and suggesting states and sentiments.  The overall effect of the suggestion should be augmented by the participation of the body as a whole.



The Sarira-abhinaya relates to the actions of the major limbs (Anga).

Under the classification of Sarira abhinaya, while describing the Anga (major limbs), Bharata refers to the movement of the arms (bahu).


Under this classification, Bharata refers to the movement of the arms (Bahu), in verses 212 to 213 of the Chapter 9. And, with that he concludes Chapter Nine.

Here he mentions ten types of Arm-movements, which evidently relate to training methods as also to the pure-dance technique Nrtta).They are also applied in Abhinaya portion (Nrtya) of the dance.

Tiryak, Urdhvagata, Adhomukha, Aviddha, Apaviddha, Mandala, Svastika, Aneita, Kuncita and Prsthaga

Tiryak tatho urdhvasasthohya adhomukhaś cā añcito’ apaviddhastu maṇḍala gatistathā svastikaś ca pṛṣṭhānu sāri ca 221

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

Yetheshu karaneshu chatushra drutha-madhya-vilambita-adi vaichitrena Bahu paryayayena cha samasthani yojina yada niyujyante tada patha vartanadi shatasaharenyvam ta brthani


Chest (Urah or Vakasthalam)

The Chapter Ten commences with the descriptions of five types of chest; and, their uses in Abhinaya: (But, in the longer version, this appears at verse 224 of Chapter Nine).

ābhugnamatha nirbhugna tathā caiva prakampitam udvāhita sama caiva ura pañcavidha smtam 224

Abhugna (slightly bent), Nirbhugna (unbent), Prakampita (shaking), Udvahita (raised) and Sama (natural).

As regards their applications (Viniyoga), which are well suited to Abhinaya in the Natyadharmi mode:

Abhugna is used to show in hurry, despair, fainting, sorrow, fear, sickness, broken heart, touching of cold objects, rains; and, being ashamed of some act.

Nirbhugna is used to show resentment, look of surprise, assertion of truth, referring to oneself haughtily and excess of pride

Prakampita occurs in laughing, weeping, weariness, panic , hiccough and misery

Udvahita is used to show deep breathing, viewing some huge object and yawning

Sama is when all the limbs are in the Chaturasa; and with Sausthava of the chest

(Abhinaya Darpana does not describe the movements of the chest)


Sides (Parsva)

Bharata says that the sides (Parsva) are of five kinds: Nata (bent) Sammunata (raised) Prasarita (extended) Vivartita (turned around); and, Apasrta (drawn away).

 nata samunnata caiva prasārita vivartito tathā apastameva tu pārśvayo karma pañcadhā NS.9.236

 As regards their uses in the Abhinaya:

Nata is where the waist is slightly bent on one side; and one shoulder is drawn away slightly. It is used for suggesting Abhinaya of approaching someone.

Samunnata is the counterpart of Nata. Here , the waist is raised on the other side ; and along with that the arms and shoulders are also raised, in going backwards.

Prasarita is stretching of the sides; as in joy and the like.

Vivartita is turning around.

 And, the Apasrta is drawing away; and, returning to the original position after Vivartita movement.


Stomach (Udara)

The use of the stomach (belly), the Udara, in the Abhinaya, is said to be three kinds: Ksama (thin); Khalva (depressed) and Purna (full)

Udara tridhā tanu kāma nata , khalva pūram, ādhmātam ucyate NS.9. 243

In the Abhinaya , these come into play on different occasions : Ksama  (thin belly) in laughter, weeping inhalation and yawning; Khalva (depressed) in sickness, penance, weariness and hunger; and, Purna (full) in emitting breath, fatness, disease, too much eating and the like.


Waist (Kati)

The waist in Dance, is said to be of five kinds: Chinna (turned aside, in turning the middle of the waist); Nivrtta (turned round, in turning to the front from the reverse position); Recita (moved about, in all directions); Prakampita (shaken, obliquely moving up and down); and, Udvahita (raised, in the raising of the waist slowly).

Chinā caiva nivttā ca recitā kampitā tathā udvāhitā caiva kaī nāye ntte ca pañcadhā NS.9.246

As regards the use of the waist in Dance : Chinna in exercising the limbs in showing hurry and looking around; Nivrtta in turning round; Recita in movements of general types; Prakampita in the walking of hunchbacks and persons of the inferior type; and, Udvahita to show the movements of corpulent persons and the amorous movements of  women.


Thighs (Uru)

The uses of the thighs (Uru) and their principal movements, followed by those of the shank (Jangha) ; and, their  inter related movements are described in detail and classified.

The movements of the thighs (Uru) are said to be of five kinds: Kampana (shaking, raising and lowering of the heels repeatedly); Valana (turning, drawing the knees inward); Stambhana (motionless); Udvartana (springing up, drawing the knees inward and moving it ); and, Vivartana (turning around, drawing the heels inward).

kampana valana caiva stambhano udvartane tathā nivartana ca pañca itāny ūru karmāi kārayet Ns.9.252

In case of thighs, the frightened movements of persons of inferior types are to be shown by Kampana (shaking); while Valana (turning) is used in the movement by women at ease; Stambhana (motionlessness) in states suggesting perturbation and despair; Udvartana (springing up) in movements of classical dance; and, Vivartana (turning round) in going round due to causes like hurry.


Shank (Jangha)

The position of the shank (Jangha) is said to be five kinds: Avartita (turned, left foot turning to the right and the right turning to the left); Nata (knees bent); Ksipta (knees thrown out); Udvahita (raising the shank up); and, Parivrtta (turning back of a shank)

āvartita nata kiptam udvāhitam athāpi ca parivtta tathā caiva jaghā-karmāi pañcadhā NS.9. 259

As regards their uses in Drama and Dance: Avartita in the jester’s walking; Nata for assuming standing position (sthana) and sitting postures (asana) ; Ksipta in classical dance; Udvahita in movements like quick walking; and, Parivrtta in classical dance and so on.


Feet (Pada)


The feet and its movements are, of course, the most important aspects of Dance – both in its Nrtta and the Abhinaya formats.

The positions of the feet are said to be of five kinds: Udghattita, Sama, Agratala-sancara, Ancita and Kuncita

udghaṭṭita samaścaiva tathā agratala sañcara añcita kuñcitaś caiva pāda pañcavidha smta NS. 9. 266

Udghattita (standing on the forepart of the feet and then touching the ground with the heels); which, is applied in the execution of the Udghattita Karanas, both in the slow (vilamba) and fast (Dhruta) tempos (Kala)

Sama (feet naturally placed on an even ground); where the feet are kept still in natural positions of the various Karanas. But, in the Recakas, the feet should be moved

Agratala-sancara (the heels thrown up, the big toe put forward and the other toes bent); which is used in urging, breaking and standing postures(Sthanaka), kicking, striking the ground, walking, throwing away something; and , in various Recaka movements and in walking on the forepart  of the foot , as when the heel is injured

Ancita (the heels on the ground, the fore part of the feet raised and all the toes spread); which is to be applied in representing a movement with wound in the forepart of the foot, turning around in all ways, and in various Bhramaris


 Kuncita (heels thrown up, toes all bent down and the middle of the feet too bent), which is to be used in elegant , proud (Uddata) gaits , turning around to right and left , and in the Atikranta Cari

It is mentioned; the persons practicing the Caris should take up simultaneously the movements of the feet, the shanks and the thighs; for, in the movement of feet are included all the movements of shanks and thighs. The thighs follow the way in which the feet are moved and these two limbs constitute together the cari of the feet.

These descriptions of the different actions of the feet (Pada-bheda) are particularly relevant to the various Nrtta postures and movements of the Anga and Pratyangas. It is also greatly used in the Abhinaya aspects of the Bharatanatya and Kuchipudi dance forms.

[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. And, it also indicates, fairly clearly, whether the toe or the heel or both should touch the ground in any of the movements.]


Stanakas – Static Postures


After this description of the individual limbs, Bharata takes up the postures and movements of the entire body (Chapter Ten, verses 50-71). As many as forty Sthanas are discussed under the category of static postures. They are: Vaisnava, Samapada, Vaisakha, Mandala, Alidha and Pratyalidha, which used variously.

vaiṣṇava samapāda ca vaiśākha maṇḍala tathā pratyālīha tathālīha sthānānyetāni a nṛṇā NS.10.51

The descriptions of these Sthanas and their applications on the Nrtta and Abhinaya are provided in fair detail.

:- Vaishnava: the feet are kept two and a half Talas apart from each other. One of them should be on the ground in the natural posture, the other is lifted and turned sideways with the toes stretched and turned towards the shin. The body and arms are in the Saushthava position.

In the Vaishnava posture, persons of the superior and the middling types should carry on their ordinary conversation while performing their various duties. It should he used in throwing a disc, holding a how, in patient and stately movement of the limbs and in anger. On being reversed it is to be used in anger or love. And similarly in the administration of rebuke, and in love, distress, apprehension, envy, cruelty, assurance and recollection, it is to be assumed when the erotic, the marvelous, the odious and the heroic sentiments are prominently introduced. The presiding deity of this sthana is Vishnu.

:- Samapada: the feet are kept in their natural posture at one Tala‘s distance and the body keeps the natural Saushthava position.

The Samapada posture is to he assumed while accepting blessings from the elders. The bridegroom at the marriage ceremony, persons in the sky, chariot and aerial car, and persons practicing / vows are also to assume this Sthana. The presiding deity is Brahma.

:- Vaisakha: the feet are kept three and a half Talas apart from each other, the thighs remain steady and the feet are raised and moved apart.

The Vaisakha Sthana is to he assumed while riding horses and in exercise, exit, mimicking large birds, practice of bending the bow and in the Recakas of the feet. The presiding deity of this sthana is Kartikeya.

:- Mandala:  the feet are turned sideways and are kept at four Talas apart; thighs and knees also look sideways and the waist remains in its natural position.

The Mandala-sthana should he assumed in the use of weapons like the bow and the thunderbolt, riding of elephants and mimicking large birds. The presiding deity of this Sthana is Indra.

:- Alidha: if the right foot in the Mandala position is moved sideways at 5 Talas distance from the left foot, then it is called Alidha.

Alidha should be assumed in all acts relating to the heroic and the furious sentiments (Vira and Raudra Rasas), duel of wrestlers and in the representation of enemies, an attack on them and release of missiles. The presiding deity is Rudra.

:- Pratyalidha: the right foot is bent and is in the Kunchita position; and, the left foot is stretched opposite to the Alidha position.

Pratyalidha is used in relation to Alidha-sthana. The missies made ready for throwing from the Alidha sthana are to be actually thrown from the Pratyalidha –sthana.


These postures are important from the point of Abhinaya, particularly in the Dance-dramas depicting battle scenes. In such cases, the shooting of an arrow and releasing missies and other actions are enacted in Alidha and Pratyalidha postures

The interesting description is found about the four Nyayas in using weapons in the fights: Bharata, Sattvata, Varsaganya and Kaisika.  These are called as Nyayas, because the fights on the stage are regulated (niyante) by the type of the Angaharas. In these Nyayas arising out of the various Caris, the actors should walk about on the stage at the time of using weapons.

bhārata sātvataścaiva vāragayo’tha kaiśika bhārate tu kaīcchedya pādacchedya tu sātvate NS.10.73

These are the ways of handling the weapons: in the Bharata, the weapon should strike at the waist; in the Sattvata at the foot; in the Varsaganya at the chest; and, in the Kaisika at the head.


Gaits (Gati)

The various Gatis, the gates, are described in Chapter 13 in one version; and, in Chapter 12 of another version of the Natyashastra.  The descriptions (gatipracāra) of the gaits ,  here, are given with reference to their uses by different types of characters in a Drama, broadly divided into three categories: superior, middling and inferior.

But, these can also be adopted into the Abhinaya in Dance.

Natyashastra mentions that the gaits are to be executed in – slow, medium and quick – tempos (Kaalas), according to the nature of 45 different characters.

Bharta then explains the types of gaits in various Rasas (such as Srngara, Vira, Hasya, Vira etc). For instance; in love-scene, the gait of the lover should, generally, be graceful; but, when the lover meets his love secretly, his gaits should be slow, careful and silently watching around with anxiety.

Bharata also describes the walking styles (Gati) and postures (Sthana) of women, as : Ayata, Avahittha and Asvakranta

strīā sthānāni kāryāi gativābharaeu ca āyata cāvahittha ca aśvakrāntamathāpi ca NS.12.160

He mentions: Ayata-sthana of women (right foot in Sama and the other placed obliquely) is to be used in invocation, dismissal, observing carefully, and thinking; and, in concealment. As the dancer enters the stage, holding flowers in her hands (Pushpanjali); and, later scatters those flowers on the stage, she is said to assume Ayata-sthana.

The Avahittha posture (left foot in Sama and the right foot placed obliquely)  is when the dancer keeps her left foot in Sama; and the other at the side Tryasra and the left waist rose. It is said to be a natural posture for women when engaged in conversation; and, when in playfulness, amorous diligence or looking towards the way, expecting someone.

The Asvakranta-sthana (one foot in Sama and the other bent on the forepart ) is to be assumed while taking hold of the branch of a tree; plucking a cluster of flowers; or while taking rest or in repose. The Dancer maintains this Sthana till any movement (Cari) begins. Bharata adds that this is the rule of the Sthana  is common for women and men

However, Bharata says that it should be remembered that these rules regarding the Sthanas need not be strictly followed; and, different gaits and postures can  be adopted following the practice of people; and, the dancer’s imagination.

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

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


Sitting postures (Asana)

The Chapter 12 of the Natyashastra gives detailed description and uses of the various sitting postures. These are stylized postures, according to the nature of the characters. Bharata also refers to the postures in bed.

Nānā bhāva samāyuktas tathā ca śayanā aśraya vikambhitā añcitau pādau trika kiñcit sam-unnatam NS.12.203

There are variety of postures to be assumed as per the occasion and context like sitting at ease, in a thinking mood, in sorrow, in fainting and intoxication, in shame and sleep, on ceremonial occasions ; pacifying a beloved woman, in worshipping a deity. These activities are covered by the plot of the Rupaka and Uparupakas. Therefore, they are found in vogue in varying degree with variations as per the context, the place and the practice.

There are rules regarding offering seats to persons of different social stations and the offices held by them. These rules are of seats  are distinguished according the context and the location in which seats are offered ; say , in royal courts, in the inner apartments , in public places etc.  But, while in one’s own house, one can take any seat according to one likes.

Lying-down postures (Shayana)

Six lying-down postures are mentioned by Bharata. They are Akuncita, Sama, Prasarita, Vivartita, Udvahita and Nata.

ākuñcita sama caiva prasāritavivartane udvāhita nata caiva śayane karma kīrtyate NS.12.228

Akuncita: limbs should be narrowed down and knees stuck to the bed; and, it is used in representing persons attacked with cold;

Sama: face should be turned up and hands dropping down freely; it is used in deep sleep;

Prasarita: one arm is used as pillow and the knees stretched; it is for representing one enjoying sleep of happiness;

Vivartita: lying down with face downward; it is used to suggest wound from any weapon, death, vomiting, intoxication and lunacy;

Udvahita: head should be resting on the hand or the shoulder and elbow pressing the ground; it  is used in sports and on entrance of the master; and,

Nata: shanks should be slightly stretched and both hands loose; it is to be used in laziness, fatigue and distress.


In this limited space, I have tried to cover a fairly large area of Angikahhinaya and Natyadharmi mode as per the tradition of the Natyashastra. I am aware of my inadequacies.  But, I trust the articles in this series will ignite the desire to earnestly go further and to study the texts in their own contexts; and, also to devise methods and techniques to apply their principles to suit the present-day Dance scenario. That would, hopefully, help to keep alive our dance traditions, albeit with slight requisite modifications, in the context of our time.


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



Part Nine


References and Sources

The illustrations of Samabhanga, Abhanga and Atibhanga are from the Brahmiya Chitra karma Shastra by Dr. G.Gnananada

The Sutra illustration is by Shilpa Siddanthi Sri Siddalingaswamy of Mysore



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Posted by on October 21, 2018 in Art, Natya


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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Six

Continued from Part Five



Over the centuries, a considerable body of literature has been created detailing the theories, techniques, terminologies and practices of Dance in its various forms. In some of the texts of the later period, many technical terms and concepts that appeared in Natyashastra were redefined and provided an altogether fresh interpretation in the light of the contemporary cultural practices prevailing in the region. And, in many cases, the traditional dance formats were given a new form; and, infused with new techniques. Thus, Dance traditions in India, at each stage, were given a fresh lease of life, bringing into its movement a new vigor; and, rendering it relevant to its time. It is its enduring quality of moving on with the times, without compromising with its basic principles that has kept the classical dances of alive and thriving even to this day.

It could be said; the longevity of the traditional Dances of India is, to an extent, facilitated by these texts and manuals, which have, over a period, protected, guided and regulated the chaste practice and performance of the various dance forms in their classical formats; and, at the same time introduced new concepts and techniques.

But, above all, more importantly, it is the dedicated, selfless devotion and perseverance of the generations of teachers, students and practitioners that has kept alive the unbroken Dance traditions of India. It is an act of boundless Love for the Art.  We owe   a deep debt of gratitude to all  those savants. 


In most of these texts, the principal subject matter is either Drama (Natya) or Music (Samgita); and often, along with the main theme, Dance is also discussed as an allied form of Art. But, there are also some texts or manuals which are exclusively devoted to the study of Dance (Nrtta, Nrtya), its theories, its practices; and, more importantly to its performance techniques.

The texts of both the genre are of great importance; because they mark the stages in the evolution and development of this Art-form. They record the changes that took place in the flow of Indian Dance, in terms of theories, concepts and the varied influences – cultural, regional and foreign – that shaped its course.

An attempt is made to list some texts concerning Indian classical Dance in their chronological sequence.

Work Approximate


Natyashastra 2/3rd BCE Bharata
Vishnudharmottata 5-6th century CE Purana?
Abhinavabharati 10-11th century Abhinavagupta
Dasarupaka 11th century Dhananjaya
Srngara-prakasa 11th century Raja Bhoja
Natya-darpana 12th century Ramachandra and


Manasollasa 12th century King Somesvara
Nataka-lakshana-ratnakosa 12-13th century Sagaranandin
Bhava-prakasana Ca.13th century Saradatanaya
Sangita-samarasya Ca.13th century Parsvadeva
Sangita-ratnakara 13th century Sarangadeva
Nrtta-ratnavali 13th century Jaya Senapati
Abhinaya-Darpana Ca.13th century Nandikesvara
Sangita-makaranda 13-14th century Narada
Sahitya –darpana 14th century Visvanatha
Sangitopanisadsaroddara 14th century Sudhakalasa
Sangita-chandra 14-15th century Vipradasa
Sangita-damodara 15th century Subhankara
Hasta-muktavali 15th century Subhankara
Natyadhyaya 15th century Asokamalla
Nrtya-ratna-kosa 15th century Maharana Kumbha
Bharatarnava 16th century Nandikesvara
Nartananirnaya 16-17th century Pundarika Vitthala
Raskaumudi 17th century Srikantha
Sangita-darpana 17th century Damodara
Sangita-narayana 17th century Purushottama Misra
Sangita-makaranda 17th century Vedasuri
Siva-tattva-ratnakara 18th century Basavaraja
Sangita-sara-samgraha 19th century Ghana shyama dasa

(Source: Dr.Mandakranta Bose)

It is needless to mention that it is impossible, impractical and also far beyond my ken, to present here a systematic and detailed study of all the texts enumerated above. We may, at best, attempt to gain familiarity with few of those texts. We may briefly discuss their structure, particular features, their underlying principles and their relevance or contribution to the growth of Indian Dance systems. We may also get to know the concepts and techniques they developed in the context of their cultural and regional ethos.

The series, hopefully, might, at least to a limited extent, help in getting to know a bit about the textual traditions of Dancing in India; and, in understanding the concepts behind certain technical terms and some of its essential features.

Shiva tandava -Shri SRajam

  1. Natyashastra

As always, we may commence with the Natyashastra. In the previous posts, we have talked about the various aspects of its text, such as:  its history, its versions, and its importance as the source material for study of all the Art-forms of India.

Now, let’s focus on the theoretical and technical features of Dance, as described in the Natyashastra.

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

[It is said that Natyashastra is structured in such a way as to answer the five questions raised by the sages.

In Chapter One, named as Natyotpatti, the sages Atreya and others request Bharata to explain the circumstances leading to the creation of Natya and Natyaveda; and its related issues. In that context , the sages frame five questions: (1) how was the Natyaveda created? (2) For whom it was meant? (3) What are the parts of it? (4) What is its extent; and , (5) how is it to be applied?

Please speak to us in detail about all these. 

yaveda katha utpannaḥ? Kasya vā kte? katyagaḥ? kipramāaśca?  and, Prayogaścāsya kīdśa?

Sarva-metad-ayathātattvam bhagavan-vaktumarhasi 5

But the answers to these questions are not given in an ordered sequence;  but , are  spread all over the text of Natyashastra. This is one of the many problems involved  in the study of Natyashastra.]


[It is also said; Bharata structures his work mainly based on four types of Abhinayas, the modes of theatrical expressions for conveying aesthetic pleasure (Rasa) to the cultured spectators (Sahrudaya).

These four are: Sattavika (conveyed by efforts of the mind); Angika (by natural movements of the body parts); Vachika (through speech); and, Aharya (costume, makeup and stage accessories).

Bharata attaches greater importance to Sattavika the first of the three modes; and discusses them, in detail, in Chapters Six and Seven.

The Angika-abhinaya, expressions through gestures and movements of body-parts, comes next. And, this is dealt in Chapters Eight to Thirteen.

The Vachika, expressions through speech is taken up next in Chapters Fourteen to Twenty.

And, then comes Aharya – the dress, makeup and scenic appliances; along with the music from the wings to enhance the effect of the scenes. This is done in Chapter Twenty-one.]


To this four-fold division of the subject of Abhinayas , are added the Chapters narrating the origin and greatness of the theatrics; the forms of the stage; the rules for their construction; and, the related auspicious rituals for inauguration etc.

Before all this, in the initial Chapters – the Fourth and the Fifth Chapters, Bharata details the Purvaranga preliminaries; the dances and rituals to be conducted before the commencement of the play. These specify the music and dance that are to be played to please the gods; and, to pray for the successful staging and completion of the play.

While detailing the Purvaranga, Bharata describes the two kinds of NrttasTandava and Sukumara prayoga – to be performed therein. And, thereafter, he speaks of the basic units of composite movements (Karanas) ; oscillating limb movements (Recakas); and, the choreographic sequences (Angaharas) composed by the combination of those dance elements. The Fifth Chapter gives details about these preliminaries.

The Chapter that come towards the end – Chapters 35 and 36,   are supplementary; and, these deal with matters such as the qualifications and conduct of the actors and actresses on the stage.


Thus, when you take an overview, you will find that excluding preliminary (4 and 5) and supplementary Chapters (35 and 36), the subject of theatrics is actually dealt in 29 chapters (from Chapter Six to Thirty-four). ]

Nataraja 004

Now , as regards the Chapter-wise outline :

The Fourth Chapter Tandava-lakshanam ,in its 320 Slokas, is, mainly, about the rules of Dance (Tandava-vidhi). It starts with a narration about the first play written by Brahma and its enactment.

Then the focus shifts to Nrtta, the pure dance form that delights the eye; but, not intent on conveying a meaning. Here, it goes on to describe two kinds of Nrttas – Tandava and Sukumara – performed during the preliminaries (Purvaranga). And, thereafter, speaks of the basic units of composite movements (Karanas); oscillating limb movements (Recakas); and, the choreographic sequences (Angaharas) composed by the combination of those dance elements. But, it is not clear how these movements were combined and utilized.

In addition, it describes group dances (Pindi).

Apart from defining the Karanas, Angaharas, Recakas and Pindibandhas, the Chapter Four gives the descriptions of 108 types of Karanas (verses 62 to 169) ; 32 types of Angaharas (verses 170-245) and the names of the Pindis associated with various gods and goddesses (verses 257-263).

In this chapter Bharata details five concepts – Nrtta, Tandava, Sukumara-prayoga, Pindlbandha and Abhinaya – that are fundamental to the Art of dancing. Therefore, Chapter Four is of great importance to the theory and practice  of Dance.


The Fifth Chapter of the Natyashastra (in 134 Slokas) continues the discussion of the components of the preliminaries (Purvaranga). Here, it is with particular reference to the details of the sequences (Purva Ranga vidhana)to be followed during the performance of the Purvaranga ceremonies (verses 8-30).


The Chapters 8 to 12 are essential to understand the nature of the Nrtta, its elements as also of the movements of the major and minor limbs (Angas and the Upangas). Bharata explains how the different movements are combined into composite movements known as Caris, Mandalas, and Sthanas, which , in turn , are combined to form  Karanas, which again are put together to create Angaharas.

The Eighth Chapter is devoted to the movements of the head, eyelids, eyebrows, pupils, the nose, cheeks, lips, the chin, the mouth and the neck. All these are said to be the components of Abhinaya, the art of illustrating the meaning of different things. The Abhinaya is of four kinds: Angika (gestures); Vachika (words); Aharya (costumes, makeup and supporting aids) ; and Sattvika ( emotional).

It goes into enormous details of the Angika Abhinaya , under its three broad categories : limbs (Sarira); face (Mukhaja) and the entire body (kshetra) including the six major limbs (Anga) – head, hands, chest, sides, waist and feet; and six minor limbs (Upanga) – eyes, eyebrows , nose, lower lip and chin. Further, under each of those sub-divisions it goes into exhaustive and meticulous details.

 The Ninth Chapter is given to the movements of the important elements of the hand gestures (hastha) and its uses (viniyoga) in the Abhinaya.  It its elaboration,in 283 Slokas,  a major portion of the text describes sixty-seven kinds of hand- gestures (Hastha) and their uses in Dance , Drama in various situations (verses 4 to 211); ten types of movements of arms (verses 212 to 213)

This Chapter also deals with the movements of other parts, such as: the chest, sides, belly, waist, thighs, shanks and the feet.  In the case of these other parts of the body, the movement of the particular part is described first ; and, it is followed by its viniyoga, which constitutes a part of the Abhinaya technique.

Both chapters – 8 and 9 – describe the use of these movements in conveying meaning (Artha). And, the hand-gestures meant for abstract dancing (Nrtta) and also for acting are described in great detail.

The Chapter Ten is in continuation of the previous Chapter. According one version, it is a short chapter having only 54 verses (the longer version has 103 verses) . The shorter version (see pages from 191 to 196) deals mainly with the movements of the chest, belly, waist, sides, thigh, shanks and feet; and, their applications in Dance and Drama (verses 1-51).  And, it ends with an introduction to Caris (verses 52 to 54)

The Chapter Eleven of the shorter version (from pages 197 to 206) is devoted to Cari, the most important single unit of movement in the Nrtta technique as enunciated by Bharata. The Caris are movements using one foot; and, are used both in Dance and Drama. Thirty two kinds of Caris are defined; of these sixteen are termed Bhaumi (ground) – verses 13 to 28; and, the other sixteen are called Akasiki (aerial) – verses 29 to 49.

The six types Sthanas or standing postures and their applications are described in verses 50 to 64.

In addition to describing these movements, Bharata speaks of the general principles of effective exercise, Vyayama, as well as aesthetic discipline of Sausthava (keeping different limbs in their proper position- verses 89 to 91) and Chaturasrya (square composition of the body posture, mainly in relation to the chest- verses 89 to 91).

In Chapter Twelve (see pages 207 to 212) Bharata then goes on to describe Mandalas, which are more complicated movements of the legs involving combinations of Caris. The Mandalas are, again, classified into two categories: Akasiki (aerial)-10 types (verses 6-41); and, Bhaumi (ground)- 8types (verses 42-68).


The Chapter 13 (see pages from 213-228) describes Gatis or gaits, suitable for different types of characters, such as the Kings and superior characters as also for middling characters. Walking styles for women of various classes are also described. The gaits suitable for each type of character in each of the Bhavas (sentiments) are described in verses 25 to 75. Similarly, the sitting postures (Sthana) for men and women of different types and classes, in their different moods are described in verses 195 to 220. And, the lying-down postures (Shayana) for different types of characters are described in verses 221 to 227.

The Chapter 19 (verses 119 to 135)  considers the constituents of Lasya, a dramatic form that is created from delicate body movements is common to both  the Dance and the Drama.


The Chapter 21  deals with Aharyabhinaya, that is, the use of costumes, stage properties and other external aids which are essential both to dance and drama.

This Chapter also discusses the distinction between the Lokadharmi and Natyadharmi modes of presentation, corresponding to natural and stylized modes.


In Chapter 22 , Bharata takes up the general technique of expression in acting, calling it Samanya-abhinaya (basic or general representation), and gives directions for expressing states of mind and responses to sensory experience, such as touching or smelling.

śiro hasta-kaī-vako-jagho-uru karaeu tu sama karmavibhāgo ya sāmānyā-abhinayastu sa 22.73

These movements are considered to be usually self-explanatory, so that although they are codified into a discipline, they are not seen as stylized, with special, symbolic meanings attached to them. The hand-gestures in this category, for instance, are formed with the purpose of imitating objects.

In that context; the physical, natural, involuntary graces in women, men, twelve forms of voice expression,  8 varieties of heroines in love (Astavidha Nayikas), general exclusions on the stage are also  discussed.


The Chapter 25, in contrast, describes the special (viśea) mode of Citra-abhinaya, in which each movement carries a particular meaning specific to it.

agā-abhinayasyaiva yo viśea kvacit kvacit anukta ucyate citra citrābhinayassmta 25.1

The four types of Abhinaya and its various elements and technique of Samanya-abhinaya (general representation), generally, indicate external objects (bahya) that are commonly seen. But, certain other objects, phenomenon in nature, feelings etc., need special techniques.

Bharata, therefore, says those other internal (abhyantara) more subtle or abstract elements in nature, inner feelings etc., need to be indicated by special (viśea) modes of representations Citra-abhinaya. The Chapter 25 gives detailed instructions how to represent through gestures the nature and its various elements such as : day, night, air , sun, moon, stars , lightning,  shooting stars, seasons, dust, smoke, hot wind etc. There are also indications how to represent through gestures, the audible and visible objects, sharp objects, ornaments, flowers etc. Instructions are also given how to express emotions such as: happiness, deep and exalted feelings etc., as to indicate the states of mind and responses to sensory experience, such as touching or smelling. The hand-gestures (hastha) in the category of Citra, for instance, are formed with the purpose of simulating the objects or feelings.

For instance; Bharata mentions that to indicate morning and evening; day and night; seasons; extreme darkness; wide expanse of water; directions; planets; stars; and anything that is not fixed ; one can employ the following gestures : two hands raised with Pathaka and Swastika gestures; Urdhva head – looking upward with various eye movements that are appropriate to the context.

uttānau tu karau ktvā svastikau pārśva-sasthitau udvāhitena śirasā tathā urdhva-nirīkaāt 25.2

prabhāta gagana rātri pradoa divasa tathā tūn ghanān vanāntāśca vistīrāśca jalāśayān 25.3 diśo grahān sanakatrān kiñcit svastha ca yadbhavet tasya tva abhinaya kāryo nānā dṛṣṭi samanvita 25.4


The Chapter 35 is partly on Taala, or rhythm, but it also touches the subject of Lasya, describing the movements and the music that are required for each of its several varieties.


One of the problems in the study of the Natyashastra is that the subjects therein are not arranged systematically as per an order; but, are scattered. For instance; to understand and get a clear picture of the nature of Nrtta, which is introduced in Chapter 4, we have to go further and refer to Chapters 8 and 9 which analyse the movements of major and minor limbs; and, thereafter refer to Chapters 12, 13 and 4 for gaining an understanding of the scheme of combining the primary movements such as Cari, Mandala, Karana, Angahara etc.

Similarly, Karanas are introduced in Chapter 4; and, Caris in chapter 10.  We have study the Chapters 9, 10 and 11, together, in order to understand the concept and execution of the Karanas.


A note on Pindibandhas

The Pindibandhas, group formations and group dances are discussed in Chapter Four. According to Bharata, the Tandava Nrtta, during Purvaranga, iperformed to accompaniment of appropriate songs and drums. And, it is composed of RecakasAngaharas and the Pindibandhas – (Recakā-Agahārāśca-Piṇḍībandhā tatha -iva ca – NS. 4. 259-61).

The Pindibandhas are thus a form of Nrtta, pure dance movements. According to Bharata, the Pindlbandhas were patterned after the dance (Nrtta) performed by Shiva along with his Ganas and disciples such as Nandi and Bhadramukha.

In the context of a play, the Pindlbandhas were performed during the preliminaries (Purvaranga); that is before the commencement of the play proper. Its object was to please the gods; and, to invoke their blessings. As regards the sequence of occurrence in the Purvaranga, the Pindibandhas followed soon after the exit of the dancer who performed the Pushpanjali (flower offering to gods). The Pindis are then danced, by another set of women, to the accompaniment of songs and instrumental music –  anyāścā anukrameātha piṇḍī badhnanti yā striya– ॥ 279॥

The term Pindibandha is understood as weaving or forming of patterns by  the clusters or groups of dancers. Thus, the Pindibandha is the technique of group formations; and, weaving patterns.  It is said; each variation of a cluster-formation (Pindi) was dedicated to and named after a god or a goddess, who was denoted by the weapons, vehicles, insignia or emblems associated with that deity; and, her/his glory was celebrated through the formation created by the dancers. For instance: Īśvara piṇḍī for Īśvara; Sihavāhinī for Caṇḍikā; Śikhī piṇḍī for Kumar and so on.

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

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

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

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


In the next Part we shall dwell on the Abhinaya and Angika-abhinaya, in particular, with the descriptions of its various elements such as: Mukhaja (parts of the face); Hastha (the hands, fingers); Pada (feet); Sarira (major limbs, arms, chest, waist, sides, thighs, shanks, etc); Sthana (standing, sitting and laying-down postures); and Gati ( gaits) so on.





Part Seven

References and Sources

  1. Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition

 By Dr Mandakranta Bose

  1. Theory and Technique by Dr. Sunil Kothari


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Posted by on October 11, 2018 in Art, Natya


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Temple Architecture-Devalaya Vastu – Part Three ( 3 Of 9)

Vastu Purusha Mandala

Before we proceed further, let us briefly discuss the concept of the Vastu Purusha Mandala. The faith that Earth is a living organism, throbbing with life and energy; is fundamental to the Vastu Shastra. That living energy is symbolized as a person; he is the Vastu Purusha. The site for the proposed construction is his field, the Vastu Purusha Mandala. In fact , the Vastu Purusha Mandala, the site plan, is his body; and , it is treated as such. His height (or spread) extends from the South West corner (pitrah) to the North East corner (Isana). The Vastu Purusha Mandala also depicts the origin of the effects on the human body. All symbolism flow from these visualizations.

Purusha means ‘person’ literally; and, it  refers to Universal Man. Purusha is the body of god incarnated in the ground of existence, divided within the myriad forms. He is also that fragmented body simultaneously sacrificed for the restoration of unity.

Vastu Purusha is associated with the Earth ; and, its movable and immovable basic elements of nature, such as the earth, water, fire, air and space, just as a human being does. The Vastu purusha mandala is , in some ways,  a development of the four pointed or cornered earth mandala having astronomical reference points. Further, the Vastu Purusha Mandala is also the cosmos in miniature; and , the texts believe “what obtains in a microcosm, obtains in macrocosm too (yatha pinde thatha brahmande).”

Similarly, it believes that,”Everything is governed by one law. A human being is a microcosmos, i.e. the laws prevailing in the cosmos also operate in the minutest space of the human being.” In the end, the nature, the man and his creations are all one.

“The vastu-purusha-mandala represents the manifest form of the Cosmic Being; upon which the temple is built and in whom the temple rests. The temple is situated in Him, comes from Him, and is a manifestation of Him. The vastu-purusha-mandala is both the body of the Cosmic Being and a bodily device by which those who have the requisite knowledge attain the best results in temple building.”  (Stella Kramrisch,; The Hindu Temple, Vol. I)

The terms Vasu ( wealth)  , Vastu  ( substance) and Vaastu ( residence, dwelling , site )  are derived from Vas – to reside , to exist etc. Vasundara (one in whom the wealth – Vasu – abides) is one of the many names of Mother Earth.

Vaastu, whose body is vastu (existence); Vastupa (protector of vastu); Vastopathi (Lord of Vaastu); and, Vastupurusha (personification of Vaastu) are all synonyms or variations of the name given to Existence rendered secure and steady; and, laid out in order.

Vastopathi is also a form of Rudra; and, he is the protector of the Yajna; and, is  the lord or in-charge of the Yajna-vedi (Yajna-vastu-swamin). Vastopathi is also the protector of the home. He is also Agni, the Grihasvamin or Grihapathi, the giver and protector of homes (Grihapathi, Vaasaka), who presides over the rituals at home. And, the radiant (vasu)  Agni is a god of the terrestrial region (Earth). Along with Agni, Indra , Prajapathi , Soma and other gods are  givers of dwellings; as such, they all are Vasus-s. They all reside in Vastumadala.

Vastopathi assumes many forms; he is Rudra, Agni, as also Asura. Vastupurusha, as personified, is an Asura; and his overlord is Brahma (Vastavadhipathi).

vastu pueusha

Whatever name by which Vastupurusha is known, his representation , on earth, is a diagram (Yantra) in the form of a square – Vastumandala. It is considered as his body (sarira) and as the  device (sarira-yantra) of the Vastu-purusha, who, indeed, is an aspect of Brahma (Vastubrahma) .

The symbolism of Vastu-mandala was , earlier,  associated with Yajna-vedi (the altar). The Brahma, the presiding priest of the yajna, draws the Mandala. The Vastupurusha, here, is indeed Agni.  His head lies in the East (prachi), in the square of 64 squares, with his legs in the opposite; while his body and limbs fill the Mandala. The 360 bricks (corresponding to the number of days in a year – samvathsara) are so arranged as to connect the limbs, joints and the vital parts (naadi) of the subtle body of the Vastu-purusha, without hurting them*. These act as his nerves or the channels of energy. The spine (vamsa) of the vastu-purusha of 64 or 81 squares lies, with his face down (prottana), hands folded in Anjali-mudra,  diagonally along the altar, with his head to the North or  North-East .

[*This is based on the faith that the body of the Vastupurusha has a number of sensitive points called marmas. The well-being of the Vastupurusha assures the well-being of the building and, by implication, its owner. An important criterion for any building, therefore, is to avoid injury to such sensitive marmas. As a precaution, the texts prohibit constructions directly upon the marma-sthanas said to be located at the intersections of major diagonals, regarded as the veins (siras or naadis) of the Purusha.]

Apart from that, in a broader view, Vastu-mandala is based on the principle that Man and Universe are analogous in their structure and spirit. Vastu-purusha-mandala is thus a Yantra or an image of the Universe. It is also called as Puri (city) of the Purusha (Puri-sadah); or ,  as the ground (Bhumi) on which the Purusha rests. It is said; Vishvakarma, the divine architect was the first to make use of the square-like Vastumandala, to create things.


What is more important here is the symbolism, the symmetry and proportion of the diagram, than the actual figure of Man caught in it.

geometry of the temple

Vastu-purusha-mandala is not necessarily an actual picture of Man, encased in numerous cells or squares.  As the scholar Stella Kramrisch explains: It is a diagrammatic representation, through symbols,   of the field of co-ordinates, inter-sections, currents, flow of energies in the subtle body of a human being. The Purusha, in these diagrams, is a term of reference. It serves as a means to locate several parts, within the whole. The body here is but a sphere of coordinated activities; and, each part being associated with a particular function.

Whatever be the number of Padas (square or the position) in the structure of the Vastu-purusha-mandala, the Brahma is at heart of the Mandala; it is its vital aspect. The center of the Vastu-purusha-mandala is the seat of Brahma (Brahmasthana), around it are grouped 44 Devatas, in various positions. Of these, 12 Devatas form the inner rim, bordering the Brahmasthana; and 32 Pada-devata or Prakara-devata are placed, in the positions assigned to them, on the outer rows  and columns enclosing the Vastu-mandala.

Thus, in all , 45 Devatas (1 + 12 +32) occupy the body of the Vastu-purusha, covering his head, body, limbs and vital parts.  Whether the Mandala is composed of 64 squares or of 81 squares, in either case,  the Brahma always resides  at the center (Brahmasthana) ; and,  the other forty-four are accorded places , according to their nature and importance in the Mandala. The position and the size of their Padas (cells) are variable. Therefore, the position of the 32 Prakara Devatas also varies from one type of Vastu-purusha-mandala to the other.  Their positions are  also regulated by space and time, as by the movement of the Nakshatras (stars).

Stella Kramrisch

As Stella Kramrisch explains (The Hindu Temple- Vol One) :  “ the number 32 (= 4 x 8) is a function of 4; the binomial polarity, as seen in sunrise and sunset; east and west.  In these 4×8 fields or units, the 4×7 regents of the lunar stations (Nakshatras) are accommodated.  The numbers of 32 Divinities, plus the 12 Devatas in the inner rim, together with Bramha at the center form the body (yajna-tanu) of the Vastupurusha.

In the diagram, the right and left refer to the body of the Vastupurusha fallen with his head down. The divinities of the East and South are on the right ; and, those of the West and North on the left. Their positions  are distributed on his intrinsic form, which is the square (chatur-akrti) ; and, not on the allusions to the figure of Man , which merely acts as a place of reference. The divinities are stationed  at definite places of the square form; and, as a result , the same divinity is at times placed on the head ; at other times on his chest and so on , according to the position of the Vastupurusha , who faces East or North –East . Thus, the Devathas reside on the square form of the Vastupurusha only  by mere implication .”

The Brahma-sthana, the nucleus, of the Mandala, generally, covers four squares in Manduka (64 squares) ;and, nine squares in Paramasayika (81 squares) designs. From Brahma, the regent of the Brahma-sthana emanates light and energy towards the other padas (squares) marked by their positions and time. The forms of the Sun (Aditya) surrounding the Brahma-sthana are 12 (dwadasha-adityas), as the inner divinities. They are placed in their positions according to the days/months/ year with which they are associated with the courses of the Sun and the Moon.


Lets take for instance the Manduka (64 squares) Yantra

Brahma is at the center is assigned four squares (Padas). And, of these 12 Adityas, the four – Aryaman, Vivasvan, Mitra and Mahidhara (or Pritvidhara or Bhudhara) – are assigned larger plots (padas) on the four sides of the Brahma-sthana, beginning from the East.

And,  as regards the other eight Adityas, they are placed  in four  pairs , as : Savitr-Savitra (South-East); Indra-Indraja (South-West); Rudra-Rudraja (North-West) ; and, Apa-Apavatsa ( North-East) . Such pairs are located at the corner squares or their halves, starting from the South-East corner.

The Devatas on the outer rim (visakambha ) are associated with the positions of the Nakshatras ; and, are led by the four regents of the space (Lokapala) – Indra ( Mahendra) or Aditya (Sun)  in the East; Yama in the South;  Varuna in the West ; and, Soma ( or Kubera)  in the North.

The four Lokapalas are positioned in the middle of each side.  The corners are given to the regents of the eight intermediate directions (Asta-dik). These Asta-dik-palas,  placed, beginning from the East, are: Isana (North – East); Agni (South-East); Nirtti (or Pitr) – (South-West); and; Vayu (Marut) – (North-West).

Of these, Isana is regarded as a form of sun with its rays; and, therefore is  regarded as the lord of all quarters.   His position (North-East) is considered the most auspicious of the intermediate regions.

Along the East–side  of the Vastu-purusha-mandala,  on its outer rim : between Isana ( North-East) and Agni (South- East ) are placed : Parjanya ( adjacent to Isana) ; and , adjacent to him are Jayanta and Indra (Mahendra) , next to whom is Aditya or Surya  the Sun-god , the Lord of all planets. The other remaining gods on the East are some of the Vasus who guard the Dharma (rta) of the world. Next to Aditya is Sathya (truth); next to him is Vrisha; and, under him is Antariksha. The south East Corner ends with Agni.

South is the region of ancestors (Pitris); and is associated with death. The entrance to their region is on the South-East.  The gods in the South are led by Yama, the Lokapala, the destructive aspect of Agni, the death, at the centre of the row. Yama is flanked by the gods associated with Pitr-s as also by the divinities of evil potent.  Nearest to the South-East corner is Pushan, the Asura, the guardian of road-saftey. At the South-West corner reside the Pitrs (ancestors) or Nritti who symbolises the exit from life. Between Pushan and Pitrs, Yama, at the centre, is flanked by Vithatha, symbol of A-dharma, and his son Bhringaraja. The other lesser gods on the South are Grhakasta (who is Budha or mercury) and Gandharva, a messanger who creates discord  between gods and men. And, Bhrigu or Mrga (Capricorn) is adjacent to Nritti in the south-east corner. He turns the path (pradakshina) towards West, the quarter of serpants.

Varuna (Jaladhipa), the son of Aditi, is the guardian of the West. As compared to his counterpart Mitra (aspect of sun), Varuna symbolizes darkness. Between Pitris (Nritti) and Varuna is Sugriva, the son of Vivasvan Martanda and the brother of Yama. And, Sugriva is flanked by Dauvarika the gatekeeper (Dwarapala) and Pushpadanta, the flower-tusked.  Further, between Varuna and Vayu (on the north-west) is Sosana (Shani) symbolozing emaciation or withering away. And, Sosana is flanked by Papayaksaman, the consumption, Roga disease or affliction; and Asura, symbolozed by Rahu. It is said; Rahu (ardha –vastu) is the extension and Rahu, his brother, is his duration.

Soma- Kubera rules the North. Soma the Moon is the regent (Lokapala) of the North; as also the Lord of Nakshatras. And. Kubera is the Lord of wealth.  This is the region of Yaksas, mortals and serpants. Betweem Soma in the center and Vayu in the Noth-West, is Mukhya, the Visvakarman, the maker of all forms. Mukhya is flanked by Naga, the serpant Vasuki; and, by Bhallata, the aspect of Soma with his rays.  Between Soma and Isana is Aditi the mother of gods, And, Aditi is flanked by Diti the mother of Daityas (both being the wives of sage Kashyapa); and by Mrga (Argala) who is Bhujanga, having cast off his skin. These deities on the North   in their Pradkashina connect the regions of death and life; West and East.]

vidyashankara sringeri2

The Manduka Vastu-mandala with sixty-four (8×8) Padas is considered particularly auspicious for construction of the temples. A number of famous ancient temples, including the temples at Kajuraho and the Sri Vidyashankara temple at Sringeri were designed by adopting the floor-plan structure as per the Manduka Yantra.

The Sri Vidyashankara at Sringeri was built in honour and memory of the Tenth Jagadguru of the Sringeri Mutt, Sri Vidyashankara or Sri Vidyathirtha, who presided over the Sringeri Peetam for a period of nearly 104  years from 1229 t0 1333. He is revered as one of the Greatest Gurus of the Sringeri Samsthanam.  Even to this day, the official seal of the Sringeri Peetha bears the name of its most  eminent Guru  Sri Vidyashankara.

The temple which combines the Dravida and Hoysala architectural features; and, resembling a chariot is hailed as ‘poetry in stone. It said to have been built around the year 1388. It came about at the instance of Sri Vidyaranya (who later became the twelfth Jagadguru of Sringeri – 1380 – 1386).

vidyashankara sringeri 3

The Shiva Linga, which is addressed as Sri Vidyashankara Linga, is installed at the Brahma-sthana; and, it is positioned over the Samadhi of  the Parama-Guru , Sri Vidyashankara immersed in a Lambika Yoga  – लम्बिकायोगनिरतं अम्बिकापतिरूपिणम् विद्याप्रदं नमामीशं विद्यातीर्थ महेश्वरम्

Vidyatirtha Mahaswam

Idol of Sri Vidyatirtha at Simhagiri in Sringeri; flanked by the images of his
two foremost disciples – Sri Bharati Tirtha and Sri Vidyaranya; Picture courtesy

Sri Vidyaranya, the jewel among the Jagadgurus, was the head of the Sringeri Mutt for only a short span of six years (1380 – 1386). But his association with the Sringeri Peetha and with his predecessors Sri Vidya Tirtha (1229 – 1333 ) and Sri Bharati Tirtha (1333 – 1380) , who was his Purva-ashrama brother, was spread over a  long period of almost sixty years.  The era of the three Gurus – Sri Vidya Tirtha, Sri Bharati Tirtha and Sri Vidyaranya – stretching over a period of 157 years, from 1229 to 1386, is regarded as the Golden Epoch (Svarna-yuga) in the history of the  Sri Sharada Peetham, elevating it to position of great eminence.

It is said; the temple , a dedication to the Greatest of the Gurus, was indeed the fruit (Phala) of the harmonious combination of genius of two sages – Sri Bharathi Krishna Tirtha and Sri Vidyaranya –   along with the matchless skill of the architect (Stapathi), Jakkana. The plan of the Vidyashankara Temple is said to be a synthesis of various concepts of the ancient architectural traditions of the Shilpa Shastra.

vidyashankara sringeri

The temple structure is erected on a richly sculpted plinth (upapitha), on top of which there is another platform (adhisthana) , on which are located six doorways. The layout of the temple ,which is structured to resemble a chariot, is more or less a rectangle, with apsidal East-West ends; the front door facing the East; and the Garba-griha on the West.  The entrance to the Garba-griha is flanked by the shrines of Vidya Ganapati on one side and of the Durga on the other side. On the other three sides of the Garba-griha are the shrines dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, with their consorts. The Vimana over the Garba-griha rises with an exquisitely well designed shikhara, mahapadma and stupi.

In the eastern half of the structure (mukha-mantapa) there is the magnificent Navaranga, decorated with intricately sculptured twelve pillars (chitra-kambha) , carrying  large animal sculptures, which are huge monolith projections jutting out to support the structures above them. Each of those pillars is topped by a Yali, with a rolling stone ball in its mouth. The central ceiling is a specimen of exquisite of workmanship with lotus and pecking parrots.

As regards its basement, it is elaborately sculpted with the figures of animals; representations from mythologies (Purana); the images of several deities such as Shiva, Vishnu in his various forms, Kali, Shanmukha and so on.

A special feature of the Sri Vidyashankara temple is the ingenious alignment of the twelve pillars marked by the twelve signs of the zodiac (Raasi sthamba) in their regular order. It is said; during each of the twelve months of the solar year (each named after the Rasis or house, which the Sun is said to occupy in the course of the year – the Rasi-chakra),  the rays of the early morning sun , entering through one of the three openings,   fall upon its corresponding  Rasi pillar.

Vidyashankara temple from East

Courtesy : Sri N K Rao and Smt Priya Thakur 

The direct sunlight comes mainly through the eastern doorway, but also partly through the southern and northern doorways. There are also a few small gaps in the outer wall which allow the sunlight to enter.

The floor of the Navaranga Mantapa is marked with converging lines in accordance with the Sun’s movement round the twelve Rasi pillars, to indicate the path of the sunlight or the direction of the shadows that sun-rays cast. That was, possibly, meant to serve as a device to indicate the month of the year.

vidyashankara sringeri Floor plan with sunlight rays


Several studies have been undertaken by a number of well qualified researcher to ascertain the Astronomical significance of the alignment of the twelve Rasi pillars and the marking of the sunlight , during each month of the year, on the designated Pillar.

As far as I know, the following studies are indeed very significant:

Aspects of Observational Astronomy in India: The Vidyasankara Temple at Sringeri
Authors: Rao, N. K. & Thakur, P.

The Zodiacal Pillars of Sringeri by Smt. B S Shylaja , Bangalore Association for Science Education, JN Planetarium

Sringeri VidyAshankara Temple in the Light of Yoga  by Viswa N Sharma, San Ramon, California

The studies, in a way, are rather in-conclusive. The study undertaken by N. Kameswara Rao and Priya Thakur of Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, makes an interesting observation:

The recent monitoring of morning sunlight on the Rasi pillars in the Navaranga of the Vidyashankara Temple revealed that they do not indicate the position of the Sun in the zodiacal constellations of the present epoch ; but , rather they match the zodiacal sky of 2000 ± 300 B.C.

Although the temple was supposedly built around A.D. 1350, it is suggested that the Rasi pillar arrangement might have been adopted from an earlier 2000 B.C. sacred calendar -device (or of a Vedic altar)


By the way, there is another astronomical wonder. It is the Sri Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple, Bangalore, believed to have been constructed during the time of  Nadaprabhu Hiriya Kempe Gowda (16th century), renowned for his social reforms and contribution to building temples and water reservoirs in Bengaluru.

This temple was formed by the natural boulders of hillocks; and faces the south-west direction. The courtyard is wide and has large-sized monolithic sculptures placed in certain alignments. Shiva’s symbols – the Trishula and the Damaru – are placed on the southern edge of the courtyard.

Since these two large circular discs (each with a diameter of 2 Mt), placed parallel to each other face East and West, they  are identified as symbols of the Sun and the Moon; and,  are, therefore,  known as Suryapana and Chandrapana.

This cave temple is famous because, at the time of Makara Sankranti (14th  January), the early morning sun’s rays pass through the window and touch the Shivalinga installed in the Garba-griha.

Gavi Gangadaresvara

Plate nineteen in ‘Picturesque Scenery in the Kingdom of Mysore’ by James Hunter, 1804

As regards the astronomical significance of the Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple, please refer to the research paper produced by Jayanth Vyasanakere, K. Sudeesh and B.S. Shylaja. In summary , it is said :

The passage of the setting sun through the cave of Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple on 14th January is well-known. The recurrence of this event on yet another date is established from our observations supported by simple astronomical calculations. Observations extended to other seasons have shown that the two large discs in the courtyard are probably aligned to the summer solstice. The shadow of the bronze pillar coincides with the vertical marking on the disc, a fact which has gone unnoticed all these years. Thus it is a unique temple where marking of both solstices are incorporated. A detailed inspection of an old painting dated 1792 shows that the passage of the sunlight into the cave also was probably intended for marking winter solstice. Subsequent constructions and renovations perhaps have modified it for 14 January (and 30 November). The summer solstice event is now totally forgotten.

Gavi gangadhareshwara sketch



Now, reverting to the main subject ..

The Vastu Purusha is visualized as lying with his face and stomach touching the ground; to suggest as if he is carrying the weight of the structure. His head is at North East (ishanya) and his legs are at the South West corner (nairutya).

There are many symbolisms associated with the position of the elements of the Vastupurusha

The South West corner (nairutya) where the Vastu Purusha has his legs corresponds to the Muladhara chakra ; and, denotes the earth principle. Just as the legs support the weight of the body, the base (adhistana) for the Muladhara should be stable and strong.  Accordingly, the South West portion of the building is the load bearing area; and , should be strong enough to support heavy weights. Just as the feet are warm, the South West cell represents warmth and heat; even according to the atmospheric cycles , the South West region receives comparatively more heat.

Svadhistana chakra is in the lower stomach region near the kidneys. It is related to water principle (apa). On the Vastu Purusha Mandala, it is to the South and to the West . Therefore, the wet areas like bathroom etc are recommended in the south or in the west portions of the building. It is for sewerage (utsarjana).

Manipura Chakra is at the navel; and,  relates to energy or fire or tejas. While in the womb of the mother, the fetus is fed with the essence of food ; and, the energy  is passed on to it through the umbilical chord connected with its navel. The Vastu Purusha Mandala shows Brahma at the navel of the Vastu Purusha. Further, the lotus is the base (Adhistana) of Brahma. Thus , navel connects Brahman with Jiva or spanda or life. It is left open and unoccupied. The central portion of the building is to be kept open. It is believed that Vastu Purusha breaths through this open area.

Anahata chakra is near the heart. It is related to Vayu, air regulated by lungs. The lung region of the Vastu Purusha should be airy.

Vishuddaha chakra is near the throat from where the sounds come out and reverberate in space. This region represents Space (Akasha). The sound OM emerges out  through throat. The echo of that sound vibrates in the hallow of the bone-box of the head , and in the space in brain. The head of Vastu Purusha is in the North East corner (Ishanya). The Ajna chakra is between the eyebrows. This direction is related to open spaces (akasha). Atmospherically, North East is cooler; and, so should be ones head. The Puja room, Devagraha, is recommended in the North East portion of the house.

The limbs of Vastu Purusha, other than the above, are also related to the construction of the building. Liver (yakrt) is towards South East. The cooking area is recommended in South East, because it is related to Agni. The rays of sun reach here first and cleanse the atmosphere.

The North West, vayuvya, is presided over by air Vayu. The Organs like spleen, rectum of the Vastu Purusha fall in this portion. The store room is recommended here; perhaps because the spleen in the body does the work of storing and restoring blood.

Astrological signs

[There is a belief that the vastu purusha is awake during eight months of the year and is asleep in the other four months (eight months of wakefulness: mesha, vrishabha, kataka, simha, tula, vrichika, makara and kumbha; and the four months of sleep : dhanur, mina, mithuna and kanya).

Some others say    that the vaastu purusha sleeps in vaastu chakra  on the left side and rotates clockwise during twelve months with his head towards:

Jan:  west-south-west; Feb: west; Mar : west-north-west ;Apr :  north-north-west; May : north ; June : north-north-east ; July : east-north-east ; Aug : east ; Sept : east-south-east ; Oct : south-south-east; Nov : south ; and Dec : south-south-west.

While taking up construction of a structure, digging in the sector where Vastu-purusha’s head lies is not recommended. The schedule for erecting the doors is also based on this concept.

For instance:

If Leo is ascending, set up the south door; if Taurus set up the west door; if Kubera set up the north door;

If the moon is passing the meridian, set up the east door.

When Leo is ascending is the proper time for placing a door in a temple of Vishnu. When Taurus is ascending is the proper time for placing a door in a temple of Mahadeva. When Kubera is ascending is the proper time for setting a door in Ganesa’s temple. When the moon is passing the meridian, a door may be set up for any one.

I think, this concept of purusha sleeping may have only astrological significance; and therefore , varies from person to person and from site to site. They cannot be generally applied. Even otherwise, now, hardly anyone goes by this schedule, as it is impractical.

Perhaps the four months of non-activity as recommended, might have something to do with the onset of monsoon , winter and such seasonal constraints.]

Vastu and directions

These areas are also related to various planets and their positions.The vastu purusha mandala, like the horoscope is another way of illustrating the intersection where the sky and earth meet at the horizon, at the equinox points; and the zenith and nadir

Nineplanets Navagraha 2

The Vastu Purusha lies with his back up, perhaps to suggest that he carries the burden on his back. Pillars are not recommended on sensitive parts of Vastu Purusha; they are the inlets and outlets.

The general guidelines are:  the South West should be heavier and North East where gods dwell should not be so . The base should be heavy and the apex be lighter; just as in the case of a hill or a tree. The sensitive organs like brain, eyes, ears tongue are in the head; and the head should be lighter and secure. The head of the Vastu Purusha is in the North East and it should be kept free of pillars. Activities like worship, study are recommended in and towards east and adjoining directions.-North east and South East.

Sun is at the center of the solar system; the earth and others rotate around it. The Vastu follows the same principle. The middle house , the dining hall and work space represent the sun aspect. After sun set the South West and North West are warmer; bedrooms and store house are recommended here.

It is said that, although water is everywhere that which cleanses the body is water; and that which purifies mind is Thirtha. A brick and stone construct is house. A Vastu is temple.

Bangla Sahib Delhi

“The Hindu temple typically involves a multiple set of ideas. Perhaps Hindu traditional architecture has more symbolic meanings than other cultures. It is highly articulated. The temple is oriented to face east, the auspicious direction where the sun rises to dispel darkness. The temple design includes the archetypal image of a Cosmic Person spread out yogi-like, symmetrically filling the gridded space of the floor plan, his navel in the center, and it includes the archetype of the cosmic mountain, between earth and heaven, of fertility, planets, city of the gods, deities, etc.). One encounters these simultaneous archetypal themes and meanings conveyed (and hidden) in the semi-abstract forms in many Hindu temples. There are rules of shape and proportion in the authoritative texts of Hindu tradition (shastras and agamas) which give birth to a variety of complex temple designs. The Brihat Samhita text (4th century CE) says the temple should reflect cormic order. To understand the uses of recursive geometrical forms involving self-similarity on different scales (fractals) in the Hindu temple complex we will need to explore some of these deep images and their uses.

” The structure of a temple rests on its Vastu-purusha-mandala, the ground-plan and its logic (chhandas). The ground-floor (adahschanda) is placed with the Garbha-griha (sanctum) at the center, corresponding to Brahma-sthana, the center of the Vastu-purusha-mandala. It is surrounded by thick walls, on which rest the high super-structures. These structures are in alignment with the gods who surround the Brahma-sthana. The various kinds of projections, the zone of 32 Pada-devatas form the perimeter of the temple. The well proportioned Vimana rising from above the garba-griha.

Thus , the form of the temple, all that it is and signifies, stands upon the diagram of the vastupurusha. It is a ‘forecast’ of the temple and is drawn on the leveled ground; it is the fundamental from which the building arises. Whatever its actual surroundings… the place where the temple is built is occupied by the vastupurusha in his diagram, the Vastupurusha mandala…. It is the place for the meeting and marriage of heaven and earth, where the whole world is present in terms of measure, and is accessible to man.”(25) The cosmic person became the universe, and to recreate this origin is to construct a cosmos which offers a return to the transcendent oneness.

The vastupurusha mandala is a microcosm with some fractal qualities. As shown in the illustration, there are self-similar squares within squares within squares. The geometric configuration “of central squares with others surrounding it is taken to be a microscopic image of the universe with its concentrically organized structure.” Thus the grid at the spatial base and temporal beginning of the temple represents the universe, with its heavenly bodies. It is also more– it simultaneously symbolizes the pantheon of Vedic gods– “each square [is] a seat of particular deity.” The gods altogether make up the composite body of the Purusha.

The Purusha is related not merely to the site and the ground plan; even the elevation of the temple is likened to the the body of the Purusha. And, different parts of the temple are named after the the limbs of the body; the soul being  consecrated in the image of the deity in the sanctum. The temple is , thus, an image of the Cosmic-man.

If the temple symbolizes the body of god on the macro-cosmic plane, it equally symbolises the body of man on the microcosmic plane. The names of the various parts of the temple are the very names used to denote the various parts of human body! Look at the following technical names: paduka, pada, carana, anghri, jangha, uru, gala, griva, kantha, sira. Sirsa, karna, nasika, sikha. Pada (foot) is the column, jangha (shank) is parts of the superstructure over the base. Gala or griva (neck) is the part between moulding which resembles the neck. Nasika (nose) is any nose shaped architectural part and so on. The garbhagriha represents the head and the image, the antaryamin (the indwelling Lord). This symbology tries to impress upon us the need to seek the Lord within our heart and not outside.

Devalaya Vastu


The temple also represents the subtle body with the seven psychic centres or cakras. The garbhagrha represents the anahata cakra (the fourth psychic centre in the region of the heart) and the topmost part of the kalasa point to the sahasrara (seventh and the last centre situated at the top of the head). The first three centres (muladhara, svadhisthana and mainpura situated respectively near the anus, sex-organ and navel0 are below the ground level. The fifth and the sixth (visuddha and ajna cakaras, situated at the root of the throat and in between the eyebrows) are on the sikhara area.”

(Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple, Vol. I)

buddha stupa

Sahasra chakra is regarded the seat of consciousness. An aperture on top of the head, called brahma randra, leads to it.In the structure of the temple, the brahma randra is represented in the structure erected on top of the sanctum. The flat-roof (kapota) of the sanctum is overlaid by a single square stone slab known in the texts as brahma-ranhra-shila (the stone denoting the upper passage of life).  The sanctum is viewed as the head; and right on top of the head is the passage through which the currents of life ascend to the tower through this stone slab.

Interestingly, the kalasha placed on top of the vimana  is not imbedded into the structure by any packing it with mortar or cement. it is, in fact, placed in position by a hollow rod that juts out of the centre of the tower and runs through the vase, the kalasha. it is through this tube that the   lanchana ‘tokens’ (cereals and precious stones) are introduced. one of the explanations is the hallow tube represents the central channel of energy the shushumna that connects to the Sahasra, the seat of consciousness, through the Brahma randra.

The expressions Mandala, Chakra and Yantra are synonymous. Mandala is explained as that which gathers the essential detail (mandam laati).The Chakra and Yantra too perform similar functions. Like Chakra, the Mandala too denotes visualization, an act of bringing together all significant details; those details might pertain to the world or the body or the structure of the building or whatever. It also brings together the outer and the inner faculties or energies.

Though all the three mean the same, they have somehow seemed to have acquired distinct forms. For instance, Chakra suggests a circular form, while the Mandala might be a figure of any shape, but commonly a square. While both Chakra and Mandala are lenier representations, Yantra is a three-dimensional projection.

In the Vastu Purusha Mandala too, the ground plan and the vertical plan are cast in two dimensions and in three dimensional representations of the structure.

Whether you call it Chakra or Mandala or Yantra; it represents a sphere of influence and brings together and energizes all its components.

In a way of speaking the Vastu Purusha and the Chakreshwari of the Sri Chakra represent the same principles. They embody and preside over all the aspects of their domain, which is universal. They not merely resolve the internal and external contradictions, but also usher in complete harmony of existence.

Just as the Sri Chakra is the unfolding of the Bindu at its centre, the temple is the outpouring or the expansion of the deity residing in Brahmasthana at the centre.

Both the forms employ the imagery of an all – enveloping space and time continuum issuing out of the womb. In the case of Sri Chakra the Bibdu is dimension-less and is the imperceptible source of energy. The idol, the Vigraha, in the Garbagriha at the Brahmasthana represents the manifestation of that imperceptible energy or the principle; and it radiates that energy.

[There is an theory that suggests that the board of chess was inspired by the 64 celled Vastu Purusha Mandala. It states


“The form of the chess-board corresponds to the ‘classical’ type of Vastu-mandala, the diagram which also constitutes the basic lay-out of a temple or a city. It has been pointed out that this diagram symbolizes existence as a ‘field of action’ of the divine powers. The combat which takes place in the game of chess thus represents, in its most universal meaning, the combat of the devas with the asuras, of the ‘gods’ with the ‘titans’, or of the ‘angels’ with the ‘demons’, all other meanings of the game deriving from this one.”  (Please check:




The Hindu Temple, by Stella Kramrisch,.

Devalaya Vastu by Prof.SKR Rao

Vastu -, Astrology and Architecture     : A collection of essays by various authors

Pictures are from internet.


Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Temple Architecture


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Rishis of the Rig Veda and oral traditions of the Vedas

This post is in response to comments and queries from Kaveriyamma. Those related to the Rishis of the Rig Veda, their linage, the female Rishis and the oral tradition.


A Rishi in Rig Veda is an author of a Rik, a mantra.  It is not a product of his reasoning or intellect; but , of an intuitive perception. He envisioned the entities beyond the range of human senses; conceived the self evident knowledge (svatah pramana) ; and , realized the Truth by direct intuition. Vamadeva , a Rishi in one of his hymns (RV 4.3.16) describes himself as the illumined one , expressing the Truth reveled to him (ninya vachasmi).

The term Rishi is defined as “rishati jnānena samsāra-pāram” – meaning one who goes beyond the mundane world by means of knowledge. Further, some scholars think the root ‘drish‘ (sight) might have given rise to root ‘rish‘ meaning ‘to see’ .

Rishi is therefore a wise seer, a drastara, one who visualizes a mantra – ṛsīnām mantra dṛṣṭayo bhavanti – 7,3 . He is also the one who hears. The seers were the “hearers of the Truth” (kavayaha sathya srutah) . Sri Aurobindo described Shruthi as “divine recordings of cosmic sounds of truth” heard by the Rishis. The Vedas are thus Shruthis , revealed scriptures. That is the reason , the Vedas are Apaurusheya , not authored by any agency.

Amarakosha, the Sanskrit lexicon, gives the synonym for the term Rishi as :  ṛṣayaḥ satyavacasaḥ (2.6.900), the one who speaks truth. A Rishi in the Rig Veda is a sage who realized the truth. However all sages are not Rishis; just as not all Rishis are Kavis.

(For more on Kavis, please see Kavi, Rishi and the Poet ).

Yasca_charya makes a significant  classification even among the Rishis. He draws a clear distinction between a Sakshath_krutha_Rishi , the seer who has the direct intuitional perception; and , the Srutha_rishi , the one heard it from the seers and remembered what he heard –  sākṣāt.kṛta.dharmāṇa.ṛṣayo.babhūvuḥ – 1,20

The Srutha_rishi is like the mirror or the moon that basks in the glory of the sun . The moon and the mirror both take in the glory of the sun and put forth the shine to the world in their own way. Similarly, the Srutha_rishi obtained the knowledge by listening to the Sakshath_ Krutha_ Rishi, and more importantly by remembering what he heard. The bifurcation of the Vedas/Upanishads on one hand (as Shruthi, as heard) ; and the Vedangas, Shastras, Puranas, Ithihasa etc. on the other (as smriti, as remembered) , stems from the above concept.  Smriti, in general, is secondary in authority to Shruti .

Rig Veda mentions about four hundred Rishis; and, about thirty of them were women. Before going into their names and other details, let us, briefly, talk about the mantras.


In another manner, the Rishis were classified into three divisions.(1) Satarcinah – the Rishis of the first mandala, where  each of whom, seems to have contributed a hundred or more Riks; (2) Madhyamah – the Rishis in  Mandalas two to seven; and.(3) Ksudrasuktah and Mahasuktah – the other Rishis of shorter and longer hymn.

In the Rig Veda, two to seven mandalas are homogeneous in character as they present a collection of hymns belonging to a particular family. These mandalas are , therefore, known as Kulamandalas


Poetry raised to its sublime heights is mantra to which a Rishi gives utterance. The Rishi visualizes a magnificent idea, through intuitive perception, crystallizes it and gives it an expression. . One cannot be a sublime poet unless one is a Rishi (naan rishir kuruthe kavyam).  Badarayana Sutra (244:36) says Rishi not only lives the mantra but also is the essence of it.

A mantra is usually prefaced by a segment made of three components, mentioning the Rishi who visualized the mantra, the Deva or the Devatha who inspired the mantra or to whom the mantra is addressed; and the metrical form of the mantra. Every time, one meditates on the deity uttering its mantra with devotion; one recalls its Rishi with reverence and gratitude.

For instance, the most celebrated Gayatri   mantra which appears in Rig Veda at RV_3,062.10a is prefaced by a short description, Vishvamitra risihi; Savitha devatha; Gayatri chandaha, which says that the mantra was revealed to Rishi Vishwamitra; the illuminating spirit behind the mantra was Savitha Devatha from whom everything comes into being ; and it was conveyed to the Rishi in Gayatri chhandas (a metrical form having three lines of 8 syllables each, a total of 24 syllables). Before one meditates on goddess Gayatri uttering her mantra, one submits salutations to its Rishi, Vishwamitra.

Yaska_charya also mentions that mantras have three layers of meaning (traye artha) – yadi mantra artha  pratyayāya anarthakam bhavati- 1,15The essential power of the mantras are to transport us to the world of ideas beyond the ordinary and to experience the vision that the Rishi had.


It is said; Kṛṣṇa – dvaipāyana or Vedavyāsa divided the extant material  of the Vedas  into four groups; and taught them to his four chief disciples : Paila; Vaiśampāyana; Jaimini and , Sumantu . The disciples of each of these further rearranged their portions of the Vedic text.And, such modified forms came to be known as Shakhas or branches.

As regards Rig Veda , it is said to have had 21 such Shakhas. Out of these only five Shakhas have survived : Śākala; Bāskala; Āśvalāyana; Sāñhhāycma; and,  Māridukeyct.

BOOKS of Rig Veda

The Rig Veda Samhita is a collection of 1,028 Suktas (hymns); divided into ten Mandalas (books).  These 1,028 Suktas include eleven Valakhilya Suktas. The number of mantras in a Suktas varies from just one (1-99) to 58 (IX-97). The total number of mantras is 10,462. Thus , the average number of mantras per hymn is ten. These hymns are as envisioned by various seers

There are , in fact, two methods of classifying the Rigveda Samhita. The one is the Mandala system ; and the other is the Astaka method .

In the former,  the entire Rig Veda text is divided into Ten Books (Mandalas). This classification is based upon  its authors (Rishis) and also on its subject.  But, the size of each Mandala  is not the same; because, the number of  Suktas and the number of  Mantras  in each Mandala varies. Yet;  the Mandala – Sukta method is more popular.

Mandala Method

Maṇdalas Anuvākas Suktas Mantras
1 24 191 2006
2 4 43 429
3 5 62 617
4 5 58 589
5 6 87 727
6 6 75 765
7 6 104 841
8 10 103 1716
9 7 114 1108
10 12 191 1754
Total 85 1028 10,552

The other method is that of the Ashtaka – where the entire text of the Rigveda is divided into eight segments- Ashtaka ; and , each Ashtaka is made up of eight sections (Adhyaya). And, each Adhyaya has almost the equal number of Vargas (sub-sections); each having almost the equal number of Mantras.  The Ashtaka classification is intended, mainly, for the use of the student .  Its designed to help the learner to memorize the text, by apportioning more or less equal number of mantras under  each section .

In either of the schemes , the total number of Mantras is the same, viz., 10, 552.

Aṣtaka Method

Astakas Adhyāyas Vargas Mantras
1 8 265 1370
2 8 221 1147
3 8 225 1209
4 8 250 1289
5 8 238 1263
6 8 331 1730
7 8 248 1263
8 8 246 1281
Total 64 2024 10,552

( Source :


As mentioned earlier, The Mandalas are of uneven size. These mantras are authored by about 400 Rishis of whom about 30 are women. Each Rishi is identified by two names – his/her personal name and the name of his/her father or teacher or lineage. For instance, the first Sukta of Rig Veda was revealed to Madhuchhanda Vishwamitra meaning that he was the son or the disciple of Vishwamitra; the Gayatri mantra was revealed to Vishwamitra Gathin meaning Vishwamitra was the son of Gatha. It also indicates whether the Rishi was a man or a woman; for instance, Ghosha Kakshivali (RV 10.39-40) was the wife of kakshivan another Rishi.

A   Rishi could be a man or a woman, could be a celibate or a householder or unmarried.

As mentioned, each hymn of the Rig Veda is attributed to a Rishi. Of the ten Mandalas (Books) six Mandalas, numbering from 2 to 7 are homogeneous in character and are considered the oldest parts of the Rig Veda. Each of these six books was composed by a Rishi and by members of his family / disciples and of his Gotra. These Mandalas (2-7) are therefore often called Family Books. On the other hand, the books 1, 8 and 10 were not each composed by a distinct family of Rishis but by different individual Rishis. The Books #1 and 8 are almost Family Books as a majority of their hymns are composed by the family of Kanvas and many hymns are found in both the Books.  The Book # 9 is different from the rest; all the hymns therein are addressed to Soma (while not a single hymn is addressed to Soma in the Family Books) and by groups of Rishis. The tenth Book is a collection of various earlier and later hymns.Book # 10 appears to be of a later origin and of a supplementary character. The Books # 1 and 10 are the latest and the longest Books together accounting for about 40 percent of the bulk of the Rig Veda.

The following chart indicates the number of Suktas , Mantras, in each Mandala,  ascribed to a Rishi or his family  or his disciples

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There are certain texts called Anukramani (also called Anukramanika) which serve as Index to the Rig Veda and provide basic information about each hymn of the Rig Veda. The most well-known of the Aukramani is Katyayana’s sarvanukramani and is dated around the second century. The entries in the texts mention about each hymn specifying, the name of the Rishi who   authored the hymn; the Devatha who inspired or to whom the hymn is addressed; and the Chandas or the metre of the hymn. They are extremely useful in historical analysis of the Rig Veda.For more on Anukramanis, please see .

For more on the Rishis, their  Gotra lineage , please check the pdf  document

The following table indicates the number of hymns in the rig Veda, attributed to some main families.

Family No. of


Angirasa 3,619
Kanva 1,315
Vasistha 1,267
VIshwamitra 0,983
Atri 0,885
Brighu 0,473
Kashyapa 0,415
Grtsamanda 0,401
Agasthya 0,316
Bharata 0,170

( )

As regards female Rishis (Rishikas), about 30 of them are named in the Rig Veda. To name some of them: : Ghosha Kakshivati , Dakshina Prajapathya ,Vishvavara Atreyi,  Godha, Apala Atreyi, Yami Vivasvathi, Lopamudra, Romasha Svanya, Aditi Dakshayeni, Ratri Bharadwaja , Vasukra Pathni , Surya Savitri, Indrani, Sarma Devasuni ,   Urvashi, Shashwati Angirasi, Sri Laksha and others .

Lopamudra , a great Rishika in her own right , was the wife of Rishi Agasthya and Ghosha Kakashivati was the wife of another Rishi kakashivan . Daughters of the Rishis Bharadwaja , Angirasa and Atri were also Rishikas.Vishvavara, Romasha and Vach Ambrini stood out as other Rishikas of merit.

Please check this link for more on Rishikas 


Tradition accepts that Rishi Veda_Vyasa categorized and compiled four Vedas by splitting the primordial single Veda and rendered the Vedas more amenable to study and to memorize. The task of preserving and perpetuating each  branch of the Veda, in its entirety and purity , was assigned to a specified Shakha (meaning branch).The followers of each Shakha ,  identified as Shakins  of that particular Vedic school, were responsible for preserving their assigned part of the Veda. Followers of each Shakha would learn and preserve one the four Veda Samhitas along with their associated Brahmana, Aranyaka, Upanishads and the Sutras such as Grhyasutra and Shrautasutra. Only a small number of these Shakhas have survived; the prominent among them are Sakala and Baskala. For more on Shakas, please see:

It is astounding that large bodies of Vedic texts have been preserved in oral traditions for over thousands of years, safeguarding their purity and entirety. How our ancients could successfully achieve such an unbelievable task, is truly remarkable.

In order to achieve this difficult task, an elaborate and a meticulous systems of recitations were devised. These systems of discipline with their  checks and balances , ensured the correctness of a text including the correct sequence of its words; purity of the language; exact pronunciation of the words; precise stress on syllables ; measured pause between syllables; appropriate tone, accent, modulation  and pitch of recitation; proper breath control etc. Shiksha one of the six Vedangas (limbs of Veda) that dealt with phonetics and phonology of Sanskrit, laid down rules for correct pronunciation of Vedic hymns and mantras.

Along with this, several patterns of Vedic chants were devised to ensure complete and perfect memorization of the text and its pronunciation including the Vedic pitch accent. These patterns called Pathaas ensured correct recital of the Veda mantra by weaving the mantras into various patterns and complex combinations of patterns. There are eleven acknowledged patterns or Patahaas Viz. Samhitha or vakhyaa, padaa, krama, jataa, maala, Sikhaa, rekhaa, dhvajaa, dandaa, rathaa and Ghana.

( )

The salient features of a few main Paathas are as under:

Vakhya Pathaa or Samhitaa Pathaa: To recite the mantras in a straight sentence.

Pada Paathaa: to recite the mantras, word by word, instead of joining the words; to acquaint the student with the words in the text.

Krama Paathaa: the first word of the mantra is added to the second, the second to the third, the third to the fourth and so on, until the whole sentence of the mantras is completed. The order of words will be 1-2; 2-3; 3-4; 4-5 and so on. This helps to fix the words in their proper position and sequence. It also helps the students to understand changes occurring in swara in such a combination. The person who is well versed in reciting the Krama Paathaa is known as “Krama Vit.”.

Jata Paathaa: the first two words are recited together and then the words are recited in a reverse order and then again in the original order. Jata Paathaa is a play by twisting the Krama Paatha:   Krama + Inverse of Krama + Krama = jataa. The order will be 1-2-2-1-1-2, 2-3-3-2-2-3, 3-4-4-3-3-4, 4-5-5-4-4-5 and so on

Ghana Paathaa: This is one of the most popular form of recitations and requires years of learning and practice. A scholar proficient in recitation in this format is honored as Ghana_ paathi. In Ghana Paathaa the combination will be: 1-2-2-1-1-2-3-3-2-1-1-2-3  2-3-3-2-2-3-4-4-3-2-2-3-4, 3-4-4-3-3-4-5-5-4-3-3-4-5 and so on till last pada ends in that sentence. This is a complex combination of Jata Paatha and Pada Paatha in the following order:   jataa + 3rd Padaa + Inverse of 3 Padaas + 3 Padaas in Straightway = Ghana Paathaa.

The Samhita Paathaa and Pada Paathaa are called Prakrithi (or natural) Paathaas, as the words of the mantras occur in normal sequence. The rest are called Vikrithi (or artificial and not natural) Paathaas. Recently mathematical series have been devised to work out the Krama, Jata and Ghana Paatha patterns. For more on this and for greater details on Paathas please visit

By applying these stringent methods  of learning and complicated patterns of recital, each generation committed to memory long passages of its assigned texts through incessant practice spread over a number of  years, retained the form and content of the texts in their pristine condition and transmitted, orally, to the next generation. This was how the Vedic texts were retained in oral form, uncorrupted, over the centuries.

[ please view this video where Vidwan Shri Suresh  explains and demonstrates  the various Paatha recitations. with particular illustration of the Gayatri Mantra]



Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, oral traditions, Rigveda


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