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:
It is said; the Indian Vastu and Shilpa shastras recognise two standards of measurement: the absolute and the relative systems.
In the absolute standard, the smallest unit of measurement is the almost microscopic particle of dust observable in the solar rays or atom. This measurement is named in different ways according to the texts, like for example Trasarenu, Paramanu or Chayanu (shadow of an atom).
Other measurements of the absolute system are the particle of dust called raja or renu, the tip of hair called Balagra, Valagra or Keshagra, the nit called Liksha or Likhya, the louse or yuka, the barley com or yava and the highest unit of this system is the digit or angula which corresponds to the width of the middle finger. They have a relation of one to eight as follows:
- 8 paramanus make 1 renu
- 8 renus make 1 balagra
- 8 balagras make 1 liksha
- 8 likshas make 1 yuka
- 8 yitkas make 1 yava
- 8 yavas make 1 angula
- 12 angulas make 1 Tala
Manangula is a linear measure; a determined by the length of the middle finger of the artisan or of the patron’s right hand and is employed for the construction of images. This measurement is a fixed unit.
Dehangula is the angula that is in relation to the image itself; and, is derived from the total height of the image to be fashioned. The Dehangula is essentially a relative unit, to indicate the height of an image.
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, it 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 Baahu-sutra is the vertical line 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.
It is said; indeed, the Nrtta technique can be better understood if one understands the concept of the Sutras and Mana of the Shilpa.
[According to the Citra-sutras, there are six types of measurement (mana) to be taken along the body of an image. These kinds of measurements constitute the six kinds of iconometric measurement as applied to standing, seated and reclining images.
Mana or measurement of the length of the body or its units (dhirgha); such as the distance from the hair-limit to the eye-line; from that point to the tip of the nose; the length of the arms and of the legs; and so on.
Pramana is the horizontal measurement or breadth (vistara), such as the distance between the two shoulders, the width of the body at the chest level, the width of the belly or the width of the arm or of the thigh
Unmana is the measurement of the elevation or thickness, such as the height of the breasts or of the nose
Parimana is for distance the girth of the arm or of the thigh.
Upamana is the measurement of the interspaces, i.e., the width of the navel, the interval between the two thighs or the two big toes.
Lambamana are measurements taken along the plumb-lines or sutras.]
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 ]
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
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
HASTAS: HAND GESTURES:
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 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 ;
- (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 cāpyarthasaṃyuktā laukikā ye karāstviha । chandataste niyoktavyā rasa bhāva viceṣṭitaiḥ ॥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)
uktaa hyete dvividhaa hyasamyutaah’ samyutaashcha sankshepaat . abhinayakaraastu ye tviha te’nyatraapyarthatah’ saadhyaah’ .. 161..
aakri’tyaa chesht’ayaa chihnairjaatyaa vijnyaaya tatpunah’ . svayam vitarkya kartavyam hastaabhinayanam budhaih’ .. 162..
naasti kashchidahastastu naat’ye’rtho’bhinayam prati . yasya yad dri’shyate roopam bahushastanmayoshitam
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 hastābhinayaḥ kāryaḥ kāryaḥ sattvasya saṃgrahaḥ । tathā kākuviśeṣaśca nānābhavarasānvitaḥ ॥ 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)
vishanne moorchchhite bheete jugupsaashokapeed’ite . glaane svapne vihaste cha nishchesht’e tandrite jad’e .. 177.. vyaadhigraste jaraarte cha bhayaarte sheetaviplute .matte pramatte chonmatte chintaayaam tapasi sthite .. 178.. himavarshahate baddhe varinaaplavasamshrite .svapnaayite cha sambhraante natasamsphot’ane tathaa .. 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 dṛṣṭivilokanaiḥ । vācakābhinayaṃ kuryādvirāmairtha darśakaiḥ ॥ 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 urdhvasaṃsthohya 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 Vakṣaḥsthalam)
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 nirbhugnaṃ tathā caiva prakampitam । udvāhitaṃ samaṃ caiva uraḥ pañcavidhaṃ smṛtam ॥ 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)
Bharata says that the sides (Parsva) are of five kinds: Nata (bent) Sammunata (raised) Prasarita (extended) Vivartita (turned around); and, Apasrta (drawn away).
nataṃ samunnataṃ caiva prasārita vivartito । tathā apasṛtamevaṃ tu pārśvayoḥ 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.
The use of the stomach (belly), the Udara, in the Abhinaya, is said to be three kinds: Ksama (thin); Khalva (depressed) and Purna (full)
Udaraṃ tridhā । tanu kṣāmaṃ nataṃ , khalvaṃ pūrṇam, 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.
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 nivṛttā ca recitā kampitā tathā । udvāhitā caiva kaṭī nāṭye nṛtte 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.
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).
kampanaṃ valanaṃ caiva stambhano udvartane tathā । nivartanaṃ ca pañca itāny ūru karmāṇi 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.
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)
āvartitaṃ nataṃ kṣiptam udvāhitam athāpi ca । parivṛttaṃ tathā caiva jaṅghā-karmāṇi 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.
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
udghaṭṭitaḥ samaścaiva tathā agratala sañcaraḥ । añcitaḥ kuñcitaś caiva pādaḥ pañcavidha smṛtaḥ ॥ 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.
vaiṣṇavaṃ samapādaṃ ca vaiśākhaṃ maṇḍalaṃ tathā । pratyālīḍhaṃ tathālīḍhaṃ sthānānyetāni ṣaṇ nṛṇāṃ ॥ 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.
bhārataḥ sātvataścaiva vārṣagaṇyo’tha kaiśikaḥ । bhārate tu kaṭīcchedyaṃ pādacchedyaṃ 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.
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
strīṇāṃ sthānāni kāryāṇi gatiṣvābharaṇeṣu ca । āyataṃ cāvahitthaṃ 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 aśrayaḥ । viṣkambhitā añcitau pādau trikaṃ 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.
ākuñcitaṃ samaṃ caiva prasāritavivartane । udvāhitaṃ nataṃ 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
References and Sources
- Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition
- By Dr Mandakranta Bose
- Theory and Techniqueby Dr. Sunil Kothari
- Studies in the Nāṭyaśāstra: With Special Reference to the Sanskrit Drama by Ganesh Hari Tarlekar
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
ALL OTHER PICTURES AND ILLUSTRATIONS ARE FROM INTERNE