Tag Archives: Nrtya

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Eighteen

Lakshana Granthas Continued

Continued from Part Seventeen

12. Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala – Part Two




The central theme or the focal point of the Nartana-nirnaya is the Nartaka, the Dancer and his performance (Nartana); and, all the other participants – the Taladhari (Cymbal player), Mrudangi (Drummer) and the Gayaka (Singer) – are ancillary to that. And, even the Nataka (Drama) is said to be a mere device to showcase his excellence.

The efficacy of the Nartana , the dance, is determined (Nirnaya) by the performances, the combined excellence and coordination  of  the Dancer (Nartaka) and his troupe (Vrnda), consisting the Singer (Gayaka), the Cymbalist (Tala-dhari), the Mrdangam-player (Mrdangi), flute-player (Mukhari), and the Dance-composer (Nattuva). These components, together, are the determinants (Nirnaya-kari) of the Dance (Nartana); hence the title of the text is Nartana-nirnaya.


The text Nartana-nirnaya is, at times , called as Nartaka-nirnaya , which some scholars opine is also quite appropriate; because , its principal  subject is the Nartaka (dancer); while the Taladhari (cymbal player); the Mrdangi (Mrdangam player), and the Gayaka (singer)  merely support  the Nartaka  as ancillaries.


Thus, in a Dance performance, the Nartaka is the most important performer. The next to him, in importance, is the Gayaka, the singer. He is followed, in the diminishing order of importance, by the Mrdangam player and the Taladhari.

Bharatnatyam Music Player

The Nartana-nirnaya comprises four Chapters (Prakarana) each devoted to a type of participant, Viz., Taladhari (Cymbal player); Mrudangi (Mrdangam player); Gayaka (Singer); and, the Nartaka (Dancer). Thus the treatise focuses on the role of the artists involved in presentation of a Dance performance.

But, the very heart of a dance performance is the Nartaka, the Dancer. The other supporting artists supplement the Dance performance, by way of rhythm (Nattuvanga, Taala and Mrudanga); Melody (Raga); and Lyrics (Prabandha). The final Chapter is the very heart of the text; while the earlier three Chapters are about the infrastructural or ancillary support to the Dancer.


At the beginning of the first Chapter, the author declares his plan to write on five topics:  Taala (rhythm); Vadya (instrumental music); Gita (vocal music); Nartana (Dance), and Natya (Drama) – NN. 1.3.


However, for some reason, he did not write the fifth Chapter, relating to Natya. The text of the Nartana-nirnaya, as it has come down to us, has only four Chapters, ending with the Prakarana on Nartana, the Dance.


The text begins with a set of 34 verses, written in a variety of metres, in praise of the Moughal Emperor Akbar and his ancestors.

Nartana-nirnaya is characteristically different from other works on performing Arts, in regard to the arrangement of the subject-wise chapters; the Divisions and Sub-divisions; organization of the supporting material and exposition.

The Nartana –nirnaya adopts a logical, coherent and a consistent approach in the arrangement and depiction of its subject.

Each Chapter contains considerable, original, conceptual and descriptive matter. Even where it is largely indebted to earlier authorities, it achieves a remarkable degree of ingenuity, clarity by judicious aesthetic arrangement of its topics.



The four Chapters of the text are arranged in what is known as Sopana-marga (or arohana-krama), in the ascending order of importance of the subject matter, like climbing up the stairs. Such a method of exposition; and, the arrangement of its subjects is said to be unique to Nartana-nirnaya.

Accordingly, the Chapter on Taladhari (the Cymbal-player), the one who keeps time and beats (Tala and Jati), appears first; and, is prior to the one on the Mrdangin (Mrdamgam player). And, Chapter on Mrdanga precedes the one on Gayaka.  Finally the performance of the Nartaka (the Nartana) ; and, the Dance, in general (Nrtta) are discussed in the Fourth Chapter.

Following such scheme of arrangement, each chapter (beginning with that of the Cymbal-player) leads on to the next Chapter, which deals with the more important aspect of Dance.  Here, the first two Chapters are concerned with the auxiliary of Dancing, viz., the rhythmic content (Nattuvanga, Tala and Mrdanga); the next (third) Chapter deals with the melodic content (Raga) and the lyrics of the song (Prabandha). The final and the most important Chapter is about Nartaka and Nartana.

The first Chapter, consisting of 260 verses, is on Taladhari, the Cymbal player, who provides rhythm; and, the second Chapter, in 116 verses, is on Mrdangam, the drums.

The Mrdangam and the Tala (Cymbal) provide the rhythm and time-units in terms of Tala and Laya. Of these two, the former is more important; because, his performance is more visible to the spectators – prekshitamukha (NN.2.7a). The Mrdangam player, in a sense, is the leader of the percussion instruments; and, the other percussion instruments look up to him for the lead. He is assigned 116 Slokas. The Chapter on Mrdangam follows that on the Tala.

But, the size of the Chapter on Taladhari is more than twice that on Mrdanga. That is merely because; the former includes about 144 slokas on Marga and Desi Talas and Tala-pratyayas.  Otherwise, both the chapters are almost equal in extant – 127 and 118 Slokas respectively

The next in importance of the  dance performance, is devoted to the Gayaka, who provides the textual and melodic framework for the Dance, in the form of the words, their content and the music (He is assigned 578 Slokas , in two segments concerning Raga , the melody (234 Slokas) and the Prabandha , the text (344 Slokas).

flute player

The role of the flute-player (Mukhari), who just follows the singer and provides the ambiance; but, has no independent function in the dance recital; is described in just 38 Slokas in the Chapter on Dance.


Eventually, following the hierarchical arrangement of the components of Dance , proceeding in the successive stages of importance, the earlier three Chapters lead to the Fourth and Final Chapter which deals with the most important component of Dance, the Dancer, the Nartaka, himself, the central figure of the performance.

The fourth Chapter, the largest one, having 913 verses, is devoted to Nartaka and his performance. This Chapter starts by defining Nartana, a term used by the author to mean Dance, in general. The Dancer’s (Nartaka) performance is presented in its two aspects: Nartana (dance in general combined with Abhinaya-237 Slokas); and, the Nrtta (pure dance- 676 Slokas).

Here again, the Nartana is said to comprise three kinds: Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta (Natyam Nrtyam Nrttam iti trividham tat prakirtitam); of which, the last is again divided into three types: Visama (difficult, acrobatic), Vikata (hideous) and Laghu (light).

Natya, as the wise explain, is adorned with a narration, teaching, Vritti, Bhava and Rasa; and, is complete with four kinds of Abhinayas (NN.4.3-4)

Nrtya is Dance that is beautiful in all its four components and delighting the hearts of the spectators.

Nrtta is that which provides aesthetic pleasure enjoyed by the people; it is resplendent and spectacular in all its aspects (Angas) through the display of the movements (Vikshepa) of the hands, feet etc., although it is bereft of the Abhinaya –element (NN.4.5-6)

All the types are defined; and, the author reproduces in the first ten verses of the Nartana-Adhikarana, the Sangita-ratnakara’s view that Nrtya and Nrtta may both have varieties of Tandava and Lasya.

Nartananirnaya contents


Each Prakarana (Chapter) of Nartana-Nirnaya gives, at its commencement, a summary of its content. Further, Each Prakarana begins with a definition of the respective performer, in terms of his function, merits and defects.  It then proceeds to describe and discuss the materials of the performance medium; the techniques; and, the forms of compositional repertoire.

[The exception to this rule is the Chapter Nartana-adhikarana (4.1). Its summary is given at the beginning of Chapter Three at 3.1 and 3.2, thus treating both the Adhikaranas as a single Chapter. ]

Separate lists of the contents for the Tala, Raga, Prabandha, Pratyanga-abhinaya, compositional structural elements etc., are given in the respective Adhikaranas, before taking up their definitions, descriptions or discussions


The contents of treatise

Taladhari Prakarana


Pundarika Vittala commences his treatise with a prayer to his favorite deity (Ista-Devata) Sri Krishna, the most sublime of the Dancers, sporting the divine Rasa Dance (NN. 1.1.-3. Mangala charanam):

big1.1957997.1 crop

I bow to that my Lord Sri Krishna, who is the final recourse (Upetu) of all devotees (Yati) for bestowing liberation (Moksha) ; one who is the abode of all classes of mortals; and, one who is immersed in the Rasa Dance  . With that Lord residing in my heart, I shall proceed to narrate the Nartana-nirnaya.



At the commencement of his treatise – Chapter One – Taladhari Prakarana – Pundarika Vittala states that the roles assigned to the Taladhari (Cymbal player); the Mrudangi (Mrdamgam player); the Gayaka (singer), the Nartaka (Dancer); as also the substance of the play, form the components of Nartana-nirnaya (NN.1.3)

Then, he says: I shall describes these five elements of Nartana, in an ascending order, starting with the Cymbal player.

nartananirnaya cnotent sloka

The opening Chapter on Taladhari is divided into the following thematic clusters:  the player; his instrument, which is the Cymbal; his stance; performing techniques, varities of the instrumental compositions (Tala- Tala pratyaya tala sadhana) etc. It also lists:

  • The desired qualities of the Cymbal bearer;
  • Paatas (sound syllables) of percussion instruments;
  • Desi Talas
  • Alamkaras, Kavita , likewise the ten sancharas ; performing postures; the method of performing on the Cymbals –Stuti-sabda
  • The composition named Gajara; then Ota; Vakya-sruti bhushana, patachali ; then rudrabhushana , panchadathu
  • Sudakarma (compositions) ; Yati and other Prabandhas , Prahelicas (percussive conundrums), Talas, and other devices ( exact knowledge of them)

As regards the merits (Guna) of the Taladhari, it is said:

  • He should be handsome; having pleasant contours; and, assume an attractive posture while playing.
  • He should be an expert in percussive –instrumental syllables, skilful in string the Cymbals,
  • He should be well conversant with Yati, Prasa, Tala and tempo (Laya). He should have sound knowledge of Graha , such as Sama , specialized in performing soft and harsh ( percussive) syllables; light of hands ( dextrous in playing the Cymbals)
  • He should have adequate skill in picking up in picking up (Graha), in resting (Moksha) during Nattuvanga, corresponding to the vocalized syllables. Similarly, he should be an expert in ten Sancaras, having adequate stamina, and intense attentiveness
  • He should be skilled in Desi Talas; have the capacity to create aesthetic appeal, ability to please and win over the spectators.


Mrdangi Prakarana

mrdanga Siva

And, the Chapter on Mrdangam is also similarly treated. It enumerates the merits (Guna) and defects (Dosha) of the Mrdangam player; his appropriate stance; techniques in use of fingers, palms; varieties of instrumental compositions; repertoire for accompanying Dance performances ; the merits and defects of his own  performance etc.

The topics described here cover:

  • Varieties of Mrudanga –players called Bharika;
  • Merits and defects of the Mrdangam player;
  • Descriptions of the Mrdanga;
  • Hasta-paatas ; drum syllables;
  • Mrudanga vadana karma – methods of playing the Mrdanga ( concert repertoire); and,
  • performing stance and style of the Mrdangam player


Gayaka Prakarana


The Chapter on Gayaka, the singer, has two segments (Adhikaranas) : one dealing with the melodic aspects (Raga-adhikarana); and, the other with the lyrics and varieties of its compositions (Prabandha-adhikarana).

Gayaka Prakarana – Raga-adhikarana

The first segment (Raga-adhikarana) commences with the definition of the singer;  the role and the importance of the singer in a Dance performance ; his merits and defects; modes of singing; ways of rendering melodic elements in a song – Ragalapa; establishing a Raga.

Here, it is said; the true singer is one who is proficient in Shudda and Chayalaga (Ragas and Prabandhas); one who understands the Murchana, Grama and Tana; and, one who possess profound knowledge of Tala; and , sings with aesthetic delight   – Ranjaka Gitam (NN.2.1).


Pundarika lists the merits (Guna) of a singer

  • He should be an expert in Graha and Moksha – competently following and managing  the beginning and end of  the song in Laya and Tala
  • Conversant (Alapti-kovida) is various kinds of Alapti, Sravaka (melodious and heard even from a distance), Sampradayika (traditional);
  • Specialist in bringing out the delicate nuances (Dhvani) of Ragas and Prabandhas , in pleasing and well cultured (Ayatta-kanthavan) sweet and rich voice (Susarira) even while rendering in high( loud) or low ( soft) tone –Savadhanaka; with inflexion curvature  in tone (Kaku); and, skilled in employing
  • Understands and follows closely the Dancer’s movements and the appropriate vocal support the situation needs.
  • Thorough familiarity with both the Marga and Desi Music


As regards the merits of a song (Gita-guna), they are said to be ten : Vyakta (clarity in the combination of syllables); Purna (complete in all its limbs and Gamaka); Prasanna (readily intelligible); Sukumara (tender , soft); Alamkritam ( endowed with poetic beauty); Sama (evenness in the distribution of the rhythm and pitch); Surakta ( in harmony with the sounds of the Veena); Slakhna (smoothness in the movement from low, middle and high pitches ; and slow and fast tempo);  Vikrasta ( high , distinctly audible); and , Madhura ( sweet, graceful and highly pleasing) – (NN.2.229-230)



The desired qualities of a composer are said to be: through knowledge of Grammar (Vyakarana), figures of speech (Alamkara); prosody (Chhandas); diction, style and a vast and rich vocabulary.

He should have the capacity to compose different varieties of songs; and, have the skill to set the words to match with the music.(NN.2.338)



Then, the text moves on to lay down the framework or the structure of the melodic content, the tone-curvatures (Kaku) of the Raga-alapa. That is followed by the varieties of the Alapti, establishing the nature and the mood of the Raga; the lists of the Raga and the descriptions of the Raga, and the descriptions of the Raga-raginis and Ragaputras that are commonly used; their descriptions; appropriate tones and curvatures while rendering the words of the song bringing out its delicate nuances etc.

In this section, Pundarika Vittala largely follows Sarangadeva while enumerating the merits and defects of a Singer , in the matter of presenting various elements  of music and their  facets such as : Nada- Sthana; Sruti; Svara, Grama, Murchana; Tana ; Prastara, Varna; Alamkara; Gamaka; Alapti etc.  That is followed by an exposition on the Ragas; their descriptions and classifications. Here, Pundarika discusses in detail the characteristics of the Raga-families such as: Shudda-bhiravi; Hindola; Desikara; Sriraga; Shuddha-nata; and Nata-narayana;


Gayaka Prakarana –Prabandha-adhikarana

The segment on Prabandha (Prabandha-adhikarana) – musical compositions following the definitions prescribed for Desi Ragas – deals with two aspects of the song: word (Mathu) and the Music (Dhathu). It is also called as Gana. (NN.3.1)

The segment on Prabandha (Prabandha-adhikarana) – musical compositions following the definitions prescribed for Desi Ragas – deals with two aspects of the song: word (Mathu) and the Music (Dhathu). It is also called as Gana. (NN.3.1)

dhatu matu

Its word-content (Vasthu or Mathu) is analysed into syllabic structures. There is also a mention of the fruits that may accrue to the performer and the patron form their use.

And, the musical content (Dhatu) consists of Raga and Tala. The former is treated in the preceding Raga-Adhikarana; and the latter in the very first Chapter (Taladhari Prakarana); because, it is essential to dance, music and also to song.

That is why Prabandha follows Raga and Tala; and, precedes Nartana


The Prabandha, here, is first analyzed into melodic and structural elements; and, is classified through them. Pundarika discusses the Six Angas (components) of a Prabandha: Svara (seven musical notes); Birudu (laudatory phrases); Pada (one that expresses meaning); Tenaka (tena-tena sounds); Paata (instrumental sounds); and, Tala (time-units).  It is explained; among these Angas; Tena and Pada are the eyes; Paata and Birudu are the hands; and, Tala and Svara constitute the feet of a Prabandha. The Tena (tena-tena) sounds are the manifestations of auspiciousness (Mangala-kara)- (NN.3.10)


Here, Pundarika Vittala, supplements his explanations with illustrations from the contemporary materials derived from various regions/provinces.

Then, the ancient Prabandhas – textually and orally transmitted – are listed and described. As with the Tala, the Raga, and the Dance forms; the author concludes the topic with the description of the contemporary material taken from different parts of the country. The Chapter concludes with an account of the merits and defects of the song rendering and the music composition.

Here, again, Pundarika Vittala follows Sarangadeva and Kallinatha, while describing the varieties of Prabandhas and their characteristics, in terms of their structure and textual elements. He cites with illustrations, 75 types of Prabandhas spread over:  8 of Shuddha Suda class, 24 of Alikrama, 36 of Viprakirna, and 7 of Salaga Suda variety. Pundarika Vittala provides explanations for their applications in different parts of song –composition.

In the process, he describes eleven Prabandhas that were unique to the traditions of Karnataka:  Chandraprakasha; Suryaprakasha; Navaratna; Vira-srngara; Rudraprakasha; Ranaranga; Dasavatara; Sarabhalila; Caturanga; Rtuprakasha; and, Srngarahara.



adavu harini

The Chapter titled Nartana-prakarana is highly relevant to Dancing. And, it is the most important Chapter of the text; and, it is, in fact, the prime factor of the treatise, as it provides the very basis or the cause of its title Nartana-nirnaya.

This Chapter accounts for almost half the size of the text.  And, it is devoted to Nartana, which is presented in two Adhikaranas:  one, dealing with Nartana, the dance form endowed with emotive content, the representational art of dancing, giving expression to emotions through Abhinaya ; and other, with Nrtta which provides aesthetic experience derived from pure form of Dance through disposition, movement and configuration of the various parts of the human body,  employed as a communicative instrument to give a form to its expressions. Here also, Pundarika, largely, follows the explanations provided by previous authorities; such as   Bharata, Abhinavagupta, Kallinatha and Sarangadeva.

Nartaka Prakarana – Nartana_ Adhikarana

This Adhikarana relating to performance of dance – Nartana-prakarana – also deals with the persons involved in the presentation of Dance, such as: Nartaka, Patra, Nartaki, the supporting instrumentalists, the Patron, the audience (Sabha-sada) etc., their merits and defects.

Next, the orchestra in which only the flutist and the flute are discussed, since the other members , viz., Taladhari, Mrdangin, and Gayaka are already discussed in the previous Chapters

Also in the list are the dance-hall, the characteristics of a good dancer, Rekha or the lines created by the movements of the body, the Lasyangas or features of Lasya, Sausthava or standing without any movement, Citrakalasa or concluding movement, Mudra or natural grace, Pramana or harmony, the audience, the person presiding, sitting arrangements, the troupe of musicians, the flute, the entrance of a dancer and various dance-sequences. The actual discussions of these topics are in verses 245 to 656.  Most of the material comes either from the Natyashastra or the Sangita-ratnakara.

While enumerating the desired qualities (Guna) of a Nartaka (Dancer), it is said; he should have a thorough knowledge of all the four forms of Abhinaya;  the requisite skill in maintaining Laya, Tala and Yati; the knowledge of Graha and Moksha; and, above all should have humility, the keen desire to learn and the attractive grace to win the hearts of the spectators.. Besides these, a Dancer of merit should have the capacity to follow vocal and instrumental music; ability to express Rasa and Bhava articulately. (NN.3.325-327)

Then the text goes on to enumerate the items of the dance recital: the opening dance item, entry of the dancer (Mukhacali, including Pushpanjali and various Gatis-strides); Nanadi Slokas invoking the blessings of the gods; the kinds of Urupa, Dhavada, Kvada, Laaga and Bhramari.

Finally the contemporary dance forms from various regions (Desi) are enumerated. These include the dance forms originating from various regions: Sabda, Svarabhinaya, Svaramantha, Gita, Cindu, Dharu, Dhruvapada, Jakkadi and Raasa.

Some of these are classified under Bandhanrtta, the group dances with complex configurations and formations.

These are also of the Anibaddha type, the graceful, simple dances, not restricted by the regimen of the rules etc.

Under Bandha-nrtta, Pundarika includes Mukhacali; Urupa; Dhuvada; Vidulagava; Sabdacali; (also discussed as Sabda-nrtta); Sabda-prabandha; Svara-mantha; Gitapra-bandha; Cindu; Dharu and Dhruv-apada. Their descriptions in verses 668 to 874 show them to be highly structured dance pieces. A group of five Bhramaris is also discussed (in Verses 794 to 98) inserted between the discussions on Vidulagava and Sabda-nrtta.

Next, Anibandha dance is discussed in verses 875 to 898 with its forms given, namely, Namavall; Yati; different Neris; kaivartana; Rnuru, Talariipaka; Gundala; Kamala; Natajanuka; Mandi; Mudupa; Murandari; Kudupa; Tiryakarana; Lavani and Vatu. These have fewer details compared to the discussion of the Bandh-anrttas.

At the end of these descriptions the author refers to these sequences as Anibandha – Urupas, evidently using the term Urupa to denote a broad category of dance. The term Urupa is described in only two works:  in this text; and, in a later work, the Sangita-makaranda of the scholar Vedasuri.



Like most works before it, the Nartana-nirnaya also discusses the various types of Abhinaya (that which carries the intent or meaning of the performance to the spectator), namely, Angika-abhinaya, Sattvika-abhinaya and Aharya-abhinaya; and in doing so it follows the Natyashastra as interpreted in the Sangita-ratnakara.

Generally, the representation of meaning – descriptive and representational – is called Abhinaya; and, it is accomplished in four modes: verbal (Vacika), body-movements (Angika), emotional (Sattvika), and costumes as well as make up (Aharya). But in the Nartana-nirnaya, the Vacika, is not discussed; because, it is not much employed in Nartana.  Similarly, there is not much discussion on Aharya.

In verses 11 to 206, Abhinaya is discussed, with the Sattvika, and Angika types of Abhinaya described in detail. The Citrabhinaya is then described in verses 207 to 238.

The Dance is presented through idealistic and dramatized mode of communication (Natya-dharmi) following the theatrical conventions, in preference to the realistic, day-to-day expressions (Loka-dharmi). These two Dharmis together constitute Chitrabhinaya (special representation).

The external objects are suggested through appropriate gestures (Bahya-vastu-anukarani). And, the implicit and symbolic representations are presented through Chitta-vrtti-arpika.

Krishna Holding a Flute and Dancing on a Lotus

Nartaka Prakarana – Nrtta _adhikarana

The segment (Adhikarana) on Nrtta deals with the abstract aesthetic movements and configuration of various body parts. It is virtually about the Grammar of Dance. . It describes the Nrtta element of Dancing with reference to the special configuration of the static and moving elements of the Dance, such as: Sthanaka, Karana, Angahara, Cari, Hasta, Angri, Recaka, Vartana etc., with reference to the appropriate Anga or Pratyanga.


According to Natyashastra, for the purpose of Dance, the human body may be divided into six major members or Angas: the head; the trunk; the Arms and the legs together with their respective subdivisions or minor members (Pratyangas). For instance; the Pratyangas of the head are: eyebrows, eyes (eyelashes and eyeballs); nose (nostrils); cheeks, chin, teeth, as also facial colour. Similarly, the Pratyangas of the Arms are: the shoulders; elbows; forearm; wrists; palms (back of the hand); and fingers.

The Nrtta-adhikarana may be treated as the Grammar portion of Nartana-nirnaya where the various movements of the Angas and Pratyangas are comparable to the alphabets, the word formations, phrases, clauses and sentences (in which the conjunctions, prepositions and syntactical rules or conventions are invoked).

However, Pundarika Vittala does not classify the movements of the limbs as those specifically pertaining either to Anga, Upanga or Pratyanga.  But, in verses 239 to 244, where he lists his topics of discussion, he mentions the movements of the parts of the body which, in his view, are of importance. These include the movements of the head, the eyes, the eyebrows, the arms, the hand-gestures and other actions of the hands, the waist and the feet. He also discusses the function of the colour of the face. The list further includes more complicated movements generated from the combination of the movements of the parts of the body, such as the Sthanas or postures; Caris or the movements of one leg; Karanas or dance-units ; and, the  Recakas or oscillating movements.

However, instead of following the usual practice of reproducing the descriptions of the 108 Karanas and the 32 Angaharas details as given in the Natyashastra and the Sangita-ratnakara, the Nartana-nirnaya selects only 16 of the Karanas as those needed in Bandh-anrtya, of which it describes several varieties. The text then proceeds to describe the distinctive features of the various kinds of Anibandha-nrtya. From these descriptions of dance compositions there emerge striking similarities with the classical dance styles of the present time, such as Kathak and Odissi.  Thus, Nartana-nirnaya may thus be regarded as the link between the older and present day traditions of classical Indian dancing

The Nartana-nirnaya is therefore regarded as a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Odissi – that are prevalent today.


Nartana-nirnaya describes in Pratyanga-abhinaya, 19 movements of the head (Shiro-bedha); 36 of eyes (Akshi-bedha); 7 of eyebrows (Bhru-bedha); 4 complexions (Mukha-raga); 16 movements of the arms (Bahu-bedha); 6 of the hips (Kati-bedha); and, 13 of the feet (Anghri-bedha).

These correspond, in name and number, to the enumerations made in Sangita-ratnakara.  But, Pundarika Vittala offers a slightly different set of applications of these Pratyangas.

This is also true of Recaka; Karakarana; Calaka; Hasta-pracara; and, Karakarma.

Nartana-nirnaya has adopted from the Sangita-ratnakara all of the 6 Purusha Sthanakas; but, only 3 of the 7 Stri Sthanakas (excepting the Gatagata, Valita, Motita and Vinivartita)

As regards the Desi-sthanakas, except the Parsni-parsvagata; Eka-prasvagata; Eka-janugata; and, Pravarta are included.

Among the 9 Upavista- sthanakas, the Utkata-sthana has been omitted. It has also omitted all the Supta-stanakas.  Thus, in all, Pundarika selects only 27 among the 51 Sthanakas enumerated in the Sangita-ratnakara.

Again, Sangita-ratnakara describes 86 Caris, classified into 16 Bhumya (touching the ground); 16 Akasha (Aerial); and, 35 Desi Bhumya and 19 Desi Akasha Caris.

But, Nartana-nirnaya gives only 84 of these under Bhumya and Akasha divisions; but , not classified as Marga or Desi Caris.

As regards the Hasthas ( the hands) , as against the 24 single Hasthas (Asamyukta), 13 combined Hasthas (Samyukta) and 30 Nrtta Hasthas ( 67) of Sangita-ratnakara, the Nartana-nirnaya adds 38 more single Hasthas; 17 combined Hasthas; and 32 Nrtta Hasthas

Pundarika Vittala describes only 16 Karanas among the 108 given by Sarangadeva. According to Pundarika, it is only these 16 Karanas that are useful in performing Bhanda-nrtya, structured Dance forms.

Generally, Pundarika follows the descriptions given in the Natyashastra and the Sangita-ratnakara, in regard to the depictions of the Sthanakas, Caris, Hasthas and the Karanas. But, his treatment of these subjects differs, considerably, from that of the others.

Finally, Pundarika Vittala ends the work with two more dance sequences, Jakkadi and Rasa, which he includes under Anibandha dance (875 to 912).

Throughout these descriptions the terms Nrtta and Nrtya are used interchangeably.



krishna dance

Pundarika Vittala had commenced his treatise Nartana-nirnaya with an invocation to his Lord Sri Krishna; and, appropriately, he ends his treatise submitting his prayers to Sri Krishna, the very heart and essence of Rasa Dance.


And; he concludes the Nartana-nirnaya with a description of Rasa Dance – Rasa-nrtya (NN. verses 664 -672)  that Sri Krishna performed with the Goips amidst the mango and Kadamba groves along the banks of the gentle flowing Yamuna under resplendent full moon of the spring season, celebrating the Vasantha festival.

As the Muraja and other musical instruments play, the pairs of four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two or sixteen pairs of players (Patra) of men young men and women dance in rhythm ; following the Tala and Laya; ; holding in their hand coloured sticks of sixteen Angulas in length, bound with gold and other metals at both ends; perform delightful Caris and Bhramaris; moving around in circles; weaving amazing geometric patterns (mandalibhuya); singing delightfully; then it is called as the most fascinating Dandarasa

And, the same dance performed without sticks is Rasa-nrtya.



The last four verses of the Fourth Chapter contain Pundarika’s concluding remarks (Upasamhara) ; his observations on the general state of Dance; his efforts to bring clarity into a rather muddled practices; and, a final prayer. He says:

The theory and practices (Lakshya-Lakshana) Dance which had become ambiguous (Sandignam) and had shrunk (Sangata) because of the blind traditions has been rescued and rendered simpler by the efforts of Pundarika Vittala.

I have composed this treatise (Sangita), which is much varied in both the aspects of theory and practice of Dance; and is much simpler and easy to follow; in order to please (ruchyartham) Emperor Akbar. May this bring great joy to the hearts of you all, my friends (Suhadam Hrdaye Sukham Bhuyath).

By studying (Drstva) this excellent (Lokottara), varied (Bahutara-bhedam) , beautiful (Sundara)  Nartana-nirnaya, composed by Pandari Vitthala; as also by judicious use of the Art of Sangita as prevailing, may the learned scholars (Pandita) become the Gurus of the new-age and guide along the right path the aspirants desirous of learning and become experts  (Chatura, Agrinam)  in the Arts of Tala, Mrdanga, Singing (Gana), flute playing (Vamsa), and Dancing (Nrtya).

Thus ends the Fourth Chapter entitled Nartaka-Prakarana in Nartana-nirnaya composed by Pandarika Vittala of the auspicious Karnataka region (Karnata-jatiya).




Sources and References

The primary source on which I have depended upon is Nartana-nirnaya (in three volumes) edited and commented upon by the renowned scholar Prof. Dr. R. Satyanarayana. For Volume Three ; please click here

 For Volume One :please click here

For more on Nartana- nirnaya and other texts on Dance forms ; as also  for the details of the few mentioned here , please do read  Dr. Mandakranta Bose’s research  paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition

Also refer to Pundarika Vittala by Dr. Padma Rajagopal


And to Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis


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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Seventeen

Lakshana Granthas Continued

Continued from Part Sixteen

12. Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala – Part One

dance posedance


In the textual traditions of the Indian Dancing, the Natyashastra; the Brihad-desi and the Sangita-ratnakara are regarded as seminal works; both in regard to the theory and to the practice of Dance, in its various forms. The Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala, coming almost four hundred years after Sangita-ratnakara, is another major work

The Nartana-nirnaya is considered a highly significant and an influential text of its period (sixteen-seventeenth century); and, is classed along with the Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva in regard to the quality, the range and the depth of its discussion; and, also in regard to the extent of influence it exerted on the theory and practice of Dancing of the later periods.

The Sangita-ratnakara, in a concise form, had earlier summarized the changes that took place in the field of Sangita (Gita, Vadya and Nrtta) between the time of Bharata and the thirteenth century. In the process, it provided a theoretical basis and a textual authority for further discussions on the theories and practice (Lakshana-Lakshya) of Music and Dance.

The Nartana-nirnaya, following the Sangita-ratnakara, laid the foundation for further several interesting and radical changes that later took place in the practice of the Art forms, especially the Dance.  At the same time, it set aside, many theories and practices that had become obsolete. Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya went beyond the Sangita-ratnakara.

In a similar manner, the Nartana-nirnaya went beyond the Natyashastra.  Like most of the works prior to its time, the Nartana-nirnaya too discusses various types of Abhinaya (Angika-abhinaya, Sattvika-abhinaya and, Aharya-abhinaya) according to Natyashastra, as interpreted in the Sangitaratnakara. However, instead of merely following or reproducing the Natyashastra‘s descriptions of the 108 karanas and the 32 Angaharas, the Nartana-nirnaya selects only 16 of the karanas as representing the essential characteristics of a Bandha-nrtya, a well regulated Dance-form.

 In contrast to that, the text then goes on to describe the distinctive features of the various kinds of Anibandha-nrtya , the free flowing , innovative dance sequences. The Nartana-nirnaya thus covers both the pristine (Marga) as also the improvised, spontaneous regional (Desi) dances, which are now a part of the ’classical dances’ of today.

All the types are defined; and, the author reproduces in the first ten verses, the Sangita-ratnakara’s view that Nrtya and Nrtta may both have varieties of Tandava and Lasya.

To sum up; apart from its deep concern for preserving the past traditions, Nartana-nirnaya presents a clear picture of the state of Arts during the contemporary times. It also introduces many new elements, components, techniques and terms into the theory and practice of Dancing. Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya not only encapsulates its past and its contemporary scene; but also serves as a guide and an inspiration for the Dance forms to follow. Therefore, the Nartana-nirnaya could be said to  a path –finder; and a golden link (svarna-setu) that brings together the older and present day traditions of classical Indian dancing.



The Nartana-nirnaya comes about four hundred years after Sangita-ratnakara. This period between these two texts was marked by several interesting and rather radical changes and transformations that were taking place in India, in the field of Arts.

The Nartana-nirnaya was composed in the sixteenth century, while Pundarika Vitthala (or Pandari Vitthala) was in the service of the Mughal Court.   Pundarika Vitthala, a versatile artist, scholar and an author, had the opportunity to witness and experience the diverse regional traditions of India as also the newer practices derived from Persia. Pundarika Vittala mentions that he wrote the Nartana-nirnaya, concerning music and dance, at the suggestion of Emperor Akbar, to cater to his taste – Akbara-nrupa rucyartham idam krutam (NN.4.2.675)

Akbar nrupae icchartha bhuloke sangitam / krutamidam bahu tara bhedam sah-hrudam hrdaye sukam bhuyath // N N 53 b //.

In the world, this simple Sangita is created with a lot of varieties in order to please the king Akbar. May it please the heart of the goodhearted ones.

The Royal Courts of Raja Man Singh, Raja Madhav Singh and Akbar provided the forum for interaction between the North and South Indian traditions on one hand; and, between Indian and Persian practices on the other. This surely was an interesting period when diverse streams of Art came together and fused into enterprising new forms; and, therefore, it is aptly termed as the watershed period of Indian Music and Dancing.

This was a vibrant period in the development of Music and Dance, in general. It was during this period that the standardization of Ragas, their classification into major groups (Melas) based on the structure of their notes (Svras); theoretical principles interpreted in terms of the position of the frets on the Vina (Vina-mela); ten types of Tala ( time-units)

Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya came into being in a fascinating, invigorating and an altogether different ambiance, providing opportunities and a forum for interaction between the different Schools of the North and the South; as also between the Indian (Desi) and Persian (Yavana) practices.  Each of its Chapters reveals flashes of originality, innovation and ingenuity in adopting the newer, contemporary trends and practices into the traditional formats.

Though it is primarily based in the Natyashastra and the commentaries of Sarangadeva and Kallinatha, it, in essence, is an original treatise on Indian Music and Dancing. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, regarded as an authoritative and a creative text. As regards Music, it set new trends into motion by bringing together the best in the Karnataka Sangita, Hindustani Music and the Persian Music.  And in dance, it brought into the fold of what could be called Classical Dance, the techniques of Persian Dance as also the idioms of folk dancing.



The subject matter central to Nartana-nirnaya is Dancing. The technical details of Dance as detailed in the Nartana-nirnaya are an important source for reconstructing the history of Indian music and dance during the middle period. This was also the time when the old practices were fading out and new concepts were stepping in. For instance, by the time of Pundarika Vittala, the 108 Karanas were reduced to sixteen. At the same time, dance formats such as Jakkini, Raasa nrtya were finding place among traditional type of Dances.

dance shakthidance rasasdance yamini

In his work, Pundarika Vitthala does not confine only to the traditional dances of India and Persia; but, he also describes the various dance traditions of the different regions of India that were practiced during his time. The information he provides on regional dance forms is quite specific, in the sense that he points to the part/s of India from where the particular style originated, the language of the accompanying songs and the modes its presentation. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, an invaluable treasure house on the state of regional dance forms as they existed in the sixteenth century India

dance forms333

NatyaNrtya and Nrtta

While explaining the title of his work (Nartana-nirnaya); and, the use of the term Nartana, generally, to mean ‘Dance’, Pundarika said that by Nartana he meant it to be a general class name for Dance. And, that the term Natrana would cover the three forms of Dance: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta. The last (Nrtta) would again be subdivided into three other types:  visama (acrobatic), vikata (ludicrous) and laghu (light and graceful), identified respectively as rope-dancing, a comic dance, and a dance based on easy karanas.

Thus, it seems, while Nartana stood for the general class name; the other three were its sub-divisions.

As regards the definition of these terms, Pundarika said he would be adopting those offered by Sarangadeva (11th century).

And, Sarangadeva had, in turn, followed the explanations given by the earlier writers like Somesvara, Dhananjaya and such others (perhaps Nadikesvara too?)

According to those explanations, generally (although there were some slight variations among them):

Natya: refers to an Art form that gives forth Rasa (ultimate aesthetic enjoyment); and, is based in Rasa – Natyam rasam-ashrayam (DR.I. 9). It gives expressions to the inner or true meaning of the lyrics through dance gestures – vakyartha-abhinayatmaka.

Nrtya:  is a means of putting forth different aesthetic moods or Bhava (bhavahetu orbhavashraya) or giving expression to individual words of the song through appropriate gestures and/or facial expressions  – pada –artha-abhinayatmaka

Nrtta: is the display of smart looking (shobhahetu) limb movementsin tune with attractive and catchy Taala (rhythm) and Laya (tempo) – Nrttam Taala Laya ashrayam (DR.I. 9). But, in itself, it is devoid of meaningful content; and, is valued for its mere visual beauty of body movements (gatrasya viksepaha).


Nandikeshvara (Abhinayadarpana-1. 15-16) had earlier distinguished Nrtya from Nrtta, thus:

Bhavabhinaya-hinam tu nrittamitya-abhidhyate | Rasabhava-vyanjana adi yuktam nrityam ity uchyate

And, Sarangadeva said that Nrtya and Nrtta can both be of two kinds –Tandava and Lasya (SR. 7. 28); and, while Tandava is uddhata (vigorous), the Lasya is of Lalita (delicate) movements (SR. 7. 29- 30).

But, Pundarika, in his Nartana-nirnaya, throughout, uses the terms Nrtta and Nrtya interchangeably, perhaps, because, both those dance forms involved, in some measure, the elements of abhinaya or interpretative movements.

Nrtta Nrtya Natya

Bhaddha – Anibhaddha 

But, the more significant theoretical aspect of Nartana-nirnaya is the adoption of the two sets of concepts to classify the Dance forms.

Pundarika adopts Marga and Desi class concepts into the Lakshana and Lakshya   (theory and practice) of Dance, for classifying its forms.  

And then, he introduces a novel feature (hitherto not tried by anyone else); which is the principles of Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured) for stratifying the dance forms into two separate classes.

(1) Pundarika carried forward the practice of the earlier scholar-writers who distinguished the dance forms along the lines of Marga and Desi. The term Marga (literally ‘of the way’ or ‘path’) refers to those arts that adhere to codified rules; while Desi is understood as the unregulated regional variations.   

The concepts of Marga and Desi were originally introduced into Music by Matanga in his Brhaddeshi (around seventh or eighth century) to distinguish the pure and well-structured Music (Marga) from the innovative regional melodies (Desi).

As regards the dance forms; by about the eleventh century, Somesvara adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the then existing Dance forms. Later, around the same time, Sarangadeva, in his Sangita-ratnakara, systematically presented the Marga and Desi forms as distinct styles of dance. 

Here, in these texts, the classical style, that is the one codified by Bharata in the Natyashastra; and, acknowledged by tradition   as the core of classical art, was regarded as the Marga.  The Nrtya, for instance, was classified under Marga form of dance.

The regional and popular dance styles, with easy movements, that allowed more freedom, greater improvisation, within the given framework, were classified under Desi. The Nrtta, for instance, was treated as a Desi form of dance.

Pundarika Vitthala, in his Nartana-nirnaya, also adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the different dance forms. Nartana-nirnaya describes several entirely new dance forms that were popular during its time.


(2) The Nartana-nirnaya marks a major conceptual departure, primarily by following the structural principle of classifying Dance forms into two divisions: namely, Bandha, or styles that rigidly adhered to set rules of composition; and Anibandha, styles that did not do so and allowed innovations by the dancer. The texts of the earlier period, including Sangita-ratnakara, followed the approach of the Natyashastra. But, in the post-Nartananirnaya period, the classification of Dance forms along the lines of Bandha and Anibandha became part of their conceptual framework.


Matanga had earlier classified Music  into two classes –Nibhadda and Anibhadda –  the one that is regulated and structured with Dhatus (elements) ; and , the other  that is not structured (un-bound).

According to Matanga’s classification:  Anibaddha Gita is free flowing music that is not restricted by Taala; it is also   free from disciplines of Chhandas (meter) and Matra (syllables); and, it does not also need the support of compositions woven with meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya).

In fact, neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita. Sarangadeva explains Anibaddha as Aalapa, which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

And the Nibaddha Gita, in comparison, is a rendering of a pre-composed structured musical composition that is governed by Chhandas and Taala; and has words (meaningful or otherwise); as also has a definite beginning and an end. In short; it is a composition (like Prabandha, Giti, and Kriti etc.)


Pundarika was the first scholar to apply the Nibaddha – Anibhaddha type of classification to Dance forms. That is to say; almost 1500 years after these terms came into use in music, Pundarika Vitthala’s work applied them to Dance forms, in order to segregate well-structured dance forms from rather free flowing regional dances.

While both parts followed certain rules of structure and of exposition, Anibaddha was comparatively loose in its construction since it was free of the regimen of Taala.  The Anibandha-nrttas are, thus, flexible in both form and content, within the broadly specified aesthetic frameworks.

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

It would seem that the Anibandha-nrttas were unlike any other dance pieces described in the literature before the Nartana-nirnaya.   The Anibandha-nrttas seemed to be short dance-sequences, using which a dancer could choreograph her own piece. Thus, they have the same function in the dancer’s choreographic design as the karanas of the Marga tradition. But, their structural principle is entirely different from that of karanas, in that they are entirely flexible as to their components and structure while karanas are of course rigidly set structures.


Roughly, it would seem the Bandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there already were prescribed formats and rules ; while, the Anibandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there were none or minimal.

A traditional Bhaddha-nrtta was more rigorously constructed, bound as it was by the constraining patterns of Taala; and, was performed by dancers who were appropriately trained; and, who could interpret a composition perfectlyexecuting all the movements in detail and precisely as per the prescribed sequence.

Pundarika grouped under the Bandha-nrtta class, those dances that were characterized by yati, tala, laya, sthana, Cari and hasta etc. as prescribed in the ShastrasHe enumerated twelve varieties; and, described in detail their specific movements, their structured sequences, including karanas (N2V.43a-45b)


All the other dance forms were drought under Anibandha Dance form. The principle of Anibaddha allowed the dancer a considerable degree of freedom, encouraging her to search for and to create, through her ingenuity, novel aesthetic expressions. This was a major departure from the regimen that required the dancer to rigorously follow the prescriptions of the texts. The opportunities to come up with artistic innovations, within the framework of the tradition, helped to infuse enterprise and vitality into dance performances. The dance became more alive.

In the Nartana- nirnaya, the Anibandha dances are described in two parts; the first consisting of twenty-one Anibandha-urupas (denoting a broad category of dance sequences formed with the karanas); and, the second, consisting two Anibandha-nrtyas. Of the two, some of the Anibandha-nrtyas come from Persia. And the other is Raasa, which includes the form called Dandarasa, the group dances associated with Lord Krishna and the Gopis (NN. 53a-b). Raasa is the only dance recorded by Pundarika which seems to have continued over centuries and is found even today in at least two regions of India, Gujarat and Manipur.

rasa mandal


Fresh perspective

Though the Natyashastra continued to be the authoritative source book, which lays down the basic principles of the performing arts; and, identifies the range of body movements that constitute dancing, in the later times, many works on dancing followed the Nartana-nirnaya’s approach to the categories of dance; and, that eventually became part of their conceptual framework.

The emphasis of the later texts tended to shift away from the Marga of the Natyashastra; but, lean towards the newer forms of Desi Dances with their improvised techniques and structural principles. Apart from increase in the varieties of regional dance forms, a number of manuals in regional languages began to appear. These regional texts provide a glimpse of the state of Dance as was practiced in different regions.

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

Bharata’s account represented only a small part of the total body of dance styles of the time. When new styles became prominent in the medieval period they had to be included in the descriptions of dancing. Such a widening of frontiers meant a great increment of technical description in the texts.

The distinction between the Natyashastra and the later texts is not merely one of detail. Of greater significance is the fact that unlike the Natyashastra, the later texts recognize different styles. These are distinct from the one described by Bharata, the main path or Marga tradition of dancing. The later texts concern themselves more and more with other styles, known, generically, as Desi, whose technique and structural principles are sufficiently different from the style described by Bharata…

Thus, the evolution of Indian Dance system is a dynamic process that absorbed new elements and techniques without compromising its basic tenets. It, thus, demonstrates the time-honored Indian principle of growth: continuity along with change.


Historical significance

Now, as regards the historical significance of Nartana-nirnaya; many scholars, after a deep study of the text, have observed that there is enough evidence to conclude that the text marks the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi. 

Dr. Mandakranta Bose, in her very well researched paper (The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition )  stresses the historical importance and relevance of Nartana-nirnaya; and , states   :  This text  offers us a major breakthrough in understanding both the evolution and the continuity of the art of dance;  because , it enables us to reconstruct the styles prevalent at a transitional period in the cultural history of India.

Thus, Nartana-nirnaya serves as a bridge that spans between the older and present-day traditions of classical Indian dancing.


It was during this period, the Persian influence, through the Mughal Court , entered into Indian dancing, giving rise to a new style of  Dance form, the Kathak.  This period was also marked by the emergence of the Dance forms that were not specifically mentioned in the Natyashastra – the Uparupakas. This genre of musical dance dramas not only came to be admitted into the mainstream of dancing, but also eventually became the dominant type of performing art, giving rise dance forms such as Odissi, Kuchipudi etc.

Dr. Bose also concurs that such connection seems highly plausible. The text, according to her, was part of the cultural world of the Mughal court that nurtured Kathak. She points out that several technical terms used in Nartana-nirnaya match those used in Kathak today. And she goes on to say:

One important contribution of the Nartana-nirnaya is the evidence we may draw from it to establish firmly the time of the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi. There has always been some controversy about the evolution of these two styles. Dance historians in general are agreed that while the roots of Kathak go back to ancient Hindu culture, its present form is derived from dancing styles imported by Mughal rulers. There is no doubt that Kathak did absorb some Persian influence, but the case for that influence is overstated. This can be easily seen by comparing the detailed descriptions found in the Nartana-nirnaya with the movements of Kathak. The style described in the Nartana-nirnaya is, of course, not termed Kathak, a name that came into use much later, but the descriptions clearly show it to be the same as what we know today as Kathak.

Karya tatra dvidha nrttam bhandakam ca nibhandakam / gatyadi niyamayur yuktam bhankam nrtta mucchyate ; anibhaddam tvaniyamaad..


When we look closely at the technique of the dance described under the Anibandha category, we begin to see certain striking similarities with the technique of Kathak. One cannot say that the style described in the Nartana-nirnaya matches Kathak in every detail.  But, one may certainly view that style as the precursor to Kathak; because, the descriptions and the similarities in their techniques clearly show it to be the same as what we know today as Kathak.

The Nartana-nirnaya seems, thus, to be the proper textual source for Kathak. This claim becomes stronger still on examining points of technique….

[The renowned Dancer Smt. Maya Rao in her article “The Hastas in Kathak”, observes

In Kathak, the body as a whole is visualized as the prime medium of expression. For instance; if the dancer intends to represent the moon, not only will his hands show the Ardha-chandra Hasta, but his body will also bend in an arch to suggest the idea of a crescent moon.

The same approach to elaborating and dramatizing basic movements is found in the Nartana-nirnaya. The description of a dance called Lavani includes an almost identical movement in which the dancer bends her body from her waist in Ardha-chandra.


Two of the most distinctive movements of Kathak are Chakkars and Tatkars. A Chakkar is a rapidly spinning movement while a Tatkar means to stamp on the ground with one foot or both; and, marking the rhythm with ankle bells. Chakkar can be identified as the Chakra-bhramari mentioned in the Nartana-nirnaya, which describes it as a spinning movement (NN. 47b).

It is true that the Bhramaris were known long before the time of the Nartana-nirnaya.  Bharata referred to them; but did not give them the prominence that they later received in the Nartana-nirnaya. The revolving movements are of course integral to all dance styles; but, in classical styles, other than Kathak, the movements are never fast enough, nor sustained enough to achieve the aesthetic form that a Chakkar creates in Kathak. It is the speed of revolution that sets it apart and it is precisely this element of fast spinning, comparable to that of the pirouette that we find in the description of Chakra-bhramaris in the Nartana-nirnaya.

In its discussion of revolving movements the Nartana-nirnaya also describes Tirapa-bhramari. [NN 47b: Revolving obliquely with both the legs after crossing them is Tirapa-bhramari]. A similar movement termed as Tirapa is used in Kathak as well.


As for the Tatkar, it clearly corresponds with the Gharghara, of which details are given in both Nartana-nirnaya and Sangita-ratnakara.

 (NN. 50a) Where striking the ground to make the sound of the ankle bells,  it is known as Gharghara.

 (NN.52b-53a) Where the song is sung by the dancer in the language of the Yavana, holding her veil, words uttered with kalla etc. and Gajara etc. ;  and beautified with Ahahga, the dance should be performed being adorned with various three Layas. When this dance is performed with soft movements adorned by Bhramaris , where the Kriya (keeping time with hands) is done with sounded beat in accordance with the difference between Dhruva and Samya, that dance, which is devoid of effort and action, is known as Jakkadi. Thus, the song sung by the experts from Persia using Udgraha, Svaras etc. and in vernacular is known as Jakkadi which is the favourite of the Yavanas.

This Dace sequence is an almost exact description of the Ghungat-gat, one of the best known compositions in Kathak.

The Nartana-nirnaya describes a certain Anibandha-nrtta as follows:

(NN. 52b) Where [the dancer] contracts one of her toes with the big toe extended, shakes her shank after extending it with various quick [movements] and with Gharghar is [that is, tinkling her ankle bells] it is known as Kudupa.

Precisely this action can be recognized today in Kathak when the dancer beats a fast tattoo on the ground to create rhythmic sounds with her ankle-bells.


Further, in Kathak ,  Yati or the rhythmic arrangement of the tempo is divided into five categories, sama, srotagata, gopucchika, pipilika and mrdangi. The Nartananirnaya lists the same types of yatis similar in every detail, although it includes a sixth type, kharjurika . Another term, kuvada, used in Kathak to denote the climax of a complex rhythmic pattern is also found in the Nartana-nirnaya.


Such  similarities offer good reason to believe that the style described in the Nartananirnaya was something very much like Kathak, since it required musical elements similar to those needed for Kathak. The argument becomes even more persuasive when we examine the specifics of the dance technique. But first let us briefly consider the typical characteristics of Kathak as known today

The correspondence between Kathak and Anibandha-nrtta is important not only for discovering the roots of Kathak but also for understanding the value that came to be attached to improvisation in medieval times. In contrast with the prescriptive nature of the descriptions found in the earlier texts, those in the Nartana-nirnaya and its contemporaries allow the dancer more structural flexibility while retaining the basic movements described by Bharata and his successors.]


As regards Odissi, Dr. Bose observes:

The Bandha-nrtta as practiced in the Odissi style is very similar to the descriptions given in the Nartana-nirnaya.  And, the basic standing postures prescribed in the Odissi style: Chauka and Tribhangi. (Chauka and Tribhangi are the two main basic stances in Odissi. Chahka is a stable-wide stance, with weight of the body distributed equally on both the sides; and, the heels facing the centre. It is said to be a masculine posture.  Tribhangi, is a graceful feminine posture, with the body bent in three-ways). These are comparable to vaisakha-sthana and Agra-tala-sanchara-pada of the Nartana-nirnaya. 

Further, some acrobatic postures that are still in use are: danda-paksam, lalata-tilakam and nisumbhitam (the foot raised up to the level of forehead), and several others are found both in Odissi and in Chau dance of Mayurbhanj region of OrissaFurther, there is in the Nartana-nirnaya, the description of a dance called Batu involving difficult poses; and it is very similar to the Batunrtta, a particularly difficult dance in the repertory of Odissi.

(NN. 53a) When the performer revolves touching the ground either with both the knees or with both the legs describing a circle [while her] back is bent [backwards] with her hands in lata then it is known as batu [and its] movement is like [moving] in the orbit of the sun.

This sequence is one of the twelve urupas described in the Nartananirnaya. Urupas are sequences formed with the karanas prescribed for bandhanrtta and are danced to specified varieties of yati, tala and laya. Specific sthana, cari and hand gestures characterize them. Using these twelve urupas a dancer can reconstruct a composition as described in the Nartananirnaya, which will not be far from what we see being performed by artists today. In Odissi we do find similar compositions. Such close correspondences are now proving to be of particular interest to many dancers and teachers who are trying to reconstruct older dance  forms by following the Sanskrit manuals.


Again, there is a correspondence between Odissi and the movements described in the Nartana-nirnaya.  The Text  describes the use of hand gestures to express seven principal musical notes (Svaras) . Each note, according to the author, is a correlative of a bird or an animal, which is represented by hand gestures, as the following passage explains:

 (NN. 20b) Peacock, rain bird, goat, heron, cuckoo, frog and elephant are the seven (notes starting with) Shadja etc that should be recited in order. [Sa=Mayura (peacock); Ri = Chatak (rain bird); Ga=Chag (goat); Ma= Krauncha (heron); Pa=Kokila (cuckoo); Dha = Dadur (frog); and , Ni= Gaja; elephant ].



Pundarika Vittala

Before we move on to a brief discussion on the structure and contents of the Nartana-nirnaya, let’s take a look at its author: Pundarika Vittala, a renowned a musician-scholar.

Pundarika Vittala (16th century) describes himself as a person hailing from Karnataka – Karnata Desiya – born in the village of Sathanur, situated near the Shivaganga Hills (about 50KMs from Bangalore).

Karnate Shivaganga abhidana giri nikate, Satanur-hrudaye yo gramasta janma pravarasunikarath Jamadagni yo asmita vamsa

He refers to his father as Vitthalarya (Vitthalayya) of Jamadagni Gotra – (Tarta Vitthalaryo bhavad amitaya sa sadgunakhya; tat suno ragachandrodaya iti bhaja-SC.3, 57)

He gives his mother’s name as Demaka (RJ.2.77) (Demaka janani-nijasuta Vittalakrta Ragamanjarike yam)

The shrine of Vitthala-raya-swami located about ten KMs from the town of Magadi is believed to be family deity (Kula-devata)


Pundarika Vittala was a remarkable link between the Art traditions of the South and of the North. After moving away from his native country, Pundarika Vittala settled down in the North, initially under the patronage of Muslim King Burhan Khan  in Anandavalli  (near Nasik) in the district of Khandesh. He then moved on to other Royal Courts in the Western and North India.

He was an expert in what is today known as Karnataka Sangita, Hindustani Music, Dancing, Lexicography and Dramaturgy. He later got familiar with Persian Music. He describes North Indian Music forms such as Dhrupad, Jakkari and Raasa etc. He wrote a series of books concerning Music of North India. He exhibits a broader view of the contemporary Arts and their practices in various regions of the country.

While in the Court of Burhan Khan of Khandesh, at Anandavalli, during 1560-1570, Pundarika Vittala wrote his famous work – Sad-raga-chandodaya – having three Chapters titled as: Svara-prasada, Svara-mela prasada, and Aalapi-prasada.  It is a very extensive text, covering almost all the aspects of Music. In this work, Pundarika deals with both the Southern and Northern systems of Ragas ; and, classifies them under nineteen Thats or parent scale, viz.: Mukhari, Malava-gaula, Sri, Suddha-natta, Desaki, Karnata-gauda, Kedara, Hijeja, Hamir, Kamode, Todi, Abhiri, Suddha-varati, Suddha-ramakri, Devakri, Saranga, Kalyana, Hindola and Nada-Ramakri.

In this text, Pundarika Vittala introduced; and, almost adopted Ramamatya’s system of 19 Melas (as in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi) to the North Indian Music. He was, perhaps, the first Musicologist to undertake such an exercise. Out of these nineteen original (Mela) Ragas, he attributes five of them to their respective derivative forms (janya-raga). But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas.

Of the 19 Melas listed by Pundarika Vittala, 11 are identical with those mentioned by Ramamatya:  Mukhari, Malavagaula, Sri, Shuddhanata, Desaksi, Karnatagaula, Kedaragaula, Abhiri, Shuddhavarali, Shuddharamakri and Nadanamakri. As regards the other eight Melas either their notes are different or their names as well as their names are different (few of them have only one note different).  For instance; Ramamatya‘s Hejuri becomes Pundarika’s Hijeja. Similarly Vasanthabhairavi becomes Todi; and, Saranganata becomes Saranga.


His next treatise named Ragamala, was probably, written under the patronage of the Jaipur princes, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas. It is believed; Ragamala  was written during 1576 for one Kapila muni (Srimath Kapilamuniyarthe  kriyate Raga –maalikah) ,

Here, Pundarika Vittala classifies the Ragas (Raga-Ragini Parivara) under six male Ragas. And, attributes to each Male raga, five Raginis – ‘spouses’ (bharyyas) and five ‘sons’ (Raga putra) — totalling 66 Ragas. He also gives the details related to their Svaras, such as:  graha, amsa, nyasa etc.  He also explains the Raga structures in terms of:  nada, sruti, svara, sthana, grama, murchana, tana, etc.

In all, he covers six Male Ragas – with five Raginis and five Putra (sons) for each Male Raga- totaling 66 Ragas.


Later, when he moved to the court of the Prince Madhavasimha and Manasimha who ruled from Jaipur as the feudatory of Akbar, Pundarika Vittala wrote his third treatise:  Raga Manjari 

In his writings, Pundarika Vittala carried forward the work of Gopala Nayaka (14th century) of grafting Karnataka music on to the newly evolving North Indian music.  Raga Manjari shows a further leaning towards North Indian Music, although the set of twenty Melas is the same as in his earlier Sad-raga-chandrodaya. He adopts the typical North Indian classification of Ragas as: Male (Purusha), female (Stri) and infant (Putra) Ragas.

But the interesting feature of this work is the recognition of as many as sixteen Persian melodies; and, relating them to the Indian Ragas by their nearest equivalents.

(1) Rahayi – Deva-gandhara (2) Mahur – Saranga (3) Desh – Ahanga (4) Suhaya – Kedara (5) Huseni – Jijavanta (6) Yaman – Kalyana (7) Deshkar – Vakhrej (8) Devangyo – Devagandhara-Mushakakya (9) Kanara – Nishavara (10) Jangula – Bangala (11) Vara – Malhara (12) Danasya – Irak (13) Sarparda – Bilaval (15) Malave – Muslik (16) Asavari – Hijjeja

Most probably, these imported melodies had already secured a place in the then current Indian music of the North; and, the author only confirmed the practice by including them in his work and by indicating their characters by assigning them to their places in relation to the Indian models.

According to the great  Scholar Pundit VN Bhatkhande, it distinctly shows that Pundarika Vittala had come into contact with the music and musicians of North India , perhaps   in  Delhi or Agra, because the names of Ragas  he mentions , like Chanri, Gowdi, Musali, Iraq, Bakharej, Yemen, Husaini,  and  Tirban  distinctly belong to that region.


However, the fame of Pundarika Vitthala rests mainly on Nartana-nirnaya concerning Dance and dramaturgy, composed, in the sixteenth century, while he was in the service of Emperor Akbar.


By the time of Akbar, the Persian art and music had vastly influenced the cultural life of India, particularly the milieu surrounding the Mughal court. Though the regional traditions did exist, the Persian tradition was the dominant one.

Pundarika Vitthala, while in the Mughal Court, had the opportunity to watch, to appreciate and to enjoy excellent presentations of the Persian oriented dances and music. He also had the privilege of discussing varied issues related to Art with the Persian scholars and connoisseurs attached to the Royal Court. 

The Nartana-nirnaya, an authentic text on dance and dramaturgy, written in a variety of metres (chhandas), has four chapters, one each on, rhythm (259 verses); drum (116 verses); vocal music (579 verses); and, on Dance (the largest, with 916 verses).

And, at the outset, Pundarika states that along with the various regional styles of dancing he would be describing the dance of the Yavanas, (meaning, the Persians). Pundarika Vitthala, with great sensitivity, lays down a framework for bringing about structural changes in the fields of Indian Music and dance.

The Nartana-nirnaya is indeed a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Oddisi – that are prevalent today. But, it is sad that Nartana-nirnaya has not received the level of attention and depth of study that it rightly deserves.


In the next part, let’s take a look at the structure and the contents , in brief, of the Nartana-nirnaya.



In the

Next Part


Sources and References

The primary source on which I have depended upon is Nartana-nirnaya (in three volumes) edited and commented upon by the renowned scholar Prof. Dr. R. Satyanarayana. For Volume One, please click here. For Volume three please click here.

For Volume One :please click here

For more on Nartana- nirnaya and other texts on Dance forms ; as also  for the details of the few mentioned here , please do read  Dr. Mandakranta Bose’s research  paperThe Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition

Also refer to Pundarika Vittala by Dr. Padma Rajagopal


And to Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis




Posted by on May 4, 2019 in Natya, Sangita


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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Fourteen

Continued From Part Thirteen

Lakshana Granthas – continued

 9. Manasollasa / Abhilasita-artha-cintamani of King Somesvara

someshvara 01

Manasollasa (मानसोल्लासthat which delights Manas-heart and mind), also called Abhjilashitarta-Chintamani (the wish-fulfilling precious gem)  ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (ruled 1126-1138 AD) is an encyclopaedic work, written in Sanskrit, covering wide ranging varieties of subjects.

Someshvara III was the third in the line of the Kings of the Kalyani Chalukyas (also known as Western Chalukyas). He was the son of the renowned King Vikramaditya VI (1076-1126) and Queen Chandaladevi. King Someshvara, celebrated variously as Tribhuvana-malla, Bhuloka-malla and Sarvanjya-bhupa, was a remarkable combination of an enlightened Ruler and an erudite scholar.  Someshvara was a noted historian, scholar and poet; and, his fame as an author, rests on his monumental compilation Manasollasa.  He is also said to have attempted to script a biography of his father VikramadityaVI, narrating his exploits, titled Vikramanka-abhyudaya; but, the work remained incomplete.

King Someshwara was also an accomplished musician and a gifted composer.  He is said to have composed in varied song-formats such as: Vrtta, Tripadi, Jayamalika, Swaraartha, Raga Kadambaka, Stava Manjari-, Charya and so on. He composed Varnas, Satpadis and Kandas   in Kannada language. In addition, he compiled Kannada folk songs relating to harvest –husking season, love, separation (in Tripadi); marriage-songs (in Dhavala); festival and celebration songs (Mangala);  songs for joys dance with brisk movements (Caccari);  songs for marching-soldiers (Raahadi); Sheppard-songs (Dandi) ; and, sombre songs for contemplation (Charya).

Someshvara is said to be the earliest to codify the tradition of allocating the six Ragas to the six seasons: (1) Sri-raga is the melody of the Winter (2) Vasanta of the Spring season (3) Bhairava of the Summer season (4) Pancama of the Autumn (5) Megha of the Rainy season and (6) Nata-narayana of the early Winter.

Prince Someswara was regarded by the later authors as an authority on Music and Dance. And, Basavabhupala of Keladi (1684 A.D.-1710 A.D.) composed his Shiva-tattva-ratnakara modelled on Somesvara’s Manasollasa.  The noted musicologists Parsvadeva and Sarangadeva quote from Manasollasa quite often.  Further,   Sarangadeva in his work mentions Someswara along with other past-masters of music theory (Rudrato, Nanya-bhupalo, Bhoja-bhu-vallabhas tatha, Paramardi ca Someso, Jagadeka-mahipatih).

Someswara describes two schools of music – Karnata and Andhra; and, remarks that Karnata is the older form. This, perhaps, is the earliest work where the name Karnataka Sangita first appears (Musical Musings: Selected Essays – Page 46 )

Manasollasa defines chaste Music as that which educates (Shikshartham), entertains (Vinodartham), delights (Moda-Sadanam) and liberates (Moksha Sadanam)   –

 Shikshartham Vinodartham Cha, Moda Sadanam, Moksha Sadanam Cha.

This, I reckon, by any standard, is a great definition of Classical Music. And, this is how the chaste and classical music is defined even today.

Such Music, he says, should be a spontaneous source of pleasure (nirantara rasodaram), presenting varied Bhavas or modes of expressions (nana-bhaava vibhaavitam) ; and , should be pleasant on the ears (shravyam) .

Someshwara classified the composers (Vak-geya-kara) into three classes: the lowest is the lyricist; the second is one who sets to tune songs of others; and, the highest is one who is a Dhatu Mathu Kriyakari – one who writes the lyrics (Mathu), sets them to music (Dhatu); and, ably presents (Kriyakari)  his composition.

 someshvara 03

Someshvara III was succeeded by his son Jagadeka-malla II (r.1138–1151 CE), also known as Pratapa Prithvi Bhuja. He was also a merited scholar, who wrote Sangitha-chudamani, a work on music. He was the patron of the scholar and Grammarian NagavarmaII, the author of famous works, in Kannada, such as:  Kavya-avalokana and Karnataka Bhasha-bhushana.

The Sangita-Cudamani of Jagadeka-malla covers many topics related to music, such as: Alapana and Gamaka;   the desired qualities of a singer, of a composer; the voice culture; design of the auditorium, and so on.  The later scholar Parsva Deva (12th century), the author of Sangita Samayasara, followed the work of Jagadeka-malla on subjects like Ragas, Prabandhas, etc. Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara (first half of 13th century) also mentions Jagadeka-malla (Jagadeka-mahipatih) , with respect.

someshvara 02

It is said; Someshvara commenced compiling the Manasollasa, while he was a Prince; and completed it during 1129 (1051 Saka Samvatsara), which is about two-three years after he ascended the throne.

The Manasollasa  covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from the means of acquiring a kingdom, methods of establishing it, to medicine, magic, veterinary science, valuation of precious stones , fortifications, painting , art, games ,  amusements , culinary art , dance , music and so on , is a monumental work of encyclopedic nature. The text, in general, provides valuable information on the life of those times. It is also of historical importance as it gives the geographical description of Karnataka of 12th century; as also of the contemporary socio-cultural and economic conditions; and of the varied occupations its people.

The entire work of the Manasollasa extends to about 8000 Granthas or verse-stanzas; and, it is composed in the Anustubh Chhandas (metre), with few prose passages interspersed in between. Its Sanskrit is simple and graceful; making it one among the elegant works of Sanskrit literature that reflect the life and culture of mediaeval India.

The treatment of the subjects is sophisticated, cultured, suiting the elite atmosphere of a King’s court. The style of presentation is lucid; and, is yet concise.


The Manasollasa, virtually, is a guide to royal pastimes; and, is divided into five sections, each containing descriptions of twenty types of Vinodas or pastimes. The reason, each section is called a Vimsathi (विंशति), is because; each contains twenty Adhyayas (chapters).  The book is thus a tome of 100 Chapters, which are grouped into five Viśathis (twenties). But, since the Chapters are of unequal length, the Vimsathis also vary in size.

Each Section (Vimsathi) is dedicated to specific sets of topics. The five Vimsathis are:

  Rajya Prakarana; Prapta-Rajya SthairikaranaUpabhogaVinoda and Kreeda

vimsathi table

:- The First Vimsathi, the Rajya Prakarana, describes the means of obtaining a kingdom and governing it efficiently; the required qualifications for a king who desires to extend his kingdom; as also the qualifications of the ministers, their duties and code of conduct  that enable the King to rule a stable, prosperous kingdom. It recommends delegation of powers to various authorities at different levels, with a limited degree of autonomy, under the overall supervision of the ministers.

:- The Second Vimsathi, the Prapta Rajya Sthairikarana describes the ways of maintaining a king’s position strong and stable; retaining it securely; and, ways  of governance of the State, its economics, infrastructure, architecture etc. It also talks about maintenance and training of a standing army, the required capabilities and responsibilities of its commander (Senapathi). This sub-book includes chapters on veterinarycare, nourishment and training of animals such as horses and elephants that serve the army.

As regards economy, it mentions about the administration of the Treasury and taxation; of levying and collection of taxes (Shulka).

:- The Third Vimsathi, the Upabhogasya Vimsathi details twenty kinds of Upabhogas or enjoyments; and, describes how a king must enjoy a comfortable life, including cuisine, ornaments, perfumery and love-games.  

It also speaks of other pleasures of sumptuous living, such as: living in a beautiful palace; enjoying bathing, body-massage, anointing, gorgeous clothing, attractive flower garlands, stylish footwear, rich ornaments; having elaborate royal seat, trendy chariot, colorful umbrella, luxurious bed, enchanting incense; and , enjoyable company of beautiful and witty women etc.

In this section, two chapters are dedicated to Annabhoga or enjoyment of food, describing how various recipes are to be prepared as well as how they should be served to the king. Manasollasa is a treasure trove of ancient recipes. And Jala or Paniyabhoga, talks about the enjoyment of drinking water and juices (Panakas).

The text cautions that fresh and clean water is Amrita (nectar); else, it cautions, if it is sullied, it would turn to Visha (poison).  Someshvara recommends that water collected from rains (autumn), springs (summer), rivers and lakes (winter) for daily use, be first boiled and be treated with Triphala, along with  piece of mango, patala or champaka flower or powder of camphor for health,  flavour and delight.

:- The Fourth Vimsathi of Manasollasa, the Vinoda Vimsathi, deals with entertainment such as music, dance, songs and competitive sports. It speaks of diversions like: elephant riding, horse riding, archery, fighting, wrestling, athletics, cockfights, quail fights, goat fights, buffalo  fights, pigeon fights, dog games, falcon games, fish games and deer hunting etc.

It also mentions the cerebral pleasures such as: rhetoric, scholarly discussions, vocal music, instrumental music, dancing, storytelling and magic art.

The Vinoda-Vimsathi also describes how a king should amuse himself, with painting, music and dance.   The subjects of Music and dance are covered under Chapters sixteen to eighteen of the Vinoda Vimsathi. The vocal and instrumental Music is covered in two sections: Geeta Vinoda and Vadya Vinoda; and, dances are covered under Nrtya Vinoda.

 : – The Fifth and the last Vimsathi, the Krida-Vimsathi describe various recreations. The last two sections, in particular, are virtually the guides to Royal pastime (Vinoda). These include sports like: garden sports, water sports, hill sports and sporting with women; and, games like gambling and chess.

The text is notable for its extensive discussion of arts, particularly music and dance. A major part of Manasollasa is devoted to music and musical instruments, with about 2500 verses describing various aspects of it. Thus, the two exclusive chapters concerning music and dance have more number of verses than the first two sub-books put together. That might, perhaps, reflect the importance assigned to performance arts during the 12th-century India.  And, Someshvara III’s son and successor king Jagadeka-malla II also wrote a famed treatise on music, Sangita-Cudamani.

adavu harini

As regards Dance, the Manasollasa deals with the subject in the Sixteenth chapter, having  457 verses (from 16.04. 949 to 16.04.1406), titled Nrtya-Vinoda, coming under the Fourth Vimsathi of the text – the Vinoda Vimsathi – dealing with various types of amusements.

Manasollasa is the earliest extant work presenting a thorough and sustained discussion on dancing. It not only recapitulates the accumulated knowledge on dancing, inherited from the previous authorities; but also gives a graphic account of the contemporary practices. Someshvara, sums up the views of the earlier writers, which continue to have a bearing on the dance scene of his time (12th century); and, lucidly puts forth his own comments and observations. Here, Someshvara, retained, in his work, only those ancient dance-features (Lakshanas) that were relevant to his time; and, eliminated those Lakshanas which were no longer in practice.

And, another important factor is that Someshvara introduces many terms, concepts and techniques of dancing that were not mentioned by any of the previous dance practitioners and commentators. He mentions new developments and creations that were taking place, as noticed by him.

The Manasollasa is, thus, a valuable treasure house of information on the state of dancing during the ancient times. Another important contribution of Nrtya Vinoda is that it serves as a reliable source material for reconstruction of the dance styles that were prevalent in medieval India.

It is also the earliest work, which laid emphasis on the Desi aspect for which the later writers on this subject are indebted.

The notable features of the Nrtya Vinoda are: the orderly presentation of topics; concise rendition facilitating easy reference; and, the prominence assigned to current practices that are alive than to the ancient theories.

For these and other reasons, the Nrtya Vinoda of Manasollasa, occupies a significant place in the body of dance literature. 


Someshvara introduces the subject of dancing by saying that dances should be performed at every festive occasion (Utsava), to celebrate conquests (Vijaya), success in competitions and examinations (Pariksha) and in debate (Vivada); as well as on occasions of joy (Harsha), passion (Kama), pleasure or merriment (Vilasa), marriage (Vivaha), birth of an offspring (putra-janma) and renouncement (Thyaga)- Manas.950-51

He then names six varieties of dancing; and, six types of Nartakas. The term Nartaka, here, stands for performers in general; and, includes Nartaki (danseuse), Nata (actor), Nartaka (dancer), Vaitalika (bard), Carana (wandering performer) and kollatika (acrobat).

Someshwara uses the term Nartana to denote Dancing, in general, covering six types:  Natya (dance with Abhinaya), Lasya (graceful and gentle), Tandava (vigorous), Visama (acrobatic), Vikata (comical) and Laghu (light and graceful).

The other authors, such as Sarangadeva, Pundarika Vittala and others followed the classifications given Manasollasa.

[Someshvara cautions that Kings would do well to avoid performing dance items like Visama (acrobatic) and Vikata (comic); perhaps because, they were rather inappropriate for a King.]

Manasollasa is also significant to the theory of Dance, because it caused classifying the whole of dancing into two major classes:  the Marga (that which adheres to codified rules) and Desi (types of unregulated dance forms with their regional variations).  

Manasollasa also introduced four-fold categories of dance forms: Nrtya, Lasya, Marga and Desi.

In regard to Dance-movements, Someshwara classifies them into six Angas, eight Upangas and six Pratyanga; with some variations, as compared to the scheme devised by Bharata.

The other important contribution of Someshvara is the introduction of eighteen Desi karanas, (dance poses and movements) that were not mentioned in other texts. However, the Desi aspects are discussed without mention of the word.


Somesvara’s exposition of Dance techniques could be, broadly, classified under  two groups: (1) body movements relating to Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga; and, (2) the other relating to Sthanas, Caris and Karanas etc.

In regard to the former category, relating to the Angika-Abhinaya, Someshvara, in his Nrtya Vinoda, generally, follows the enumerations and descriptions as detailed in the Natyashastra of Bharata (Marga tradition) , with a few variations and modifications. And, the discussion on Angika Abhinaya occupies a considerable portion of the Nrtya Vinoda.

The Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas enumerated and described by Someshvara under the Nrtya Vinoda were classified by the later scholars as belonging to the Desi tradition. That was because they differed from the ‘Margi’ Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas of Bharata‘s tradition. However, Someshvara had not specifically employed the term ‘Desi’ while describing those dance-phrases. He had merely stated in the Gita-Vinoda section that he will be discarding the Lakshanas, as enunciated by Bharata; and, that he will only deal with the techniques that are developed and are in practice (Lakshya) during the current times. The scholars surmise that might be the reason why he does not specify the Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas described by him as belonging  to the Desi Class.


Angika Abhinaya

As mentioned earlier; with exception of a some elements, the treatment of the Angika Abhinaya in the Nrtya Vinoda, to a large extent, follows the Natyashastra of Bharata. But, Someshvara made some changes in the arrangement of the limbs, within the three groups of limbs.

For instance; Bharata, under the category Anga had listed the head, the hips, the chest, the sides and the feet. And, under the Pratyanga, he had mentioned: the neck, the belly, the thighs, the shanks and the arms. And, under Upangas, Bharata had included the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the lips, the cheeks and the chin.

Someshvara, under the Angas followed the general pattern of classification as laid down by Bharata; but, included shoulders and belly in place of the hands (Hasthas) and feet (Padas). His Pratyanga includes the arms, the wrists, the palms, the knees, the shanks and the feet. And, under the Upanga, Someshvara included teeth and tongue (Bharata had not reckoned either of these under his scheme.)

Almost all writers follow the classification made by Bharata; and, not that of Somesvara. And, that doesn’t seem surprising; because, the hands (Hasthas) and feet (Pada-bedha) are the most essential elements of any dance-form.  They surely are indeed one among the major-limbs (Anga) so far as the dance is concerned; and, it may not be right to treat these as minor-limbs (Pratyanga) as Someshvara did.

But, some justify Someshvara’s position, saying that he was mainly concerned with the Desi-Dance form where the emphasis was more on the agile, rhythmic and attractive feet and body movements than on the Abhinaya or expressions put out through eyes, facial expressions and palms.

At the same time; it is said that Someshvara was not wrong in classifying shoulders and belly under the major-limbs (Anga); since, anatomically they indeed are large.

As regards the thighs, they are not included by Someshvara in all the three categories; perhaps because the movements of the shanks also account for that of the thighs.

Bharata had not mentioned either the teeth or the tongue in his classifications; but, these are included by Someshvara under Upangas.


The elements covered under Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga  in both the texts are as follows:

Angas (major limbs)

angas table

Under the Angas (major limbs), Someshvara enumerates the movements of the: Head (13 types); Shoulder (5); Chest (5); Belly (4); Sides (Parshva); and Waist (5).

(1) The Thirteen types of head movements (Shiro-bheda)  comprised : Akampita (slow up and down movement); Kampita (quick up and down movement); Dhuta (slow side to side movement); Vidhuta (quick side to side movement); Ayadhuta (bringing the head down once); Adhuta (lifting obliquely); Ancita (bending sidewise); Nyancita (shoulders raised to touch the head); Parivahita (circular movement); Paravrtta (turned away); Utksipta (turned upwards); Adhogata (turned downwards); and , Lolita (turned in all directions).

[All the thirteen head movements laid down by Bharata have been included by Somesvara, along with their explanations and uses.]

(2) Five shoulder (Bhuja) movements are: Ucchrita (raised); Srasta (relaxed); Ekanta (raising only one shoulder); Samlagna (clinging to the ears); and, Lola (rotating).

[Bharata had not discussed the shoulder movements.]

(3) Five chest (Urah or Vakasthalam) movements are: Abhugna (sunken); Nirbhugna (elevated), Vyakampita (shaking); Utprasarita (stretched); and, Sama (natural).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text.]

(4) Four belly (Jatara) movements are: Ksama (sagging); Khalla (hollow); Purnarikta (bulging and then emaciated); and, Purna (bulging).

[Bharata had mentioned only three; the Purnarikta is added by Someshvara.]

(5) Five side (Parshva) movements of sides are:  Nata (bent forwards); Samunnata (bent backwards); Prasarita (stretched); Vivartita (turning aside); and, Apasrata (reverting back to the front).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text; only, the definition of Prasarita is missing.]

(6) Five movements of the waist (Kati) are:  Chinna (turned obliquely); Vivrtta (turned aside); Recita (moving round quickly); Andolita (moving to and fro); and Udvahita (raising)

[The names and descriptions of a couple of waist movements are changed.]


Upangas (features)

upanga table

Under the Upangas (features) the following types of movements are listed:  Eyebrows (7); Eyes (3); Nose (7); Cheeks (5); Lips (8); Jaws (8); Teeth (5) ; Tongue (5) and facial colours ( 4)

(1) Seven varieties of eyebrow movements (Bhru-lakshanam)Utksipta (raised); Patita (lowered); Bhrukuti (knitted; Catura (pleasing); Kuncita (bent); Sphurita (quivering); and, Sahaja (natural).

[They are almost the same as in Natyashastra. The Sphurita, here is the same as Recita of Bharata; and, its description is also slightly different. But the movements of the eyeballs, eyelids, are not mentioned in the Nrtya Vinoda.]

(2) Three groups of eye movements (Dṛṣṭī-lakaam) are based upon Rasa; Sthayi-bhava and Sancari-bhava.

The first group covers eight Rasas; the second eight Sthayi-bhavas; and the third has twenty Sancari-bhavas. The total number of glances is Thirty-six, the same as in the Natyashastra.

[As regards the use of the glances, Someshvara gives, in addition, the uses of the Sancari-bhava- glances, which were not  in the Natyashastra.]

(3) Six kinds of nose (Nasika) movements – Nata (closed); Manda (slightly pressed); Vikrata (fully blown); Suchavas (breathing out); Vaikunita (compressed) and Svabhaviki (natural).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text. Only the description of Suchavas varies slightly. ]

(4) Six types of cheek (Ganda) movements are:  Ksama (diminished); Utphulla (blooming); Purna (fully blown); Kampita(tremulous); Kunchitaka (contracted);  and, Sama (natural).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text. Only the description of Purna and its uses varies slightly.

The Nrtya Vinoda does not discuss the movements of the neck.]

(5) Ten varieties of lip (Adhara) movements are : Mukula (bud-like); Kunita (compressed); Udvrtta (raised); Recita (circular); Kampita (tremulous); Ayata (stretched); Samdasta (bitten); Vikasi (displaying); Prasarita (spread out); and , Vighuna (concealing).

[Of the ten varieties of lip-movements mentioned by Someshvara, only three of them (Kampita, Samdasta and Vighuna) are from the six listed by Bharata. The other seven lip movements described by Somesvara are taken from other texts.]

(6) Eight kinds of chin (Chibukam) movements are: Vyadhir (opened); Sithila (slackened); Vakra (crooked); Samhata (joined); Calasamhata (joined and moving); Pracala (opening and closing); Prasphura (tremulous); and, Lola (to and fro).

[Bharata had mentioned seven kinds of gestures of the chin (Cibuka) ; and, these were combined with the actions of the teeth, lips and the tongue . In the list of Someshvara, except Vyadhir and Samhata, none of the other movements is mentioned by Bharata]

(7) Five types of teeth (Danta) movements are: Mardana (grinding); Khandana (breaking); Kartana (cutting); Dharana (holding); and, Niskarsana (drawing out).

(8) Five varieties of tongue (Jihva) movements are:  Rijvi (straight); Vakra (crooked); Nata (lowered); Lola (swinging); and, Pronnata (raised).

[Bharata had not discussed teeth and tongue movements. Instead, he had mentioned six movements of the mouth (Mukha). ]

(9) Lastly, the four facial colors described are: Sahaja (natural), Prasanna (clear), Raktha (red); and, Shyama (dark).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text.]


Pratyangas (minor limbs)

pratyang table

Under the Pratyangas (minor limbs) the following limbs are listed:  Arms –Bahau (8); wrists (4); Hands-Hasthas (27 single hand, 13 both hands combined, Nrtta-hasthas 24); Hastha –Karanas (4); Knees (7); Shanks (5); and, feet (9);

Further, under the Nrtta (pure-dance movements), thirty types of Nrtta-hasthas (movements of wrist and fingers) are described.

(1) Eight movements of the arms (Bahu) are: Sarala (simple);Pronnata (raised); Nyanca (lowered); Kuncita (bent); Lalita (graceful); Lolita (swinging); Calita (shaken); and, Paravrtta (turned back).

[Bharata mentioned ten movements of the arms; but had not described them.]

(2) Four movements of the wrists – Akuncita (moving out); Nikuncita (moving in); Bhramita (circular); and, Sama (natural).

[Bharata had not mentioned wrist positions and movements separately; but had dealt with them under Nrtta-hasthas.]

(3) Three groups of hand (Hastha-bheda) gestures are: twenty seven single hand gestures (Asamyuta-hastas); thirteen gestures of both the hands combined (Samyuta-hastas); and twenty four Nrtta –hasthas.  The three together make sixty-four hand gestures.

[The movements of the hands (Hastha) are discussed in detail both in the Natyashastra and in the Nrtya-Vinoda. Bharata had included the hand-gestures under the category of Anga (major limbs); while Someshvara brought them under Pratyanga (minor limbs). The number of hand-gestures and the composition each of the three varieties does vary; but, the total number of hand-gestures, in either of the texts, is sixty four.

However, the names and uses of many Hasthas of Nrtya Vinoda differ from those listed in the Natyashastra.

For instance; Someshvara does not mention the single-hand gestures Lalita and Valita; as also the Nrtta-hastha Arala. He substitutes them by other Hasthas. And, in the case of Musti, he includes an additional type of Musti, where the thumb is beneath the other fingers. And, in certain instances, Somesvara goes further than Bharata, by giving the exact positions of the fingers, while describing a hand-gesture; as in Ardhacandra, Mrgasira and Padmakosa.

Bharata had stated that the hand-gestures and their use, as mentioned by him, are merely indicative; and, it is left to the ingenuity of the performer to improvise, to convey the intended meaning. Such possibilities, he said, are endless. Someshvara also made a similar remark.]

Both the authors – Bharata and Someshvara- describe four categories of the Karanas of the hand: Avestita, Udvestita, Vyavartita and Parivartita.

These gestures also associated with Nrtta-hasthas, 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.

(4) Seven movements of the knees (Janu) are – Unnata (raised); Nata (lowered); Kuncita (bent); Ardha-kuncita (half bent); Samhata (joined); Vistrtta (spread out; and Sama (natural).

 [Natyashastra doesn’t analyze movements of the knee (janu), the anklets (gulpha) and the toes of the feet; as is done by other texts. But, it described the five shank-movements, as arising out of the manipulation of the knees.]

(5) Five movements of the shanks (Jangha) are – Nihasrta (stretched forward); Paravrtta (kept backwards), Tirascina (side touching the ground), Kampita (tremulous) and Bahikranta (moving outwards).

[But these do not resemble any of the shank movements found in the Natyashastra. Someshvara might have taken these movements from some other text. The five movements of the shanks (Jangha) as mentioned in the Natyashastra are:  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)]

(6) Nine movements of the feet (Pada-bheda) are:  Ghatita (striking with the heel); Ghatitotsedha (striking with the toe and heel); Mardita (sole rubbing the ground; Tadita (striking with toes); Agraga (slipping the foot forward), Parsniga (moving backwards on the heels); Parsvaga (moving with the sides of the feet); Suci (standing on the toes) ; and Nija (natural).

Along with the movements of the feet five movements of the toes are described namely – Avaksipta (lowered); Utksipta (raised), Kuncita (contracted); Prasarita (stretched); and, Samlagna (joined).

The Natyashastra does not specifically discuss the toe movements.

[Natyashastra had described five kinds of feet positions: Udghattita; Sama; Agratala-sancara; Ancita; and, Kuncita.

Agraga and Parsvaga, the two feet movements indicated by Someshvara were not mentioned by Bharata.

There is one major difference between these two sets of feet movements. In the Natyashastra the feet movements indicate floor contacts and placing the feet in a particular position. But in the Nrtya-Vinoda, except for Suci and Nija, all other feet movements, consist of actual movements, which arise out of the combinations of the basic feet positions, as mentioned by Bharata.

For example, Ghatita, Ghatitotsedha, Tadita and Parsniga are all combinations of Ancita and Kuncita feet positions. And, Suci and Nija are only static positions. They correspond to the descriptions of Samapada and Sama respectively, as given by Bharata.]

Shirobhedas or Head movments

Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas

After an analysis of Angika Abhinaya, the Nrtya Vinoda takes up the discussion of Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas.

The Nrtya Vinoda discusses in all, Twenty one Sthanakas; Twenty six earthly (BhumaCaris and Sixteen aerial  (AkasakiCaris; and Eighteen Karanas.

Sthanaka is a motionless posture; a Cari is the movement of the lower limbs, which starts from one Sthanaka position and ends in another. A  Karana, on the other hand, relates to the sequence of static postures and dynamic movements. Thus, the Sthanaka and the Karana are associated with the movements of the entire body; and, the two are interrelated.

The Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas were also discussed by Bharata in his Natyashastra. But, the Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas as enumerated by Someshvara differ from those described by Bharata. Those

Since the two sets of Dance-features differed significantly, the later writers, in order to distinguish the two, classified the ones described in Natyashastra under the Marga class; and, those in the Nrtya Vinoda under the Desi class.

But, Somesvara had not qualified such dance features enumerated by him in the Nrtya Vinoda with the suffix ‘Desi’. He had merely stated that he will disregard the features (Lakshanas) as defined by Bharata; and will deal only with those that were developed during the current times and those that are still in practice (Lakshya).

Some scholars opine that the Desi Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas of Someshvara could very well be treated as additions or supplements to the Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas defined by Bharata.


The term Desi, in the context of dance, stands for all those Dance techniques, postures and movements that were not mentioned in the Natyashastra, the seminal work of Bharata. Desi was used in contrast to the Marga or the classic tradition of Bharata.

And, Desi also meant those Dance-forms and movements that were created in various regions of the country for the pleasure and entertainment of the common folks. They even varied from region to region; and, in that sense the Desi could even be called ‘local-styles’. In the post-Bharata times, many other movements were created and were codified as Desi varieties.

folk dance desi tradition

Such Desi Dances were, usually, spontaneous and free-flowing, not restricted by the regimen of strict rules of a particular tradition. Further, the rhythmic, agile feet and body movements, innovative gestures; and entertaining dance sequences performed with joy and jubilation characterize the Desi Dance. And, there is not much emphasis on Abhinaya through eyes or facial expressions.

Over a period of time, say by the time of Somehsvara (12th century) the Desi styles gained more ground and popularity. And, that is reflected by the number of works of the medieval times that gave greater prominence to Desi elements. The Nrtya Vinoda of King Someshvara also could be placed in that context.


As mentioned, a Sthanaka is a static posture, in which greater importance is assigned to the position of the legs.  Here, the limbs are at a state of rest and harmony. Perfect and balanced disposition of the body is an essential feature of the Sthanaka. In dance, it is employed to precede and succeed any flow of the sequence of movement; as well as to portray an attitude. The dancer starts from one position to make a sequence of movements which end, in the same, position with which the dancer started, or in some other position. When the sequences are many and at a fast pace the postures may however get eclipsed.

The definitions of the Sthanakas as rendered by Someshvara relate exclusively to the position of the lower limbs; and, they do not describe the carriage or the relative disposition of the upper limbs.  This signifies that the upper limbs including the hands could be used in any manner that is appropriate. Further, unlike Bharata, Someshvara does not categorize the Sthanakas into Purusha (male) and Stri (female) Sthanakas.

Of the twenty one Sthanakas described in the Nrtya Vinoda, only two bear the same names of two Margi Sthanakas. They are Samapada and Vaisnava Sthanakas.

The Vaisnava Sthanakas in both the traditions are similar. But, the Samapada Sthanaka of the Desi style differs from the Samhata Sthanaka of the Margi tradition.


The Cari constitutes the simultaneous movement of the feet, shanks, thighs and hips. They are classified into two groups: one in which feet do not loose contact with the floor; and, the other in which the feet are taken off the ground.

The Nrtya Vinoda mentions Twenty six earthly  (BhumaCaris and Sixteen aerial (Akasaki) Caris

The earthly Caris consist of movements of the 1eg as a whole, in which the feet are normally close to the ground. There are however two exceptions to this rule found in the Harinatrasika and the Sanghattita Cari, which replicate the leaping movements of a deer.

a5b27 4eb506

The aerial (AkasakiCaris comprise of the movements of the legs which are lifted or stretched up in the air. Some of the names of the DesiAkasaki Caris are to be found in the Margi tradition as well. They are Urdhva-janu (uplifted knees); Suci (pointed); Vidhyut-bhranta, (alarmed by lightning); Alata (square position); and, Danda-pada (as if punishing).


Towards the end, the Nrtya Vinoda describes Eighteen Karanas. Such Desi Karanas, as described by Someshvara, are merely agile movements involving Jumps and leaps. Therefore, the later writers designated such Desi Karanas as Utpluti Karanas.

Since, Someshvara focused on the Dance-forms that were alive and in practice during his time, he made no effort to restore the 108 Karanas, most of which had gone out of use by then. Similar was the case with the Angaharas, Recakas and Margi-Caris, which perhaps were rather distant from the people of his time; and, not in active practice.

The use of these leaping Karanas are said to employed, especially, in the Laghu or Laghava and Visama Nrtya, which involve acrobatics . They range from the simple and ordinary jumps like the Ancita Karanas to very dextrous and nimble foot-movement like the Kapala-sparsana (bringing a foot very close to or touching the cheek)


To sum up

The Nrtya Vinoda soon gained the status of an authoritative text; and, esteem scholars and commentators – especially Sarangadeva and Jaya Senapathi- quoted from it extensively.

To sum up, the significant features of the Nrtya Vinoda are:

(1) Importance assigned to Desi forms of Dance, which were in active use, and their techniques; and, introducing Desi Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas.

(2) Bringing together various dance forms under the common term Nartana; and, coining the descriptive terms Laghava, Visama and Vikata.

(3) Re-classification of the body-parts: Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga. And , including the descriptions and uses of additional limbs such as shoulders, wrists, knees, teeth and tongue.

(3) The descriptions of certain types of movements that were not mentioned in the Natyashastra. These include, belly-movements (Riktapurna); Lip-movements (Mukula, Kunita, Ayata, Recita and Vikasi); Arm –movements (Sarala, Pronnata, Nyanca, Kuncita, Lalita, Lolita, Calita and Paravrtta); Leg-movements (Ghattita, Ghatitosedtaa, Tadita, Mardita, Parsniga, Parsvaga, and. Agraga); and, five movements of the toes.

(4) Coordinating eye-glances with the transitory states (Sanchari-bhavas)

(5) And, suggesting variations in the execution on and uses of Nrtta-hasthas.


For these and other reasons, the scholars recommend that the Nrtya Vinoda could be gainfully used as a supplement to the study of Natyashastra and of the Sangita-ratnakara. The Nrtya Vinoda could also serve as a link that bridges the scholarship of the ancients and the practices prevalent among common people of the medieval times. That would help to gain an overall view of the progress and development of the Dance traditions of India, over the centuries.

desi dances

 In the Next Part , we shall move on to another text.



The Next Part


References and Sources

  1. Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition by Dr Mandakranta Bose
  3. A critical study of nrtya vinoda of manasollasa      V,Usha Srinivasan
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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Twelve

Continued From Part Eleven

Lakshana Granthas – continued

 7. Bharatarnava

shiva dancing333

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

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


The Author.. ?

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

For instance;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 In any case, the scholarly opinion deems it prudent to assume that the Abhinaya Darpana and the Bharatarnava were authored by two different persons who, perhaps, lived during different periods.


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

: –   Here, the Dance is divided into three branches: Natya, Nrtta and Nrtya. But, such distinctions did not come about until about the twelfth century, just prior to the time of Sangita-ratnakara (13th century). Even as late as in the eleventh century, Abhinavagupta avoided using the term Natya; and, restricted himself to using the term Nrtta, presumably because such a term as Natya did not appear in the Natyashastra.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dance padma


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

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

For instance:

Hasthas (Hastha-bedha)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dristi-bedha, eye-glances

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


Gatipracāra –walking styles

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

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


Pada bedha and Cari

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

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

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

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

text and structure

The Text –its structure

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

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

:- The Second Chapter describes double hand-gestures

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

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

:- The Fifth Chapter describes different postures.

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

:- The Seventh Chapter deals with Tala and rhythm.

:- The Eighth Chapter deals with Caris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dance rasas

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

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



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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

dance yamini


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tandava and Lasya

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

desi tradition

Desi tradition

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

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

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

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

dance shakthi

Dr. Mandakranta Bose sums up saying:

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

dance odissi

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



The Next Part

References and Sources



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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Eleven

Continued From Part Ten

Lakshana Granthas – continued

6.Abhinaya Darpana


The Abhinaya Darpana, a comprehensive text describing various gestures, postures and movements in Dance is ascribed to Nandikeshvara. However, the identity of this Nandikeshvara; his period; and, the other works associated with him are much debated. It is very likely that were many persons during the ancient periods that went by the name of Nandikeshvara. And, quite a few of them seemed to have been scholars, who were well versed in the theoretical principles of Dance, Music and other branches of knowledge.

Two works on dancing are traditionally attributed to Nandikesvara: the Abhinaya Darpana and the Bharatarnava. But, the question whether they were written by the same Nandikesvara is again debated. It, however, looks doubtful; because, the contents of the two texts differ, a great deal. Further, the date of the Bharatarnava is also not decided.

The edition of Bharatarnava, which available in the Bhandarkar Oriental Research InstitutePune, is said to be a larger work, having 998 verses spread over 15 Chapters. And, in addition, it has an Appendix (Parisista) consisting of 251 verses. The scholarly opinion deems it prudent to assume that the Abhinaya Darpana and the Bharatarnava were authored by two different persons who, perhaps, lived during different periods. We shall briefly talk about Bharatarnava in the next part.


The date of the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeshvara is rather uncertain. The scholars tend to place it in or close to the medieval period; because, it divides dance into three branches: Natya, Nrtta and Nrtya. But, such distinctions did not come about until about the twelfth century, just prior to the time of Sangita-ratnakara  (13th century). Also, the Abhinay Darpana views Tandava and Lasya as forms of masculine and feminine dancing, which again was an approach that was adopted during the medieval times.

Though Nandikesvara acknowledges the importance of all four kinds of Abhinayas, in his work Abhinaya Darpana, he focuses, almost exclusively, on the Angika-abhinaya – gestures, postures and movements of the hands, feet and other limbs, in Dance.

Abhinaya literally means carrying forward towards the spectator. The Angika-abhinaya or gestures is an essential part of the dance-language. It is that which expresses Bhavas (states) by means of bodily gestures and movements (Angika), in Nrtya. Abhinaya also includes elements of Vachika and Sattvika, which are meant for suggesting actions thoughts and emotional states of the character (Bhaved abhinayo vasthanukarana). And, the other element of the Abhinaya is Aharya, the costumes, makeup of the performers as also other accessories on the stage.

Angika-abhinaya, in Drama and Dance, uses artistic gestures, regulated by the character’s bearing, walk and movements of features and limbs. It follows the stylized Natyadharmi mode of depiction.

Nandikesvara’s primary concern in his work is Angika-abhinaya; and, he presents a detailed analysis of various kinds of gestures, postures, movements, their symbolic meanings and their applications in Dance. In addition, he also cautions which of the gestures or movements may not be used in a given context. But, at the same time, Nandikesvara takes care to ensure that the Abhinaya aspect is not entirely overlooked.

The Abhinaya-Darpana deals, predominantly, with the Angikabhinaya (body movements) or Gesture-language of the Nrtta class; and, is a text that is used extensively by the Bharatanatya dancers. It describes Angikabhinaya, composed by the combination of the movements of the Angas (major limbs- the head, neck, torso and the waist); the Upangas (minor limbs – the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the lower lip, the cheeks and the chin); the Pratayangas  (neck, stomach, thighs, knees back and shoulders, etc) ; and, the expressions on the countenance. The text specifies, when the Anga moves, Pratyanga and Upanga also move accordingly. The text also suggests how such movements and expressions should be put to use in a dance sequence.


The Abhinaya Darpana is widely used as a practical reliable guide by the performing artists, the teachers and the learners alike, in order to hone and refine the technique of Angika- abhinaya. The Bharatanatya, as it is taught and practiced today, is closely associated with Abhinava Darpana, which it regards as a sort of comprehensive training manual or a part of the curriculum on the techniques of dance, body movements, postures etc., especially related to the Nrtta aspects of Dance performance.

Nrtta is Angikabhinaya, which is pure and abstract dance, with stylized beautiful movements of limbs, neck, head, hands; feet etc., performed to music and especially to rhythm. Here, the Hastas (Nrtta-hastas) are not intended to convey any particular meaning; and, they do not also communicate a Bhava or a Rasa; but, they do contribute to the grace and beauty that the Dance offers. Nrtta, as Angikabhinaya, is much more than a decorative element; it, indeed, is a specific and technical aspect of a perfect dance performance.

Nrtya signifies an Art that combines in itself the beautiful movements of Nrtta (Angikabhinaya) with meaningful expressive eloquent gestures of Hastas, to convey thoughts, emotions and also to indicate objects (Abhinaya).

Though the gestures of the Abhinaya Darpana are primarily related to Nrtta, its repertoire of Hasta, Mukhaja, and Caris etc can very well be adopted (Viniyoga) to the Abhinaya aspects in narrative depiction of a theme through dance movements, providing expressive interpretations of the various shades of the meaning of the words, sentences of the song (Sahitya), bringing out its emotional content. The Nrtya, in the present day, is the very epitome, symbol and the soul of chaste classical Dance. And, Nrtta plays a very large part in that aesthetic Art expression.

The emphasis on Angikabhinaya in Nrtta requires the dancer to be in a fit physical condition, in order to be able to execute all the dance movements with grace and agility; especially during the sparkling Nrtta items according to the Laya (tempo) and Taala (beat).

According to the text, the perfect posture that is, Anga-sausthava, which helps in balancing the inter relationship between the body and the mind, is the central component for dance; and, is most important for ease in the execution and carriage. For instance; the Anga-sausthava awareness demands that the performer hold her head steady; look straight ahead with a level gaze; with shoulders pushed back (not raised artificially); and, to open out the chest so that back is erect. The arms are spread out parallel to the ground; and, the stomach with the pelvic bone is pushed in.


Nandikeshvara’s Abhinaya Darpana is a comprehensive text (laghu grantha) with only 324 verses. As compared to the Natyashastra, the Abhinaya Darpana is written in a much simpler style. It focuses mainly on the Angika Abhinaya aspect; and, presents its subject in an orderly fashion. Here, Nandikesvara enumerates the various gestures, postures and movements related to the different limbs, separately, under three broad categories; Anga, Pratyanga and Upanga. He merely catalogues these independent gestures movements etc., with a brief note on their possible applications. The Natyashastra, on the other hand, follows the synthetic as also the analytical method. It not only enumerates different limb-movements, but also suggests their combinations in the form of Karanas, Recakas and Angaharas.

The Abhinaya Darpana often refers to Bharata-shastra (not the Natyashastra); and also to the Chapters Eight and Nine of the Natyashastra, dealing with Angika Abhinaya (gestures)

Shiva tandava -Shri SRajam

After submitting a prayer to Lord Shiva through the famous prayer-verse (Dhyana-sloka), the introductory part (verses 1-48), moves onto other subjects:

Angikam Bhuvanam sloka

Angikam Bhuvanam Yasya, Vachikam Sarva Vangmayam, Aaharyam Chandra Taradi, Tam Namah Saattvikam Shivam 

Whose bodily movements is the entire universe; whose speech is the language and literature of the entire Universe; whose ornaments are the moon and the stars; Him we worship, the serene Lord Shiva. ..!

At the outset, the author establishes the importance of Abhinaya; and briefly discusses the characteristics of its four kinds. This whole opening section takes up only forty verses; and, the rest are devoted to describing the movements of the individual parts of the body, which, according to the author, are of vital importance for a performance. Then the author instructs the performer to begin the performance with various stylized body movements.

The introductory portion (1-48)  covers such matters as :  the origin of NatyaNatyopatti (1-7); tribute to lore and knowledge of NatyaNatya Prashamsha (7-11); the variety of Dances (Natana); the occasions for performing dances ; and the definitions of terms Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya – Natana-bedha (11-16); required qualifications of various persons involved with dance performance, including the audience  (17-23); the desired qualifications and virtues of the dancer (23-30); and, the details of the preliminaries, Purvaranga (31-37)

[The text explains the term Natya or Nataka as an adorable Art, having some traditional story as its theme (Natyam tannatakam caiva purva-katha yutam); Nrtta, the pure dance as that which  is void of  Bhava (moods) and  Abhinaya (representations)- Bhava-Abhinaya-hinam tu Nrtta ity abhijayate ; and, Natya  as dance which  suggests Bhava and Rasa, and, fit for a King’s Court (yetan Nrtyam Maharaja-sabhayam kalpayet sada.

Natyam tannatakam caiva purva-katha yutam; Bhava-Abhinaya-hinam tu Nrttam-abhijayate; Rasa-Bhava vyanjanadi yukta Nrtyam itiryate; Ye tan Nrtyam Maharaja-sabhayam kalpayet sada . Ab.D.verse 15-16 ]

Describing the desired attributes of a dancer (Patra) the text mentions (AD.23-25): she, Nartaki,  should be slender; neither stout nor very thin; be neither very tall nor short; very lovely, beautiful, young, having beautiful large eyes, possessing a happy countenance, and round breasts; self-confident, witty, pleasing and splendidly dressed; dexterous in handling the critical passages  ; knowing well when to begin a dance and when to end it; able to perform to the accompaniment of vocal and instrumental music, properly  keeping with the Tala (beats and rhythm).

Tanvi rupavathi shyama peenonnata-payodhara / pragalbha sarasa kantha Kushala graham-mokshayo /vishala-locana gita-vadya-tala anuvartani // paradarya-bhusha samapanna prasanna-mukha –pankaja / yevam vidha gunopeta Nartaki samudirita // AD.23-25 //

And, again, the Abhinaya Darpana describing the essential inner virtues (Antah-prana) of a good dancer says: A dancer must have the inherent sensibility which can be enhanced by training. Agility, steadiness, sense of line, practice in circular movement, a sharp and steady eye, effortlessness, memory, devotion, clarity of speech, sense of music –  these ten are the essential qualities of a dancer.

Javaha Sthiratwam Rekha cha /27/ Bhramari Drishti Shramaha; Medha Shraddha Vacho Geetham; Paatra pranaa Dasa Smruthaha/Ab. Da.28/

[A version of the Abhinaya Darpana makes a mention of the ‘outer-life of a dancer’ (Patrasya bahir pranah): : the drum; cymbals of a good tone; the flute; the chorus; the drone (Sruti); the lute (Veena); the bells, and a male singer (Gayaka) of renown.]

As a part of her preparation, the dancer should offer her respects to the well-shaped dainty (Surupa) little (Sukshma) ankle-bells (Kinkini) made of bronze (Kamsya-racita), giving pleasant sounds (Susvara), with insignia of the presiding star-deities (Nakshatra-devata), and tied together with an indigo string (Nila-sutrena). Before wearing the anklet-bells, the dancer should reverently touch her forehead and eyes with them; and repeat a brief prayer (AD. Kinkini-lakshanam, 29-30)

As regards the positioning of the dancer on the stage, the Abhinaya Darpana (AD.21-22) specifies : the dancer (Patra) should place herself at the centre of the stage; next to her should be the best male-dancer (Nata); on to her right should stand the cymbalist (Taladhari); she should be flanked on either side by the drummers (Mrdanga-players); between them and behind stand the group of chorus-singers (Gitakarah) ; and , the one who keeps the Sruti (drone) a little behind them. Each of those, thus well ordered, should take their positions on the stage.

Ranga-madhya sthithe Patre , tat sameepe Natottamah / Dakshine Taladhari cha, parshva dvandve  Mrudangakau / tayor-madhye Gitakari, Sruti-kara stahdintake// Yevam thistetah kramernava natyadau Ranga-mandale/

After having completed the Purvaranga and offering flowers (Pushpanjali) the Dancer should commence her performance of the Nrtya. The Abhinaya Darpana etches a lovely picture of the Dancer as she commences her performance with a soulful, melodious song. It says: Her throat full of song; her hands expressing the meaning of the lyrics; her eyes and glances full of expression (Bhava); and, her feet dancing to the rhythm (Taala), thus she enters the stage.

Khantaanyat Lambayat Geetam; Hastena Artha Pradarshayet; Chakshubhyam Darshayat Bhavam; Padabhyam Tala Acherait ॥ AD. 36 

That is followed by the famous verse that instructs: ‘Where the hand goes, there the eyes should follow; where the eyes are, there the mind should follow; where the mind is, there the expression should be brought out; where there is expression, there the Rasa will manifest.’

Yato Hasta tato Drushti; Yato Drushti tato Manaha; Yato Manaha tato Bhavaha; Yato Bhava tato Rasaha  AD.37

This famous dictum is followed in all the Schools of dancing, while performing Abhinaya.

[The Natyashastra also includes a similar verse. It instructs that even when there is verbal acting (Vacica-abhinaya) the gaze (Dristi) should be directed to points at which the hand gestures are moving (tattad dṛṣṭi vilokanai); and, there should be proper punctuation  so that the meaning may be clearly expressed. The intention is to enhance the appeal and total effect so that the language and the hand gestures support each other; and, become more eloquent.

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


The text then briefly describes (in verses 38-42) the four kinds of Abhinayas: Angika (of various body-parts); Vachika (of speech), Aharya (of costumes, makeup etc); and, Sattvika (involuntary bodily reactions)

Then in verses 42-49, it describes the three broad elements of the Angika. Here, it mentions that it is called Angika because it is expressed through the segments categorized in three ways: Anga, Pratyanga and Upanga.

The text mentions (42-43); the Angas are six: head, hands, chest, sides, waist and feet. It says, some others include neck in this category

And, it says (42-45) the Pratyangas are also six; and, these include shoulder-blades; arms; back; belly, thigh; and shanks. It is also mentioned that some other include three more under this category: wrists, elbow and knees; and, sometimes also the neck

The Upangas , the minor limbs are said to include (verses 45-49) eyes, eyebrows; eyeballs; cheeks; nose; jaw; lips; teeth; tongue; chin and face. And, sometimes shoulder is as also considered as a Upanga. Thus, the Upangas in the head are twelve in number.

And, when an Anga (major limb) moves, the Pratyanga and Upanga also move, in coordination.

[The classifications of the Angas, Pratyangas and Upangas in the Abhinaya Darpana, broadly follow that in the Natyashastra. But, the numbers of elements in each category, as listed in either text, vary.

According to Natyashastra:

1) Anga: The main parts of the body are known as Anga. The Natyashastra identifies them as the following six: head, hands, feet, Vaksha or the chest region, Kati or the waist and Parshava or the sides. Some experts add Griva (neck) to this as well.

2) Pratyanga: The parts that connect the main parts of the body are Pratyanga. These too are of six types: the shoulders, the arms, the spine, the midriff, the thighs and the abdomen. Some experts also consider the neck, knees and elbows in this

3) Upanga: Smaller constituent parts of the body are called Upanga. They are different according to each body part. Mainly the Upanga exist on the head/ face, hands and legs, because the waist, chest and sides are complete on their own. There cannot be an Upanga for these.]


The text then goes into the enumeration of the Gestures, Postures and Gaits. Along with that, it also provides the description of each feature and its applications (Viniyoga).

The Abhinaya Darpana lists nine gestures of the head; eight of the eyes; four of the neck; twenty-eight of one hand plus four additional gestures; twenty-three of both hands; gestures to represent gods; the ten Avatars of Vishnu; the different classes of people; the various relations; gestures of hands for dance in general; and, the method of moving hands in dance, and the nine planetary deities.

The Abhinaya Darpana also describes, in detail, the postures and gaits, as the body moves in dance, especially on the feet. The carriage of the dancer’s body with the different movements as codified is presented as Mandalas or Sthanakas which are sixteen modes of standing and resting, Utplavanas are the leaps, the Bhramaris or pirouettes, and finally, the Caris and the Gatis.



 The Abhinaya Darpana details the following kinds of gestures

  1. Nine kinds of gestures of head- Shirobedha (49-65)
  2. Eight gestures (glances) of the eyes –Dristibedha (66-79)
  3. Four gestures of the neck- Grivabedha (79-87)
  4. Twenty-eight gesture by one hand – Asamyukta-hastha (87-165) and four additional gestures (166-172)
  5. Twenty-three gestures by combination of both the hands-Samyukta-hastha (172-203)
  6. Gestures representing gods – Devahastha (204-215)
  7. Gestures representing Avatars of Vishnu- Dashavatara hastha (216-225)
  8. Gestures representing different class of people – Chaturjatiya-hastha (226-231)
  9. Gestures for representing various relations- Bandhava-hastha (231-244)
  10. Gestures of hand for dance in general; and the method of moving hands in dance –Nrttahastha (244-249)
  11. Gestures for representing nine planetary deities-Navagraha-hastha (250-258)


Postures and Gaits:

After treating the gestures, the Abhinaya Darpana deals with the   postures and various movements of the body (259-332)

Depending on the carriage of the body and its various movements that characterize a person, the following postures, and movements of the body in relation to feet (Padabedha – 259) are indicated;

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


As regards the application (viniyoga) of these gestures it is said:

Mandalas, Utplavanas, Bhramaris, Caris and Gatis according to their relation to one another are, indeed, endless in their number and variety. Their uses in Dance and Drama are to be learnt from Shastras, the tradition of the School and through the favor of good people and not otherwise (322-324)


Gestures of the head – Shirobedha

Head and neck 1

According to Natyashastra (Ch.8) there are thirteen gestures of the head (Shirobedha); while Abhinaya Darpana has only nine: Sama; Udvahita; Adhomukha; Alolita; Dhuta; Kampita; Paravrtta; Utksipta and Parivahita.

Among these, five gestures carry the same names in both the works (Dhuta, Kampita, Parivahita, Paravrtta and Utksipta); besides, the names of two gestures agree partially (Udvahita and Alolita)

As regards the head-gestures: Adhomukha, Alolita (or Lolita), Dhuta, Kampita, Paravrtta and Parivahita, they are defined in both the works in a similar manner. As regards their applications also, the two works offer similar explanations.

Besides, the definition of Udvahita in Angika Abhinaya is similar to that of Utkispta of Natyashastra.

Head and neck 2

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


Gestures of the Eyes (Glances) – Dristibedha

eyes 01

According to Natyashastra (Ch.8. 101 onward), there are three classes of Eye-gestures (Dristibedha) : (1) Glances for expressing eight Rasas; (2) Glances for expressing Sthayi bhavas ; and, (3) the Glances for expressing Sanchari-bhavas.

Each of these of the categories in (1) and (2) have in turn eight varieties each; while (3) has twenty varieties. Thus, in all, the Natyashastra describes thirty-six types of eye-glances (Dristibedha), along with their applications (Viniyoga).

But, in Abhinaya Darpana (Dristibedha66-79) the treatment of the Eye-gestures is not so elaborate. It only enumerates only eight of eye-gestures; Sama; Alokita; Saci; Pralokita; Nimilita; Ullokita; Anuvrtta and Avalokita.

But, in fact, these eight are listed in the Natyashastra as eight additional types of eyeball positions (Taraka karma)

Samam Alokitam Saachi pralokita Nimility Ullokita-anuvritte cha tatha chaiva-avalokitam  Ithyashtho drishthi bhedaha syu kirtitah purvasuribhi

Apart from this, the Abhinaya Darpana does not mention other Eye-gestures.


[The Abhinaya Darpana does not also discuss actions related to certain Upanga-features, such as: eye-brows; eye-lids; pupils; cheeks; nose (nostrils); lips; cheeks; chin; mouth; and facial colors.]


Neck gestures (Grivabedha)

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

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

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

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

And, the two enumerations do not have common names.

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


Hand- gestures (Hastha-bedha)

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

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

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



Single-hand gestures (Asamyukta-hastha):

For illustrations of the Hasthas –Please click here

single-hand gestures0001


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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



Combined- hand-gestures (Samyukta-hastha):

For illustrations of the Hasthas – please click here






The Natyashastra (Ch.9) names thirteen gestures;

while Abhinaya Darpana gives twenty-three

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

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










Other Hasthas not mentioned in the Natyashastra:

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


Feet in Dance


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

The names of the Mandalas in the two works differ.


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dance images22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

:- Watering the plants (Vrksha sincana) : first show Nalina and padmakosa hands, palms downwards, then raise them to the shoulder; slightly bend the body with Avadhuta head position and Adhomukha face looking down; with Padmakosa hands downwards to suggest ‘ pouring out’.

In the Nalina-padmakosa, the dancer’s hands are crossed; the palms turned down; but not touching, but not touching; turned a little backward, and made to resemble Padmakosa (lotus bud). To move the Nalina-padmakosa hands downwards is said to be ‘ pouring out

: – Plucking the flower (pushpa-vachayana): hold the left hand horizontally in Uttana Arala; the right hand taken side-ways in Hamsasya extended forward at the side. The left hand here represents a basket; and, the imaginary flowers are plucked with the right hand and transferred to the left.

:- Make up (Prasadana) : putting Tilaka mark on the forehead with ring finger of the Tripathaka hand; wearing the garland with Paranmukha and Sandasmsa (right and left) hands; putting on Tatakas (ornaments of upper arms) and earrings with two Bhramara hands ; painting lac-dye on the feet with Kartari-mukha hands ; and, wearing a ring with Hamsasya and Cyuta-sadamsa hands.

:- Attack by the bee (Bhrama badha): move the head quickly to and fro with the Vidura head; the Kampita lips are quivering and turned down; while the Tripathaka hands are held unsteadily against the face, palms inward.

: – Despair (Visada): with the Dhuta head and the Vinasana eye.

: – Obstacles in walking (Gati-bhanga) with Urudhrta Cari

: – Coming down from a high place (Avatarana); with Gangavatarana

: – Mounting a Chariot (Rathadi-rohana) with Urdhvajanu Cari; “the knees are to be raised, the leg being bent and lifted, so that the knee is level with the chest, and there held; and then the same is done with the other foot.”


Similarly, the classic dance forms of India developed various dance movements by adopting the idioms and phrases from the basic ‘Grammar’ of the Abhinaya Darpana. For instance; the Bharatanatya derived the Araimandi as the basic dance position from the Ardha-mandala or Ayata, which is defined in the Abhinaya Darpana as: “standing in Chaturasra, bending the knees slightly and obliquely and keeping a distance of Vitasati between the two feet “(A.D 263).

Vitastrya antaritau paadau  krutva tu chatursrakau . Tiryak kunchita janubhyam sthithirayath mandalam //AD.263 //

On the same principle, the Kathak developed Sampada; in Odissi it was Chauk; and, in Manipuri the Agratala.


The Abhinaya Darpana occupies a unique position in the literature of classical Indian dance. Unlike in the case of other ancient texts ,  the Abhinaya Darpana is a text that is regularly consulted , even in the present-day,  by the practicing artists and the students, regularly, as a part of the learning process.  It is a practical text that is very much alive.

It not only has helped to preserve the Art of Dancing by imparting instructions to the learners (siyebhyaśca tadanyebhya); but, has also helped in spreading the performing Art through its practice (prayacchāma  prayogata). It is a framework of principles of praxis or practice. Its efficacy lies in the practice of Dance; and, in providing inspiration for reconstructing innovative Dance-expressions by experimentation (prayoga); and, by combining, with skill and imagination, the varieties of gestures, stances and movements of Angikabhinaya that it has enumerated so systematically. Thus, the Abhinaya Darpana is at once, a Sadhana shastra and a Prayoga shastra.



In the next part, we shall briefly talk about Bharatarnava; and, then move on to other texts.



The Next Part


References and Sources

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


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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine

Lakshana Granthas – continued

5, Abhinavabharati


Illustration of Abhinava Gupta by Elke Avis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Abinavagupta - Version 3

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


The Eleventh Chapter of Abhinavabharati interprets Mandala-vikalpanam, which are more complicated movements of the legs involving combinations of Caris. These Mandals are again classified into two categories:  Akasa-mandala (aerial, having ten varieties); and,   Bhu-mamandala (ground, having eight varieties).


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Bharata also concluded his work with the Benediction:

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

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

Nātyaśāstram sampūram



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




Part Eleven

References and Sources

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




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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.


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). ]


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 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 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 clusters or groups. 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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