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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Five

Continued from Part Four

Dance forms of India

ashtalakshmi2 (1)

Uparupakas

Bharata, in his Natyashastra, discussed, in main, the Rupakas, the major forms of the Drama; and, the two genre of Dance formats – Tandava and Sukumara. His concern seemed to be, primarily, with the forms and styles that were dominant in the art-tradition of his time; and, particularly those that had the potential to display various modes of representations and to evoke Rasas. For him, the aspect of Rasa was central to the Drama.

Of the eleven essential elements of the Drama that he names, Rasa is of paramount importance; and deriving that Rasa is the objective of a theatrical performance. The other ten elements – from Bhava to Ranga – are the contributing factors for the production of the Rasa

rasā bhāvā hy abhinayā dharmī vtti pravttaya / siddhi svarā astathātodya gāna ragaś ca sagraha // BhN_6.10 //

Bharata, similarly, even in regard to Dance, described only those dance forms that he considered to be artistically well cultivated; leaving out the regional and popular varieties. In the process, Bharata did not deal with the many peripheral styles.

The Drama, a Drshya-Kavya, was formally known as Rupaka. Abhinavagupta explains Rupam as that which is seen by the eyes; and, therefore, the works containing such matter is Rupani or Rupaka. And, Dhananjaya in his Dasarupaka (ten forms of Drama)  explains :  it is called a Rupaka or a representation because of the acts put on by the actors (abhinaya)  by assuming (rupakam tat samaropad)  the forms of various characters  such as gods or kings  and men and women. And, it is called a show because of the fact it is seen (rupam drsyatayocyate). Thus, Drama is the reproduction of a situation (Avastha-anikrtir natyam), in a visible form (rupa),  in the person of the actors. Dhanika in his commentary , explains that the terms Natyam, Rupam and Rupakam can be treated as synonymous.

The Drama was classified into two types: Major (Rupaka) and Minor (Upa-Rupaka).

Under the Rupakas (major types of Drama) Bharata mentioned ten of its forms (Dasadhaiva). Of the ten, he discussed, in fair detail, only two forms –Nataka and Prakarana. Because, he considered that these two alone fulfilled all those requirements that were necessary for Rupaka (major type). According to Bharata, these two major forms alone depict varieties of situations, made up of all the four modes or styles (Vrttis) and representations. And, they alone could lend enough scope for display of Rasas (Rasapradhana or Rasabhinaya or vakya-artha-abhinaya). In contrast, the other eight forms of Rupakas deal with limited themes and rather narrow subjects; and, are also incapable of presenting a spectrum of Rasas. 

In the process, Bharata did not also discuss about the minor forms of the drama, the Uparupakas or Natyabhedas. These were a minor class of dramatic works, distinct from the major works; and, did not satisfy all the classic, dramatic requirements prescribed for a Rupaka or Nataka proper. Such minor class of plays (Uparupakas) handled only a segment of a theme or story (Vastu); and, not its full extent. It did not also, perhaps, employ all the four Abhinayas, in their entirety.

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By the time of Abhinavagupta (Ca.11th century), the Dance had diversified into many more forms than were known during the time of Bharata. However, he mentions that even those innovative forms, indeed, continued to be rooted in the basic concepts laid down in the Natyashastra. And, in fact, he often cites idioms of dancing from such new categories, in order to illustrate Bharata’s concepts.

For instance; Abhinavagupta explains the nature of the delicate Sukumara Prayoga and of the gentle Kaisiki Vrtti, with reference to examples taken from Nrtta-kavya or Nrtya-prabandhas or Ragakavyas – musical compositions or narrative plays (classified under Uparupakas) beautified with  the elements of dance and music; and, which could be presented through expressive Abhinaya.

Abhinavagupta remarks; though the concept of minor dramas is absent in the Natyashastra, it is those minor classes of plays – Uparupakas, par excellence – in their varied forms, adorned with rich, melodious music, as also with graceful and delicate dance movements, which grew into becoming the main stay of the contemporary dance- scene.

Thus, Abhinavagupta, in his commentary, did mention the Upa-rupakas; but, he did neither define its essentials nor did he explain its features. He merely called them as Nrtta-kavya and Raga-kavya; meaning, the type of plays that are rendered through song, dance and interpreted through Abhinaya. In that context, Abhinavagupta mentions some plays of Uparupaka variety. He names them as: Dombika, Bhana, Prasthana, Sidgaka, Bhinika, Ramakrida, Hallisaka, and Rasaka. These minor dramatic works were of the nature of dance-drama, where the elements of music and dance were dominant.  But, Abhinavagupta had not discussed about those musical varieties.

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Perhaps, the earliest reference to Uparupaka occurs in the Kama-sutras of Vatsyayana (earlier to second century BCE), which presents a guide to a virtuous and gracious living. Here, Vatsyayana mentions Uparupaka type of plays, such as Hallisaka, Natyarasaka and Preksanaka, which were watched by men and women of taste.

Rajashekara (8th-9th century) calls his Prakrit play Karpuramanjari, as a Sattaka type of Uparupaka. He explains that the play in question was not a Nataka, but resembled a Natika (a minor form of Drama). It was a single-Act play (ekankika); and, it did not contain the usual theatrical scenes such as: the pravesakas (entry-scenes) and viskambhakas (intermediary or connecting scenes). Here, in the Sattaka type of Uparupaka, music and dance were the principal mediums of expression. Even a major part of its spoken dialogues (Vachika) was rendered in musical form. And, the story of the play was composed by stringing together series narrative songs.

Bharata had also mentioned that  in a well rendered play, the song, dance,  action and. word follow one another in an unbroken flow; presenting a seamless spectacle as if there is neither an end nor a beginning , just as wheel of fire  (Alata chakra).

eva gāna ca vādya ca nāya ca vividhā aśrayam / alāta-cakra pratima kartavyayayoktbhi // BhN_28.7 //

That, in a way, sums up the characteristic nature of the dance-drama type of Uparupakas. Here, the stylized Natya-dharmi mode of depiction is dominant. And, even when Vachikabinaya is used, the emphasis is more on the Abhinaya rendered through gestures to the accompaniment of song and music; than on speech.

Such Uparupakas, while narrating an episode or a story, did use the elements of the Nrtta (abstract dance movements) along with the Abhinaya of the Nrtya. They were, thus, a specific form of Natya–  (Natyabheda) . They also provided ample scope for display of Bhavas and for evoking Rasa.

[ As Dr. Sunil Kothari observes in his research paper :

The technical distinction which Natyashastra makes between Rupakas and Uparupakas is that while the former presents a full profile of a Rasa with other Rasas as its accessories.  Further, in the Rupaka a full story was presented through all the dramatic requirements and resources fully employed. But in the Uparupaka only a fragment was depicted. And, even when a full theme was handled all the complements of the stage were not present; the Uparupaka lacked one or  the other or more of the four Abhinayas; thus, minimizing the scope for naturalistic features Lokadharmi and resorting increasingly to the resources of Natyadharmi.

Whereas this is true of several other forms of Uparupakas, it is not true of the dance-drama forms. They used all the elements of the Abhinayas; and,also  provided scope for display of Bhavas and for evoking Rasa.]

madhubani

Coming together of the Marga and Desi traditions

By about the twelfth century, the classic Sanskrit Drama, in its major format, the Nataka, began to gradually decline. And, over a period, it almost faded away.

Though the Sanskrit theatrical tradition was tapering out, it did continue in the forms of minor or one-act plays – Uparupakas – mainly in regional languages, with a major input of dance and songs; but, with just an adequate stress on Abhinaya (acting) and Sahitya (script). These forms of dance-dramas were gaining ground.

The texts of the later period commenting on Natya and Alankara-shastra (poetics) could hardly afford to ignore the Uparupakas which were steadily gaining popularity. And, many scholars did formally recognize the Uparupaka class of dramatic works; codified their features; and assigned them a place within the framework of theory , as Nrtya-prabandhas.

By about the twelfth century, the differences as also the relationship between the Nrtta (pure dance) and Nrtya (Nrtta with Abhinaya) were clearly established. And, those dance formats, in combination with music, were suitably applied and integrated into the performance of the dance dramas.

Among the authors of the later period, Raja Bhoja ((10-11th century), Saradatanaya (12-13th century) and Vishvanatha (14-15th century) dealt at length with the Uparupakas. Raja Bhoja in his Srngaraprakasa discusses twelve types of Uparupakas; Saradatanaya in his Bhavaprakasa describes twenty-one forms of Uparupakas and also provides a gist of several definitions as given by the previous authorities ; and, Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana discusses in detail eighteen types of Uparupakas, with examples

For a detailed discussion on  the types of Uparupakas: please click here. And, go to pages 189 and onward for descriptions of those forms.

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Such staged dramatic texts (Nrtta-kavya or Raga-kavya), narrating a story, composed of songs, set to music with instrumental accompaniment; and, choreographed with dance movements, came to be known by different names such as: Natyabheda (in Avaloka of Dhanika); Geyarupaka (in Kavyanusasana of Hemacandra): Nrtyarupakas or, simply as the ‘other plays’ anyani rupakani (as by Ramacandra and Gunacandra), in which music and dance dominate.

The period between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries was a very highly significant phase in the evolution and development of Art in its varied dimensions. It was during this period that Dance, as Nrtya, gained recognition as an independent Art-form. And, Dance was no longer treated as a mere adjunct to drama. Similarly, vocal (Gita) and instrumental (Vadya) also began to flourish on their own.

The Dancing in India evolved by assimilating new forms and techniques; and, by moving away from its early dependence on Drama. In the process, it also widened its aesthetic scope beyond decorative grace; and, enlarged its content or repertoire to encompass depiction of emotional narrative themes. Now, the beauty of form walked in-hand with the richness of the lyrics and, with the depth of its emotional content; resulting in the growth of a complex art form.

During the period which spans the eleventh to the sixteenth century, many excellent works on Dance and music were written; and, new trends in Dancing were set. Now, many texts, exclusively devoted to Dance came into being (Say, Sangitaratnakara of Sarangadeva – Chapter seven;  the Nrtya-ratna-kosa of Maharana Kumbha ; the Nrttaratnavali of Jaya Senapati; Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala).

The texts of this period , though rooted in the principles of Natyashastra, did recognize and discuss Dance-forms and styles whose technique and structure differed from the Marga class described by Bharata- During this period, the emphasis of the texts shifted away from Natyashastra’s Marga tradition ; and, moved towards the styles known , generically, as Desi , regional or improvised.

It was during this period that Uparupakas developed into a common ground where the classical Natya of the Shastra (Marga) met the regional (Desi) forms of Dance of easy movements; allowing more freedom and greater degree of improvisation, within the given framework. It was here that the sophisticated fused with the folk forms.

The noted scholar Dr. Raghavan, therefore, described the Uparupaka as the golden link (svarna-setu) or common ground where the classical met the popular; and, where the sophisticated took the folk forms.

This period was also marked by the efforts to codify the less acknowledged, but popular forms; and, assign them a place within the framework of theory.

In the process, the theories of Dance adopted the terms and principles that were prevalent in the Kavya, poetics. Those dance forms which adhered to the established regulations and conventions; and, which had a definite structure were termed and classified as Nibaddha. And, those free-flowing dance forms, which were spontaneous, unregulated, unstructured and not bound by any rules, were treated as Anibaddha. Such unfettered dance-forms were not restricted by the requirements of Taala and such other disciplinesand, it did not also need the support of compositions woven with meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya). Sarangadeva defines Anibaddha as that which is not bound or as that which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva).

The Anibaddha also meant allowing the dancer considerable latitude in devising body movements that best suited the aesthetic and emotional content of the theme.; And , it also  made room for enterprise to come up with fresh idioms of expressions.

At the same time, the texts, such as the Sangita-samayasara, the Sangitaratnakara and the Nartananirnaya, suggested body movements as that of  simulating the quiver of a drop of water on a lotus leaf, or the trembling of a flame etc.

Such process of reorganization  and innovation covered not only the well regulated dance forms ; but, it  also  extended even to  the individual and   the group dances like Daṇḍaras, Raslīlā and other folk dances of similar nature, some of which have survived as dramatic group presentations.

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Dr. Mandakranta Bose in her Movement and Mimesis concludes : Our study of technique also shows that present day classical dancing in India is grounded more directly in the tradition recorded in the later dance manuals, especially the Nartananirnaya , than in the older tradition of the Natyashastra. This suggests that those styles which had marginal existence in Bharata’s time not only came to be admitted into the mainstream of dancing, but eventually became the dominant current. The evolutionary process is therefore one of dynamic growth rather than a static survival. Through the comparative analysis of the concepts and technique of dancing the present study attempts to mark the milestones of that process

As Dr. Sunil Kothari also observes in Part One of his research Paper  : the minor forms that were not specifically described by Bharata came into fore during the later periods. And, they have contributed greatly in the evolution of the dance concepts; and, in shaping and enriching the various dance forms, in their distinct regional milieu; as we see in contemporary India.

Dance-Drama

Dance-dramas

Dance and music have always formed an integral part of Sanskrit drama. But, it was the Uparupakas – minor class of drama- based in music and dance movements that eventually gave rise to the now living traditions such as KuchipudiBhagavata-Mela-Natakas, Yaksha-gana and Kuravanji    dance dramas.  Such forms of  Uparupakas  are very attractive formats, with the elements of the music and dance being predominant. And, most of them are based in dances accompanied by soulful songs, interpreting the emotional contents of the song through Abhinaya or gestures.

The Uparupakas also marked the emergence of dance-drama along with the solo exposition as a credible format of Dancing. Since then, dance-drama has come to stay and flourish side by side with the solo dance forms.

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The key element of the musical dramas was delighting in the spectacle of presentation and the emotions displayed by the characters on display. Their themes were crafted around Raga and Kavya elements, which dealt with the characters, themes, plots, emotional situations rooted mainly in Srngara (lovely and graceful) and Bhakthi (devotion) Rasas. The Uparupakas were, therefore, said to be Bhavatmaka or dependent on emotions.

The Uparupakas were broadly classified according to the dance-situations that were involved and the Rasas, the emotions, they projected. Among the Uparupakas, the Rasaka, Hallisaka, Narttanaka, Chalika and Samyalasya gave importance to Nrtta, the pure dance movements, in their performance. And, Natika, Sattaka, Prakaranika and Trotaka (Totaka) gave prominence to emotional aspects and to Abhinaya.

‘The Lovers Radha and Krishna in a Palm Grove’; miniature painting from the ‘Tehri Garhwal’ <i>Gita ­Govinda</i> (Song of the Cowherds), Punjab Hills, kingdom of Kangra or Guler, circa 1775–1780

Gita-Govinda

The most celebrated of the Raga-kavyas, Chitra-kavyas or Nrtya-prabandhas is the Gita-Govinda composed by Sri Jayadeva Goswami (about 1150 A.D), who was a court poet of the King Lakshmana of the Bengal region (12th century). It is the most renowned and the best loved among all the Raga-kavyas of the Prabandha class. Gita-Govinda occupies a preeminent position in the history of both the Indian music and dance.

The Gita-Govinda is a Khanda-Kavya, confined to description of some episodes. It comes under the Prabandha class of Kavyas. Jayadeva at the commencement of his Khanda-kavya states that he is composing a Prabandha Kavya (Etam karoti Jayadeva kavih prabandham). The Ashtapadi (eight footed) is a  Dvi-dhatu  Prabandha,  i.e. consisting two sections (Dhatu):  Udgraha and Dhruva.

from the Gita Govinda

This sublime Sringara-mahakavya, lovingly describes the emotive sports of Sri Radha, the Mahabhava – highly idealized personification Love and Beauty; and, Krishna the eternal lover (Sri Radha-Krishna-Lila).

Gita Govinda is the most enchanting collection of twelve chapters (Sarga). And, each Sarga commences with soulful a Sloka followed by one or two songs arranged in couplets. These songs are known as Giti, Prabandha or Ashtapadi, since twenty-four of such (but not all) employ eight couplets. Sri Jayadeva himself calls them as sweet and delicate Padavali-s (Madhura komala padavalim).

The Gita Govinda, permeated with intensely devotional and delicate Madhura Bhakthi, was one of the inspirations of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprbhu who was steeped in Krishna-bhakthi; and, it is now the primary text of the Gaudiya Vaishnava School of Bengal.

The popularity enjoyed by Gita Govinda is amazing. Each region and each language of India embraced it to its heart, with love and devotion; adopted it as its own; sang in its own chosen Raga; and, interpreted it in its own dance form.

The Gita Govinda also served as an inspiration or as a model for creation of dance-dramas, elaborating on parallel themes, in different parts of the country, in different languages. For instance; the dance sequences composed in the traditions of Kuchipudi of Andhra; the compositions of Sri Sankaradeva of Assam; Umapati of Bihar; Bhagavata Mela Natakas of the South; Yaksaganas of Karnataka ; and, Krsnattam and Kathakali of the Malayalam areas – were all inspired by the Gita-Govinda.

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Nauka Charitam

And, Sri Thyagaraja (1767- 1847) is said to have composed three musical dramas  (Geya-Nataka). Of these, only two namely: Prahlada-Bhakti-Vijayam and Nauka Charitam are available. But, the third – Sita Rama Vijayam – is sadly lost.

Nauka Charitam, mostly a product of Sri Thyagaraja’s imagination, improvising on an incident briefly mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam, comprises twenty-one Daru songs set in thirteen Ragas (some of which follow folk tunes) . Its theme extols the virtue of absolute surrender to the Lord with Love and devotion. Nauka Charitam lends itself beautifully well for production of a Dance-drama.

Dances

Regional Dance forms

By about the sixteenth century, the Nrtya-prabandhas, set free from the confines of the Drama, began to flourish and to evolve further, by assimilating new forms, more creative modes of expression and techniques. In the process, their aesthetic scope grew beyond mere decorative postures. They refined their skills to communicate the emotive content of the lyrics, more effectively. Beauty of form was blended with meaningful expressions (Abhinaya). The Uparupakas having developed into a complex Dance-form came to occupy a central position within the contemporary world of Art.

Even in this format, the dance element continued to be divided into Nrtta and Natya on the one hand; and, into Tandava and Lasya on the other. Another significant factor was that even though the Dance was mainly based in the theoretical principles of the Natyashastra; yet, in practice, it inculcated styles and techniques that were peculiar to each region. In each of those regions, the Dance practitioners also developed their own local vocabulary. These gave rise to distinctive dance forms and technical terms.

Each of such derivative forms formulated a tradition of its own; such as Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, and Kuchipudi and so on. And, each of those eminent dance forms rooted in its own regional and cultural background; anchored in its own philosophy and outlook, developed its own idioms of expressions.

There are also certain factors that are common to all those diverse types of dance forms. These, in brief, are : prominence to the narration of the theme;  the dominance of Natya-dharmi; performing to  the appropriate music, Laya (tempo) and Taala (time-units, beats) ; employment of all the four Abhinayas in varying degrees; in making a distinction between the Nrtta and the Nrtya, and maintaining their distinctive features while executing  the respective elements in the performance; taking care to see that the Nrtta aspect, particularly the individual dance movements and postures, are  governed by the special techniques developed by each school of Dance; and, recognition of both the  Ekaharya (solo – where a single dancer enacts the role of several characters) and Anekaharya (where several actors participate  to enact their respective role)  modes of presentation.

Yet, these Dance-forms have successfully retained their identity; and, have carried it forward to the present time.

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Kathak

As regards Kathak, its history as a performing art has to be viewed in the larger context of the history of the Dance forms of the North India. Kathak, in its earlier form had a long association with temple-dance. But, with the advent of Mughal rule; and with the influence it exerted on Indian life and culture, Kathak dance was remodeled into a different form.

For instance; it is said, by the time of Akbar (16th century), the Persian art and music had vastly influenced the cultural life of India, particularly the milieu surrounding the Mughal court. According to Pundarika Vitthala (Nartana-nirnaya), who had the opportunity to watch, appreciate and enjoy excellent presentations of the Persian oriented dance and music, the restructured Dance form of Kathak, was born out of the fusion of classical Natya with the dance of the Yavanas, (meaning, the Persians), which took place in the context of the cultural life of the Mughal inner court, during the time of Akbar.

Kathak, in its early period, had not only a special, unique manner of dancing, with its own phrases of Nrtta and Abhinaya; but it also had its own distinct structure of performance and philosophy. But, During the Mughal period, it became a source of recreation for those seeking escape from the day-to-day annoyances. Its purpose, then, was to provide sheer pleasure, entertainment and amusement. Thus with the advent of the Mughal rule there was a definite shift in its content as also in its emphasis. And, the elements of devotion, worship etc., that were there in its traditional form went into background. It acquired the epithet of Nautch.

Thereafter, with the fall of the Mughals, Kathak, somehow, managed to survive by shaping itself into a fine expression of a dance form aiming to please its newly acquired patrons, the rulers of small native states. It then branched into Gharanas named after the court that supported it ; like Lucknow Gharana , Jaipur GharanaRampur Gharana etc. (For more, please do refer to Kathak, Indian Classical Dance Art by Sunil Kothari )

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Kathak , which follows Nartanasarvasva , has a unique feature of taal-prastuti (a systematic elaboration of a time-cycle of a chosen number of beats) that is not found in any other classical Indian dance-forms. It has also a distinct way of presenting the syllables and Bols used in the text of the songs. The variations of these Dance-forms are also recognized by their nature, even in case their style is classical, folk, or modern.

And since the post-Independence days, happily, the classical Kathak is rediscovering itself. It is liberated from the confines of the past feudalistic court associations. The framework and outlook of the present-day classical Kathak is chaste – aesthetically and spiritually.

Odissi

Odissi

In contrast; the classic Odissi was, essentially, a temple-dance, enacting a devotional poem. It is steeped in devotion; and, in the concepts of spirituality of the Vaishnava tradition. It is performed as a way of submitting ones service (seva) to Lord Jagannath. Odissi is a lyrical form of dance with subtlety as its keynote. It is known for its fluidity and grace. Its sculpture-like poses are executed with harmony of line and movement. Odissi has developed its own vocabulary of foot positions, head movements, eye movements, body positions, hand gestures, rhythmic footwork, turns and spins.

Odissi, again, is based in the principles of the Natyashastra. It also follows other texts such as Abhinaya Chandrika of Mahesvara Mahapatra and Abhinaya Darpana of Nandlkesvara. Dr. Mandakranta Bose opines that the techniques of Odissi are also derived from the Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala.

The Odissi also observes the traditional formats of Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya, in their distinct forms.

The initial items, following soon after the invocation , the Mangalacharana, and Pushpanjali, are in the fast-paced, rhythmic pure dance movements of Nrtta class, known as Battu or Battu Nrtta. That is followed by Pallavi rendering in varied tempos.

The Nrtya segment of the Odissi is more elaborate. It consists narration of a theme; the interpretation of the words and sentences of the lyrics of the song; illustrating with grace Abhinaya articulated through elegant Bhavas, gestures and facial and eye expressions. Odissi is renowned for fluid, eloquent and gracefully charming movements and postures. The songs of Nrtya are, generally, in adoration of Vishnu, as Lord Jagannath. Apart from that, the Astapadis selected from Jayadeva Kavi’s Gita Govinda are the most popular numbers in it’s Nrtya repertoire. These soulful dance recitals celebrate the divine Love of Sri Radha and the eternal Lover Sri Krishna.

The Natya segment of a Odissi performance relates narration of a theme selected from the mythology, epic or a celebrated Kavya.

Kuchipudi

Kuchipudi

Similarly, Kuchipudi, the dance-drama  of the coastal Andhra Pradesh, is regarded as a religious art of the Vaishnava tradition, devoted to Lord Krishna (Bhama kalapam), where the dancer-actor narrates a story, conveying a spiritual message through expressive gestures, graceful body-movements and rhythmic footwork. In fact, a Kuchipudi performance commences with the recitation of the auspicious slokas extracted from Vedic texts; consecration of the stage with sprinkling of holy water (punyavachana); and , offering Puja to the Ranga Adidevata , the chief deity on the stage. That is followed by dance-offering to Ganapathi; prayers submitted to Goddess Tripurasundari, and to the Guru; and Naandi-stotra by the Sutradhara, the stage manager. The Kuchipudi Natyam is usually performed by a group or in some cases by a solo dancer who enacts, through dance movements, the roles of several characters.  The performance concludes with Mangalam, the benedictory verses; and, offering Aarati to gods.

The repertoire of Kuchipudi also follows three performance categories of dance forms; namely, Nrtta (Nrutham), Nrtya (Nruthiyam) and Natya (Natyam).  Here, ‘Nrtta’ is a technical performance where the dancer presents pure dance movements with stress on speed, form, pattern, range and rhythmic aspects without interpretive aspects. In ‘Nrtya’ the dancer-actor communicates a story, spiritual themes particularly on Lord Krishna through expressive gestures and slower body movements harmonized with musical notes thus engrossing the audience with the emotions and themes of the act. ‘Natyam’ is usually performed by a group or in some cases by a solo dancer who maintains certain body movements for specific characters of the play which is communicated through dance-acting.

(For more, please check Indian Classical Dances : Kuchipudi Dance )

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Manipuri

Manipuri , of Eastern India, is a classical dance form narrating themes rooted in the Vaishnava Bhakthi tradition, depicting the Love between Sri Radha and Lord Krishna  , mainly through the re-enactment of the sublime  ‘Raas Lila’. It is also fused with the pre-Vaishnava tradition of Lai Haraoba and Thang-ta, which add variety and vibrancy to its repertoire of movements. Here, again, dance and music are interwoven with rituals and religious practices.

It is said; the repertoire and basic play of this dance form revolves around different seasons. The traditional style of this art form incorporates graceful, gentle and lyrical movements. The fundamental dance movement of Raas dances of Manipur is Chari or Chali.

Manipuri dances are performed thrice in autumn from August to November; and, once in spring sometime around March-April, all on full moon nights. While Vasanta Raas is scheduled in spring when Holi, the festival of colours is celebrated, the other dances are scheduled around post-harvest festivals like Diwali.

The themes of the songs and plays comprise of Love and association of Radha and Krishna in company of the Gopis namely, Sudevi, Rangadevi, Lalita, Indurekha, Tungavidya, Vishakha, Champaklata and Chitra. One composition and dance sequence is dedicated for each of the Gopis; while the longest sequence is devoted to Radha and Krishna.

The dance drama is performed through excellent display of expressions, hand gestures and body language. Acrobatic and vigorous dance movements are also displayed by Manipuri dancers in certain plays.

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Mohiniattam

The Mohiniattam, a classical dance form that evolved in Kerala, is said to have been derived from the dance performed by Mohini, a female Avatar of Vishnu. It, again, is a temple-dance; but, with a predominance of graceful and gentle Lasya movements. The Mohiniattam dancers follow- among other manuals – the Balarama -bharatam as their guidebook.

Mohiniattam also comprises all the three elements of Nrtta (pure dance movements); Nrtya (narrating a theme with Abhinaya); and, Natya (enacting a play, usually by a group).

A performance of a Mohiniattam includes sequences commencing with invocation or Cholkettu; and then on to Jatisvaram, Varnam, Padam, Tillana, Shlokam and Saptam. Thus, Mohiniattam is aligned to what came to be known as Bharatanatya.

Its songs are composed with mixture (Manipravala) of Sanskrit and Malayalam words.

Traditionally, Mohiniattam is performed by a single dancer who enacts the roles of the other characters that feature in the lyrics of the song (Ekaharya Abhinaya). Of late, Mohiniattam is also performed as group dance.

dance forms333

Dance forms

All these dance-forms, including Kathak, though they are basically individual performances, they are also enacted as group dances.

What is common to all these classical dances is that their roots are in religion, mythology and devotional stories. Central to these dances is the Nayika, the gentle heroine, who symbolizes the soul of the devotee. The spirit of Bhakthi permeates these dance forms. And, their traditions have been carried forward under the Guru-shishya –parampara, with each generation passing on to the next, with earnestness,  the knowledge, skill and the philosophy of its School.

 *

The Dance forms, such as, Kathak, Odissi or Kuchipudi narrate a story or an episode  chosen from an Epic or mythology. Etymologically, the term Kathak is related to Katha, the art of storytelling. The Western ballet also tells a story. But there are some significant differences between these Dance forms, with regard to their nature and the manners in which they are danced. For example; classical Ballet is performed as a group dance , where different dancers play different roles or characters to build a story. This story is performed as a dance-drama, where various scenes unfold one after the other.

And, another is that unlike in the western dance, the Indian Dances are not set to leaps and gliding movements in the air. It strives to achieve a perfect pose that can be frozen in time. Its technique depends on the skillful management of time (Taala), in order to achieve a series of perfect poses.

In contrast to ballet; the Kathak and other classical dance forms are, traditionally, solo dance-performances. Its dancer enacts all the roles or characters involved in the story (Ekaharya). Here, the story is presented mainly with the help of Abhinaya that involves facial expressions and meaningful hand-gestures. Apart from telling a story, the dancer will have to meticulously follow the rhythmic patterns (Taal) as required by the lyrics and also the sol-fa and other dance syllables rendered in varying speeds (Laya).

Similarly, the Varnams and Padams in the Bharata Natyam are, usually, presented as solo performances.  While presenting the theme of the song that is to be interpreted, the dancer skillfully assumes (Natyadharmi) the role of  several characters (ekaharya) that figure in the lyrics, with appropriate Sancari- bhavas; say, the roles of the Nayika (heroine), her friend/assistant (Sakhi) or of the Nayaka (hero)’. This is achieved through a series of  variations of Angikabhinaya, in which each word of the poetry is interpreted in as many different innovative ways as possible.

*

Another significant point is that the present-day dance forms like Kathak, Odissi etc., are more related to medieval texts like Nartananirnaya than to the ancient manuals. This, in another way, could be taken to mean that certain dance-forms, which were marginalized in the Natyashastra, found a new life and due recognition as one among classical Dances of India. This again emphasizes the dynamic nature of Art, which rejuvenates and re-invents itself all the time.

*

Influence of Nartana-nirnaya

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, the much respected scholar and authority on the principles and practices of the performing arts of India, also concurs that such connection seems highly plausible. The text was part of the same cultural world of the Mughal court that nurtured Kathak.

Dr. Bose, in her work, Movement and Mimesis: the Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition , points out that several technical terms used in Nartana-nirnaya match those used in Kathak today. And she goes on to say:

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; but 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.

*

As regards Odissi, Dr. Bose observes that 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 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.  Tribanghi, 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 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.

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Bharatanatya

The School of Nrtya that is prevalent in South India is Bharata-natya. It has gained ground through the efforts of some dedicated stalwarts.

During the period of national movement for attaining India’s independence, there was a revival and resurgence of Dance forms; and re-assertion of its values.

With the advent of the Maestro Uday Shankar; and with the efforts of the aesthetes like Rabindranath Tagore, Poet Vallathol of Kerala and Rukmini Devi and E. Krishna lyer of Kalakshetra at Adyar, the ancient form of dance (Marga), as in Bharata’s  Natyashastra, was re-established, by renaming it as Bharata-Natyam.

Along with that, the other classical dance forms like, Kathak, Odissi, Mohiniattam and Manipuri were also revived.

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Dance – Today and Tomorrow

Moving from temple to theater was a huge, a gigantic leap. During the last seventy-five years there have been tremendous changes in the arena of Dance, in terms of structure, content, theme, presentation techniques, teaching methods and so on. As it stepped into the open society and reached out to larger numbers of spectators, the well equipped huge auditoriums and theaters having excellent lighting and sound facilities and other means of technical support etc., also came up. With this, the reach of the Art expanded significantly. Now, not merely the well informed connoisseurs, but also the uninitiated audience began to have access to witness and enjoy Art performances. This has  been a very healthy and a robust development.

Up to the early 20th century, the songs to which dances were composed were exclusively those rich in Srngara bhava. In the post-independence India, the dance themes were diversified to depict subjects other than the usual mythological and religious themes and of a heroine pining for her hero.

This shift played an important role in prompting the dancers to re-think and seek new directions in Indian dance and its thematic content. The Dancers with imagination and with the ability to reflect upon the present-day issues, began to experiment; to innovate dance-expressions; to create new movements using space, different levels; and, to develop an impressive array of dance vocabulary.

In India, Dance has always been an activity associated with socially, culturally and ritually sanctioned practices. And, the present period is the age resurgence of Indian classical dancing, freed from its past associations. The youth who pursue classical dance are the educated middle class, both in India and elsewhere. Today Indian dances have crossed national borders; and, the exponents of Dancing in the Indian Diaspora have been  extending their dance horizons,  wherever they are.

In today’s world, the classical dance is an icon of high-art. It is also the representation of India’s preserved history, tradition and culture. It is a part of understanding our cultural heritage. The classical Dance as a specialized performing art draws fewer males than females. It, somehow, is essentially the domain of the females It is, therefore, the women who, mostly, have carried forward this form of traditional art.

These are interesting and vibrant days for Indian classical Dance in its varied forms. With that, it has to face new challenges; and, has to address itself to new questions. It has to look within to review the techniques, the structural principles and to reassess the internal strength of its traditional forms. And, it has also to look forward and project its future path; to explore new horizons. It has to gain power and strength to carry forward the various Dance forms; and, at the same time have the tenacity to preserve the purity of the essential principles of the classical Dance. It has to find resilient ways to reflect the contemporary progressive values; and, continue to be relevant to the society and the world we live in. And, at the same time, it has to devise safeguards to protect the Art against the dangers of the rampant commercialization, which might affect the standards and the quality of the classical dance forms. It is the shared responsibility of the Gurus, the learners and the art connoisseurs. And, it is indeed a very tall order.

***

Commencing from the next part, we shall briefly discuss each of the significant texts that defined the nature and practice of Dancing in India. We may, as always, start with Natyashastra; and, thereafter go to other texts, following their chronological order.

Nataraja big

 

Continued

In

Part Six

References and sources

All images are from the Internet

 
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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

 Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya

B. During the Post- Bharata period

Bharata Natyam

Intro…

The commentators of the middle period (say, around the tenth century and thereafter) interpreted some of the fundamental terms of the Natyashastra in a manner that was considerably different from perhaps what Bharata meant. They also brought in many concepts that were not envisaged by Bharata.

Just to recapitulate:

As per Natyashastra,

: – the Nrtta was pure dance. It was not a subsidiary or an auxiliary to Natya. It was an independent Art-form, which was performed mainly in the Purvaranga, before the commencement of the play proper, as praise offering to gods (Deva-stuti).

: – The Tandava was described as Nrtta (pure dance); and, it was not necessarily aggressive; nor was it performed only by men.

[The Tandava in the Natyashastra did not convey the sense of Uddhata (Vigorous). Further, the Tandava or Nrtta of the Natyashastra was in no way related to what later came to be known as Tandava-nrtta.]

: – The graceful dance (Sukumara-prayoga) with delicate, graceful (Madhura) movements (Angaharas) performed by Devi Parvathi (which Abhinavagupta named as Lasya) was not in contrast to Shiva’s Tandava. It was her own Dance.

[Sukumara-prayoga (or Lasya) 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.]

: – During the time of Bharata, there was no clear theoretical division of Dance into Tandava and what, later, came to be known as Lasya. They merely referred to the nature of the physical movements. And, the term Lasya, per se , does not also appear in Natyashastra, though the concept of the element of grace and beauty did exist; and, was named as Sukumara or Madhura.

*

But, during the Post-Bharata period, especially in the medieval times:

: – Nrtta was classified into Tandava and Lasya types. And, here, Tandava was described as forceful (Uddhata Angaharas), the fast paced furious Tandava Nrtta.

And Tandava Nrtta came to be idealized as an extremely angry and destructive type of dance.

: – Sukumara Prayoga was renamed as Lasya, the soft or delicate (Lalita) form of dance.

: – And, the two, were said to be related to masculine and feminine dancers; saying that Tandava is for men, while Lasya is for women.

[But, the Natyashastra had not made such distinctions. There, the dance movements were guided by mental and emotional states of the character. The principle for classification of dance movements was Guna, the quality and the nature of the feeling of the character (not gender).]

: – Although Bharata created a new and more expressive form of Dance form by combining the dance elements of the Nrtta with the Abhinayas, he had not assigned it a name. He did not also define the newly crafted Art-form.

But, in the later periods, it came to be known and celebrated as Nrtya. (The term Nrtya, as such, does not appear in the Natyashastra, though its conceptual essence was very much there.)

: – Further, certain new concepts which, of course could not have been there during the time of Bharata, also came into the vocabulary of Dance. Now the Dance and its forms came to be classified into categories, such as: Marga (pure or classical) and Desi (regional or improvised); and, as Nibaddha (structured) and Anibaddha (unstructured or free-flowing).

: – Another significant development was the steady drift away from the dance that Bharata talked about. Number of regional elements and techniques entered into the stream. And, that gave rise to many Dance –forms, in different regions of the country; each with its own ethos and techniques of presentation.

*

With this background, let’s take a look the statements made by some authors and commentators of the Post –Bharata period.

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Nrtta in the medieval period

Abhinavagupta

Abhinavagupta (11th century) in his Abhinavabharati, a detailed commentary on the Natyashastra, brought in many concepts and practices that were not present during the time of Bharata.  He also discussed matters related to the Art of Dancing, keeping in view the practices prevailing during his time.  He also tried to interpret the Natyashastra in the light of his own experience and knowledge; as also according to the principles of his philosophical School.

And, many times, he differed from Bharata. And, in addition, he introduced many new factors. Abhinavagupta provided the details of dance forms that were not mentioned in the Natyasastra. For instance, Abhinavagupta speaks of minor categories of drama (uparupakas), such as nrtta-kavya and raga-kavya – the plays based mainly in dance or in music. The nature of such minor dramas was not specifically  discussed in the  Natyashastra

Abhinavagupta provided his own interpretations to such fundamental terms as Nrtta, Abhinaya etc.

Though Nrtta was later described by Dhananjaya and Dhanika, as one that is bereft of meaning or emotion (Bhava and Rasa) or even of Abhinaya; and, that it can only be a decorative Angikabhinaya element that beautifies the dance presentation (Shobahetu), Abhinavagupta asserted that Nrtta is capable of expressing meaning (Artha). His view prevailed in the subsequent periods.

Further, Abhinavagupta asserted that Nrtta is an integral part of the Drama (Natya). The Nrtta elements can be used both in the Purvaranga (preliminaries before the commencement of the play) and in the sequences within the Drama. He cites some instances where Karanas (the basic units of the Nrtta) are employed. He mentions: In Bhaṭṭa Nārāyaa’s Veī Samhāra, the actor playing the role of Aśvatthāman enters with the Sūci Viddha (needle-pierced) and Ūrdhvajānu (uplifted foot) Karaas. In Kalidāsa’s Vikramorvaśīyam, the hero Purūravas enters with the Alapallava and Sūci Karaas. Garua enters with Garua-plutam; Rāvaa’s entry is with Vaiśākha Recitam. In Svapna Vāsavadatta, Vatsarāja enters with Sambhrānta karana.

And, certain situations (say, those involving Srngara or Raudra) do need appropriate postures (Karanas) to illustrate the emotional states of the character.

Abhinavagupta’s influence has been profound and pervasive. Succeeding generations of writers on Natya were guided by his concepts and theories of Rasa, Bhava, aesthetics and dramaturgy.

*

Abhinavagupta, in a very elaborate manner, classifies Nrtta into two groups. The First group has three varieties; and, the Second has four. Thus, there are, in all, seven classifications.

In his rather complicated classifications and their protracted explanations of the Nrtta, Abhinavagupta brings in the elements Abhinayas, in its varying degrees.

The Nrtta types in his First Group have no Abhinaya. The Nrttas in the Second Group involve some element of Abhinaya (therefore, are aligned to what could be called as Nrtya). Here, the Abhinaya is classified into two types.

*

Dr. KM Varma in his scholarly and highly well researched work ‘Natya, Nrtta and Nrtya: their meaning and relation (pages 17-19) analyzes these seven classifications of Nrtta, in the light of Abhinavagupta’s hypothesis of two types of Abhinaya. And, he builds up the relationships among Nrtta (dance), Gana (song) and Vadya (musical instruments).

*

Abhinavagupta explains Abhinaya , broadly, as a process where the performer brings into his mind the meaning and the sentiment of the words of the song; and, puts it forth through facial expressions, movement of the limbs and such other means.

And, he classifies the Abhinaya into two distinct types.

Of the two types of Abhinayas; in the First one, the performer follows the general trend, without going into details; and, in the Second type, the performer interprets every word and every sentence of the song.

Here, in his classifications of the Nrtta, Abhinavagupta introduces into Nrtta many new factors that were not there earlier. For instance; he brings into the definition of Nrtta the elements of  Artha and Abhinaya (in varying degrees); the variations of Tandava (vigorous) and Lasya (soft) ; the concept of male and female forms of Nrtta ; and Rasas , the sentiments or emotions they express.

Thus, the concept and the content of the Nrtta, as in the Natyashastra, is almost entirely abandoned; thoroughly overhauled; and, given a totally new perspective and disposition.  In short; the Nrtta, here, is far faraway from its ancestor in the Natyashastra.  It is not the same.

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

The First Group of Nrtta that Abhinavagupta formulated has the three types: (1) Shudda-Nrtta; (2) Gitakad-abhinayaonmukha –Nrtta; and, (3) Gana-Vadya –Talanusaii Nrtta.

Of these, the First one, Shuddha Nrtta, which consists Angaharas and Recakas, is the sort of Nrtta that is related to the Purvaranga, as in the Natyashastra.

The Second in this Group is Gitakad-abhinayaonmukha- Nrtta. Here, the performer’s physical movements are guided by the general trend or the broad sense of the song. But, she/he does not pay attention to the specific details of the song; such as, the meaning of each words and sentence of the song.

The Third in this Group; the Gana-Vadya –Talanusari Nrtta is similar to the earlier one; but, here the instruments (Vadya), songs (Gitam) and rhythm (Taala) are the leading factors. Here also, the performer follows the general trend of the song without going into its details.

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

All these four types do require Abhinaya (as in the Nrtya). Here in the Second Group, the Abhinaya, according to Abhinavagupta, is the action of the performer in sending forth (abhi) or  bringing the meaning of the song into his own mind and expressing it through the movement of  limbs , conveying  the sense of every word and every detail of the song or the  composition.

The First type in this Second Group, the Uddhata Nrtta is a furious dance with display of vigorous movements (Tandava) ; it is associated with Veera and Roudra Rasas. This is a masculine type of dance.

The Second type in this Group, Masrana-Nrtta is the softer type of dance (Lasya) aligned with Srngara, Karuna and so on. This is the feminine type of dance

The Third type Misra Uddhata Nrtta, in the main, is same as Uddhata; but, is mixed with the movements of the Masrana (Lasya) variety

And, the Fourth type in the Second Group, Misar- Masarna Nrtta is again a Masarna Nrtta, with emphasis on lighter; but, mixed with some elements of Uddhata

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Dhananjaya

Dhananjaya perhaps belonged to the same region and to the same period in which Abhinavagupta lived.  By the time of Dhananjaya (Ca. eleventh Century), the meaning and the application of the terms Nrtta, Tandava and Lasya had all changed a great deal. Further, by then, the Natya and Nrtya had taken the center stage.

Dhananjaya, in his Dasarupaka, treats Nrtta, mainly, in its comparison with Nrtya.

Dhananjaya explains Nrtta, as dance, with emphasis on smart looking (shobhahetu) limb-movements, in tune with rhythm and tempo (nrttam tala-laya-asrayam). But, in itself, it is devoid of meaningful content; and, is valued for its mere visual beauty of body movements (gatrasya viksepaha). Nrtta is not an interpretive or expressive dance (though the dancer might perhaps wear pleasant smile on her face).

The Nrtta, according to Dhananjaya, does not also involve the elements of meaning or emotion (Bhava and Rasa) or Abhinaya (Abhinaya-sunya); nor does it evoke a mood or a sentiment (Rasa). It is one of the specific technical elements (Angikabhinaya) that beautify the dance presentation.

[Bharata had used the term Nrtta to denote dancing, in general. But, in the medieval period, the meaning of Nrtta was narrowed down to mean a mere decorative aid. It was just an aspect of the whole body of Dancing.]

As compared to Nrtta, Dhananjaya says, the Nrtya, principally, is the display of various aesthetic moods (Bhava) or emotional states (Bhava-asrayam nrtyam). The Angavikshepa, the throwing of limbs is, however, common to both Nrtta and Nrtya.

But, Nrtya, through its appropriate gestures, facial expressions and limb-movements, gives life and form to the meaning and the sensitivity of the individual words and the sentences of the song (Abhinaya-pada-artha-abhinayatmaka).

[Nandikeshvara (Abhinayadarpana.1-56) similarly distinguished Nrtya from Nrtta, thus: Bhava-abhinaya-hinam tu nrittamitya-abhidhyate;| Rasabhava-vyanjana adi yuktam nrityam ity uchyate]

*

Of these two, the Nrtya having emotional content is classified by Dhananjaya under Marga (the classic or pristine form of dance), a representation of the classic form of dance; while, Nrtta, with its stress, mainly, on rhythm and tempo, is classified under Desi, perhaps representing the popular regional or improvised dance form – (Adyam padartha-abhinayo Margo Desi tatha param).

Under each of these (Nrtya and Nrtta), Dhananjaya, again makes a two-fold division, as: Lasya, the graceful, gentle fluid and pleasing dance; and, Tandava, the vigorous, energetic, brisk and invigorating movements (lasya-tandava-rupena natakad-dyupa-karakam).

These are the dance-types that are performed during the course of the play, depending upon the nature/need of a sequence in the play.

Thus, Tandava, unlike in Natyashastra, is not necessarily a dance performed as a praise-offering to gods, in the Purvaranga, the preliminaries, before the commencement of the play. On the other hand, it is used in the play to depict aggressive tendencies (Uddhata) and their manifestations. Similar is the case with Lasya, the gentle dance (Lalita).

The distinction between Uddhata and Lalita also suggests a difference  between the masculine and feminine modes of expression; because of their physical characteristics, and also because of their association with a male and a female deity. In due course, the term Lasya came to mean a feminine style of dancing, which lends grace to stage actions.

[Following Dhananjaya, Sarangadeva also mentions that Nrtta and Nrtya can both be of two kinds: Tandava and Lasya (SR.7.28). Tandava requires Uddhata (forceful); and, Lasya requires  Lalita (delicate) movements (SR. 7. 29-30). He identifies Tandava as Shiva’s dance; and, Lasya as Parvati’s.]

**

According to Dhananjaya, Natya comprises both Nrtta and Nrtya. It is mentioned; that in Natya, the Nrtya is sometimes useful in expressing the Bhava introduced through the topic (Avantara-padartha), while Nrtta is useful as a beautifying factor that pleases the eye (Shobha-hetuvena)

Dhananjaya explains Natya as an Art-form that 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.

Thus, Natya delightfully brings together and presents in a very highly expressive, attractive visual and auditory form, the import of the lyrics (sahitya), the nuances of its emotional content to the accompaniment of soulful music and rhythmic patterns (tala-laya), along with attractive postures and stances.

[Later, Pundarika Vittala (sixteenth century), in his work (Nartana-nirnaya), following Sarangadeva, uses the term Nartana, generally, to mean ‘Dance’, Pundarika said that by Nartana he meant it to be a general class-name for Dance. And, the term Nartana would cover the three forms of Dance: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta. The last (Nrtta) would again be subdivided into three other types: visama (acrobatic); vikata (absurd); and, Laghu (light), identified respectively as rope-dancing, a comic dance, and a dance based on easy Karanas.]

**

Dhanika says that Nrtya is Pada-artha-abhinayatmaka; and, Natya is Vakya-artha-abhinayatmaka

It is explained that the terms Pada (word) and Vakya (sentence) should not be taken in their ordinary sense. These have to be seen in relation that the words have with the sentence, of which they are a part.

Here, Pada-artha, word-meanings, is to be taken as Bhavas. And, Vakya-artha is to be understood as Rasa, which is produced by the combination of the Bhavas; just as a sentence is made up of several words.

In other words; the relation between Bhava and Rasa was said to be similar to that which exists between the word and the sentence.   It was said; Vakyartha stands for Rasa, which is similar to the sentence; and, Padartha stands for Bhava, which is similar to the word.

*

Following that, attempts were made to differentiate Nrtya and Natya on the basis of Bhava and Rasa.

In the process, Nrtya was equated with Padartha-abhinaya; and, Natya with Vakhyartha-abhinaya. And, in effect, according to Dhananjaya, it meant that Nrtya is rooted in Bhava (Nrtyam bhavashrayam); and, Natya in the Rasa (Rasashrayam Natyam). Thus, Nrtya is related to Bhava alone; and, Natya is related to Rasa alone.

Even in the later times, the authorities like Vipradasa (Ca. fourteenth century).  Rana Kumbha (fifteenth century) continued to go by the definitions provided by Dhananjaya/Dhanika; but, with slight modifications.

For instance; Rana Kumbha in his Nrtya-ratna-kosa explains Nrtta as made up of combination of Karanas and Angaharas (Karanam angaharani caiva Nrttam); Nrtya as Rasa (Nrtya sabdena ca Rasam punaha); and, Natya as Abhinaya (Natyena abhinayam). The Nrtya is classified as Marga; and, Nrtta as Desi.

**

Thus, according the medieval theories, Nrtta is all about beauty of form perceived by the eye; Nrtya expresses Bhava; and, Natya expresses Rasa.

But, such definitions and their import do not seem to be quite correct, at least in certain vital aspects.

Bhava and Rasa, even according to Bharata are intimately related. As Bharata had said; there cannot be Rasa without Bhavas; and vice versa – Na Bhavahino iti Raso; Na Bhavao Rasavargitah.

Na bhāvahīno’sti Raso; Na Bhāvo rasavarjita parasparaktā siddhi-stayor abhinaye bhavet NS.6.36

Apart from textual references, it is common experience that Rasa, the aesthetic pleasure, is evoked by both the Nrtya and the Natya. And, Bhava and Rasa are essential to both the Nrtya and the Natya.

And, therefore, to say that Nrtya is only about Bhava; and Natya is only about Rasa would be incorrect. The aim of both Nrtya and Natya is to provide Rasa; and, for which Bahavas are essential.  The expressions of Bhava are crucial to all the Art forms; as they contribute to the creation of Rasa enjoyed by the viewers, both in a general and auxiliary way (Samanya-guna-yogena).  Abhinavagupta argued on similar lines (though he did not use the term Nrtya, in particular).

**

And, similarly, Dhananjaya’s views on Nrtta and other issues were criticized by the later scholars.

To start with, it was mentioned that the concepts of the Natyashastra have to be understood in the light of the theoretical principles in which they are based. And, Dhananjaya’s view of Nrtta was restrictive, since it did not take many of its aspects into consideration.

Dismissing Dhananjaya’s classification of Nrtta as Desi, it was argued: the Nrtta as defined by Bharata is a proper art; a pure dance form, where the dancers need to be trained under competent Masters. Nrtta was meant to be performed during the Purvaranga as a prayer offering (Deva stuti). It was dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā).

Further, it was pointed out that Bharata’s phrase sobham janayati merely suggests that Nrtta is a beautifying factor; and, that does not mean Nrtta is auxiliary to Natya. The Nrtta is  independent, chaste and classical.

Marga, by Dhananjaya’s own definition, is an Art that is created by the Masters; while, Desi is that which is practiced by people of different regions, according to their taste.  And, therefore, to designate Nrtta as Desi is illogical; because, Nrtta as taught by Tandu to  Bharata was in indeed of the Marga class.

It was argued by the  scholars of the later period  that Dhananjaya’s statements do not project a fair view; because: Nrtta, which precedes Natya, in reality, is an art par excellence, which  can suggest meaning and evoke Rasa.

It was, therefore, indicated that it makes more sense to go by the concepts themselves, than be led only by the etymological explanations of the terms.

It was also said that Dhananjaya could have made a distinction between the Nrtta of the Purvaranga; and, the Nrtta type of group dances performed on happy cultural and social occasions. The dancers, here, do not need much training. And, there are also no restrictions with regard either to the mode of its dance or to the place of its performance. Only, such latter type of regional dances could have been classified as the popular Desi; and, not the entire Nrtta, as a class.

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It was pointed out that Dhananjaya’s interpretation of Tandava as made of vigorous (Uddhata) Angaharas ; and Lasya as made of soft (Sukumara or Madhura) Angaharas , was not in accordance with the tenets of the Natyashastra.

Further, under, the interpretation provided by Dhananjaya, Nrtta was classified depending on the nature of the physical movements. It seemed that vigorous Tandava and soft Lasya were related to masculine and feminine dancers, respectively; suggesting that Tandava is for men, while Lasya is for women. But, the Nrtta in the Natyashastra did not envisage such discrimination.

Again, such an interpretation also suggests a distinction and between masculine and feminine modes of expression. And, that led to mistaking the term Lasya to mean a feminine style of dancing, which lends grace to stage actions.

It was argued that the dissimilarity of vigorous or soft is purely relative.  And, they are mere assumptions. It doesn’t make much sense to insist that women should be soft and gentle, even when they are angry or furious; and, men should be aggressive even when they are in grief or in love. It is also wrong to state that Lasya should be performed only by women; and Tandava is exclusively for men. The real principle for classification should be Guna, the quality and the nature of the feeling (but, not gender).

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Next;   Dhananjaya’s  statements asserting that Nrtta is devoid of Bhava and Rasa (Rasa Bhava vihinam tu Nrttam itya abhijayate); and, Nrtta is only a technical element (Angikabhinaya) that helps to smarten the dance presentation; and it lacks the element of Abhinaya (laya tala matrapekso angaviksepo abhinaya sunyayh), were also refuted. And, downgrading Nrtta to an inferior (Adhama) position was also rejected.

Saradatanaya (1175 -1250 AD) in his Bhavaprakasana, disagreed with the views of Dhananjaya; and asserted that   Nrtta, the pure dance, is rooted in Rasa (Nrttam rasa-ahrayam). Saradatanaya’s definition meant that Nrtta not only beautifies a presentation, but is also capable of generating Rasa.

Further, Abhinavagupta, while dealing with Karanas, which are the basic units of Dance and classified under the Nrtta, emphasized that Karanas are capable of suggesting meanings.

Abhinavagupta opined that Kaisiki-vrtti, which is the medium or the style to depict Srngara, essentially requires Nrtta. Because, he says, Nrtta is the source that provides Valana, Vartana and other movements or stances. Further, he says that Nrtta as a beautifying factor helps to fill or cover up the gaps in the physical movements (chidra-chadana); and, to maintain continuity in action (alata-chakra-pratimata). And, therefore, Nrtta, like Nrtya and Natya, is capable of giving forth Rasa, although it is non representational.

Further, the statements such as ‘Nrtta is devoid of Bhava and Rasa’ (rasabhava-vihinam tu Nrttam itya abhijayate) were dismissed as being   rather harsh and unimaginative. That is because; Nrtta is an Art-form that provides the idioms and metaphors of beauty to  Nrtya , Natya and Shilpa. And, over the centuries, the Karanas of the Nrtta have inspired creation of wondrous sculptures with their visual beauty (Shobha), their distinctive poses and geometrical constructions. And, they do invoke certain admiration and pleasure (Rasa) in the hearts of the viewers. Same thing can be said about the basic dance poses and dynamic postures

[As compared to the restricted understanding of Nrtta by the medieval authors, the present-day acceptance and application of Nrtta is more comprehensive and highly useful. In the Bharatanatya and other classical dances of India, Nrtta forms an essential part of the dance performance, its structure; as also, in its training methods. That is because; Nrtta as per Bharata and also Nandikeshvara, is built of wide-ranging varieties of Karanas (Angavikshepa), which are the basic units. These are rooted in well thought out logical principles and geometric forms. And, they do invoke aesthetic pleasure (Rasa). Therefore, Karanas are ingrained into Nrtya.

Karanas are, thus, essential to the Grammar and structure of Nrtya in Bharatanatya and in other forms.  Going further back; Caris , which could be called as well knit ‘steps’ , is an alphabet of the Nrtta as also of  Natya. And, therefore, Nrtta is more relevant today, than it was in the days of Bharata. It has  received a special treatment from the point of view of choreography.]

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Natya

The Natyashastra employs Natya as a generic term, which broadly covers drama, dance and music. Bharata’s Natya could also be understood as drama. And Ntta and other dance elements was one of the constituents that provided elegance to the theatrical presentations. It does not treat dance as a separate category of Art-form.

The Natyashastra (6.10) provides a comprehensive framework of the Natya, in a pellet form, as the harmonious combination (sagraha) of the various essential components that contribute towards the successful production of a play.

He mentions the eleven elements that constitute the Natya (Drama). These are: Rasa (sentiment); Bhava (states); Abhinaya (representation or acting); Dharmi (styles of presentation);Vrtti (styles of depiction); Siddhi (attainment of the purpose); Svara (musical notes); Atodya (orchestra or instrumental music); Gana (songs); and Ranga ( stage) .

Bharata later explains, of the eleven, Rasa is of paramount importance; and deriving that Rasa is the objective of a theatrical performance. The other ten elements – from Bhava to Ranga – are the contributing factors for the production of the Rasa,.

Rasā bhāvā hya abhinayā dharmī vtti pravttaya  siddhi svarās tathā atodyaṃ gāna ragaś ca sagraha  6.10

At another place, Bharata, in a nutshell, provides a sort of definition of Natya, which could be understood as Drama (Rupaka).

Bharata explains: when the experiences of the everyday world, mingled with pleasure and pain both, are conveyed through different Abhinayas such as, speech, gestures, costume, makeup, ornaments etc – (Angika, Sattvika, Vachika, and Aharya Abhinayas) –   it is called Natya. (NS 1.119)

yo’ya  svabhāvo lokasya sukha dukha samanvita  som gādya abhinaya ityopeto nātyam ity abhidhīyate  NS.4. 119

Bharata explained that object of the Natya  was to show men and women the proper way to live, a way in which one could live and behave, so that one might become a still better person.

“A play shows your actions and emotions. Neither gods nor demons are depicted as always good or always evil. Actually, the ways of the world as represented here are not only of the gods but also of yours. It teaches you good advice (upadisati); it gives you enlightenment and also entertainment. It provides peace of mind to those who afflicted with miseries, sorrow, grief or fatigue. There is no art, no knowledge, no yoga, and no action that is not found in Natya.”  (Natya-Shastra 1: 106-07; 112-16)

na tajjñāna na tacchilpa na sā vidyā na sā kalā  nāsau yogo na tatkarma nāye’smin yanna dśyate Ns.1. 116

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Generally speaking, Bharata not only takes the experience of the individual human beings, but that of the world as a whole; and, considers Natya as the effective means of communicating those experiences. Included in this, are the elements of speech, poetry, music, dance and all those factors that lend beauty and grace to a theatrical performance. For Bharata, Natya is the very epitome of life.

According to Bharata, Natya is the experiences of the world when it is represented on the stage, in order to provide enjoyment and instruction, by means of acts of communication, which a person does not normally employ in the everyday life. The presentation of the play is dominated by the stylized modes of presentation (NatyaDharmi).

In other words, just the fact of one’s experiences in the world, as ordinarily noted or observed during the course of life, is not Natya.  It becomes Natya only when it is communicated through the means of Abhinayas and representation; and, presented on the stage.

The Abhinaya, on the stage, is expressed through Mano-vak-kaya (mind, voice and body), in terms of Sattvika, Vachika and Angika abhinaya-s. These are supported by Aharya (the costumes and stage props), the fourth element. Thus Abhinaya covers not only the movements of face and limbs; but, it also encompasses all the other elements and modes of supportive expressions.

The successful production (Siddhi) of a play  (Natya) enacted on the stage (Ranga) involves various  elements of the components of  the actors’ gestures, actions (bhava) and speech ; bringing forth (abhinaya) their intent (Artha), through the medium of theatrical (Natya-dharmi) and common (Loka-dharmi) practices; in four styles of representations (Vritti-s) in their four regional variations (pravrttis) ; with the aid of  captivating dances and melodious songs  accompanied by instrumental music (svara-gana-adyota).

Such well enacted Abhinayas induce in the minds and hearts of the Sahrudaya the sense (Artha) that is conducive for evoking proper Rasa. Without Abhinaya there is no drama; and, no Natya without representation

Bharata’s definition of Natya covers all these factors; and holds good even in the present day.

[Abhinavagupta also makes a distinction between the world of drama (Nātyadharmī) and the real but ordinary life (Lokadharmī). In the artistic process, where presentations are made with the aid of various kinds of dramatic features such as Abhinayas and synthetic creationswe are moving from the gross  and un-stylized movements of  daily life to more subtle forms of expressions and experiences; we move from individualized experiences to general representations (sadharanikarana) ; and, from multiplicity to unity.]

Abhinavagupta , in the context of Dance, explains Abhinaya as a process , where the performer brings into his mind the meaning and the sentiment of the words of the song; and, puts it forth through facial expressions, movement of the limbs and such other means. And, Abhinaya is the act of communication of an idea, a thought or the phase of an emotion or sentiment that one is experiencing.

 [It is explained that acting, in a sense, means to behave like someone else. And, it is not reality; because, it is not related to the actual life of the person who is acting. But, at the same time, it is not mimicry or imitation. Abhinaya should be understood as the actor’s effort to communicate and to convey the mental and emotional states of the character; and, its experiences. Abhinaya is bringing forth the Artha, the sense of the things, into the minds of the Sahrudayas. ]

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Nrtya

Bharata used the term Nrtta to denote dance; and, the term Nrtya does not appear in the Natyashastra. Abhinavagupta also, adhering to the terminologies of the Natyashastra, avoids using the term Nrtya , as such.  He consistently uses the term Nrtta, while referring to Dance. Similar was the case with the authors earlier to his period. They also had not used the term Nrtya.

Further, in some editions of Natyashastra where the word Nrtya crept in, it is taken as a later insertion (unintended or otherwise) by the manuscript-copier (scribes).

That does not mean that the essence of Dance (with which we are now familiar as Nrtya) did not exist; or, was not yet created in the epoch of Natyashastra.

It only means that the specific term Nrtya was not then in currency.  According to some scholars, the term Nrtta along with Abhinaya covered what we now call Nrtya, as evidenced from some verses of the Abhinavabharati.

According to Abhinavagupta, it was Bharata who designed and created an Art form, which would adorn the Natya, by combining the dance element of the Nrtta and the Abhinayas. But, for some reason, Bharata did not see a need to assign a name to the resultant art form.

And, Bharata, in his characteristic way, puts it as if the suggestion came to him from Shiva, who had advised Brahma the ways to utilize the Nrtta in the Natya. Here, Shiva had said : you can very well communicate (Abhinayasi), by use of Nrtta (made beautiful by Angaharas consisting different Karanas), the things (Artha) out of which the songs are composed; the songs that are sung in the Purvaranga.

mayāpīda smta ntya sandhyākāleu ntyatā nānā karaa sayuktair agahārair vibhūitam4.13 pūrvaraga vidhā vasmistvayā samyak prayojyatām vardhamāna akayogeu gītevāsāriteu ca 4.14 mahāgīteu caivā arthān samyagevā abhineyasi yaścāya pūrvaragastu tvayā śuddha prayojita NS. 4. 15

That is to say; on taking the hint from Shiva’s statement, Bharata worked out the details of combining Nrtta with Abhinaya; and, that led to the birth of a new Art form – the Nrtya. The term Abhinaya, here, stands for the act of communication.

Sarangadeva in his Sangitaratnakara, says that by combining the Angikabhinaya of Nrtta with the Abhinayas (Satttvica, Angika, Vachika and Aharya abhinayas) the Nrtya was created – Angikabhinayai reva Bhavaneva vyanakti, yat, tan Nrtyam.

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The statement that the combination of Nrtta and Abhinaya resulted in Nrtya, at the suggestion of Shiva, was supported by Abhinavagupta through two verses, which he ascribes to Kohala.

The quoted verses say:  In the past, on one evening (Sandhya), Narada was dancing in front of Shiva. And Narada then sang a song celebrating the victory of Shiva over the demon Tripura. And, Shiva, having been pleased with the song, began to dance; enacting (Abhinaya) the theme of the song. Later, Shiva asked Tandu to combine (yojana) the Tandava (meaning, Nrtta) with Abhinaya used in that dance.

Sandhyayam nrtyaha Shamboh bhakty-agre, Naradah pura gaavan Triporonmatham taccita stavata gitake cakra abhinayam pritas tatas Tandum ca so abravit natyokta abhinayenedam vats yojya Tandavam

Shiva’s Nrtta included Karanas and Angaharas. Yet; Shiva said that one can communicate through Nrtta when used in Natya.

Now, what does that mean?   It might perhaps mean that if Nrtta is performed with a given intention, following a method, then it might convey a meaning.

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Dr. KM Varma in his scholarly and highly analytical work ‘Natya, Nrtta and Nrtya: their meaning and relation’, argues (page 32) that Nrtta came first; then Natya. And later, when Abhinaya was added to Nrtta, the idea of Nrtya emerged.

Thus, he says, Nrtta and Nrtya came into being at the suggestion of Shiva. But, both these forms were propagated by Tandu.

Though Bharata is responsible for the emergence of Nrtya, it did not receive special nomenclature or individual treatment in the Natyashastra. Bharata continued to treat it as Nrtta.

Although it developed to full extent soon after the time of Bharata,  the theoreticians and commentators until about the tenth century continued to follow Bharata; and, avoided using the term Nrtya, though they did describe its essential features, nature and techniques by use of other terms.

But, when the combination of Nrtta and Abhinaya, evolved, developed and prospered as an independent, well recognized, dance form; and, became so popular (prasiddha) , the latter authors could not afford to avoid the term Nrtya. And, Nrtya, eventually, became a part of the Grammar of the Dance.

The hypothetical question since when the term came into popular use is much debated. Many point out that though the term Nrtya was not employed by the commentators of the medieval period, it somehow, was in popular usage as early as in the fifth century.

That argument is supported by the fact that Amarasimha (fifth century), in his lexicon Amarakosa, while defining Nartana, included within its meaning, Nrtya as a synonym: ṇḍava naanaya lāsya ntya ca nartane (1.7.427).  That suggests; as early as in the fifth century Nrtya was well known; and, was in common use. And, the lexicographer could not avoid including the term Nrtya in his work. But, it is not clear when it actually acquired its name.

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Sarangadeva explains Nrtya as 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.

The key ingredient in the Nrtya is the elaborate gesture-language, Abhinaya (lit., to bring near; that is, to present before the eyes), the meaning (Artha) and the emotion (Bhava) of the lyrics. It is the harmonious combination of striking poses, eloquent gestures, lucid facial expressions, various glances, and meaningful movements of the hands, fingers and feet.

Though the performance of an Nrtya is tied with the interpretation of a lyric (sahitya) depicting a theme (prasanga), it combines in itself the expressive Abhinaya; and the stances, poses, postures and movements, of the pure Dance (Nrtta).  The Nrtya is regarded as the soul of any Dance-style. The Abhinaya and Nrtta elements it portrays demand the skill, grace and ingenuity of a well trained talented Dancer.

[The Abhinaya Darpana describing the qualities 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/]

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Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya – their mutual relations

Sarangadeva remarks, when you take a broader view, Ntta is not distant from Nrtya; and, both of these are essential to Natya.  Thus, Dance, in both of its aspects (Nrtya and Natya), was a vital presence of Nrtta. All the three are interrelated.

The Āgika abhinaya or physical expressions, in both Nrtya and Natya, includes the  Ntta elements. But, Āgika abhinaya is of greater importance in the Nrtya.

The Nrtta is an integral part of the Nrtya; but, it also has its presence in the Natya. Thus, Nrtta has constructive relations with Nrtya as also with Natya. The three, in some measures, are bound together.

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Nrtta and Natya

Bharata defines Nrtta and Natya on the basis of their techniques; and, their relevance. And, the two Art-forms were discussed independent of each other.

As between Nrtta and Natya, the former was said to be older. And Nrtta, which earlier was a pure dance performed in the Purvaranga as Deva stuti, later became a part of the Natya. The influence of Nrtta on Natya is more delicate.

Nrtta and Nrtya

And, when the dance elements of the Nrtta were combined with the Abhinayas – with its dance movements interpreting the meaning and sentiments of the words in the lyrics – it was transformed into a most delightful art form – the Nrtya. With this, the dance, in general, came to be known as Nrtya.

Though some texts continued to carry on theoretical discussions on Nrtta (pure dance-like movements) and Nrtya (the dance proper) as if they were two totally distinct dance-idioms; the two, in fact, are very intimately related. And, the defining characteristics (lakhaa) of Nrtta and Nrtya are the same.

But, Pundarika Vitthala, 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 conveying a meaning (Artha). He was following the explanations put forth by Abhinavagupta. 

As Dr Kapila Vatsyayan observes, in the contemporary Indian dance scene, with the exploration of geometrical space at floor level and choreographic patterns, the elements of Nrtta, pure dance and Abhinaya, expression-full dance (Nrtya) are close-knit, cohesive.

The Indian classical dance of today, has, over a period, evolved its own Grammar and constructed its own devices. The Nrtta element too has changed greatly from what it meant during the days of Bharata. Its structure and style which are based in different units of Nrtta movements are well adopted into Bharatanatya in the form of Adavus etc.

Thus, in the later periods, particularly in the modern period, Nrtta became an essential ingredient of the Nrtya, in displaying its various stances, postures and movements.

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Natya and Nrtya

As regards, Natya and Nrtya; the Natya is a deliberate art; and, Nrtya is representational art. The object of both the forms is to provide Rasa.  

The principles which govern the techniques of both the Natya (Sanskrit Drama) and the classical Nrtya are the same. Their ways of stylized modes of presentation (NatyaDharmi); and, the manners of depiction (Vrtti); the techniques of acting (Abhinaya); and, appearances in costumes and make-up (Aharya) are regulated by the same set of principles of the dramaturgy and its stage –presentation.

Even after Nrtya emerged as an independent Art-form, the later writers on the treatise dealing with the Nrtya and its varied forms, (either exclusively or otherwise), adopted the same set of norms and principles that once governed the Natya of the Natyashastra. The techniques of Dance continued to be discussed in terms of the various elements of Dharmis, the Vrittis and Abhinaya as prescribed by Bharata.

The tya-dharmi mode of dance was woven into the play-presentation. The sequences in the Drama were staged through the actors singing, speaking and dancing in their roles. The static and dynamic Ntta karaas were utilized as idioms to portray various emotional states. The Natya , in its production, made use of the  four-fold Dance phrases of body-movements (āgika); speech delivery (vācika); studied involuntary reaction (sāttvika); as also of costumes, make-up and scenery (āhārya).

Thus, in a way of speaking, the two – the Nrtya (Dance proper along with its Nrtta element) and Natya (Sanskrit Drama) – continue to be bound together, in one way or the other.

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Both Nrtya and Natya make use of all the four kinds of Abhinayas. And, difference between Natya and Nrtya, is in their modes of using the different degrees of the elements of the Abhinayas.

The entire sphere of presentation in an Nrtya is predominated by Natya-dharmi, graceful gesticulations, stylized aesthetic suggestive expressions. There is no attempt to present things as they actually are. And, in the Nrtya that we know, those principles and conventions are being followed, even to this day, in their pristine form.

In Nrtya, its every movement should follow the Laya and Tala. It is said; the Nrtya inherits this quality from the Angika-abhinaya of the Nrtta. The Nrtya involves Gatra-vikshepa ‘throwing’ or movement of the limbs, to dance. And, almost throughout its performance, Nrtya is accompanied by music, the most enchanting of the art forms.

Nrtya is basically Drshya or Prekshya, a spectacle mainly having visual appeal. Though the performer follows the lyrics of the song, she does not actually sing; but, only provides the lip-movement while interpreting its words and sentences.

Many elements of Nrtta and Natya were absorbed into Natya. And, Nrtya, for a period, became a parallel form of Drama. But, in the Natya, the elements of Nrtya are incidental to its dance sequences. Dance as a part of dramaturgy was employed as an ornamental overlay upon a theatrical presentation.

In contrast to the Nrtya, the facial and body movements in Natya are slight or subtle – Kincit-chalana. Here, the speech (Vachika) is dominant; and, therefore, the need for Sattvikabhinaya  and the vrttis (styles of dialouge delivery) is greater, for communicating the mental and emotional states of the characters in the play. Further, unlike in Nrtya, the actors on the stage do actually sing.  Thus, in the Natya, both the visual and the audio are highly essential.

Thus, the Natya or Drama has an advantage over poetry, music and dance. Apart from bringing in the embellishment of spectacular the visual effects (Rupaka or Drishya-kavya), it has the power of music and speech.

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In the later periods, Natya became rather stagnant; but, the Nrtya made rapid strides. While Natya was fading ; and, losing its universal appeal,  the Nrtya and its forms were evolving and developing swiftly as the most delightful and most engaging Art forms, popular among  all sections of the society.

In the process of its growth, Nrtya widened its scope and content by innovating and assimilating a range of stylistic variations; and, by moving away from its early dependence on Drama. Now, Nrtya is no longer an adjunct or accessory to Natya. It has also widened its aesthetic scope, beyond decorative grace to encompass emotive communication (Rasa) and narrative variations. It has evolved into a full-fledged system, a self-governing complex Art form; and, has established its identity. And, it has continued as highly popular classical dance form.

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Bharatanatya

The School of Nrtya that is prevalent in South India is the Bharata-natya.

In the initial years, there were debates raising questions concerning the name assigned to this Dance form, which, basically, is Nrtya. Many asked, why should it be called Bharata-natya; and, why not Bharata-nrtya.

In reply; explanations were offered to clarify that the suffix ‘Natya’ also stands for ‘Nrtya’, in its technical sense.  The arguments made out said  that as per the past authorities like Kumbha Rana and Vipradasa (fifteenth century), the term ‘Natya’ could also be used to denote ‘Nrtya’. Later, Pundarika Vittala (sixteenth century), in his work (Nartana-nirnaya), following the lead given by Sarangadeva, said that Nartana, a general class-name for Dance, covered the three forms of Dance: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta. And, much before that Amarasimha, as early as in the fifth century, had equated ‘Natya’, among other terms, with ‘Nrtya’.

But, there are no explanations anywhere as to when and why that equation was arrived at. The only other plausible explanation is that it might have come about by way of popular usage. But, in any case, since this form of dancing was created by Bharata, to name it as Bharatanatya, is truly justifiable.  As per Dr. Ananada Coomaraswamy,’ Indian acting and dancing, is a deliberate art; and, the same word, Natya, covers both those ideas. ‘

Thus, the Nrtya, known now as Bharatanatya is surely a continuation of the form and tradition of the Marga class of dance that was promoted by Bharata; although over the period, some elements have entered into it. Yet; no other School of Nrtya has a closer relationship with Natyashastra than Bharatanatya.

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The Bharatanatya of today is such a refined form of Dance which has brought within its ambit the formats of Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya. This School of Art can be explained in almost every respect by Bharata’s theories. And, it follows Bharata’s techniques to a large extent.  It also contains the beauty of form as in the Nrtta. It excels in the aesthetic presentation of form and geometrical beauty; and in the richness of in variety of movements as no other dance form does. It has the gentle power of expression to communicate ideas and emotions through Abhinaya, as in Nrtya. It can also present a narrative theme as in Natya, where the dancer enacts the roles of varieties of characters (Ekaharya Abhinaya or Ekaharya Lasyanga)

Depending upon the nature of the dance item that is being presented, its balance in terms of Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya varies. But, in general, the dominant aspect of Bharatanatya is Nrtya.

As regards its practice, Bharatanatya draws upon its tradition persevered and passed on from generation to generation in orally transmitted and highly codified manuals (Shastra). Though it is, essentially, rooted in the principles of Natyashastra, it has also adopted many features and techniques from the regional dance traditions; and, has thus enlarged its repertoire and acquired many dimensions.

Though the emphasis is on the adherence to and to preserving the purity of the tradition; and, its continuation, it also has brought in some innovative techniques and refreshing modes of expression, in tune with the advancing times. These could be called as ‘context-sensitive interactions’

The difference between Bharatanatya and other Dance forms like Kathakali, Manipuri and others is mainly in the use of their Abhinayas and techniques. They all belong to the Nrtya class. Each has its own stylized manner of bringing out the essential meaning of the song. Each is delightful in its own way. The coexistence of multiple streams of Dance forms has surely enriched the Indian Art scene.

abhinaya

The way ahead…

Having said that; let me add that Bharatanatya, as an art, is a dynamic process. It needs to be rejuvenating and reinventing itself all the time. And, it should not stagnate. Though its theories are rooted in the Natyashastra of Bharata, in its practice, it derives its curriculum from several other texts. Most of those texts were written before the seventeenth century.  And, that makes it essential for Bharatanatya to innovate and look for newer modes and idioms of expressions; and, also try to move away, at least for a limited extent, from the traditional mythological themes.

All the Art forms that are practiced today cannot be explained only on the basis of Natyashastra; nor is it necessary to do so. Art need not always be confined to Bharata’s techniques. Even in the case of Bharatanatya, the theory as detailed in Natyashastra needs to be studied in the light of the current practices. And, that might, hopefully provide us an insight; and, suggest improved techniques, in order to rationalize and bring it closer to today’s environment.

If the dance forms that are practiced today have to come into their own, these should be explained on a rational basis.  It seems much attention is paid to the literal interpretation of the old texts. And, too much philosophizing is another factor. But, Art has its own philosophy, outlook and appeal; although many try to inject their own pet philosophy into the Arts.

If the Art has to be alive it has to be relevant to the times we live in; and, has to reach further levels of the society.

We are in the age of reconstruction. There many problems and issues – old and new-,  including commercialization, that need to be resolved. The ancient theories would not do for all our present needs and problems. A detailed study of present practices without always being tied down to the ancient theoretical works seems advisable.  What is needed is continuity with change. Both the ancient and the modern Art-forms and techniques need to be studied with equal earnestness.

kadagola

In the next part, we shall briefly talk about various classical Dance forms of India, such as Kathak, Odissi, kathakali and Manipuri.

dance forms

Continued

 In

Part Five

 

References and sources

All images are from the Internet

 
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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Three

Continued from Part Two 

 Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya

shiva_dancing_for_parvati

Intro.

As it has been said very often; the Natyashastra is the earliest available text of Indian Dancing traditions. It combines in itself the fundamentals of the principles, practices and techniques of Dance. it thus serves as the principal text of the Dance. And, therefore, the influence exerted by it on the growth and development of all Dance-forms, has been deep and vast.  The Natyashastra, an authoritative text to which the Masters and learners alike turn to, seeking instructions, guidance, and inspiration, is central to any discussion on classical Dance. And, therefore, no discussion on classical Dance is complete without referring to the concepts  of the  Natyashastra.

[Having said that; let me also mention that in the context of Dance , as it is practiced in the present day, besides Natyashastra , several other texts are followed. The Natyashastra provides the earliest theoretical framework; but, the practice of Dance  and the techniques of dancing were  molded and improved by many texts of the later periods. What we have today is the culmination of several textual traditions and their practices. We shall come to those aspects later in the series.]

Because of the position that Natyashastra occupies in the evolution of the Arts and its forms, it would help to try to understand the early concepts and their relationships to Dance. And, thereafter, we may follow the unfolding and transformation of those concepts acquiring different meanings and applications; as also the emergence of new terms and art-forms, during the later times.

In that context, we may, in particular, discuss the three terms; their derivation; their manifestation and transformation; as also the mutual relations among the three. In the process, we may also look at the related concepts; and their evolution over the centuries. The three terms that I am referring to are the Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya, which are fundamental to most of the Dance formats.

 *

As regards the  other texts that discuss the theories, practices and techniques of Dancing, there are no significant works between the period of Bharata and that of Abhinavagupta and Dhananjaya (eleventh century). Even if any were there, none has come down to us. But during this period, the dance and its concepts had changed significantly. And, the manuscript editions of the Natyashastra had also undergone alterations.

Over the different periods, the concepts of Natyashastra, along with that of its basic terms such as Nrtta, Natya etc., came to be interpreted in number of amazingly different ways, depending, largely, upon the attitudes and the approach of the authors coming from diverse backgrounds and following varied regional cultural practices. It is a labyrinth, a virtual maze, in which one can easily get lost.

It would, therefore, hopefully, make sense if we try to understand these terms in the context of each period that spans the course of the long history of Dancing in India, instead of trying to take an overall or summary view.

In the following pages, let us try to understand these terms and their applications in relation to the  concepts and the techniques of dancing, as it emerged in various stages, during the three phases of Indian Art history: the period of the  Natyashastra of Bharata; the theories and commentaries by the authors of the medieval period; and, dance as practiced in the present-day.

**

Before we get into the specifics, let’s briefly talk about Dance in general, within the context of Natyashastra.

Bharata’s Natyashastra represents the first known stage of Indian Art-history where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics etc., combined harmoniously, to fruitfully produce an enjoyable play. 

It is quite possible that the authors prior to the time of Bharata did speak of Dance; its forms and practices.  But, it was, primarily, Bharata who recognized the communicative power of Dance; and, laid down its concepts.

Bharata described what he considered to be the most cultivated dance styles, which formed the core of the dominant art-practice (prayoga) in his time, the Drama.

The framework within which Bharata describes Dance is, largely, related to Drama. And, his primary interest seemed to be to explore the ways to enhance the beauty of a dramatic presentation. Thus, Dance in association with music was treated as an ornamental overlay upon Drama.  As Nandikesvara said, the Dance should have songs (gitam). And, the song must be sung, displaying (pradarshayet) the meaning (Artha) and emotions (Bhavam) of the lyrics through the gestures of the hands (hastenatha); shown through the eyes (chakshuryo darshaved); and, in tune with rhythm and corresponding foot-work (padabhyam talam-achareth).

Asyena alambaved gitam, hastena artha pradarshayet/chakshuryo darshaved bhavam, padabhyam talam-achareth (Ab.Da.36)

Dance, at that stage, was an ancillary part (Anga) or one of the ingredients that lent elegance and grace to theatrical performance; and, it was not yet an independent art-form, by itself. Bharata , at that stage, is credited with  devising a more creative Dance-form , which was adorned with elegant, evocative and graceful body-movements; performed in unison with attractive rhythm and enthralling music; in order to effectively interpret and illustrate the lyrics of a song; and, also to depict the emotional content of a dramatic sequence.But, he had not assigned it a name.

It was only in the later times, when the concepts and descriptions provided by Bharata were adopted and improved upon, that Dance gained the status of a self-regulating, independent specialized form of art, as Nrtya.

*

The scholars opine that in the evolution of Dance, first comes Nrtta; then Natya; and, later Nrtya appeared. Here, Nrtta is said to be pure dance; while Nrtya emerged when Abhinayas of four types (Angika; Vachika; Sattvika; and Aharya) were combined with Nrtta. And, Natya included both these (Nrtta and Nrtya), even while the speech and the songs remained prominent. Thus, Natya comprises all the three features – Dance, music and speech (song) – which are very essential for the production and enactment of Drama.

To put the entire series of developments, in the context of Natyashastra, in a summary form:

Nrtta, as described in Natyashastra, had been in practice even during the very ancient times. The Nrtta, according to Bharata, was a dance form created by Shiva; and, which, he taught to his disciple Tandu.  It seems to have been older than Natya

Natya too goes back to the very distant past. Even by the time of Bharata, say by   about the fourth to second century BCE, Natya was already a highly developed and accomplished Art. It was regarded as the best; and, also as the culmination of all Art forms. Though Nrtta was older, Natya was not derived from it. Both the Nrtta and the Natya had independent origins; and, developed independent of each other. And, later too, the two ran on parallel lines.

It was during Bharata’s time that Nrtta was integrated into Natya. Even though the two came together, they never merged into each other. And, up to the present-day they have retained their identity; and, run parallel in ways peculiar to them. (Even in a Bharatanatya performance the treatment and presentation of the Nrtta is different from that of the rest.)

 By combining Nrtta, the pure Dance, with the Abhinaya of Natya, a new form of Dance viz., the Nrtya came into being. Bharata is credited with this creative, innovative act of bringing together two of the most enjoyable Art forms (Bhartopajanaka). But, it developed to its full extant only after the time of Bharata.

But, at the time of Bharata, that resultant new-art was not assigned a separate name; nor was it then classified into Tandava and Lasya types.  In fact, the terms Nrtya and Lasya do not appear either in the Natyashastra or in its early commentaries. It was only during the later times that Nrtya gained an independent recognition as an expressive, eloquent representational Art, which projects human experiences, with amazing fluidity and grace.

Nrtya, a blend of two well studied, well developed and well codified Art forms – the dance of Nrtta and Abhinayas of Natya – over a period, advanced  vibrantly, imbibing on its way numerous novel features; and, soon became hugely popular among all classes of the society. It gained recognition as the most delightful Art-form; and in particular, as the most admired phrase or form of Dance.

With this general backdrop, let’s go further.

Hamsa 4

A. Nrtta in Natyasahastra

Nrtta

Initially, Bharata, in the fourth Chapter of the Natyashastra, titled Tandava Lakshanam, deals with the Dance. The term that he used to denote Dance was Nrtta (pure dancing or limb movements, not associated with any particular emotion, Bhava).

The Nrtta comprised two varieties of Dances (Nrtta-prayoga) : The Tandava and Sukumara. The Tandava was not necessarily aggressive; nor danced only by men. And, the gentler, graceful form of dance was Sukumara-prayoga

And, in the context of Drama, both of these were said to refer to the physical structure of dance movements. And, both were performed during the preliminaries before the commencement of the play – Purvaranga – while offering prayers to the deities, Deva-stuti   ; and, not in the drama per se.

Mayāpīdam smta ntta sandhyākāleu Ntttā nānā karaa sayuktai raga hārair vibhūitam 4.13

Pūrva-raga-vidhā avasmistvayā samyak prayojyatām vardhamāna kayogeu gītevāsāriteu ca 4.14

The Dance performed during the Purvaranga was accompanied by vocal and instrumental music. It is said; the songs that were sung during the Purvaranga were of the Marga class- sacred, somber and well regulated (Niyata). Such Marga songs were in praise of Shiva (Shiva-stuti). Bharata explains Marga or Gandharva as the Music dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā), giving great pleasure to Gandharvas; and, therefore it is called Gandharva.

Atyartham iṣṭa devānā tathā prīti-kara puna | gandharvāā ca yasmād dhi tasmād gāndharvam ucyate – NS Ch. 28, 9

shiva dance

Almost the entire Chapter Four of Natyashastra is devoted to Nrtta. That is because, the term that Bharata generally used to symbolize  Dance, was Nrtta.  And, the Nrtta, Bharata said, was created to give expression to beauty and grace – śobhā prajanayediti Ntta pravartitam (NS.4.264). The Nrtta is visual art. The term Nrtta, in the context of the Natyashastra, is explained by Abhinavagupta as (Angavikshepa), the graceful composition of the limbs – gatram vilasena kshepaha.

The Nrtta stands for pure, abstract and beautiful dance, performed in tune with the rhythm and tempo, to the accompaniment of vocal and instrumental music.

The Nrtta performed during the Purvaranga was not as an auxiliary to Natya. And, therefore, Nrtta was considered to be independent and complete by itself.

Nrtta is described in terms of the motion of the limbs; the beauty of its form; the balanced geometrical structure; creative use of space; and rhythm (time). It gives form to the formless.  Here, the body speaks its own language; an expression of the self. It delights the eye with its posture, rhythm and synchronized movements of the dancer’s body.

Nrtta is the spontaneous rhythmic movement of different parts of the body (Angas, Upangas and Pratyangas). Nrtta is also associated with the surrounding nature and its beauty. For instance; Shiva does his Nrtta in the evening, before sun set, (Sandhyayam nrtyaha Shamboh) surrounded by the salubrious shining snow peaks of the Himalayas, while he is in the company of Devi Parvathi and his Ganas.

It is said; the sense of Nrtta is ingrained in the nature. For instance; the peacocks burst into simple rhythmic movements at the sight of rain-bearing clouds; and, the waves in the sea swing in ebb and flow as the full moon rises up in a clear cloudless night.

Nrtta is a kind of architecture. It is an Art-form whose life is the beauty of its form. But, Nrtta was not meant for giving forth meaningful expressions. It did not look for a purpose; not even of narrating a theme.

Thus, Nrtta could be understood as a metaphor of Dance made of coordinated movement of hands and feet (Cari and Karana or dance units or postures), in a single graceful flow.  Nrtta is useful for its beautiful visual appeal; as that which pleases the eye (Shobha hetuvena).

...

Tandava

shiva tandava

And, Tandava is said to be the Nrtta that Shiva taught to his disciple Tandu (Tando rayam Tandavah).  It was composed by combining the circular movement of a limb (Recaka) and the sequence of dance movements (KaranasAngaharas) . It is not clear  how these movements were utilized.

The term Tandava could also be understood as Bharata’s term for Nrtta , the Dance (Nrtta-prayoga) – Nrtta-prayoga sṛṣṭo ya sa Tāṇḍava iti smta. NS.4.261. And, Tandava is often used as a synonym for Nrtta.

[Abhinavagupta, in his typical style, provides a totally different sort of explanation to the term Tandava. According to him, the term ṇḍava is derived from the sounds like ‘Tando; tam-tam’, produced by the accompanying Damaru shaped drums. It follows the manner, in Grammar (vyākaraa), of naming an object, based on the sound it produces – śabda-anukti.  For instance; Yaska, in his Nirukta (318) had mentioned that a kaka (crow) is so called, because of the sound it makes – kāka, iti Śabda, anuktis, tad idam, śakunisu bahulam.

Abhinavagupta also mentions that the Bhaṇḍam (percussion instruments), which produce sounds like ‘Bhan, Than’ etc., are important for the performance of the Ntta.]

*

And, in regard to the Drama, the Tandava,  a form of Nrtta, is performed before the commencement of the play, as a prayer-offering to gods (Deva stuti). It is a dance that creates beauty of form; and, is submitted to gods, just as one offers flowers (pushpanjali).

The Tandava, at this stage, did not necessarily mean a violent dance; nor was it performed only by men.

According to Bharata, the Tandava Nrtta, during Purvaranga, iperformed to accompaniment of appropriate songs and drums. And, it is composed of Recakas, Angaharas and the Pindibandhas; (NS. 4. 259-61).

Recakā Agahārāśca Piṇḍībandhā tasthaiva ca 4.259 sṛṣṭvā bhagavatā dattās Taṇḍave munaye tadā tenāpi hi tata samyag-gāna-bhāṇḍa-samanvita 4.260 Ntta-prayoga sṛṣṭo ya sa Tāṇḍava iti smta 4.261

[Please also check this link http://www.tarrdaniel.com/documents/Yoga-Yogacara/nata_yoga.html ]

Sukumara

devi lasya.

And , Sukumara Prayoga is the tender and graceful type of dance performed by the Devi Parvathi.

It is said; Shiva’s Tandava dance comprising Angaharas and Recakas inspired Devi Parvathi to perform her own type of dance, adorned with graceful and delicate movements (sukumara-prayoga) – (Sukumāra-prayogeṇa Nṛttam caiva Pārvatīm –NS.4.250). 

Recakair-agahāraiś ca Ntyanta vīkya Sakaram 249 Sukumāra-prayogea Ntyantī caiva Pārvatīm (NS. 4. 249-50)

Parvathi ‘s  dance was also adorned with graceful gestures – Recakas and Angaharas. But, her dance cannot be construed as s counterpart to Tandava. It was her own form of Dance.

*

Abhinavagupta explains; the Angaharas of Parvathi’s Dance was rich in loveliness and subtle beauty (Lalitha Angahara); celebrating the erotic sentiment, Sṛṅgāra, the love that binds male and female – (Sukumāra-prayogaśca śṛṅgāra-rasa-sambhavaḥ – NS.4.269). Her Dance was bedecked with emotion; and, was full of meaning (Abhinaya prāptyartham arthānā tajjñair abhinaya kta NS.4. 261).

Yattu śṛṅgāra sabaddha gāna strī puruā aśrayam Devī ktair agahārair lalitais tat prayojayet NS.4. 312

Abhinavagupta says; the fruit (phala) of the gentle dance is that it pleases the Goddess (Devī); and that of ṇḍava is that it pleases Shiva who is with Soma. He also mentions that while performing the dance-gestures (abhinaya) for Puṣhpāñjali, the dancer’s looks must not be diverted towards the audience. That is because; that dance-offering is not addressed to the spectators. Therefore, it must be performed looking into one’s own soul.

*

[ We need to remember that the Tandava and the Sukumara, the pure types of Dances, were discussed by Bharata in the context of the purvaranga, not in that of drama proper (yaścāya pūrva-ragastu tvayā śuddha prayojita – NS.4. 15). And, such a Purvaranga was called Chitra (Citro nāma bhaviyati); Chitra meant diagrams/formations. These dances , at that stage , were not associated with expression of emotions.

However, Abhinavagupta, in his commentary, at many places, interprets Natyashastra in the light of contemporary concepts and practices. He also introduces certain ideas and terms that were not present during the time of Bharata.

For instance; during the time of Bharata, there was no clear theoretical division of Dance into Tandava and Sukumara. And, the term Lasya, which in the later period meant gentle, delicate and graceful, does not also appear in Natyashastra. But, the concept of the element of grace and beauty did exist; and, was named as Sukumara-prayoga.

The Tandava as described in the Natyashastra was Nrtta (pure dance); and, it was not necessarily aggressive; though Abhinavagupta interpreted Tandava as Uddhata (vigorous). But, in the Natyashastra, Tandava does not convey the sense of Uddhata.

Similarly, though Tandava is mentioned as Nrtta; it, in no way, refers to, or is related to furious dance, which in the present-day goes by the name Tandava-nrtta

Abhinavagupta states that Lasya (which term he uses to substitute Sukumara-prayoga), the graceful dance with delicate, graceful movements , performed by Devi Parvathi was in contrast to Shiva’s forceful (Uddhata Angaharas) and fast paced Tandava Nrtta. But, nether term Lasya, nor such distinctions or contrasts are mentioned in the Natyashastra.

Both Tandava and Sukumara come under Nrtta – the pure Dance, devoid of meaning and emotion. But, Abhinavagupta describes the Sukumara of Devi as being ‘bedecked with emotion and full of meaning’.

Abhinavagupta also brings in the notion of relating Tandava and Sukumara to male (Purusha) and female (Stri) dances. But, such gender-based associations were not mentioned in the Natyashastra.]

NataYoga10-12

Recaka, Karana and Angahara

As mentioned earlier, according to Bharata, the Tandava Nrtta, performed to the accompaniment of appropriate songs and drum-beats, is composed of Recakas, Angaharas and the Pindibandhas – (Recakā Agahārāśca Piṇḍībandhā tasthaiva caNS. 4. 259-61). The Tandava, at this stage, as said earlier, did not necessarily mean a violent dance; nor was it performed only by men.

Recaka

Here, Recaka (derived from Recita, relating to limbs) is understood as the extending movements of the feet (pāda), waist (kai), hands (hasta) and neck (grīva or kanta):  pāda-recaka eka syat dvitīya kai-recaka kararecakas tritīyas tu caturta kaṇṭha-recakaḥ (NS.4. 248). The Recakas are said to be separate  movements; and, are not parts of Karanas or Cari.

Movement of the feet from one side to the other with faltering or unsteady gaits as also of other types of feet movement is called Pada-recaka. Rising up, stretching up and turning round the waist as well as drawing it back characterize the Kati-recaka. Throwing up,putting forward, throwing sideways, swinging round and drawing back of the hands are called Hasta-recaka. Raising up, lowering, and bending the neck sideways to left and right or such other movements form the Kanta-recaka.

In each of the four varieties of major joint movements, the limb is moved or turned from one position to another. These four basic oscillating movements, which lend grace and elegance to the postures, are regarded as fundamental to dancing.

It is said; on entering the stage, with flowers in her hands (pupāñjali-dharā bhūtvā praviśed raga-maṇtapam), the female dancer should be in vaisakha sthana (posture) ; and , perform all the four Recakas (those of feet, waist, hands and neck) – vaiśākha-sthāna-keneha sarva-recaka-cāriī ॥ 274॥

And, only then , she should go round the stage scattering flowers , in submission to gods. After bowing to gods, she should perform her Abhinaya .

pupāñjali visjyātha ragapīha parītya ca 275 praamya devatābhyaś ca tato abhinayam-ācaret 276

Somehow, there is not much discussion about Recaka in the major texts. Kallinātha, the commentator, merely states that Recakas form part of the Agahāras; and, is useful in adjusting the Taala (time units).

Hamsa 4

Karanas

According to the Natyashastra, the Nrtta is Angahara, which is made of Karanas – Nānā Karaa sayuktair Agahārair vibhūitam (NS.4.13)

And, Karana is defined by Bharata as the perfect combination of the hands and feet – Hasta-pada samyoga Nrttasya Karanam bhavet (NS.4.30). The Karanas are classified under Nrtta.

And, the Karanas are themselves made up of Sthanas (static postures), Caris and Nrtta-hastas (movement of the feet and the hands). It involves both the aspects: movement and position.

Thus, Karaa is not a mere pose, a stance or a posture that is isolated and frozen in time. Karaa is the stylized synthesis of Sthiti (a fixed position-static) and Gati (motion-dynamic). That is to say; a Karana made of Sthanas, Caris and Nrtttahastas is a dynamic process.  It is an aesthetically appealing, well coordinated movement of the hands and feet, capturing an image of beauty and grace .

A Karana functions as a fundamental unit of dance. It is a technical component, which helps to provide a structural framework, on which dance movements and formations are built and developed,

Bharata enumerates 108 types of Karanas in the Fourth Chapter of the Natyashastra. He devotes a two-line verse (Karika) to each of the Karanas, mentioning the associated hand gestures (hastas), foot movements (Caris), and body positions (Mandalas).

Abhinavagupta explains Karaa as action (Kriyā Karaam); and, as the very life (jivitam) of Ntta. 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’.

In the Karanas, the balance, equipoise, the ease, is the key. The movement of each limb must be in relation with that of the other, which is either following it in the same direction or is playing as the counterpart in the other direction. The flow must be fluid and harmonious. Every Karana is well thought out; and, is complete by itself.

Nrtta is the art that solely depends on the form. Its purpose is to achieve beauty in forms. That is the reason; Karana is defined as the perfect composition of the entire body. Unless each and every Karana is individually illustrated, it might not be possible to point out whether it is perfect; and whether all the elements that are required for that Karana are present.

karana (1)

Abhinavagupta explains; Karana is different from the actions of normal life (Lokadharmi). And, it is not a mere placement, replacement or displacement. Such throws (kepa) of the limbs must be guided by a sense of beauty and grace (vilasa-ksepasya). Hence, Karana is a free movement of limbs in a pleasing, unbroken flow (ekā kriyā). That is why, though the Karaa is defined ‘kriyā karaam’, Abhinavagupta says: a Karana has to be intellectually and spiritually satisfying. The word nttasya in Bharata’s definition is meant to emphasize this aspect of dance.

Pūrva-ketre sayoga-tyāgena samucita ketrāntara-prapti-paryantatayā ekā kriyā tattaranmityamartha

*

As said earlier; Karaa was defined by Bharata as ‘hasta-pāda-sayoga nttasya karaa bhavet’ (BhN_4.30); meaning that the combination of hand and foot movements in dance (Ntta) are called Karaa.  

Abhinavagupta explains that ‘hasta’ and ‘pāda’, here, do not denote merely the hand and foot. But, hasta implies all actions pertaining to the upper part (Purva-kaya) of the body (Anga); and, it’s Shākhā-aga (branches, the various movements of the hands – Kara varhana), and Upāga (subsidiaries like the eyebrows, the nose, the lower lip, the cheeks and the chin etc).

Similarly, pāda stands for all actions of the lower limbs of the body (Apara-kaya); such as sides, waist, thighs, trunk and feet.

Thus, Karana involves the movement of the feet (pada karmani); shifting of a single foot (Cari) and postures of the legs (Sthana), along with hand gestures (hastas– single as also combined Nrtta gestures).

And, all the actions of the hands and feet must be suitably and coherently combined with those of the waist, sides, thighs, chest and back – Hasta, pada samyogaha  Nrtta Karanam bhavet.

That is to say; when the Anga moves, the Pratyanga and Upanga also move accordingly. The flow of the movement (gatravikshepa) should be such that the entire body is involved in the curves and bends.

hastau śiras-sannata ca gagāvataraa tviti / yāni sthānāni yāścāryo vyāyāme kathitāni tu // BhN_4.169 // ādapracārastveā tu karaānāmaya bhavet / ye cāpi ntta hastāstu gaditā nttakarmai // BhN_4.170 //

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There is an elaborate discussion on two important features of a Karana execution: (1) Sausthava (keeping different limbs in their proper position) – about which Bharata says that the whole beauty of Nrtta rests on the Sausthava , so the performer never shines unless he pays attention to this – Shobha sarvaiva nityam hi Sausthavam; and, (2) Chaturasrya (square composition of the body, mainly in relation to the chest) – about which Abhinavagupta remarks that the very vital principle (jivitam)  of the body, in dance, is based on  its square position (Chaturasrya-mulam Nrttena  angasya jivitam), and adds that the very object of Sausthava is to attain a perfect Chaturasrya ,

This again emphasizes that Nrtta rests on the notion of formal-beauty, which is achieved through the perfect composition of the whole body. This involves not merely the geometrical values, but also the balance and harmony among the body parts.

While commenting on the Karaas, Abhinavagupta says that such static elements within the dynamics of the Karaas are useful in dance, not only as factors that beautify the presentation , but also as mediums of expression for communicating the meaning of the lyrics through vākyā-arthā-abhinaya (actions interpreting the meanings of its sentences). According to him, the Karanas are not mere physical actions; they can give form to ideas and thoughts. He opines that Nrtta can produce Bhavas. And, Nrtta, in reality, is Art par excellence.

While commenting on the fifteenth Karaa (the Svastika), Abhinavagupta asserts that every Karaa is capable of conveying a certain idea (Artha) or a thought, at least in a very subtle way. (But, such notions of associating Karanas with representation are not found in the Natyashastra.)

Sarangadeva in his Sangitaratnakara (Chapter 7, Nrttakarana, verses 548-49) also defines the Nrtta Karana as a beautiful (vilasena) combination of the actions (kriya) of the hands (Kara), feet (pada) etc., appropriate to the Rasa it intends to evoke.

Nrttakarana

Thus, while many of the 108-karanas are primarily associated with stylized movements, some Ntta Karaas are used, also, to express various emotions; going beyond the conventional Nrtta format. And, the depiction of such Karanas is a dynamic process. There is scope for innovation and experimentation.

For instance; while explaining the 10th Karana – the Ardha-nikuttaka karana (placing one hand on the shoulder; striking it with outstretched fingers; and then striking the ground with one of the heels) – which employs ancita (curve) of the hands, Abhinavagupta mentions that Sankuka’s description was different from that of Bharata; and, cannot be accepted. Further, he says; this Karana can be performed in two or more different ways; and, therefore, concludes that the performer has some degree of freedom in interpreting a Karana.

He mentions that a Karana can be performed both in the sitting posture and by moving about on a stage by employing Nrtta-hastas (hand postures) and Drsti (glances) – Tatravastane karakayopayogi sthanakam. Gatau tu caryah; purvakaye to gatanau Nrtta-hasta Drstaya ca

And, again, along with his explanation of the 66th Karaa (Atikranta moving forward with each foot treading alternatively with a flourish and swing), he states that wherever the use of the Karaa is not specifically stated, it is left to the imagination of the performer.

[In the later times, Karanas came to be described as the means to convey a meaning (Artha) or a pattern, such as: svastikarcita or mandala-svastika. But, in the Natyashastra, the Nrtta or the Karanas are not associated with such representations.]

And, in the later times, the idioms and phrases (Karanas and Angahara) of these dances, as also the ways of expressing the intent and meaning (Abhinaya) of a situation or of a lyric, were adopted into the play-proper, as also into various Dance forms; thus , enhancing the quality of those art-forms.

It is said; even during the course of the play , one should adopt the physical movements – Uddhata Angaharas of Tandava, created by Shiva, while depicting action in fighting scenes. And, for rendering love-scenes, one should adopt the Sukumara Angaharas created by the Devi.

Since the Karanas epitomize the beauty of form; and, symbolize the concept of aesthetics, they served as models for the artist; and, inspired them to create sculptures of lasting beauty. The sculptors (Shilpis) regarded the Karanas as the vital breath (Prana) of their Art. The much admired Indian sculptures are, indeed, the frozen forms of Karanas. The linear measurements or the deviation from the vertical median (Brahma Sutra); the stances; and, iconometry of the Indian sculptures are all rooted in the Karanas of the Nrtta, the idiom of visual delight. These wondrous sculptures, poems in stone, continue to fascinate and do evoke admiration and pleasure (Rasa) in the hearts of the viewers.

[Please do not fail to read the Doctoral thesis on the Dance imagery in south Indian temples : study of the 108-karana sculptures, prepared by Dr. Bindu S. Shankar]

And, in the present-day dance curriculum, the Karanas are used as the phrases or the basic units of the dance structure.   Nrtta is taught as a combination of basic dance motions called Adavus for which there is a corresponding pattern of phonetic syllables. The Adavus of Bharatanatya are based in limb movements, postures, hand gestures and geometry as in the Karanas; though the Adavus might differ from Karanas, in their execution.

Adavus are regarded as the building blocks of Bharatanatya. Different combinations of Adavus create varieties of body movements.

[The Adavus (smallest units of dance patterns) are composed as dance-modulations (Nrtta), where all the movements relate to the vertical median (Brahma-sutra) on the one hand; and to the stable equipoise, fixed position of one-half of the dancer’s body, on the other. The Adavus are, thus, primary units of movements, where the position of the feet (Sthana), posture of our standing (Mandala), walking movements (Cari), gestures of the hands (Nrtta hasthas) and other limbs of the body together form a precise dance pattern. It is said; there are about ten or more basic types of Adavus (Dasha-vidha); and, more number of variations could be formed de pending on the School of Dancing (Bani).]

adavus2-16b3d

Agahāra

Nrtta in Natyashastra is 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). It could also be taken to mean, twisting and bending of the limbs in a graceful manner.

And, such Angavikshepa is said to be a dominant feature of the Nrtta. And, as mentioned earlier, that term stands for graceful composition of limbs (gatram vilasena kshepaha). Thus, the Angaharas, basically, are Nrtta movements, the Angika-abhinaya, involving six Angas or segments of the body.

Abhinavagupta relates Angavikshepa to the Angaharas; and says, they could be taken, almost, as synonyms . But, they are not the same.

The Angaharas along with Recakas and Karanas constitute the essential aspects of the Nrtta; especially in the in the Purvaranga, and at times on the stage, as a part of the prelude (Naandi),  by female dancers dressed as goddesses – nikrāntāsu ca sarvāsu nartakīsu tata param 5. 156.  Bharata lists 32 Angaharas in verses 19 to 26 of Chapter Four.

[Towards the end of his comments on the 32 Angaharas, Abhinavagupta mentions that these could be produced in separate two sets of 16 each. One set of sixteen could be performed as a part of the Purvanga; and, the other set of sixteen after lifting the curtain, in full view of the spectators. While on the stage, four female dancers could perform four Angaharas each. Eight of them could be in Trisra Taala and the other eight in Chatursra Taala (Trysratalakah sodasa Esam; caturasra sryastav avantaratah).]

A Karana, as said earlier, is a basic unit of dance, constructed of well coordinated static postures and dynamic movements. The Nrtta technique consists in constructing a series of short compositions, by using the Karanas.

The Natyashastra mentions that a unit of two Karanas makes one Matrka; three Karanas makes one Kalapaka; four Karanas make a Sandaka; and, five Karanas make one Samghataka.  Thus, it says, The Angaharas consist of six, seven, eight or nine Karanas.

A meaningful combination of six to nine Karanas is said to constitute an Angahara, which could be called as a basic dance sequence (abhirvā saptabhirvāpi aṣṭabhir navabhis tathākaraairiha sayuktā agahārā prakīrtāḥ – NS.4.33).

It is said; the Angahara is like a garland where the selected Karanas (like flowers) are strung together, weaving a delightful pattern. It is basically a visual delight (prekshaniya).

Angahara is, thus, a dance sequence composed of uninterrupted series of Karanas. Such combination of Karanas cannot be done randomly; but, it should follow a method. That is because; the nature of an Angahāra is defined by the appropriate arrangement (yojana) or the order of the occurrence of its constituent Karaas. Out of the 108, say, six to nine suitable Karanas are, therefore, selected and strung together in various permutations to form a meaningful Angahara sequences or a Dance segment. Chapter Four (verses 31 to 55) of the Natyashastra describes 32 selected Angaharas, to choose from.

[Pundarika Vittala, the author of Nartana -nirnaya , mentions that by his time, the sixteenth century, the 108 Karanas had , in effect , been reduced to sixteen.] 

Abhinavagupta, while explaining the fourth Angahara (the Apaviddha) remarks that even the best of the theoreticians (Lakshnakaro) cannot rationally and adequately explain the sequence of Karanas that should occur in an Angahara. Hence, whatever sequence is given by authorities should not be taken as final. The performers should go by their experience and intuition. The choreographer / performer, therefore, enjoy a certain degree of freedom in composing an Angahara sequence.

Nahi susiksitopi lakshnakaro vakyanam pratipadam laksanam keutum saknoti / Asya pascadidam prayojyamiti jnapitena kincid atmaano yojana ca samhita karya / Niyeimanamagre vak ityuktam /

Though Angaharas and Karanas have much in common, the two are not said to be the same. The Angaharas are not mere the sum or totality of Karanas. Each possesses a distinctive character of its own. The Angaharas are distinct from Karanas. That is the reason Bharata says: Nana karaa sayuktān vyākhyāsyāmi sarecakān (NS.4.19)

The Angaharas, though mainly made up of Karanas, also need Recakas, which are the stylized movements of four limbs: neck (griva), hands (hasta), waist (kati) and feet (carana). The Recakas fulfill two purposes. One, it provides beauty and grace to the presentation; and, two, it ensures a smooth and seamless movement in such a way as to adjust the entire Angahara to the given Tala.

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Thus, in short, the Dance choreography of Nrtta is the series of body-movements, composed of Angaharas. The Angaharas in turn are made of appropriate Karanas. And, the Karanas are themselves made up of Caris, Nrtta-hastas and Sthanas. 

Nrtta, as articulated by Bharata, is of the Marga class. And, according to Abhinavagupta, it is capable of evoking Rasa, although it is non-representational.

padmakarana2

Which is the basic unit of Nrtta..?

Now, we have in sequence Caris; Nrttahastas; Sthanas; Karanas and Angaharas.

And, Abhinavagupta questions, which of these should be considered as the basic unit of Nrtta. He says the combination of two karanas, called Nrtta-matrka (Nrtta alphabet) is the basic unit of Nrtta; because, until the two Karanas are performed, you will not get the sense that you are dancing (Nrttyati).

But, that view was disputed by the later scholars. They counter questioned why only two Karanas; why not three or four or more.

They point out that the components of a Karana; like Caris; Nrtta-hastas; Sthanas, by themselves, individually cannot convey the sense of the Nrtta. They argued that Karana is, indeed, the factor, that characterizes Nrtta, which is built up by the clever arrangement of its patterns, just as in architecture. That form of beauty is achieved through the perfect geometrical qualities and harmonious composition of various body-parts. The sense of balance, ease and poise is the key. Therefore, a well thought out Karana, which is complete by itself, is regarded as the basic unit of Nrtta.

dance pose

Bharatanatya

Eventually, the Karanas, Angaharas and Nrtta, all, form part of Nrtya, the expressive dance. And, a Dance form like Bharatanatya is not complete without adaptation of the Nrtta techniques.

Bharatanatya is a composite Dance form, which brings together Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya formats. It draws its references (apart from Natyashastra) from various other texts of regional nature. Besides, it has developed its own specialized forms.

The Indian classical dance of today (Bharatanatya) has, over a period, evolved its own Grammar; and, has constructed its own devices. Its Nrtta element too has changed greatly from what it meant during the days of Bharata. Its structure and style is based in different units of movements, postures, and hand gestures such as Adavus etc., which are the combination of steps and gestures artistically woven into Nrtta sequences.

The basic Nrtta items in the Bharatanatya repertoire are the Alarippu (invocation); Jatiswaram (perhaps a successor of Yati Nrtta, where the Jati patterns are interspersed with appropriate Svara); and , Tillana (brisk, short rhythmic passages presented towards the close of the performance

Such Nrtta items in a Bharatanatya performance are dominated by the technique of the Angikabhinaya, which is defined as acting by means of body movements.

[ Alarippu

Alarippu is a dance invocation, which , at the same time, executes a series of pure Dance movements (Nrtta) following rhythmic patterns. It is an ideal introduction or prologue to a Dance performance. It commences with perfect repose, a well balanced poise (Sama-bhanga). Then, the individual movements of the neck, the shoulders, and the arms follow. And, next is the Ardha-mandali (the flexed position of the knees) and the full Mandali.  Thus, the Alarippu introduces the movements of the major limbs (Anga) and the minor limbs (Upanga) , in their simple formations. The dancer, thus, is able to check on her limb-movements; attaining positions of perfect  balance; and, the ease of her performance. The Alarippu sets the Dancer and the Dance performance to take off with eloquence and composure.

Jatisvaram

The Jatisvaram, which follows the Alarippu, is also a dance form of the Nrtta class. It properly introduces the music element into the dance. The Jatisvaram follows the rules of the Svara-jati , in its musical structure. And, it consists three movements: the Pallavi, the Anu-pallavi and the Charanam. The music of the Jatisvaram is distinguished from the musical composition called Gita (song) ; as also from the Varnam , which is a complex composition. In the Jatisvaram, the music is not composed of meaningful words. But, here, the series of sol-fa passages (Svaras) are very highly important. A Jatisvaram composition is set to five Jatis (time-units) of metrical – cyclic patterns (Taala) – say, of 3,4,5,7,9. The basic Taala cycle guides the dancer; and she weaves different types of rhythmic patterns, in terms of the primary units of the dance (the Adavus).

The execution of Jatisvaram is based on the principle of repetition of the musical notes (Svara) of the melody, set to a given Taala. Following that principle, the dancer weaves a variety of dance-patterns.

Thus, what is pure Svara in music becomes pure dance (Nrtta) modulation in the Jatisvaram. The dancer and the musician may begin together on the first note of the melody; and, synchronize to return to the first beat of the Taala cycle; or, the dancer may begin the dance-pattern on the third beat, and yet may synchronize at the end of the phrase of the melodic line. But, the variety of punctuations and combinations within the Jatisvaram format are truly countless. It is up to the ingenuity, the skill and imagination of the dancer to weave as many complex patterns as she is capable of.

Tillana

Tillana is a rhythmic dance that is generally performed towards the end of a concert. A Tillana uses Taala-like phrases in the Pallavi and Anupallavi, and lyrics in the Charanam. It  is predominantly a rhythmic composition.

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Varnam

The Varnam is a highly interesting and complex composition in the Karnataka Samgita. And, when adopted into Dance-form, Varnam is transformed into the richest composition in Bharatanatya. The Varnam, either in music or dance, is a finely crafted exquisite works of art; and, it gives full scope to the musician and also to the dancer to display ones knowledge, skill and expertise.

And , in Dance , its alternating passages of Sahitya (lyrics) and Svaras (notes of the melody) gives scope to the dancer to perform both the Nrtya (dance with Abhinaya) and Nrtta (pure dance movements) aspects. In its performance, a Varnam employs all the three tempos. The movement of a Varnam, which is crisp and tightly knit, is strictly controlled; and, it’s rendering demands discipline and skill. It also calls for complete understanding between the singer and the dancer; and also for the dancer’s ability to interpret not only the words (Sahitya) but also the musical notes (Svaras) as per the requisite time units (Taala). The dancer presents, in varied ways, through Angika-abhinaya the dance elements, which the singer brings forth through the rendering of the Svaras]

Hamsa 4

The Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeshvara is widely used by the teachers and learners of Bharatanatya. The text is concerned mainly with the descriptions and applications of Angikabhinaya in dance. These are body movements composed by combining the movements of body parts; such as: Angas (major limbs); Upangas (minor limbs), and Pratayangas (smaller parts like fingers, etc).

[The Abhinaya Darpana (Chapter 8, Angika Abhinaya Pages: 47 to71) lists, in great detail, the following kinds of body movements under Angika-abhinaya. And, these are followed by the students and the teachers of Bharatanatya.

Shirobheda (movements of the head); Dristibheda (movements of the eyes); Grivabheda (movements of the neck); Asamyukta-hasta (gestures of one hand); Samyukta-hasta (gestures by both hands together); Padabheda (standing postures with Hasta); Sthanaka (Simple standing posture); Utplavana (jumps); Chari-s (different ways of walking, or moving of feet/soles); and, Gati-s (different ways of walking)

In addition, there are other kinds of movements and activities of various parts of the body that are important to Nrtta.]

[The following well known verses said to be of the Abhinaya Darpana are very often quoted

Khantaanyat Lambayat Geetam; Hastena Artha Pradakshayat; Chakshubhyam Darshayat Bhavom; Padabhyam Tala Acherait

Keep your throat full of song; Let your hands bring out the meaning; May your glance be full of expression, While your feet maintain the rhythm

Yato Hasta tato Drushti; Yato Drushti tato Manaha; Yato Manaha tato Bhavaha; Yato Bhava tato Rasaha

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.]

Hamsa 4

Pindlbandhas

Pindlbandhas (Pindi = cluster or lump) are basically group dances that constitute a distinct phase of the preliminaries (purvaranga) to a play. According to Bharata, the Pindlbandhas were patterned after the dance performed by Shiva along with his Ganas and disciples such as Nandi and Bhadramukha. The purpose of performing the Pindlbandhas, before the commencement of the play proper, was to please the gods; and, to invoke their blessings.

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 striyaḥ- ॥ 279॥

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While describing the physical structure and composition of the Pindibandhas; and the various types of clusters and patterns formed by its dancers, 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).

piṇḍī śṛṅkhalikā caiva latābandho’tha bhedyaka piṇḍībandhastu piṇḍatvādgulma śṛṅkhalikā bhavet 288

In short; the Pindibandha is the technique of group formations; and, weaving patterns. 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.

 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.

Abhinavagupta also explains Pindibandha as the term which refers to the insignia or weapon etc; and, which reminds one of the divinity or concept associated with it.

Pindi adhara-angadi sanghatah; taya badhyate buddhau pravesyate tanu-bhavena sakalaya va vyoma-adaviti pindibandha akrti-visesah

(For instance: Īśvara piṇḍī for Īśvara; Sihavāhinī for Caṇḍikā; Śikhī piṇḍī for Kumar and so on).


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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 such Pindis in verses 253-258 of Chapter Four. Bharata 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 prayoktbhiḥ – NS.4.291)

The presentation of the preliminaries seemed to be quite an elaborate affair, with the participation of singers, drummers, and groups of dancers.

Tikuli art

The most celebrated type of the Pindibandha Nrtta is, of course, is the Rasalila 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 Sharad-ritu.

Srimamad Bhagavatha sings the glory and joy of Rasa-Lila with love and divine ecstasy, in five Chapters from 29 to 33 of the Tenth Canto (Dashama-skanda) titled as ‘Rasa-panca-adhyayi’. (Harivamsa also describes this dance; but, calls it as Hallisaka)

“That night beautified by the autumnal moon (sharad indu), the almighty Lord having seen the night rendered delightful with the blooming of autumnal jasmines  sported with  the Gopis, while he played on his flute melodious tunes and songs captivating the hearts of the Gopis.

Then having stationed himself between every two of these damsels the Lord of all Yoga, commenced in that circle of the Gopis the festive dance known as Rasa-Lila. Then that ring of dancers was filled with the sounds of bracelets, bangles and the kinkinis of the damsels. While they sang sweet and melodious songs filled with love, the Gopis gesticulated with their hands to express various Bhavas of the Srngara-rasa.

With their measured steps, with the movements of their hands, with their smiles, with the graceful and amorous contraction of their eyebrows, with their dancing bodies, their moving locks of hair covering their foreheads with drops of perspiration trickling down tneir gentle cheeks  and with the knots of their hair loosened, Gopis began to sing. The music of their song filled the Universe.”

Rasa Lila – from Vishnu Purana

The Raasa Dance of today is the re-enactment of Krishna’s celestial Rasa-Lila. It is a Pindibandha type of  dance performed by a well coordinated group of eight, sixteen or thirty two men and women , alternatively positioned, holding each other’s hands; forming a circle (Mandala); going round in rhythmic steps  , singing songs of love made of soft and sweet sounding words; clapping each other’s hands rhythmically; and,  throwing gentle looks at each other (bhrubhanga vikasita). Laya and Taala in combination with vocal and instrumental music play an important role in the Rasa dance.

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The direct descendants of the Rasa-Lila Pindibandhas described in the Puranas  are the many types of folk and other types of group in many parts of India :  Raslīlā, Daṇḍaras, Kummi, Perani, Kolāṭṭam and similar other dances. The most famous of them all is the Maha-Rasa of Manipur, performed with the singing of the verses of Srimad Bhagavata.

manipur-ras-lila-

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[When you take an overview, you can see that during the time of Bharata, Nrtta meant a Marga class of dance. And, Tandava and Sukumara were also of the Nrtta type. Though the connotation of those terms has since changed vastly, their underlying principles are relevant even to this day.

In the textual tradition, the framework devised by Bharata continued to be followed by the later authors, in principle, for classification and descriptions of several of dance forms – (even though Nrtta and Nrtya were no longer confined to Drama –Natya). The norms laid down by Bharata were treated as the standard or the criterion (Marga, Nibaddha), in comparison with regional (Desi) other types of improvised (Anibaddha) dance forms, in their discussions. The regional dance-forms , despite their specialized formats,  were primarily based in the basic principles of Natyashastra.

This amazing continuity in the tradition of the Natyashastra is preserved in all the Indian classical Dance forms.]

lotus-flower-and-bud

In the next Part we will talk about Nrtta, Natya and Nritya as they were understood, interpreted and commented upon in the Post-Bharata period, i.e., the medieval times and in the present-day.

Continued

 In

Part Four

References and sources

All images are from the Internet

 
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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part One

 

Natya Sastra (1)

Lakshana-granthas – texts concerning the performing arts of India

Some time back – as a part of the series on the Music of India  – I had posted brief profiles of some of the well known texts on Samgita-shastra (Musicology), which established a sound theoretical basis (Lakshana) for the structural framework of the classical Music traditions; and, their practice (Lakshya). Those texts, produced over a long period of time, described, in precise terms, the concepts of   Music; its concerns; how it should be taught, learnt and performed; and, how it should be experienced and enjoyed.  It was an evolutionary process cascading towards greater sophistication.

Those Lakshana-granthas projected their vision of how the Music should develop and prosper in future, at the same time retaining the pristine purity of the time-honoured tradition. In the process, those texts, produced over the centuries, defined and protected the principles; as also, guided and regulated the performance of the chaste Music of India.

Some friends and readers inquired whether I could write, on similar lines, about the texts concerning the evolution of the principles and techniques of the performing arts of India; and, particularly , about Dance , which  is the most enchanting form of them all; rich in elegance and beauty ; comprehensive; and highly challenging.

Various thinkers and writers of the Lakshana granthas, over a long period, have put forward several theories based on their concept of the essential core, the heart or the soul of the art of Dance (Natyasya Atma).

In the series of articles that are to follow, I have attempted to trace the unfolding of the principles and practice of the performing arts of India, as discussed in various texts spread over several centuries.

In the present installment of the series, let’s take an overview of the texts of the Indian Dancing traditions. In the subsequent parts, we may discuss each of the selected texts, in fair detail.

This may also be treated as a sort of General Introduction to the theories of Indian Dancing.

design

The Natyashastra

It is customary to commence with Natyashastra, when it comes to any discussion related to the art-forms of India. To start with, we shall, briefly, talk about the text of the Natyashastra, in general; and, then move on to Natyashastra in the context of Dance.

The Natyashastra of Bharata is regarded as the seminal and the earliest text extant text, represents the first stage of Indian arts where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics etc., combined harmoniously in order to produce an enjoyable play. It is the source book for all art forms of India. The yaśāstra, surely, is a work of great antiquity. Yet; the scholars opine that looking at the way the text has been compiled and structured; it appears to be based on earlier works.

It is said that the text which we know as Natya-Shastra was based on an earlier text that was much larger. That seems very likely; because, the Natyasastra, as we know, which has about 6,000  karikas (verses), is also known as Sat-sahasri. The later authors and commentators (Dhanika, Abhinavagupta and Sarada-tanaya) refer to the text as Sat-sahari; and, its author as Sat-sahasri-kara. But, the text having 6,000 verses is said to be a condensed version of an earlier and larger text having about 12,000 verses (dwadasha-sahasri). It is said; the larger version was known as Natya- agama and the shorter as Natya-shastra.

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And, again, According to Prof. KM Varma, there were three types of works which preceded the Natyashastra that we know: (1) Sutra – a work on Natya; (2) Bhashya – a commentary on it; and (3) Anuvamsya – a collection of verses , from which Bharata often quotes.

He also points out that Bharata mentions in the Samgraha (the table of contents to Natyashastra) that the subjects to be discussed in the text have reference to what is stated in the Sutra and the Bhashya. That leads to the conclusion that a comprehensive theory of Natya existed much before the time of Bharata; and that he incorporated some of that into his work – the Natyashastra.

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Further, Panini also suggests there were texts on Natya even much prior to Natyashastra.

Panini (Ca.500 BCE) the great Grammarian, in his Astadhyayi (4.3.110-11), mentions two ancient Schools  –  of  Krsava and Silalin – that were in existence during  his time –Parasarya Silalibhyam bhikshu nata-sutreyoh  (4.3.110); karmanda krushas shvadinihi  (4.3.111)It appears that Parasara, Silalin, karmanda and Krsava were the authors of Bhikshu Sutras and Nata Sutras. Of these, Silalin and Krsava were said to have prepared the Sutras (codes) for the Nata (actors or dancers). At times, Natyashastra refers to the performers (Nata) as Sailalaka -s. The assumption is that the Silalin-school, at one time, might have been a prominent theatrical tradition. Some scholars opine that the Nata-sutras of Silalin (coming under the Amnaya tradition) might have influenced the preliminary part (Purvanga) of the Natyashastra, with its elements of worship (Puja).

However, in the preface to his great work Natya-shastra of Bharatamuni (Volume I, Second Edition, 1956) Pundit M. Ramakrishna Kavi mentions that in the Natyavarga of Amara-kosha (2.8.1419-20) there is reference to three schools of Nata-sutra-kara: Silalin; Krasava; and, Bharata.

Śailālinas tu śailūā jāyājīvā kśāśvina bharatā   ityapi naāś cāraās tu kuśīlavā

It appears that in the later times,  the former two Schools (Silali and Krasava) , which flourished earlier to Bharata , went out of existence or merged with the School of Bharata; and, nothing much has come down to us  about these older Schools. And, it is also said, the Bharata himself was preceded by Adi-Bharata, the originator and Vriddha (senior) Bharata. And, all the actors, of whatever earlier Schools, later came to be known as Bharata-s.

All these suggest that there were texts on Natya even before the time of Bharata; and, by his time Natya was already a well established Art.

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The Natyasastra, that we know, is dated around about the second century BCE . The scholars surmise that the text was in circulation for a very long period of time, in its oral form; and, it was reduced to writing several centuries after it was articulated. Until then, the text was preserved and transmitted in oral form.

The written text facilitated its reach to different parts of the country; and, to the neighboring states as well. In the process, each region, where the text became popular, produced its own version of Natyasastra; in its own script. For instance, Natyasastra spread to Nepal, Almora to Ujjain, Darbhanga and also to the Southern states. The earliest known manuscripts which come from Nepal were in Newari script. The text also became available in many other scripts – Devanagari, Grantha, and several regional languages. It became rather difficult for the later-day scholars, to evolve criteria for determining the authenticity and purity of the text, particularly with grammatical mistakes and scribes errors that crept in during the protracted process of transliterations. Therefore, written texts as they have come down to us through manuscripts , merely represent the residual record or an approximation to the original; but, not the exact communication of the oral tradition that originated from Bharata.

It is the general contention that the text of the Natyashastra, as it is available today, was not written at one point of time. Its form, as it has come down to us, includes several additions and alterations. It is also said; many views presented in Natya-Shastra might possibly have been adopted from the works of other scholars. That seems quite likely; because, there are frequent references to other writers and other views; there are repetitions; there are contradictory passages; there are technical terms, which are not supported by the tradition.

And, in regard to Dance, in particular, the Chapter Four (Tandava-lakshanam) is the most important portion, as it details the dance-techniques. The editor of  ya Śāstra, Sri. Ramaswami Sastri, however remarks  that ‘this section of ya Śāstra dealing with Karaas, being of a highly technical nature, was less understood and was rendered more difficult by numerous errors committed by the scribes as well as by the omissions of large portions in the manuscripts’.

Though such additions, deletions and alterations have not been pinpointed precisely, some scholars, particularly Prof. KM Varma, surmise that the verses of a long portion of the Fourth Chapter beginning from Sloka number 274 and ending with the chapter seem to be interpolated.  These verses do not also fit into the context. Abhinavagupta also admits the possibility of their insertions.

Further, Prof. KM Varma also mentions that the portion from the Samanya-abhinaya chapter (Chapter 22) to the beginning of the chapter on Siddhi; as also the portions beginning after the chapter on Avanaddha to the end of the present text, are the later additions.

And, by about the tenth century, two recessions of the yaśāstra were in circulation. One was the longer version; and, the other the shorter. There have been long drawn out debates arguing which of the two is the authentic version. Abhinavagupta in his commentary of the yaśāstra used the shorter recession as the basis of his work; while some authors of the medieval period like Raja Bhoja used the longer version. However, Pandit Ramakrishna Kavi, who examined as many as about forty Manuscripts of the text, opined that the longer recession seemed to be ancient, although it contains some interpolation. But, in any case, now, both the versions are treated as ‘authentic’; and, are used depending upon the choice of the commentator.

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Natyashastra in the context of Dance

Natyashastra was mainly concerned with successful play-production. And, the role of Music and Dance, in conjunction with other components, was primarily to beautify and to heighten the dramatic effects of the acts and scenes in the play. These were treated as enchanting artistic devices that articulate the moods of various theatrical situations in the Drama. The Dance, at that stage, was an ancillary part (Anga) or one of the ingredients that lent elegance and grace to theatrical performance. That is to say; though Music and Dance were very essential to Drama, neither of the two, at that stage, was considered as an independent Art-form.

Further, for a considerable length of time, say up to the middle period, both music and dance were covered by a single term Samgita.  The term Samgita in the early Indian context meant a composite art-form comprising Gita (vocal singing), Vadya (instrumental accompaniments) and Nrtta the limb movement or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, Nrttam Samgita-mucchyate).  The third component of Samgita, viz., Nrtta, involved the use of other two components (Gita and Vadya).

Thus, the term Samgita combined in itself all the different phases of music, including dance. For Dance (Nrtta), just as in the case of vocal (Gita) and instrumental (Vadya) music, the rhythm (Laya) is very vital. The Dance too was regarded as a kind of music. This is analogous to human body where its different limbs function in harmony with the body’s rhythm.

It was said; all the three elements should, ideally, coordinate and perform harmoniously – supporting and strengthening each other with great relish. And, the three Kutapa-s, in combination should suggest a seamless movement like a circle of fire (Alaata chakra); and, should brighten (Ujjvalayati) the stage.

Thus, till about the middle periods, Dance was regarded as a supporting decorative factor; but, not an independent Art form.

Shiva dancing Halebidu

Coming back to Natyashastra, the Dance that it deals in fair detail is, indeed, Nrtta, the pure dance movements – with its Tandava and Sukumara variations – that carry no particular meaning.  The Nrtta was described as pure dancing or limb movements (agavikepa), not associated with any particular emotion, Bhava. And, it was performed during the preliminaries (Purvaranga), before the commencement of the play proper. The Nrtta was meant as a praise offering (Deva-stuti) to the gods.

And, later Bharata did try to combine the pure dance movements of Nrtta (involving poses, gestures, foot-work etc.) with Abhinaya (lit., to bring near, to present before the eyes), to create an expressive dance-form that was adorned with elegant, evocative and graceful body-movements, performed in unison with attractive rhythm and enthralling music, in order to effectively interpret and illustrate the lyrics of a song; and, also to depict the emotional content of a dramatic sequence.

But, for some reason, Bharata did not see the need to assign a name or a title to this newly created amalgam of Nrtta and Abhinaya. (This art-form in the later period came to be celebrated as Nrtya).

Even at this stage, Dance was not an independent art-form; and, it continued to be treated as one of the beautifying factors of the Drama.

Bharata had not discussed, in detail, about Dance; nor had he put forward any theories to explain his concepts about Dance. The reason for that might be, as the scholars explain, Bharata had left that task to his disciple Kohala; asking him to come up with a treatise on dancing, explaining whatever details he could not mention in the Natyashastra. In fact, Bharata, towards the end of his work says: ‘the rest will be done by Kohala through a supplementary treatise’ – śeam-uttara-tantrea kohalastu kariyati (NS.37.18.)

But, unfortunately, that work of Kohala did not survive for long. And, by the time of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century), it was totally lost.

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Texts concerning dance

When it comes to the texts concerning dance there are certain issues or limiting factors.

There is reason to believe that many works on dancing were written during the period following that of Bharata. But most of those works were lost.

For instance; the ancient writers such as Dattila or Dantila (perhaps belonging to the period just after that of Bharata) and Matanga or Matanga Muni (sixth or the seventh century) who wrote authoritatively on Music, it appears, had also commented on Dance. But again, the verses pertaining to Dance in their works, have not come down to us entirely. Some of those verses have survived as fragments quoted by the commentators of the later periods; say , for example, the references pertaining to Taala and Dance from the Brihaddeshi  of Matanga .

Similarly, between the time of Natyashastra (Ca. 200 BCE) and the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century), several commentaries were said to have been produced on the subject of Drama, Music, Dance and related subjects. Some of such ancient authorities mentioned by Abhinavagupta are: Kohala, Nandi, Rahula, Dattila, Narada, Matanga, Shandilya, Kirtidhara, Matrigupta, Udbhata, Sri Sanuka, Lottata, Bhattanayaka and his Guru Bhatta Tauta and others. But, sadly the works of those Masters are lost to us; and, they survive in fragments as cited by the later authors.

Abhinavagupta, states that much of the older traditions had faded out of practice. And he says that one of the reasons, which prompted him to write his work, was to save the tradition from further erosion.

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Texts on Music etc., which also dealt with Dance

There are not many ancient texts that are particularly devoted to discussions on Dance, its theories and techniques.

Most of the texts and treatise which dealt with Music, primarily, also talked about dance, in comparatively briefly manner, towards the end. For instance:

[Here, in this portion, I have followed Dr. Mandakranta Bose, as in her very well researched paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition )  . I gratefully acknowledge her help and guidance.]

(1) Visnudharmottara Purana (Ca. fifth or sixth century) a   text encyclopedic in nature.  Apart from painting, image-making, Dancing and dramaturgy, it also deals with varied subjects such as astronomy, astrology, politics, war strategies, treatment of diseases etc. The text, which is divided into three khandas (parts), has in all 570 Adhyayas (chapters). It deals with dance, in its third segment – chapters twenty to thirty-four.

The author follows the Natyasastra in describing the abstract dance form, Nrtta; and, in defining its function as one of beautifying a dramatic presentation. The focus of the text is on Nrtta, defining its vital elements such as Karanas, Cari etc., required in dancing. In addition, the author briefly touches upon the Pindibandhas or group dances mentioned by Bharata; and, goes on to describe VrttiPravrtti and Siddhi; that is – the style, the means of application and the nature of competence.

(2) The Abhinavabharati of   Abhinavagupta (11th century) though famed as a commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra, is, for all purposes, an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, music, poetry, poetics (alakāra-śhāstra), art , Tantra, Pratyabhijnana School of Shaiva Siddanta etc.   Abhinavabharati is considered a landmark work; and is regarded important for the study of Natyasastra.

Abhinavabharati is the oldest commentary available on Natyasastra. All the other previous commentaries are now totally lost. The fact such commentaries once existed came to light only because Abhinavagupta referred to them in his work; and, discussed their views. Further, Abhinavagupta also brought to light and breathed life into ancient and forgotten scholarship of fine rhetoricians Bhamaha, Dandin and Rajashekhara.

Abhinavagupta also drew upon the later authors to explain the application of the rules and principles of Dance. As Prof. Mandakranta Bose observes : One of the most illuminating features of Abhinavagupta’s work is his practice of citing  and drawing upon the older authorities critically , presenting their views to elucidate Bharata’s views ; and , often rejecting their views , putting forth  his own observations to  provide evidence to the contrary.

Abhinavagupta, thus, not only expands on Bharata’s cryptic statements and concepts; but also interprets them in the light of his own experience and knowledge, in the context of the contemporary practices. And, therefore, the importance of Abhinavagupta’s work can hardly be overstated.

He also discusses, in detail, the Rasa-sutra of Bharata in the light of theories Dhvani (aesthetic suggestion) and Abhivyakti (expression). And, Dance is one of the subjects that Abhinavabharati deals with. As regards Dance, Abhinavabharati is particularly known for the explanations it offers on Angikabhinaya and Karanas. The later authors and commentators followed the lead given by Abhinavagupta.

(3) The Dasarupaka of Dhananjaya (10-11th century), is a work on dramaturgy; and, basically is a summary or compilation of rules concerning Drama (Rupaka), extracted from the Natyashastra of Bharata. As regards Dance, Dhananjaya, in Book One of his work, which provides lists of definitions, mentions the broad categories of Dance-forms as: the Marga (the pure or pristine); and, the Desi (the regional or improvised). And, under each class, he makes a two-fold division: Lasya, the graceful, gentle and fluid pleasing dance; and, Tandava, the vigorous, energetic and brisk invigorating movements (lasya-tandava-rupena natakad-dyupakarakam.). The rest of his work is devoted to discussion on ten forms of Drama (Dasarupaka)

(4) The Srngaraprakasa of Raja Bhoja (10-11th century) is again a work; spread over thirty-six chapters, which deal principally with poetics (Alamkara shastra) and dramaturgy. In so far as Dance is concerned, it is relevant for the discussion carried out in its Eleventh Chapter on minor types of plays (Uparupakas) or musical Dance-dramas.

(5) The Natya-darpana of Ramacandra and Gunacandra (twelfth century) is also a treatise, having four chapters, devoted mainly to dramaturgy; discussing characteristics of Drama. The text is useful to Dance, because in its third chapter while discussing Anigikabhinaya, it lists the names of the movements of the different parts of the body, as well as extended sequences and compositions.

(6) Another text of great interest from the twelfth century is the  Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD). It  is an encyclopedic work, divided into one hundred chapters, clustered under  five sections, 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 and so on . 

As regards Dance, the Manasollasa deals with the subject in the sixteenth chapter, having in 457 verses, titled Nrtya-vinoda, coming under the Fourth Section of the text – the Vinoda vimsathi- dealing with types of amusements.

Manasollasa is also the earliest extant work having a thorough and sustained discussion on dancing. It is also the earliest work, which laid emphasis on the Desi aspect for which later writers on this subject are indebted. Another important contribution of Nrtya Vinoda is that it serves as a source material for reconstruction of the dance styles that were prevalent in medieval India. For these and other reasons, the Nrtya Vinoda of Manasollasa, occupies a significant place in the body of dance literature. 

Someshwara introduces the subject of dancing by saying that dances should be performed at every festive occasion, to celebrate conquests, success in competitions and examinations as well as occasions of joy, passion, pleasure and renouncement. He 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).

Manasollasa is also significant to the theory of Dance, because it classified 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.

At another place, Someshwara uses the term Nartana to denote Dancing, in general, covering six types: Natya (dance), Lasya (delicate), 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.

In regard to Dance-movements, Someshwara classifies them into  six Angas, eight Upangas and six Pratyangas. The last mentioned sub-division viz. Pratyanga is an introduction made by Someshwara into Natya terminology; the Natyashastra had not mentioned this minor sub-category.

The other important contribution of Someshwara is the introduction of eighteen Desi karanas, (dance poses) that were not mentioned in other texts.

 (7) A work from this period, but not dated with certainty, which deal with drama is the Nataka-laksana-ratna-kosa of Sagaranandin. The text, as the name suggests, discusses, in detail, the nature and characteristics of Nataka as well as other varieties of drama. This work is of interest to Dance insofar as it lists and describes ten types of Lasyanga that are used in the Lasya variety of dance.

(8) The Bhavaprakasana of Saradatanaya (1175 -1250 A.D.) containing ten Adhikaras or chapters, is a compendium of poetics and dramaturgy based on the critical works written right from the period of Natyashastra. Its relevance to dance is in its discussions on glances that express Bhavas, as given at the end of the fifth chapter. And, the tenth and final chapter explains the distinction between Nrtta and Nrtya; and, between Marga and Desi.

He contradicts Dhananjaya; and, asserts that   Nrtta, the pure dance, is rooted in Rasa (Nrttam rasa-ahrayam). Saradatanaya’s definition meant that Nrtta not only beautifies a presentation, but is also capable of generating Rasa. This, during his time, was, indeed, a novel view.

(9) The Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva (a Jain Acharya of 12th or early 13thcentury) is an important work, which is devoted to musicology. It is its seventh chapter that is of interest to Dance.  It is not until the Sangita Samayasara that we find any description of a complete dance.

The Sangita Samayasara, though it deals, mainly, with Music, is of great relevance to Dance. The Seventh Chapter is devoted entirely to Desi dance (referred to as Nrtta); its definition; and, the Angas or body movements (Angika), the features of Desi dances (Desiya-Angani).

This text not only describes specific Nrtta dance pieces (such as: Perana, Pekkhana, Gundali and Dandarasa), but also adds a number of new movements of the Cari, the Sthanas and the Karanas of the Desi variety, all of which involving complicated leaping movements. Here, Parsvadeva describes the utplatti-karanas, needed for the Desi dances; eleven Desi karanas with different Desi-sthanas; and, five Bhramaris.

Towards the end of the Seventh Chapter, Parsvadeva describes the requirements of a good dancer; her physical appearance; and, the way she should be dressed etc.

(10) By about the 13th century, dance had its own existence; and was no longer an ancillary to drama, as it was during the time of Natyashastra. The concept of Nrtta was still present; Nritya as a delightful art form was fully established; and, the two forms retained their individual identity. And, both were discussed along with Natya.  This is reflected in the appearance of numerous works on the art of Music, Dance and Drama, the most significant of which was the Samgita Ratnakara of Sarangadeva 

The Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara (first half of 13th century) is one of the most influential works on music and dance. The Sangita-ratnakara is a great compilation, not an original work, which ably brings together various strands of the past music traditions found in earlier works like Nāţyashastra, Dattilam, Bŗhaddēśī, and Sarasvatī-hŗdayālańkāra-hāra. It is greatly influenced by Abhinavagupta’s    Abhinavabharati. But for Samgita-ratnakara, it might have been more difficult to understand Natyasastra, Brhaddesi and other ancient texts. But, while dealing with Desi class of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Manasollasa of Someshwara.

The text of Sangita-ratnakara has 1678 verses spread over seven chapters (Saptaadhyayi) covering the aspects of GitaVadya and NrttaSvaragat-adhyaya; Ragavivek-adhyaya; Prakirnaka-adhyayaPrabandh-adhyayaTaala-adhyaya; Vadya-adhyaya and   Nartana-adhyaya. The first six chapters deal with various facets of music and music-instruments; and, the last chapter deals with Dance. Sangita-ratnakara’s contribution to dance is very significant.

Chapter Seven– Nartana: The seventh and the last chapter, is in two parts; the first one deals with Nartana.  Sarangadeva, following Someshwara, uses a common term Nartana to denote the arts of Nŗtta, Nŗtya and Nāţya.  In describing the Marga tradition of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Natyashastra. As regards the Desi class of Dance he improves upon the explanations offered in Manasollasa of King Someshwara and Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva.

According to Sarangadeva, the Nrtya covers rhythmic limb movements (Nrtta) as also eloquent gestures expressing emotions through Abhinaya. It is a harmonious combination of facial expressions, various glances, poses and meaningful movements of the hands, fingers and feet. Nrtyam, the dance, delightfully brings together and presents in a very highly expressive, attractive visual and auditory form, the import of the lyrics (sahitya), the nuances of its emotional content to the accompaniment of soulful music and rhythmic patterns (tala-laya).

Although he follows Bharata in describing the movements of the body, he differs from Bharata in dividing the limbs into three categories, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga.

He also differs from Natyashastra which identifies Tandava as Shiva’s dance and Sukumara (Lasya) as Parvati’s. According to Sarangadeva, Tandava requires Uddhata (forceful) and Lasya requires Lalita (delicate) movements.

Sarangadeva’s description of Cari, Sthana, Karana and Angaharas of the Marga type are the same as in the Natyashastra. But the Desi Caris, Sthanas and Utputikaranas are according to Manasollasa of Someshwara.

Sarangadeva explains the importance of aesthetic beauty; and also lays down the rules of exercise. He also describes the qualities and faults of a performer (including a description of her make-up and costume); and, those of the teacher and the group of supporting performers. Then he describes the sequential process of a performance, including the musical accompaniment, in the pure mode or suddha-paddhati.

(11) The Sangita Upanishad Saroddhara  is a treatise on music and dance written in the fourteenth century (1350 A.D.) by the Jaina writer Sudhakalasa. The work is in six chapters, the first four of which are on Gita (vocal music), Vadya (musical instruments) and on Taala (rhythm). The fifth and the sixth chapters are related to dancing.

The term he uses for dance is Nrtya. His understanding of the terms Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya varied from that of his predecessors. According to him, Nrtta is danced by men, Nrtya by women, while Natya is Nataka, performed by both men and women. And, his treatment of the movements of the feet (pada-karmas) and the postures (Sthanas and Sthanakas) differs from that of other texts. According to him, Sthanas are postures meant for women; while, Sthanakas are postures meant for men. Karanas, according to Sudhakalasa, are components of Lasyangas and Nrtya. Obviously, he was recording the contemporary practice, without specific reference to the earlier texts and traditions.

(12) The Sangitacandra is a work containing 2168 verses by Suklapandita, also known as Vipradasa (Ca. fourteenth century). He explains the procedures of the Purvaranga; and classifies its dance Nrtta into three categories:  Visama (heavy), Vikata (deviated) and Laghu (light). Such classification of Nrtta and such terms to describe Nrtta had not been used earlier by any author.

He then, initially, divides Nrtya, the dance, into two classes: Marga-nrtya which expresses Rasa; and, Natya-nrtya, which expresses Bhava. And, then, brings in the third variety of Nrtya, the Desiya Nrtya, the regional types. Thereafter, he divides each of the three varieties of Nrtya into Tandava and Lasya.

Again, Vipradasa‘s understanding of the terms and concepts of Dance and their treatment; and, emphasis on the Desi dances, reflect the contemporary practices of the medieval period.

(13) A major work of the medieval period is the Sangita-damodara by Subhankara (ca. Fifteenth century).  Although the Sangita-damodara is principally a work on music and dance, it includes substantial discussions on drama as well. Of its Five Chapters, the Fourth one relates to Dance. Here, dancing is discussed under two broad heads:  Angahara (Angaviksepa, movements of the body) and Nrtya (the dance proper).

Under Angahara, the author includes Angikabhinaya, as related to Drama, because it means acting by using the movements of the limbs. As regards Nrtya, he treats it, mostly, as Desi Nrtya, the regional dances. Nrtya is divided into two types: Tandava, the Purusha-nrtya, danced by men; and, Lasya, the Stri-nrtya, danced by women.

Under Natya, Subhankara includes twenty-seven major type of Dramas (Rupaka) and minor types of Drama (Uparupaka). He classifies them under the heading Nrtye naksatramala, the garland of stars in Nrtya.

Thus, the concept of dance in its male and female forms had crept in. And, the Dance-drama, based in music, was treated as a form of Nrtya. The Nrtya was generally understood as Desi Nrtya.

(14) Another important work from this period is the Nrtyadhyaya of Asokamalla (Ca. fourteenth century). The Nrtyadhyaya consisting of 1611 verses follows the Desi tradition of dance, as in Sangita-ratnakara and the Nrtta-ratna-vali.

The text describes, in detail, the hand gestures followed by the movements of the major and minor limbs, that is, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga.

It also describes Vicitra-abhinaya (various ways of acting), dividing it into elements of Bhava-abhinaya (expressions displaying emotions); and, Indriya-abhinaya (gestures through use of limbs), resembling the Samanya-abhinaya and Citra-abhinaya, as in Natyashastra. The author also describes one hundred and eight Karanas of Bharata. The text ends with descriptions of Kalasas, generally understood as dance movements with which a performance concludes.

(15) The Rasakaumudi of Srlkantha (a contemporary and student of Pundarika Vitthala – 16th-17th century) is again a work of general nature that deals with vocal music (Gana), instrumental music (Vadya), Dance (Natya) , Drama (Rupaka) and aesthetics (Rasa) etc. The text is of interest to Dance, mainly because of the contemporary scene of dancing it portrays.  It mentions ten divisions of Natya as: Natya, Nrtya, Nrtta, Tandava, Lasya, Visama, Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gaundali. But, he calls only the first variety Natya as being authentic.

But, the main contribution of Rasakaumudi is the introduction of the concept of ‘Prana’ or the essential elements of the performance; the summation of what a dancer should aim at, while performing. The ten Pranas listed are : the line (Rekha); the steadiness (Sthirata); the swiftness (Vega); the pirouettes (Bhramari), the glance (Dristi); the desirous smile (Smita); the pleasing appearance (Priti); the intellect (Medha); the speech (Vachya); and , the song (Gitam) – RK. 5. 162.

(16) The Sangltadarpana of Chatura Damodara (a poet at Jahangir’s court, which places him in the seventeenth century) is, again, a work on music and dance. Its seventh, the final chapter, is related to dancing; and, it generally follows Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala. It also adopts Nartana as the general name for dancing; and, mentions Nrtta, Nrtya, Natya, Tandava and Lasya as the types of Nartana. It then divides Nrtya into five sub-divisions: Visama, Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gaundali, all of which are Desi forms.

There is greater emphasis on Desi forms, in its discussions. And, the authors of this period followed and adopted the views of the Nartananirnaya; and, there was a steady drift taking the discussions away from the concepts and terminologies of the Natyashastra.

(17) Sangitanarayana by Purusottama Misra, a poet at the court of Gajapati Narayanadeva of Orissa (seventeenth century), in its four chapters deals with music and dance. For a greater part, it reproduces the concepts and terms of dancing as in the other texts, particularly Nartananirnaya.  The new information it provides relates to the enumeration of the names of twelve varieties of Desi-Nrttas; five varieties of Prakara-Natya of the Desi type; eleven varieties of Marga Natyas and sixteen varieties of Desi Natyas – dramatic presentations ; and, names of thirty-two Kalasa-karanas

(18) The Sangita-makaranda of Vedasuri (early seventeenth century) follows Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala. The new information it provides is with regard to the Gatis. He treats each Gati like a dance sequence; and, describes each Gati with all its components of movements. For instance; while describing the Marga-gati, the author gives all the movements necessary for its presentation, such as the appropriate Karana, Sthanas, Cari, the hand-gestures, the head movements and glances.

He seems to have been interested mainly in the structure of dance compositions as combinations of smaller movements. He describes these movements step by step; and, includes with each movement the appropriate rhythm and tempo that it should go with.

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Texts dealing mainly with the theory and practice of Dance

There were also texts and treatise, which were wholly devoted to the discussions on the theory, practice and techniques of Dance. The numbers of such texts are not many; but, are relevant to the contemporary Dance training and learning. The following are the more significant ones, among them:

 (1) The date of the Abhimaya 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 the time of Sangita-ratnakara (13th century). Also, the Abhinaya Darpana views Tandava and Lasya as forms of masculine and feminine dancing, which again was an approach adopted during the medieval times.

Abhinaya Darpana deals predominantly with the Angikabhinaya (body movements) 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 Angas (major limbs- the head, neck, torso and the waist), Upangas (minor limbs – the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the lower lip, the cheeks and the chin), Pratayangas (neck, stomach, thighs, knees back and shoulders, etc) and the expressions on the countenance. When the Anga moves, Pratyanga and Upanga also move accordingly. The text also specifies how such movements and expressions should be put to use in a dance sequence.

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.

The techniques of dance, body movements, postures etc. described in this text, is a part of the curriculum of the present-day performing arts.

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).

(2) Closely following upon the Sangita-ratnakara, the Nrtta-ratnavali by Jaya Senapati was written in the thirteenth century A.D. This is the only work of that period, which deals exclusively with dance, in such detail. Nrtta-ratnavali devotes all its eight chapters to dance; and, discusses vocal or instrumental music only in the context of dance.

The first four chapters of the text discuss the Marga tradition, following the Natyashastra; and, the other four discuss the Desi.

The Marga, according to Jaya Senapati, is that which is faithful to the tradition of Bharata; and, is precise and systematic. While dealing with the Marga, although he broadly follows the Bharata, Jaya Senapati provides specific details of the execution of the Karanas and Caris.  He also quotes the views of earlier writers, in order to trace the evolution of Dance and its forms.

The First Chapter describes the four modes of Abhinaya, i.e., Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Sattvika; as also the six forms of dancing – Nrtta, Nrtya, Marga, Desi, Tandava and Lasya.  The Chapter Two deals with Abhinaya, describing in detail the movements of the major and minor limbs: six Angas, six Pratyangas and six Upangas. The Third Chapter is on Caris (movements of one leg); Sthanas (postures); Nyaya (rules of performance); Vyayama (exercise); Sausthava (grace); more Sthanas and Mandalas (combinations of Caris). The Fourth Chapter describes Karanas (dance-units) and Angaharas (sequences of dance-units); and, ends with Recakas (extending movements of the neck, the hands, the waist and the feet) mainly following their descriptions as given in the Natyasastra.

The second half of the text is devoted to the Desi tradition.  The more significant contribution of Nrttaratnavali is in its detailed descriptions of the Desi Karanas, Angaharas and Desi Caris. And, of particular interest is its enumeration and description of Desi dance pieces.

The Fifth Chapter defines the term Desi; and, goes on to describe the Desi sthanas, Utpati-karanas (Desi karanas) and Bhramaris (spin and turns). The sixth chapter deals with movements of the feet, Desi Caris. Jaya Senapati then describes forty-six varieties of Desi Lasyangas, which include the Desi Angas, following the Sangita-samaya-sara. The Gatis or gaits are described next. The Seventh Chapter mainly deals with individual Desi dance pieces, Desi-nrtta. These include Perani, Pekkhana, Suda, Rasaka, Carcari, Natyarasaka, Sivapriya, Cintu, Kanduka, Bhandika, Ghatisani, Carana, Bahurupa, Kollata and Gaundali. The Eighth and Final Chapter , provides information regarding presentation in general, the recital, the appropriate time for its presentation, the arrival of the chief guest and the welcome accorded the king, other members of the audience, the qualities required in a dancer, her costume, the orchestra, the sitting arrangements, the entrance of a dancer,  the use of three curtains on the stage and their removal. The Chapter ends with advice on honoring the dancer, the musicians and the poet.

(3) The Nrtya-ratna-kosa of Maharana Kumbha (a scholar king of the fifteenth century), is part of a larger work, the Sangita-raja, which closely follows the Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva. It is the Fourth Chapter of Sangita-raja; and, deals with Nrtya. The Nrtya-ratna-kosa is divided into four ullasas or parts; each consisting of four pariksanas or sections. It is mostly a compilation of the concepts, definitions, theories and practices concerning Dance – both Marga and Desi– culled out from earlier texts, particularly from Sangita-ratnakara. While describing various types of dance-movements, the emphasis is more on the Desi types.

The first section of the first part describes the origin of the theories of Natya (shastra); the rules of building the performance-hall; the qualifications of the person presiding; and, of the audience. It also offers definitions of certain fundamental terms.

Raja Kumbha defines the terms Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya. According to him, Nrtta is made up of combination of Karanas and Angaharas (Karanam angaharani caiva Nrttam); Nrtya is Rasa (Nrtya sabdena ca Rasam punaha); and, Natya is Abhinaya (Natyena abhinayam).

The Nrtya is classified as Marga; and, Nrtta as Desi. The Pindibandhas or group dances, performed by sixteen female dancers as part of the preliminaries are included under Nrtta.

The rest of the verses are devoted to Angikabhinaya or the movements of the body. The text discusses, in detail, about limb movements like Pratyangas, Upangas etc.; and, also about Aharya-bhinaya or costume, make-up and stage properties.

There are also descriptions of Marga and Desi Caris, Shanakas or postures, meant for men and women, for sitting and reclining. Similarly, the Karanas are classified as Shuddha karanas (pure) of the Marga class; and, as Desi Karanas.

That is followed description of four Vrttis or styles and six kalasas (dance movements with which a performance concludes), with its twenty-two sub-varieties.

Towards the end, it enumerates the qualities and faults of a performer.  It discusses make-up; different schools of performing artists; their qualities and faults; the Shuddha-paddhati or the pure way of presentation; and, states the ways of imparting instructions to performers.

(4) The Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala (16th-17th centuries) is a very significant work in the history of Indian Dancing. Till about the time of Raja Kumbha, the Dance was discussed mainly in terms of Marga and Desi. Pundarika Vitthala 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. Even though the later texts on dancing generally followed the Sangita-ratnakara, they did take into consideration Nartana-nirnaya’s classification of Bhaddha and Anibaddha, as a part of their conceptual framework. His classification of Dance forms into Baddha and Anibaddha was a significant theoretical development.

The Nartana-nirnaya was written in the sixteenth century, while Pundarika Vitthala  (or Pandari Vitthala) was in the service of the Mughal Court. It comes  about five hundred years after Sangitaratnakara. 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 Nartananirnaya was composed in an altogether different ambiance.  The 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 was an interesting period when diverse streams of Art came together.

Pundarika Vittala mentions that he wrote the Nartananirnaya, concerning music and dance, at the suggestion of Akbar, to cater to his taste – Akbara-nrupa rucyartham

The subject matter central to Nartana-nirnaya is dancing. The technical details of dance as detailed in the Nartananirnaya 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.

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

The chapter titled Nartana-prakarana, dealing with Nrtta and Nartana, is relevant to Dancing. The Nrtta deals with the abstract aesthetic movements and configuration of various body parts. And, Nartana is about the representational art of dancing, giving expression to emotions through Abhinaya. The Nartana employs the Nrtta as a communicative instrument to give a form to its expressions.

Another chapter, Nrttadhikarana 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.

Then the text goes on to enumerate the items of the dance recital: entry of the dancer (Mukhacali, including Pushpanjali); Nanadi Slokas invoking the blessings of the gods; the kinds of Urupa, Dhavada, Kvada, Laga and Bhramari. It also mentions 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.

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

[We shall discuss many of the texts enumerated above, in fair detail, later in the series.]

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Overview

All the texts enumerated above deal with the subject of dance in some detail; exclusively or along with music, drama and poetics.

When you take an over view, you will notice that three texts stand out as landmarks, defining the nature and treatment of dance in the corresponding period. These three are: Natyashastra of Bharata (Ca. 200 BCE); Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century) and Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva (13th century).

Natyashastra is, of course, the seminal text that not only enunciated the principles of Dancing, but also brought them into practice. Though the emphasis of Natyashastra was on the production and presentation of the play, it successfully brought together the arts of poetry, music, dance and other decorative elements, all of which contributed to the elegance of the theater.

The Dance that Bharata specifically refers to is Nrtta, pure dance, which was primarily performed before the commencement of the play proper (Purvaranga) as a prayer offered to gods. The elements of the Nrtta were also brought into Drama by fusing it with Abhinnaya. Though the resultant art-form was not assigned a name by Bharata, its essence was very much a part of the theatrical performance. And, this delightful art form came to be celebrated as Nrtya, during the later periods. And, in its early stages, Dance was not considered as an independent Art-form.

Several commentaries on the Natyashastra that were produced between the period of Bharata and Abhinavagupta are lost. And, the Abhinavabhatarati is the earliest available commentary on the Natyashastra; and, is, therefore, highly valuable. Abhinavagupta followed Bharata, in general; and, adhered to his terminologies. For instance, while discussing on Dance, Abhinava consistently uses the term Nrtta; and, avoids the term Nrtya (perhaps because it does not appear in Natyashastra). During his time, dance, music and dramatics were continued to be treated as integral to each other, as in the times of Natyashastra.

Yet; Abhinavagupta, brought in fresh perspective to the Natyashastra; and, interpreted it in the light of his own experience and knowledge. His commentary, therefore, presents the dynamic and evolving state of the art of his time, rather than a description of Dancing   as was frozen in Bharata’s time.  As it has often been said; Abhinavabharati is a bridge between the world of the ancient and forgotten wisdom and the scholarship of the succeeding generations.

Abhinavagupta’s influence has been profound and pervasive. Succeeding generations of writers on Natya were guided by his concepts and theories of Rasa, Bhava, aesthetics and dramaturgy. No writer or commentator of a later period could afford to ignore Abhinavagupta.

The commentaries written during the period following that of Abhinavagupta continued to employ the terminologies of the Natyashastra. But, the treatment of its basic terms such as, Nrtta, Natya, Tandava and Lasya was highly inconsistent. These terms were interpreted variously, in any number of ways, depending upon the understanding and disposition of the author; as also according to contemporary usage of those terms and the application of their concepts. Standardisation was conspicuous by its absence.

A significant development during this period was assigning greater importance to the regional types of Dances. Though based on the Natyashastra, these texts recognized and paid greater attention to the dance forms that were popular among the people of different geographic regions and of different cultural groups. In the process, the concepts of Marga, which signified the chaste, traditional form of Dance as per the rules of Natyashastra, came to be distinguished from the regional, popular, free flowing types of Dance, termed as Desi.

By about the 13th century, dance came into its own; and, was no longer an ancillary to drama, as was the case during the time of Natyashastra. Yet; the Dance, in this period, continued to be discussed along with the main subjects such as Music and Drama.

The concept of Nrtta continued to exist and Nritya was established; each with its own individual identity. The term Natya which signified the combination of Nrtta (pure dance) and Abhinaya (meaningful expressions) had come into wide use.

The Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva marks the beginning of the period when Dance began to be discussed in its own right, rather than as an adjunct to Drama. It was during this period, the Desi types of Dance along with its individual forms were discussed in detail.  And, the other significant development was the fusing of the special techniques of Angikabhinayas of both the Nrtta and the Desi types into the graceful Natya form. And, new trends in Dance were recognized.

Though the ancient terms Nrtta, Tandava, Lasya and Natya continued to be interpreted in various ways, the term Nartana came to be accepted as the general class name of Dance, comprising its three sub-divisions: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta.

In the period beginning with the sixteenth century, Pundarika Vittala introduced the new concept of classifying dance forms into two separate classes, as the Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured). The later texts, while discussing Dance, apart from following Marga and Desi classification, also took into consideration Nartana-nirnaya’s classification of Bhaddha and Anibaddha, as a part of their conceptual framework.

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 eventually became the dominant type of performing art, giving rise dance forms such as Odissi, Kuchipudi etc.

The emphasis of the later texts shifted away from the Marga of the Natyashastra; but, leaned 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..

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Further, the principle of Anibaddha allowed the dancer a considerable degree of freedom, encouraging her to search far 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.

At the same time, the Natyashastra continues 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.

The Bharatanatya of today represents such a dynamic phase of the traditional Indian Dancing.  It does not, specifically, have a text of its own; its roots are in the principles, practices and techniques that are detailed in Natyashastra, Abhinava Darpana and such other ancient texts. Though it is basically ingrained in the principles of Natyashastra, it delightfully combines in itself the Angikabhinaya of the Nrtta; the four Abhinayas of the Natya (Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Sattvika); the interpretative musical narrative element of the Uparupakas, for enacting a theme; and the improved techniques of the later times.

Besides, the Bharatanatya developed its own Grammar through Dance idioms such as: Adavus (combination of postures – Sthana, foot movement – Chari, and hand gestures-Hasta); Jati (feet movement in tune with the Sollakattu syllables); Tirmanam (brilliant bursts of complicated dance rhythms towards the ‘end’ section of the dance). Besides, the Bharatanatya, in the context of its time, enriched its repertoire of the Nrtta by items such as Alaripu, Jatiswara and Tillana.

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.

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Before we discuss Dance and its forms, let’s take a look at the Art and Art-forms, in general.

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Continued

In

Part Two

References and sources

1.Movements and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition  by Dr.Mandakranta Bose

2 . Literature used in Dance/ Dance Sahitva

3. Natyashastra

 

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2018 in Art, Natya

 

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