Let us forget our preconceived notions of
theory & try to understand theory as a treasure of knowledge. Talking in
terms of Dance, this theory could be the techniques & codified movements
which are preserved in the preserved pages of literature or it could be
something which is frozen on the walls of temples as Sculptures or it could be
something which is interwind in the musical compositions compelling to be
choreographed. Unlike any other studies, the ‘theory’ in dance is not
restricted to the boundaries of books & has lose aesthetic ends free to be
woven. As is read in Vishnudhamottara Purana, King Vajra requests Rishi
Markandeya to teach him how to paint, to which the sage replies that for teaching
the art of painting, the king should first master the art of sculpting. The
king wishes for instructions in sculpting to which the sage says that to learn
sculpting he should be well versed with the nuances of Dancing. Further, the
king asks the sage to teach him dancing to which the sage says that he could
train him in dancing only if he possessed knowledge of music. Thus, all
creative art forms being inter-linked the theory of dance cannot be learnt in
isolation but has to be comprehended with the knowledge of literature,
sculpture & study of music.
The scriptures & manuals on Dance is vast
but the systematic & exhaustive study of those has been taken up recently. Beginning
with Rigveda, it speaks of Indra & his associates being good dancers. Indra
is portrayed as the one who appreciated dance of the apsaras. Occasions such as
marriages, funerals, communal gatherings & sacrifices called for social
dancing & has hymns related to each in the Veda
Natyashastra & Abhinaya Darpana
Bharata Muni, Natyashastra is a bible on Dramaturgy, considering in detail the
techniques of Drama, Dance & Music. On the other hand, Abhinaya Darpana
speaks about dance exclusively and more elaborately about angika abhinaya
followed by Indian dance forms. This treatise concentrates mainly on the
techniques of communication in dance.
bibles of Dance have all the basics of techniques used in minute detail. The hastas, padas, utplavanas, bramaris,
karanas are well-explained. The aesthetic beauty of NS is the rasa-bhava theory
stating that Bhava and Rasa are mutually dependent. The performer or producer,
be it an actor, dancer, singer, instrumentalist, or stage craftsmen, should be
conscious of the sthayi bhava and the rasa that they are striving to establish.
This will help them realize their ‘siddhi’ through ‘Rasotpatti’.
musicological text of Sarangdev, which both Hindustani
music and Carnatic
music regard as a definitive
text being Saptadhyayi has an entire chapter on dance. The
various elements of N?tta like Hasta, Kara?a, Angahara and Cari are described and also the characteristics
of a good Acharya(teacher), Nata (actor), Narthaka (dancer), vaitalika (general
entertainer) & Kohlatika. He also differs from Natyashastra which
identifies Tandava as Shiva’s Dance & Lasya as Parvati’s. According to Sarangdev, Nrtta & Nrtya can
both be of two kinds, Tandava & Lasya. Tandava requires uddhata (forceful)
& lasya requires Lalita (delicate) movements. The book mentions the
distinction between Margi & Desi dance.
the second part, the author describes the Nine Rasas, namely, Sringara, Hasya,
Karu?a, Raudra, Vira, Bhayanaka, Bibhatsa, Adbhuta and shanta. Of these, the
shanta rasa is not included in the Natyashastra. Rasa-s represent the different tastes that are evoked in the audience
by the human feelings that transpire in the performance of Sa?g?ta.
Chatura Damodar in the seventh chapter,
Nrtyadhyaya, on dancing begins with a benediction to Siva, Brahma & other lords followed by a
detailed description of the opening dance called mukhacali. Next, it lists ten types of dancing but does so confusingly.
Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta are said to be divided into two kinds i.e. Tandava and
Lasya. This Nrtya-Nartana has 3 varieties knows as Visama, Vikata and Laghu and
also Perani & Gundali. Then Damodara gives 10 types of Nrtya – Natya, Nrtta, Nrtya, Tandava, Lasya, Visama,
Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gaundali.23 Glances
of trasta, sankita, Abhitapta, Madira, Lajjita, Sranta are explained in detail.
For several centuries after Bharata, manuals
on music and dancing were virtual copies of the NatyaSastra and described nothing
that was substantially new. Most of the material comes either from the
Natyasastra or the Sangitaratnakara.
The terms bandha and anibandha were coined,
bandhanrttas denoting dances for which there already were prescribed rules and
anibandhanrttas denoting dances for which there were none. Nartananirnaya
written in the 16th century by Pundarika Vitthala, instead of reflecting the
108 karanas of NS just enumerates 16 of them which are prescribed to be used in
the Bandhanrittas. Odissi is the only style today in which practising artists
(gotipuas) still use the term bandhanrttas to mean a separate category of dance
sequences including difficult acrobatic movements. The basic standing postures
prescribed in the Odissi style: chauka and tribhangi in Odissi are comparable
to vaishakha-sthana and agratalasancara-pada shown by the figures from the
Nartananirnaya. Some of the acrobatic postures are still in use: dandapaksam,
lalatatilakam and nisumbhitam and several others are found both in Odissi and
in Chau. 3
Urupas are sequences formed with the karanas
prescribed for bandhanrtta and are danced to specified varieties of jati, tala
and laya. Specific sthana, carl and hand gestures characterize them.The twelve
urupas (term for a broad category of dance) a dancer can reconstruct a
composition as described in Nartananirnaya which will not be far from what we
see being performed by artists today. In Odissi, we do find similar
compositions. Such close correspondences are now proving to be of particular
interest to many dancers and teachers who are trying to reconstruct older dance
forms by following the Sanskrit manuals. Dancers and teachers need to draw upon
the shastras to choreograph their dance pieces.
There is a dance called batunrtta, a
particularly difficult dance in the repertory of Odissi, that involves both
non-representational dance and mimetic dance. In the Nartananirnaya we come
across the description of a dance called batu.
The categories that are known as bandha and
anibandha, therefore, remain relevant not only to the dance scholar but to the
practicing dancer. As the material made available through Nartananirnaya allows
today’s dancers to enrich their technique by means of a broadened
reconstruction of a tradition continuing unbroken over centuries.
It is an ancient Indian treatise describing
the origin of Odissi dance. The author has vividly described the Mudras, Padas
of the Odissi dance. According to him there are four basic positions of the
feet Stambha Pada (Samapada), Kumhhapada, Dhanupada and Mahapada. Then he has
enumerated the pada-bhedas as in AD. The author of Abhinaya Chandrika has
described only sixteen Mudras with different names. He has described twenty
eight Hasta Mudras. He goes on to give a detailed description of the Bandhas
(acrobatic poses) of Bandha Nrutya which are similar to the ones mentioned in Nartananirnaya.
Sapta Tandava of Lord Shiva, dances of different regions, folk dances of
Orissa, Bhumis, Charis, Karakshetras, Mukharagas etc. also find a mention
This text gives a detailed description of
Tala, costume, ornaments and make-up in Odissi dance. In fact, the costume
prescribed as such in Abhinaya Chandrika is followed by the Maharis or
the Devadasis of the Jagnnath Temple. The ornaments prescribed in the
Abhinaya Chandrika are represented in the temple sculptures of Orissa.
The Abhinaya Chandrika is one of the earliest
and most authentic treatises on Odissi dance. According to the scholars, the
Odissi dance of today has banked heavily on this text.
A seventeenth century text by Purusottama
Misra, Sangitanarayana in the third of 4 chapters, natyanirnaya, deals with
natya or mimetic art, which includes dancing. He then defines marga and desi
along the lines of the Sangitaratnakara.
The author names 20 marga-natyas, which
include 10 rupakas and 10 other varieties of dramatic presentation, for which
no class-name is given in other books are Natika, Prakaranika, Bhanika, Hasika,
Viyogini, Dimika, Utsahavati, Citra, Jugupsita and Vicitra.
Sixteen varieties of desinatyas are Sattaka,
Trotaka, Gosthi, Vrndaka, Silpaka, Preksana, Samlapaka (sallapaka), Hallisa,
Rasaka, Ullapyaka, Srigadita, Natyarasaka, Durmalli, Prasthana, Kavya and
Twelve names of desinrttas are Domika,
Bhanika, Prasthanaka, Bhanaka, Lasika, Rasika, Durmallika, Vidagdha, Silpini,
Hasti(Dandi)ni, Ulmuki(Bhilluki), Tumbika.
Thirty-two kalasakaranas are mentioned.
Sangitanarayana has also listed two kinds of
tandava, prerani (levali) and bahurupa , and two kinds of lasya, sphurita and
yauvata, similar to Sangitadamodara. Prerani tandava is still practiced in Telangana.
The actions that are to be avoided on stage
are specified next. The ideal time for the presentation of a natya is then
mentioned. The author adds that the spectator has to remember to encourage the
dancer by showing his appreciation; otherwise many misfortunes may befall him
In an aesthetic attempt to express the
literary heritage based on the religious sentiments, Indian Classical Dances
took to mythological texts Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vishnupurana to name a few to
connect to the masses.
Ramayana & Mahabharata
the stories of the maha-kavyas which were once incorporated only in the Dramas
were choreographed by the learned gurus for presentation . Several stories
within these texts managed to gain a separate identity in Classical Sanskrit
Literature & then into the dance choreographies. Abhijnanasakuntala is
story believed to be a precursor to the Mahabharata, was reconstructed by great
poet Kalidasa. Urubhanga, a play written on the splitting of thighs of
Duryodhana by Bhima was reconceptualised by Bhasa. Thus, these treatises have
given the scenario of Classical Indian Dancing stories & concepts for
Gita Govinda is a great poetical masterpiece which not only showcases the
poet’s mastery in the Sanskrit language but also his proficiency in both music
and dancing12. It is believed by some historians that the Gita
Govinda was composed specifically for dance performance during the worship of
Lord Jagannatha. The Kavya found an eternal bond with the temple recitals of
music and dance. The composition is so deftly made so that it could be sung to
the beats of a dancer’s foot movements. Jayadeva’s Gita-Govinda, the bible of
an Odissi dancer, has intimate & undeniable influence on Odissi dance.
Hence, even to this day we see that the Odissi repertoire is full of ashtapadis
from Jayadev’s Gita Govinda. The First Ashtapadi, sings of the ten incarnations
of Lord Vishnu which has rendered theme to ‘Dashavtaara’. ‘Srita Kamala’ ashtapadi
is an item in the repertoire praising courageous deeds of Krsna & also the
Radha-Krsna romance. Few other ashtapadis, ‘Lalita-lavanga’ &
‘Chandana-charchita’ are used in abhinaya pieces of Hari-riha.
knowledge of dance is well polished & we can say that by the description of
verses wherein he is capable of portraying movements richly infused with the
language of abhinaya of Dance.
Kumarasambhava poem has the creator of Dance itself as its Hero. The
lasya dance of Parvati, the graceful dance of the peacocks, Parvati addressing
the nrityabhinaya kriya of Shiva to the brahmachari are well descriptive.
Raghuvamsha creepers are compared to the gesticulating fingers of a dancer. The
humming of bees is their music and they dance to it, keeping time, as it were,
by clapping their hands. we have a very clear indication of gita, vadya and
nrtya and the hands move gracefully to this music. The branches of the mango
trees are said to wave as if they had just started to learn ahhinaya. It is not
pure dancing but abhinaya: the mango branches respond spontaneously to the
touch of the malaya breeze just as the nayika will coyly repond to her lovers
Meghadhuta, though the nayaka is asking the cloud to take his messages to his
lover at the earliest but still he asks him to halt at Mahakala & not only
watch the nrtta of Siva in the evening but to become an accompanist to this
evening dance by contributing his own thunder. This thunder will be the drum
(muraja) to which the Lord will dance. Thus, the orchestra will be complete
with the instrumental music of the rustling of the wind through the bamboos and
the kinnaris and women on the vocal. 14
sustained simile makes it clear that both instrumental, and vocal music, set to
the rhythm of a percussion instrument, was considered the essential
accompaniment to dance.
similes, Kalidasa has woven the intricacies of nritta & abhinaya in
describing the beauty of nature & the emotions of his nayikas.
Art in ancient India could perhaps be called
temple art, not because it was necessarily part of the temple, but because its
aim was the perception of spiritual identification. Vishnudhamottara Puranam
tells us that “to worship God by nritta (dance) is to fulfill all desire,
and to him who dances the paths of salvation are unfolded.
The Natya and Shilpa shastras developed a
remarkable approach to the structure of the human body; and delineated the
relation between its central point (navel), the verticals and horizontals. It
then coordinated them, first with the positions and movements of the principal
joints of neck, pelvis, knees and ankles; and then with the emotive states, the
The basic theory of classical dance assumes
the entire body to be a mass which is equally divided along an imaginary line
known as Brahma sutra that passes through the vertical centre of the body. The
beautiful postures lyrically swaying in harmony to the intricate rhythm
patterns makes a performance lively. The ideal postures of the body in movement
are based upon the Bhangas or bends of the body which represent the change of
the body from the central straight plumb line. Bhangas are not mentioned in
either of the two encyclopaedias of dancing i.e. Abhinaya Darpana and Natya
Shastra. The conception of bends is of later origin and the word is first found
in Shilpa-shastra Manasara (also Manava-sara) having extensive matter on
sculpting & metal art along with
discussions on architecture & ancient village and town planning21.
There are primarily only four Bhangas namely,
Samabhanga (equipose), Abhanga (slight flexion), Tribhanga (three flexions)
& Atibhanga (excessive flexion).13
While dancing, if the body is perfectly
balanced about the brahmasutra then the Samabhanga posture is attained
indicating meditation, repose and serenity. When there is slight imbalance
about the brahmasutra then the Abhanga posture arises. Atibhanga is the great
diagonal bend in the torso with knees bent. Atibhanga is concerned with the
dramatic dance forms called Tandava i.e., the Nataraja poses of the dancing
Shiva, the delighted dance of Krishna and others. Tribhanga is the triple bend
in the body with one hip raised, torso curved to the opposite side and the head
tilted at an angle that gives a gentle S shape which is most graceful posture
& has been closely related to Krsna. All of these are found in other indian
arts but the tribhanga posture is distinctive to odissi alone.
1. Four Bhangas 2. Krsna
upholding govardhan mountain in tribhang
The Indian Classical Dance form has always
followed the guru-shishya parampara or the master-disciple relationship. The
authenticity of the art form remained intact as far as stylistic ground rules
were observed as they flowed down through generations. Unquestioning submission
to the Guru was necessary throughout the rigorous training of codified
movements that are required to be a good Indian classical dancer. This leads to
an insular mentality in the artist who feels no need to venture out of the
comfort zone of his own art form & the richness & completeness of the
Indian classical art forms nurtures this feeling even further.5
It is the enduring quality of the form with
the underlying principles of structure and discipline that enables it to become
a ‘tradition’. Tradition has a timeless quality, which is due to the fact that
it encompasses and fuses the past and the present.4 Tradition is
handed down through generations only because it has certain enduring qualities,
which survive the test of time.
Brahma gave the first lessons on Natya to
Bharata. Thereafter Bharata demonstrated the three forms of dancing, namely,
Natya, Nritya and Nritta before the Lord Siva with the help of the Gandharvas
and the Apsaras. Then Siva remembering his own violent style of dance asked
Tandu to transmit its technique to Bharata with the help of his retinue and out
of affection asked Parvati to demonstrate to him the Lasya Style. Then
understanding the technique of Tandava the saints transmitted its knowledge to
others. Similarly, Parvati taught the Lasya style to Usha, daughter of Bana.
She transmitted it to the milkmaids of Dwarka and then from them, it spread to
women of other places. This is the order in which these dance styles spread in the
Herein, we have seen that the theory &
practice of Dance has been too intermingled. The lessons of Brahma were
documented which was learned & presented by the Gandharvas & the
apsaras. Further, the practices of Tandu & Parvati were also documented.
Parvati trained Usha in Lasya, who further spread the knowledge among other
women. This itself explains that, ‘Theory is abstracted Practice, and Practice
is applied Theory’.
The Mudra system of Indian classical dance is
derived from AD by Nandikeshwara & Bharata Muni’s NS. What were once the
“mudras” used by the priest in prayer became a whole language for the
dancer known as “hastas”, the symbols of the hands which were a part
of angika abhinaya. The Vedic mudras used by the priests represented sound,
unlike other mudras which represent meaning.11
In addition to the samyukta & asamyukta
hastas given in the dance treatises, the societal influences gave rise to a new
set of parampara hastas which are used in odissi Dance. These hastas have been
used in abhinaya extensively & have been handed down through generations.
Parampara Hasta Mudras (traditional Mudras)
commonly used are, Bastra, Tambula, Puspa, Bana, Sukachanchu, Padma, Gabakshya,
Mayura, Ubhaya Kartati, Pradeepa.
The feet positions in Bharatanatyam are completely taken from the NS & AD.
However, the feet positions in Odissi are unique to its style.
The adavu system that we are familiar with
has no evidence in Bharata’s Natyashastra though it being the most elaborate
and detailed treatise on acting and dramatic criticism ever written in any
language. So it is very difficult to conclude that Sampradaya did always have
its base grounded in Shastra but only can be said that it has been influenced
by it. The Classical Dance that we are being handed down is a pure amalgamation
of Shastra on which the styles primarily relied on & the innovations of
learned gurus which was taken into stride & handed down through generations
as Sampradaya only because it had certain enduring qualities, which survived
the test of time.
The history of adavus is accredited to Gangai
Muttu Nattuvanar, the ancestor of Tanjore Quartet in Sangita Saramrita by King
The gurus & the learned took it in their stride to pull the art form
from the Shastra & present it on stage. Sita Haran, Jatayu Moksha, Draupadi
Vastraharan, Samudramanthan, Kaliya-vadh have managed to mark their presence
independently in the dance recitals.
To communicate with the inner self one must
possess a deep understanding of the roots of the art form itself which
undoubtedly are preserved in our rich scriptures. The NS text re-asserts in the
closing chapter, in verses 36.20–21 that performing arts such as drama, songs,
music, and dance are equal in importance as the chanting of the Vedic hymns and
that participating in vocal or instrumental music once is superior to bathing
in river Ganges for a thousand days. This clearly emphasizes that the fifth
Veda on Dance thinks very highly of practising performing arts.
Natyashastra itself claims to be a modern
text, despite its ancient origins. A very contemporary treatise arising out of
the then existing social and artistic trends. The author himself says that
‘dress and speech should conform to the regional usage of spectators; the
actors and producers should observe the local modes of speech and manners and
conform to them and not necessarily to what I have described’. The
anibandhanrtta mentioned in the Nartananirnaya has rendered the artist with
freedom to experiment. What is necessary is the purity of technique, that is
definitely instilled after years of dedicated training under the guru &
determination for creating something beautiful which will bring value & be
‘In theory, there is no difference between
theory and practice. But, in practice, there is’, who can agree to it more than
a dancer herself.
The commitment is to recover more ancient and
glorious past, represented by the pan-Indian textual tradition of the Sanskrit
manuals and the temple connections, appreciate it, redefining parameters by reinstating
a link between the arts and philosophy of living. Reinventing practice with the
help of talent, within the fluid framework of tradition not only for
enterntainment but also for eternal bliss.