Monday, February 15, 2010


Natyashastra is the most detail and elaborate of all treatises on dramatic criticism and acting ever written in any language and is regarded as the oldest surviving text on stagecraft in the world. Written by the great dramatist of ancient India, Bharata, Natyashastra is reckoned as the poetics of Indian drama. Bharata muni in his Natyashastra demonstrates every aspect of Indian drama whilst covering areas like covers music, stage-design, make up, dance and virtually every aspect of stagecraft. With its kaleidoscopic approach, with its wider scope Natyashastra has offered a remarkable dimension to growth and development of Indian classical music, dance, drama and art. Hence it is certainly not an overstatement to say that Natyashastra indeed laid the cornerstone of the fine arts in India. The commentaries on the Natyashastra are known, dating from the sixth or seventh centuries.

The earliest surviving one is the Abhinavabharati by Abhinava Gupta. It was followed by works of writers such as Saradatanaya of twelfth-thirteenth century, Sarngadeva of thirteenth century, and Kallinatha of sixteenth century. However the abhinavabharati is regarded as the most authoritative commentary on Natyashastra as Abhinavagupta provides not only his own illuminating interpretation of the Natyashastra, but wide information about pre-Bharata traditions as well as varied interpretations of the text offered by his predecessors.
Written in Sanskrit, the vast treatise consists 6,000 sutras. The Natyashastra has been divided into 36 chapters, sometimes into 37 or 38 due to further bifurcation of a chapter or chapters. The title can be loosely translated as "A compendium of Theatre or a A Manual of Dramatic Arts". The background of Natyashastra is framed in a situation where a number of munis approach Bharata to know about the secrets of Natyaveda. The answer to this question comprises the rest of the book. Quite ideally therefore narratives, symbols and dialogues are used in the methodology of Natyashastra. Natyashastra opens with the origin of theatre, beginning with inquiries made by Bharata`s pupils, which he answers by narrating the myth of its source in Brahma. He also explains the very nature, objective, and expanse of natya as a Veda through this unique myth. It can be interpreted in many ways, but can draw certain obvious characteristics of Sanskrit theatre. Natyashastra consists of four elements namely pathya or text, including the art of recitation and rendition in performance taken from the Rig Veda. The other one is gita or songs, including instrumental music from the Sama Veda, abhinaya or acting, the technique of expressing the poetic meaning of the text and communicating it to the spectator from the Yajur Veda, and rasa or aesthetic experience from the Atharva Veda. It is, at the outset, the anukarana or `redoing` of the triple universe and life in its entirety, but ultimately it is the anukirtana of bhava i.e `re-telling` of emotive states in order to create a new world of `imagination`.

Chapters Of Natyashastra
With well knit chapters Natyashastra covers every aspect of Indian art and drama. From issues of literary construction, to the structure of the stage or mandapa, from a detailed analysis of musical scales and movements (murchhanas), to an analysis of dance forms and their impacts on the viewers, Natyashastra covers every possible facet in detail. As an audio-visual form, Natyashastra mirrors all the arts and crafts, higher knowledge, learning, sciences, yoga, and conduct. Its purpose is to entertain as well as educate. Bharata was an ideal theatre artist. He has experienced pleasure as well as pain in life, and is gifted with restraint as well as vision. He understood the fact that performance is a collective activity that requires a group of trained people, knit in a familial bond and has best portrayed this understanding in the first chapter of his treatise, Natyashastra.

In the first chapter Bharata therefore talks about the response and involvement of the spectator in drama. The spectators come from all classes of society without any distinction, but are expected to be at least minimally initiated into the appreciation of theatre. This is because of the fact that they may respond properly to the art as an empathetic sahridaya. Theatre flourishes in a peaceful environment and requires a state free from hindrances. The first chapter ends emphasizing the significance and importance of drama in attaining the joy, peace, and goals of life, and recommending the worship of the presiding deities of theatre and the auditorium.
The second chapter lays down the norms for theatre architecture or the prekshagriha i.e. auditorium. This also protects the performance from all obstacles caused by adverse nature, malevolent spirits, animals, and men. It describes the medium-sized rectangular space as ideal for audibility and visibility, apparently holding about 400 spectators. Bharata also prescribes smaller and larger structures, respectively half and double this size, and square and triangular halls. Bharata`s model was an ideal intimate theatre, considering the subtle abhinaya of the eyes and other facial expressions which he described in the second chapter of Natyashastra. The third chapter describes an elaborate puja for the gods and goddesses protecting the auditorium, and prescribes rituals to consecrate the space. Chapter four of the Natyashastra begins with the story of a production of Amritamanthana i.e. `Churning of the Nectar`, a samavakara performed according to Brahma`s instructions on the peaks of Kailasa, witnessed by Siva.

After some time, a dima titled Tripumdaha or `Burning of the Three Cities` is staged, relating Siva`s exploits. Siva asks Bharata to incorporate tandava dance in the purvaranga preliminaries and directs his attendant Tandu to teach Bharata. Tandu explains the components of tandava, the categories of its movements, and their composition in chorographical patterns. These form the pure dance movements required for the worship of the gods and the rituals. This chapter also lays the foundation of angika abhinaya or physical acting developed in later chapters. The fifth chapter however details the elements of purvaranga. Thus the first five chapters are structurally integrated to the rest of the text
The sixth and seventh chapters deal with the fundamental emotional notions and aesthetics of rasa and bhava. The bhavas, which include the vibhavas, are communicated to spectators through abhinaya, especially angika. Therefore it receives elaborate treatment in chapters 8-12.

The chapters like 8,9,10, 11 and 12 thus codify body language based on a definite semiotics. Movement requires well-defined blocking, so immediately afterwards the Natyashastra lays down the principle of kakshyavibhaga in the thirteenth chapter. The extremely flexible and easy principle of establishing space on stage and altering it through parikramana or circumambulation is a unique characteristic of traditional Indian theatre and dance and are subtly dealt in the next chapters of Natyashastra.
Chapter 18 discusses the ten major rupakas, or forms of drama and natika, a variety of uparupaka. The next chapter analyses the structure of drama as well as the inclusion of lasyangas or components of feminine dance derived from popular dance and recitative forms in theatre. Chapter 20 gives an elaborate account of the vrittis. Chapter 21 deals with aharya abhinaya, which covers make-up, costume, properties, masks, and minimal stage decor. Chapter 22 begins with samanya or `common` abhinaya, which compounds the four elements of abhinaya harmoniously. It discusses other aspects of production too, which may be viewed as `inner`, adhering to prescribed norms and systematic training, and `outer` or done freely outside such a regimen. This chapter ends with an analysis of women`s dispositions, particularly pertaining to love and terms of address, while the following chapter 23 deals with male qualities and patterns of sexual behaviour, as well as classification and stages of feminine youth.

Chapter 24 enumerates the types of characters in Sanskrit drama. Chapter 25 deals with citrabhinaya i.e. `pictured acting` especially meant for delineating the environment occurring as a stimulant or uddipana vibhavd of different bhavas. It also defines the specific ways of expressing different objects and states, and the use of gestures, postures, gaits, walking, and theatrical conventions. The next two chapters present the nature of dramatis personae, the principles of make-up, and speak about the success and philosophy of performance.
The chapter twenty seven deal with music employed in theatre. Chapter 28 covers jati or melodic types or matrices, sruti or micro-intervals, svara or notes, grama or scales, and murcchana or modes, now ragas. Chapter 29 describes stringed instruments like the vina and distinguishes between vocal and instrumental music, further dividing vocal into two types, varna or `colour`, only syllabics and giti or `song`, with lyrics. Chapter 30 describes wind instruments like the flute and ways of playing it.
Chapter 31 deals with cymbals, and tala, rhythm, and metrical cycles. Chapter 32 defines dhniva songs, their specific employment, forms, and illustrations. Chapter 33 lists the qualities and defects of vocalists and instrumentalists. Chapter 34 relates the origin and nature of drums.
The concluding two chapters lay down the principles for distributing roles and the qualifications for members of the troupe. Bharata narrates the story of his sons, who ridiculed the sages and were cursed. He instructs them to expiate their sin, so that they attain their lost glory again. He returns to the performance in heaven where Indra enacts Nahusha, and finally to the descent of theatre on earth. Bharata ends his Natyashastra by stating the glory of theatre. Natyashastra remained an important text in the fine arts for many centuries whilst influencing much of the terminology and structure of Indian classical dance and music .For about 2000 years the Natyashastra has inspired new texts and various regional traditions of theatre. Kutiyattam in Kerala is an extant Sanskrit form that imbibed and developed the theory and practice originating from the Natyashastra. The analysis of body forms and movements defined in Natyashastra also influenced Indian sculpture and the other visual arts in later centuries.

The NS is structured around the sound philosophical assumptions. The text of NS, as available to us, is organized in 36 or 37 chapters. The scheme of chapterization is significant as it emerges from the commentary Abhi. The Saiva
ontology ontology:

a. An underlying layer.

b. A layer of earth beneath the surface soil; subsoil.

2. A foundation or groundwork.

. All cognitions, real or imagined/created (as in the work of art) are ultimately constituted in consciousness. Like all other rational discourses, literature also embodies knowledge, however, with a different mode of statement, namely, kantasammita (like the words of a beloved characterized neither by word nor meaning but by aesthetic charm and effect). In a typical Vyasa(n) mode, Bharata clearly states,
   Na tajjaana na tacchilpa na sa vidya na sakala/
Na sa yogo na tatkarma yanna tyesminna drsyate // NS 1.116.

[There is no wise maxim, no learning, no art or craft, no device,
no action that is not found/reflected in the drama.]
Again, Brahama states, "Hence I have devised the drama in which meet all the departments of knowledge, different arts and various actions...". Like the other rational discourses, the NS also ensures the four-fold ends (purusartha: dharma, artha, kama and moksa) of life. In a way it also inculcates the moral values in the society. Visvanatha, a 14th century poetician states that drama/literature also helps discriminate between the conducts of Rama and Ravana. It is this wide range of knowledge contents that ascribes the status of the Fifth Veda The notion of a fifth veda (Sanskrit: pañcama veda to the Natyasastra. Following are the chapters and their respective themes: 1. Origin of drama (Natyotpatti) 2. Theatre construction (Mandapa) 3. Worship of the stage deities (Rangadaivatapujana) 4. Description of the class dance (Tandavalaksana) 5. Preliminary of the play (Purvarangavidhana) 6. Sentiments/States of being (Rasa) 7. Emotions and other states (Bhava) 8. Gestures of limbs (angika abhinaya) 9. Gesture of minor limbs (Upanga abhinaya) 10. Cari movements (Cari vidhana) 11. Associations of cari (Mandalavikalpanam) 12. Modes of movements (Gati pracara) 13. Description of the parts of stage and cultural modes (Kakya pravrtti dharmi vyaajaka) 14. Lingual lingual /lin·gual/ (ling´gwal)
1. pertaining to or near the tongue.

2. in dental anatomy, facing the tongue or oral cavity.


Study of the elements of language, especially metre, that contribute to rhythmic and acoustic effects in poetry.
and poetics (Chandovidhana) 17. Diction of a play and the Indian languages (Bhasa) 18. Ten types of the play/ Typology typology /ty·pol·o·gy/ (ti-pol´ah-je) the study of types; the science of classifying, as bacteria according to type.

the study of types; the science of classifying, as bacteria according to type.
of drama (Dasarupaka) 19. Limbs of the segments (Sandhi san·dhi
Modification of the sound of a word or morpheme when juxtaposed with another, especially in fluent speech, as the modification of the pronunciation of don't in don't you
nirupana) 20. Styles (Vrtti) 21. Costumes and make-up (Aharya) 22. Harmonious enactments (Samanyabhinaya) 23. Courtesans and Erotica erotica - pornography (Vaisika) 24. Typology of characters (Patra) 25. Specific gestures (Citrabhinaya) 26. Varied representations (Vikrtivikalpa) 27. Success in dramatic representations (siddhivyanjaka) 28--33 Music (Sangita) 34. Nature of the characters 35. Other characters (Sutradhara, Vidusaka and others) 36. Story of descent of drama from the svaraga and the story of King Nahusa (Natyavatarana). As stated above, like Panini's Astadhyayi, the NS too is a part of the continuous and cumulative intellectual traditions of India. The NS refers to a number of pre-Bharata exponents of natya such as Parasarya, Silali, Karmanda, Kesasva, Kohala, Vatsya, sandilya, Dhurtila. Among the post-Bharata exponents, Nandikeswara, Tumburu, Visakhila, Carayana, Sadasiva, Padmabhn, Drohini, Vyasa, AAjaneya, Katyayana, Rahula Garga Matrgupta and Subandhu are quite often referred in the Abhi. And other subsequent texts. Among the commentators of Bharata, Bhatta Lollata, Bhatta Sankuka, Bhatta Nayaka, Bhatta Yantra Yantra is a Sanskrit word that is derived from the root meaning "to restrain, curb, check".[1][2] Meanings for the noun derived from this root include "that which restrains or fastens, any prop or support", "a fetter", "any instrument or machine", "an are quoted by Acarya Abhinavagupta in his Abhi. Aarangadeva in his Sangitaratnakara also records,
   vyakhyataro bharatiye lollatdbhatta-sankuka . /
bhattabhinavaguptaaca srimatkirtidharo'para . //

Acarya Kirtidhara's view has been referred to Acarya Abhinavagupta in Abhi. with deep reverence. But Abhi. is the only commentary available to us. Henceforth, in the next millennium, a number of seminal theoretical treatises on drama have been composed focusing some of the aspects of Bharata's NS. Some of them are being listed: * Dhananjaya's Dasarupaka (with commentary Avaloka by Dhanika) * Sagaranandi's Natyalaksauakosa * Ramacandra-Gunacandra's Natyadarpana * Naradatanaya's Bhavaprakasana * Ningabhupala's Natakaparibhana * Rupagoswami's Natakacandrika. The NS is composed in the form of dialogue between Sage Bharata and the other sages. The sages put forth the following queries,
   O Brahmin, how did originate the Natyaveda (or NS) similar to the
Vedas, which you have properly composed? And for whom it is meant,
how many limbs does it possess, what is its extent and how is it
to be applied? Please speak to us in detail about it all.
The whole text is an exposition of these topics. There are eleven limbs of the drama: 1. rasa, 2. bhava, 3. abhinaya, 4. dharmi, 5. vrtti, 6. pravatti, 7. siddhi For Wives of Ganesha, Siddhi and Riddhi and relationship of Ashta Siddhi with Ganesha,8. svara, 9. vadya, 10. gana and 11. ranga. In fact one may include rasa, bhava, dharmi, vrtti, pravatti, siddhi and ranga under abhinaya. Three types of abhinaya are based on these components. Svara is a primary constituent of gana. Vadya may be enumerated separately. Anubandha catustaya (four elements of textual binding) Like a central text in the tradition, NS indicates its four elements of textual binding: purpose (prayjana), subjectmatter/theme (visaya), relation (sambandha) and readership (adhikari). The purpose is to make an exposition of dramaturgy. The theme is drama (natyaveda). The relation of the theme with the exposition is that of pratipadyapratipadaka, i.e. the text is an exposition on dramaturgy. The person who has sincere desire to know a particular sastra automatically qualifies on the readership of that sastra (in this context it is the science of drama). Vanmaya (the verbal discourse) in India has been classified on various parameters. On the basis of epistemology epistemology (ĭpĭs'təmŏl`əjē) [Gr.,=knowledge or science], the branch of philosophy that is directed toward theories of the sources, nature, and limits of knowledge. Since the 17th cent. of senses it has been categorized as sravya (heard--pertains to ears) and drsya (seen--pertains to eyes). Drama uniquely involves both these epistemologies. Visual as well as the acoustic/ aural /linguistic images together constitute the universe of natya. Among the basic means of knowledge, perception is considered as the most primary one. Even within the domain of perception, visual and mental perceptions (aesthetic delight in poetry) are more central than the experiences pertaining to touch, smell or taste. So the content and communication through drama is widely shared by the various strata of the audience or viewer. Kavyesu natkam ramyam (tatra ramyam Sakuntala, i.e. among all the literary discourses, drama is the most charming genre and even among the dramas Abhijaanasakuntalam is the most delightful one) is a widely acknowledged Sanskrit maxim.


The concept of natya as
mimesis mimesis /mi·me·sis/ (mi-me´sis) the simulation of one disease by another.mimet´ic

1. The appearance of symptoms of a disease not actually present, often caused by hysteria.
or imitation reminds us of the crucial debate in the Western classical criticism between Plato and his worthy disciple Aristotle. All art forms, including literature, are imitation or representation of reality. It is primarily a device of image making and image by its very nature is more or less than the object which it is an image of. So the issue is what and why do we imitate and with what motive and purpose? In Plato's epistemology, literary images are poor mirror-images ("thrice thrice
1. Three times.

2. In a threefold quantity or degree.

3. Archaic Extremely; greatly.
removed from reality")--a distortion of the ideal/real form. A poet is merely a "semblance" maker who imitates the "forms" (visible, which themselves are the shadows) and not the essence of the objects. Aristotle presents three modes of representation: as it is, as it appears and as it ought to be. Literature does not and need not portray the objects as they are. There is always an attempt to bring out the "ought" of the possible. This imitation is not distortion but to represent universal in particular that accounts for excellence. Moreover, while imitating we learn and it is as well a source of pleasure. Indian literary theoreticians do not involve this "truth condition" of a work of art and literature. If natya is a prapaaca (a construct) then this given or ideal world is also the same. This is redundant issue in Indian literary theories. We must recall that we are here concerned with a particular form of dramatic representation, i.e. natya. In the first chapter the Sage Bharata defines natya as natyabhavanukirtanam, (natya is reconstruction of bhava / universal mental states of mind or being). In drama, we do not represent "reality" as if it something given but reconstruct it on the parameters of art. This created or constructed world is not entirely dependent on the cause-effect relationship. The causal relationship cannot be the sole criterion or condition for reality. Reality is always beyond and hence involves a perennial quest. Literature operates at the level of universal (anukirtana). Imitation is possible only at the level of individual (aukarana) and this could be the goal of other forms of drama but not that of the natya. Rama or Gandhi is not just an individual but also an aestheticised universal being (not objects but images). In this context the Indian aestheticians List of aestheticians, aesthetes, or aestheticists, alphabetically:
  • Abhinavagupta
  • Joseph Addison
  • Theodor Adorno
  • Virgil Aldrich
  • Anandavardhana
  • John Anderson
  • Aristotle (see Poetics and Rhetoric)
  • Rudolf Arnheim
  • Mazen Asfour

bring in the concept of sadharanikarana (i.e. a process of universalisation) and tanmayibhavana (i.e. a process of becoming one with the aestheticised universal being). This is not necessarily or only a case of superimposition (adhyaropa and adhyavasana) of one object on another (as perception of snake in rope) but also the liberation of a being from his/her narrow self and become one with the universal consciousness or Being. Indian literary/aesthetic theory assumes the dissolution of multi-layered identity/ies. This is an essential condition for the poet who describes, the actor who plays the assigned role of a universal character and the viewer or reader. The reader or viewer of literature is designated as sahrdya--a sensitive-intuitive person who is capable of re-constructing/re-constituting the whole literary/aesthetic experience and becomes one with that. Literature is primarily a communion with the self or the Universal Self. It does not necessarily involve an ideology or identity formation; rather it puts forth pralaya / dissolution as a necessary condition to be a part of this whole aesthetic process. If we use the metaphor of death, it is not only the death of the author but more importantly it is the death of the reader or viewer/reader. Death filters out all identities that veil the universal consciousness. Rasa or the aesthetic content is the soul/essence of drama. It is the primary goal of a theatrical performance. The process through which this aesthetic communication or communion is made possible is named as enactment or abhinaya (abhi + naya; that which takes forth). It is of four types: angika (of body), vacika (verbal) sattvika (of the sattva or a natural index of the mental state) and aharya (relating to relating to relate prep → concernant

relating to relate prep → bezüglich +gen, mit Bezug auf +acc
costume). So for example, let us read the very opening verse of the NS:
   pranmya sirasa devou pitamaha-paramesvarou /  
natyaaastram pravaksyami brahmana yadudahrtam // [NS 1.1]

[With a bow to Brahma and Siva I shall expound the Canons of
Drama, as these were uttered by Brahma.]
Bowing the head (with folded hands "With Folded Hands" is a 1947 science fiction novelette by Jack Williamson (1908-2006). Willamson's influence for this story was in the aftermath of World War II and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and his concern that "some of the technological creations we had ) is an example of angika. The statement (I shall...) itself is of the nature of vacika and the natural facial expression facial expression,
n the use of the facial muscles to communicate or to convey mood.
of calmness and devotion is of the nature of sattvika. NS is a technical/sastra text on dramaturgy. Nonetheless it is also a text of drama. The whole text is in the form of dialogue and various forms of enactments, gestures, music etc. have been visually presented to its readers or more appropriately to its viewers. There are two Bharata-s in the NS, not necessarily two persons--one who is present in the opening verse of the text--welcoming and bowing to the deities (also viewers/readers) and who is the chief exponent of the text and another who is inside the text as the main protagonist who is engaged in the dialogue with the other sages and disciples. The Bharata in the first verse is very much like the sutradhara (lit. thread-bearer) of a dramatic composition. He is identified as muni/sage by means of his costume and appearance. Hence this fourth type aharya abhinaya is also illustrated.


Intro 500 B.C.-10A.D. 10 A.D.-14A.D. 14 A.D.-18A.D. 18 A.D.-19A.D.

Bharathanatyam is perphaps the oldest among the contemporary classical dance forms of India. Its claim to antiquity rests not on the name, which is derived from the word "Bharatha" and thus associated with the Natyasastra, but on the overwhelming literary, sculptural and historical evidence available.

Among the many forms and styles, there is one which is called the ekaharya lasyanga in the Natyasastra. In this form, there is one actor playing many many roles. The Natyasastra in this context, also speaks of the actor as the narrator. Instead of many actors presenting a dramatic story, the solo actor presents, through abhinaya, the particularly dominant state - Sthayi Bhava.

500 B.C.-10A.D. Bharatha Natyam is a composite art, whose message is not merely to the senses, but to the soul of the dancer and of the perceiver. Due to this, one could comprehend that Bharatha Natyam is an art that conveys spiritual expression. This dance form cannot be adequately danced by anyone without reverence for technique and for spiritual life. It is an art that lifts one from temporal to eternal values. The intimate association of dance with religion and as a ritual, a form of worship in the temples is well established. The institution of the Devadasis, servants of the God, contributed in perpetuating and preserving the art. In ancient times, the system of dedicating young dancers to the temples as devadasis seems to have prevailed.

Dance has special mention in two important Tamil works Silappadikaram and Manimekhalai of the Sangam age ( 500 B.C - 500 A.D ).
The sacred texts of the Shaivagamas prescribed the mode of worship and referred to the consecration of dancing girls in the service of the gods. The temples were not only places of communication between man and God, but also strongholds of the Arts.
In the beautiful Nata-Mandapas (dance-halls) of the magnificient temples, the devadasis used to perform ritual dances as votive offerings to the presiding Dieties.

The present BharathaNatyam can be traced back to this form. It has been established from the scluptural evidence, that of technique of movement which this style follows can be traced back to the 5th century, the position common to the classical dance ( margi style ) was the ardhamandali with the out - turned knees. By the 10th century A.D. , this basic position was common to dance styles from Orissa to Gujarat and from Khajuraho to Trivandrum. From about the 10th century A.D. in sculptures of dance, we find that basic position of the lower limbs is common to relics in particularly every part of India.

10 A.D.-14A.D.After the 10th century, Bharathanatyam seems to have developed chiefly in the South and gradually came to be restricted to what is now known as Tamil Nadu. From chronicles we learn that the Chola and the Pallava kings were great patrons of the arts. Raja Raja Chola not only maintained dancers in the Temples in his kigdom, but was a very great connoisseur of music and dance. The tradition of the Natyasastra appears to have been widesprread. The accuracy with which the artists of the Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur have illustrated the karanas of the fourth chapter of the Natyasastra is adequate proof of their understanding of the laws of the dance movement.

Along with the building of the imposing temples in the South under The Pallava and Chola rulers ( 4th to 12th A.D), the arts of music and dance received a great fillip. The tradition was kept alive by rulers , specifically, the Pandya, Nayak, and the Maratha, till the end of the nineteenth century. It was the institution of the great dance teachers known as Nattuvanars who preserved the ancient dance art from generation to generation.

14 A.D.-18A.D.About the 14th century A.D. we find that technical illustrations of dance movements were made in the Sarangapani temple at Kumbakonam and in the four magnificent gopurams of the Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram. Illustrations of the charis and the karanas are found in temples of Gangaikonda, Cholapuram, Kumbakonam, Madurai and Kancheepuram. The sculptural evidence can be supplemented amply by the Sastras, textual criticisms, historical chronicles and creative literature.

Between the 14th and 17th centuries, there was much repetition of dance poses already sclupted in the three main temples mentioned above. From the creative literature in Tamil, Telugu and Kanada, one can easily conclude that the dance was a vigorous and living art. During the Maratha rule ( AD 1674 - 1854 ) over Thanjavur the art of Bharatha Natyam received considerable fillip. King Shahaji ( 1684 - 1711 ) wrote nearly five hundred padams ( short poetic compositions ). These marathi padams are found in the form of palm-leaf manuscripts in the Telugu script. These manuscripts are preserved in the Saraswati Mahal Library at Thanjavur. King Tulaja II ( 1763 - 87 ) wrote the Sangitasamrita which deals with adavus, the basic dance steps, is a landmark in the dance literature. During the reign of King Sarfoji II, the tradition of bharathanatyam received its definite shape from the Thanjavur Quartet Chinayya, Ponnayya, Vadivelu and Sivanandam, the four brothers who were disciples of the composer Muthuswami Dikshitar, one of the trinity of Carnatic music.

18 A.D.-19A.D.But the story is not complete without mentioning the contributions of the South Indian Saint poets and musicians. Bhakti or devotion, at its finest and purest, was infused into the the tradition by these poets. The literary content of Bharathanatyam was provided by them and their musical compositions determined the repertoire of Bharathanatyam. Between the period 1800 to 1920, bharatha natyam as a performing art took a back seat. The performances used to extensively take place during Vasanthotsavams (temple festivals)

In 1926, a young lawyer, E. Krishna Iyer played an important role in the ervival of Bharatha Natyam. He used to perform on various platforms by doning the attire of female bharatha natyam dancer to remove the stigma attached to the art. In 1927, E. Krishna Iyer organised the first All India Music Conference at Madras, during the session of the Indian National Congress and as an offshoot of the conference, the Music Academy was born in 1928. For a decade he worked as one of its secretaries. National spirit coupled with the freedom movement was responsible for the increase in the revival of performances at various places. Some of the exponents in those days were Pandanallur Jayalakshmi and Jeevaratnam, Dance Queen Balasaraswathi, Smt. Rukhmini Devi Arundale, disciples of Pandanallur Guru Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Ram Gopal, Mrinalini Sarabhai and others. Since then, till now, a host of legendary figures have contributed to the centuries old art - Bharatha natyam.

Bharathanatyam is the classical Indian dance that adhere to Natya Shastra of 400 B.C. Bharatanatyam derived its name from the perfect combination of its expressions as well as from sage Bharata Muni and his Natya Shastra. This exceptional art form can be aptly described as a poetry in motion and combines Bhava (acting), Raga (melody) and Tala(rhythm). A brief look into the wide aspects of this unique art form will give insightful moments to aesthetics.

Bharatanatyam is thought to have created by Bharata Muni, who wrote the Natya Shastra. It is said to be originated in Thanjavoor of Tamil Nadu. It was essentially known as 'Dasiattam', since performed by Devadasis in the temples. This distinct art form with the unique elements of Nritta (rhythmic dance movements), Natya (mime, or dance with a dramatic aspect), and Nritya (combination of Nritta and Natya) expressed the artist's devotion.

Bharatanatyam explored a new realm of art form with the rich contributions from the famous quartet of Chinnayya, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu of the Tanjore Court, during the rule of Maratha King Saraboji II (1798- 1832).They made a rich contribution to
music of Bharatanatyam. They also completed the process of re-editing the bharatanatyam programme into its present shape with its various forms like the Alarippu, Jathiswaram, Sabdham, Varnam, Tillana etc.

The interest in Bharatanatyam developed in the medieval period when the local kings invited the artists to perform in their courts. Bharatanatyam thus grew up to an entertainment art form and incorporated two aspects like lasya (the graceful feminine lines and movements) and tandava (the masculine aspects of lord Shiva). In the modern era Bharatanatyam follows its Panadanallur style and has attained appreciation all over the world.

The basic techniques of bharatanatyam are Karanas and Hasta mudras. Karanas refer to the conscious and systematic movements in Indian classical dance. There are 108-125 karanams in Bharatanatyam on the present day.

Bharatanatyam combines two types of Hasta mudras as Asamyuta (single) and Samyuta(Combined). There are 28 Asamyuta hasta mudras and 24 hasta mudras in Bharatanatyam. Each of these hasta mudras has its own origin, usage and patron deity. Each of these mudras can be used in more than one way depending on the song accompanying the dance. A typical bharatanatyam performance includes Ganapati Vandana, Alarippu, Jatiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam, Padam and Thillana. Apart from these there are items like Kautuvam, Koothu,and Shlokam etc. A colourful costume makes the artist's performance more graceful. Bharatanatyam is always accompanied by Carnatic vocal music and instrumental music like mridangam, nagaswaram, flute, violin and veena. The lyrics of the music are often in Tamil, Sanskrit and Kannada language.

Bharata Natyam

A typical nritya pose of Bharata Natyam dance with abhinaya.

Bharata Natyam dance has been handed down through the centuries by dance teachers (or gurus) called nattuwanars and the temple dancers, called devadasis. In the sacred environment of the temple these familes developed and propagated their heritage. The training traditionally took around seven years under the direction of the nattuwanar who were scholars and persons of great learning. The four great nattuwanars of Tanjore were known as the Tanjore Quartet and were brothers named Chinnaiah, Ponnaiah, Vadivelu and Shivanandam. The Bharata Natyam repertiore as we know it today was constructed by this talented Tanjore Quartet.


Indian classical dance is a relatively new umbrella term for various codified art forms rooted in Natya, the sacred Hindu musical theatre styles, whose theory can be traced back to the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni (400 BC).


These are:

  • Dances performed inside the sanctum of the temple according to the rituals were called Agama Nartanam. Natya Shastra classifies this type of dance form as margi, or the soul-liberating dance, unlike the desi (purely entertaining) forms.
  • Dances performed in royal courts to the accompaniment of classical music were called Carnatakam. This was an intellectual art form.
  • Darbari Aattam form of dance appealed more to the commoners and it educated them about their religion, culture and social life. These dances were performed outside the temple precincts in the courtyards. Both Carnatakam and Darbari Aattam in particular were predominantly desi forms.

For lack of any better equivalents in the European culture, the British colonial authorities called any performing art forms found in India as "Indian dance". Even though the art of Natya includes nritta, or dance proper, Natya has never been limited to dancing and includes singing, abhinaya (mime acting). These features are common to all the Indian classical styles. In the margi form Nritta is composed of karanas, while the desi nritta consists mainly of adavus.

The term "classical" (Sanscr. "Shastriya") was introduced by Sangeet Natak Akademi to denote the Natya Shastra-based performing art styles. A very important feature of Indian classical dances is the use of the mudra or hand gestures by the artists as a short-hand sign language to narrate a story and to demonstrate certain concepts such as objects, weather, nature and emotion. Many classical dances include facial expressions as an integral part of the dance form.

Eight classical dances

Sangeet Natak Akademi currently confers classical status on eight Indian dance styles:

  1. Bharatanatyam - Tamil Classical Dance
  2. Odissi - Orissa Classical dance
  3. Kuchipudi - Telugu Classical dance
  4. Manipuri - Manipur Classical Dance
  5. Mohiniaattam - Kerala Classical Dance
  6. Sattriya - Asamese Classical Dance
  7. Kathakali - Kerala Classical Dance
  8. Kathak - North Indian Classical Dance

Out of the eight styles, the only two temple dance styles that have their origin in Natya Shastra and are prescribed by the Agamas are Bharatanatyam and Odissi. These two most faithfully adhere to the Natya Shastra but currently do not include Vaachikaabhinaya (dialog acts), although some styles of Bharatanatyam, such as Melattur style, prescribe the lip movements indicating Vaachikaabhinaya.

Kuchipudi, which also prescribes the lip movements indicating Vaachikaabhinaya, and Mohiniaattam are relatively recent Darbari Aatam forms, just as Kathakali, and two eastern Indian styles, Manipuri and Sattriya, that are quite similar.

Kathak was created in the Mughal period under the influence of Persian dance and various other folk dance forms. As it does not adhere to any shastra and cannot be called Shastriya (classical).

Currently, Sangeet Natak Akademi does not consider the recently reconstructed dance styles of Andhra Pradesh such as Andhra Natyam and Vilasini Natyam as "classical". Bharatanrithyam, despite being the one most closely following Natya Shastra's precepts, is considered as a variety of Bharatanatyam.

Classical Indian Dance

The classical dances are

Kathakali and Mohini Attam from Kerala.

Kathakali literally means story-play and is an elaborate dance depicting the victory of truth over falsehood.
A Striking feature of Kathakali is the use of elaborate make-up and colourful costumes. This is to emphasize that the characters are superbeings from another world, and their make-up is easily recognisable to the trained eye as satvik or godlike, rajasik or heroic, and tamasik or demonic.

Mohini Attam

Some poses of Mohini Attam

The theme of Mohini attam dance is love and devotion to god. Vishnu or Krishna is most often the hero. The spectators can feel His invisible presence when the heroine or her maid details dreams and ambitions through circular movements, delicate footsteps and subtle expressions. Through slow and medium tempos, the dancer is able to find adequate space for improvisations and suggestive bhavas or emotions.
The basic dance steps are the Adavus which are of four kinds: Taganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammisram. These names are derived from the nomenclature called vaittari.
The Mohini attam dancer maintains realistic make-up and adorns a simple costume, in comparison to costumes of other dances, such as Kathakali. The dancer is attired in a beautiful white with gold border Kasavu saree of Kerala, with the distinctive white jasmin flowers around a French bun at the side of her head.

Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh

Raja and Radha Reddy in a striking pose of Kuchipudi dance.

The dance drama that stil exists today and can most closely be associated with the Sanskrit theatrical tradition is Kuchipudi which is also known as Bhagavata Mela Natakam. The actors sing and dance, and the style is a blend of folk and classical. Arguably this is why this technique has greater freedom and fluidity than other dance styles.
Bhagavata mela natakam was always performed as an offering to the temples of either Merratur, Soolamangalam, Oothkadu, Nallur or Theperumanallur.

Odissi from Orissa

Gorgeous Odissi pose. Picture courtesy of the Odissi Kala Kendra.

Odissi is based on the popular devotion to Lord Krishna and the verses of the Sanskrit play Geet Govinda are used to depict the love and devotion to God. The Odissi dancers use their head, bust and torso in soft flowing movements to express specific moods and emotions.
The form is curvaceous, concentrating on the tribhang or the division of the body into three parts, head, bust and torso; the mudras and the expressions are similar to those of Bharatnatyam. Odissi performances are replete with lores of the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, Lord Krishna. It is a soft, lyrical classical dance which depicts the ambience of Orissa and the philosophy of its most popular deity, Lord Jagannath, whose temple is in Puri. On the temple walls of Bhubaneshwar, Puri and Konark the dance sculptures of Odissi are clearly visible.

Kathak from Uttar Pradesh

The legendary exponent of Kathak, Birju Maharaj.

This north Indian dance form is inextricably bound with classical Hindustani music, and the rhythmic nimbleness of the feet is accompanied by the table or pakhawaj. Traditionally the stories were of Radha and Krishna, in the Natwari style (as it was then called) but the Moghul invasion of North India had a serious impact on the dance. The dance was taken to Muslim courts and thus it became more entertaining and less religious in content. More emphasis was laid on nritta, the pure dance aspect and less on abhinaya (expression and emotion).

Manipuri from Manipur

Singhajit Singh and Charu Siya Mathur.
This dance style was originally called jogai which means circular movement. In ancient texts it has been compared to the movement of the planets around the sun. It is said that when Krishna, Radha and the gopis danced the Ras Leela, Shiva made sure that no one disturbed the beauty of the dancing. Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva also wished to see this dance, so to please her he chose the beautiful area of manipur and re-enacted the Ras Leela. Hundreds of centuries later, in the 11th century, during the reign of Raja Loyamba, prince Khamba of the Khomal dynasty and Princess Thaibi of the Mairang dynasty re-enacted the dance and it became known as Lai-Haraoba, the most ancient dance of Manipur.