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Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dancer. Happily married to Dileep Kannan. Mother of a beautiful angel -Tamanna. Daughter of Mr. E.M Haridas & Mrs. Girija Haridas. Daughter-in-law of Dr. K. P Kannan & Mrs. Shobhana Kannan A Disciple of Smt. Shyamala Surendran at Dharani School of Performing Arts, Kochi MFA in Bharatanatyam from SASTRA University under the guidance of Dr. Padma Subramanyam

January 17, 2012

Facets of Indian Classical Dance - I

After writing about the history of Mohiniyattam, I shall finally start writing about various facets or the technical aspects related to Indian Classical Dance. As this is an inexhaustible topic, I shall be writing about various aspects across different chapters.

I would like to begin with explaining the qualities a dancer develops during his/her learning of the respective art form.


It is said that a dancer is required to develop 10 qualities. This has been explained very effectively in the following sloka:-

Javasthirathva Rekhacha Bhramari Drishtirasamraha
Medha Shraddha Vacho Geetham 
Paathrapraha Dasasmritha

 Paathrapraha Dasasmritha – These are the 10 qualities that a dancer develops;
  1.   Java            Swiftness
  2.   Sthirathva   – Composure
  3.  Rekha          – Symmetry
  4. Bhramari      – Turns (Should be graceful)
  5. Drishti         – Effective glances
  6. Asrama        – Endurance
  7.   Medha        – Memory power
  8. Shraddha     – Concentration or Devotion
  9.  Vacho          – Clear speech
  10. Geetham     – Singing ability
Indian Classical Dance is divided into 3 aspects in accordance to the use of Abhinaya and Adavus:
  1. Nritha - It is basically Abstract Movement of body to music or swaras in rhythm devoid of expression.
  2.  Nrithya – Lyrical dance. Dancers use conventional hand gestures called mudras along with facial expressions - Abhinaya; and feelings to express the meanings or interpretations of the lyrics or text i.e using Rasas and Bhavas
  3.  Natya – Enacting an idea or a story or maybe just an incident in a dance-drama form using the 4 types of Abhinaya. Expressions and poses are used to portraying the characters.
Nritha itself is divided into 3:
  • Suddha Nritha Raga and Sahitya (Lyrics) are not applied here. Instead, Cholus or Bols are used. E.g. Poorvarangam of Kathakali and Kudiyattam
  • Talavadhyaanusari Nritha – As the name indicates; according to Rhythm and  Swaras ( S R G M P D N) instead of Cholus. E.g. Jathiswaram
  • Geethakaadi Abhinayathmaka NrithaSahitya is present here and dancer dances along with the lyrics. E.g. Thillana

Dance is basically a combination of body movements and expressions. Every part of our body is used while dancing from head to toe. When Angas move, Upangas and Prathyangas move.
Dancer in a pose
Usage of Angas, Upangas, Prathyangas
ANGAS – These are the major parts of our body. They are divided into 7 regions:
  1. Head
  2. Hands
  3. Hips
  4. Chest
  5. Sides
  6. Fingers
  7. Legs
UPANGAS – Ancillary Body Parts (Important for facial expressions)
  1. Eyebrows
  2. Eyes
  3. Eye Lids
  4. Pupils
  5. Nose
  6. Jaws
  7. Lower Lips
  8. Tongue
  9. Mouth
  10. Teeth
  11. Chin
  12. Cheeks
PRATHYANGAS – Minor Body Parts
  1. Back
  2. Shoulders
  3. Neck
  4. Stomach
  5. Arms
  6. Calves
  7. Wrist (Manibhandas)
  8. Elbows
  9. Knees
When a person portrays their feelings with their facial expressions, it is called Bhava.  However, when one portrays feelings through imagination and brings up similar facial expressions, then it is called Natya. Natya is the foundation of all the Rasas or the emotional flavours which a dancer conveys while performing (will be explained soon). In order to perform the expressions beautifully, every dancer goes through various exercises for every part on their face.

“Kramam” means Method. So ideally Natyakramam means “Method to Dance”.

To explain it further; when the musician sings, the meaning of the lyrics should be conveyed accordingly by the dancer along with the help of hand gestures, the Upangas should enact the emotion, and the feet should move with the rhythm of the music. A Sloka in the Abhinayadarpana explains this concept beautifully.

Yato Hasta Stato Drushti
Yato Drushti Stato Manaha
Yato Manaha Stato Bhavom
Yato Bhavom Stato Rasaha

How the Natyakrama is said:-

Where the hand goes, there the eyes should follow
Where the eyes are, the mind should follow
Where the mind is, Bhava or expression is produced
Where there is expression, Rasa or aesthetic delight is experienced

This can be interpreted in another way:-

Where your hands cannot reach, your eyes can reach
What your eyes cannot see, your mind can see
When you experience what your mind sees, there is Bhava
Hence when Bhava is produced, there is Rasa or happiness.

It is only when the dancer creates the atmosphere successfully will the spectator be able to fully experience the mood created by the dancer. Hence, the former will not only be able to enjoy the dance but also be involved in the performance. E.g. If the dancer is portraying a heroine who is pining for her hero, the dancer has to create a mood of sadness and desolation through Abhinaya. If the audience shares the same anguish of the heroine and feels sorry for her, then the dancer has been successful in producing Rasa. This is the reason why audiences are called 'Rasikas'.

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