Bharatanatyam And Yoga Part-3



This article is contributed by Mallika Jayanti. The source of the above article is:




Mudras are found in both Yoga and dance and while they are used for communicating externally in dance there are used for internal communication in Yoga. In dance, the way a Hastha Mudra is held, is divided into 12 Prana Lakshanas or 12 different ways of holding a hand.

1.         Prakarana Hastha – The fingers are stretched

2.         Kunchita Hastha  – The fingers are folded

3.         Rechita Hastha  – The fingers are given movement

4.         Punchita Hastha  – The fingers are folded or moved or stretched

5.         Apaveshtita Hastha  – The fingers are bent down

6.         Prerita Hastha  – The fingers are bent back or moved or stretched

7.         Udveshtita Hastha  – Holding the hands UP while dancing

8.         Vyavrutta Hastha  – Hands help UP in the sides

9.         Parivrutta Hastha  – Hands are brought together from sides

10.       Sanketa Hastha  – Hands used to convey Implied Meanings

11.       Chinha Hastha  – While dancing a dancer tries to show lot of things which are visible and invisible like a person’s physical appearance, face, weapons, places of limbs and other parts of the body, his/her influence on others, their mannerisms etc. Hands used to show such things are called Chinhe

12.       Padarthateeke – Hands used to confirm the meanings of certain words


The Hastha Mudras or hand gestures of Bharatanatyam  are a very highly developed aspect of the art and are a science of communication with the Divine. They are used for a variety of reasons such as to mime the meaning of the song, convey deeper feelings, bring out inherent qualities, invoke the myriad forms of the Divine as in Navagraha and Dashavathara Hasthas or in some cases they may be simple aesthetic ornamentation. Some have very limited meanings, and some are used as catch-alls for miming a variety of ideas.

The Natya Shastra lists numerous Mudras along with their meanings. Many others have been developed in the time since, whose histories are harder to trace. In the cases where an idea is being conveyed, it is more important to communicate clearly with hand gestures – adapting them if necessary – than it is to perform them with rigid correctness.

Hand gestures of Bharatanatyam  are classified as

ASAMYUTHA HASTHA  – Single hand gestures

SAMYUTHA HASTHA  – Double hand gestures

There are 28 Asamyutha Hasthas and 24 Samyutha Hasthas. Each Hastha has a defined usage called Viniyoga. These Viniyogas are again Sanskrit Shlokas codified in the Natyashastra.



Pataka Tripatakordhapataka Kartareemukhaha
Mayurakyordhachandrashcha Arala Shukatundakaha
Mushtishta Shikarakyashcha Kapitha Katakamukhaha
Suchee Chandrakala Padmakosham Sarpashirastata
Mrugasheersha Simhamukho Langulasolapadmakaha
Chaturo Bramarashchiva Hamsasyo Hamsapakshakaha
Samdamsho Mukulashchiva Tamrachooda Trishoolakaha

Ashtavimshatihastha Naam Evam Naamaanivikramat.


Anjalishcha Kapotashcha Karkata Swastikastatha
Dolahastha  Pushpaputaha Utsanga Shivalingakaha
Katakavardhanashchiva Kartaree Swatikastata
Shakata Shankha Chakrecha Samputa Pasha Keelakau
Matsya Koorma Varahashcha Garudonagabandakaha
Khatwa Bherundakakhyashcha Avahitastathivacha
Chaturvimshatisankhyakaha Samyuta Katithakaraha

Different schools and styles of dance use different hand gestures and different terms for the same hand gestures. Most have a fairly similar set of terms that largely overlap with this list, but many may be different in the details. It is largely a case of individual style, and the important thing is to communicate the ideas clearly.

Next Episode of this will be published on: 7th July 2008


Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam


Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest dance forms of India. Derived from Bharata’s Natya Shastra, it has undergone many changes over time. What remained unchanged, however, is its popularity.

This complex codified dance form offers maximum freedom to innovate and explore. While one danced in praise of Lord Siva, one is also now talking of condoms with the same ease through this art form. “The journey of the dance from the temple to the proscenium is a fascinating story. No other form has traversed such a long distance, retaining its original content and yet providing a sparkling example of creative evolution in terms of material, music and costume,” an author said elsewhere. He couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Bharatanatyam is danced to the Carnatic music. There is a certain relationship between the two. The mathematical precision of Bharatanatyam equals that of Carnatic Music measure for measure. Music and the dance merge like body and soul to offer the viewer a complete delight.

Bharatanatyam is based on Natyasastra. Natyasastra is also the primary text (aptavakya prasthanagrantha) for music.

The Natyasastra clearly expresses rasa-bhava-prakriya, a yardstick used for all visual and aural content, abhinaya, dialogue, dance and musical dhruvas. The Natyasastra alone preserves an exhaustive account of the ancient musical grammar. Bharat Muni has devoted nine chapters to Gandharva (from 28th to 36th), quantitatively about one-fourth of the Natyasastra.

But one can find many differences in the pattern of singing for a Carnatic concert and singing for Bharatanatyam.

* In Bharatanatyam, one starts with a Pushpanjali or such invocatory items that are usually in raga nattai while the varnam comes much later. A Carnatic music concert opens with a varnam.

* While singing for Bharatanatyam, the singer has to constantly watch the dancer and keep up with what is happening on stage.

* In a Bharatanatyam Margam, the tone and speed / ‘kala’ of the singing is decided by the dance and type of dance and mood of the margam.

* The dancer and the audience experience the rasanubhava more than the singer/vocalist in a Bharatanatyam concert. While in a musical concert, it is the singer who experiences the rasanubhava and then transmits it through his/her voice to the audience.

* The extent to which the subtle nuances could be explored is very limited while one is singing for dance.

* While in a music concert, the singer can sing a composition in different talas and speeds, this cannot happen in a dance concert. The number of times even a line is repeated depends on the choreography of the dance.

However, both the concerts end with a Mangalam


Note: This article can also be found on

Bharatanatyam And Yoga Part-2


This article is contributed by Mallika Jayanti. The source of the above article is:




Bharatanatyam  is a seamless blend of Nritta (rhythmic elements), Nritya (combination of rhythm with expression) and Natya (dramatic element).

Nritta is the rhythmic movement of the body in dance. It does not express any emotion. Nritya is usually expressed through the eyes, hands and facial movements. Nritya combined with Nritta makes up the usual dance programs. Nritya comprises Abhinaya, depicting Rasa (sentimental) and Bhava (mood).

To appreciate Natya or dance drama, one has to understand and appreciate Indian legends. Most Indian dances take their themes from India’s rich mythology and folk legends. Hindu Gods and Goddesses like Shiva and Parvati, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Rama and Sita, Krishna and Radha are all depicted in classical Indian dances.

Classical dance is a combination of Bhava, Raga and Tala (mood, melody and rhythm). The Gati or gait is stylized for each classical dance form. The Gati is also called Chaal in Kathak, Chali in Odissi and Nadai in Bharatanatyam .



Abhinaya is the rhythmic expression of moods, emotions and a narrative through the use of Mudra (hand gestures), Bhanga (postures of the body) and Rasa (facial expressions). Abhinaya has been vividly described in Abhinaya Darpana, a medieval work on histrionics that was codified by Nandikeswara.

“Abhinaya” literally means the “representation or exposition of a certain theme”. The basic root meaning is from the Sanskrit “Abhi” which means “to or towards” – with the root “Ni” – “to lead”. Abhinaya thus means, “to lead (the audience and performer) towards a particular state of being or feeling.” “Abhinaya ” has four aspects namely: Aangika, Vachika, Aahaarya and Saathvika. Aangika is the language of expression through the medium of the body (Sharira), the face (Mukha) and movement (Cheshta). Vachika Abhinaya is the expression through words, literature and drama; Aahaarya, the expression through decoration such as make-up, jewellery and costumes; Saathvika, the expression through acting out and manifesting the different state of the mind and feelings.

Lord Shiva is praised as the embodiment of the above four types of Abhinaya in this following Shloka that is recited by all dancers in the initial part of their training in an effort to make them realise the divine nature of this art form.


(We bow to Him the benevolent One, Whose limbs are the world,
Whose song and poetry are the essence of all language, Whose costume is the moon and the stars.)



The ideal postures of the body are depicted in the Shilpa Shastra and there are four types of Bhangas (postures), the deviations of the body from the central erect position. These four Bhangas are: Abhanga, Samabhanga, Atibhanga and Tribhanga. Abhanga signifies “off-center”, an iconographic term for a slightly askew standing position. Samabhanga is the equal distribution of the body limbs on a central line, whether standing or sitting. Atibhanga is the great bend with the torso diagonally inclined and the knees bent. Tribhanga is the triple bend with one hip raised, the torso curved to the opposite side and the head tilted at an angle.

Note: Next Episode will be published on 30th June 2008

Bharatanatyam and Yoga PART-1


This article is contributed by Mallika Jayanti. The source of the above article is:











Bharatanatyam and Yoga are two ways that exist to help us understand the manifestation of the Divine in the human form. Both of these wonderful arts are products of Sanathana Dharma, which is the bedrock of Indian culture. The Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni lays emphasis on not merely the physical aspects of Bharatanatyam, but also on the spiritual and esoteric nature of this art form. Both of these arts are also evolutionary sciences for the spiritual evolution of the human being to the state of the super human and finally the Divine.

The spiritual and Yogic nature of Bharatanatyam, is very well explained in the following comment by our Guru Yogamani, Yogacharini, Puduvai Kalaimamani Smt Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani who is eminently qualified to talk on this subject being both an eminent world famous Yogini and a distinguished Bharatanatyam artist, rolled into one dynamic being.

“Bharatanatyam is a Yoga, if Yoga means union. For surely this ancient art is one of the most beautiful and satisfying ways of expressing the human longing for union with the Divine. As an art form, Bharatanatyam  demands conscious understanding of body, mind and emotions. The sincere dancer must understand the nature of Bhakti and Jnana and the innate longing in all living creatures for Samadhi or cosmic consciousness. The ‘Divine dance of energy’ in the universe, so graphically and beautifully represented by Lord Nataraja, the lord of dance is the source of inspiration for all Bharatanatyam  artists who understand the deeper aspects of their art. Especially for the youth, this Divine art is a boon for it shapes the body into graceful controlled beauty, the mind into alertness and sensitivity and the emotions into controlled and purified receptors for the deepest inner longings of humankind. Lord Shiva himself blesses those young people, who take to this art, offering their profound interest, their love and their discipline as Dakshina. Such true Sadhaks then find that Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram – truth, goodness and beauty do flower in their lives, boons granted gladly by the lord of dance to his ardent devotees.”

In modern time, both of these elevating spiritual arts have been the victim of degeneration to such an extent that Bharatanatyam  is only treated as a decorative performing art and Yoga as a ‘Keep fit’ exercise thus negating the very soul of these art forms. The depths of the spiritual concepts of these arts have been by far and large lost and they are being practised only at a very superficial and mundane level.

However, there exists a ray of hope at the end of this dark tunnel, as slowly and steadily many of the practitioners of these arts are awakening to their real inner meaning. Many of them are taking concrete steps to bring back the real meaning into the practice of these arts, which are actually ‘lifestyles’ in their true nature.


Both Yoga and Bharatanatyam  trace their roots to Sanathana Dharma and Lord Shiva is held to be the manifesting principle of both according to the South Indian Shaiva Siddhanta tradition. Dance, music and theatre are an enduring part of Indian culture. In India all forms of art have a sacred origin and the inner experience of the soul finds its highest expression in music and dance. The Hindu attitude towards art as an expression of the Inner beauty or Divine in man brought it into close connection with spirituality and religion. Using the body as a medium of communication, the expression of dance is perhaps the most intricate and developed, yet easily understood art form.

Ancient Indian Civilisation prospered on all fronts, leading to the compilation of epics like the four Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Puranas etc., which serve as the basis for all streams of learning. The Vedas (Sama, Yajur, Rig and Atharva) are said to be Divine spiritual knowledge derived from the supreme. Elaborate and eloquent references to the art of dancing abound in the Rig Veda, substantiating that dance was one of the oldest forms of art in India. The Natya Shastra is the earliest Indian text in the history of performing arts. Over time many classical dance forms emerged in India including Bharatanatyam , Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Mohini Attam, Kathak, Odissi and Manipuri, as well as numerous vigorous folk dances.

According to Natya Shastra and Abhinaya Darpana, Lord Brahma created the art of dance upon the request of the Gods as a form of entertainment and it became known as the fifth Veda, and was open to all, irrespective of caste and creed. Prior to the creation of the Natya Veda, Brahma entered a Yogic trance in which he recalled the four Vedas. He drew literature from the Rig Veda, song from the Sama Veda, Abhinaya or expression from the Yajur Veda and Rasa or aesthetic experience from the Atharva Veda. These aspects are the four main constituents of the Natya Veda. Lord Brahma passed on this Natya Veda to his son, sage Bharata, who passed it on to his 100 sons. Thus this divine art descended from the heavens to Earth. Lord Shiva took up the Tandava (masculine form of dance), whereas Goddess Parvati, his consort, took up the Lasya (feminine form). Bharata staged the first play with his hundred sons and Apsaras in the amphitheatre of the Himalayas. Lord Shiva, the ultimate dancer, was so enchanted that he sent his disciple Tandu to Bharata, to teach him the true elements of dance. These are depicted in the Natya Shastra, in its chapters collectively named the Tandava Lakshana.

Lord Nataraja is considered to be the God of dance in Hindu mythology. His dancing image, in the Tandava form, is the starting point of all creation. To the dancer the four arms of the Nataraja are a depiction of dance movement in an immovable and static medium. The mystique of the arms and legs of the figure has a cosmological significance as the dance is taken as merely a human representation of a cosmic fact. In the Nataraja image the frontal palm of the right hand, which is lifted and slightly bent, represents security (Abhaya) to devotees. The left hand, which is thrown across the body with the fingers pointing downwards, indicates the feet of the Lord as the refuge of devotees. The upraised left foot represents the blessing bestowed by the Lord. In the right upper hand Shiva carries a small drum representing the creative sound, which began the universe, and in the other hand he has a fire, which is symbolic of light and therefore destruction of ignorance. Under the right foot is a dwarf, which signifies triumph over evil. Encapsulated in this figure of the Dancing Lord is the entire function of Shiva as the creator, preserver and destroyer. This dance is a metaphor for the belief that life is essentially a dynamic balancing of good and bad, where opposites are interdependent. The dance of Shiva is the dance of life.

Each Indian classical dance form draws inspiration from stories depicting the life, ethics and beliefs of the Indian people. The genesis of the contemporary styles of classical dances can be traced to a period around 1000-1500 years ago. India offers a number of classical dance forms, each of which can be traced to different parts of the country. Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people. Bharatanatyam  flourished in areas of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi is another famous classical dance of South India, from Andhra Pradesh. Kathakali is a theatrical dance form of Kerala. Mohini Attam is the feminine counterpart of Kathakali. Kathak is the classical dance form of North India and has two main Gharanas or schools – the Jaipur Gharana and the Lucknow Gharana. Odissi is the classical dance of Orissa and was mainly centered around Puri and Bhubaneswar. Manipuri is the classical dance of the Northeastern state of Manipur. Besides these, there are several semi-classical dances that contribute to the plethora of Indian dances.

In India, classical dance and music pervade all aspects of life and bring color, joy and gaiety to a number of festivals and ceremonies. In fact, dance and music in India are tied inextricably to festivity of any kind.




The existence of Kavuthuvams can be traced back to 17th Century AD.

Kavuthuvam means a hymn. It is usually sung in praise of deities like Nataraaja, Vinayaka etc.
Popular now as an invocatory piece, a Kavuthuvam can be performed in place of a Shabdam. 
Traditionally, Kavuthuvams were performed as a part of the daily rituals in temples on special occasions or during festivals. It is said that the devadasis performed Kavuthuvams as the deities were brought in processions.

There are many types or variations in Kavuthuvams. 

    a) Kavuthuvams specific to a temple like the Natesa Kavuthuvam on Nataraja of Chidambaram. Madurapuri Sokkar Kavuthuvam is dedicated to Madurai temple.
    b) Kavuthuvams on deities like Vinayaka, Subramanya etc, which do not have mention of any particular temple.
    c) Navasandhi Kavuthuvams on the Gods ruling the nine junctions or directions. The Navasandhi Kavuthuvams were performed in the different sandhis in the temple. This was performed to propitiate the devadas or the deities of different sandhis.
    Brahma (Center)
    Left: chatura
    Right: hamsasya
    Indra (East) 
    tripataka both hands, crossed at wrists
    Agni (Southeast)
    Left: langula / kangula
    Right: tripataka
    Yama (South) 
    Left: pasha (almost like tamrachuda hasta facing the ceiling)
    Right: suchi
    Nirruthi (Southwest)
    Left: khatva
    Right: shakata
    Varuna (West)
    Left: shikhara
    Right: pataka
    Vaayu (Northwest)
    Left: ardhapataka
    Right: arala
    Kubera (North)
    Left: alapadma
    Right: mushti
    Ehsaana (Northeast)
    Left: simhamukha
    Right: tripataka
     In Bharatanatyam, Eshaana is depicted as Left: mushti, Right: tripataka crossed at wrists. 
    d) The Pancha Murthi Kavuthuvams were on Vinayaka, Muruga, Chandikeshwara, Sambandar and Nataraja.
    e) Kavuthuvams on nature like the Vanampadi Kauthuvam.
    f) Kavuthuvams that has mention of Nithya Sumangali or the Rudrakanika on devadasis.
    g) Kavuthuvams on Kings and noblemen. But these came into existence only after the Quartet.


It is not known how these Kavuthuvams were performed in the olden days. For the readers’ information, the structure of present day Kavuthuvam is: First the rhythmic syllables / sollus are recited and then sung. This is interspersed with lyrical passages that are first recited and then sung. It’s again ended with sollus or rhythmic syllables.

Kavuthuvams are not bound by any raga restrictions. Thus a dancer is free to tune them to any raga of his/her choice.

One doesn’t perform ‘sanchaaris’ in Kavuthuvams. The focus is on complicated footwork and variations in the movements. Kavuthuvams are performed according to the meaning with ‘thattimettu’ and concluded with ‘thattimettu.’

As an ancient component of classical dance, there are as many Kavuthuvams as there are temples and deities. Many of them are listed in Gangamuthu Pillai’s book. 

In a Kavuthuvam, the lyrical passages give the dancer some scope to explore poses and movement variations while the sollus keep the pace and tone of both the dancer and the audience like in Alaripu. Hence, a Kavuthuvam justifies its position as an invocatory piece in a Margam that’s not too long and not too short, but just of the right length and pace and crispy enough to keep the audience glued to their seats and look forward with curiosity and interest.

Navasandhi Kavuthuvams (with inputs by my friend Gokul): Navasandhi Nrithyam used to be performed ages ago in the temples during the annual festivals, as a fervent and dedicated salutation to the presiding deities, enjoins that the deities ruling the different ‘Sandhis – directions’ (Brahma, Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirudhi, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera and Isaana) must be propitiated before the commencement of temple festivals for their successful conduct and completion. Those propitiatory nine-directional dances (centre, east, south-east, south, south-west, west, north-west, north, north-east) for the concerned deities are composed in rare ‘thalas,’ based on specific combinations and nritta hastas. Relevant jathis and sahityas seek the blessings of the respective deities. These poses and mudras are specific and are not in vogue in today’s dances. 

Dancer Narthaki’s one-hour-long ‘Navasandhi’ dances featured the especial attributes of the nine deities with the stipulated delineations. The word Kavuthuvam comprising letters KA-VU-THA are pertinent pointers to the three goddesses Saraswathi, Mahalakshmi and Parvathi, respectively. The ragas and talas chosen are, Madhyamavathi, tisra ekam: Gurjari, Misra Chaapu: Nattai, Chatusra Jampai: Desaadhi, Chatusra Ekam: Kuntalam, Roopakam: Varaali, Chatusra Ekam: Makuraraamagiri, Roopakam: Malavasri, Tisra Ekam and Malahari, Kanda Ekam which serve to propitiate the particular deity. Narthaki presented this traditional style of dance, philosophy and approach in a highly commendable manner. The related Svarasthanam, Thalam, Pann and Nritta techniques were offered by the danseuse in a manner that enabled the rasikas to appreciate the significance and importance of Navasandhi Kavuthuvam in proper perspective.


NOTE: This article is already published in



Bharatanatyam form of dance can be broadly classified under two categories – nritta and abhinaya. While the nritta forms the pure dance steps, abhinaya is where the dancer expresses and experiences the various feelings or bhavas. 

Javalis, Asthapathis, Padams, Slokas etc form such lyrical component dealing with various feelings. Priyadarshini Govind, while presenting in a DVD, puts it so wonderfully by saying, “All together, this represents the craving and the struggle of the mortal to reach out to the immortal and the finite to measure and merge with the infinite.” 

Talking especially about Javalis – this is a name given to a particular genre of poetry which is of more or less the same type and category of the padams. The Javalis too have a pallavi, anupallavi and charanam. While comparing these with the padams, javalis are faster in pace. It treats love in a lighthearted manner. The poetry and the music selected are catchy. As Padams, Javalis too are love songs. Mostly sung in the Nayaka, Nayaki and Sakhi bhavas. Javalis talk of love that is worldly and human. In the poetry one will find the character craving for the love of a person full of human and worldly desires and motives. While dealing with the human relationships, sometimes the Javalis contain contents of sensuous and erotic nature. This may be the reason why most young dancers, especially girls were not encouraged to learn and practice javalis. 

There is no more hidden meaning, subtle feelings or nuances other than what is being conveyed outwardly through a very lilting and lively poetry. Thus the language of the poetry is ordinary and colloquial. One will find most of the Javalis are composed in the Telugu language. Javalis are performed in the second half of a dance concert. 

Bhavas play an important role while performing Javalis, the more popular ones being that of jealousy, infidelity, and separation in love. It is very important to understand the kind of character one is talked about in the javali. One can note that while this understanding comes easy to the dancer, from the viewer’s point of view, it is easy to make out from the performance. This can be attributed to the simple lyrics in the composition.  

Javalis is one of those very few genres having compositions where the character is so explicitly chalked out or in other words, the character in the poetry has such clear cut feelings giving the performer specific dimensions. This leaves neither the performer nor the audience in any kind of confusion or any grounds to debate on. 

Some of the popular Javalis were composed in the 19th century. A few popular composers are listed below. 
1) Mahendravada Bapanna Sastri  
2) Vinjamuri Varadaraja Ayyangar  
3) Dharmapuri Subbarayar 
4) Patnam Subramanya Iyer 
5) Pattabhiramayya 
6) Swati Tirunal  
7) Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar 

Ragas used for Javalis are light. A few popular ragas used are: 
1) Kapi  
2) Khamas 
3) Behag 
4) Saindhavi 
5) Mayamalavagowla 

A few popular Javalis are: 
1) Itu Sahasamulu 
2) Idheney sakhi 
3) Adineepai  
4) Vanitaro e vanne  
5) Atthavaaru nannu piluva. 

The future of Bharatanatyam: A rasika’s view (from


A writer contemplating the future of Bharatanatyam less than a century ago would never have anticipated the revolution about to take place over the coming decades.  In the same way, it is quite certain that Bharatanatyam a century from now is going to look different from what we know today.

The following article is a compilation of some of my observations as a rasika, and not a dancer, of several trends that I see in the Bharatanatyam world.  My hope is that the comments and questions in the article will engender discussion and debate by those more knowledgeable than me in these matters.  In my view, Bharatanatyam does indeed have a strong future but is currently undergoing certain changes that could have a profound impact on the art form.  This article aims to discuss certain trends that I have observed over the past few years and attempts to raise some important questions for dancers and scholars in this field.