This article is contributed by Mallika Jayanti. The source of the above article is: http://www.dhdi.free.fr/recherches/horizonsinterculturels/articles/bharatanatyamyoga.htm
Acrobatic Natya Karanas are very much a part of the traditional Bharatanatyam repertoire. 108 Natya Karanas have been described in the Natya Shastra. Natya Karanas are not only particular poses as is commonly believed, but also are cadences of movements. It is necessary for an understanding of the Karanas that the dancer masters the movements of the separate parts of the body like the neck, head, feet, thighs, waist and hands, and understands how geometric shapes can be created with the Angas (limbs), Evidence of Natya Karanas is very clear in studying sculptures and paintings in Gopuram walls, ceilings and courtyards of our ancient Dravidian temples, especially in Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur and Tiruvannamalai, where dancers are depicted in acrobatic stances. These stances are very similar to Yoga Asanas. On the Gopuram walls at Chidambaram there are many classical dance poses, which are also Yoga Asanas.
Tandava, the classical dance, takes its name from Tandu, the celestial attendant of Lord Shiva who instructed the sage Bharata in the use of the Angaharas and Karanas, the plastic modes of Tandava at Lord Shiva’s behest. A Karana is a unit of dance in which gesture, step and attitude are coordinated in a harmonious rhythmic movement. A sequence of six or more Karanas is called an Angahara. Anga refers to the body and Hara is a name of Lord Shiva, creator of the Tandava, comprising 32 Angaharas composed of 108 Karanas. The Nataraja temple of Chidambaram is sculpted with these 108 Karanas on the inner walls of the 4 gateways leading to the temple. These lovely sculptures vividly depict the Tandava dance form.
While Shiva performed the Tandava, several Karanas were linked together as a garland of dance poses with the help of Rechakas or pauses. These became the Angaharas, garlands of dance poses for lord Hara. Each combination of Angahara contains six, seven, eight or nine Karanas. There are thirty-two Angaharas, according to Bharata. Later, learned experts in the field of dance created several additional Angaharas in their own style. These were in different combinations of Karanas and subsequently were different from those of Bharata.
According to experts of dance therapy, each of these 108 positions corresponds to one of the different human emotions. Holding a posture enhances the emotion it corresponds to. The length of time that the posture needs to be held will depend on how quickly you wish your energy sphere to become contented. You will need to perform the two or three postures for the counteracting emotion to the one you suffer from for a maximum total of 30 minutes per week for one year in order to get cured, and become contented in this respect. In practicing the opposing Karana, only the body, leg and arm movements need to be considered – not the detailed head, hand and foot gestures. Also, one does not need to be concerned with the movement into or out of the posture; nor with the actual emotion being represented – the mind needs to remain calm.
The Karanas in the Brihadeshwara Temple are sculpted on the walls of an inaccessible room on top of the Sanctum Sanctorum, and consist of about 87, four-armed, large figures of Shiva in Karana poses, with one pair of hands holding various weapons. There are other stray Karana figures, scattered all over Southern India in other temples. Strictly speaking, the Karana is an entire dance movement whereas the Karana-Sculpture is just one static pose taken from these. The beautiful bracket and wall figures of the Chennakesava temple at Belur, and the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid depict dancers in a variety of poses that can be easily identified with the Caris, the Sthanakas and the Karanas described in the Natya Shastra. After a deep study of the sculptures at Chidambaram, scholars have classified Karanas into nine types. According to Sarangadeva in the Sangita Ratnakar, a beautiful classical pose, formed by changing the hands and legs in dance, conditioned by the mood or flavour, is known as a Karana. Bharata, in the Natya Shastra, merely defines a Karana as a combined movement of the feet and the hands that, though momentarily static, is a dynamic series of movements, which culminates in a specific pose. By themselves, the Karanas are beautiful aspects of dance, believed to have originated with Lord Nataraja’s Tandava. Pundits like Somanathkavi, Abhinavgupta and Sarangadeva suggested their use along with Bhava so as to expand their utility into the realm of Abhinaya. Over the years, Gurus interpreted Karanas with expressions in the Bhagavata Mela Natakam style, thereby incorporating these Karanas into Javalis and Padams.
The Natya Karanas give us a static element to offset the dynamic movements of the dance. This is important, for a pause is as important as a movement in classical dance. Natya Karanas have not found prominence in the modern repertoire and one of the major reasons may be the physical inability of modern dancers to perform them. Most dancers today are overweight and inflexible due to the effects of modern lifestyle and diet. Unless a person has tremendous dedication and determination it will be very difficult to be able to perform most of the acrobatic Natya Karanas. We often see dancers struggle to stand even on one leg in a feeble attempt to recreate the masterly Karanas.
Under the dynamic leadership of Kalaimamani Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, Yoganjali Natyalayam, Pondicherry’s premier institute of Yoga, Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music has tried to restore the acrobatic Karanas to the Bharat Natyam repertoire. According to Yogacharya Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, Chairman Yoganjali Natyalayam, acrobatic Natya Karanas are very much a part of the traditional Bharat Natyam repertoire, but have been practically lost in today’s performances. He says that evidence of their presence in this art form is very clear in studying bas relief, sculptures and paintings in Gopurams, walls, ceilings and courtyards of our ancient Dravidian temples, especially in Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur and Tiruvannamalai, where dancers are depicted in acrobatic stances. He also points out that these stances are very similar to Yoga Asanas, and in the Gopuram walls at Chidambaram, at least twenty different classical Yoga Asanas are depicted by the dancers, including Dhanurasana, Chakrasana, Vrikshasana, Natarajasana, Trivikramasana, Ananda Tandavasana, Padmasana, Siddhasana, Kaka Asana, Vrishchikasana and others. Yoganjali Natyalayam has as one of its aims the restoration of these acrobatic Karanas to the classical Bharatanatyam performance and this is possible only by combining sustained Yogic discipline with dance training from an early age. The sincere and regular practice of Yoga from early childhood helps to re-create the Karanas efficiently and many of the students of Yoganjali Natyalayam have become experts in the artistic presentation of these Karanas.