Nritta in Ancient Treaties

The word "Nritta" comes from the root "Nata". Bharata, Saradatanaya and Kumbhakarna have defined Nritta as one which is composed ofKarana-s and Angahara-s. It has been also described as one of the components of Angika AbhinayaAnkuraShakha and Nritta. Abhinava Gupta regards Nritta as co-ordination of Hastaand paada kriya. What Abhinava Gupta means byHasta and Paada kriya is the upper half from the waist and lower half from the waist. 

Dhananjaya states that Nritta is talalayaashrit. Dhanik goes one step ahead and says that Nritta is devoid of Abhinaya. It is this definition that we follow today. Bharata had recognized the pure and the interpretative element in dance because when the muni-s question him that when Nritta doesn't show the meaning or is not interpretative then what is the purpose of Nritta? Bharata says that Nritta adds beauty and grace to the whole presentation.  

Nritta-Tandava and Lasya

Bharata hasn't made the distinction of tandava and lasya according to what males or females do. Bharata uses the word Lasya in context of Lasyanga-s which are fully interpretative. Where the heroine who is in love expresses her state of mind and emotions. But in the later treatises Lasyanga was linked to a female dancer and it was more related to the angika and nritta performed by a female dancer.  

In the Natyasastra the dance taught by Siva's disciple has been termed as Tandava. Abhinava Gupta states that "Tandavam iti sarvam nrittamucyate". Thus Abhinava Gupta means Tandava and Nritta are synonymous. He further divides them intoSukumara and Uddhata. He also states that Sukumara may have some Uddhataelement and Uddhata may have some Sukumara element. Abhinava Gupta has also laid out the seven stages for the development of Nritta. These are:

  1. Shuddha Nritta which embraces Karana and Angahara or which only usesgatraviksep
  2. One which interprets the meaning of the song.
  3. Nritta which involves following the music- vocal , instrumental and with percussion.
  4. Uddhat Nritta or only the virile element.
  5. Sukumara Nritta or the delicate element
  6. Uddhat misra or where the virile is the primary and the delicate is the secondary element. 
  7. Sukumar misra where the delicate is the primary element and the virile is the secondary element.

Saradatanaya states that Nritta is one which is executed by Karana-s andAngahara-s . He doesn't explicitly state that Tandava and Lasya are a part of Nritta. The Gita which contains Uddhata KaranaAngahara with the Arabhati vritti is "Tandava". No other treatise tries to include the vritti-s while explaining the elements of Nritta. He divides the Tandava into ChandaUcchanda andPrachanda. He defines Lasya as the Gita which contains lalit angahara in lalit laya infused with the Kaishiki vritti.  

Sarangdeva is very clear as to what Nritta is and what could be its divisions and it's types. He says Nritta is movements of various parts of the body which is not suggestive of any particular meaning. He divides this into two elements Tandavaand Lasya. He again makes a threefold division on the basis of its execution . 

  1. Vishama - This term embraces all the movements of the acrobats.
  2. Vikata - This includes cross dressing as well as imitating the behavior of opposite sex. 
  3. Laghu - It embraces the execution of Karana-s and Angahara-s

But it is Nandikeshvara who makes a compact and unique classification that covers all the aspects of Nritta present in our ancient treatises. He divides it into two -Tandava and Lasya and again further making a division of these into two -Margiand Deshi Nritta

Under the margi category of Lasya is Shuddha Lasya. Nandikeshvara doesn't define what is Shuddha Lasya and directly lays down the deshi types. 

The deshi type has been classified into five types. These look more like the popular forms prevalent in those times. 

  1. Perani - The dancer paints his whole body white, with hairs untied and wearing the dancing bells on his knees. It has been specifically stated that he should make delicate movements and therefore it has been included in the Lasya and not Tandava element. Perani has following steps for its performance.

    -- Gharghara - This is the performance relating to the sounding of the dancing bells. It involves the various types of stamping foot movements to sound the dancing bells. 
    -- Vishama Lakshana - This includes the performance of acrobatic movements. Sarangdeva has also termed as the movements of an acrobat as Vishama. 
    -- Bhavashraya Lakshana - Interpreting the song.
    -- Kavicar Laksana - Praising the Nayaka in the Geeta.
  2. Kundali - Gondali, again a deshi form has been called as Kundali. Where the Perani was performed by male dancer and Gondali is performed by a female dancer. Gondali seems to be a much refined form than Perani . In the beginning Dhruva, Salag and Sudaga prabandha-s are sung. Then the instruments are played , which is termed as Melapaka and the dancer then plays an instrument called Trivali. When the dancer doesn't sing or play instruments it has been termed as Mukagondali.

    Where Perani and Gondali mostly performed as solo, there were group presentations also which have been recorded. Prenkhani and Dandalasya are examples of folk forms.
  3. Prenkhani - It includes Karan-s, Bhramari-s, Cari-s and such virile steps in a circular form. They walk on ropes, play with knifes and various arms. People of Kollatika tribe perform this Nritta. But it is Nandikeshvara who makes a compact and unique classification that covers all the aspects of Nritta present in our ancient treatises. 
  4. Dandalasya - It is like the Raas played in Gujarat, where women in groups play with wooden sticks. 
  5. Kalashalasya - In Jayamangal tala the Kalas dance is performed which includes 'garudapluta Karana' and 'edakakridita cari' .

Nandikeshvara next talks about the Karana-s and Cari-s to be used in them . This is again a pointer to how the karana-s and Angahara-s, were adopted in the desi Nritta forms. Although some Karana-s mentioned don't seem to exist, example - In Prenkhani the Sankh and the Samotsarita mandala Cari should be used. In Gondali Narayan karan and Mattali Cari is to be used.  

It is the Tandava chapter which Nandikeshvara talks about gives a great deal of information on how Karana-s and Angahara-s were adopted and set in tala on syllables. In Bharata's Natyasastra we only find a mention about Angahara-s set according to tryasra and Caturasra tala.  

The Tandava element is divided into:

  • Margi 
  • Deshi 

The Margi consists of seven types of Bhraman-s. Each Bhramana consists of Gati-sKarana-schari-s. For each gati he has prescribed a separate tala, but no talahas been prescribed for the Karana-s or Cari-s. Each tala has been prescribed some specific sabda (bol-sor sollu)


The fourth Bhramana, Bhujanga Bhramana begins with Nagabandha hasta, thenAbhnaga taal has been mentioned on which various movements have to be executed. The abhnaga has it's own words "Tekitathongatha- Tadhikakukinakajhe" .Then comes the Sinhagati with it's own taal and sab and then ending with theSinhavikridita Karana

It is very difficult to derive any specific meaning. But one thing which we can definitely relate is, like today we follow the interplay of jati-s and tala-s in any Nritta item, this concept was already present and even extensive use of shollu-s (which has been called as Shabda Natya) was practiced. The desi Tandava is nothing but an offshoot of Margi but using desi Karana-s and chari-s and not those given in the Natyasastra.  

There could be another classification which could be made on the basis of the the treatise Nartana Nirnaya. 

  1. Anibandha Nritta 
  2. Nibandha Nritta

Anibandha is the nritta which is not bound by any rules of gati, tala, yati etc. 

Nibandha is bound by such rules.

Urupa - Dance consisting of specific yati, tala, laya, sthanaka, cari and hasta is said to be a urupa. Though we find no trace of Angahara-s in the Nartana Nirnaya, but keeping the same principle in mind urupa-s have been created. Here each urupa has it's own tala ,laya or yati

To cite an example: Suddhaneri - which consists of chatusra sthanaka, rasa tala, vilamba laya, rathacakra cari.  

There seems to have grown lot of stress on tala, laya, yati. Urupa-s are an open proof. There is even more complex tala notation which have been termed asKuvada-s. They seem to be small items of tala groups. It also specifies whether that Kuvada has to be performed in a group or a solo performance .  

Example: Nagabandha Kuvada - Taking up four tala-s with equal number ofmatra-s, and having segments, each tala divisible into three equal segments terminating into laghu. But why is it called a Nagabandha? Because it involves three dancers who continuously exchange their mutual position in movement thus giving rise to a serpentine pattern. 

Lasyanga as Nritta

In the treatises Sangeetratnakara, Nrityadhyay etc., there is a list of Lasyanga-swhich are desi. They list certain points that are like characteristics of the Nritta we follow today. 

  • Laya : When interplay of laya-s with one main laya. 
  • Langhit : When the dancer dances off beat to the percussion instrument. 
  • Anganang : Unity of virile and delicate movement.

Nritta as of today

Today also in all the classical dance find the elements of Tandava and Lasya. This particular concept has been there in vogue. What Anhinava Gupta or Bharata called "Sukumara" eventually was termed as Lasya in the later treatises. It is because of this that Perani although performed my a male dancer is categorized under Lasya because he performs sukumar and not a Uddhata Nritta. 

We have found that the stress on tala considerably increased , this is very much evident in the various tala-s mentioned in Bharataarnava. The concept of mixing various tala-s orlaya-s and yati-s set on sollu - or bol-s seems to be consistently present. Thus the seed of the present form of Nritta was already sowed as is evident from these later treatises. 


More by :  Parimal Phadke

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