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Education in spiritual values through Bharatanatyam: Part VI
Bharatanatyam and Yoga

- Chandra Anand

March 17, 2015

Indian classical dance has been equated to yoga. The practice of Indian classical dances and other classical arts is said to be akin to meditation. The spiritual, mental and physical discipline required for complete harmony of mind and body is found in yoga philosophy. "Yoga is adeptness or efficiency in any activity undertaken by the individual: this is the karmasu kausalam of the Bhagavad Gita. Yoga is the power of withdrawal of mental energy from all activity not directed towards the single end in view; it is also perspicacity of vision which enables one to see the underlying unity of everything".[1]

Similarity in Yoga and Indian classical dance
During meditation, one concentrates on the chakras particularly agnya chakra. The common factor in the practice of yoga and Bharatanatyam, is the fact that both need to concentrate on the chakras (the psycho-physical centers) of the body. The chakras together form "the thought body of the trans-migratory soul."[2] The chakras lie on the central line of the body that demarcates the left and the right parts of the body (bilateral symmetry).

"The nritta technique of Indian classical dance as discussed in the treatises or natyasastras has to be understood as the laws of human movement. It is generally accepted that Indian dancing has a sculpturesque quality, for its emphasis is on the pose, the stance. In the nritta technique we find that a series of poses, sculpturesque in quality and almost static in impression, are connected by movement in a given metrical cycle. Indian dancing seeks to depict the perfect point or the moment of balance along the brahmasutra (the vertical median), so much so that all movement emerges from the sama (the point of perfect balance, akin to the samabhanga of sculpture) and comes back to this. It is movement of the human form in direct relation to the pull of gravity that Indian dance conceives,"[3] which explains or indicates the character of Indian dance. ".....and all its movements can be analysed in terms of the relation of the different parts of the human body to the vertical median (the brahmasutra)."[4]

The brahmasutra is the vertical line or the imaginary line passing through the centre of the body. This vertical median represents the direction of the pull of gravity. It is the adherence to the gravitational pull that gives stability to the body. The araimandi stance encloses the body into an imaginary "cuboid"[5] and helps get a hold of the vertical line on which the chakras lie. The various movements of the angas, pratyangas and upangas move, turn or activate the chakras and the energies lying dormant in the chakras are released. The araimandi as the yantra or medium for perceiving pure consciousness is explained in detail by Mohiniattam Guru Mandakini Trivedi in her book The Yoga of Indian Dance.[6]

Various adavus, their relation to gravity and training
The tatta adavu is where one learns the first cadence of movement, of stamping the legs on the ground in an artistic manner while holding the araimandi. This adavu helps to realize the vertical median and maintain the body's relation with the gravitational pull of the earth.

The natta adavu helps in training the movement of limbs of the body in the araimandi position in relation to a fixed point on the ground. In this adavu, the students learn to move the hands and legs away from the body. Here they also learn to maintain the symmetry of the movements between the right side and left side of the body in relation to the vertical median. The hands are held in natyarambhe position where the hands are aligned with the shoulders away from the body, and also extended in front, away from the body. And the legs are extended to the side and front away from the body all the while holding the araimandi position which helps maintain body's relation with the gravitational pull of the earth.

The second set of natta adavu beginning with the cadence of kutta adavu and the periya adavu, both help cover area, with hands making geometrical movements in space and the legs moving on the ground. The cuboid moves along with the dancer. The araimandi is maintained and the vertical median is held firmer for stability. The hands make circular movements giving impression of a sphere around the cuboid. Thus the vertical median also acts as the diameter of the circle. Thus geometric precision is observed.

Then the tandudal adavu helps cover space in air with jumps. The body is still held in the araimandi stance and held more firmly. When landing, the body maintains the araimandi stance and is all the while conscious of the need to keep in touch with the ground or gravitational pull of the earth.

The mandi adavu covers space on ground in accord with the gravitational pull of the earth. In mandi adavu the legs are extended from the muzhumandi which brings the vertical median even closer to the ground. The vertical median gets more stability because it is closer to the ground. Also the full length of the legs is used to cover space.

In shikarahasta adavu the complexity rises. Here the student is taught to turn around and back all the while changing position from araimandi to muzhumandi and vice versa. The concentration on the central line increases. The dancer not only turns around, but also sits up and sits down as in araimandi and muzhumandi. It is as if the brahmasutra is turned to and fro like a churner. The stronger movements of the adavu give more power to the chakras to turn and coiled energies are released.

In murukku adavu again the dexterity of concentrating on the central line increases. One has to learn to remember the alignment of the chakras when the body is in a twisted position.

In pakka adavu the cuboid moves in all directions changing its positions in space. The coordinates of the vertical median alters in space with every movement. Again the control of the body and the position of limbs of the body in relation with the central line have to be checked. To do this there must be utmost control of the limbs.

By the time the tataitaha adavu is learnt the stability of the body is improved. The araimandi stance is well practiced in this adavu. The jump on the toes, the mettu movement, where the body dips down towards the ground, increases the force of the adavu. The adavus in this group are done in fixed position and space too is covered in every way. The student is taught to use the sides of the body in this adavu. There are the side bends and twists. The body is held in the araimandi stance while bending down and stretching to the sides from the waist while striking the feet or pushing the torso away from the waist upwards while jumping on the foreparts of the feet. The hands accordingly move up and down on the sides and away from the body in a diagonal manner.

One only notices, as the complexity in the movements of the adavus increases one has to hold the body firmer and firmer. This also increases the concentration on the central line. The stronger the movements of the adavus, the chakras get more power or force to turn and energies are further released.

Thus we get ready for the next set of adavus.

The kudittamettu adavu is where one dances on forepart of the foot and heels. The whole body is moved in a very controlled manner. All the centres of the subtle body are concentrated upon while performing this adavu. The leg movements are in fixed position. The torso bends on the sides from the waist and is pushed back at the waist when hands go upwards and also twisted towards the back and front. The hands accord to the same. The hands are moved in all directions and the eye movements accord with the hands.

In sarukkal adavu, the cuboid position and the araimandi stance is put away. The adavu is done standing in full height i.e., in samapada. The student learns to move in a sliding manner in samapada position and hands accord with this movement. Thus this may seem like an easy adavu but the steps need more control of the limbs, as the sudden respite from the araimandi may create a disharmony in the movements of the limbs. But by this time the understanding of movements in relation to the vertical median and the gravitational pull is established.

From here all other adavus are easy since the limbs are trained very well. The other adavus like the second type of kutta adavu, visharu adavu, meykattu adavu, theermanam adavu, tatti mettu (panchajathi) adavu and many more varieties of natta adavu call for variations and increase in dexterity of the dance form.

Nritta and nritya: the tools of rasa-experience
At the mental and physical level, like yoga, dance trains the physique and the mind through nritta. The spiritual level is where once the mind and senses are controlled, equanimity of inner being is developed and performing nritya which interprets words through mime and gesticulation to express feelings and emotions and convey ideas is possible.

The technique of classical dance has two parts - nritta and nritya. The correct use of these important tools evokes rasa. Nritta constructs harmonious geometrical movements with different parts of the body creating aesthetic visual beauty, which helps control the limbs and senses. It aids to get in touch with the inner self or pure consciousness. Once we get in touch with the inner mind while performing nritta, our abhinaya becomes the outward manifestation of the inner mind. Thus the self expresses itself and ideas are revealed.

To be adept at any art, one has to learn with devotion, dedication, discipline, perseverance and hard work. The student learns from a guru. The guru instructs and nurtures the student in the art form. This nourishment finally becomes the base of the student's individual style. The artist performs forgetting oneself, becoming one with the art and the idea being presented. "The greatest tribute that a pupil can pay to a teacher is to do without him."[7]

Dance as meditation
For one to control all the indriyas, withdraw all worldly thoughts and be able to concentrate the mind on inner self and bhavas is the aim of both yoga and Bharatanatyam respectively. "To reach from dhyana to pratyahara state is necessary prerequisite to be able to meditate as well as to be able to express the inner feelings and thoughts of the mind."[8]

In Bharatanatyam, all the five sense preceptors - the indriyas - are used while exercising the limbs of the body during the execution of the adavus. The eyes see where the hands go (the mind goes thither). The ears hear the music to which the limbs sway. The dancer sings at her throat and so uses her faculty of speech. The hands are used to show gestures to interpret the words of the song. The body feels the movements and enjoys the feeling of delight (flavour) that permeates through her body while performing the movements in harmony with the music, so the faculty of touch is used. And while concentrating the mind on the central line of symmetry the breath is regulated for the chakras are also supposed to lie on the path of breath - "the prana (the ascent of air and the descent of air through mouth, nose, navel and heart)."[9] Thus all the senses and the mind are held in total control while dancing.

Rasa-experience and the teacher of dance
When a teacher has this knowledge it is easy for him to instruct the students to do their movements symmetrically. The body can attain perfection like the images of the temples where the sculptures are actually dance movements carved in stone. The sculptor knows through his techniques the distance the limbs should be from the vertical median in any pose and also what expression each stance portrays. Thus in an image or statue too the rasa-experience is active. "The underlying unity of dance and sculpture is being dependent on the law of proportion."[10] That is why a dance teacher actually moulds the body of the dancer. She is sculpting a live model with a mind of its own to perfection. Dance teaching is the art of perfecting a human being physically, mentally and helps experiencing and manifesting outwardly the emotions of the inner self. The underlying unity of all classical arts is to manifest the spiritual states of being and experience bliss of art (rasa-experience) which is akin to realizing God in oneself.

Notes to reference:
1) Kapila Vatsyayan, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977, chapter 1, pg 5
2) Sangitratnakara of Sarngadeva, Text and English Translation, Vol I, R.K. Shringy & Prem Lata Sharma, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 2007, chapter 1, section 2, pg 28.
3) Kapila Vatsyayan, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977, chapter 2, pg 27.
4) Ibid, chapter 4, pg 264.
5) Mandakini Trivedi, The Yoga of Indian Dance, Saraswati printers, Mumbai, pg 11.
6) Ibid, pgs 9-17. Also Padma Jayaraj's book review of 'Yoga of Indian Dance' by Mandakini Trivedi
7) K. K. Bhatia and J. N. Arora, Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981, chapter 4, pg 38.
8) Veena Londhe, notes on Yoga Philosophy, pg 17.
9) Sangitratnakara of Sarngadeva, Text and English Translation, Vol. I, R.K. Shringy & Prem Lata Sharma, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2007,chapter 2, pg 60.
10) Padam Subrahmanyam, Bharata's Art - Then and Now, Bhulabhai Memorial Institute Bombay, 1979, chapter 3, pg 53.

1) Sangitratnakara of Sarngadeva, Text and English translation, Vol. I, Shringy R.K & Sharma Premlata, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 2007.
2) Bhatia K.K. & Arora J.N., Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981
3) Subrahmanyam Padma, Bharata's Art - Then and Now, Bhulabhai Memorial Institute Bombay, 1979.
4) Trivedi Mandakini, The Yoga of Indian Dance, Saraswathi publishers, Mumbai, 2011.
5) Vatsyayan Kapila, Classical Indian Dance in literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977.
6) Londhe Veena, Notes on Hindu philosophy, class notes.
8) Jayaraj Padma, Book review of 'Yoga of Indian Dance' by Mandakini Trivedi

Chandra Anand is a Bharatanatyam artiste and teacher. A student of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir since 1972, she is presently training under Guru Lata Raman. Apart from MA in Eng Lit. from Bombay University (1990) and B Ed from Bombay University (1994), she has an MA in Classical Dance (Bharatanatyam) from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune (2014). This article is adapted from the dissertation titled "Education in Spiritual Values through Bharatanatyam" under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Malati Agneswaran.

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