Click here for all links

Social media links

BharataNatyam: A Kala and its Biological Implications

by Ruchita Vasant Somane
M.A, Part II Dept. of Sanskrit, University of Mumbai

Feb 23, 2003

Every artistic endeavour of man is a symbol to communicate the deep feelings and emotions that are beyond ordinary speech. Thus, art is purely communication at the deepest and most lasting level.

Ksemaraja in his Sivasutra Vimarsini refers to kalavyapara. He says kalayati swaswarupaveshena tadtad vastu parichhinatti iti kalavyapara. The artist at the place of an object creates a manifestation of the form of his own soul. In the Kausitaki Brahmana, kala is defined as kam nama sukham lati iti kala. Kau. Br. 29.5, that which gives happiness - Ananda. Ananda, which is Brahman. Brahman is sat, cit and ananda.

The Upanisads state all things are created from ananda, they live in ananda and dissolve in ananda. The deity of dance Nataraja Siva is engaged in ananda tandava. The very word Siva represents the constant relation between matter and energy. The atoms that make up matter are in constant vibration literally performing ananda tandava - the cosmic dance of Siva. The dancer depicts this very unceasing rhythm of the universe through dance that lives at once in space and time. The artist and his work of art are one and the same thing. In dance rhythmic patterns of movements, the plastic sense of space, the vivid representation of the world seen and imagined are all created by the artist with his own body giving expression to his inner experience. The macrocosm is the cosmic world where balance, rhythm and harmony exist. The human body is nothing but the microcosmic being where rhythm is seen in the heartbeat, balance established through the nervous and skeletal system and harmony existing between the brain and the rest of the body. The jijivisa of the cells (desire to exist) represents the ananda tandava in the body. Bharata in his Natyasastra has attempted to achieve the realization of this rhythm in the cosmos through natya for which he took from the vedas various aspects - prose, music, abhinaya and rasa. Thus dance is considered as an all encompassing art.

na tat gyanam na tat shilpam na sa vidya na sa kala.
na sa yogo na tat karman natyesmin yanna drishyate.

The Sathapatha Brahmana refers to cosmic sacrifice where all activity is a sacrificial offering. In dance the dancer seeks oneness with the cosmos and for this she attempts to transcend from the realm of the physical body into that of the cosmos. This shedding of body consciousness only is sacrifice. The result of this sacrifice is the same as that of Yoga and Yagna as mentioned in the Visnudharmottara Purana.

nrttam gitam tatha vadyam dattva devaya visnave.
sarvakamasamruddhasya yagnyasya phalamasnute.

The Visnudharmottara Purana emphatically states that art is a means to fulfilling the aims of life, based on the four purusartha-s the ultimate aim being moksa (release), Moksa is Brahmananda or the sacchidanandamaya state. This moksa in the true sense is nothing but the acute awareness of the Absolute which is dormant in one's body and it is this human body that is taken as an ideal in Indian art. The dancer's Self integrated with the universal dance of the Cosmic Activity liberates her from the shackles of this earth.

BharataNatyam: origin and principles
BharataNatyam, is a classical dance form based on Bharata's Natyasastra which originated as a temple dance in Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. It was performed by devadasis as a part of the ritual worship as dasiattam. Over the years it traversed through the courts of kings in the form of sadirattam. Eventually taking the syllables from the words bhava, raga and tala it is said to have attained the name BharataNatyam. This style comprises both nrtta - pure dance and nrtya - abhinaya (interpretative dance).

nrttam talalayashrayam - movement of the body parts in accordance with tala and laya. Nrtta in Sangitaratnakara is

gatraviksepamatram tu sarvabhinayavarjitam.
angikoktaprakarena nrttam nrttavido viduhu.

Ideal nrtta is that which emanates beauty and joy at various levels of human understanding like physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. The level of nrtta is directly proportional to the level of the dancer's realization of her own inner personality and this is apart from her physical beauty and skill. Nrtta devoid of the inner experience of the dancer is like mere mechanical movements of a robot. Nrtta as described by Bharata is very simply the harmonious, physical movement of major and minor limbs conducted in a graceful manner creating patterns in space keeping rhythm with time. Thus, in nrtta the whole body is made the instrument to produce action. The solar plexus at the navel forms the centre from which all movements originate and are controlled by breath. By merely shifting of the centre i.e balance of the body, various bhangas are created - sama, abhanga, tribhanga and atibhanga. Along with earth based movements (bhoumi caris) aerial (akasiki caris) have been described which suggest that the dancer has scope to create the sense of weightlessness through her dance. The characteristic half seated or ardhamandali position of Bharatanatyam with knees bent outwards increases proximity with the ground thereby, enhancing connectivity with the earth. This position enhances balance as the centre of gravity of the individual moves closer to the ground while the hands may be held in a curvilinear form or chaturasra position. The overall result is an enhanced level of being centred, which keep the senses alert and the mind relaxed.

The vibrations generated by nrtta lead to correction of any energy imbalance in the body by acting upon the nervous flexes or chakras - a result of biochemical changes. The changes take place in the body because of the changes around and those in the mind are as stated in the Patanjala Yoga Darshan (jatyantaraparinamah prakrityapurat, Kaivalya pada, 4.2). The philosophy propounded by the Upanisads and other scriptures that body and mind are inseparable, serves as the source of the concept that dance may be used as a psychotherapeutic or healing tool. The body movement reflects inner emotional states and that changes in movement can lead to changes in the psychology and physiology of the person thus promoting health and growth. Dance therapy is a form of psychotherapy differentiated from traditional psychotherapy in that it utilizes psychomotor expression as its major mode of intervention.

The other aspect of classical dance is nrtya - that relates to sentiments (rasa) and psychological state (bhava).

rasabhavavyanjakadiyutam nrtyamitiryate

Both these (rasa and bhava) are conveyed through appropriate hand gestures and facial expressions depicting various ideas, themes, moods and sentiments.
Several hand gestures / mudras used in BharataNatyam are used in yoga as mudra healing described in the Patanjali's Yoga sutra. However, in dance they are held for too short a period to distinctly display a relief in medical symptoms. Yet, a brief mention of mudras common to dance, yoga and healing can be made. The mayura (known as prithvi mudra is used for equilibrium, removing vitamin deficiency), bhramara hasta (relief in allergic symptoms), shivalinga mudra, hamsasya, are some of the mudras used.
The use of mudras and facial expression is Abhinaya, meaning to lead.

The dancer while rendering a particular piece of sahitya brings forth the meaning of the words and there by the array of emotions associated with them. Through physical and emotional reactions she leads herself and the audience to experience rasa - vibhavanubhavasamyogad rasanishpatti. Through this relish they both experience great joy - rasananda referred to as Brahmanandasahodara. Through nrtya, pent up emotions, dormant fears and anxiety are released. Thus this interpretative aspect acts as a means of experiencing joy and mode of catharsis leading to internal healing.

The physical (nrtta) and the emotional activity (nrtya) in dance result in several changes at the internal psychological and biological level.
  • These include the production of a group of mood elevating bio-chemicals (neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, enkephalins) secreted by the limbic system in the brain, increased blood flow to the limbs and brain, relaxation of muscles, release of pent-up emotions etc. All of these leave the artist in a state of bliss and rejuvenation, completely free from stress. A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.
  • Psychological factors and stress are known to affect the immunity of a person. The production of mood-elevating biochemicals, relieve stress and help in enhancing immunity.
Music in BharataNatyam:
BharataNatyam has as its base Carnatic music and accompaniment instruments like nattuvangam cymbals, mridangam, violin, flute, all of which generate music that is not only soothing but energizing too.

na nadena vina geetam na vadena vina swaram.
na nadena vina nrtyam tasmannadatmakam jagat.

The relation between dance and music are established physiologically. There is close relation between sound and sight. Music is the auditory field and dance the visual. The potential link between dance (kinetic rhythm) and music (auditory rhythm) heighten the emotional experience. Both presuppose the principle of harmony, balance and rhythm. The solo artist while performing various items of the margam reacts to the various elements of music like sollus (bol-s of dance), swara-s, sahitya, tala and laya. Our sastras speak of anahata nada as the cosmic sound of the Absolute. The anahata nada is closely related to ahata nada, which is the perceptible sound. Through the sensuous medium of sruti and swara of the raga one can reach closer to sensing the anahata nada and the Absolute can thus be comprehended. This has been stated in Sangitamakarand and Sangitaratnakara.
  • Music is known to reduce brain waves. Ordinary consciousness consists of beta waves that vibrate from 14 - 21Hz. Beta waves occur when we focus on daily activities of the world and when we experience negative emotions. Heightened awareness, joy and calm are characterized by alpha waves 8 - 13Hz. generated by music. Music thus has a relaxing effect. The concept of Music therapy in treating several physical and psychological ailments is well established. Vibrating sounds form patterns and create energy fields of resonance and movement in the surrounding space. We absorb these energies, and they subtly alter our breath, blood pressure, muscle tension, skin temperature, working of the autonomous system etc. A person who is thus relaxed is better able to discover and realize his creativity and natural energy flow.
Other Indian Classical Dance styles have similar fundamental principles and could be interpreted similarly however, the present study is restricted to BharataNatyam.

True art transcends all barriers of time, is indestructible and outlasts life, which is dynamic. The use of body movement, dance in particular functions as a cathartic and therapeutic tool. It provides individuals with a means to express themselves to communicate feelings to others and to commune with nature and becoming one with their own Self. Thus, the biology involved in the dance movement of the body in BharataNatyam is a unifying aspect of the physical, psychological and metaphysical, taking one closer to realization of the Absolute.

  1. Bharatiya Sanskrtikosh, Vol1, 3, 5, Edited Pandit Mahadevsastri Joshi, Bharatiya Sanskrtikosh Mandal, Pune.
  2. Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, Kapila Vatsyayan, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, 1968
  3. Dance Movement Therapy - A Healing Art, Fran J Levey, Viginia, 1988
  4. Integrated Healing Arts- A New Dimension and Revolution in Medicine, Jussawala. J.M., Bombay Popular Prakashan, 1993
  5. Mohinattam The Lyrical Dance, Kanak Rele, Mumbai, 1992
  6. Music and Bharatantyam, S. Bhagyalekshmy, Sundeep Prakashan, Delhi, 1991.
  7. PatanjalaYoga Darshan, K.K.Kolhatkar,Dhavale Prakashan, Mumbai, 1983
  8. Rgveda Samhita with the commentary of Syancrya, Vaidic Samsodhan Mandal, Pune, 1978
  9. Sacred Books of the East, Vol1, Max Mueller
  10. Some Aspects of the Vayu Purana, V.R.Ramachandra Dikshitar, University of Madras, 1933
  11. Sri Visnudharmottara Purana
  12. Taittariya Upanisad, Swami Gambhirananda, Calcutta, 1980
  13. Temples of India, Vol 1, Krishna Deva, Text Aryan Books, New Delhi
  14. The Tao of Physics, Fritz of Capra, London, 1983
  15. The Riddle of the Mozart Effect, Natural Health, Campbell.D, Jan-Feb 1998
Click here to download the article (.doc file) with the diacritical marks

Click here for all links
Articles | Home | About | Address Bank | News | Info Centre | Featured Columns