Click here for all links
Social media links

From Bharata's Natyamandapam to Kathak Proscenium
- Sunil Sunkara
Edited by Dr. Puru Dadheech

October 27, 2019

Abstract: This essay looks at the Purvaranga Vidhi described in chapter V of the Natyashastra, focusing on the components of the purvaranga that became a part of the Kathak parampara, keeping in mind the lecture series, 'Kathak in reference to Natyashastra' conducted by Dr. Puru Dadheech at Bharata College of Fine Arts & Culture, Mumbai and 'Kathak Shastra' conducted by him at the Kathak Darpan Cultural Centre, Mumbai.

The fifth chapter of the Natyashastra deals with the preliminaries of the play or Purvaranga Vidhanam. It is here that Bharata lays down broad parameters of consecrating space which would prepare actors, performers and the audience to be transported to the world of 'kalpana' (imagination) and simultaneously to the divine. Thus the preliminaries were believed to have a dual role of protecting and sustaining the world of imagination as well as heralding auspiciousness.

In the words of Kalidasa, a performance is a 'chaksus yagna' i.e. an offering of that which can be seen and imagined by the eye (mind). The Purvaranga Vidhi is thus akin to the setting up of the yagna kund and samagri. The parts of the purvaranga to be performed in due order with the playing of drums and stringed instruments as well as recitatives (paathya) are:

1. Pratyahaara - arranging of musical instruments. In Kathak tradition it is considered to be good practice for the dancer to arrange the instruments (pratiaharan i.e to bring) and then invite the musicians to join.

2. Avataarana - seating of the singers.

3. Aarambha - commencement of vocal exercises for singing, for example alaap sung by singers these days during the sound check.

4. Ashravaana - adjustment of musical instruments in accordance with the singer.

5. Vaaktrapani - playing of the different musical instruments.

6. Parighattana - tuning the strings of the tata (stringed) instruments.

7. Samghotana - rehearsing the different hand poses for indicating the time beat, for example as done by a symphony conductor today.

8. Margasarita - all instruments playing together in harmony with one another.

9. Asarita - practicing the division of Kalaabhagas. For example, the various taals performed in Kathak are defined by their khand vibhaag which are delineated through the theka and lehera.

10. Madrak Geet - Song sung behind the curtain. Can be any vardhamana geet.

11. Utthapana - Raising the curtain and starting the benediction (Nandi Pathak) eg today commonly vakratunda mahakaya or other Ganesh stuti is sung as the curtain is being raised.

12. Parivartana - A pradakshina or walking-round of the stage where the deities of the different worlds are praised by the director.

13. Nandi - to invoke the blessings of gods, brahmins and kings (bhupal).

14. Shushkaavakrishta - Similar to the Dhruva geet, is sung in praise of the Jarjara. Bharatmuni mentions that this Dhruva should consist of nine long syllables first and then six short syllables followed by three long syllables. He gives an example - digle digle jhande jhande jam bu k ava li ta ka te jaa

15. Rangadvara - commencement of Vachik and Aangik Abhinaya.

16. Chari - Movements depicting the Shringar rasa - lasya

17. Mahachari - Movements depicting the Raudra rasa- uddhata tandav.

18. Trigata - the conversation between the director (sutradhara), assistant (pariparsvaka) and jester (vidushak).

19. Pralochana - An appeal with a view to success by the director on the chief aspects of the play.

The first 10 steps are done before the raising of the curtain and the remaining 9 post the curtain raising.

In relation to the Purvaranga, before looking at Kathak in the 19th CE and onwards, it is of interest to study dance in the medieval period. The founding stones of Kathak as we know today can effectively be traced to the medieval period. One such text is the Sangeet Darpanam by Chatura Damodara (15 CE). Here we see a condensation of the Purvaranga that Bharata describes for Natya into a shorter version that is meant for Nritya. Chatura Damodara describes the Mukhachaali, which is the opening dance performance in equivalence of the Purvaranga. Four significant features as described in the Sangeet Darpanam are Muhara, Ganesh Uccharan, Saushtava in Pushpanjali and Naandi, which are as discussed below.

Nibadhha and Anibaddha gaan i.e. set to metre or open ended like the alaap will be used to begin the Mukhachaali. This is a feature we see even today where many times the orchestration opens with alaap by the vocalist. This is followed by the 'Muhara' which is the harmonious playing of instruments. Also called the 'Melapak' or 'Gajara', it is akin to the playing of the Lehera or Nagma by the instrumentalists and the 'Theka' by the percussionists in the beginning of the performance.

Ganesh Uccharan
The word 'Ganesha' should be used in order to convey a sense of auspiciousness. There has to be the uccharan of the word 'Ganesh' in paathya format (the bandhish must be recited, not sung). This connects with the tradition in Kathak to present Ganesh Parans or Kavitts based on Ganesh. Though in the current format of Kathak, the Ganesh Paran could be presented at any point in the taalpaksh, Raja Sawai Pratap Singh (1778-1803), in his treatise on dance, Radha Govind Sangeet Saar describes that the dance was preceded by recitation of an invocation to Lord Ganesha. The Radha Govind Sangeet Saar is another significant treatise in understanding the evolution of Kathak and also establishes the continuity of the tradition of Ganesh Uccharan in Purvaranga from the time of Chatura Damodara in 15 CE to Sawai Pratap in the 18th CE. This tradition is again documented in the 19th CE text Pothy Prakash wherein the Awadh Kathik Parampara recitation of the Ganesh Kavitt is prescribed as the way to begin the Kathak recital. The Pothy Prakash mentions that this should only be recited and not danced upon. An example is a Kavitt written by Bindadin Maharaj.

Modaka Priyamuda Mangal Daata, Vidyavaridhi Buddhi Vidhata
Riddhi Siddhi Jaaki Charanan Cheri, Stuti Karat Sab Dev Teri
Binda Vidhiso Bol Banavat, Shri Ganapati Ko Dhyan Lagavat

Trans: The auspicious one who loves the sweet dumpling, who is the bestower of knowledge, the one who is always taken care of by Riddhi and Siddhi and praised by all the gods, Bindadin sets his mind to the thought of that Ganapati and seeks his blessings to create 'bols' (compositions for Kathak) that justify the tenets of 'vidhi' (unchangeable tradition).

Sangeet Darpanam then says that the dancer should take a suitable position behind the silk curtain, and stand gracefully with Saushtava, holding a handful of flowers for Pushpanjali. As the curtain is set aside, the dancer should go forth in a pleasing manner and offer flowers in the centre of the stage (where Lord Brahma is seated on the rangapitha). Saushtava is an important aspect and 'Khade rehne ka andaaz' or the way to stand was how traditional training in Kathak was begun. It is said that Pt Shambhu Maharaj in his auditions just asked the dancers to take a stance and within that he would gauge the ability of the dancer. This translates later into the aspect of coming into beautiful stances as performed in the 'Thaat'. Chatura Damodara describes Saushtava as the stance where the different parts of the body like waist, knees, elbows, shoulders and head are placed naturally or straight with upraised chest and still limbs. This ties in with the Kathak tradition of keeping the chest (vakhsa) upraised (ubhara hua) - 'vakshabhaag ko ubharake rakhna'.

Chatura Damodara then goes on to describe the dance that accompanies the offering of flowers. This is a tradition we see strongly in Bharatanatyam where an elaborate Pushpanjali is performed. We see these aspects not in the Purvaranga of Kathak but in the beginning of the Nritta presentation especially in the Thaat and Chaal that a dancer begins with. Gati is a significant part of Mukhachaali (mukhachaali tu anugatha gathim) and this is explored in Kathak through the body (ang upang pratyang) and in Thaat and Gat-chaal.

Chatura Damodara concludes the Purvaranga with the Naandi where the dancer now presents abhinaya. A beautiful Naandi is described where the blessings of Bhavani are sought.

Bhavata Bhutaye Bhuyaata Bhavani Bhava Vallabh
Angikruta Susangita Bhangi Mudita Maanasa

Trans: At the performance we seek the blessings of Bhavani, who is the wife of Bhava (Lord Shankar) for the welfare of all and pray for the acceptance of the melodious sound (susangita) and dance movements (bhangi) with a delightful mind.

Dr. Puru Dadheech in course of his research came across the shuddha parampara of Kathak described in the nrityadhyay of grantha written by Harivallabh (19 CE) found at Bhuja-Kutchh Maharaj's library. Harivallabh describes the Nandi kriya as:

Pehle nritya hi ashish kari taako naandi naam
Taapache nritya hi kare sundar gati abhiraam

Trans: The beginning is through the benediction called the naandi,
This is followed by beautiful dance filled with gatis.

Harivallabh then gives a Doha that follows the Naandi given by Chatura Damodara.

Sankar ki pyari Uma tumko sampatti deve
Angikruta sangit mein mudit hriday rache

Trans: May the beloved of Shankar, Uma, bestow her benevolence
May she accept this sweet music and beautiful dance that will please your heart.

In relation to this, the Katha vachaks of the 20th CE would begin their performance with the narration of a small kavitt that would venerate Parvati, Ganesh, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. For example:

Sada Bhavani Dahine Sanmukh Rahe Ganesh
Panch Dev Raksha Kare, Brahma Vishnu Mahesh

This combines the Ganesh Uccharan as well as Naandi with mention of Bhavani and Ganesh and also seeks the protection of the trinity.

In connection with Kathak, post the 19th CE, as described by Dr. Puru Dadheech, one comes across the term 'Ang Bhuham' or 'Antar Yavanika', which described kriyas to be done before the beginning of the performance. Ang Bhuham means the kriya to be done behind the pardah (curtain, bhuham). Thus in the 20th CE, the three primary vidhis that became part of Kathak proscenium are:

I. Yavanika / Jamanka - Curtain

II. Stuti - Beginning the performance with a vandana

III. Pushpanjali / Pohopajuri - Offering of flowers

In the absence of a curtain, like in the mehfil or darbar performance, the female performers of the 20th CE would enter with their head covered with the ghunghat. Within the ghunghat itself the dancer would take the name of her ista dev and offer imaginary flowers through hastamudra, before opening her ghunghat and commencing her Kathak performance. This tradition also trickled into Maharashtra's Lavani performers, which developed due to Kathak courtesans entering the army camps of the Marathas as documented by Asha Kasbekar.

Depiction of Bengali Ghunghat as described by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in his book 'Banni'
Pic: Karan Kishan Photography / Courtesy-SAPP, Mumbai

In the concluding chapter of the Natyashastra, the sages pose questions to Bharata regarding the Naandi and the ablution of the sutradhara with holy water. Bharata describes how the Naandi will equal to the exposition of the Vedic mantras. He compares the Naandi to a bath in the holy river or a thousand japas (Snana Japa Sahastrebhavya Shreshtame Geetavaaditam). The Mridang Sagar gives a pohopajuri that reveres Ganesh and Bhavani but also the holy waters (Ganga Jamuna) and the trinity.

Pohopajuri from Mridang Sagar

A popular vandana that made its way into post independence proscenium Kathak was the Vishnu vandana 'Shantakaram Bhujagashayanam' in reflection of the Vaishnavite bhakti that resonated with Kathak. Typically, first kathak tukda performed using the Natwari bols is the Rangmanch ka Tukda where the student first symbolically offers water, then flowers using padmakosha hasta and finally ends with an Anjali. This was the traditional beginning taught by Pt Shambhu Maharaj, often depicted by Dr. Vibha Dadheech in her lecture demonstrations. Thus the concept of the Pushpanjali was rooted into the taalpaksh of Kathak. In the court period, the same Rangmanch ka Tukda was replaced by the Salaami in veneration of the king.

Bharatmuni again describes Bahirgita within which is included Ashravaana. Nirgita according to the NS is an element of the preliminaries that deals with the utterances of meaningless words. Nirgita was performed as a ritual to sanctify the performance space, to pacify the demons and praise the gods. Recently, Parwati Dutta tried to recreate the ethos of the Nirgita in the purvarang through a collaboration of the 7 classical dance styles, where she focused on the usage of the dance syllables or bols. The abstract syllables mentioned by Bharata connect to padhant in Kathak. Though the formal presentation of padhant started in the Muslim courts, it has its roots in the Vedic tradition of 'paathan'. Nirgita is later mentioned in Sarangadeva's Sangeeta Ratnakara as one of the six melodic forms. Probably this form of ritualistic chanting and singing mentioned in the NS evolved over centuries to be identified as a separate form. Thus by studying our own intra forms and associated music, we can understand how the roots of the vandana, the trivet (singing and dancing of pakhawaj bols), the rangmanch toda lie within the Purvaranga of Bharata.

-Dadheech, Puru, 'Nritya Nibandh', Bindu Prakashan, 2009
-Ghosh MM, 'Natyashastra of Bharatmuni -Text, commentary of Abhinava Bharati by Abhinavaguptacharya and English Translation Vol I', New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2006
-Gupt, Bharat, 'Natyashastra Revisited', Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2016
-Kasbekar, Asha, 'Tamasha and Nautanki, Pop Culture India!', ABC-DIO, 2006
- Purecha, Sandhya, 'Sangita Darpanam of Chatur Damodara Nrityadhyaya', Shri Sarfoji Bhosale Research Centre, 2008

A chemical engineer who has pursued his doctorate in biofuel research, Sunil Sunkara holds a masters degree in Kathak from Bharata College of Fine Arts and Culture, Mumbai, and Nritya Nipun from Bhatkhande Sangit Vidyapith, Lucknow. He performs regularly as well as pursues research in Kathak apart from curating dance events and regularly writing on various facets of dance through both print and online medium.

I am pleased and happy to read this article. The author has written in a simple and lucid language explaining the details of Purvaranga.
- Supriya (March 30, 2020)

It is very nicely written and informative. Thank you.
- Priti Ghanekar (Oct 28, 2019)

Post your comments
Pl provide your name and email id along with your comment. All appropriate comments posted with name and email id in the blog will also be featured in the site.

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