The Art of Bharata is as vast as the sea and an attempt to measure its depth is futile.
The Indian (Bhaarata) dance tradition has a common scriptural code of
conduct delineated in the scriptural text known as the Naatya Saastra
(which is supposed to be the essence of the four Vedas or books of
knowledge). This is a mother book handed down from several
centuries and every existing dance tradition in the region of the Indian
subcontinent claims adherence to this text. While each region has
developed and retained some of the salient features of this total
theatrical art-form, complied in this mother text book, Bharatanaatyam
has a judicious combination of the salient features of the complete and
The purpose of Visual Art
The basic philosophy, significance and method of practice may vary from
country to country, region to region or even village to village.
But the overall need of a three dimensional concept and approach to
dance may be common to all. They are physical, mental and
spiritual. The body becomes the vehicle to communicate ideas,
ideals of physiology or philosophy. To achieve this goal,
Bharatanaatyam employed a three dimensional approach to educate the
illiterate, to enlighten the literate and entertain the
enlightened. These are also the three purposes of a visual medium
like dance - to educate, enlighten and entertain or give pleasure to the
The pure body exercise, physical exploration is known as the Nritta
(easily understood by commoners). Mental application for
communication, involving a high intellectual practice is known as Nritya
(for educated or literates) and spiritual upliftment through the
experience of enjoying the art of communication is known as Naatya (for
enlightened ones). Therefore body, mind and soul contribute to the
making of this art form a total theatre art integrating life and
The Sanskritam language term 'nritta' or 'nruta' generally refers to the
pure, abstract, body exercises and rhythmic movements. While
there are innumerable varieties of positions, postures and designs using
head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, body-torso, hip, toes,
heels, etc. (precisely the whole body kinetics), the ten 'mandala
sthaana' (body position and postures) are the basic frames on which the
rhythmic movements are built.
The main text talks about 108 Karanaas (exercises executed by a
combination of hand and feet movements), of which only a few are
employed to show movements, a few for static and specific poses, and the
rest to be applied in the martial arts, which is a form of art exercise
to build a good physique.
The exquisite dance carvings on the Indian monumental temples and
palaces are the testimony to the exuberance of beauty that can be
exhibited by the human body, the body thus becoming a vehicle of art
communication. The basic philosophy of cleansing the environment
or the temple surroundings before entering the sanctum sanctorum is
applied in the practice of these body exercises to enter the next level
of 'mental' involvement, 'the mind' being the sanctum and body being the
The sheer variety of body exercises, in mathematical permutations within
a complicated rhythmic cycle, are a unique feature in Bharatanaatyam
and an integral part of the identity of this style of classical dance
tradition preserved and developed in the southern part of India
(Bhaarata). Ample provision and scope for innovations within the
tradition gives Bharatanaatyam a direct link from the ancient times to
'Nritta' also means never-ending. The time cycle of rhythm in all
living beings generates the power of eternity. The same philosophy
is applied to dance too, thus making pure dance cycles ever creative
and enchanting to the minds of all living things, particularly human
minds. While there is no direct verbal communication between the
dancer and the onlooker, nritta gives joy to one and all and the
scripture too says so.
Nritya is probably the most unique aspect of the Indian dance technique
in general. In Bharatanaatyam especially, it is a very effective
communicative body language carried forward to this new age. It is
open to changes, innovations and development of any kind brought by
The mother text, Naatya Saastra, categorically encourages the
practitioners of this art to flow with the times and evolve new
techniques to accomodate the changes that occur in the historical course
of human civilization.
Technically, Nritya is the application of physical movement in
conjunction with the mind - a combination of mind, body and
rhythm. In place of verbal, vocal language, Bharata's art gives a
language of the body. Just like the written scripts of languages,
gestures of various kinds form the basic alphabets that are then woven
into words, and then into sentences. The fundamental single and
join-handed 'hastaas' (gestures) are 52 in number and the vocabulary or
usage of the 'mudras' (sign language) is like a dictionary.
Anything and everything can be shown and communicated through this
highly sophisticated gesture language developed and passed down the
To express the meaning of the words thus executed, the major and minor
limbs are used. The dancer's face becomes the mirror of the mind,
and the poetic ideas in songs that are explored by a Bharatanaatyam
dancer become visible to the audience through the facial expression or
mime and the effective use of body stance and movements. A
complete meditative involvement transforms the mind whose thoughts are
then articulated by the artiste, who communicates in this special
way. So, 'nritya' or the communicative aspect of Bharatanaatyam is
a very unique feature that stands out when compared with other dance
techniques from around the world.
The following verse from the scripture explains the unique place of
Bharatanaatyam when compared to other forms and the coordinated efforts
of the mind, body and soul.
Translation of the Samskritam verse:
"where the hand go, the eyes should follow;
where the eyes go, the mind should follow;
where the mind is employed, there expression is born;
and then the enjoyment of the art is carried to the audience"
This can be interpreted this way too:
"where the hands cannot reach, the eyes can,
where the eyes cannot reach, the mind can,
when the mind is involved in expressing sentiments,
enjoyment or taste is experienced by the onlookers".
Just as certain things cannot be verbally explained but can be
experienced only through practice, so also this aspect of the technique
can be understood only by practical demonstration.
According to Bharata's Naatya Saastra and its practical application, the
dramatic delineation leaves an imprint on the minds of people faster
than any other method. Therefore, according to the divine theory
of origin of dance, Naatya or dramatic presentations were created first
to attract undisciplined minds, while incorporating the 'nritta or
nritya' aspect of the art of dance. The combination of these three
aspects caters to the three different interest levels of human beings
whose minds are of the lower, middle and higher category.
Music, dance, poetry, painting, sculpture and all that goes hand in hand
with life, these are all evoked in Naatya, making it a comprehensive
idiom for communication, education and entertainment. The four
kinds of expressive communication, through the body, through costumes
and ornaments, through speech and through the creation of blissful
enjoyment, are expressed in Naatya.
So, Naatya can be interpreted as a comprehensive thematic drama of any
kind (historical, mythological, or of a social or political story) with
many characters, or a single dancer enacting different roles and
narrating the story.
Using the three-dimensional aspects of Nritta, Nritya and Naatya of
Bharatanaatyam, anything and everything can be created to entertain,
enlighten and educate the world.