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If the World is Your Stage, Who Are You Performing For?

Prakarana Hastha - The fingers are stretched. Hands used to show such things are called Chinhe. Padarthateeke - Hands used to confirm the meanings of certain words. They are used for a variety of reasons such as to mime the meaning of the song, convey deeper feelings, bring out inherent qualities, invoke the myriad forms of the Divine as in Navagraha and Dashavathara Hasthas or in some cases they may be simple aesthetic ornamentation.

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Some have very limited meanings, and some are used as catch-alls for miming a variety of ideas. The Natya Shastra lists numerous Mudras along with their meanings. Many others have been developed in the time since, whose histories are harder to trace. In the cases where an idea is being conveyed, it is more important to communicate clearly with hand gestures - adapting them if necessary - than it is to perform them with rigid correctness.


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There are 28 Asamyutha Hasthas and 24 Samyutha Hasthas. Each Hastha has a defined usage called Viniyoga.

These Viniyogas are again Sanskrit Shlokas codified in the Natyashastra. Ashtavimshatihastha Naam Evam Naamaanivikramat. Different schools and styles of dance use different hand gestures and different terms for the same hand gestures. Most have a fairly similar set of terms that largely overlap with this list, but many may be different in the details. It is largely a case of individual style, and the important thing is to communicate the ideas clearly. Nritya is that manifestation of dancing that includes both Rasa aesthetic flavour and Bhava human emotions , as in the dance with Abhinaya, the art of expression.

There are nine major classical categories of emotions or Rasa, called Nava Rasas that are depicted in the Abhinaya of Bharatanatyam. These are Shringara erotic love , Haasya humour and laughter , Karuna compassion , Roudra anger , Veera heroism , Bhaya fearful terror , Bheebatsa disgust , Adbhuta wonder-awe and Shanta peacefulness.

The Nava Rasas are a major form of emotional catharsis and Natya dance helps cleanse the negative aspects of human emotions and sublimate them for higher emotions of Divine Bhakti. They are also a great means of psychological preventive therapy as most modern societies give little or no scope for expression of these emotions in the proper manner. The Nava Rasas also help youngsters to learn about these emotions in a positive manner.

They can then produce a balanced wholesome personality who embodies Sama Bhava or equal mindedness. According to one of the greatest exponents of Bharatanatyam , Balasaraswati "Bharatanatyam , in its highest moment, is the embodiment of music in its visual form. For more than thousand years, the Shastras have confirmed that an individual dedicated to dance must be equally dedicated to music and must receive thorough training in both the arts.

In the same way that we look for perfect blending of Raga and Tala and of Raga and Bhava in Abhinaya, so also it is essential that the Raga and the Sahitya be perfectly matched and in accordance with the necessities of expression in the dance. She also points out, "Shringara stands supreme in this range of emotions. No other emotion is capable of better reflecting the mystic union of the human with the Divine. I say this with great personal experience of dancing to many great devotional songs, which have had no element of Shringara in them.

Devotional songs are, of course, necessary. The flesh, which is considered to be an enemy of the spirit and the greatest obstacle to spiritual realization, has itself been made a vehicle of the Divine in the discipline of the dance. Shringara thus is an instrument for uniting the dancer with Divinity.

Since the dancer has universalized her experience, all that she goes through is also felt and experienced by the spectator". Natya Karanas are not only particular poses as is commonly believed, but also are cadences of movements. It is necessary for an understanding of the Karanas that the dancer masters the movements of the separate parts of the body like the neck, head, feet, thighs, waist and hands, and understands how geometric shapes can be created with the Angas limbs , Evidence of Natya Karanas is very clear in studying sculptures and paintings in Gopuram walls, ceilings and courtyards of our ancient Dravidian temples, especially in Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur and Tiruvannamalai, where dancers are depicted in acrobatic stances.

These stances are very similar to Yoga Asanas. On the Gopuram walls at Chidambaram there are many classical dance poses, which are also Yoga Asanas. Tandava, the classical dance, takes its name from Tandu, the celestial attendant of Lord Shiva who instructed the sage Bharata in the use of the Angaharas and Karanas, the plastic modes of Tandava at Lord Shiva's behest.

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A Karana is a unit of dance in which gesture, step and attitude are coordinated in a harmonious rhythmic movement. A sequence of six or more Karanas is called an Angahara. Anga refers to the body and Hara is a name of Lord Shiva, creator of the Tandava, comprising 32 Angaharas composed of Karanas. The Nataraja temple of Chidambaram is sculpted with these Karanas on the inner walls of the 4 gateways leading to the temple. These lovely sculptures vividly depict the Tandava dance form. While Shiva performed the Tandava, several Karanas were linked together as a garland of dance poses with the help of Rechakas or pauses.

These became the Angaharas, garlands of dance poses for lord Hara. Each combination of Angahara contains six, seven, eight or nine Karanas. There are thirty-two Angaharas, according to Bharata. Later, learned experts in the field of dance created several additional Angaharas in their own style.

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These were in different combinations of Karanas and subsequently were different from those of Bharata. According to experts of dance therapy, each of these positions corresponds to one of the different human emotions. Holding a posture enhances the emotion it corresponds to. The length of time that the posture needs to be held will depend on how quickly you wish your energy sphere to become contented. You will need to perform the two or three postures for the counteracting emotion to the one you suffer from for a maximum total of 30 minutes per week for one year in order to get cured, and become contented in this respect.

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In practicing the opposing Karana, only the body, leg and arm movements need to be considered - not the detailed head, hand and foot gestures. Also, one does not need to be concerned with the movement into or out of the posture; nor with the actual emotion being represented - the mind needs to remain calm. The Karanas in the Brihadeshwara Temple are sculpted on the walls of an inaccessible room on top of the Sanctum Sanctorum, and consist of about 87, four-armed, large figures of Shiva in Karana poses, with one pair of hands holding various weapons.

There are other stray Karana figures, scattered all over Southern India in other temples. Strictly speaking, the Karana is an entire dance movement whereas the Karana-Sculpture is just one static pose taken from these. The beautiful bracket and wall figures of the Chennakesava temple at Belur, and the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid depict dancers in a variety of poses that can be easily identified with the Caris, the Sthanakas and the Karanas described in the Natya Shastra. After a deep study of the sculptures at Chidambaram, scholars have classified Karanas into nine types.

According to Sarangadeva in the Sangita Ratnakar, a beautiful classical pose, formed by changing the hands and legs in dance, conditioned by the mood or flavour, is known as a Karana. Bharata, in the Natya Shastra, merely defines a Karana as a combined movement of the feet and the hands that, though momentarily static, is a dynamic series of movements, which culminates in a specific pose.

Pundits like Somanathkavi, Abhinavgupta and Sarangadeva suggested their use along with Bhava so as to expand their utility into the realm of Abhinaya. Over the years, Gurus interpreted Karanas with expressions in the Bhagavata Mela Natakam style, thereby incorporating these Karanas into Javalis and Padams.

The Natya Karanas give us a static element to offset the dynamic movements of the dance. This is important, for a pause is as important as a movement in classical dance.

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Natya Karanas have not found prominence in the modern repertoire and one of the major reasons may be the physical inability of modern dancers to perform them. Most dancers today are overweight and inflexible due to the effects of modern lifestyle and diet. Unless a person has tremendous dedication and determination it will be very difficult to be able to perform most of the acrobatic Natya Karanas. We often see dancers struggle to stand even on one leg in a feeble attempt to recreate the masterly Karanas. He says that evidence of their presence in this art form is very clear in studying bas relief, sculptures and paintings in Gopurams, walls, ceilings and courtyards of our ancient Dravidian temples, especially in Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur and Tiruvannamalai, where dancers are depicted in acrobatic stances.

He also points out that these stances are very similar to Yoga Asanas, and in the Gopuram walls at Chidambaram, at least twenty different classical Yoga Asanas are depicted by the dancers, including Dhanurasana, Chakrasana, Vrikshasana, Natarajasana, Trivikramasana, Ananda Tandavasana, Padmasana, Siddhasana, Kaka Asana, Vrishchikasana and others.


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The sincere and regular practice of Yoga from early childhood helps to re-create the Karanas efficiently and many of the students of Yoganjali Natyalayam have become experts in the artistic presentation of these Karanas. Some of these will be described in this section. This is an important quality required in both Yoga and Bharatanatyam. Yoga can be defined as discipline and one of the important aspects of Yoga is the emphasis on Tapas as discipline.


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Yoga also emphasizes that Abhyasa or dedicated and determined practice is vital for success. No dancer can ever expect to master this art without a similar approach of dedicated, determined, sincere and regular Riaz or Sadhana. Sadhana and Abhyasa are vital for success. Both arts stress the importance of Guru Bhakti and the role of Guru Krupa in achieving success in all endeavors. The Guru is held even higher than God and this is explained in the following way. A hypothetical question is asked as follows.

If God and Guru appear before you at the same time, to whom will you bow down first? The answer is that we will bow to the Guru first as he is the one who will show us God. Without the Guru we cannot recognize the Divine even if he is standing in front of us. The traditional method of learning in both of these arts was the Guru-Chela relationship that was often in the Gurukula pattern where the student lived with the Guru as a family member learning hours-a- day for many years before mastering the art.

This was a real trial by fire in many cases and only the true seeker would be able to pass such a test. Nowadays both these arts have become academic in nature and a lot has been lost in this transition from Gurukula to college method of imparting instruction. All great Bhakti Yogis of our ancient Indian history were deeply immersed in music and dance in their love for the divine. Similarly he also is believed to have given the benevolent Darshan of his Cosmic Dance for the great woman saint, Karaikal Ammaiyar.

The vibrations produced by the sounds of music and the use of the Bhija Mantras of Laya Yoga and Mantra Yoga has a similar effect in arousing latent and potent energies of our inner being. All matter is vibration and the differences are only due to the different speeds of vibration that result in differing degrees of freedom. The concept of unification of Jivatma and Paramatma and the longing of the Jivatma for this union finds common manifestation in both dance and Yoga.

Both aim to transcend the individualistic Ahamkara and evolve into the ultimate universality. The legendary pioneer Rukmini Devi, founder of Kalakshetra rightly observed that dance is a form of Yoga. We have no more temple dancing today, but we can bring the spirit of the temple to the stage. This will change our entire attitude towards this art and then our physical bodies will become transmuted and non-physical. Every performance becomes a means of not only making the dancer one with the higher Divine Self but the audience too.

Martha Graham, one of the greatest of modern dancers was able to transcend his individuality when he said, "I am interested only in the subtle being, the subtle body beneath the gross muscles.