Metaphysics in Natya Dance

Language the hands speak

Naadi means river just like Nadi, and is extended to include other currents and courses, such as those of the bio-energy and the pulse. There are said to be seventy-two thousand naadis in the human organism. They are the pathways of Prana Sakti or life force. The human body is conceived of as a tree — the root is at the top of the head, and it ramifies downwards. The Sushumna channel is at the centre between the left and right channels or Naadis (Ida and Pingala). Ida belongs to the moon, the emotional and intuitive, the feminine aspect and Pingala to the sun, the logical, the masculine aspect.

In dance, while the left is active during Abhinaya, which is composed with insightful sensitivity to the plot of the play, the right is dynamic during Nritta which is composed with analytical and mathematical calculations as the spectacular element. In the state of a freeze, Nishanna, there is the merging of duality of Ida and Pingala energies into the Sushumna which is stable, observing and resting. Then the vibration restarts.

Mudras are sacred ritual gestures or hand positions. When used in dance they become an elaborate hand language called Hastas. They create an energy field with the ultimate goal of a higher state of consciousness. By harnessing the energies of the body, emotions and mind, one realises not the end in itself but a potent means to the ultimate goal of realising the true nature of reality.

Temple worship gestures have a definite structure and purpose and are generally practised in silence. Some of the priests have 16 gestures to denote the Vedic texts. The Mudras are especially subtle as they follow also a musical notation or sound — Sabda Nada and are coherent with Mantra, the magical formula.

The aesthetic Hastas in dance have a close connect with the ritualistic Mudrās. In dance and drama, which is for public consumption they are more elaborate, with better clarity and simultaneously have a lot of expressive use. The science and art of dancing have adapted only these worshipful and life invoking Mudrās, which have to be practised in privacy. The dance gestures, however, hold no secrecy and whatever healing potential they create is spontaneous in the dance execution.

In Bharatanatyam (which follows Abhinayadarpana for hand gestures besides Natya Sastra) and Kathakali and Mohiniyattom (which follow the Hastalakshanadeepika ), it is generally observed that the Hastas are held with more firmness while in Kathak and Manipuri, they are comparatively held soft. In general, during Nritta, they are held tight while in Abhinaya, they are offered fluidity for expression of the story. Bharata has nowhere forbidden new symbols and gestures for new ideas. There is ample room for the exhibition of Manodharma (aesthetic creativeness).

Hastas get added appeal when the hands in dance are painted. The decoration of the dancer symbolises the elements, sun, moon and planets with the designs and motifs. The bells on the feet suggest the bells in the temple sanctorum. The dancer literally performs the role of a priest, worshipping with hand gestures and offering the self before the Lord. The Yantra here is the body-mind-spirit called Kumbha and refers to an overflowing pot or a body filled with devotion and knowledge. So, the nectar of the Kumbha manifests in the dance form, meaning it liberates us while we are still living.

The author is a Bharatanatyam exponent and researcher


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Printable version | Apr 25, 2022 12:28:21 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/language-the-hands-speak/article24460930.ece