The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

by M. A. Dorai Rangaswamy | 1958 | 410,072 words

This page describes “(d) technical terms used by arurar in relation to dance and music” from the part dealing with Nampi Arurar (Sundarar) and Mythology, viz. Puranic stories and philosophy. The 7th-century Thevaram (or Tevaram) contains devotional poems sung in praise of Shiva. These hymns form an important part of the Tamil tradition of Shaivism

Chapter 4.3 - (d) Technical terms used by Arurar in relation to Dance and Music


The Dancer is the name of Shiva and our poet refers to this name as “Natamati” in Tamil. The more popular name is ‘Kuttan’ and Arurar addresses the Lord as ‘Kutta and ‘Kuttan’ . He also calls Him “Niruttam cey kalan”. The poet uses the words ‘Atal’, ‘Attam’, ‘Attu’ ‘Natam’, ‘Nattam’ ‘Niruttam’ and ‘Kuttu’ for Dance. Atal and Attam signify motion and play—the conception of Illa. ‘Atal’ is also Dance: c.f. “Patinoratal of the ancient times. ‘Natam’ is from the root ‘Nat’, to act, dance or injure (Muyalakan?). ‘Nattam’ is the prakrit form of ‘Nrttam’, ‘Nrttam’ has a technical meaning. ‘Kuttu’ is derived by the Tamil Lexicon from ‘Kurdda’—‘to jump’ when there is the Tamilian and Dravidian root ‘Kuti’. ‘Kuttu’ is used as a technical term in Tamil from very ancient times and ‘Kurdda’ is never found in any of the technical terms of Sanskrit Natyasastras. Under these circumstances, one must be on the search for a purely Dravidian root. ‘Natakam’ is drama and is another technical term. ‘Kunittal’ is another root, to bend and to dance.


Some of the terms used by Arurar may be explained at this stage. “Indian acting or dancing” (the same word Natya covers both ideas) “is” as Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy writes in the Mirror of Gesture “a deliberate art. Nothing is left to chance; the actor no more yields to the impulse of the movement in gesture than in the spoken words....precisely as the text of the play remains the same whoever the actor may be.... so there is no reason why an accepted gesture language should be varied with a view to set off the actor’s personality. It is the action not the actor which is essential to dramatic art. Under these conditions, of course, there is no room for any amateur upon the stage. In fact, the amateur does not exist in Oriental art”. Readers of Cilappatikaram and Manimekalai will readily agree with this conclusion. In the Pallava period, the kings took interest in Natya and Mahendravarma Pallava is the author of Mattavilasa, a play. The sculptures and paintings of the age reveal to us the great popularity of dances and dance poses. The worshippers also danced and Campantar speaks of the path of the dance along with the path of song fo? attaining the Lord, Atal neri, and Patai neri

Bharata is the name of the Rsi considered to be the author of Natya Sastra. Vedanta Desikar in his Sankalpa Suryddaya explains the word Bharata as acrostic of the initial syllables of the words Bhava (idea), Raga (Tune) and Tala (Timing). We had referred to Arurar referring to Tiram, Icai, and Patai referring to the tune, music and song, and to Cati referring to the tala. As to the idea or Bhava, the poet speaks of Shiva as, ‘Our prince who performs the dance, inspired by the subject matter or bhava"—“Porulal varu nattam purinta Nampi”. Bhava is important. This is brought out by Puranic incident with the help of which Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy tries to reveal the interpretation of the dance. He translates thus in the work ‘Mirror of Gesture": “When....the Danavas (Titans) found that the drama depicted often their own defeat, they remonstrated with Bralima and this afforded occasion for an explanation of the true character and significance of dramatic art, not to flatter any party, but to represent the true and essential nature of the world. Brahma explains to the Danavas: "This play is not merely for your pleasure or the pleasure of the Devas (celestials) but exhibits mood or bhava for all the three worlds. I made this play as following the movement of the world, whether in work or play, profit, peace, laughter, battle, lust or slaughter; yielding the fruit of righteousness to those who follow the moral law, pleasure to those who follow lust, a restraint for the unruly, a discipline for the followers of a rule, creating vigour in the impotent, zeal in warriors, wisdom in the ignorant, learning in scholars, affording sport to kings, endurance to the sorrow-stricken, profit to those who seek advantage, courage to the broken willed: replete with the diverse moods, informed with the varying passions of the soul, linked to the deeds of all mankind, the best, the midaling and the low, affording, excellent counsel, pastime, weal and all else’”.

Bharata begins by narrating the enactment of the dramas of churning the ocean and the Tripura dahana in the presence of the Lord. This is important for realizing that individual poses are not significant, in themselves, except as part of the whole, representing an event or a story. In this view, we can understand the sculptures of the Kailasanatha temple and references in Tevaram which do not refer to any image in a particular posture but depict a particular dramatic scene. The significance of the Bhava of the divine dance must be much more important as may be presently seen. The way of expressing the bhava is through Abhinayas, which are any means of exposition or any means of evoking Rasa in the audience; these may be angika, i.e., the poses of the body, the face and movements, or vacika, i.e., the vocal expressions, or ahtirya, i.e., the costumes, ornaments and other adventitious appendages or suttvika i.e., the expression of mental states.


The importance of the Dance in Shaiva religion is great and some of the technical names are connected with Shaiva terms. The word Tandava itself is derived from Tandu, the name of Nandi, to whom Shiva gave this Art and who, therefore, became its author. Angahara, which consists of the varied dispositions of the body—placing the limbs in different suitable positions—is traced by Abhinavagupta to Hara or Shiva, as according to him these practices relate to Hara. Probably it is these suitable or harmonious dispositions of the body that were called ‘Ilayankal’ in Tevaram.

Karanam is a technical word found in Arurar’s poem and explained in the Natyasastra. A combination of the prescribed position (Sthanaka), the gait (Cari) and the hand pose (Nrtta hasta) constitutes a karana—each of these positions being called matrika or unit.

Yani sthanani yascaryo nrttahastastathaiva ca
Sa matrketi vijneya tadyagat karanam bhavet”.

A karana in dance is the coordination of the movements of hand and foot:

Hastapadasamayogo nrtyasya karanam bhavet”.

The caris and nrtta hastas referred to here constitute a prime unit (Matrka) and karanas are formed out of these:

Caryascaiva tu yah prokta nrttahastastathaiva ca
Sa matrketi vijneya tadbhedat karanani tu”.

A single unit (Matrika) of action consists of two karanas.

The angaharas arise out of the combination of either two, three or four of these units:

Dve nrttakarane caiva bhavato nrtta matrika
Dvabhyam tribhiscaturbhirvapi angaharastu matrbhih”

In a karana, the body as a whole is in one fixed position or Sthanaka; in an Angahara there is frequent change of sthanaka. When Arurar speaks of the Lord dancing frequently changing the sthanaka—“Peyarntatum peruman”—he is referring to Angahara. But the karanas and Angaharas are fundamental poses and they are as such abstractions in the enactment of particular themes; these appropriate poses follow in the proper sequence to present a concrete dramatic situation or situations. In that very verse the poet speaks of the Lord dancing, adorning Himself with the crescent and the Ganges—the dance is, therefore, to represent the theme of Candrasekara and Ganqadhara episodes.


Nrttam has a technical meaning as distinguished from abhinaya or gestaculatory action. Bharata says about this: “The Rsis asked Shiva: Gestaculatory action has been created for the understanding of the meaning. What is the purpose of Nrtta? It has no relation with the subject matter of the song; nor does it appear to be the representation of the meanings of words. Why then is Nrtta performed in singing and Asarita music? In reply, it was stated that Nrtta no doubt does not look to the meanings of the words (of the song) but it is practised because it is beautiful by itself. Usually Nrtta by its very nature, is pleasing to the whole world. It is highly esteemed as betokening auspiciousness in marriages and their attendant functions, and at the birth of sons. It is also practised as a source of merriment”.

Laya—ilayam—as harmony is also mentioned.

Shiva danced in several Angaharas in strict accordance with Laya and Tala. The musical instruments should be tuned with due observance of Laya. Arurar also speaks of ilayam and cati. “Kutiya ilayam cati pilaiyamaik kotiyitai yumaiyaval kana atiya alaka

Tandava is another word. Shiva created the Recakas, Angaharas and Pindi bandha and gave them away to Nandi—that is Tandavam. Thereafter, all dances accompanied by good music Came to be known as Tandava.

Kuttu or Natam means dance. It is of two varieties: the Cantikkuttu or the dance of peace and the Vinatakkuttu or the dance of fun. The first is the classic dance and the second is the folk dance. The first is said to be of four kinds—the cokkam or suddha nrtta, consisting of the 108 karanas described in the Natyasastra; the second is the meykkuttu—the dances of the Ceylon, Vaduku and other countries in which the body is in various poses, giving expression to Sdttvic, Rajasic and Tamasic characteristic features; the third is Avinayakkuttu—the song is explained through abhinayas but there is no continuous story and the fourth is Natakam which is the dance explaining a story, i.e., the drama. The commentators speak of Natya with Nrtta and Tandava, and state that abhinaya is the expression of ideas. Tandava is the name of the whole style of dance which is violent like the dance of Shiva; Nrtta is the 108 katanas, without abhinaya, a part of Tandava,


More particulars are given by Arurar about the modes of dances. Laya is the harmony of the song to the tune and the harmony of the dance to the basic time or tala—the harmony of the ‘Kottu attu-p patal’, i.e., of the Tala, Dance and Song.

The cati is the movement of the leg, keeping time by stamping on earth. It is probably an onomatopoetic word and why the Tamil Lexicon should trace it to jati, the pause in music, is not clear. But Sanskrit scholars admit that the word jati is today used in dance in the same sense as Arurar uses cati. The Lord in the presence of the Mother, it is said in one verse, performed the dance without ‘cati’ or the tala stamped with the leg going out of time. Or, it may mean that the Lord danced in the presence of the Mother without the established harmony ever ceasing to keep time with the tala of the leg movement. The poet speaks of the Lord dancing with His eight hands creating and maintaining the laya and harmony. The Dance with the eight hands has already been mentioned with reference to the fire dances.

Laya means also the modes of dances. One verse states: “This is the place where the Lord who is everlastingly fond of dancing productive of various poses resulting from the many leg movements and the ankle joint. It is possible to make out here the compound name “Tillai Ampalavanan”—‘He who resides and lives in the Hall of Dance at Tillai’—and then it will refer to His dance, in the company of Pey and wolf. The difficulty is only with the word ‘kutaka , qualifying the compound name ‘Tillai Ampalavanani (Khuttakah—ankle joint), probably referring to the bend of the kuncita poses. The reading probably is not correct. The Natya Sastra knows the word ‘kutapa and emphasizes the ‘kutapa vinydsa the arrangement of the orchestra playing in accompaniment to the dance. Bharata lays much emphasis on the correct position of the musical orchestra. The descriptions of the Dance of Shiva also give particulars about the musical instruments (kutapa).

With reference to the singing in accompaniment to ‘yal the ancient Tamilians called a particular mode of playing on the instrument Kurumpokku (short steps) which is said to be of two varieties:

  1. Tullal or quick or rhythmic leaping-like movement
  2. and Kutakam which may be said to be the opposite of Tullal.

Then we may interpret the Kutaka in ‘Kutakkat tilai’ dance, as a dance where there are no short quick steps or fast musical rhythms but calm slow and soft rhythms.

The Lord comes a-begging with the bull performing many ‘kar anas’ or modes of dances says a verse. In the sculptures of Kailasanatha Temple, we get glimpses of ‘Kutapa vinyasa . In Plate CXXIH, fig. 3, we have already noticed, Nandi playing upon ‘Kuta mulaKutamula nandican’ sings Appar. On the left side of Shiva’s leg is somebody with an instrument, which is not clear, whether it is a lute or a stick for beating the drum. In Plate CXVIII, figure 3, we referred to the Bhutas playing on the drum. In plate CIX, fig. 1, there is one in the act of beating an one-sided long drum. In plate XCVH, fig. 1, there is one in the act of playing on two drums. In fig. 2, therein, there is one sitting and playing on a drum all concentrated in such a play. On the left side of the leg there is one sitting with two sticks raised in the act of beating probably a drum.

Kuta is the sound and ‘kutapa is that which sustains and maintains this sound; that is, the musical instruments which are according to Pinkalantai and other Tamil Lexicons five in number:

  1. Narappukkaruvi or stringed instruments;
  2. Kancakkaruvi or the metallic instruments like cymbals;
  3. Tol karuvi, the instruments of hides and skins like the varieties of drums;
  4. Tulaikkaruvi, the hollow instruments like the flute, known as wind instruments in science
  5. and the mitarrukkaruvi, the instrument of the human throat.

The last is not recognized as an instrument outside the Tamil land and the Sanskrit terms for the first four are, ‘Tata’, ‘Ghana’ ‘Anaddha’ and ‘Susira’. The Natyasastra in speaking of Tandava refers to its accompaniment with Vardhamanaka (Tala). “Vardhamanaka is also called”, says Natyasastra, “because of the harmonious development of its kalas, and letters (the interval of tune calculated in terms of the duration of letters) and also because of the prosperity it produces for the dancer. O! best of Dvijasl the kutapa vinyasa has first to be performed as ordained by the rules and then the performers may proceed with Asarita practices. Thus making updhana (humming a tune before singing it aloud) to the accompaniment of stringed musical instruments, vocal music and Bhanda (a drum) the lady dancer has to make her entry. Where a song has to be represented in Abhinaya, there should be no accompaniment of instrumental music. Bhanda Vadya is ordained for the performance of Angaharas. Instrumental music, which is well harmonized, well timed, enjoyable, and attuned to the Nrtta should be used in Tandava by those skilled in the use of such instruments”. These remind us of Arurar’s emphasis on Laya, Cati, Patai, Icai and musical instruments. Kutapa vinyasa according to the commentary is to be in the following manner: There is the mrdanga; to its left is the panava; the singer is to the south of the platform himself facing north; to his north is the songstress herself facing south; Vina is to the left of her; next is the flute.

In Arankerrukkatai, we have the description of the Dance master, the master of music, the poet, the master of tannumai drum, the master of the flute, and the master of yal or the harp. The poet here refers to the kutapa vinyasa when he states “Kuyiluva makkal nerippata nirpa.” The lyre follows the flute and so does the song. T annum ai follows the lyre. Mula—kuta mula—follows the tannumai or mattalam; Amantirikai—itakkai— accompanies the tala; and the other instruments follow these like the shadow following the kite flying higher and higher. ®

But it must be noted that the word used is ‘kufaka’ and not ‘kutapa’. We must assume ‘t’ comes in for ‘t’. It is possible to take the kutaka as a corresponding reading to kuttaka, one of the ways, the sole is struck on the floor in dance. Or, is he referring to Perur, the western Tillai?

The drums are classified by Atiyarkkunallar on the basis of the authorities as

  1. Aka mula (The inner drum) like Callikai, Itakkai, Karatikai, Perikai, Patakam, Mattalam and Kutamula which are called the best ones;
  2. Akappura mula (the inner-outer drum) like Tannumai, Takkai, Takuniccam, etc., called the midaling;
  3. Pura mula (the outer drum) like Kanapparai, etc., called the last;
  4. Purappura mula (the outer-outer drum) like Neytarparai (funeral drum);
  5. Pannamai mula or the heroic drums like Muracu, Nicalam, Tutumai, and Timilai;
  6. the Nal mula or the day drum or the drum announcing the hours if we may use the word for clarification;
  7. the Kalai mula or the morning drum, that is the Tuti or Utukkai.

An explanation of some of these names is next given by this commentator: Mattalam is so called because ‘ma? is the sound; ‘talam’ is the basis of all musical instruments, hence this is the basis of all drums. Callikai is so called because it has the sound like ‘caV. Avanci, kutukkai and itakkai mean the same (kind of drum). It is called ‘Avanct’ because it is covered with the hides of the cow. The meaning of vancittol is not clear. Kutukkai refers to its form. It is called ‘itakkai’ because it is played upon with the left hand. ‘Karatikai’ is so called because it sounds like the noise raised by the bear. What is first played upon is the mattalam and, therefore, it is the first instrument. That which comes in the midale is the ‘calli’ which is the ‘itaikkaruvi’. ‘Utukkai’ comes in for the closing beat and hence it is called ‘kataikkaruvi’. The differentiation of these into the inner and the outer, the inner-outer and the outer-outer is probably based upon the possibility of tuning them, the inner is what is completely tuned and musical like the mrdanga or mattala; the outer-outer is what is completely non-musical and nothing but noisy like the funeral drum; the others come in between. Dr. Raghavan considers this as akam and puram.

The commentator enumerates all the drums:

Perikaiy patakam, itakkai, utukkai, mattalam, callikai, karatikai, timilai, kutamula, takkai, kanapparai, tamarukam, tannumai, tatari, antari, mulavu, cantiravalaiyam, montai, muracu, kanvitu tumpu, nicalam, tutumai, ciruparai, atakkam, takuniccam, viraleru, pflcam, upankam, nalikaipparai, tuti and perumparai.

He quotes a verse containing these names as his authority.

The names of some of these are as old as the Cankam age and occur in Malaipatukatam: Mulavu, akuli, pantil, (cymbal), kotu, kalirruyirttumpu, kuruntumpu, kulal, tattai, ellari and patalai. Naccinarkkiniyar explains these: ‘Akuli’ is ‘ciruparai’; ‘Kotu’ is the horn; “Kalirruyirttumpu” is the big ‘tumpu’ of the shape of the elephant’s trunk and sounding like its deep breath; ‘Tattai’ is 'karatikai’; ‘Ellari is ‘calli’; ‘Patalai’ is the ‘kinai’ beaten on one side. ‘Pili (line 5) is counted by Dr. Swaminatha Aiyar as a separate drum on the basis of Arurar Tevaram—‘Vilikkum Talaippili’.

Arurar’s reference to these musical instruments may be better understood in the light of kutapa vinyasa. “You dance standing and singing in accompaniment to the musical harmony of takkai, tannumai, talam (perhaps cymbal), vinai, takuniccam, kinai, callari, kokkarai, kuta mulavu”, so sings Arurar, emphasizing the harmony of the music and dance, in the best traditions of Natya art. Here, one finds names of drums, not mentioned in the list of Atiyarkkunallar. Kinai is the old Cankam drum, and is probably tatari. Callari is callikai. We have already referred to kotukotti coming in accompaniment to vinai. . In another place, Arurar speaks of Shiva enjoying probably as the Dancer’ the kokkarai, kotukotti and tattalakam, all of which sound intermittently and the tuntumi, and kutamula, which are beaten and to the tune of which the songs are sung. The tuning of multi, so as to harmonize with the song is referred to, as is made clear in Cilappatikaram. Tattalakam is not in the list above given. Pinkalantai speaks of ‘Tattala pancamam’ as a tune. Perhaps Tattalam is a drum of the marutam like ‘kinai’. ‘Kokkarai’ is explained by Tivakaram as conch. Tevaram speaks of kokkarai as keeping time—‘Talamali kokkarai’, Conch is described under Talavadyas in Sanskrit works. Multi is the basis and the Common name. Arurar speaks of ‘Paraiyar mulavam’— ‘the mulavam which is accompanied by all the drums or parai or the multi which is full of sound and of ‘mani multi’, the beautiful mula. The harmony of the drums and the flute to the sound of the song and the heroic anklet resounding in harmony is spoken of by Arurar Patam-pakkam is also mentioned as a musical instrument. Probably it is ‘odkam: c.f. Cilappatikaram commentary; c.f. Viraleru palcam. Patam is probably the hood-like mark made by the beating with the fingers, —“Paitta pampin tutti eypp-k-kai-k kaca-tirunta en kannakal tatari”. ‘Montai’ is an earthen vessel and a drum is made of it by covering it with a skin, very much like the modern ‘catti-p parai’. It is mentioned above in the list. The form of the word as found in Tevaram is ‘montai’. The musical instruments ‘Yal’, and ‘Vinai’ are also mentioned.

Gitam is another technical term used. Gitas are a class of songs. ‘A Gita comprehending all things has first to be performed in Abhinaya. The same thing has again to be represented in the dance’ says the Natya Sastra. But Arurar speaks of Vedagitam and this technical meaning may not apply to that term. Our poet how ever refers to vari. This is explained by the commentator. According to this definition, ‘Vari is something like our modern ‘cintu’. Various forms of vari occur in the ‘Kanal vari and ‘Vettuva vari of the Cilappatikaram. ‘Vari may be taken as ‘Varikkuttu’ mentioned in the commentary. Atiyarkkunallar refers to Palvarikkuttu which includes all kinds of folk dances of adults, chilaren, women and foreigners. To please the women or the Rsipatnis, the Lord may be taken to have performed these dances as well.

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