Gati in Theory and Practice

by Dr. Sujatha Mohan | 2015 | 88,445 words

This page relates ‘Introduction to the Natyashastra’ of the study on the Theory and Practice of Gati (“gait”) which refers to the “movement of a character on the stage”, commonly employed (as a Sanskrit technical term) in ancient Indian Theatrics and the Dramatic arts, also known as Natya-shastra. This thesis explores the history and evolution of Gati and also investigates how the various Gatis are employed in regional performance traditions.

Introduction to the Nāṭyaśāstra

Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra is the earliest extant literature on the subjects like dance, dramatics, poetics, music and other art forms. The art of painting, sculpture and architecture has followed the aspects such as head, eye, hand movements and the stances, cāris and karaṇas prescribed in the Nāṭyaśāstra.

Bharata meant this as a holistic art in theory and practice. Abhinava says nāṭya is the art of naṭas and the technical details regarding the art is the work called Nāṭyaśāstra.

nāṭyasya naṭavṛttasya śāstraṃ śāsanopāyaṃ granthaṃ pravakṣyāmīti ||.[1]

Bharata, in this work consolidates and codifies various traditions in dance, music, mime and drama. He gives all conceivable details of nāṭya, such as body language, choreography, direction, production, auditorium, make-up, costumes, language, voice culture, styles, norms, songs, orchestra, instruments, success, etc. He is the first author to deal with theory of aesthetics. He analyses various sentiments and their portrayal through the permanent state of mind, the determinants and consequences. He gives minute and intricate details regarding the various laws governing a proper and aesthetically pleasing dance performance.

The Nāṭyaśāstra is considered as the sacred text of the actors and dancers. This text has influenced the dramatists, poets, painters, sculptors and many more. This can be understood from the whole lot of kāvyas written during the classical period in various languages, the paintings and sculptures seen all over India and even Far East and South East Asia.

The text of the Nāṭyaśāstra has different recentions from different manuscripts available and there are some minor differences in the number of chapters and the verses. It is in the form of ārya and anuṣṭubh verses and prose lines. Bharata has given some important aspects in a sūtra and kārika format. This work elaborates the theoretical and the practical aspects of nāṭya.

Nāṭya emulates the action of all the seven continents.

saptadvīpānukaraṇaṃ nāṭyametadbhaviṣyati ||[2]

There are two works named Dvādaśasāhasrī containing 12000 verses and Saṭsāhasrī containing 6000 verses is pointed out by Śāradātanaya.[3] There are some references about Vṛddhabharata by M.Ramakrishna Kavi who says he has written 12000 verses.[4] Bharata is referred to as Saṭsahasrīkāra by Dhanika.

Works of Bharata and Ādibharata are quoted by Rāghavabhaṭṭa in his commentary on Abhijñānaśākuntalam where many of the verses of Ādibharata are not found in the present available text of the Nāṭyaśāstra. There must have been two different manuscripts says P.V.Kane.[5]

Many scholars such as Kohala, Mātṛgupta, Kīrtidhara, Udhbhaṭa, Rāhulaka, Bhaṭṭatoṭa, Bhaṭṭataṇḍu, Śaṅkuka, Lollata, Abhinavagupta and others, wrote commentaries for the Nāṭyaśāstra. Bharataṭīkā, written by an anonymous author, seems to be the earliest commentary on the Nāṭyaśāstra. According to Raghavan, Udbhata’s commentary is the first and it inaugurated an era of vigourous study of the the Nāṭyaśāstra. This period produced innumerable works and it closed with the time of Abhinavagupta, after which the śāstra began to flourish in Central and South India. “Udbhata wrote a commentary on Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra which started a series of commentaries on and expositions of the Nāṭyaśāstra by Kashmirian scholars—Lollaṭa, Śaṅkuka, Bhaṭṭanāyaka and Abhinavagupta, among them. These writings all demonstrate interest in the practical side of drama.

The commentary of Abhinavagupta is mine of information on the production of Sanskrit plays. Apart from his elucidations and his own views, he makes precious quotations from lost works on various questions of Sanskrit drama and production.”[6] The only available current commentary of the Nāṭyaśāstra is Abhinavagupta’s Abhinavabhāratī.

Abhinavagupta, a Kashmiri scholar who belonged to late 10th and early 11th century,[7] wrote a commentary called Abhinavabhārati on Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra. During his period, the art of dance must have developed and had a parallel style to that of Bharata’s time with the due recognition. Abhinava disagrees to the view that the Nāṭyaveda and the Nāṭyaśāstra are synonymns.[8] He says Nāṭyaveda is the eternal knowledge comprising the entire gamut of nāṭya or theatre and the record of this knowledge in the form of injunctions, aphorisms, and so on is Nāṭyaśāstra. Abhinavagupta explains in his extensive commentary to justify Bharata and make the reader understand. The evolution of nāṭya from Bharata’s period to Abhinavagupta’s period is also seen in this commentary.

Abhinavagupta quotes the verses of his predisisors like Kohala, Nārada, Nandi, Mataṅga, Dattila, Kīrtidhara, Udbhaṭa, Lollaṭa, Bhaṭṭatoṭa, Śaṅkuka, Rudraṭa, Utpaladeva and others whose works are not available today. Thus, Abhinavagupta elaborates and explains Bharata’s work and states the discussion of post Bharata writers and thus, gives a neat picture of nāṭya, which was prevalent during his period.

Footnotes and references:






Bhāvaprakāśa X, pp. 34-35.


Journal of Andhra Historical Society-M.Ramakrishna kavi, Vol.III.p.23.


History of Sanskrit Poetics. P.V.Kane. p.27.


Sanskrit Drama-Its Aesthetics and Production. p.60


History of Classical Sanskrit Literature-M.Krishnamachariar p.748


Lectures on the Natyasastra by Radha Vallabh Tripathi p.27.

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