Gati in Theory and Practice

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

This page relates ‘Relevance of Gati in Rupakas’ 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.

Rūpaka can be taken as a synonym of nāṭya. Nāṭya is called rūpa as it can be seen and it is rūpaka because the acting of actors is attributed to the states of the heroes such as Rāma.

rūpaṃ dṛśyatayocyate rūpakaṃ tatsamāropāt[1]

The word rūpaka is derived from the root ‘rūp’, meaning that which has a form. Bharata enumerates ten varieties of rūpakas, which are the major forms of drama.

They are:

  1. nāṭaka,
  2. prakaraṇa,
  3. aṅka,
  4. vyāyoga,
  5. bhāṇa,
  6. samavakāra,
  7. vīthi,
  8. prahasana,
  9. ḍima and
  10. īhāmṛga.[2]

In the rūpakas, all the four elements of abhinayas were given importance. Mainly vācika abhinaya formed the base for the āṅgika, āhārya and sāttvika abhinayas.

Without the dialogues nothing can be performed says Bharata.

tasmādvācaḥ paraṃ nāsti vāg hi sarvasya kāraṇam ||[3]

The involuntary actions, called sāttvika bhāvas, brought out the lokadharmi, the realistic mode. Vṛttis (styles) such as kaiśikī (graceful), bhāratī (verbal), ārabhaṭī (violent) and sāttvatī (grand) are the sources for all the dramas. Nāṭaka and prakaraṇa are evolved from all the vṛttis. The other eight varieties of rūpakas should be composed without the use of kaiśikī vṛtti. That means the graceful style, music and dance, will be omitted in the varieties. Even then, action of the body is to be performed, gait will be incorporated.

According to Bhoja, prabandhas are of two types, prekṣya and śravya. prekṣya can be represented through abhinaya.

That which cannot be represented through abhinaya is śravya.

prabandhaśceha dvividhaḥ | prekṣyaḥ śravyaśca |
tayorabhineyaḥ prekṣyaḥ | anabhineyaḥ śravyaḥ |

They are of 24 types, rūpakas and uparūpakas. Nāṭakas should have great qualities, prosperity, happiness, mixture of prose and poetry, and all alaṅkāras and lakṣaṇas, strong entry of acts.[4] He also adds the twelve rūpakas are vākyārtha abhinayāthmaka and the twelve uparūpakas are padārtha abhinayātmaka.

Dhanañjaya says, these ten rūpakas are rasāśraya.

daśadhaivarasāśrayaṃ |

He adds:

anyadbhāvāśrayaṃ nṛtyaṃ |[5]

Nṛtya, which is bhavāśraya, is different from nāṭya. It can also be taken, as the other varieties of drama that is uparūpakas such as nāṭika are bhavāśraya and nṛtya.

Rasa is the subject of nāṭakas says Dhanika.

nāṭakādi ca rasaviṣayaṃ |[6]

Abhinavagupta also says drama is the best literature form, as rasa realization is possible only through that.[7]

The two main varieties of dramas are nāṭaka and prakaraṇa that have evolved from all the vṛttis. The other eight do not involve kaiśikī vṛtti, which is predominant in music and dance. In nāṭaka, the story is taken from ancient epics about kings and divine persons while in prakaraṇa the theme is taken from current stories, describing the ordinary citizens. These two types represent the classical dramas in Sanskrit. They are very popular among the scholars and dramatists in Sanskrit. Other than these, some prahasanas and bhāṇas were popular.

Nāṭaka is a kind of play in which the plot is well known and the hero belongs to the type of Dhīrodātta. The story deals with a saintly king and there are divine characters too. So, there is scope for the performance of gait of these characters throughout the play. Gracefulness and other qualities should embellish it. As there are several acts and interludes, the entry and exit of the characters are to be performed properly as mentioned in the Nāṭyaśāstra. In an act, all the characters on the stage should exit before it ends. The story will be full of moods, sentiments and actions representing them. Nāṭaka should have adbhuta rasa in the last act. This gives more scope for nāṭyadharmī and unrealistic gaits such as flying in the sky or sudden appearance on the stage. The poet should compose a nāṭaka which is suitable for performance on stage, and capable of giving aesthetic pleasure.[8] There should be a main plot and to it a sub plot can be added. Like in Rāmāyana story, the main plot is that of Rāma and Sītā but the sub plot can be the story of Hanuman or Vāli.

Many of the qualities of the dramas such as vṛtti, guṇa, alaṅkāra, chandas or dhruva are based on the text and literature. However, Bharata has told vācika is the foundation for dramas, and if it has to be presented as a visual entertainment, the basic thing to be understood is the gati of the actors. The movement of the character is based on the subject matter.

Prakaraṇa is related to merchants and courtesans and has kaiśikī vṛtti. So, naturally nṛttagati can be depicted here, as the heroine is a courtesan she will be well versed in music and dance.[9]

In samavakāra the plot is related to gods, demons and their fights. War, flood, typhoon, and fire are seen in this type.[10] Many male characters engage in agitation. Thus, the cārīs and maṇḍalas can be performed.

Īhāmṛga type of dramas should have heroes as celestial beings and the theme will be fight, agitation, encounter or kidnapping.

There are fights because of celestial damsels.

divyapuruṣāśrayakṛto divyastrīkāraṇopagatayuddhaḥ |[11]

Here we can use divyacārīs, gatis, ākāśacārīs, and ākāśamaṇḍalas for fights. Karaṇas like lalāṭatilaka, which is used for the gait of vidyādharas can be performed here.

Ḍima involves more actions such as fighting, wrestling, attacking, and falling of meteors, thunder, illusion, excited movements of characters, who are rākṣasas, yakṣas, piśācas, sixteen heroes, and two vṛttis-sāttvatī and ārabhaṭī.[12] The two vṛttis, sāttvatī and ārabhaṭī, are connected with the concentration of the mind and the spectacular actions of the uddhata type of yuddha cārīs, which can be performed for the gait of the characters and maṇḍalas can be used for depicting fighting sequences. Fighting and wrestling can be performed with yuddha cārīs and niyuddha karaṇas, like pārśvakrāntam, pārśvajānu. Falling of meteors can be depicted by the vidyudbrānta karaṇa. Other than these many karaṇas like bhramaraka, vikṣipta, etc. used for uddhata gati as given by Abhinava can be performed in this type.

Vyāyoga should also have fights and combats and the yuddha cārīs, karaṇas like pārśvakrānta and maṇḍalas can be performed here.

Utsrṣṭikāṅka is the variety of drama, where characters should be mortals and karuṇa rasa will predominate as the incidents are after effects of calamities saṃgrāmabandhavadhayuktaṃsuch as wailings by women folk. Here the gati is in karuṇa rasa and bībhatsa rasa can be performed.[13]

Prahasana is a humorous play, where mixed varieties of characters, such as eunuchs, courtesans, ceṭa or viṭa, are performing. Thus, the gaits found in this drama will pertain to hāsya rasa.

Bhāṇa is a type of play where only one character is performing, questions and answers in the form of aerial speech and actions are through movements of the limbs. In this, many gaits are employed as the character moves around the stage all by himself.

Vīthi has one or two characters and should have all the rasas.[14]

Many verses describing the beauty of the nature, characters, their gaits, expressions and the like have been written by dramatists in simple and beautiful Sanskrit and Prakrit. All these can be enacted on stage only with a sound knowledge of nāṭya. Many works deal with the lakṣaṇa of nāṭya and saṅgīta, which are the main elements of dramas. This makes one to understand that these dramas were properly enacted during those days and the staging of dramas was one of the enjoyable entertainments at the time. If these dances like cārīs, karaṇas and gatis are properly understood and presented, the traditional nāṭya form of theatre can be revived. Though, many scholars opine that Kūḍiāṭṭam is still a surviving nāṭya form. However, Kūḍiāṭṭam concentrates more on vācika abhinaya and āṅgika abhinaya is restricted to just mukhaja and hasta abhinaya alone and does not bring in the gaits involving body and leg movements as given in the Nāṭyaśāstra.

Prayoga of these plays can be based on two types sukumāra (delicate) and āviddha (aggressive). nāṭaka, prakaraṇa, bhāṇa, vīthi and aṅka are termed as sukumāra, because the characters in this are mainly human beings. Ḍima, samavakāra, vyāyoga and īhāmṛga are included in the category of āviddha in which the characters are Gods, asuras, rākṣasas, and so on.[15] The sukumāra variety is based on kaiśikī vṛtti and āviddha on ārabhaṭī. Therefore, the presentation of gati should be subtle with grace in sukumāra, energetic, and vigorous in āviddha. The rūpakas are the dramas, which are to be elaborated with the help of the main sthāyī bhāva, which is enhanced through various other vibhāva, anubhāva and vyabhicāri bhāvas in order to obtain a particular rasa. Therefore, the whole theme will be of a particular rasa. In the nāṭaka and prakaraṇa the gait can be performed more gracefully along with songs and dance, as it has the kaiśikī vṛtti.[16]

Bharata states one should compose words with short vowels in sentiments such as vīra, raudra and adbhuta and long syllables in bībhatsa and karuṇa and also in vira and raudra to denote pride.[17] From this it can be understood that the usage of vowels also play an important role in the usage of gaits, which has to match the pace in vācika seen in the text.

The three layas or tempo such as druta -fast, madhya -middle and vilambita -slow are very important factors, which determine the gaits. Bharata relates these to the rasas, for karuṇa it is slow, for hāsya and śṛṅgāra it is middle and for vīra, raudra, adbhuta, bībhatsa and bhayānaka it should be fast.[18] The importance of pause is also to be noted. When in a performance of āṅgika abhinaya, in the case of gati, the actor should pause at times and then continue the gait, so that the audience can understand the representation.

Bharata says about vācika thus,

“One should always bestow effort in the matter of pause, since the meaning that is to be conveyed depends on it.”

virāmo arthānudarśako bhavati[19]

These daśarūpakas are embellished with svara, kalā, tāla, and laya.[20] These are important for the gatis that are to be practiced. As it was presented before the audience and thus gave a visual effect of the literary work it was called rūpaka. According to Bharata, who was the first to talk about the treatise on dramaturgy, they were called as rūpakas. The post-Bharata scholars introduced the varieties called the uparūpakas. Gati, the gait or movement was one of the important elements in the performances of these dramas.

Rūpakas of the Nāṭyaśāstra have now taken the forms of terukkūthu, bhāgavatamela, kūḍiāṭṭam, kathakali, yakṣagānam, gollabama kalāpam (Andhra), noṇḍināṭakam, āṅkianāt, and rāmlīlā, which belong to the folk and classical dramatic dance forms of India. The characters dressed in specific costumes, some dialogues spoken along with body movements, gaits and songs sung and danced which evoke the appropriate rasas are all seen in the art forms.

Footnotes and references:





Supra Chapter

























Ibid. XII.43.





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