Gati in Theory and Practice

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

This page relates ‘Gati performed in Purvaranga’ 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.

Pūrvaraṅga literally means the first action on stage. Pūrvaraṅga is performed at the beginning of the nāṭya, as a precautionary measure. By worshipping of the Gods, the impediments to drama are removed. Before the commencement of the drama, an elaborate series of preliminaries are to be performed. Though it looks elaborate, these are the essential actions, which the dramatists have to follow to bring out a flawless performance. The singers, instrumentalists and actors enter the stage and do some preparatory actions. The deities on the various quarters of the stage are invoked and the Jarjara, which is a weapon that helps in the proper move of the performance, is also worshipped by the sūtradhāra and others.

The actors represent portions of mātras, kālas and parivartas before the actual performance starts.

pādabhāgāḥ kalāścaiva parivartāstathaiva ca ||
yasmādraṅge prayujyante purvameva prayoktṛbhiḥ |[1]

“This performance of pūrvaraṅga rites, is concerned with the propitiation of all the deities and would please all of them. Further it would bring virtue, fame and longevity (to the performers).”

sarvadaivatapūjārhaṃ sarvadaivatapūjanam |
dharmyaṃ yaśasyamāyuîyaṃ pūrvaraṅgapravartanam ||[2]

Pūrvaraṅga is of two kinds antaryavanikā and bahiryavanikā. The actions, which are performed behind the curtain, is antaryavanikā and they are nine in number. These are some basic things like testing the orchestral voice and instruments and the singers warm up themselves to bring out a harmony between them and thus setting a perfect atmosphere in the minds of the audience.

Pratyāhāra is the arrangement of instruments; avataraṇa is the seating of the orchestra members; ārambha is the commencement of singing (testing the voice); āśrāvaṇā is the sounding (testing) of instruments; vaktrapāṇi is the sounding of wind instruments to distinguish the various vadyavṛttis; parighaṭṭana is sounding of string instruments; saṃghoṭana is sounding of the drum to distinguish the varieties of panis; margāsārita is the sounding of string and percussion together; āsarita is of three types namely jyeṣṭa, madhya and kaniṣṭa which is meant to distinguish the beat of time (kāla) and thus the tāla is set and practiced. Thus, in antaryavanikā the tāla is fixed and harmonized between the instrumentalists and the singers, which is very essential for the gati of the actors.

The actions, which are performed after removing the curtain it is bahiryavanikā and they are ten in number. They are propitiation of deities, entrance of Sūtradhāra and Pāripārśvakas, propitiation of Gods in all directions, reciting benedictory verse with meaningless syllables, performing cāri and mahācāri, the actions of the Sūtradhāra with Vidūṣaka and pāripārśvaka called trigata. Here the dancers enter and propitiate the deities. The Sūtradhāra and the pāripārśvakas enter and recite the nāndī. This elaborate process is beautified by gaits of the dancers and characters.

The nirgīta are songs without meaningful words, just svaras mainly instrumental, the sagītas are songs with meaningful words and the vardhamānaka are words and rhythms set in ascending order. Indirectly, this pleases the gods, daityas, dānavas, and other divine beings. These are in the forms of music utilized in the pūrvaraṅga, which gives ample scope to gatis as movements and gaits.

They are enumerated as: Gīta refers to songs like madraka, which are invocatory songs related to the acclamation of deities; Vardhamānaka is the progression in kāla and akṣara. Here, the dancers enter one by one and perform movements for the words and rhythm, which increase in the ascending order; Utthāpana denotes the entrance of the Sūtradhāra and pāripārśvakas (which denotes the plot utthāpanīdhruvā to be sung); Parivartana is the propitiation of Gods in all directions. This will be performed through gaits moving around the four directions on the stage; Suṣkāvakṛṣṭanāndī is a benedictory verse followed by meaningless syllables. Here the gods, brāhmiṃs and kings are praised along with some mnemonic syllables interspersed, for which abhinaya is performed with dance movements called karaṇas and aṅgahāras, as nṛtta is done for the meaningless words; Raṅgadvāra is when a stanza in praise of Viṣṇu is recited; Cāri is when the erotic sentiment is brought in through dancing the sukumāra prayoga of the karaṇas; Mahācāri is when raudra is delineated through uddhāta prayoga; Trigata is the action and conversation of the Sūtradhāra with Vidūṣaka and pāripārśvaka; Prarocana is where the theme is introduced to kindle the interest in the audience. Thus, in bahiryavanikā the performance of gati starts with the movements of the dancers, to which it is coordinated with the instrumentalists and singers.

When all the elements of pūrvaraṅga are performed without involving dance movements, then it is śuddha pūrvaraṅga. In Bahiryavanikā, there are some actions involving the Sūtradhāra and Pāripārśvakas, but they are just mere body movements to cover the stage. Here the characters can perform the gatis to move around the stage. These gatis can be based on the two tālas mentioned as in the Nāṭyaśāstra. They are caturaśra (with sixteen strokes) and tṛyaśra (with twelve strokes).

When the elements of bahiryavanikā are danced, it becomes citra pūrvaraṅga. Dancing girls should sprinkle flowers around the stage and perform the aṅgahāras (combination of karaṇas). Bharata says, the tāṇḍava dance with its piṇḍī, recaka, aṅgahāra and modes of svaras called nyāsa and apanyāsa should be employed in between each of the lines of nāndī. If this is done, the śuddha pūrvaraṅga becomes a citra (miśra) pūrvaraṅga. He also says, there should not be much of music and dance in the pūrvaraṅga and if it so the rest of the drama will not be enjoyable. The śuddha pūrvaraṅga is textual (educating) but the miśra or citra pūrvaraṅga is visual (entertaining).

The citra pūrvaraṅga starts with the entry of a dancer. The female dancer enters the stage performing the vaiśākha sthāna followed by the vaiśākharecita karaṇa. Then she should perform all the four recakas of pāda, kaṭī, hasta and kaṇṭha in her movements and continue with talapuṣpapuṭa karaṇa for sprinkling the stage with flowers. Then she should go around the stage bowing to the deities before she is to initiate the actual performance.[3]

This dance forms is part of the āsārita of the pūrvaraṅga. She can present the aṅgahāras, which consists of a variety of karaṇa movements for which the drums should be played. After this, the dancer will exit and the other dancers will enter one by one separately and perform the other three āsāritas similarly. Then they come together to form a piṇḍī. These piṇḍībandhas are group formations where movement and positions form an important part. After the formation of piṇḍī all the dancers exit the stage.

After this, which is known as the first parivartana, the second section starts with the entrance of the Sūtradhāra in madhyalaya. The Sūtradhāra and the two pāripārśvakas, on either side, should take the vaiṣṇava sthāna entering the stage, should move five steps ahead towards the center of the stage. The left foot should be kept in sūcī cārī while the right foot is held aloft at a distance of three palms and placed on the ground. This is to be done thrice. Offering of flowers should be made in the region called Brahma maṇḍala, the center of the stage. This second parivartana extends from the entrance of the Sūtradhāra, upto his acts of worship, and in order to provide enough time, the lines of the dhruva songs should be recited to the measure of madhyalaya, which will be in medium tempo.

In the third parivartana, the circumambulation of the Braḥma maṇḍala is to be performed, and after getting up, the right foot is lifted with that the heel of the left foot is touched. Then the left foot is put forward. Again lifting right foot to a side, the heel of the left foot is touched before the same (right foot) is stretched forward while stepping in front. The act of circumambulation is to be performed with this kind of gait. After the circumambulation in the third parivartana, the drutalaya starts. After moving towards the corner and planting the jarjara, he should set his left foot in the vedhacārī and step out with the right foot. He should walk five paces towards the vādyas (instruments). Here again the left foot is held back in vedha and the right foot is put forward on the ground. This fourth parivartana beginning with the holding of jarjara and ending with walking towards the instruments should be performed in the drutalaya. Generally, the number of movements of the hands and feet in it are sixteen (units of time measures). If the tāla is tṛyaśra, the time taken by the movements is only twelve units.

In the utthāpana, the parivartana is to be performed in the caturaśra tāla with madhyalaya, in which eight sannipātas are made. The dhruvā for parivartana is set in atijagati meter. Adopting the vārttika-mārga (the other two mārgas being citra and dakṣiṇa to make three modes of gait) to the accompaniment of instruments, he should worship the gods in their respective quarters moving about with graceful gait.[4]

Nāndī, the benedictory verse is an important element of a pūrvaraṅga. It is in a form of a prayer. Bharata says that the Sūtradhāra should recite the nāndī consisting of eight or twelve pādas (sentences) using medium pitch.The Sūtradhāra along with pāripārśvakas have a series of gaits that are to be done before reciting the nāndī. Thus, gati forms a main part of the pūrvaraṅga. It can be mere walk in the śuddha pūrvaraṅga or dance like in the citra pūrvaraṅga.

Thus, the pūrvaraṅga is to be performed with gaits and movements for the dhruvās sung in praise of gods by the Sūtradhāra with the pāripārśvakas holding the jarjara and bhṛṅgāra in their hands while doing the gatis. These are still in vogue in the regional forms such as purappāḍu of kathakali.[5]

Among the preliminary rites, the nāndī is considered very important. There is no mention about the elements of pūrvaraṅga in the commentaries of the dramas. Details about nāndī are explained, but generally, it is written by the dramatist as ‘Nāndyante Sūtradhāraḥ’. It conveys the Sūtradhāra’s entry after the nāndī is recited. There are many controversies regarding this statement. Though these preliminaries were properly done during Bharata’s time, later they were shortened due to various reasons.

Nāndī śloka, being more auspicious and religious, became the invocatory stanza in a dramatic work.

sanmārgālokanāya vyapanayatu sa vastāmasī vṛttimīśaḥ ||

“May Lord Śiva remove your state of darkness (ignorance) that you may behold the path of good”

Kālidāsa commences this drama with a nāndī śloka. This gives an insight to the nāṭya aspect to be dealt with in the drama proper. This means that the Lord Śiva is the one who leads us to mokṣa (salvation).

Here the word ‘sanmargālokanāya’ also indicates the mārga variety of nāṭya, which is seen in Mālavikā’s dance.

atra mārgo bhavennāṭyaṃ nāṭyavedoktalakṣaṇam ||[6]

Kāṭayavema in his commentary says,

Mārga is defined as the nāṭya that which is based on the Nāṭyaveda.”

The nāndī śloka of Abhijñāna Śakuntalā praises God Śiva and invokes his blessing and protection.

As Bharata says each line can be interspersed with nyāsa and apanyāsa svaras, nṛttakaraṇas which can bring out the vākyārtha abhinaya can be added for that. This verse can be performed with gaṅgāvataraṇa karaṇa for depicting the first creation, water, vichyavā cārī with tripatāka hasta for depicting fire, cakramaṇḍala karaṇa for revolving of the Sun and the Moon, ākāśa bhramarī for ether and jānu bhramarī for earth as gaits by the dancers.

In the nāndī śloka of the Ratnāvali, Pārvatī is described as offering flowers to Lord Śiva. She is standing on the tip of her toes.[7] Abhinava says talapuṣpapuṭa karaṇa can be performed for the śloka.[8]

Footnotes and references:


Ibid. V.6,7.


Ibid. V.56,57.


Ibid. IV. 274, 275.




Sanskrit Drama–Its Aesthetics and Production. V. Raghavan p.25.





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