Gati in Theory and Practice

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

This page relates ‘Dance movements found in sculptures’ 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.

Dance movements found in sculptures

Elements found in the Nāṭyaśāstra and post Bharata works related to dance were all given a visual effect in the temple sculptures. Many dance forms, which are prevailing today, can also be identified in those sculptures. They have depicted some of the movements of the cārīs described in the Nāṭyaśāstra.[1] The karaṇa movements were gracefully sculpted thus giving a three-dimensional effect in South-Indian temples such as Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Chidambaram, Vridhachalam and Thiruvannamalai. There are also many movements such as cāris, piṇḍībandhas are found in temples of Dārāsuram, Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Mahabalipuram, Madurai, Kanchipuram, Hampi, Belur, Halebeid and many more. Rājārani, Parameśvara, Vithal-deul temples of Orissa have cārīs and sthānas engraved.[2] Dr. C. Sivaramamurthy opines that the sculptural panels provide visual effect of the movements.[3] Temple sculptures connected with cārīs and karaṇas are seen in

Indonesian temples. Dancer and research scholar Padma Subrahmanyam has identified nearly fifty-three karaṇas out of sixty two dance figures seen in the temple balustrade.[4] In this temple, the motion of the karaṇa is beautifully captured through continuous three figures representing a karaṇa. The other important aspect of nṛtta depicted in the sculptures includes recakas, bhramarīs and utplavanas, and the group composition indicated by the term piṇḍībandhas. The Nāṭyaśāstra mentions all these movements along with definitions. Some other movements, which are seen in these sculptures, are referred to in post Bharata works.

1. Dance movements found in temples of Tamil Nadu

The Bṛhadīśvarar Temple in Thanjavur, is also known as ‘Periyakovil’ has an inscription denoting that there were four hundred dancers attached to the temple.[5] Above the sanctum sanctorum on the first tier, a passage contains the karaṇas as explained in the Nāṭyaśāstra. Only eighty-one karaṇas are sculpted out of 108. The movement is shown through the sculptures holding weapons such as triśūla, mazhu, and the like, and the instruments like cymbals, vīṇā and many more. The four arms of Lord Śiva depicts the course of the movement of the hands[6] such as the nṛttahastas. Other than this there are many sculptures related to dance seen around the temple.

The Sāraṅgapāṇi Temple in Kumbakonam has the dance sculptures of karaṇas seen on both the sides of the walls of the gopura, tower. There are many small miniature sized sculptures, which play the instruments such as mṛdaṅga, cymbals, and vīṇā. The movement of ūrdhvatāṇḍava is beautifully sculpted on the gopuram. The sculptures of warriors fighting, folk dancers are all seen.[7]

The Cidambaram Naṭarāja temple is well known as Tillai and is famous for its sculpture and architecture. It has an nṛtta sabha, which is an exceedingly lovely one, with beautiful dance figures carved. There are fifty-six tiers with carving on them, which represents dance poses. It has a sculpture of Śiva in ūrdvatāṇḍava karaṇa as well as Kālī in a standing posture, which denotes the defeat of Kālī for not being able to perform the karaṇa. This nṛtta maṇḍapa was used for such ritualistic music and dance performances. The base of this maṇḍapa is in the form of chariot with wheels, elephants and horses carved, as if they are pulling the maṇḍapa. This is also seen in Dārāsuram temple. The nṛtta sabha also contains another panel of Kāpālikā and his concubine, which resembles the story of Mattavilāsa.[8] The hundred and eight karaṇas are carved in each of the four gopurams of the Cidambaram temple. However, some karaṇas are missing in the southern gopura. There are hundreds of dance movements seen in the sculptures of Rājasabha. The sculptures at Rājasabha seem to be the aṅgahāra movements.[9] These, karaṇas have the verses of the Nāṭyaśāstra inscribed in Granta script. The male figures representing the kohlāṭikā dance and the preṅkaṇī dance, which has acrobatic movements, are seen in the sculptures. These types of dance are given in Saṅgītaratnākara and Saṅgītasamayasāra. This proves that these types of movements were prevalent during those times. The Tiruchuṭru māligai of the Amman shrine has many sculptures related to the karaṇas like mattallī, ardhamattallī, pārśvajānu, ūrdhvajānū. The movements such as half turns and full turns are beautifully depicted in the sculptures.

The Airavateśvara temple in Dārāsuram has many sculptures representing dance and drama. The sculptures related to piṇḍibandhas are seen here. The animation of the movement is also depicted in the sculptures. Scenes from Rāmāyaṇa, Mattavilāsa prahasana are seen. Deśī dance forms of Koḥlāṭikā are engraved in the sculpture. Some karaṇa sculptures are also found there.

2. Dance movements found in temples of Kerala

Kerala is rich with temples, though there are not many sculptures, frescoes paintings are seen in those temples. Kūthambala is a theatre hall in the temples of Kerala. These are constructed as per the measurements given in the Nāṭyaśāstra. This hall is used for staging kūtthu, kūḍiāṭṭa and naṅgairkūthu. Fourteen major temples of Kerala have a kūthambala. The famous temples with Kūthambalaṃs include Subrahmanya temple at Kiḍaṅgūr, Kūḍalmāṇikya temple, Mahadevar temple, Vaḍakunnāthan temple and many more. Kuthambalams are famous for their woodcarvings. In some temples, even the walls are made of wood with carvings on them.

Sri Subramanyaswamy temple in Kiḍaṃgūr has exquisite sculptural work inside this Kūthambala. The scenes from Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata are beautifully sculpted on the Raṅgamaṇḍapa of this Kūthambala. Mahadevar temple in Cheṅgaṇṇur is one of the oldest and famous temples, which was constructed centuries back, in accordance with an architectural design evolved by the famous Perunthacchan. In the 18th century, the temple complex was damaged by fire and renovated later. Vaḍakkunnāthan temple in Thrissur is one of the oldest and largest Śiva temples in Kerala. It is believed that the temple was built by Paraśurāma. The temple features Kerala style architecture with exquisite murals portraying the stories of epic Mahābhārata. The Kūthambala of this temple stages cākkiār Kūthu. The Kūdalmānikya temple is located in Iriñālakuḍā and is one of the largest temples in Kerala. It has a beautiful Kūthambala, which is also based on the measurements and design given in the Nāṭyaśāstra.

3. Dance movements found in temples of Karnataka

Chennakeśava temple is in Belur and the beauty and artisanship of this temple is seen in the miniature sculptures of dancing girls and instrumentalists. Hoysāleśvara temple in Haleibed is perhaps the most magnificent one in all of medieval India. Both these temples have panels of dancing figures carved. The Hazāra Rāma temple in Hampi has beautiful sculptures of Rāmāyana all around the temple. A number of sculptures connected with dance movements are seen in Paṭṭaḍakkal and Badāmi caves.

4. Dance movements found in temples of Andra Pradesh

Ramappa temple in Warangal has a number of beautiful dancing figures, which are engraved based on the cārīs and karaṇas given in Nṛttaratnāvali. Stories of Kṣīrasāgaramanthana, Dakṣasaṃhāra, Dakṣayagña, Tripurāsurasaṃhāra, Gajāsurasaṃhāra, Narakāsuravadha and Gopikāvastrāpaharaṇa are carved inside the roof above one’s head on eight sides. The sculptures have inspired the dance styles of Andra. Other than these there are many sculptures seen in Tirumala-Tirupati temple maṇḍapas. From the Vijayanagara inscriptions we come to know that the traditional temple dancers called devar aḍigal were given a place of honor in these temple rituals.[10]

5. Dance movements found in temples of Orissa

The Konark temple in Bhuvaneswar is the grandest and best known of Sun temples in India. This dates back to the 13th century and it represents the highest point in Orissa temple architecture. Konark temple entrance is the nāṭyamandir where temple dancers used to perform dance. Its walls are carved with sculptures of musicians and dancers. The Liṅgarājā is the largest temple in Orissa with a nāṭyamandir and also sculptures of dancing girls. Earliest representation of these dance forms are found in the sculptures seen in the wall of rānigumpha at udayagiri.[11] The temples such as Paraśurāmeśar temple and Rājā Rāni temple have many sculptures depicted in the outer walls. These depict the movements such as cārīs and karaṇas, which are seen in the Nāṭyaśāstra. The panels of these temples showing the graceful dancers remind us of the devadasi dancers in the temples.

6. Dance movements found in temples of Madhya Pradesh

Khajuraho group of temples in Central India is one of the most illustrious manifestations of Indian architecture. These walled sculptures include depiction of numerous deities, their attendants, celestial maidens, embracing couples, dancers and musicians.

7. Dance movements found in temples of Maharashtra

Ajanta, Ellora caves and Elephanta caves are famous for its sculptures and paintings and some of them depict the dance movements. Uttara Chidambaram temple was built twenty years ago at Satāra and this temple has all 108 sculptures of karaṇa movements engraved with Śiva and Pārvatī figures showing the movement.

Footnotes and references:


Indian Classical Dance–KapilaVatsyayan. p.2




Sculpture inspired by Kālidāsa -C.Sivaramamurthy


Karaṇas Common Dance Codes of India and Indonesia-Padma Subrahmanyam-Vol.I p.234


Epigraphical record of Raja Raja-R.Nagaswamy. p.8.


Ibid. p.125


Ibid. p.174


Ibid. p.165


Ibid. p.166


Indian Art History Congress p. 46


Indian Classical Dance–Kapila Vatsyayan

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