Gati in Theory and Practice

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

This page relates ‘Gati in classical form of Bharatanatya’ 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.

Gati in classical form of Bharatanāṭya

[Full title: Desi forms of Tamilnadu (1): Gati in classical form of Bharatanāṭya]

Tamil Nadu is rich in practice of dance and dance drama forms such as bharatanāṭya, nṛtyanāṭaka, kuravañjināṭaka, bhāgavatamela, terukūthu, and folk dance forms like kummi, kolāṭṭa, pinnalkolāṭṭa and many more. Each form has a distinctive feature of action and movement. Gati can be generally termed as motion and the patterns of moving and patterns of rhythm come under gati. We find many such patterns in these folk dance forms.

Bharatanāṭya is one of the oldest forms of classical dance, which was practiced in Tamilnadu. It was known as sadhir, dāsiāṭṭa and koothu and natch until around 20th century when it was renamed as Bharatanāṭya in 1930’s. It used to be a solo dance form based on the ekāhārya lāsyāṅga. There are sculptural evidences and even inscriptions, which say that these dances were performed in temples by devadasis. They were called devar-adiyar, pati-ilar, talicceri-pendugal, nakkan,[1] ṛṣabha-taliyilār, dali-ilār, rudragaṇikaiyar, srimānikka[2] attached to the temples. These inscriptions are seen in the Thanjavur temple. The Pallava, Chola, Maratta and Vijayanagara kings were connoisseurs of art. The karaṇa sculptures of this temple prove that these dance movements should have been practiced here without that knowledge, the sculptors would not have done such exquisite work.

In Bharatanāṭya the samabhaṅga position is to be taken by the danseuse while entering the stage and then follows the maṇḍalasthāna which is known as araimaṇḍi or ardha-maṇḍali. The feet are out turned and the half-sitting position is taken. Dvibhaṅga has two deflections where from the waist torso is bent to any one side. There are many South Indian sculptures, which have the posture of arai-maṇḍi. Aḍavus of bharatanāṭya, like the cārīs of the Nāṭyaśāstra form the base for gati. Aḍavus are basic dance units of bharatanāṭya. ‘The unit which emerges as a co-ordinated pattern of the feet, knees, torso, arms and hands is known as the aḍavu’.[3] These are based on the foot variations and movements. The footwork is based on the pādabedhas of the Nāṭyaśāstra and Abhinayadarpaṇa such as taṭṭu (sama), meṭṭu (udhgaṭṭita), nāṭṭu (añcita), and kutthu (agratala). The combinations of aḍavus are called korvais and it has many rhythmic patterns, which are enhanced by the jathis recited by the naṭṭuvanārs along with the striking of naṭṭuvatāla and mṛdaṅga beats. Gati in bharatanāṭya is based on the movements on the stage and the rhythm involved during aḍavus. However, these techniques are seen in bharatanāṭya and these are enhanced due to the talent of the choreographer.

The taṭṭimeṭṭu aḍavu, also called pañcanadai aḍavu is based on tālagati. It has five variations of tāla based on counts, tiśra–3, caturaśra -4, kaṇḍa -5, miśra -7 and saṅkīrṇa -9. Patterns of calculations are set based on these counts and the aḍavus are performed rhythmically. In aḍavus, such as paraval (spread) aḍavu, ettu (reach) aḍavu, sarukku (slide) aḍavu, periya (big) aḍavu and pāichal (leaps) aḍavu as the name suggests the dancer covers the stage forward, backward, sideward and also circular through steps, movements, slides, jumps and leaps. The tīrmānamaḍavu, which comes as a crescendo, has rhythmic calculations based on yatis, which are patterns of increasing and decreasing counts, which are named as srotovāha, gopuccha, ḍamaruka, maddala, sama, viṣama, and so on.

As Bharata says, the dancer first executes the rhythmic gatis, then starts the abhinaya for the song and then continues with nṛtta[4] same way bharatanāṭya has jathis, which are rhythmic syllables and then the dancer proceeds with the abhinaya, and finally she performs the nṛttagati along with the hand gestures. Jathis are recited as sollukaṭṭus, which are matched with the aḍavus. These can be equated with suṣkākṣaras of the Nāṭyaśāstra.[5] Movements and positions are more in straight lines and triangles.[6] Sauṣṭava[7] and caturaśra[8] is maintained. Hastas are based on the Nāṭyaśāstra and Abhinayadarpaṇa.

Solo dance songs as mārga evolved by Tanjore quartet is taken as the repertoire of bharatanāṭya. Even from the period of Saṃgītamuktāvali there are many dance forms such as puṣpāñjali, śabda and many more. Invocatory piece toḍayamaṅgala has all five naḍais as jathis. In puṣpāñjali (raṅgapūja) the dancer moves around the stage and salutes the presiding deities of the directions. Here we can see the parikrama with rhythmic steps.

Alārippu is an abstract dance, which comes under nṛtta variety, and this is performed in all the five nadais. This has basic steps in three speeds performed to mridanga beats and sollus.[9] The aḍavus are performed in three levels: starting with samasthāna, followed by araimaṇḍi (maṇḍalasthāna) and then muzhumaṇḍi (kuñcitajānu or moṭita) and then reverting back to samapāda.

Jathiswara is also a nṛtta piece where the svaras (note) are set to dance in five gatis which synchronizes with the svaras like in a tāla which has 32 akṣaras, there can be all steps in four, which goes with the tāla or four five’s, and four three’s so that it finally matches. Thus, improvisation in rhythmic patterns is seen as in vardhamānaka of the Nāṭyaśāstra.

Navasandhi kouthvaṃs are based on the directions and so the dancer has to move towards the direction and continue dancing. Śabda is an nṛtya piece and here the abhinaya is interspersed with nṛtta elements of aḍavu patterns. There were some rare śabdaṃs based on the rhythm content such as śaśaka śabda, maṇḍūka śabda and bhramara śabda.

Varna is the main piece of a bharatanāṭya recital. It has in it a combination of all elements of nṛtta, nṛtya and nāṭya. It has jathis (rhythmic sollukaṭṭus) set with aḍavus, tīrmānaṃs based on rhythmic patterns, gatis or naḍais such as sarpa naḍai, kulukku naḍai, oyyāra naḍai, cāris like samapāda, janitā and vichyavā, taṭṭumettu aḍavus based on naḍai with hand gestures and mime and many more related to rhythm and movement. Actions related to the story are elaborated as sañcāris, where there is a scope for dramatization of characters and thus their gaits are performed. The tempo increases in caraṇa with rhythmic steps performed for svaras or musical syllables. Silence is maintained for abhinaya, and then starts playing of the mṛdaṅga in different beats and tempos.

Pada is mostly a sṛṅgāra-based composition. Here the sthānas and physical gait based on nayikā avasthās and daśa kāma avasthās are given importance. Movements similar to cāris such as baddhā, syanditā, and utsyanditā are used.

Thillana forms a finale of a bharatanāṭya repertoire. Korvais of aḍavus are performed in all naḍais, which is also known as gati and are set with tīrmānaṃs and arudis. Movement or gait patterns such as straight and sideward lines, diagonal movements, and semicircular movement with periya aḍavu are performed. Thus, both the rhythm aspect and movement or covering the space is called gati.

Footnotes and references:


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




Indian Classical DanceKapila Vatsyayan p.17.


Nāṭyaśāstra IV.300




Living Traditions of Natyasastra.


Infra 2.4.1.


Infra 2.4.2.


Classical Dances and Costumes of India -Kay Ambrose.p.50

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