Gati in Theory and Practice

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

This page relates ‘Observations based on 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.

Observations based on Nāṭyaśāstra

The Nāṭyaśāstra is the primary source for all kind of research works connected with drama, dance and music. The researcher has done a complete survey of the available texts on nāṭya, analysed the gati aspect in these texts and has taken Nāṭyaśāstra to revive the elements of gati through cāris and karaṇas, as it has a wide range of scope. Gati aspects in the rūpakas, uparūpakas and practice of regional forms are also identified. Application of gati in Sanskrit dramas of Bhasa and Kalidasa is explained.

The Nāṭyaśāstra gives a detailed description of the aspects of nāṭya in all conceivable manners. The technique of gati, which is a combination of the elements of aṅgas, pratyāṅgas and upāṅgas and cadences such as sthānas, cāris, maṇḍalas, karaṇas, aṅgahāras, piṇḍībandhas and so on, are elaborated in Nāṭyaśāstra.

1. Āṅgika abhinaya is an element of nāṭya

The Nāṭyaśāstra speaks of eleven elements of nāṭya. Abhinaya, the histrionic representation is the essential one among them. Gati comes under āṅgika abhinaya, expression through the body. Here, every part of the body that comes under aṅga, upāṅga and pratyāṅga variety are responsible for the action collectively.[1]

There is a combination of the movements of the limbs known as śarīraja, the facial expression that is mukhaja and the actions like standing, sitting and walking, which is ceṣṭākṛta.[2]

trividhastvāṅgikojñeyaḥ śārīro mukhajastathā |
tathā ceṣṭākṛtaścaiva śākhāṅgopāṅgasaṃyutaḥ ||

The correlated movements of the legs and pratyāṅgas of the legs are given the name as cārī[3] and the correlated movements of the hand and pratyāṅgas of the arms are given the name as nṛttahasta.[4]

2. Nṛtta is an element of āṅgika abhinaya

Śākhā, branching out of arms and aṅkura, sprouting of expressions along with nṛtta the dance, forms the structure of āṅgika abhinaya. Śākhā represents the abhinaya hastas (which has a particular literal meaning and can be used for depicting different actions), nṛtta hastas (beautifying hand movements), karavartanas (stretches of arms in various directions) and hasta karaṇas (wrist movements) and of course the movement of other limbs along with the hands. The abhinaya hastas are very much responsible for giving the meaning of the word, and depicting the ideas such as holding a flower basket (puṣpapuṭa),[5] and plucking the flowers (khaṭakāmukha), etc. These have to be used in citra abhinaya and the nṛtta hastas in nṛtta.[6] Aṅkura can be through mukhaja abhinaya like hāva (emotion expressed by eyes, and brows) and helā (graceful movements suggestive of amorous sentiment)[7] and nṛtta refers to the dance movement of the whole body. Nṛtta is the abstract movement of the body, which can be made expressive only when combined with hasta or mukhaja or sāttvika abhinaya.

3. Karaṇa is a unit of nṛtta

Bharata defines karaṇa as a unit of nṛtta. These are called nṛttakaraṇas. He says nṛtta consisting of karaṇas and aṅgahāras, are to be used in pūrvāraṅga as an ancillary for the songs.[8]

Karaṇas, which are the elements of aṅgahāras, come under the performance of nṛtta.

aṅgahāraviniṣpannaṃ nṛttaṃ tu karaṇāśrayam ||[9]

Abhinava adds,

aṅgahāraeva nṛttaṃ prayogaphalaṃ prasūte |
tadaṅgādīni tu karaṇāni ||[10]

4. Nṛttakaraṇas depicts vākyārtha abhinaya

Nṛtta that consists of the karaṇas and aṅgahāras, based on the cadences of movements of the body, are used to beautify the drama and as offerings in worship of Gods. According to Abhinava and Śārṅgadeva, all the karaṇas are explained with uses and the author mentions that these can be used for depicting the vākyārtha abhinaya.[11]

5. Gati can be performed with cāris, maṇḍalas and karaṇas

Bharata states that cārīs, maṇḍalas and karaṇas can be used in nṛtta, yuddha, niyuddha and gati parikrama.[12]

Abhinava quotes some other scholars opinion also.

yathāyogamabhinayāntarāle gatiparikrama tālāntarasandhāne yuddhaniyuddhacārīsthanakesañcare vā prayoga iti | etacca sarvatra anusaraṇīyam |[13]

Footnotes and references:


Infra–Introduction. P.3


Nāṭyaśāstra VIII.11.


Infra 1.7.5.


Infra 1.7.4.





Nāṭyaśāstra XXII.10,11.


Ibid.IV.13. Infra


Nāṭyaśāstra VIII.15








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