Gati in Theory and Practice

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

This page relates ‘Scope and creativity in Gati based on tradition’ 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.

Scope and creativity in Gati based on tradition

India is a culturally rich country that follows the traditional values. Tradition is the practice that has been there for years and that which has been followed by generations. Nāṭya has been considered one of the fine arts that elevate a person to attain moksha.

Bharata says one who performs this act of Lord Siva will attain the Sivaloka.

maheśvarasya caritaṃ ya idaṃ samprayojayet |
sarvapāpaviśuddhātmā śivalokaṃ sa gacchati ||[1]

The Nāṭyaśāstra written by Bharata is considered the origin for all the dance forms prevailing in Asia and it is a traditional work on theatre. Dance, in a broader sense, is viewed as perfectly coordinated movements that are structured to suit a particular style based on tradition, which has scope for creativity in exquisite beauty and rhythm.

Bharata says the employment of music, instruments and dramatisation pertaining to the themes should be as in a sequence like alātacakra.

evaṃ gānaṃ ca vādyaṃ ca nāṭyaṃ ca vividhāśrayam |
alātacakrapratimaṃ kartavyaṃnāṭyayoktṛbhiḥ ||[2]

Bharata muni has mentioned in the fourth chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra at many instances that whatever formulated by him can be used according to the dance master’s imaginations

.‘yatratatrāpi samyojyaṃ ācāryairnāṭyaśaktitaḥ |’[3]

This itself means that the raw material has been provided and it can be shaped as per our imagination.

Even while defining some karaṇas he states that hands can be engaged suitably according to the action befitting the occasion:

‘prayogavaśagau hastau’[4]

And right hand should be moved accordingly based on the movement of leg:

‘caraṇasya anugacchāpi dakṣiṇastu bhavet karaḥ |’.[5]

Thus, he himself opens a way to creativity.

Bharata has mentioned about the combinations of two karaṇas and so on as nṛttamatrka, and kalapaka[6] but he has not specified any of those actions. Even his followers have not detailed about that. So here again, this can be created by the dancer, based on the traditional karaṇas. These can be used as nṛttagatis. He also takes into account the chorographical patterns of group compositions called piṇḍībandhas, which are creative formations. They are named as Īśvarapiṇḍi for Īśvara, Śikhipiṇḍi for Kumāra and many more. These give ample scope for gati in group formations.

Abhinava says:

tatraite piṇḍībandhā ādhāra aṅgaprayoga sādhakatabhedād bahuprakāraṃ bhidyante |[7]

Thus starting from the basic techniques of āṅgas and upāṅgas, almost all the vyāyāmas and cadences of dance can be used for gati. This has been emphasized by Abhinava.[8] This itself proves that gati is the choreographers technique.

Śārṅgadeva who calls himself niśśaṅka, strictly follows Bharata and states what Bharata has given is the mārga form of nāṭya. The 108 karaṇas of Bharata are called mārga karaṇas and he, also, has made additions of karaṇas prevalent during his period as deśī karaṇas.[9] Here it is understood that the predecessors of Bharata have followed his tradition, yet at the same time they have also given place to their own creativity.

Jāyana has explained the tradition of Bharata elaborately and he adds some of the deśī varieties.

He states that if Bharata, himself comes in the next Kṛtayuga, he will surely be thrilled and will appreciate him for his work.

āgatya......... dṛṣṭvā bhūyaḥ kṛtādau prasṛmarapulakavyañjitāntaḥ pramodaḥ | āścaryaṃ paśyatedaṃ kathamadhigatavānāśayaṃ me samagraṃ sa śrīmān jāyasenāpatiriti niyataṃ vakṣyate'gre munīnām ||[10]

Hence, these authors were confident enough to bring out their own views also.

In nāṭya, one’s creative ability can be brought out by choreographing dance for thematic songs, songs based on various rasas, setting various complicated rhythm patterns, innovative ideas depicted through body movements, different choreographic patterns presented by the dancer in group and solo, vācika or dialogues added in between the dance, appealing costumes, stage lightings and decors using technological improvements, and so on. Gati will add on for an effective presentation.

Bharata himself has said that the dhruvās can be composed in prakṛt languages and thus we have scope to add songs in regional languages. If these are followed in improvising the Sanskrit dramas, it will have more reach among the audience. An artist has to be creative. He cannot portray the same old ideas always. When the same ideas are repeated, the audience becomes unsatisfied. If you are to attract an audience, one must be creative on stage. Here the kāvya can be traditional, but the nāṭya can be created innovatively, based on the traditional techniques. These are now seen in contemporary dramas of Kavalam Narayana Panikker, Ratan tiyam and many more. Thus, lakṣya merges with lakṣaṇa and kalpīta that is learnt from the śāstras and is expanded through kalpana, the imagination of the artist.

Tradition and creativity varies from person to person. Whatever one thinks traditional, may be creative for another person. It changes according to the spectators taste. So tradition should be considered as a base, ideas should be created to match and beautify the traditional art form, and tradition should not be destroyed or overruled in the name of creativity.

Indian art is in itself limitless. The only limitation is in the mind of the audience, and therefore that mind has to be opened and made receptive. A performance, traditional or creative whatever it may be, the result should be rasānubhāva. Since the purpose of nāṭya is attainment of rasa, an Indian artist has to keep the audience in mind. Based on this various gaits, movements covering the stage, fighting sequences, etc. should be depicted in the dramatic and dance performances. When the audience relishes the aesthetic experience of the performance, there lies the success of the choreographer. A combination of tradition, authenticity and creativity is very important for any art to survive. Therefore, the Sanskrit language and nāṭya of Bharata can be kept alive.

From a remote antiquity down to the present age, an interrupted stream of dance and drama themes have flowed through Vedic, epic and classical periods. Nāṭya is one of the most exquisite art form. While it is an art of the physical body, yet it is through which one must transcend the physical body and only when this is achieved can there be truly a divine experience. The purpose of nāṭya can be achieved only when the dancer understands the spiritual significance of dancing. The art of dance that pleases the connoisseur is more an offering to the deity.

Bharata himself says:

na hi rasādṛte kaścidartaḥ pravartate |

Rasa is present in each and every aspect of life, same as in nāṭya. Gati, though it looks more physical it involves the aspect of ‘sat’ and ‘cit’ in it. The involvement or oneness of the actor with the character i.e. ‘tādātmya’ starts as soon as he enters the stage. Thus, gati is the vital factor for rasotpatti.

The very concept of Naṭarāja elevates the art of dance to a highly spiritual and philosophical plane, reflecting the essence and inner truth of Indian culture. Śri Kṛṣna is also visualized as the immortal dancer. He is the universal soul (the Paramatman) and the gopīs (jīvātman) are human souls, dancing around him and each feeling that the Lord is dancing with her alone. Dance induces ecstasy, the experience of Divinity, the realization of one’s nature and finally helps in achieving mergence in to the divine essence.

The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa states that nṛtta is a great mode of ārādhana to the Lord Śiva and nṛtta is supposed to be a greater offering to the Almighty than flowers, food, incense and other offerings.

so'pi tuṣyati nṛttena samyagārādhito haraḥ |
...... puṣpanaivedyadānebhyo nṛttadānaṃ viśiṣyate ||[11]

The offering of music, vocal and instrumental and dance secured the highest fruit attained by the performance of sacrifice, assuring the fulfillment of even impossible desires.

The connoisseur who offered his knowledge of dance for glory of God was assured mokṣa or the attainment of liberation.

devatārādhanaṃ kuryādyastu nṛttena dharmavit |
sa sarvakāmānāpnoti mokṣopāyaṃ ca vindati ||[12]

Agnipurāṇa states, by performing dance and worshiping the Lord, the dancer attains the supreme Brahman.

dṛṣṭvāsaṃpūjitaṃ devaṃ nṛtyamāno'numodayat |
asaṃśayamatiḥ śuddhaḥ paraṃ brahma sa gacchati ||[13]

The researcher feels that whatever possible is done towards the understanding of the concept of gati in nāṭya and there is a scope for further more studies based on many other elements of nāṭya, as it is a vast ocean.

Bharata states,

“The range of knowledge relating to arts and crafts are unlimited.

Therefore, it is impossible to reach the limit of the art of nāṭya. No one can try to cross even one portion of this.”

na śakyamasya nāṭyasya gantumantaṃ kathañcana |
kasmāt bahutvaṃ jñānānāṃ śilpānāṃ vāpyanantataḥ ||
ekasyāpi na vai śakyamantaṃ jñānārṇavasya hi |
gantuṃ kiṃ punaranyeṣāṃ jñānānāmarthatatvataḥ ||[14]

Thus, the aspect of gati paves way to the concept of śaraṇāgati of the actor who acts as a puppet in the hands of the Lord in this world stage. A mārga is the path derived by Bharata to realize the Braḥman. Nāṭya is linked to bhakti and through śaraṇāgati or complete surrender, thereby to the attainment of mukti. The universe itself is believed to have come into being as the result of the cosmic dance of Īśvara. Without his movement, no animate or inanimate entity in the world can come to existence.

Therefore, the aesthetic pleasure obtained from nāṭya is considered Supreme Bliss.

niścalasthitimadvyomabhūcārīsadgatipradaḥ |
sarvadā dhvanimātrātmā śambhurvijayatām prabhuḥ ||[15]

Footnotes and references:


Nāṭyaśāstra IV.319.






Infra IV. 127.


Infra IV.58.








Nṛttaratnāvalī I.16


Ibid. III.34.29.

[13]: quoted by SKD.II.p.919.


Nāṭyaśāstra VI.6,7.



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