Category Archives: Basics

Bhangas (Postures)

Bhangas (Postures)

There is something most important which adds beauty to the bharatanatyam dance. These are nothing but the ideal postures. The ideal postures of the body are described in the Shilpa sastra and are called the Bhangas.

There are four types of bhangas:

• Abhanga
• Samabhanga
• Atibhanga
• Tribhanga

The basic theory of bharatanatyam assumes the entire body to be a mass which is equally divided along an imaginary line (Brahma sutra) that passes through the centre of the body. While dancing, at any stage of the dance if the body is perfectly balanced about the brahmasutra then the Samabhanga posture is attained. When there is slight imbalance about the brahmasutra then the Abhanga posture arises. Atibhanga is the great diagonal bend in the torso with knees bent. Tribhanga is the triple bend in the body with one hip raised, torso curved to the opposite side and the head tilted at an angle that gives a gentle S shape which is most graceful posture. It is believed that Lord Krishna adopted this posture while upholding the Govardhana Mountain (This story is mentioned in the Dasavatara Hastas/Krishna hasta).




Abhinayam literally means “expression or communicating a message”. It takes its name from the Sanskrit words Abhi which means “to or towards” and Ni which means “to lead”. Abhinayam is thus having the meaning “to lead” (the performer and audience towards a state of being or feeling called the Satvika bhavam).

Aasyenaalambayeth Geetham
Hastenaartham Pradarshayeth
Chakshurbhyam Darshayeth Bhavam
Paadabhyam Taalamaachareth

Which means the dancer should sing with her mouth, express the meaning of the song by hand gestures, express with her eyes and dance to the rhythm with her feet.

There are four types of Abhinayam:
• Aangika Abhinaya
• Vachika Abhinaya
• Ahaarya Abhinaya and
• Saatvika Abhinaya
Aangika abhinaya is the expression with the help of the various body parts Angas, pratyangas and upangas. Vaachika Abhinaya is the language of expression through words and literature. Aaharya abhinaya is the expression through decorations like make up, costumes and jewellery. Saatvika abhinaya is the expression of the mental states and feelings. Lord Siva is praised as the embodiment of these four types of Abhinaya in the following sloka:
Aangikam Bhuvanam Yasya
Vaachikam Sarva vaangmayam
Ahaaryam Chandra Taraadi
Tum Numa Saatvikam Sivam

which means “We bow to him the benevolent one wWhose limbs are the entire universe itself, His speech being the essence of all languages, His ornaments being the moon and the stars”.

The various bhedas (Shiro bheda, Greeva bheda, Drishti bheda etc) and the hasta mudras are the medias of Aangika abhinaya. Apart from these, the movements and gestures of the chest, hips, Sides and Feet are also ways of doing aangika abhinaya. The various postures of the chest are:

• Abhunga – Covered or caved in. In this the shoulders are drooped down, arms are loosely held and the back is naturally arched backward to show agitation, fear, sorrow, cold, rail falling etc.
• Nirbhunga – In this the breath is drawn in so that the chest expand and the back curves inward showing courage, speaking the truth, arrogance, overconfidence, affected indifference by women etc.
• Prakampita – In this the chest trembles due to repeated jumps.
• Udvahita – The position of the chest while taking deep breath, seeing long distance or yawning
• Sama – When all lims are held upright the position of chest is called Sama.

The various postures of the sides are:

• Nata
• Sammunnatha
• Prasaritha
• Vivartita
• Apasrta

The various postures of the hips are:

• Chinakati
• Nivrtta kati
• Recita kati
• Kaupita kati
• Valvokita kati

The various postures of the foot are:

• Udghathitha – standing on the toes
• Sama – feet placed together
• Agratalasanchara – all the toes except the big one are spread out and raise the heel
• Anchita – heel is kept on the ground and front part is lifted up
• Kunchita – heel is raised and toes are folded into the middle of the foot.
Udghathitham Samam chaiva Tathaa
Agratalasanchara anchita kunchitaschaiva
Suchi paada prakeerthitha

Nose (Quivering, flinched, drawn back breathing, distended and normal), cheeks (sunken, fully blown, puffed up, swallow, throbbing & normal), lips (Curled, quivering, extended sideways, compressed, biting & pouting) and chin movements also become part of the aangika abhinaya.

The aim of a Bharatanatyam dancer is to express the various kinds of human feelings through abhinaya. Anything that is beautiful or ugly, dreadful or pleasing, good or bad, object or non object, living or non living, celestial or non celestial could be transformed into Rasa by the imagination of the poet which in turn is replicated by the Bharatanatyam dancer.

In Natyasastra, Rasa is mentioned as something that can be relished (enjoyed) like the taste of food.

Rasayatae anena iti rasaha

Rasa is the essence of human feelings that evolve out from different mental states and situations. According to sage Bharata the author of Natyasastra, these principal human feelings are eight in number (Explained below). But Abhinavagupta made it clear that there is one common rasa that underlies all the other eight rasa from which all those rasas emanate and resolving back into it and he named it as the Shantha rasa. Shantha is a state where your mind is at rest or we can say that your mind is in a state of tranquility. Following this, the theory of nine rasas, the nava rasa became universally accepted.

The rasa is conveyed to the audience (rasika) through music and abinaya. The modes of expression of rasa are called the bhavas. Hence we can say that bhava is the portrayal of the emotions or rasa and they compliment each other.Rasa is the essence conveyed through bhava. It is therefore said that bhava is that which becomes. (bhoo bhav ie; to become). Bhava becomes rasa not the other way.

There are three states of these Rasas which are the Vibhava (the cause of the emotion), Anubhava (the effect of the emotion accompanied by words, gestures and facial expressions) and the Sanchari bhava (subordinate emotions).

The three categories of bhava are Sthayi Bhava, Vyabhikari Bhava (voluntary bhavas) and Sathvika Bhava. There are 8 sthayi bhavas, 33 vyabhikari bhavas and 8 sathvika bhavas. Thus we can end up in saying that there are altogether 49 bhavas which become the source of expression.

The 8 sthayi bhavas are the 8 rasas. The nineth Bhava which is the Shantham is incorporated by Abhinavagupta in his famous narration of the Natyashastra called Abninavabharati. Thus the mostly known primary emotions that come across in a bharatanatyam dance or any other dance are well known as the Nava Rasa (Nine emotions) or Sthayi Bhavas. They are the following:

• Shringaram – Love
• Hasyam – Humor
• Veeram – Heroism
• Rowdram – Anger
• Bhayanakam – Fearful
• Bheebhatsam – Disgusting
• Adhbhutam – Wonder
• Karunam – Compassion
• Shantham -peace

The 33 Vyabhikari bhavas are listed below:

• Nirveda – Poverty, disease, insult, humiliation, abuse, anger etc
• Gthani – Emptiness, illness, starvation, anxiety, intoxication, heavy exercise etc
• Shanka – Doubting, robbing, offending authorities like King, commiting sin etc
• Asooya – Jealous, hatred for good luck of others etc
• Mada – Intoxication ***
• Shravana – Fatigue
• Aalasya – Laziness, depression
• Daivya – Restlessness
• Chintha – Anxiety
• Moha – Unconciousness, fainting
• Smrithi – Memory, remembering
• Dhrthi – Fortitude
• Vridha – Shame, confession of Guilt
• Kapulatha – Nervousness
• Harsha – Joy, Happiness
• Aavega – Excitement, agitation
• Jadatha – idleness
• Garva – Pride, arrogance
• Vishada – Sorrow, regret, disappointment
• Autsukya – Uneasiness
• Nidra – Sleep
• Apasmara – Forgetfullness
• Supta – Asleep
• Vibodha – Awakening
• Amarsha – Intolerance, impatience
• Avahitham – Dissimulation, cover up real things
• Ugratha – Fierceness
• Mathi – Understanding, judgement
• Vyadhi – Disease
• Unmaada – Insanity
• Maranam – Death
• Thrasa – Dread
• Vitharka – Argumentation

The 8 Sathvika bhavas are listed below:

• Sthamba – Stupefaction shown by standing still without any movements
• Sveda – Sweating shown by using a fan or wiping the sweat
• Romaanch – Goosebumps shown as if hair is on the end
• Swarabheda – Break in the voice shown by stuttering in different voices
• Vepathu – Trembling shown by quivering and shaking movements
• Vaivarnya – Paleness shown by pressure on the pulse
• Ashru – Tears shown by wiping the tears
• Pralaya – Swoon, death shown by collapsing on the ground

The Hastas


Bharatanatyam is a synchronized and harmonious pattern of all the bhedas (As described in the previous post “Angalakshana & Angasudhi”) done in parallel with the hand gestures and abhinaya (expression). In order to enhance the beauty of the dance movements it is quite obvious that the hand gestures always compliment the abhinaya. Hence the hand gestures become an inevitable part of the Angika Abhinaya. These hand gestures are called ‘Hastas’ . While we use these hastas while dancing we call it as ‘Mudra’.

Natyasastra has described mainly two types of hastas :

  • Asamyukta Hastas (28 Types)
  • Samyukta Hastas (24 Types)

Each of these 52 Hastas has been depicted in Natyasastra by individual slokas, explaining the individual and unique usage (called Viniyoga) of each of them.

With the help of these basic hastas, there are a few other (6) categories of hastas that have been developed and practiced. They are the following:

  • ·Deva hastas
  • ·Navagraha hastas
  • ·Dashavatara hastas
  • ·Nritta hastas
  • ·Jathi hastas
  • ·Bandu hastas

Hasta Prachahara:  It denotes the facing of the palms and are classified as below:

  • Uttana-Palm upturned or facing ceiling/skywards
  • Adhomukha-facing the floor
  • Unmukha-Palm facing oneself
  • Paran Mukha-Palm facing away from one self.

Hasta Pranalakshana:   The way a hasta / mudra is held is classified into 12 as detailed below:

  • Prasarana Hasta – The fingers are stretched
  • Kunchita Hasta – The fingers are folded
  • Rechita Hasta – The fingers are given movement
  • Punchita Hasta – The fingers are folded or moved or stretched
  • Apaveschita Hasta – The fingers are bent down
  • Prerita Hasta – The fingers are bent back or moved or stretched
  • Udveshtita Hasta – The fingers are held up
  • Vyavrutta Hasta – The fingers are held up to the sides
  • Parivrutta Hasta – The fingers are brought together from the sides
  • Sanketa Hasta – The fingers are used to convey implied meanings
  • Chinha Hasta – The fingers are used to show things which are visible and visible like a person’s appearance , mannerism’s, influence on others etc
  • Padarthatheekae – The fingers are used to show the word meanings


“Angalakshana & Angashudhi”



Anagalakshana means the way of moving the body parts. There are 5 different types of Angalakshana.

Before we get into this let’s understand how the entire body is defined and categorized.

The entire body is divided into three like Anga, Pratyanga and Upanga. The pratyanga and upanagas should move along with the Angas. :
1.Anga : : “This includes Shiras (Head), Hastas(two palms), Vakshas (chest), Parshwa (the two sides), Kati (two sides of the waist) and the Padas (legs)”
The Sloka
Anganyatra shirohastou
Vaksha parshwa kateetatou
Paadaviti shaduktaani
Greevamapyaparae jaguhu

2.Pratyanga : : “This includes Skanda (Shoulders), Bahu (Arms), Prshtam (back), Udaram (stomach),Uru ( thighs) and Janks (shanks)”

The Sloka
Pratyangaani twathaskandou
Baho prushtam tadhodaram
Ooroo janghae shadityahuraparae
Manibhandakou Janoonikooraparamiti
Trayamapyathikam jaguhu

3. Upanga : “This includes the Drishti (Eyes), Bhru (Eye brows), Puta (Eye lids), Tara (Eye balls), Kapola (Cheeks), Nasi (Nose), Hanu (Jaws), Adhara (Lower lip), Dasana (Teeth), Jithva (Tongue), Chubukam (Chin) and Vadanam (Face)”

The Sloka
Dhrishti bhrooputatarascha
Kapolou nasikakanuhu
Adharodashanaa jihwa
Chubukam vadanam tatha
Upangaani dwadashita
Anyanyan gani santicha
Paarshnee gulbauta thangulya
Karayoha paadayostale

Now let us see the various types of Angalakshanas

Each of these are again sub divided and well defined. Here we go into the details

  1. Shirobheda : Shiro means head and thus it self defines the term as “ bhedas or movements of the head”.
  • Samam         : Head held straight
  • Udhvahitam  : Head lifted up
  • Adhomukam : Head held down
  • Alolitam       : Rotate
  • Dhutam        : Shaking side to side as if to say NO
  • Kampitam    : Nodding up and down as if to say YES
  • Paravrittam  : Looking away to the side as if to ingnore
  • Utkshiptam  : Turn to the side and lift up as if to command or request
  • Parivahitam : Shaking the head swiftly left to right

Besides these nine types of shirobheda which are very commonly known, there are a few other shirobhedas which are known to be included in the Natyasastra. They are Akampitam (moving head slowly up and down), Vidhutam (nodding fastly), Parilolitam (head moving to all sides showing the power of intoxication, possession by an evil spirit, drowsiness etc) ……

2. Dhrishtibheda : ‘Drishti’ means eyes and thus the term explains itself as ‘bhedas or movements of eyes’

• Samam – look straight
• Alolitam – circular movement
• Sachi – look to either sides without turning the head
• Pralokitam – look to both sides turning the head
• Nimeelithe – look down
• Ullokitam – look up
• Anuvrittam – look up and down
• Avalokitam – look deep down

3. Greevabheda : ‘Greeva’ means neck and hence the term means ‘bhedas or movements of neck’

• Sundareescha – moving the neck to either sides (Also known as ‘atami’)
• Thirascheeva – moving the neck to form 8
• Parivarthitha – move the neck in a semi circle
• Prakampita – move the neck forward and backward like a rooster

4. Paadabheda : As the word says it is the ‘bhedas or movements of the paada or legs’. They are basically four types and each of which has again various styles which are detailed below:

• Mandala – Standing position (10 types)
• Utplavana – Jumping (5 types)
• Bhramari – Circular movement (7 types)
• Paadachari – Walking (8 types)

Various ‘Mandala’ styles are the following:

• Sthanaka – Samam with ‘ardhachandra’ hasta on your waist
• Aayata – Araimandi position
• Aalitha – In Ayatam keep right foot 3 feet facing the side & shikara hasta on your left hand and katakhamukha on right
• Prenkhana – Left leg in Ayatam and right stretched to side on heels with khoorma hasta
• Preritha – Both legs a little far apart in ayatham with shikhara hasta on the left held at the chest and pataka on the right stretched up
• Pratyalitha – Opposite of Aalitha
• Swasthika – keep right leg (on the toes) across the left (flat)
• Motitha – Sit in muzhumandi, jump and place one knee down (hands in natyarambha posture)
• Samasuchi – Sit with toes and knees
• Paarswasuchi – Sit on toes and touch the ground with one knees to the side

Various ‘Utplavana’ styles are the following:

• Alaga – Hold shikhara hasta on the waist and jump
• Kartari – Hop on the toes with kartareemukha on the left behind the left leg and shikhara hasta on the right held upside down at the waist
• Ashvotplavana – Hop forward on one leg and bring the other leg together holding tripataka hasta on both hands
• Motita – Hop on toes with tripataka on both hands
• Krupalaga – Jump in such a way that the heels touch your back

Various ‘Bhramari’ styles are the following:

• Utplutabhramari – Jump and turn around from and back to Sthanaka Mandala
• Chakrabhramari – While dragging the legs on the floor turn around with tripataka on both hands
• Garudabhramari – From Paarswasuchi stretch one leg and turn around
• Ekapaadbhramari – Turn around while standing on one leg
• Kunchitabhramari – Jump and turn around while holding the legs up
• Aakaashabhramari – Jump , turn the legs apart and turn around
• Angabhramari – keep the feet 12 inch apart and turn around

Various ‘Paadaachari’ styles are the following:

• Chalanaachaari – Casual walking
• Chankramanachaari – Walking with the legs swaying to the sides
• Saranachaari – Walk with one feet dragged and bringing the other together without lifting the heels
• Veginichaari – Walk fast with alapadma and tripataka hasta alternately
• Kuttanachaari – Walk while tapping the feet hard on the floor
• Lunthithachaari – Stand in swastika mandala and perform kuttanachaari in the right leg
• Lolithachaari – Do kuttanachaari in one leg and walk slowly with the other one
• Vishwamachaari – Walk while the legs are twisted together