Indian classical dance. Kuchipudi style.

sitemap  |  contact

Theory of the dance. Hastas and Abhinaya


The Kuchipudi style has a rather extensive and well developed theoretical foundation. Each aspect of Hastas and AbhinayaAbhinaya, or the expressive means available to people, is given a detailed description in such competent treatise as Natyashastra written by the great Bharatamuni. The Kuchipudi style follows Natyashastra more than any other dance form in India.


There are four kinds of abhinaya (means of expression):

1. Angika Abhinaya - the expression through various parts of body.

2. Vachika Abhinaya - the expression through voice, speech and song.

3. Sattvika Abhinaya - the expression through bhavas, i.e. feelings and emotions.

4. Aharya Abhinaya - the expression through costumes, make-up and ornaments.


Every person's life becomes apparent by means of three aspects:

1. Manas - mind

2. Vak - speech

3. Karna - action


These three aspects altogether are called karanas. In dance they are realized as sattvika, vachika and angika abhinayas respectively.

Sattvika Abhinaya dominates mainly in Nataka (drama), Angika abhinaya is expressed in Nritta (pure dance, technique) and they are both equally strong in Nritya (solo dance).


There are three groups in Angika abhinaya:

1. Angas:
- shiras (head)
- hastas (gestures)
- vaksha (chest)
- parshva (side)
- kati (hips)
- padas (feet)

2. Pratyangas:
- skadhae (shoulders)
- bahu (hands)
- prshtam (back)
- udaram (belly)
- uru (the external part of a hip)
- jangha (the upper part of a leg)

3. Upangas:
- drshti (eyes)
- bhru (brows)
- putta (eyelids)
- kapola (cheeks)
- nasaka (nose)
- hanu (jaw)
- adhara (the lower lip)
- dasana (teeth)
- jihva (tongue)
- vadana (face)
- gulbha (ankle)
- angulya (fingers)


The movements of Pratyangas and Upangas always depend on Angas.

Hastas (hand gestures) are the part of Angika Abhinaya and include the ways of expression through theHastas and Abhinaya physical body (head, eyes, nose, hands etc.). In spite of the fact that the expression through gestures constitutes the minor part of Angika Abhinaya, their role is very important. Their meaning is not only decorative but they are also indicative of the specificity of communication and action in relation to things.

With all that one should distinguish the notions of hastas and mudras. Although both of them are hand gestures we will call them hastas while speaking of a technical aspect of the dance and mudras if it is a necessary to distinguish a certain gesture in the dance that has a certain meaning.


There are three kinds of hastas:


1. Asamyuta Hastas - gestures of one hand carrying a certain semantic load.

2. Samyuta Hastas - gestures of two hands also having certain meaning.

3. Nritta Hastas - decorative gestures without a certain meaning and which are the pure dance (technique).


Among the texts on the theory of dance two most competent sources are distinguished: Natyashastra and Abhinaya Darpana. There are some differences between them in either the number of hastas or in the number of their meanings.

Thus Natyashastra mentions the following number of hastas: Asamyuta Hastas - 24, Samyuta Hastas - 13 and Nritta Hastas - 27. Abhinaya Darpana mentions 28, 23 and 13 respectively.

According to Natyashastra, Nritta Hastas are of independent origin while in Abhinaya Darpana they originate from Asamyuta and Samyuta Hastas.

This is how some differences in using hastas are explained for example between Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, these styles are simply based on different sources.

The same holds true for viniyogas i.e. the meaning of hastas. Thus for example in Natyashastra Hastas and Abhinayathey mention circa 35 different meanings for Pataka hasta while in Abhinaya Darpana there are more than 40 of them.


Besides, the meanings of hastas are divided into three groups:


1. Natural - the hastas expressing simple movements: to go, to stop, to eat, to sleep etc.

2. Interpretive - the gestures imitating the most characteristic features of an object: to take water from a well, to ride a chariot, animal actions etc.

3. Symbolical - the gestures destined to portray such notions as beauty, power, opinion, male or female sex etc.

One can express almost everything in dance with the help of hastas, but their usage must not be isolated from the body movements and the meaning must necessarily be supported by expressions of face and eyes.

Copyright © 2000-2013