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“Abhinaya Darpanam” is a Sanskrit treatise dedicated to Indian classical dances, offering a comprehensive exploration of dance movements and expressions. The entire text is composed in a poetic form known as ‘padya,’ primarily employing meters such as ‘Anushtupa chhand,’ ‘Sragdhara,’ and ‘Shardulvikridit.’ This format facilitates the method of ‘memorizing and recitation’ for knowledge acquisition, aligning with the traditional Indian education system’s ‘Patha-Anushthan-Avabodha’ sequence. The author of this work is believed to be Nandikeshwara, hailing from Southern India.

This treatise’s antiquity is typically dated around 1000 AD. Abhinaya Darpanam’s association with Natyashastra by Bharata Muni and Sangeeta Ratnakara by Sharangadeva is intriguing. It appears that Abhinaya Darpanam was composed after Natyashastra but before Sangeeta Ratnakara.

While influenced by Natyashastra, Abhinaya Darpanam diverges from it in a couple of ways:

First, it provides detailed explanations of individual limb movements in Angika abhinaya. In the Angika abhinaya aspect, there are critical explanations about movements of each limb as independent, separate movements. Second, it does not feature Karanas and Angaharas, as described in the Natyashastra. Third, the treatise lacks chapter divisions, presenting a continuous chain of poetic verses.

It explores the following topics in chronological order:


a) It begins with an invocatory verse, Namaskriya, offering a prayer to Lord Nataraja with a comparison of the four types of abhinaya (Angika, Vachika, Aharya, Sattvika).
b) The Natyopatti discusses the ‘5th Veda’ (Natya Veda) as an amalgamation of concepts from the four existing Vedas, describing Lasya and Tandav, the feminine and masculine manifestations of Indian classical dance. It traces the evolution of dance from a celestial art form to its accessibility on Earth.
c) Natyaprashansa elucidates the magnificence of dance as an expression for celebration as well as an invocation to the divine.
d) Natanabheda classifies dance into three types:
1. Nrutta– exclusive bodily movements devoid of emotions and facial expression
2. Natya– expressions conveying traditional stories and mythology
3. Nritya -combination of the above two regarded worthy to be performed in the royal courts (etat nrutyam maharajasabhayam kalpayet sada!’). These 3 Natanabhedas are intricately related with the 4 types of abhinaya.


e) Natanaprayagakaal discusses the occasions suitable for Nritya performances, including religious festivities, coronations, marriages, and auspicious events. The audience, comprising Sabhapati, Mantri, and the general audience, is metaphorically described as a wish-granting tree with Vedas as its branches and Shastras as its blossoms, the learned people flocking towards it are buzzing honeybees.

The seating arrangement of the audience is described as Sabha rachana. The stage is termed as ‘Rang’ and the audience is seated facing it.

f) Details of the performing troupe, including the arrangement of the performing maiden (patra) and the good dancer (natottam), sheds light on the concept of solo performances. The Taladhari, vocalist (Geetakari), and Shrutikara flanked by two mridanga players are placed on the right side of the Patra on the Ranga.

g) Characteristics of the performer are explored through

a. Patra Lakshan– qualities of the performing lady,
b. Varjaneeya patra-features to be avoided in the presenting lady, and
c. Patraprana– the 10 essential attributes of the performing maiden.

Kinkinilakshanam– It highlights the importance of ankle bells. They should be crafted of Kansya and the tiny melodic bells 100 – 200 assembled collectively with a blue thread at a distance of 1 anguli.



a) The performance begins with an invocation with musical notes, paying respects to Vighnesh, Murajadhipati Gaganand Mahi, and seeking permission from the guru to get ready for the performance.
b) Rang devata stuti involves a prayer to the Rangadhidevata.
c) Pushpanjali marks the offering of flowers for removal of all obstacles and prayers to bless the Guru as well as shishya.

“Vighananam Nashanam Kartum Bhutanam Rakshanaya Cha
Devanam Tushtaye Chapi Prekshakanam Vibhutaye
Shreyase Nayakasyatra Patrasamrakshanaya Cha
Acharya Shikshasidhyartnam Pushpanjalim Atharabhet”


d) Natyakrama:

The song (Geetam ) orally  performed by the dancer herself (Asyena)conveying meaning (Artha pradarshan). It Includes the use of:

Hands (Hastena)
Expressing emotions (Bhava pradarshan)
Eyes (Chakshurbhyam)
Beat of time (Talam)
Feet (Padabhyam)

A very valuable instruction for efficient presentation of dance is explained by Nandikeswara here-

“Yato hasta tato Drishti
Yato Drishti tato Manaha
Yato Manaha tato Bhava
Yato Bhava tato Rasaha”

Hasta —> Drishti   —>   Manas  —>     Bhava   —>    Rasa

Wherever the hands go, the eyes should follow, the mind follows the eyes and the expressions thoughts of the mind. One can say that this sutra gives a guarantee of implementing classical dance in a gist. It details the attributes and modes of performance, with a crucial dictum stating that the hands, eyes, mind, expressions, and emotions are interconnected.



Abhinaya is categorized into four types:

1.Angika (suggestion through hand movements, facial expressions and body movements)
2.Vachika (involving words and kavya)
3.Aharya (related to attire and ornaments)
4.Sattvika (suggestion through Psychosomatic expressions)

Angika Abhinaya delves into the parts of the body that facilitate expression, starting with the major six angas: Head (Sheera), Arms (Hastau), Chest (Vaksha), Hips (Katitatau), Flanks (Parshav), and Feet (Padau). This division of body parts mirrors the Shadanga shareer in Sushrut Samhita of Ayurveda. After this follows the explanation of the Pratyanga and Upanga. The author also addresses the inclusion of the neck in the angas.

Later comes the explanation of bodily movements under following heads:

a. Method of performing the movement
b. Application (viniyoga)

The treatise then discusses bodily movements, SHAREER ANGA, under the categories of method and application, focusing on movements starting from the ‘SHEERA ANGA’ and ‘HASTA ANGA’  going on to the ‘PADA ANGA’.

The movements of Sheer Anga include :

Shirobheda (head movements) – 9
Greevabheda (neck movements) – 4
Drishtibheda (glances of the eyes) – 8

The movements from the Hasta Anga include:

a. Asamyuta hasta (single hand gestures) – 28 in number
b. Samyuta hasta (combined gestures) – 23 in number

Description of Nritta hasta, Devata hasta, Dashavatar hasta and Bandhav hasta is present.

The movements of the Pada Anga encompass:

A) Mandala bheda (forms of standing) -10 types

This first mandala bheda is further classified as follows:

A1) Sthanaka bheda – Further divided into 6 types – Samapada, Ekapada, Nagapada, Aindra, Garuda, Brahma.
A2) Ayata
A3) Alidha
A4) Prenkhana
A5) Prerita
A6) Pratyalidha
A7) Swastika
A8) Motita
A9) Samasuchi
A10) Parshvasuchi

B) Utplavana bheda (Types of leaps) – 5 types
Alaga, Kartari, Ashva, Motita, Krupoalaga

C) Bhramari bheda (Types of spiral movements) – 7 types
Utpluta, Chakra, Garuda, Ekapada, Kuncita, Akasha, Anga

D) >Chari bheda (Types of strides) – 8 types
Chalan, Chankramana, Sarana, Vegini, Kuttana, Luthita, Lolita, Vishama

E) Gati bheda (Types of gaits) -10 types
Hansa, Mayuri, Mruga, Gaja, Turangini, Sinhi, Bhujamgi, Manduki, Veera and Manavi.

In conclusion, Abhinaya Darpanam stands as a priceless Sanskrit treatise that provides a profound exploration of the realm of Indian classical dance. Penned by Nandikeshwara around 1000 AD, this Sanskrit poetic masterpiece distinguishes itself from Natyashastra and Sangeeta Ratnakara while delivering profound insights into the nuances of Angika abhinaya. Its methodical examination of performance sequences, varieties of abhinaya, and the interwoven elements of dance, encompassing hands, eyes, mind, expressions, and emotions, establishes it as an indispensable resource for both dancers and enthusiasts. Abhinaya Darpanam serves as an enduring source of knowledge, perpetually illuminating the elegance and intricacies of Indian classical dance for successive generations.


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