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Based on the mode of performance and usage, dance can be broadly classified under three main heads such as Nritta, Nritya and Natya.


Nritta means pure dance, a presentation of rhythm through graceful movement of the body. It always reflects the mood, Bhava and Rasa underlying the compositions sung for dance. It is important for its pure beauty. This presentation of dance does not stress on facial expressions. Footwork is given prominence in this. Beat and tempo are the guiding factors for the synchronisation between the rhythm and time. Abhinaya Darpana defines nritta as bodily movements without evoking Rasa Bhava.

Rasa bhaavaviheenaantu nrittamityabhidiyate

Tala and laya are the basic concepts of nritta. “Nrittm talalayasritam”as given in Dasarupaka stresses the basic concepts of nritta. Nritta figures in the first part of a dance performance. It involves bodily movements and consists of chari, rechika, Angaharas, Karanas, Bhramaris, Nrittahastas etc. Nritta is divided into three forms such as Vishama, Vikata and Laghu. Generally, expressional aspect is given less importance and more emphasis is given for the movement of various angas of the body.


Nritya consists of footwork and abhinaya. It relates to Rasa and psychological state. Angika abhinaya relating to Hasta, eyes, eye brows, lips etc. are very important in Nritya. It can be termed as the explanatory aspect of dance where hand gestures and facial expressions convey the meaning of the lyrics of the performing song. Bhav of the dancer is of prime importance in this so it can also be considered as the miming aspect of dance.

Rasabhavavyanjanaadiyuktam nrutyamitiryate

Nritya mainly depends on Bhavabhinaya. It has five forms such as Vishama, Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gundali. The term is believed to have derived from Nrit, meaning bodily movements. Nritya is considered to be that form of dance that suggests both Bhava and Rasa. It combines all the three forms of abhinaya, namely, Angika, Vachika, and Sattvikam.


Natya means abhinaya and it is the combined manifestation of bhava, rasa and abhinaya. The term natya is derived from the root Nat, meaning movement and to mean to dance or act. It can also be considered as the combination of Lyal, isai and nataka, ie, Literature, music and Drama. Thus Natya is telling the story through dance and music or laya and abhinaya or Nritta and Nritya.

Natyam tannatakam chaiva poojyam poorvakathayutam

Bharatha described Natya as pure abhinaya having six angas such as postures, words, gestures, expression of temperament, music and rasa. Facial abhinaya is very important in Natya. It is divided into ten sections. They are Bhana, Veedhi , Anga, Vyayoga, Samavakara, Yihamriga, Dima, Prahasana, Nataka etc. This constitutes the Dasarupakas.

Avastanu kritirnnatyam rupam drisyocchyate

Rupakam tat sannaropat dasadhaivarasrayam

While learning the art of Bharatnatyam, the sequence of Nritta, Nritya, and Natya are followed. The starting items, Alarippu, Kauthuvam, Jathiswaram all come under Nritta. These are followed by Swarajathi, Sabdam and Varnam which come under Nritya and finally the Padams come under the Natya category.

The movements of Nritta, Nritya and Natya should always be in concordance with the primary standards of Dance. Laya found in Nritta in combination with Bhava becomes Nritya, which in turn when combined with gestures and actions becomes Natya. Natya will ultimately be impressive as well as effective only when there is a harmony between the bodily movements of the dance and emotional expressions of the abhinaya. All great dancers display a perfect blend of all three in each of their performances.

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