Royal Patronage to Dance and Music

The Pallava MĀrga

Vidyavacaspati, Kalaimamani



Hasta Pāda Samāyogah

All forms of Indian Classical dance are derived from Bharata’s Nāya-śāstra. As there are differing views on the date of Bharata’s dance, the search is made often in literature to give a date. The basic unit of the Bharata’s dance is called Nṛtta karaṇa that is defined in Nāya-śāstra as the “beautiful and combined movements of hands and legs is called Nṛtta karaṇa, “hasta pāda samāyogah Nṛttasya karaṇam bhavet”. This is further elaborated by Abhinava-gupta as “ the beautiful movement of the torso above the waist is denoted by the word “hand” (hasta) and the body beneath the waist denoted by the “legs” (pāda) constitute the Nṛtta karaṇa”. The word hasta thus stands for the body above the waist that includes chest, neck, head, and hands, while the word leg includes waist, hips, thigh, knees and  feet,  indicating that Bharata’s ya śāstra is like a “sutra” and has the validity as the Brahma sūtra” of Vyāsa. The importance of Bharata’s Nāṭya śāstra may be noted from an injunction mentioned in the Kāmikāgama that “dance as prescribed Bharata should be performed in each sandhis of day in front of the temple deity”. It also shows that the difference between the so called Rāja-Nṛtta (court dance) and Deva-Nṛtta  (temple dance) fades into insignificance in the all embracing temple movement. The tradition that Śiva performed the Nṛtta karaṇas, was well established in the Tamil country long before 600 CE is attested by the literal translation of the definition of Nṛtta karaṇa by saint Appar who in his Tevāram hymns renders it as “kalaloḍu thiruviralāl karaṇam ceydu tān āḍumme,” in which the  term “kalal” means pāda and viral stands for hasta.. Also please note the use of the word Karaṇam in exactly the same technical sense and that its performance is attributed to Lord Śiva (tān āḍumme i.e. himself will dance). This shows that art of dance was fully in the devotional temple movement..  It also seems to suggest that Bharata  has codified the Dance treatise on the existing  tradition that has come down to his period.


Dance of Mahendra

Most of the Sanskrit Dramas including that of Kalidasa were composed to be enacted in the Vijaya Yātra festivals of Temple deities. The Bharata Nātya first enacted was performed in the festival of “Mahendra Vijaya yātra”  in the commentary by Abhinava-gupta. The dance drama composed by the Pallava Mahendra-vikrama in around 600 CE is Matavilāsa prahasana nāṭaka in which the invocatory poem  starts with a salutation to the Kāpāla dance.


Bhāṣhā veṣha vapuhkriyā guṇakritān āśritya bhedān  gatamn

            Bhāvāvesa vaśāt aneka rasatam trailokya-yātrā-mayam

            Nrittam nishpratibaddha bodha mahimā yah prekṣhakasya svayam,

            Sa vyāpta avani bhājanam diśatu vo divyah kapāli yaśah


The first line speaks about the four forms of Abhinayas, bhāṣha (vācikam verbal), vesha (āhārya costume and make up). Vapuh kriyā (āngikam body movements) and Gunakritan (Sāttvikam evocative  emotion), and denotes that Śiva employs all the four abhinayas in his dance (guṇa kritān āśritya i.e. basing his dance on these abhinayas ). Bhāvāveśa vaśāt is a slesha in which entering into bhāva Śiva dances meaning he is full of evocative bhāvas. The other meaning is related to the Kāpālika  system of Saivam in which  āvesa is extolled in which the devotees are said to perform ecstatic dance imitating Śiva’s tāṇdava. By this process he performs nritta entering into varied rasas. This is considered Trailokya Yātrā mayam  of the Lord, the procession of three worlds. This results in great and delectable enjoyment in the eye of the spectator which the poetic emperor conveys by the phrase niśpratibaddha bodha mahimā, which is also a praise of the spectator, the Prekṣhakas. In the Cosmic dance, Śiva himself is the spectator as his other half, Pārvati (yah prekṣhakah ca svayam). By this process the lord pervades the whole world (savyāpta avani-bhājanam)  and concludes that let that dancing Kapālīśvara  grant us fame (disatu vo divyah   kapāli yaśah.). While mentioning the efficacy of dance, Bharata says it would bestow “dharma” (righteousness),” artha” (wealth) and “yaśas” – (fame). By using the  term “yaśas”  Mahendra clearly indicates that  it was Bharata’s text that he is elaborating.  In the very first invocatory Mahendara pallava extols all the greatness of Śiva’s dance. There is also a śleṣha (double meaning) in the use of the word Avani-bhājana. Among many of Mahendra’s title Avani-bhājana is one well known which the king uses to pray for the blessing and fame to himself from Śiva.(Avani-bhājana) through the drama. Mahendra was a contemporary of Saint Appar and these great authors give a glimpse of the state of dance around 600 CE.


Scare of Snake in Stone

A village in the northern part of Tamilnadu named Singavaram originally named  Simhaviṣhṇu-caturvedi-mangalam after Mahendra’s father, is known for a cave temple excavated by Mahendra. A pillar in the cave temple shows a dancing form of Śiva. It shows Śiva dances with four hands, his left hand is extended by the side of his body in dola hasta pose while the right is in abhaya. The rear pair of arms holds fire in the right and paraśu in the left arms respectively. His right leg is planted on the ground in sama position while his left leg is lifted up and is across the body as in the usual Naṭarāja pose. Except the left hand in dola-hasta other poses including that of torso, head, legs and abahya-hasta with the right hand are the poses of Nataraja. What is important in this sculpture is that beneath the lifted leg is shown a snake with it hood raised up. There is no doubt that it portrays what is called Bhujaṅga-trāsita dance karaṇa in Bharata’s Nāṭya śāstra. When a person sees a snake beneath his foot unexpectedly, the haste with which he lifts his foot in reflex action is taken as the pose of this karaṇa and named Bhujaṅga trāsita karaṇa. The pose of bhujaṅga trāsita “scared of snake” form is suggested in this sculpture. It is certainly one of the earliest representation of  the  Bhujaṅga trāsita sculpture from Tamilnadu that led to the full fledged portrayal of Naṭarāja, often seen in bronzes. Further the dance karaṇas are not static postures but exhibit continuous movement from one to another in which the pose on one side will be repeated on the other side to add a balanced beauty. What is shown on the left would be repeated on the right side.



Sri K.R.Srinivasan has published a detailed description of this sculpture in his work (Cave temples of the Pallavas, K.R.Srinivasan, Archaeological Survey of India, 1964 pl XXIII, Page 92). He has drawn our attention to the presence of this snake but without mentioning its significance. But he mentions this is the earliest portrayal of this form of dance in the south.


Bharata difines Bhujaṅga trāsita as :-


Kuñcitam pādam utkṣhipya trayaśram ūrum vivartayet

            Kaṭi jānu vivartāt ca bhujaṅga trāsitam bhavet


“Raise the bent foot, turn the waist and also the thigh and knee to the side to form this karaṇa.” . Abhinavagupta in his commentary, on this karaṇa gives two interesting points on this form 1) dance is beginning less and 2) the karaṇa movement derives its name from the frenzied action of an individual on seeing unexpectedly a snake by his side. By the sudden movement of the legs one hand is outstretched as a dola hasta while the other is in kaṭakāsya pose  This movement resembling this pose is called “scared of snake’ bhujaṅga trāsita. Abhinava-gupta says the names of all the karaṇas  should be derived in this manner on specific action.


Sri Śivaramamurthi’s describes this karaṇa. (There is an inadvertent slip in that he states that “the left hand is thrown across the chest in gaja-hasta pose)”.Nataraja in Indian Art, Thought and Literature, National Museum, New Delhi, 1874, P 192) The left hand of the sculpture is in dola hasta pose by the side and not across the chest. Śivarmamurti has  noted that this is the earliest  portrayal of this form in south India (p.192).pointing to the presence of snake he says “the most interesting however is the snake that has coiled itself with the hood raised listening to the sweet strains of music. However it is a clear indication of the terror introduced by the snake noticed near the leg, and consequently the movement is frenzied raising of the leg called the “bhujaṅga trāsita cāri”.


Obviously the continuation the cāri alternately follows this fear. It is in the movement, the dola hasta swings across the body as kari-hasta. The term kari-hasta does not mean the hand posture must be only across the chest, but denotes the action of swinging sideways like the trunk of an elephant.  Both the commentary of Abhinava-gupta and the original of Bharata do not mention the hand across as the chest as the significant posture but mentions only the (dola) swinging action. Even without the hand across the chest but simply on the side in dola hasta is the bhujaṅga trāsita  pose and that the Siyamangalam sculpture is the earliest representation of the pose that lead to the Naṭarāja form, that  is closer to Bharata’s definition.


Lalitam Avani-bhājanam

We have already seen that Mahendra has emphasized the art of dance in the invocatory verse of the Mattavilāsa prahasana nāṭaka. He also uses the title Avani-bhājana in that invocatory verse, while here at Siyamangalam the cave temple itself is called Avani-bhājana temple. By introducing the most important  dance karaṇa of Śiva namely the bhujaṅga trāsita karaṇa at Siyamangalam, Mahendra has further demonstrated his mastery of Bharata’s Nāṭya-śāstra. It is also not out of place here to mention that the inscription at Siyamangalam says that cave temple was named Avani-bhājanam resembling a precious container of gems caused to be made by the Pallava,.


Lalitānkurena rājñā Avanibhājanam nāmnā Kāritam etad

            svecchā karaṇḍam iva puṇya rtanānām


Lalitāṅkura was a title of Mahendra. The Tiruccirappalli cave temple excavated by him was called Lalitāṅkura Pallaveśvara graham. Mahendra had another title  “Lalita”. It is necessary to remember at this point that one of the dance karaṇas is called Lalitam and that Mahendra  adopted this title clearly after his love for Bharata’s Nāṭya.



By portraying this form of dance of Śiva at Siyamangalam, Mahendra has not only portrayed  the connection between the bhujaṅga trāsita form by the snake, but also went beyond it  and suggested that it is the Naṭarāja dance of Śiva,  the cosmic form that leads to Ānanda. This aspect is made by Abhinava-gupta who says here that Dance is Anādi  “beginning-less.

Nṛttasya anādi siddhatvāt karaṇam idam uktam. Aśankita drishta nikaṭah sarva     trāsāvishtasyeva gati samvarte bhujaṅga trāsi karaṇam. Hastau tu pāda vasāt   vyāvartita parivartitau bhavatah. Kramena ekah dola hastah parah kaṭakāsyah iti karaṇam. Etad sadrisyat tu bhujaṅga trāsita cāri vakshyate Evam karaṇa tulyam nāma sarva cārishu vācyam”



Abhinava emphasizes the importance of this karaṇa by mentioning here the beginning-less (anadi) nature of dance, which means it is not created by man, but god himself who is anādi. He also equates Śiva’s dance as the embodiment of Ānanda bliss, in his commentary at the beginning of the work where he calls the dance of Śiva as Ānanda-Nṛtta.


Śankarasya bhagavatah paripūrnānanda nirbharibhūta dehoccalātantara nirvara sundarākārasya ata eva nrittyatasya iti kartavyāntara kaivalyāt ānanda nrittmātra sthitasya mayā driṣhṭam


Thus Śiva’s dance is called Ānanda Nṛtta. It is known that the bhujaṅga trāsita Nṛtta of Nataraja has captivated the hearts of millions of people, over thousand and odd years and also was called Ānanda-Tāndava. The bhujaṅga trāsita karaṇa is thus the cosmic dance per excellence that inspired Abhinava-gupta to introduce the concept that Dance is eternal anādi.


Bharata in Epigraph

Next to Mahendra pallava, Rājasimha who came to the throne (690-730 CE) imbibed the love for Bharata’s Nāṭya from his great grand father Mahendra and he  assumed the title Mahendra-parākramah  equal to  Mahendra in potency. In some aspect he seems to have surpassed Mahendra in his love of fine arts. He makes specific mention of his mastery of instrumental music by the title Ātodya Tumburu and denotes his love of music by the title Vīṇā Nārada. Mahendra it is known, assumed the title Citrakāra-puli” i.e Tiger among artists. But Rājasimha went a step further and assumed the title Kalā-samudrah  i.e.”Ocean of arts”. It is now accepted that it was this monarch who was the author of all the monuments at Mamallapuram. There are over 300 of his titles of which one reading Atyanta-kāma is the most significant indicating his passion for variety and at Mamallapuram every monument is a distinct entity different from the other. In the cave temple known as Atiraṇa-caṇḍa Śiva temple in inscriptions, at Saluvan-kuppam, near the Tiger cave, he mentions that “none but Brahmā, Vishnu, Kumāra, Nārada and Bharata could fathom his mastery of Saṅgīta.


Yadi na vidhāta bharato na harir  nārado na vā skandhah

Boddhum ka iva samarthah sangītam kālakālasya



The word Sangita is here used in the sense of Nṛtta gīta vādya as seen from the names of the authors Bharata and Narada. Brahma, Vishnu, Kumāra , Narada and Bharata were the greatest exponents of of Nṛtta, Gita and Vādya. This is the earliest epigraphical reference to Bharata in India. That would also show Rajasimha’s passionate interest in Bharata’s dance tradition. It must be remembered that the Āgamas, the body of literature on temple worship, prescribe that Bharata’s dance should be performed in temple during each sandhi of the day emphasizing that temple worship is incomplete without Bharata’s dance. Rājasimha also assumed such titles as Āgama-prmānah and Āgamānusāri (i.e. Follower of Āgamas). Thus his love for Bharata’s Nāṭya arises from love of the divine and not for entertainment. He says in another inscription in the same place, that he rules the kingdom with devotion to Lord and for purpose of adoring the lord.


Bhakti prahvena manasā bhavam bhūṣhaṇa lilayā

Doṣhūāa yo bhuvo bhāram jīyāt sa Śrībharah ciram



The love of dance when looked at as an instrument of devotion brings greatest happiness. Abhinava-gupta would say that Vina stands for music, Adotya  for vadya (instrumental music) and Nṛtta for dance. When Rājasimha assumed the three titles, he was pointing to music by Vīṇa, Vādya by Atodya and Nṛtta and all the three combined by Sangita. He was one who exhibited his intrinsic love of fine arts among the Pallavas and that explains why Mamallapuram and Kanchi Kailasanātha exhibit exuberance of dance, virtually representing a visual manifestation of Rājasimha’s love of art. The assumption of titles are not empty boasts may be demonstrated by many aspects of sculptures seen at Kanchi and Mamallai. For fear of length only a few are outlined here.

The title Atyanta-kāma is found on all most all the monuments of Mmallapuram. Among the group of five rathas, the tallest called Dharmarāja-ratha is mentioned in the inscription as Atyantakāma-pallaveśvara graham i.e.the Śiva temple of Atynata-kāma an obvious reference to his authorship. The Dhramarāja ratha carries many conventional sculptures among which two sculptures are of extra ordinary interest.


Taṇḍu and Bharata

Sri C.Śivaramamurti has demonstrated that these two represent Śiva teaching Dance. One represents Śiva teaching dance to Tandu and another Śiva teacing the principles of dance to Bharata. Any who reads Rājasimha’s personality through his inscription will immediately suggest what Śivaramamurti identifies is correct. In both the emphasis is on dance. In one the sage identified with Tandu lifts his leg in dance and in the other it is the disciple’s posture standing before the master, attentively listening to him. These two sculptures are illustrations of Rājasimha’s attraction towards dance. It is necessary to state that most of the monuments leap into greater beauty once we learn to look through the dance postures like ākāsa cāri or ālidha pose or the turns and bends of the body (the bhaṅgas) or the bhāva in each sculpture.



In the Rājasimheśvara temple of Kanchipuram now called Kailasanātha there are two unique sculptures, one Śiva’s vigorous dance portrayed repeatedly. As a representation of great dance with all its vigor it is unparalleled in India Portrayal. The other is a representation of Ūrdhva-tāṇḍava of Śiva in which we see Nandikesvara also dancing with Śiva or rather learning dance from the Lord. The emphasis is on the dance of Nandikesvara’. It is well known Nandikeśvara expounded the dance tradition in his work called Abhinaya-darapan being followed to this day by south Indian dancers. I can say every sculpture in this temple represents Śiva’s sports, suggesting all forms of Nṛtta. Rājasimha himself says that he created this edifice that surpasses Śiva’s sports in Kaialāsa- “kailāasa līlām apaharati grahe Rājasimheśvarākhye”


Vithi-arangam at Thiruvaiyaru 

The four aspects of Indian dance, Vācika (verbal), Āṅgika (body movement), Ahāraya(costume and make up) and Sāttvika (emotions) and also the basic units of dance the “Nṛtta karaṇas”  formed the back bone of classical dance is thus attested. In a recent demonstration of Sribali rituals in temples at the IGNCA, New Delhi, Dr Satyanarayana (Mysore) and his son demonstrated the “Dik devata vandana” showing that the first dik vandana namely Indra dik (east) employs Gāndhāra rāga as its characteristic tune. This sequence was found in a manuscript of a dancer belonging to a traditional Deva-dāsi family of Somesvara temple of Bangalore attesting to the fact that it is an age old tradition of Sri-bali-Nṛtta. The saint Jnana-sambandar who lived in the middle of 7th cent CE sings of Gāndhāra isai sung by dancing girls in the streets of Thiruvaiyaru, when Dancing girls performed dance using jatis


Gāndharam isai amaittu kārikaiyār paṇ pāḍa kavinār vśthi

Tem Tām enṟu ceyilaiyār araṅgeri naṭamāḍum thiruvaiyāre


  “Thiruvaiyaru always abounds in dance performed by dancing girls who alight the street stages (vithi arangam) and danced to the sounds of “Tem” “Tām” (Jatis) after other singing girls rendered the Gāndhāra rāga. This seems to point to the nityotsavas in Thiruvaiayaru. The saint almost tells us by saying “Tem” “Tām enru”  that what they danced was the suddha nṛtta, i.e. pure dance karaṇas also called Cokkam  in Tamil.  Thus the whole classical tradition of instrumental music, vocal music and dance which went by the term “Nṛtta-Gita-Vādya” in Sanskrit and “Koṭṭu-āṭṭu-pāṭṭu” in Tamil, were then an integral part of Temple worship.


Dance, a Civilizing Process

We may call the dance related to temple worship, a civilizing process. Cultivating the mind towards higher way of life and dance was one of the best instrument of this process. We have a tradition in India that states “the people of a country follow the footsteps of the monarchs Yathā rāja tathā prajāh.. When the king is enlightened in arts, dance, and music the people are equally interested or lived that life These great rulers were trained in arts and literature in their young age and lead the way when they took over rule of the kingdom. The royal patronage to arts and literature is to help their people to higher way of thinking and living.



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2. Srinivasan, K.R. Cave temples of the Pallavas, Archaeological Survey of India,             New    Delhi, 1964

3. Sivaramamurthi, C. Nataraja in Indian Art, Thought and literature, By, National            Museum. New Delhi, 1974

4. Manmohan Ghose, The Natya Sastra of Bharata Muni, Vol I, Translated into      English, Calcutta , 1995

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6. South Indian Inscriptions, Vol XII , Ed Venkata subba aiyer, Archaeological     Survey of       India, 1943

7. Nagaswamy, R , Mahabalipuram, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008

8. Matta-vilasa-prahasana, Edited and translated by N.P.Unni, Nag Publishers,      Delhi,             1990