Dances of India

Dances of India - 2022

Basic Research Topics on Classical Dances

By Dr. Maha Gingrich

The popular dancing couple of India, Vannadil Pudiyaveettil Dhananjayan and his wife Shanta Dhananjayan are amongst the most accomplished dancers and teachers of Bharatha Natyam.

I receive a lot of inquiries and emails from high school or college students wanting to do their Senior projects or special projects based on Indian classical dances. They want to know the theory and historical background of classical dances. I thought, I could share the major topics or criteria that is essential to learning classical dances.

As we all know, Indian dances always tell us stories of Indian epics, literature, social life, and human emotions. Of course, all our stories also depict God in human situations, and they become the hero and the heroine, which is Nayaka and Nayaki. For example, Radha, the heroine is the lover of Lord Krishna the hero. The literary texts, including the Natya Shastra, recognize eight basic types of Nayaka, the hero and eight types of Nayaki, depending on the nature of the story.

The types of Nayaki are more popular than Nayaka in some dance forms. However, when Lord Shiva or Krishna is depicted, Nayaka’s characteristics become more prevalent. There are two subdivisions in these eight types.

One is the types of Nayaka based on nature. They are:

• Dhirodatta: of noble nature, a King, a minister or a general;
• Dhiralalita: affectionate, royal;
• Dhiroddhatta: arrogant, godly, Indra; and
• Dhiraprasanta: calm, Brahmin.

The four types of Nayaka based on their behavior in love are:

• Anukula: the devoted, faithful husband like Lord Shiva;
• Daksina: courteous, treats equally all women;
• Dhrsta: bold, shameless, indifferent when caught red-handed with other women;
• Satha: rogue, loves more than one woman but pretends otherwise.

In Bharatha Natyam, Kuchipudi, and Kathak dances like Varnams, Javalis and Tumris speak of such characteristics in men the heroine loves.

Likewise, the eight Nayakis or heroines are:

• Abhisarika: yearning for her lover, goes out to meet him, For Example, Radha;
• Kalahantarita: separated due to a quarrel, like Satya Bhama;
• Khandita: broken hearted;
• Prositapriya: whose lover or husband lives abroad;
• Svadhinabhartrka: whose husband is charmed of her and stays with her;
• Vassakasajja: dressed up for union, used a lot in Kathak;
• Vipralabda: the deceived;
• Virohitkhantita: distressed by separation.

I know all these names and their characteristics are hard to memorize. However, it is good to understand the importance of these roles when we choreograph dances. Accordingly, we can try to live the character we play and feel the emotions and the pain and the joy of the characters we depict. To do so, we also need to understand the utilization of our body movements. How we move our eyes, eyebrows, and head along with our posture brings a character to life.


The Shiro-Bhedas or head movements are classified into nine major parts.

• Sama Siras: When the head is kept straight and motionless in a natural way.
• Udwahita Siras: When the face is raised up.
• Adhomukha Siras: When the face is bent down.
• Alolita Siras: When the head moves in a circle.
• Dhuta Siras: When the head is turned to and fro from left to right and from right to left.
• Kampita Siras: Moving the head up and down.
• Paravrtta Siras: When the head is turned away.
• Utkshipta Siras: When the head is turned to a side and raised.
• Parivahita Siras: If the head is moved from side to side.


Most of the time, the head movements are used with eye movements. There are eight classifications of glances called Drishti-Bhedas. These are one of the most important elements of dancing. I have seen some of my gurus tell their whole story just with their eyes and eyebrows. It is amazing to watch them bring a story to life. Here are the classifications.

• Saman: Gazing with eyes leveled unblinkingly.
• Alokitam: Swiftly turning the eyes round.
• Sachi: Looking out of the corners of the eyes obliquely without moving the head.
• Pralokitam: When the glance turns from side to side.
• Nimilitam: looking with eyes half open.
• Ullokitam: Looking up.
• Anuvruttam: Glancing quickly up and down.
• Avalokitam: Looking downwards.


There are six major classifications of eyebrow movements called Bhru-Bhedas. Not many people can actually move both their eyebrows up and down. My students watch me with amazement when I do. Sometimes it is almost comical to watch people try it.

• Sahaja: Natural eyebrow in a composed face.
• Patita: When eyebrows are at rest and then lowered.
• Utkshipta: When either one or both eyebrows are raised.
• Chatura: When both brows are moved and the expression is pleasant.
• Rechita: One brow is raised in a charming fashion.
• Kunchita: When one or both eyebrows are arched.


The four major neck movements are used several times in most dances:

• Sundari: Moving the head obliquely or to and fro horizontally.
• Tiraschina: An upward movement of the neck on both sides as though the face was forming the figure of horizontal 8.
• Parivartita: Neck moving from right to left suggesting the half moon.
• Prakampita: The neck moves forward and backward in a thrusting motion like that of a pigeon.

These structured movements have been taught and practiced for centuries. The more we master these movements, better our story telling ability will be as a dancer. I hope this information helps some of you trying to do projects or write essays on classical dances.

For questions or comments, contact Dr. Maha Gingrich via email at