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Dance and Emotions


Dance is the expression of emotions through the movement of the body. For a common person, dance is a form exercise or entertainment. But for a dancer it is the hidden language of their soul. Dance is the only exercise which can be enjoyed along with the pain of practice and sacrifice.

What are emotions? According to science emotions are the different biological states associated with our nervous system. But beyond that, we know that it is related to thoughts and feelings. These may be positive or negative, depending on factors like behavior, circumstances etc. To keep these emotions, which we call Rasas, in our control, a balanced state of mind is required. To achieve this state of mind yoga helps us, through Asanas, Kriyas, Pranayama, sathvik ahaar and disciplined lifestyle. We see the correlation between dance and yoga and emotions, they are like an equilateral triangle where all the sides are equal.


The style of dance that I practice is Bharatanatyam. This is one of the eight classical dance forms of India. Bharatanatyam originated in one of the southern states of India, Tamil Nadu. The roots of origin of this dance can be traced to the Vedas. In the Vedas there is a lot of evidence to show that dance was used as a part of rituals while worshipping the nature gods. After the vedic period came the period of the epics i.e; Ramayana in TretaYuga, Mahabharat in Dwaparyuga, wherein we have lot of references to dance being used as a part of worship and also as entertainment.

Later in the historical period these forms of dance mostly flourished in the temples of India. In those times dancers were called as devadasis, in service of God. They used to spend their lifetime offering dance as worship to God. Classical dance usually has two main aspects. Nrutta, where you have pure dance movements that is using the limbs of the body, without any particular meaning attached to it. It is a source of aesthetic beauty because of the symmetry and geometry of the physical postures. Second aspect is Abhinaya or Nruthya, which I personally feel is very special and important, which is the expression of an idea, mood, sentiment or narration of a story.


In classical dance we have four fold form of Angika abinaya, Vachika Abhinaya, Aharya and Sathvika Abhinaya.

Angika Abhinaya is expressed using different limbs of the body which is codified into the system of hand gestures for depicting different moods or emotion or things. Vachika Abhinaya is the expression through dialogues or lyrics. Today we use songs to depict the mood of a situation in movies, theatrical plays etc. This is vachika abhinaya. Aharya Abhinaya is the expression through costumes, jewelry etc. that depict a certain character. And finally Sathvika Abhinaya, which is the most intricate, because here an artist uses the facial expressions along with particular body language, that suits the mood and expresses different state of emotions. Why is this the most difficult? If we have a song then we take the cue from the lyrics, but sometime the situation demands many different emotions without any lyrics.

Any kind of dance , from whichever part of the world, is basically to express one or the other kind of emotion. But in Indian classical dance we take most of the situations and stories from the mythology or history. Here it is key to express the emotion of the writer who wants to express their perspective. These days even social themes are portrayed. The theory and practical of all Indian classical dance forms can be traced to the Sanskrit text “Natyashastra”. All these forms represent the unity of core ideas in a diversity of forms or style costumes. But the emotions for expressions remain the same. The main aesthetic that rules Indian art forms is the Rasa theory. In Sanskrit, Rasa means juice or flavor, that has to be tasted. So the experience of enjoying and appreciating the performance that depicts human emotions, is like tasting. Emotion towards an object is a perfect signal to rate the affinity of a person towards that object. Likewise the emotional response of audience to a performance defines the success of that performance. This way accurate representation brings out the required emotional response from the audience.


By nature nine dominant emotions which are known as Navarasas are subconsciously inherent in human beings. These can be perceived as natural states of moods. The levels of these emotions influence the mental state of a person. As dancers, we don't have to change the emotions completely, but we must be aware of how we express them. As we talk about the Navarasas should know those nine emotions :

Shrungara- Love, Hasya-humour (happiness), Karuna-sadness, Veera-courage, Roudra-anger, Bhayanaka-fear, Bheebatsya-aversion, Adbhuta-wonder, Shanta-peace. These nine emotions are emoted through eyes, gestures and body movements. Different deities and colors are attributed to each Rasa.


Shrungara : Meaning of shrungara is love, usually depicted as having a deep and romantic relationship with someone, but love can be in any form. Shrungara is connected to Vishnu, and is indicated by the colour green. Hasya: Means humour or happiness, joy or even teasing someone. Hasya is the most common expression in kids. The deity is Pramatha and the colour is white. Karuna: Meaning sorrow or pity. When the emotion reaches its highest point, it shows in the form of compassion. The irony here is that the deity it for this is Yama, who we consider the most merciless. Karuna is depicted in Grey. Veera: Meaning Heroism or courage, is nothing but the confidence, fearlessness, self-assurance shown. The God connected to this rasa is Indira and depicted in golden colour.

Roudra: Which means anger. Usually hurt ego, or insult get expressed as anger. The deity connected to Roudra is Rudra and the colour is Red. Bhayanaka: Fear. Like there are many types of desires in the world, so are fears. This is connected to Kaala depicted with black colour. Bheebatsya: Disgust, Aversion. It usually depicts for bad behaviour, vulgarity and dissatisfaction. This rasa is connected to Mahakaala, which is a form of Shiva during destruction. It is indicated by the blue colour. Adhbuta: Means wonder. An easy example for this is that every human being have always wondered about the things that we don't understand. This is connected to the Gandharvas was and is indicated using yellow.

Shanta: Peace and serenity. According to the Sage Bharata, the author of “NatyaShastra”, Shanta is a state or stithi, beyond which no emotions disturb the mind. It is the state of ultimate inner relaxation and 'Samadhi'. The deity of this rasa is Narayana and the colour is pure white.

According to the intensity of these rasas, and the positive and negative impact of these rasas, the intellect will be affected and bhavas are dominated. If the rasa is positively dominated then the positive traits as Dharma (virtue), Gnana (wisdom), Vairagya (detachment) and Aishwarya (strength) are portrayed.




On the other hand, negative impact will express Adharma (vice), Agnana (ignorance), Raga (attachment or desire) and Anaishwarya (weakness) would be predominant.

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