The āṅgikābhinaya of Yakṣagāna can be sub-divided into that of nāṭya and of nṛtya, which are nibaddha and anibaddha, respectively. We will limit our discussion to the aspect of nṛtta. Āṅgikābhinaya that caters for nāṭya is performed through the mode of loka-dharmī and it should have sāttvikābhinaya as its undercurrent. In other words, nāṭyāyamānatā in āṅgikābhinaya is based in loka-dharmī and is independent of the grammar and conventions of the particular form of art. Moreover, such āṅgikābhinaya must have sāttvikābhinaya as its under current – this combination will result in sattvodreka ultimately leading to rasāsvāda. Therefore, we will not discuss this aspect because, as memtioned earlier, such āṅgikābhinaya transcends the limits of a particular form of art.
Nṛtta too should be rooted in sāttvikābhinaya, though it is non-referential in nature. If not, it will be like rusted iron that has not come in contact with a divine gem stone that can give it holistic charm. Alaṅkāras are the parallels in classical literature to nṛtta in dance. One must not have the misconception that alaṅkāra is an external ornament that is imposed on the poem. Any form of expression - āṅgika, vācika or āhārya – when it is not rooted in Rasa and is not used to emote does not qualify to be abhinaya. Therefore, even when we talk about nṛtta, even though it is anibaddha, we should not forget that it should cater towards enhancing the process of evoking Rasa. The following words of Ānanda-vardhana about alaṅkāra are worth recalling and are applicable to nṛtta too –
rasākṣiptatayā yasya bandhaḥ śakyakriyo bhavet|
apṛthagyatnanirvartyaḥ so'laṅkāro dhvanau mataḥ||
Only that which caters to Rasa and does not come in artificially can be called alaṅkāra, as per the philosophy of dhvani.
The tālas that are predominantly used in Yakṣagāna are – Eka, Ādi, Rūpaka, Maṭṭè, Trivuḍè, Jhampè, Aṣṭa, and Korè. These are performed both at the slow and fast speeds. All these, however, can be brought under the common head of Chāpu-tāla. The manner in which hastāsphālana (ghāta) is applied matters the most in the above mentioned tālas. Some can bring out the intricacies of the sapta-sūḷādi-tāla in the framework of the Yakṣagāna-tālas. But such artistes who are talented and have extraordinary mastery over laya are only a few in number. Nṛtta, which closely follows the beat cycle indicated by the hands will inevitably need to focus on footwork. This kind of nṛtta is one of the unique and charming features of every deśī dance form of India. That said, mere pounding of the feet on the ground is certainly not beautiful and is not aesthetically delightful nṛtta. Yakṣagāna has hagura-hèjjè (light footwork) and kiru-hèjjè (small footwork) to ensure that the movements of the feet are not harsh. Different parts of the feet and the leg will need to be used in different ways such that the rhythmic patterns are presented in accordance with the beat cycle presented through tapping of the hand. The tips of the toes, heels, knee, lower legs and ankle will need to be variously moved to bring in an aesthetic effect in the presentation of different tāla patterns. The artiste will need to have maṇḍala-sthāna of the Nāṭyaśāstra as the fundamental posture to ensure that all different kinds of footwork is possible. Maṇḍala-sthāna is one of the fundamental stances of Sadir too. The artistes of Yakṣagāna perform recakas when they are in the Maṇḍala-sthāna and this is one of the unique features of the art. Without recakas, nṛtta cannot be beautiful and they fill it with life. The usage of recakas is called ‘miḍukuvudu’ in the Yakṣagāna terminology.
The movement of the lower torso starting from the feet to the hip is called cārī. In Yakṣagāna as we see today, there are about twelve identifiable cārīs out of the thirty-two that the Nāṭyaśāstra defines. Samapāda, Sūci, Adhyardhika, Eḍakākrīḍita, Janita, Mattalli, Atikrānta, Apakrānta, Ūrdhvajānu, Ḍolāpāda, and Bhramarī are some of the cārīs found. The few which are in vogue are not even systematically presented. While some of these movements resemble the description in the Nāṭyaśāstra, some have undergone some transformations. It is quite unfortunate that many artists have done away with these few movements too and rely merely on footwork.
Some readers might rise eye-brows upon reading the above discussion. They might say that the nṛtta of Yakṣagāna also involves movement of the hands and is not limited to footwork alone. Indeed, the arms (and the hands) move while the feet present different rhythmic patterns. But the variety in these movements is limited. Traces of a few nṛtta-hastas can be found in Yakṣagāna and many of them have undergone changes too. Latā, Lalita, Valita, Ḍolā, Garuḍapakṣa, Recita, Ardharecita, Daṇḍa, and Udvṛtta are some of the nṛtta-hastas seen in Yakṣagāna. Some artists also employ movements of the arms that they have created. At times, these newer nṛtta-hastas come into existence out of spontaneous inspiration of the artistes and at other times are pre-planned and choreographed.
The number of abhinaya-hastas in Yakṣagāna is more than the number of nṛtta-hastas. This is common to all regional dance forms of South India. The following are some of the abhinaya-hastas used in Yakṣagāna – Patākā, Tripatākā, Ardhapatākā, Śikhara, Muṣṭi, Candrakalā, Sūcī, Kartarī, Mṛgaśīrṣa, Siṃhāsya, Sarpaśīrṣa, Śilīmukha, Triśūla, Mukula, Haṃsapakṣa, Haṃsāsya, Alapadma, Padmakośa, Ūrṇanābha, Kaṭakāmukha, Tāmracūḍa, Bāṇa, Sandaṃśa, Karkaṭa, Tārkṣa, Añjali, Kapota, Svastika, Śaṅkha, Cakra, Pāśa, Kīlaka, Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha, and Khaṭva. Though there might not be any śāstric framework for their application, it cannot be denied that these have come down traditionally.
Dr. G S Hegade’s work in this direction is commendable. The beauty and variety in movements that have been achieved due to a blending of abhinaya-hastas with nṛtta-hastas is certainly noteworthy. It has resulted in myriad movements of the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. For example, abhinaya-hastas such as Alapadma, Catura, Sarpaśīrṣa, and Candrakalā have been used in combination with the Udvṛtta-nṛtta-hasta. Similarly, Patāka-abhinaya-hasta is blended with Recita-nṛtta-hasta and Haṃsāsya, Śikhara, Muṣṭi and Ūrṇanābha abhinaya-hastas have been used along with Ḍolā-nṛtta-hasta. The combined effect of these is charming and is worth recollecting here. Yakṣagāna uses the hasta-karaṇas – Āveṣṭita and Udveṣṭita to some extent. These too can amplify the beauty of nṛtta-hastas.
In the backdrop of the discussion carried out so far, can we still say that Yakṣagāna lacks nṛtta-hastas and hasta-karaṇas? Is there anything lacking in the movement of the arms and the hands? Well, the answer should be an emphatic ‘yes’; there is much more that can be incorporated in Yakṣagāna to enhance its beauty and ability to communicate effectively. While there are some traces of Nāṭyaśāstra movements found in Yakṣagāna, there is a lot more that can be introduced. Adding nṛtta-hastas such as Keśabandha, Nitamba, Āviddavaktra, Pallava, Karihasta, Pakṣavañcita, Pakṣapradyota, Ūrdhva-maṇḍali, Uromaṇḍali, Ulbaṇa, and Svastika will make the nṛtta of Yakṣagāna even more charming. I’m sure matured connoisseurs and artists will take my side in this regard.
The cārīs and nṛtta-hastas mentioned above will need to be executed by the artiste positioning himself in certain stable stances. Yakṣagāna indeed has traces of such stances – sthānakas in practice. The Nāṭyaśāstra defines six puruṣa-sthānas (male stances), namely – Vaiṣṇava, Samapāda, Vaiśākha, Maṇḍala, Ālīḍha, and Pratyālīḍha. In addition to this, there are three strī-sthānakas (female stances), namely – Āyata, Avahittha, and Aśvakrānta. In addition to these, āsana-sthānakas (sitting postures) are quite evidently a part of the Yakṣagāna movement vocabulary today. In fact, what we see today as ‘Bharatanāṭyam’—which makes tall claims of being the rightful inheritor and representative of Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra—is quite divorced from the Nāṭyaśāstra and it is Yakṣagāna that has retained larger number of features that Bhatara speaks of.
Though Yakṣagāna is close to the mārga of the Nāṭyaśāstra, both in its form and content, many elements have got lost with time. The cārīs, nṛtta-hastas, hasta-karaṇas, and nṛtta-karaṇas have largely gone out of vogue. Furthermore, the subtle movements of the head, neck, eyebrows, eyes, eyelids, cheek, lips, mouth, chest, stomach, sides, waist, thighs, knees, calves, heel, ankle, forefeet, toes, and other parts of the body are not prominently seen to be a part of the Yakṣagāna movement vocabulary today. Though they have not vanished entirely, some of them are present and the artistes make use of them unconsciously. In fact, quite a few features of sāttvikābhinaya that is inevitable for mukhajābhinaya are present in Yakṣagāna.
One of the reasons for the absence of variety and lack of subtle movements of āṅgikābhinaya is the probably the absence of a tutor-student pedagogy for Yakṣagāna. Most artistes pick up the art by watching their seniors perform. This has resulted in some losses, some gains, and largely a loss of reproducible structure for Yakṣagāna. With the passage of time, both aesthetically desirable and undesirable changes have taken place in the art form.
There are only a few nṛtta-karaṇas to be found in practice in Yakṣagāna today. A nṛtta-karaṇa (also referred to as karaṇa) is a combination of sthānaka, cārī, and nṛtta-hasta embellished with appropriate recakas. There are hundred and eight of them described in the Nāṭyaśāstra. None of the regional dance or theatrical arts in the form that we know them today include all the karaṇas in their complete form. The following karaṇas are present in the original or modified forms in Yakṣagāna today – Samanakha, Mattalli, Ūrdhvajānu, Vaiśākharecita, Vivṛtta, Vinivṛtta, Vivartitaka, Atikrānta, Pārśvakrānta, Talasaṅghaṭṭita, Talasaṃsphoṭita, Garuḍapluta, Siṃhavikrīḍita, Siṃhākarṣita, Sarpita, Skhalita, Krānta, Janita, Ūrūdvṛtta, Lolita, Śakaṭāsya, Argaḻa, Cakramaṇḍala, and Gaṅgāvataraṇa. The ‘maṇḍi-hākuvikè’ of Yakṣagāna is essentially a reflection of Vivṛtta, Vinivṛtta, and Vivartita karaṇas.
There are several deśī-karaṇas, which are the modifications, improvisations and regional adaptations of the mārga-karaṇas described in the Nāṭyaśāstra. At times, they could also be a truncated form of the mārga-karaṇas. They have been documented in works such as Nṛtta-ratnāvalī of Jāyapasenāni, Saṅgīta-ratnākara of Śārṅgadeva, Nṛtyādhyāya of Aśokamalla and Nartana-nirṇaya of Paṇḍarīka-viṭṭhala. The deśī-karaṇas are full of jumps, leaps, twists, truns and acrobatic movements. Such movements are called pluti, bhramarī, lāga, and dvāḍha. When examined in the backdrop of these later texts, Yakṣagāna today has Jānubhramarī (Maṇḍi-hākuvikè), Ekapāda-sthānaka, Ābhāsabhaṅga (Jāruguppè), Āvartita-gati (Tirgāsu-naḍè, mainly meant for Vidūṣaka – the comedian), Udghaṭita (òṃdanè hèjjè) and other movements. Among the deśī-cārīs that the Saṅgīta-ratnākara mentions, Jaṅghālaṅghanikā, Ūruveṇī, and Saṅghaṭṭita are prominently present in Yakṣagāna (Baḍagutiṭṭu in particular). Furthermore, different movements found in Sadir and Tāphā are also found in Yakṣagāna. Taṭṭaḍavu (diddittai), Kudicca-mèṭṭaḍavu (kuñcèṭṭu), Nāṭṭaḍavu (salāmu hèjjè), Mèṭṭaḍavu (òṃdanè hèjjè), and other movements are easy to recognise. The āṅgika of Yakṣagāna is certainly quite rich when all this is taken into consideration. These movements come in a flash and disappear from the stage. This is same as the fate of Sadir or Tāphā (‘Bharatanāṭyam’), Kūcipūḍi, Mohiniyāṭṭam, Oḍissi, Kathak, Kathakalī, Maṇipuri, and all other deśī forms of dance. These regional forms of dance, however, have a guru-śiṣya-paramparā and have undergone changes and refinements from time to time. And so, they appear to be better off than Yakṣagāna in their richness of āṅgika. Yet, if Yakṣagāna can today add a few more cārīs, nṛtta-hastas, and karaṇas as well as embellish all movements with recakas, its execution with gain more finesse and will be filled with rich āṅgika. This must also flow down a streamlined pedagogy involving aṅgopāṅga-vyāyāmas and aṅgaśuddhi. Artistes must cultivate the habit of keeping the ultimate aim of evoking of Rasa in mind at all times while performing āṅgikābhinaya. When this is achieved, Yakṣagāna has the potential to stand out as one of the most beautiful deśī-raṅgabhūmi, i.e., regional theatrical forms of India
To be continued...
This series of articles are authored by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh and have been rendered into English with additional material and footnotes by Arjun Bharadwaj. The article first appeared in the anthology Prekṣaṇīyaṃ, published by the Prekshaa Pratishtana in Feburary 2020.
 Figures of sound and sense; in other words, embellishments of word and meaning.
 One should not misunderstand alaṅkāra as ornamentation that is forcibly impressed upon poetry. It is not something external that is artificially added to a poem.
 Readers must bear in mind that the term ‘Bharatanāṭyam’ widely used today is actually a name given to the dance forms of Sadir, Tāphā, and Naṭṭuvanār-kūttu in the early part of the twentieth century. The name can be misleading. See the essay ‘Nāṭya, Nṛtya, and Nṛtta: Some Thoughts’ in this book.