Research in Dance – Possibilities and Challenges - Part 1

There are many dimensions that research in classical Indian dance can explore and many paths it can choose to tread. This is, in fact, true from a global perspective as well. But we shall limit the current discussion to the dance forms of India that have traditionally come down to us.

Movement is fundamental to all forms of dance around the world and it involves the major and minor parts of the body.[1] Owing to the variegated movements, different forms of dance have taken birth in the first place. For all dance-related research, it would be good if movement vocabulary can be held as the focal point. Such dance-related research is important at the level of form but research in the realm of the content is something different altogether. The content and substance of all art is the same – Rasa. Ānanda is the experience that transcends all other ephemeral experiences and stands as the most sublime one. It is untainted by the constraints of time and space. All forms of art turn towards philosophy when their content is taken up for discussion. A philosophical point of view is inevitable for the analysis of the content of all arts. Everything else is related to research at the level of structure.

The structure of dance lies in its movement vocabulary. Music, on the other hand, flows with time; therefore, śruti and laya together characterize the structure of a musical presentation. In literature, sound and sense (word and meaning - vāk and artha ) are the focal points for all research. In painting, lines and colours define the form; in sculpture, the length, width, and depth as well as the play of light and shadow for delineating the silhouette constitute the elements of the structure. In this manner, though the elements of the form are different, all arts find their common denominator in their essence – Rasa. When dancers start contemplating upon the content, they must consciously and critically examine their own experiences.

People have different kinds of experiences, with varied levels of intensity at different points in time. We must establish a common base for all this and in order to do so, we must inevitably examine these variegated experiences from the perspective of philosophy. Vedānta has achieved this very well. Western schools of psychology also have contributed to some extent in this direction. Most streams of Indian philosophy deem psychology as an integral part of philosophy and thus, analysis at the mental and emotional plane is not new to Indian thought. Modern psychology, however, does not go beyond a relative perception of different emotional states and at times this can lead to inconclusiveness at various levels. Moreover, modern psychology does not provide us with a universal perspective of matter. Indian philosophy goes beyond the ephemeral and subjective nature of psychology, giving a universal and objective perspective of things. Those desirous of conducting research in dance should never forget the following: rather than becoming someone or something else, one must find one’s own true self. This is essential and must be pursued seriously by all artistes. Every artiste must have at least an overview of the kinds of discussion that have taken place in Indian philosophy.

While this is the essence of research at the level of substance, it is also important to take a look at a few of its other dimensions. A little contemplation makes it evident that there is much research that needs to be pursued in connection with Rasa. It is true that a thousand thoughts about Rasa have flowed down the stream of time. Researchers must record all the scholarly work that has taken place so far in connection with Rasa and take it forward by adding their own insights and observations. There are several peripheral aspects that need to be explored in the areas of aesthetics and the theory of Rasa. There is also an urgent need to present objective rebuttals to people who—with ulterior motives—have misrepresented and misinterpreted Indian aesthetics. There are many questions related to the Rasa theory that dance researchers can explore. Here are just a few.

  • How are we supposed to comprehend rasābhāsa (illusion of rasa)?
  • What is the role played by rasas such as bhayānaka, bībhatsa, and raudra? How do they kindle joy in the connoisseur? Can they be staged in a dance production? If so, how should it be done?[2]
  • Is there a place for hāsya (comedy) in nṛtya? If there is one, what are the kinds of hāsya that can be brought out?
  • How do the different vyabhicāri-bhāvas add to the nourishment of Rasa? What is the role played by each of them?
  • If different vyabhicāri-bhāvas can get elevated to the level of Rasa, what factors contribute to their appeal? (This, in fact, has been the view of Bhoja and other aestheticians. The researcher will need to examine in detail the consequences of such assertions).
  • In the view of Ānanda-vardhana, rasa, bhāva, bhāvābhāsa, rasābhāsa, bhāvodaya, bhāva-śānti, and bhava-śabalatā – all these add to the relish of a form of art. In this context, we must understand the exact meaning of the terms ‘bhāvābhāsa’ and ‘rasābhāsa’. It is also important to figure out how ‘bhāvodaya’ and ‘bhāva-śānti’ arise. What constitutes bhava-śabalatā also needs to be analysed.
  • To what extent should nṛtya be stylized? Wouldn’t over-stylization mean that we are forcing the connoisseur to learn and understand a codified language that is all new to him?

How should one strike a balance between the four modes of abhinaya to evoke Rasa? >

These and many other questions need to be pondered upon. The researcher will need to collect data, go through the śāstras with all thoroughness, contemplate upon his own experience and then document his thoughts on the subject.

Going back to the research related to the structure of dance, there is a lot that can be done in the arena of movements. There are several directions research related to āṅgika can take:

  • There is a need to rethink and analyse the different kinds of movements of the aṅga, pratyaṅga, and upāṅga that are possible and are practical to be adopted in classical dance. The Nāṭyaśāstra describes several exercises for aṅgas and upāṅgas but we have to see their relevance today. Has movement vocabulary been enriched from the times of the Nāṭyaśāstra, have some movements gone out of vogue or don’t suit the current day’s circumstances? – this question will need to be examined.
  • What is the nature of the movements performed by actors on AXN—or any other television channel featuring adventures—that can thrill the audience? The actor performs a movement within two minutes and successfully captures the attention of his viewers. Do his movements fall under any category defined in the Nāṭyaśāstra? Are there reflections of the aṅga and upāṅga movements in those episodes as well? If they do fall under one of those categories, which one are they closest to? If they don’t, at what point do they diverge from the Nāṭyaśāstra? If they appear to be movements that are altogether novel, how do we give them a definition? We will also need to analyse the proportions in which the elements of gimmick and elements of beauty are mixed to bring out such an acrobatic feat.

There are some acts that amaze us and take our breath away; when we watch such a performance over and over again, it certainly loses its appeal with multiple viewings. This is not the case with beauty. We may relish a thing of beauty however much we desire and it retains its flavour – it remains a joy for ever; each experience with the art reveals layers and layers of beauty, enriching us each time. Among things that cause amazement, it is only the acrobatic technique that captures the audience. But it is dry and loses its charm with time. There is not much scope for pure enjoyment in such performances. It is necessary for us to examine these kinds of movements with an objective mind and free from personal agenda. The Nāṭyaśāstra can provide us with a solid framework for all such analysis.

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.

[1] These are variously classified as ‘aṅga,’ pratyaṅga, and ‘upāṅga’ in Indian treatises on performing arts.


[2] The present author has written in detail about this in his Sanskrit essay ‘Rasābhāso nirasyate’ (See pp. 120–139 of his anthology Vāgarthavismayāsvādaḥ. Bengaluru: Prekshaa Pratishtana, 2018).





Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...