Natalie Savelyeva


Nritta in Dance is not a mere decorative element. Nritta brings out the unique power of rhythm. In Jathis, rhythmic patterns are polyphonic, i.e. Jathi is superposition of the general thalam of the composition (Adi in case of Dhanyasi varnam), rhythmic patterns of solkattus (mnemonic syllables), and still another stream of rhythm is represented by kanakku setting of the adavus. In korveis set to swaras, rhythm is enveloped in music, i.e. general rhythm of the composition blends with rhythmic patterns of Mattu (swara sequences), and again with kanakku setting of the adavus.

Nritta conveys its own, special and independent emotion of joy. It brightens up the whole composition. Dance is expression of the joy: the joy of life and joy of movement.

Nritta helps the dancer to increase emotional impact of the composition; it gives strength and power, which the dancer radiates out in the following lines of Sahityam (lyrics) enacted in Abhinaya.

Thus, Nritta is powerful vehicle of Bhava (emotional experience of the actor), which the dancer expresses and communicates to the audience using universal language of movement, which any living being is able to feel and understand.

Nritta is like a resonator. It helps the dancer to accumulate the energy and increase emotional intensity of his or her inner Bhavas and also empower his or her ability to communicate those Bhavas and evoke Rasa (emotional taste or response) in the audience.

Nritta is the integral part of dramatic setting of the varnam. Different characters are introduced into the play using different Nritta sequences. In Nritta, the whole body of the dancer speaks. Nritta parts could be compared with visual introduction into the following aspects of drama: a) the situation enacted on the stage, b) activity of the character, c) mood, temper, emotional state of the character.

For instance, one thing is Patra pravesam (entrance) of Ravana, which takes place at his court, when he enters in full glory, surrounded by crowd of attendants. He steps in slowly, with dignity, in full confidence of his power over the place and situation. Another thing is the dance performed by the deer, which is hiding from Rama in the forest. Another situation is the fight of Bali and Sugriva, and opposite scene is dance of Goddess Lakshmi who is going to select her husband and dances with the garland, or the dance of Mohiny in Kurma Avataram (for more details see the article on Patra Pravesham by Janardhanan Sir).

Nritta gives color to dramatic situation, given as a sketch in sahityam. Nritta gives us chance to see how the character enters the stage, how walks round, how behaves. Nritta gives the first impression of the situation, which is developed and unfolded further on in Abhinaya, when sahityam is enacted.

Some Terms Used

Adavu is the sequence of dance movements.

Korvai is the set of adavus, pre-choreographed and set to particular thalam and kanakku.

jathi and Jathi is the term used in two ways:

a) pancha jathi is five mnemonic phrases used to identify sequences of 3 (tisra, takita), 4 (chaturasra, taka dimi), 5 (kanda, taka takita), 7 (misra, taka dimi takita), and 9 (sankeerna, taka dimi taka takita) units;

b) in dance, Jathi is sequence of solkattus set according to certain rules (composition of jathi is the independent art, mastered by mridangam vidwans (experts) and nattuvanars).

Muktayi is the term derived from Sanskrit Makuta (crown). This term is used widely to denote finishing, cadence, concluding part. In music, Muktayi swara is the last swara of the first part of the varnam. In dance, Makuta (or teermanam) adavu is concluding adavu of any korvai or jathi. Rhythmic pattern of makuta adavu could set to Mora or Yathi sequence.

Makuta adavu (or Teermanam adavu) is concluding adavu of Korvei, often set in triple cycle (such patterns as Mora or Yathi can be used), or in any other way, which the choreographer decides upon.

Kanakku is the way to count number of beats for each part of adavu using mnemonic phrases: ta ki ta (3 beats), taka dimi (4 beats), taka takita (5 beats), taka dimi takita (7 beats) and taka dimi taka takita (9 beats).

Solkattu are mnemonic syllables used in Indian music and dance. In instrumental music (mridangam) Solkattu define different rhythmic patterns to be played. In vocal music Solkattu are also referred to as Pata (this is the old term, used in classical treatises to define mnemonic syllables). Since ancient times Pata has been intergral part of different musical compositions along with such Angas (constituents) as words (Pada) and notes (Swara). In dance Solkattu are used to a) compose Jathis, b) identify and pronounce different kinds of adavus.

Mora (moohara, teermanam or muktayi) is a rhythmic cadence comprising of three identical phrases. For instance, tadin ginatom ta , tadin ginatom tei , tadin ginatom. This kind of Mora is also referred to as Chinna (small) Mora. Another kind is Periya (big) Mora, which is much more complex sequence of rhythmic patterns, including introductory, intermediate and concluding (triple) portions. This kind of Mora is used in Tani avartanam (solo performance of mridangam), which is part of Carnatic music Kutcheri (concert).

Yathi is a rhythmic phrase which is shaped in particular manner. The phrase could expand (shroto vaha yathi, like river which becomes wider), contract (gopucha yathi, like tail of a cow, which becomes narrower), or go in straight manner (sama yathi or equal), and so on.

Avarta is one cycle of thalam.

Akshara is the unit of the thala, for instance, Adi thala comprises 8 aksharas.

Matra is the smallest division of thalam. Each Akshara of thalam is divided into the number of matras depending on Nadai (see above).

Layam is the tempo of composition.

Kalapramanam is the strict rule of keeping the constant tempo of the composition. Nattuavanar, as the coordinator of the orchestra, is responsible for keeping proper Kalapramanam.

Kalai is the speed. There are three grades of speed (vilamba or basic speed, madhyama or doubled speed and druta or quadruped speed). For instance, take Adi thalam and Chaturasra Nadai (the most common combination). In Vilamba, each Akshara is divided into 4 matras, in Madhyama: into 8 matras, and in Druta: into 16 matras.

Nadai or Gati is the pace. This term defines how many units each Akshara of the thalam is divided into, i.e. Akshara may include tree, four, five, seven or nine subdivisions. For instance, in Chaturasra Nadai means that each Akshara is divisible of four, i.e. each Akshara comprises four 4, 8, or 16 beats (matras) depending on Kalai (the speed), and in Tisra Nadai each Akshara comprises 3, 6 or 12 beats.

Samam, Kalidam, Areidam and Mukalidam define the starting point in relation of the beginning of each Avarta of thalam.

For instance, if one Akshara of thalam comprise four matras, the following scheme is used.

  • Samam: starting on the first matra of the first Akshara;
  • Kalidam (one fourth): starting on the second matra of the first Akshara (one matra is left empty);
  • Areidam (one half): starting on the third matra of the first Akshara (two matras are left empty);
  • Mukalidam (three fourths): starting on the fourth matra of the first Akshara (three matras are left empty).

Mattu are sequences of swaras or swara patterns (in Carnatic music swaras are grouped together, such sequences help to outline characteristic melodic aspects of raga).

Bhavas (that which becomes) are (in the context of the drama) emotions represented in the performance.

Rasa is the taste, essence, that what is relished (emotional experience, the essence of art conveyed).

Nritta portions of Dhanyasi Varnam

In the first part of the Varnam, Nritta is performed to the sound of Pata or Solkattu (mnemonic syllables imitating the sound of percussion instrument, i.e. mridangam).

Varnam E Maguva was composed by Mysore Sadashiva Rao, in ragam Dhanyasi and thalam Adi. According to notice given by Seetharama Sharma Sir, Rukmini Devi learnt Jathis and music of this varnam from Dandayudapani Pillai, who was employed at Kalakshetra for some time. She set chorepgraphy of Jathis, Abhinaya and Swara korvais. Seetharam Sir also said that this varnam is one of the most favourite varnams of Rukmini Devi.

Jathis of this varnam were composed by Dandayudapani Pillai himself. All the Jathis are set to Chaturasra Nadai (four beats per each of eight matras of Adi Thalam). Trikala Jathi is started on Samam and finished on Samam as well. Other three Jathis are started on Samam and finished on Areidam (half of the first beat of the following avarta). The reason is, Sahityam of the second line of Pallavi and both the lines of Anupallavi starts on Areidam (on half of the first beat), thus Jathis fill the gap left.

Note: Seetharam Sir noted once, that in olden days Nattuvanars who composed those Jathis, often started the Jathi on the second half of avarta (at this, the first half was filled with preparatory chain of Solkattus used to set the Kalapramanam or the tempo of the composition: dhalangu taka diku taka tadin gina tom).

Correspondingly, in such case normal Jathi (which could be two, three, four avartas long), would be finished on the half of avarta as well. Uncompleted last half of avarta in such case should be filled up with Aradi, which is usually half avarta long and could be finished on samam or kaleidam of the next avarta.

Still, Seetharam Sir noted that more proper practice is to start Jathi on Samam. He said, that this is over complication not very necessary as far the dance is concerned.

First half of Varnam: Jathis and Muktayi Swara Korveis

Varnam is opened with Trikala Jathi. Trikala implies three speeds or three levels of intensity of the dance. Trikala Jathi sets the tempo, the pace of the whole Varnam. While performing Trikala Jathi, the dancer outlines the space and time continuum, speaking in metaphorical sense, the dancer prepares the room for the drama to be enacted.

Thus, Trikala Jathi could be compared with the passage from silence of an empty stage into the hall of the Varnam.

Usually, Trikala Jathi comprises of the following three parts: 1) Trikala part (sequence of syllables executed in three speeds), 2) intermediate portion, and 3) Kuraippu (chain of fast adavus filling the beginning of avarta followed by Mora or Makuta, triple cycle of adavus concluding each Jathi ever). In Dhanyasi varnam intermediate portion is excluded, so we can find only Trikala portion and Kuraippu.

Trikala Jathi

After the Trikala Jathi, the drama of Varnam is commenced. In the first hand of Pallavi, the heroine inquires about the change of Hero attitude towards her:

yE maguva bOdhincerA Which woman taught those words to you?

This question sets the theme and the Sthayi bhava (basic, underlying mood) of the first part. The dancer fills the space and time continuum created by music and rhythm with emotion and opens the intrigue and problem of her story forward.

Abhinaya performed to the first line of Pallavi is concluded with the portion called Kuraippu.


This is the concluding portion of Trikala Jathi and comprises sequence of fast adavus (filling up the beginning of avarta) and the set of Makuta adavus (concluding set of adavus, which is usually repeated trice in the end of each Jathi). In terms of mridangam mnemonics, this portion is called Mora.

Kuraippu is logical conclusion of the introductory part of the Varnam.

After Kuraippu, the second line of Pallavi is performed:

endukinta mOdi jEsEvu Why are you showing so much stubbornness to me?

Here, the heroine describes the situations of misunderstanding, when the hero ignored her, or was angry with her, or even sent her away in direct manner.

The heroine concludes Pallavi section with the second Jathi. This Jathi is graceful and feminine. This Jathi characterizes the heroine and her style of moving round. In this Jathi, the dancer is given every option to express grace and beauty of her heroine.

Jathi II

Note: This Jathi is started on Samam, finished on Araidam.

The first line of Anupallavi follows. Here the heroine addresses the hero and describes his noble character:

chamArAja bhupala tanaya O Shyamaraja king’s son!

This description is followed by crisp and powerful third Jathi. I feel this Jathi as appropriate for introduction of the male character of high rank. Lines of the adavus are straight and precise. This Jathi I would say, describes the hero, how he looks like and how he holds himself like.

Jathi III

Note: This Jathi is started on Samam, finished on Araidam.

In the second line of Anupallavi, the heroine suggests that the hero is like gentle and gracious Krishna himself:

sarasa sree Krishna rajendra - O graceful Sree Krishna Rajendra!

Abhinaya of this line is followed by the fourth Jathi, fast, simple and playful. I would say, this Jathi describes how Sri Krishna dances, how graceful he is.

Jathi IV

Note: This Jathi is started on Samam, finished on Araidam.

Muktayi Swara

Korvais performed to Swaras I would compare with powerful accumulators. Swaras korveis precede the lines of Abhinaya. I feel that performing Nritta before starting Abhinaya wakes up some source of power inside. Nritta also helps to release the tension and reach higher level of emotional intensity, expressiveness of Abhinaya.

Korveis performed before each line of Sahityam, create something like emotional wave. This wave is like a vehicle or the channel, which facilitates emotional intercourse of the actor and the audience.

Muktayi Swara concludes the first part of the Varnam, like a coda. Sahityam of Muktayi swara is emotionally charged. Two Swara korveis are performed before enacting the abhinaya.

The first korvei is three avartas long (first avarta is repeated twice). It starts with strong and crisp adavu sequence, repeated twice. The second avarta comprises soft adavus and graceful Makuta sequence. This korvei introduces the context of the situation, as the heroine is going to say something important, as if concluding the whole previous monologue.

Muktayi Swara, Korvei 1

The second korvei is two avartas long. It is softer and more graceful. Adavus allow the dance to cover wider space of the stage by moving from one side to another. The second avarta of this korvei is concluded with elegant and soft Makuta sequence. This korvei tells us about the state and temper of the heroine and prepares the ground for the message of following Sahityam lines.

Muktayi Swara, Korvei 2

In the following lines of Muktayi swara sahityam, the heroine expresses herself and her anguish in emotionally charged question:

nee manaku kanugontini nyamukha niluvani mOhamu delisera nilata I know (understand) your mind truly (very well). (Your) inconsistent love I know (also).

dUrina paluku ceviki hitavuga vini nannu bAyuta nyAyama nee encitivo Listening (opening your ears) with pleasure to abusing words of (that) woman and leaving me (i.e. rejecting my love) — do you think it is right?

She repeats her address second time, to accompaniment of Tattu Mettu (rhythmic foot work), as if emphasizing and highlighting each and every phrase once more, giving more weight to the words and meanings of her speech.

Ettugada Pallavi and Ettugada Swara Korveis

In the second part the heroine speaks of her own feelings and her own situation, as she perceives it. She expresses herself, her desires, hopes and attitudes towards the hero.

In varnam (opposite to Swarajathi) Ettugada Pallavi is never sung with Swaras. There is not any Nritta korvei set to Ettugada Pallavi. The second part of varnam starts with sahityam and abhinaya, sometimes accompanied with Tattu mettu. In case of Dhanyasi varnam, only four hands of abhinaya (including one sancari) is performed without using Tattu mettu adavu.

Ettugada Pallavi is the central phrase of the whole Varnam:

Orva vashamA ee tamakA mu Is it possible to bear this intoxicating love?

The heroine describes how painful and unbearable for her this situation is. It is impossible for human to suffer, and suffer again, without any moment of rest to catch the breath, without even hope for change. She falls on ground, absolutely exhausted.

Ettugada Swara I

The first Swara (this is a rule in any varnam ever) is set to Vilamba kalam (slow tempo). It includes long swaras, vibrant and appealing swaras of the Raga, i.e. dirga swaras.

There are two short (one avarta long) korvais set to slow and medium tempo, as if the heroine rises up slowly, recovers herself and proceeds to the following aspect she wants her hero to understand.

Ettugada Swara I, Korvei 1

In first korvei she moves forward, and in the second korvei she moves backwards, as if she is not sure of what she is going to say, but she has to say nevertheless.

Ettugada Swara I, Korvei 2

In Sahityam (lyrics) of the first Swara, the heroine expresses her anguish and disappointment:

cAlA nAmmi nAnurA eetUla I trusted in you so much!

She repeats the phrase with Tattu Mettu, at this she again moves forward, as if empowering her appeal by getting closer to the hero.

Ettugada Swara II

The second swara is longer and more complex then the first one. Adavus of two Korveis of the second Ettugada Swara, are set thus to give impression of increasing intensity of heroines feeling. The situation between the lovers evokes ambivalent feelings, thus it becomes more and more intense and difficult to deal with (to bear such inconsistent relationship). The key question of the heroine is what to do and how to change current unfair state of things.

The first Korvei, for instance, starts with slow and graceful adavus. Further on dance movements become faster (kanakku is changed from caturasram to tisram) and more vigorous. This Korvei is concluded with fast and crisp Makuta cycle.

Ettugada Swara II, Korvei 1

The second korvei comprises Ranga kramana adavus (when the dancer covers wide space of the stage) set in Madhyama kala (second speed) followed with set of adavus set (again) to tisram and executed in faster speed, Drutam. The korvei is concluded with short fast kuraippu.

Choreography of those two korveis give very clear feeling of trend, gradient of emotional intensity which is to come in following Sahitya lines.

Ettugada Swara II, Korvei 2

In the following lines of sahityam, the heroine reproaches the hero and, at the same time, directly expresses her love towards the hero. His neglect, anger and pretended coldness are in contrast with her affection and sincerity. In this swara we can feel strongly the ambivalent nature of the situation: her affection and sincerity are met with disdain. She is given no credit without any evident reason (as the only reason she suspects is some secret words the hero heard from some female rival). At the other side, she believes that he cares of her, but her eyes tell her the opposite.

eenta nA mAnasu delisi nEra mEnca mEragAdu teerani Aware of (knowing so well) my mind (and my love for you), it is not right for you to find faults with me endlessly.

prEmamUla nE badAli vEdukOni mrOkkina jUravurA ee vEla With great love I plead with you today and offer (other) solutions. But you do not even look at me.

Ettugada Swara III

The last two Swaras the long and complex. There is no any Sahityam set to the last Swara, so those two Korveis are like the Nritta-coda of the Varnam. This is grand finale of the drama, when the body of the dancer speaks (as if reacting, resonating) using powerful language of dance and expresses the current condition of the heroine.

The heroine has removed the last veil from her heart. She has told all the things she wanted to convey to the hero. In the last swara the heroine stands before the eyes of the audience as if illuminated by all the stage lights, open, without hiding anything.

Adavus of the last two Korvais are complex, set to different rhythmic patterns and executed in all three speeds.

For instance, the first korvei starts with very slow simple tat adavu, followed by fast Nat adavu. The second avarta is started with slow and vigorous Tat tei tam adavu followed by geometrically planned set of fast Tat tei ta ha adavus. Korvei is concluded with very fast Makuta cycle, where adavus are performed without any pause in between.

Ettugada Swara III, Korvei 1

Ettugada Swara III, Korvei 2

While performing this Grand finale comprising two long and difficult Nritta korveis, the dancer radiates all energy and power accumulated during the Varnam. Here the dancer should give huge, final emotional charge to the audience.

The Varnam is concluded with repetition of Ettugada Pallavi Abhinaya. The heroine as if returns back to her normal condition and repeats again, how it is possible to bear this love? I have no any power. I have given out everything. Now it is your turn to decide. Please, try to find some alternative way. Please, try to save our love.