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Shiv Sena

Shiv Sena is a modern militant Hindu political organization. This organization originally emerged from a movement in Mumbai demanding treatment for the Maharshtrians over migrants to the city. The city of Mumbai is one of Indias largest commercial and industrial centres. The citys predominant language is is Marathi which plays an important role in the unity among Maharshtrians. Shiv Sena is a product of nativism based upon Marathi ideologies and Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). The name Shiv Sena derived from the seventeenth century founder of the Maratha Empire. The Marathas became prominent in the seventeenth century under the leadership of Shivaji Maharaj, who revolted and defeated the Mughal Empire of the North. By adopting the name Shiv Sena, which translates to the Army of Shiva(Katzenstein 387) in 1966, this organization formed to safeguard the interest of the sons of the soil.In 1967, Shiv Sena entered the political scene by helping Congress defeat Krishna Menon, a South Indian by birth. And in 1968, this organization had 42 of 140 seats in the municipal election (Katzenstein 387).

Nativism is a term for the policy of protecting the interests of native born or established inhabitants against the interests of migrants. Multi-ethnic societies, such as India, often cultivate Nativist attitudes. Nativism most commonly arises in urban areas as opposed to small cities or tiny villages because industrial and commercial centres often attract migrants. On occasion, when Nativism is politicized it will find expression in the forms of demonstrations, riots, nativist associations and nativist political parties (Katzenstein 386). Shiv Senas movement of nativism is different from ethnic movements, linguistic movements and regional sub-nationalism because it is specifically anti-migrant (Katzenstein 386). However, Indian subnational movements such as Akali Dal and Dravida Monnetro Kazhagam may contain elements of nativism. Alkali Dal is a regional political party in the Punjab state of northwestern India, who is the principal advocacy organization for the large Sikh community (DSouza 2014). Dravida Monnnetro Kazhagam is also a regional political party in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu. They are a nationalistic movement advocating the betterment of the dravidian population in Tamil Nadu as well as Sri Lanka (DSouza 2014). In India nativist movements have emerged in different sorts and sizes. In a small North Indian town of Khajurho, the faint dispersion of nativist attitudes had cased one of the three small restaurants to change its obvious South Indian name to one that is ethnically non-descriptive. In the city of Gauhati in North India, there have been violent demonstrations against migrant Marwari businessmen and shopkeepers (Katzenstein 386). And in the city of Bombay (current day Mumbai), nativist sentiment has found explicit political expression in the militant political party Shiv Sena. Bal Thackeray, the founder of the party, was a cartoonist for the Marthi newsletter the Marmik. Under his leadership the Shiv Sena became a dominant political force in Maharashtra (Hollar 2012).

There are essentially two phases of the formation of Shiv Sena (Katzentstein 388). The first was the emergence of the Sena as a nativist movement which aimed to protect the interests of the local people against the encroachment of the outsiders.And the second was the development of its more militant phase. Even though these two phases need to be examined independently, the origins of these phases are not; instead, they have emerged from each other (Katzentstein 388). The nativist phase of Shiv Sena mainly focuses on the job competition of middle class Maharashtrians. Shiv Sena primarily argues that a the main goal of an educated Maharashtrian was to find a stable job, particularly an office job. They claim that Maharashtrians, unlike other migrants to the state, do not have the aspirations or the equity to take up new businesses. For these people, it is far better to take up a reliable and safe office job rather than entering the unknown of commercial pursuits. The typical interpretation of the situation is that South Indians had been migrating to Mumbai, and that they began to monopolize the office jobs in the city. Accordingly, Maharashtrians were unable to compete with the migrant South Indians because either South Indians were able to speak better english or these people would hire exclusively from their own communities (Katzenstein 389). It is generally thought that the different communities in Mumbai maintained different employment specializations. South Indians were being recruited to management positions and office work; Maharashtrians typically worked as house servants or labourers. Bringing attention to these struggles faced by Maharashtrians is what had won Shiv Sena most of its votes. Shiv Sena also claimed, that as a community the Maharashtrians felt themselves to be subordinate on their own native soil(Katzenstein 392). These feelings of subordination were established in part due to the demographic position of Maharashtrians in the the city of Mumbai. In 1961, Maharashtrians were a minority, representing only 41% of Mumbais population, however they were still the largest linguistic community (Katzentstein 392). Although the fact that the non-Maharashtrians exceeded the local Maharashtrians in their own city evidently affected the way Maharashtrians perceived themselves and others. The minority position of Maharashtrians would have mattered less if these people did not perceive themselves to be economically or socially subordinate (Katzentstein 393). Surveys comparing the Maharashtrian communities from 1950 to 1966, when the Sena emerged, showed that the underdeveloped Maharashtrian communities had not changed in 16 years. This lack of economic and social change had caused the shift in the psychology of the Maharashtrians (Katzenstein 394). This lack of change and frustration provoked the emergence of Shiv Sena. Even two years before the formation of Shiv Sena proposals for Maharashtrian unity, and attacks on outsidersin the Marmik sparked awareness for the Maharashtrian frustration. The formation of Shiv Sena was only successful in the city of Mumbai and there neighbouring city of Thana. Shiv Sena attempted, but failed to attain political power in other urban and rural areas in Maharashtra. This success in the large cities opposed to smaller towns and rural areas was attributed to the higher literacy rates and the higher rates of migration. The literacy rates in Mumbai were twice as high than the surrounding ares of the rest of the state of Maharashtra; if this were not the case it is debated that the Sena would not have succeeded. Much of the partys reputation had been won through the media, especially through the Marmik.

With attempts to move farther into the state of Maharashtra, Shiv Sena realized that regional identity alone cannot help the party reach its ambitions because their philosophies and avenues to gain support had changed. Bal Thackeray had realized that his anti-south campaign had lost its edge (Engineer 1203). Thackeray, however, got an opportunity to reassure his importance when the Hindu revivalist movement began to emerge in the early eighties, after the episode of conversions to Islam of some Harijans in the Meenakshi- Puram district of Tamil Nadu (Engineer 1203). The party had already played an important role in the Kosa and Bhiwandi riots in the late sixties and the early seventies, only rarely was its anti-Muslim concept overlapped with its anti-south efforts. In 1984, Shiv Sainiks were roaming the streets of Mumbai with swords in their hands, this followed communal riots in Mumbai and Bhivandi (Engineer 1203). A series of riots and communal violence took place wherever the party opened a branch. Shiv Sena again used the changing demographic of Aurangabad to its advantage. Marathwada was previously a part of the old Nizam state. It was ruled by Muslim elite with some collaborations with Hindu elites. Hindu resentment against Muslim domination had began to surface (Engineer 1203). This situation had become worse with the social and demographic change. Like the city of Mumbai, industrialization had brought non muslim outsiders to Aurangabad. The muslim population began to decrease in numbers and significance. In 1985 Shiv Sena entered the town of Aurangabad by increasing communal tensions (Engineer 1204).

The anti-Muslim movement presented by the leadership did not make it to a popular level, until the movements leading to the riots of 1992 and 1993. These riots took place in Mumbai in December 1992 carrying into January 1993. 900 people were killed in these riots, which were initiated by the hostilities of large protests. These protests were reactions to the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu Karsevaks in Ayodhya. In Hindu mythology, Ayodhya is the first place of the God – king Rama (Banerjee 1214). And the location of the Babri Mosque was believed to be on the actual birthplace of Rama. This event had escalated Hindu and Muslim tension. It is believed that the riots in Mumbai were pre-planned, and that the Hindu rioters were granted access to the location of muslim homes and businesses through sources that were not public. The women of Shiv Sena were recored as playing an important role in these riots. This violence in Mumbai had included a large number of women. Shiv Sena, mobilized women to block the arrest of several of its leaders, these women also prevented fire engines from being able to access Muslim areas in need. As well they had looted Muslim stores and attacked Muslim women (Banerjee 1214). Shiv Sena women also had a lot of influence in the partys violence through shaming the men with taunts of wearing bangles, being unmanly and suggesting that they could not be fathers to their children since they were standing by watching the violence Hinduswere being subjected to.

To further understand the significance of the rise of Shiv Sena in Mumbai it is important to understand the terms local peopleand the sons of the soil. Maharashtra, meaning the land of the Marathi speaking people, is the third largest state of India. Maharashtra meaning The land of the Marathi speaking people. The local people in Maharashtra were defined with three meanings: firstly, that a persons mother tongue was the linguistically dominant language. In Maharashtra, this was Marathi. Second that a person had lived in Maharashtra for at least ten to fifteen years. Lastly, one who identifies with the joys and sorrowsof Maharashtra (Katzenstein 387). It is important to note that the feeling of sub-ordinance felt by the local people of Mumbai and surrounding areas created tension and caused the very uprising of the Sena. Shiv Sena has had an outlasting effect on the people and culture of Mumbai and Maharashtra. It has been discussed that Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray had changed Mumbai forever. Particularity the violence and riots they had sparked across the city.


Banerjee, Sikata. (1996) The Feminization of Violence in Bombay: Women in the Politics of the Shiv Sena.Asian Survey 36 (December): 1213-1225.

DSouza, Shanthie M. (2014) Dravidian Progressive Federation. Britannica Academic. Accessed March 25, 2017.

DSouza, Shanthie M. (2014) Shromani Akali Dal (SAD)Britannica Academic. Accessed March 25, 2017.

Engineer, Asghar A. (1988) Aurangabad Riots: Part of Shiv Senas Politcal Strategy.Economic and Political Weekly 23: 1203-1205.

Engineer, Asghar A. (1988) Shiv Sena – Protector of Hinduism or Menace to Minorities.Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 8:70 – 74

Hollar, Sherman (2012) Bal Thackeray.Britannica Academic. Accessed March 25, 2017.

Heuze, Gerard. (2000) Populism, Religion and Nation in Contemporary India: the Evolution of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 20: 1-62

Katzenstein, Mary. (1973) The Emergence of Shiv Sena in Bombay.Asian Survey 13: 386 – 399

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Caste system


Mogul Empire

Marathi Empire


South Indian


Marathi Ideologies

Shivaji Maharaj

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Cora Place (March 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Historical and Mythic Origins of Two South Indian Martial Arts: Varma Kalai and Kalarippayattu

In this article, two south Indian martial arts will be presented, with a particular emphasis on Kalarippayattu, which was heavily influenced by the second, Varma Kalai (Zarrilli 1998: 29-30). A brief examination of the historical and mythological origins of these martial arts as well as their influence on each other and other Asian martial traditions will be given.

The Varma Kalai tradition, sometimes also known as Varma Ati, of Tamil Nadu, a province in southern India, has a mixture of Aryan and Dravidian origins. It is said that a sage by the name of Agastya was taught the martial art by the son of Siva, Murugan, and upon returning to Tamil Nadu, this sage taught it to the rest of the siddhas (masters/teachers) (Luijendijk 60-61). Varma Kalai, however, is not simply a martial art form, but heavily focuses on medicine and anatomy. For example, the varma of Varma Kalai refer to the body’s vital spots that can be exploited to harm or to heal, and even to revive those previously believed to be dead. This tradition of Tamil Nadu is very strong in its southernmost districts of Travancore and Kanyakumari (Zarrilli 1992: 37-39).

Kalarippayattu, or Kalarippayat, is made up of two words, kalari (meaning place) and payattu (meaning practice) and is the name of the traditional Indian martial art originating from the Kerala province of south India (Zarrilli 1998: 25). Due to the proximity of the regions, Kerala’s southern Kalarippayattu style is viewed as almost a mixture with Tamil Nadu’s Varma Kalai, and indeed the two provinces share a similar culture. In the north of Kerala, however, the distinction is very clear as the geographical separation was greater. That said, over the years many traditional aspects of northern Kalarippayattu, such as training in pits, have made their way into some schools in the south, and a few masters of southern Kalarippayattu and Varma Kalai live and teach in the north (Zarrilli 1992: 38-39).

The Dravidian (Tamil) influences were introduced to Kerala by hundreds of years of war between the Cera, Cola and Pandya dynasties, in which Varma Kalai was developed as the traditional school of warfare (Luijendijk 45). The Aryan Dhanur Veda (chapters 249-52 of the Agni Purana) means “science of archery” but was a treatise referring to many forms of combat, and is one of many northern Indian influences to be introduced in Kerala (Zarrilli 1998: 33). From the merging of these two influences, and many years of development, come three distinct fighting systems within Kalarippayattu (Luijendijk 43-44).

Like Varma Kalai, Kalarippayattu entails as much fighting as it does healing and is regarded as a study of war and medicine. From the Aryan influences, the Dhanur Veda treats the war aspect, and the Ayurveda treats the medicinal and healing aspect of Kalarippayattu. It is these Vedic traditions from which Drona derives his teaching of the Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata (Zarrilli 1979: 114-116).

In order to find the more mythic origins of Kalarippayattu, however, one should refer to the Keralolpathi, a history of the Kerala region, and the Mahabharata. Similar to the stories of Agastya from Tamil Nadu, one finds stories in these works of the warrior-sage Parasurama. A host of tales, some more fictional than others give this man a colourful, if not entirely clear, life.

Parasurama (meaning Rama with the axe), was the son of a Brahmin, Jamadagni, and was given his axe by none other than the god Siva, who also taught him Kalarippayattu (Luijendijk 46). Siva is said to have been so impressed by this young Brahmin’s devotion and martial prowess, that he granted him a boon of weapons and the knowledge of warfare. One of these weapons is the axe, upon which many of the folk stories and legends of Parasurama are hinged.

According to a poem by N. Balamani Amma, the mother of Parasurama was a Ksatriya woman by the name of Renuka, from whom he presumably got his knack for warfare to begin with (Amma 125, verse 3). One day, Jamadagni ordered his sons to kill their mother and only Parasurama was obedient and devoted enough to his father to kill her, thus he cut off her head with his axe (verse 4). This aspect of devotion in the story is related to the modern devotion of the Kalarippayattu student to his or her guru. After killing his mother, Parasurama wandered the forests pondering dharma and upon his return found that a group of adharmic Ksatriya had stolen his family’s sacred cow. Having just pondered the importance of righteousness, Parasurama set out to kill all the unrighteous Ksatriya (verse 7). When he returned home from a later trip, he found that more Ksatriya kings had killed his father and so he set out another time and slaughtered the world’s population of Ksatriya (tens of thousands) 21 times over with his divine axe (verse 10). It is because of this annihilation of Ksatriya that many Hindus claim Parasurama to be the sixth avatar of Visnu, having fulfilled the avatars duty of ridding the world of the unrighteous kings. As the gods themselves kill the asuras, a warrior upholds dharma by killing his enemy (Luijendijk 45). Now that the world is free of adharmic Ksatriyas, according to the poem, the remorseful Parasurama went to ponder upon his actions and ended up throwing the instrument of such terrible destruction far into the sea. Over the space of some years, the waters receded up to the point where the axe fell, and this new land, Kerala, was a land of temporary purity and creativity, perfection and fertility. To restore the balance, a mingling of new Ksatriya and Brahmin occurred in this land, also identifying Parasurama with Visnu (verse 12-14).

From this point, there are two clashing versions of Parasurama’s story, regarding how it relates to Kalarippayattu. In the Mahabharata, the period of fertility and perfection in this new land affected every species, including the ascetic Brahmins Parasurama brought to mate with the Ksatriya women who were left by his earlier slaughter. Their offspring are the Brahmaksatra, or Brahmin-Ksatriya, that ruled Kerala righteously for a time (Ganguli 130).

The other version, from the Keralolpathi, claims that Parasurama brought 3600 Brahmin with him from the north into his new land and gave it to them. He taught the priests (including Drona from the Mahabharata) in the art of Kalarippayattu, or warfare in general, and they became the Brahmaksatra, the priest-warriors of Kerala. Oft times these men are viewed as degraded ardhabrahmanas or half-Brahmin (Zarrilli 1998: 31-32). No matter the social status of these so called half-Brahmin, throughout history they obviously thought themselves as the inheritors of Kerala from Parasurama himself, who established for them 32 settlements within the province. In these 32 settlements, he divided them into the four groups that eventually form the four Nambudiri Brahmin families. These four groups are the Ugram Velli, Ghoram Velli, Ullutturuttiyyattu, and Dronam Velli (Zarrilli 1998: 32). He taught each a different aspect of Kalarippayattu and from these four families, 21 masters emerged and formed their own salai or schools of the martial art. The number eventually grew to around 108 salai, and some kalari (modern salai) can trace their origins back to these original schools of Kalarippayattu (Luijendijk 46). From these salai, the Brahmins taught the cattar, or Brahmin students, in their religious training as well as martial and medicinal training. However, despite the mingling of class/caste duties among ancient practitioners of Kalarippayattu, social divisions remained and the kalari were created as training centres for the other castes. Eventually, the Brahmins receded back into the duties of priesthood and land ownership, and the salai ceased to exist, giving way to the important Nayar caste from the kalari (Pati 179).

It is at one of these ancient salai, however, that Luijendijk claims the Buddhist missionary Bodhidharma was schooled before he ventured north into China, and eventually to a Shaolin monastery itself. If he was trained in a salai, then it is almost certain he knew Kalarippayattu, therefore it may be the primary influence of Shaolin Kung Fu and every other martial art derived from it (Luijendijk 47).

Modern Kalarippayattu crystallized into what it is today during the 11th/12th centuries, in the times of the 100 year war between the Cera and Cola, but the martial art is certainly very different from what it was during the time of the first Brahmaksatra (Zarrilli 1992: 37-39). As proof of this, neither the axe nor the bow are practiced in modern kalari; this is indeed strange because the principal weapon of Parasurama was the axe, and the Dhanur Veda clearly indicates archery as the purest form of combat. Today Kalarippayattu is a standing martial art that values armed combat over hand-to-hand; the common weapons today are the dagger, sword, flexible sword, staff, and spear (Prasad 2016).

These modern kalari still maintain their historically divine connection with the god Siva. The patron or guardian deity of every kalari is either a form of Siva’s daughter, Bhagavati, his consort, Sakti, or some combination/form of both of these suras (Zarrilli 1998: 69). Some other deities that preside over modern kalari may be local ancestors or heroes fallen in battle, and each gurukkal, or head teacher at a kalari, is said to be the embodiment of each former gurukkal all the way back to Parasurama (Zarrilli 1998: 116).


Amma, N. B. (1980) “The Story of the Axe.” Journal of South Asian Literature, Vol. 15, No. 2: 124-131.

Ganguli, K. M. (1990 (1883)) The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. .

Luijendijk, D. H. (2008) Kalarippayat: The Structure and Essence of an Indian Martial Art.

Mohindar, M. (Director) (2016) The Origin of All Martial Arts [Motion Picture]. Retrieved from

Pati, G. (2010) “Kalari and Kalarippayattu of Kerala South India: Nexus of the Celestial, Corporeal, and the Terrestrial.” Contemporary South Asia, Vol. 18, No. 2: 178-180.

Zarrilli, P. B. (1979) “Kalarippayatt, Martial Art of Kerala.” The Drama Review, Vol. 23, No. 2: 113-116.

—. (1992) “To Heal and/or To Harm: The Vital Spots (Marmmam/Varmam) in Two South Indian Martial Traditions Part 1: Focus on Kerala’s Kalarippayattu.” Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 1, No. 1: 36-67.

—. (1998) When the Body Becomes All Eyes. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Related Reading

Ayyar, K. V. Krishna (1928-32) “The Kerala Mamakam.” Kerala Society Papers 2, Series 6: 324-330.

Nayar, Cirakkal T. (1983) Kalarippayattu. Calicut: Cannannore Printing Works.

Sieler, Roman (2015) Lethal Spots, Vital Secrets: Medicine and Martial Arts in South India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Zarrilli, P. B. (2001) “Kalarippayattu”. In T. A. Green, Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia (pp. 225-231). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.






Dhanur Veda





Cera/Cola Dynasty



Varma Kalai


This article was written by: Jace Briand (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

The Apsaras

The name, “Apsaras” is derived from the Sanskrit word, apsa meaning water (Pattanaik 22). While the origins of these heavenly water nymphs vary, the most common version of the myth claims the Apsaras were born as a result of the churning of the milky ocean. Other versions, specifically found within the Manu Sastra claim the Apsaras were created in part with the seven Manus to serve as wives of the gods and daughters of pleasure (Williams 57). Originally believed to have emerged as a group of thirteen, the Apsaras are understood to have grown in numbers reaching up to 35 million (Williams 57). The ambiguity of the Apsaras does not stop with the myths of their origin; rather, the Apsaras are also ambiguous in their purpose. However, the commonality between the varying myths regarding the Apsaras purpose is that each Apsara is “skillfully versed in the 64 ways to please the senses” (Pattanaik 22). For example, certain myths claim the purpose of the Apsaras creation was to pleasure the gods, and occasionally the warrior heroes, as dancers in Indra’s court. Alternate myths depict the Apsaras as the wives of the Gandharvas or temptresses of sages. Regardless of their relationships, the indisputable feature of the Apsaras is that they are beautiful and seductive heavenly charmers (Williams 57).

According to the Mahabharata, the Apsaras play a major role in the act of war (Hara 139). The Apsaras are believed to accompany fallen soldiers into Indra’s heaven, where they and the Gandharvas embody all aspects of desire. Therefore, it is believed that heroic warriors would race into battle, braving any outcome in hopes of receiving the ultimate reward, an Apsara lover. This passive imagery of the Apsaras is only one half of the myth; the Apsaras are also understood to be active and aggressive in their search for a lover. The battlefield is a war zone to the Apsaras as well. Thousands of Apsaras descend the fields, playing instruments and singing songs. The Apsaras wait for the slain solders to fall, and then fight one another for the honor of marrying a fallen hero and accompanying him to Indra’s Court. Multiple kings used this imagery of the ascending and descending Apsaras in order to entice their men into battle (Hara 139).

Just as there are multiple versions of the myths regarding the origins and the role of the Apsaras, there are multiple versions of the myth regarding the soldiers’ ascent to the Apsaras. The Kumarasambhava claims that the Apsaras do not descend to earth in order to obtain their fallen heroes. Rather, a wild elephant uses its tusks to throw the fallen soldiers to the Apsaras waiting in heaven (Hara 142). The Kumarasambhava also details the results pertaining to two opposing soldiers who die in battle simultaneously. It is believed that their battle continues in heaven, this time for the Apsara herself (Hara 143).

Although the Apsaras are often seen as object of desire, they do face some hostility. The myth of the Apsaras creates a rivalry between the beautiful nymphs and the jealous widows of the fallen solders. The Mahabharata details the aforementioned wars from the point of view of the war wives and widows. One story tells of a widow’s prayer to her husband as to not forget of her love and service to him when he meets and becomes enchanted with his new Apsara (Hara 143). Additional stories describe the jealousy that the wives felt even before battle, witnessing their husband’s excitement to be slain and thus, rescued by an Apsara (Hara 144). Many women desire to follow their husbands into heaven, therefore they perform the act of sati, in which the wife immolates herself atop her husband’s funeral pyre to prevent the Apsaras from reaching the fallen solider. However, many Apsaras are believed to be aware of this tactic, and so they aim to entrap the solider before the arrival of the wife (Hara 146).

In regards to the historical content of these myths, it is important to note that throughout the early Vedic period, women possessed societal agency not necessarily associated with women of the later Vedic period. Therefore, this powerful representation of women through the Apsaras would not have been unusual (Wangu 40). It is also important to note that the Apsaras were “expected to behave outside the norms of society…as [they are] creature(s) of power much stronger than that of mortal men” (Pollock and Turvey-Sauron 141). Thus, their agency to choose their husbands and ascend or descend the heavens as they please was easily believed.

Multiple prominent Apsaras appear in their own specific myths told inside larger texts such as the Mahabharata or the Rg Veda. Some examples of these Apsaras are Urvashi, and Tilottama. According to the Mahabharata, Tilottama is an Apsara created by Visvakarman (Williams 282). Visvankarman combined all the elements of beauty found in the world, both animate and inanimate, in order to create Tilottama. Thus, Tilottama was so beautiful that Siva spouted faces on all sides of his head so that he may always see her and Indra grew one thousand eyes so that he may never lose sight of her. Aside from impressing the gods, Tilottama’s beauty was created in order to seduce the Asuras (demons), Sunda and Upasunda. Ultimately, in this seduction, Tilottama’s goal was to entice the two Asuras into battle. Tilottama successfully seduces both Asuras, causing them to kill each other over her love (Williams 282).

Urvashi (the one born of a thigh) is an Apsara who was created from the thigh of a mortal as a result of a conflict between Indra and Narayana, a sage. Indra attempted to distract Narayana as he was performing austerities over Indra’s throne. One of Indra’s distractions included summoning all the existing Apsaras to tempt Narayana. However, rather than allow himself to be distracted from his auspicious task, Narayana slapped his thigh and created Urvashi, whose beauty surpassed all the previous Apsaras. Indra accepted Urvashi as a gift and apologized to the sage, bringing Urvashi home where she became the eleventh Apsara (Williams 286). Urvashi’s myth does not stop here. It is believed that either Brahma or Mitravaruna cursed Urvashi to be born on earth, where she would eventually fall in love and marry a king named Pururavas under three conditions. First, Pururava was expected to provide Urvashi with two lambs. Secondly, Urvashi was to only eat ghee and finally, Pururava was to never allow Urvashi to see him naked. Although Urvashi was happy and in love, Indra began to miss her and so he sent a group of Gandharvas to retrieve her. In order to do so, they forced Pururava to break two of his three promises. While the couple was making love, the Gandharvas stole Urvashi’s sheep causing Pururava to jump out of bed. At this moment, they illuminated the sky causing Urvashi to see him naked and thus, leave him. Pururava spends the rest of his life searching to see Urvashi again (Williams 286).

As figures of beauty and seduction, the Apsaras are depicted in many art forms. Traditionally, in paintings the Apsaras were artistically depicted as swans, due to their mutual connection with water (Wangu 38). Eventually, the swan symbolism is replaced with the symbolism of Yakshas and Yaksinis, embodiments of “luminosity and awe-inspiring manifestation of a mysterious power which must be worshiped” (Wangu 38). This new depiction of the Apsaras through the Yaksha and Yaksinis imagery was created in order to parallel the pairing of the Apsaras to the Gandharvas and were often used as “decorative elements’ in ancient paintings (Wangu 38-39).

As statues, the Apsaras are depicted in the female form, beautiful and often emulating signs of a lover or seductress. Examples of these signs include a coy, turned away face, fingernail markings on the face or shoulder and little to no clothing (Slaczka 216). In statue form the Apsaras are also depicted as wearing many expensive articles of jewellery and hair ornamentation to expresses their luxurious qualities (Slaczka 216).

One of the most popular artistic mediums used to represent the Apsaras is dance, originating with the Devadasis (servants of God). The Devadasis were groups of women, living and working in temples, who provided services to the temple gods and devotees. However, the primary role of the Devadasis was to preserve and present the arts, specifically dance (Rodrigues 284). The Devadasis performed in large dance halls, located inside the temples, in order to pleasure the gods. Thus, the Devadasis were understood to emulate the myth of the Apsaras as beautiful and erotic embodiments of pleasure. Unfortunately, the Devadasis tradition fell victim to sexual exploitation and colonial ignorance. The tradition was outlawed and thus, the sacred dances and rituals were lost (Rodrigues 284). However, Nijhawan does argue that through the awakening and support of academics, the story of the Devadasis was revived and brought into the twentieth century (102). Nijhawan goes on to clarify that, while Devadasis image is echoed in the modern styles of Bollywood dance, it is again faced with the unfortunate fate of sexual exploitation of women and lack of female agency (103).

Unlike the rites and traditions of the Devadasis, the Cambodian ballet managed to keep the traditional myths of the Apsaras alive well into the modern day. The Apsara figurines located in the temples of Angkor-vat inspire the origins of the Cambodian ballet. The choreography performed by the dancers themselves emulates the gestures of the statues, while the costumes replicate the original ornamentation and colours of the figurines. Both dancer and costume working together to preserve and express the traditional beauty and praise of the mythological figures (Strickland-Anderson 226-227).


Encyclopædia Britannica (2010) “Apsara.” Britannica Academic

Hara, Minoru (2001) “Apsaras and Heroes.” Journal of Indian Philosophy Vol. 29: 139-146.

Nijhawan, Amita (2009) “Excusing The Female Dancer: Tradition and Transgression in Bollywood Dancing.” Journal of South Asian and Popular Culture, Vol. 7: 102-103. Doi: 10.1080.

Nut, Suppya H. (2014) “The Legend of Apsara Mera”: Princess Norodom Buppha Devi’s Choreography for the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.” Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 31, No. 1: 280-288.

Pattanaik, Devedutt (2006) Myth = Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: Penguin.

Pollock, Giserelda. (2007) The Sacred and the Feminine: Imagination and Sexual Difference. Victoria Turvey-Sauron (Ed.). New York: I.B.Tauris.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism-The Ebook: An Online Introduction (2nd ed.). PDF e-book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online.

Slaczka, Anna A. (2012) “Temples, Inscriptions and Misconceptions: Charles-Louis Fábri and the Khajuraho “Apsaras” The Rijksmuseum Bulletin, Vol. 60, No. 3: 212-33.

Strickland-Anderson, Lily (1926) “The Cambodian Ballet.” The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 2: 226-227.

Wangu, Madhu Bazaz (2003) Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings and Models. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Williams, George M. (2008) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation




Cambodian Ballet











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This article was written by: Ramona Badau (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

The Hitopadesa

When it comes to Hindu works of political theory and political statecraft, it can be found in the various treatises throughout Hindu religious literature. Most of these treatises and stories are too difficult to be digested by the masses, especially if look back to times around the 8th century. There are two works of literature that allow for ease of consumption of these ideas. They are the Pancatantra and the Hitopadesa. The Pancatantra is the older of the two dating to around the 3rd century CE, but this is inconclusive as the stories presented are seemingly much older and this is possibly the first instance of them being written down. The Hitopadesa, on the other hand, does not come into existence until between the 8th and 12th century. The Hitopadesa was written by someone named Narayana and it was meant to teach young princes statecraft. This collection of fables sets to explain political statecraft by utilising animal tales. The collection itself is split into four sections, the acquisition of friends, the separation of friends, war, and peace. (Pinncott 1). The way the stories are told within the Hitopadesa is an old sage telling different stories of animal interaction to four young princes. In this way of storytelling, the Hitopadesa shares a lot of similarities with other fable collections, such as Aesop’s Fables. Also, it is considered to be what inspired the fables we see in collections like Aesop’s Fables (Srinivasan 70).

If we look at each of the sections that the Hitopadesa is broken into, we start to notice repeated themes, for example, choose your friends wisely. Each of these themes is easily explained through the stories presented in each section of the Hitopadesa. In the first section of the Hitopadesa, which is referred to as the acquisition of friends, there is a story of a vulture, a cat, and some birds. In this story, the vulture lives in a great tree with the birds and one day a cat approaches the tree and the birds wake the sleeping vulture to deal with the cat. The cat using honeyed words convinced the vulture to allow him to stay within the tree. As the days passed, the cat proceeded to eat the young birds without the vulture ever taking notice. The birds noticed that their young were slowly starting to disappear and they decided to investigate. The cat caught wind of this and snuck its way out of the tree without any notice. Upon discovering the remains of their young ones in the vultures hollow the birds proceeded to peck the vulture to death because they believed that the vulture was the one responsible for this (Pinncott 12-14). There are a few morals to this story, one of which is that one should never treat someone you hardly know as a friend, this is because one can never fully trust anyone upon their first meeting. Another moral that can be taken from this story is that one should trust their instincts. At first, the vulture did not want to take the cat into its hollow because it knew that the cat was a malicious being but because of the cat’s honeyed words the vulture was persuaded and that eventually led to its demise. This story is one of many that take place in the first section of this collection that deal with how to acquire the right friends.

Another story in this first part of the collection that deals with how to choose the right friends is about a deer, a jackal, and a crow. In this story, the jackal approaches the deer with intent to feast on its flesh and asks to be the deer’s friend, the deer accepts. When they return to the deer’s hovel, they are greeted by the deer’s old friend, the crow, who asks why the deer has made friends with the jackal and warns the deer of this decision. Listening to the crow’s advice but not heeding it, the deer continues to be friends with the jackal. The jackal one day convinces the deer to eat from a plentiful field of corn, which the deer does and fattens up. Then one day it becomes caught in a snare set by the farmer of the field. The jackal sees this and decides to wait for the human to return to kill the deer and take some of its flesh, then the jackal will devour what is left behind. Luckily for the deer, the crow comes looking for the deer and finds it caught in the snare and they then proceed to devise and execute a plan that will free the deer and kill the jackal (Pinncott 11-16). The moral of this story is like that of the vulture, the cat, and the birds, that one should never make a friend out of someone you just met and know little about. These two stories, along with the rest of the stories within the first section are highly cynical and seem to eschew the idea that no one is innocent until proven guilty and holds aloft the concept of nature over nurture.

The second section of the Hitopadesa deals with the separation of friends. In this section, there is a story of a washerman’s donkey and dog, in which the house of the washerman is being robbed and the dog refuses to bark to wake the master. The donkey notices this and inquires as to why the dog refused to bark to rouse the master, the dog responds that because the master is neglecting him he will neglect the master. The donkey takes great offence to this and scolds the dog and decides to bray to rouse the master. The donkey accomplishes arousing the master but it also scares away the robber. The master then beats the donkey to death for rousing him for what the master who failed to see the robber saw as nothing (Pinncott 36-37). The moral presented in this story is that it is better to mind one’s own business. This moral is seen in another story about a monkey who perished when it removed a wedge between two beams (Pinncott 36).

Another story in this section deals with monkeys and a bell. In this story, a robber from a certain village steals the temple bell and runs into the forest where he is attacked by a tiger who was curious about the sound. The tiger killed him leaving the bell on the ground. Eventually, a group of monkeys came by and picked up the bell and at night would ring it continuously because they enjoyed the music. When the villagers went in search of the strange bell ringing they found the corpse of the robber and heard the ringing of bells and decided that the forest was haunted by an evil spirit that would kill and then joyously ring a bell. One woman from the village did not believe that this was the case and ventured into the forest, and discover that it was not an evil spirit but a group of monkeys who were ringing the bell. So, with intelligence and courage, she received some gold from the king and used that gold to purchase various fruits and nuts. Then she tricked the monkeys to come down from their trees and eat the food, while they were eating happily the woman retrieved the bell and saved the town from the evil spirit (Pinncott 44). The moral presented in this story is that through intelligence and courage, one can overcome all odds and should not be afraid of small trifles. The morals presented in this section of the Hitopadesa deal with intelligence winning over all else, that one should approach all situations with these abilities least one should end up like the monkey. One should also not interfere with the disputes of another lest they end up like the donkey and one should also have the intelligence and courage to find the truth like the woman and the bell.

The third section of the Hitopadesa deals with war. In this section, there is a story of a herd of elephants whose watering hole has dried up and they fear that they will die of thirst, but they hear of a lake that has yet to dry up in another jungle. It was then decided that the elephants would travel to this lake in this far away jungle as to not perish from thirst. When the herd of elephants saw the lake, they stampeded over to it, crushing hundreds of rabbits under foot. The rabbits who retreated to their king needed a plan that could drive the elephants from their land. So, the rabbit king went to speak with the king of the elephants and unable to reach the king of the elephants the rabbit king decided to climb a nearby hill and proclaimed that he was a messenger sent from the moon god. The rabbit king informed the elephant king that he had angered the moon god by drinking from his sacred lake. This terrified the elephant king so much so that he took his herd and left, leaving the rabbits alone with their lake (Pinncott 60-61). The moral that is presented in this story is that wit can win over might. This moral is an important lesson when it comes to warfare, in that it teaches that any battle can be won with the right strategy.

Another story from this section of the Hitopadesa is about a soldier who offers his services to a king for a hefty sum, the king then decides to pay him for 4 days upfront and observes closely what the man does with the gold. The king finds that the man gave half of the gold to the gods and the Brahmin, a quarter to the poor and less fortunate and kept the last quarter for his own sustenance and pleasure. He did this all while maintaining his position at the gate always unless relieved by royal permission. After a few days, the king received word of weeping coming from the front gate; the king promptly sent the man to investigate and upon approaching what was a weeping woman, he had a vision. In that vision, he learns that the king has but three days to live and to save him, the man must behead his first-born son. The man does this but also takes his own life than his wife proceeds to take hers; the king discovers this and laments offering up his own life to save the three of them. The Goddess appears and lets him know that his sacrifice was not required and she was simply testing him. Upon hearing this, the king asked if the three of them who sacrificed themselves to be revived. Upon their revival, the king asked the man about the source of the weeping and the man replied, that it was just a woman who fled when he approached (Pinncott 72-74). The moral of this story is that the greatest man does not brag about his deeds, but remains quiet and accepts them as a part of himself. This moral also plays nicely with the concept of warfaring in that one who does not boast of his accomplishments will not receive any challenges, and when he is challenged he will have a fortune at his side.

The last section of the Hitopadesa deals with peace. In this section, there is a story of a crane and a crab. In this story, there is a crane that can eat from a pond whenever he needs to but as he grows older, he becomes unable to catch the fish of the pond and begins to starve. The crane then devises a plan to make it seem like the pond is drying up and that he knows of another pond that is further away that is safe. The crane then offers to carry the residences of the lake to the pond but because he is old, he must rest between voyages. On the first voyage, he takes some fish but instead of heading to the pond, he heads to a nearby hill and eats the fish, the crane repeats this for a while until he regains his strength back. One day, a crab wishes to be carried to the pond and the crane becomes excited thinking he can try some new food takes the crab. During the voyage, the crab asks the crane if they are about to reach the pond, but the crane simply replies that he will eat him and that there is no pond. Angered by this, the crab promptly grabs the cranes neck and breaks it, killing the crane. The crab returns to the pond and tells the pond of what was transpiring (Pinncott 84-85). The moral of this story is that greed in excess is harmful. This moral can be used when bartering for peace because sometimes if you are bartering for peace and you have the most to gain from the peace deal, you must not be too greedy because you might also have the most to lose.

The Hitopadesa is one of the most translated works of Hindu literature and is still extremely relevant today. The lessons and teachings held within the Hitopadesa are easily applied to contemporary problems that youth or people, in general, can use. Like the European collection of fables called Aesop’s fables, the Hitopadesa is used to teach Sanskrit literature and writing to young Hindus learning their first language or for a student who seeks to learn Sanskrit, it is an excellent starting point (Pincott iii).

References and Further Recommended Reading

Pincott, Frederic and Francis Johnson (2004) Hitopadesa: A New Literal Translation from the Sanskrit text of F. Johnson for the use of students. New Delhi: Cosmo Publication.

Srinivasian, R. (1995) “When Beasts Teach Humans-Political Wisdom.” New Quest: 69-80. Accessed February 26, 2017.

Shanbhag, D.N. (1974) “Two Conclusion from the Hitopadesa: A Reappraisal” Journal of the Karnatak University: 24-29. Accessed March 30, 2017.

Related Topics for Further Investigation




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article was written by Kurtis Verrier (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kuchipudi Dance Tradition

There are three components to Indian dance, which include bhava, rasa, and nava rasa. Bhava is the feeling of protection by the dancer in their performance, rasa is the spirit or essence that is absorbed by the audience to whom is watching the performance and the true realization of the performance. Lastly, nava rasa is the proficiency of the nine moods which include love, anger, humor, disgust, heroism, tranquility, amazement, fear, and sorrow (Gaston 84). It is very important that the costume, including jewelry and cosmetics, is constructed properly to ensure the performance or presentation of the dance will be considered successful (Gaston 77). This is very true of the Kuchipudi dance tradition.

The Kuchipudi dance tradition is comprised of two components: dance and drama. This dance-drama tradition is divided up into nritta, meaning pure dance, nritya, meaning expressional dance, and natya, meaning dramatic aspect (Kothari and Pasricha 43). To evoke the spirit of the dance or rasa; nritta, nritya, and natya are implemented into the dance tradition (Kothari and Pasricha 56). Rules concerning the performance aspect of this dance drama tradition are followed in the Natyasastra, a Sanskrit Hindu text, along with other additional texts (Kothari and Pasricha 45). Some of these rules include the carrying of the bamboo flag staff, the singing of the verses of prayer, and the offering of flowers. A typical Kuchipudi dance drama will start by reciting verses from Vedic (Sanskrit Hindu) texts. After these verses are recited, the stage is sprinkled with holy water and decorated with colored powders. Incense is then offered by another (other than the main performer) dancer. Flowers are offered to the audience viewing the performance in attempts to receive their blessings. Following these offerings, the performer of the dance drama is to cross the stage carrying a flag staff which is an act of driving off evil forces (Kothari and Pasricha 47).

Darus, a special structure of musical composition, were an important part of the Kuchipudi dance tradition, as they made up the singing and dialogue of the presentation. Singing as well as dancing add color or vibrance to a Kuchipudi dance performance, engaging the audiences’ attention (Kothari and Pasricha 56). Most dance dramas will typically end with mangalam, which are verses that bestow a blessing (Kothari and Pasricha 53). Performances usually took place in the evening when the only light available was from torches that were held by the village washermen. However, this changed when indoor lights were more accessible and available through industrialization (Kothari and Pasricha 56).

The most popular dance drama within the Kuchipudi dance tradition is called the Bhama Kalapam (Kothari and Pasricha 57). The Bahma Kalapam portrays the mercurial (fast, excitable, etc.) Satyabhama, who is Krsna’s significant other. The highest goal of a Kuchipudi dancer was to excel in this role. Kalapams were generally performed outside of the temple for the public to view (Venkataraman and Pasricha 124).

Kuchipudi is a dance tradition that originates in Andhra Pradesh, which is a state that

borders the South-Eastern coast of India. Its name comes from a village in Andhra Pradesh called Kuchipudi (Kothari and Pasricha 33). Although considered to be a classical dance form, Kuchipudi was not the first Indian dance discovered in Andhra Pradesh. In fact, there were a myriad of dance styles already in existence, some of which include Pindi bandha-s, and Perani dance (Kothari and Pasricha 23). The history of Kuchipudi dance is divided up into two different time eras; the first is between second century B.C. and the ninth century A.D., followed by the second era between the tenth century A.D. and the eighteenth century A.D (Kothari and Pasricha 24). The fifteenth century is when the Kuchipudi dance tradition, especially through the Yakshagana Brahmana Mela festival, seemed to prosper. During this time, the Kuchipudi dance tradition involved elements of both classical and folk styles. Additionally, it was during this period when the Bhakti cult began spreading to other areas of India and dance drama was beginning to become a form of expression.

Siddhendra Yogi was an immensely important person for Kuchipudi dance and believed by some to be the founder or developer of this tradition (Kothari and Pasricha 33). He was a follower of Krsna and devoted his life to promoting Bhakti after crossing a river with great difficulty, which nearly cost Siddhendra Yogi his life. Siddhendra Yogi assembled a group of Brahmin boys and asked them if they would perform a dance drama that would be an offering to Krsna. He also made these Brahmin boys promise that they would perform this same dance drama once a year and that descendants of the Brahmin families will carry on preserving this tradition (Kothari and Pasricha 31). Siddhendra Yogi used Brahmin males specifically because at this time in India’s dance history, girls were not allowed to perform the Kuchipudi dance; in fact, it was not until the nineteenth century that females were allowed to perform this tradition. Because girls were not permitted to dance in the Kuchipudi dance tradition at this time, Brahmin males often impersonated female characters. (Kothari and Pasricha 33).

Narayana Tirtha was also influential to the world of Kuchipudi and was recognized for his Sanskritic musical composition. He wrote the Krsna Leela Tarangiri, a work known for being a milestone in literature and art. It includes 153 keertanams which are known as lyrics of a specific sculpture, 30 darus which are special structure of musical composition, 302 slokams which are verses of praises for deities, as well as numerous gadya which are prose passages (Venkataraman and Pasricha 128).

As we fast forward to the nineteenth to twentieth century, there have been advancements in stage technique, lighting, decor, and costumes that drew audiences of the Kuchipudi dance tradition away from a more traditional presentation. There was immense competition from the film medium during this time, for example, Kuchipudi performers began to join popular drama companies. However, traditional presentation was once again brought back to the Kuchipudi dance drama in the revival of the freedom movement to the people who lived in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This was accomplished primarily through the writing of articles in newspapers and journals, and putting on more Kuchipudi performances. Films displaying the Kuchipudi dance drama had also enabled the popularity of this tradition (Kothari and Pasricha 38).

During the mid-twentieth century, Kuchipudi dance tradition reached national status as they were invited to the All Indian Dance Seminar that was held in Delhi. After this seminar, this specific dance drama was viewed as a major classical dance form.

The Kuchipudi dance tradition today has spread throughout India and considered to be a precious dance form (Kothari and Pasricha 40). As Kuchipudi got more and more popular, Kuchipudi village became too small of an area to contain the growth of the dance drama. Many of the teachers moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, to pursue a place in the world of film (Venkataraman and Pasricha 134). This dance is still practiced in Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh, however, those who do practice have much less international exposure (Venkataraman and Pasricha 138). Today, the village of Sindhendra Kalakshetra has more students and teachers practicing Kuchipudi. There are also dancers being trained in Vempati Chinna Satyam as well as at the Kuchipudi Art Academy in Chennai (Venkataraman and Pasricha 136).

In present day, the Kuchipudi dance tradition has moved to more urban areas which is quite different from the twentieth century, and the style of the dance itself has also changed. Because of the prevalence of women performers, there is little need for men to impersonate female characters. In fact, in some cases females have been impersonating male characters (Venkataraman and Pasricha 136). The Kuchipudi dance tradition heavily relied upon three major components; singing, dancing, and acting. However, today it is mainly dance oriented. The vocalist within the team of musicians would do the singing that is present during the dance tradition and it is rare that dialogue passages (I.e., from Vedic scripts) are recited (Venkataraman and Pasricha 128-129).


Gaston, Anne-Marie (2011) “Dance and Hinduism.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice,

Hillary Rodrigues (ed.). Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 77-85.

Kothari, Sunil & Pasricha, Avinash (2001) Kuchipudi: Indian Classical Dance Art. New Delhi:

Abhinav Publications.

Lopez y Royo, Alessandra (2010) “Indian Classical Dance: A Sacred Art?” In The Journal of

Hindu Studies 3 (March): 114-123

Putcha, Rumya S. (2013) “Between History and Historiography: The Origins of Classical

Kuchipudi Dance.” In Dance Research Journal, pp. 91-110.

Venkataraman, Leela and Avinash, Pasricha (2002) Indian Classical Dance: Tradition in

Transition. New Delhi: Roli Books Pvt. Ltd.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

All Indian Dance Seminar

Andhra Pradesh

Bhakti Movement

Bhama Kalapam







Krsna Leela Tarangiri

Kuchipudi Art Academy

Narayana Tirtha

Nasa Rasa






Siddhendra Yogi


Vempati Chinna Satyam

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

Article written by: Becca Todd (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Rasa Theory in Hinduism

Rasa theory explains how one can have an emotional experience while watching a drama (Sullivan 2011:166). Rasa is “an emotional response that is inspired in an audience by a performer” (Astha 2014). Rasa “literally means the quintessential essence of a work of art” (Astha 2014). To better explain rasa theory the components that create rasa, the pleasure of food as a metaphor for the feeling of rasa, how the nine rasas are evoked in an audience, and the nine rasas unique presiding deities and colors will be described. To explore the complexity of rasa theory, rasas intrinsic connection with death, the role of the creator and the audience in producing a rasa experience, an example of rasa theory in practice within the performance of Kutiyattam, and the changes rasa experiences as Indian society changes will be depicted.

Rasa is created with a combination of vibhava, anubhava, and bhava (Astha 2014). A bhava is a mood or an imitation of emotions (Astha 2014). Bhava conveys meaning through gestures and facial expressions (Astha 2014). Bhava is made up of vibhava and anubhava. Vibhava is a stimulant and anubhava is the manifestation and enactment of bhava (Astha 2014). Rasa theory is explained by Bharata in the Natya-sastra which is “an ancient Indian treaty on the performing arts” (Astha 2014). It is thought to have been written in the 2nd century BCE (Astha 2014), and it is arguably the fifth Veda (Lidke 126). In the Natya-sastra, Brahma says, “the purpose of the Natya-sastra is to reveal to human kind the technology by which one can come to understand the nature of the world through its dramatic re-presentation” (Lidke 126-127). There are nine rasas: humour (hasyam), love (srngara), anger (raudra), sorrow (karuna), fear (bhayanaka), amazement (abhuta), heroism (vir), disgust (bibhatsa), and tranquility (santa) (Gaston 84). Bharata described eight rasas but Abhinavagupta, who is the principal authority on rasa theory (Mason 76), argued for nine rasas. He argued that tranquility should be added as the ninth rasa because tranquility underlies and pushes forth the original eight rasas (Astha 2014).

Rasa is often described as a metaphor for the pleasure of food. When one eats food, one receives pleasure from the flavours. When an audience watches a performance, they receive pleasure from the “emotions conveyed to them through practical performance devices” (Mason 72). The flavour “is produced by the bhava through acting” (Astha 2014). However, the Natya-sastra makes it clear that this metaphor is not an equivalent to the rasa experience (Mason 74). While experiencing a drama, one receives an emotional response while also “having the awareness that one is witnessing an enactment rather than real life” (Sullivan 2011:166). This is called aesthetic distance. In the Natya-sastra, “the distinction between performer and spectator, the distance between them, is essential” (Mason 76). One can be so connected to the performance that one “tastes” the emotions of the performance, but one also maintains aesthetic distance. For example, while watching Rama fall in love with Sita, the pleasure one receives from watching Rama’s feelings “comes not from feeling what Ram[a] feels (or ‘tasting his emotion), but from appreciating what Ram[a] feels from the privileged position of spectators” (Mason 76-77). The audience does not have to feel exactly what the character is feeling, they just appreciate that they get to witness what the character is feeling.

The nine rasas are experienced by the audience in association with a bhava portrayed on stage by the performers (Astha 2014). For example, the rasa of humour is “evoked through expanded lips, cheeks, wide staring and contracted eyes” (Astha 2014). The audiences’ laughter “is stimulated by disfigurement of dress, impudence, incoherent speech, deformed appearance, queer behaviour, [and] strange costumes” (Astha 2014). In order to evoke the love rasa, the performers must wear beautiful costumes and jewellery and portray longing and sensitivity to nature (Astha 2014). The anger rasa is stimulated by “boldness, insults, cruelty” (Astha 2014), and leads to fighting. In order to invoke the rasa of sorrow, the performer “expresses loneliness, longing, and yearning for the absent lover or God” (Astha 2014). The fear rasa is stimulated in the audience “by seeing or hearing words, sounds and objects or by fear of jackals and owls, empty houses, forests…weird persons or sounds of getting into fights” (Astha 2014). The amazement rasa is “stimulated by the sight of divine persons” (Astha 2014). It is also stimulated by the sudden achievement of what was desired by the hero and by magic (Astha 2014). The heroic rasa is stimulated when the performer shows courage, determination and justice (Astha 2014). Every facial expression and detail of the costumes is important in order to evoke specific rasas. Tranquility, the recently added rasa, represents freedom, salvation, stabilization and motivation (Astha 2014). Since this rasa encompasses all of the other eight rasas, it “stretches the transcendental possibilities of aesthetic experience” (Astha 2014). Each rasa is presided over by a deity and is associated with a specific color. For example, the love rasa is associated with the color greenish blue and the god Visnu, while the laughter rasa is presided over by Pramatha and the color white. The rasa of anger is presided over by Rudra and is associated with the color red (Astha 2014). The rasa of sorrow is represented by Yama and the color pigeon (Astha 2014). The fear rasa is represented by Kala and the color black (Astha 2014). The rasa of amazement is associated with the color yellow and its presiding deity is Brahma (Astha 2014).The heroic rasa is presided over by Indra and its associated color is silverish white (Astha 2014). The disgust rasa represents the color blue and is presided over by Siva (Astha 2014).

The rasas give the audience pleasure, even though most of them are connected with death. Four of the rasas “are not particularly pleasant”: sorrow, disgust, anger, and fear (Mason 75). Death is represented “either as an anubhava or vyabhicari- bhava” (Sullivan 2007) which is the manifestation and enactment of a mood (Astha 2014). In the Natya-sastra, Bharata explains that sorrow “is to be represented on the stage by an array of anubhava, including tears and falling on the ground, but also insanity and death” (Sullivan 2007). The disgust rasa is portrayed with “death, along with despair, insanity, and so on” (Sullivan 2007). Certain acts described with the anger rasa lead to death but it is not specified that the character is supposed to be killed; for example, characters are supposed to cut off the head and limbs of other characters (Sullivan 2007). In the love rasa, death is not excluded in the thirty-three transitory states therefore, “even in a drama emphasizing the erotic, death may figure as a transitory state” (Sullivan 2007). For example, death is the final stage in separation from the beloved, for female characters (Sullivan 2007). Bharata explains “how one should speak while dying on the stage, with a faltering voice or repeating oneself” (Sullivan 2007). Bharata also specifies that different kinds of death will have different appearances (Sullivan 2007). The rasas create aesthetic delight and the representation of death on stage is “important in evoking rasa experience for the audience” (Sullivan 2007).

The performers are important in order for the audience to experience rasa, but the creator of the art that the performers are enacting also plays a key role. The rasa experience is a two-way process because the artist strives for rasa while creating their art while the audience must detect it (Astha 2014). In rasa theory, “the term sahrdaya has been variously translated as critic, observer, reader, spectator, or one who savors (rasika) in the creative process” (Sundararajan and Raina 2016). The receptor of a work of art can be described in three words: spectator, auditor, and empathizer (Sundararajan and Raina 2016). The auditor is part of a social group and the empathizer is “defined as one who has the same quality of heart and mind as the creator” (Sundararajan and Raina 2016). This is the ideal critic or sahrdaya. The audience receives aesthetic delight through a performance because of the specific actions of the performers and the creator. The audiences’ appreciation emotions and the audiences’ understanding of the history of the story being presented also impacts one’s aesthetic delight. The audience members only attend Sanskrit dramas in order to “experience the Rasa that the work of art can facilitate” (Sullivan 2011:166). The creator’s skill is to “anticipate a mind that understands and appreciates” (Sundararajan and Raina 2016). The audience must be “qualified to appreciate the depiction” (Sullivan 2011:166); for example, if one does not know Sanskrit or the meaning behind a myth, one cannot effectively receive aesthetic pleasure from a drama. The appreciation emotions are awe, esteem, and respect (Sundararajan and Raina 2016). The appreciation emotions are important for aesthetic appreciation in the rasa because it is important that “the creator and the ideal critic are one in mind and soul” (Sundararajan and Raina 2016). Therefore, true criticism “implies idealized reconstruction in the reader’s soul of what is expressed in the poet’s soul” (Sundararajan and Raina 2016). There are three stages in order to receive aesthetic delight: one must become attuned to the emotional situation, become absorbed in the portrayal, and this absorption becomes aesthetic delight (Sundararajan and Raina 2016).

The performance of Kutiyattam in Kerala is a religious act done by male actors called Cakyar, “who have the right and religious duty (dharma) to perform Kutiyattam” (Sullivan 2011:159). The goal of Kutiyattam is to “enact dramas to enable an audience to experience Rasa” (Sullivan 2011:158). Before a performance, Cakyars are “consecrated by ritual actions of Brahmin temple priests” (Sullivan 2011:159) and then pray to a deity “for inspiration and protection during the performance” (Sullivan 2011:158). After each performance, the Cakyars “worship and receive blessings from the priest” (Sullivan 2011:159) while still in their costumes, then “sprinkle consecrated water on the stage, on himself or herself, and on the audience” (Sullivan 2011:160). The actor must also ask the gods for forgiveness for mistakes or errors that were made in the performance (Sullivan 2011:160). A full performance of a drama may take many nights because the actors perform “only a small portion of any drama’s text in a night of acting” (Sullivan 2011:163) and only perform at night. Small portions are performed because “only small segments of a drama’s script are portrayed each evening” (Sullivan 2011:163) and the Cakyars must develop gestures and add more detail to the scripts (Sullivan 2011:163). A performance technique of some Cakyars is to recite a verse in Sanskrit, perform their gestures and then recite the previous verse again (Sullivan 2011:162). This repetition is done to “give full expression to the emotional tone of that moment” (Sullivan 2011:162). Due to the development of modern society, changes have been proposed to perform an entire performance in one night because audience members may be unable to attend multiple performances and “their Rasa experience is dependent on viewing the entire play, including the resolution of its plot in the final scene” (Sullivan 2011:166-167). One’s rasa experience could be inhibited or one could not receive a rasa experience at all if the performance is incomplete.

Social changes in Indian cities affect temples and performers (Sullivan 2011:165). For example, in Kerala, many performers stopped performing when temples that were affected by land reforms opened to lower caste groups (Sullivan 2011:165). Although social changes have decreased the number of performers, it has increased the diversity of the remaining performers (Sullivan 2011:165). Rasa is also affected by the debate on whether the performers should remain traditional or change their performances as society changes. Some performers believe the performances should remain the same in order for the audience to experience rasa from the traditional line repetition and gestures (Sullivan 2011:166). Keeping with tradition will allow rasa techniques to maintain their originality and purpose but changing with society will keep rasa theory relevant. In the representation of death, rasa theory does change depending on the audience. Bharata explains in the Natya-sastra that “actors should learn from and accommodate to local traditions concerning the representation of death” (Sullivan 2007). Global performances also affect rasa because the audience must be qualified and prepared to witness the drama, and foreign tourists and non-Sanskrit speakers may not be prepared (Sullivan 2011:167).

Rasa is explained by Bharata in the Natya-sastra as “an emotional response that is inspired in an audience by a performer” (Astha 2014). Rasa theory explains how a rasa is created with a combination of vibhava, anubhava, and bhava to create an emotional response in an audience (Astha 2014). A bhava is a mood conveyed through gestures and facial expressions (Astha 2014). Bhava is made up of vibhava, a stimulant, and anubhava, the enactment of a mood (Astha 2014). The metaphor for the pleasure of food is used to describe rasa theory. One receives pleasure from food just like an audience receives pleasure form a performance (Mason 72). However, aesthetic distance is important because the audience does not receive pleasure from feeling what the characters are feeling; they appreciate witnessing what the characters are feeling. The nine rasas are: humour (hasyam), love (srngara), anger (raudra), sorrow (karuna), fear (bhayanaka), amazement (abhuta), heroism (vir), disgust (bibhatsa), and tranquility (santa) (Gaston 2011). Each rasa is associated with a specific deity and color. Most of the rasas are also associated with death because death on stage is important for developing the rasa experience (Sullivan 2007). One’s appreciation emotions help one to become an ideal critic or sahrdaya (Sundararajan and Raina 2016). The audience must be qualified and prepared to watch a performance. The audiences’ rasa experience is further affected by witnessing an entire performance. Social changes cause foreign and global audiences to be unprepared or not have the chance to watch an entire performance, which limits one’s rasa experience. A rasa experience, explained by the rasa theory, is caused by the creator of the art, the performer’s actions, and the audience themselves.
























Astha (2014) “Abhinavagupta’s exposition extends Bharata’s Rasa Theory in several ways.” Language in India, Vol. 14, No. 3: 83-93. Accessed February 1, 2017.

Fuller, Jason D. (2011) “The accidental pilgrim: Vaisnava tirthas and the experience of the sacred.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, ed. by Hillary P. Rodrigues, 62-74. New York: Routledge.

Gaston, Anne-Marie (2011) “Dance and Hinduism: a personal exploration.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, ed. by Hillary P. Rodrigues, 75-86. New York: Routledge.

Mason, David (2006) “Rasa, ‘Rasaesthetics’ and Dramatic Theory as Performance Packaging.” Theatre Research International, Vol. 31, No. 1: 69-83. Accessed February 5, 2017. doi:10.1017/S0307883305001860

Lidke, Jeffrey (2011) “Tabla, spirituality, and the arts: a journey into the cycles of time.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, ed. by Hillary P. Rodrigues, 118-130. New York: Routledge.

Sullivan, Bruce M. (2007). “Dying on the Stage in the Natya Sastra and Kutiyattam: Perspectives from the Sanskrit Theatre.” Action Theatre Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2: 422-439. Accessed February 3, 2017. doi:10.1353/atj.2007.0041

Sullivan, Bruce M. (2011) “Experiencing Sanskrit dramas in Kerala: epic performances and performers.” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, ed. by Hillary P. Rodrigues, 158-169. New York: Routledge.

Sundararajan, Louise and Maharaj K. Raina (2016) “Mind and creativity: Insights from rasa theory with special focus on sahrdaya (the appreciative critic).” Theory & Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 6: 788-809. Accessed February 1, 2017. doi:10.1177/0959354316676398

















Further Recommended Reading

Gnoli, Raniero (1985) The Aesthetic Experience According to Abhinavagupta. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Press.

Leslie, Julia (1991) “Dance and the Hindu Women – Bharata Natyam Re-ritualized,” in Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. London: Printer.

Richmond, Farley (1990) “Kutiyattam” in Indian Theatre: Traditions of Performance ed. by F. Richmond, D. Swann, and P. Zarrilli, 87-117. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

Robinson, Tom and Hillary Rodrigues (2014) World Religions: A Guide to the Essentials. 2nd ed. USA: Baker Academic.

Robinson, Tom, Hillary Rodrigues, James Linville, John Harding, Atif Khalil, and Kev McGeogh (2015) World Religions Reader: Selected Texts & Symbols 2015 Edition. Robin Book Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2011) Studying Hinduism in Practice. USA: Routledge.

Rodrigues, Hillary. (2017) Hinduism – the eBook. 2nd ed. JBE Online Books.

Robinson, Tom, Hillary Rodrigues, James Linville, John Harding, Atif Khalil, and Kev McGeogh (2015) World Religions Reader: Selected Texts & Symbols 2015 Edition. Robin Book Press.

Trepper, E. and J. Wood (1994) “Secularization and De-secularization of the Indian Classical Dance,” In South Asian Horizons – Enriched by South Asia, 15-34. Ottawa: Carleton University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation



















Related Websites


This article written by: Kylie Thomson (Spring 2017), who is solely responsible for its content.

Demons defeated by Siva

In this article we examine myths of various Asuras defeated, by Siva and Rudra “The Howler, Roarer and the Terrible,” a fierce form of Siva. (Williams 248). Asuras are demons, and not every demon is evil. In the past, the Aryans believed demons not to be evil but that they opposed Devas. Siva is known to “encompass three seemingly contradictory planes of truth: Beauty, Wisdom, Power” (Williams 267). To define Avesta, which translates to demons, is known as daeva also known as deva in sanskrit (Bhattacharyya 10). It was seen at first that both Devas and Asuras had similar traits, but it wasn’t till after their fall, Asuras had come to be the evil demons (Kramrisch 394).

The first demon Siva defeated was Andakha. Andakha was Siva and Parvati’s son. Siva and Parvati were married. Andakha is defined as blind, he was created when Siva called Parvati’s skin colour dark, which caused her to leave her home and, that would have been the time the demon entered her (Kramrisch 384). The Asura then became blind when “Parvati placed her hands over Siva’s eyes in jest, only to throw the universe into total darkness. But her touch heated Siva so that a drop of sweat fell from his brow and became an angry, deformed, dark demon…” (Williams 54). The demon named Hiranyanetra practiced austerities to win a boon from Siva, and asked him for a heroic son. Siva granted Hiranyanetra, his own son Andakha. Andakha then started to desire Parvati, and decided to abduct her. He made his way to Mount Mandara, where Parvati was at the time while Siva was away. Andakha attempted to molest Parvati; Siva then appeared and impaled Andakha with his trident (Williams 54).

Adi was another demon that was defeated by Siva. This Asura was Andakha’s son and wanted to avenge his father’s death. To do so Adi performed austerities to be granted a boon, which he received. He asked for invincibility in battle. What led to Adi’s ultimate destruction by Siva was the way he had asked for the boon. Adi then went to Siva, and transformed into a serpent form. Siva is known as lord of all creatures, he is a friend to all snakes (Williams 45). Once Adi had entered the palace via snake form, he changed into the form of Parvati. Parvati was Siva’s wife at the time, and had left Siva to come back with renewed austerities. Siva recognized that this in fact was not Parvati, but rather an Asura. This was due to his realization that Parvati wouldn’t come back without fulfilling her purpose, and he also noticed the demon (in form of Parvati) did not have her mark of a lotus. To kill the demon Adi, Siva then put a thunderbolt on his penis, which “rendered ineffective the strong sharp teeth that Adi had put into the vagina of his Parvati disguise” (Kramrisch 385). This was possible because Adi was in a different form at the time, which meant he wasn’t invincible (Williams 45). “Siva administered death to the demon by means of sex, a method the demon had meant to practice successfully on Siva” (Kramrisch 386).
As noted in the beginning, many Asuras aren’t always bad. We look at Daksa, who started out as “the right thumb of Brahma”(Williams 105). Daksa was once a positive figure that became a negative figure, as he attempted to humiliate Siva. Daksa does not approve of his daughter Sati’s relationship with Siva, even though they are married, because Siva was not Vedic and it would pollute Daksa’s ritual (Williams 106). Sati then sacrificed herself and became Sati. Siva became angered at this, which resulted in two Asuras to be created, named Virabhadra and Bhadra-Kali who then killed Daksa. As noticed, it was through demons, which Siva produced to be able to defeat Daksa (Williams 106).

Siva defeats the demons through Parvati, by using her beauty as bait for the Asuras. At one time, Parvati was playing ball, and the demons that saw her became excited as they watched her play. The demons that watched Parvati full of lust were named Vidala and Utpala. Parvati then threw the ball at and was able to hit both of the demons at the same time, in which case the demons collapsed, as if being struck by a thunderbolt and then the ball changed into Siva’s linga (Kramrisch 388). “The thunderbolt power of Siva’s linga directed against demons by Parvati’s hand protected Parvati’s chastity” (Kramisch 388).

In the legend of the Tripura, the three different demons whose names differ throughout the stories represent the coordination of the Asura clan in three cities. “The legend had it that the demons were destined to be exterminated when under special circumstances the three puras or forts would be joined together and pierced by a single shaft” (Bhattacharyya 144). Siva was the one to ultimately destroy the Tripura, by piercing it (Bhattacharyya 144).

This article was written by: Avneet Sidhu (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.


Primary sources:

Kramrisch, Stella (1981) The Presence of Siva. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

William, George (2003) Handbook Of Hindu Mythology: Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio Inc.

Bhattacharyya, N.N. (2000) Indian Demonology: Delhi: Replika Press.

Related reading:

Hackin, J., Huart, Clement., Linossier, H., Wilman-Graabowska, De., Marchal, Charles-Henri., Maspero, Henri., Eliseev, Serge., Couchoud, Paul-Louis (1994) Asiatic Mythology: A Detailed Description and Explanation of the Mythologies of All the Great Nations of Asia: London: George G. Harrap & CO. Limited.

Doniger, Wendy, (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology: Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Article written by: Avneet Sidhu (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.


Rangoli is an art of decorating floors using various colored powders. It is considered that Rangoli has been practiced for eras, and has been modified throughout, yet its significance has been the same throughout. It is a living tradition in India and is practiced mostly by womenfolk. This form of art is believed to have survived even before it found its place in Hindu literature. The origin of this art is yet vague, but some of the scholars have dated it back to about 2000 years (Gode 241). The very first evidence found in Hindu literature is between 50-400 CE in the Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana; which is mentioned as tndulkusumvlidikara (Gode 241). This floor art has had stability not only in Indian domestic lives but religious lives as well. Rangoli is an art that represents an energy field in religious context (Correa 92-113).

Rangoli is not only for the ecstasy of gods and the ruling deities, but also for beauty per Usinara. Usinaras are the middle country (Madyadesa) dwellers (Majumdar 248). It is said that the sage Narada gave a new kind of classification of these arts from the viewpoint of places and where the depictions are situated. They are classified in three different ways: of the floor (bhauma), of the wall (kudya), and of the top (urdhvaka) (ceiling). They again get classified into two more categories from another stance, permanent (zazvatika) and temporary (tatkalika, ksanika). The Rangoli that is still prominent in India is the floor or ksanika Rangoli (Gode 236).

Disciplines that explore the notions of this nonmanifest world are religion, philosophy, and arts (Correa 92-113). Rangoli is an sacred art that beautifies houses, brings positive vibrations, and peaceful feelings. The recurrence, proportion, balance, and liveliness, are few of the principles of this form of art. Rangoli is related to the method of Tantric design known as the Mandala. These designs are symbols of secret philosophical religious meanings (Dohmen 129-139). Different figures and arrangements within the design are associated with different aspects of human life. Circular designs within the diagrams evoke a sense of eternity of time, the unfolding of life, and the heart or the wheel (Das 2008).

Rangoli symbolizes auspiciousness and good luck in Hindu dharma. In ancient times, this sacred and versatile form of art was made to welcome gods and goddesses during special occasions. Durai (77) discloses the practice of Rangoli, about a century ago in the Madras Presidency. Madras is known as Chennai in present day India. According to Durai, these geometric diagrams are known as Kolam in Madras. They are typically made by Hindu women, every morning. To make a Kolam they use white rice powder. Lines and dots are connected in the process of making a Kolam, except when a death befalls in the family. Rangoli is made during the events such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and festivals such as Divali, Sankranti, Navaratra, Nagapancami, Tulsi Vrata, and Sravan Sukla Pancami. It is a gesture of hospitality and openness for the visiting guests, be it a human being or heavenly being. This attractive and decorative art is made with different materials such as, colored powders, rice flour, sand, sugar, or flower petals. The designs vary for everyday practice and special occasions. It can be plain and small for daily practice, and colorful and elaborate for festive events (Durai 77).

Different parts of India have different names associated with this form of floor art. It is known as Rangoli in Maharastra, Kolam in South India, Aripana in Bihar, Muggulu in Andhra Pradesh, Alpana in Bengal, and the list goes on. In Sanskrit, ‘Rang’ means color and ‘Avali’ means row, so Rangoli literally means ‘rows of colors’ (Gode 226). Alpana derieves from Sanskrit word alimpana which means ‘to plaster’ or ‘to coat with’ which is eminent in Bengal. Alpana is traditionally made of powdered rice. In modern days, the materials used to make Alpana have changed but some Hindu orthodox families still practice this traditional way of using powered rice. The powdered rice is mixed with water to make a paste, and small piece of cloth is used to design Alpana. Themes of Alpana typically consist of stars, sun, moon, plough, owl, rice stem, etc. Kolam is typically practiced in Tamil Nadu and South India using rice flour as well. Very famous designs of Kolam are Hridaya-Kamalam Kolam (Praghosa 2008). To precisely complete these projects one needs a lot of patience. That is why the dots and lines in the Kolam are believed to symbolize hurdles, hardships, and struggles that human beings face in life. And the finished project denotes that if humans, bravely, patiently, and serenely, face all the struggles and hardships, then they can get through life easily and peacefully. Kolam/Rangoli is made every morning at the thresholds of the houses to keep the negative vibes away and maintain positive and happy vibes throughout the day. The rice dust sprinkled on the ground, in the form of Rangoli, is not wasted, but considered to be a generous way to offer back to the nature, so the smallest of the creatures also get their feed. It is said to be one of the most prevalent methods of visual arts practiced in modern Tamil Nadu, because of the sheer magnitude of practitioners involved in making Kolam (Dohmen 92-113).

One of the most important Hindu festivals is Divali. Divali is known as the festival of lights and is associated with vibrant and vivid colors. Colorful fireworks across the villages, towns and cities; candle light around the houses; making of various sweets in excessive amount; exchanging gifts; and making elaborate and vibrant Rangolis, are associated with this festival. The principal deity Laksmi is present in the atmosphere during Divali. She is known as the goddess of wealth, good luck, and prosperity. She visits the homes that are well cleaned, well-lit, and beautifully decorated. Every Hindu household performs Laksmi Puja (act of worship) on the third day of Divali. As per the Hindu lunar calendar, this five-day festival falls on the new moon day on the month of Asvin (October or November). Various Rangolis such as goddess Laksmi’s footprints, eight petal lotuses known as ‘Ashtadal-kamal’ in Andhra Pradesh, eight pointed star known as ‘Hridaya-kalam’ in Tamil Nadu, and thousands of designs in Gujarat only, are made during Diwali. Diwali is thought to be inadequate without Rangoli. It is a welcoming gesture to the Goddess and the homecoming guests. The ritual of welcoming the guests is known to bring good luck and bliss to the family.

The festival that falls in the first fortnight of January is Sankranthi (Makara-Sankramanam), and during this festival, young Telugu girls of Andhra Pradesh compete with their peers to make the latest and elaborate Muggulu designs in their courtyard. In Andhra Pradesh, the floor decoration technique is known as Muggu or Muggulu in plural. People of all castes make Muggulu on their respective thresholds, after cleaning the surface with water and cow-dung. Colored Muggulu is made for special occasions and during the worship of gods and goddesses. Muggulu is drawn to honor the Sankranti Purusa, also known as Bali (Gode 243-246). Gode (1947) also discusses about Tamil girls, who enthusiastically bet with each other to draw the most widespread and intricate Kolam in the village (235). Even though these arts and designs are beautiful, they are ksanik, meaning temporary.

Due to colonization, and the influence of innovation and modernization, the Indian traditions and practices are perceived to be vanishing. Dohmen (135) provides understanding on Tamil editors that have tried to preserve Kolam by publishing the designs in their editions. Dohmen states, “These design magazine editors have taken on the circulation, innovation and preservation of traditional designs” (Dohmen 134). India is a mix of diverse cultures, languages and philosophies. Informing the youngsters about Indian values and socio-historical relations is the most influential way to preserve the heritage. Adir and Bhaskaran, in their research, suggest that children learn from very early age, so involving them in activities like making Rangoli, can be one of the many ways to preserve this art. They suggest that the kids who learn to make Rangoli when they are young can develop the skill of creative problem-solving. Since Rangoli is a collectively made project, they need to work together to determine the colors and shapes choices. Rangoli is a great means of socializing. It also requires eye-hand coordination and fine muscle control which can be an invaluable asset for children when they grow up (Adir and Bhaskaran 48-52, 54-55). Teachers and parents can use a variety of materials such as, crayons, markers, colored pencils, and chalks for outdoors (Guhin 2013).

Rangolis enlighten the ‘nature of the cosmos’. Rangoli is not just an idea, but symbolizes an energy field. The midpoint of a Rangoli signifies “shunya (the absolute void) as well as bindu (the world seed and the source of all energy)”. The midpoint is placed as Brahman, the primary source, in all the Rangolis. When the cycles of reincarnation are finally ended, according to Hinduism, the atman (the distinct soul) is free from each of us and goes to Brahman (to the center of this energy field) (Correa 92-113). Sacred does not only mean religious but primordial as well. The minutiae detail of Rangoli have various symbols and meanings associated with them. “The greatest of all the geometric depictions of cosmic order used as aids for meditation, this ecstasy is depicted as the interpenetrations of nine triangles, four facing upward and five downward, together symbolizing the union of Siva and Sakti” (Correa 92-113). This method of art has been practiced for centuries and it is considered to represent an energy field in religious context (Correa 1989). This form of floor art is still prominent in India and in Hindu countries around the world.


References and further recommended readings

Adair, Jennifer Keys, and Lilly Bhaskaran (2010) “Meditation, Rangoli, and Eating on the Floor:Practices from an Urban Preschool in Bangalore, India.” YC Young Children 65, no. 65:48-55.

Correa, Charles (1989) “The Public, the Private, and the Sacred.” Daedalus 118: 92-113.

Das, Praghosa (2008) “Sacred geometry, Rangolis, Mandalas and Yantras”

Dohmen, Renate (2001) “Happy Homes and the Indian Nation: Women’s Designs in Post-Colonial Tamil Nadu.” Journal of Design History 14: 129-39.

Gode, P. K. (1947) “History of the Rangavalli (Rangoli) Art – Between C. A. D. 50 and 1900.”

Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 28: 226-46.


Guhin, Paula (2013) “Rangoli: An Indian Art Activity Book.” An Indian Art Activity Book.a0352230655 (accessed February 27 2017)

Durai, G. H.(1929) “60. Preliminary Note on Geometrical Diagrams (Kolam) from the Madras Presidency.” Man 29: 77. Doi:10.2307/2790112.

Majumdar, R. C. (1951) “The History and Culture of Indian People: The Vedic Age.” G. Allen 8 Unwin, 1951 1: 248, 252.

Related topics for further investigations


Sravan Sukla Purnima


Tulsi Vrata

Swosthani Vrata



Laxmi Pujan

Importance of Cow in Hindu Dharma

Vasant Pancami


Importance of Tulsi

Noteworthy websites

This article was written by: Reena Sharma (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.


The Pancatantra is an interesting case in terms of Indian literature, it has travelled far and wide since around 550 AD when it is documented to have left India as it travelled to the Persian court of King Khorsro Anushirvan (Rajan 1). It was the first Indian book to be printed on a printing press under the name of Das Buch der Beyspiele (The Book of Examples) (Rajan 1). Many fairy tales and nursery rhymes from around the world may find origin or influence in the Pancatantra, for example Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Nights and Sindbad (Bedekar 1). With so many retellings of these stories there is often a need to change it for local appeal. Although certain changes are unavoidable, some changes can completely change the tone of a story or book. For example, in the version translated by Thomas North the first book has a sequel where the interfering jackal is tried and killed for his part in the death of the bull (Rajan 2).

The Pancatantra is an ancient collection of Indian fairy tales that the introduction attributes to a Brahmin by the name of Vishnu Sharma. Vishnu Sharma was hired by a king to teach his three sons the art of intelligent living and he used the five books of the Pancatantra to do so. The five books are The Loss of Friends, The Winning of Friends, Of Crows and Owls, Loss of Gains and, Ill-considered Action (Ryder 15). Each book contains many stories, each with a lesson on how an individual should conduct themselves (Rajan, 3). Many of these stories are about animals personified with some of them containing exclusively human characters.

The longest book in the Pancatantra is the first one, The Loss of Friends. This book tells the story of a bull left in the forest by his owner after getting stuck in mud. He becomes very happy, grazing all day and bellowing in happiness. The bellowing unnerves a lion who is the King of the Jungle and a couple Jackals, who were once members of his court begin plotting. Throughout this book, they argue about what actions should be taken, telling stories to illustrate their points. One of them goes to talk to the king and is told of the fear that the king feels over the loud animal that he had heard. The bull is brought to the king by this jackal and they become close friends. The jackals become worried by this and hatch a plan to create a rift between the two friends. The same jackal as mentioned before wrongfully informs the king that the bull is planning to kill him and take his power for his own. The jackal claims that the king should kill the bull before the bull can kill him. The king is skeptical and asks for proof; the jackal claims that the bull will look angry with the king and that would be his proof. The jackal visits the bull next claiming the king plans to kill him as they are too different. The bull takes offence to this and plans to start a war with the king. This scares the jackal as a war could lead the death of the king. He urges the bull to simply leave the country. The bull is skeptical of his friend’s plans and the jackal claims that if the king looks at him with anger, that is proof of his plan. Upon returning to his companion and relaying his story, the other jackal calls him wicked. Elsewhere the bull questions his friendship with the lion and goes to see him. The lion, who believed the jackal’s lies attacks the bull and they start to fight. The jackals, seeing this, fear for their king’s safety, the less involved one calling the involved one out for his foolishness in interfering in the kings matters. All this time the battle between the two friends raged on with the lion killing the bull in the process. The king feeling remorse for his actions is comforted by the meddling jackal who tells him that the bull deserved no sympathy because of his treachery (Ryder pg. 19-210).

The second book of the Pancatantra is called The Gaining of Friends. It is shorter than the first book. It tells the story about four friends, a crow, a mouse, a turtle and a deer. In the beginning the crow warns the dove of a trap set by a hunter, but the dove does not listen. Which causes him to lead his retainers into the trap. They fly as one group to the home of the mouse, who helps them get out of the net. The crow follows them and after they leave, starts a friendship with the mouse. One day the crow decides that he wants to leave the country as he is dissatisfied with the way things are. The mouse, also unhappy with the way of things, decides to go with him. They travel to the lake home of the crow’s friend, the turtle, who welcomes them with open arms. The mouse explains that after getting food for other mice from a hermit, the hermit found and emptied the mouse’s food store, making him unable to get food for the other mice. One day they meet a deer who is running away from a hunter and they welcome him into their friend group. Later the deer is caught in a net and while the friends free him the hunter arrives, all the friends except for the turtle escape. This leads the other three friends to plan a rescue, allowing the turtle to escape the hunter (Ryder pg. 213-288).

The third book of the Pancatantra is Of Crows and Owls. The story begins with two warring factions, the crows and the owls. The owls killed any crows that were not at their home tree and the King of crows wanted to find a solution to this murder of his subjects. His ministers put forward different options. His oldest councillor offered a plan that would allow for an attack on the home of the owls, though its location was unknown. The plan had the King fake an attack on the old councillor, allowing the owls to find him, and convincing them to reveal the location of their home to him. The plan succeeded as only one of the Owl King’s ministers advised killing the crow. The crow had the Owl King’s full trust, but the minister continued to mistrust the crow. Unable to convince his colleagues and his king of the danger the crow posed; the minister left the cave, taking his own ministers with him. After that, the crow minister blocked the entrance under the pretense of building a nest and went to get the other crows. They burnt the pile of twigs, killing all the owls inside. When asked how he managed to fool his foes, he explained that he was friendly with the owls so they would not suspect him of lying (Ryder 291- 378).

The fourth book of the Pancatantra is called The Loss of Gains. This book tells of a monkey who lives in a rose apple tree. Once a day a crocodile comes by and the monkey offers to feed him. This becomes a daily thing and they become close friends. The crocodile’s wife upon hearing how her husband got the food asks him to bring her the monkey’s heart. He initially denies her but eventually gives in to her desire. The crocodile invites the monkey to his home and the monkey accepts his invitation. Together they travel towards the crocodile’s home with the monkey riding on the back of the crocodile. Once in deeper water the crocodile speaks of his plan to take the monkey’s heart. The monkey claims it is back in the tree and urges the crocodile to take him back to the tree so they can retrieve it. They return and the monkey calls the crocodile foolish and cuts off his friendship with him. The crocodile only wishing to please his wife, pleads with the monkey to come with him, only to learn that his wife is dead from fasting. He is saddened, but the monkey tells him that he should be celebrating as she wasn’t a very good wife. Soon the crocodile learns that a large crocodile has moved into his home, prompting him to seek advice from the monkey. The monkey tells him that he should fight the crocodile for his home as he will either die or kill his opponent. The crocodile chose to take the monkey’s advice. He fought the other crocodile for his home and won (Ryder 381- 423).

The fifth book of the Pancatantra is the last one, it is called Ill-Considered Actions. At the beginning of the story a merchant is told in a dream that the Jain monk who would visit him that day, this monk would turn to gold if struck on the head with a stick, and the monk did. The barber witnessed this and thought that he could replicate the results, so he invited all the Jain monks at the temple to his house and beat them. The soldiers heard the crying of the monks and intervened. They took the barber to court and the judges ruled he would be impaled for his poor actions. There is a new story after this one of four Brahmins who are struck with poverty and decide to leave the city. They encounter a man who gives each of them a quill, telling them that where the quill falls from their hands, they should dig and find treasure. The first Brahmin found copper where his quill fell, but the other three decide to continue hoping for better treasure. The next quill to drop led the Brahmin to find silver. But the other two continued still hoping for better treasure. The third quill fell and the Brahmin found gold. The fourth Brahmin, thinking there must be something even better in his future, continued without his friend. After much wandering, he finds a man with a wheel spinning on his head, and asks the man for water. The wheel leaves the man’s head and settles on the Brahmin’s. The man explained that the only way to escape is for some other person with a quill to speak to the current wheel bearer as the Brahmin spoke to him. The man further explained that his body will be maintained eternally until he leaves. The Brahmin who found the gold started to wonder about his friend and decided to go find him. Upon finding him, he is told the story and chastises his friend for being greedy. The wheel-bearer pleads with his friend not to leave him there, but as there is nothing to be done about his current situation, the gold-finder bids his friend goodbye and returns home (Ryder 427-470).

The Pancatantra is universally appealing, and people can understand the moral teachings of the stories. The message is clear, the stories are interesting, and it allows for an easy method of imparting knowledge to children because stories like the ones found in the Pancatantra are a more engaging medium of learning.













Bibliography and Related Readings

Bedekar, Vijay (2008, December 27th) History of Migration of Panchatatra and What it can Teach Us. Paper presented at Suhbashita, Panchatantra & Gnomic Literature in Ancient & Medieval India, Thane College Campus, Thane, Maharashtra. Thane, Maharashtra: Institute for Oriental Study. Retrieved from

González-Reimann, L., & Taylor, M. (2009). The fall of the indigo jackal: The discourse of division in purnabhadra’s pañcatantra. The Journal of Asian Studies, 68(4), 1337. doi:

Rajan, C. (2000). Panchatantra: The globe-trotting classic of India. Bookbird, 38(4), 6-9.

Retrieved from

Ryder, Arthur (1925) Pancatantra. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from

Related Research Topics

Indian Literature

Aesop’s Fables


Arabian Nights

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This Article was written by: Kayla Schewe (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.


The goddess Dhumavati is one of the ten Mahavidya goddesses, whose origin stories have been part of Hindu literature since the early medieval period (Kinsley 1997:1). Known as the widow, Dhumavati represents the last stage of the Hindu female life. She is perhaps the most feared of all the Mahavidya goddesses, known as the very opposite of the great goddess Sri or Laksmi (White 472). This formidable goddess, also commonly referred to as “The Smoky One,” is frequently depicted with dark, matted hair, sickly complexion, wearing white or soiled clothes, holding a winnowing basket, and riding a chariot with her animal companion, the crow (Kinsley 1997:182). Dhumavati is known as an inauspicious goddess in Hindu culture, due to her widowhood after consuming her husband, Siva, in a fury (White 472). Duhmavati often takes the form of smoke from which her names possibly derives and, like her form smoke, is able to drift anywhere at will; furthermore, she is attracted to smoke, such as that from burned incense (Kinsley 1997: 186). In the Phetkarini Tantra, Dhumavati is described as pale, angry, and deceitful; a goddess who arouses horror and conflict, wears dirty clothes, and rides in a cart with a crow banner (Zieler 218). The crow in Hindu culture is often seen as an inauspicious animal, a bearer of evil and bad omens. The crow is often representative of recently departed souls, and is a vehicle, vahana, of many inauspicious gods and goddesses (Zeiler 214). As well, rituals performed to the goddess often use crows, such as burning them and scattering their ashes, so that Dhumavati may render one’s enemies as ineffective, harmless, or in order to destroy them (Zieler 224). Dhumavati herself is occasionally said to resemble a crow. In Hindu culture, it is prescribed that widows are to dress without elaborate adornments or colours; therefore, Hindu widows typically wear white saris with no jewelry or other ornamentation, such as how Dhumavati is commonly pictured (Rodrigues 128). Widowhood in Hindu culture is considered the most inauspicious state a woman can be in, and widows are typically banned from celebrations, especially weddings, as they are considered bad omens (Mukherjee 37).

Dhumavati is typically considered the seventh goddess incarnation out of the ten Mahavidya goddesses (Kinsley 1997: 9). The origin myths of these Tantric goddesses sets forth that all ten goddesses originate from one goddess, most often Sati. Although they represent separate goddesses, the ten goddesses are often considered to be one, as opposed to ten separate beings, and they are often shown in a group in temple paintings (Kinsley 1997:15). The origin myths differ, however, with the original goddess being either Sati, Parvati, Kali, Durga, or Sataksi, although most myths depict the goddess as Siva’s partner (Kinsley 1997: 22). The most common Mahavidya origin story depicts Sati and Siva, in which Sati’s father decides to host a sacrifice, but declines to extend an invitation to Sati and Siva. Sati declares to Siva that she will attend regardless, to which Siva protests and forbids her to attend. This causes great fury in Sati, who proceeds to transform into the ten different forms of the Mahavidyas. Sati attends the sacrifice, eventually burning herself on her father’s sacrificial fire (Kinsley 1986: 162). The nine Mahavidya goddesses other than Dhumavati are Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhuvanesvari, Bagala, Kamala, Matangi, Sodasi, and Bhairavi (Kinsley 1986: 162). Some Mahavidya goddesses are well known and are worshiped outside of their existence within the group of Mahavidyas, such as Kali and Tara, however others are not well known outside of the Mahavidya story, as is the case with Dhumavati (Kinsley 1986: 161). Unlike Visnu’s ten different incarnations, the Mahavidyas do not seem concerned with upholding dharma, the cosmic order of the universe. Many of the Mahavidyas are depicted as being frightening, such as Kali, Tara, and Dhumavati, and the goddesses as a whole are commonly interpreted as being either sister goddesses, different elements or stages of a female Hindu life, or different stages of creation and destruction (Kinsley 1997: 40-41). The Mahavidyas are most commonly associated with tantra and tantric worship, although they are also worshiped in Hindu temples. Dhumavati, however, is not particularly well known and there are not many temples dedicated solely to the goddess. Each Mahavidya goddess has a unique mantra dedicated to each individual goddess, which is spoken during worship to invoke the goddess (Kinsley 1997: 63).

Dhumavati is best known in Hindu culture for her ferocious nature, ugly appearance, and her widowhood. Other characteristics of Dhumavati include her association with poverty and need, hunger and thirst, bad luck, and a poor temper. Unlike some of the other Mahavidya goddesses, such as Kali and Laksmi, there is little known about Dhumavati except for what is written about her in the Mahavidya text. She is often associated with, or said to be, the same goddess as Nirrti, Jyestha, and Alaksmi, all goddesses associated with inauspiciousness, misfortune, and sorrow (Kinsley 1997: 176-181). All three goddesses are similar in character to Dhumavati, although Jyestha is most similar in appearance, including having sagging breasts and a banner depicting a crow. As well, Jyestha’s name means “elder,” and Dhumavati is most often depicted as an elderly woman (Kinsley 1997: 178-179). Alaksmi, sister of the goddess Sri, also possesses a crow banner, and is characterized in similar ways to Dhumavati, such as her poverty, hunger, and thirst. Nirrti is similar to Dhumavati because she is associated with destruction and misfortune.

Aside from the Mahavidya origin myths, Dhumavati has her own origin myth. One such myth gives a possible origin for the name she is commonly referred to, The Smoky One. In the myth, Dhumavati was created out of the smoke of Sati’s burning body after Sati immolated herself on her father’s funeral pyre; therefore, Dhumavati is a form of Sati in smoke (Kinsley 1997: 181). In the second origin myth, Sati asks Siva, her spouse, for something to eat. When he declines to feed her, she eats Siva instead, who curses her, sentencing her to assume Dhumavati’s form. As well, by consuming Siva, Sati has made herself into a widow (Kinsley 1997: 181-182). Dhumavati is said to dwell in inauspicious places, such as the homes of widows, in cremation grounds, and deserts. Dhumavati is said to instill in her followers a distaste for the world and for material or worldly desires, similar to those in the renouncer stage of life, free from the social obligations and responsibilities of society. Therefore, Dhumavati is not a suitable goddess for married couples to worship, as it is said she creates a desire for being alone in her devotees. There is also a distinct prominence placed on describing the features of Dhumavati’s appearance in the Mahavidya story, specifically that she is exceedingly unattractive, described as being old and wrinkled, having sagging breasts, and missing teeth among other attributes. Despite her fearsome appearance, some suggest that she is gentle on the inside, as she will grant devotees any wish (Kinsley 1997: 183). As well, some scholars believe that Dhumavati’s perpetual hunger and thirst is a representation of unsatisfied desires (Kinsley 1997: 182).

Most Hindus, especially married couples, are advised not to worship Dhumavati. Nevertheless, many married couples worship her in hopes of attaining blessings from the goddess, such as male offspring. The gift of Dhumavati bestowing children onto devotees is implied in her hundred-name hymn (Kinsley 1997: 187). Dhumavati has very few temples dedicated to her in India. There is one located in Varanasi, in which she receives offerings such as flowers, fruit, liquor, meat, and cigarettes, as well as occasional blood sacrifices (Kinsley 1997: 186). Dhumavati is often said to be fond of blood, to crush bones in her mouth, and to wear a garland of skulls (Kinsley 1997: 180). Any offerings made to Dhumavati must be offered in a very smoky fire, as she is represented in the form of smoke, which is indicative of destruction. In the Varanasi temple, Dhumavati is seen as a village deity who looks after those in the area, contradictory to the very fearsome and furious character usually attributed to her (Kinsley 1997: 187). It is also said that she grants siddhis, or special powers, to those who do worship her (Kinsley 1997: 183). Dhumavati is often said to rule during four months prior to sukla ekadasi, the eleventh lunar day, of the month Kartik, which is the month Visnu wakes up from a four month nap (Kinsley 1997: 180). This time is known as being particularly inauspicious to Hindus, and events and celebrations, such as weddings, are typically not held.

There are a few recent depictions of Dhumavati outside of her typical form of an ugly, elderly widow. In a recent painting by Molaram done in the eighteenth century, Dhumavati is depicted typically, but with elaborate ornamentation and a colourful sari. Moreover, as opposed to the usual depiction of long, pendulous breasts, and an elderly and withered face, hers are round and high, with her face appearing youthful and unlined (Kinsley 1997: 188). Another eighteenth century painting of Dhumavati from Nepal depicts her as naked with long, braided, and light coloured hair, wearing pearls and hair decoration, and standing on a peacock, which is unusual for typical descriptions and depictions of Dhumavati (Kinsley 1997: 189). The third unusual painting was done in the early twentieth century by artist Batuk Ramprasad, in which she is once again dressed elaborately with intricate adornments. These three paintings may represent the notion that young widows in Hindu culture are dangerous to society, in that the young women are still sexually attractive to men and able to produce children, therefore potentially tempting to Hindu men.

References and Related Readings

Benard, Elisabeth A (2000) Chinnamasta: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1997) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Mukherjee, Tutun (2008) “Deepa Mehta’s Film Water: The Power of the Dialectical Image.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies Vol. 17: 35-47.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism: The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

White, David G (2001) Tantra: In Practice. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Zeiler, Xenia (2013) “Dark Shades of Power: The Crow in Hindu and Tantric Religious Traditions.” Religions of South Asia 7:212-229. doi: 10.1558/rosa.v7i1-3.212

Related Research Topics


Widowhood in Hindu culture

Animal vehicles (vahana)











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This article was written by: Natasha Polay (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.