Category Archives: L. Hindu Arts, Architecture and Culture

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 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.


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.

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Sravan Sukla Purnima


Tulsi Vrata

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Laxmi Pujan

Importance of Cow in Hindu Dharma

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Importance of Tulsi

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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

Related Websites

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


The origin of Rangoli dates back to many centuries ago and is an important part of Indian festivals. Rangoli is a design that is drawn on the ground with colored powder sometimes even with colored rice. Since Rangoli is mentioned in the Epics, it probably originated from before they were composed. The tradition is said to have come from the story of Chitralakshana. [The son of the highest priestly son dies and is said to be drawn and as the painting is completed the priestly son comes to life] (Dhawan 1). During the beginning of this tradition, it is said in the epic Ramayana after the return of Lord Rama from his exile he was showered with love by the art of Rangoli (Rao 1)

In Hinduism anything that has a deep meaning to it, is taken very seriously among the older generations, such as art of Rangoli. It is not only just used for making the courtyard look pretty but also to avoid the evil spirits from entering the house. This is the reason why most Rangoli designs are made very intricate and detailed. Spirits and negative vibes that are surrounding the house to get intertwined in the intricacy of the design (Ashu 1). The designs are the first thing people see when they enter the house. It allows them to bring more positivity into the house after seeing the Rangoli. The traditional Rangoli were more symmetrical because it was pleasing to look at. Different types of shapes are included when making Rangoli, such as certain religious flowers, drawings of gods, and many other things that have some sort of significance. Mostly white was used in the traditional Rangoli as it was a sense of peacefulness and calmness. Rangoli is made during Diwali (festival of lights) to welcome the Goddess Laksmi (Goddess of wealth). During every festival or any special occasion, the women of the house make the Rangoli. They wake up early as it takes hours for them to complete. The designs are only made once the front yard is fully cleaned with water, as it is a way for the women to cleanse their mind and have a sense of calmness.

In traditional Rangoli making powdered color was not used but colors that were available naturally were used such as haldi, vermillion, and rice flour. Natural powders were used so that birds and other insects would have food. The principle of ‘Vasudaiva kutumbaka’ in Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) meaning ‘the whole world is one big family’ (Sankar 1) is a reason why rice flower and such natural powders were used, so that the insects could feed off of them. Each color has a significant meaning behind it and is different in different parts in India. Now color that has dye in it is mainly used to attract more people and make it look more vibrant and realistic. Modern Rangoli is more focused towards the creativity of it rather then the spiritual aspect of it.

In southern India, there is myth about Lord Thirumal getting married in the Margazhi month, a time of the month that is said to be very auspicious. During this month, the girls get up before sunrise to start drawing Kolams [Rangoli is called kolam in southern India] to welcome the God of Thirumal (Dhawan 1). Going around a dot pattern makes Kolams.

During the month of January the Pongal kolam is made, in which the drawing is left undone until the next day so that they can join them with the neighboring houses.

More then just a design, Kolams is also used for mathematical ideas. They are very particular in using symmetry while making the designs and some even have a pattern that repeats several times. Some kolam are drawn using repetition of patterns in various angles Ascher (57-63). Symbols such as letters or numbers are used to explain the step-by-step way they are made.

Where Kolams are made up of more lines and have a geometrical pattern to them, Rangoli is made with vibrant colors and have many different designs. Each have there own significance and are used in different parts of India. Rangoli requires more intricate work than Kolams. Kolam is used more so in the southern part of India and Rangoli in northern part.

There are many different types of kolam designs; the most popular ones are the line and pulli Kolams. Line Kolams are free handed and are just geometrical lines. Pulli Kolams are designs where the dots are made in a certain sequence and lines are drawn to connect the dots. The pulli kolam has two different ways of making the design, one of which is connecting the dots and the other are twisted chains that are made around the dots Ascher (57-63). One other kind of kolam, called the snake kolam, different from any other Kolam, since it is drawn continuously and ends off where it began.

Rangoli is used in all of India whether it is for making drawing or used for special occasions. It has been passed down from centuries ago and is now being used in different ways and has even moved its way to a different side of it, the mathematical aspect. In the most recent years is when computer scientists have seen the usage of mathematical concepts being incorporated into the designs. As this tradition is passed down to future generations, the meaning and importance will slowly change as well. Slowly the designs will be improved by adding innovative aspects which differ from the past generations.. Rangoli’s is used upon arrivals of guests, family gatherings, and even when there are no special occasions. This allows women to get together and calm their minds down from the household work and provide them with a sense of relaxation from the tedious lifestyle. It is a way to express your happiness and allow others to enjoy the beautiful colors and designs made.


Sankar, Gayatri (2011) “Significance of Rangoli.”

Dhawan, Ashu (2015) “Why do we draw Rangoli? Significance & Importance!” Retrieved from

Subramanian, Ram (2014) “Kolam: A Tradition Combining Art and Geometry to Form Colorful Patterns.” Retrieved from

Ascher, Marcia (2002) “The Kolam Tradition: A Tradition of Figure-drawing in Southern India Expresses Mathematical Ideas and Has Attracted the Attention of Computer Science.” American Scientist 90, no.1: 56-63.

Rao, Venkata V (2006) “What is the origin of Rangoli?” Retrieved from

Hopkins, Dwight N (2001) Religions/Globalizations: Theories and Cases. Durham and London Duke University Press

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Pulli kolam

Line kolam



Lord Thirumal

Pongal kolam


Snake kolam



Goddess Lakshmi


This article was written by: Preet Parmar (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for this content. ab

A Brief Examination of The Kathasaritsagara

The Kathasaritsagara, also known as the Ocean of the Streams of Stories is a 11th-century Sanskrit text composed of Indian fairy tales and legends. Similarly to other stories, legends and epics, a Saiva [a follower of the Hindu tradition favoring the god Siva] named Somadeva retells the Kathasaritsagara. The Kathasaritsagara is a well-known adaptation to the Brihatkatha (Big Story), an Indian epic written by Gunadhya, often compared to Vyasa, the author and a character in the Mahabharata. Gunadhya, is credited as the author of the Brhatkatha, although it is not written in Sanskrit, rather, written in the hard to understand, and archaic language of Paisaci. The Brhatkatha was lost, and can now be only tracked through its two adaptations, being the previously mentioned Kathasaritsagara, and the Brhatkathamanjari written by Kshemendra, a 11th century poet.

The Kathasaritsagara as written by Somadeva, consists of 18 books written in Sanskrit, but was adapted into English by Charles Henry Tawney, an English scholar highly revered for his multi-lingual skills that lead him to often translate Indian legends to English. Tawney published two volumes of the English translated Kathasaritsagara, as The Katha sarit sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story between 1880-1884. Norman Mosley Penzer expanded upon Tawneys English translation adding commentary and notes, publishing his The Ocean of Story, being C.H. Tawney’s Translation of Somadeva’s Katha sarit sagara in 10 volumes between 1924-1928.

The original Kathasaritsagara is written in Sanskrit, an Indian prose. There are 18 books in Somadeva’s text. The first book is Kathapitha, followed by Kathainukha, Chaturdarika, Mandanamanhuka, Ratnaprabha, Suryaprabha, Alankarvavati, Saktiyasa, Vela, Sasankavati, Madiravati, Mahabhisheka, Suratamanjari, Padmabati and then the last book; Vishamasila. Tawney’s English adaptation, published in two volumes, compiles Somdeva’s 18 books into 56 chapters in the first volume, and 69 chapters in the second volume.

While the Kathasaritsagara itself is a compilation of many stories and legends, there is a great emphasis on the story of Udayana and his son. The first tale in the Kathasaritsagara follows the story of Pushpadanta, and the curse the Mountain Goddess places on him, as he travels around in human form in an attempt to cure his curse. The story of Udayana and his son, Naravahanadatta, in which the role of King is passed on through three generations.

The Story of Pushpadanta’s Curse, and His Human Life as Vararuchi:

Somdeva’s first book, compiled into chapters one to eight in Tawney’s The Katha sarit sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story, begins with the introduction of Pushpandanta, a loyal devotee to Siva, eavesdropping into a conversation between Siva and his beloved, Kaliasa, the Mountain Goddess. This story spreads, and Kaliasa learns of Pushpadanta’s intrusion. Angry by his disobedience, Kaliasa curses him, while also telling him how to free himself from the curse (Tawney 1880: 4). Pushpandanta, now wandering the earth as a human named Vararuchi, has grown forgetting his origins and his past life. He runs into a character named Kanabhuti, who was also a loyal devotee to Siva, telling him the story that Pushpandanta started. After Kanabhuti is finished telling the story, Vararuchi remembers that he was once Pushpandanta, and then sets to trying to end the curse.

Similarly to other Hindu legends, the Kathasaritsagara has many side stories that tie into the main story. Continuing with the fourth chapter in Tawney’s adaptation, Vararuchi comes upon a beautiful woman and falls in love with her. During the night, Sarasvati, the goddess of eloquence and learning, visits him in a dream and tells him that the woman he fell in love with, Upankosa, was Sarasvati’s lover in a past life and is still destined to her. Vararuchi, marries Upankosa regardless. In a humorous side story, Upankosa refutes the advances of several men while Vararuchi is gone performing a ritual. Later in the story Vararuchi is told to find Badarika, a hermit in the forest. After proving himself to Badarika, Vararuchi then sacrifices his body through fire, “putting off his mortal condition”, and then ascending to his heavenly home (Tawney 1880: 31).

In chapter six, Gunadhya, the author of the Brhatkatha and also a character, recites the story of his life to Kanabhuti. Kanabhuti in return, recites the tale of Pushapandanta, in which Gunadhya then writes it in the Paisaci language, but fearful of having his composition stolen, writes it in his own blood (Tawney 1880: 47). Empathetic to Vararuchi’s condition, Gunadhya sends his heavenly tale to earth, in which king Satavahana disregarded the work, “… the Paisacha language is barbarous, and the letters are written in blood; away with this Paisacha tale” (Tawney 1880: 48). Gunadhya, overcome with sorrow, then destroys the book in a fire as his two disciples, Gunadeva and Nandideva, watch and listen tearfully. King Satavahana falls ill, in which leads him to search out Gunadhya. At this point, Gunadhya had almost burnt his entire tale, save for one section, named the Vrihat Katha. King Satavahana takes this tale and the two pupils as Gunadhya dies, and ascends to his heavenly home. To conclude the story, Satavahana recompiles the original tale with the help of the two pupils, and names it the Kathapitha, redistributing the story similarly to how Pushpadanta spread Siva’s story(Tawney 1880: 49).

The story of Udayana and his son, Naravahanadatta:

Udayana, the child of King Sahasranika and Queen Mrigavati, was born after a bird carried off his mother while she was bathing, separating Mrigavati from King Sahasranika, leaving the King tormented in grief. The bird realizes she is not food, and drops her into the wilderness (Tawney 1880: 54). Scared, she weeps loudly, catching the attention of a hermit’s son. The hermit, Jamadagni and his son, take care of Mrigavati as she gives birth to Udayana. During his birth, a voice from the heavens spoke “an august king of great renown has been born, Udayana by name, and his son should be monarch of all the Vidyadharas” (Tawney 1880: 55). Udayana grew up to be virtuous, heroic, and intelligent under Jamadagni, who taught him the sciences and archery. In a side story, Udayana shows his virtuous nature by saving a beautiful snake caught by a hunter. He trades the snake’s life for a bracelet he wore that bore the King’s name written on it. The hunter then tries to sell the bracelet, catching the attention of a servant working for the king, who then reports that his wife was alive. The King sets out to find his wife, finally coming upon the hermitage of Jamadagni. Jamadagni hands Mrigavati and Udayana over to King Sahasranika, as they made the long journey back to their kingdom of Vatsa. The King then appoints Udayana as prince, and him and his wife Mrigavati retire to the forest.

Udayana as a ruler becomes bored, and gives into the pleasures of royalty rather than becoming a Dharmic ruler. King Udayana’s only worry was finding a suitable wife, and through a lengthy side story, marries the daughter, Vasavadatta, of the neighboring kingdom’s King, Chandamamahasena. King Chandamahasena was a sworn enemy of Udayana and the Vatsa kingdom, and captured Udayana as a prisoner. Vasavadatta grew fond of Udayana while he was kept a prisoner, and they escaped from King Chandamahasena to complete a marriage ceremony in the Vindhya forest, and Vasavadatta became the Queen of Vatsa (Tawney 1880: 94). A scheme is composed by Yaugandharayana to make the King a better ruler. Through Yaugandharayana’s planning, the Queen fakes her death in a fire, and is taken to the kingdom of Magadha where the princess Padmavati takes in Queen Vasavadatta who conceals her true identity under the alias Avantika. King Udayana, similarly to his father before him, is thrown into a fit of sorrow and grief and considers suicide, before realizing that she might still possibly be alive and further investigates her condition. The king is convinced to marry Padmavati, the Princess of Magadha before the truth is revealed, in which the King happily rules with his two wives as the two Queens of Vatsa (Tawney 1880: 145).

Later in the story, in a dream, Siva tells King Udayana that he “shalt soon have a son who shall be king of all the Vidyaharas” (Tawney 1880: 145). Having a renewed energy, the King sets out to conquer the Benares region, ruled by King Brahmadatta. His father-in-law, Chandamahasena, and the King of Magadha honor his victory by devoting their kingdoms under his rule. Anxious for the birth of a son, Vasavadatta soon becomes pregnant after summoning Siva who informs her that her son will be the incarnation of the God of Love, Kama (Tawney 1880: 167). Vasavadatta gives birth to her son, and the whole kingdom celebrates the birth of Naravahanadatta. The King’s ministers also had sons about the same age, in which Naravahanadatta grew up with.

Naravahanadatta, like his father before him, is raised with the appreciation for the sciences and archery by his father and two mothers, Vasavadatta and Padmavati. In another humorous side story, Naravahanadatta turns eight, and the King Udayana is faced with a difficult decision. To either wed Kalingasena, daughter of King Kalingadatta, in which his passion will be sated, but if he consents to the marriage, Vasavadatta, Padmavati and Naravahanadatta will all die. He debates the options while his wives scheme, encouraging him to marry the Princess, knowing that their encouragement will make him reflect, and decide not to marry her. With the help of the Kings sly minister, Yaugandharayana, the two Queens convince King Udayana not to marry Kalingsena. Kalingsena admits she’s married to another, and pregnant with her husband’s child. The king decided that the daughter of Kalingsena will be beautiful enough for his son, Naravahanadatta, and therefore, will be the next appointed queen (Tawney 1880: 305). The Daughter, of Kalingsena, named Madanamanchuka, grew up to be very beautiful as predicted, while the Kings ministers sons all grew up with the prince as well, Gomukha becoming the closest of friends to the young prince. Not long after, Naravahanadatta and Madanamanchuka are married, becoming his head wife as he gains other wives throughout the rest of the tales.

The story of Udayana now focuses on its third generation. The King and Queen of Hemaprabha give birth to a girl, named Ratnaprabha in which a voice from the heaven tells the Queen that she is to marry the young prince Naravahanadatta once he’s old enough to realize his divine nature, as the incarnate of Kama. Impatient, Ratnaprabha goes to meet Naravahanadatta, and are married. Naravahanadatta grows up as a mischievous but virtuous among his ministers, remaining in his fathers, gaining a harem, while waiting for his turn to become the Emperor. Marriage is a reoccurring theme in Naravahanadatta’s story, as he also marries Alankaravati after the King of the Vidyadharas bestows her upon him (Tawney 1880: 485).

In Tawney’s The Katha sarit sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story volume two, Naravahanadatta’s closest friend and minister, Gomukha tells the young prince several stories and moral tales preparing the prince for his turn in the throne. In the meanwhile, he’s preparing to marry Saktiyasas, but he gets restless and impatient while waiting. Gomukha tells him stories throughout the time to keep him distracted. After marrying Saktiyasas, Naravahanadatta gains another wife, Lalitalochana, whom faked the identity of his first wife, Madanamanchuka, so the Prince of Vatsa would listen to her proclaim her love to him. He takes Lalitalochana to the Malaya Mountain to celebrate spring. While Lalitalochana is picking flowers, a hermit named Pisangajata spots Naravahanadatta, and invites him to his hermitage to tell him the lengthy side story of Mrigankadatta, son to King Amaradatta. The hermit’s story reflects Naravahanadatta’s own worry of not being near his head consort, Madanamanchuka. The Hermit consoles him by saying “ as Mrigankadatta in old time gained Sansakavati after enduring affliction, you also will regain your Madanamanchuka” (Tawney 1884: 427). With renewed hope, Naravahanadatta leaves the hermitage with Lalitalochana to find Madanamanchuka.

Returning home looking dejected, Marubhuti tells Naravahanadatta that his head wife is in the Garden, in which the prince races off to. Madanamanchuka tells her husband why she had left, admitting that because she had forgotten the oblations she promised the Yakshas she’d make, they took her away, and demanded that she re-do their marriage ceremony. Unknown to Naravahanadatta, the supposed Madanamanchuka was actually Vidyahari Vegavati in disguise. After Narahanadatta marries Vidyahari Vehavati, he sees through her disguise, she shows him her true form, and flies away with him. He’s gone for some time, soon forgetting about his other wives and his ministers after he marries Bhagirathayasas. Worried, he makes the long trip back to his fathers palace, and has to battle Manasavega, who has stolen his wife, Madanamanchuka, similar to the Ramayana in which Ravana steals Sita from Rama, and Rama must go to save her. During a fight with Manasavega, Naravahanadatta is thrown down a mountain, in which Amitagati insists he now accepts his role as Emperor (Tawney 1884: 469). The new Emperor’s army defeats Manasavega, and he is finally reunited with Madanamanchuka, and he is free to enjoy the rest of life’s pleasures, becoming the Lord Paramount over all of Vidyadhara with his many ministers and 25 wives (Tawney 1884: 505).

The Kathasaritsagara, rich with legends and folklore, also makes references to other Hindu stories, such as the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. As well as its references to other Hindu epics, the Kathasaritsagara is very obvious with to which God it preffers. Somadeva, as a Saiva, tailors his adaptation of Gundhya’s Brihatkatha to favor Siva, as Siva is the main God the characters turn to, and offers the most help. The Kathasaritsagara is not well known for its moral tales, however a life lesson can be taken from all of the stories presented.


Sternbach, Ludwik (1980) Aphorisms and proverbs in the Kathā-sarit-sāgara. Lucknow: Akhil Bharatiya Sanskrit Parishad.

Mosley, Norman (1924) The Ocean of Story, Being C.H. Tawney’s Translation of Somadeva’s Katha Sarit Sagara (Or Oceans of streams of story). London: Private print.

Tawney, Charles H. (1880) The Katha Sarit Sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story. Calcutta: Printed by J.W. Thomas at the Baptist Mission Press.

Tawney, Charles H. (1884) The Katha Sarit Sagara; or Ocean of the streams of story. Calcutta: Printed by J.W. Thomas at the Baptist Mission Press.




Charles Henry Tawney






Normal Mosley Penzer










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

Lila in Hinduism

Unlike the Abrahamic religions, where God is rigid with many laws and amendments for his devotees, in Hinduism, “God is playful. Like a child building sand castles on the beach, God creates the world and destroys it again. God plays with his (or her) devotees, sometimes like a lover, sometimes like a mother with her children, sometimes like an actor in a play” (Sax: 3). Gods of most religions are characterized by their otherness, spacelessness, timelessness, deathlessness, creativity and power however in Hindu religion Gods are further identified by their playfulness (Kinsley: x). This playfulness of Hindu Gods is called Lila. “Lila is a Sanskrit noun meaning ”sport” or “play” that has been the central term in the Hindu elaboration of the idea that God in his creating and governing of the world is moved not by need or necessity but by a free and joyous creativity that is integral to his own nature” (Sax: 13). About the third century C.E., Lila was first introduced as a theological term in the Vedanta Sutra of Badarayana where the author believes that “God who is all and has all cannot be credited with creation, because persons create only to come into possession of something that they do not already have” (Sax:14). The concept of Lila was primarily explained in the work of Vaisnava tradition especially by devotees of the young, cowherd and mischievous Krsna (Sax: 14). Lila has been used by some Hindus to appreciate the world in a spirit of religious wonder and to sustain joy in living (Sax). Lila or play as a symbol of divine activity and as cultic activity displays that play is a positive activity and demonstrate positive relationship to religion (Kinsley: x). However, other Hindus did not accept the positive application of God’s playfulness, instead they used the idea of Lila to domesticate the tragedies of life (Sax 1995). There are two different understandings of the conception of God’s playfulness and sportiveness. In the Bhagavad Gita, the playfulness of God is described as an action “to assist devotees, to maintain righteousness, and to preserve integrity of the world” (Sax: 15). But in the school of Caitanya, it is insisted that “God acts solely for his own sport and without thought of benefiting his creatures; creatures are in fact benefited by God’s sportive acts, but only because those acts are the pleasure of a supreme being whose nature includes compassion” (Sax: 15). These two explanations of Lila have been no different from each other in other Vaisnava circles because in both explanations, Gods act playful without scheming the selfish gain they might get out of the play (Sax 1995).

Despite these conflicts of the meaning and understanding of Lila, it mainly refers to the positive playful relationship between Brahman and the world. It is written in the Brahma sutra of Badarayana, “creation is not possible for Brahman on account of having a motive, but as in ordinary life, creation is mere sport to Brahman” (Radhakrishnan: 361-362). In the Vaisnava version of creation of the world, creation of the world is viewed as the play of God because the world is created by Brahma who was created in a lotus flower growing from navel of sleeping God, Visnu (Kinsley: 2). It is believed that there are ten different avatars as incarnations of Vishnu who came to correct the balance of good and bad in the world. However, Hindu scriptures expressed these avatars as playful act of Visnu to amuse himself (Kinsley: 4). In the Saivite tradition, creation of the world is also viewed as playful and spontaneous because the world is created by the dancing of Siva who is known to be the king of dancers (Kinsley: 5). Siva created the world by means of dancing hence he destroys the world by his continuous great dance (Kinsley: 6). As creation of the world by Visnu in the Vaisnava version is defined as playfulness of Visnu, Siva creating the world by means of dancing is also taken as playfulness of Siva.

The stories, tales or myths told about Krsna narrate that Krsna is the most playful than other Gods. There are two mainly known myths of Krsna: the young, carefree, playful and cowherd boy of Vrndavana and the counselor, politician and hero of Mahabharata (Kinsley: 57). When discussing the playfulness of Krsna, it is solely associated with the young cowherd Krsna. The story of young Krsna is widely told and narrated to youth of India. Young or child form of Krsna is the most worshipped and loved form of Krsna in India. Child Krsna was playful in his spontaneous play of the divine (Kinsley: 61). As an infant, Krsna played in his mother’s yard and covered himself with dirt; while as a child, he played by repeatedly stealing butter from his mother and other women. As an adolescent, he played with friends, teased girls and imitated animals (Kinsley: 62). Besides his playfulness, there are also stories told that prove Krsna as the divine lover. “This charming, youthful god who entrances all by his beauty is the hero of the love Lila of Vrndavana, the central episode of the Krsna cult” (Kinsley: 78). Even though his beauty alone is not considered as Lila, it plays an important role in Krsna’s playful relationships with gopis (cow herding girls) (Kinsley: 74-77). Krsna is referred as the divine lover as the result of his playful nature of love and lovemaking (Kinsley: 78). Krsna’s devotees should feel like lovers of Krsna by amusing him and be amused by him (Kinsley).

In Hinduism, the play of gods in its abundance and variety shows the play is an appropriate means of expressing the otherness of the divine sphere” (Kinsley: 122). In South Asia, Lila has different meanings such as play, game, theatre, sport, and creativity. South Asian devotees perceive god as individual with personality and passions (Mason: 52). The playfulness, sportiveness and silliness of god appeal to most devotees. Hindu celebrations of gods such us Holi and Diwali hence are filled with colors, games and fireworks. In conclusion Lila contributes to the understanding of Hindu culture and religion.



Allen, George, and Unwin (1960) The Brahma Sutra: The Philosophy of Spiritual Life. Translated and edited by S. Radhakrishnan. London.

Kinsley, David R. (1979) The Divine Player: A study of Krishna Lila. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt Ltd.

Mason, David V. (2009) “Krishna, Lila, and Freedom.” Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage 43-56. Accessed February 05, 2017. doi: 10.1007/978-0-230-62158-9_3.

Misra, Ram S. (1998) The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt Ltd.

Nelson, Lance E. (1998) Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu Indi. New York: State University of New York Press.

Sax, William S. (1995) The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia. London: Oxford University Press.

Zimmer, Heinrich, and Joseph, Campell. (1969) Philosophies of India. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Brahma Sutra

Vedanta Sutra


Vaisnava Tradition

School of Caitanya

Saivite Tradition









Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

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

The Natya Sastra

The Natya Sastra is an ancient classical treatise on the performing arts. The word natya means and comprises both dance and drama. The dual meaning signifies also the fact that drama, as conceived by Bharata, is an integrated art of music, dance, action, and poetry (Raghavan 36). This, along with the word sastra, a work of scripture/holy text, explains the meaning of the title of this treatise. It is also sometimes known as the “fifth Veda” or Scripture on Dramatic Arts. Authorship of the Natya Sastra is attributed to one of India’s greatest heroes and sages, Bharata (Lidke 126). This old Sanskrit text is often difficult to date; many estimates range from 500 BCE to 500 CE (Dace 249), and even 200 BCE to 200 CE (Raghavan 37).

The Natya Sastra begins with a passage describing the origins of drama and the theatre. It describes how the golden age, in which all human beings enjoyed a state of enlightenment, complete health, and fulfilment, had come to an end. The silver age had begun and humans were afflicted by the first symptoms of suffering (Meyer-Dinkgrafe 2005:1). People took to uncivilized ways, were ruled with lust and greed, behaved in angry and jealous ways with each other and not only gods but demons, evil spirits, yaksas and such like others swarmed over the earth (Rangacharya 4). Upon seeing all of this, the gods, with Indra as their leader, were concerned and approached the creator God, Brahma. They asked him to come up with a way to allow humans to revert to the golden age. They requested him to give the people a toy (kridaniyaka); one which could not only be seen, but also heard. They had hoped that it would become a diversion so that people gave up their bad ways (Rangacharya 4). This did not sit well with Brahma, as he was the one who created all beings and the Vedas. If humans were being uncivilized and behaving in such bad ways, then surely it would mean that they were not following the Vedas and of all its knowledge. Indra then explained to him that although the Vedas were available to many, they were not available to all. Sudras, the lowest caste, did not have access to the Vedas – they were not allowed to learn, read, or even listen to the Vedas. Indra specified that the means should be a fifth Vedic text, an addition to the four main texts of Indian (Vedic) philosophy (Meyer-Dinkgrafe 2005:1). It was to be captivating, pleasing, instructive, and above all, accessible.

Brahma listened to Indra’s request and created a Natyaveda. He immersed himself in meditation and came up with natya, drama, which he asked Indra and the gods to implement (Meyer-Dinkgrafe 2005:1). In the Natya Sastra, the creator god, Brahma, is cited as stating that the purpose of the Natya Sastra is to reveal to humankind the technology by which one can come to understand the nature of the world through its dramatic re-presentation (Lidke 126-127). Indra carried the book with him and read it to the other gods, but believed that none of them were capable of understanding. He then proposed to Brahma that a search for the correct person be made among the many sages. Sages were often regarded as studious, hardworking, intellectual people. Indra believed that a sage would be the proper person for this task. Thus, it was that the final choice fell on Bharata, who was asked to take charge of the work (Rangacharya 5). Bharata condensed the work so that all mortals would be able to understand and use it. Bharata then went ahead and taught all of the knowledge that he obtained from Brahma to his hundred sons, who were thus the very first actors.

The Natya Sastra is a great work that describes all of the aspects of drama in detail. This Sanskrit Hindu text contains close to 6,000 verses that deal with many topics. The diverse range of topics go from the ideal size of a theatre to directions for blessing the stage. The Natya Sastra defines hand gestures and meaningful combinations of foot steps, for example, those used to mime “riding in a sky chariot” (Delmonico 520-521). It describes elaborately proper dresses for male and female characters, not only according to the part of the country and age of the character, but also according to the status (social) of the character; even different locales would mean a change in dress (Rangacharya 37). No detail is considered too small in this treatise. The Natya Sastra describes thirty-six different eye motions and matches different things, such as colors and musical instruments to distinct moods. Slight variations in vocal pitches are analyzed and discussed to determine appropriateness for stage whispers. It outlines the ideal arrangement of the numerous elements of the plot, as well as the construction of the play. It includes diverse topics like dramatic premise, characters, auditorium, poetics, acting, language, dance, song, instruments, costumes, the religious ceremony to be performed before opening of the act, different types of drama, poetics, style and abilities required of different characters like the stage manager, comedian, courtesan, lead actor and actress (Joshi 36).

The Natya Sastra lists the ten forms of stage-representations: dasa rupakas, as nataka, prakarana, anka, vyayoga,bhana, samavakara,vithi, prashasana, dima, and ihamrga. Traditionally, dramas are formed and shaped according to the hero and the rasa. The word rasa means “essence” and refers to the nature of aesthetic sentiment. It is the emotional theme of a work of art or the overall feeling that the viewer experiences after watching or reading such a work. A rasa depends on not only the type of story, but also on the hero. Together, the elements of hero (neta), story (vastu), and rasa (artistic enjoyment) constitute the three essential ingredients of a drama (Rangacharya 56). Each of the ten forms are able to be examined with these three characteristics in mind. For example, in a nataka, the story is quite well-known with a royal sage as the hero. The rasa is usually either srngara (love) or vrna (heroic), and it is five to seven acts in length. In a prakaranam, the story is made up by the writer with a Brahmana or minister as the hero. The main rasa is srngara (love) and it is five to ten acts in length. An anka could either be a well-known story with an ordinary man as the hero, the rasa being pathos done in only one act. These can be compared to, say, a prahasana, which is just an imaginary story.

In addition to theatre aesthetics, the Natya Sastra is also notable for its aesthetic Rasa Theory. Chapter six of this treatise contains the roots of the theory of rasa. According to Bharata, a dramatist uses all available means – words, plots, gestures, songs, dance, costumes, etc. – to enrapture sensitive viewers (Delmonico 521). A great example to help understand rasa is one of a meal that contains many different dishes, all with a variety of tastes such as sweet, hot, sour, etc. While each dish is being eaten, a different taste is being enjoyed. Just like the food, the audience ‘tastes’ different states of experience, namely, love, joy, sorrow, anger, virility, terror, disgust, and wonder. Some later writers on Sanskrit poetics add one more rasa to this number, santa (Meyer-Dinkgrafe 2001:103). This ninth rasa is one with a “peaceful” flavor. Like the taste of food, rasa is something which can be relished.  Typically, a single rasa will dominate a play or poem, however each will be slightly unique as there are many different factors that can be taken into account.

Chapter seven of the Natya Sastra examines forty-nine mental states (bhavas) out of which rasa is created. A bhava is nothing but what expresses a reaction, be it by bodily gestures or by words. (Rangacharya 77). Rasa is the result of and from the bhavas, but not vice versa. Eight of them are long lasting sthayi-bhavas, while another eight are involuntary physical responses (sattvika-bhavas) like blushing or trembling. The other thirty-three emotions are fleeting ones, vyabhicari-bhavas, powerful enough to fuel a moment or to affect the flavor of a stronger emotion, but not powerful enough to reign over a whole aesthetic experience (Delmonico 521).

The Natya Sastra is a voluminous work that many view as a masterpiece. It has been an important resource for Hindu theatre and has provided many individuals with information regarding the role of arts in both one’s social and personal lives. Many different forms of art have been heavily influenced by this major treatise. One of the most notable being the Nataraja temple in Cidamaram. Carved into this temple are the one hundred eight karanas (postures) that are denoted in the Natya Sastra (McCutchen 450). The movements of dance and expression described in the Natya Sastra can be found carved into the pillars, walls and gateways of some Hindu temples. It is evident that this treatise on dramatics is the most comprehensive study on performance arts and one of the most influential.





Dace, Wallace (1963) “The Concept of “Rasa” in Sanskrit Dramatic Theory.” Educational Theatre Journal 15, no. 3: 249-54. Accessed February 3, 2017. doi:10.2307/3204783.


Delmonico, Elizabeth Otten (2000) “Rasa in Arun Kolatkr’s “Jejuri”: An Application of Classical Indian Aesthetics.” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 83, no. 3/4: 519-42. Accessed February 3, 2017.


Joshi, Dinkar, and Yogesh Patel (2005) Glimpses of Indian Culture. New Delhi: Start Pubns Pvt Ltd.


Lidke, Jeffrey 2011. “Tabla, spirituality, and the arts” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, edited by Hillary Rodrigues, 118-130. London: Routledge, 2011.


McCutchen, Brenda Pugh (2006) Teaching Dance as Art in Education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


Meyer-Dinkgräfe, Daniel (2001) Approaches to Acting: Past and Present (Continuum Studies in Drama). London: Continuum.


Meyer-Dinkgräfe, Daniel (2005) Theatre and Consciousness: Explanatory Scope and Future Potential. Bristol, U.K.: Intellect Books.


Raghavan, V. (1967) “Sanskrit Drama: Theory and Performance.” Comparative Drama 1, no. 1: 36-48. Accessed February 3, 2017.


Rangacharya, Adya (1998) Introduction to Bharata’s Natyasastra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publ.



Related Topics for Further Investigation

Dance in India




Rasa Theory


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic



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