Monday 10 February 2020

Prism - The Katha of Mudras-Asamyukta Hastamudras from the Natyashastra as seen in Kathak Parampara - Sunil Sunkara

While in the Natyashastra Chapter IX on Upangabhinaya, Bharata refers to the gestural language as hastas, the word mudra is seen in the Bharatarnava, a later work by Nandikeshvara. It is also seen as a part of tantra culture, whose communities were closely following the commentaries of the Natyashastra. Thus, we come across the joint word hasta-mudra that later came to be referred to colloquially as 'mudra'.

While looking at the history of Kathak, one can see its focus was towards drawing emotions from the daily life of people and creating connections with narratives from itihasa, which is what we perceive as a 'lokadharmi' approach. The kathavachaks or travelling bards were a medium of mass communication. The stories they weaved drew on lessons from itihasa like Mahabharata or Ramayana. Abhinavagupta and Bhatta Nayaka, 10th CE, speak of Saadharanikarana - art enabling the viewer to live the emotions, thus a tool for thought inception. The Communicator (the Kathak dancer) and The Subject (the audience) are bound through The Objective (the creation of the rasa). The use of mudras requires the subject audience to understand the meaning or signature behind usage of the mudras. This knowledge was to be found mostly among the elite post the 18th CE, making it a necessity for the kathiks to start using as 'close to life' depictions as possible. In the 20th CE, the reformation and revival in Kathak, especially with the advent of government supported institutions led to recreation of both the knowledgeable sahhridayi audience as well as an expansion in the 'vastukram' or repertoire of Kathak to bring to the fore once again a dance laced with the implied beauty of meanings through Kathak adorned by various mudras.

This article looks at the various Asamyukta hastas mentioned in the Natyashastra, attempting also to connect with their current popular usage in Kathak. A valuable reference has been the in-depth analysis on mudras done by Dr. Vibha Dadheech, Bharatiya Nritya Ki Varnamala Hasta-Mudrayen.

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