Depiction of Nature in Indian Classical Dances


Author –  Ojaswita Krishnaa Chaturvedi

Shobana Chandrakumar via

Classical art forms of India are known to be profound and holistic in nature. They connect the inner-self of the performer, and that of the viewer, to a realm of positivity, concentrating on the blessings and leading towards spirituality. This transcendental nature of theirs makes it obvious for the art forms to draw themes from the puranas and make them relevant in the context of current world. The philosophical characteristics of these art forms teach us almost every value of human life, like holding elders in respect, importance of culture, appreciation and satisfaction with material possessions, and a love for nature.

Indian classical dances are very much a reflection of the characters mentioned above. A complete dance recital, in essence, has the ability to improve the positive aura within any individual, whether a performer or a spectator, in such a way that life can seem incredibly beautiful. In these dances, one can find many references to the concept of nature as the loving, life-sustaining, Mother.

In a Bharatanatyam repertoire, nature is usually shown in the numbers that contain the abhinaya sequences. Within the Varnams, nature takes on an important role in the Sanchari sections. This is predominant in the Varnams that are in the Shringara Rasa, where the Virahotkanthita nayika observes nature in harmony and remembers her union with her beloved.

In the Javalis too, the Vaskasajja nayika is seen act in a similar manner while anticipating arrival of her beloved. Padams offer even more scope for the nayikas– the Abhisarika moving through nature to meet her lover; Svadheenabhartrika enjoying unison with her husband in nature; Prshitapatika in conversation with nature while enquiring about the arrival of her beloved and many more.

The Marathi Abhangs, that are gradually being incorporated in the Bharatanatyam repertoire, carry more such references. Kuchipudi also has a large wavelength of nature depiction in Sanchari. There are a few signature items which have been brought forward through the parampara that intensively describe nature as well.

It is worth noting that these are simply examples and do not define the limits of the dances. They have been listed as simple instances to highlight how nature comes in between the dance beautifully. Otherwise, our classical art forms are as vast as nature itself and cannot be constrained to certain margins.

Following are two examples of dance pieces that relate to nature.

Chaliye Kunjan is a famous composition by Maharaja Swati Tirunal in the Ragam Brindavani. As simple as the Sthayi Bhava, the nayika portrays Svadheenabhartrika and is straightforward in her demands from her beloved. The method that she uses to convince her Lord to spend time with her is the beauty of nature. Line by line, this composition elaborates different propositions of nature.

The Pallavi itself starts with the gopika requesting Krishna to go with her in the gardens. With this, the dancer gets ample opportunity to show the creepers, birds, bees, flowers, trees, and grass in the garden through mudras. This brings out the beauty of nature into the eyes of the viewers.

She then says, “look at the river Yamuna, she is so full of water”. Again, the exquisiteness of the river is broadly shown here, by depicting her waves, the swans, the fishes and lotuses in her waters and the grandeur of her banks.

The nayika then moves on to attract the attention of her beloved towards the birds chirping in the garden, saying “they are speaking about our union through their melodious voice”. In this way, it is evident that nature has an important role to play in the shringara feature of performing arts.

Madooka Shabdam is another traditional item in Kuchipudi, where the lyrics sum up to praise the Lord who saved Gajendra from the the crocodile in the lake.

The item lyrically begins with the description of various flowers and animals in the forest. When the piece is performed as a dance, the dancer dwells on these descriptions through her dance expansively displaying the exquisite beauty of the nature that was present in the scenario.

As our artforms are, to all intents and purposes, spiritual in nature, it is worth noting the episode of Gajendra Moksham from the Srimad Bhagawatam. In the Phala Shruti of the episode, it is stated that whoever meditates upon the forestry and trees that are described in this context will be freed from all sins. It is a direct relation that even the dance has primary focus on the representation of the forestry.

Kuchipudi was borne out of the Bhagvata Nataka Melas and therefore it is no surprise to see the correlation that has been described in the scriptures with those that are performed in the art form.

Now, it is evident that nature portrayal is an integral part of our classical dances and this factor tends to have a deeper meaning than just dancing out the item. Nature refreshes, provides peace, and dissolves sins. This has been confirmed by our scriptures and Indian classical dance flawlessly brings out these portrayals through amazing abhinaya and mudras.

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