Education in Spiritual Values through Bharatanatyam - Part VIII
Maxims of teaching and the adavus of Bharatanatyam
- Chandra Anand
May 7, 2015

The art of dance is created through the symbol of movements. Cadences of movements are combined in different permutation and combinations to make dance patterns. In Bharatanatyam, “The small units of dance patterns which emerge as a coordinated pattern of movement of the feet, thighs, torso, arms, hands, neck, head and the eyes is known as adavu.”[1] The name adavu falls from the word “adaibu”[2] meaning to integrate cadences of movement into dance patterns. It is actually a Tamil word, for the Sanskrit word “karana.”[3]  “The adavus of Bharatanatyam have like karanas, the sthanaka, the basic standing position; the chari, the movement of the leg and the feet; and the nrittahasta, the decorative hand gesture.”[4]These are the common points between adavu and karana. Adavus form the base for all the major dance patterns called the korvais and jatis. These different dance patterns form the nritta of Bharatanatyam.

Araimandi – the fundamental feature of Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam adopts the araimandi as its fundamental stance and thus limits its movements to those that stay close to the ground level only. Its use of aerial space is pretty much nil. The posture of araimandi is described thus: “In Bharatanatyam, the principal stance of the dancer is one in which the body is broken up into a series of triangles. The triangle is formed with the line joining the two knees (flexed and outstretched as in the demi plie in the first position of the classical ballet) as the base and with its apex at the heels (where the feet are outturned as in the first position of the ballet). Another triangle is formed with the waist as the apex and the line joining the knees as the base. A third triangle is conceived with the waist as the apex and line joining the shoulder as its base. This is further emphasized by the outstretched arms, which make yet another triangle in space on either side of the vertical median. The flexed position of the knees known as the ardha mandali is an imperative in Bharatanatyam and the entire dance is executed with a few accepted exceptions in this position. The leg extensions, the jumps and the pirouettes all emphasize this and the entire technique of dance – cadences is one which deliberately seeks to emphasize covering of space, in terms of many varied triangular patterns.”[6]

In comparison to the cadences of movement documented in the natya sastras, Bharatanatyam has the use of limited movements, still a large variety of adavus is found in this form. And within the frame work of any particular adavu one can see variations in execution even among contemporaries (banis of Bharatanatyam) projecting its dynamic quality and establishing it as a classical art.

Definitions of adavus
“The adavus (the smallest units of dance patterns or alphabets of dance) are conceived as different types of cadences where all movements relate to the vertical median on the one hand and to the fundamental proportioned flexed position of one half of the human body on the other. It is these primary units of movement where the feet and the hands and other limbs of the body form a precise harmonized movement which combine together to form a dance pattern. However, none of these primary or secondary movements are conceived outside a given time cycle and without reference to the musical or rhythmic phrase which they interpret in a composition.”[7] In short, “adavu is a basic rhythmic unit of dance within a specific tempo and time structure that involves composite movements pertaining to nritta.”[8]

“The adavus’ elements are the sthanakas (poses) and the charis (leg movements).  In the adavus particular importance is attached to angashuddha (correct postures of the limbs which include the nrittahastas and padabhedas); talashuddha (correct rhythm); the tandava (strong movement) and lasya (graceful movement).  These form the structural validity or grammar of the art form though the style varies slightly with each guru and sampradaya,”[9] like dialects of languages.

Training of Bharatanatyam starts with teaching of adavus. There are a variety of adavus created by using the various mandalas, sthanakas, charis, brahmaris, utplavanas and nrittahastas. They have been perhaps created over many years by different dancers and teachers and have come down to us through oral tradition. They had perhaps different names or were perhaps nameless and were taught to the students only as required in the item to be taught or performed.

Codification of adavus

The Tanjore Quartet codified the adavus by grouping and sequencing them and set a pattern or method by which the adavus are to be taught. This is as told by T. Balasaraswathi, in her article “Thanjay nanmanigalin tanipperumai”, in the book ‘The Tanjore Quartet’ edited by Kittappa Pillai and Sivanandam, in Tamil language.[5] The Tanjore Quartet codified the adavus  by setting the array of adavus according to the elemental quality of the adavus and in a manner that is easy to teach the students. They have been credited in various books by the authors who have also named these adavus either by sollukattus, or the hastas or by their technique of footwork as is convenient to them. Thus they have improvised on the theoretical knowhow of each group. A student has to identify the adavus by all three aspects.

Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir school of Bharatanatyam also follows it, for they also follow the Tanjore style of Bharatanatyam. But they must have definitely modified it to suit their specific style of dancing and teaching-learning activities. So at this moment the researcher has the order in which the steps are taught in this school to analyze them with the maxims of teaching.

The maxims of teaching
Teaching is a technical job. The teacher who manages to teach in an interesting and loving manner is a joy and celebrity for students. For this the teacher should have devised some methods of teaching which help her to communicate with students effectively. It is even better if the teacher is familiar with the time honored maxims of teaching. These have come down to us from the observation and experience of successful teachers. These maxims of teachings are now available to us through the medium of books that give information about the art of teaching with its varied methods and approaches for different subjects. The maxims of teaching are to proceed from known to unknown, easy to difficult, simple to complex, concrete to abstract, particular to general, whole to parts and many more.

What one should infer from below arrangement of adavus, is that the adavus are grouped and sequenced or codified according to the maxims of teaching easy to difficult, known to unknown, simple to complex. One can notice slow introduction of new movements for easy assimilation and the large number of adavus in a group of adavus enable repetition of movements. Repetition of movements helps drill work which culminates into absorption, retention and mastery of the skill learnt and habit formation. Each adavu group has simple to complex adavus in progression.

The various resemblances and differences in the use of each cadence of movement in the adavus can be understood by the students in a deductive manner. A cadence of movement when synthesized along with another movement or other steps is the same movement but attains a different character due to conjoining with another movement. For example, at one time it may have to be used as a tandava (move with force) cadence and in another as lasya (move in a soft manner) cadence. These will be understood through the large number of adavus taught in each group.

Even if the student understands vaguely the movement and its technique in the first few steps, repetition of the same in the following steps in the same group helps the student to learn the movement better. The number of adavus in a group also gives the child an idea how one movement can be combined in several ways and makes the learning of the particular movement interesting. The repetition of the movements with a new adavu and sollukattus gives some emotional stimulus. The joy of learning a new adavu is evident and making the correction and practice of the old movement becomes easier. The learner also feels that he is making progress. As he learns a new step, he puts more energy and enthusiasm in it. There is no boredom either for the teacher or the student.

The names of the adavu groups:*[10]
The names of the adavu groups have been given mainly according to the movement of the foot work. “The (starting) posture of the body is always in the ayata or araimandi except in cases where mentioned otherwise.”[11]

Tatta adavu:  This adavu is the most basic unit of Bharatanatyam. Tatta means to strike flat. The body adopts the araimandi stance and the feet strike flat in various rhythms on the floor alternately.

Natta adavu: In this group of adavus, from the araimandi stance the leg is extended to the side of the body and the heel of the foot strikes the floor. The natta adavu can be varied by doing the above movement with the leg stretched straight to the front or by placing one foot  (heel raised and the toes resting on the ground) behind the other foot.

Natta means to stretch the leg outward away from the body. Thus the garudamandi also comes under this category and is introduced along with this group of steps. The garudamandi is: from the muzhumandi, the right leg is extended outward with the body resting on the left leg and right toes pointing in the opposite direction. There are three groups of natta adavu, each with four steps each. The complexity of sequence of the steps increases step by step.

Kutta adavu: Here, when the body is in the basic stance the foreparts of both feet strike the floor accompanied by a slight jump. This movement is taught along with the second group of natta adavus, where the students are to be taught to cover space on the ground level with the natta movements. First the cadence of kutta adavu is done, then the right leg is extended to the side with the toes raised pointing upward and then left leg is placed with toes on the ground and heel raised pointing upwards behind the right leg, and the right leg is again placed next to the left leg in araimandi position. Thus movement covering space is accomplished. This is a shorter adavu compared to the periya adavu.

This movement is also used for the adavu where after the kutta adavu movement the foot stamps the ground (tatta adavu) with right leg and then left leg. The hand gestures used are alapadma to katakamukha and pataka.

Periya adavuPeriya means big. This adavu is usually used to cover large distances. The body takes a vertical jump (kutta adavu) with hands thrown above the head holding the alapadmahasta and, while the hands form a neat circle downwards the feet move sideways, diagonal or in a circle in a crossed position.

Tandudal adavu: In this adavu group, the feet are lifted to the side or front with vertical and horizontal jumps. The hands are also extended sideways and to the front. Students are also taught to do full sitting with a jump and cover space horizontally while jumping. There are four adavus in this group with hands holding the alapadma and katakamukha hastas in two steps and kartarimukha hasta in other two. The shutru and the murukku movements are introduced in the second and fourth adavu respectively, thus raising its complexity and bringing in variety to the movements of this adavu group.

Mandi adavu: In this adavu group, the body assumes the muzhumandi or full sitting position. There are varied movements of the leg extensions from this position. One such movement consists of jumping on the toes in full sitting and resting one knee on the floor while the body rests on the heels. Another is to jump on toes and extend the leg and assume garudamandi position. Another is from half sitting position one jumps and settles in garudamandi position, alternating legs and hands to face left, right and forward (twice). One is also taught to cover space using garudamandi at the ground level. The hands accord with the feet. There are several steps in this group with these variations.

Krishna mandi adavu: In this adavu from the muzhumandi position the entire body sits on one side and then takes a circle after getting up. The hands accord with the action. It is a very graceful and majestic step.

Shikarahasta adavu or tataitam adavu: The adavu derives its name from the fact that the step begins with the hands holding the shikarahasta and the sollukattu is tataitam, ditaitam. In this adavu group all the movements of the legs and hands are revised with a few new movements leading to an introduction of the complex adavus.  The adavu is divided into two parts, wherein in the first part the tatta and natta movements are used. In the second part the step uses new leg movements like (i) to hold balance on toes in the araimandi stance, (ii) to turn and sit or lower oneself into full sitting (muzhumandi) and turn and raise oneself back to half sitting (araimandi), and (iii) to turn and lower oneself to a full sitting (muzhumandi) and twist from back to front in a murukku position and turn around (shutru) and come back to half sitting position.  The last two positions were of course already introduced in the tandudal adavu. The shikarahasta adavu gets more complex for (iv) the nadai adavu movement in combination with a stamping of feet and a jump is taught within this group. After doing the first part of the shikarahasta adavu the second part adds the nadai adavu movement, a tatta adavu movement and a tandudal adavu movement in a beautiful combination. These movements also hold the shikarahasta as its hasta and help cover space. So, shikarahasta adavu is majorly a plateau where all the earlier cadences of movements get revised in a different and dexterous manner.

Murukku adavu: Murukku means literally to twist. The body is in the manner of the mandi adavu and twisted from back to the front. This movement is used in combination with the tandudal adavu and repeated in shikarahasta adavu too.

Tattaitaha (mnemonic syllables used for adavu) adavu:  In this adavu group, the body assumes the araimandi stance.  The two feet are struck on the floor alternately and a jump is done on the fore parts after which one foot is stamped. There are variations in this feet position and the hands in tripataka hasta take different positions.

Kudittametta adavu: In this adavu, the body is maintained in the basic stance throughout the adavu. The feet with the heels are raised and struck on the floor with a slight jump, after which the heels are lowered together. The hands usually are holding the alapadma hasta and katakamukha hasta alternately in almost all the steps.  The hands are extended in all directions symmetrically.

Sarukkal adavu: In the sarukkal adavu the body is held straight with the two feet joined together and toes pointing front (samapada).  The right foot is lifted and kept a little distance away on the side, front or diagonal and the left foot is slid towards it. Then the right heel is struck on the floor in the front and the two feet are struck on the floor with a slight jump.  There are other variations to the adavu with different hastas. One is parsva sarukkal – towards side; two is abhimukha sarukkal - towards front; three is adhomukha sarukkal – towards back.

This group of adavus is combined with the kudittamettu adavu group in the researcher’s school. This increases the complexity of the adavus. But the learning factor becomes less tedious as the students get respite from the basic stance (araimandi) of the kudittamettu adavu. Besides this, combining these adavus help the student to start the dance patterns from araimandi posture adhering to the fundamental feature of Bharatanatyam.

Etta adavu: In this group of adavus, the body is always in the araimandi stance throughout the sequence of movements. In the araimandi stance after a jump on the foreparts of the two feet, one foot is struck on the floor and the other is kicked sideways or diagonally out.  The hands accord with the legs, with tripataka or shikharahastas.

Visaradavu: In this group of adavus, the hands and feet are spread sideways, diagonal, frontwards and backward. The right foot is struck on the floor at a distance from the left foot, then the left crosses the right and then the right is brought to its side. The hands accord with the feet.

Pakka adavu: Pakka means side. In this adavu group, the body moves sideways, diagonally etc. With a jump, one foot is struck on the floor at a distance, the other foot crosses and the foot is brought to its side. The hands accord with the feet. The accent here is on movement which is either sideways or diagonally towards the corners.

Korvai adavu:  When adavus from two groups are connected together to make a beautiful dance pattern and practiced as one unit it is called korvai adavu. Mostly such patterns are pre-taught before going on to teach the large korvais or jatis in the jatiswaram and varnam which are a group of korvais unified to create beautiful dance patterns.

Theermanam adavu: Theermanam means to conclude. It is a movement ending a group of movements and is usually repeated three times or in units of three. Accordingly they are adavus which are joined at the end of a korvai or jati of nritta items.

Tatti mettu (panchajathi) adavu:  In this group of adavus, the body is held in the araimandi stance, the foot strikes flat on the floor, and then the forepart strikes the floor and then the heel of the other foot is raised and struck on the floor. The second variation is that the foot is struck flat on the floor and then the forepart of the other foot is raised and struck on the floor.  Both these adavus are combined to do more sequences. These variations are guided by the five jathis of the music tala system namely tisra, chatusra, kanda, misra, sankeerna.

Shuttraladavu: This adavu is done in combination with other adavus. They also mostly end an adavu.  Shutru means to whirl. One foot balances the body while the dancer whirls around with the other foot. This is taught in the mandi adavu, tandudal adavu and shikarahasta adavu.

In second variety of shuttraladavu, the body moves in a full circle. The hand movements can be done in many ways. They are used to cover space.

Meykattu adavu or meyadavu: Mey means body and kattu means to show or reveal. It is a group of adavus where a movement makes skillful use of the angas and pratyangas of the body. e.g., they occur in the initial stage of jatiswarams and tillanas.

Nadai adavu: In these adavus we have movements which include walking sideways, to the front or backwards etc. The hand movements vary making beautiful geometric pattern in space.

Other than the co-ordination of hands and feet, the eye movement also needs to be given importance (yatho hasta thatho drishti). The eyes are the indicators to the audience as to which part of the anga is being given emphasis. The eye has to coordinate with the hands. Since the hands and legs are coordinated, consequently the eye is also coordinated with the legs. Thus by the coordination of hands, legs and eyes with rhythm the nritta part of dance is developed.

The practice of adavus in three speeds, particularly chauka kalam, ensures retention of the steps and the technique applied to the particular adavu which are requisite for habit formation.  It helps in getting the feel of rhythm and good laya base. Thus this workout also builds up good stamina. It ensures fun (play way method) to learn about the variety of ways the body can move or the various abilities of one’s own anatomy.

Foot notes to reference:
1)    Kapila Vatsyayan, Indian Classical Dance, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India New Delhi, 1974, chapter 3, pg 25.
2)    Ibid, chapter 3, pg 25.
3)    Ibid, chapter3, pg 25.
4)    Sunil Kothari, Bharatanatyam, Marg publications, Mumbai, revised edition 1997, chapter 4, pg 36.
5)    Tanjore Quartette, edited by K.P. Kittapppa Pillai and K. P. Sivanandam, Aparna Printers, Chidambaram, third edition, July 1992, pg 3.
6)    Kapila Vatsyayan, Classical Indian Dance in literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977, chapter 5, pg 336.
7)    Ibid.
8)    Mrinalini Sarabhai, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition, 1981, chapter 4, pg 26.
9)    Ibid, chapter 4, pg 27 - 28.
10)    *Dr. Veena Londhe and Malati Agneswaran, Handbook of Indian Classical Dance Terminology, Nalanda Dance Research Centre, Mumbai, 1992, pg 32-45* and Mrinalini Sarabhai, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, 4th edition,1981, chapter 4, pg 26-28* these two books* were used for the correct terminology of adavus. 
11)    Mrinalini Sarabhai, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition, 1981, chapter 4, pg 27.
1)    Kothari Sunil, Bharatanatyam, Marg Publications, revised edition 1997, Mumbai, 1979.
2)    Londhe Veena and Agneswaran Malati, Handbook of Indian Classical Dance Terminology, Nalanda Dance Research Centre, Mumbai, 1992.
3)    Subrahmanyam Padma, Bharata’s Art - Then and Now, Bhulabhai Memorial Institute Bombay, 1979.
4)    Pillai Kittappa & Sivanandam K.P, Tanjore Quartette, Aparna Printers, Chidambaram, third edition, July 1992.
5)    Sarabhai Mrinalini, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition,1981.
6)    Vatsyayan Kapila, Indian Classical Dance, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India New Delhi, 1974.
7)    Vatsyayan Kapila, Classical Indian Dance in literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977.


Chandra Anand is a Bharatanatyam artiste and teacher. A student of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir since 1972, she is presently training under guru Lata Raman. Apart from MA in Eng Lit. from Bombay University (1990) and B Ed from Bombay University (1994), she has an MA in Classical Dance (Bharatanatyam) from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune (2014). This article is adapted from the dissertation titled “Education in Spiritual Values through Bharatanatyam” under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Malati Agneswaran.

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