Education in Spiritual values through Bharatanatyam – Part XI
The training of adavus based on the maxims of methodical teaching
- Chandra Anand
September 18, 2015
This article is based on the identification of the use of the Maxims of methodical teaching for giving training in dance. It is seen that the use of “maxims of methodical teaching ” help organize and grade teaching matter according to the age, background and psychological make-up of the students to be taught. The judicious and ingenious use of these maxims also helps expedite the teaching-learning process of the students in the academic curriculum.
The researcher has attempted to expose the use of these maxims in giving training or teaching Bharatanatyam by using as a model the curriculum design of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kala Mandir (the Alma Mater of the researcher, therefore the progression of lessons is as learnt by the researcher then). The researcher has been fortunate to learn under all the gurus of the institution and observe their teaching methods at close quarters; particularly of Late Guru G. Karunambal, the co-founder of the institution Sri Rajarajeshwari Kala Mandir, Mumbai, who taught at the Chembur branch. There, with her, the researcher has worked as trainee, assistant teacher and teacher for nine years. Through observations and analysis of her mentor’s teaching methods as a trainee, the researcher attempts to document the commonly used teaching methods of Bharatanatyam under the varied techniques as per the list of maxims of methodical teaching.
Maxim ‘Known to unknown’
(i) Araimandi: First the namaskar to mother earth is to be taught. Here the araimandi  position is to be introduced.
Araimandi posture is not known to the pupil. Therefore this posture is to be related to the knowledge of sitting on a straight backed chair and the comfortable feeling experienced while sitting on it. Thus the word araimandi is understood as to be seated in the chair and to reduce the height of the person in half. Whenever this stance is loosely held or not adhered to the teacher calls out the word ‘sit’, cautioning the child that it has forgotten to hold itself in the posture of araimandi. Thus the child will go back to holding the half-sitting position.
(ii) The order of adavu groups to be taught is given in the article “Maxims of teaching and the adavus of Bharatanatyam.”
Training in Bharatanatyam starts with tatta adavu (stamping of foot) and goes on to natta adavu (leg extensions like alida and pratyalida). The pupil learns the cadences of the movement of dance one by one. Most of the movements and positions of the legs and hands of Bharatanatyam are to be taught with the tatta and natta adavus as they are done in static position and also repeatedly used in other adavus.
Angashuddham is the correct postures of the limbs that include the nritta hastas and padabhedas. The symmetry in the poses and stances the body holds at all times can be explained by indicating the central line that demarcates the body’s bilateral symmetry. The left and right limbs of the body are to be moved away from the body maintaining equidistance from the central line or vertical median of the body. Thus the angashuddam and shoustavam of the body movements are maintained.
The importance of maintaining the position of the hands and legs must be emphasized by the teacher. Illustration of how the house is kept in order by keeping the things used in their places can be given.
(b) Synthesis of movements
When a pupil is taught a new movement, it should be taught by joining it to the earlier / previously learned adavu. Thus, through synthesis of a new movement with old movement or adavu, a new adavu is easily taught to the pupil. This is akin to adding new knowledge to an already known concept.
For e.g., If in the tatta adavu the child is taught to sit in the araimandi position with legs forming the ayata mandala, and stamp the feet on the ground, the next adavu is to extend the leg outward to the side of the body and keep the heel of the foot on the ground and come back to the original position by stamping the foot (tatta adavu), back to the same place it was lifted from, all the while maintaining araimandi. This is to be repeated to the left.
The extension of the leg is added to the previous movement of stamping of the foot. Thus a new movement is to be joined with a known movement. And the student learns only one new movement at a time but a new adavu. Thus in the subsequent adavu, the new movement is: to move the foot inward by placing the right foot (kunchita) behind the left leg and striking the left foot in the same place. Thus one new movement at a time is to be taught. In this way we use the maxim ‘known to unknown’ for giving coaching in adavus.
(c) Balance of the body
The tatta adavu and natta adavu steps are done in the same place and a good sense of the centre line of the body can be developed, before the student is taught to move to cover the space while maintaining the araimandi posture. The student should understand the need to maintain symmetry in movements of the right side and left side of the body. Also the student needs to know that, when right side is being moved the left side should be static and perfect positions of the limbs is to be maintained. Even when one leg (right) is extended the other leg (left) maintains the stance of the tatta adavu. It is important for maintaining the balance of the body and keep hold on to the gravitational pull of the earth.
Every time the leg is lifted off the ground, the heel must touch the posterior. This requisite movement is to be emphasized by the teacher. The leverage of the upper body, while in araimandi position, is then easy and balance can be maintained.
(d) Training of further adavus through synthesis of movements
The use of the same three given movements is used in next step. From ayata position with a jump on toes (kutta adavu) a new cadence, pratyalida or alida and kunchita are to be employed to do the moving step maintaining the araimandi position. The child is to be taught to do leg movements all the while encouraging it to look straight ahead or look away from the ground or at its feet. It should feel its leg and gauge the distance to where the leg has been moved.
Then the pupil is taught to do the forward leg extension. This adavu can be taught in combination with the moving adavu where the skill of being able to break off covering space and then continue to do another step in the same place all the while maintaining araimandi can be taught.
Then the movement of garudamandi (lunge position) is to be taught under the heading of natta adavu. Again you will see that this is the only new movement (stretching the leg backward with the knee of the front leg bent, while the toes of the other leg points in the opposite direction) in this adavu. It is to be joined by the front leg extension adavu.
Next is the periya adavu. Here pupil is to be taught to cover the space and the need to hold the araimandi till the end of the adavu must be emphasized. Every time a pupil moves the leg in the araimandi position it must touch its heel to the posterior. With the learning of this step one should have mastered or mastery of the araimandi position should be complete.
In the tatta adavu and natta adavus, the araimandi, angashuddam and layashuddam are to be emphasized. Through these adavus, the strengthening of the body limbs in all respects takes place getting the pupil ready for the tandudal adavu (cover space in air with the jump maintaining araimandi) and the major garudamandi adavus (to cover space on ground with lunges) that follow. These mandi adavus ensure overall development of the body and they also help the pupils to gain a good height if they practice well. Thus the student not only improves in physical health but also gains elegance and good looks.
Thus, students are now ready to learn the powerful steps of the shikarahasta adavu (tataitam) and tattimettu adavu (thataitaha) and kudittamettu adavu (taihataihi) and yetta adavu (tataitaha taitaididitai) where graceful movements of the upper body and strong movements of the legs is emphasized. The variations and complexities in these adavu groups are given by combination of the older movements and with introduction of twists, turns, jumps, leaps and kicks.
Thus, by using the maxim ‘known to unknown’, the teacher makes use of the movements already known to the pupils and then conveniently taking them to the new adavus.
(e) The advantages of the maxim ‘Known to unknown’
(1) If there are many numbers of adavus, about 7-8 adavus in each of the various groups of adavus, the student will notice the points of resemblances and differences between the older adavu and the new adavu. It becomes easy for the student to learn the new adavu and ingrain the old adavu firmly in its mind. The resemblances are maintaining araimandi, angashuddam at all times and how the tatta and natta movements are repeated in different ways. The differences are the new movements that increase the complexity of dance patterns and offer variety to the form.
(2) It helps the teacher to gauge the retention capacity of the students with regard to the old movements. It is possible that the movements already supposed to have been learnt by the pupils, may be known to them only in a vague manner or with a number of doubts. These become clearer and more definite as the lessons progress, for a large number of adavus in a group of adavus helps to reiterate the technique. The movements which are known imprecisely become clear and vivid with repeated instructions and practice.
(3) 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.
In this way, a link is also established between the old adavus and the new adavus, the alphabets or cadences of movements of the dance become clearer to the student. The student understands the many ways in which a particular movement can be done. The advantage is also that the teacher comes to know the grasping ability and intelligence of the student. And also helps to measure how much the student is mentally alert in the class and applies the inputs given by the teacher.
Teaching-learning of hand movements
In the same manner, the hands and their positions in relation to the body are to be emphasized. At first, the natyarambhe hand position which is a curved, straight line and which is infinitely difficult to maintain is to be taught. Then the simple movement of opening the palm facing upward and turning the hand back palms facing downward in the natyarambhe position is to be taught. This is taught with the natta adavu done in the same place. The diagonal lines of the arms are introduced in the garudamandi natta adavu. In the moving natta adavu and periya adavu the hands move overhead in a circular position. When the hand moves downward the araimandi should be maintained in order to avoid gawky bending. Thus there is a natural dip to the body when the step gets completed.
The hastas are to be checked regularly for accuracy. The artistic and visually appealing manner in which the hand has to be held and moved is to be explained by the teacher. The student is asked to imagine carrying a china cup in the hand while doing the hand movements. She/ he will have to be careful to hold the cup firmly or steady enough that the cup should not fall and also to hold it softly enough that the cup does not break by pressing on it tightly.
Training of the eyes and rasa experience
The careful attention with which hands are to be held and the hand is to be moved and placed in position is to be emphasized with the maxim ‘yatho hastha thatho drishti’ (Where the hands go the eyes follow).
yatho hastasthatho drishtiryatho drishtisthatho manaha
yatho manasthatho bhavo yatho bhavasthatho rasaha ||
“Where the hand goes eyes also should go there. Where the eyes go there the mind follows, whither the mind goes psychological state (bhava) should turn thither, and where there is the psychological state, there the sentiment (rasa) arises.” 
“Here the psychological state is a sense of well being and the happiness arising in the mind of the dancer as the body moves to the rhythm of music and the rasa is that of joy in the mind of the audience arising in seeing the delightful geometric patterns presented by the body movements.”
Thus the seed for the development of rasa should be sowed in the students’ mind in the initial lessons itself.
Maxim of parts to whole: This maxim helps with the progression from one technical aspect to the other.
The teacher first demonstrates the adavu and then teaches them part by part. First the footwork is taught. Then, the hand movements followed by eyes coordinating with the hands. After achieving perfection in these cadences of dance separately, then the hand and legs are coordinated. Thus the adavus are taught from parts to whole. This facilitates quick learning on the part of the pupil.
Maxim of whole to parts: In the practice sessions the students learn to perform the adavus in three speeds. During this time the children tend to make mistake in the cadences of dance while trying to keep up with the rhythm in three speeds. Then the teacher makes them practice the whole adavu with concentration on that particular cadence of movement which goes wrong. Any doubt regarding the movement is cleared, while the whole adavu is perfected.
A large variety of adavus ensures that the child imbibes the proper araimandi and the hastakshetras are well established. The simple variations in a group of adavus help reiteration of all the techniques. Thus the essence of good nritta can be thoroughly instilled in the student slowly and steadily.
By the time the child learns theermanam adavus, angashuddam is well set. The pupil should learn all the adavus in three speeds and attain a good sense of rhythm.
Proceed from Concrete to Abstract: The children learn from things which they can handle and see. They think concretely and not in abstractions. The child picks up that knowledge more easily which is concrete. For e.g., alapadma hasta is unknown to the child. But the moment he sees it and is given instructions, his knowledge of alapadma hasta becomes firm, and firmer as he sees or holds the hasta again and again.
But by starting from the concrete, we must pass on to the abstract when the time is ripe. The child easily understands a new idea when it is preceded by a clear illustration. His imagination is very much aided by concrete material. When the teacher tells that the alapadma hasta is used in abhinaya as gestures to show moon or place, he will understand it in the context of the lyric or situation. For e.g., his face has the glow of the moon, he lives in this place, etc., the viniyogas of hastas can be taught in this manner.
Dance is learnt through activity. A child gets direct experience with personal observation and self-activity. These experiences are supplemented by indirect experiences, which is knowledge gained through text books and oral lessons. Indirect experiences supplement and systematize the knowledge gained through direct experiences.
(i) The students can be taught a little history of Bharatanatyam, names of famous manuals and some famous temples that have dance movement or karanas from Natyasastra engraved in their walls. Information about names of famous dance schools and the various styles of Bharatanatyam practiced all over India could be given. Also knowledge about the other classical styles of India and their origin is an important subject for study.
(ii) Application of the hastas in situations according to age, making of charts of hastas by students and other such aids as scrap books, log books etc., can help to expedite the teaching and learning process of the same and make study more interesting.
(iii) While teaching the devata hastas and navagraha hastas, the students can learn simple stories of the Gods of Hindu religion. The teacher can add in some shlokas of the Gods she knows by memory or teach famous and popular ones like Gayatri mantra, Goddess Saraswathi (yakundentu), Lakshmi (namasthe tu maha maye), Ganapathi (vakratunda, mooshikavahana), Shiva (angikam bhuvanam yasya, shivamshivakaram), Karthikeya (shadananam kumkuma), Hanuman (manojavam), Guru (guru brahma, guru vishnu), om sahanavavatu, etc.
(iv) Knowledge of the allied art music: It would be of great help to a dance student if she/he attends music classes along with the dance class. With this the students will be able to internalize the music and involve or lose themselves in the music required for dancing. In the dance class, information regarding the talas and the jathis can be given along with the teaching of adavus. The 35 talas with its parts and divisions are to be orally taught and the sollukattus of the adavus preferably along with tala (hastakriya) also need to be practiced along with the adavus. The benefit is that the child will be able to relate to music of the nritta and nritya items and understand the changing rhythm patterns.
This syllabus here has been presented in the manner to give an integrated approach to the practicals, theory, philosophy and connected arts.
(i) Basic study of Bharatanatyam: A small synopsis of the syllabus intended for the first three years of training. The aim behind this syllabus is that the student should learn all the aspects of Bharatanatyam in an integrated manner and flavour the art wholesomely right from the initial stage:
In the first three years all adavu groups, the names of hastas, drishtibheda, padabheda, grivabhedha, charis, mandalas, sthanakas, brahmaris, utplavanas with their applications or viniyogas from Abhinayadarpanam should be taught.
The tala system of 35 talas in three speeds is to be taught. The students should also be able to tell the sollukattus of adavus on any one talam, namely, chatusra jati-eka talam and show the hastakriya for the same.
The students are to learn the names of the hastas and their usages or viniyogas. The shlokas linked to these hastas, charibedas and padabedas are all to be taught. The names of adavus and viniyogas will make the pupils’ knowledge of the movements and language of gestures concrete. These technical terms have to be used while giving instructions by the teachers so that easy assimilation of the shlokas is possible. A jargon for instruction of dance should be created by using the terms from the Abhinayadarpanam and thus make teaching and learning of dance easy and scientifically more correct.
(ii) Objectives of the syllabus: With the prescribed activities and information the teacher integrates all aspects of Bharatanatyam. The students should realize that learning dance is a multi-disciplinary activity. These activities will help the students realize that religion, philosophy, aesthetics, mythology etc. are all part of study of Bharatanatyam. They will know that Bharatanatyam is practiced not only far and wide, but also since ages. They will understand that Bharatanatyam and other classical dances are part of their heritage and have a lot of cultural, philosophical, historical - which includes mythological as well and religious (inclusion of Bhakti movement) - significance. They will understand the underlying unity of all art forms. When this is imbibed in the initial years of learning dance the students will get ready for the hours of practice, discipline and dedication required for learning the art wholesomely. Or, at least have a lot of respect for the practitioners of the art.
Thus it perhaps would take about three or more years to complete all the adavus and basic theory. The speed of the lessons can depend on the ability and experience of the teacher. An internship under an experienced teacher could help in building confidence in new teachers.
After this the students are ready for the training in margam.
Notes to reference:
(1)K.K. Bhatia & J.N. Arora, Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981, chapter 4, pg 47
(2) Kapila Vatsyayan, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977, chapter 5, pg 336. & Chandra Anand, Araimandi – the fundamental feature of Bharatanatyam, www.narthaki.com/info/articles/art382.html
(3) Chandra Anand, Maxims of teaching and the adavus of Bharatanatyam - The names of the adavu groups, www.narthaki.com/info/article/art382.html
(4) Nandikeswara, Abhinayadarpanam, Translated and edited by Manmohan Ghosh, Manisha Granthalaya Private Limited, Calcutta, 3rd edition, 1975, Translation and notes, pg 42
(5) Ibid, pg 42
1) Nandikeswara, Abhinayadarpanam, edited and translated by Manmohan Ghosh, Manisha Granthalaya Private Limited, Calcutta, 3rd edition, 1975.
2) Bhatia K.K. & Arora J.N., Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981
3) Vatsyayan Kapila, Classical Indian Dance in literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977
4) Anand Chandra, www.narthaki.com/info/article/art382.html
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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