More about Bharatanatya in the Vedas!


Research Paper No.1769; date 2nd April 2015

Written by London swaminathan

Uploaded at 21-42 London Time

Please read the first part of article posted yesterday under the title “Dance in the Vedas”.

Dr R Nagasamy, historian and former Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu delivered two lectures in the Shanmukananda Fine Arts, Sangeetha Sabha, Mumbai and Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai in 1989. He gives the references to dance in the Vedas:-

“I find that almost all forms of classical dances of India like Bharata Natyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipusdi, Manipuri, Mohini Attam etc are represented in this conference. It represents the essential unity of all classical dances of India, which from its recorded history has over 4000 years of continuous existence.

“In the earliest strata of India thought, represented by the Rig Veda, we find the classical form of dance mentioned frequently. The Maruts, said to dance in measured steps, are often referred to as dancers – Nrtavah.

“Oh ye dancers with golden ornaments on your chests, even a mortal comes to ask for your brotherhood. Take care of us”, says a Vedic hymn (RV 8-20-22)

cave dance

The Maruts not only dance rhythmically but also sing, and are called the singers of heaven. While they are described as the male dancers, the most charming imagery of a dancing girl, is created in Ushas, the dawn, portrayed as a dancer decked in showy attire.

Adhi poshamsi vapate nrtoohu iva pornute vakshakaa

“As the dawn arrives, with her beautiful colour in the eastern horizon, it gladdens the heart of the living beings. The birds flutter, singing with their sweet voices. Men rise up from their sleep and busy themselves in activities. Ushas is a giver of joy and happiness like a beautiful dancer”.

“There are several passages in the Rig Veda, indicating the highly developed art of dance, to which many of nature’s phenomenon are compared. Soon we find the dancer occupying an important position in the society. All religious and auspicious rites, required her presence. For example the birth of sanctity and immortality is symbolised by the Purna Kumbha. Oh, fair damsel, bring hither to us the Purna Kumbha, filled with streams of clarified butter blend with nectar”.

Poornam naari prabhara kumbham etham drutasya

Dhaaram amrutena sambhrutam

Dr Nagasamy pointed out also that music and dance are part of Shodasopara (16 Upasaras).

The Amarakosa (Sanskrit Thesarus) lists different words used to denote dance:

Tandavam Natanam Natyam Lasyam Nrityamcha Narthane

Tanyathrikam Nritya geetha vadhyam natyam idam trayam


Bharata’s Natyasastra (The Treatise on Dance Drama) is the oldest surviving text of the theory of dance drama and dramatics.


Maypole Dance/ Garba Dance

Chandra Rajan gives the following information in the introduction to Kalidasa:

The Vedic hymns were chanted and sung by several voices and the refrain in some suggests a choral element. There is mention in the Vedic literature of maidens, beautifully dressed and jewelled, singing and dancing and circling the sacred altars with jars of holy water in their hands.

The refrain in RV 10-100 :- “For our boon we ask for felicity full and boundless. And in 10-134, The glorious mother gave you birth/ the blessed mother gave you birth”.

Indra is addressed as dancer in many hymns.

In RV 5-52 on Maruts we have the following

Hymn singing, seeking water, they, praising, have danced about the spring

In 6-63, Asvins are praised as dancing heroes.

krishnakaliya,trikoteeswara temple, AP

Krishna dancing on Kaliya

Dance in Kalidasa

Varahamihira in his Brhat Samhita mentioned dancing girls in three places to say how they will be affected by the planets or the eclipses.

Kalidasa (1st Century BCE) who lived at least 500 years before Varahamihira mentioned the Abhinaya (hand gestures) in several places. When he described the Spring season in Raguvamsa 9-33, he says the rustling of leaves of the mango trees in the breeze looked like they were trying to learn Abhinaya/gestures (Abhinayaan parichetum udhyataa iva). In the following verse he described the creepers dancing to the tunes of the beetles. In 19-36, he tells us about dance competition.

In the Megadutam (verse 58), he described the Dance of Siva:

The wind breathing through hollow bamboos makes sweet music;

Woodland nymphs sing with passion filled voicesof the victory over the trile city;

If your thunder rumbles in the glens like a drum

Would not the ensemble then be complete

For the Dance-Drama of the Lord of Beings?


Kalidasa’s description (Malavika 2-6) of a lady resting her left hand on her hip and right hand hanging loosely reminds us of the dancing figure discovered in in the Indus Valley. He says it is more attractive than her dancing.

Whenever Kalidasa saw some plants fluttering in the breeze, he was always reminded of dancing girls. We have more references to it in Vikramorvaseeiyam and Shakuntalam.

kaliya nardhana