-an Interactive archive on Indian Somatic Traditions

and Contemporary Expressions

NAGARIKA is a seminal, interactive, online archive of Indian Somatic Traditions and Contemporary Expressions. It is a collaborative project between Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts and Goethe Institut / Max Muller Bhavan, Bangalore. The DVD ROMs on Indian Somatic Traditions were supported by Daniel Langlois Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The NAGARIKA online migration project is produced by Chris Ziegler / moving images with support by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media in the NEUSTART KULTUR, tanz:digital program of the German Dance Association.

The activities of Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts are driven by the underlying philosophy, "Traditional Physical Wisdom, Innovation & Technology". Envisioned to support the development of contemporary movement arts in India, Attakkalari has ushered in several strategic and interlinked programmes, which have had a positive impact on contemporary dance and performance in India. NAGARIKA archive is an attempt to create an easily accessible and interactive online information system on Indian somatic traditions and contemporary expressions, and it is the first such initiative in India. These archives were produced as interactive DVD Roms, which are now getting migrated to an online platform. The first section in this research and archiving series focuses on the Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam (classical Indian dance) and the second on the Northern style of Kalarippayattu, the martial art form that primarily originated in the state of Kerala situated in the southwest corner of India. They contain excellent demonstrations of practitioners filmed from multiple angles, detailing movement units and sequences as well as explanations on those by masters with additional contextual information where necessary.


Bharatanatyam, a theatrical dance form, combines two distinct modes of expression - abhinaya or dramatic representation where facial expressions and hand gestures are used to communicate ideas; and Nritta or pure and abstract physical movement.

Actual movement materials have been our starting paradigm in our attempt to unearth information about the principles and processes that govern Nritta. Our primary area of investigation was the nature of movement in space, its form, quality and dynamics. In Bharatanatyam, however, the dancer not only defines physical space with his/her movement, he/she also generates temporal spaces. In executing movements, his/her body performs dual functions by creating imaginary spaces, volumes and images beyond the confines of his/her empirical body, and generating the cyclical rhythmic structure into which they are woven. Further, the cultural memory, emotional associations and inner imagery contribute to the formation of a movement, the way it is executed and received. In this section we try to provide suggestions and indications of these complex processes through the explanations by the masters from their experience, thus locating the knowledge in the realm of practice.

The material in this section has been collated from the works and words of the masters featured in it including C.V. Chandrashekhar, Leela Samson, V.P. Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan. These artists are eminent practitioners and teachers of the Kalakshetra style whose works represent the ever-evolving nature of the form.

Units of Nritta:

Adavu is a unit of body movement that forms the basic component of Bharatanatyam. Korvai is a sequence of movement created by combining Adavus, the format in which Nritta is generally presented. While some of the Korvais are old choreographies from Kalakshetra School, others have been choreographed by the masters featured in this section. In the case of the latter, the Korvais have been classified according to the primary intention of the piece as explained by its choreographer. A third section - Explanation - contains information about the Adavus and Korvais, technique, their execution, emotional quality of the movement, and its choreographic intention. Context is an attempt to suggest underlying principles that govern the construction of Nritta as extracted from the movement material, and to situate it in the larger framework of performance and pedagogy of the style.

The research project on Bharatanatyam was supported by Daniel Langlois Foundation and the Goethe Institute / Max Mueller Bhavan Bangalore


Like most Asian martial art forms, Kalarippayattu practitioners also believe in the notion of a centre (Naabhi Moola - region below the navel) where the vital energy (Prana or Vayu) is stored. It is believed that in each action this energy travels through the nervous system to the limbs and peripheries of the body with the active participation of the spine. Movement sequences are conceived of as a series of circular trajectories originating from and returning to the spine, particularly the Naabhi Moola, where the energy gets revitalized before the next action commences. The notion of circularity is prevalent in many Keralan rituals, folk and classical performance traditions as well as body-care systems, including martial arts. Seemingly straight line movements of the body are conceived as part of a larger circularity in Kalarippayattu and even movements with weapons seem to follow this idea. Therefore, strikes, thrusts or kicks are not a direct application of force or counterforce, but rather seen as part of a continuous circularity which helps to redirect force in chosen directions. The entire training practice, including the massage, has elements which help to construct this notion of body and circularity of movement.

This section of the archive is divided into four chapters - Mura or movement sequence, Adavu or movement unit, Explanation of the Muras and Adavus as well as Contextual Information. Adavu in this instance is an artificial construct employed to dissect Mura sequences to enable an easy understanding of the structure of the form. Mura covers the basics of Kalarippayattu training (Adisthanam) which includes postures, stances, jumps and leg exercises. Mura also includes Meithari or body sequences, weapons training - Kolthari (wooden weapons) and Angathari (metal weapons) - and Verumkai or bare-hand combat. In the chapter on Adavu we have attempted to break the movement sequences in Mura into smaller units. In the chapter Explanation, the Muras and Adavus are explained by Gurus from different Kalaris. The chapter Contextual Information contains short documentaries, articles by scholars and diagrammatic representations. The focus of this section has been the Northern Style of Kalarippayattu, particularly the practice of three schools namely: Hindustan Kalari, Choorakodi Kalari and CVN Kalari.