A variant of Parsvanikutttakam karana

Karanas are the 108 key transitions[1] in the classical Indian dance described in Natya Shastra. Karana is a Sanskrit verbal noun, meaning "doing". Natya Shastra states that Karanas are the framework for the "margi" (pan-Indian classical) productions which are supposed to spiritually enlighten the spectators, as opposed to the "desi" (regional folk or pop dance) productions which can only entertain the spectators. "One who performs well this Karana dance created by Maheswara will go free from all sins to the abode of this deity" states Natya Shastra [2]
Vrscikakuttitam Karana

Some of the well-known interpretations of karanas are by Padma Subrahmanyam that were based on 108 brief movement phrases describing specific leg, hip, body, and arm movements accompanied by hasta mudras described in the Natya shastra and other scriptures, and from depictions of the movements in sculpture in five South Indian temples, notably the Chidambaram temple which contains depictions of the full set. Some other Bharatanatyam gurus, such as Adyar Lakshman (Kalakshetra school) and Sheela Unnikrishnan (Mangudi school), as well as the Kuchipudi guru C.R.Acharya have also attempted to reconstruct all the 108 karanas, which were often significantly different from Padma Subrahmanyam's interpretations.

Due to the significant variations in the depictions, and due to the vague textual descriptions, most traditional Bharatanatyam schools considered Padma Subrahmanyam's interpretations as incorrect, which forced her to name her own style as Bharatanrityam rather than Bharatanatyam.

While there are still some elderly devadasis who perform all the 108 karanas, in most contemporary Bharatanatyam or Odissi schools only 50-60 karanas have been transmitted by parampara up to date.

Apart from that, performing of the same karana differ greatly across different classical Indian styles. Currently, as regards the exact technique, there are no established standards and no universally agreed upon interpretations of the texts and sculptures.

See also


  1. "108 Karanas: The Karanas are synchronized movement of hands and feet"
  2. Natya Shastra translated by Manomohan Ghosh 2002 Chowkhamba Press, Varanasi ISBN 817080079X - Page 75.

External links

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