Anatomy of the Araimandi

Shreya Srivastava
Albany, New York, United States

 

Ardhamandala or Araimandi posture of Bharatanatyam Indian Hindu dance form
The Ardhamandala or Araimandi posture of Bharatanatyam. Artwork courtesy of An Nguyen.

Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest dance forms theorized in text. Originating in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Bharatanatyam dates to an estimated time of 500 BC when it was first described in the Natyashastra, an ancient book based in Hindu philosophy that specifies the physical, social, spiritual, and artistic requirements of the Indian classical performing arts.1 According to the Natyashastra, Bharatanatyam is divided into two major categories: nritta and abhinaya. Nritta refers to “human movement,” or any type of movement or posture that uses the “major limbs” and “minor limbs.”2 In contrast, abhinaya refers to expression and is the emotional component of dance used to tell stories.

The ardhamandali (or araimandi) is the fundamental dance position used in Bharatanatyam. Almost all Bharatanatyam movements categorized as nritta are performed in the araimandi position. To form this stance, a dancer must align the arms, knees, torso, and feet to create a series of three triangles in space.2 The first triangle is formed by raising the outstretched arms in a horizontal line at the level of the shoulders. The arms form the base of an inverted triangle, the apex of which is the umbilicus of the body. The second and third triangles are formed by bending the knees and turning the feet outwards in opposite directions, creating a diamond shape between the legs. By drawing an imaginary horizontal line between the two knees, the diamond is split into two triangles: one with the apex again at the umbilicus and the base at the line between the knees, and the other with the same base and the apex where the heels of the feet nearly touch. Bharatanatyam dancers, therefore, must adapt their bodies to satisfy geometric specifications.

These angular requirements offer an early perspective on anatomy and the ability of the human physique to embody art.

The anatomical requirements of Bharatanatyam are based on its existence as a kinetic enactment of the ancient Indian sculptures that depict Hindu mythology. In the classical Indian arts, the statues that represent the deities, kings, and queens of Hindu mythology “do not lay much emphasis on the muscles of the human body” and focus primarily on the bones and joints of human anatomy.2 Muscles lack the well-defined, geometric construction of bones and therefore cannot contribute to the creation of abstract poses in space. Although bones are dynamic – they grow, adapt, and deteriorate in response to various stimuli – and form complex connections with each other and with muscles, they offer visual exactness that contrasts with the seemingly ambiguous shapes of musculature. As a result, any poses or movements depicted in the classical Indian sculptures are limited to what is allowed by the major joints of the human skeleton.

These ideas reflect the Indian aesthetic, which is concerned with the need to find “absolute form” – an abstract concept in Hindu philosophy based on finding perfect alignment and structure in disorder.3 A Bharatanatyam dancer, therefore, can use the geometric exactness of the human skeleton to establish absolute form. The dance form demands physicality that is sculpturesque and mirrors the same concepts of proportion that influence the Indian sculptor. This results in movements that emphasize the major joints and limbs over the muscles of the human body.

Angular, geometric poses like araimandi are essential to creating the sense of even weight distribution, power, and absolute form. However, upon first attempt at embodying araimandi, one might feel that the posture is anything but stabilizing. Literally meaning “half-sitting” in the South Indian language of Tamil, araimandi is an intense squatting position that places significant tension on the arm, abdominal, and thigh muscles. Dancers often find it painful. The widening of the knees and proximity of the feet further challenges the dancer’s ability to remain balanced and centered. While the theory of araimandi provides clear geometric outlines, in practice, the triangular stacking of the body is quite precarious and requires intense strength and focus to be mastered. Part of the quest for absolute form lies in this challenge of finding and developing both physical and mental alignment in supposedly jumbled environments.3 The body is complex – although the poses and movements of Bharatanatyam are based primarily on the human skeleton, the rest of the human anatomy still contributes to a dancer’s ability to perform. Proper orientation of all structures takes years of practice, and only then is the posture properly executed.

As a result, when Bharatanatyam dancers form the araimandi position, they perform a type of physical posturing that demonstrates how the body can adapt to difficult conditions to create stability and strength. Each triangle stacks upon another, forming strictly defined lines and points in both the upper and lower halves of the body. Mastering the correct embodiment of these triangles leads to unity of the body as a whole. The outstretched arms build alignment in the horizontal plane, the close feet establish connection with the earth, and the bent knees lower the body’s center of gravity to improve stability and balance. This positioning of the human skeleton also results in a straight, vertical line formed through the head, neck, umbilicus, and heels; similarly, a straight horizontal line is formed connecting the hands, arms, shoulders, and neck. These lines act as central medians through which movements begin and end – therefore, araimandi exists as a prime position the dancer continuously embodies to maintain a sense of center.

As a Bharatanatyam dancer, I find araimandi to be one of the most challenging postures I have encountered. I have practiced the stance for over a decade, yet it has never felt comfortable. It certainly became less painful over the years, but each time I adopt the araimandi, I feel a sense of unevenness that requires mental and physical adjustment. For example, I may notice that my arms fail to remain in a straight, horizontal plane and must focus on intensifying my arm muscles to keep them aligned and stable. Or I see that my knees are not bent to the desired angle and find myself re-adjusting my leg position to allow for a lower stance. In these situations, I am readjusting my body and redefining my areas of attention to try and achieve as close a sense of absolute form as possible. If araimandi is a central median, a holistic framework that aligns all elements of the human body, then each attempt at araimandi brings new challenges that serve as spiritual and physical guidance towards stability, structure, and focus.

 

References

  1. Tarlekar, Ganesh Hari. 1999. Studies in the Natyasastra: With special reference to the Sanskrit Drama. 1975. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidaas Publishers Private Limited.
  2. Vatsyayan, Kapila. 1992. Indian Classical Dance. New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Gov. of India.
  3. Vatsyayan, Kapila. 1977. Classical Indian Dance in the Literature and the Arts. New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Academy.

 


 

SHREYA SRIVASTAVA is a second-year medical student at Albany Medical College. She attended Union College where she majored in Music and Biology and minored in World Musics and Cultures, and she received an MBA in Healthcare Management from Clarkson University. She has trained in Bharatanatyam for more than fifteen years and is a current research fellow for the Aseemkala Initiative, an organization that explores narrative dance medicine.

 

Winter 2022  |  Sections  |  Anatomy