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Dharmi - the mode of presentation in Natya!

Nana BhavoPa.png

– Natyashastra (Slokam112)

Natyashastra, the most authentic treatise on dramaturgy, has defined Natya as "Lokavruttanukaram Natyam". The verse (in the sloka) implies that Natya is the imitation of the real-world and an impression of the day-to-day experiences of the people. Natyashastra, therefore, prescribes various mechanisms – Dharmi being one such example – to emote the material world. 

Within the realms of Natya, Dharmi deals with the mode of representation and performance aspects. Dharmi (and therefore Natya) can be represented via two modes –the realistic mode and the dramatic mode. While Lokadharmi deals with realistic representation, Natyadharmi attempts to portray a dramatic representation of the subject matter. Both are equally important aspects of Abhinaya, and therefore Natya.

Now let’s examine Lokadharmi concept in brief. Lokadharmi has different characteristics – one, it represents the natural way of acting, the other, it does not include any stylised hand gestures (Hastha-abhinaya) or exaggerated gaits (Gati). Therefore, Loka dharmi represents worldly objects and emotions realistically, thus eliminating the use of complicated acting.

Today, classical dance forms such as Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi leverages on techniques from Lokadharmi so as to entice the ordinary spectators as they are ignorant of the stylised gestures.  Also, today's dance forms deal with a lot of contemporary themes for which 'Loka-dharmi' is best suited and awe-inspiring.

Now let’s delve into Natyadharmi concepts. Natyadharmi is a highly stylised mode of presenting a theme. It involves preconceived movements, makes the best use of hand gestures (Mudras), exaggerated facial expressions, stylised gaits (Gatis) and postures (Sthanakas) in a production.

Natyadharmi is well imbibed into the traditional theatrical forms like Koodiyattam and Kathakali. Acting techniques such as ‘Pakarnnattam’ comes under this mode of acting. In Pakarnnattam, one actor enacts the role of different characters of the story without changing the costume by using zonal division of stage effectively.  Also, the stylised Natyadharmi' can be best suited for the presentation of mythological episodes.

On another note, it is interesting to note that Lokadharmi mode of acting is used in the highly stylized Koodiyattam, especially when the actor does the role of the Vidhushaka. Although Lokadharmi represents the natural mode of acting, it is worth noting that it requires a certain level of stylisation in Natya, as it comes under the "classical" genre.


To sum it up, in today's scenario both Natyadharmi and Lokadharmi techniques are used together in most of the dance forms. Also, both these techniques help enhance the enactment and complement each other’s effort. To that end, while both are distinct, they are inseparable when it comes to the performance aspect of the classical dance. Together they form the ‘Divine Twins’ of Dharmi, and therefore the Indian Classical Dance.  



• Natya Shastra – Translated by N.P Unni.

• Natya Shastra, by Board of Scholars

• Mohiniyattam the lyrical dance – By Kanak Rele


Author: Anju Peter, Nrityankanam

Courtesy: Reva University & all my Gurus who inculcated art in me.

Picture courtesy: Pinterest

In the blog “Dharmi” Indian Classical Dance Mohiniyattam, and Mohiniattam.

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