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The language of dance is conveyed through the gestures. In the abhinaya items which mostly consists of lyrics, poetry or a narrative set to music and rhythm, the săhitya (lyrics) is interpreted by the dancer through a series of Angika abhinaya.
That is, through hand gestures and movements of eyes, eyebrows, eyeballs, etc and through the expression on the face. Through the feet, the tempo (laya) is followed. Thus we see that the whole of body acts as a vehicle to express and reach out to the audience. These parts are categorised as Anga,Upaanga and Pratyanga. The hand gestures are the focal point of language.
Hence the student dancer is taught all hand gestures, Drishtibhedaas (movements of eyes), Grivaabhedaa (movement of neck), Shirobhedaa (movement of head), Pădabheda (various movements and positions of leg and feet) and so on, in the form of shlokaas which are in sanskrit.
The movements of hand gestures have been grouped under those of single (asamyukta hasta) hand gestures and those of double (samyukta hasta) hand gestures. These primary hand gestures can be used to as they are or suggestively to represent things, places, rivers, animals, human beings, relationships or to convey ideas and emotions or they can be used as symbols. The movement of head, eyes, eyebrows, etc, especially help in conveying the bhaava and rasa, that is the mood and the inner emotions. Thus in words of Dr.Kapila Vatsayan,"through hand gesticulation, the universe can be comprehended".
Today most of the BharatNatyam dancers follows more or less the 'Abhinaya Darpanam' as a reference for 'Angika Abhinaya'.