Krishna's hallIsaka dance

Bharat Gupt abhinav at DEL3.VSNL.NET.IN
Thu Aug 19 12:18:26 UTC 1999

N. Ganesan wrote:
> Sanskrit hallIza etc. could represent Proto-Dravidian *allica.
> hal(l)-("move, shake") is, according to Turner (CDIAL 14001-14018),
> a loanword from Dravidian. This hal(l)a- might be derived
> from Tamil alaGku/alacu/alai(cu)  etc. meaning
> 'to wave, shake, move, roam, wander' etc.
> Compare DEDR entry on Tamil alliyam 'Krishna's dance when he broke
> the tusk of the elephant that was set upon him by Kamsa'. This
> alliyam dance by Krishna to kill kuvalayapita elephant occurs in
> CilappatikAram. Tamil alliyan_ 'stray elephant separated from the
> fold' and Malayalam alliyan 'female elephant' (DEDR 258).
> These words might also be derived from Tamil alanku/alacu/alai(cu)
> etc. meaning 'to wave, shake, move, roam, wander' etc. (DEDR 240)
> from which could come both 'stray (= roaming, wandering, vagabond)
> elephant' and 'dance (with shaking, moving)'.
> The last part of hallIza/hallISa/hallIsa has three different
> kinds of sibilants (s,z,S) which certainly suggests a
> non-Sanskritic origin. While it is difficult to explain through
> Sanskrit etymology this later part, -isa in hallIza(ka),
> a Dravidian origin for -iza / -iyam is most likely. It might be
> DEDR no. 469 Tamil iyaGku etc. 'movement' (also iyal 'dance'),
>   From the citations given in Monier-Williams, it is clear that
> -ka- at the end of hallIsaka is the deminutive suffix so frequently
> added to Sanskrit nouns at a later stage.
> So, PDr. *allica as the source for hallIsaka, may have important
> implications for the roots of Indian dance. Similarly, are "ranga"
> (dance stage) and tamil 'arangu' (dance stage, small island between
> rivers) related?
> F.B.J. Kuiper, and Viduu.saka,
> On the origin of the Sanskrit Drama, Amsterdam, etc. 1979. Cf.,
> e.g.:
> -- p. 116: "An entirely different thesis has been defended by
> Indu Shekar, who argued that the drama was a product of an
> non-Aryan culture of India. The present study will show why I
> think that the evidence available points to a different conclusion."
> -- p. 116, n. 29: "It is true, influence of non-Aryan cultures has
> too often been invoked, without the slightest proof , as a _deus
> ex machina_ to explain difficult problems. If, however, there are
> specific (mostly linguistic) indications pointing to that conclusion,
> there is obviously no point in ignoring their existence, our task
> then being to try to understand what the role of the influence can
> have been in the whole context of Indian culture."
>   "hallIsa" may well be one such linguistic indication.
> Regards,
> N. Ganesan
> _______________________________________________________________
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A Response:

On the basis of one or two or even a few linguistic terms, it is not only unfair to
decide upon the origin of drama/natya but is a wrong methodology to explore the origins.

It has been suggested by those who were anxious of tracing the Greek origins of Indian
drama that hallisaka , could have been derived from "hellas" (like the "yavanika"). And
that is as good a guess as its hypothetical linkage to dravidian tongues.  Even in
modern Hindi and Gujarati, hil,hilana,hale, all  mean movement (and could have come from
dravida bhashas). But is that enough to decide about  the origins of a dance form ?

 Perhaps modern linguistic methodologies and even ancient method of vyutpattih are not
sufficient to trace the origin or shaping of an art form. An art form is not merely a
name but is a living form, a sharira. Its name alone cannot decide its origin. Many
Indian communists have named their daughters Natashas and many sikhs are called  Amrika
Singh. A tenuous link is not an origin.

Hallisaka is a minor dance genre, not a rupaka of substantial standing not even part of
the ten rupakas enunciated by Bharata Muni in the Natyashastra.  Can a mere dance step
contribute towards the development of a major art like theatre? Hallisaka might have
been a Dravida or Greek dance but its presence alone does not give Greek or Dravidian
origins to Inian Theatre and Natya.

Theories of origin are themselves suspect as they imply "first use credit" which is
impossible to establish in art and culture born of interchange. The ancient were wiser
in atributing the first use to gods than to races or cultures.

In terms of distinguishable features in the art of theatre, music and dance, such as the
technology of musical instruments and musical grammar, the most ancient location of the
practice of Indian drama, music and dance seems to have been the Gandhara region or
modern Afghanistan, as evidenced from the Brahmanas, the epics, and the Natyashastra.
The same affinity in the performing arts in terms of musical grammar, theatrical
expressions, musical scales of rural songs and general art aesthetics exists even now
from Greece to Assam, the South of India included (where a remarkable improvisation has
happened since medieval times).
Bharat Gupt
Associate Professor, Delhi Univ.
tel:724-1490 , fax 741-5658
bharatgupt at

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