Legend has it that when the gods asked Brahmā to create a Veda that could be understood by commoners, he created the Panchamaveda (fifth Veda) called Nātyaveda. Drawing pathya (words) from the Rigveda (also known as rgveda, c. 1500-1000 b.c.e.; English translation, 1896-1897), abhinaya (gesture) from the Yajurveda, geet (music and chant) from Sāmaveda, and rasa (sentiment and emotional element) from Atharvaveda, he synthesized Nātyaveda. After creating Nātyaveda, Brahmā asked sage Bharata Muni (BAH-rah-tah MEW-nee) to popularize this Veda on earth.
Sage Bharata wrote Nātya-śāstra (between 200 and 300 c.e.; The Nātyashāstra, 1950), a great comprehensive work on the science and technique of Indian drama, dance, and music. Enchanted by Bharata Muni’s first play, Śiva himself, the lord of cosmic dance, sent his disciple Tandu to teach Bharata the authentic principles of dance, which Bharata included in the chapter “Tandava Lakshana.” Bharata Muni evolved ten basic postures of the body, nine of the neck, thirty-six of the hand, and thirteen poses of the head—postures that required the disciplined use of the entire body and all of its expressions. Various schools of dance have elaborated on these principal postures, each of which blossoms into an exactingly coordinated repertoire of associated hand, facial, eye, foot, and total body movements synchronized to the rhythm of intricate instrumental and vocal music to communicate a complex story.