64 arts (kalās)

Satsangam offers courses and conversations that refer to or explore some of the 64, “arts” (kalās) of India listed on the life map and related to Vedic knowledge systems. This page offers a brief introduction to them.

The 64, “arts” (kalās) of India include arts, handicrafts, trades and skills like, theater, painting, carpentry, geomancy, cooking, making herbal preparations, mineralogy, hair styling, etc. and fanciful, possibly endangered or extinct arts like the art of, “splashing with water,” and many more.

Whereas the teachers, texts and traditions of India inspire us to view life in a certain way, the arts (kalās), along with the sciences (vidyās), represent what many of us do.  

It is impossible to thoroughly study Vedic subjects without coming across references to lists of 64 kalās or arts taught to men and women alike. While the 14 vidyās (including the four Vedas) are more uniformly agreed upon, the 64 kalās are a different story. There are varying lists of what they are, when they originated and indeed how many there are.

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5th May 2022

We find one list written by Vatsyayana  (2nd to 6th century CE). Another in the 6th century CE, where it appears in Bāṇabhaṭṭa’s kādambari (a Sanskrit novel). But there are references to the kalās in the Ramayana, from far more ancient times. It is said that Lord Krishna learned all 64 kalās in 64 days, and he lived roughly 3000 years BCE. 

The kalās are also said to have their roots in the vedāṅgas and upavedas (some of the 14 traditional sciences or vidyās). For example, one list from the end of part III of śukranīti–a relatively unknown text, brought to our attention by alert vaidya (Ayurvedic physician) and Satsangam guest instructor Dr. Rishi Manivannan, connects seven kalās to gandharva veda; eight to Ayurveda; five to dhanurveda and one to tantra, (not usually considered an upaveda), and lists the other 41 seemingly randomly. Regardless where the list originated, it changed over centuries to adapt to evolving skills and practices. There are even references to a modern list specific to females and one to males. Not only has the list evolved, but also may have grown–at least in some places. For example 512 kalās are listed in Yasodhara’s jayamangala (13th century CE commentary on the kāmasūtra).

It would be a mistake to think that many, or possibly any, of these lists correlate or agree. The number 64 is canonical (accepted and included in traditional texts), but the real numbers, as well as the arts, skills and crafts represented, are widely divergent. What is relevant to us is that the 64 kalās were and are valued and, reflective of the interconnectedness of Vedic knowledge systems– often relating to the upavedas or vedāṅgas.

Relevant Resources & Texts:

We hope to add conversations, resources or courses related to the 64 kalās by and by. It is a little tricky to find juicy content for them, but we intend to keep our eyes open and bring them here when we can. In the meantime, if you are interested in in studying them, here are a few rather academic places to start: 

  • part III of śukranīti
  • Inaugural Dissertation presented to the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Bern for the Degree of Doctore of Philosophy, by. A. Venkatasubbiah

While we may not have a definitive list, this one from Monier Williams provides the following list as enumerated in the a text called the śaivatantra, and we can take this at least as an example: 

  1. gītam =song
  2. vādyam– playing musical instruments
  3. nṛtyam-, dancing (particularly, the frantic or violent dance of shiva)
  4. nāṭyam-, theatrical dancing
  5. ālekhyam-, painting
  6. viśeṣakacchedyam-the art of painting sectarian marks on the forehead
  7. taṇḍulakusumabalivikārāḥ–  preparing offerings from rice and flowers
  8. puṣpāstaranam– making a covering of flowers for a bed
  9. daśanavasanāṅgarāgāḥ– applying preparations for cleansing the teeth, cloths and painting the body.
  10. maṇibhūmikākarma– making the groundwork of jewels
  11. śayanaracanam-covering the bed
  12. udakavādyam-playing on music in water
  13. udakaghātaḥ-splashing with water
  14. citrā yogāḥ-applying a mixture of colors
  15. mālyagranthanavikalpāḥ-designing wreaths or malas
  16. keśaśekharāpīḍayojanam-setting the coronet on the head
  17. nepathyayogāḥ-, dressing in the retiring room
  18. karṇapattrabhaṅgāḥ-decorating the tragus of the ear
  19. su/gandhayuktiḥ-application of aromatics
  20. bhūṣaṇayojanam-applying or setting ornaments
  21. a/indrajālam-juggling
  22. kaucumārayogāḥ-a kind of art
  23. hastalāghavam– slight of hand
  24. citraśākāpūpabhakṣyavikārakriyā-preparing a variety of delicious foods
  25. pānakarasarāgāsavayojanam-preparing palatable drinks and tinging draughts with red color
  26. sūcīvāpakarma-needlework and weaving
  27. sūtrakrīḍā– playing with thread
  28. vīṇāḍamaruka playing on lute and small drum
  29. prahelikā– making & solving riddles
  30. durvacakayogāḥ– practicing language difficult to be answered by others
  31. pustakavācanam-reciting books
  32. nāṭakākhyāyikādarśanam-enacting short plays and anecdotes
  33. kāvyasamasyāpūraṇam-solving enigmatic verses
  34. paṭṭikāvetrabāṇavikalpāḥ-designing preparation of shield, cane and arrows
  35. tarkūkarmāṇi-spinning by spindle
  36. takṣaṇam-carpentry
  37. vāstuvidyā– geomancy, engineering
  38. rūpyaratnaparīkṣā-testing silver and jewels
  39. dhātuvādaḥ– metallurgy
  40. maṇirāgajñānam-tinging jewels
  41. ākarajñānam-mineralogy
  42. vṛkṣāyurvedayogāḥ– practicing medicine or medical treatment by herbs
  43. meṣakukkuṭalāvakayuddhavidhiḥ-knowing the mode of fighting of lambs, cocks and birds
  44. śukasārikāpralāpanam– maintaining or knowing conversation between male and female cockatoos
  45. utsādanam– healing or cleansing a person with perfumes
  46. keśamārjanakauśalam– combing/styling the hair
  47. akṣaramuṣṭikākathanam– talking with fingers (sign language?)
  48. dhāraṇamātṛkā-use of amulets
  49. deśabhāṣājñānam-knowing provincial dialects
  50. Puṣpaśakaṭikānimittajñānam – a voice coming from heaven-, omenology/channeling
  51. yantramātṛkā– mechanics
  52. mlechitakavikalpāḥ– fabricating barbarous or foreign sophistry
  53. saṃvācya—art of conversation.
  54. mānasī kāvyakriyā– composing verses mentally
  55. kriyāvikalpāḥ– designing a literary work or a medical remedy
  56. chalitakayogāḥ-practicing as a builder of shrines named after him?
  57. abhidhānakoṣacchandojñānam-use of lexicography and meters
  58. vastragopanāni– concealment of cloths
  59. dyūtaviśeṣaḥ– knowing specific gambling
  60. ākarṣaṇakrīḍā– playing with dice or magnet
  61. bālakakrīḍanakāni-using children’s toys
  62. vaināyikīnāṃ vidyāṇāṃ jñānam-enforcing discipline
  63. vaijayikīnāṃ vidyānāṃ jñānam-gaining victory

64.  There are variations here, including dhāraṇamātṛkā—concentrating on an image of the mother; vaitaliki vidya — art of awakening master with music at dawn; pratimā– memorizing verses