64 Kalas (Arts) and 14 Vidyas Shastras (Sciences Techniques) of Ancient India

Kala means performing art in Sanskrit.

The mastery of as many of the 64 traditional arts known as the Chausath Kalas or Chathusashti Kalas, formed an important basis in the development of a cultured individual in many parts of ancient India. 

It is believed that Bhagwan Krishna possesses these arts.  After slaying of Kamsa and the thread ceremony, Krishna and Balrama went to the ashram of Guru Sandipani in the city of Avanti (Ujjain).There within a span of 64 days, Krishna learnt fourteen types of sciences (vidyas) and sixty-four arts (kalas), each of which would take a normal person two to two and a half years to accomplish. 

Magic is also considered an art as is juggling and so is a task as simple as covering a bed and cleaning one’s teeth.     

Apart from these 64 kalas, our texts also distinguish fourteen different kinds of vidyas or sciences.

The credit for clearly distinguishing 64 arts goes to Vatyasayana. Many other writers have followed him in naming them. However, some have come up with numbers greater than 64.

In the Chandogya Upanishad, sage Narada tells Sanatakumara that he has learnt the arts and he mentions their names too. However, he admits that he has not been able to learn the atma vidya or science of soul.

    “Sarvam Nara Vara Sresthau  

      Sarva Vidya Pravartakow

      Sakrin Nigada Matrena

      Tow Sanjaghrihautar Nripa

      Ahoratraris Catau Shastya

      Samyattau Tavatih Kala..”

This is what the Bhagavath Geetha says in chapter 10. It says both Krishna and Balarama mastered the 64 arts in 64 says at the ashrama of Sandipana in Ujjain or Avanti. This ashrama can still be seen in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh.

Chausath Kalas (64 forms of art) are as under.

  1. Geet vidya: art of singing.
  2. Vadya vidya: art of playing on musical instruments.
  3. Nritya vidya: art of dancing.
  4. Natya vidya: art of theatricals.
  5. Alekhya vidya: art of painting.
  6. Viseshakacchedya vidya: art of painting the face and body with color
  7. Tandula-kusuma-bali-vikara: art of preparing offerings from rice and flowers.
  8. Pushpastarana: art of making a covering of flowers for a bed.
  9. Dasana-vasananga-raga: art of applying preparations for cleansing the teeth, cloths and painting the body.
  10. Mani-bhumika-karma: art of making the groundwork of jewels.
  11. Aayya-racana: art of covering the bed.
  12. Udaka-vadya: art of playing on music in water.
  13. Udaka-ghata: art of splashing with water.
  14. Citra-yoga: art of practically applying an admixture of colors.
  15. Malya-grathana-vikalpa: art of designing a preparation of wreaths.
  16. Sekharapida-yojana: art of practically setting the coronet on the head.
  17. Nepathya-yoga: art of practically dressing in the tiring room.
  18. Karnapatra-bhanga: art of decorating the tragus of the ear.
  19. Sugandha-yukti: art of practical application of aromatics.
  20. Bhushana-yojana: art of applying or setting ornaments.
  21. Aindra-jala: art of juggling.
  22. Kaucumara: a kind of art.
  23. Hasta-laghava: art of sleight of hand.
  24. Citra-sakapupa-bhakshya-vikara-kriya: art of preparing varieties of delicious food.
  25. Panaka-rasa-ragasava-yojana: art of practically preparing palatable drinks and tinging draughts with red color.
  26. Suci-vaya-karma: art of needleworks and weaving.
  27. Sutra-krida: art of playing with thread.
  28. Vina-damuraka-vadya: art of playing on lute and small drum.
  29. Prahelika: art of making and solving riddles.
  30. Durvacaka-yoga: art of practicing language difficult to be answered by others.
  31. Pustaka-vacana: art of reciting books.
  32. Natikakhyayika-darsana: art of enacting short plays and anecdotes.
  33. Kavya-samasya-purana: art of solving enigmatic verses.
  34. Pattika-vetra-bana-vikalpa: art of designing preparation of shield, cane and arrows.
  35. Tarku-karma: art of spinning by spindle.
  36. Takshana: art of carpentry.
  37. Vastu-vidya: art of engineering.
  38. Raupya-ratna-pariksha: art of testing silver and jewels.
  39. Dhatu-vada: art of metallurgy.
  40. Mani-raga jnana: art of tinging jewels.
  41. Akara jnana: art of mineralogy.
  42. Vrikshayur-veda-yoga: art of practicing medicine or medical treatment, by herbs.
  43. Mesha-kukkuta-lavaka-yuddha-vidhi: art of knowing the mode of fighting of lambs, cocks and birds.
  44. Suka-sarika-pralapana: art of maintaining or knowing conversation between male and female cockatoos.
  45. Utsadana: art of healing or cleaning a person with perfumes.
  46. Kesa-marjana-kausala: art of combing hair.
  47. Akshara-mushtika-kathana: art of talking with fingers.
  48. Dharana-matrika: art of the use of amulets.
  49. Desa-bhasha-jnana: art of knowing provincial dialects.
  50. Nirmiti-jnana: art of knowing prediction by heavenly voice.
  51. Yantra-matrika: art of mechanics.
  52. Mlecchita-kutarka-vikalpa: art of fabricating barbarous or foreign sophistry.
  53. Samvacya: art of conversation.
  54. Manasi kavya-kriya: art of composing verse
  55. Kriya-vikalpa: art of designing a literary work or a medical remedy.
  56. Chalitaka-yoga: art of practicing as a builder of shrines called after him.
  57. Abhidhana-kosha-cchando-jnana: art of the use of lexicography and meters.
  58. Vastra-gopana: art of concealment of cloths.
  59. Dyuta-visesha: art of knowing specific gambling.
  60. Akarsha-krida: art of playing with dice or magnet.
  61. Balaka-kridanaka: art of using children’s toys.
  62. Vainayiki vidya: art of enforcing discipline.
  63. Vaijayiki vidya: art of gaining victory.
  64. Vaitaliki vidya: art of awakening master with music at dawn.

14 Vidyas (techniques) are under

  1. 4 Vedas
  2. RigVeda
  3. SamVeda
  4. YajurVeda
  5. AtharvaVeda
  6. 4 UpaVedas (abodes of knowledge) are as under
  7. ArthaShastra: Ancient treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy.
  8. Dhanurveda: Science of archery
  9. GandharvaVeda: Treatise on performing arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music.
  10. Ayurveda: The word ayurveda consists of the words ayus, meaning “longevity”, and veda, meaning “related to knowledge” or “science”. Thus Ayurveda is the science of life.
  11. 6 Vedangas are as under :-
  12. Shiksha: science of phonetics and phonology of Sanskrit, its aim is the teaching of correct pronunciation of the Vedic hymns and mantras.
  13. Kalpa: art of rituals
  14. Vyakaran: Sanskrit grammatical tradition of vyakarana.
  15. Nirukta: art of etymology, particularly of obscure words. It consists of brief rules (sutras) for deriving word meanings, supplemented with glossaries of difficult or rare Vedic words.
  16. Chhanda: study of Vedic meter in Classical Sanskrit poetry.
  17. Jyotish: system of astrology, traditionally consisting of three branches:
    1.  Siddhanta: traditional Indian astronomy
    2a.  Samhita
    2b.  Medini Jyotisha:  prediction of important events based on analysis of astrological dynamics in a country’s horoscope of general transit events such as war, earthquakes, political events, financial positions, elections etc; Vastu Shastra related matters, animals, portents, omens etc.
    3.  Hora: predictive astrology based on analysis of natal horoscope and the moment a query is made.

If we look at the list closely, the first one is music. This shows the importance that our ancestors attached to this art. In the Mahabharata, we find that Krishna has exhibited many arts at different times. Though the occasion in Krishna using these arts expertly may have been different, the end result was to enlighten the people that God is One and that He is the supreme being without whom nothing in the world  moves.

All these arts were taught at Hindu Universities and Gurukulas. The Nalanada University had experts in each of the field as was the university at Taxila. Several gurukulas and centres of education such as Ujjain, Benaras, Kanchi, Hampi taught these arts.  

Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts mention these arts and sciences frequently. Patanjali, the author of Mahabhasya and the compiler of yoga shastras, also mentions these 64 arts. The Sutras of Jains also mentions 64 kalas apart from mastery of 18 dialects, which they say one of their Theerthankara, Mahavira, was proficient. Gauta, Buddha was also said to be proficient in several arts.  Buddhist texts also mention the kalas, particularly those relating to

that a king has to master if he has to rule his kingdom efficiently.

Among our seers, the best known exponent of these 64 arts was Vijendra Theertha (1514-1575), the paramaguru of Raghavendra Swamy and one of the leading lights of the Madhwa parampare in the sixteenth century.

A renowned astrologer, this Madhwa seer could also foretell events. When he was invited to Vijayanagar at the invitation of Aliya Rama Raya, he foresaw the fall of the great empire and warned the Emperor but to no avail.

He prayed at the Brindavana of his Vidya Guru, Vyasa Raja, at Nava Brindavana and returned back to Kumbakonam and when he heard of the news of the defeat of Vijayanagar and the sacking of Hampi, he heard it with characteristic equanimity though he was deeply anguished and pained.

Vijendra Theertha also foresaw the decline of the Haridasa movement and the troubled time for Hindus that was to follow the defeat of Vijayanagar. He saw in young Venkatanatha the catalyst for revival of Madhwa way of life and the reemergence of the Haridasa movement. It was for this reason he instructed his disciple, Sudhindra Theertha, to hand over the pontificate of the Sri Matha to Rayaru after him.  

Just as Akshobya Theertha had poured his heat and soul in teaching Jayatheertha all the tenets of knowledge so also did Vyasa Raja strive to educate young Vishnu Theertha who later became Vijendra Theertha.

Many Indian Emperors, including the legendary Vikramaditya and  Bhoja were reckoned to be masters of arts.      

In Kama Sutra, Vatsayana states:

“A public woman, endowed with a good disposition, beauty and other winning qualities, and also versed in the above arts, obtains the name of a Ganika, or public woman of high quality, and receives a seat of honour in an assemblage of men. She is, moreover, always respected by the king, and praised by learned men, and her favour being sought for by all, she becomes an object of universal regard. The daughter of a king too as well as the daughter of a minister, being learned in the above arts, can make their husbands favorable to them, even though these may have thousands of other wives besides themselves.

If a wife becomes separated from her husband, and falls into distress, she can support herself easily, even in a foreign country, by means of her knowledge of these arts. Even the bare knowledge of them gives attractiveness to a woman, though the practice of them may be only possible or otherwise according to the circumstances of each case. A man who is versed in these arts, who is loquacious and acquainted with the arts of gallantry, gains very soon the hearts of women, even though he is only acquainted with them for a short time.”