The Hindi or Sanskrit word Kala means an art, it can also be termed as a ‘skill’ or an ‘accomplishment’.
Our scriptures mention 64 different Kalas out of which 16 are prominent. For an average person accomplishment of even one skill or art is considered a great achievement. There are very few examples of people excelling in more than one art or skill.
A divine incarnation (Avatara) is usually accomplished in many Kalas. Lord Krishna was gifted with 16 Kalas.
Let us describe each of the prominent 16 Kalas or skills:
(1) Nritya Kala (Dance): The first kala is called nritya kala or art of dancing. The expressive sequential movements of physical body are known as dance forms. Mainly the dance form is of two types. A dance which depicts an historic event or character is called Nattya whereas an original one is called Anattya.
A dance in fact is very natural expression. When a person is very happy and joyful he or she naturally feels like dancing. A peacock starts dancing on hearing the thunder of clouds.
(2) Vadan Kala (Instrumental Music): Construction of musical instruments and expertise in playing such instruments is an art. As per our scriptures the musical instruments are categorised under four categories.
(a) All those musical instruments which use a wire are called ‘Tat’ examples are Sarangi, Veena, Guitar, Taanpura and Sarod.
(b) Those instruments which are hallow from inside and are played with air are called ‘Sushir’. Examples are flute, Shehnai, Harmonium and Shankh (conch).
(c) Musical instruments which use leather such as Dhol, Nagara, Mridung, Drums, Tabla are called ‘Avnadh’
(d) These are instruments which come in a pair and are played by striking these together and these are called ‘Ghan’. Some examples of this type are Manjeera, Kartaal.
(3) Poshaak Kala (art of dressing): Only a skilful designer knows which design and colour will suit a person best.
(4) Roop Parivartan Kala (art of disguising): Even today we watch in films and television programmes some artists so skilfully disguise their looks.
(5) Dhoot Kala (Gambling): Although gambling is nowa days considered bad yet we have examples of even learned people playing gamble. One such example is from the epic Mahabharta where Pandvas lost everything in gamble. In fact it is an art which comes with practice but luck plays a major role in it.
(6) Sugandh Nirmaan Kala (art of making fragrances): Unlike today very fine fragrances also called ‘Ittr’ were labouriously made from natural substances. These days chemical are used and fragrances are manufactured in factories. So it was an art in old days.
(7) Paak Kala (art of cooking): Every body will agree that cooking a tasty meal is an art. There are many cooks but some are famous as cooking is not only a science but an art.
(8) Ras Kala (art of utilising juices): This art was used in making various medicines or food items such as sugar from juice of sugar cane. Even making wines comes under this category.
(9) Shastra Chalana (use of weapons): In ancient times wars were based on art of using a sword, bhala (a protective shield) arrows etc. So it was an art to make and use these skilfully.
(10) Mall Yudh Kala (a sort of wresling): It is Indian style of wresling where a person wins after the partner is made to fall on the ground on his back and does not get up soon. Lord Vishnu faought Mall Yudh with Demons called ‘Madhu’ and Kaitubh’.
(11) Nishanebazi (art of targeting): To shoot with a pistol or an arrow etc requires great skill and practice. Arrows were used in wars in old days and thus this skill was essential.
(12) Yudh Kala (art of fighting): Only a skilful and well trained leader can not only fight but also lead an army.
(13) Chitra Kala (art of sketching and painting): In old times some skilful artists could instantly draw a scene on hearing description from a pertson. Chitralekha was a skilled artist.
(14) Ratno ki Parakh (art of recognising gemstones): In old times it was a skill to recognise and use gemstones. There was extensible use of Gemstones for curing diseases and improving luck.
(15) Lipi Kala (art of understanding and writing languages): In old times when there were no printing presses all scriptures were hand written. So it was an essential art.
(16) Dand Kala (art of giving appropriate punishment): Justice is done only when appropriate punishment is given as per the crime committed by a person. It requires great skill and a cool temperament not to give wrong punishment or to avoid punishing an innocent person.