Natalie Savelyeva

Abhinaya explained by Kalanidhi Narayanan

Abhinaya being interpretation of lyrics with help of hand gestures and facial expression, is more of less similar in all dance styles. Some styles are more dramatic and exaggerated, more histrionic, while others favor a subtle approach. In Bharatanatya stress is on clarity and subtlety. It is an art form based on suggestion and hence over-dramatization must be avoided at all costs.

Abhinaya can be expressed in two different ways: stylistic (Natya dharmi) and naturalistic (Loka dharmi). It would be appropriate to use both the styles in a balanced proportion as Natya dharmi gives clarity while Loka dharmi gives one a flavor of the actual experience.

Studying the character

Abhinaya uses a combination of codified hand gestures and facial expressions, sometimes extremely stylized, sometimes completely natural, to transform the written work into dance. The language of dance, therefore, relies on the same classifications and conventions used in poetry to delineate the character of the heroine to be portrayed. Ancient Sanskrit theories of aesthetics have outlined usually eight, classic love situations and named the heroine in her relation to these, the Ashta Nayika. Further variations are made based on age and status of the heroine, or even her inherent qualities. For the dance the process of bringing the character to life begins with a close and careful analysis of the language used in poem. Speech rhythm often provides an important clue. Raga is also the essential factor in defining the heroine.

To start right from the basics, a careful study of the song in its entirety must be made and the main thread of though must be understood. This is the Sthaibhava around which all the other emotions revolve. Keeping sthayibhava in mind, one must probe into the character. The must be main character (the heroine or the hero) and minor characters (Sakhi, etc). Importance should be given to main character. While describing the greatness of the lover, there is no need to act a part of the hero to show valor, knowledge, etc. It should be suggested by the heroine herself.

While portraying the emotions of the characters the whole personality involved should be dealt with taste.

Importance of Sringara Rasa

Sringara should be given a major role, because most of rasas come into play in Sringara rasa. The other rasa do not provide scope for the use of more then two or three. Sringara rasa song can be interpreted in many rasa. Sringara is called "Rasaraja" (king of rasas).

Sringara is not merely the erotic element as applied to human beings. Indian art is of deep religious nature, where Sringara is also the love of a human for the Eternal One. It can show the anguish of being separated from him, search and anguish of the soul looking for reunion. Sringara allows imaginative depiction.

Dance is considered a way of devotion. Abhinaya especially takes you very close to the Almighty. The whole basis of Abhinaya is Bhava Pradhana (development of bhava, feeling). Sringara is the best vehicle to approach the God. Padams emphasize Sringara rasa or rati bhava not in vulgar form, but in form of Madhura Bhakti or love devotion, which brings one very near to the God. The closeness and intimacy of the love relationship is an allegory for the closeness and intimacy of the devotee and God.

Through the deeper or underplaying intent of padam is Bhakti, this does not mean that the rati bhava or erotic content of the song should be changed into Bhakti. The dancer may herself feel the bliss of devotion to God, but this does not necessarily evoke the same feeling in the audience.

However, for rati to evoke a mood of devotion, the portrayal must be spiritually elevated. Firstly, there must be devotion to the art itself. This means the total involvement and a lack of self-projection on the part of the dancer. The individual personality must be submerged in the artistic objective. The mind of dancer should be fixed on the characters described in the piece. Aesthetic presentation should be the focus, bring out Sringara in its subtle form.

Sringara is three-fold: Ratisringara, when love blooms between a man and woman, Vatsala when it is the love of a mother for a child, and Bhakti, the love inspired by god in a devotee. In these three sthayi remains constant but the Sanchari and sattvika change.

Rati Sringara splits into Sambhoga (when lovers are together) and Vipralamba (when lovers are separated). Sambhoga implies fulfillment and therefore the quality of ending. There is not scope for elaboration. Vipralamba is the process, thus it involves a wide range of emotional expression, in all extremities.

Purpose of Sanchari

Rasa cannot be produced in a second or a minute. Rasa in dance have to be generated, built up through a process, stage by stage. Sanchari is one of the stages of creating emotional atmosphere of the song.

Sanchara is literally, wandering or roaming about. Bharatanatya is implicit art and seeks to suggest rather then depict incidents from beginning to end. The dancer should try to bring out various moods in the text, by enacting in various ways the given situation by sanchara or moving around these point. Bringing out whole stories where the lyrics and abhinaya do nor coincide is not our tradition, only relevant references should be made. Our old teachers asked us to do variations and indicate the episode following the lyrics, but never to introduce whole stories.

Sanchari means trying to bring out your imaginative powers to explain the situation. Sanchari means "roaming about", but it should not be taken too literally. One should understand the situation and expand if within the scope and words of the lyric. One can wander round the point, but never away from it.

Sanchari does not mean a series of story telling sessions but alluding briefly to an incident. It should be expressed by various ideas and moods confining itself to the boundary of the song.

Three points should be kept in mind while doing Sanchari. After the lines are sung one in full, only the portion which is to be taken up for Sanchari should be repeated with musical variation (neraval). To these, different elaborations that have the stanzas as the starting point should be performed. While sketching out these short story-ideas, the emphasis should be on the subtlety and clear-cut communication without making it seem like a full-scale dance-drama.

Anga shuddha (proper posture), Laya (proper rhythm) and Ranga kramana (covering of the stage, which should look natural and spontaneous) are the other major points. Laya is intrinsic part of the dance. Every step, hand gesture, head movement and face expression should be in rhythm. There should be a low. The stopping and starting points and body movements in dance should go with the ebb and flow of the song.

Classification of Heroines (Nayika)

Classification of heroines (Nayika) is given always relating to her hero (Nayaka).

By experience in love:

Mughdha: inexperienced in love

Madhya: partly experienced

Pragalbha: mature in the art of love

By attitude towards men:

Sweeya: married and faithful to her husband. This is the woman who is married and stays loyal, like Sita and other pativratas (chaste women) like Rukmini, Satyabhama, etc.

Parakiya: married to one man, but is in love with another man. Traditionally the Gopi-s (girls from Brindavan) are considered as Parakiya-s. Meera (north poet-devotee of Krishna) is another example. From the point of Madhura Bhakti philosophy, all the souls are married to the world and hanker after God as Parakiya-s.

Samanya: free woman, who truly belongs to any man for a price. She fells free to accept any man without restrictions.

Jyeshta: the preferred one

Kanishta: the other woman

By character and temperament

Uttama: self-controlled and tolerant

Madhyama: literary the middle one, who gives as she gets

Adhama: literary, the low one, who has no self-restraint

By love situation or mental state of the heroine: Ashtavidha Nayika:

Swadheenapathika: a woman who is sure and proud of her man. She is confident that he would not even look at another woman. She is very proud of her husband”s love and loyalty. (Padam Entha Chakkani Vade by Kshetrayya, Javali Smarasundaranguni by by Dharmapuri Subbharayar)

Vasakasajjika: a woman who is waiting to welcome her lord. She adorns herself and makes preparations to meet him by decorating her surroundings. She want to welcome her lover sweetly. (Padam Teruvil varano by Muthuthandavar, Ashtapadi Pasyati Disi Disi by Jayadeva)

Virahotkhandita:one who is disappointed and scared as her lover has not come back. She is separated with her lover and is yearning for reunion. Being separated (viraha) from her lover, she is not sure if he comes back or not. Her pain is more pathetic, it comes close to despair. (Ashtapadi Nindati Chandana by Jayadeva)

Abhisarika: one who is impatient and wants to meet him, but he has not yet come. She boldly goes out to meet her lover. (Padam Choodare by Kshetrayya, Ashtapadi Nibhrita Nikunja by Jayadeva)

Vipragalbdha: one who discovers that her man is with another woman. She is disappointed that her lover has not turned up at the tryst as he promised. She feels cheated as her lover is not at the meeting place as he promised (it may ne her house also). Consequently, she is frustrated and thus becomes angry. (Sakhi Prana by Dharmapuri Subbarayar)

Khandita: one who sends away the deceitful lover in anger. She is angry with her lover for causing disappointment. (Padam Indendu Vachitivira by Kasturi Ranga, Astapadi Yahi Madhava by Jayadeva) The Sthaibhava is anger, but this will be superimposed by other emotions like sarcasm, ridicule, hurt, pride, self-pity, revenge, disgust, and ferocity. Degree of anger depends on type of Nayika.

Kalahantarita: one who repents for her hasty behavior in quarreling with her lover, which has resulted in their separation.

Proshitapatika: one who is unable to bear a temporary separation from her husband. She is suffering the absence of her lover who is away in a long journey. Being separated from her lover, she is waiting for him, she is sure of his return.

Classification of Heroes (Nayaka)

In relation to women:

Pati: married and faithful to his wife, like Rama.

Upapati: is married and in love with another woman like Krishna.

Vaisika: one who plays and enjoys women like Kovalan.

By attitude:

Anukoola: who is faithful to the woman.

Dakshina: when rejected he pleads to be accepted by the woman.

Satha: the deceitful one.

By situation of love relationships:

Proshita: the one who has gone on a journey.

Virahi: who is separated from his beloved, feels pangs of separation and loneliness.

Vipralabdha: one who feels he is cheated by the one he loves.

Vaisika: who is seeking union with his beloved

Drishta: one who is unfaithful to his beloved. He feels guilty and pleads to forgive him.


Aspects of Abhinaya by Kalanidhi Narayanan, The Alliance Company, Chennai, 2005