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Radhika Nandakumar
Mysuru, Karnataka, India


The Octal expressions of the persona

The basic purpose of this article is to delineate and explain the eight kinds of Heroins: aṣṭanāyikā in Indian Dancing traditions. It is done with the intension that the learned reader appreciates the styles and traditions while appreciating its inherent character which enhances and liberates its scope beyond its cultural moors which had so much stabilized since centuries in the great Bhārata. It is essential to illustrate each nāyikā with an item of dance and music. Thus a few examples are also given hither and thither during the course of this writing. I believe that nothing explains more than its abhinaya done with on-time creativity and gusto. I intend to do this with suitable lecture and demonstrations, which, in time, I hope to upload such videos to various online media. I request the learned audience to be with me in tandem with my spirits of dedication and utter ecstasy.


The term aṣṭanāyikā is used expansively to identify the eight kinds of primary expressions that are possible in feminine gender. Aṣṭa means the eight kinds and the nāyikā is the feminine persona (the heroine). In the traditional Indian dance parlance, it means the eight expressions of a heroine (in love ; śr̥ṅgāra) or eight kinds that constitutes a heroine or the eight avasthā (characteristic features) of a protagonist. The dynamic encapsulation of episodic expression is known as an abhinaya. The nāyikā thus expresses her amour in these eight ways towards her nāyaka (the hero). These expressions are performed in ways that are textually, traditionally indicated and are known in the dance parlance as hastābhinaya and āṅgikābhinaya. The hastābhinaya are the hand gestures that are convergence points of the body stances (rekhā) of a dancer. Āṅgikābhinya is the abhinaya done with the entire body or its specific part or parts which deduces as one entity to signify the expression. However, the aṣṭanāyikā are the personas and its abhinaya to denote these avasthā are multifarious in variety and innovation.
Human expressions and emotions are indeed vast and complex in nature. The actions and reactions of the human are to be organized in an orderly and cognizable manner if one desires to make an abhinaya episode of its theme and concept. The śāstra of Indian dancing has organized this in an able way by drawing least common factor in all abhinaya variations and emotive expressions and codified them to standard modes. It is interesting to note that such generalizations and codifications have travelled thought centuries and has stood its test of time. This was possible because of an important factor called ‘sampradāya’. The aṣṭanāyikā characterizations through dance (for the sake of this paper, Bharatanāṭyam) has imbibed this sampradāya and essentially remains true to the textual prescriptions. Dance (for the sake of this paper, Bharatanāṭyam) has imbibed this sampradāya and essentially remains true to the textual prescriptions. ‘prada’ means to give and the prelude of ‘saṃ’ makes it holistic. Thus sampradāya essentially signifies the modes and practices of the past handed over to the near future as a summation of all its past endeavors. It is also very interesting to notice that in this summation, the past contained subjects of pauranic yore and the abhinaya and nāyikā character depictions had ably acclimatized to it. But now, the pauranic contents have dwindled to make way for more contemporary themes and concepts. But then, the abhinaya techniques remain nearly the same as in the sampradāya technique. Thus the sampradāya seems to have codified its techniques more towards being human rather than being contemporary subject and concept oriented. In-between the two main modes; hastābhinaya and āṅgikābhinaya, the hastābhinaya (both in samyuta = conjoined and asamyuta = solitary) is more specific and limited in its depiction and purpose because of its physical manifestations, that is, limited by the ‘hand’. The āṅgikābhinaya is extensive and vast in its scope, for, the stances of the entire body of the dancer/actor takes on the meanings and purposes that are commonly felt and postured in its times and thus portrays it immediately in the dance/acting modes and lines. The aṣṭanāyika abhinaya takes both these modes into its considerations and the textual treatises on nāṭya have ensconced these adequately in all its wide and varied usages. Some traditional theaters in Indian dancing gives prominence to ‘mukhābhinaya’, the facial expressions. In recent times, more experimentations were done to accentuate the ‘aṅgabhāva’ – abhinaya from the body of the dancer/actor. Nr̥tta patterns in solfa passages were composed to depict an event or an avasthā. However, the sampradāya takes this too into its consideration and integrates this with the rest of the body in almost all the dance styles and traditions of India.
Aṣṭanāyika’s eight-fold classification is done based on the bhāva, the emotive expression. Bhāva’s chief purpose is to express śr̥ṅgāra, the amour/love. Among the nava-rasa (9) bhāvasr̥ṅgāra is primary and the other 8 are concomitants to it. Thus, the abhinaya for aṣṭanāyika is done in layers, as it were; the śr̥ṅgāra being the primary layer and the other 8 sub-serve the subject and theme.
The earliest and the most important authority in saṃskr̥ta dramaturgy is the Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni. The Heroine (nāyikā) is well described and discussed in this treatise, prior to and since then, many poetical and dramaturgical texts have delineated this in many hues and stories. Thus, a classification of these innumerable types had to be done to facilitate a common understanding and to appreciate all the varieties. Since Nāṭyaśāstra, many textual treatises on Music and dance have discussed and described the Nāyikā and their avasthā. Texts like Rasamañjarī of Bhānudatta (15th century), Daśarūpaka of Dhananjaya (10th century) and Bhāvaprakāśa of Śāradātanaya have become authentic sources to understand and appreciate nāyikābhāva in Indian dancing styles and traditions.

An extensive delineation of such texts and collated discussions of its content are indeed outside the limits of this present article. An essential description and their illustrations could serve the basic purpose of this writing.

Firstly, it is important to classify and understand the types of nāyikā. Bharata, in his nāṭyaśāsta enumerates them as Divine (nr̥pa patnī) wife of a king, woman of a good family (kulastrī) and the courtesan (gaṇikiā). These three are known as the heroines having different kinds of nature. Their nature is further delineated further as; dhīrā (self-controlled), lalitā (elegant), udāttā (exalted) and nibhr̥tā (quiet).
The heroine of a good family, the kulastrī are exalted and meek and thus they could be classified under udāttā and nibhr̥ta.
Gaṇikā and śilpakārikā are elegant (lalitā) and prone to exaltedness (abhyudāttā).

It is interesting to note that all the texts of dancing in the ancient India classify these based on one bhāva, that is, the śr̥ṅgāra – amour. The purpose of such śr̥ṅgāra is indeed a conjugal union with the Hero, the Lord. This signified purpose thus enabled to further classify the nāyikā as eight folds, each fold is multi-layered with innumerable combinations of situations and characterizations.

Bharata’s classification of these eight persona is now extensively appreciated, studied and innovated upon to arrive at all possible contemporary expressions. It is indeed a wonder that all possible tradition, modernity and contemporary experimentations take their based on his classifications. A brief mention can facilitate an elaborate illustration and discussions later in this article ;

  1. Vāsakasajja : the one dressed up for the union (with the hero)
  2. Virahotkanṭhitā : the one distressed by the separation (from her hero)
  3. Svādhīnabhartr̥kā : the one having her husband (hero) in subjugation
  4. Kalahāntaritā : the one separated by from her hero because of a quarrel
  5. Khaṅḍita : the one who is enraged with her lover hero
  6. Vipralabdhā : the one deceived by her lover hero
  7. Proṣitabhartr̥kā : the one whose hero is always on the tour (sojourning around and thus doesn’t have much time to spend and express his love)
  8. Abhisārikā : the one who moves towards her lover hero.

tÇ vasksJja c ivrhaeTki{Qtaip va ,
SvaxIn-ÇRuka caip klhaNtirtaip va .
oi{fta ivàBxa va twa àaei;t-ÇRuka ,
twai-sairka cEva }eyaSTvóaEtu naiyka> .

The Nāṭya is a representation of the state of three worlds that the Indian thought and philosophy enumerates. Bharatamuni has termed it as the ‘Bhāvānukīrtana’. Thus, the nāṭya is meant to represent the nature of the society in which it thrives and evolves ; vast the society vast is the nāṭya’s realm. Human variety, either vast or small, is always complex in its emotive expressions and innate moods. To ensconce all these mood and to bring an effective depiction of this mood to elevate it to an art experience, the texts had to classify the persona. Bharatamuni gives an universal classification for male and female characters. They are of three types :

  1. Uttama

  2. Madhyamā

  3. Adhama

This classification is taken by all most all later ālaṃkārikās (poets and aestheticians) when they had to deal with nāyaka (hero) and nāyikā (heroine).

​smastStu àk©itiSÇivxa pirkI©itRta ,
pué;a[amw SÇI[amuÄmaxm mXyma . (NŚ XXIV)

Bharata expands and describes the qualities of each of these categories. The uttama signifies superior qualities, madhyamā signifies a person of middle merit and adhama is the low one with very inferior qualities. Nāyaka, the hero is defined by Abhinavagupta, in his commentary on Nāṭyaśāstra says :

nyit àaPnaetIitìuÄ< )l< veit nayk> .

Hero is the main character of the story or the prasaṅga who leads the play and obtains the result at the end. Daśanipāka of Dhananjaya enlists the personality traits of nāyaka as :

neta ivnItae mxurSyahI d]> iày<vd> || r− laekZyuicvaRGmI raeFv—z> iSwrae yuva || buÏuTsah Sèuit à}aklaman smiNvt>|| zurae d«Fí tejSvI zaSÇc]uí xaimRk>.

nāyaka is virtuous, handsome, generous, able, soft, spoken, loved by everyone, pure, oratorical, born in a known family, stable, young, intelligent, inspiring, one who absorbs easily, adept, aesthetic, with self-esteem, courageous, strong in convictions, brilliant, having an eye for śāstra and righteous. Bharata further classifies nāyaka into four categories : the four kinds of nāyaka belong to the high and middle classes :

AÇ cTvar @vSyunaRyka> pirkIitRta> ,
mXymaeÄmà³utaE nana l][ali]ta> .
xIraeÏta xIrlilta xIraedaÄaStwEv c,
xIràzaNtkaScEv nayka> pirkIitRta> .

I now give the translation in its classification :

  1. Dhīroddhata : is represented by gods or divine characters

  2. Dhīralalita : by the kings

  3. Dhīrodāttā is represented by chieftain or minister

  4. Dhīrapraśānta is represented by brāhmaṇa or merchants (vaiśya)

Bharatamuni enlists eight sattvajālaṅkarās which are considered as sāttvika guṇās by Dhananjaya, Viśvanātha, Simhabhūpāla and others. A feeling or emotion that is experienced rom the concentrated mind is termed as sattva. Its expression is known as sāttvikābhinaya ( VII). Bhāvaprakāśa of Śāradātanaya mentions four kinds of nāyakas. They are : anukūladakṣiṇaśaṭhadhr̥śṭa. Bhānudatta in his Rasamanjari follows this classification. Sāhityadarpaṇa and Rasārṇavasudhākara also follow this classification. Further nāyakas are also classified as patipupapati and vaiśika in Rasamanjari and Rasārṇavasudhākara. Bhāvaprakāśa gives a total of fourtyeight varieties of nāyaka by taking four combinations in each of Dhīroddhata and Anukūla in computation with uttamamadhyamā  and adhama. In Rasamanjari, we find the first classification as patiupapati and vaiśika vis a vis anukūladakṣiṇadhr̥ṣṭa and śaṭha. There is also other classification called māni and catura : the proud and the intelligent. Here the catura is further sub-divided into vākcatura (clever vocation) and ceṣṭacatura (clever in action). Bhānudatta also deals with patiupapati and vaiśika under a different classification as proṣita patiproṣita upapati and proṣita vaiśikaProśita signifies when the nāyaka goes away from the nāyikā.

The above delineation on the various nāyaka classification is done with the intension of bringing a referential validity to the main subject of this paper, the nāyikā. Bharata applies the general rule and defines nāyikā as: uttama (superior heroine), madhyamā  (of middle merit) and adhama (of inferious charateristics). Bharata gives other classifications of nāyikā too as : divyā (a celestial woman), nr̥papathni (the princess or a queen), kulastrī (a woman of a noble family) and gaṇikā (a courtesan) :

idVyac ÜuppÆIc kulSÇI gi[ka twa. @taStu naiyka }eya nana à³uitl][a>. xIrac liltacSyadudaÄa inæuta twa. idVya raja¼naíEv gu[EyRu−a -viNt ih. %daÄa inæuta cEv -veÄu kulja¼na. lilteca-udaÄec gi[ka izLpkairke. ( XXIV)

Bharatamuni also gives three other classifications : bāhyā (a courtesan), ābhyantarā (wife) and bāhyābhyantarā (an erred wife). Later theorists have formulated the classification of nāyikā based on Bharata’s classification of nāyikā ; 1) svīyā, 2) prakīyā or anyā, and 3) sāmānyā or sādhāraṇā. Here svīyā has further classifications: a) mugdhā, b) madhyā, c) prauḍhā or pragalbhā. And then, madhyā and pragalbhā are further sub-classified as jyeṣṭhā and kaniṣṭhā. According to Śāradātanaya (bhāvaprakāśa), madhyā and pragalbhā have sub-varieties too : udāttālalitā and śāntā. Last but not the least, the famous Kāmasūtra of Vātsyāyana deals with classes of women in different perspective. He classifies them into: 1) padminī, 2) citriṇī, 3) śāṅkhiṇī and 4) hastinī. All these are based on the sexual aspect. There is yet another classification that Vātsyāyana gives on nāyikā : 1) kanyā, the maiden, 2) punarbhū the remarried and 3) veśyā the courtesan.
All treatises on dramaturgy deal with kanyā and veśyā but usually not with punarbhū except probably Bhoja. In four separate sections, Vātsyāyana also deals with kanyābhāryā paradāra and veśyā. Thus all these can be summarizes thus :

  1. Svīyā with 13 varieties

    • Mughdā

    • Madhyā

    • Pragalbhā

    • Jyeṣṭhā and Kaniṣṭhā under madhyā and pragalbhā (making 4 varieties)

    • Dhīrā and Adhīrā with Dhīrādhīrā under madhyā and pragalbhā (total of 6 varieties)

  2. Anyā or Parakīyā with 2 varieties : under this two sub classifications : ūḍhā and kanyā

  3. Sāmānyā or Sādhāraṇā with only one variety

All these bring the classification number to 16. These together represent the major varieties of nāyikā are accepted by almost all treatises including Rasamanjari and Rasārṇavasudhākara of Simhabhūpāla. It is also very interesting to note that Rudrabhaṭṭa in his Kāvyālaṅkāra (in chapter I) brings this number of nāyikās to 384! Had Bhānudatta agreed with the further classification of nāyikās with three main varieties of divyāadivyā and divyādivyā, this total would have risen to 1152 ! With the 16 types of heroines and their 8 different avasthās (condition, situation or states) we would then be computing it with 16 X 8 = 128 types of nāyikās. By classifying these 128 types of nāyikā under three categories of UttamaMadhyamā and Adhama, we would then get a total of 384 variety classifications. By classifying further under the three heads of DivyāAdivyā and Divyādivyā we get the 1152 types of nāyikās. I can exemplify : divyā in Indrāṇī (wife of Devendra), adivyā in Mālatī and Divyādivyā in Sīta the wife of Śrī Rāma. In nātya, the classification of nāyakā (hero) is based chiefly on their condition (avasthā). However, if we take their birth and other specifications too, they can be exemplified too : Indra as Divyā, Mādhava as Adivyā and Arjuna as Divyādivyā.
In this context, I would like to say a word about Mugdha Nāyikā: she cannot be classified under DhīraAdhīra because of lack of adequate knowledge and also these 8 classifications of aṣṭavidha nāyikā bhāvās do not apply. Nevertheless, by conforming to the ancient writings, these classifications are to be considered in the navoḍha nāyika, the newly married one.

I now give the eight kinds of nāyikā, the Aṣṭanāyikā, on which this paper basically has to concentrate.

  1. Vāsakasajja : this heroine is all agog about her hero and is in earnest dressed up condition. Indian dancing has a huge repertoire on this avasthā. The heroine is depicted as the one who is dressed up in waiting for the nāyaka to arrive or the one who is dressed up enough to enable the nāyaka to disrobe her for the union. Bharatanāṭyam repertoire of jāval̥īspadamaṣṭapadiśr̥ṅgārakīrtana abound in their number and varieties that portray this nāyikābhāvaVāsakasajja is also the item of choice for abhinaya by the nāṭyāṅganā, for, it has in its innate content possibility and opportunity to portray an element of grandeur and expertise. As a general practice and also as in the textual prescription this is portrayed as a heroine who is in eager anticipation of her love’s pleasure decorates herself joyfully in expectation of a fulfilling conjugal union (thus the word vāsaka) is due.

  2. Virahotkaṇṭhitā : this is a heroine who is distressed by the separation of her nāyaka. This type of nāyikā is also a huge favorite among dancing fraternity. Its usage is primarily seen in traditional dance items and it is also experimented on a wider scope on contemporary stage. The word can be viewed in two parts : viraha (pangs of separation) + utkaṇṭhita (a high pitched cry). The ‘ut’ means high and the kaṇṭha signifies the vocalization of the distress. There is a well-known tenet to signify the generality in between the (human) voice (śārīra) and (human) body (śarīra) : this sūtra is ‘śarīram śārīram’. Meaning ‘the voice is like its body’. The ‘ut’ is applied here to signify the outcry from the voice or voicing this outcry with the entire body. Thus the abhinaya to virahotkaṇṭhita is done for a higher pitched and higher octave musical phrases performed for an aṅgabhāva with stretched neck as the center of the body ‘rekhā’ (bodyline). There are innumerable dance performance items with this nāyikā bhāva which goes beyond the primary śr̥ṅgāra to the state of bhakti (devotion) as the primary layer in its utility and expression point. In general, it is portrayed as a heroine whose beloved does not turn-up (in due time / expected time or day) because of his preoccupation with many other engagements and thus makes her sad.

  3. Svādhīnabhartr̥kā : this nāyikā is the one whose husband is subjected to subjugation. Her nāyaka, the lover, is much sermonized by the nāyikā. Her love the nāyaka patiently listens to her and on many instances tries to console her. This nāyikā is also called as ‘svādhīnapatika’. ‘Svādhīna’ means the one who is under command and patika is the one who has done this to her ‘pati’ the husband/ lord / lover. This ‘pati’ or bhartr̥ is totally captivated by her love actions (surata) or by her beauty (saundarya). This nāyikā is generally portrayed as the heroine whose husband/lover/lord is captivated by her conduct as well as by love’s pleasure (surata) from her, stays by her side, and who has pleasing qualities, and thus the heroine has him under subjection. Traditionally this is represented in abhinaya (beaming face with pleasure towards the hero, having excess charm and physical beauty) and with āharya (gaudy and brilliant dresses and jewels).

  4. Kalahāntaritā : This is the heroine who is separated from her lover because she quarreled with him. The nāyaka (poor hapless one) has gone away because of this harangue. The nāyikā is very impatient for her lover who has gone away due to a quarrel or jealousy and does not return (immediately). Such a heroine is usually represented with an abhinaya portraying anxiety, sighs, lassitude, burning of heart, anguished conversations with her sakhī (friend), looking at herself with self-pity, weakness, depression, tears, appearance of anger, giving up the ornaments, refusing the soothing and cleansing cosmetic products, sorrow and weeping. This nāyikā, was indeed the choice of many performances of the yesteryears. ‘Kalaha’ means to quarrel and ‘antaritā’ means the one with this inclination. But the combination of these two is an emotive expression and a poetic word too.

  5. Khaṇḍitā : it portrays an enraged heroine. Here, khaṇḍa (as a part of the word) means ‘cut to the quick’. Here, the heroine is enraged because her lover/husband/lord/ beloved does not arrive at the designated time, for (the heroine is wont to believe), he might have had an extramarital affair, attached to another (inferior) female, does not come for the conjugal union as promised and is thus extremely enraged and perturbed. Such a nāyikā is represented by anxiety, sighs, lassitude, burning of heart (in an anguished manner), accusing conversations with friends (sakhī), self-pity with touchy behavior, expressions of weakness-depression-tears because of extreme anger, discards her ornaments (throws them sometimes) and sorrowful weeping.

  6. Vipralabdhā : This heroine is one whose lover does not come to her for a certain reason even when the female messenger was sent (by the heroine) to him (with messages of love and secretive enticing amour) and a tryst (for union) was made (agreed upon). This heroine feels deceived by the Hero. It is interesting to note here that the abhinaya of this heroine is done with all the characters of khaṇḍitakalahāntarita heroines but the movement modes are different in each of these. Vipralabdhā abhinaya is more in the ‘hurt’ mood and hence, the facial expressions and the body configure is stanched at this ‘hurt’ feeling.

  7. Proṣitabhartr̥ka (/patika) : this heroine is one whose husband / the beloved one / lord / lover is living abroad (separated by a huge geographical distance) on account of his various (essential) duties. This heroine is represented as wearing her hair hanging loose, and is depressed and in anticipation at the same time. The ‘hair hanging’ is indeed the most signifying characteristic portrayal of this nāyikā. Many ancient poetic drama and plays contain this character as its main heroine.

  8. Abhisārikā : she is the one who, due to love or infatuation is attracted to her lover and gives up modesty and goes (abhisaraṇa) to meet him. She is also shown as doing it secretively (the movement characterization portrays this). This heroine character is a highly depicted one and textual treatises discuss this in length with sub classification of the type of person she would be :

    1. The courtesan : While she moves towards her love, she is to have her body beautifully decorated with various (garish?) ornaments. She walks slowly (garvita) in company of her attendents (sakhī). While doing this she displays passion (sa-madanā) and joy (tuṣṭhi).

    2. Madhyamā : the woman from high family line. She covers her face with a veil, walks timidly with her limbs contracted and will often look back (with anxiety and doubt).

    3. The handmaid: the sakhī : a hand maid will walk with uneven steps (āviddha gati) and eyes beaming with amorous joy. She walks with disorientation because of intoxication (madaskhalita saṃlāpa).

Nāṭyaśāstra also enumerates the different situations and levels of meeting a lover, the conjugal union, behavior at the conjugal union, and more such situations are prescribed. Bharatamuni is indeed aware of the responsibilities towards the society and its behavioral modesty. Thus, he prescribes acts that are to be prohibited on the stage while depicting these characters. The ecstasy in characterization is to more to be a suggestive act rather than a physical manifestation or representation on the stage. Bharata forbids these physical actions : no ascending of the bed-stead, no bath, no use of unguents and coliseum, no decoration of the body and no handling of their breasts or hair. He also continues to mention that women of superior and middling types should not be shown as poorly draped (apārr̥lā) or wearing only one piece of garment (ekavastrā) and such characters should not use color for their lips!

Illustrations and tables appear in Pdf copy.