• affiliated with



Abhinaya is one of the most important aspects in Bharatnatyam. A Sanskrit term, Abhinaya means to educate, or lead the way towards the audience.
The Shloka of the Abhinaya Bhedas according to the Abhinaya Darpanam are described as under:

Aangiko Vaachikah tatwadaahaaryah saatwiko aparah
Chaturdhabhinaya tatra changiko- angaih nidarsitah
Vaachavirachitah kaavya naatakaadishu vaachikah
Aaharyo haarakeyura veshaadibhiralamkrtah
Saatwikah saattwikaih bhavaih bhavajnena vibhaavitah

The above shloka says that Abhinaya is four folds :-

  1. Aangikam includes the bodily movements, gestures, postures and actions.
  2. Vaachikam includes voice and speech which constitutes the kavyas and plays.
  3. Saatwikam includes emotional responses or the saatwika bhavas.
  4. Aaharyam includes decoration of the body with use of makeup, costumes, garlands etc.

Let us now discuss each of these in detail:-

    1. Aangikam Abhinaya: It is expressed by the bodily movements where the body becomes the sole medium of expression. It is classified into three major parts:
      • Anga: The six body parts included under it are head, hands, chest, sides (flanks), waist (hips) and feet. Some scholars include the neck too.
      • Upanga: The shoulders, eyes, eye brows, eye balls, chin, jaw, teeth, nose, lips and tongue constitute the Upangas.
      • Pratyanga: The six body parts namely the shoulder blades, arms, back, belly, thigh (calves too) and shanks are called as pratyangas. Some scholars have also added the wrists, elbows and knees to it.

Aangikam abhinayam can also be classified under the Desika Bhedam Aangikam in which it has four parts:-

    • Soochikam: Doing abhinayam using hands, legs and through words about the trees, plants, flowers etc. is soochikam.
    • Bhavaabhinayam: Bhava means to show expressions with the use of the head and eyes. Thus, showing any expression through the head and eyes is called bhavaabhinayam.
    • Thondam: Thondam is shown through the head, eyes, feet and hands.
    • Latchnikam
  1. Vaachikam Abhinaya: It constitutes the Kavyas (poems) and natakas (dramas) which are made up of speech. Therefore, vachika pertains to speeches and songs. The song is sung by the vocalist or the nattuvanaar, to which the dancer enacts mime. Earlier, the practice was to sing the padams while enacting it. But that order of talent is fast disappearing, as all dancers do not possess melodious voices. The vaachika is now transferred to the vocalist who sings the sahitya, or literary composition. The dancer interprets the songs, through gestures and bodily movements, to convey its essence. A perfect union is established between the song, the instrumental music and the mime performed by the dancer. Speech is eliminated in solo dance renderings, and the body is put to use, to express ideas, thoughts, feelings, and emotions, through mime and dance.
  2. Saatwikam Abhinayam: Sattwika Abhinaya is performed with the sattvika emotions by those who can represent then proficiently. It deals with the expression of psychic states, intimately associated with emotional conditions. A dancer registers on her face the appropriate expressions in keeping with the translation of the song, and creates the right mood. The eight sattvika conditions are as follows:
    • Motionless
    • Perspiration
    • Horrification
    • Change of voice
    • Change of colours
    • Trembling
    • Tears
    • Fainting

    In bharatnatyam, a range of emotions is expressed. It also uses the navarasa and expresses emotions through sthaayi and sanchaari bhava. While depicting the dominant emotion (sthayibhava), the dancer employs the technique of sancharis (spontaneous improvisations) to delineate the main mood. For example, while addressing her Great and beautiful Lord, she can weave stories of his greatness and a description of his beauty in many different ways. While depicting the shringara rasa, she can intensify it by showing transitory feelings of weakness, anxiety, shame, impatience, inconstancy and distress, longing, insanity, sickness, stupor etc. These methods make the item richer in terms of feelings and present to the audience an array of sentiments that challenge the dancer in terms of delivery and enrich the audience in terms of the visual appeal.

  3. Aharyam Abhinayam: Aharyam Abhinayam relates to costumes, jewellery and facial make up. A dancer wears a readymade stitched costume. The lower dhoti is stitched artistically. With a beautiful front cloth that opens like a fan. The upper garment is a choli with a davani. The traditional jewellery used is the head ornaments known as “tal saman”, the sun and moon diadems. There are necklaces, long and short, belt, bangles, rakudi, kunjalam and flowers on the head, namely orange and white. In Aharya Abhinayam, (other than make up, costume and jewellery), flags, riding equipment, accessories, sets and artificial decoration of scenes with creepers etc are also included. The three aspects of the decoration of scenes according to Bharat Muni is as follows:
    • Sandima: Includes cloth, skin, leather, mat or anything that can be threaded like garlands, beads etc.
    • Viyajima: Includes the use of machines.
    • Seshtima: Includes moveable furniture with wheels like a throne or simhaasana.

    Abhinaya also embraces two modes- Lokadharmi, the realistic and Natyadharmi, the conventional and stylised.
    In the lokadharmi mode, abhinaya has an instant appeal because of its closeness to ordinary life. It employs gestures that are natural and instinctive, ornaments that are in common use, and costumes familiar to everyday life. On the other hand, stylised hand gestures, movements of the eyes, conventional movements of the limbs, peculiar costumes, simulation of emotions and state of mind, fall into the category of natyadharmi. If the tears are to be shown, the dancer uses hand gestures to suggest the flow of tears, with appropriate expressions on the face. Representative gesticulation is used as a potent means of interpretation and expression. The principal of Natydharmi is strictly followed during the portrayal: the dancer impersonates the character and roles, without change of dress or costumes. As a matter of fact, Bharatnatyam employs the natyadharmi mode of abhinaya. In it lies the challenge to transcend the technique, conceal its operation, and explore the art of suggestion by investing the performance with a rare quality of subtle nuances, grace and beauty.
    The art of abhinaya flowers in varnams, padams, javalis and the compositions of Kshetrayya, Ghanam Sinayya, Subbarama Iyer, Swati Tirunaal, and Jayadev’s ashtapadis from the Geet Govind, the mystic-erotic poem are a favourite with the dancers.
    While saatwika abhinayam predominates in the natya, Aangikam abhinayam is main feature in nritta. Both sattwika and aangika abhinayam are equal in nritya. Aharyam means external or not own. From the point of view of the dancer, all the above four are not his own, they pertain to the character he is portraying. However, while the three abhinayas, ie, angika, vachika and sattwika are expressed through the body and the mind of the dancer, the makeup and costume are purely external and her efforts in this are minimal. That is why it alone is called ‘Aharya’- external. It can thus be concluded that all four kinds of abhinayam are essential for nrtya as well as natya and form the entire structure upon which dance exists.

Leave a Reply