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Abhinaya, a concept derived from the ancient texts of Natya Sashtra, is the art of expression. It plays an extremely important part in all classical dance forms of India be it Manipuri or Bharatnatyam. Originating from the Sanskrit word Abhi meaning towards, it actually translates into leading the audiences towards the experience or Bhav of the sentiment or Rasa. The original texts detail four kinds of Abhinayas; Vachika or the Expression of Speech, Angika or the Expression of limbs, Aharya or the Expression through costume and scene and Sattvika or True Expression of mind or emotion.

Aharya Abhinaya is expression or abhinaya through costume, make up, jewellery etc. worn according to the character or Patra depicted by the dancer. The lighting, sound, decoration of the stage, usage of props etc, all fall under Aharya abhinaya. Aharya abhinaya can be classified under two headings:

  1. Natyadharmi: Natyadharmi involves characterizing through conventional and idealistic dance and dance gestures.
  2. Lokadharmi: It is realistic dance or gestures that express one’s feelings or tell about some external objects. It includes wearing of ornaments and other accessories.

Like all other kinds of Abhinaya, Aharya abhinaya is an important part of bharatnatyam dance. However it becomes of special importance as without proper make up, costume and jewelry, the other abhinayas cannot be justly emoted and conveyed to the audiences.

The aharyam or attire should be appropriate according to the character being portrayed. For example, a king should have a crown, royal clothes, jewellery and a simhasana to sit on. Krishna should have flute, yellow attire, along with a peacock feathered crown. Shiva, the bairagi should have a tiger skinned dress, a crescent moon on his head, a nag around his neck, rudraksha mala, bhasm on his body and a neel kantha.

Similarly the settings sets should also be appropriate as per the script. For example, a forest scene should have a set with a backdrop of trees, creepers and shrubs. A royal court scene should be staged with a lavish set, a symbol of the kingdom or a flag, singhasana, etc. A village scene should have huts, mud houses, wells etc. Animals and birds should be dressed in a proper costume, head gear, wings and plumes.

According to Bharat Muni, the three aspects of the decoration of the scenes are as follows:

  1. Sandima: The use of cloth, leather skin, mats, or things which can be threaded like jewellery, beads etc.
  2. Viyajima: The use of machines and equipment.
  3. Seshtima: The use of moveable furniture, for example, Singhasanas, backdrops, scenes etc.

Therefore, even though the dancer uses the angika, vachika, sattvika emotions to the best of her abilities, the Aharya abhinayam goes a long way in making the dance, especially dance-dramas, more effective and accentuates the performance of the artiste. Aharya abhimnayam not only contribute in narrating the story and highlighting the characters but also enhancing each scene or dance piece thereby enriching the experience of the audience in a Bharatnatyam dance recital.

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