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The term ‘Abhinaya’ is usually interpreted as ‘acting’. According to Bharata, in the Natyasastra, this is incorrect, for ‘Abhi’ means ‘towards’ and ‘ni’ means ‘to carry’. This denotes the meaning of the play or act which is carried towards the audience. Therefore, the words (vachika), with physical gestures (angika) to suit the emotion (sattva), along with costumes and make-up (Aaharya) constitute Abhinaya.

Amongst the many forms of Abhinaya described in the NS, a special place is ascribed to Samanya abhinaya or balanced abhinaya described as a combination of speech, bodily movements and natural grace born of inner spirit. It is specific to the enactment of Love and desire and explores the ‘kama’ aspect.

Another form of Abhinaya is the use of the body to represent pictorially moods, material and non- material objects. This is known as Chitrabhinaya.

Samanya Abhinaya and Chitra Abhinaya are two terms used in many classical Dance forms and refer to the general or basic expressions used in Indian classical dance, as described in the Natya Sastra. They include facial expressions, hand gestures, body movements and footwork. Samanya Abhinaya is portrayed for conveying the essence of a character in love with respect to their facials and physical nuances as well as modes of speech and most importantly, Sattva (emotions). Chitra Abhinaya, on the other hand, involves more intricate expressions, movements, and gestures specific to a character or even a situation. These are laid down separately as they are not covered under the angika abhinaya.

Saamaanya Abhinaya
Bharata gives a detailed account of Saamaanya Abhinaya in Chapter 24 of the Natyasastra. According to him, a well-balanced form of abhinaya can be explained as a perfect amalgamation of speech, bodily movements and natural grace born of inner spirit. Saamaanya Abhinaya should originate from words, gestures, and Sattva. The performer should emphasize more on Sattva as it is the basis of a dramatic production.

The Bhava (feelings), Haava (feeling and its natural expression) and Hela(graceful expression of feeling-Passion)- all originate from each other as they are different shades of the Sattva. To understand this better, it is imperative to note that Haava (natural expression) and Hela (graceful expression) are mutually dependent and belong to the body. The emotion originates from the body and instantly is followed by expression which is also accompanied by grace. The Bhaava in synchronisation with words and gestures creates an impact on the audience to feel deeply. When extreme emotion is missing between members of the same gender, it is called Haava. But in the example of the intense emotion felt between a man and a woman, the feeling or bhava rooted in the depths of the mind finds expression with alterations in the movements of the neck, eyes etc. These subtle changes when accompanied with grace are called Hela.

This internal state of the personality is crucial to have a successful production with actors justifying their roles and displaying their abhinaya successfully to the audience. That is the reason Bharat does not call it Sattvika Abhinaya, but Saamaanya Abhinaya because it also involves the mind -body relationship which then triggers the involuntary reflection of the physical states. He describes many personality types and draws attention to the body, mind, senses, feelings, and consciousness. The world of Kama or desire is explored in detail.

There are 10 natural graces of women, 8 aspects of male temperament and 12 ways of showing Vaachika Abhinaya with proper Bhavas and Rasas in connection with the subject matter of the plays.


The 10 natural and involuntary graces of women are as follows:

  1. Leela- Inspired by her love for her man, the woman imitates her lover by means of his words, gestures and costumes. These words might have double meanings and gestures are graceful.
  2. Vilaasa- A particular graceful change might be made in sitting, standing, or walking postures or with hands, eyes and eye- brows.
  3. Vicchitti- The grace that greatly adds to her charm which arises with slightly careless wearing of her clothes, garlands, ornaments. Unguents etc.
  4. Vibhrama- Due to confusion, intoxication or extreme joy, her movements and gestures become exaggerated.
  5. Kila-Kinchita- Due to the excitement of joy, her smiles, laughter, tears, fear, sorrow, vanity, fatigue, desire etc. are mixed up.
  6. Mottaayita- By talking about her lover and mimicking him, a woman, with her silent looks, expresses that her love has been returned.
  7. Kuttamita- Although inwardly she is pleased with her lover touching her hair, breast. Lips etc. she fakes displeasure.
  8. Bibboka- She expresses her indifference through a sense of pride and self-respect, after getting her desires fulfilled.
  9. Lalita- making graceful gestures of hands and feet with brows knitted.
  10. Vihrita- Under pretext, or by nature, when a woman does not speak even when spoken to.

The 8 acting emotions of a man are as follows-

  1. Sobhaa- Skill, energy, bravery, contempt for mean things and emulating best qualities.
  2. Vilaasa- A bold, heroic look in his eyes with a gait that of a bull and speaking with a smile.
  3. Maadhurya- Whatever the situation, by understanding the reasons, he is firm.
  4. Sthairya- Regardless of the consequences being good or bad, he sticks to the ways of dharma, arth and kaama (all three convey a sense of duty).
  5. Gaambheerya- He has no change of expression whether in anger, sorrow or fear.
  6. Lalita- When in love, he is feeling, without deliberateness, tender and charming.
  7. Audaarya- He is charitable and large-hearted and has sweet words towards friends and enemies.
  8. Tejas- Even at the risk of his own life, he does not tolerate humiliation and insult by others.

The acting displayed by the body also has 6 types:

  1. Vakya: Reciting Sanskrit or Prakrit sentences to express Rasa and Bhava.
  2. Soocha: Before uttering a sentence, the person first mimics the meaning of the sentence with gestures and emotions.
  3. Ankura: The clever display of the inner meaning shown by gestures as in soocha.
  4. Shaakhaa: When the expression is made in a specific order by starting with the head, followed by the face, shanks, thighs, hands and feet as if the movements are like Branches. Hence, the name Shaakhaa.
  5. Naatyaayita: Whether in jubilance, annoyance or grief, when gesture acting is used to delight the audience at the time of the entry of characters, accompanied by Dhruva songs bearing different Rasas and Bhavas.
  6. Nivrittyaankura: The enactment of another person’s words acted through soocha.

“Dhruva” and “soocha” suggest that all the above six actions are concerned with dance much more than drama.

The 12 forms of verbal representation are as follows-

  1. Aalaapa- Hailing or accosting.
  2. Pralaapa- Talking nonsense.
  3. Vilaapa- Lamenting in sorrow or grief.
  4. Anulaapa- Repeating the same thing.
  5. Samlaapa- Dialogue
  6. Apalaapa- Denial of what has been said.
  7. Sandesha- ‘tell him this’- sending a message like this.
  8. Atidesha- Eg., “you said only what I had said”.
  9. Nirdesha- Eg., “It is the same I” (who said this or that)
  10. Vyaapadesha- Saying something as a pretext.
  11. Upadesha- Eg., “Do this” or “Take this”.
  12. Apadesha- Saying something on behalf of another.

Hence, we observe that the outward manifestations of grace divided equally between body and mind, both in respect of men and women, combined with the expressions of the body, adding the harmonious involvement of Vachika Abhinaya accompanied with proper Rasa and Bhava together, create the necessary atmosphere for perfect Saamaanya Abhinaya.

Chitra abhinaya
Bharata gives a detailed account of Chitra Abhinaya in Chapter 26 of the Natya Shastra. According to him, the utilisation of the body to express moods, material and non- material objects in a pictorial representation is Chitra Abhinaya. There are some aspects of the Angika Abhinaya which loosely come under the umbrella of “expression of miscellaneous ideas or things”- these are dealt with in Chitra abhinaya. The speciality of representing through Gestures, things which occur from time to time, but have not been mentioned before, when listed in different ways, is known as the Varied Representation (citrābhinaya). It deals with aspects of actual imitation of people and their behaviour.

Chitra abhinaya can be shown in many ways. Some examples are listed below:

1. Gestures for natural phenomena: Shlokas 2 -8
Describe the parts of the day like morning, evening, day or night. Seasons, dark clouds, big stars and many such things which are far and fixed in their positions are indicated with swastika gesture, the head held in udvahitam (head thrown up towards the sky) and eyes looking up or far away. In the same gesture, if eyes look down, it indicates things on the ground.

Gestures of touch and thrill are utilised to show wind, smell, taste and moonlight. The use of a cloth for covering the face might be suggestive of representing a storm, dust or even smoke.

To show heat or hot ground the dancer may display the search for a shady place. Looking up with half-shut eyes might represent the scorching mid-day sun.

2. Indicating pleasant or unpleasant: Shlokas 9-11
Indicate happiness or pleasant feelings by touching one’s own limbs and expressing the thrill felt through the body. Harsh or unpleasant experiences are expressed through the contraction of the body. Indication of noble objects or persons requires strength and grace in the gestures.

3. Gestures for garlands, visible and audible objects: Shloka 12-18
By placing the hands in Arala on the left shoulder, and then separating them in swastika, necklaces and garlands can be shown. By moving the index finger and pressing the alapallava hand, “entirety” can be shown. By pointing to the ear, we can express listening. By the look and movement of the eyes and head we can convey speaking to self or others and even the distance between the two people.

The look of shock or fear can also convey thunder, lightning, shooting stars etc.

Preying animals like lion, bear, monkey, tiger etc can be shown with padmakosha hasta downwards in Swastikam.

Tripataka and swastika hands should be held while touching the feet of superiors. A goad or a whip in hand is to be shown by Swastika and Kataka Hands.

4. Gestures for numbers: Shloka 19-22
From 1 to 10 the numbers are shown by fingers. Multiples of 10(like 100’s) are shown by both hands in pataka. Usually, any number above 10 is indicated by speech or in some other way.

5. Gestures for banners, memory, past etc: Shloka 23-26
Umbrellas and banners are shown by holding the staff in the hands. Weapons are shown by the way they are wielded. A look of rapt attention, head slightly bent, eyes looking down and the hands in sandamsa indicate attempts to remember. With the hands on the right side in hamsapaksha and head in udvaahitam, heights are represented. With Arala hasta raised to the side of the head, fatigue, destruction, and termination are conveyed.

6. Gestures for seasons: Shloka 27-42

With all limbs relaxed, autumn is shown. Winter is shown by contracting the body or seeking the warmth of the sun. Severe winters are shown by touching gestures, suggesting a cold wind or drinking wine. Spring is shown by rejoicing gestures, blossoming of flowers and festive occasions. Summer is expressed by suggesting the heat of the ground, wiping off sweat, fanning self. Rainy season is portrayed by flowers, grass, and peacocks.

It is important to note that seasons as a rule should be indicated by appropriate costume, activity etc. Also, seasons reflect the mental state of the character. So, they must be emoted through the circumstances the character is going through. For Example, the spring season is joyful and erotic when the nayika is with her lover. But the very same season can be a reason for intense pain of separation for her when she is not with her lover. So, the Vibhava, Anubhav and bhava should be appropriately expressed.

7. Natural postures of man and women: Shloka 43-48
The posture for men is usually in Vaishnavam. Their gesture should be bold and graceful with feet and hands deliberate and firm. For women, the posture is Ayata or avahitta. They should be delicate and charming with graceful feet and hands.

8. Anubhavas of men and women: 49-63

A man shows joy by hugging himself, with smiling eyes and very few words. A woman shows joy with a sudden thrill, closes her eyes full of gushing tears and bears a loving attitude.

A man shows anger with upturned red eyes, breathes hard, bites his lips and his whole body shakes with agitation. A woman shows anger with teary eyes, trembling chin, lips quivering, head shaking, eyebrows knit, dripping eye make-up, cracking her fingers, discarding garlands and ornaments and assuming ayata posture.

A man shows sorrow by breathing deeply and silently, sighing, being moody, downcast face, and speaking to the sky. A woman shows sorrow by weeping, sighing, beating her breasts, falling on the ground, and dashing against a wall or ground. Crying, be it in sorrow, jealousy, or sorrow, should be acted only by women or inferior characters.

A man shows fear by looking restless, bewildered, by dropping his weapons. It may be noted that there should be no indication of panic. A woman when in fear shakes her limbs, looks to different sides either for an enemy or someone who would rescue her and her heart beats faster. She might weep loudly or cling to anyone near her.

An intoxicated woman walks in soft faltering steps. She puts out her hand into empty space as if to reach out for support with eyes rolling. She also mumbles inaudible words.

There are many more ways to express and create the impression of various other birds, animals, inanimate objects, worship of Gods, states of people- both mental and physical, which can be aptly portrayed through Chitra Abhinaya. The actor must deftly emote using the body and speech and attain the necessary imagery to be able to portray it convincingly to the audience. He should be able to create the scenery in such a way that the audience can absorb every emotion and enjoy the performance completely.

In conclusion, the Harmonious Representation (Sāmānyābhinaya) is known to depend on Words and Gestures. In portraying these, one should take special care about the Sattva, for the dramatic production has this as its basis. The Histrionic Representation with an exuberant Sattva is superior, the one with the level Sattva is middling, and that with no [exercise of] Sattva is inferior. Sattva is something invisible; but it gives support to Psychological States and Sentiments by means of horripilation, tears and similar other sighs displayed in proper places and in harmony with the Sentiments. Samanya Abhinaya is specific to the passionate relationship between man and woman and deals particularly with Kama or desire of union resulting from deep love.

Varied representation or Chitra Abhinaya is the speciality in the representation through Gestures and the like, which occurs from time to time, but has not been mentioned [before] when stated in diverse ways. It is a crucial aspect of Indian dance involving the use of physical and emotional gestures to create subtle variations in expressions of or essence of stories and situations. It is a vital component of Indian classical dance, and mastering this technique requires years of practice and dedication.

In short, the Samanya Abhinaya and Chitrabhinaya allow the dancer to convey a wide range of emotions and human behaviour in attempting to bring to life the stories they are telling.


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