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In Bharatnatyam dance endless stories are depicted through pure dance and emoting by male and female characters. The male lead is the Nayak or the hero who can have various shades to his character. Nayika, the female lead, is also presented in her many moods and hues.

Before we go into the details of Nayak Nayika bheda in the repotire of Bharatnatyam dance, I would like to introduce the different types of Nayaka and Nayika in Bharatnatyam.

There are a few classifications of the Nayikas. The most common and popularly used classification based on Shringara, according to Abhinaya Darpanam, is the Ashtanayika as given below:

  1. Vasakasajjita: One who waits for her nayaka’s arrival, ready with all arrangements.
  2. Virahotkanthita: One who is disappointed because her nayaka has not come.
  3. Swadinapatika or Swadinabhartruta: One who is lucky to have a nayaka, who is always by her side and always listens to her.
  4. Vipralabdha: One who has been deceived by her nayaka.
  5. Kandita: One who is angry with her nayaka for having gone to the other woman. There are 3 kinds of kandita nayika:
  6. Dhirai: One who coolly punishes her nayaka.
  7. Atidhirai: One who cries and pleads with her nayaka.
  8. Dhiradhirai: One who fights with her nayaka.
  9. Kalahantarita: One who repents for having fought with her nayaka.
  10. Prositapatika: One who is feeling lonely because her nayaka has gone out on an errand.
  11. Abhisarika: One who stealthily goes out to meet her nayaka.


According to the Natyashastra, there are three categories of Nayakas:

  1. Uttama Nayaka – Pati (Uttama or Pathi)

He is the one who is faithful to his Nayika, or his married wife

  1. Madhyam Nayaka – Upapathi (Madhyam or Upapathi)

He is the one who has a wavering mind, and is capable of attracting other women to him

  1. Adhama Nayaka – Vaishikan (Adhama or Vaishikan)

He is the one who is unfaithful to his Nayika, and takes pride in throwing his money and buying a woman for his pleasure.

Like the Ashtanayika, the Nayakas too are classified according to their moods. They are:

  1. Anukoolan: One who never thinks of any woman other than his married wife, such as Lord Rama.
  2. Dakshinan: One who enjoys the company of all the women around him with equal affection. He is the Upapathi or Madhyama Nayaka.
  3. Dristan: One who commits a mistake, and inspite of being scorned by the Nayika, tries to pacify her and stays by her side.
  4. Sadan: One who deceives and cheats his Nayika.

Based on my experience as a Bharatnatyam dancer, I think there are multiple opportunities of Nayak Nayika Bheda in Bharatnatyam. Right from the beginning when a novice dancer starts to learn dance pieces such as Shabdams (where different characters are portrayed based on many Gods, like Krishna, Rama,  Kartik etc) to when they learn more complicated dance pieces like  Varnams, Ashtapadis and Javalis or Navarasa, dancers are trained to depict different kinds of Nayak and Nayika characters. They are trained in the nuances of Abhinaya and different ways of character transition, for both male and female. Most of the dance pieces show different Nayikas and Nayaks that are depicted by the dancer through use of different Shiro bhedas, Dhrishti Bhedas, Mandalbhedas, Sanyukta and Asanyukta Mudras etc.

Let us begin with a Sabdam, for example. The Krishna Sabdam, depicts the Lord as the Madhyama or Dakshinan Nayaka who is capable of attracting the attention of many women, in this case the Gopis along with Radha. In The Rama Sabdam, Lord Rama is an epitome of the Uttama Nayaka or Anukoolan Nayaka, who is faithful to his wife and does not have a wavering heart.

Speaking of Varnams, the love between a Nayika and her Nayaka is depicted with mostly the heroine in the role of a Virahotkanthita Nayika, the lover pining the separation of her beloved. She is the one who anxiously waits for his return. The performance takes us through her transition between many roles such as the Vasakkasajjita Nayika, who gets ready and makes all preparations in order to consummate her love. Her desperation and devotion for the Nayaka is deftly performed by dancers with many instances depicting their moods of love.

The Ashtapadis also depict the pining of Radha for her love, his acts of betrayal as the Sadan nayaka (who betrays her trust). Here the role of the Kanthita Nayika comes in ,where she could take upon the character of Dhirai Nayika ( the one who coolly punishes), Dti dhirai Nayika ( the one who cries and pleads with him) or Dhiradhirai Nayika( the one who fights with him). In turn, he also takes the role of the Dristan Nayaka, who despite having cheated on her, tries to pacify her.

Ashtapadis also depict intense love making moments between Radha and Krishna and detailed encounters of their union.

Some show the deep pain and anxiety of separation, thus exploiting the Virahotkanthita Nayika to the fullest.

Many Javalis depict the scorned nayika ( Vipralabdha or Kanthita Nayika) who has been deceived by her lover and has comprehensive interrogation sessions between the couple where the Nayika questions his behaviour of the past nights and identifies tell tale signs of his physical and emotional encounters with the other woman.

An example of Navarasa can also be observed. In the scene depicting Shringara Rasa (the rapture of love) between Lord Rama (Uttama Nayaka) and Sita (the Swiya Nayika), we see the dancer portraying both their roles through  different mudras , postures, expressions and eye movements.  A single dancer changes roles on the spot just by changing facial expressions, drishti bheda, body movements, postures and mudras to depict the interaction between man and woman.

There is an interesting observation that while the Nayaka is portrayed in all his forms, both positive and negative, the Nayika is rarely shown in a negative light. For example, songs or items depicting the Anya Sambhoga Dukkita Nayika(the sakhi who ends up enjoying the company of her friend’s lover and returns without him by giving lame excuses) or Parakiya Nayika (the married woman who enjoys the company of other men without the knowledge of her husband) are not as popular and not performed much in the traditional margam or repertoire. Perhaps it stems from the basic Hindu ideology of having stricter social codes of conduct for women and not glorifying them through the medium of fine arts. Nevertheless, all these characters have been essayed in great detail in the Natya Shastra , Abhinaya Darpanam and Abhinaya Sara Samputam,  written years ago.

Even the detailed love making scenes beautifully captured in Jaidev’s Geet Govind have faced much criticism and opposition by many, despite them being performed extensively still, for the many years.

Thus, in my opinion, there is sufficient evidence to say that there are multiple opportunities for displaying the Nayak and Nayika Bheda in Bharatnatyam dance. These are evident from literature, compositions, plays as well as poems which are an inherent part of the Bharatnatyam margam.


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