The Heroines or the Nayikas in Indian classical dance are divided into 8 according to their emotions or states in relation to situation with their Hero or Nayaka. Hence the name Ashtanayika where Ashta means 8. The Natya Shastra describes the nayikas in the following order: Vasakasajja, Virahotkanthita, Svadhinabhartruka, Kalahantarita, Khandita, Vipralabdha, Proshitabhartruka and Abhisarika.
The Nayikas are also associated with the two types of the shringara rasa (the rasa related to love) - Sambhoga (love in meeting) and Vipralambha (love in separation). Vasakasajja, Svadhinabhartruka and Abhisarika are associated with Sambhoga while the others are linked to Vipralambha. In the Shringara Prakasha, Bhoja relates the various nayakas and nayikas with musical ragas and raginis (a female raga). Somanatha's Ragavibodha (c. 1609) and Damodara's Sangitadarpana (c. 1625) continue this trend. The Nayikas are:
- Vasakasajja (One adorned for union) – Here the Nayika is waiting for her hero to return from his journey and she in accordance with the occasion, dresses up beautifully and decorates her abode, especially her bedroom chambers to welcome her lord.
2. Virahonkhanditha (One anguished by separation) – The Nayika is pining for her lover who has still not come back to her. She is completely distressed at the absence of her lover who is yet to return from his journey. She is demonstrative about her suffering and cannot bear to see happiness around her till her lover returns. Tears are her constant companion.
Ragas associated - Mukhari, Pauravi, Todi & Phalamanjari
3. Svadhinabhartruka (One who is proud of her lord) - This Nayika is loved very much by her lover. She enjoys everything around her. She loves to travel and have fun. She is generally satisfied about the way her life is going.
Ragas associated - Malashri, Travanika, Ramakriti, Jaitashri & Purvi
4. Kalahantharitha (One who repents after a quarrel) – This Nayika has fought with her lover and is now repenting about the same as she is separated from her lover. In sudden anger and in arrogance, she rejected her lover and is now deeply regrets it. She is generally restive.
Ragas associated - Sankarabharam & Varati
5. Khanditha (One who is angry with her lover) – This Nayika is distressed and very angry with her lover for his infidelity. She is very rude in her behaviour towards him.
Ragas associated – Hamsanandi
6.Vipralabdha (One who feels deceived by her lover) -The Nayika feels betrayed and hence is upset ,irritated, swooning, tearful and the like.
Ragas associated - Mohanam, Hamsanandi & Velavati
7. Proshitabhartruka (One who is missing her lover) – The Nayika is missing her lover who has gone for a trip and hence is sad due to the temporary separation.
Ragas associated – Dhanasri & Kambhoji
8. Abhisarika (One who goes in search of her lover) - The Nayika here is very bold and has no qualms in going in search of her lover. She pursues her lover relentlessly. She is smart, daring & nonchalant.
Ragas associated – Bahuli & Saurashtri
These are the 8 Nayikas in Indian Classical Dance. Earlier, it was said that the Kalahantharitha, Khanditha and Abhisarika Nayikas did not have a place in Mohiniyattam. This could be maybe because back then Malayali women were considered to be docile and not aggressive. But now Mohiniyattam dancers have started to explore and choreograph items depicting all the 8 Nayikas. These feelings of these heroines are all associated with their respective heroes or Nayakas.
The Nayakas are divided into 4 according to their overall character or nature:
- Dheerodaatta – He is the ideal man who’s brave, confident, determined and disciplined, yet down to earth. E.g. Sri Rama
- Dheerodhathan – He is brave and self-controlled but very egotistical, very hot-tempered and deceitful. E.g. Ravana.
- Dheeralalitha – He is brave yet always very cheerful and pleasant. E.g. Sri Krishna
- Dheerashanta – He is pure at heart, confident, and passionate. E.g. Lord Buddha