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Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dancer. Happily married to Dileep Kannan. Daughter of Mr. E.M Haridas & Mrs. Girija Haridas. Daughter-in-law of Dr. K. P Kannan & Mrs. Shobhana Kannan

January 27, 2012

Facets of Indian Classical Dance - II: Parts of Abhinaya


ABHINAYA

Abhinaya is an integral part of all Indian Classical Dance Forms derived from the Natyashastra, which vary from compositions in praise of the lord to the portrayal of daily life. Abhinaya means “the art of expression”. It has been derived from the Sanskrit words Abhi (towards) & Nii (leading) - so it literally means leading towards i.e. leading the audience towards an emotion. To put it rather plainly, it is that aspect of dance where the dancer describes an incident or story or maybe just his/her mood to the audience through facial expressions, body movements, costumes and reaches out to the audience.

The 4 elements of Abhinaya according to the Natyashastra are:-
  1. Angikabhinaya- Relates to the movement of body and expressed by the movement of limbs including facial expression. This is again divided into three:
    • Mukhajam- Portraying expression through the face (Mukham).
    • Sharirakam- Expression through Karanas (Poses) and Angaharas (movement of the limbs)
    • Cheshta – Expression by Angas, Upangas and Prathyanagas
  2. Vachikabhinaya – Expressing through speech and music. It is mostly seen in dramas.
  3. Aharyabhinaya – Plays a secondary yet important role in dance. It is the usage of accessories by the dancer (costumes, ornaments, makeup) and the presentation (lighting, stage setting ) of the dance.
  4. Satvikabhinaya – It is the natural emotion conveyed to the spectators where the dancer produces expressions aesthetically and hence captures the audience interest. It consists of two elements i.e. Rasa and Bhava. These two are complementary to each other.
Characteristic Features of Abhinaya: Dharmi
  • Natyadharmi - This is the typical stage art where the performance is according to the rules of the Natyashastra i.e. the usage of impeccable & appropriate literature & music, attractive emotions, emulation of other characters and the usage of suitable costumes. E.g. Acting out pieces from mythology or history, showing something which is not in the vicinity etc. It can be likened to what is currently known as 'Method Acting'. The entire dance performance follows a systematic approach and encompasses the following:

    • Sadhana – Successful effort while practising
    • Prayoga – Practical application
    • Roopanishta – Accuracy of form
    • Shastra Niyama – Conformity to scientific principles
    • Sahitya Maulya – Literary Excellence
    • Rasaranjana – Emotional effects
    • Nada Madhurya – Musical Sweetness
    • Laya Soundarya – Beauty of time limits
    • Karana-Bhangi – Beauty of postures
    • Mudras - Beauty of the finger manipulations or hand gestures
    • Jnana-Vignana - Knowledge of the world
    • Angas & Upangas – Active use of limbs, facial expressions & body movements

  • Lokadharmi - This is the type of acting which does not follow any particular method. It can be likened to 'Spontaneous Acting'. It is the most natural form of acting or performing regardless of whether it is beautiful or repulsive. This kind of Abhinaya does not require any extra effort from one’s body movements or expression to make it look attractive. It is basically raw and shows the various behavioural patterns in human beings and gives preference to regional tastes.
Samanya Abhinaya


The graceful and harmonious coordination of the 4 types of Abhinaya is called as the Samanya Abhinaya. Out for the 4 abhinayas, it is the Sathvik Abhinaya which is most predominant. It is dependent on the situation and the usage of spontaneous emotive expressions like Romancha, Vepathu, Vaivarnya etc. It is divided into 3 according to the importance of Sathvika Abhinaya:

  1.  Uthkrishta (Highly important)
  2.  Madhyama (Medium level importance)
  3. Apakrishta ( Less important)
In the next chapter I shall explain the Navarasas.

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