Abhinaya and Classical Dance of India
Abhinaya is a concept derived from Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra. It is related to dance and drama. It is the art of expression which leads the spectators to rasa (sentiments). Abhinaya is a part of dramatic classical dance styles. They feature mimetic aspects of certain compositions. The types of Abhinaya are as follows.
Bharata classifies abhinaya under four heads: vak, sattva, anga and aharya. These four ingredients of abhinaya create four types of abhinaya viz.
- Vachika abhinaya
- Sattvika abhinaya
- Angika abhinaya:
- Aharya abhinaya
Vagaabhinaya is concerned with speech and dialogues. It is in this context that Bharata talks of poetry and its different embellishments.
Angika abhinaya is concerned with bodily movements and facial expressions. Speech acts are related to Vachika abhinaya. Sattvika abhinaya is more difficult. Good actors are able to produce facial changes without any artificial aid. Aharya abhinaya is connected with the green room. It is related to costumes, prompting, make-up, drapery etc. It is not directly connected with acting.
Natyadharmi abhinaya is poetic and stylistic. It follows codified manner of presenting emotions and expressions on the stage. Sokadharmi is the opposite of the former. It is realistic and unstylistic. In Angika abhinaya, expressions are presented through gestures and movements of limbs. It also includes facial expressions. Angika abhinaya can be padartha abhinaya in which each word of the lyric is delineated vakyartha abhinaya presents the entire stanza or a sentence through acting. Vachika abhinaya presents the entire stanza or a sentence through acting. Vachika abhinaya is overtly used in drama and in music too. Traces of vachika abhinaya are preserved in Kuchipudi and Melattur style of Bharatanatyam. Kerala has still preserved art forms which have Vachika abhinaya as dominant component.
Aharya abhinaya include costumes, physical decoration of actors as well as of the stage. In these dance dramas, costumes and make-up characterize sex, race, sect, class or social positions of the characters. Aharya abhinaya is quite prominent in Kathakali where there are totally different dress and make for different types of characters. Good characters have green make up. Demons are painted differently with red nose.
Sattvika abhinaya is often confused with facial expressions. In fact, it is a mental message. Emotion or image are communicated through performing of inner emotions. Examples of Sattvika abhinaya are motionlessness, perspiration, goose bumps, and change of voice, trembling, change of colours, bursting into tears, fainting and on.
Bharatamuni enunciated eight rasas in his famous treatise Natyasastra. According to him, each rasa has a presiding deity and specific colour. Let us understand these rasa with the help of the following table:
|Santa||Peace, Calm||Vishnu||Perpetual White|
*Santa rasa was later added after between 6th to 10th centuries after a lot debate and discussion. Abhinavagupta called it a string of jewelled necklace.
The theory of rasas still forms the aesthetic underpinnings of all Indian classical dance styles like Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuram, Kudiyattam, Kathakali etc. To express rasa in classical Indian dance form is referred to as Raja- abhinaya. The expressions used in Kudiyattam or Kathakali are exaggerated theatrical expressions.
Types of Classical Dance in India
Dance is an ancient and celebrated cultural tradition of India. Various classical dance forms use mudras (signs/ gestures) as the language of expression. They were originally performed in the temples to entertain gods and goddesses. They effectively presented famous mythological stories of India. Eventually, it became the part of Bharata’s Natyasastra who was the first great sage to compile and form the laws regulating various art forms. Let us briefly look at major classical dance forms of India.
- Bharatanatyam (Tamil Nadu)
It is the celebrated dance form of Tamil Nadu in South India. It traces its origins back to Natyasastra of sage Bharata. Originally, a temple dance of women, it is used to express the Hindu religious stories and devotion.
- Kathakali (Kerala)
Kathakali comes from the South Western India around Kerala. It is also a religious dance which draws inspiration from the great Indian epics: The Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It also retells the Shaiva traditional stories. In Kathakali, even the female roles are played by men. The costumes and make-up are exaggerated and elaborate. There is a use of painted masks and enormous head dresses. It is accompanied by the beating of the drums.
- Kathak (Uttar Pradesh)
It is Northern Indian dance form. It is often called the dance form of love. It is performed both by men and women. The movements include intricate footwork accented by ghungharoo (string of bells) tied round the ankles. There are stylized gestures adapted from normal body language. The word Kathak indicates story-telling. It originated from the art of story-telling that used the mixture of dance, song and drama. It also began as a temple dance but soon moved into the courts of the ruling houses. During the medieval period, it was patronized by Persian and Muslim Moghuls. Thus it did combine the elements of Hindu and Muslim culture, Wajid Alishah of Lucknow encouraged it immensely.
- Manipuri (Manipur)
Manipuri comes from Manipur in Northern Eastern India. It has its roots in the state’s folk traditions and rituals. It often depicts scenes from the life of Lord Krishna. Manipuri is characterized by smooth and graceful movements. Female roles are fluid in arms and hands. Male roles have more forceful movements. It is accompanied by narrative chanting or choral singing.
- Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh)
Unlike other dance forms, Kuchipudi requires the talent in both singing and dancing. It is from Andhra Pradesh in South Eastern India. It is highly ritualized with formalized singing, dancing, sprinkling of holy water and incense burning. Traditionally, it was performed by men but now it is predominantly performed by women.
- Odissi (Odisha)
Odissi comes from Odisa in Eastern India. It is the dancing style of women which replicate postures in temple sculptures. It is based on archaeological findings. It is believed to be one of the oldest surviving Indian classical dance forms. It is complex dance forms with over fifty mudras (symbolic hand gestures).
- Mohiniattam (Kerala)
It is also a classical dance form from Kerala. The word ‘Mohiniattam’ is derived form Mohini (beautiful woman) and ‘attam’ (dance). Thus, it is the dance form depicting feminine beauty with magical flow of bodily movements. It developed in the tradition of Devadasi system which later grew and attained the status of a classical dance.
- Sattriya (Assam)
Sattriya is a dance drama form which originates in the Krishna-centered Vaishnavism monasteries (sattras) of Assam. It is attributed to the 15th century Bhakti movement scholar and saint Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev. The major theme related Lord Krishna, sometimes other Vishnu avatars such as Rama and Sita and stories from the epic Mahabharata. Sattriya is strictly governed by laid down principles in respect of hastamudras, footwork, aharyas, music etc.