Abhinayam literally means “expression or communicating a message”. It takes its name from the Sanskrit words Abhi which means “to or towards” and Ni which means “to lead”. Abhinayam is thus having the meaning “to lead” (the performer and audience towards a state of being or feeling called the Satvika bhavam).

Aasyenaalambayeth Geetham
Hastenaartham Pradarshayeth
Chakshurbhyam Darshayeth Bhavam
Paadabhyam Taalamaachareth

Which means the dancer should sing with her mouth, express the meaning of the song by hand gestures, express with her eyes and dance to the rhythm with her feet.

There are four types of Abhinayam:
• Aangika Abhinaya
• Vachika Abhinaya
• Ahaarya Abhinaya and
• Saatvika Abhinaya
Aangika abhinaya is the expression with the help of the various body parts Angas, pratyangas and upangas. Vaachika Abhinaya is the language of expression through words and literature. Aaharya abhinaya is the expression through decorations like make up, costumes and jewellery. Saatvika abhinaya is the expression of the mental states and feelings. Lord Siva is praised as the embodiment of these four types of Abhinaya in the following sloka:
Aangikam Bhuvanam Yasya
Vaachikam Sarva vaangmayam
Ahaaryam Chandra Taraadi
Tum Numa Saatvikam Sivam

which means “We bow to him the benevolent one wWhose limbs are the entire universe itself, His speech being the essence of all languages, His ornaments being the moon and the stars”.

The various bhedas (Shiro bheda, Greeva bheda, Drishti bheda etc) and the hasta mudras are the medias of Aangika abhinaya. Apart from these, the movements and gestures of the chest, hips, Sides and Feet are also ways of doing aangika abhinaya. The various postures of the chest are:

• Abhunga – Covered or caved in. In this the shoulders are drooped down, arms are loosely held and the back is naturally arched backward to show agitation, fear, sorrow, cold, rail falling etc.
• Nirbhunga – In this the breath is drawn in so that the chest expand and the back curves inward showing courage, speaking the truth, arrogance, overconfidence, affected indifference by women etc.
• Prakampita – In this the chest trembles due to repeated jumps.
• Udvahita – The position of the chest while taking deep breath, seeing long distance or yawning
• Sama – When all lims are held upright the position of chest is called Sama.

The various postures of the sides are:

• Nata
• Sammunnatha
• Prasaritha
• Vivartita
• Apasrta

The various postures of the hips are:

• Chinakati
• Nivrtta kati
• Recita kati
• Kaupita kati
• Valvokita kati

The various postures of the foot are:

• Udghathitha – standing on the toes
• Sama – feet placed together
• Agratalasanchara – all the toes except the big one are spread out and raise the heel
• Anchita – heel is kept on the ground and front part is lifted up
• Kunchita – heel is raised and toes are folded into the middle of the foot.
Udghathitham Samam chaiva Tathaa
Agratalasanchara anchita kunchitaschaiva
Suchi paada prakeerthitha

Nose (Quivering, flinched, drawn back breathing, distended and normal), cheeks (sunken, fully blown, puffed up, swallow, throbbing & normal), lips (Curled, quivering, extended sideways, compressed, biting & pouting) and chin movements also become part of the aangika abhinaya.

The aim of a Bharatanatyam dancer is to express the various kinds of human feelings through abhinaya. Anything that is beautiful or ugly, dreadful or pleasing, good or bad, object or non object, living or non living, celestial or non celestial could be transformed into Rasa by the imagination of the poet which in turn is replicated by the Bharatanatyam dancer.

In Natyasastra, Rasa is mentioned as something that can be relished (enjoyed) like the taste of food.

Rasayatae anena iti rasaha

Rasa is the essence of human feelings that evolve out from different mental states and situations. According to sage Bharata the author of Natyasastra, these principal human feelings are eight in number (Explained below). But Abhinavagupta made it clear that there is one common rasa that underlies all the other eight rasa from which all those rasas emanate and resolving back into it and he named it as the Shantha rasa. Shantha is a state where your mind is at rest or we can say that your mind is in a state of tranquility. Following this, the theory of nine rasas, the nava rasa became universally accepted.

The rasa is conveyed to the audience (rasika) through music and abinaya. The modes of expression of rasa are called the bhavas. Hence we can say that bhava is the portrayal of the emotions or rasa and they compliment each other.Rasa is the essence conveyed through bhava. It is therefore said that bhava is that which becomes. (bhoo bhav ie; to become). Bhava becomes rasa not the other way.

There are three states of these Rasas which are the Vibhava (the cause of the emotion), Anubhava (the effect of the emotion accompanied by words, gestures and facial expressions) and the Sanchari bhava (subordinate emotions).

The three categories of bhava are Sthayi Bhava, Vyabhikari Bhava (voluntary bhavas) and Sathvika Bhava. There are 8 sthayi bhavas, 33 vyabhikari bhavas and 8 sathvika bhavas. Thus we can end up in saying that there are altogether 49 bhavas which become the source of expression.

The 8 sthayi bhavas are the 8 rasas. The nineth Bhava which is the Shantham is incorporated by Abhinavagupta in his famous narration of the Natyashastra called Abninavabharati. Thus the mostly known primary emotions that come across in a bharatanatyam dance or any other dance are well known as the Nava Rasa (Nine emotions) or Sthayi Bhavas. They are the following:

• Shringaram – Love
• Hasyam – Humor
• Veeram – Heroism
• Rowdram – Anger
• Bhayanakam – Fearful
• Bheebhatsam – Disgusting
• Adhbhutam – Wonder
• Karunam – Compassion
• Shantham -peace

The 33 Vyabhikari bhavas are listed below:

• Nirveda – Poverty, disease, insult, humiliation, abuse, anger etc
• Gthani – Emptiness, illness, starvation, anxiety, intoxication, heavy exercise etc
• Shanka – Doubting, robbing, offending authorities like King, commiting sin etc
• Asooya – Jealous, hatred for good luck of others etc
• Mada – Intoxication ***
• Shravana – Fatigue
• Aalasya – Laziness, depression
• Daivya – Restlessness
• Chintha – Anxiety
• Moha – Unconciousness, fainting
• Smrithi – Memory, remembering
• Dhrthi – Fortitude
• Vridha – Shame, confession of Guilt
• Kapulatha – Nervousness
• Harsha – Joy, Happiness
• Aavega – Excitement, agitation
• Jadatha – idleness
• Garva – Pride, arrogance
• Vishada – Sorrow, regret, disappointment
• Autsukya – Uneasiness
• Nidra – Sleep
• Apasmara – Forgetfullness
• Supta – Asleep
• Vibodha – Awakening
• Amarsha – Intolerance, impatience
• Avahitham – Dissimulation, cover up real things
• Ugratha – Fierceness
• Mathi – Understanding, judgement
• Vyadhi – Disease
• Unmaada – Insanity
• Maranam – Death
• Thrasa – Dread
• Vitharka – Argumentation

The 8 Sathvika bhavas are listed below:

• Sthamba – Stupefaction shown by standing still without any movements
• Sveda – Sweating shown by using a fan or wiping the sweat
• Romaanch – Goosebumps shown as if hair is on the end
• Swarabheda – Break in the voice shown by stuttering in different voices
• Vepathu – Trembling shown by quivering and shaking movements
• Vaivarnya – Paleness shown by pressure on the pulse
• Ashru – Tears shown by wiping the tears
• Pralaya – Swoon, death shown by collapsing on the ground


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