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NAYIKA-BHEDA IN SATTRIYA DANCE by Dr. Mallika Kandali from mallika kandali's blog

The term nayika or heroine is widely used in the world of fine arts and the concept finds application in films, dance, painting & sculpture and drama. The central female character around which the story revolves in any narration is termed as the heroine. Her various emotions are expressed as constructions crafted according to the thoughts, wishes and circumstances of the storyline. However, in the broader sense, the term nayika or heroine is not limited to only the central character of the plot but to any female character in the story. Because, to portray the various types or typology of the heroines, the main basis is the male character centered on which, the heroines emotions are formed which find expression as certain mental states. Essentially, longing, expectations, hopes and separations derived out of love are the basis of the typology of heroines. Therefore, at the same time if the central female character is portrayed as khandita, another may be shown in the role of the vasakasajjika nayika. Therefore the concept of heroine is rather broad. Looking back at the origin of this concept, it is found that Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra (NS) composed circa 2nd century BCE first typifies the heroines. The twentyfourth chapter of NS presents the eight classes of heroines, vasakasajjika, virahotkanthita, swadhinabhartrika, kalahantarita, khandita, vipralabdha, proshitabhartrika and abhisarika. According to most scholars, these eight heroines are the origin of the evolution of the concept of heroines. However, no definite fact regarding the true beginning of the concept of heroine has been unearthed so far. Therefore we will consider the eight nayikas of NS as the main pathway of evolution of the concept of heroines.  The eight nayikas are mainly divided into two classes; one sambhoga, where the heroine is united with her paramour and the other bipralambha,the heroin is notunited with her paramour. Vasakasajjika, abhisarika and swadhinabhartrika are heroines of the first class while virahotkanthita, kalahantarita, bipralabdha, proshitabhartrika, and khandita belong to the second class. This classification was extended in course of time to include other types. For example, in the medieval period, the vakrotigarbita was added to the list. In addition, the entire typology is further divided into ordinary and special types based on the various bhava, rasa and fine mental states. As an example, swiya, mugdha, madhyama, pragalabha, parakiya, samanya are ordinary while dutibanchita, anutpanna sambhoga, nayakabanchita, sakhi banchita, darshan anutapita, pranaya kalahantarita, jyotsna abhisarika, dhira, adhira, dhiradhira etc. are special types. Again based on physical and mental analysis heroines have been divided into uttama, madhyama and adhama roles. Another four sub-types into which heroines are divided are hastini, chitrini, sankhini and padmini. An excellent analysis of the Shringara Manjari of Akbar Shah by  great Sanskrit scholar  Dr.V. Raghavan gives a detailed description of this classification. The aesthetic presentations of such typified heroines are found in various classical Indian dramas, mythology, folk and modern literature, and various branches of painting such as the ragmala etc. However this discussion is limited to the field of dance, especially Sattriya Dance and we shall limit the typology to as portrayed in this art.

It was mentioned in the foregoing that the various mental states derived from love are the basis of nayika’s classification. In other words, the recurring theme of nayikabheda is love or eroticism.  As we know. bibhava, anubhava, and the byabhichari bhavas are extension of sthayi bhava and are hence subordinate to it. We also know that rasa is the resultant of all these bhavas. The rasa and bhava are expressed in dance through various angikabhinaya and sattikabhinayas. Angikabhinaya is the movement of various limbs and body parts while sattikabhinaya is the expression of both physical and mental entities. In the depiction of nayikabheda, both these abhinayas are extensively applied. All the classical dance forms of India seem to depict this nayikabheda in an extensive manner. Along with the traditional literary pieces, indigenous compositions, the Geet Govinda of Jayadeva forms the major basis of abhinaya in almost all the classical dances. It is worth mentioning herein that Geet Govinda is that literary composition where depiction of nayikabheda has been achieved through the portrayal of Radha. But in the context of abhinaya in Sattriya, this text has never been used and the influence is minimal. In the abhinaya of Sattriya, the major scripts which are used extensively are the Borgeet (devotional raga based songs) and songs from the Ankiya Nats (traditional vaishnava theatre or ritual play or drama of Assam) of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankaradeva, Mahapurush Madhavadeva  and some songs composed by a few apostles of these two saints of later period. Moreover, a few episodes and characters of these dramas are also used. It is herein worth mentioning that the central bhava of all the compositions of these saints are bhakti rather than love. This central bhakti bhava has laid all other rasas into a specific direction in a subtle manner giving it a dimension of servility or dasya. To be precise, the relation between the disciples and the lord is that of “dasya-bhakti”. Hence the nayikas of Sattriya are never seen to express the sthayi bhava of love or eroticism in an intense manner. But before going into the discussion of typology of nayikas in Sattriya, let us review the definitions of the eight nayikas of NS.


Vasakasajjika:             The woman who is dressed up and awaiting union with her paramour.


Virahotkanthita:          A virahotkanthita nayika is one whose lover is away on other affairs and who is sad because of it.


Swadhinabhartrika:     The woman whose beloved is constantly by her side or one who is able to keep him near her through various stratagems.


Kalahantarita:             A kalahantarita nayika is one who is separated from her lover because of some quarrel, usually arising out of jealousy.


Khandita:                    A nayika who is saddened by the separation from her lover because of another woman.


Vipralabdha:               A Woman who was to meet her paramour at some pre-arranged spot but the meeting did not occur and she receives the message through some messenger.


Proshitabhartrika:       The nayika whose beloved has gone away on some important business or is exiled is a proshitabhartrika nayika


Abhisarika:                  The woman who, forsaking her modesty has come out to meet her beloved at some rendezvous is termed as abhisarika nayika


The Natya Shastra states that khandita, vipralabdha, kalahantarita and proshitabhartrika would express their emotions through acts of deep contemplation, sighs, lamentation, heartburn, talking with her friends, looking at one selves, holding back her tears, anger, shedding clothes and ornaments, unkemptness, sorrow and weeping while a swadhinabhartrika nayika would appear as glamorously dressed, bright eyed, happy, sparkling and glowing with beauty.


Let us now look at the nayika bheda as seen in Sattriya dance. A song from the Ankiya nat , the Vaishnava theater ‘Rukminiharana’ by Mahapurush Srimanta Sankaradeva depicts Rukmini as a vasakasajjika nayika who learning about the beauty  and virtues of Krishna is eagerly waiting for his arrival.


                                   Chandamukhi pakhite Madhai 

                                    Kanaka kinkini dhwani jhalake manjiba moni

                                     Dule hridaye hemamala

(Chandamukhi –Rukmini,is waiting for Lord Krishna.She had adorned herself beautifully with waist belt, a necklace and many other decorative accessories.)


Through this song, Rukmini is expressing her longing for her beloved. She has made up her mind to have Krishna  as her husband. Like an ordinary woman she too has adorned herself in anticipation of meeting with her beloved, taking due care of her beauty and then she is transformed into the vasakasajjika nayika. Virahotkanthita and proshitabhartrika nayikas are portrayed in Sattriya through the following Borgeets


Uddhava bandhu madhupuri rahala muraru

  Kahe naheri raha ab jivana

  Ban bhayo bhavan hamaru


(Oh Uddhava, Lord Krishna is in Mathura. How shall we live without seeing Him? Our homes become jungles)


The last lines of this Borgeet – Gopinee prem parashi neer jhuraya…


(Tears rolled on from the eyes lovelorn  gopies)


 Another Borgeet –


                                    Ki kahabo Uddhava ki kahabo prana

Gobinda bine bhayo Gokul usan

                                    Shunya bhail angina Birindabipina

Noshobhe rajani jaise chanda bihina


(How shall we tell you Oh Uddhava, what our lives have become, without Govinda, Gokul seems deserted. The courtyards and jungles of Brindaban have become deserted, dark as the night without the moon.)


Both the Borgeets composed by Mahapurush Sankaradeva depict the Gopis lamenting the separation from their beloved Sri Krishna and their mental anguish as a result. Krishna is absent from Gokul, the Brindaban is deserted – in other words Krishna is not where he belongs. Krishna’s absence has transformed the gopis into virahotkanthita and proshitabhartrika nayikas. An expression of the swadhinabhartrika nayika is seen the following song of ‘Rukminiharana nat’ by Mahapurush Sankaradeva –


                        Karata vihara karata vihara muraru

                        Kaminika kamala amala muha lambi

                        Chumbe jagata adharu

                        Ghana Ghana nayana pankaj muha heri

                        Heri karata kanu keli

                        Alingi anga ananga ranga rasika

                        Ramanika bhuja meli


(Murari is playing a game of amour. The lord of the world is kissing the lotus face of the beloved. Now and again he gazes at the lotus like face and plays with her. He embraces her spreading his arms.)


This song portrays Sri Krishna joining Rukmini in festivities after the wedding ceremony is over. Rukmini is contented having her beloved by her side at last and has transformed into the swadhinabhartrika nayika. vipralabdha nayika is portrayed beautifully in Sattriya dance. In the following  two Borgeets, vipralabdha nayika are portrayed -


                        Kahare Uddhava kaha pranere bandhava he prana Krishna kabe awe

                        Pucchaye gopi prem akula bhave e nahi chetana gawe.


(Our bodies have lost consciousness, tell us oh Uddhava, when will our Krishna return? Asks the love sick gopis.)


                                    Uddhava bandhu madhupuri bahala muraru

                                    Kahe naheri rahab ab jivan

Ban bhayo bhavan hamaru.


Krishna has gone to Mathura to slay the evil Kamsa and will be delayed there. He has sent message through Uddhava to the Gopis. Uddhava has come to the Gopis as a messenger bearing news that Krishna will return soon. At this juncture, each Gopi is transformed into a vipralabdha nayika. The character of Satyabhama in the drama ‘Parijata Harana’ of Mahapurusha Sankaradeva is seen as a kalahantarita nayika.




Keshavahe bujhalhu tuhu

                        Janaluho tuhu byavahar

                        Atawae chaturi chori chalahu bahuri hari e

                        Jaha priya ramani tohora


(Oh Keshava, now I have understood you. Now I know your conduct. So leave aside your flattery and go back to your loved woman.)


It is worth remembering here that separation is not merely physical but also signifies mental differences. Thus even though the paramour may be physically near, the heroine may feel separated from her lover. From that viewpoint, even though Krishna is near Satyabhama, she feels separated from him. Hearing of the gift of the Parijata flower to Rukmini from Narada, Satyabhama quarreled with Krishna to turn into a kalahantarita nayika. At the same time she is also a khandita and virahotkanthita nayika. When she feels that Rukmini is dearer to Krishna she takes on the role of a khandita nayika. At the same time although Krishna is nearby, because of jealousy she feels separated from him and becomes a virahotkanthita nayika.


The role of abhisarika nayika in Sattriya is a debatable matter. The Sattriya society seems hesitant to associate Gopis with the roles of courtesans. However in a few lines and songs of the drama “Keli Gopal” orRaasa Kriya composed by Mahapurush Sankaradeva, we see certain features of abhisarika nayika. On the full moon night the Gopis have come out to meet Shri Krishna, leaving behind their family members and loved ones to indulge in love play with him. We see the same atmosphere in the following song –


            Keshava karata keli gopini sange range Govinde karata keli

            Kahaku heraya hasi akhi bhange loram.

            Kahaku chumbaya banamali lagi mukh

            Alingane gopika milata rati sukh

            Uccha kucha karu kshata nakher parashi

            Gopalaka keli Krishan kikkara kahasi


(Keshava is happily playing love games with the gopis. He looks at some with arched eyes. Another he kisses on the faces. The gopis are ecstatic at his embrace. Proud bosoms are scratched by nails. The cowherd Krishna is playing amorous games.)


From this view point, the Gopis who have come out to meet Krishna on a full moon night may be called jyotsna abhisarika. On the other hand, when they feel proud at having captured the love of Krishna, they can be called garba abhisarika. But at the same time it is worth mentioning that while the amorous emotions are expressed, the same abhisarika Gopis thinking about the lotus feet of Lord Krishna finds repeated mention in these dramas. The word ‘pada pankaja’ appears several times in these dramas. Therefore, the amorous love of the Gopis is shown to transform into a supersensory level where there is total surrender but makes no demands. Mahapurush Sankaradeva has shown the love transforming into that level in the drama “Keli Gopal” –


                        Krishanara charana chinti pawe parama gati

                        Chori parala gopi prana


(The Gopis who gave up life thinking of the feet of Krishna attained salvation.)


Those Gopis who could not go to Brindavana due to restrictions put up by their family members , they gave up their life thinking about Krishna. This expresses another aspect of love felt by the Gopis towards Krishna where to unify the self with the supreme lord has become the aim and epitome of devotion. To unify with the lord through inner vision without physically seeing or touching him unfolds a supersensory philosophy for us. Thus the Gopis are not ordinary abhisarika nayika but the devotees who have transcended in a higher level.


From the above discussion we can observe that nayikas are very adequately portrayed in Sattriya dance through various sequences.







1.NatyaShastra :Bharatmuni


3.The Nayikas of Indian Classics,Their Genesis and Rise to glory,Sangeet Natak-number 75,January-March 1985:K.S.Srinivasan.

4.Sankaradevar Nat:Mohim Bora(Editted.).

5.Borgeet:Srimanta Sankaradeva and Sri Sri Madhavadeva.

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By mallika kandali
Added Feb 19 '12


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