Abhinaya in Dance

November 28th, 2007 by Anjali

Abhinaya is the main technique used in Natya. “Abhi” means “towards” and “ni or Naya” is the root meaning to “carry”. Thus as the meaning implies the dancer through the vehicle of Abhinaya has to reach out to the spectators. It is an inseparable component of Natya.

Lets see how Natya is related to Abhinaya. Natya has got six elements namely:

Sorrow1. Nritta (Pure dance)

2. Geeta (Song

3. Abhinaya (Gestures)

4. Tala (Rhythm)

5. Bhava (Emotions)

6. Rasa (sentiment)

Natyshastra says that Abhinaya is the art of “exhibiting the meaning of what one depicts”. The dancer has an enormous resource bank to communicate a story, an idea, an emotion. She uses her body, her limbs, hands, face, eyes to express her ideas. The dancer has to draw the audience into her world. The shores reached by both the viewer and the dancer are described as the experience of ‘Rasa’, which is compared to spiritual experience.The main purpose of dance is to evoke Rasa, which means sentiment or flavor among the audience. Abhinaya Darpanam of Nandikeshwara says:

Photo courtesy : parimalphadke.com

Yatho Hastato Dhrishtihiplaying Mridangam
Yatho Dhrishtisto Manaha
Yatho Manatato Bhavaha
Yatho Bhavastato Rasaha

It says

Where the Hands go, the Eyes should follow
Where the Eyes go, the Mind should follow
Where the Mind goes, the Emotions are generated
Where the Emotions are generated, Sentiment arises.

A good dancer needs to evoke the sentiment of the audience by following the essence of this verse. I feel it not only applies to Dance, but also to every actions of our daily life. It means that if our heart is present where our head and hands are working the outcome would be outstanding. Just give it a thought. 🙂

Further Abhinaya is divided into

  1. Angikabhinaya (Bodily gestures),
  2. Vachikabhinaya (verbal like song),
  3. Aaharyabhinaya (ornamental description)
  4. Sattvikaabhinaya (depiction of mental state of mind )

In the next post we shall see in detail what the above four types of Abhinaya mean.

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Leave A Comment

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 vijaya Dec 4, 2007 at 2:16 am

    Hi Anjali,

    I live in the UK and its really difficult to find a teacher closeby. Learning Bharatanatyam has been my desire since childhood, but never got the opportunity. Your videos are really helpful. I am trying to practise the adavus. Please keep them posted.

    Thanks a million.


  • 2 Anjali Dec 5, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Hi Vijaya, Nice to know that this site is helping you. And thanks a lot for your kind words. Donot hesitate to put in your queries. Best of luck and enjoy your practice

  • 3 Aparna Dec 27, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    You’ve done this Abhinaya section very well!!

  • 4 Preeti Apr 5, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Hi Anjali,

    I must say you are doing an amazing job. Please carry it forward. Its so hard for so many people to actually go to a class with all the busy routine in life. You are definitely a solution for all of them including me.
    Thanks a ton!!
    Keep up the spirits!!


  • 5 Anjali Apr 7, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks a lot Preeti for you kind words. Such words keep me motivated to do better.

  • 6 Nitesh Jun 29, 2009 at 2:02 am

    Hi Anjali
    This site is really helpful and i am new to learn bharthanatyam. thank you for the info that you have been posting in this site. It’s really interesting to try out new and different things. i am already trying to figure out the hand gestures. I really appreciate the work you have put on this site.

    take care and best of luck with all the effort u put in!!!

  • 7 Anjali Jun 30, 2009 at 5:15 am

    Thank you Nitesh for your kind words. good luck!!!

  • 8 uacoorlawa Jan 22, 2010 at 10:28 am

    trying to find your reference to when shantam was added

  • 9 Anjali Jan 26, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    @uacoorlawa : This rasa was Bharata Muni’s contribution to Natyashastra. I had read once in dancer Shri Dhanajayans article that Lord Brahma had enunciated only eight rasa, Bharata muni added the Shanta. He said that all other emotions emerged from shantam and then merged back into Shantam. A very subtle point. Scriptures say that nature of all human begins is essentially Bliss (peace or shantam, silence), which bharatamuni might have correlated in his work. Therefore I think he regards Shantam to be THE source and end of all emotions.

  • 10 nigamaa Jan 27, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    My two cents as to what two recent scholars say in this controversial issue of Santa Rasa, it shows there is still much research to be done:
    The book “Ragas in Indian classical music, vol 2” p. 108 states that Natya Shastra did mention only eight Rasas but not Santa Rasa, but later writers like Narada had it included, see Sangita Makaranda, (7 to 9th century AC).

    another scholar interferes about Sita`s emotions on page 43

    “Valmiki’s Ramayana, the last Book is called Sundara Kanda…… All the way in Sundara Kanda, we enjoy all Rasas with Karuna as predominant, Srngara as pervading and ultimately take us to the experience of Santa Rasa.”According to this scholar, the Santa Rasa seems to have been expressed as early as Valmiki, perhaps from 8 th century BC.

  • 11 Anjali Jan 27, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Thank you Nigama. Appreciate it.

  • 12 priyalasya Apr 25, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    As to Shanta Rasa- this one sloka takes one to experience tranquility-

    “shantakaram bujaga sayanam…”

  • 13 Anjali Apr 25, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    @priyalasya. The shloka certainly takes you to peace. thanks

  • 14 simren arora Jun 26, 2011 at 9:44 am

    im in 6th year of..n i wn to knw where Vachikabhinaya (verbal like song) is used…in dance journey so far n in books i never found a desire answer………..

  • 15 Vinyaya Dec 31, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Hi Anjali!
    Please could you post about the di isions of dance; Natya… niruthiya.. nirutha
    ? Vinaya

  • 16 hecc Feb 9, 2018 at 2:23 pm


  • 17 S.karpagavalli Jul 6, 2018 at 1:48 am

    Hi mam I need study material about nattuvangam

  • 18 S.karpagavalli Jul 6, 2018 at 1:55 am

    Hi mam….u r my second guru actually dance is my passion after marriage I learnt it… while learning my guru is so fast in teaching I have many doubts but I referred Ur video only it is so easy to understand…. really thank you so much mam….. now learning nattuvangam she is teaching talam and all but there is no video related to nattuvangam mam…if it is there ..it will help us to learn it so easily…thank you ?