Consider the well-known Telugu padam, ‘Indendu Vachitivira’ (Suratti), which deals with a woman confronting the unfaithful Muvvagopala at her doorstep. According to the abhinaya legend Kalanidhi Narayanan, the dominant emotions in the lyrics are of khandita — anger laced with sarcasm — and hasya — humour — upon which other emotions of surprise, compassion, disgust, etc., maybe layered. On further analysis, we can identify the protagonist — Dr. Anupama Kylash calls her a khandita samanya, an angry courtesan (one whose company is available for a consideration). “The treatment will be different for every classification and with more understanding, a dancer’s interpretation will become more nuanced,” observed the Vilasini Natyam and Kuchipudi artist and scholar.
Anupama was delivering a talk, ‘Protagonists in Indian Textual and Literary Traditions — The Hero, Heroine and Companion,’ at a session hosted by dancer Divya Ravi on Instagram Live. This was part of her Sangati series on various aspects related to dance including body kinetics, solo productions, nutrition, spirituality, decoding musicality in dance, de-constructing sahitya, and the Music Trinity.
Dr. Anupama explained the premise first. The Indian literary traditions — consisting of kavyas including poems, prose and natakas (dance, drama and music), itihasas such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc., puranas such as the Bhagavata Purana, Agnipuran, etc., prabandhas, pada sahitya such as Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, Annamacharya’s sankirtanas, et al — have presented a wide variety of heroes and heroines. The Indian Textual Traditions analysed such works of literature. They are: the Natya Sastra written by Bharatha Muni (2BC-2AD), Rasa Manjari by Bhanudatta (17th C), Sringara Manjari by Akbar Shah (17th C), Sringara Prakasam by Raja Bhoja (10-11th C) and Ujjvala Nilamani by Rupa Goswamin of the Krishna Bhakti sect (16th C), amongst others. They dealt with aspects of Natya, dramaturgy, and Alankara Sastras, aesthetics and poetics, which included the staging of plays, rasa theory and analysis of poetry, language, characterisations, etc.
Dr. Anupama referenced three texts for the classifications — Natya Sastra, Rasa Manjari and Sringara Manjari. According to her, the ancient Natya Sastra had a basic classification for all characters and aspects of a performance — Uttama (superior), Madhyama (middle) Adhama (inferior). Female characters (nayikas) were classified according to different parameters — according to their birth and position — Divya (celestial), Adivya (human), Nrpatni (queen) and Ganika (courtesan); according to their social status — Kulaja (wife), Kanyaka (unmarried) and Vesya (courtesan); according to 23 personality traits, silas — Go Sila or cow type (plump hips, kind, respectful), Naga Sila or snake type (pointed nose, slender body, irritable, deceitful), etc.
Bharata Muni also provided eight avasthas (states) for a woman in love. The Ashtavidha Nayikavasthas are: Vaasakasajja (one dressed up for union), Virahotkhandita (one distressed by separation), Svaadhina-Bhartrka (one having her husband in subjection), Kalahantarita (one separated from her lover by a quarrel), Khandita (one enraged with her lover), Vipralabdha (one deceived by her lover), Prositabhartrka (one with a sojourning husband) and Abhisaarika (one who goes out to meet her lover). Rasa Manjari and others expand the concept of the Abhisarika — Jyotsnaabhisarika (one who goes in moonlight camouflaged in white and pearls), Tamisrabhisarika (one who goes out in darkness camouflaged in dark coloured clothes and blue sapphires), Divasabhisarika (one who goes out in broad daylight) and so on. Dr. Anupama wanted to underline the fact that any nayika can experience any of the eight situations. It is not an exclusive classification as is assumed by some.
The Agnipuran classified Sringara nayikas in the context of their relationship with the nayaka — Swakiya or Sweeya (married and loyal), Parakeeya (married to one and longs for another), Punarbhu (widow remarried) and Samanya (those who are free to accept any man without restrictions). This classification became popular as it is applicable to any pada sahitya with Sringara. The parakeeya has an element of secrecy to her — she could be a Kanya (under the guardianship of her parents) or a Parodha (married woman). The Krishna Bhakti poets of the East and the subsequent Hindi Bhakti poets have celebrated the Parakeeya Abhisarika nayika as the highest form of devotion — Radha going out to meet Krishna or getting him to visit her, and the gopis dropping all chores when they hear Krishna’s flute, are prime examples. This philosophy is known as the Parakeeya Vada.
Kamasutra classified nayika according to the woman’s beauty, sexual capabilities, compatibility between husband and wife, etc. “All these aspects were an integral part of society. The celebration of courtesans and sexuality proves that the industry of eroticism was part of society. There was no judgment of these things being wrong. The idea of compatibility, love-making and the love between man and woman — nothing was wrong with these. Not that the society was debauched. It had a balance of the four purusharthas — Dharma (duty), Artha (material wealth), Kama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation),” said Anupama.
Age and maturity
The Sweeya nayika was further classified according to age and maturity — Mugdha (11-13), Madhya (early twenties) and Prouda/Pragalba (mature, confident). There is further classification of the Mugdha nayika according to her state of awareness of youth and another according to the level of comfort with her husband. Anupama cited an example of an un-awakened young girl from Rasa Manjari — “Emerging from the water, the moon-faced nayika comes to the bank and mistakes her wide eyes for two full blown lotuses stuck to her ears, and tries to brush them away!”
The Sweeya nayika, particularly the Madhya and Pragalba nayika, maybe classified according to her behaviour — Dheera (self-controlled), Adheera (who lacks self-control) and Dheeraadheera (one who is partially self-controlled). This will determine her behaviour, for example, when she senses another woman — a Madhyadheera nayika may express her anger on the erring lover with sarcastic words. Anupama quoted from Rasa Manjari for a sarcastic Madhyadheera — ‘You have been sweating profusely while you were moving around in the bower flocked by swarming and agitated bees. How I wish to fan your body gently with a lotus leaf!’ A Madhyaadheera nayika will use harsh words while a Madhyadheeraadheera would cry, sigh or be sarcastic. A Pragalbadheera nayika may deny access, a Pragalba-adheera nayika may be rude and non-cooperative, a Pragalba-dheeraadheera nayika may hit her husband in anger (Anupama mentioned an instance of Satyabhama kicking Krishna).
Sweeya also has a Jyeshta (more beloved) and Kanishta (lesser beloved) classification. An example would be Kaikeyi, who was the more beloved among King Dasarata’s wives.
The Parakeeya nayika could be classified according to her maturity — Kanya (one who is under the guardianship of her father and harbours a secret love) and Parodha (a married woman who harbours a secret love for another man).
Only Sringara Manjari has classified the Samanya nayika — Swatantra (free), Jananyadheena (under the control of the mother), Niyamita (courtesan assigned to one person — king, zamindar, rich man), Klptanuraga (who loves only one), Kalpitanuraga (one who pretends attachment to a man for financial gain).
Anupama peppered the presentation with many examples from literature — one was for the Virahotkhandita avastha (suffering in separation). She quoted Sakuntala’s friend in ‘Abhijnanasakuntalam’ — ‘When the moon is hidden, the same night, the lotus’s beauty is only a matter of remembrance. Surely the sorrow of a young girl is very hard to bear (when the nayika is separated from the nayaka for sometime).’ Another was a Kshetrayya padam, ‘Enta chakkani vaade na saami’ — as a Mugdha, the nayika will be shy and hesitant, whereas a Proudha will openly and proudly describe him.
The dancer-scholar urged dancers to read more, particularly regional texts. For a padam, she said, ‘Read the text, read everything around it and then go back to the text. If you create abhinaya for the subtext, the text will unravel on its own. Abhinaya is not only about telling a story. It is about creating multiple layers of imagery where the poet’s philosophy and ideation brought out.’