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Abhinaya – Enactment In Hinduism

 In Hinduism, abhinaya literally means acting, gesticulation or theatrical exposition of a certain theme. It is the suggestive imitation which conveys emotions and ideas through gestures.

The Sanskrit word abhinaya is made up of ‘abhi’, the prefix, which means ‘towards’, and the root ‘ni’ (naya) which means ‘to carry’. Thus abhinaya means ‘representing or carrying a play towards spectators.’ Mallinatha, the famous commentator, defines abhinaya as the movements suggesting rasa (flavor) and bhava (emotion).

Abhinaya is the technique used in dance, drama and mime to express feelings. It is a vehicle through which the feelings of a poet or a dramatist are communicated.

Abhinaya is of four kinds (caturvidha) –angika, aharya, vacika and satvika. Angikabhinaya is gestural, conveyed through body movements. It is of three types

  • Saririka, conveyed through bodily actions
  • Maukhika, conveyed through movement of the face
  • Ceshtakrita, conveyed through effort.

Angika Abhinaya is again divided into

  • Sakhabhinaya, pertaining to the various gestures and movements of the hand
  • Angabhinaya, pertaining to the movement of the six major limbs (sadnaga), namely, head, two hands, waist and two legs
  • Upangabhinaya, pertaining to the movement of the eyes, eyebrows, lips, nose, cheek and chin.

Nandikeshvara classifies angikabhinaya as angabhinaya, pratyangabhinaya and upangabhinaya. He classifies shoulders, arms, back, stomach, thighs and knees as pratyangas.

Aharyabhinaya is the communication of ideas through dress and physical decoration. Bharata gives more importance to this type, as he deals with aharya in accordance with drama, wherein the characters are easily identified by the dress they wear. He calls it nepathyavidhi, an activity taking place behind the stage. Sarngadhara, the author of Sangita Ratnakara, gives an elaborate description of the aharya of a dancer. Bharata divides aharya into four types – namely, pushta, alankara, angaracana and sanjiva.

Vacikabhinaya is expression through speech. Bharata accords the first position to this branch of abhinaya as the ideas and themes of the dramatist can be well depicted through vacikabhinaya.

Satvikabhinaya is the representation of emotions, sentiments and internal feelings, which are technically called satva. Satvas are eight in number – stambha (motionlessness), sveda (perspiration), romancha (horripilation), svara-bhanga (change in voice), vepathu (trembling), vaivarnya (change in colors), asru (tears) and pralaya (death). Bharata opines that the play which gives more prominence to satvikabhinaya is the best play.