Wednesday, 23 January 2008


One of the mini-assignments I had in my first sem theory subject on Historical Theory and Concepts of Fine Arts I.

1. A General Categorisation of Ashta Nayikas
2. Ashta Nayika Categorisation
3. An Illustration / Example of the Ashta Nayikas in Practice
4. Categorisation by Birth or Behaviour


According to the Natyasastra of Bharathamuni, heroes are categorized into 4 (Chathurvidha Nayaka) and heroines are categorized into 8, by character. These 8 heroines (Ashta Nayika), are all Shringara* Nayikas, in accordance with the time then. There are also other categorizations for heroines, such as by ‘birth’ and ‘behaviour’, besides ‘character’. In total, author Dr. S Bhagyalekshmi, in her book Approach to Bharathanatyam, says that Nayikas are of 360 categories.

In the Ashta Nayika (8 heroines) classification, the eight are Svadhinabhathrika, Vasakasajjika, Virahothkanditha, Khanditha, Vipralabdha, Proshitabhatrika, Kalahantarita and Abhisarika.

*Shringara rasa is one of the 9 aesthetic emotions (rasas) evoked in /perceived by, a spectator of an artistic performance.

1. A General Categorisation of Ashta Nayikas

The Ashta Nayikas in general are classified into:
Uttama – They are well balanced and are well behaved. They are of the best among the three.
Madhyama – They will reciprocate via actions that are commensurate with the treatment they’ve received from their heroes, to express their discontent.
Adhama – This is the lowest category among the three and will not behave well, even if their heroes are well mannered or kind. They will be jealous and angry towards their heroes.

2.Ashta Nayika Categorisation

2.1 Svadhinabhathrika
Of the eight, this category of heroine is the only one who has her hero with her. Under all other categories, the hero is separated from the heroine, either by circumstance or will. The Svadhinabhathrika is pampered by her lover and she is confident of his love for her. She is very influential and to acquire what her heart’s desires, she makes others serve her. Dominant and commanding, this heroine’s lover is a slave to her as he is captivated by her and fulfills her every wish. E.g. Sathyabhama.

2.2 Vasakasajjika
This category of heroine anticipates her hero’s arrival though she does not know his arrival time. In preparation for his arrival, she adorns herself with ornaments and make up. Even her room is decorated and she peers out of the threshold of her home, looking if he has arrived. She is ready to receive her lover happily and awaits him eagerly.

2.3 Virahothkanditha
Virahothkanditha suffers the pangs of separation as she is apart from her lover. Due to the non-arrival of her lover or hero, she is discontented, anxious and gets exhausted from this. She continuously laments to her servants and others around, as she does not know why he has not arrived. She openly demonstrates her distress, exhaustion and discontent. However, she does not doubt her hero and will think of the various reasons he may have been unduly delayed, such as being detained by duty or king. E.g. of Virahothkanditha is Dhamayanthi before she meets Nala.

2.4 Khanditha
The Khanditha’s hero comes to her in the morning with tell-tale marks of having spent time with another woman. She is enraged upon seeing him and has pride, jealousy as well as anger. As the word “Khanditha” denotes, this category of heroine is one who expresses her anger and distress. The grammatical explanation of the term itself is to be cut or shattered, i.e. in this case the heroine is cut off and is shattered by anger. She uses contempt, sarcasm and silence as weapons.

2.5 Vipralabdha
This category of heroine is in love with her hero is aware of his infidelity; She notices the tell-tale signs of infidelity and will confront her hero about them. Thus, she is disappointed in love, showing her anxiety and disappointment through sarcasm towards her lover. The Vipralabdha also weeps and faints. A sense of inferiority arises in her, out of feeling that other women are more deserving of her hero’s affection, than herself.

2.6 Proshitabhatrika
Proshitabhatrika is the heroine who is separated from her hero and is therefore sad. She therefore loses interest in herself, e.g., in dressing and grooming herself. The separation is due to circumstance, i.e. a mission, livelihood or education of the hero. Hence, the separation is justified. Unlike the Vasatasajika (2.2 above), the Proshitabhatrika knows the duration of separation.

2.7 Kalahantarita
The term itself expresses the character of the heroine in this category, i.e. ‘Kala’ is anger while ‘anta’ means end, and ‘aritha’ is to repent. In this category the Nayika is quarrelsome and is not reluctant to disgrace her hero in front of others. She later on, repents her misdeed and is filled with remorse. She can be one of two types: (1) one who turns her hero away because of his relationship with another woman and then repents, or (2) one who turns her hero away in anger because he has failed to adhere to her commands, and then repents.

2.8 Abhisarika
The Abhisarika spends much time adorning herself and makes special attempt to go after her hero. She is skillful and cunning. This category has six subdivisions, i.e.:
Jyotsnabhisarika who wears white and goes out in the moonlight to meet her hero.
Divabhisarika who pretends to be going to perform her daily chores but instead goes to meet him.
Thamoabhisarika who wears dark clothes (black, red or blue) to camouflage herself in the night and then sets out to meet her hero.
Kamaabhisarika who goes out to meet her hero with great passion.
Gharvababhisarika whose intention is to come to where he is, to meet him. However, to hide her pride, she pretends she has come on some other task or talks to someone else instead of her hero.
Premavakyabhisarika who talks nicely, with full of love.

3. An Illustration / Example of the Ashta Nayikas in Practice

In illustration of the eight categories, the attached internet article describes an artiste, Indira Kadambi, presenting the Ashta Nayikas in the theme ‘Ashta nayakiyarin ishta Murugan’, showcasing the “eight emotional states of a heroine in love”, for the Margazhi Mahotsav in Chennai. (Performance date is not stated).

The article mentions that she started with the proshitabhatrika nayika, “a heroine who is unable to bear even a temporary separation from her husband or lover, Lord Muruga”. Following through with the vasakasajjika, virahotkhandita, abhisarika, vipralabdha, khandita, kalahantarita nayikas in that order, she ends with the svadhinabhathrika nayika, welcoming her hero’s return with happiness & pride. As this nayika, she is confident of his love for her.

In the review the author mentions that the compositions and alapana rendered were selected or adapted to suit each character and the theme of the performance.

4. Categorisation by Birth or Behaviour

The Natyasastra mentions the categories of Nayikas by birth or behaviour (or “psychological aspect”, as termed by Dr. Bhagyelakshmi in her book, Approach to Bharathanatyam). Thus, the Ashta Nayikas (which is a classification by nature/ character), can be categorised by birth and behaviour.
By birth:
Divya – These heroines are of divine origin (E.g. Indrani)
Maanava – These heroines are of human origin (E.g. Kannagi)
Mishra – These heroines are a mix of both categories above, such as divine beings who had taken human form, such as Seetha or Andal.
Another birth-based classification is:
Divya - These heroines are of divine origin (E.g. Indrani)
Nrpatni – These are heroines of royal lineage, i.e. kings’ wives (E.g. Mandodhari)
Kulastri – These heroines are women of respectable families
Ganika – These are heroines who are courtesans

By behaviour:

Svakiya – She is of good character and spends her time serving her hero, who she loves. She is the ideal wife and is categorized into Mugdha, Madhya and Pragalbha. In the work titled Studies in Nayika-Nayaka Bedha by Rakeshagupta, the author states that the division of Svakiya into Mugdha, Madhya and Pragalbha is similar to the classification that divides the youth of the woman into 4 stages: Prathama, Dwitiya, Thrithiya and Chathurtha Yowanas, though the actual definitions of these are not given by the author.
Mugdha – This category is further divided into the Dyata Yowana who is aware of men and their character, as well as Adhyata Yowana who is not aware of men and their characters. Mugdha is generally young, shy and inexperienced in love. Thus she is not aware of how she is to react to love.
Madhya – The Madhya Nayika has reacted to her husband’s love. However, she is not fully understood love. This category is broken down into Dheera, Adheera and Dheeradheera. Each of these is broken down into Decha (older) and Kanicha (younger).
i. Dheera Madhya – She will marry more than once and will be jealous because her hero favours another. She indirectly expresses her ill-feelings and uses sarcasm. She does not however, raise her voice in anger and instead, maintains respect towards her husband though her mood will be one of indifference (e.g. not smiling).
ii. Adheera Madhya – She openly rebukes her hero and chides him in public.
iii. Dheeraadheera Madhya – She is likely to use sarcasm and will breakdown in expression of her discontent.
Praghalpa - She is very experienced and understands the character of her hero. Thus she can express herself very well. Praghalpa is broken down into the Dheera, Adheera and Dheeradheera categories as well.
Parakeeya – She is also known as Anyanari and can be one of two types; the Kanya or the Praudha. The Kanya is a young maiden and the Praudha is married and matured. The Parakeeya belongs to one person but has feelings for another. An e.g. would be Meera as she pined for Krishna’s love despite being married to another. She would fall into the Praudha category.
Samanya – Also known as Dravyanari, she is a courtesan and will attach herself to her hero/heroes for self betterment. She will charm her heroes with her beauty and cultural talents.
The classification into Uttama, Madhyama and Adhama by Bharathamuni, is said to be “similar in spirit to the classification into Svakiya, Parakeeya and Samanya”, according to author Rakeshagupta in his book, Studies in Nayika-Nayaka Bheda.


The Nayikas’ categorization by birth, character and behaviour are all as stated in the Natyasastra. The Ashta Nayikas can be respectively classified into Uttama, Madhyama and Adhama. In terms of behaviour, they can also be classified into Sviya, Parakeeya and Samanya. While the Praghalpa and Madhya Nayikas of the Svakiya category are broken down into Dheera, Adheera and Dheeradheera, the Mugdha Nayikas of the Svakiya category is separated into the Kanya and Praudha groups. The Ashta Nayikas, when categorized by birth, can be segregated into origins; divine, human or a combination of both.


vineesh said...

HI shobhna,
this is vineesh(artist) from chennai... I am doing a small research on bharatanatyam for doing a sculpture.... I am in the intial stage and trying to collect more information about the concept behind 'Nayika'in Bharathanatyam... i got a fair idea about ashtanayikas frm ur blog... thnk u.......

Foreign said...

I really enjoyed learning about Ashtanayaka's! Thanks

Shubha said...

hi shobha,
i was looking up for astanayikas,and came across ur artical.I am a painter and u can check my site
good luck

Pallavi said...

Hi...I am a bharathanatyam dancer who is currently busy with my IT professional career. Suddenly I remembered ashta nayikas and wanted a quick recap of it. Went thru your blog and believe me - nothing could be a better source material than this. Kudos to you!! Thanks a lot for this.

Meena said...

Hi Shobha

My daughter wanted some article reg. ashtanayikas that too told her dance teacher, ur blog was just what i wanted to my little girl

gr8 work


Shobha Janardanan said...

Dear Vineesh, Foreign, Shubha, Pallavi and Meena,

Humble thanks for visiting this blogpost and expressing your views.

God bless you in dance, music and love,

margaretramchurun said...

Hi Shobha My name is Margaret Ramchurun from Mauritius i'm doing my diploma 2 in Bharat natyam. I'mrevising for my ezams and came across your article. It's so clear, I have acquire alot. Thanks to u. God bless.

Deepthi said...

Hi Shobana,
Thanks alot. I have been getting confused on the AshtaNayikas. Your blog was really helpful to clear my doubts. Now i know how the 'look alike' nayikas differ from each other. Thank u so much.

Madhu Gorugantu said...

Hi shobha..very well compilation on "ashta nayikas".Appreciate you for this attempt.

Madhu Gorugantu said...
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Madhu Gorugantu said...
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