(Last Updated on : 18/05/2012)
Abhinaya is an Indian art form, which is a medium of "carrying" the dramatic text to the spectator in a meaningful way. It covers all histrionic activity. It includes the physical, verbal, mental, and decorative as well. Traditionally, Indian theatre
classifies abhinaya as fourfold i.e. angika or physical, vacika or verbal, sattvika or internal, emotional and mental, and aharya i.e. external or "added", of costumes, props, make-up, as well as decor. The Natyashastra
by Bharata, followed by Nandikesvara`s Abhinayadarpana provide the most detailed and systematized guidelines on abhinaya. They emphasize that actors must convey the bhavas, emotive states, to others by outward expressions called anubhavas. Vibbavas i.e. the determinants and stimulants of bhavas
can also get across through citrabhinaya i.e. "pictured abhinaya". In this actors can `picture` to the audience the persons and objects with reference to which the emotive states are evoked.
In traditional Indian theatre
the visual aspect of performance created by actors` bodies occupies a prominent place. Hence the Natyashastra offers a codification of body language based on movements of different limbs and sign language based on their usage and applicability. This abhinaya is called angika literally means pertaining to physical parts. Gestures and movements are categorized as mukhaja or facial, sarira or bodily, and ceshtakrita of the whole organism. All of these are related respectively to the anatomical classification of upanga i.e. minor physical parts, anga or major physical parts, and sakha literally means `branch` i.e. the arms and legs. The six major angas comprise the head, arms, chest, sides, waist, and legs. Upangas include the eyes, eyebrows, nose, lower lip, cheeks, and chin. Although they are parts of the head and that is why called as the vehicles for mukhaja. The Natyashastra describes these facial expressions as the very basis of bhava. It codifies movements of the head together with the upangas, in an amazingly elaborate way.
In the sarira division, movements of the remaining five angas find equally detailed treatment. However, the motions of the entire body in nyayas i.e. fighting sequences related to martial arts and exercises come under ceshtakrita. The sakhas i.e. striking, graceful movements of arms and legs together with the sthanakas i.e. basic standing positions may be observed as varying from one theatre or dance form to another, thereby lying at the root of the specificity of particular forms. The sakha, ankura literally meaning of which is "sprout" signifies imaginative and improvisational representation. The suggestive ways of evoking objects and emotive states, and nritta i.e. `pure dance`, or graceful poses drawn from it constitute important aspects of angikabhinaya. While most of the postures have been derived from nature and ordinary life on the basis of correspondences, some also have roots in ritual.
Hand gestures that is also known as abhinaya hastas, are also extremely useful in developing a complete semiology. The literal meaning of hastas is hands. The semiology includes their common name, mudra or "sign". Therefore, the Natyashastra offers a detailed account of single as well as combined hand gestures and their implementation in angikabhinaya, to signify specific objects and the meaning of a work. In contrast, nritta hastas are hand postures used primarily in pure dance contexts. Movements of the chest, sides, belly, waist, thighs, shanks, and feet have also been codified in the same measure. Caris i.e. motions below the hips are given an important place in order to represent walking, or ground motion i.e. bhumicari, as well as "aerial" motion i.e. akasacan. Cari refers to the movement of one foot, accompanied by the shank, thigh, and waist. When both feet move together, it is termed as karana. A combination of three karanas is called khanda, and three khandas combined make up a mandala. Single caris related to others form vyayama or the system of exercise used in martial arts. The Natyasastra defines a number of gatis in order to impart the varied walks of superior, middle-class, and inferior male as well as female characters, such as the hero, heroine, clown, the old, the young, and the insane. It also describes a number of asanas or sitting postures. The general notion of performatory units of movement emerges from body control in sitting, standing, and reclining positions. Asanas, sthanakas, and mandalas form the basic static stylized positions from which a variety of possibilities arise.
The principles of recitation and rendering of dialogue include usage of specific musical notes for particular moods or sentiments. It also includes identification of the three voice registers in the chest, throat, and head and the four accents or pitches of udatta or high, anudatta or low, svarita or circumflex, and kampita or quivering. Illuminating treatment is given to six alamkaras or ornaments of delivery. These three can be mentioned as high or low, excited or grave, and fast or slow. These three takes into account the voice in terms of degree, raising or lowering it on the one hand i.e. a spatial attribute and in terms of speed on the other i.e. the temporal aspect. Six angas or "physical parts" further investigate the voice in its aspects of inner body space and temporal sequentially. Viccheda is the suspension within a subdivision of a given syntactical unit. Visarga is the stop at the completion of sentence. Arpana is a rendering in a rich, refined, and resounding voice, as if filling the entire space. Anubandha is non-stop rendering without pausing for breath. Dipana is the heightening of the voice, starting with the lowest register and gradually rising to higher levels, whereas prasamana is just the opposite. Thus angas explore the use of voice from other angles, of vocal or verbal continuity and silence, gradual thickening of the voice and thinning it down. Bharata discusses another aspect as well, intonation, developed further by Abhinavagupta. The chapter concludes with references to threefold rhythm and tempo, as well as the significance of pauses and stops.
Sattvika, or communication through sattva i.e. "essence", of the mind, is considered to be the soul of abhinaya, as in the Natyashastra. Delineation of the sthayi i.e. stable or permanent bhava with corresponding vibbavas, anubhavas, and vyabhicari i.e. fleeting bhavas is further strengthened by the portrayal and enactment of sattvika bhavas i.e. pure involuntary impulses. These have corporeal as well as psychic aspects and cannot be performed without purity and concentration of mind. Therefore, sattvika abhinaya may be viewed in terms of emotional acting on the one hand and, on the other, in terms of the sattvika bhavas.
Since these three aspects of abhinaya are inherent in the performer`s body, mind, and soul respectively, they may be viewed as intrinsic to his being, whereas makeup, dress, and properties are added on. Thus these are called aharya i.e. "added" or external abhinaya and consist of angaracana i.e. "physical painting" or make-up, vesa or clothes, alamkara or ornaments, pratisirshaka "on the head", masks, headdresses, and crowns, and pushta i.e. properties and decor. The Natyashastra gives a detailed account of the fourfold ornament, hair styles, and basic and mixed colours, and offers guidelines for making up and costuming men and women of different classes, regions, and even universes. Pushta is known as threefold. These are sandbima i.e. "joined" made of birch, bamboo
, hide, cloth. The other one is vyajima or mechanically devised, and veshtima or wrapped. It includes such set pieces as models of hills, trees, and carriages. The Natyashastra instructs pragmatically that they should be light and made from articles readily available in the locality. It also lays down the principles of make-up, manufacturing the costumes, and so on.
The general approach to performance is called samanyabhinaya, explained by Abhinavagupta through a remarkable image comparing the performer to a perfumer. The latter, having bought sweet-smelling substances from a merchant, concocts them into a homogeneous mixture that makes a wonderful perfume. In the same way a performer combines his acquired skills, blending all the elements learnt to give an excellent and balanced performance. The image underlines the process in which an artist freely creates according to his life experience of people, acquisition of the shastric tradition, and inner choice i.e. adhyatma, out of the various norms laid down for communicating a particular emotion or situation. It also emphasizes the freedom of the artist`s innovations and experimentation underlying his judgement in selecting conventional techniques on the one hand and creating ever-fresh methods on the other.
The treatment of samanya i.e. common abhinaya, compared to the specific ways of using limbs or voice forms the very foundation of Sanskrit theatre
. It discusses vakya or vocal rendering of the theatrical text, suca or physicalization indicating the meaning of words to come, ankura or "sprouting" imaginative elaborations of the bhava one after another to unfold the levels of textual meaning. It also includes nivrithyankura i.e. responsive imaginative enactment when listening to another`s dialogue, and natyayita i.e. meta-theatre, to present different levels of time or space simultaneously and performance during dhruva songs at entry or exit. It also deals with vacika elements like alapa i.e. conversing, pralapa i.e. prattling, and vilapa or crying as very common items of verbal behaviour. Samanyabhinaya constructs syntax for acting based on these angika and vacika elements, together with such involuntary emotive sattvika manifestations as romanca (thrill, horripilation), vaivarnya (change of complexion or colour of face and body), vepathu (trembling), and the alamkaras (ornamentation) of female grace like bhava (feelings of love), hava (expression of feelings), and hela (delicate expressions arising from such feelings). Sattvika can be described on the basis of the most pervasive sentiment, love (kamti), as a model for understanding other emotive states too.
In conclusion, reference must be made to the two practices of representation in traditional Indian performance. These are natyadharmi i.e. conventional and stylized and lokadharmi i.e. less conventional, based on ordinary life. However, the latter should not be confused with naturalistic or realistic modes of modern theatre. Even lokadharmi maintains a certain degree of stylization. Thus the concept of abhinaya is not only much wider than the notion of acting in its modern sense, it is also fundamentally different from naturalistic or realistic acting which aims at producing an illusion of reality. Abhinaya is basically a suggestive mode of representation, which may be defined more in terms of conveying the bhava than `acting`. Its doctrines and continuity remain vibrantly present in Indian traditional forms, whether theatre or dance, classical or folk.