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Abhinaya – the word “Abhinaya” is explained in the Natya Shastra as “abhi” (towards), and “naya” (to carry), or to carry the spectator towards the meaning. Abhinaya can therefore be translated as communicating to the audience.  It is an inseparable component of Natya.

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

1. 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:

Yatho Hastato Dhrishtihi
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. 

Further Abhinaya is divided into

Angikabhinaya (Bodily gestures),
Vachikabhinaya (verbal like song),
Aaharyabhinaya (ornamental description)
Sattvikaabhinaya (depiction of mental state of mind )

Abhinaya can probably be the hardest thing in dance, as even though it is not physically straining it can be tough portraying a character. These are all tips that I have heard from gurus.


The best way to refine Abhinaya in a dance is to-


Research the song thoroughly and understand the meaning of the song before dancing. Therefore you must research about the song and find out what exactly the song is saying and then portray that. For example Maadu Meikkum Kanne is a song about an argument between Lord Krishna and Yashoda. In this song Yashoda is apprehensive about letting Krishna go and herd the cows and tells him a variety of reasons why not to. She starts by telling him she will give him milk, sugar and butter if he doesn't go. Krishna rejects the offer and tells his mother to not stop him. Yashoda then tells Krishna that there is always a fear of thieve and robbers on the Yamuna river. Krishna then playfully and childishly tells his mother that no robber will attack another robber and that if they do come he will chop them to pieces. The song continues like this as a debate. The main point here is that without researching you won't be able to get the nuances in Abhinaya and this is what makes it refined, as there needs to be a through understanding of the song.


The second thing you can do is to stand in front of a mirror and practice. You may think it's odd but after a while you are expressions will improve. Not only that but you can ask your guru/parent to look at you and tell you what to improve on as then you will know what to improve on.


However, the best way to improve is if you go to someone who does not know Bharatanatyam and portray the expressions to them. This is a great way to find out what you need to work on as Bharatanatyam is a dance form in which a story is being told, and if someone who does not understand the song or the dance understands the story based on the Abhinaya, it means that your expressions are very good.

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