A Dancer Shares How ‘Heroines’ In Indian Classical Art Should Evolve With Changing Times

Posted by Shruti Patki
July 7, 2017

When we ask dancers why they dance, we get to know many perspectives. Some say they do so for their happiness and peace. Others do it because it’s their first love, while other dancers consider it to be a pathway to the Divine.

Personally speaking, I find it important to connect with my audience – but most importantly, to connect with my students while teaching them.

Recently, while teaching Bharata’s descriptions of the nayika (heroine) to my students, I realised that they had a very different view of the whole situation the nayika was in. While the traditional Virahotkanthita nayika was engrossed in great sorrow due to the separation from her nayaka, my students felt that she should develop her own life/career and a circle of friends, rather than mourning over the estrangement. After giving it a fair thought, I too came to the conclusion that perhaps, newer areas of abhinaya (performance) needed to be explored.

Traditional abhinaya compositions and Indian mythology are inseparable elements of all Indian classical dance styles. One cannot differentiate Krishna from Shiva in dance, both being described as proficient dancers. The origin of all Indian classical dance styles lies either in the ritualistic worship of Indian deities, or in reciting/acting out different plots from ancient Indian epics (Mahabharata, Ramayana, among others). Now that these roots are so firmly and deeply ingrained in our hearts, can this beautiful tree be allowed to flower and produce offsprings which can explore more concepts while also retaining this traditional aspect?

Indian arts indeed have a lot to offer to the world. But shouldn’t Indian artists (classical dancers specifically) think about the country’s next generation? For our art to blossom and flourish in the changing social scenario, shouldn’t we also be vigilantly responsible for educating the audiences of the next generation, who are instead watching “Little Krishna”, “Chota Bheem” and “Bal Hanuman” on their TVs?

We have many examples of gurus experimenting and succeeding with classical styles. For instance, Pandit Durga Lal introduced the concepts of bhav paran and bhav aamad to involve the audience in the performance too. Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj gave birth to the ginti (a Bandish comprising of the numbers one to nine to be used by everyone in their day to day lives) so that even a common man could appreciate the intense layakari (laya means tempo or flow, and kari means doing). On the other hand, the great dancer and choreographer Padma Bhushan Mallika Sarabhai has written, choreographed and created many works of art which reflect current issues and leads to awareness among people (“Shakti: The Power of Women”, “Unsuni”, among others).

As the great legend Padma Vibhushan Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra puts it – “The real dance must convey the feeling of undivided existence, that a spectator can feel that he is not different from the thing observed.” With all these examples in front of us, shouldn’t we be the ones to think about how to connect with our audiences through our art  -today and in the future?

Let us not forget that our students and their peers are a part of our audiences. Their connection with our performances and the learning material is of exceptional importance. We are the ones who should ensure the propagation of our dance style, for we owe it to our art. After all, we are indefinitely indebted to our dance!

Having this notion in mind and while constantly pondering over the subject, a unique concept struck my mind. That was when the nayika Anamika came to my mind.


This nayika is the cardinal nayika – the supreme, the fundamental, the principal focus. A fraction of her dwells in every woman in a latent state.

We can say that her presence is not known to all women. She may or may not reveal her presence. In fact, the revelation of her presence depends on the events and incidents in a particular woman’s life.

When a woman is going through difficult times, Anamika unveils herself. During such times, the woman too takes cognisance of Anamika’s presence. After all, Anamika is that element in every woman which tells her to hold on and keep on going, no matter what. It gives her the motivation she needs but which she lacks – it is a positive source of energy that resides in her core self.

While Anamika inspires and encourages women, she does not lay down the course of actions that her bearer should follow. Her job is only to stimulate thinking, awareness and to galvanise her bearer into acting in her (the carrier’s) best interests.

However, not all women are strong enough to accept the helping hand extended by Anamika. This leads to the creation of two categories:

1. Agnishikha: Like a burning flame, the Agnishikha is the form which is dynamic, ardent and impregnable. Even though she can sometimes be dejected and may fall apart, she does take the help of the Anamika in her to become resilient again. She overcomes her difficulties and sufferings and learns from every predicament. She avoids repeating her mistakes of the past. Moreover, the Agnishikha becomes more fierce as the Anamika in her thrives prosperously.

2. Bandini: As the name suggests, the Bandini is timorous, meek and dithering. Though she duly realises the calls of the Anamika inside her, she is afraid to listen to them. She keeps on believing what the external elements impose upon her, and this often results in her being incapacitated. She is easily manipulated and hence, often wishes to transform herself into the Agnishikha.

The Agnishikha and the Bandini are both forms of the Anamika nayika which are not permanent. Certain situations may demand the Bandini to convert herself into the Agnishikha, and vice versa. This transformation is solely based on the situation.

After explaining the main categories of the nayikas, let us proceed to the general classification of the nayikas.

Based On Career Choices

1. Vyavaswayi: The career-oriented

I am proud, independent and fearless – a woman of principles.

Being emotionally strong, I reach my goal, no matter how many obstacles there are.

No one can drag me down, no matter how hard they may try.

Without looking back, I keep moving forward – always with my head held high.

2. Samanvita: The one who strikes a balance between her career and family

My family lies on my one hand and my aims on the other.

I like to walk on the path of life maintaining a balance.

I do so, while enjoying the best of both worlds on my plate.

Often, I find myself in a strife.

3. Gruhini : The homemaker

My family is my life and my life is my family.

I tend to them wholeheartedly.

My aim is to be a successful homemaker.

My family is as precious to me as any gem.

The Vyavaswayi may be married or she may choose to remain unmarried. The Samanvita and Gruhini can further be divided into two categories – those who choose to do so and the ones who are compelled to do so.

Based On Procreation

1. Prajananya: The one who can beget children

The Prajananya is the nayika who can beget children. Whether she does or not is completely her choice.

2. Vandhya: The one who is unable to bear children

The Vandhya is the nayika who is infertile, and is, thus, unable to bear children.

Based On Behavioural Characteristics

1. Prerita : The one who motivates and encourages

The Prerita is the one who spreads positivity wherever she goes. She has an enthusiastic aura around herself and is thus reassuring and pragmatic towards all the individuals she meets. She carries herself with confidence and greets everyone with great joy, making them feel welcome. She may have got her characteristics due to the experiences that she had in the past.

2. Paravrutta : The one who is woeful

The Paravrutta is the nayika who is depressed and despondent. She carries a gloomy aura around herself. The Paravrutta is so engrossed in her own sorrow that she finds it hard to let it go. Her melancholy is her comfort zone, and she gives off a negative vibe wherever she goes.

The Prerita and the Paravrutta are not permanent forms. A Prerita can eventually turn into a Paravrutta (very rarely), and a Paravrutta can transform herself into a Prerita with due efforts and cognizance.

This subject of the nayikas is indeed very vast. I have been working on it and have come up with a few more Nayikas, which I’ll write about in the future. It can be noted that it is hard to classify each and every woman into one of the above categories. However, every woman can be categorised into the categories of Bandini or Agnishikha.

There are different kinds of nayikas all around us, whom we meet every day. In fact, we women all fall into its various categories. Each of these categories does exist – and every characteristic that makes us who we are may well define a different nayika every day. Thus, every woman is a self-defined nayika in herself!