The Abhinaya

The Abhinaya is defined in the Natya Shastra as the way in which the dancer communicates joy to the audience, through aesthetics. It is made up of four aspects, which the dancer must always keep in mind during any performance or practice. Those elements are Angika, Vachika, Aharya, and Sattvika.


Angika is the expression the dancer achieves through the movement of the angas (hands, head, waist, face, etc), pratyangas (the extremities), and upangas (elements within the face). Each body part is precisely rehearsed and positioned by the dancer.


Vachika involves music and recitation. It allows for the story to progress and extra emotion to be conveyed. Vachika is performed by the accompanying musicians or lyricists so that the dancer can enact the scene.


Aharya is the costumes and decorations that adorn the dancers. Pictured above is the unique costuming of Manipuri dancers, which pays close attention to the aharya and includes ornate round dresses.


Sattvika is the most abstract of the Abhinaya. Essentially, it is the mentality and emotional image communicated from the dancer to the audience. Utilizing self control and acting, dancers are able to convey complex emotions through Sattvika.

Image sources:,, 05.jpg, Information source:

The Three Main Characters of Indian Classical Dance: Nritta, Nritya, and Natya

There are three main elements of any classical dance, known as Nritta, Nritya, and Natya. They are one of the common threads across all eight classical dance forms. The following is an explanation of each one:


Nritta is the first of the three elements of a choreography. It is considered “pure dance” and involves the demonstration of precise rhythm. It utilizes the hand gestures, footwork, and movements. Nritta is not meant to be interpretive or story-orientated.


Nritya is the slower and explanatory portion of the dance. It communicates the feelings, spiritual, and story aspects of the piece. Dancers must show their inner Bhava (deep emotions) to the audience in order to properly convey the story and engage the viewers.


Natya could be seen as somewhat of a combination of Nritta and Nritya which also includes speech and music to compliment performance. The dancers may take on the roles of individual characters within the drama.

image sources:,, Information source: Meduri, Avanthi (1988). “Bharatha Natyam-What Are You?”. Asian Theatre Journal. University of Hawaii Press. 5 (1): 3–4. doi:10.2307/1124019.

The Mudras

“Yato hastastato drishtihi”…”Where the hand is, the eyes follow”

“Yato drishtistato manaha”…”Where the eyes go, the mind follows”

“Yato manastato bhavaha”…”Where the mind is, there is the feeling”

“Yato bhavastato rasaha”…”Where there is feeling, there is mood.

The Natya Shastra, circa 200 BCE.

In classical Indian dance, everything begins with the hands. Through the precise motion and posing of the hands in combination with footwork, facial expression, and other gestures, dancers are able to convey complex images, stories, and emotions. These elements are all a part of the Angika, and one important aspect of the Angika are the Mudras. Each Mudra is a specific hand position, and may represent many different things. Interpretation of the Mudra are based on the context of the story within the dance. Below are a few examples of interesting Mudras:


In Tamrachuda, the ring finger and middle finger are bent so as to touch the tip of the thumb. The pointer finger is bent and raised.

Representations: a rooster, a person’s head, a heron or crane, a crow, a camel, a calf, or a pen used for engraving.


In Pataaka, the hand is placed in a relaxed, upright position. The thumb may be bent slightly.

Representations: moonlight, sea, wind, river, forest, or silence.


In Mrigashirsa, the thumb and pinky are raised above the rest of the fingers, which remain flat.

Representations: a deer’s head, a woman’s cheek, a costume or dress, a lute, or Lord Krishna.


In Varaaha, one hand is put into a position similar to Mrigashirsa. The other hand is placed underneath, with pinky raised.

Representations: a wild boar, Lord Vishnu.

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