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Times of India: Ashtanayikas of Indian Woman

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on March 8, 2003


Indian family woman’s only raison de etre is to please their near ones and relentlessly work for their welfare. Selsf-effacing to a cloying degree, innocent, yet beleaguered by all and sundry, still smiling and loving despite a life of compromise-that is the ideal Indian woman defined in every mythological and religious story.

The Indian art tradition however, visualises her as flaming torches of love and fellowship. So varied are her manifestations and names that every scripture, every art and artist create their own unique image of her. While sometimes she is a consort, at other times she is a fertility goddess; at times she is a benevolent figure yet at others she is horrific and malevolent. But the one that is artistically and lovingly the most celebrated in art is the ‘nayikas’ or heroines. They engage the greater attention of poets and painters, musicians and dancers and are painted with reverence in the Indian diaspora.

Of all the mythic beings in the Hindu dogma she is perhaps the most loved and undoubtedly the most giving of her love. In her we have the true celebration of Hindu womanhood. Of unsurpassed sensual beauty, her endowment is not merely physical but spiritual, not narcissistic but meant as an offering. In her, it can be said that we have the grand personification of the Hindu expression, as well as the concept of beauty.

‘Nayaks’ or heroes do appear on the scene but were not given much importance, as we do not find a detailed classification of them. The poet Keshavdasa mentions just four types, viz: the agreeable, the dexterous, the deceitful and the brazen. Ancient texts dwell at length with minute classifications of the ‘nayikas’ on the basis of woman’s intensity of love and passion, nature, qualities and in essence, the moods. In the popular psyche, Krishna and Radha became the universal symbol of ideal hero and ideal heroine. The most terse of texts explores at least eight types: the ‘ashtanayikas‘.

© Chitraleka Dance Company (CDC) - Ashtanayika (production in 2000). This production was inspired by the description of the eight heroines in the Natya Shastra.

One begins with the ‘Utka‘, the eager heroine, yearning for her husband’s arrival. Under a tree, she often stands, by the side of the river in the garden of jasmines.

Kandita is the offended one: who re-approaches her sunfaithful husband who has not turned back at home as expected. Her antagonism is perfectly justified which itself lent her a charm.

Proshitapatika is the nayika whose lover has gone abroad and she unable to bear the sorrow of separation mourns at the departure of her husband. Vasakasajja, she is the one who waits, for welcoming her husband at the doorstep with her room decorated with flowers and coronals.

Radha and Krishna in Rasikapriya, ca1634. Opaque watercolour on paper. Malwa, India

Radha and Krishna in Rasikapriya, ca1634. Opaque watercolour on paper. Malwa, India

Abhisandhta, however, is the heroine who in her despotic anger, quarrels with her lover, but repents and feels the pangs of separation after he has gone. Krishna is often shown as a nayak who is going away and Radha as upset nayika.

Vipralabdha is the beautifully decked nayika who throws away all her ornaments in anger for having waited in vain for her lover. She is often depicted under a tree with a plain background, as a symbol of loneliness.

Abhisarika is the one who sets out in dark crossing all the obstacles to meet her lover at the appointed place. Finally, there is Svadhinapatika, who has her husband entirely under her control. Her husband remains devoted to her for the whole life. Radha is often painted as Svadhinapatika where Krishna is applying mehandi on her feet as a gesture of devotion.

This beautiful representation of feminine grace is the most important feature of nayika in all the schools of painting. The artist is excelled in it with a genius mastery of brushwork.

The face is long with high and sloping forehead, long chin, long nose and bulging out veil, curved lips, warm sensuous face, almond shaped eyes filled with love and passion and delicate sensitive fingers. It visualises a happy blend of sensuous and spiritual. It is an art, which glorifies female beauty and revels in the loveliness of the female form.

(Source: 8 March 2003, 06:00 am IST | The Times of India)

2 Responses to “Times of India: Ashtanayikas of Indian Woman”

  1. […] Schon in der epischen Zeit gab es keine religiöse Handlung ohne Beteiligung der Frauen. Mit den Ashtanayikas, den acht Heroinnen zeigt sich ein Frauenbild, das wir auch noch heute in Indien […]


  2. […] in the epical times no religious rituals were hold without participation of the women. With the Ashtanayikas, the eight heroins appear a woman picture till today we find in […]


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