How I Fell In Love With Indian Classical Dance Because Of The Navarasas – Let’s Know Them!

Posted: April 29, 2019

Today, 29th April, is International Dance Day. Let me take you through the Navarasas that are the soul of Indian classical dance, something every dancer must master.

“Dance as the narration of a magical story; that recites on lips, illuminates imaginations and embraces the most sacred depths of souls.” ― Shah Asad Rizvi

I was a little girl of four when I was introduced to the world of Indian classical dance by my mother. Initially I loathed my Saturday afternoon dance classes but there came a time I gradually fell in love with dance. I was academically a very bright student, and my professor parents ensured that I do not compromise studies with my dance no matter how much I loved it.

My initial learning phase was tiring, I found the classes boring, loathed my Guru Late Shri Umashankar Chakraborty for his harsh practice sessions, but as the years rolled by I started liking dance. Why did the change take place in me? Here lies the answer. The base of Indian classical dance is to elicit the Rasa (emotion) in the spectator. Dance without Rasa is incomplete and it was that Rasa which I had inculcated in me and the reason why I fell in love with classical dance.

The Sangeet Natak Academy speaks of eight forms of Indian classical dance forms: Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, Bharatnayam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Bihu and Mohiniyattam. As I had mentioned earlier and also as per Natyashastra the pivotal function of all these dance forms is to kindle the Rasa (emotion) among the audience by using a particular bhava (facial expression, mudra or gesture). Natyashastra which was written sometime in 200 BC – 300 AD identifies Navarasas (Nine emotions) which every dancer need to learn to give completeness to his/her dancing. They also provide strength to a character in Indian aesthetics.

The navarsas or the nine emotions include: Shringara (Love), Hasya (Happiness), Roudra/Krodha (Exasperation), Bheebhatsa (Abhorrence), Bhayanaka (Trepidation), Shanta (Tranquility), Veera (Valour), Karuna (Pity), Shoka/Karuna (Dejection) and Adbhuta (Awe). These eight Indian classical dance forms are structured around these navarasas or emotions. Research says that every emotion of human stimulates a coloured vibe. Our emotions are like the seven colors of the rainbow denoting: Rage (Red), Avarice (Orange), Trepidation (Yellow), Love (Violet), Desire (Blue), Determination (Green) and Empathy (Indigo). However it also embodies absence of colour which is Death (Black) and the coalescence of colours which is Life (White).

Every dancer should have a tremendous exposure to Navarasas as it is the only way to observe change in emotions thus changing the behavior of the character.

The Navarasas can be explained by a simple folklore story of Radha and Shri Krishna. Radha is Shringara personified. When she is with Lord Krishna all other gopinis create Bheebhatsa at Brija. She turns into Krodha rasa when she thinks of the gopikas, the other women surrounding lord Krishna; hearing the stories of Krishna’s adventures and mischief, she displays Adbutha; she exudes Bhayanaka when she hears that some Asura has attacked Krishna; She is an embodiment of feminine valour or Veera. She is all Hasya in the company of her beloved lord Krishna. Radha is full of Karuna bhava when she is with the gokul vasis (people). Everybody experiences the Shantha bhava when Krishna plays his flute.

One of the main keys to happiness is dance, and this art is incomplete without Abhinaya or expression. It is mainly through Mukh Abhinaya or facial expressions that a dancer communicates with the audience on his/her thought process. So let’s take a quick look at the Navarasas.

Shringara Rasa

It is one of the most important rasas in classical dance. According to Natyashastra, Shringara can be classified as in union and in separation.

While Shringara in separation is represented by apathy, indifference, fear, anxiety, sleep, Shringara in union arouses the feeling of love and primarily revolves around the man and a woman relationship. But one must not confine the term love only between a man and woman. The dancer with their Shringara rasa can also describe the love between the parents and the child, between friends, between teacher and disciple, and also love towards God. Love is the quality which makes a human being beautiful, and hence Shringara rasa is considered the mother of all the Rasas.

Hasya Rasa

This rasa denotes joy. The dancer conveys happiness/laughter to the audience with the help of this rasa. There are six types of Hasya which a dancer uses as a tool of communication.

These are Smita (smile), Hasita (laughter), Vihasya (laughing), Upahasya (Satirical laughter), Apahasya (silly laughing) and Athihasita (excessive laughter). The dancer uses these six forms in his/her dancing to convey the audience the importance of laughter and joy in life.

Roudra/Krodha Rasa

This rasa implies anger, abuse, lies and fights. A dancer expresses this emotion by violent body movements, jumps, striking the floor forcefully with feet. Hence the anger within a character is conveyed by the dancer to the audience in such like way.

Veera Rasa

This denotes heroism. The mythological characters like Shiva, Krishna, Arjuna, Bhima, Bhavani, Chandi, Rudrama are performed by a dancer to explain this emotion.

Karuna/Shoka Rasa

Denotes pathos. The dancer with their facial expressions is supposed to convey the audience the feeling of sadness, grief, curse, pain, calamity etc. Often mythological characters like Prahlad and Bheeshma are performed to explain this form of emotion.

Bhayanaka Rasa

Implies fear. The eyes, lips and hasta mudras of a dancer play a major role to communicate to the audience a sense of trepidation. The mythological characters on which this rasa is based are Yama, Hiranyakashyapa, and the costume colour is black.

Bheebhatsa Rasa

Indicates disgust. The stimulus for this rasa is seeing/hearing evil things. The dancer with his/her abhinaya creates a feeling of repugnance in the audience. The mythological characters on which this rasa is based are Kubja Manthara, Shakuni.

Adbhuta Rasa

This rasa is used to show the sentiment of bewilderment, curiosity and wondering. Often characterized by gaping eyes, the dancer conveys the feeling of euphoria. The best example of this rasa is the character of Lord Shri Krishna in his Vishwasroopa Darshana which was witnessed by Arjuna. Till today, a performer expresses adbhutam anubhuti while representing Arjuna, thereby passing on the same feeling to the audiences.

Shanta Rasa

This rasa depicts tranquility and peace. Accompanied by light music here the dancer makes a steady and slow tempo of body but maximum use of facial emotion to express the serenity. According to Bharata the author of Natya Shastra, all the eight rasas have origins from the Brahma but this ninth rasa the Shanta rasa is his particular contribution. Often the character of Lord Buddha is used in the dances to explain the Shanta Rasa.

To conclude, let’s understand that Shringara, Bhayanaka, Bhibhatsa and Shanta Rasas are discerned on the basis of a dancer’s entire facial expression. Hasya Rasa is recognized by lips. Roudra, Veera, Karuna and Adbhuta Rasas are indicated by eye expressions.

I started this narration citing my example. Yes, it took me several years to get a grip on these Navarasas. Over the years I have mastered them and have performed in front of a hundred audiences. Dance without the knowledge of the Navarasas is incomplete, so anyone wanting to know about dance needs to know them.

Image source: Suyash Dwivedi [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Rimli Bhattacharya is a First class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of

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