My Experience with Abhinaya

Abhinaya is explained as Abhi – towards and Ni (Naya)- to carry i.e. ‘leading the audience towards’. A beautiful term, whose essence exudes the weight, of not just, being visually captivating but also having to engage the audience on an emotional level, by raising their level of consciousness and experiencing the Bhava and Rasa of the piece being performed. The underlying trigger for this is the interesting relationship between Rasa and Bhava. Bhava has the power to invoke Rasa, which is core to Abhinaya, but there is a difference between the two. One however does not exist without the other.

Abhinaya seemingly seems the easiest to connect but toughest to perform. Rigorous practice with uncompromising attention to detail of the character and understanding of the sthayi bhava are crucial to the impact of the outcome. Is it as hard as we imagine it to be? To first of all understand the sthayi, hold it through the length of the piece, and emote, while at the same time ensuring that the audience is also experiencing every aspect of that journey with you (Rasanubhava). Why does it hold many of us back initially with a lack of self-confidence? Why does the confidence we have while learning nritta not mitigate as easily to an abhinaya piece as well? Isn’t it true, that each one of us has the capability to actually convey the intrinsic emotion with the necessary fervour that the piece requires if we put our heart and mind to it?

The reasons for this hesitant approach lies interspersed in a web of our own personal growth curve as students and artists. We don’t always start with the required confidence, we are conscious of our surroundings, the feeling of I don’t think I can do this, repressing our true ability of being able to do justice to the piece in whatever capacity and most importantly, at most times, we seem to hold back without having absorbed the Bhava completely. Then how do we cross these seemingly tough self-doubting moments and move towards a more confident approach?

Baffling when you think about it, but there is a simple thought that holds key to the answer. When a person thinks about a particular emotion, it is always associated with a particular incident in their life. Situational contexts might be different for every person but the sentiment arising from the emotion is never separated from its cause or effect.

We always remember the emotion as a collective experience rather than a stand-alone sentiment. It is this amazing capacity of our mind to store and relay every emotion; we have all faced, at different points in our life, which helps to connect to the sthayi of the piece and understand the protagonist in the piece. This then translates to transfer of intended energy and emotion from the performer to the audience. It is beyond doubt that the audience would capture only as much as the artist shares with them, this is where the understanding of the sthayibhava and level of involvement in the piece by the artist plays a role. Shedding inhibitions is key for continual improvement and increasing level of involvement in the piece. The growth need not be immediate but surely the growth would be linear if one were to draw a chart.

Patience, perseverance, commitment and dedication, to both, our Guru and the art form is the mantra to steer us through. Learning never stops and so must never the quest for improvement and knowledge.

I am deeply indebted to Guru B. Bhanumati and Guru Sheela Chandrasekhar for being the Beacon of light in my life and it is their valuable inputs that forms the basis of this article.


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