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Nayika: The modern woman
- Shruti Patki

January 16, 2016

(This paper was presented by Shruti Patki in the 9th National Conference of the Mahila Darshnik Parishad which was held in Barkhatullah University, Bhopal in November 2014.)

It is a well known fact that literature has always been the wealth of our country. Indian classical arts and literature go hand in hand. Many dance treatises have been written by ancient Indian authors (not dancers) that are popular even today as handbooks and encyclopaedias. One such piece of literature is Bharata Muni's Natyashastra. It is believed to be one of the oldest treatises and the one which talks about all Indian arts combined; viz dance, drama and music. It contains information as well as courses of action so as to help artists design their performance. The Natyashastra talks about how an ideal auditorium should be, and also gives detailed information about the various kinds of plays that can be performed. With dance in mind, Bharata lays down certain guidelines regarding use of hand gestures (mudras), eye movements (drishti bheda), movements and positions of feet (pada bheda and charis), postures arising due to combination of the above (karanas) etc.

In the layman's terms, "Nayika" means a heroine; the principal subject of any storyline. But does Bharata Muni have the same conception in mind while he describes the Nayikas? I think the answer is negative; the obvious reason being that the text was written sometime between 200 BC and 400 AD, and with the then status of women in mind.

But now, living in the 21st century, we still refer to Natyashastra and represent the Nayikas as described by Bharata. This may pose a barrier in the artist's creativity and his expressiveness. Every artist is thinking of coming up with something new; new choreographies, new concepts, new implementations. However, one often overlooks all that "new" which is already available in and around us.

Art and society are interlinked and inter-influential as we might say. However, in classical styles, nowhere do we see this link. Even though the society has changed so much since the origin of these styles, the subjects being portrayed, the topics being dealt with are still 2000 or more years old. This may be the reason that today's generation is not able to connect with classical styles. Is it time now, that we think about altering our references to change the overall mindset of our society?

One may now argue if there is a need of such a change? Many may be of the opinion that this may pollute the many years old tradition of the classical styles. Many might even say that the change may render the styles as "impure." My answer then will be yes there is a need, not to "sell" my art but to make it more contextual. Every tradition must undergo the test of time in order to survive in the long run. Every tradition to fail this test eventually dissolves; the examples being sati, child marriage, polygamy etc. Some might even argue that classical forms are not meant for this particular purpose. My answer to them will simply be that they should first study the "purpose" of all the classical styles from their origin. The purpose of these might have been ritualistic, or devotional. However what is their purpose today? We clearly see that the purpose of all classical styles has changed over the period of time due to the change in social conditions. Today, even though many might claim that the purpose still remains devotional, I beg to differ. If the purpose was really constant, classical styles would not have been presented on corporate platforms. Classical dancers and choreographers very well analyse their audience and plan their performance and choreographies accordingly.

While studying the Natyashastra last year, I have made certain observations:
1. The Nayika is always depicted from the point of view of the Nayaka.
2. Bharata has NOT given her an independent status.
3. To define a Nayika, we always need a reference. And the reference is always a Nayaka.

This same trend continues in treatises succeeding the Natyashastra like Sangeeta Ratnakara and Rasa Manjari.

General outline of treatment to Nayaka and Nayikas:
Nayikas are classified based on several grounds, viz. according to their age, their nature, their behaviour, their physical appearance and their condition. Out of these, the only Nayikas which are independent of the Nayaka are the ones classified based on their physical appearance - Padmini, Shankhini, Hastini and Chitrini.

Now, one might think where can the reference of a Nayaka be attached to when Nayikas are classified according to their age?

The Nayika who has just set her foot in her youth.
Two types of Mugdha Nayika are given:
# Agyat Youvana- The one who is unaware of her youth.
# Gyat Youvana - The one who is aware of her youth. She is also aware of the changes in her mind and body that result due to it.

Further the Gyat Youvana is divided into:
Navodha: The one who likes to stay away from her husband (Nayaka) due to shyness.
Vishrabdha Navodha: The one who begins to trust her husband (Nayaka)

Characteristics of a Mugdha Nayika include:
She prefers staying away from her husband due to shyness and fear.
She prefers discussions and talks with her husband, and does not indulge in the act of lovemaking.

This Nayika likes to spend time with her husband. She cannot be away from him due to love and at the same time, when with him, she is shy.

Praudha is described as the Nayika who is least shy and indulges in lovemaking with her husband.
She is further classified into:
#Ratipriya: The one who cannot bear separation from her husband for even a minute.
#Anandasammohita: The one who is always immersed in thoughts of her beloved and their love.

The Madhya and Praudha Nayika can be further categorised into:
Dhira, Adhira, Dhira-Adhira
Dhira: Dhira Nayika is the woman who has control over her emotions. It is clarified that even when she knows that her husband has spent the night with another woman, she does not lose her cool and is patient.

Dhira-Adhira: is the Nayika who is sometimes composed, but sometimes loses her balance. When she comes to know of her husband's affair, she cries and confronts him boldly.

Adhira: is the Nayika who loses her balance when she comes to know of her husband's affair.

While classifying Nayikas according to their nature, Bharata says that the Uttama (superior) Nayika is the one who ignores the wrong doings of her husband towards her. She still loves him and remains faithful towards him. The Madhyama (intermediate) Nayika is the one who believes in tit for tat! And the Adhama (inferior) Nayika is the one who is selfish. She does not behave properly with her husband.

Then of course he classifies them according to their morals.
A Swiya Nayika is the one who is faithful towards her husband.
A Parakiya Nayika is the one who secretly loves a man other than her husband.
And a Samanya Nayika is the one who does not limit her contact to one man.

He divides the Swiya Nayika further into 8 categories, popularly known as the Ashtanayikas. They are:
1. Vasakasajja: The one who readies herself and awaits her beloved
2. Virahotkanthita: The one estranged due to separation
3. Kalahantarita: The one who quarrels with her husband but expresses guilt later.
4. Swadhinpatika: The one whose husband helps her in household chores.
5. Khandita: The one whose beloved spends the night with another woman and returns to her (at dawn).
6. Proshitpatika: The one whose husband is away for work.
7. Vipralabdha: The one who is ditched in love.
8. Abhisarika: The one who sets out to meet her beloved in secret.

Although no specific order is prescribed in the Natyashastra, many Gurus believe that these Nayikas are interlinked and are consecutive conditions of the Nayika, the succeeding condition being the result of its preceding condition.

It is a common conception that the Khandita Nayika is followed by the Kalahantarita Nayika. The Nayika, whose husband has returned to her after spending the night with another woman, quarrels with her husband and questions him boldly, even insults him. She asks him to leave. However, after the Nayaka has left, she expresses grief and repents her actions and words.

Talking about the relevance of Nayikas today, the actions of the Khandita Nayika are justifiable. However, today, in this situation, will a woman feel bad afterwards? Will she feel guilty or bad that she has quarrelled with her husband? I think she will feel bad, yes! Not because she has quarrelled with her husband, but because he has been unfaithful towards her. It is he who has put her in that condition.

After studying all these categorisations of Nayikas, when I moved on to study the concept of Nayaka, I was surprised to see that Bharata has classified Nayakas into only 4 categories.

This raised a question in my mind. All the above characteristics which describe a Nayika, her morals, her nature, her condition when in love, aren't they applicable to her male counterpart as well? Doesn't the Nayaka have any moral obligation towards his wife? Doesn't he feel estranged due to separation? Or perhaps cheated when he learns about his wife's feelings for another man?

Bharata says that a woman who tolerates her husband's wrongdoings towards her, even his unfaithfulness, is Uttama Nayika, or the superior Nayika. I express a strong resentment towards his opinion.

Moving on to the classification of Nayakas, Bharata has given 4 categories, viz.
1) Dhirodhata - Brave, haughty, aggressive.
2) Dhiralalita - Brave, having the knowledge of right and wrong, proficient in arts.
3) Dhirodata - Brave, magnanimous,
4) Dhiraprashaanta - Brave and calm

All these classifications start with the word "dhira." It could mean brave, courageous, firm, resolute, praiseworthy, stable, patient etc.

A significant point, which I observed was that nowhere in the list of qualities of Nayika, does Bharata describe them as possessing intellect, skill or proficiency in arts. Does this mean that our classical art is male-centric?

The Natyashastra was written in a period where the woman was always bound to the house. She was only expected to do the house work and take care of her children. It was the period when polygamy was practiced openly by Kings as also high society people. Although polygamy is a crime today, we proudly represent Lord Ganesha and Lord Krishna as also their wives.

We often hear that society influences art and vice versa. But have our classical styles really incorporated the male-female equality concept of today? Or perhaps, is there male-female equality today? If we observe closely, we will come to know that it is just a pseudo equality that we are witnessing today.

Society influences art, and we have the example of the Natyashastra to prove it. But now, I think it is time to influence the society with art. It is a slow process and it won't be completed in a matter of years. We need references which are relevant in today's society. What we refer to is irrelevant today and hence, many a times, while teaching I realise that my students are not able to connect with it. It is because their social conditioning is completely different from the material that they are learning.

If we expect the woman to be independent, we need to give her an independent status in art first. We need to change our references according to the changing times. If we keep portraying the Nayika as what is popularly known as the "Bharatiya Abala Nari" who needs support of her husband so badly to survive that she has to tolerate his unfaithfulness too, then how can we expect the society to change its view towards the women in the society?

Why cannot we represent a Nayika as the subject and not as the result of the Nayaka? Why cannot we think of the Nayika as the soul of classical dance? Women have always been portrayed as a weak link in the society. Even though physically weak the society often forgets how strong women are mentally. May be due to this unique quality, society often tests their patience; but being weak physically, women choose to suffer in silence.

Nowadays, in the "modern" society, if females are expected to earn just as much as their male counterparts, then why can't society accept it when females try to be as open minded and as independent as males? The always "judgemental" society tends to behave as an obstacle in the way of a woman's development. Today's society is clearly a mixture of what we can call "traditional/orthodox folk", "liberal folk" and "modern/open minded folk". No matter which "folk" a woman tries to blend into, she is and will always be criticized by the "other folk." The questions which arise now are:
1. Is what society thinks really that important so as to influence us women so deeply?
2. Are we women ready to give up our individual identity just because the society demands so?
3. Who are we actually living to please? Ourselves or the elements of society?
4. Do we really need "approval" for our actions?

Shruti Patki is a student of Maneesha Sathe and Shambhavi Dandekar. She was awarded the 'Lt. Pt. Lachchu Maharaj Award' at Prerna Foundation's State Level Competition for securing first place in Kathak in the Senior Group (2010, Pune). She is a Gold Medallist of Kathak (M.A. 2014) from Lalit Kala Kendra, Pune University.

I agree with this point of view. I had presented a paper recently in a seminar but the response was only on technical details and no comments on the main subject. I am happy to read this article which ascertains these views.
- Varada Pandit (May 24, 2021)

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