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Indian aestheticians have emphasized the difference between art and life in the very terminology they have chosen. The Vibhava, Anubhava and Vyabhicharibhavas are aesthetic terms which have their corresponding aspects in life called Karana (the determinants), Karya (the consequents) and Sahakari (the accessories). The term Rasa itself is exclusive to the aesthetic field. A woman in love or a frightened man of routine life cannot be categorized as struggling in the midst of Shringara Rasa or Bhayanaka Rasa. Rasa is the experience of the respondent alone and is always joyful whereas the emotions of real life may produce joy or sorrow.

Bharata has stated that without Rasa, no purpose is fulfilled. What establishes a Rasa that the audience experience Asvada or Rasanubhava i.e. the relishing or experience of ‘Rasa’? In this context Bharata uses the four terms Vibhava, Anubhava, Vyabhicharibhava and Sthayibhava. The immediate Anubhavas (reaction or consequents) brought about by a Vibhava (cause or determinant) leads to a series of Vyabhicharibhavas (voluntary and conscious action or transitory states). The Vibhava, Anubhava and Vyabhicharibhavas go together to produce the Sthayibhava, which can be defined as a feeling which is experienced for a short interval of time. It is Sthayibhava, the essentially dominant basic emotion or feeling, whose result is Rasa.

The Vyabhicharibhavas or Sancharibhavas give scope for variety or creativity in the various classical idioms. The distinction between Sthayibhavas (durable) and Vyabhicharibhavas (transitory emotions) is quite central to Bharata’s principle of Rasa. According to his Rasa- Sutra, emotions in poetry are expressed through Vibhavas (conjunction of their objects), Anubhavas (outward signs or symptoms) and Vyabhicharibhavas (other ancillary feelings), which accompany the emotions. An emotion is caused by an object, revealed through the outward reactions in a person, and reinforced by other allied emotions. Sanskrit rhetoricians and aesthetes call this process, Rasabhinaya.

The particular mode of expression dominates the dance in the Abhyinaya and covers all the nine aesthetic emotions experienced universally. According to Bharata, there are eight basic Rasas (emotions) – Shringara (erotic), Hasya (comic), Karuna (pathetic), Raudra (furious), Veera (heroic), Bhayanaka (fearful), Beebhatsa (disgust) and Adbhuta (wondrous). The ninth one, namely, Shanta (quietude) was added by subsequent writers. These are the stable ones and can endure through the entire length of a composition and dictate its tone. Shanta is a state of inner quiescence or serenity, which we associate with the image of Buddha, or Shiva or Vishnu as Shantamurtis. Thus, in the Rasa canon, we have the Nava Rasa.

In Bharata’s list of forty-nine Bhavas, eight are called Sthayibhavas (permanent emotions) – Rati (Love), Hasa (Laughter), Shoka (grief), Krodha (anger), Utsaha (valour), Bhaya (fear), Jugupsa (disgust), Vismaya (wonder) – one for each Rasa. Nirveda (tranquillity) is added afterward for Shanta Rasa by the subsequent writers. These Sthayibhavas develop several different feelings in a single major emotion.

Bharata included eight Satvikabhavas (involuntary psychic reactions) also – Stambha (immobilization), Sweda (perspiration), Romancha (horrification), Swarabheda (change of voice), Vepathu (trembling), Vaivarnya (change of facial colour), Ashru (tears), and Pralaya (fainting). These are not Bhavas or mental states, but their Anubhavas (external symptoms). Therefore, they can be treated as such.

The remaining thirty-three are classified as Vyabhicharibhavas that includes nearly all the imaginable mental states in this list – Nirveda (discouragement), Glani (Weakness), Shanka (apprehension), Asuya (envy), Mada (drunkenness), Shrama (weariness), Alasya (indolence), Dainya (depression), Chinta (anxiety), Moha (distraction), Smriti (recollection), Dhriti (contentment), Vreeda (shame), Chapalata (inconsistency), Harsha (joy), Avega (agitation), Jadata (stupidity), Garva (pride), Vishada (despair), Autsukya (eagerness), Nidra (sleep), Apasmara (epilepsy), Supta (dreaming), Vibodha (awakening), Amarsha (indignation), Avahittha (dissimulation), Ugrata (cruelty), Mati (Assurance), Vyadhi (sickness), Unmada (insanity), Marana (death), Trasa (fear), Vitarka (deliberation).

Their distinction from the Sthayibhavas is explained in both psychological and aesthetic terms. The uses of Vyabhicharibhavas give Indian classical dances a rare poetic depth and make them amazingly evocative. It however demands a good deal of imagination and proper execution to generate and create Rasa, the aesthetic appeal. The composer of expressional passages with Vyabhicharibhavas has to have a thorough understanding of the theoretical concept behind it. Mere Prayoga (application) of techniques, without due regard to the Tatva (theoretical concept) produces a performance much similar to a puppet manipulated by a blind puppeteer.

Vyabhicharibhava, also called Sancharibhava, really means a lot in the context of the Rasa theory. The concept can be understood much better, if the word Vyabhicharibhava is analyzed etymologically. The word has been derived by combining two prepositional prefixes of Sanskrit language, ‘Vimeans ‘intensely’ and ‘Abhi’ means ‘towards’, with the verbal root ‘Char means ’to move’. Therefore, etymologically Vyabhicharibhava means ‘Bhava (The aesthetic mood) which intensely moves towards something’. What is this ‘something’? One who knows even the basics of the Rasa theory will answer without a second thought that this ‘something’ is only Sthayibhava, the permanent mental state, more appropriately, the basic ruling aesthetic mood.

Analyzing the etymological meaning of Vyabhicharibhava, it is clear that the aesthetic mood not only should move intensely but also should meet the Sthayibhava appropriately. For a better understanding let us take the example of a river meeting the sea. One, whose perspective is not superficial and prosaic, will answer that the river‘s meeting the sea means far more than what meets the eye. The river not only links its source with the sea in a lyrical way, but also completes a cycle at the meeting point. The cycle is: water vaporizes from the sea; clouds are formed; when the clouds rain on high mountain tops they are turned to ice; the ice melts to become the source of a river; the river flows in a serpentine manner enriched by tributaries which lose their identity after merging into the river, towards the sea. In this analogy, if the sea is the Sthayibhavas, the river is the Rasa, and its tributaries are the Vyabhicharibhavas. Here, it is necessary to note that even though the source of the tributary is different from that of the river, the water it contains in its flow comes indirectly from the sea. Similarly, the aesthetic mood of a Vyabhicharibhava should rise from the particular Sthayibhava.

A Vyabhicharibhava is so called because it is transient and goes astray in many different directions with other more powerful emotions. The Sthayibhavas, like love and grief, are irreducible psychic stereotypes and can exist by themselves, whereas the Vyabhicharibhava are incapable of establishing an independent context for them. They must invariably get connected with one or other of the Sthayibhavas, without connecting to which, they become meaningless. A distinction between the Sthayibhavas and Vyabhicharibhavas must be made.

Vyabhicharibhavas have no identity of their own; they cannot be sustained throughout an entire composition, whereas a Sthayibhavas can be developed into an aesthetic mood or Rasa through repeated treatment. We can have a love poem for an example, or a heroic or comic drama, but a whole poem or play based merely on Shanka, Chinta, Moha, Smriti, or even Harsha would not make sense. These states can be exhibited only as occurring in the course of some primary emotion like Rati.

Imagine a play which exhibits joy and joy alone as its theme from the beginning to the end. Off course, for presenting any emotional state you need the basic situational factors – objects and behavioural expressions. For example, the situation is that a girl has got the proposal of the man she loves; her joy is revealed by expressions such as the glow in the eyes, throbbing of lips, lowered eye lids, trembling of hand, perspiration, change of the facial colour and even tears. In the given context, these expressions will at once be identified as joy that accompanies the fulfilment of love. It is love that takes over as the basic emotional tone or Sthayibhavas and joy becomes its accessory.

Although Bharata classifies thirty-three Bhavas as Vyabhicharibhavas, the term ‘Vyabhicharibhavas’ itself should be understood as a certain function, which Bhavas serve in general, than as a designation for a fixed number of Bhavas. Any Bhava including the nine Sthayibhavas can become Vyabhicharibhavas in relation to a given Sthayibhavas. These thirty-three Bhavas classified as Vyabhicharibhavas can never be established as Sthayibhavas. A Vyabhicharibhavas can attract other Vyabhicharibhavas as its accessories, but it must necessarily get connected to some Sthayibhavas. One objection that can be raised to Bharata’s list of thirty-three Vyabhicharibhavas is that no clear distinction exists between some of these Vyabhicharibhavas and some Sthayibhavas. This fact does not invalidate the fundamental distinction made by Bharata between the Sthayibhavas and the Vyabhicharibhavas.

Sthayibhavas alone are independently meaningful and Vyabhicharibhavas can function only in alliance with the Sthayibhavas. A question may be asked; since the Sthayibhavas can exist alone, why do we need the Vyabhicharibhavas at all? What precisely is their function? Bharata answers this question that no poem is made of a single Rasa. No doubt, it is theoretically possible for a short lyric to be centred on a single Sthayibhavas. By its very nature, a Sthayibhavas can exist in its purity at least for a moment.

Very often even short lyrics are composed of numerous related themes or ideas, each in turn attracting its own emotion. In a long poem or play, it is virtually impossible to prolong on a single mood throughout the length of the composition. For instance, a poem dealing with Shringara or Karuna alone would be insufferably tedious and would have a cloying effect. Hence a number of subsidiary themes, congenial to the mood in hand, have to be introduced; the main theme is not only prolonged in time, but reinforced. The play of different emotions enhances the force of the main theme as long as the accessory emotions are properly coordinated to the Sthayibhavas (dominant emotion). A poem constructed on the principle of Rasa is then an orchestration of several feeling tones in a single major theme, the Sthayibhava that develops it into the Rasa; a number of other minor themes, the Vyabhicharibhavas blend into the Sthayibhavas to produce a unified impression. The Vyabhicharibhavas come and go, rise and get submerged in the flow of the Sthayibhavas “like tides in the ocean”. But all sorts of Bhavas will not come together and get mixed up and any given Sthayibhavas will not go hand in hand with all Bhavas.

Emotions can be friendly or opposed to each other, and will take only those with which they have natural understanding. For example, Veera, or Raudra in a person are incompatible with Bhaya. But Veera and Raudra often go hand in hand and they consort well with other Sthayibhavas, like Hasya and Adbhuta. Raudra will take Vyabhicharibhavas like Asuya, Moha, Avega, Chapalata, Ugrata, Garva, Amarsha, and it is expressed by Anubhavas like red eyes, raised eyebrows, gnashing of teeth, perspiration, trembling of cheeks and lips, and other facial expressions combined with bodily movements and actions. Sambhoga-Shringara (love in union) is contrary to Krodha (fury), Shoka (grief), Jugupsa (disgust), and Bhaya (fear) among the Sthayibhavas, and with Vyabhicharibhavas such as Alasya (indolence) and Augrya (fierceness); but it can assimilate with other feeling tones. Vipralambha-Shringara (Love in separation) can take Krodha, Shoka, Jugupsa, and Bhaya as accessories among the Sthayibhavas in addition to a large number of Vyabhicharibhavas.

In Angikabhinaya, danseuse has to interpret the meaning of each word through gesture, following the logic of the emotions implicit in the poem. She has to exhibit the Bhava called up by each meaning, while at the same time remembering the overall emotive tone of the description. Vyabhicharibhavas should not receive too much elaboration, but must be subordinated to the presiding Rasa and Sthayibhava. Rasa constitutes the meaning of a sentence as a whole, may be called the Vakyartha (sentence-meaning). It is not possible in dance to convey the sentence – meaning in its totality through physical gestures or actions, except by enacting the meaning of each word one by one. Hence dance is called Padarthabhinaya (the enactment of word meanings). In doing Abhinaya, the danseuse should also note an important distinction between an Atmagata (directly experienced emotion) and Paragata (an emotion enacted by another character).




  1. It was nice to read this elaborate article on Abhinaya. Very Informative. Also happened to see your videos. It shows quality dancing. Great going ….lots of luck and good wishes.

  2. Enjoyed reading this article

  3. Hi I have linked this article on my resources page. Thanks

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