A term referring to the eight kinds of heroine, or nayika, each of whom is characterised by a different situation in relation to her male lover or nayaka. The ashta nayikas were first mentioned briefly in the Natyashastra of Bharata, and were developed through the mediaeval period by aestheticians, poets and visual artists.
The Natyashastra classifies nayikas according to two states derived from the shringara rasa, associated with the erotic and romantic interactions of heroes and heroines. These are sambhoga (union) and vipralambha (separation). The state of union dominates the abhisarika nayika (who ventures into a forest at night for a tryst with her beloved), vasakajja nayika (adorned in anticipation of her lover’s visit to her home) and swadhinapatika nayika (happy and secure with her lover). The state of separation governs the proshitapatika nayika (who awaits her travelling lover), vipralabdha nayika (who is disappointed as her lover has broken their appointment), virahotkanthita nayika (who pines for her beloved in solitude), kalahantarita nayika (separated from her lover due to an argument) and khandita nayika (whose husband is unfaithful). Subsequent visual representations of the eight heroines were derived from these situational descriptions.
The ashta nayikas were also pivotal to the work of later theoreticians of dramaturgy, who made further additions and subdivisions based on age, character, behaviour, physical attributes, and relationship status. They were incorporated into poetic works in various languages, and became a major component of bhakti poetry related to Krishna. The Gita Govinda of Jayadeva, composed in the twelfth century, represents Krishna as the nayaka and Radha and the gopis as nayikas. The ashta nayikas were the central subject of love poetry such as the Rasamanjari (fifteenth century) of Bhanudatta. By the sixteenth century, the ashta nayikas became popular subjects of Hindustani poets, and were prominently featured in the Rasikapriya (late sixteenth – early seventeenth century) by Keshavdas. They were also integral to works such as the Sringaramanjari (late seventeenth century) of Akbar Shah, written in Telugu in the Qutb Shahi court of Telangana.
Illustrated manuscripts and paintings depicting the Rasikapriya and Rasamanjari were commissioned by Pahari courts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with prominent representations in the Basohli and Kangra schools. The different nayikas were depicted according to the situations related to them: for example, the abhisarika nayika is depicted by herself in a forest, at night, seeking her beloved. The khandita nayika on the other hand would be represented confronting the nayaka, at times represented through the figures of Radha and Krishna. Ashta nayikas were popular in embroidered eight panelled rumals from Chambal, Himachal Pradesh in the nineteenth century. They were also influential in Ragamala painted manuscripts, which often illustrated ragas through depictions of nayikas and nayaks.
The representation of specific moods through the ashta nayika contributed to the development of abhinaya in classical dance forms such as Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Manipuri. Though the ashta nayikas are not as frequently depicted in visual art today, they continue to be widely represented in these dances.
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