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Ashtanayika: 8 Phases of the Romantic Heroine in the Indian Aesthetic Tradition

An artistic project by actor, filmmaker and educationalist Oorvazi Irani and photographer Chaitali Shirgaonkar looks at the eight archetypal phases of a romantic heroine.

In a kind of performance art for the camera, filmmaker and educationalist Oorvazi Irani got together with photographer Chaitali Shirgaonkar to chronicle the eight archetypal phases of the romantic heroine in the Indian aesthetic tradition called Ashtanayikas (literally, ‘eight heroines’).

Central to this concept of love is the play of two opposites – meeting and separation. Five of the eight heroines reflect the stage of separation, while three represent the stage of meeting.

According to ancient Indian aesthetics, there are eight key emotions, namely shringar (love), hasya (mirth), karuna (compassion/grief), roudra (anger), veera (heroism), bhayanaka (fear), bibhasa (disgust), and adbhuta (wonder). Each emotion has a possibility of varied transient mental states. The heroine (nayika) in this project brings to life within each image the varied mental states establishing the emotion of love.

The protagonist of this series belongs to the Maharashtrian culture with its own specific art and tradition in its style of dressing, jewellery, props and setting.

Virahotkanthita

The heroine yearning, awaiting her beloved to return home
Transient mental states: apprehension, weariness, anxiety, recollection, dreaming, restless

My eyes are longing for that one glimpse of you my beloved
My arms are aching from the emptiness of your void
Wanting to touch you and feel your presence besides me is all I desire
I don’t doubt even for once that you must be delayed by duty
But, my heart knows no reason and only understands the language of your embrace

Abhisarika

The heroine sets out to meet her beloved against all odds
Transient mental states: joy, assurance, dreaming

Nothing can stop me now
I am the warrior of love
To behold you in my eyes I will fight all the world
I will vanquish all obstacles to meet you tonight

Vasakasajja

The heroine adorns herself with pleasure and readies for her beloved
Transient mental states: bashfulness, joy, dreaming, impatient

Oh beloved! My lips tremble
My eyes cannot contain their excitement
My feet are ready to break into a dance
My heart is pulsating to be one in union

Vipralabdha

The dejected heroine stood up by her beloved last night
Transient mental states: despair, deliberation, weakness, weariness, indignation

All night I waited but he did not come
I waited … and waited…
My beloved deceived me.
Now my eyes empty of all hope
My temple of love, deserted and I stand all alone

Khandita

The heroine angry and disappointed shuns her beloved for being unfaithful
Transient mental states: discouragement, weakness, weariness, depression, jealousy, arrogance, shame, despair

Let the earth part to engulf me in her womb
I cannot bear to see you in the arms of another woman
You have made a mockery of my love
Now no water will quench my thirst 
Only the fire of your betrayal will keep burning inside me

Kalahantarita

The heroine quarrels with her beloved but might suffer remorse later
Transient mental states: anxiety, jealousy, arrogance, agitation, impatience, indignation

Look me in the eye
And tell me where I failed you.
You were the ocean of my love
Why did you reduce me to an insignificant mere drop of water?
You don’t deserve me
Walk away silently into the night
Never to return

Proshitabhartruka

The heroine in deep longing separated from her beloved
Transient mental states: weakness, weariness, anxiety, recollection, depression, despair

Separated from you I feel so incomplete
A part of myself that I long for
I count each breath and it seems like eternity
When will you kiss me and bring me back to life?

Swadhinabhartruka

The heroine content with her beloved’s affection and dedication
Transient mental states: arrogance, intoxication, awakening, assurance, joy, contentment

I have been searching for you, oh beloved, all these years
But finally I found you because I found myself…
I recognise you without your masks, I see your true self shining through
As lovers we are now truly inseparable.

Words and performance: Oorvazi Irani.
Photography: Chaitali Shirgaonkar

First published in eShe’s May 2020 issue

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