Manas. Studies into Asia and Africa.

Electronic Journal of the Centre for Eastern Languages and Cultures
Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”

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Manas 2 (2015), 2.

Published on 12.12.2015

ISSN: 2367-6256

Damianova, Roumiana. The Nonverbal Abhinaya Codes As Fondation Of Performing Emotion. – In: Manas: Senses and Sensitivity, Vol. 2, 2, 2015.

2015 / Volume 2 / Issue number 2 : Senses and Sensitivity

The Nonverbal Abhinaya Codes As Fondation Of Performing Emotion

Roumiana Damianova


The text presents nonverbal means used in various aspects of the complex of presentation techniques abhinaya as essential for the construction and objectification of aesthetic emotion encoded in dramaturgical text. From the source texts Nāṭyaśāstra and Abhinayadarpaņa it is known that abhinaya has four aspects or four different modes of communication with the viewer, depending on the employed theatrical techniques, and it is apparent, from the detailed classifications presented in the two treatises, especially that of Bharata – covering all aspects of theater, is that the major part of the expressive instruments is nonverbal. Nonverbal apparatus of abhinaya is extremely interesting from a research point of view, because in fact it appears to be particularly important in terms of achieving the ultimate objective of Indian theater – ssuccessful inducement of the targeted rasa in the spectator and provoking them to relevant emphatic response, while having in practice much stronger summarized impact on the audience than the verbal messages. The present research paper attempts to explain why this is so, by seeking parallels between everyday and stage communicative acts from the perspective of nonverbal means of expression and in the light of modern communication science and its psychological basis.




Emotional states experienced in everyday life have a huge impact and relevance both on the person experiencing them, and to the others. Perhaps their most distinctive feature is the disorganizing impact on the current activity of the individual. Emotions arise when the motivation for action is much stronger compared to the real opportunities of the subject, and their appearance leads to reduction in the adaptation level. Emotional state directly affects behavior, e.g. when a person is excited and cannot decide how to react, he makes confused or aimless bodily movements.

In everyday communication emotions serve several functions, among which the most significant in the discourse of theater and in terms of perception are perhaps the communicative and reflective functions.

Reflective function of emotions represents the ability for drawing general conclusions and assessment of the environmental events, and determines the timely reaction of the body against influencing factors. It is not equally inherent to all emotional states, being more apparent for experiences such anger, contempt and shame as they lead directly to certain responses, while stimuli causing experiences as pleasure, pain, joy or boredom cannot always be accurately identified. Directly connected with the reflective function is the instigating function. Under certain conditions the individual experiences emotional attraction, desire and aspiration. The instigating function activates the demand area in order to reach a decision on a task or meet a particular need. Emotional experience includes an image of the object that eventually will serve to meet the needs and bias against him, what incites the individual to action.

Communicative function allows people to transmit their experiences to other people through expressions and gestures and nonverbally to inform them about their attitude to the events, situations and objects. Facial expressions and gestures, postures, expressive sighs, changed intonation are "the language of human feelings" and the primary means of expressing emotions. Modern scholars generally agree with the Darwin’s opinion that mimicry is evolutionary product that serves an important adaptive function. In the course of evolution mimic signals develop in a system allowing transmission of information about individual’s intentions or status, and as a warning to other creatures in the surrounding environment. Communicative function of emotion presupposes not only the existence of special neuro-physiological mechanism underlying the external manifestation of emotion, but also a mechanism that allows the meaning of these expressive cues to be decoded. Not all displays of emotion can be identified as easy. Recognizable with ease are horror, then come disgust and surprise. According to the majority of the results of experiments conducted, most information about the emotional state reveals the expression of the mouth. Here, of course, the specific characteristics of each emotion as a result of the cultural specificity must be taken into account. Globalization nowadays is strong enough agent to change traditional notions in some communities. However, national culture factor is still very important. Culture differentiates the separate communities and retains distinct symbolism, typical of certain societies for centuries. Some of the universal behaviors typical for fundamental emotions are considered to be genetically determined. Genetic determination of expressive responses is supported by the similarity of expressive mimic movements in the blind and sighted such as smile, laughter or tears. The research results show that the differences in facial movements between blind and sighted young children are negligible. But with the age the mimicry of sighted becomes more expressive and generalized, while in blind people it is not getting perfected, but regresses. Therefore mimic movements are not only the genetically determined, but highly depend on the social context. The structure of emotions and feelings together with the processes of their generation and development represents a complex dynamic system with constant parameters, which are responsible for various centers of pleasure and displeasure, and variables which are manifested as experiencing of feelings within the “positive – negative” range. Besides being complex, this system is poorly controlled since its work involves accumulated traces of past events preserved in the memory, which may also cause emotions. Another feature of the emotional system is that it has many degrees of freedom – for example, freedom in the time and sduration of emotions flow, freedom in choosing the stimuli of emotions and so on. Structuring emotions and feelings is a process of regulation between inherited and acquired mechanisms occurring in the cortex and subcortex of the brain, between mental and physiological processes, reflecting behavior and external expressions as facial movements and gesture. Hence the complexity of emotional process arises for it interferes and affects the mental processes flowing under the affect, such as perception, thinking, remembering, imagination, fantasy and reasoning.

Emotion plays a key role in all art in its capacity of imitating real or imaginary events, objects and situations. The real life phenomena cannot be recreated entirely rationally. Similarly it is impossible to perceive the encoded in an artwork design without any emotions. The impression of an artwork cannot be achieved only rationally, since this contradicts with its ultimate objective – causing emphatic response in the recipient. On the other hand its perception is mediated by emotions, it is based on them, but it is not limited to them.

What are the characteristics that distinguish theater or aesthetic emotion of the experienced in everyday life?

Expressive behavior of personality is a complex process ranging from simple motor activities such as grasping, running and jumping to express intentions and emotional states, through facial expression, body gestures, and voice tone and so on. The term "body language" is associated precisely with the latter. The common thing between daily and aesthetic behavior is that both are codified systems. At first glance everyday behavior does not look codified, since for everyone it feels as natural as to express verbally in mother tongue. On individual level, however, "personal rituals" (such as toilet habits, erotic game, food preparation and its consumption etc.) are also largely codified. This type of behavior can be defined in different ways – as a habit, everyday activities, routine, or even constraint, depending on how we looks at the act and how we consider the performer. What is common in all these definitions is the emphasis on the existence of a fixed sequence of behavior in every such “rituals”. The difference between everyday and aesthetic behavior is that, like in the archaic ritual the individual does not play somebody's role but presents himself in the role of a performer of certain daily “rituals”. What only matters is the execution of certain actions in a fixed sequence. The performance quality or how well you brush our teeth, how successfully you deal with cooking and so on is not as significant as it is in the show.

Theatrical emotion, unlike the daily one is artificially generated, pre-designed and intentionally induced. In this sense it is not an exact imitation or simulation of an emotional condition or event, but rather an intentional emotional construction.

Emotional states in a drama production are implicated in dramaturgical text, woven in the very discourse, preliminary and deliberately set and selected by the author, and subsequently implemented by the director and the actors on stage. In other words, Indian type of theater works according to a plan – by handling certain techniques and codes, it deliberately constructs and transmits to the audience specific emotional states and moods, at the same time suggesting the links, the causes and the effects. In this sense for the stage production theatrical emotions function as emotional constructs built on the scene within prescribed by the canon means, exactly fixed models and targetted to provoke the viewer’s emotional response, also designed in dramaturgical text in one way or another. Despite being deliberately constructed, the aesthetic emotional experience, just like the everyday experience, has the capacity through the drama means of expression to induce in the viewer latently present in his mind emotional traces. The effect on the recipient while experiencing theatrical emotions, however, differs from that of the profane emotion.

The components of an artistic work are not related to the viewer personally, do not impact him directly and therefore do not act directly on his ego. Thus they provoke in his subconsciousness emotional states, which acquire the status of free, detached from the ego emotions and allow his subconsciousness on its turn to receive transpersonal orientation.

In this sense the emotion, experiences at aesthetic perception of theatrical product lies outside the scope of feelings along the "pleasure-pain" axis, invariably present in each daily emotional experience. This concludes the second key difference between daily and theatrical emotion – the lack of direct reference to the ego of the individual, neither of the performer directly involved in the stage production nor of the viewer-participant who experiences and enjoys it. Probably exactly the absence of such personally oriented component of the emotional state, subject of the stage play, turns it into emotional construct, "lightens" and simplifies it, allowing the actor to build it up technically perfect. The fact that the emotive stage construction is not directly related to the performer seems to set the latter free not only to construct a universalized version of it, but also to communicate it successfully to the spectator. The chief instrument of the mechanism used for building the emotional construct in Sanskrit stage play, is abhinaya presentation in its four modes of communication, having the capacity to signify, indicate and display practically everything. Of the four aspects, aṅgikabhinaya, the stage presentation through body parts is the foundation of stage acting – the perfect technique of execution is crucial for this art form. Then, the more pronounced is the usage of the other components – vācika, sāttvika and āhārya, the more successful is the transmission of the emotional states to the audience, the more possible is the targeted aesthetic response.

As already noted, theatrical emotions are intentionally objectified in order to be felt and experienced by the audience. In contrast, the emotions in everyday life are formed and expressed in most cases unintentionally, or rather spontaneously. In both types of emotionality, however, the external mechanism of expression is one the same – spatially, physically and mentally, and as it turns out, expressed predominantly through nonverbal means.


The abhinaya presentation used in classical Sanskrit theater and in medieval and contemporary performative art forms is a set of techniques and practices in which the externalization of aesthetic emotion is achieved by brought to perfection codified stage behavior. Basically, it is a suggestive method of presentation which could be defined rather as a process of transmission of existential or mental states to the viewer, than as a "play" in the sense of linear stage action.

Abhinaya stage presentation is an instrument for imitation of human behavior and as the latter is generally classified into three types – physical, verbal and mental, therefore the stage play also, as Nāṭyaśāstra and Abhinayadarpaņa maintain, has at least[1] four major components depending on what means of expression are employed:

  • Аṅgikābhinaya – acting through the body, which include movements of all body parts (major, secondary and auxiliary), stylized hand positions (dynamic or static) and facial expression; the language of hand gestures is the exclusive resource of aṅgikābhinaya aspect – highly stylized and codified, with the capacity to signify and display a wide range of messages;
  • Vācikābhinaya – acting through verbalization and articulation of the dramaturgical text, the song’s lyrics etc.; includes stage speech and technique, intonation, diction, voice modulation, accent and rhythm; nonverbal elements of speech – voice pitch depending on the emotion portrayed, paralinguistic and prosodial elements, the usage of prescribed dialects depending on the character represented, the appropriate forms of address according to his/her caste, position and social status;
  • āhāryābhinaya – acting through costume, makeup, jewels, ornaments, masks, decorations, accessories and other such props. Clothing is one of the most important nonverbal tools for actor’s communication with the audience for in most cases it determines the behavior the audience expects from the actor. If the same actor appears on stage dressed in a different style, it will change both the audience’s opinion about him and its expectancy of how he shall behave. The abrupt change in the style of clothing of the same character arouses suspicion in the audience. The colorful costume, glittering ornaments and strong makeup are part of the symbolism of the stage show – substantial and allegorical boundary between the “reality” and its theatrical projection. They have dual function: not only to attract spectator’s attention but to provide, by the means of type and color symbols of the costume worn, additional information on his age, caste, gender, social status and personality of the character. The strong and bright makeup enlarges characteristic facial features of the character and literally grabs the viewer’s gaze towards him. Accessories and attributes are also nonverbal suggestions for social status, rank and prosperity or vice versa. Conventionalized costume and makeup are appeared as a result of the stylized stage acting and at the same time they appear to function as means for further strengthening its stylization. Besides they bring along the so important theatrically-conventional symbolism, which communicates with the spectator through social messages, as well as through subtle semantic codes leading to generalization under the overall staging plan or individual nature of the character;
  • Sāttvikābhinaya represent perhaps the most curious and the most concealed aspect in terms of stage techniques and practices employed by actors to portray the so called sāttvikabhāva оr physiological body responses in emotionally charged situations. The classification given in Abhinayadarpaņa repeats the one in Nāṭyaśāstra – eight in number they are: stambha (numbness), sveda (perspiration), romāñca (horripilation), svarabheda (change of voice), vepathu (trembling), vaivarņya (change of colour), aśru (shedding tears) and pralaya (loss of consciousness). The sāttvikabhāva states are considered unintended, non-voluntary and thus non-controlled physiological manifestation of emotions, originating from the temperament of the actor itself.

The abhinaya aspects represent four different modes of communication with the audience and make up the syntax of acting. Evident from the above classification the vast majority of abhinaya tools consists of nonverbal means, furthermore, in Indian classical dance styles, in use today, the stage presentation employs exclusively nonverbal components – the dancer does not verbalize the lyrics of a song: this function is performed by a singer, part of the ensemble of musicians.


According to contemporary scientific definitions the information that is not conveyed through speech or writing can be qualified as nonverbal, therefore people can receive and send messages accordingly without speaking or writing. Along with speech (verbal behaviour), everyone carry into effect an entire system of nonverbal means. In many cases the two systems are synchronized, but there might be also discrepancies or contradictions between them. Nonverbal communication is expressed through nonlinguistic means: the actions or attributes of humans, including appearance, use of objects, sounds, time, smell, space and colours, that have proven socially shared signifficance and stimulate meaning in others. It includes visual/kinesic cues such as facial expressions, eye movements, gestures, and body orientation; vocal/paralinguistic cues such as volume, pitch, rate and inflection; proxemic cues such as space and distance; olfactory or smell cues; cues provided via artificial communication and appearance (e.g. tatoos and piercing); cues sent via colour; and chronemic or time cues. It is worthy to be noted that the opportunities for communication through nonverbal channel expand with the emergence and development of social relations, the establishment of social conventions, codes and symbolism.

The repertoire of nonverbal human behavior is presented by two major categories of means: nonverbal signs and nonverbal signals. The nonverbal signs represent in general the deliberate and purposeful transmission of nonverbal information. The non-verbal signals broadcast information regardless of individual’s desire or against it. Both groups combine conscious and unconscious characteristics. Part of the nonverbal signs and signals are congenital, others are acquired by the ethno-cultural characteristics of the environment in which the individual grows: as a result of education and training, especially in early childhood. Although we may send nonverbal messages deliberately or accidentally, their meaning depends on how they are interpreted.

According to another common classification nonverbal communication employs the following types of means:

  • Cue: a type of communication used to let another individual know what is expected of him/her in a given situation. Cues are a type of receptive communication. They can be: touch cues: touch another person to communicate a desired action; sensory cues: sensory input used to help another individual anticipate an event (the sound of ring bell before entering the flat); object cues: concrete piece of a routine used to represent that routine.
  • Signal: movements used to communicate needs, desires and feelings. Signals are a form of expressive communication and they are usually seen within an already occurring activity.
  • Symbol: representation of an event, object, person, or place that can be used to communicate about the event, action, object, person, or place. Nonverbal symbols are culturally predetermined, as most of them are inherited and fully automated. Generally people with the same national and cultural identity have a specific set of tools and non-linguistic signs of communication, different to those of other nations. Symbols can be used for both receptive and expressive communication. Objects, parts of objects, pictures, prints, actions, gestures, signs, and speech can all be symbols. Symbols may start as cues or signals. If a spectator recognizes a cue out of context, that cue may be acting as a symbol. If a signal or an object cue is used to communicate about an event, action, object, person or place out of context, the individual may be using that signal or cue as a symbol.

The more a symbol resembles what it represents, the more concrete it is and on the contrary, the less a symbol resembles what it represents, the more abstract it is. Concrete symbols are more easily associated with what they represent than abstract symbols are.

Most of the visual symbols, signs and cues used in Indian theater are culturally specific and may also vary from quite concrete to more abstract.

Nonverbal communication is an important part of the process of communication in everyday life, representing two-thirds of all communication. To fully understand the meaning of verbal messages, we also need to understand the meaning of the nonverbal messages that accompany them or occur in their absence. After all, we can change the meaning of our words with the wink of an eye, a certain facial expression, voice tone, bodily movement, use of speech, or touch.

The expression of emotional states is the most widely spared function of nonverbal communication but it also has the following functions:

  • Transmits information on attitudes, using the capabilities of voice, intonation, facial expressions and other nonverbal means.
  • Contradicts or negate the verbal message: the words may say one thing and the nonverbal cues another. Nonverbal communication reveals a mental state or emotion, which can be a signal for something else.
  • Emphasizes or underscores a verbal message: through lowering the voice, slowing down the rate of speech one can deliberately stress or accentuate his words.
  • Regulates or controls person-to-person interaction: through raising or lowering intonation, through making poses one can nonverbally influent the flow of verbal interaction. This sort of control is associated with limitations of the auditory channel to receive and process the sound effects and the much greater capacity of the visual channel for obtaining information.
  • Substitutes the language – most often through gestures and facial expressions when it is considered that this impact will be more direct and powerful or when speech is socially unacceptable; nonverbal cues can take the place of spoken words – rolling eyes, shrugging shoulders, or thumb up can substitute the corresponding verbal messages very successfully.
  • Reinforces or complements the speech, enhancing its impact through the inclusion of nonverbal cues.
  • Expresses interpersonal relationships – the distance between speakers often shows us the degree of closeness and mutual attraction or dislike.

Despite the different approaches and methods used for studying nonverbal communication, ultimately the focus is always on the main nonverbal signs: body contact, distance (from groups or individuals), orientation (of sight, body), appearance (individual qualities – clothes, body structure, hairstyle etc.), posture (characteristic of individual races, social groups, religions and professional associations), head movements (e.g. the specific nodding[2] of Bulgarians), hand gestures, mimics, body signs, sight, nonverbal elements of speech.

A. Scheflen[3] proposes the following classification:

  • kinesics – communication through body movements, including facial expressions, posture and body position, movements of the arms and legs, rate of walk;
  • proxemics – communication through space, territory and distance;
  • Paralinguistic – these components may modify or nuance meaning, or convey emotion; paralinguistic components are prosody, pitch, volume, intonation etc.
  • haptics or tactile modality – communication through touch;
  • olfactory modality ­– communication through odors;
  • civilizational modality – communication through clothes, jewelry and cosmetics;
  • colours – variations in clothing, makeup, decorations and environmental colors.

The meanings stimulated by behavioral cues falling within the above categories do not occur in isolation. Instead, they interact with each other, whether reinforcing or diminishing the impact of the perceived information.

The importance of this type of communication is huge and it is examined by scientists to be used in business, science, politics, the arts and many other fields and to improve communication between the genders.

According to most frequently cited statistics (Mehrabian[4]) only 7% of the importance of the message is transmitted verbally – through the words we use; 38% are communicated via voice and its elements – tone, intonation, modulation, timbre, power and depth; and 55% is communicated nonverbally – via paralinguistic means and body language. Subtracting the 7% for actual verbal content it makes 93% in favor of nonverbal components. However, studying human behavior and answering the question how much of the real communication is nonverbal, is a challenging task. Depending on the scientific research methodology in combination with the dynamic nature of human behavior, the different studies may reach very different conclusions, what makes the specific quantification close to impossible. In daily life for most cases the number highly depends on both the situation and the individual communicator, whereas on stage the communication is much more determinate, focused and transparent. While in fact the original experiments from which these findings derive only apply to communicating attitudes and feelings, perhaps a more realistic average ratio (facial components: vocal components) would be 20:80 or even 40:60. Virtually the exact percentage turns to be not so important. The weighty part is that most communication is nonverbal and therefore nonverbal behavior represents the most crucial aspect of real communication, bearing the major portion of a message’s communicative value.

Even when used independently of words, as long as an observer derives meaning from them, nonverbal messages “speak” volumes. Moreover, the important fact is that we not only perceive from the speaker the majority of the transmitted information nonverbally, but before the actual content of the verbal message. The remaining portion concerns the content of the words.

The above fully applies to scenic communicative act. The theater depends heavily on nonverbal communication to inform and move its audience. Acting, blocking, costume, lighting and set design can all help achieve that goal since all drama components except dialogue can be illustrated to the audience through nonverbal presentational repertoire.

At the most individual level, nonverbal communication takes place through the actor onstage. Though his character may have dialogue, the actor’s intention is not conveyed solely through it, he communicates just as much with his physique and movement – body language, walk, attitude, precision of gesture etc., as with his words.

Furthermore the actors do not even need to use spoken words to make their characters’ message clear to the audience. The way the actor performs any physical activity tells the audience plenty about his character as the actors’ message comes alive by the way they move, by their facial expressions, by how they sit and adjust their heads. Nonverbal cues used on stage can even contradict the spoken dialogue to add complexity and tension to the character and his interaction with others. In everyday life despite the presence of such cues, too often we remain unaware of the messages of our bodies, our voices, or the space around us sends to others. We simply act and react without considering how acting modify, reinforce, or distort messages. Nonverbal cues the actor uses on stage not only offer cues to the attitudes, feelings and individuality of the character, but relying on them he connects himself with the characters emotionally, involves the audience and provokes it to reaction, which must be spontaneous from spectator’s point of view and planned and projected from the cast and crew’s perspective.

The huge discrepancy, as mentioned above, between the verbal and nonverbal messages and their relative importance can be changed by a well-trained actor. By an appropriate usage of hands, gestures, posture of the body and overall body language he is able to assist the spoken words in order to increase the viewer’s ability for perception of the content and expressional messages conveyed, respectively, the message will be clearer. If the face expression is also involved as an active accompaniment of the words, perception of the words and their unambiguity is increased to 40%. If the hearing and voice modulations are bounded, the perception capabilities will increase to 80%.

Blocking[5] or placement also acts as a significant form of nonverbal communication. Where characters stand onstage and how they move about can tell the audience a lot about their relationship with each other, their environment, social order and hierarchy of characters. For example, the protagonist is often placed in visually powerful or eye-attracting positions onstage. The audience sees the story through his eyes, so he must be the visual focus of much of the action so the spectators can relate it to him.

Lighting can indicate place, time, mood and focus of story to an audience. For example, a scene taking place under a full moon will have completely different lighting than the same scene happening at dawn or inside a dwelling. Lighting helps create the world the audience willfully enters when they watch a production. It can set mood through colour and intensity and can tell the audience what to focus on stage.

The set, like lighting, sets mood, environment and time which tell the spectators if the characters are in a hostile, friendly or neutral environment. The absence of set can communicate a desolate place or unpleasing surroundings for the character, or it can serve to break the “fourth wall” between actors and audience, allowing the audience to be more consciously aware of the fact that they are watching a make-believe world.

Exactly like in everyday situation the ccommunicative act between performer and spectator is predominantly nonverbal, through body language, hand gestures, facial expression, costume, makeup, accessories, attributes and specifics of the voice. The information communication model between the performer and spectator in Indian theater is interactive – the roles of communicator and recipient are exchanged as many times the two communicating parties have the opportunity to exchange information on various encoding and decoding messages. Transmitted messages in both directions shall be comprised of verbal (speech), and nonverbal components. In this communicative model the actor’s interpersonal effectiveness depends on how nonverbal messages add or detract from his words. Thus with his nonverbal cues announcing his state of mind, expectations, and sense of self, with his entire being chattering incessantly, revealing what he feels and thinks, the actor himself becomes the message.

Interactivity seems to be imminent to Sanskrit play, which stands chronologically closer to syncretism, the primitive form of human art in which myth, ritual, song, dance, music and speech coexist and which arises based on the so-called ideological syncretism – a set of religious, pre-scientific ideas and knowledge about the world and nature.

The interaction between performers and spectators in Indian theater is apparently sought to the purpose, given that the recipient is supposed to ultimately share the actor's experience. Interactivity is usually understood as a form of two-way communication, in which one system communicates with another through a series of actions or messages while every action and message is connected or generated as a result of previous actions or messages. In this particular case it comes to relations between two primary subsystems – performer: performance and spectator: object of aesthetic pleasure. Interactivity in the South East theater is often of the type "one to many", more or less asynchronous and asymmetric (going in different ways in the contacting systems).

The actor’s body as a main media operates with three basic modes: channel, context and code. In this particular case there are three channels for transmitting messages towards the spectator: words, sound and image (static or dynamic). Through masterful handling of the contextual messages by situating them on these three levels (very often simultaneously), the actor transmits synonymously and in a codified form the messages of the drama text to the viewer, in demand of certain response. Since the performer is supposed to convey messages to the audience via three channels simultaneously, his expressive behavioral model represents a process of constant establishment of relations between them in one “present” moment of reception. In combination with the codified means of expression it creates an enhanced sense of playfulness, reflection of the Vedantic concept of līlā – the play of the divine Absolute (Brahman) as creating the entire reality, including space. On the other hand, as already pointed out, the spectator is familiar with the story beforehand, he knows what will happen on stage and has the skills to decode the information provided by the body of the actor. It is also worth mentioning that this multimedia approach involves two levels of interactivity. As the presenter often portrays several different characters, he in fact interacts first with himself – a particular action of a character brings to reaction another character, then the sequence of actions and reactions presented within the limits of the performing body triggers audience’s response.

The original interactivity of the Indian theater seems to be a product of the fact that the respective culture, due to the tradition of transmitting large volumes of knowledge on various issues, persisted for very long time its oral nature, even the Vedas are called “śruti” i.e. “heard”. Speech is associated primarily with the voice, although the listener is very likely to see the speaker, i.e., the context while conducting oral communication naturally favors the adequate understanding of the subject between the participants in the communicative act. In such an oral situation the real event for the participants is the speech or the discourse. By contrast, in written communication the communicator is physically absent, here instead of a spokesman an author of the text functions, which leads to disconnection between the messenger and the recipient; the object of written communication is neither evident, nor it is clear to whom the message is intended. Thus the text acquires other meanings, regardless of the author's intention, which in turn provokes the reader of the message to restore not only the meaning of the text, but its discourse alo. For the above cited reasons the Indian culture, even back in the period of syncretism creates a performer, functioning as an interactive multimedia and perceived by the audience with all senses available. Another characteristic of this type of multimedia performance is that the text is treated as a secondary component. The new media conveys towards the viewer not simply messages, but visual codes, apparently more important on stage than the verbal messages. Of course the images never exist in their pure form, but in conjunction with many other codes and systems of presentation and constituted elements of statics and dynamics in the field of imagery visibility. Therefore the image generated is not the projected static form of what is happening on stage, but a dynamic effort involving both the performer and the audience in the process of the continuous formation of the image. The actor’s body, being the major channel for transmission of images towards the audience, is a perspective of the consciousness, constitutive to the images. Thus each media imposes its imprint on the transmitted message and creates symbolic relationship impacting the way a message is perceived.

After being transmitted the images are stored and while the process of transmission is conscious, the process of storage is unconscious. How the messages will be interpreted and stored by the audience depends primarily on the quality of transmission. This very well explains why for this kind of performance the perfection of techniques is far more important than the actual content of the message, already known by the audience in advance. Indian type of spectacle progresses by moving within a complex network of threads, thoroughly joined by the performer and functioning as pre-established signs for the spectator. The more skillfully they are encoded and explicated by the actor, the more successfully the viewer will be able to decode them. The more the meanings conveyed through the transmission channel are consistent and do not contradict, the stronger the purity of communication between performers and spectators is. At that point the depth of the artistic and cultural field, opened by the show, is achieved.

The importance of nonverbal communication, not only in everyday life, but in theater too, is based on the fact that it has the capacity to portray messages both vocally and with the correct body signals: physical features, conscious and unconscious gestures, clues and signals, and the mediation of personal space. Nonverbal messages represent 80% of first impressions for people, which are on average formed within the first four seconds of contact. First interactions with another person strongly affect individual's perception. Our senses, sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, facial expression, posture, gestures and intuition are the main sources of nonverbal messages. Depending on the type of emotion that is being sent, the appropriate nonverbal channel is used for its transmission. When the receiver is absorbs the message, he is focused on the entire surrounding environment, using all five senses in the interaction: 83% sight, 11% hearing, 3% smell, 2% touch and 1% taste.

For performing arts the nonverbal communication is even more important than it is in everyday life, as the final overall impression of the show depends on the right proportion of predominantly nonverbal masterful acting. Nonverbal stage communication refers to any form of action on stage which conveys meaning to the audience and is understood as an aggregate process of sending and receiving wordless messages between the actor and the spectators. Such messages are communicated through gestures, body language or posture, facial expression and eye gaze, object communication such as clothing, hairstyles, models (of vehicles, mountains, buildings, animals etc.), symbols and infographics, features of speech such as intonation and stress, voice quality, emotion and speaking technique – all elements of nonverbal communication the spectators use to decode the rational content and interpret the emotional connotation of communication exchange on the stage.

It has already been mentioned that in everyday life the nonverbal communication can generally be divided into conscious and unconscious. The first group includes the deliberate movements – for example the choice of clothes. The second group includes all unconscious and reflective. The choice of clothes and movements can be easily controlled and adjusted depending on the intension of the person. The nonverbal communication on stage is almost purely deliberate, conscious and purposeful, since it depends and relies on the dramaturgical text and is intended to convey certain messages to the audience. Deliberate movements on stage are often hyperbolized and look unnatural, which makes them easy to be understood by the audience.

Nonverbal scenic communication can also occur through any sensory channel – through sight, sound, smell, touch or taste (of rasa). Another very important feature of nonverbal stage communication is that it comes in many forms at the same time – the actor’s costume, tone of voice, attitude, and movement, all contribute to it.

The most widely manifested function of nonverbal communication is expression of emotional states, which applies in the utmost extent to the stage presentation.

The core instrument of abhinaya used in Sanskrit drama is the body of the actor, with hand gestures and face expressions as the most expressive among its nonverbal repertoire –– the treatises on the subject, especially Nāṭyaśāstra and Abhinayadarpaņa, also accentuate on anhinaya through hasta[6] and mukha[7] and postulate that the most important body parts, projected to be also the most expressive, are situated on the face.

Motorics of the human body and its spatial behavior (personal space, distance, territory, selection of place and arrangement) are inherited. Our body knows how to move and does it automatically, without thinking. This is why it takes such long time before Indian actor learns how to set his body on stage in a way totally different from everyday, what Barba[8] calls "extra daily". Perhaps the easiest to be mastered among the abhinaya components is the language of hand gestures (hastabhinaya), as some of them are used in everyday life, where they indeed have been taken from.

Hands are the most common tool of nonverbal communication – they can show uncertainty, anger, fear, affection etc. They can touch or they can be folded, they can gesticulate or can be clenched in fists – countless variation each suggesting a different emotion. On the stage hands can signify a wide variety of objects, ideas and messages by putting them in the respective hasta, prescribed according to treatises on the matter. Gesticulation (hastabhinaya) employed in Sanskrit drama and Indian classical dances has at command 28 single and 23 double hand gestures, tailored for signification and display of certain objects, phenomena, existential and mental states. Combined in series they are able to express an endless variety of messages, depending on the text of the play or the song. Together with the body posture, movements of the body parts and face expression they can suggest various mental states, emotions and feelings. In a narrow sense, gesture is referred to the information conveyed by the immediate movements of the wrists and hands. In broad terms, these are signals of external changes of body position as an element accompanying the verbalized theatrical text. But gestures also lead an independent from the text life of their own. They can transmit signals highlighting statements or results, exaltation, expression of doubt by wrinkling the forehead, or demonstrating joy or displeasure through body posture. For instance strong and decisive gestures reveal security; scratching, plucking and other nervous gestures reveal the tension and uncertainty. Characters who do not gesticulate may look scared; excessive gesticulation breeds distrust. Gesticulating shall emphasize the speech, not to jam it.

Face is the main channel we use to decipher the feelings of others in everyday communication. Faces reveal: whether the parties find the interaction pleasant or unpleasant; how interested an individual is in sustaining or terminating a contact; the degree of involvement of the parties; whether responses during contact are spontaneous or controlled; the extent to which messages are understood and shared. The face is also the prime communicator of emotions. Our ability to read the emotions depicted in facial expressions determines whether we will be able to respond appropriately to others’ feelings. Since they are the most visible and reliable means we have, we use facial features to identify others and distinguish one person from another. Facial appearance influences also judgments of someone’s physical attractiveness and approachability, and affects whether he or she is assessed to be dominant or submissive.

Facial expression is universal means of expression of emotions between people according to racial and social identity. According to evolutionary theory, facial expressions and gestures are the first ever means of communication between people at all. The way we experience an emotion and depict it can be at a time abundantly obvious and extremely subtle. Through numerous studies comparing different cultures, now it has been found that human facial expressions are understood and produced on biological basis.

Motoric of human face includes 30 to 40 muscle groups located below the skin surface that are involved in many activities such as breathing, eating, swallowing, speaking and so on. Seventeen of them are intended only to mimic expressions, having no other functions. The center for recognition of emotions is located in the right hemisphere of the brain and is differet from the place of face recognition. A limited range of the tens of thousands possible configurations of facial muscles express emotional states. Yet even with them the human face is capable to display about 10 000 different expressions. Appropriate expression of emotions with face is considered a necessary element of social contact. Emotions are written with very high precision on the human face and provide reliable information on the current experience of the individual. Paradoxically one of the most frequently used in everyday facial expression looks like a mixture of anger and discontent. The emotionally specific movements of facial muscles are short-lived (lasting between 1 and 5 seconds), symmetrical and difficult to be consciously reproduced. Sincere smile differs from the social one for it is very harmonious, with both mouth edges raised symmetrically. The eyes also participate, which is evident from the lines around them. Smile also talks about openness and radiance, good health and condition. Smile on the East covers a wide range of emotions – happiness, anger, confusion, excuse, sadness. Such information message can also hold elements of polysemy. Mimics are carried out reflexively, most of them being congenital and inherited the, but in some cases they might be produced consciously and deliberately. The expressive movements of the facial muscles, or the so called facial expressions, used for portrayal of one or other feeling or emotion are an essential element of acting. They are learnt by actor deliberately and used consciously and purposefully and are very important component of acting as a means of objectification of feelings and emotional states on stage – the actor’s face can be masklike and unexpressive, or emotionally present, filled with interest and attitude.

There are thousands of unique face expressions that humans are able to display, but there are some basic emotions – joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise, contempt, which are universal to all people (even some animals species), and occur regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or religion.

The eyes can also talk – studies have found that people use their eyes to indicate their interest and attitude with more than the frequently recognized actions of winking and slight movement of the eyebrows. Eye contact and facial expressions provide important social and emotional information and have a large influence on social behavior – either staring at those on the other side, or driven into the ground or wandering in the air the eyes are always signs of various emotional or mental conditions yet the frequency and interpretation of eye contact vary between cultures and species.

As a key part of interpersonal communication we use eye contact to establish, maintain, and terminate contact. As with all nonverbal cues, the messages someone sends with his eyes may be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the individuals and the situation, but there are three central functions eye movements serve: eyes reveal the extent of interest and emotional involvement; eyes influence judgements of persuasiveness and perceptions of dominance or submissiveness; eyes regulate person-to-person interaction.

The pupils of eyes are a reliable indicator of emotions. When we show interest for what another person is saying, our blinking rate decreases and our pupils dilate, with the opposite equally true. When we take no interest, our pupils start contracting and similarly they dilate when we experience a negative attitude. Regulating pupil size is a nonverbal cue beyond our conscious control, so they rarely, if ever, lie. To look persuasive, one must refrain from excessive blinking and maintain a steady gaze, without exhibiting eye flutter. This skill is especially important for Indian actors and dancers. According to the treatises when representing on stage, especially when it comes to god characters, he or she is advised to refrain from blinking.

Increased eye contact is associated with visual dominance, whereas avertion of eyes correlates with the impression of submissiveness. Humans can “stare down” each other to establish dominance, however there might have some culturally specific variations. Eye contact also indicates whether a communication channel is open. It is much easier to avoid interacting if we have not made eye contact, because once we do, interaction virtually becomes an obligation. When we like one another or want to express our affection, we also increase our eye contact.

When we use our facial expression to communicate genuine feelings, we exhibit representational facial expression. Conversely, when we continuously control our face to communicate a message meant only for public consumption, we are giving a performance for all practical purpose. Such facial expressions are labeled presentational facial expressions. Controlling of the face work plays ethic role in interacting with others and the technique itself is called “putting a face”. What are the techniques used use to “put on a face”? First, we may qualify our facial expression by adding another expression that modifies the impact of the original expression. Second, we may modulate our facial expression by simply changing it to reflect feelings that are somewhat more or less intense of what we actually feel. Third, we may directly falsify our facial expression: simulate an unfelt emotion, neutralize an emotion by showing none when we actually feel some emotion, or mask a felt emotion by displaying one that we do not really feel.

Interestingly while faking a face, we actually leave an array of clues for an astute observer. For instance, our “face-work” may lack spontaneity, or be out of synchrony with our words or actions, or we may exhibit involuntary cues by showing expressions appearing on our face for only a split second. What begins as a smile becomes ever so briefly a grimace and then is reengineered back into smile. These fleeting emotional changes, lasting no more than one-eighth to one-fifth of a second, are called microfacial or micromomentary expressions. Although appearing in a fraction of a second such expressions reveal our innermost emotional states and typically occur when we attempt to disguise or conceal those states. Thus, a twitch of the mouth or the eyebrow can suggest that the emotion being communicated is not the emotion actually being felt.

Sometimes the simple act of smiling actually evokes a positive mood change in the person smiling. Yet the degree to which people demonstrate susceptibility to deliberately engineered facial expressions varies greetly. On the other hand, the total lack of physical ability to smile, a condition called Möbius syndrome, gives the impression of a perpetually grumpy look, making it difficult for individuals afflicted to experience normal interpersonal relationships. Though it may be unintended, the lack of a smile causes others to perceive the unsmiling person as unfriendly, bored or tired.

It is amazing that Nāṭyaśāstra studies not only the gaze and the movements of the eyes but also the movement of pupils as nonverbal means for conveyance of specific messages.

In theatrical context eye contact is nonverbal cue for activation and regulation of the viewer’s attention. It is believed that the missing eye contact can lead to leveling the relevant discrepancies of communication expressions – for example gaze downcasted indicates shyness or hiding something. A character, watching calmly in the eye looks credible. The duration of sight also matters. A sight is noticeable to whom it is directed to, even if it lasts three seconds. A sight longer than three seconds signals clear interest. It is not possible for the actor on stage to communicate through nonverbal signals with each viewer, as it is usual in direct communication. During stage communication the attention is focused on the audience as the main addressee through multiple eye contact.

The function of eyes, sight and facial expression as a means of stage presentation is transmission to the viewer of the attitude and the adjustment of the character to the context and its sensuous and emotional experiences. In the Southeast type of theater the eyes and the look are the most important indicator of the character‘s emotional state. They are extremely enlarged and highlighted with black makeup for the viewer to be able to see them clearly. Through the eye movements, the look and the facial expression the Indian actor is able to express a huge variety of sensual states: basic or universal – joy, anger, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, amazement and bravery; and transitional or secondary, which constitute of the above-mentioned or are their shades, or a mixture of some of the basic ones. Through his eyes the actor receives feedback from the audience: how it perceives and responds to various messages transmitted by him and about his overall acting performance. Apart from emotions the actor’s face can express also feelings, which are more durable than a specific emotion, disposition and attitude to the subject of imaging.

The body language: movement of body and its alignment, also communicate. The gestures and postures we use, the way we move and stand in characteristic ways are so distinctive that allow others to identify us. Although some of our body’s messages facilitate effective person-to-person interaction, others sent consciously or unconsciously impede it. What kinds of cues bodily movements send? Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen identify five categories of nonverbal behavior that we can use to describe bodily cues: emblems, illustators, regulators, affect displays and adaptors.

Emblems are movements of the body that are consequently sent and easily translated into speech, such as a wave that means “come here”, a thumbs-up gesture that means “okay”, and a wave that means “hello” or “good-bye”. In everyday communication we most frequently use emblems when noise or distance makes it less feasible that we will not be understood through the use of words alone.

Illustrators are bodily cues designed to enhance receiver comprehension of speech by supporting or reinforcing it. As we do with emblems, we use illustrators consciously and deliberately. For example, when you give someone directions, you use illustrators to facilitate your task.

Regulators are cues we use intentionally to influence turn taking – who speaks, when, and for how long. For example, gazing at someone talking to you and nodding your head usually encourages the person to continue speaking, while leaning forward in your seat, tensing your posture and breaking eye contact are signals that you would like a turn. If we ignore or remain unaware of another’s use of regulators, the other person may accuse us of rudeness or insensitivity. The use or misuse of regulators reveal much about individual’s social skills.

Affect displays are movements of the body that reflect emotional states of being. While the face, as above noted, is the prime indicator of the emotion experiencing, it is the body that reveals the emotion’s intensity. Typically, we are less aware of our affect displays because often we do not intend to send many of them. People who can “read” our bodies on the basis of its behavior can judge how we genuinly feel. For example, you might describe another person’s body as slumping and defeated, still and motionless, relaxed and confident, or proud and victorious. Those of us who characteristically show a lack of affect or feeling make it especially difficult for others to relate to us meaningfully.

Adaptors, like affect displays, are unintentionally used and reveal information about our psychological state involuntarily. They include movements such as nose scratches, hand over lips, chin stroking, and hair twirling. Individuals interacting with us or observing us interpret these as signs of nervousness, tension, or lack of self-assurance.

The body language in theatrical context is codified, voluntary and refers to movement, gestures and poses intentionally made by the actor (prescribed hand movements and movements of the other parts of the body and torso, posture, usage of different types of smiles and laughs, even determinate movements of the eyebrows – all they components of the codified stage presentation). In everyday speech the term “body language” is mostly considered involuntary, even though the distinction between voluntary and involuntary body language is often hard to be made. Involuntary body language quite often takes the form of facial expression, and has therefore been suggested as a means to identify the emotions of a person with whom one is communicating. On the stage even the facial expressions and microfacial expressions are voluntary, controlled and subordinated to the other components consisting abhinaya. In fact an actor can be coached to perform better on stage despite of the level of talent he/she has by training himself to develop an effective body language. Posture of the body and its alignment (rekha) is also very important on stage, since it bears the capacity to convey attitudes towards objects to the spectators.

In fact the appropriate body language can effectively bring forward the typical behavior of the character thus contributing to its authenticity and believability. In the process of training in acting skills it is very important for the actor to improve also his technique of speaking, which as it turns out, has an impact on his gestures. In order to breathe properly the body must be upright, but not stretched or tense. Any strong movement of the head and hands affects the flow of air at breathing. Prior to speak we exhale the old energy and constrict to inhale deeply, to create a new energy and get into the body dynamic tension (but not tenseness). This way we control the breathing at the beginning of the process of speaking and put our body in a dynamic, but not tense posture, which acts openly and positively on the spectators. Concentration on breathing is enough to keep under control the body; then we cannot make extreme and restless movements with shoulders, arms and wrists. Using his speaking techniques the actor can accent and emphasize the significance and importance of certain words and make his presentation more expressive. One word in the same tonality, but pronounced louder than the others has a very different impact on the viewer.

The messages that are sent with the voice but through nonlinguistic means are known as paralanguage or paralinguistic codes – communication through intonation, pauses in speech, interjections etc., which have no their own sense out of this theatrical context, laughter, tears, sighs and other such – elaborated in great detail in Nāṭyaśāstra. Very often it is not what you say something but how you say it that determines an interaction’s outcome. We rely on vocal cues to help us determine the real meaning of spoken words. Such cues are especially important when we are deciding whether someone is being sarcastic. For example, the words “yeah, right” convey different meanings depending on whether they are spoken sincerely or sarcastically, and our interpretation of these words influences how we respond to the person who said them. The tone of the voice can help communicate what someone means to convey, or it can reveal thoughts he means to conceal. It can reinforce or negate the spoken words. The sound of the voice communicates, revealing to others the emotional states, attitudes, personality, status, and interaction maintenance, or turn-taking, needs. How an individual speaks influences how others interpret his intentions, as well as how credible, intelligent, or attractive they judge him to be.

Among the nonverbal components of abhinaya as a tool for communicating messages to the audience are also the paralinguistic features of voice (paralanguage) – its tone, pitch, loudness, duration, intonation and tempo, voice quality, speaking style and speech clarity, and accent can all give off nonverbal cues of significant information. The components of voice acquire specific importance as sense-forming elements in the context of the meaning of the speech statement. The actor’s tone of voice can project warmth, confidence, and delight, or can be strained and blocked, it could be also silent: expressing engrossment, obedience, liking etc.; moderate – expressing activity, joy, vitality etc.; or high – expressing superiority, dominance, persistence etc. depending on the particular stage situation.

Verbal following is another important positive feature of nonverbal communication, which is directly related to both acting and viewer’s reception. Bharata describes various exclamations, nods, types of smiles, giving of gifts, etc., through which the viewer can express himself nonverbally and transmit to the actor signs of interest, encouragement, approval or sympathy to what is happening on stage. Described are also different types of smiles, laughter, exclamations, nods, noise, pauses and so that the actor should use depending on the characteristics of the particular stage situation.

The so called tactile codes are also recognized as a means of nonverbal communication.

Skin, the largest organ in the human body, is approximately 2 sq. m. surface, tightly covered with touch sensors. There is a whole science – haptics[9], which deals with the decryption of data these sensors send and receive. The tactile codes represent communication through touches, different in range and frequency and oriented to different parts of the body. Tactility as a sensory perception includes the sense of touch and pressure (tactile sensitivity), hot and cold (thermoception), pain (nociceptive sensitivity) and others.

Tangible perception of objects from the external environment allows to be determined the shape, size, surface properties, texture, temperature, dryness and humidity, the position and movement in space. However, since the actor often has to portray touching, holding or sensing of objects and phenomena, no matter whether real or imaginary, his ability to do so is very important since it allows him to construct an authentic, complete and highly impacting the viewer image of his character. The boundaries of the actor's body determine his capability to sense the substance of the surrounding scenic reality (real or imaginary). In real life the surface of the skin, transmitting signals for smooth and rough, hot and cold, danger or proximity represent another fundamental self of ours, our real physical presence in the world, on which we aren’t usually focused. In contrast to the distance of the sight, skin sensorics needs direct contact, contiguity. Our routine movement as pedestrians involves colossal amount of information about the ground we step on, despite the fact that the immediate act of walking is unconscious. Being imitation of reality, the theatrical stage space also offers an endless variety of real and imaginary tactile surfaces. As it was previously mentioned, the actor very often has to portray touching and holding imaginary objects, some of them he might have touched in real life. To master this talent, especially when it comes to imaginary objects, requires distancing from the immediate tactile experience through the deliberate manipulation of objects and situations and demands attention focused on the reception of tactile signals from body parts and bodily contact with the real or imaginary substance. The tactile expression as artistic practice is possible in reshaping the imitated life situation in a conscious act of perception, detached from the primary palpability. Although the actor does that while simultaneously moving across stage and internalizing the stage space, it is not the movement from point "1" to point "2" as direction important, but the internal experience of the contact with the environment. Tactile experience adheres to body surface therefore it cannot be deployed outside the limitation of the body, which can never become one with the sensory object. In this case what is sought is focusing on the boundary between the synthesis of the object touched and the body itself.

Touching as an element of abhinaya repertoire is codified – putting jewels, ornaments, makeup and scents, anointing with sacred ash or paste, imitating putting clothes and wearing accessories, touching the ground in reverence, touching various imaginary objects and so on. As a part of nonverbal communication, touch in a sense occupies an intermediate position between the physical and psychological attention – it can be both a means for indicating certain objects and things, and a means for expression of feelings, emotions and attitude. An exclusively strong, in terms of suggestion, technique is touching parts of your own body and staring at them at the same time, which not just grips the viewer’s attention to the actor’s body, but the same way the actor "absorbs" himself, the viewer becomes engrossed into the transitory message that allows him to experience the suggested emotional state as transpersonal.

The so called olfactory codes are also associated with nonverbal communication – through broadcasting the human body natural odors[10] and also artificial smells. When something bad happens our sense of smell sharpens as if going on high alert to warn us of impeding danger. And the opposite, we all have good memories, related to pleasing smells like freshly baked bread or flowers blooming.

It is worth mentioning that in terms of expression of emotional states, especially when it comes to sāttvikabhāva, taking into account the repeated references between rasa and "tasting" food, sensing its flavor and aroma, as well as the treatment of love-erotic emotion (śṛṅgāra), and the small size of the theater halls presuming closeness between the actor and his audience, it seems logical that smell and touch also played a role in the overall impact of abhinaya, though Bharata do not mention them explicitly in Nāṭyaśāstra.

In communication act between the performer and the spectator, the abhinaya presentation codifies also the stage space and distance, in the terms of modern communication science the so called proxemics codes – how space and distance are used for communication, how the organization of space changes the way of transmitting information. Between the actors an optimum distance is always maintained, depending on the particularly staged relationships, the individual characteristics and peculiarities of the situation. This distance carries specific information about the relationship between the participants in the plotted situation. The same applies to the stage space – Bharata divides the scene into zones by introducing variety of rules for placement of deities, guardians of the different directions, the permitted theatrical props in the different areas, he also postulates rules defining how the different in rank characters shall enter, move on and subsequently leave the stage.

In the course of daily interactions with others, in the majority of time we do not realize the outward expression of our body, including the face, or what is their effect on those with whom we communicate. On the contrary, an actor learns and uses certain codes of conduct deliberately and purposefully. It is they – the staging of his body, the way he sits, keeps his hands, the gestures and looks he uses, his tone of voice, movements and posture, create the meaningful background communication between him and the spectators. The actor speaks to the audience with words but communicates with his whole body, his attributes further reinforcing the impact of this communication. The bright costume, makeup, jewels and accessories make the actor’s body movements, including those of the subtle facial muscles, more evident to the audience, which is very important for the final suggestion of the play.

It is not easy to determine which of the two channels – verbal or nonverbal – is more important in everyday communicative situations. Their importance greatly depends on the individual situation – a saturated with messages rational dialogue, not suggesting a focus on body language or an emotionally sensual situation in which it would be most significant. The expressiveness of theatre is about more than spoken language. The actor has to be able to not only learn the lines but also to create a complex believable character. Most of the time actors struggle with learning the lines, and that restricts what they can do on stage because they don’t feel confident enough. However, at some point there comes a moment when an actor transforms into the character, and the spectator can see distinctly that something else is emerging. In the theatrical context and having in mind that the purpose of the show is to make the spectator to (co-) experience certain emotional and aesthetic message, it might certainly be argued that in most cases the largest quantity of information is being exchanged through nonverbal channel and its role for achieving of the final purpose of the show – audience’s emphatic response, is greater.

Therefore for the theatrical communicative act the nonverbal abhinaya codes that generate sensory-sensual images, appear as a matter of fact more significant than the verbal messages. If the actor transmits the rational content of the message to the viewer through his words, through the spatial codes (what Bharata calls "zonal division” of the stage), movement of the body parts, hand gestures and other nonverbal components of stage acting, he expresses his attitude towards the message and the information transmitted to the spectator. In this sense, nonverbal theatrical language represent the means, communicating to the viewer the message, encoding the projected emotional states and attitude towards what happens on stage.

In this line of thoughts it is also necessary to note that the viewer is inclined, just as it happens in everyday communication, to focus on verbal communication and on the most visible and evident nonverbal messages – frown, smile, accentuated movements of the body parts, depending on the particular situation. But more subtle nonverbal components such as intonation and modulation of voice, facial (micro) expression, subtle body movements, also bring volumes of information. To attract the viewer's attention to these "minor" components of nonverbal acting, theatrical conventionality involves more means – the Indian actor wears as a rule a bright, colorful costume, which gives to the audience immediate nonverbal cues about the character, his social status, class, age, personality and individuality. The costume gives the audience a piece of the story they cannot get from the speech or other types of nonverbal communication. In the words of contemporary science conveying messages through costume is called object communication. In everyday life the type of clothing that people wear is often used to assess, accurately or inaccurately, their personality traits. Social groups often use a common form of clothing to set themselves apart from other, presumably nonaligned social groups. Object communication extends beyond clothing to other body adornments, such as wedding rings or bind is to indicate marital status, tattoos, piercing's, and brands. Also included in object communication is anything used as a status symbol. All this is reflected on stage including the heavy makeup actors wear to accentuate on the gaze and eyes – they are enlarged and highlighted. Together with the ornaments, jewelry and accessories, weapons and attributes worn, the joint objective of all these "props" is to grip the viewer's attention to certain parts of the body, considered most expressive.

The nonverbal components of abhinaya are an extremely powerful tool of stage presentation – by using them, the actor's body is able to recreate the theatrical context in a unique way, for example one and the same content of the statement may have a different shade of meaning, which can transform the performance in an exciting experience.

The stage behavior of the Indian actor represents purposefully and intentionally coordinated all round model integrating speech elements with components of the body language under prescribed rules. In this sense the body of the actor is premediated and deliberately staged so us to be at most expressive, regardless of it is used for portraying existential states or sensual conditions. Actor’s behavioral model on stage is intended to increase the believability of the character he presents through interactions and reactions to the actions, presence and the body language of the other characters. The perfect technique is the first step towards persuasive acting – to acquire it involves accurate and credible depiction at least of the existential conditions; its "master class" is the involvement of body and mind in interpretation in a manner permitting an absolutely authentic and powerful to the viewer objectification of feelings and emotions.


In the context of this research topic, the question how and to what extent nonverbal theatrical techniques and practices participate in the process of construction and objectification of emotions and feelings, has at least two major aspects: encoding of information by the actor (the mechanism through which emotional states are objectified on stage) and decoding it by the viewer (the mechanism through which the viewer reads the transmitted messages and displays his feelings and emotions in response respectively). Similarly, when talking about theatrical emotion is necessary to bear in mind that it also has two aspects – the displayed by the performer emotion on one hand and experiences by the viewer on the other hand, or two points of view – the views of the artist and the viewer. This distinction between the theatrical and emotional construct and their emotive response in the audience is very significant. Both do not overlap by any means. The emotional response of the audience is not a product of staging, scenery or props, but is more similar to an everyday spontaneous emotion with two main components – aesthetic and intellectual.

In real situation based on observations of our physical behavior others form impressions of us and may judge us to be more or less likable, assertive, or powerful. Same applies to stage acting. The process of encoding the information that shall to be conveyed to the recipients is very important for Indian theater since it is directly connected to the spectator’s perception.

The final objective of Indian theater, as mention above, is not only to induce in the audience certain dominant mental state but to provoke it to respond emphatically in a targeted manner. In this sense the viewer’s perception of what is happening on stage is crucial. Perception is an active mental process by which we directly get to know the outside world as well the inner state through sense organs. In the process of perception the brain cannot separate the emotional facial expression and body posture – even if the observer concentrates only on the facial expressions. We all continuously send and receive body signals without even consciously realizing that. At the same time we can accurately and unconsciously recognize when someone is despondent – at the sight of shoulders bent, hunched posture and edges lips curved down. Since the major part of the nonverbal behavior is inherent, there is no need to learn the correct interpretation of the signals. We understand them intuitively. But since it goes right in the subconscious, we can also lie with our body better than with words. It is very difficult to look others in the eye and say things that are untrue. This is one more reason why in some cases the body language is more trustworthy than the words. The body does not lie. This also verifies the concept of the enormous importance which nonverbal messages are claimed to have in theatrical context – the visual image that the actor builds on stage turns out to be more influential and with the potential to become more convincing than the verbalized messages of the dramaturgical text. This assertion is also supported by several features of nonverbal stage communication in relation with the language:

  • It is more direct, more general and spontaneous.
  • All nonverbal behavior has message value: while we can refrain from speaking, it is impossible for us to stop behaving. Behavior, whether intentional or not, is always ongoing, we are not able to stop sending nonverbal messages. As long as someone is aware of your presence and is there to decode your nonverbal communication, it is impossible for you not to communicate. Even if you turn your back on the observer and remove yourself from his or her sight, you are communicating.
  • It has no precise linguistic equivalent,
  • It has strong presence in some social psychological mechanisms such as suggestion, contamination, imitation, conviction.
  • Sometimes it is preferable to speech due to expected adverse consequences of speech impact.
  • Its relation with the speech is bidirectional – it may support or contradict the verbal statement.
  • Decoding and responding to nonverbal messages is more automatic and seems rather unconscious than understanding the verbal reactions. Nonverbal information is much less subject to conscious interpretation and observation and as a result can reveal the true feelings, attitudes and interests of the communicator more easily.
  • Nonverbal messages are much more effective than language in communicating information about attitudes and feelings. Some of the nonverbal signs are inherited and therefore for their presentation there are universal standards (primarily in the field of expression of emotions). Others are dependent on the socio-cultural environment and education. In this group the biggest are the differences in nonverbal signs which have a language equivalent.
  • Nonverbal communication is ambiguous and polysemantic: although nonverbal cues are continuous and frequently involuntary, others can evaluate them in different ways – that is, what we communicate may be ambiguous and subject to interpretation. Nonverbal cues may not mean what others think they do. All nonverbal behavior should be interpreted within a specific context.
  • Nonverbal communication is predominantly relational: we convey liking, attraction, anger and respect for authority nonverbally. Our primary means of revealing our inner states, that are not readily transmitted using words, is through nonverbal communication: we look at the face to access emotional states, at the mouth to evaluate contempt, at the eyes to evaluate dominance and competence, through reading gestures and postures we judge confidence and relationship closeness, we listen to the voice to help us evaluate assertiveness and self-confidence. As already pointed out sometimes we are unaware of the nonverbal cues we send. As a result we inadvertently reveal information we would rather conceal. Without intending it, our nonverbal messages let others know how we feel about ourselves and about them. As our awareness of our nonverbal messages increases, their informational value decreases. In effect, a conscious intention to manage the impression we convey means that we will do our best only to communicate messages that are in our own best interest.
  • Nonverbal behavior may reveal deception: under most circumstances, when there is a discrepancy or inconsistency between verbal and nonverbal messages, researchers advice that you believe the nonverbal cues, which are most difficult to fake. When telling a lie, one is more apt to do the following: smile falsely, using fewer muscles than when exhibiting a genuine smile; blink more frequently; have dilated pupils; rub hands or arms together, scratch the side of the nose or cover the mouth; shift body posture frequently; articulate and pronounce words more carefully; speak more slowly and say less than he or she otherwise would; exhibit speech that contains more errors and/or hesitation than is typical for the person; raise voice pitch; deliver a mixed message.

Another important in the above context issue, attributable to nonverbal communication, is whether physical movements, carried out in everyday communication and respectively by the actor in the theatrical discourse, with the torso and the various body parts carry the same significance to the viewer. Contemporary research in the field of communication science is unanimous in this respect: more expressive is the upper part of the body – facial expression, including eyebrows, head movements and motor activity of the hands and the torso. In the process of transmission of emotions and attitude during the communicative act there is a certain gradation in the importance of the gestures and movements of different body parts. The most expressive in this regard are the eyes and the face, then the movements of the head, shoulders and arms, orientation of the torso and with the feet and legs having most limited role. In Abhinayadarpaņa’s exposition central place is given to the hand gestures (hasta), which importance is determined by the fact that they are designed to indicate the content and signify the objects and subjects portrayed in the dramaturgical text. But they carry also the attitude and the adjustment of the actor towards the displayed subject – by using them the actor expresses also feelings that enhance the impact of the verbal message and contribute to a strong overall impression. The intensity of the actor’s physical activity is directly related to his temperament: the individual properties of his psyche, which sets the tempo, the dynamics and the intensity of occurrence and development of his mental processes, his behavioral peculiarities and sanity of reactions caused by environmental influences. The temperament or the personal inclination of the actor towards others or himself is generally decisive for his external emotional expressiveness. Bharata links the temperament only with the stage presentation of involuntary mental states, but according to modern psychology it is related to the generation, development and settling of any mental or emotional condition.


There are numerous different conceptual models used to explain the human communication process, applicable to both verbal and nonverbal communication since in everyday situations just like on stage the communication and the interaction between the communicators is in most cases mixed. The first model was created by Shannon and Weaver in 1949. This model is linear and visualizes the transfer of information as an act being done to the receiver by the sender. More contemporary and elaborated is the so called transactional model. Unlike the linear one it recognizes the communication as a simultaneous process and switches both the terms “sender” and “receiver” to “communicator” and adds the term “environment” – physical location, personal experience and cultural background.

Another change in comparison with the linear model is the overlap between each communicator, which recognizes the existing similarities between each communicator’s environment. The model displays how communication becomes more difficult when communicators have less in common. This model, in addition recognizes how the type of channel affects meaning. For example, the words “I hate you” have a much different meaning if they are said throuhg a bilboard than through a voicemail. In the linear model noise is solely external noise, for example loud music while trying to converse. The transactional model says that two types of noise exist: physiological noise – biological factors that interfere with communication (illness, fatigue etc.) and psychological noise – the forces within that interfere with communication (unwillingness to listen etc.).

According to Shannon[11] and Weaver there are three levels of problems for communication, which again to its full extent applies to the theatrical communicative act:

  • technical problem: how accurately can the message be transformed;
  • semantic problem: how precisely is the message conveyed:
  • effectiveness problem: how effectively does the received message effects behavior.

The amount of information conveyed varies according to the messages clarity, and how receptive and perceptive the receiver is. As the Southeastern theater pursues a certain aim, out of which no major deviations are allowed, it sets and relies on prepared, educated and erudite spectator-participant-esthete, which significantly facilitates the nonverbal communication and makes the three above cited problems easier to solve.

Indian (and not only) type of theater is characterized by a high degree of conditionality, which is manifested above all in its typicality and generalization of imagery at all levels: the area of core meanings, fundamental conventions zone, scope of interpretation, as well as in the variety of details. This type of theater relies heavily on the so called object oriented sensory imagery. The more conventional the means of expression are the stronger is their dependence on the given context and the harder they can be decoded by the spectator, if not familiar with the relevant contextual conventions.

In the dramaturgical text certain messages are implied that should reach the viewer. Apart from stage action, this becomes possible through a focused codified figurativeness with the actor’s body as its main generator and locus. Regardless of what the message is about acoording to the author, the actor's body (its physiological features, mastery of performance and stage presence) puts its own mark on it, which is being incorporated in creation of the stage image. Therefore, in a sense, the message broadcasted is no longer that of the author only, but the author’s, reflected and filtered through the personality of the actor, in other words, at this point the message is the actor himself.

Another communication model is the interactive one, representing two linear models stacked on top of each other. The sender channels a message to the receiver and the receiver then becomes the sender and channels a message to the original sender. This model adds feedback, indicating that communication is not a one way but a two way process. It also adds the term “field of experience” which includes our cultural background, ethnicity, geographic location, extent of travel and general personal experiences accumulated over the course of lifetime. The drawback of the model is that the feedbacks are not accounted simultaneously: for example, instant messaging – the sender sends a message to the receiver, then the original sender has to wait for the original receiver to react to the instant message; or a question/answer session where you just ask a question then you get an answer.

Perhaps the model to describe the theatrical communication best should be a combination between the transactional and the interactive models of communication since theatrical communicative act in the Southeastern theater is simultaneously transactional and interactive:

In the context of the present piece of research it is important also to note that the most relevant contemporary approaches tend to consider the nonverbal communicative clues, used during the communicative act, in clusters, which prevents us from allowing a singles gesture or movement to be definitive in determining a person's state of mind or emotion. The opposite, when trying to understand others, a single gesture or comment does not necessarily mean something but instead, it allows us to take note and observe more to work out a better understanding of what is going on. The above said applies to abhinaya too – there are many single and double hand gestures with concrete meanings, but when applied in clusters to express the implied meaning of a longer phrase or sentence, they can designate connotations of the the core meaning or even something totally different. It has already been mentioned that everyday nonverbal communication might be ambiguous. Unlike, the nonverbal communicative act on stage is in general much more unequivocal, determined and obvious, especially when it comes to codified presentation forms, designed to convey certain messages to the audience, which means that the body language and the voice features used by the actor must be easily recognizable and subsequently decodable by the spectator. The latter does not contradict the fact that just like in everyday life, the nonverbal cues function not only as a mere communication means but as a means of short-circuiting the logical brain, emotions, feelings and also censoring of both the presenter and the spectator. Sanskrit drama in most cases uses well known plots which have their roots in Indian history, mythology or legendary tales. So the spectator is familiar with the plot and the fabula in advance, he knows what is going to happen on the stage, he is well educated and trained to understand and interpret the nonverbal abhinaya codes and contextual cues used by the actor. Furthermore according to the Indian theory of aesthetics only such erudite and well trained to decipher the drama messages rasika[12] is able to set his mind open and imagination free, to detach from his ego so as to experience the emotions and feelings of the character as transpersonal.


[1] In Nāṭyaśāstra Bharata classifies in separate categories also mukhābhinaya – stage acting through face, śarīrābhinaya – stage acting with the body (except the face), sāmānyābhinaya – general stage acting and citrābhinaya – specific stage acting.

[2] Nodding and shaking head emphasize the technique of speaking. Almost in all cultures nodding indicates acceptance, “yes” and is used to show respect. There are different theories trying to explain why nodding is so widespread to mean “yes”. One of them claims that it is a form of bowing, indicating that one is prepared to accept what another person is saying or requesting. Another hypothesis states that the babies when hungry search milk by moving their heads vertically, but decline milk by turning their heads from side to side.

An exception to this rule built countries like Greece, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Turkey, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania and Sicily, swapping the meanings between nodding and shaking head. There “no” is expressed by lifting the head with eyes almost closed and nose frown. This gesture represents clear denial, both closing the approach and discriminating the interlocutors. The gesture “yes” in these countries is shown by slowly moving the head in both directions horizontally as a sign of counting words and culturally has evolved as consent and become “yes”.

[3] Famous American psychologist from the recent past, author of books such as Communication Structure, How Behavior Means, Human Territories etc.

[4] Albert Mehrabian, American psychologist, author of Silent Messages; best known by his publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages.

[5] The precise movement and staging of actors on a stage in order to facilitate the performance. Each scene in a play is usually “blocked” as a unit after which the director will move on to the next scene. The positioning of actors on stage in one scene will usually affect the possibilities for subsequent positioning unless the stage is cleared between scenes.

[6] Hand.

[7] Face, head.

[8] Eugenio Barba is an Italian author and theater director, founder of the Odin Theater and the International School of Theatre Anthropology in Holstebro, Denmark; one of the greatest experimenters with codified theatrical forms. Even back in 1987 Barba demonstrates how versions of "Faust" by Goethe and Christopher Marlowe can be interpreted by non-Western artists, using their codified means of expression. Odissi dancer, Sanjukta Panigrahi and butoh dancer Azumi Katsuko improvise scenes from "Faust" using their own specific genres in implementation. Barba’s idea here is to "destabilize" the codified forms and to expand the range of their expressiveness. The result is an intercultural confrontation, both inspiring and confusing.

[9] The word haptic, from the Greek: ἁπτικός (haptikos), means "pertaining to the sense of touch" and comes from the Greek verb ἅπτεσθαι haptesthai, meaning "to contact" or "to touch".

[10] Every living organism releases aromatic chemicals called pheromones by its glands. They affect its behavior and development and serve to communicate between the organism and the others of the same type.

[11] Claude Elwood Shannon and Warren Weaver are the authors of the first model for communication, 1949.

[12] Aesthete, viewer- connoisseur.


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About the author

Publications in MANAS magazine:

Damianova, Roumiana. Sattvikabhinaya: The Most Hidden Mode of Expression in Traditional Indian Theater and Dance Drama. – In: Manas: South Asia: Identity and Cultural Diversity, Vol. 1, 1, 2014.