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 1 (2014), 1.

Published on 01.09.2014

ISSN: 2367-6256

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.

2014 / Volume 1 / Issue number 1 : South Asia: Identity and Cultural Diversity

Sattvikabhinaya: The Most Hidden Mode of Expression in Traditional Indian Theater and Dance Drama

Roumiana Damianova




The text presents one of the most hidden and impenetrable aspects of the abhinaya representational techniques – sattvikabhinaya or the stage production of the unintentional mental states, such as bristling, sweating, crying, paralysis etc. While the source literature reveals a wealth of detailed information on the remaining three components – stage presentation through the body parts, vocalization of the dramatic text, the costume and makeup, it remains almost silent on either how exactly the actors have managed to transform a particular stage situation (usually extreme emotion) in the respective physiological response of the body or how they had been trained to acquire such skills. According to the contemporary psychology concepts sattvikabhava correspond to the so called physiological responses or dynamic adjustments to the autoregulatory functions, in case of extreme emotions (no matter real or imaginative) that require sudden influx of energy – catabolic effect. These autonomous functions are controlled mainly by the sympathetic nervous system, which increases cardiac output and pulmonary ventilation, the level of glucose, blood flow to the muscles and slows digestion, renal functions and other functions that are not needed in emergency situation. It is curious that Bharata, the alleged author of Natyashastra, includes in the group of sattvikabhava only the eight involuntary and uncontrollable emotional responses (autonomic) on the grounds that to enact sattvikabhava on stage the actor should be in state of high concentration. In practice, however the simulated single play of any kind of emotional states is unthinkable without the application of mental effort; in other words all bhava (49), listed by Bharata, can be designated as sattvikabhava.

Sattvikabhinaya represents a part of a specific tool for conveyance of meanings and emotions towards the spectator, called abhinaya. Its usage refers first to Sanskrit stage play and subsequently to its successors. The word abhinaya itself, unlike the terms “acting” and “histrionics”1, used in the Western theater, does not imply “action” in its semantics. The literal meaning of abhinaya is “leading [the audience] towards [objects, meanings, sentiments, emotions]”, implicated in the text2 of the play.

Abhinaya, as a medium of aesthetic communication in Sanskrit theater, has been described in great detail in Natyashastra3, a treatise on performing arts, written during the period between 200 BCE and 200 CE and traditionally attributed to Bharata4 Muni.

The term is first mentioned in chapter 6th of Natyashastra, devoted to the stage representation of bhava and rasa, in which Bharata defines abhinaya, the art of expression, as constituted of four components:

  • Angikabhinaya – stage acting through the body parts, used for signification of meanings and manifestation of inner emotions so that they become perceptible;
  • Vachikabhinaya – the verbal aspect of acting;
  • Aharyabhinaya – costumes, make-up, decorations, weapons and other props.
  • Sattvikabhinaya on its turn is the tool for stage presentation of sattvika bhava – the eight natural emotional states described by Bharata as involuntary, unintentional and rooted in the [actor’s] temperament.

Abhinaya in a broader sense is every vehicle of stage communication that validates the rasa production process, involves the spectator to paricipate in it and finally makes him to relish its fruitage.

The rasa theory and Bharata’s rasa production model

In the Indian tradition of aesthetic theories and the science of theater there is a marked tendency towards strong emphasis on the experiential aspect of emotions, which have contributed a lot to the understanding of emotional experiences. Central to this approach to comprehending affective experiences, exploited by Bharata in Natyashastra is the concept of rasa or aesthetic relish. The word rasa has no full meaning equivalent in English. Translated from Sanskrit it means “juice, sap, nectar, taste, essence, spice”. According to the Indian theory of aesthetics the viewer literally “tastes” the work of art. In Natyashastra Bharata conceptualized the rasa theory in the context of [stage] play and theatre, which was later extended to all poetry and other performing art forms. In this ancient text on theatrical science the author deals in detail with all three components of emotion: physiological, behavioral and cognitive, that contemporary psychological science contends an emotion, as a complex psychological state, involves.

The main task that Bharata takes up in Natyashastra is to give practical instructions on how certain universal states and situations, faced by people in their every-day lives, could be represented on stage so as the projected rasa is induced in the spectator.

Bharata’s rasa definition reads as follows:

vibhāvānubhāva-vyabhicāri-samyogād-rasa-nispattiḥ [НШ:6]
Through the union of vibhava, anubhava and vyabhicharibhava, rasa arises.

Brief and concise, it looks easy to make out, but the model behind this short sentence is much more sophisticated and involves the usage of elaborate doctrinal tool. According to Bharata and his gastronomical interpretations, rasa is something that can be tasted. In other wording, rasa presents the special emotional atmosphere, created between the actor, conveying the emotions of the character and the audience. The theory of rasa builds up and relies on the mutual relationship between the actor and the spectator. According to Richard Schechner rasa does not exist outside the fourfold system: performance/performer : spectacle/spectator. The latter is not just a viewer, but an active participant in the play and thus in the production of rasa. He must be learned, emotionally intelligent, familiar with the plot and being able to empathize with the author. The success of the show itself is measured by whether or not the audience responds accordingly.

The actor on the other hand introduces and involves the audience into the projected aesthetic atmosphere. The emotions thus conveyed are shared collectively between the actors and the spectators by relishing rasa. The emotional states (bhava), to be conveyed by the actors during the performance are not random, just the opposite – they are determined by default, existing in the dramaturgical text as its cognitive-emotive context. Bhava, according to Natyashastra, are the origin of rasa, consist the foundation of drama and gradually make their way to the spectator’s hearth during the performance. Nevertheless Bharata emphasizes on the functional aspect of the world, expressed through pure body techniques (abhinaya), he seems to be apparently aware that the mental states, presented via the text, are what manifests its essence and that the characters and their actions are only means of mental states portrayal.

Bharata lists 49 mental states (bhava5) classified into three separate categories:

  • Sthaibhava (8) – permanent emotional dispositions or sentiments. These are considered innate permanent mental traces and able to transform other emotions into themselves.
  • Vyabhicharibhava (33) – transitory states. These are not innate, they give rise to permanent emotions and disappear after the permanent emotions show up. It is suggested that transitory emotions represent the day-to-day normal life where similar emotions are expressed and experienced in changing situations.
  • Sattvikabhava (8) – autonomic responses.

Only the eight major states (sthaibhava) hold the potential to develop into rasa and each of them corresponds to a certain rasa.

Fig. 1   Four of the eight rasa are considered major and have the remaining four as their reflexions or subordinates. Shanta rasa was added subsequently, most probably by Abhinavagupta. It does not correspond to any sthaibhava but rather represents the perfect balance or mix of the remaining eight. It can be considered a state beyond the remaining eight, a condition that when completed absorbs and eliminates all the eight. A conditional aesthetically balanced state with the remaining eight rasa arising as its deformations or deviations. When subside they all merge again with shanta. Shanta rasa is not an emotion. It represents the experience occuring in realization of the true nature of things. The perfect performance should not transmit or imply shanta, but to allow it to be experienced simultaneously and by both the actors and spectators.

Fig. 1 Four of the eight rasa are considered major and have the remaining four as their reflexions or subordinates. Shanta rasa was added subsequently, most probably by Abhinavagupta. It does not correspond to any sthaibhava but rather represents the perfect balance or mix of the remaining eight. It can be considered a state beyond the remaining eight, a condition that when completed absorbs and eliminates all the eight. A conditional aesthetically balanced state with the remaining eight rasa arising as its deformations or deviations. When subside they all merge again with shanta. Shanta rasa is not an emotion. It represents the experience occuring in realization of the true nature of things. The perfect performance should not transmit or imply shanta, but to allow it to be experienced simultaneously and by both the actors and spectators.

The dominant states are not included in Bharata’s definition but they are implicated in it. Presupposing the prospect of rasa, they play vital role in the process of creating the special aesthetic atmosphere between the actors and the audience, which is the final designation to any stage presentation. In fact rasa arises at the point when the dominant emotion produced during the spectacle is experienced and relished by the spectator. The prevalent emotion organizes the performance into structural integrity. By being repeated again and again it connects all the elements into an unbreakable entity.

In a drama production the emotions and feelings can be represented only by the characters and their stage actions. In the real life an emotion is generated through certain stimuli – either material, existing in the environment or imaginative, existing in consciousness. These incentives (reasons), which elicit or accelerate a physiological or psychological activity or response, are called vibhava. The term is also understood as “determinant” since vibhava, through inciting the character to undertake certain action, determine the emotions and feelings evoked in the recipient. Bharata classifies vibghava into two categories: alambana vibhava (supporting) – the objects, characters and props, through which the emotion is suggested and uddipana vibhava (stimulating) – the particular stimuli conditioning the elaboration of sthaibhava. The action performed as a result of the commanding emotion, is known as anubhava. What is represented by anubhava is directly perceived by the spectator and allow him immerse in the emotion evoked. Anubhava can be either intentional – looks, gestures, body postures etc.), or involuntary – sattvikabhava. The unintentional anubhava are closely related to the feelings and emotions as their consorts. Therefore they possess dualistic nature and can function either as anubhava or as vyabhicharibhava.

Fig. 2 Rasa production flowchart

The stage development of sthaibhava is directly related and complies with the theory of plot structure, described by Bharata in Chapter 20th of Natyashastra.

Using Bharata’s language, the seed (bija) of the dominant emotion is planted in the drama text by the poet. During the presentation, bit by bit it gets power through the various stage episodes, their stimuli and consequences, to prevail over all concomitant emotions at the final. At that point sthaibhava is elaborated to its fullest possible extent and able to provoke the audience to respond by relishing its fruit (rasa).

In regard with the above, sensual pleasure should be clearly differentiated from rational happiness. According to Indian philosophy the sensual pleasure arises when the desires are gratified and rational happiness is possible only when the desires are eradicated. Vedantic literature states that all experiences of pleasure and pain, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are due to the involvement of ego or ahamkara and considers unintelligent and inappropriate expressions of emotions further leading to pain and sorrow. Becoming a slave to uncontrollable thirsts and desires is seen as a direct path towards suffering, the testaments warn. More over, desires which are not satisfied may develop into negative emotions like greed, anger, fear, malice, and may further lead to mental excitements and outbursts. But in fact not always emotions and affection are considered harmful. They are thought beneficial if directed universally and not produced out of selfish motives. For example, the experience of love is related in general to the feeling of oneself’s identity with the universe. In other words love is unconditional selflessness. But very often in real life it is understood as based on attachments and possessiveness. The feeling of possessivenes itself often stems from jealosy, scarcity and insecurity. Thus the love based on attachment is considered self-centered and can only leads to negative emotions like greed, fear, agry etc. This is also the approach of Bharata’s Natyashastra. The emotions expressed in drama and the affective experiences of the spectators are both integral parts of rasa’s stage production. Being thus commonly shared between the presentors and the viewers they are pleasant, enjoyable and relished, no matter positive or negative since they do not involve the spectator’s ego with the event depicted on stage. Just on the contrary, the aesthetic experience holds the ability to recede the participant’s ego from the mundane concerns of life and as an outcome transcends his or her egocentric emotional experience beyond the routine. According to Jadunath Sinha, “in aesthetic enjoyment there is a peculiar sense of make-belief on account of which the emotion felt by the spectator is experienced as his own and yet not quite his own, and as another's and yet not quite another. This is the state of empathy.” [Indian Jurnal of Psychiatry, January 2013].

 The part of sattvikabhava in rasa production 

The eight involuntary mental states, thoroughly described in chapter 7th of Natyashastra, are paralysis (stambha), sweating (sveda), bristling (romancha), change of voice (svarabheda), change of skin color (vaivarnya), trembling (vepathu), crying (ashru) and fainting (pralaya).

According to Bharata, the source of these conditions is the mind in state of concentration. Therefore, in his words, they cannot be properly represented by a distracted person. Since sattvikabhava functions in a stage production with the sole purpose of character’s credible portrayal, the actor must feel joy in order to to represent happiness, he must be sad to represent sorrow and so on.

To look authentic on stage, these eight sudden urges of emotion should be represented in concordance with the temperament behind them. Therefore their stage presentation relies not only on the way the actor performs, but also on his distinguishing mental and physical characteristics, on his manner of thinking, behaving or reacting. In this process the actor’s unique life experience is also to be employed to the full: while acting, many times he needs to create the impression of seeing or touching objects which are not real. To do so he must imagine and make his own senses as though the stimuli were real. The actor must remember his own life reactions in order to train his senses to respond to imaginary objects and create an emotional reaction to what he imagines.

Sattvika is a term not easily translatable in English. It is an adjective derived from the noun sattva having a wide range of meanings: “essense, existence, energy, elementary substance, disposition of mind”. It is noteworthy that the noun sat functions as a key term in the doctrine of Indian philosophy school Samkhya. According the latter’s formulations, prakriti - the primordial substance behind the world, is constituted of three gunas6: sattva, rajas and tamas. Rajas is related to action. Tamas is associated with ignorance and inaction. Sattva is the guna, whose essence is purity, fineness and subtlety. It is the constituent of prakriti, concerned to lighteness, brightness and beatitude. Sattva is further associated with ego, mind and intelligence. Though it has strong connection with the consciousness and is an essential condition for the existence of the latter, it is not sufficient. The consciousness is an exclusive priority of purusha, the self, the spirit. Prakriti, consisting of the above three gunas, is devoid of self and consciousness. It can only manifest itself through the various objects of purusha’s experience. This interpretation corresponds to a great extent to the nature and the process of simulation of the autonomic responses (and perhaps not only but all mental states). Using the Samkhya terminology sattvikabhava are commanded by the brain (purusha), but manifested through sharira (prakriti) and its movements.

Manifesteed through the body parts but triggered by the brain, sattva thus represents the mental capacity of the actor to identify himself with his character to the maximum – the way he moves, the way he thinks, what he feels and how he shows that on stage. Relying upon such identification alone the actor is able to show the emotional reactions of perspiration, hair standing on end, limbs becoming benumbed, the voice breaking of faltering, trembling, pallor, tears, and immobility.

According to Natyashastra the eight sattvikabhava occur for certain reasons and shall be represented on stage through fixed actions (Fig. 3):

Fig. 3

 Sattvikabhava and the Western concept of emotions 

In terms of modern psychology emotion is a term expressing the mental state of the individual, influenced by different actors and circumstances. Emotion can have a positive (joy, lyrical) or negative (distress, sadness) valency, but can also be a state of indifference (apathy, carelessness, indifferent). Emotion is a complex process associated with the internal states of the body and is manifested in the individual's behavior, which is its external observable side. Emotions can vary in intensity, also called force. The stronger the emotion, the stronger is the physiological manifestation. The intensity of emotion in each case is generally affected by many factors like completeness and integrity of the central nervous system and autonomic nervous system. In everyday life the term “emotion” is used as a synonym for feeling, but from psychological point of view they differ. Emotion is highly intensive state of powerful and short agitation, temporary and relatively short mental state while feeling can be sustained, long-term mental subjective-evaluative attitude towards a particular subject or object. Emotions differ in content and reflect various aspects of situations causing them. There are dozens of different emotions and the negative ones are significantly more than the positive. Any kind of emotion is accompanied by specific physiological response. In the past some scientists argued that emotions are generated as a result of physiological reactions, but this theory failed the empirical data tests. Mood is a relatively long-term emotional state. Moods are different from the simple emotions that are less specific, less intense and less likely to be caused and the induced by a specific stimulus or event. For example, anger as an emotion usually has a specific source, while irritability mood is less determined by the particular cause or source. Moods often have a positive or negative valence. They differ from temperament or personality traits, which are naturally more durable. At the same time, some personal characteristics such as optimism and neuroticism predispose certain types of moods. Fixed mood breakdowns such as depression or bipolar disorder are considered affective disorders. Temperament on the other hand is a combination of stable individual psychological characteristics, determining the dynamics of the psychic activity of man and remaining relatively constant at different motives, content and objectives of the activity. Emotion is associated with a number of psychological phenomena, including temperament, personality, mood and motivation. Emotions are either signaled, for example, through the voice and facial expressions or may be expressed by certain physiological reactions or behaviors. The eight basic emotions according to modern psychology are joy, fear, anger, grief, love, disgust, surprise and contempt. In addition to the basic emotions there are complex categories in which certain emotions are combined to form complex emotions. One model involves complex emotions arising from the basic emotions, influenced by cultural conventions or associations. According to some scientists, there are also meta-emotions - organized and structured set of emotions and cognitions about emotions, including both the individual's own emotions and the emotions of others. The concept of meta-emotions reflects the idea that every time you generate a certain emotion it stirs subsequent emotions associated with the way in which the primary emotion is experienced.

There are several different theories of emotions, trying to identify and classify human emotional experience. Although all humans and perhaps some species have emotions, among scientists there is no consent on what exactly the emotions are, how they arise, how they should be studied and empirically measured. One of the latest definitions of emotion reads: "Emotion is a complex psychological condition that includes three main components: subjective experience, physiological reactions and behavioral responses“ (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2007).

According to contemporary psychology concepts sattvikabhava correspond to the so called autonomic physiological responses or dynamic adjustments to the autoregulatory functions, in case of extreme emotions, real or imaginative. Some of those reactions include changes in heart rate, blood pressure sweating and pupil dilatation that are automatically generated by physical, cognitive and emotional patterns of behaviours and that involve both conscious and subconscious processes. Autonomic responses integrate mostly the emotions in which the central representation of peripheral models of excitement adds to the feeling state.

Physiological responses like pounding heart, sweating, blushing, or adrenaline release in response to a situation of intense emotion are the easiest part of emotion to study because they can be empirically measured. More over, people have very similar internal responses to one and the same emotion. For example, regardless of age, race, or gender, when people are under stress, their bodies release adrenaline. This hormone helps prepare the body to either run away or undertake contrary action - fight. It must be noted that although the psychological expression of emotions may be different for each feeling, several different emotions can produce the same physical reaction. Autonomous reactions are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, which accelerates the heart, constricts blood vessels, increases blood pressure, decreases the formation of digestive juices, decreased motility of the stomach and intestines, expands the airways in the lungs and expands the pupils.

While early research on the physiology of emotional experiences tended to study mainly the autonomous or vegetative reactions, in latest research the focus is on the brain activity in emotional experience. Brain scan shows that the amygdala – a set of nuclei in the brain, part of the limbic system, plays an important role in the regulation of emotion, especially fear and anxiety. Amygdala reacts in response to unpleasant sights, smells and sensations. In addition to playing a key role in the expression of emotions such as fear, anger and aggression, the amygdala is responsible for the activation of hereditary signs of stress and functions as a center that helps to quickly recognize these emotions in others.

Fig. 4 The interrelation between the brain and the nervous system during the process of emotion arousal can be presented by the above diagram.

Nonetheless, from what have been explained about the autonomic responses and their arousal it is more than clear that, to provoke one’s body to response autonomically in an imaginary stage situation would be a complicated process and hard to enact. Let us presume the actor is supposed to portray perspiration. In Chapter 7th of Natyashastra Bharata states that “sweating occurs as a result of anger, fear, joy, shame, sorrow, toil, sickness, heat, exercise, fatigue, summer heat and massage” [NS:7:95]. Let us pick up perspiration represented as a result of fear under a threat of something. In this case sweating will be a concomitant reaction of the body under fear as universal emotion (sthaibhava). The moment the actor imitates he sensed the danger, mo matter imaginative, the body’s defenses, just like in a real situation, must kick into high gear in a rapid automatic process, called, in the wording of the modern psychology – stress response. His nervous system will respond by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol to rouse and prepare his body for emergency action. His heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, he starts sweating and his senses become sharper. These physical changes are needed in order to increase actor’s strength and stamina, speed his reaction time, and enhance his focus, preparing him to undertake, if necessary, further action. More or less alike is the situation with the rest seven sattvikabhava.

The initial signal for each emotion comes from the brain, which triggers a chain process accompanied by physiological changes. Muscle movements, perception of stimuli from the external environment (touch, hearing, smell) and the overall voluntary activity are controlled by the somatic nervous system, part of the parasympathetic nervous system. The autonomous (vegetative) nervous system covers the internal organs and regulates mainly the involuntary activities such as heartbeat, breathing, blood pressure and digestion. While these activities are considered to be involuntary, in practice they may be influenced by specific events or by changing our perceptions about typical events. Under the brain impulses SNA mobilizes the body and this is indicated by the accelerated heartbeat, hyperventilation, fever and reduced activity of the digestive system. If in the end it turns out that there is no real danger, the body begins to relax and goes back to its previous state, but this process is slower and takes longer. Adaptation to normal conditions is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system, which acts opposite of the sympathetic – it slowes the heart rate, dilates blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and so on. Vegetative reactions are physiologically the most obvious signs of emotion. Increase or delay of cardiac activity, skin blood flow (redness or paleness), piloerection, perspiratsiyata and gastrointestinal activity are caused by alterations in the activity of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These two subsystems work simultaneously by constantly rearranging the body to more prepared or more relaxed states which in fact keeps the body ready for its current situation. Latest research shows that the movement of facial muscles in certain configurations leadс to autonomic motor activity (as measured by indicators such as heart rate, temperature and conductivity of the skin), causing negative emotions such as anger, disgust, fear and sadness in the subject. Moreover – the autonomic effects are strongest when facial expressions are evaluated as closest to the actual emotional expression and are often accompanied by subjective experience of that emotion! Possible interpretation of these findings is that during voluntary reproduction of facial expressions, the brain signals involve not only the motor cortex (part of the cortex generating signals that make muscles to contract or relax, including coordination of impulses for actual execution of movements) but also some of the circuits that generate emotional states. Perhaps it is this connection that explains why good actors can be so convincing.

Although humans are able to successfully distinguish hypocritical facial expression from spontaneous smile produced by experienced pleasant emotion evident emotion and motor behavior are inextricably linked, just as William James postulated over a century ago. Emotions are defined by specific patterns of activation in the ANS, he claimed. The ANS itself consists of roughly 20 bundles of neurons originating in the spinal cord. These neurons receive signals from particular regions of the cortex, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus which on their turn arouse different body organs, muscles, endocrine glands, and the blood stream. Blush, tears, dry mouth, goose-flesh, fainting, raised blood pressure, sexual arousal, changes in breathing, and cooling or heating up of the skin are just a few of those very responses reported by people under emotional experience and commanded by the ANS.

What sounds more interesting in the context of sattvikabhava, is that recent studies endeavor to prove that the simulated movement of facial muscles (in specific patterns) is able to generate vegetative reactions to trigger negative emotions like fear, anger, sadness and disgust, which is very close to the principles of the theory of reflexology. All negative emotions are crucial to human social life and especially their manifestation through autonomic responces, of which the blush and the flush has a special role to play. Flush is a response related to temperature changes, intoxication or physical exercise, which automatically puts it out of the social body reactions group. The spontaneous reddening of the face, neck, ears and sometimes upper chest, called blush, is an effect produced by increased blood volume in the capillaries located under the skin of those areas and seems it plays a key role to human social life. Why? The answer is that, according to the research results, the situations leading to blush seem to involve negative or self-focused attention. The participants in a study on the matter report they are more likely to blush when embarrassed than when feeling ashamed or guilty. Moreover, it has been documented that the autonomic profile of fear as a negative emotion is different from the blush provoked by embarrassment. However, most scientists agree that not all negative emotions involve the same patterns of sympathetic nervous system excitement since considerable differenced in vegetative reactions are observed between fear, anger, disgust, and embarrassment.

An interesting and somewhat still opened remains the question how positive emotions are involved in autonomic response. It is possible that positive emotions covary with the termination of excited autonomic response. Another possibility is that the activation of the vagus nerve (a branch of the parasympathetic nervous system) is associated with positive emotions. It is also in charge of several behavioral models crucial for social interaction and attachment, the movement of facial muscles, head movements and vocalization and influences cardiac output in order to adapt quickly to changing social conditions, particularly allowing people to feel at ease in close proximity with others. The specific emotions seem to be marked by specific neuroendocrine and immune system reactions. The "hypothalamic - pituitary - adrenal" axis is regulated by the hypothalamic neurons and amygdala. By secreting specific hormones, these brain areas stimulate the adrenal glands which release cortisol in the blood, which prepares the body to stress response. A recent review of multiple studies found that in the stressful events that mostly cause release of cortisol involve negative self-esteem, which explains the fact that the face expressions of fear are associated with the release of cortisone at resolving a stressful situation, but it does not apply to emotions anger and disgust. Oxytocin plays a role similar to that of cortisone, in affects referencing attachment. Receptors for this peptide was found in olfactory, limbic system, brain and spinal cord regions that regulate the ANS, especially its parasympathetic branch. Oxytocin affects the uterine contractions, breastfeeding, maternal feeling and sexual relations. In general it influences the emotions associated with affection - love and compassion, reduces anxiety and makes social contacts pleasant. For animal species, oxytocin regulates couples matching and caring behavior. A curious fact is that emotions are often described metaphorically as a kind of disease, such as "sick of love", "dying of envy" etc. New studies of the immune system suggests that such metaphors are probably biological based. In order an immune response to be allowed in immunological cells proinflammatory cytokines are released, which activate patterns of "morbid conditioned behavior" such as obedience, shame, drowsiness and hampered social, exploring, and aggressive behavior.

 The process of emotion externalization 

 In dance drama

The Indian experts in the field contend that in Kuttiyattam, an archaic theater form, still staged nowadays in Kerala, South India, all the aspects of abhinaya are preserved. Nevertheless the actors capable in the art of sattvikabhinaya nowadays are very few.

The next chronological successor of Sanskrit stage play is Kathakali, a hybrid art form of dance-drama type, which originated in Kerala, South India during the 17th century and has been developed over the years with improved looks, refined gestured and themes besides more ornate singing and precise drumming.

In his book Kathakali: The Art of the Non-Worldly Appukkuttan Nair points out that the Kathakali actor employs sattvikabhinaya, in a slightly different way than the way the Natyasastra sustains. The Kathakali actor does not make any effort to internalize emotions. Instead he uses a technique identified as pakarnattom (multiple transformational acting). He suggests that since the Kathakali actor has to portray different charcters he cannot rely on one single sthayi bhava. He argues further that forasmuch as the Kathakali actor plays in a larger-than-life non-realistic costume it is not possible for him to convey the sthayibhavas discussed above. However, he also points out that sattvikabhinaya has not totally lost its place in Kathakali. In the absence of such natural worldly expressions, sattva in Kathakali is represented by prana, the life-breath, which gives life to abhinaya. It is this abhinaya that might be referred to as sattvikabhinaya in Kathakali, utilizing the life-breath. It is called as rasa vayu in Kathakali parlance. It is also worthy to mention that being chronologically closer to Sanskrit stage play than its subsequent successors – the various styles of Indian classical dance, Kuttiyatam and Kathakali have both kept their stage expression means much closer to their prototypes.

Sattvikabhinaya in their capacity of transitory mental states are accessory to the permanent emotions. Accordingly their representation is only possible when the stage action is focused. Due to its limited length, a dance composition in general does not offer much prospect for development of focused action. That is why in Indian classical dance variations sattvikabhinaya aspect is practically absent7 In fact in their existing forms, including the ones used in Bollywood, the aspects of abhinaya have been reduced to simply angika. Since the dancer changes maximum two different costumes during the recital, her attire and decorations do not anymore convey additional information about the character portrayed and his individuality. Similarly vachikabhinaya was also excluded from the blend: the dancer does not perform the song herself, for this purpose there is a singer included in the orchestra.

Although sattvikabhinaya is not presented in the contemporary Indian classical dance, some permanent and transitional mental states can be portrayed depending on the length of the composition, the text included and the prospects for focused action. The emotional expressivity, which is used in drama properly, gets transformed into pure stylization in dance drama. The burden of abhinaya is mostly carried through the body language: face expression, body movements and hand gestures. The method used is called padarthaabhinaya: every word of the song line is signified by the appropriate hand gestures, body movements and face expression, which is an important aspect of the uparupaka tradition. For a dancer the body language is the most important part of abhinaya and it is refined only through an exhaustive study and practice of angikabhinaya. In Sanskrit stage play padarthaabhinaya was considered less difficult and was usually exploited in minor plays. For major plays another method of stage presentation, called vakyarthabhinaya was employed, through which the meaning of an entire sentence was expressed. The second method holds higher dramatic potential and therefore is more likely to require engagement of transitional mental states during the presentation.

Bharata claims that sattvikabhinaya is the most important mode of expression. He qualifies the stage production as supreme if it contains sattvikabhinaya, of medium quality if it contains it to some extent and of low quality if satvikabhinaya is at all absent.

Being so important for the performance’s success in the distant past, why is sattvikabhinaya almost extinct in the visual art forms, which succeeded Sanskrit stage play? A possible answer could be found in the fact that abhinaya as a whole has been subject to a strong trend from complication to simplification ever since Sanskrit play ceased to be staged around 13th century, mostly because the dramaturgical texts drifting towards an ever more sophisticated, intellectual and stylized mode of composing8. Another probable reason: the treatises are silent on the issue how the actors were trained to acquire such unordinary skills, like sweating, bristling, crying whenever the stage situation required such response. The latter could mean two things. On one hand it is possible that no special training, apart from the included in Natyashastra’s angikabhinaya, was required. On the other hand the knowledge of sattvikabhinaya might have been transferred only orally, through guru-shishya parampara9, which naturally resulted in reducing the number of actors, trained in the art of satvikabhinaya and gradually in losing the sattvikabhinaya know-how.

The great importance ascribed by Bharata to sattvikabhinaya seems understandable and logical in the historical context of Sanskrit theater establishment and development – small stage, a limited number of viewers, who sat on the floor next to the stage and had the opportunity to watching actors from very close, respectively to see them blush, sweat, bristle and so on and feel the emotion conveyed. Let us assume the Sanskrit play is still in the tradition and staged nowadays. Then how the eight unintentional reactions, even if the actor is able to enact them, would be visible for a spectator, sitting on the 20th row of the theater hall or before the TV screen?

 In theater

The mental states (bhava), their determinants (vibhava) and consequents (anubhava) remain only theoretical abstractions until brought into a single mould by the actor’s abhinaya with the text and the stage settings giving him the proper opportunities to portray emotions and even express his own temperament accordingly.

The emotional states, treated in a stage production, are neither projection of the spectator mental state, nor of the poet or the actor’s. Rather they present objective situations, laid back in the work as its cognitive-emotive content. The ultimate goal of the show is to express them in a way to trigger the target emotional response of the recipient. The latter becomes possible for two reasons. First due to the fact that despite differences in language and culture, all humans share more or less the same cognitive plane and have very similar, genetically-coded physiological reactions to emotions, including extreme emotions. Second because of abhinaya – the codified nonverbal performance tool through which the actor is able to express without words meanings, feelings and emotions. Some aspects of emotion are universal, while other aspects differ across cultures. Universal emotions, such as happiness, fear, sadness, etc. are expressed in a similar nonverbal way throughout the cultures, which is in the foundation of abhinaya. This correlation between the nature of universal emotions and their codified stage presentation arms the spectator with a powerful tool. He is not only able to decode the messages of the show, but to feel and even participate in the development of sthaibhava through the aesthetic formula implied in the drama text. The final stage of rasa gustation is made successful due to the healthy rapport between the presenter and the audience.

Rasa stage production required not just perfection of technical skils but, as before mentioned, ability to live into the character. While the technical skills could be mastered after years of rigorous training, detailed in the treatises, the thrilling question here is how the actors were trained to internalize the text and externalize the emotion – feel happy, sad or guilty, or sweat, cry or go goosey when necessary?

The earliest evidence on the matter, according to Mr. M L Vardpande can be found in Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, who describes in his work the method of imparting training. “The trainees were taken directly to the stage and were made to observe carefully the actors performing thereon. Then they were asked to act accordingly. In his book India as Known to Panini, V. S. Agrawal says: “Patanjali revers to nata teachers of dance (akhyata) initiating novices (arambhakas) not through recitation of dramatic text only but by their direct method of taking them to stage. Some scholars contend that the shobhanikas mentioned by Patanjali in connection with the enactment of Krishna myth were in fact natacharyas, teachers of natas, who for the benefit of actor-trainees demonstrated how a myth should be dramatized and enacted on stage.” [Agrawal, 1981:35].

However, the information above is general and does not answer the question about the exact method and practices used in actors training.

As stated before, the treatises Natyashastra and Abhinayadarpana also do not contain much information, if any, about how the actors were trained to become able to convert, under extreme emotion, a state of mind into physiological reaction. If such evidence existed it could have thrown much more light on the process of autonomic responses stage externalization too.

According to Phillip Zarrilli, the process of actor training could be divided into two stages: external or formal, through which the stylized and codified body movements, hand gestures and facial expressions are acquired and applied for stage representation of permanent mental states as love, grief, rage, astonishment and so on and internal or informal, which is acquired through actor’s individual progress, development, individual life experience and emotional investment in a certain character. So he says are acquired the skills for stage expression of involuntary emotional states. Being too general this model also fails to enlighten the issue about actor’s specific training in natural responses physical portrayal.

Nonetheless, from the existing explanations on the theory and practice of stage representation, the conclusion might be drawn that the process of emotion externalization has the following stages:

  1. The actor first internalizes the lines of the text (dialog, monologue or song). It is noteworthy that the he does so meanwhile moving, acting or showing or put in other words interiorizes the stage space.
  2. He externalizes the meanings of the words, sentences and emotions implied in the text, conveying them to the spectator:
  • Through body language – physical manifestation, pure technique: not all stage movements are related to emotions; sometimes they are used simply for signification of objects, meanings, ideas, notions etc.
  • By putting mental effort - mental manifestation: the actions are performed by the body limbs, but they convey emotions which need special or even extreme concentration of mind.
  1. The two stages run more or less simultaneously, forming an aggregate process, during which flow both body language and mental states are being refracted by the actor’s natural qualities and skills: firstly according to his ability to enact them, using the codified body language and secondly by his mastery to identify himself with the character.

The above described in my view is applicable to all mental states, not just to sattvikabhava. Bharata seem to have realized that the initial signal for all emotions comes from the brain. Therefore, to be enacted on stage all emotions, more or less, require actor’s mental effort. Here comes a reasonable question. Why then Bharata includes in the group of sattvikabhava only the eight involuntary and uncontrollable emotional responses (autonomic) while in fact all mental states can be designated as sattvikabhava? Most probably the authors of Natyashastra have brought into prominence the temperamental states, classifying them in a separate group, due to the peculiar mental effort which is necessary for their stage presentation. Notably they are much more difficult to enact than “regular” emotions. As reported by A.C. Pandeya, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, it is beyond doubt that the brain commands the performance of an action and the emotion in behind. That is why sthaibhava, vyabhicharibhava and sattvikabhava can be called collectively manasika bhava.

According to Bharata and the later Indian scholars, the aesthetics, referred to as sattvikabhinaya or the portrayal of the temperamental states, form the backbone of the performance. Without sattvikabhinaya it is considered unmeaning and lifeless. In this sense is also noticeable the deep philosophy that underlies the performance aesthetics and its relation to the human nature and the cosmos, understood as order. Since Indian philosophy puts the emphasis on the internal, the emotions elaborated during the performance could be aptly felt only when they are internalized.

 How actors today are trained to externalize emotions 

Contemporary Western actors are scarcely trained to enact the whole blend of sattvikabhava, but for sure they must be able to change their voice, faint, blush or cry because it increases the believability of the audience in the character and in the play itself.

What methods are used in the training process for acquiring such skills?

  • Method acting, credited to Constantin Stanislavsky. Its core principle is the creative play of the affective memory in the actor’s imagination as the foundation for (re)experiencing on stage. Lee Strasberg is considered the founder of the method in America. Of his achievements, the most influential was the development of method acting, which is in some ways similar to Stanislavski’s. It includes techniques such as affective memory and sense memory, in which the actor is supposed to relive the sensation or experience through his five senses. It is often thought that there is one Method, but in fact there is no single method that can be taught. The main idea though, is to create a very genuine portrayal of a character or scene in which the emotions and actions are as real as possible, rather than thought out. The ultimate goal is to become and act as the character. Let us see how it works in practice, what are the exact techniques used in the training, here in cry-on-the-spot quick tips for actors:
  1. The actor must put himself into a more emotional state of mind by thinking about something that makes him really sad: loss of a beloved family member, friend or a pet, breakup with girlfriend, attending a funeral and so on. This will begin to put him in the right frame of mind for tears.
  2. Irritate his eyes: holding his eyelids with fingers, keeping them open as long as possible, rubbing them, exposing them to air etc.
  3. Close his nose with fingers and exhaling with full power with wide naked eyes.
  4. Bring other parts of the body into action: yawning repeatedly, pinching himself hard in some sensitive parts of the body, biting the inside of his lips, blinking and pinching his temples repeatedly etc.
  5. Making a crying face: turning the corners of his lips down a little, trying to force the inner corners of his eyebrows upwards, wrinkling up his chin.
  6. The actor next must focus on his breathing, which is part of what convince the audience he is upset. Starts with sobbing my making crying noises combined with constant breathing and hiccupping sounds. Running on spot for few minutes helps to create the blotchy complexion often associated with crying.
  7. Use typical body movements associated with crying: cover his face with hands and lower his head; look away trying to pretend he is not crying; bite his lips as he is trying hard to stop tears; rest his head on a table or other item in front of him in a gesture of helplessness or attempt to self-compose.
  8. The actor must be convincing by: thinking very hard being sad still; making bubbling noises and ramble on about the thing that has supposedly caused him to feel upset; getting emotionally carried away; the trick is to convince himself that he is actually crying as well as everyone else. This is basically “mind over matter” and the more he acts it out, the more his body will acquiesce to produce the effect he is after. When speaking he must constrict his vocal cords, to stutter his words and add in long intakes of breath to add to the effect.
  9. The crying session must not be prolonged. Since the actor is faking he lacks the authentic emotion to keep fueling his crying for long time.
  • A more advanced-level acting method and a more contemporary one, is not to act but to react through the lines of the text. It stands somewhere between Stanislavski’s concepts and the strongly anti-Stanislavski views of David Mamet. The key principle of this method is to react to the stimuli of the stage situation as your character, not yourself. For comparison, Method acting suggest relating to the character through your own personal experiences, and while this may help understand what the character is going through emotionally, your response to a situation is likely different than your characters response. Reacting through the dialogue is challenging, because it requires you to have the skill of being able to naturally and organically respond, but to respond within pre-determined words. In order to react through his lines not as himself, but as his character, the actor must begin to think and digest information as his character. While he may not respond angrily to an accusation that he knows is false, how would his character respond? This method is aimed at teaching the actor to react naturally to what is happening in the scene, and not simply relying on his premeditated reactions as these predetermined actions are typically inappropriate within real-world settings. Among the techniques it explores are: inhabiting the space, learning to trust the body and defamiliarization effect10 – to present or render in an unfamiliar artistic form usually to stimulate fresh perception. In his book “Acting and Reacting: Tools for the Modern Actor”, Nick Moseley states “Training is at the heart of acting, but training must fit the actor, not the other way round”.

Let us see how it works in some general how-to-be-a-better-actor tips, taken from internet11:

  1. Relax: tension is very obvious on stage. It can result in wavering voice, jurky and unattractive movements. The actor must act dramatic but be calm inside.
  2. Focus attention on stage: could be another actor, prop etc. Keeping in the moment enables the actor to remain in character and enhances the believability of the role and the play itself.
  3. Immerse in the role completely: the actor must forget he is pretending and try to become the character he is playing. To envision how the character reacts to life, how he dresses, walks, thinks and converses with others. If he tries to pretend to be sad, it’s an effort. If he is sad, it comes out in his acting well. The actor must not try to act the character – he must be the character.
  4. Remember everything is exaggerated on stage: he must speak up and clearly. Eyes, smile, facial expression, gestures etc., need to be more expansive and dramatic than he would ever make them in real life and even though he must stay relaxed.
  5. Treat the little things as being very important: the actor must do everything to make the audience believe the character he plays. Little actions and small gestures are amazingly noticeable, including very expressive facial features, change of voice and imitating the desired accent – a good idea is to record his voice and listen to how he sounds.
  6. Breathing and alliteration: the actor shall do vocal warm ups to be sure he does not strain his vocal cords. He must concentrate on enunciating his words do that his voice comes across clearly.
  7. Concentrate on his expressions: facial expressions are very important and combining them with vocal responses is an important act of timing. The expression and the mood portrayed must be in concordance.
  8. The actor must practice his lines incessantly: he must enunciate the lines over and over again, remembering to include intonation and expressions so that these become second nature when he performs them on stage.
  9. Meeting people: the actor must get to know diverse people. He can’t possibly act like someone he has never met.
  10. Learn from other actors: watch other actors and see what they do with the parts they are given. Thus he can see things they do that might help him to further develop his own acting style and give him ideas for overcoming aspects of acting he finds strange or difficult.
  11. Kill stage fright: by visualizing success. The actor pictures himself as being amazing on stage from the audience's point of view.
  • It is also worth to mention David Mamet’s views on acting: “The actor is onstage to communicate the play to the audience”, he says. “That is the beginning and the end of his and her job. To do so the actor needs a strong voice, superb diction, a supple, well-proportioned body and a rudimentary understanding of the play." Anything else--"becoming" one's part, "feeling" the character's emotions devalues the practice of a noble craft and is useless to the play. "The 'work' you do 'on the script' will make no difference," he cautions. "That work has already been done by a person with a different job title than yours. That person is the author." The style of acting he promotes in his plays is highly naturalistic, unadorned and results from the action-oriented approach that he and his followers employ, but it is no more or less a style than that produced by the method techniques he decries.

In the contemporary modern theater there are two general approaches to acting techniques: presentational or representational. Presentational acting concerns the relationship between the actor and the audience. The actor acknowledges the presence of the audience, either through talking to it directly or using looks or actions, or other interpersonal techniques to interact with the spectators. In contrast, representational acting is the technique in which the actor ignores the audience and is more completely immersed in the play and the story. The audience therefore is only witnessing the events and plotline, rather than taking part in it somehow.

 How is the emotion portrayed with the body? 

Establishing the ability to convey emotions and ideas with the body is very important for an actor. He must learn to develop imitation and simulation skilss through an expressive body that will be able to project anger, jealousy, sympathy and all the vast range of emotional experience to the audience. The actor must also learn to recreate any emotion that he has experienced or that he has seen other people experience.

In view of the above worldly emotions and theatrical emotions shall be differentiated. In real life the emotions arise automatically driven by the stimuli of the real situation. If someone becomes furious over an incident, his heart begins to beat rapidly, his muscles become tense, his face may flush red, fists closed. The nervous system responds without person’s direct control. The difference between a person experiencing hate, fear or happiness and an actor creating these emotions is that the latter may create any emotion at will. Nonetheless in both cases the mechanism of expression is similar – spatially and through the body.

But how an actor is capable of making his body express anger towards another actor on stage without making himself personally angry? First he needs to have a very active imagination to make him believe in the situation. And second, he must have trained his senses and muscles to create the outward physical appearance of tension like rushing heart, blushy face etc. To be able to create physical attitudes or emotions at will, the actor must observe how he looks in the eyes of other people and must himself has keen eye to detect all signs of various emotions.

The ability to induce credible emotions in the audience is the heartbeat of acting. To do so the actor must be able not only to observe himself in emotional situation but to thoroughly observe other people. There is no such thing as emotion in general – there is always a specific reason or stimuli hidden in behind. It is very important for the actor to be receptive of life and experience the world through his five senses: hear, smell, touch, taste and smell. As you might have noticed in motion pictures the camera is very often focused on the facial reactions of the character or a specific part of the body because at that moment the understanding of the play was dependent upon the expressiveness of that part of the actor’s body. To convey the specific emotion or reaction one should concentrate on specific parts of the body – hands, feet, arms and face. The actor must react with his entire body, but concentrating particularly on the part of the body that is suggested to show the strongest emotion.

In preparating for acting roles the actor must learn the techniques of certain actions that are frequently required in plays. They are closer to pure technique rather than creative actions, because they must be performed without the actor becoming physically involved in the event staged and the actions it involves. Such actions are learning how to faint, die, fight or express pain. When an actor is expected to project the illusion that he is dying or fainting, obviously he cannot do so in real, that’s why his actions are considered pure techniques. The actor makes the audience believe but he himself does not go through the action physically. On the other hand his performance must be credible to the maximum extent to make the audience to believe in what happens on the stage. To be able to do so the actor must study physiologically everything that happens to an individual when he experiences the above listed actions.

Another very important actor’s skill is to learn how to relax not only off-stage between rehearsals, but onstage as well. When the actor appears before the audience there is always a degree of excitement and nervousness, and in order to have complete control over his physical movements he must learn how to make his body relax. Another important thing during learning is to present such actions without injuring oneself. This means he must learn to relax in certain parts of his body and at the same time have muscular control. Here are some useful techniques for actors learning to faint, taken from internet12:

  1. Relax the head and shoulders, letting the head fall forward on to the chest.
  2. Let the arms hang limp.
  3. Let the torso slip downward as the knees bend forward.
  4. Keep the weight supported by the legs until you are as close to the ground as possible.
  5. Let the left arm slip out sideways to protect the face as your whole body slumps to the left.
  6. Collapse in one smooth relaxed motion without bouncing.
  7. Always relax.

For learning how to die the actor first must know the exact cause of his acting death. Down to the last detail he must know what happens when people die, and what is more important, he must know the exact cause of death either by consulting a doctor or by reading a medical book, or by any other mode of self education. Then he must learn the exact physical things that happen in this type of death. The particular technique is to imitate the signs of quick breathing, tension, pain, and finally the total relaxing that takes place with death.

Fight scenes are frequently a part of an actor's role. The actor must deliver blows that look real, but that do not harm either actor. This means that the fight must be rehearsed carefully, first in slow motion, and then practiced until each action is precise. Blows are given on parts of the body which will not cause serious injury. The actor must learn to throw a punch with tension in the arm and hand, but stop the blow at the point of impact. It will appear real, but will land softly. A good fight scene must be rehearsed carefully, if it is to be exciting, believable, and at the same time safe for the actors.

Showing pain is another skill required by the actor. The cause of the pain must be clearly established. Again the actor must study the exact symptoms that occur and practice recreating the actions in pantomime. He must observe what part the facial reactions play and notice how the whole body seems to lean toward the area of injury. Pain will not be immediate, but rather a few seconds after the injury.

Falling: actors are often called upon to fall downstairs, trip, fall to the floor, or fall off roofs or balconies. Even though there may be concealed mattresses to catch the actor as he falls from high places, he must give the impression of falling a great distance. The actor must relax. In falling down a set of stairs, the actor lowers his body as close to the stairs as possible and then relaxes completely as he slips down, resting on an arm with the face turned sideways.

Stooping: when it is necessary for the actor to pick up an object from the floor, it is important that he present a pleasing picture and not appear awkward. For approach the object until you are parallel with it. He must keep his back straight and lower the entire torso so that the object can be reached, then return to the upright position. He must not bend from the waist.
Kneeling: when necessary kneeling is to be done on the downstage foot or knee.

The different emotional states are expressed through prescribed actions dependent on the reason:

  • Anger: crying, singing, boisterousness, hitting of someone or something, destructiveness, self-infliction, sullenness, tenseness, sweating.
  • Fear: sweating, shaking, constant-talking, pacing floor, sullenness, stuttering, cringing.
  • Happiness: crying, laughing, singing, whistling, smiling, friendliness, vitality.
  • Sadness: sullenness, crying, tenseness, desire to be alone, desire to be with others.

 How to Show Real Emotion when Acting 

Acting in general includes various and difficult skills to master. In general an actor is required to have sound imitation skills, ability to simulate events, understanding the viewers' behavior and the appropriate response, sharing and review of creative action, conceptualization and realization of artistic interpretation. He is expected not only to be able to control his voice, posture, facial expressions, but also to memorize his text lines. One of the most difficult steps in improving the acting is developing the ability to express and externalize emotional states. The actor must think about his stage persentation as a process which needs the necessary adjustments before it starts. First of all he shall read the script and try to understand why each character reacts the way he does and think and imagine how he would feel in the same situation as an actor. He has to visualize all the scenes that could be potentially problematic and try to build his character by asking himself questions: why the hero reakts exactly this way, what he thinks and what it looks like – his posture, tone, register, age, movements, special features, peculiarities and so on. The stage acting is like wearing a mask - while on stage the actor becomes someone else and after putting the mask off he becomes himself again. To exercise entering in the caracter is a very important practice for the actor. In front of the mirror he must recite his lines, entering into his character by getting his posture, tone, body movements and register and try to smooth out any issues with the authenticity of the character. The actor must be self-critical, but in a realistic level, not too critical. While trying to display and transmit an emotion, it is very important that he makes himself believe he is the character, to depict it with its all possible details and to immerse fully in the story. The idea of such model of behavior may seem obsessive, but almost all actors used this technique. The actor must not forget that the transmission of emotion is more than verbalized text and voice - body postures, movements of limbs and gestures impact and add character’s credibility. Research and exploration play important part of acting. The actor must learn as many aspects of the character as possible in thorough detail and to clarify anything that is not understood in terms of plot. What is the register of the character? What he looks like when sad, what is his facial expression, what is his voice and timbre. It is also important to remember that depending on the sex, age and past of the hero, he may react differently. Entering into the character can be an exhausting experience. It is therefore important for the actor to make breaks when practicing. He must also feel his voice and control it at all times by exercising his lines continuously. If the text creates problems actor good exercise is to wear a mask in front of the mirror and practice the transmission of emotion without using body language and facial expression. The three key points of acting are practice, detecting faults and improving his presentation by correcting errors. Creating a stage character with all the details and credibility requires a lot of skill and physical effort. Moreover the parallel projection of emotion is not an easy task at all and requires even more mental effort, which makes one more reason for the actor to enjoy while acting.


For all of the above said about sattvikabhinaya, both in view of the ancient treatises and the contemporary psychological studies, it might be, beyond doubt nominated the most hidden mode of expression of the stage presentation abhinaya.

Having been discussed widely by the scholars, it has not yet received the interpretation to fit it best. Besides, the discussions raise numerous questions rather than clarifying the issue.

On one hand the hiddenness of sattvikabhinaya is determined by the nature of sattvikabhava themselves. Being simulated and stimulated autonomic reactions sattvikabhava are thought to be triggered by initial signal coming from the brain, followed by unintentional physiological changes in the body. They posess dualistic nature and can function either as anubhava (reaction, action performed as a resuld of the dominant emotion) or as vyabhicharibhava (transitory states). Reacting physiologically to a certain stage situation seems to be a hard task for any actor. How is that possible since these reactions are considered unintentional? The ancient treatises on theater science maintain that stage presentation which does not contain sattvikabhinaya is inanimate and worthless, but on the other hand they do not reveal the vail over the practices used for training actors in sattvikabhinaya. 

According to Bharata to enact sattvikabhava on stage the actor should be in state of high concentration, becoming mentally engaged in the extreme emotion situation, to experience it to such an extent, that it cause his temper to manifest accordingly by specific physiological reactions. Therefore, if the presenter is thought as being able to recreate and command these mental states at will whenever necessary, how could they furthermore be called involuntary?



Derived from Latin histrionicus "pertaining to an actor", from histrio “actor”.


The dramatist chooses a certain theme for its emotional capacity and exploits it by dramatizing its elements. On the other hand dramaturgy is nost just poetry put on paper, but also a comprehensive exploration of the context in which the play resides. The playwright therefore functions as a resident expert on the physical, social, political, and economic milieus in which the action takes place. For this he has to take into account the psychological underpinnings of the characters and the various metaphorical expressions in the play of thematic concerns. He also must technically considerate the play as a piece of writing, in terms of structure, rhythm, flow, even individual word choices.


Commentary by Abhinavagupta, 11th century.


According to the majority of the researchers on the subject, Bharata is a collective name and the treatise itself is considered a collective work.



Derived from root bh3 - “become, happen, perceive”. In the context of drama the word bhava is most often translated as “state, feeling, sentiment, emotion”.



The term in its ordinary sense means “quality”, but in the Samkhya context it is to be understood in the sense of component or constituent.



Stated by Sunil Kothari regarding Bharatanatyam in his article On Natyadharmi and Lokadharmi.


As other reasons can be pointed out the following: – the Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent during the period 12th to 16th century; the increasing role of Prakriti dialects for the development of popular literature; Sanskrit, losing its positions of a living, spoken language.


Teacher-student tradition: transmission of education and knowledge through close relation between the teacher and the student.



Bertolt Brecht coined the term "defamiliarization effect" (sometimes called "estrangement effect" or "alienation effect"; German Verfremdungseffekt) for an approach to theater that focused on the central ideas and decisions in the play, and discouraged involving the audience in an illusory world and in the emotions of the characters. Brecht thought the audience required an emotional distance to reflect on what is being presented.






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Online resources:

About the author

Publications in MANAS magazine:

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