Category Archives: Nayika

Nayikas in art : some glimpses from miniatures


          The Nayika occupies a very important place in Indian art and literature. She is seen in different moods. A translation of the word nayika is heroine. The depictions in art have captured her description in different hues and settings. The Kangra nayika is fluid in movement surrounded by nature. The elements of nature are captured in strong colours. The nayika could also be forlorn, sitting in a forest with the background in slightly softer shades. There is a  nayika in every woman. Bharata first captured the various nayikas , eight in number or the ashta nayika in his Natyashastra. Human feelings of eagerness, anger,separation, dejection etc. are all expressed through these paintings. The Nayika goes through different moods in her lifetime as per the situation prevailing then. Various poets and authors have described the feelings through their works in literature. Kalidasa has captured the anguish of separation of his nayika Shakuntala in his work Abhijnanashakuntalam in Sanskrit.  

     A nayika”s beauty is very much a part of the shringara rasa which includes the amorous , the erotic, the decorative, song and dance. The heroine forms the  central character in many works of Indian literature. Through the work one can experience her different moods and emotions, her challenges, her failures and her victories. The description of her beauty and character also make interesting reading and understanding of the social environment of a given era. A nayika brings out the best in a poet or dramatist, by lending her presence by illusory, historical or real presence.

Proshita-patika nayika, painting, early 19th century.

By Unknown –, Public Domain,

       Bharatmuni composed the Sanskrit treatise Natyashastra ( between 1st century BC and 3rd century AD, with others adding to the main work) on dance and the performing arts,  in which he has classified eight types of nayikas  called ashtanayikas. This theme has been well used in painting, sculpture, dance  and drama. Bharatamuni has focussed on the nayikas as she can appear in a given drama again depending on the plot. He has envisaged women as the root cause of happiness.


Swadhinabhartruka nayika, Kalighat painting, 19th/20th century.

By The original uploader was ENVI1 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Redtigerxyz using CommonsHelper., Public Domain,

  The Natyasastra  describes eight types of nayikas. Though the term can encompass many types of nayikas in many facets and contexts, the various states of the nayika in love are depicted in drama. Bharatmuni has described many kinds of nayikas depending on other factors like social status, nature and also on how she is treated by the king as being part of the royal harem during ancient times. The different nayikas are the    Vasakashajja,Virohotkanthita,Svadhina-bhartruka,Kalahanatarita,Khandita, Vipralabdha, Proshitabhartruka and Abhisarika.

    Vasakashajja means one who is dressed up for union. She  is depicted below in a painting readying her shajja or bed with flowers. She is full of longing and is in a state of waiting for her lover.

Vaskashajja nayika, painting,late 17th century.

By Unknown – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, X623.2_IMLS_SL2.jpg, Public Domain,

      One who is distressed by separation is virohikanthita or  Utka,  a nayika who is pining for her lover who has failed to meet her or come home due to preoccupation. She is utterly disappointed.

File:Utka Nayika. A lady awaits her lover in the forest. 1775-1780. Kangra, British Museum, London.jpg

Utka nayika, painting.Kangra,late 18th century.

By Anonymous (British Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    A nayika is a svadhinabhatruka if she is one who is having her husband in subjugation. She controls her husband who is subjugated because of her intense love for him. He listens to her, applies mahawar on her feet, vermillion on her forehead. Radha has been portrayed as such in Geeta Govinda. Such a nayika  is  happy, proud and feels fortunate.

     Kalahanatarita is a nayika who is separated or angry with her lover due to quarrel. Sometimes she is separated due to her arrogance. In this state her lover is usually shown pleading with her, or leaving her house dejected. She might also be shown refusing his advances. She may also be depicted refusing a wine-cup that he is offering to her. The nayika is however repentant without him.

   Khandita is a nayika who is enraged with her lover because he has not come to her and probably spent his time with another woman and she is angry with him. In this state she is depicted as offended and rebuking her lover.

Vipralabhda is a nayika  who is a deceived heroine is a vipralabdha, one who has waited for her lover, she is usually depicted throwing away her jewellery and adornments. She is disappointed and her heart is full of discontent.

    Proshita-bhartruka is a nayika  who has a travelling husband and who does not come back on the scheduled day. She is depicted seated alone or surrounded by her maids and refusing to be consoled. She does not bother to dress up or apply any make-up or comb her hair.

    Abhisarika is the nayika who moves, setting aside her modesty to meet her lover secretly. She is shown facing dangers on her way like snakes and animals in the forest, thunder-storms etc. She is shown depicted as starting from the door of her house, in a hurry to reach her destination. She is drunk with the emotion that she feels and just wants to meet her lover who is waiting for her.

Abhisarika nayika,painting, Garhwal, 18th century.

By Mola Ram (MFA [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

File:Vipralabdha Nayika. Jaipur, ca. 1800, British Museum, London.jpg

Vipralabdha nayika.,painting, Jaipur, 1800, British Museum, London.

By Anonymous (British Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



References :

  • Nayika bheda in Kathak/Jyotishi, Chetana,Delhi : Agam Kala Prakashan,2009.



Posted by:


Soma Ghosh


© author


Courtesans in Indian art : various depictions

           Courtesans have been an important aspect of society in ancient and, medieval and modern times in India. They have been represented in plays , captured in art through paintings and illustrations. A courtesan was a very talented woman adept in many skills. She was mostly to entertain the nobility and others through dancing and singing;though originally a courtesan was a courtier, which means a person who attends the court of a king or other powerful person.

    Courtesans have been influential in every country and have combined their charm and elegance with politics to gain and improve their position in society since ancient times. She was a paradigm of female embodiment portraying free love and represented power, independence and strength in India. She was referred to as nayika or ganika, a woman given to pleasure. She is not only beautiful but also had literary talents and skills too. Many courtesans penned excellent poetry and dedicated it to their lovers or men they associated with.

     The Indian treatise Kamasutra on love and sexuality prescribes 24 arts for the courtesan. The arts include vocal music,dancing,proficiency in garland-making,sewing,knowledge of gems, dice,social etiquette,flower decoration among others. An accomplished courtesan could win favours from her male suitors. In ancient India a courtesan was well accepted and was a nayika or heroine who knew well about the world she lived in. They played a major role and lead hunting expeditions and were invited to victory celebrations.

  In the  Sanskrit play of Shudraka; Mricchkatika or ‘The little clay cart’, Vasantasena was a beautiful courtesan. He describes her as the ornament of the city . Amrapali was another famous courtesan from ancient times in the city of Vaishali who was both beautiful and talented.

File:Raja Ravi Varma, Vasanthasena (Oleographic print).jpg

Vasanthasena, from Shudraka’s Mricchakatika,painting, 19th century.

Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

File:3 Melancholy Courtesan Bundi or Kota 1610 Metmuseum.jpg


See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

           During Mughal rule the tawaif was a highly civilised courtesan who catered to the nobility of India. Tawaifs were excellent in and contributed to music, mujra, theatre, and the Urdu literary tradition. They excelled at the fine art of etiquette. Tawaifs were  a North Indian institution that became prominent during the weakening of the Mughal rule in the mid-18th century. Begum Samru, Moran Sarkar , Wazeeran were prominent and powerful in Northern India. Gauhar Jaan is well known for her musical abilities.

File:Indian - Portrait Miniature of an Indian Courtesan - Walters 38518.jpg

Courtesan,portrait miniature,painting on ivory,Mughal style,19th century.

Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

                 Mahlaqabai Chanda; an outstanding woman and courtesan of  late 18th and early 19th century Hyderabad. She was a well known poet in Persian and Urdu. She is the first woman sahib-e-diwan, a poet whose works have been put together as a collection or diwan. She wrote in both Urdu and Persian, but only her Urdu works have survived.She was intelligent, beautiful and could sing, dance write, had a great sense of humour and a gift of repartee.She was a celebrated courtesan in the Asaf Jahi court of Nizam Ali Khan,Nizam II and Sikandar Jah,Nizam III.

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Courtesan,Mahlaqabai Chanda,portrait, mid-20th century.

Image source :

Mughal Courtesan (Tawaif) poster

Courtesan, Mughal style,poster, 21st century. Image by Steve Browne & John Verkleir

         During late medieval India too the courtesans were present but the free partnership of an earlier era gave way to more rigid ways of life. Courtesans always enjoyed certain privileges but were always identified as temptresses and harlots. The colonial period in Indian history brought their cult to a slow end. The classic courtesan became a memory.

Image result for courtesans in indian paintings

Courtesan, Kalighat painting, 19th century, Kolkata.

See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Image result for courtesans images india

Courtesans, Northern India, 19th century, Company painting.

By Company style, northern India, ([1]) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



References :

  • Paradigms of female embodiment in the Hindu world/Khanna,Madhu,New Delhi : IGNCA, 2007.



Posted by:

Soma Ghosh

© author