The World of Rasas – Kinds of Heroes and Heroines

This article is part 3 of 4 in the series The World of Rasas - Heroes and Heroines

Let us first consider the different categories of heroes (nāyakas). While it is the male that has all the charm in the animal world, it is quite the opposite in the world of humans. The variety of heroes is limited. Nāyakas are usually classified into four kinds – Dhīrodātta (example: Śrīrāma), Dhīroddhata (example: Bhīma), Dhīralalita (example: Udayana) and Dhīraśānta (example: Cārudatta of Mṛcchakaṭikam). These categories have their associated rasas and all rasas find their place in one or the other kind of heroes. The romantic heroes (śṛṅgāra-nāyakas) are of three kinds, namely – pati (husband), upapati (paramour) and vaiśika (a person excessively indulged with prostitutes). The husband pati can be of four kinds – anukūla (friendly), dakṣina (obedient), dhṛṣṭa (rude) and śaṭha (arrogant). Śaṭha can be divided into two sub-classes, namely – māni (egoistic) and catura(shrewd). Each of these categories can either be of the superior (uttama), middling (madhyama) or the inferior (adhama) kind.  (These three varieties specifically refer to decency, frivolity and adamance of the heroes, respectively). All these heroes are well versed in the art of love (abhijña). When a person who does not have this skill becomes a hero, he will merely be a caricature and it can lead to extreme humor (Such heroes, who are ill-versed in the art of love are said to be anabhijñas). In sum, there are about ninety-six varieties of nāyakas. When each of these is enacted independently with suitable music and lyrics, it will certainly entertain the masses.

For instance, one needs to keep in mind that Śrīrāma is a Dhīrodātta and anukūla-nāyaka and is also a pati (husband). He is also an uttama-nāyaka (of a superior kind). It is only with this understanding that the character of Rāma needs to be executed. If he is portrayed as a Dhīralalita - nāyaka with an arrogant nature and with inferior qualities, it will only hamper the aesthetics and propriety of the production, leading to the rasabhaṅga (failure/ rupture of rasa). Grace, majesty and good culture should be reflected in every act of Śrīrāma. It is for this reason that imitations of Gītagovinda which had Rāma as the hero were not successful. (works such as ‘Saṅgīta-rāghava did not capture the minds of people).

It is usually recommended that one must portray a uttama-nāyaka in Rasābhinaya (the definition and pre-requisites for Rasābhinaya have been dealt in a separate article. Rasābhinaya, in brief, is the creative expression and interpretation of lyrics set to a rāga and a tāla. In solo dance, it is only one person who does the whole job. In the case of a rūpaka (a play), however, different actors can be tailored to the demands of the character they are to portray and to the story-line.

Let us now look at the different kinds of Nāyikās.  Several aestheticians starting from the sage Bharata have come up with categories of Nāyikās.  For the current purpose, we will limit ourselves to the work ‘Rasamañjarī’ of Bhānudatta.

The Nāyikās are put into three classes as a function of their social status – Svīyā (the Nāyaka’s wife), Parakīyā (wife of another) and Sādhāraṇā (a prostitute).  Svīyā is further divided into three kinds based on her mental state and her experience in love – mugdhā (innocent), madhyā (semi-experienced) and pragalbhā (expert). If the mugdhā is aware of her youthful charm and natural tendencies, then she is a jñānta-yauvanā. If not, she is an ajñānta-yauvanā. When she is newly married, she is mugdha-navoḍhā. If she is without any shyness or hindrance, she is viśrabdha-navoḍhā. The Nāyikās who belong to the category of Svīyā and are also madhyamā by their nature, can be further classified into six kinds based on their courage in family matters, especially with their co-wives, who can be either older or younger to them – jyeṣṭha-dhīrā (a nāyikā who takes on her elderly co-wife in a bold manner), kaniṣṭha-dhīrā (a nāyikā who takes on her junior co-wife in a bold manner), jyeṣṭhādhīrā (a lady scared of her older co-wife), kaniṣṭhādhīrā (a lady scared of her younger co-wife), jyeṣṭhadhīrādhīrā (a lady neither too scared nor too bold with her older co-wife) and kaniṣṭhadhīrādhīrā (a lady, neither too bold nor too scared with her younger co-wife). Similar categorization can be made of pragalbha-nāyikās too, who is of the svīyā kind. A pragalbhā is usually a matured and an experienced wife. Thus, in total, a svīya-nāyikā is of sixteen kinds.

A parakīyā -nāyikā can be a maiden (a virgin, kanyaa) or a married woman. A married lady of the parakīya type is a paroDhaa. She has rendezvous with her paramour escaping the notice of her husband and rest of her family. As a function of her means of eloping and her mental states, she is of three kinds, namely -  guptā , vidagdhā, lakṣitā, kulaṭā, anuśayānā and muditā. These have further categories.

A guptā can be of three kinds, depending on the manner in which she hides her love affair. (vṛtta-surata-gopanā = one who does not reveal the love affair that is past; vartiṣyamāna-surata-gopanā = one who conceals her forthcoming extramarital affairs; vṛtta-vartiṣyamāna-surata-gopanā = one who conceals both her past and future affairs).

A vidagdha-nāyikā is matured in her speech and actions, thus, of two kinds, namely – vāgvidagdhā (good at words) and kriyāvidagdhā (good at action).

An anuśāsanā usually has a predetermined meeting spot (saṅketa-sthala) for her rendezvous with her lover. If she is unable to make it to the spot, as a function of her behaviour and the mode of expression of her disappointment, she can be of three kinds, namely – luptas-saṅketa- khinnā, apraapta-saṅketa -saukhya- khinnā and apraapta- saṅketa- khinnā.

Muditaa, a variety of parakīya-nāyikā is of three sub-types, depending on her skill in deceiving her husband and other family members – sāhasikā, pratibhācaturā and apalāpacaturā. Thus, parakīya-nāyikās are of fourteen kinds in total.

There are no sub-categories in  sādhāraṇāa-nāyikā. Therefore, nāyikās are can be said to be of thirty one kinds in all, depending on their social status, mental states and experience.

The nāyikās can be further divided into three categories based on their humility, haughtiness and hardness of character as uttamā, madhyamā and adhamā. As a function of the fulfilment of their love-play, they are tṛptā (contended), atṛptā (uncontended) and tṛptātṛptā (partially contended). Some nāyikās have divine origin and some are more earthly – depending on their superhuman powers, the Nāyikāas are divyā (divine), adivyā (non-divine) and divyādivyā (semi-divine). As a function of the nature of their arrogance, the Nāyikāas are – premagarvā, saundaryagarvā, laghumānā, madhyamānā and gurumānā. In sum, putting together all these categories and sub-categories, we arrive at four thousand one hundred and eighty five kinds (4185) of nāyikās.

This essay appears in the anthology ‘Yakṣarātri.’



Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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