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The Nayikas of Hamilton

The Nayikas of Hamilton

Sorry for missing last week’s post - some sort of nasty bug was making its way through our house. Here’s one that’s been kicking around in my head for a few months. I’ll do my best to have a few up for the next several weeks.

Cover photo is from Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao garu’s translation and commentary on Rasamanjari by Bhanudatta.

Last semester, we were learning about the Nayika-Nayaka bedhas and traced their evolution across the centuries, starting with the Natya Shastra. As we were doing so, I had (in my notes) a growing tree of the classifications of the sixteen different Nayikas and all their variations and sub-categories, including their labels and characteristics.

Here are the 16 at a high level:

First three are by the nature of the nayika’s relationship

  1. Sweeya: The legally wedded wife

  2. Parakeeya: The secret lover

  3. Samanya: The working woman

    Th next three are types of sweeyas, by maturity level/ age

  4. Mugdha: "A newly sprouted youth” (think, a new bride)

  5. Madhya: A slightly more mature wife (think, early years of marriage)

  6. Proudha (or praghalba): A mature wife (famously, Satyabhama)

    The next six are a cross of the type of sweeya (madhya or proudha), and their self-control (dheera - patient, adheera - impatient, dheeraadheera - a bit of both). They are studied in the context of how they would address a husband thought to be guilty of infidelity

  7. Madhyadheera: Sarcasm

  8. Madhyaadheera: Verbal tirade

  9. Madhyadheeraadheera: Going between sarcasm and tears and deep sighs

  10. Pragalbhadheera: Sadness during intimacy

  11. Pragalbhaadheera: Refusing intimacy, verbal threats

  12. Pragalbhadheeraadheera: Engaging in an argument

    The status of a wife in the eyes of her husband, in relation to other wives

  13. Jyeshtha: The preferred wife

  14. Kanishtha: The secondary wife

    Types of Parakeeya

  15. Kanya: An unmarried maiden under the guardianship of her elders engaged in an affair

  16. Parodha: A married women engaged in an affair

The Nayika bedhas provide very specific, particular descriptions of different personalities of women and how they would react in particular situations. Frankly, at first reading, I struggled with the depictions. I think a part of it is the fact that by definition, these texts are taking the messy, complex, human emotions and relationships and (some, poetically; others, clinically) just bulleting out what seem like caricatures or generalizations.

And then I discovered how wrong I was, re-listening to the soundtrack of the smash hit broadway musical, Hamilton. (On a tangential note - we talk about drama as a complete art combining literature, music, and dance; they do it on Broadway, including vachikabhinayam and a live orchestra while doing 8 performances of a show a week.)

Backstory: This covers the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of America, from his humble beginnings, rise in power, fall from grace, and his untimely death. In addition to being the first treasury secretary, founder of the Coast Guard, the architect of the American financial system, and the face on the 10 dollar bill, Hamilton has the dubious honor of having one of the earliest sex scandals in United States history. What sealed his political fate was his confirmation of an affair in effort to clear his name of corruption charges.

Here we are, looking at a modern American musical based on the real life of real people who happened to live in the 1700s and 1800s, and texts ranging from the 2nd century to the 1500s and 1600s written on the other side of the world capture the emotions and roles of these people.

  • Alexander Hamilton - Nayaka (hero)

  • Elizabeth Schuyler - Nayika (heroine). She is undoubtedly a sweeya, his legally wedded wife. When she meets Alexander, she is most definitely a mugdha (“Helpless”). But we see her - over the course of the musical - become a madhya, and by the time of this song, a proudha.

  • Angelica Schuyler, her sister is the sakhi. She is close with both, and at times acts as the go-between.

  • Maria Reynolds - the other women, but a married woman, so she is a parakeeya, a parodha.

Well, that seems straight forward enough, right. But it’s the next level of correlation that convinced me. In the musical, this is his wife Eliza’s response after the news is revealed. Go listen, and then come back. I’ll wait.

While I was in the middle of reviewing the Nayika bedhas for class (okay, so there may have been a bit of procrastination involved…) Lin-Manuel Miranda announced that they were releasing a version of this track with an earlier draft of the lyrics.

Go watch that too, and then I’ll finish where I’m going with this. (Another tangential note: I looked up Shoba Narayan from the video below - Bharatanatyam dancer!)

The final draft (first video) of Burn is emotional, but attempting to be restrained. She is making a decision to erase evidence of her letters to her husband, given that he has printed letters from his affair in a pamphlet. She is still angry, and she is still vocalizing that anger, but also taking action. “You forfeit all rights to my heart, you forfeit the place in our bed, you sleep in your office instead with only the memories of when you were mine. I hope that you burn.”

In other words, in the final play, Eliza is a proudha dheeraadheera. She is fighting to maintain self-control when faced with this very public betrayal and humiliation. But, that control is slipping.

The first draft, however, shows a much more volatile Eliza. “Don't take another step in my direction, I can't be trusted around you” before laying out the transgressions she has witnessed, “I know about whispers, I see how you look at my sister. Don't - I'm not naive. I have seen women around you. Don't think I don't see how they fall for your charms”.

Compare this with Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao garu’s translation of Bhanu Datta’s Rasa Manjari (pg 144-145).


In Dr. Pappu’s words (minus the diacritrical marks because of my text editor issues), “A praudha dhiraa nayika expresses anger by threatening and beating and dhiraadhiraa praudha shows disinterest in rati and threatens or beats in anger” (pg. 35). The parallels are clear.

I felt even more convinced, once I saw this from Miranda a few days later in response to the question “how come you decided to have Eliza as more passive than the angry eliza we hear on first burn?”

I was reminded of this quote from the Natyashastra:

Nathagnyanam nathacchilpam

Nasa vidya nasa kala

Nasa yoga naseth karma

Natyesminenna drisyathe

As it says, there truly is no knowledge, sculpture, art, or action that is not in Natyam.

NOTE: There is a strong philosophical thread through the Nayikas that I have not touched in this piece. Here’s a gist: Each of these nayikas are considered manifestations of prakriti, or the divine feminine energy, which is reaching out to the divine masculine energy, or purusha. The Nayikas, their motivations, and their characteristics also personify the ideology of longing and aspiration that the individual experiences towards the ideal and the divine.  This idea falls under the school of Vishisthadvaita, which is rooted in the Bhakti Movement. The divine is perceived in the form of the sagunaparabrahma, and the Nayaka is a manifestation of this sagunaparabrahma. Therefore, in Bhakti literature, the Nayaka is typically Krishna or Venkateswara. The individual is expressed as a Nayika, and each person’s journey seeking salvation is represent allegorically as the Nayika’s yearning for the Nayaka.

Go watch a performance, just do it!

Go watch a performance, just do it!

Thoughts about approaching a sacred art

Thoughts about approaching a sacred art