(Last Updated on : 29-01-2009)
In Sanskrit, the play is known as Nataka par excellence, which comprises all the elements of a dramatic composition.
The subject should always be celebrated and important. Like the Greek tragedy the Nataka represents worthy or exalted personages only. The hero of the play is always a sovereign like the Dushyanta, a demi-god as Rama, or a divinity as Krishna.
The action or more properly the passion of the drama should be but one, as love or heroism. The plot should be simple, the incidents reliable. The business should spring direct from the story as a plant from its seed, and should be free from regular and flowery interludes. The time of the Nataka should not be extended. Again the duration of an act, according to the elder authority should not exceed one day. However the Sahitya Darpana extends an act to a few days or even to one year. The articulation of the play should be perspicuous and polished. The piece should consist of not fewer than five acts, and not more than ten.
Nataka's chief characteristic is that it presents an obvious analogy to the tragedy of the Greeks. This was the imitation of a solemn and perfect action, of adequate importance, told in pleasing language, exhibiting the several elements of dramatic composition in its different parts, represented through the instrumentality of agents, not by narration, and sanitizes the love of human nature by the influence of mercy and terror.
The difference between Nataka and the classical drama is the total absence of the distinction between Tragedy and Comedy. The Hindu plays confine themselves neither to the crimes nor to the absurdities of mankind, neither to the momentous changes nor lighter vicissitudes of life. The Nataka does not have the terrors of distress or the gaieties of prosperity. In this respect they may be classed with much of the Spanish and English drama, to which, as Schlegal observes, the terms Tragedy and Comedy are wholly inapplicable, in the sense in which they were employed by the ancients. They are invariably of a mingled web, and blend seriousness and sorrow with levity and laughter. They never offer, however, a calamitous conclusion, which as Johnson remarks, was enough to constitute a Tragedy in Shakespeare's days; and although they propose to excite all the emotions of the human breast, terror and pity included, they never affect this object by leaving a painful impression in the mind of the spectator.
The Hindus, in fact, have no Tragedy; a defect that subverts the theory that Tragedy necessarily preceded Comedy, because in the infancy of society the stronger passions predominated, and it was not till social intercourse was complicated and refined, that the follies and frivolities of mankind afforded material for satire. The absence of tragic disaster in the Hindu dramas or Natakas is not merely an unconscious error. Like the calamity is prohibited by a positive rule, and the death of either the hero or the heroine is never to be announced. With that regard indeed for decorum, which even Voltaire thought might be sometimes dispensed with, it is not allowed in any manner slaughter and death must invariably be inflicted out of the view of the spectators.