(Last Updated on : 30/04/2012)
Natyashastra is an ancient form of Indian theatre
with details performing arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music. It was written during the period between 200 BC and 200 AD in classical India and is traditionally attributed to the Sage Bharata. It is elaborate of all treatises on dramatic criticism and acting ever written in any language and is regarded as the oldest surviving text on stagecraft in the world. Bharata in his Natyashastra demonstrates every facet of Indian drama
whilst covering areas like music, stage-design, make up, dance and virtually every aspect of stagecraft. With its kaleidoscopic approach, with its wider scope Natyashastra has offered a remarkable dimension to growth and development of Indian classical music
, Indian classical dances
, drama and art. Natyashastra indeed laid the cornerstone of the fine arts in India.
Text of Natyashastra
Natyashastra of Bharata Muni contains about five thousand six hundred verses. The commentaries on the Natyashastra are known, dating from the sixth or seventh centuries. The earliest surviving one is the Abhinavabharati by Abhinava Gupta. It was followed by works of writers such as Saradatanaya of twelfth-thirteenth century, Sarngadeva of thirteenth century, and Kallinatha of sixteenth century. However the abhinavabharati is regarded as the most authoritative commentary on Natyashastra as Abhinavagupta provides not only his own illuminating interpretation of the Natyashastra, but wide information about pre-Bharata traditions as well as varied interpretations of the text offered by his predecessors.
Background of Natyashastra
Written in Sanskrit, the vast treatise consists of six thousand sutras. The Natyashastra has been divided into thirty six chapters, sometimes into thirty seven or thirty eight due to further divergence of a chapter or chapters. The background of Natyashastra is framed in a situation where a number of munis approach Bharata to know about the secrets of Natyaveda. The answer to this question comprises the rest of the book. Quite ideally therefore narratives, symbols and dialogues are used in the methodology of Natyashastra.
Contents of Natyashastra
A mere perusal of the contents of Natyashastra will depict the variety of the topics discussed therein. The principal theme is the dramatic art which concerns the producers of the plays as well as those who compose them, the playwrights. Bharata wanted the plays to be a Drisya Kavya that can be successfully and profitably represented on the stage. The dramatic theory as well as practice has been elaborately dealt with in the text. Hence, manual gestures, facial expressions, poetics, music with all ramifications whether vocal or instrumental, prosody, some points of grammar, costumes, ornaments, setting up of the scenes with appropriate background etc. have been methodically dealt with. The author has treated the subject matter so very analytically as not to hesitate to repeat the things mentioned earlier in order to be more specific.
Cultural Projection in Natyashastra
Prakrita and allied native languages are meticulously dealt with by means of examples in the Natyashastra. References have been made to the languages of ancient tribes such as Barbaras, Kiratas, Andhras, Dravidas, Sabaras, Candalar etc. Beautiful verses of very fine literary excellence have been given by way of examples, while dealing with Dhruva songs, metres etc. In many of these verses the innate charm divested of all the artifices and linguistic of the later classical age are found. Rasas, Bhavas, Alankaras etc. are portrayed well. Dance is inseparable from drama and Bharata has done full justice to it. The various Abhinaya
s mentioned in the text have been portrayed by mural paintings, sculpture, architecture etc. in the temples. Various crafts are brought into play to create a suitable background in the stage in different scenes. Natyashastra gives detailed directions about the dressing material, modes of wearing the garments and jewellery, articles to be used by the different characters in a play in accordance with their social status, profession, the cultural practice etc.
Natyashastra mentions mythological figures starting from the lowest stratum such as the Uragas, Patangas, Bhutas, Raksasa, Asuras etc. and also the gods and goddesses of the Hindu Pantheon viz; Danavas, Guhyakas, Kstadikpalakas, Gandharvas Apsaras, Asvins, Manmatha, Rudra, Visve Devas, Brhaspali Narada, Tumburu, Rishis, Mantradrastras, Lord Brahma
, Lord Vishnu
, Lord Shiva
, Goddess Lakshmi
, Chandi Chandika
, Sarasvati etc. There are references to cities and rural regions such as Anga
, Antagiri, Andhra, Avarta, Kharta, Anarta, Usinara, Odra Kalinga
, Kasmira, Tamralipta, Tosala, Tripura, Dakshinapatha, Dramida, Nepala, Pulindabhumi etc. Rivers and mountains such as Sindhu, Ganga, Malaya
and Vindhya mountain range
finds place in the Natyashastra. Natyashastra opens with the origin of theatre, beginning with inquiries made by Bharata's pupils, which he answers by narrating the myth of its source in Brahma. Natyashastra consists of four elements namely pathya or text, including the art of recitation and rendition in performance taken from the Rig Veda
. The other one is gita or songs, including instrumental music from the Sama Veda
, abhinaya or acting, the technique of expressing the poetic meaning of the text and communicating it to the spectator from the Yajur Veda
, and rasa or aesthetic experience from the Atharva Veda
Chapters of Natyashastra
With well knit chapters, Natyashastra, cover every aspect of Indian art and drama. From issues of literary construction, to the structure of the stage or mandapa, from a detailed analysis of musical scales and movements, to an analysis of dance forms and their impacts on the viewers, Natyashastra covers every possible facet in detail.
As an audio visual form, Natyashastra mirrors all the arts and crafts, higher knowledge, learning, sciences, yoga, and conduct. Its purpose is to entertain as well as educate. Bharata was an ideal theatre artist and is gifted with restraint as well as vision. He understood the fact that performance is a collective activity that requires a group of trained people, knit in a familial bond and has best portrayed this understanding in the first chapter of his treatise, Natyashastra. In the first chapter Bharata therefore talks about the response and involvement of the spectator in drama. The spectators come from all classes of society without any distinction, but are expected to be at least minimally initiated into the appreciation of theatre. This is because of the fact that they may respond properly to the art as an empathetic sahridaya. Theatre flourishes in a peaceful environment and requires a state free from hindrances. The first chapter ends emphasising the significance and importance of drama in attaining the joy, peace, and goals of life, and recommending the worship of the presiding deities of theatre and the auditorium.
The second chapter lays down the norms for theatre architecture or the prekshagriha i.e. auditorium. This also protects the performance from all obstacles caused by adverse nature, malevolent spirits, animals, and men. It describes the medium sized rectangular space as ideal for audibility and visibility, apparently holding about four hundred spectators. Bharata also prescribes smaller and larger structures, respectively half and double this size, and square and triangular halls. Bharata's model was an ideal intimate theatre, considering the subtle abhinaya of the eyes and other facial expressions which he described in the second chapter of Natyashastra.
The third chapter describes an elaborate puja at home
for the gods and goddesses protecting the auditorium, and prescribes rituals to consecrate the space. Chapter four of the Natyashastra begins with the story of a production of Amritamanthana i.e. 'Churning of the Nectar', a samavakara performed according to Brahma's instructions on the peaks of Kailasa
, witnessed by Lord Shiva. After some time, a dima titled Tripumdaha or 'Burning of the Three Cities' is staged, relating Shiva's exploits. Shiva asks Bharata to incorporate tandava
dance in the Purvaranga
preliminaries and directs his attendant Tandu to teach Bharata. Tandu
explains the components of tandava
, the categories of its movements, and their composition in chorographical patterns. These form the pure dance movements required for the worship of the gods and the rituals. This chapter also lays the foundation of angika abhinaya
or physical acting developed in later chapters. The fifth chapter however details the elements of Purvaranga. Thus the first five chapters are structurally integrated to the rest of the text
The sixth and seventh chapters deal with the fundamental emotional notions and aesthetics of rasa
. The Bhavas, which include the vibhavas, are communicated to spectators through abhinaya, especially angika language
. Therefore it receives elaborate treatment in the chapter eight to twelve. The chapters like 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 thus codify body language based on a definite semiotics. Movement requires well-defined blocking, so immediately afterwards the Natyashastra lays down the principle of kakshyavibhaga in the thirteenth chapter. The extremely flexible and easy principle of establishing space on stage and altering it through parikramana or circumambulation is a unique characteristic of traditional Indian theatre and dance and are subtly dealt in the next chapters of Natyashastra.
Chapter eighteen discusses the ten major Rupakas
, or forms of drama and natika, a variety of uparupaka
. The next chapter analyses the structure of drama as well as the inclusion of lasyangas or components of feminine dance derived from popular dance and recitative forms in theatre. Chapter twenty gives an elaborate account of the vrittis. Chapter twenty one deals with aharya abhinaya and covers make up, costume, properties, masks, and minimal stage decor. Chapter twenty two begins with samanya or 'common' abhinaya, which compounds the four elements of abhinaya harmoniously. It discusses other aspects of production too, which may be viewed as 'inner', adhering to prescribed norms and systematic training, and 'outer' or done freely outside such a regimen. This chapter ends with an analysis of women's dispositions, particularly pertaining to love and terms of address, while the following chapter twenty three deals with male qualities and patterns of sexual behaviour, as well as classification and stages of feminine youth. Chapter twenty four specifies the types of characters in Sanskrit theatre
. Chapter twenty five deals with chitrabhinaya i.e. 'pictured acting' especially meant for delineating the environment occurring as a stimulant or uddipana vibhava of different bhavas. It also defines the specific ways of expressing different objects and states, and the use of gestures, postures, gaits, walking, and theatrical conventions. The next two chapters present the nature of dramatis personae, the principles of make-up, and speak about the success and philosophy of performance.
The chapter twenty seven deals with music employed in theatre. Chapter twenty eight covers jati or melodic types or matrices, sruti or micro-intervals, svara or notes, grama or scales, and murcchana or modes or ragas. Chapter twenty nine describes stringed instruments like the vina and distinguishes between vocal and instrumental music, further dividing vocal into two types, varna or 'colour', only syllabics and giti or 'song', with lyrics. Chapter thirty describes wind instruments like the flute and ways of playing it. Chapter thirty one deals with; cymbals and tala, rhythm and metrical cycles! Chapter thirty two defines dhruva songs, their specific employment, forms, and illustrations. Chapter thirty three lists the qualities and defects of vocalists and instrumentalists. The next chapter relates to the origin and nature of drums.
The concluding two chapters lay down the principles for distributing roles and the qualifications for members of the troupe. Bharata narrates the story of his sons, who ridiculed the sages and were cursed. He instructs them to expiate their sin, so that they attain their lost glory again. He returns to the performance in heaven where Indra enacts Nahusha, and finally to the descent of theatre on earth. Bharata ends his Natyashastra by stating the glory of theatre. Natyashastra remained an important text in the fine arts for many centuries whilst influencing much of the terminology and structure of Indian classical dance and music. For about two thousand years the Natyashastra has inspired new texts and various regional traditions of theatre. Kutiyattam in Kerala is an extant Sanskrit form that imbibed and developed the theory and practice originating from the Natyashastra. The analysis of body forms and movements defined in Natyashastra also influenced Indian sculpture and the other visual arts in later centuries.