According to the Natyashastra, the ideal spectator has keen susceptibility and excellent judgement with ability to feel the emotions of characters as depicted by actors. A spectator should be attentive, an expert in handling the four kinds of instruments, have knowledge of dresses, dialects, gesticulation and metres. He should be well versed in the shastras and arts and should be religious by nature. Thus he should have intense intelligence, capacity to inspect and weigh the merits of the performance and partake in the pleasures and sorrows illustrated on the stage. The quality of the spectators can be categorised on the basis of good, medium and indifferent. They appreciate only that art, dress, action, speech or movement which is comprehensible to them. Youths take pleasure in passionate scenes; religious-minded persons get delight in scenes dealing with salvation. The brave spectators enjoy the representation of the bibhatsa and raudra sentiments and of battles. The old audiences are interested in religious stories and Puranas. Boys, fools and women take pleasure in humorous scenes. Thus different spectators obtain pleasure from different scenes according to their age, country and circumstances.
According to the Abhinayadarpana, the audience are characterised as a kalpavriksha or the tree that answers all wishes. The Vedas are its branches, Sastras its flowers and scholars are the bees adorning it. The Abhinayadarpana prescribes that the sabha pati or chief of the audience should be affluent, intellectual, discriminating, an authority in giving awards, versed in music, versatile, celebrated, having pleasant qualities, well familiar with gestures expressive of desires and moods, without resentment or malevolence, well disposed to people; possessed of virtuous conduct, kind, enduring, disciplined, versed in arts and proficient in abhinaya. His duty was to make pronouncements on the merit of a performance and to give out rewards to the sutradhara or the leader of the troupe of dancers, musicians and actors. The Sangitaratnakara also gives the definition of the sabhapati.
There are advisers of the sabhapati who speak in a dignified manner, have a desire for fame, appreciate moods (bhavas) and are able to differentiate between merits and demerits. They are versed in arts and polity and are themselves scholars. They have the capability to distinguish a dialect from another and possess poetic faculty. The accomplishment and success of a drama depends largely on the judgement of the critic or the prasnika who has essentially to be qualified for the delicate task of judging the merit of the performance. The Natyashastra states that there are ten kinds of critics, an expert in sacrifice (yajnavit), an actor (nartaka), a prosodist (chandovit), a grammarian (sabdavit), a king (rajan), an expert in archery (isvastravit), a painter (citravit), a courtesan (vesya), a musician (gandharya) and an officer of the king (rajasevaka). In case there is a conflict of opinion among the spectators, the view of the prasnika is listened to.
A critic or prasnika is an expert in his own province. He is an authority in sacrifices, a moderator in matters of sacrifice, an actor in acting, a prosodist in complex metres, a grammarian in prolonged speeches, a king in connection with self-esteem, in dealing with the female apartments and royal roles, an archer in the excellence of the position of the body or general demeanour, a painter in judging the manner of salute and dress, a courtesan in depiction of passionate scenes, a musician in musical notes and an officer of the king in matters of servitude or chivalrous conduct.
Thus the spectators of Indian theatre are needed to be learned, critical and experienced in order to merit the true value of the play.
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