No other country in the entire world can boast of ancient classical text that provides elaborate information of production, technique importance of music, dance and drama.

Natyasastra: The Timeless Classic

But India is an exception to this as here the Natyasastra exist which was created by author Bharata probably around 200 BCE. Although the Sanskrit text in it is historic, get the relevance of the content is justified even today about the theatres and drama.

As the word, Natya Sastra suggests it is a combination of word Natya which means the techniques of dancers and actors and the word Sastra. This word refers to the science-based on the knowledge which can be applied even centuries later. The text in the NatyaSastra elaborates the detail regarding the acting techniques, costumes, musical instruments, makeup, music, etc.

It is the foundation of Indian traditional dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Odissi, and kudiyatam. Written over thousands of year ago, this is a manual for the staging of plays and performances. This manual consists of around 6000 sutras or stanzas and that is why many scholars believe that it is not to work of the single author. Many scholars have also contributed greatly to various theories of the text example great Kashmir scholar Abhinava Gupt can be credited for the Rasa theory to the text. Although not much is known about the author Bharata, many believe that Bharata which means the actor was some unknown actor(s) who created this text.

Exploring the Greek connection

Natyasastra has been written in Sanskrit and can be divided into 36 chapters having 6000 sutras.
The composition of the text developed concurrently with the poetics of Greek philosopher, Aristotle. These poetics were the first work on dramatic theory and philosophy in the west. Many similarities can be drawn in the concepts of both the text that is NatyaSastra and poetics.

For example, both Aristotle and Natya Sastra emphasise literature not being the representatives of reality always but could be the representation of the object which could be the reconstruction of the reality. This process has been explained as Sahanakirana in Natya Sastra.

The poetics of Aristotle and Bharata’s Natyasastra emphasised a single plot and strict mechanism behind staging that plot.

Not only the similarities exist in the ideology of both the text can be found but also similar words can be found in both the text such as Yavanika which means a curtain has been found in both the text.

Origin of Natya Sastra

It is being believed that Natyasastra came into being when the creator of the world asked sage Bharata to write it. He took the lyrics from the Rig Veda, music from Sama Veda, gestures from Yajurveda and the aesthetics from Atharva Veda for the creation of this text.

The performance so created during the banner ceremony of lord Indra had females nymphs or apsaras dancing through. The performance was lacking in emotions but the king enjoyed it. The demons or the asuras got agitated and created chaos during the show due to which that show had to be shifted from an open-air performance to the closed auditorium which was the beginning of proscenium theatre.

Thereafter, the author included in the text that the theatre should be e inclusive of both the aspects good and the evil and should not show exclusive attributes of one group neglecting the other.

Many Scholars have found connections of the text with epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana having small tales within it. Apsaras in Natyaaastra played a very important role and there was no social stigma attached to their status. Rather they enjoyed a fair amount of freedom and respect even in those days.

Birth of Natya Sastra

The rise of great republic or Mahajanapadas is extremely contributory to the tradition of theatre in India. The Maurya dynasty (6th- 4th BCE) witness the rise of several important towns such as Sravasti, Rajgriha and Kashi that has theatres in them for the citizen’s need of entertainment. The troops of performers included both men and women. Plays during those days were performed mainly in temples, palaces, and other holy places. The audiences used to be from all the classes of society.

According to Natya Shastra, the nature of the characters in the play should have high moral values or Uttam Prakiti or Madhayama Prakiti which is lack of moral sense but wise worldly. Also so they can have Adama Prakriti or the criminal tendency.

Material culture as explained in Natya Sastra

About 105 sutras of this text are exclusively devoted to the construction of theatre or the auditorium for the play.

Referred to as Mandappa Vidhanam, it talks about the construction of public buildings which could be in the three shapes of square, rectangle or a triangle.

According to Bharata, the auditorium should not be more than 108 hastas as this is the best distance for facial expression, hand movements, and another body language to be get noticed by the spectators. Also, the voice of the male and the female actor should be pleasing. Auditorium should be divided into two parts of equal length.

The east part is supposed to be the audience hall and the western part should be subdivided into two parts the Ranagasirsa and Green Room.

The Mattavani or the wooden railing should be there around Rangasirsa so that the performers could be protected from a violent person’s attack.

Natyasastra gives a detailed description of the music and the musical instrument along with the specialised person needed for a theatre production.

At the heart of Natyasastra, acting techniques are focused which include using right words, movement, and gestures. For this purpose, the actor’s physique along with the facial expressions, speech and posters was quite pivotal.

The text lays down guidelines for the Abhinay or the actions which should be Sattvik, means having grace and charm. Bharata underlines the need for the skill of acting which should not be uncomfortable for viewing by children in women.

The text also talks about forms of stage representation and the Raas or the emotions.

This resource forms the core of traditional Indian theatre even today which are divided into eight fundamental to which later ninth that is Hasya Raas was added.

It is quite interesting to know that Bharat laid down essential of theatre over 2,000 years ago in the Natyasastra. Most of the classical dances which are performed in India such as Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak or Kuchipudi have their essence in the form of body expression, movement, music, and Abhinay is drawn from the text.

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