Greek comedies, Sanskrit drama and Bollywood

30 Sep

This follows a discussion we (a bunch of old goats) had on the ancient drama forms , which led to the question why there are no well known Greek comedies and why there are not many “ Tragedies” in the Indian theatre.


1. The Greek tragedies are of course unsurpassed in their grandeur and in depiction of the failings of the mighty. They are the inspirations for countless works of merit in all other languages.

Before going into the their Dramas ; it appears to me that the ancient Greeks were a rather inward looking people and did not interact with other cultures in their (other’s) terms. You do not come across many instances of ancient Greeks learning the language of the Egyptians, Persians or the Indians. They preferred to look at the world through the Greek prism and turned everything around into a Greek term or a Greek name or Greek pronunciation.

Even, during the times (ca. 500 BCE) when Greece was a part of the Persian Empire and when large number of Greeks served the Empire as its officials , it appears they transacted in Greek and  not in the language of Persia. For instance Ktesias who served the Persian king Artaxerxes Mnemon (404–358 B.C.) as his personal physician for eight years (405-397 B.C.) mentioned that he invariably wrote and transacted in Greek language. The two books he authored on the events in Persia (Persika), and the events in India (Indika) were in Greek. Similarly, Skylax of Karyanda who served as a naval commander in the army of the Persian Emperor Darius Hystargus (512–486 BCE) also managed in Greek.

Old comedies of Greece

2.1. The Greek tragedies are of course widely appreciated the world over. But, what is commonly not known is that the so-called “old comedy” was in fact the favorite entertainment of the common Greeks. It is not that the ancient Greeks loved only tragedies and nothing else. The Greek people witnessed the vicissitudes of life as any other people of those times; and loved all forms of drama. It is just that the Greek tragedies travelled abroad, in translations, and gained great fame.

2.2. The ‘old comedy’ was more popular among common Greeks. The comic plays were performed at the village festivals with jovial gaiety and jesting license in honor of Dionysus the god of wine and fertility. The comedies were    mostly vulgar ballets with male actors wearing masks and gaudy costumes enacting indecent farce and satire about phallic jokes. Sometimes, young fellows disguised grossly as beasts or birds broke out into riotous phallic dances.


2.3. It was however later during the times of Menander, the first of the great writers of Greek comedy, and Aristophanes (between about 456 BCE and 380 BCE) that Greek comedy gained some credibility. It is said that the comic playwrights produced their works for dramatic competitions at two festivals in honour of  Dionysus Lenaius held in the cities Dionysian (in March) and the Lenaea (in January), on the same stage as the tragedies.


Aristophanes and Menander
2.4. At these festivals, comedies were more important and popular than tragedies. It is said, at least five comedies entered the competition each year (except during the Peloponnesian war when only three comedies were performed). The comedies included singing and dancing performances of Dithyramb (hymns in honor of the god of wine Dionysus). It is not clear when these festivals were abandoned; but it is believed the competitions at Lenaea continued into the second century BCE.

Attic relief (4th century BCE) depicts a qulos player and his family standing before Dionysus and a female consort, with theatrical masks displayed above.

Aristophanes and the comedies

3.1. Aristophanes, I reckon , was a sort of stand-up comedian of his times. His performances were packed with pungent political satire and abundance of sexual and vulgar innuendo. He was also fond of drinks ; and, used to say at his performances  : Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever. 

He was adept in stringing together several words into a long unpronounceable compound word that confounded the listeners .

“In my opinion,” he said , “producing comedies is the hardest work of all.”

” How many are the things that vex my heart! Pleasures are few, so very few – just four -“

Aristophanes lampooned the most important personalities and institutions of his day. His ridicule was feared by influential contemporaries. Talking about the politicians of the day, he said ” “You cannot teach a crab to walk straight. Under every stone lurks a politician” . 

He described the Characteristics of a popular politician as : a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner. “Politics, these days, is no occupation for an educated man, a man of character. Ignorance and total lousiness are better.”

But , “Ignorance can be cured; but,  stupidity is forever”. 

‘Look at the orators in our republics; as long as they are poor, both state and people can only praise their uprightness; but once they are fattened on the public funds, they conceive a hatred for justice, plan intrigues against the people and attack the democracy.’

You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it’s only in troubled times that you line your pockets.’

He quipped : “they looked like rascals when seen from the heavens and, seen up close, they look even worse”.

And , when Amynias who had lost money in gambling was appointed ambassador, Aristophanes sang:

Way up there in Thessaly /  Home of the poor Penestes/ Happy to be where everyone/Is as penniless as he is.


3.2. Plato, as all know, was a studious philosopher. But, his favorite dramatist was Aristophanes, the writer of comedies. Plato, it is said, endorsed to his friends the comedies of Aristophanes. Plato, in his Symposium, made Aristophanes deliver a discourse on love, which the latter explained in a sensual manner. Aristophanes, in his work The Clouds, ridiculed Socrates; and, in his lyrical-burlesque The Frogs, he lampooned Euripides. Yet, Aristophanes was well regarded; and, his plays were very popular.

3.3. The ‘old comedy’ survives today in the form of about eleven plays of Aristophanes. The later historians described those plays as ‘the last of the great species of poetry Greece gave to the world’.

3.4. The philosopher Aristotle (c.335 BCE) was, however, not much amused by the antics of the ‘old comedies’. He wrote in his Poetics that those plays were representations of laughable people, their blunders and their ugliness. He softened the blow by adding that the comedies did not however cause pain or disaster.

3.5. If the Greek tragedies notably of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are better known and admired world over, it was because of their superior script, treatment of the subject and the conflict they depict between the human will and the Greek idea of fate. Had the conflict been between the will of two humans it would have turned the play into a social drama or even a comedy. [Perhaps, it is  here the genius of Shakespeare shines forth].

The ancient Sanskrit drama

4.1. The ancient Indians did not consider catharsis as a legitimate purpose of a play. The tragic plays did not flourish as they did in Greece or in England. The reasons for this are many.

But, the prime objective of a Drama was considered to be to  provide wholesome entertainment (ananda) . Dhananjaya, in his Dasarupaka,  taunts; and mocks at one who naively believes that Drama, like history (itihasa), is there only to give knowledge. He wryly remarks ‘ I salute  (tasmai namah) that simpleton  (alpabuddhih) who has averted his face from what is delightful ..!’

anandanisyandisu rupakesu / vyutpattimatram phalam alpabuddhih/ yo ‘pitihasadivad aha sadhus/  tasmai namah svaduparah mukhaya//DR.1.6//

Much earlier to that; Bharatha, in a way, had summed up the virtues and merits of Nataka , a dramatic work that captivates the hearts of the spectators and brings glory to its playwright , producer and the actors .

The work of art that satisfies all classes of spectators ; and is a happy and enjoyable composition, which is graceful on account of being  adorned with sweet and elegant words; free from obsolete and obscure meaningless verbose ; easily grasped and understood by the common people ; skillfully arranged ; interspersed with delightful songs and dances; and,  systematically  displaying varied types of sentiments  in its plot devised into Acts, scenes, junctures etc.

mdu-lalita-padārtha gūha-śabdārtha-hīna ;   budha jana sukha bhogya,  yuktiman – ntta-yogyam  bahu rasa kta mārga , sandhi-sandhāna-yukta  bhavati  jagati  yogyaaka  prekakāām  16.130

That does not mean that the Sanskrit Dramas were all about fun and laughter; nor were they tales of sorrow. The Rupaka, is a fine combination of the two; as it reveals the sorrow as well as pleasure in proper perspective.

Bharatha explains: when the nature of the world, possessing pleasure and pain both, is depicted by means of representations through speech, songs, gestures , music and other (such as, costume, makeup, ornaments etc ) it is called Natya. (NS 1.119)

yo’ya  svabhāvo lokasya sukha dukha samanvita  som gādya abhinaya ityopeto nātyam ity abhidhīyate  119

Thus, according to Bharatha, the Drama is but a reflection or a representation of the actions of Men of various natures (Prakrti) –avastha-anikrtir natyam . That is to say; the Drama, in its various forms of art, poetry etc., strives to depict the infinite variety of human characters.

A Rupaka is that which delights and gladdens the hearts of the Sahrudya, without shaking their moral fiber. Its characters might, momentarily, be tempted by an illusory wickedness; but, eventually the goodness triumphs.

In Indian Dramas, characters like Karna, Rama, Hariscandra, Sakuntala, Sita or Draupadl face severe adversities in their life; and, no one thinks of putting an immediate end to their miseries by terminating their life. They face the adversities with courage and confidence.

The principal characters  are  not caught on the horns of a moral dilemma – ‘To be or not to be’– ; they impulsively are rooted in the accepted norm of their Dharma, depending upon the stage and their standing or status in life – as the son, friend, King or Wife etc. The conflict is not always between a good and an evil; but, often between a good and another good. The heroes and heroines always choose what they deem to be the greater-good, in the larger interest.

Unlike in the Greek tragedies, the Nayakas and Nayikas of a Rupaka are neither daunted by the fear of death; nor are they confronted by an obscure Fate in an unequal battle. In fact, not many seem to blame the Fate as the cause of their strife and struggles. Interestingly, the concept of fate is a rather late entry into to the Indian ethos. (For more on that, please check here.)

The evil, if any, was personified as Ravana, Shakuni or Shakara (btw, Shakara, the villain who also provides comic relief, later turned into a sort of role-model in the Indian movies). They are deemed evil because they shake ones faith in goodness and in the very roots of life. Apart from these, there are not many truly evil characters, acting as unprovoked malign agencies wrecking havoc.

For instance; the ever impatient irascible Durvasa who hurls a curse, causing the separation of Dushyanta and his Love Shakuntala, is not an antagonist. In fact , he is external to the story-line. Similar is the case with the impulsive Sage Vishvamitra, the cause for the dethronement and exile of Harishchandra. But,  towards the end , their curses are amply compensated by generous boons.

sanskrit drama


4.2. The ancient Sanskrit drama  distinguished one form of drama (Rupaka)  from its other forms  on the basis of its Vastu (subject-matter), Neta (Hero) and Rasa (sentiment) – vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako .

It did not recognize classification based on how the drama ended, on whether the characters lived happily ever after or whether the characters struggled in vain against almost impossible odds and eventually failed. There is no clear classification of happy or sad ending.

For instance, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata end in a somber note; the evil undoubtedly was vanquished in the end, but the virtuous victors were neither jubilant nor were they at peace. It is not a tragic ending in the sense the evil did not triumph; and it is not a comic ending either because the heroes did not seem to have ‘lived happily ever after’. Rama, Krishna and Pandavas, all ended their earthly sojourn on a rather solemn note; and, returned to their heavenly abode.

Even after winning the Great War, Yudhisthira is not happy; for, none could enjoy the fruits of his victory; the death had cast its shadow everywhere. There was no joy.

Krishna, the incarnate of the Divine, died of a hunter’s arrow. And, the whole of his clan was drowned in a Tsunami. Even the sinless (Parama-pavani) Sita, the ideal of womanhood, finally disappears into the depths of mother-earth; as if returning Home. And, she never unites with her husband again. Rama spends his later years in loneliness.

And, all those fabulous characters were on the side that won the wars.

4.3. The struggle depicted in the ancient dramas, based on the epics, was not about a person’s comfort; but, it was about what they stood for and the values they represented. The pith of the story was in the manner the virtuous men and women faced their adversaries and adversities, within the frame work of Dharma; and, finally triumphed after sustained fighting. At the end, it was hailed as the triumph of the Dharma.

The object of the play was to demonstrate the proper way to live; a way which the generations to come can follow and adopt as a benchmark or a norm of attitude and behavior , while grappling with the conflicts confronting them in their lives.

4.4. It also had to do with the perception of life in general. One’s view of death is related to what one regards as life. One way of looking at death is as a dreaded terminator, which irrevocably puts an end to ones relation with all existence. There are however beliefs that prefer to treat “life” not as an interval between two extremities; but, as a continuum in space and time; and, that space could be elsewhere and not necessarily here on earth.

4.5. The life jivita on this earth, according to their beliefs, is a continuum propelled by causes and effects (karman) spread over several jivitas. The disappointments and miseries that one has endured in this life can be put behind; and, one can always look forward with hope. There is no “End” or “Finis” to life.

Take for instance; Banabhatta’s classic novel Kadambari (c.seventh century) re-rendered by Ms. Kalpita Raj as PunarmilanThe reunion… (Love-story From Ancient India) , a torturous love story filled with frustrations , disappointments and failures as each character passionately strives for love. The story spills into three re-births; and finally love triumphs. It is perhaps a way of saying that love defies death. In fact, it is the persistence of love through a series of re-births that holds the story together.


In all these cases, the Death is viewed only as a temporary phase in the continuous life of man. If a person suffers, his suffering is on account of his misdeeds or sins in his previous life. Such suffering is a means to test  man’s character and his integrity. There is nothing disastrous about  it.

The theme of tragic suffering is not excluded from the story-line; but only a tragic closure or the ending is avoided . No one turned his back on the tragic experiences in life , as also in Drama. Sanskrit poets were not escapists. They depicted all tragic elements in life; but, softened it with the experience of happiness.

By rejecting death as the ultimate end, the significance of sorrow, suffering and confrontation with the evil in life, are reduced in their magnitude and in their effect to cause irrevocable harm.

Here, in all such cases, the Tragedy raises the question of the ultimate meaning of human existence; and, its resilience to fight back adversities. Most of the Indian Dramas  deal with the set of similar problem.

The central idea of Greek Tragedy is that man learns through suffering; and, it is through suffering that he becomes modest and humble. Man realizes the futility of ambitions and accepts his own insignificance. But before he learns this lesson, he has to pay heavily for it; having done that he becomes a nobler and purer soul. That is precisely what happens in Urubhanga also.

The heroes and heroines of the Sanskrit Dramas, placed within their limited confines battle extraordinary situations with courage and conviction; but, finally , they emerge out of the ordeal with composure and dignity, though a bit bruised .

Though we do not have technical tragedies , in the Western sense, we have serious tragic situations in our literature, where man is at grips with adversities; as also with the  inter-play of characters and circumstances . But, here again , the Good eventually triumphs.

This is the Indian way or approach to life; whereas, the Western approach to life is altogether different; and, when they face severe complexities in their life, they think of putting an end to their life. For them death is the liberation from the serious problems of life. Perhaps, this difference in outlook towards life is one of the main reasons for the happy-ending in Sanskrit dramas.


4.6. The ancient Sanskrit plays generally portray four categories of heroes: dhirodatta (ideal person like Rama); dhiralalitha (lover boy like Dushyantha); dhirashanta (calm and collected like Charudutta); and dhirodhhata (the tragic hero like Ravana, Duryodhana or Karna).

The tragic hero is endowed with all virtues such as good looks, wealth, strength and power;  but, is afflicted with a single gnawing flaw in his character, which brings about his ruin.

For instance; Ravana with lust; Duryodhana with greed and jealousy; Karna with embitterment were the classic examples. The tragic hero is all the while aware of his tragic flaw; he fights with himself; nevertheless, embraces his fate, death and destruction in a strange mixture of detachment and bravado.

He is heroic in most ways and he is very important to the play; but, he is a counterpoint to the hero. And, In Sanskrit drama, the good always triumphs over the evil.

It was Bhasa the celebrated playwright (ca. 2nd century BCE to 2nd century AD) who in his plays uru-bhanga and karna-bhara treated Duryodhana and Karna with great sympathy and appreciation. Bhasa was the first to break away from the conventions of Natyasastra to show physical violence on the stage; and to end his plays in pathos and in the death of his heroes. In his prathima-natakam he treats Kaikeyi, the deluded queen of the old king, with sympathy and understanding. Bhasa was the first significant Indian writer of what you might call the tragic plays.


4.7. Coming back to the question of tragic plays, There is no unhappy ending in Sanskrit Natakas; and, that is why most of the commentators say  that no tragedy has been written in Sanskrit drama.There is a faith that  Good is bound to triumph ; Truth will survive and last long. Suffering is not the final end of life. That is perhaps why we do not have tragedies.


Perhaps, a major Sanskrit Drama that could have been turned into a Tragedy is Bhavabhuthi’s Uttara-Rama-Charitra, narrating the woes, sufferings and separation of Rama and Sita. Such an unfortunate situation rudely befalls them after they had gone through an acutely distressing  life of exile, separation and battles; and, when they were just about to settle down to a peaceful , normal conjugal life. 

This cruel blow is struck, when a washer man flippantly comments about the plausible infidelity of Sita, during her confinement in Ravana’s garden. The then social norm demands that Rama should send Sita away; and, he promptly dispatches the pregnant Sita far away into the woods. And, what follows thereafter is bitter agonizing suffering for both. Vasanti, the presiding deity of the forests, rebukes Rama for having abandoned Sita; and, Rama becomes remorseful and experiences untold agony.

Over the centuries, many have been troubled by the strange exit of the unhappy Sita from her life .

Bhavabhuthi questions, and cries out ‘why?’: How could Rama ever think of abandoning such a wife as Sita? And, having abandoned her for whatever reason, how could they be again united in any real sense until all clouds, all vestiges of doubt and distrust, had been entirely banished from their minds ?

If Rama’s moral conflict had been between his kingly duties and his love for his wife; and , had it been kept as the central theme; and, if the  play had  been based upon it; and, if the banishment of Sita, after much inward struggle , suffering, had come toward the end of the play, we might then have had a worthy tragedy .

Apparently, Bhavabhuthi was not satisfied with such inadequate motivation: he was not content to bring, somehow, the estranged pair together; and then leave them to settle their causes of dispute later amicably or otherwise.

He felt that a reunion, to be meaningful, must first be a reunion of hearts; and this was the psychological problem which he deliberately proposed to himself in this play; especially, in the first three Acts. The complicated chain of events leading to the actual reunion and the recognition of the princes forms the burden of the last four Acts

Remarkably, Bhavabhuti’s major concern in his play, is the healing of Sita’s mind and bruised heart. Her doubts about Rama’s love and her anger at the repudiation have to disappear. Her own capacity for love, benumbed by her long suffering has to be revived before any reconciliation with honor is possible. Only then would justice be rendered to Sita,  and to all Indian womanhood.

The play ends on a happy note.


Similarly,  some of the Sanskrit plays like Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa ; Nagananda of Harsha; Malatimadhava of Bhavabhuthi;  etc. could have been rendered as  tragedies , had their authors followed the original story line. Instead, they preferred to slightly re-adjust the scene; and, altered the endings.

Let us take, for example, the Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa. Although he had a fine tragic plot ready  for his poetic touch, in order to avoid the tragedy; and, to arrive at an assured  happy conclusion, Kalidasa  greatly changed the original story of  Urvasi and King Pururavas. In the original , they were allowed  to remain together so long as the King did not behold the son to be borne to him by Urvasi.

Kalidasa changed the story ; and lowered the heroine from her celestial status into a mortal; and, allowed her to live happily with her Lover and her child.

Had Kalidasa  followed the original story-line, in the last scene, king would have been placed  in a tragic conflict of emotion between his joy of  beholding, for the first time, his son and heir; and, his agony of sorrow at the loss of Urvasi,  resulting from the sight of this same child.


Similarly, the Nagananda of Harsha could quickly  have been  transformed into a tragedy by altering some of the lighter scenes slightly and eliminating the intervention of the gods at the end. Had not  Jimutavahana been  restored to life, the play would  not only have been more tragic; but it would also have been more artistic. A fine contrast could have been made between the hero’s love for his bride and his devotion to what he felt to be his compelling duty. The hero would have sacrificed his life willingly for the greater good.


If we take away the last Act or scene of these plays, they could certainly become good examples of Tragedies, in a formal or technical sense.

But, perhaps , due to certain established traditions of the  Sanskrit dramatic theory and practices ; the outlook which mold the life and attitudes of people; the response of the audience;  the outlook of the Sanskrit dramatists , and, of the  producers of the plays,  these dramas were converted  into ‘happy-endings’.

The study of tragic consciousness in Sanskrit drama is a fascinating problem from the literary and aesthetic point of view. ‘Tragedy,‘ basically, is a western concept; and, therefore, it has to be viewed in the framework of the Aristotelian aesthetics. However, the tragic consciousness (Karuna) is a universal notion and sentiment; and, it can be traced in the classical Sanskrit drama and aesthetics , as well.

The Indian scholars opine that  a drama, which above all, embodies Karuna Rasa or the sentiment of pathos is essentially a Tragedy , in as much as it excites the feelings of pity and terror, which according to Aristotle are the essence of tragedy.

Bhavabhuthi considers Karuna as the only sentiment; and, all other sentiments as  its different forms (Eko Rasaha Karuna eva nimita bhedam bhinna pruthak pruthavashrayate vivartan). This Karuna or, pathetic sentiment is the basis of tragedy.

And, there is abundance of Karuna Rasa in the Sanskrit Dramas; and, has been a source  of aesthetic enjoyment for  the Sahrudayas. There is a close relationship between tragedy and tragic consciousness (Karunya).

In fact, the Ramayana Epic commences with a poignant note, when the poet Valmiki cries out, empathizing (Karunyam) with the pain and the mournful lament of the Kranunchi bird, whose mate had just been shot down by a hunter’s arrow. Valmiki gives voice to the inarticulate painful, heart wrenching shrill of the mourning female bird. That Karunya permeates the Epic throughout.

Anandavardhana says, the sorrow (Shoka) of the First Poet, which arose out of the separation of the couple of the krauncha birds, took the form of a verse (Shloka).

Kavyasyatma sa evarthas tatha cadikaveh pura/ Kraunca dvandva viyogottha sokah slokatvamagatah (Dhyanyaloka.1.5)

Abhinavgupta explains; the Shoka which took the form of Shloka is the sthayibhava of karuna-Rasa that was experienced by the Adi Kavi Valmiki. And, that sorrow is not to be taken merely as the personal sorrow of the sage-poet (na tu muneh soka iti mantavyam); but , it belongs to the Muni and the bird alike; and, indeed, it is also the generalized (Sadharinikarana) or the universal form of sorrow that is experienced  by the aesthetes (Sahrudaya) of all the generations.


5.1. Though the Sanskrit plays are virtually dead in India, they live and thrive in the spirit of the Indian movies, popularly labelled as Bollywood movies.

5.2. In the structure of their plots, depiction, treatment and conclusion of the story , most Indian movies that have done well at the Box office follow , consciously or otherwise, the time-tested formula prescribed by the ancient Sanskrit theater.

Just as in the Sanskrit plays, our movies too are stuffed with navarasas; embellished with virtuous heroes having comic sidekicks; good-hearted loving mothers blessed with obedient sons; adorable heroines with plain-Jane friends; good-looking  and powerful villains toying  with vamps and sometimes providing comic relief ; loose script studded with chorus, songs and dances as also some fights; and the story always ends on a happy note with the good and love triumphing over the bad and loveless.

The initial scenes are always auspicious and happy-feeling (adi-mangala); and as the story unfolds , unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted by the crafty villain on the virtuous hero or at times the unsuspecting good-hearted hero walks into a snare specially designed for him by the  dark-hearted bad guy. In the midst of all the heart wrenching misery, near about the mid-point of the story, inevitably, something good happens to the hero or his family (madhya-mangala); and after a bitter and suspenseful struggle in which the gentle heroine, for no fault of her, is somehow drawn in. Eventually the good and love triumphs; and all ends well (antya-mangala).

Somewhere in the second-half of the story when the hero is wedged in a tight spot, the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka  (immortalized by Rajendranath and tribe) comes handy and aids the struggling hero.

5.3. The Sanskrit plays are thus the forerunners of the Bollywood formula movies. Now, any film that deviates from that time-honored formula , depicting realism, stands, out like a sore thumb ; and , acquires the unenviable title of an Offbeat. And , what is even worse is that it might be dubbed an Art film.

[That , I feel , is rather unfortunate. Because, it fails to recognize and applaud the innovative and path-breaking spirit  that augurs well for the future of the Indian Cinema.  It is particularly so , as such ventures are taken at risk to ones  career; though after  much introspection . The least we can do is to encourage such creative trends, which allow the Indian Cinema to reinvent itself.] 


5.4. The song and dance “item-numbers” which are unique to Indian movies, also seem to be inspired by the ancient Sanskrit drama.

Bharata, the author of Natyasastra and also a producer of plays, in the middle of one of his plays, introduces a song and dance sequence that apparently had no relevance to the narration of the story. The learned among the audiences are promptly confused. They inquire Bharata “We can understand about acting which conveys definite meaning. But, this dance and this music you have brought in seem to have no meaning. What use are they?”- 

yadā prāpty artham arthānāṃ tajjñair abhinayaḥ kṛtaḥ / kasmān nṛttaṃ kṛtaṃ hyetatkaṃ svabhāvam apekṣate । na gītak ārtha sambaddhaṃ na cāpy arthasya bhāvakam ॥ 262॥

Bharata agrees that there is no meaning attached to those dances and songs; and goes on to explain calmly “yes, but it adds to the beauty of the presentation and common people naturally like it. And, as these are happy and auspicious songs people love it more; and they even  perform these dances and sing these songs at their homes on marriage and other happy occasions”(Natyasastra : 4.267-268)

maṅgalamiti kṛtvā ca nṛttame tat prakīrtitam । vivāha prasavā avāha pramodā abhyuadayādiṣu ॥ 4.265॥ vinoda kāraṇaṃ ceti nṛttame tat pravartitam । ataś caiva pratikṣepā adbhūta saṅghaiḥ pravartitāḥ॥ 4.266॥


5.5. And, finally what is remarkable about Bollywood is that it is notional or abstract; it exists only in the mind and has no physical location or existence. Yet, it is close to all. Its primary form exists in what used to be called Bombay; but it has no specific location and could be anywhere in India, since the outside world has come to know all branches of Indian cinema as Bollywood. Truly, Bollywood is closer to Indian concepts of abstraction and phenomenon, than anything else we know.



Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Art, General Interest


Tags: , , , ,

6 responses to “Greek comedies, Sanskrit drama and Bollywood

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 6:00 am

    Dear Rao,

    Interesting information on Sanskrit and Greek Drama.The first full tamil drama was ” Manonmaniyeem : by Sundaram Pillai – in Shakespeare style around I870. ( have to check the year). which is my favourite book in tamil poetry.

    I am historian only out of interest.not a trained one.It was my dream subject and was lucky I was blessed with time and resources.( not inherited – a self made man )

    My profession was finance – worked long enough with an MNC ( 25 years at Dubai ) – retired at 50 and settled at Mumbai.My both daughters had early education at Dubai – now they are very able professionals – one a Doctor and another an Engineer – well placed.My wife is a teacher and continues top work.

    I have great admiration for Sanskrit language and its treasures.Spent all my life dabbling with Tamil literature and poetry as a hobby and pursuit.

    I enjoyed your previous write up in 4 parts – it was excellent and gave me such a information and knowledge.

    Knowledge is like a water source in the well – the more and more you dig – the more and more you get in abundant supply.I am indebted to every one who provides it.You are one such guy.( in American style )

    Love and Regards .


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 6:01 am

      Dear Shri N K Ravi, Thank you for reading and for the appreciation. Wow… You are a many sided wonder; One time actor, producer of plays, a trained historian, and interested in a bouquet of subjects. I am privileged to have known you.Regards

  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 6:01 am

    i liked the detailed work on greek tragedies..
    the linkage to bollywood was interesting…

  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 6:03 am

    An excellent essay….informative and analytical.

    Perhaps you could have included a more thorough discussion of the role of the rasas in Sanskrit literature. (My acquaintance with Sanskrit literature and knowledge of Greek literature are entirely through translations in English.)

    Enjoyed the essay very much.

    Raj Armugam

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 6:03 am

      Dear Raj, Thank you for reading and for the appreciation.

      As regards Rasa and its interpretations; as also Sanskrit poetry and drama of old, I had earlier discussed it in fair detail (I think) in three articles. Please check the following links, read them and do let me know. (I hope the links work; else please let me know)

      Warm Regards.



      Kavi , Rishi and poet

  4. Rajula

    September 18, 2020 at 7:24 am

    Thank you Sreenivas ji. This makes for a very necessary understanding in the comparative often drawn between the western and eastern idea of Tragedy and the Tragic Consciousness.

    It brings a much required clarity on the subject.

    On the Popular Film Industry front: I have heard of philosophers, writers and thinkers speak of Ramayana and Mahabharata epics as continuing to be the most visible tropes. And relating that with the prescriptions given in the Natyasastra, as relating to dramatics is interesting also.

    Especially what you say about the malpractice of consigning all ‘other’ kinds of Cinema to ‘arthouse’ or ‘experimental’ is something of which some of us are the direct beneficiaries or bhuktbhogis, as it happens!

    However as one looks at it closely – the comparative or derivative, it begins to present a curious case of absolute inversion of principles; of actually betraying the real cause than aligning with it. In that it becomes a classic case of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, misrepresentation; even a denial that has come to mark us as people who have tended to only preserve and perpetuate the outer trappings of the body (like a clone) at the cost of losing the soul inside. In the context of the Rasa theory, of course, the soul translates as hridaya. Thus missing the entire point of keeping the Sahridaya as the focus makes a hash of the connect, if any. It makes it so much more harmful in exactly the ways in which it is deemed harmless.

    I hope this makes sense to you.

    Thanks for keeping this dialogue space alive.

    Keep well.

    Warm regards,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: