Tag Archives: Bharata

Concerning the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya


Part One – Introduction

As it is often mentioned, the Natyashastra of Bharata is an encyclopaedic work. Though its main subject is the Theatre, the text actually encompasses all forms of art expressions. Bharata  presents a detailed inquiry into the various facets of drama,  including its nature; is origin; its theories, techniques of the theatre with all its components of speech, body-language, gestures, costumes, décor and the state of mind of the performers, apart from rituals, architecture of theatre etc.

Apart from Drama per se, the Natyashastra covers a wide range of subjects such as the mythological origins of the Drama, the rituals (Puurva-ranga-vidhi), music, dance, prosody, painting, sculpture, architecture of theatre etc. Its author, in fact, claims that there is no knowledge, no craft, no lore, no art, no technique and no activity that is not found in Natya-Shastra (NS. 1.116).

Na tajjñāna na tacchilpa na sā vidyā na sā kalā  nāsau yogo na tatkarma nāye’smin yanna dśyate NS.1.116

Therefore, over the centuries, Natyashastra has come to be regarded as the earliest available authentic source material for study of  varieties of  subjects , under diverse  disciplines , related to  ancient India: such as , theories of music  ( sruti , svara , murchana etc) ; chaste classical music (gandharva); improvised music (gana); stage–music (dhruva gana); other vocal music (gitam); various types of instrumental music (vadyam); dance ( nrtyam); costumes and makeup (aharya); poetry (kavya); prosody (alamkara shastra) ; meter (chhandas); aesthetics (rasa); stage craft (ranga –abhinaya ); design and construction of theatre (natyamantapa , natya-griha) ; architecture (shilpa); painting (lekhya) ; and,  so on .

It is not therefore surprising that Natyashastra, revered as the classic text on performance, arts and culture, was, in due course, elevated to the status of Veda, the fifth Veda called Natya-veda. And, its author came to be described as a Muni, a sage.

But, over a period, this monumental authoritative work, of great antiquity, invested with an almost of semi-divine character, was getting inaccessible to the practitioners of the Art, who, generally, were not scholars. Therefore, over a period, the yawning gap between the theory and practice did seem to widen.  The reasons for such a state were many.

To start with, Natyashastra is a considerably huge work, consisting about six thousand Granthas or verse-stanzas spread over thirty-six or thirty-seven chapters.

Natyashastra was written in archaic Sanskrit, employing rather a too brief Sutra format. Many concepts were just stated, without a clear explanation.

The arrangement of the subject-matter was somewhat unsystematic. The myths, rituals and practices were all seemed to be mixed up.  The text was rather too elaborate and cumbersome for ordinary use.

Further, there is the complication of many recessions of the text, with no two MS being alike in regard to the number of Chapters as also the number of Slokas in each Chapter.

Another factor is that the Natyashastra belongs to a distant past; and, its concepts and terminologies that were mentioned in its own context are far removed from later times (say, 11th century). As a result, it was left to the ingenuity and enterprise of each reader to come up with his/her own interpretation of what Bharata ‘really’ meant. 

For a general reader or even for a practicing Artist, Natyashastra tended to be inscrutable without the aid of a well written, lucid commentary. And, such commentaries, which were also handy, were rare. At times, a commentary, itself, needed another sub-commentary to explain what it was attempting to say.

It is said; there was a commentary on Natyashastra written by Kohala, believed to a disciple or a contemporary of Bharata. And, Bharata himself had said that the subjects or the material he did not cover in the Natyashastra would be dealt with by Kohala in his study (śeam-uttaratantrea kohalastu kariyati NS.37.18). But, sadly, Kohala’s commentary is lost.

Dattila and Matanga who wrote authoritative works on Music are believed to have written on dancing as well. And again, the portions of their works relating to Natya have not survived.

Bharata’s Natyashastra is dated between second century BCE and second century CE. Since the time of Bharata, for over a period of say a thousand years, up to about the tenth century, as mentioned by Sarangadeva (11th century) in his Sangita-ratnakara , numerous treaties on the Natyashastra were produced, from to time, by various scholars like Shandilya, Kirtidhara, Drauhini, Rahula and Harsha. Even thereafter, many more commentaries were produced, especially by those from the Kashmir region, such as: Sankuka and his predecessors Lollata and Udbhata; Bhattodbhata, Matrgupta, Srisankuka, Bhattanayaka, Visakhila, Rudrata and others.

But, sadly, by about the eleventh century, almost all commentaries produced by the ancient savants on Natyashastra had been lost. Few of those survived only as fragments by way of citations made by Abhinavagupta and other authors.


With all the other previous commentaries having been lost, Abhinavagupta’s work Abhinavabharati (by about the close of the tenth century) is the earliest known and available commentary on Natyashastra; and, it is also the best. It serves as a bridge between the world of the ancient and forgotten wisdom, and the scholarship of the succeeding generations. And, Abhinavagupta himself said that he wrote the commentary in order to save and perpetuate the ancient tradition

 Evam anyad api ūhyam iti an-upayogyāt samastaṁ na likhitam āgama-bhraṁsa-rakṣanāya tu diṅ nirupitā

But, the Abhinavabharati, though basically a commentary on and a companion volume to Bharata’s Natyashastra, is , for all purposes, an independent work in its own right. It, again, is a detailed exposition on various subjects such as: drama, dance, poetry, music, art, prosody and also aesthetics with reference to Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka (820-890). Abhinavagupta comments on a range of subjects, at different levels: conceptual, structural and technical. He cites and discusses the views of many ancient authorities who wrote on drama, dance, music etc. He illustrates the principles and its application in Natya, through examples taken from well-known Dramatic works. Abhinavagupta not only expands on Bharata but also interprets him in the light of his own experience and knowledge; and, also with references to the then current practices. And, at many places, he differs from Bharata; and, introduces concepts and practices that were not present during Bharata’s time. Abhinavagupta, thus, comments, practically, on its every aspect; further, he brings in the concepts of his School pratyabhijna, while interpreting Bharata’s text.

However, because of its encyclopaedic character and the exhaustive scholarly treatment of the subjects, the monumental Abhinavabharathi is not an easy text that could be read and understood by the general readers. It again needs the aid of a commentary or explanations provided by other scholars. For instance; authors like Mammata, Hemachandra, Visvanatha and Jagannatha who supported the views of Abhinavagupta provided explanations of his concepts. And those who did not agree with Abhinavagupa, such as Ramachandra and Gunachandra (1100-1175) the authors of Natyadarpana; Siddhichandragrahi, author of Kavya-prakasha-khandana;  as also Rudrabhatta, author of Rasakalika , analysed the text and criticised the Rasa – theory (Rasa-vada or Rasa-siddantha) as enunciated  by Abhinavagupta. All those critics pointed out that the experience of Rasa is not always entirely pleasurable (alukika, chamatkara) as claimed by Abhinavagupta; instead, it would, in fact, depending on the context, be pleasurable or be painful (sukha-dhukkatmako rasah).

The commentaries on the Natyashastra and on the Abhinavabharati, up to about 12th century, were concerned mainly with the poetics (kavya, alamkara) in general, and, on the theories of Rasa (Rasa-vada or siddantha),  in particular. They touched upon Drama and Dramaturgy in passing, without much discussion.  Therefore, from the point of view of those interested in Drama, particularly, those commentaries were not of much help.  Further, they were far removed, in time, from their principal texts. And, because of their stylized writing, such commentaries were also not easily accessible to the general readers.

And, in the mean time, the performing-art, the tradition of Drama, had declined over a period; and, it had almost faded away by about the eleventh century. The Drama, as an art, was tapering out; and, was lingering on merely in the form of minor one-act plays (Uparupakas), mainly in the regional languages, with a heavy input of dance and songs; but, with barely adequate emphasis on Abhinaya (acting) and Sahitya (script).


It was in such a context that the compilation of the principal elements of Drama made by Dhananjaya (11th century) variously known as Dasarupa or Dasarupaka or Dasarupakam, gained great significance. It brought a breath fresh life into the theories and practices of the performing art of the Drama that were fading out.

Dhananjaya, in his brief work, containing just about 300 Karikas ( verses) spread over four Prakashas ( chapters or sections) ,  focused mainly on the aspects of Drama, its various forms and their essentials. He, for the most part, followed Bharata closely; and, compiled the rules pertaining to Drama, in the form of a brief manual. Dhananjaya claimed that in his work, he was restating the principles of Natya-veda (dramaturgy), its terminologies and definitions as were laid down in the great compendium Natyashastra ,  in a more concise and systematic form, in Bharata-muni’s own words.

And, Dhananjaya says that his brief compilation (samksipya) is mainly for the benefit of those ‘slow-wit’ (manda-buddhinam) who are likely to get confused (mati-vibhramah) by the diffused and elaborate treatise.

 Vyakirne mandabuddhinam jayate mativibhramah / tasyarthas tatpadais tena samksipya kriyate nyasa //

Dhananjaya’s work is mostly a collection of extracts taken from the Natyashastra; and, arranged under certain subjects.  In its style, the Dasarupa is extremely condensed. The first part of his work is entirely a listing of definitions on certain technical terms and concepts that figure in the Natyashastra.  Here, at times, Dhananjaya offers brief explanation on the etymology, the meaning and the application of the term. The Dasarupa is thus a highly compressed manual, avoiding lengthy descriptions or justifications.

Because of its compact and brief mode of presentation; the simple  arrangement of the material; convenience of reference; and, because it is handy (not being too lengthy or elaborate), the Dasarupaka of Dhananjaya soon gained wide  popularity among the scholars, playwrights, critics and commentators, as also among the general readers. For the later writers on prosody and Dramaturgy, Dhananjaya’s compilation turned into a comprehensive useful reference-book or a source material. They made frequent use of the text by citing the rules and definitions listed in it. And, in fact, the Sahityadarpana of Viswanatha Kaviraja (14th century), recognized as one of the most comprehensive a compilation on Indian aesthetics, in its Chapter Six  (Drsya-sravya-kävya-nirüpanah) which deals with Drisya aspect (dramaturgy) makes extensive use of citations from Dasarupaka. As the great scholar and Spiritualist George Christian Otto Haas, (1883-1964), observes in his Treatise on Dasarupa ; “A similar dependence on the Dasarupa and recognition of its value is found also in other dramaturgic treatises”. He said; “The excellence of Dhananjaya’s presentation and its convenient form gave the Dasarupaka a prominence that it has retained to the present day”.


But, there was also a flip side to Dhananjaya’s work.

Its drawback was mainly with regard to the inconsistency in the treatment of its subjects. On the one hand, Dhananjaya carried too far the work of his abridgment; and, left out quite a number of important matters; and, on the other, he went into needless, minute classifications and sub classifications where it was not called for.  C O Haas reminds the words of Bhamaha – dhikhedayaiva vistarah – too much elaboration wearies the mind; and, remarks – ‘it may not be untrue’.

 As George C O Haas observed; in many instances, brevity was achieved at the cost of clarity. In several cases, Dhananjaya tried to reduce definitions or the meaning of certain technical terms, into a single word, without offering any further explanation. In such cases, the intent of Dhananjaya has to be construed by referring to parallel passages in the Natyashastra or other related text.

Because of such shortcomings and the absence of even-handed treatment, Dhananjaya’s work (just as either Natyashastra or Abhinavabharati) is intelligible without the aid of a commentary.

Fortunately, that lacuna was made good by a commentary titled Dasarupavaloka (meaning the examination of the Dasarupa) or, in short, Avaloka written by Dhanika, a contemporary of Dhananjaya (in fact, believed to be Dhananjaya’s younger brother). Avaloka of Dhanika, is a supplement; and, is of immense help in understanding the Dasarupa. And, therefore, Avaloka has come to be regarded as essential and an inseparable part of the main text – the Dasarupa.

In his commentary and explanations, Dhanika closely follows the views put forward by Dhananjaya.  And, in addition, he himself composed about twenty-four stanzas – twenty in Sanskrit and four in – Prakrit   in order to illustrate certain concepts and definitions cited by Dhananjaya in his Dasarupa. It is said; Dhanika, in his own right, was a reputed scholar and a poet. And, it appears, that he composed a treatise on poetics, titled Kavyanirnaya, from which he frequently quotes. But, sadly that work is not extant.

Dr. Manjul Gupta, in Part Two of Chapter Two of her detailed treatise A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka – writes:

Dhanika’s commentary is indispensable and it helps us a lot in understanding the meaning of Dhananjaya*s otherwise short and pithy sentences.  Sometimes, we could not even guess the meaning of Dhananjaya if Dhanika would not have offered us help. The real merit of Dhanika’s Avaloka lies in the occasionally lengthy discussions  of disputed and obscure points as in the Book four on sentiments and in his collection of illustrative quotations, many of which are valuable in obtaining a clear conception of the principles of Sanskrit Dramaturgy.

In his explanation of rules, stated by Dhananjaya, Dhanika not only refers to the scenes and situations of the principal Sanskrit dramas but also quotes such passages as will serve to illustrate the matters under discussion. He quotes not only from dramatic works but also from other fields of literature, particularly from the sententious poetry and the so-called Kavya productions like that of Magha and Kalidasa. Occasionally, he corroborates his statements by an excerpt from the Bharatiya Natyasastra or some other technical work.


Since Abhinavagupta, Dhananjaya and Dhanika were believed to be almost contemporaries; living in Kashmir; writing and commenting on similar subjects, there has, often, been a tendency among the scholars to compare and evaluate their works.

 At the outset, Dasarupa and Avaloka were not so much concerned with poetics as did the works of Anandavadhana, Abhinavagupta or Mammata. Instead, their concern was with dramatic representations; and, classification and sub-classification of the elements of the Drama, in detail. Dhananjaya’s focus was on the exposition of the ten types of Drama; and, he kept his text short and simple, as a collection of major principles pertaining to Drama that were expounded in Bharata’s Natyashastra.

The scholarly opinion, across the board, is that as compared to Dasarupa, which mainly confines itself to compiling certain extracts and explanations relating to the Drama, the Abhinavabharati is definitely a far superior, comprehensive treatise. The Abhinavabharati, which is regarded as the best guide to Natyashastra discusses various dimensions and aspects  related to several subjects, at different levels, from the  point of view of an aesthete ; offers comments on the statements of Bharata , either by way of elucidation or by way of criticism; cites and sums up the views of numbers of other scholars , and eventually comes up with its own convincing explanations in the light of the practices prevalent at its time.

Another issue is with regard to the needlessly elaborate and hair-splitting exercise undertaken by Dhananjaya to classify and sub-classify of its subjects such as the Hero (Neta), Heroine (Nayika), Srngara-rasa and the ploy (Vastu). But, the major objection raised by the scholars is about Dhananjaya’s selection and treatment of the very subject matter of his work.

The critics point out: though Bharata mentioned ten types of Drama, he discussed mainly about its two forms – Nataka and Prakarana, perhaps because the two alone fulfilled all those requirements that were necessary for Rupaka (Major type). Further, Bharata had also explained ; as these two major forms alone depict varieties of situations , made up all the styles (Vrttis) and representations,  they lend  enough scope for display of Rasas (Rasapradhana or Rasabhinaya or vakya-artha-abhinaya); while the other eight forms are incomplete , as they are not presented in the graceful style, the kaisikivrtti .

Further, the distinctions, as made out, among the eight Uparupaka (minor type) are largely hypothetical; and, there is no historical evidence to corroborate such theories. All those minor types  have very limited themes and rather narrow subjects; and, are also incapable of presenting a spectrum of Rasas.  Except for the Bhana, the one-man-stand-up shows (ekaharya or ekabhinaya) and Prahasana, the comic skits or parodies intent only on providing amusement (Ranjaka pradhana), not many of the other types of minor class of dramas were produced even in the earlier periods. And, by the time of Dhananjaya, the other (six) minor category of plays had almost become obsolete.

Therefore, it was pointed out that Dhananjaya’s effort of carefully subdividing and meticulously categorizing the details of elements under such  format of the Drama as  had become almost obsolete , is   of mere theoretical interest and has no practical value or utility. They stopped short of calling it a futile exercise. (We shall talk about the various classifications of the Drama, later in the series).

The celebrated scholar of the yesteryears Dr. V Raghavan therefore rejected such attempts to classify the Drama into major and minor types, as they do not represent the ‘facts of historical development’. ” These hypothetical theories about the derivation and the evolution of Rupakas and Uparupakas are no doubt interesting, but we have no historical evidence to corroborate these theories” , meaning such minor types were either not produced or have survived .


And, as between Dhanika’s Avaloka and Abhinavagupta’s Abhinavabharati, the latter again is lauded and held up as a work of better scholarship. As compared to Abhinavabharati, the Avaloka is inadequate in many places, though it attempts to illustrate every point with appropriate examples.  But, sometimes, Dhanika’s examples are not quite appropriate to the point in question. It also said; Dhanika leaves many points untouched in his commentary, without providing adequate explanation.

Dhanika, in sections Two and Four of his Avaloka, frequently cites verses from the anthology of love-poems Amarusataka, ascribed to Amaru or Amaruka (7th -8th century), to illustrate the different types of Nayikas or heroines, particularly the Abhisarika-nayika who sets out , in great anxiety, to meet her lover . He intended to use the cited verses, primarily, to picture their costumes and gestures (section 2) and Vyabhicharibhavas or transitory feelings (section 4). But, he often, fails to explain how the verses illustrate the point he is trying to make. Similarly, he quoted five stanzas from Anandavardhana’s work; but, did not comment on it.

While reviewing the Character and Value of Avaloka, C O Hass takes a very stern view; and remarks:

Although professedly an aid to the understanding of the text, the commentary leaves much to be desired; and, is not nearly as helpful as the average work of its kind. Sometimes, it explains a very simple and clear statement though it requires no comment. Often, on the other hand, it does not clarify obscure words and phrases; and, whole sections are occasionally dismissed with the single word ‘spastam ‘(it is clear). Even where Dhananjaya’s definitions of technical terms are illustrated by means of examples from Sanskrit literature, the absence of further explanation sometimes leaves the exact meaning in doubt.’

Dr. Manjul Gupta observes the charge made by  Haas might be true to an extent; yet,  it cannot be denied that the Avaloka of Dhanika is indispensable; and it  helps a lot in understanding Dhananjaya’s work , particularly some of his short and pithy sentences.

Haas had also moderated his assessment of the Avaloka  by remarking that its  real merit  lies in its lengthy discussions on  certain disputed and obscure points ;and, in his collection of illustrative quotations , many of which help greatly in obtaining a clear conception of the principles of Sanskrit dramaturgy.


Despite its shortcomings, the Dasarupaka, in combination with Avaloka, is definitely of immense help in the study of Sanskrit dramaturgy in general; and, Natyashastra in particular; whatever might be its inadequacies.

Manohar Laxman Varadpande, in his History of Indian Theatre (1987), observes:  The main contribution of Dasharupakam   along with its commentary Avaloka, to the Sanskrit dramaturgy is a detailed analysis of the different types of heroines (Nayikabheda), and a critical delineation of erotic sentiment (Shringara Rasa). The writer has confined himself to a deep understanding of the ten types of Sanskrit dramas based upon the elements of Vastu (plot), Neta (heroes/heroines), and Rasa (the emotive aspect of plays). The influence of Dasharupakam is very evident on later Sanskrit dramaturgists.

And, recognizing the relevance and the value of Dasarupaka in the context of Dance, Dr. Mandakrantha Bose m, in her book The Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition  (1991), writes:

The Dasarupaka reflects considerable changes in the discourse on dancing since Bharata’s Natyasastra. Dhananjaya’s strength lies particularly in the fact that he composed a methodical account of the categories of dance and provided clear, if brief, explanation. Prior to his work, much of the information available, including what we find in Abhinavagupta, is fragmentary, existing as quotations from lost works or from the general body of literature. Sometimes the information comes in as passing remarks or views not clearly expressed. In Dhananjaya the concepts and the categories are set down and defined unambiguously enough to suggest that their meanings had come to be generally accepted…. Apart from that, the text also gives some quite vital information leading to our understanding of the use of gesture language in drama. Gestures obviously formed a very important technique for expressing meaning in the performance of a play.

According to Dr. Bose, one of the most important contributions of Dhananjaya is the distinction he draws between Nrtta and Nrtya. He explained Nrtta as that which depends on rhythm and tempo (Nrttam tala-laya ashrayam – DR.1.9); and Nrtya as that which is dependent on emotion (Bhavashrayam Nrthyam – DR.1.9). The definitions he provided of the terms such as Nrtta, Nrtya, Tandava and Lasya mark a distinct stage in the evolution of the understanding of dance and drama. And, Dhananjaya was also the first writer to use the term Nrtya to denote mimetic dance and also dance-dramas.

Further, Dhanajaya’s classification of Nrtya as belonging to the Marga (pure) tradition; and, Nrtta as the Desi (regional) dance form, was also very significant, though it marked a departure from Bharata.  Yet, Dhananjaya remained anchored in Bharata’s basic view that both Nrtta and Nrtya are auxiliaries to Drama.

The trend that Dhananjaya set in, categorising Nrtta and Nrtya respectively as Desi and Marga , was taken up and continued by the later scholars such as Sarangadeva (Sangita-ratnakara), Pundarika Vittala (Nartana-nirnaya) and such others.


Thus, whatever be the criticisms levelled against it, I do agree that the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya is an authentic work that revived and continued the tradition established by Natyashastra.

But, before we get into a discussion on the text, let’s briefly talk about Dhananjaya, the author of Dasarupa, and about Dhanika the author of Dasarupavaloka, the commentary on Dasarupa.

Dhananjaya, the author of Dasarupa or Dasarupaka, in the concluding verse of his work mentions : the Dasarupam, of great interest to the learned and wise, was presented to the world by the son Vishnu – Dhananjaya, inspired by his discussions with the Sovereign Lord Munja.

Visnoh sutenapi Dhanamjayena / vidvan- manoragani bandhahetuh / aviskrtam Munja-mahisagosthi / vaidagdhyabhaja Dasarupam etat (DR.4. 91)

Now, the King Munja, mentioned by Dhananjaya, is identified as the ruler of the Malava region, in west-central India, comprising parts of western Madhya Pradesh and parts of south-eastern Rajasthan.  King Munja, son of Sīyaka, the seventh Raja of the Paramara Dynasty, who ruled the Malava Kindom, with its capital at Dhārā, during c. 974 – 995 CE, was renowned by many other names or epithets, such as: Vakpati-raja-deva; Utpalaraja; Amoghavarsha; Sri-vallabha; and, Prithvi-vallabha.

It is said; Munja, apart from being a valiant warrior, was an accomplished poet; and, was also a generous patron of arts and literature. For instance; the lexicographer Halayudha, and Padmagupta the author of Navasahasarikacarita recall with gratitude the benevolence of the ‘ friend of poets’- kavimitra, kavibandhava – UtpalarajaSome of the verses composed by Munja ( Sri Vakpathi-raja-deva; Srimad-Utpalaraja) were quoted by the later scholars in their works ; as for instance : the renowned scholar , commentator and poet  of the eleventh century , Ksemendra ( in three of his works on poetics : Suvrittatilaka, Kavikanthābharaa  and Auchitya Vichāra Charchā ); and, Vallabhadeva (15th century) in his compilation of  aphorisms(Subhāitāvalī) . And, Dhanika, in his Avaloka also quotes a stanza as ascribed to Munja (Vakpati-raja-paranamo- Munjadevasya).

Conceming Dhananjaya himself nothing much  is known save that he was the son of Vishnu ; was a court-poet (Asthana-kavi)  at the court of the Malava King Munja; and , that it was the discourses with his King and patron that inspired him to compose the Dasarupa.

As regards Dhanika, the author of Dasarupavaloka, a commentary or an ‘Examination of the Dasarupa’, it is said, he also held an official position (Mahasadhyapala) in the Royal Court of King Utpalaraja, i.e., Munja. Dhanika also described himself as the son of Vishnu. And, therefore, it is surmised that Dhanika, the commentator, was the younger brother of Dhananjaya, the author; and, both functioned as officials in the Court of the King Munja. As mentioned earlier, Dhanika was also a poet and scholar in his own right. He is said to have written a treatise on poetics, titled Kavyanirnaya, which is lost; and composed verses, which he frequently quotes in his Avaloka.

There are some other speculations, as well. It has been suggested by some , because of the similarity of the names – Dhananjaya and Dhanika (both meaning a person of substantial wealth) ;  and as , each describes himself as the ‘son of Vishnu’; and , both were in the employ of the Paramara king of Malava , Munja,  at Dhara ( 10th century) ,  it is very likely that the names Dhananjaya and Dhanika refer to one and the same person. That would go to suggest that Dhananjaya wrote a commentary on his own work.

But, the scholars have generally taken the view that Dhanika was a contemporary of Dhananjaya; very probably his brother, who collaborated in the production of the work Dasarupa.


In the next part we shall, briefly, discuss the structure and subjects dealt with in the Dasarupa, along with notes from Avaloka.

 Continued in Part Two


Sources and References

The Dasarupa a treatise on Hindu dramaturgy by George C. O. Haas, Columbia University press / 1912

 A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupakaby Manjul Gupta

Sahityadarpanah of Viswanathakavirajah

All images are from Internet

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Posted by on November 22, 2017 in Dasarupa, Natya


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part seven

Continued from Part six – Gandharva

Part Seven ( of 22 ) – Music in Natyashastra




Gandharva and Gana

1.1. Gandharva and Gana were two major Musical genres of the ancient times.  The Gandharva, as we saw in the previous segment, was the type of songs that was sung during the worship of gods. And, the music performed in the course of play (Natya) was termed as Gana by Abhinavagupta. In the Natyashastra, the term Gana is employed to denote any song; but, in particular to Dhruva songs performed during the play. In other words, broadly, Gitikas were considered Gandharva and Dhruva as Gana.

1.2. Abhinavagupta said; Gandharva and Gana flourished side by side even during later times. And he also pointed out that during the time of Bharatha, the Gana adopted regional tunes for its Dhruva songs. In support of his argument, Abhinavagupta quotes another authority Vriddha (Senior) Kashyapa to show that changes in the Sruti scheme of Bharatha were freely made in Desi ragas.

(kiyad vā rāga-bhāā-deśī-mārgādi-gatānā svarāā śruti vaicitrya brūmah |)

1.3. In the later times, Sarangadeva (13th century) classified Parbandha and other Musical forms of Desi–samgita also under Gana. He speaks of Gana as being of two kinds: Nibaddha (structured) and A-nibaddha (unstructured). Nibaddha refers to compositions governed by rules, say as in a Prabandha. And, the A-nibaddha is free flowing improvised music, say as in Aalapti (Aalap). But, both the modes had to work within the accepted ambit of Music (Samgita).

[Let’s talk of Prabandha in the next segment of this series.]

2.1. The Gana of Natyashastra had its roots in Gandharva. And Gandharva songs were also used before the play proper. For instance; in the Purvanga, that is during the preliminaries before the commencement of the Drama per se, the Gandharva songs of the type Nirgita were sung, to the accompaniment of instruments, offering prayers to Shiva. This was followed by a song in Gitaka format; and by a Tandava dance of Shiva or a Lasya of Shiva and Devi to another Gitaka-song. Thereafter, the Sutradhara (a sort of compère) and his troupe enter the stage, move in a rhythmic dance like steps   and sing Gandharva-songs ( Gitikas)  to delight the gods; bowing to Sakra i.e. Indra (in the East), Yama in the South, Varuna in the West, and to Kubera in the North ; and  praying to gods for successful enactment and completion of the play. However, during the course of the play the Gana was used.

2.2. Though Gana owed much to the Gandharva, the two differed in a number of ways. The Gandharva was regulated Music (niyata), while Gana was relatively free, improvised or incidental Music. Gandharva songs were sung to invite the blessing of gods before the commencement of the play. And, Gana music was tailored to the various dramatic requirements of the performance. And, since Gana was meant for entertainment, it was moulded, largely, by the taste of the spectators at the play.

2.3. In his commentary on the 33rd chapter of Natyashastra, Abhinavagupta draws a four-fold distinction between Gandharva and Gana Music-s. According to Abhinavagupta , the two differ in their : in Svarupa –  structure and ways of employing Svara, Taala and Pada; in Phala –  the  benefits or the objectives ;  the one is in praise of Shiva and pleasing gods  while the other strives to gladden the hearts of  the audience in a theatrical performance;  in Kaala – the context or the occasions of their rendering , one is for worship and the other is for entertainment; and , in Dharma – in their distinctive nature and functions.

Let see this in a little more detail:

Svara, Taala, Pada and Phala


3.1. As regards the Musical aspects, in Gandharva the Svaras were employed at fixed intervals (Sruti); and the Sruti intervals were well defined. For instance; in the Shadja Grama, Ri was on the third Sruti above Sa; Ga was on the second Sruti above Ri and so on. Such rigidity was not needed in Gana (Kim ca antarāla-niyamo….gāndharve’vaśya-samvedha | na tv eva gāne).  Abhinavagupta while explaining this aspect says that he is elaborating what was in actual practice (pratita) during those times (uktam api pratītam anucitrīyate).


3.2. In Gāndharva, the Taala, which measured time through a fixed number of demarcations, was also governed by rigid rules. Its main aim was to establish Saamya or equipoise. Taala occupied a secondary position (angāngibhāva) to Svara.  In the case of Gana, the Taala enjoyed more flexibility. The Taala in a play could aesthetically be improvised to suit the dramatic situations and also to provide entertainment through colourful rhythmic play.


3.3. The importance of Pada also varied in the two types of Music. In Gandharva, the Svara and Taala had predominance over Pada. In Gana, the text of the songs, the Pada, needed much attention as its words were of importance. The role of Pada is, thus, different in Gana and Gāndharva.


3.4. The Gandharva is pleasant and it also bestows merit (punya). But Gana is used only for its effect and not for its intrinsic merit. ‘It is, therefore, unjust to identify the two.’

(anāditvād dṛṣṭādṛṣṭa-phalatvāc ca pradhāna gāndharvam… | gāna hi prīti-kārye vartate | tena tādātmya tāvad ayuktam)

3.4. As regards the context (Kaala) in which Gandharva and Gana are used , Gandharva could be used only in the Purvanga (ritual prologue to the play) . But , during the course of the play Dhruva songs were sung in Grama-jaatis .

Thus, the function or the nature (Dharma) of the Gandharva and Gana differed: Gandharva to please the gods and Gana to entertain humans.


Before we speak of its Samgita a few words about Natyashastra

4.1. Natya-Shastra is a detailed compendium of more than about five thousand verses spread over thirty-six chapters dealing with all aspects of play production. The text was meant as practical manual imparting technical instructions about the performing arts; and, for production of   successful theatrical performances. It is said that the text which we now know as Natya-Shastra was based on an earlier text that was much larger (Adi-Bharata or Dwadasha-sahasri, because it contained twelve thousand verses). There are also frequent references to the writers of the earlier time and other views.

4.2. Natya-Shastra describes itself as Natyaveda, the fifth Veda that would be accessible to all the four castes (1:12). It claims that the text imbibes in itself the articulated- spoken word or text (patya) from Rig-Veda ; the ritual and the body-language (abhinaya)  from Yajur Veda ; musical sound , the song-notes, from Sama Veda; and Sattvika (understanding of the relation between mind and body-expressions) – for conveying various bhavas through expressions exuding grace and charm – from Atharva Veda (Natya-Shastra – 1:17-19) .

4.3. The text is permeated with the Vedic symbolism and the imagery. The theatrical production is compared to Yajna; with the stage being the vedika,   the altar. The dramatic spectacle, just as Yajna, is said to have a moral and ethical purpose.  The object of the drama was to show men the proper way, a way in which one could live and behave, so that one might become a better ‘man’.

4.4. The text reveres and worships Vedic gods such as Indra, Varuna and Vayu (not the gods celebrated in Puranas); talks mainly in terms of the symbolism and imagery of the Vedic Yajna following the Vedic ethos; and it consistently projects the world-view cherished by the Rig-Veda: of the one formless or unformed (Arupa) evolving in to multiple forms (rupa prati rupa) and then on to the form beyond (Para rupa),

4.5. It is, therefore, generally believed that the text was articulated at a time when the Vedic life-style tempered by the sombre contemplative speculation of the Upanishad, was still alive.


The mention of the Buddhist Bhiksus and Jain Samanas indicate that Natya-Shastra was of post – Buddha and Mahavira period.  And, its Dhruva songs are in a form of Prakrit, which predates the great poet Ashvaghosha’s play (first century).

For these reasons, the scholars generally believe that Natya-Shastra might have been composed sometime around the first or second century BCE, but not later.

5.1. The compiler of Natya-Shastra calls it a prayoga Shastra – a framework of principles of praxis or practice. Bharata makes a significant opening statement: “I am creating a theory and text of performance; of practice and experimentation” .He also underlines the fact that the efficacy of its formulation lies in practice (prayoga).

5.2. There is a certain flexibility built in to the structure of the text. It provides for varied interpretations and readings. The author himself encourages innovations and experimentations in production and presentation of plays. He even permits modification of his injunctions; and states the rules “can be changed according to the needs of time (kaala) and place (desha)” .The text accordingly makes room for fluidity of interpretation and multiple ways of understanding it. The intellectual freedom that Bharata provided to his readers/listeners ensured both continuity and change in Indian arts over the centuries.

6.1. The term Natya is derived from the root Nat (= to act); and the one who acts is a Nata. And, Natya is the art of the Nata, which is the dramatic art. The actor re-lives the ‘life’ of the character he plays, and presents before the spectators his interpretation of that character, by means of dramatic-art.

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

Natyashastra (6.10) provides a comprehensive framework of the Natya-veda, in a pellet form, as the harmonious  combination  (sagraha) of the  various essential components that contribute towards the  successful production of a play.

Rasā bhāvāhya abhinayā dharmī vtti pravttaya siddhi svarās tathā atodya gāna ragaśca sagraha 6.10

The successful production (Siddhi) of a play enacted on the stage (Ranga) with the object of arousing joy (Rasa) in the hearts of the spectators involves various  elements of the components of  the actors’ gestures, actions (bhava) and speech ;  bringing forth (abhinaya) their intent, through the medium of theatrical ( natya dharmi) and common (Loka dharmi) practices; in four styles of representations (Vritti-s) in their four regional variations (pravrttis) ; with the aid of  melodious songs  accompanied by  instrumental music (svara-gana-adyota).

6.2. The text employs Natya as a generic term, which broadly covers drama, dance and music. At the time the NatayaShastra was compiled, the arts of poetry, dance, music and drama; and even painting, and sculpture were not viewed as separate and individualized streams of art forms. It was an integral vision of art, which blossomed in multiplicity. All art expressions were viewed as vehicles of beauty providing both pleasure and education, through refinement of senses and sense perceptions. The reason that theatre-arts were discussed specifically was that, in the ancient Indian context, drama was considered the most comprehensive form of art-expressions.

7.1. The compiler of the Natyashastra, whoever he might be, comes across as a person of great learning, culture and rooted in good tradition (sampradaya, parampara). He was well grounded not merely in Vedic learning and its ethos  , but also  in  kavya (literature) , fine arts,  Ayurveda (medicine),  jyothisha  (astrology), ganitha  (mathematics),  vastu- shilpa (architecture) and  hathayoga,  His understanding of the human anatomy- particularly the motor and sensory systems and the joints; the relation between the physical stimulus and psychic response; as also the relation between psychic states and expressions through physical movements ; were truly remarkable.

7.2. Natya-Shastra has provided a sustainable foundation and framework for development of theory and practice of arts in India. It also touches on the related areas of cultural life of India. It is the foundation on which Indian philosophical thinking squarely rests.  Just as Panini standardized the classical form of Sanskrit, Bharata standardized the classical form of drama. He gave it status and dignity; a form and an objective; a vision and finally a technique. His brilliant intuition and intellect has inspired generations of artists over several centuries.

[The attempt to explain Bharata as an acronym for three syllables Bha (Bhava), Ra (Raga) and Ta (Taala) somehow does not seem convincing. At the time Natya-Shastra was composed, music was discussed in terms of pada (words), svara (notes) and tala (time-unit) which formed the components of Gandharva music. The term Raga (in the sense we understand it now) did not come into circulation until Matanga’s Brihaddesi,   (about sixth century).]

[For more on Natyashastra please click here.]


8.1. Natyashastra is composed in a cryptic Sutra form; and is not easy to read or to understand. As Shri Adya Rangacharya remarked, the text is rather rambling and repetitive; and the word-to-word translation would not be of much use since its terms could be interpreted in more than one way. One does, therefore, need the guidance of a commentary to wade through Natyashastra. The earliest commentary on Natyashastra that has survived and that which is most celebrated is the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (11th century).

8.2. Abhinavagupta was a visionary and a philosopher who combined in himself the experiences of a mystic and a Tantric. He was gifted with extraordinary incisive intellectual powers of a logician, as also the skills of a commentator and an art critic. He illumines and interprets the text of the Bharata at many levels: conceptual, structural and technical. In addition, he summed up the views of his predecessors (that is, the scholars who earlier commented on Natyashastra), before presenting his own arguments. Abhinavagupta brought fresh perspectives to the concepts of Bharata, particularly on aesthetic experience (Rasa) and art creation. Although Abhinavabharati is a commentary, it is for all purposes an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, poetry, music and art.

[For more on Abhinavabharati please click here.]



9.1. Natyashastra was mainly concerned with Drama. And, the role of Music in it, in conjunction with other components, was primarily to heighten the dramatic effects of the acts and scenes in the play. Music, in that context, was another beautiful, artistic, effective device to articulate the moods of various theatrical situations through appropriate thematic tunes and songs. Therefore, Natyashastra was more interested in applied-music than in Music per se (Samgita-shastra).

9.2. The ‘Music’ that the Natyashastra talks about is indeed the Samgita. The term Samgita in the early Indian context denoted a composite art-form comprising Gita (vocal singing), Vadya (instrumental accompaniments) and Nrtta or Nartana the limb movement or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, Nrtyam Samgita-mucchyate). In the latter times, the scope of the term Samgita narrowed down to what we now call ‘music’. Dance became a separate art form. And, within Music the vocal remained the more dominant aspect. The instrumental music follows what is rendered vocally.

[The third component of Samgita (that is Nrtta, the limb movement) involves: Natya which refers to its physical aspects); and, Nrtya the expressive dance movements- in contrast to pure, abstract style of dancing.  The key ingredient in these is the elaborate gesture-language Abhinaya (lit. To bring near, that is to present before the eyes) which involves pose, gesture and facial expressions, finger movements foot work etc.]

10.1. Natyashastra pays considerable importance to aspects of Music. It devotes eight of its (chapters 27-34) to Music in the play and Music in general. In fact, chapters 28-36 offer one of the earliest sources of Indian music theory.

10.2. The chapter twenty seven deals with music employed in theatre. The next five Chapters 28-33 are devoted to Gandharva Music and its applications. Of these:

:- Chapter twenty eight covers Jaati (melodic types), Sruti (micro-intervals), Svara (notes), Grama (scales), Murcchana (arrangement of the Svaras) and Sthanas (registers).

:-  Chapter twenty nine describes the techniques of plying stringed instruments like the Veena; and distinctions between vocal and instrumental music, further dividing vocal into two types, Varna (colour or syllables) and Giti (‘song’ with lyrics).

:-  Chapter thirty which has only thirteen verses describes wind instruments like the Vamsa (flute) and ways of playing it.

:-  Chapter thirty-one deals with Taala (time-units or rhythm), Laya (three types of tempo), Yati (three types of movements), Pani (three ways of beginning), Ghana (cymbals),  and Chhandas (metrical cycles).

:-  Chapter thirty two   ( which pertains directly to this  post) defines Dhruva songs, their specific employment, forms, and illustrations; definition of song form (Gana); qualities of singer (guna); defects (dosha) of a singer; qualities of a Veena player; qualities of a flute player; qualities of male and female voices; and, qualities of teacher and pupil.

: – Chapter thirty-three deals with Avanaddha – various types of rhythmic instruments – Mrdanga, Pavana and Dardura – their techniques and their application in Drama. Its next, the Chapter thirty-four relates the origin and nature of drums.

: – And, the last three chapters of the treatise, 34 to 36 (inclusive of 36) provide details regarding the different characters, varieties of costumes and popularization of the art of histrionics. The concluding two chapters lay down the principles for distributing roles and the qualifications for members of the troupe.

[Natyashastra provided rules not merely for singing but also for speech delivery (Vachika) . It mentions that in order to bring out the right effects the speech should be well articulated and should respect the virtues (Dharma) of: Svara (notes), Sthana (voice registers), Varna (pitch of the vowel), Kaku (intonation), and Laya (tempo) – NS.19.43-59.

It specifies that the scenes involving humour (Hasya) and erotic or love (Srungara) the speech should be modulated by Madhyama and Panchama Svaras (notes); acute pitch (Udatta and Svarita); and , medium tempo (Madhya Laya). Where as in the scenes depicting heroics (Vira) and wonder (Adbhuta ) the speech should be in Shadja and Rishabha Svaras; acute and trembling pitch (Udatta and Kampita) ; and , quick tempo (Druta Laya). And, in the scenes of pathos (Karuna) the speech should in slow tempo (vilamba).

As regards the voice registers (Sthana), they vary according to the space (distance) on the stage between the characters.  It is said:  to call a character that is at a distance, the voice should proceed from the top register (Siras); to call one who is a short distance the voice register should emanate from chest (Uras); and, to speak to one who is standing next the voice register should be from the throat (Kanta). ]



11.1. For the limited purpose of this article, let’s assume that Music here refers to singing and the playing of wind and stringed instruments that produce a melody; and to the percussion instruments.

11.2. Music was an essential part of the Indian dramatic art. Natyashastra mentions groups of music-makers or Kutapa-s who brighten (ujjvala-yati) the stage (ranga). These were: Tata, the singers and players of stringed instruments; Susira players of wind-blown instruments; Avadhana, players of percussion instruments such as Mrudanga, Pavana, Dardura and Ghana (cymbals); and the Natyakrta, the group of actors who took part in the play.  During the play, Dhruva songs were sung by the actors on the stage as also the singers in the wings, to the accompaniment of musical instruments.

The Gita (song), Vadya (instruments) and Natya (enactment of play) should, ideally, coordinate and perform harmoniously – supporting and strengthening each other with great relish. And, the three Kutapa-s, in combination should suggest a seamless movement like a circle of fire (Alaata chakra); and should brighten (Ujjvalayati) the stage.

Let’s talk about Dhruva Gana in the next Part.


Continued in Part Eight

— Dhruva Gana

Sources and References

Studies in the Nāyaśāstra: With Special Reference to the Sanskrit Drama…

By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

By Guy L. Beck

Poetics of performance by TM Krishna

Language of Sanskrit Drama Language of Sanskrit Drama by Saroja Bhate

Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music edited by Emmie te Nijenhuis

Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Bharata’s Natya-Shastra – some reflections

Nayana dutta2

1. Natya-Shastra is a detailed compendium of technical instructions about the performing arts. It was meant as a practical manual for  production of successful theatrical performances, which included music and dance as well as acting. It was also intended as a guide to the poet and to the performer, alike. 

1.1. The text is in the form of elaborate dialogues between the author and a group of Munis , sages who wished to know about Natya-Veda, the knowledge of the performing arts such as dance, music and dramaThe author, in response, presents a detailed inquiry in to the various facets of drama including its nature; is origin; its theories, techniques of the theater with all its components of speech, body-language, gestures, costumes, décor and the state of mind of the performers, apart from rituals, architecture of theater etc. Written in archaic form of Sanskrit, the text consists about six thousand (5,569 – to be exact) sutras or verse-stanzas spread over thirty-six chapters. Some passages are in prose.

Because the Natyasastra has about 6,000 verses, the text is also known as Sat-sahasri. The later authors and commentators (Dhanika, Abhinavagupta and Sarada-tanaya) refer to the text as Sat-sahari; and, its author as Sat-sahasri-kara.

But, the text having 6,000 verses is said to be a condensed version of an earlier and larger text having about 12,000 verses (dwadasha_sahasri). It is said; the larger version was known as Natya- agama and the shorter as Natya-shastra.

Please click here for The Natyasatra – A treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics Ascribed to Bharata Muni; Translated into English by Manmohan Ghosh;  Published by Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta – 1951]

2. Though the  Natya-Shastra speaks of theater (natya), it actually encompasses all forms of art expressions. The text, in fact, claims that there is no knowledge, no craft, no lore, no art, no technique and no activity that is not found in Natya-Shastra (1.116). The reason that theater-arts were discussed specifically is that, in the ancient Indian context, drama was considered the most comprehensive form of art-expressions. Further, at the time the Nataya Shastra was compiled, the arts of poetry, dance, music and drama; and even painting, sculpture and architecture were not viewed as separate and individualized streams of art forms. And, even the components of the Drama of the Natyashastra-times later evolved and grew apart, assuming independent identities, such as: Opera, Poetic-drama, realistic plays and so on. Apart from these, Dhananjaya elaborates on the ten forms of the Drama (Dasa-rupaka) that were mentioned by Bharata.

[Vishnudharmottara (Ca. sixth century) asserted that painting and sculpture without the knowledge of the Drama and the Dance would not have much depth; and, that Drama and Dance, in turn, do require a knowledge of music and of the songs, which again is dependent on mastery over languages – both Sanskrit and Prakrit – with a thorough understanding of the elements of prose, poetry, grammar, meter, prosody etc. It thus underlines the interdependence of the arts.]

Natyashastra presented  an integral vision of art, which blossomed in multiplicity.

All art expressions were , thus, viewed as vehicles of beauty providing both pleasure and education, through refinement of senses and sense perceptions. The object of the drama was to show men and women the proper way to live, a way in which one could live and behave, so that one might be a still better person.

“A play shows your actions and emotions. Neither gods nor demons are depicted as always good or always evil. Actually, the ways of the world as represented here are not only of the gods but also of yours. It gives you good advice; it gives you enlightenment and also entertainment. It provides peace of mind to those who afflicted with miseries, sorrow, grief or fatigue. There is no art, no knowledge, no yoga, and no action that is not found in Natya.”  (Natya-Shastra 1: 106=07; 112-16)

na tajjñānaṃ na tacchilpaṃ na sā vidyā na sā kalā । nāsau yogo na tatkarma nāṭye’smin yanna dṛśyate ॥ 116॥

[ Kalidasa remarked : ‘Drama, verily, is a feast that is greatly enjoyed by a variety of people of different tastes – Natyam bhinnaruchir janasya bahuda-apekshym samaradhanam. ]

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 Bharata, the Drama is but a reflexion 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 .

That is the reason, Bharata says, one should study the various human habits and natures (Prakrti) on which the art of Drama is based.  And, for which the world, the society we live in is the most authoritative source of knowledge (Pramana) . All those involved with the Drama should realize this truth – (NS: 25.123)

Nana-sheelah prakutyah  sheele natyam pratihitam / tasma-loka-pramane hi vigneyam natya yo krubhihi // (NS: 25.123)

Having said that; the theater was conventional; yet, imaginative; costumes and make up were stylized and symbolic; and, not what is commonly seen on the city-streets. In any case, Natyashastra requires a performer to present much more than an external representation of the character, such as correct speech, gesture etc.  His/ her stage performance will have to go far beyond technical skill, in order to be believable and accepted by the spectators.

There is, however, not much discussion about scenery; perhaps because scenery was used sparingly.

Theater had a sacred significance. Prayers and rituals were conducted and the stage was consecrated before the commencement of the play ( Purvanga) .


Natyashastra (6.10) provides a comprehensive framework of the Natya-veda, in a pellet form, as the harmonious combination (sagraha) of the various essential components that contribute towards the successful production of a play.

Rasā bhāvāhya abhinayā dharmī vtti pravttaya siddhi svarās tathā atodya gāna ragaśca sagraha 6.10

Bharata also mentions the five elements of the plot (artha-prakrti) of the Drama as the seed (Bija); the expansion or the intermediate point which links to the next (Bindu); the episode (Pataka); the incident in the episode (Prakari) and the dramatic outcome (Karya). These are to be used according to the main Rasa of the play and the prescriptions of the Shastra.(NS: 19.21)

Bijah Bindu Pataka cha Prakari  karyameva cha / Artha-prakrutyah pancha tatva yojya tata vidihi // (NS:19.21)

As regards the success of the play (Siddhi), it is said,  the successful production (Siddhi) of a play enacted on the stage (Ranga) with the object of arousing joy (Rasa) in the hearts of the spectators involves  various  elements of the components of  the actors’ gestures, actions (Anubhava) and speech (vachika); bringing forth (abhinaya) their intent, through the medium of  theatrical (natya-dharmi) and common (Loka-dharmi) practices; in four styles of representations (Vritti-s) in their four regional variations (pravrttis) ; with the aid of  melodious songs  accompanied by  instrumental music (svara-gana-adyota).

The assembly of spectators with different tastes and levels of appreciation should all be able to enjoy the play. Therefore, Bharata instructs that a play should be such that it caters to the interests and dispositions of varied class of men and women; the young and the old, with each class looking for its own favorite type of entertainment . And, it is upon such versatile ability that the success of a play depends. The play-production, thus, was aimed to satisfy the happy, responsive spectators and enthuse them to visit the theater more often. 

Bharata elaborates (NS.27.57-61) :

The young are keen on the portrayal of love; and, those after money relish scenes depicting acquisition of wealth. And, the ones who love adventure delight in the terrible and odious acts of battle and combats; whereas the old and pious always praise the enactment of well known tales and legends from the Puranas  (epics) lauding the virtues and good deeds ; the devout look for philosophical and religious aspects ; and, those disinterested in the mundane seek liberation (moksha) .  The common folks, the women, children and the dimwitted lap up with relish comic situations evoking laughter and fun, attractive costumes and make up.

Apart from these types, Bharata also mentions an elite class of appreciative spectators with refined tastes and deep interest in the technical aspects of production. Such connoisseurs were also aware of the theatrical traditions and conventions of performance on the stage. These were the well-informed class who cared more about the aptness of the techniques of performance, critically evaluated the merits (guna) , the defects (dosha)  and the success of the theatrical performance as a whole.

Then, there were also the artists specialized in different branches of music and dance; the scholars who relished subtle nuances in the rendering of speech and the lyrics of the songs; and, there were the accomplished courtesans who were experts in presenting alluring and  delectable performances .

All such elite class were the cream of spectators, for whose approval and appreciation the whole of theatrical group collectively and individually looked forward with great hope and fear.

The producer of the Drama had also the onus to please the patron who sponsored and financed the play –production and display.

Nānāśīlāḥ praktaya śīle nāya vinirmitam uttamā-adhama madhyānā vddha bāliśayo itām 57

Tuṣyanti taruā kāme vidagdhā samayātvite arthevarthaparā ścaiva moke cātha virāgia 58

Śūrāstu vīra raudreu niyuddhevāhaveu ca dharmā akhyāne  purāeu vddhā stuyanti nityaśa 59

Na śakyamadhamairjñātumuttamānā viceṣṭitam tattva bhāveu sarveu tuyanti satata budhā 60

Bālā mūrkhā striyaścaiva hāsyanaipathyayo sadā yastuṣṭo tuṣṭimāyāti śoke śokamupaiti ca 61

Abhinavagupta observes Drishtaphala [visible fruits] like banners (pataka) or material rewards do not indicate success of a play production. Real success is achieved when the play is performed with skilled precision, devoted faith and pure concentration. To succeed, the artist must immerse the spectator with pure joy of Rasa experience. The spectator’s concentrated absorption  appreciation and enjoyment is indeed the success.

Dhananjaya in his Dasarupaka remarks that responsive spectators, fired by enthusiasm and imagination, contribute to the success of the play in the manner of ‘children playing with clay elephants ‘. ” When children play with clay-elephants, etc., the source of their joy is their own utsaha (enthusiasm). The same is true of spectators watching  and almost sharing  the heroic deeds of  characters , say  like, Arjuna and other heroes on the stage.”…… 

Kridatam mrnrnayair yadvad balanam dviradadibhih / svotsahah svadate tadvac chrotrnam Arjunadibhih.


2.1. The text employs Natya as a generic term, which broadly covers drama, dance and  music. It does not treat dance as a separate category of art form. Bharata while dealing with Angikabhinaya (body-language) speaks of nrtta, pure movements that carry no meaning- as compared to Abhinaya (literally meaning that which carries the meaning forward towards the audiencei. e. gestures that convey specific meaning. Nrtta was, in fact, meant to provide beauty, grace and a certain luster to the performance. The postures of the nrtta (called karanas) were classified by Bharata as tandava and sukumara, to convey vigor and grace.

[ Nandikeshwara (perhaps prior to Bharata ?), author of Abhinaya_darpana, is believed to be the first to recognize dance as an independent art. He called it natanam; and classified it into nrtta (Pure dance), nrtya (abhinaya – expression- aspectand natya (combination of nritta and nrtya with a dramatic element to it).

Dhananjaya in his Dasarupa, while drawing a  distinction  between nrtta and nrtya , explains the term  nrtta as that which  depends on rhythm and tempo – nrttam tala-layam ashrayam (DR. 1. 9) ; and,  nrtya as  that which is dependent on emotion – Bhava-ashrayam nrtyam (DR. 1. 9).

As mentioned earlier, Nandikeshwara explained Natya as the combination of nrtta and nrtya .]

3.1. It is said that the text which we know as Natya-Shastra was based on an earlier text that was much larger. And, many views presented in Natya-Shastra are believed to be based on the works of other scholars. There are frequent references to other writers and other views; there are repetitions; there are contradictory passages; there are technical terms, which are not supported by the tradition.

[ It appears there were texts on Drama even much prior to Natyashastra. Panini (Ca.500 BCE) the great Grammarian, in his Astadhyayi (4.3.110-11), mentions two ancient Schools  –  of Krsava and Silalin – that were in existence during  his time – Parasarya Silalibhyam bhikshu nata-sutreyoh  (4.3.110); karmanda krushas shvadinihi  (4.3.111). It appears that Parasara , Silalin , karmanda and Krsava were the authors of  Bhikshu Sutras and Nata Sutras. Of these , Silalin and Krsava  were said to have prepared the Sutras (codes ) for the Nata (actors or dancers). At times, Natyashastra refers to the performers (Nata) as Sailalaka -s  . The assumption is that the Silalin-school , at one time,  might have been a prominent theatrical tradition. Some scholars opine that the Nata-sutras of Silalin (coming under the Amnaya tradition) might have influenced the preliminary part (Purvanga)  of Natyashastra , with its elements of worship (Puja).

However, in the preface to his great work Natya-shastra of Bharatamuni (Volume I, Second Edition , 1956) Pundit M. Ramakrishna Kavi mentions that  in the Natyavarga of Amara-kosha (2.10.12) there is reference to three  schools of Nata-sutra-kara : Silalin ; Krasava; and,  Bharata .


It appears that in the later times,  the former two Schools (Silali and Krasava) , which flourished earlier to Bharata , went out of existence or merged with the School of Bharata; and, nothing much has come down to us  about these older Schools. And, it is also  said, the Bharata himself was  preceded  by  Adi-Bharata, the originator and Vriddha (senior) Bharata.  And, all the actors of whatever earlier Schools, later came to be known as Bharata-s. ]

3.2. These factors lend support to the view that Natya-Shastra might have been the work of not one single author but of several authors, spread over a long period of time.

Ms. Kapila Vatsyayan, a well known scholar, however, observes that the text projects an integrated vision and   a unity of purpose. She points out many instances of reference to later chapters in the text, and says they are indicative of the coherent and well knit organic nature of the work. 

For those reasons, she concludes, Natya-Shastra might well be considered as the work of a single author or of a single tradition.

4.1. Rasa, as discussed in Natyashastra, meant aesthetic appreciation or the joy that the spectator experiences.  As Bharata says , Rasa  should be relished  as an emotional or intellectual  experience : na rasanāvyāpāra āsvādanam,api tu mānasa eva (NS.6,31) .

The yashāstra states that the goal of any art form is to invoke  such Rasa.

[Bharata explains Rasa  as an experience that can be relished – like the taste of food – Rasyate anena iti rasaha (asvadayatva), which is associated with palate (ability to distinguish between and appreciate different flavors) . Yet ; the aesthetic senses that are primarily engaged with a theatrical presentation  are only the eye and the ear. The senses of taste, touch and smell are not , generally, associated with   the type of ones experience that Bharta talks about  while witnessing a Drama. These are personal or individual experiences. But, Rasa, the aesthetic experience enjoyed by all the spectators , in a play, in common, is mainly through two senses : the eye and the ear. That , perhaps , is the reason why Bharata says that the Rasa in a play should be relished only as an emotional or intellectual experience.]

Bharata’s theory of Rasa was crafted mainly in the context of the Drama.    After naming the eight Rasas, he says ‘these are the Rasas recognized in Drama’nāṭye rasāḥ smṛtāḥ – (N.S 6.15).  In the prose-passage following the verse thirty-one of Chapter six, Bharata commences his exposition of Rasa, saying: I shall first explain Rasa; and, no sense or meaning proceeds without Rasa (Na hi rasa-adrate kaschid-arthah pravartate).

He , then  focused on the dancer’s or actor’s performance and effort to convey the   psychological  state , which the character is experiencing , to the spectator, in order to create  Rasa – the aesthetic appreciation or enjoyment of the art – in the heart and mind of the spectator.

The famous Rasa-sutra or basic “formula”, in the Nāyashāstra, for evoking Rasa, states that   the vibhāva, anubhāva, and vyabhicāri bhāvas  together produce Rasa:  tatra vibhāvā-anubhāva vyabhicāri sayogād rasa nipatti 

Bharata elaborated the process of producing  Rasa in terms of eight Sthayi Bhavas – the principle emotional state of the character expressed by the performer  with the aid of Vibhava (the cause) and Anubhava (the enactment)  ; thirty-three Vyabhicāri (Sanchari) bhāvās –  the transient emotions; and, eight  Sattivika-bhavas – the involuntary physical reactions.  Among these, the more important  ones are said to be vibhāva and anubhāva , which  invoke the Sthāyi bhāva, or the principle emotion at the moment.  Such elements employed to convey the psychological state of the character, thus, in all, amounted to forty-nine or more. 

[The Sattvika , the involuntary–reflexes ( such as being stunned, going pale , stammering, shedding tears etc.,)  were perhaps meant to introduce a realistic style of acting – suited to the situation as also to the nature, psychological state and the social standing of the character , as compared to the purely conventional style .]

It is explained; they are called Bhavas because they happen (Bhavanti); they cause or bring about (Bhavitam);  and,  are felt (bhava-vanti). Bharata explains that  Bhavas  effectively bring out the dominant sentiment of the play – that is the Sthāyibhāvā – with the aid of various Bhavas , such as words (Vachika), gestures Angika), costumes ( Aharya) and bodily reflexes (Sattva) – for the enjoyment of the good-hearted spectator (sumanasaḥ prekṣakāḥ) . Then it is called the Rasa of the scene (tasmān nāṭya rasā ity abhivyākhyātāḥ).

Nānā bhāvā abhinaya vyañjitān vāg aṅga sattopetān / Sthāyibhāvān āsvādayanti sumanasaḥ prekṣakāḥ / harṣādīṃś cā adhigacchanti tasmān nāṭya rasā ity abhivyākhyātāḥ //6.31//

In brief, Abhinaya is the art of communicating bhāva (emotion) to produce Rasa (aesthetic enjoyment). In other words, it is the Bhavas that produce Rasa; and, it is not the other way.

The Rasa theory of the yashāstra is considered one of its most important contributions, with several scholars over the centuries , until today, discussing and analyzing it extensively.

Thus, Bharata’s concept and derivation of Rasa was mainly in the context of the Drama. They all are related to concrete and tangible emotions, based upon human experiences. There is no mysticism whatsoever here. That concept  – of the enjoyment by the recipient spectator – as also his views on the Gunas and Dosha, relating to the  scripting and enacting the play , were later  enlarged , transported  and adopted into Kavya as well. In either case, the human element was never lost sight of ; and, the spectator or the avid reader remained  at the center of art-experience. 


Bharata, initially, names four Rasas (Srngara, Raudra, Vira and Bhibhatsa) as primary; and, the other four as being  dependent upon them .That is to say ; the primary Rasas, which represent the dominant mental states of humans, are the cause or the source for the production of the other four Rasas.

Bharata explains that Hasya (mirth) arises from Srngara (delightful) ; Karuna ( pathos) from Raudra (furious); Adbhuta (wonder or marvel ) from the Vira  ( heroic); and, Bhayanaka ( fearsome or terrible) from Bhibhatsa ( odious).

śṛṅgārāddhi bhavedd-hāsyo raudrācca karuṇo rasaḥ vīrāccaiv-ādbhuto-utpattir-bībhatsācca  bhayānakaḥ 6.39

But, effectively, the eight Rasas listed in yashāstra are well accepted. Some scholars remark that the   distinction of four basic Rasas ; and , their associate four Rasas is a mere technical detail that the spectators may not be interested in.

śṛṅgāra hāsya karuā raudra vīra bhayānakā bībhatsā adbhutasajñau cetyaṣṭau nāye rasā sm 15

Later, by the time of Abinavagupta Shanta rasa came into discussion; and, eventually was  recognized . Thus , concept of Navarasasa was accepted. ( for more on  discussion about Shantha Rasa , please click here). Later on Vatsalya , Bhakthi and such others were also named as Rasas. Thus the number of Rasas is not mere nine or eleven , it could be more. 


4.2.  Bharata gave a definite structure to the drama; and said every play must portray and convey a  dominant Rasa; and , each of the eight rasas providing enjoyment to the audience. A Rasa depends on the type of the story and sort of the hero. According to him, hero (neta), story (vastu) and rasa (artistic enjoyment) constitute the essential ingredients of a drama – Vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako .

Natya-Shastra strives with a single pointed devotion to bestow an artistic form and content to what was still then a vulgar source of entertainment. Bharata could say with pride “parents could watch a dramatic performance in company of their sons and daughters-in-law.”(Natya-Shastra24.297)

5.1. That leads us to the question who was this author? Was Bharata his name   ? Was Bharata the name of his tribe? Or, was it a clever acronym?

There are, of course, no clear answers to these questions. The author made no attempt to reveal his identity. The book, as I mentioned earlier, is in the form of dialogue between Bharata and the sages.  The author was explaining the broad parameters, the basic principles and techniques of theatrical art as they then existed. He was not expounding the text as if it were his discovery or as his personal position. He was lucidly and systematically explaining a tradition that was alive and vibrant. These factors lead us to believe that Bharata, whoever he was, might have been a practicing- well informed-leading performer of his time,  belonging to a certain tradition . Bharata perhaps   belonged to a community of artists, actors, dancers, poets, musicians who shared a common heritage and common aspirations. 

5.2. From the prologue, couched in mythological language and imagery, it appears, Bharata was also a teacher and a preceptor of a school or an academy. He had a number (100?) of sons and pupils each of them being an accomplished performer or a learned theoretician. He produced plays with their assistance; by assigning each one a specific role.

It is very unlikely there were ‘theatrical Companies’, as such . Perhaps the family of Bharatas – producers, directors  (Sutradhara) and actors, as also their disciples of various talents and ranks, managed the theater as a group, under the leadership of the senior Bharata being in charge. It does, also, appear that the actors of various ranks of importance, dancers, musicians, assistants and minor functionaries did receive a systematic training in their  craft.

Such a troupe leader (Bharata) might also have been the one who assigned roles in a play; and, taught the rules of  the art/craft to the actors and actresses. His chief function seems to have been mostly supervisory. He might also have been involved in the design and structure of the theater hall (Natya-shala)

Thus, the Bharata, whoever he might be, should have been one capable of performing all those diverse and difficult tasks, with a sense of responsibility and commitment. Besides, he should have been one  who was sensitive to human frailty; and, also conversant with the language  customs  and nature of people of different classes and regions,

The term Bharata perhaps initially referred to  such a multi-talented virtuoso; and also, a producer / director of plays. The author of the Natya-Shastra was perhaps one such “Bharata”.

5.3. Incidentally, the text – in its chapter 35 – Bhumika vikalpa – provides a sort of elaborate explanation of the term Bharata, as : one who conducts as the responsible leader of a performance – as producer , director and stage manager  – who is required to be an expert not only in acting but  also in all those arts which together constitute a performance – by acting in many roles, by playing many instruments and by providing many accessories – is called Bharata – (Natya-Shastra 35: 63-68, 69-71).

[ In this connection, I shall speak of the qualities of a Director. An enumeration of his qualities will constitute these characteristics; they are: First of all, he should possess knowledge of characteristics of everything concerning the theater, desirable refinement of speech, knowledge about the Tala, rules for timing of songs, and of the theory relating to musical notes and to the playing of musical instruments.

63-68. One who is an expert in playing the four kinds of musical instrument, well-trained in rites prescribed in the Sastras, conversant witli the practices of different religious sects and with polity and the science of wealth, expert in the manners of courtezans (kama-shastra), and in poetics(kavya-shastra) , knows the various conventional Gaits  and movements (gati-prakara), throughly appreciates all the States (bhava) and the Sentiments (rasa), is an expert in producing plays, acquainted with various arts and crafts, conversant with the rules of prosody and the metrical feet (chhandas shastra), and is clever in studying the different Sastras, acquainted with the science of stars and planets and with the working of the human body, knows the extent and customs of the earth, its continents and divisions, mountains and people, and the descendants of different royal lines (prasutivit) , is fit to attend to the Sastras relating to his works, capable of understanding them and of giving instruction [on the subjects]; should be made a teacher {acharya) and a Director (Sutradhara)

69-71. Now listen to me speaking about the natural qualities of a Director. He should be possessed of memory , intelligence and judgement; should be patient, liberal, firm in his words, poetical, free from any -disease, sweet [in his manners], forbearing, self-possessed, sweet-tongued, free from anger, truthful, impartial, honest, resourceful (pratimanta) and free from greed for praise.

– The Natyashastra –  translation by Manmohan Ghosh – 1950 – (page 546) – Chapter 35. Bhumika vikalpa – Verses 63 to 71 ]

5.4. The author of the Natya-Shastra is also often addressed, in later times, as Bharata­muni. Shri Adya Rangacharya, a noted scholar, remarks.  “The usual trappings of a muni (sage) are nowhere mentioned”. On the other hand, his sons misused their knowledge and   ridiculed the sages (ṛṣīṇāṃ vyaṅgya-karaṇaṃ); and the enraged sages promptly cursed them “as due to pride  ( madonmattā ) in your knowledge you have taken to arrogance (a-vinayam) ; your corrupt-knowledge (ku-jnana) will be destroyed (nāśameṣyati )” — (Natya-Shastra 36: 32 – 38).

yasmājjñāna-madonmattā na vetthā vinayāśritāḥ । tasmād etaddhi bhavatāṃ kujñānaṃ nāśameṣyati ॥ 38॥

5.5. Bharata recounting this sad episode, cautions the community of artists not to overreach themselves, in arrogance, just because the art had bestowed upon them a special position in the society . The art that empowered them, he counsels, derives its strength from the society; and, the artists, therefore, have a special responsibility to cultivate discipline, self-restraint and humility (Natya-Shastra 36: 29 – 38).

5.6. Bharata refers, repeatedly, to the power that creative art is capable of wielding; and to the responses – both subtle and intense – they can evoke in the hearts of men and women. He asks his sons and disciples not to destroy drama which has its origins in the hoary past of the Vedas and their upangas (supplementary texts). He implores them to preserve the dramatic art by teaching it to their disciples ( siṣyebhyaśca tadanyebhyaḥ ); and to spread the art by practicing it (prayacchāmaḥ  prayogataḥ ).

jānīdhvaṃ tattathā nāṭyaṃ brahmaṇā sampravartitam । śiṣyebhyaśca tadanyebhyaḥ prayacchāmaḥ  prayogataḥ ॥ 36.49

mā vai praṇaśyatāmetan nāṭyaṃ duḥkha-pravartitam । mahāśrayaṃ mahāpuṇyaṃ vedāṅgo-upāṅga -sambhavam ॥ 36.50

5.7. [The attempt to explain Bharata as an acronym for three syllables Bha (bhava), Ra (raga) and Ta (tala) , somehow, does  not seem convincing at all.  At the time Natya-Shastra was composed, music was discussed in terms of pada (words), svara (notes) and tala (rhythm) forming components of a certain style of music called gandharva said to have been derived from Sama. Bharata talks about structured and unstructured music: bhaddha (structured like a verse or a stanza; and with rhythm) and anibhaddha (unstructured – without rhythm, analogues to the present-day aalap). The term raga did not come to prominence  until Matanga (about sixth century), in his Brihaddesi, elucidated the categories of muchchhanas and jatis; and introduced the term raga and outlined its concept.]

5.8. Thus, the author of the Natya-Shastra, whoever he might be, comes across as a multi-talented virtuoso, a person of great learning, culture and rooted in good tradition (sampradaya, parampara). He was well grounded not merely in Vedic learning and its ethos, but also in kavya (literature) , fine arts, Ayurveda (medicine), jyothisha  (astrology), ganitha (mathematics), vastu-shilpa (architecture) and  hathayoga. His understanding of the human anatomy- particularly the motor and sensory systems and the joints; the relation between the physical stimulus and psychic response; as also the relation between psychic states and expressions through physical movements  were truly remarkable.

6.1. As regards its date, it is not clear when the Natya-Shastra was initially articulated. There are, of course, a host of debates concerning the date of composition of the text. I however tend to go along with the argument that Natya-Shastra was a post Upanishad text; but it was prior to the age of the Puranas; and certainly much earlier to the age of classic Sanskrit drama. The following, briefly, are some of the reasons:

*. Natya-Shastra describes itself as Natyaveda, the fifth Veda that would be accessible to all the four castes (1:12). It claims that the text imbibes in itself the articulated- spoken word (paatya) from Rig-Veda ; the ritual and the body-language (abhinaya) from Yajur Veda; musical sound , the sung-note, from Sama Veda; and Sattvika (understanding of the relation between mind and body-expressions) – for conveying various bhavas through expressions exuding grace and charm – from Atharva Veda . (Natya-Shastra – 1:17-19)

jagrāha pāṭhyamṛgvedātsāmabhyo gītameva ca । yajurvedādabhinayān rasānātharvaṇādapi ॥ 17॥

vedopavedaiḥ sambaddho nāṭyavedo mahātmanā । evaṃ bhagavatā sṛṣṭo brahmaṇā sarvavedinā ॥ 18॥

utpādya nāṭyavedaṃ tu brahmovāca sureśvaram । itihāso mayā sṛṣṭaḥ sa sureṣu niyujyatām ॥ 19॥

*. The text is permeated with the Vedic symbolism and the imagery. The theatrical production is compared to yajna; with the stage being the vedika,   the altar. The dramatic spectacle, just as yajna, is said to have a moral and ethical purpose.

The text might have, therefore, arisen at a time when the Vedas were not a remote theoretical fountain head, but a living-immediate experience. 

*. The text strongly recommends that puja, worship, be offered to the stage before commencement of the show. It however recognizes puja as distinct from yajna. There is, however, no reference to “image” worship.

*. The gods revered and worshiped in the text are the Vedic gods; and not the gods celebrated in the puranas. For instance, Natya-Shastra begins with a salutation to Pitamaha (Brahma) and Maheshwara. There is no specific reference to Shiva. There is no mention of Nataraja even while discussing karanas and angaharas. Ganesha and the avataras of Vishnu are conspicuously absent. There are no references either to Krishna or to the celestial raasa dance. 

*.The gifts showered by the gods on successful performance of the play are similar to the gifts received by the performer at the conclusion of the yajna.

“Indra (Sakra) gave his auspicious banner (dhwaja) , then Brahma a kutilaka ( a crooked stick) and Varuna a golden pitcher (bhringara) , Surya an umbrella, Shiva success (siddhi) and Vayu a fan , Vishnu a throne (simhasana), Kubera a crown  and Saraswathi –visibility and audibility.” (Natya-Shastra-1.60-61)

brahmā kuṭilakaṃ caiva bhṛṅgāraṃ varuṇaḥ śubham । sūryaśchatraṃ śivassiddhiṃ vāyurvyajanameva ca ॥ 60॥

viṣṇuḥ siṃhāsanaṃ caiva kubero mukuṭaṃ tathā । śrāvyatvaṃ prekṣaṇīyasya dadau devī sarasvatī ॥ 61॥

*. It therefore appears; during the time Natya-Shastra was compiled the prominent gods were the Vedic gods such as Indra, Varuna and Vayu; and not the gods of the Puranas that came in to prominence centuries later.

*.The mention of the Buddhist bhiksus and Jain samanas indicate that Natya-Shastra was post –Buddha and Mahavira.

*. Natya-Shastra employs a form of Prakrit, which predates the great poet Ashvaghosha’s play (first century).

For these reasons, the scholars generally agree that Natya-Shastra might have been composed sometime between second century BCE and second century AD, but not later.


7. 1.The questions whether or not the Natya-Shastra was compiled in a particular year by a particular person are not  very important. Whatever are the answers to those questions, the importance of the work would not be diminished nor its wisdom distracted. What is of great importance is that Natya-Shastra has provided a sustainable foundation and framework for development of theory and practice of arts in India. Just as Panini standardized the classical form of Sanskrit, Bharata standardized the classical form of drama. He gave it status and dignity; a form and an objective; a vision and finally a technique.

7.2. Bharata ensured that drama and dramatic performance is first a work of art before it is literature – drsya kavya a form of literature that could be seen and heard.

7.3. His brilliant intuition and intellect has inspired generations of artists over several centuries. It is immaterial whether or not Bharata was an individual or when he lived.


8.1. It could be said that the Natya-shastra is broadly modeled into four sections, based on Abhinaya or modes of conveying theatrical expressions which bring pleasure, pure delight (Rasa) to the cultured spectators (sahrudaya). Such Abhinaya-s are: Sattvika (conveyed through expressions which delight the mind); Angika (natural and appropriate movements of body, limbs and face); Vachika (delivery through speech and songs); and Aharya (costume, decoration, make-up and such others to heighten the beauty or the effectiveness of the dramatic presentation).


The author of the Natya-shastra seems to have assigned greater importance to Sattvika elements, the expressions of which are conveyed through the aid of movements, gestures (Angika) and speech (Vachika).

8.2. The Sattvika aspects are dealt in Chapters 6 and 7; followed by Angika in Chapters 8 to 13; and, Vachika in Chapters 14 to 20.  The Aharya which deals with costume, scenic presentation, movement on the stage along with music from the wings etc follow in the later Chapters.

The four-fold core Chapters are supported by information and descriptions about the origin and greatness of the theatrics; different forms of the stage and the norms for construction; qualifications and desirable modes of behavior of the actors; and the rituals and prayers before and after the play etc.

Thus, the core of the theatrical art and science is dealt in 29 Chapters  – from 6 to 34.


9.1.  A question that is often asked is: why were the ancient Indian scholars and seers reluctant to disclose, in their works, details of themselves and of their times? Did they lack a sense of history? 

There is, of course, an array of explanations, in answer to that.

But, I think it had a lot to do with the way the ancients defined their relation to a school of thought, and the position, they thought, their text occupied in the tradition of that school. They always viewed themselves as a part of an ongoing tradition – parampara. Invariably, even the best known of our thinkers (say, the Buddha, Badarayana or Shankara) did not claim that they propounded an absolutely new idea that was totally unknown hitherto. They always said, they were interpreting or elucidating the truth in the light of eternal pristine principles.  They did not lay claim to novelty or uniqueness. They placed their work in relation to the larger and broader river or stream of the tradition. Within that tradition, individual styles, innovative ideas or enterprising leaps of thought were surely discerned; but they were always placed and viewed in context of the overall ongoing tradition.

9.2. As regards Natya-Shastra, as Kapila Vatsyayan  summed up beautifully:

“ it was analogous to the Gomukh demarcating the glaciers above and the rivers which flow with streams of the Alakananda and the Mandakini , the Bhagirathi and others with their manifold confluences and some divergences , but all of which we recognize as the Ganga. The analogy of streams, confluences (prayaga) and the continuous flowing and yet unchanging nature of the river is the closest approximation in which the parampara of the Natya-Shastra, the text and dramatics of inflow confluences, outflow and ultimate inflows in to the ocean, can be explained.”

9.3. The individual biological identity in terms of the physical events of the birth and the personal life of the author did not, therefore, seem to be a psychical concern. Individual effort and contribution in furthering a school of thought was, no doubt, important; but it was viewed as an integral part of the dynamics of the flow and course of the river called parampara, characterized with its nature of continuity and change.

The attitude signified being alive to a sense of tradition rather than lack of a sense of history.


1 0. Why  was the text called a Shastra?

The term Shastra does not always carry connotations of ritual or religion. Nor does it always mean classical, as in shastriya sangeeth

The Sanskrit- English dictionary of Sir Monier-Williams describes the term as an order, a command, a rule, teaching, and instruction manual relating to religious precepts. But,  Shastra, in fact, means much more than that.

10.1.In the Indian context , Shastra is a very extensive term that takes in almost all human activities – right from cooking to horse and elephant breeding; love making to social conduct; economics to waging wars; justice system to thievery ; and of course all the arts- from archery to poetry. There  is a  Shastra – a way of doing and rationalizing — for almost everything. A Shastra binds together the theory that provides a framework for rationalizing the practice; and the practice that illustrates the theory. Shastra is, at once, the theory of practice and practice of a theory- enriching each other.

10.2. The author of Natya-Shastra prefers tocall it a prayoga Shastra – a framework of principles of praxis or practice. Bharata makes a significant opening statement: “I am creating a theory and text of performance; of practice and experimentation” . He also underlines the fact that the efficacy of its formulation lies in practice (prayoga).

10.3. There is a certain flexibility built in to the structure of the text. It provides for varied interpretations and readings. The author himself encourages innovations and experimentations in production and presentation of plays. He even permits modification of his injunctions; and states the rules “can be changed according to the needs of time (kaala) and place (desha)” . The text accordingly makes room for fluidity of interpretation and multiple ways of understanding it. The intellectual freedom that Bharata provided to his readers/listeners ensured both continuity and change in Indian arts over the centuries.

tree of life

11. 1.Natya-Shastra,throughout, talks in the metaphor of the seed (bija) and the tree. It talks of the organic inter-relatedness of the parts and the whole; each branch of the text being distinct and yet inspired by the unitary source. Introduction of the core theme is the seed (bija) and its outer manifestation is like a drop of liquid or a point (bindu) that spreads and enlarges (vistara) to fill the structured space. That denotes both the process and the structure.

11.2. Bharata also explains the relationship between the structure of the drama, its plot, bhava and rasa through the imagery of a tree. The text grows like a tree and gives out shoots like the proverbial Asvattha tree.” Just as a tree grows from a seed and flowers and fruits… So the emotional experiences (rasa) are the source (root) of all the modes of expressions (bhava). The Bhavas, in turn, are transformed to rasa.”(Natya-Shastra: 6-38)

yathā bījād bhaved vṛkṣo vṛkṣāt puṣpaṃ phalaṃ yathā । tathā mūlaṃ rasāḥ sarve tebhyo bhāvā vyavasthitāḥ ॥ 38॥

11.3. This idea of multiplicity springing out of a unity is derived from the worldview nourished by the ancient Indians. Bhartrhari (Vakyapadiya) , for instance, observes  that diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah).  In other words, he says, where there is difference or division there must be a fundamental identity underneath it ; else, each cannot relate to the other; and , each object in the world would be independent of , or unconnected to  every other thing in existence.

Such holistic view  treats the world as a living organism, a whole with each part interrelated and inter dependent. The expanding universe is viewed as a process of sprouting from the primordial source (bija), blooming, decaying and withering away, at some time; but only to revive and burst forth with renewed vigor. The seed (Bija) is the source / origin of the tree; and, Bija is also its end product. The relationship between the universe and the human; between nature and man, too, has to be understood within the cyclical framework of the Bija- and -the tree concept.

Bharata seems to suggest that theater is an organism, just as life is an organism that re-invents itself.


12 . Let me end this in the way Bharata concluded his Natya-Shastra:

He who hears the reading of this Shastra , which is auspicious, sportful, originating from the mouth of Brahman , very holy , pure good, destructive of sins; and he who puts in to practice and witnesses carefully the performance of drama will attain  the same blessed goal which masters of Vedic knowledge and performers of yajna – attain.” (Natya-Shastra-37:26-28 )

ya idaṃ śruṇuyān nityaṃ proktaṃ cedaṃ svayambhuvā । kuryāt prayogaṃ yaścaivamathavā’dhītavān naraḥ 26

 yā gatirvedaviduṣāṃ yā gatiryajñakāriṇām । yā gatirdānaśīlānāṃ tāṃ gatiṃ prāpnuyāddhi saḥ 27

 dānadharmeṣu sarveṣu kīrtyate tu mahat phalam । prekṣaṇīyapradānaṃ hi sarvadāneṣu śasyate 28



Please also read Abhinavabharati – an interpretation of Bharata’s Natya-Shastra


Sources and references

Bharatamuniya Natya-Shastra by prof.SKR Rao

Bharata: The Natya-Shastra by Kapila Vatsyayan

Introduction to Bharata’s Natya-Shastra by Adya  Rangacharya

An introduction to natya shastra – gesture in aesthetic arts  by  M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.

Translation of the Natya-Shastra verses from the Natya-Shastra by Man Mohan Ghosh

Images are from Internet


Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Abhinavagupta, Music, Natya, Sanskrit


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