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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Five

Continued from Part Four

Dance forms of India

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Uparupakas

Bharata, in his Natyashastra, discussed, in main, the Rupakas, the major forms of the Drama; and, the two genre of Dance formats – Tandava and Sukumara. His concern seemed to be, primarily, with the forms and styles that were dominant in the art-tradition of his time; and, particularly those that had the potential to display various modes of representations and to evoke Rasas. For him, the aspect of Rasa was central to the Drama.

Of the eleven essential elements of the Drama that he names, Rasa is of paramount importance; and deriving that Rasa is the objective of a theatrical performance. The other ten elements – from Bhava to Ranga – are the contributing factors for the production of the Rasa

rasā bhāvā hy abhinayā dharmī vtti pravttaya / siddhi svarā astathātodya gāna ragaś ca sagraha // BhN_6.10 //

Bharata, similarly, even in regard to Dance, described only those dance forms that he considered to be artistically well cultivated; leaving out the regional and popular varieties. In the process, Bharata did not deal with the many peripheral styles.

The Drama, a Drshya-Kavya, was formally known as Rupaka. Abhinavagupta explains Rupam as that which is seen by the eyes; and, therefore, the works containing such matter is Rupani or Rupaka. And, Dhananjaya in his Dasarupaka (ten forms of Drama)  explains :  it is called a Rupaka or a representation because of the acts put on by the actors (abhinaya)  by assuming (rupakam tat samaropad)  the forms of various characters  such as gods or kings  and men and women. And, it is called a show because of the fact it is seen (rupam drsyatayocyate). Thus, Drama is the reproduction of a situation (Avastha-anikrtir natyam), in a visible form (rupa),  in the person of the actors. Dhanika in his commentary , explains that the terms Natyam, Rupam and Rupakam can be treated as synonymous.

The Drama was classified into two types: Major (Rupaka) and Minor (Upa-Rupaka).

Under the Rupakas (major types of Drama) Bharata mentioned ten of its forms (Dasadhaiva). Of the ten, he discussed, in fair detail, only two forms –Nataka and Prakarana. Because, he considered that these two alone fulfilled all those requirements that were necessary for Rupaka (major type). According to Bharata, these two major forms alone depict varieties of situations, made up of all the four modes or styles (Vrttis) and representations. And, they alone could lend enough scope for display of Rasas (Rasapradhana or Rasabhinaya or vakya-artha-abhinaya). In contrast, the other eight forms of Rupakas deal with limited themes and rather narrow subjects; and, are also incapable of presenting a spectrum of Rasas. 

In the process, Bharata did not also discuss about the minor forms of the drama, the Uparupakas or Natyabhedas. These were a minor class of dramatic works, distinct from the major works; and, did not satisfy all the classic, dramatic requirements prescribed for a Rupaka or Nataka proper. Such minor class of plays (Uparupakas) handled only a segment of a theme or story (Vastu); and, not its full extent. It did not also, perhaps, employ all the four Abhinayas, in their entirety.

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By the time of Abhinavagupta (Ca.11th century), the Dance had diversified into many more forms than were known during the time of Bharata. However, he mentions that even those innovative forms, indeed, continued to be rooted in the basic concepts laid down in the Natyashastra. And, in fact, he often cites idioms of dancing from such new categories, in order to illustrate Bharata’s concepts.

For instance; Abhinavagupta explains the nature of the delicate Sukumara Prayoga and of the gentle Kaisiki Vrtti, with reference to examples taken from Nrtta-kavya or Nrtya-prabandhas or Ragakavyas – musical compositions or narrative plays (classified under Uparupakas) beautified with  the elements of dance and music; and, which could be presented through expressive Abhinaya.

Abhinavagupta remarks; though the concept of minor dramas is absent in the Natyashastra, it is those minor classes of plays – Uparupakas, par excellence – in their varied forms, adorned with rich, melodious music, as also with graceful and delicate dance movements, which grew into becoming the main stay of the contemporary dance- scene.

Thus, Abhinavagupta, in his commentary, did mention the Upa-rupakas; but, he did neither define its essentials nor did he explain its features. He merely called them as Nrtta-kavya and Raga-kavya; meaning, the type of plays that are rendered through song, dance and interpreted through Abhinaya. In that context, Abhinavagupta mentions some plays of Uparupaka variety. He names them as: Dombika, Bhana, Prasthana, Sidgaka, Bhinika, Ramakrida, Hallisaka, and Rasaka. These minor dramatic works were of the nature of dance-drama, where the elements of music and dance were dominant.  But, Abhinavagupta had not discussed about those musical varieties.

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Perhaps, the earliest reference to Uparupaka occurs in the Kama-sutras of Vatsyayana (earlier to second century BCE), which presents a guide to a virtuous and gracious living. Here, Vatsyayana mentions Uparupaka type of plays, such as Hallisaka, Natyarasaka and Preksanaka, which were watched by men and women of taste.

Rajashekara (8th-9th century) calls his Prakrit play Karpuramanjari, as a Sattaka type of Uparupaka. He explains that the play in question was not a Nataka, but resembled a Natika (a minor form of Drama). It was a single-Act play (ekankika); and, it did not contain the usual theatrical scenes such as: the pravesakas (entry-scenes) and viskambhakas (intermediary or connecting scenes). Here, in the Sattaka type of Uparupaka, music and dance were the principal mediums of expression. Even a major part of its spoken dialogues (Vachika) was rendered in musical form. And, the story of the play was composed by stringing together series narrative songs.

Bharata had also mentioned that  in a well rendered play, the song, dance,  action and. word follow one another in an unbroken flow; presenting a seamless spectacle as if there is neither an end nor a beginning , just as wheel of fire  (Alata chakra).

eva gāna ca vādya ca nāya ca vividhā aśrayam / alāta-cakra pratima kartavyayayoktbhi // BhN_28.7 //

That, in a way, sums up the characteristic nature of the dance-drama type of Uparupakas. Here, the stylized Natya-dharmi mode of depiction is dominant. And, even when Vachikabinaya is used, the emphasis is more on the Abhinaya rendered through gestures to the accompaniment of song and music; than on speech.

Such Uparupakas, while narrating an episode or a story, did use the elements of the Nrtta (abstract dance movements) along with the Abhinaya of the Nrtya. They were, thus, a specific form of Natya–  (Natyabheda) . They also provided ample scope for display of Bhavas and for evoking Rasa.

[ As Dr. Sunil Kothari observes in his research paper :

The technical distinction which Natyashastra makes between Rupakas and Uparupakas is that while the former presents a full profile of a Rasa with other Rasas as its accessories.  Further, in the Rupaka a full story was presented through all the dramatic requirements and resources fully employed. But in the Uparupaka only a fragment was depicted. And, even when a full theme was handled all the complements of the stage were not present; the Uparupaka lacked one or  the other or more of the four Abhinayas; thus, minimizing the scope for naturalistic features Lokadharmi and resorting increasingly to the resources of Natyadharmi.

Whereas this is true of several other forms of Uparupakas, it is not true of the dance-drama forms. They used all the elements of the Abhinayas; and,also  provided scope for display of Bhavas and for evoking Rasa.]

madhubani

Coming together of the Marga and Desi traditions

By about the twelfth century, the classic Sanskrit Drama, in its major format, the Nataka, began to gradually decline. And, over a period, it almost faded away.

Though the Sanskrit theatrical tradition was tapering out, it did continue in the forms of minor or one-act plays – Uparupakas – mainly in regional languages, with a major input of dance and songs; but, with just an adequate stress on Abhinaya (acting) and Sahitya (script). These forms of dance-dramas were gaining ground.

The texts of the later period commenting on Natya and Alankara-shastra (poetics) could hardly afford to ignore the Uparupakas which were steadily gaining popularity. And, many scholars did formally recognize the Uparupaka class of dramatic works; codified their features; and assigned them a place within the framework of theory , as Nrtya-prabandhas.

By about the twelfth century, the differences as also the relationship between the Nrtta (pure dance) and Nrtya (Nrtta with Abhinaya) were clearly established. And, those dance formats, in combination with music, were suitably applied and integrated into the performance of the dance dramas.

Among the authors of the later period, Raja Bhoja ((10-11th century), Saradatanaya (12-13th century) and Vishvanatha (14-15th century) dealt at length with the Uparupakas. Raja Bhoja in his Srngaraprakasa discusses twelve types of Uparupakas; Saradatanaya in his Bhavaprakasa describes twenty-one forms of Uparupakas and also provides a gist of several definitions as given by the previous authorities ; and, Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana discusses in detail eighteen types of Uparupakas, with examples

For a detailed discussion on  the types of Uparupakas: please click here. And, go to pages 189 and onward for descriptions of those forms.

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Such staged dramatic texts (Nrtta-kavya or Raga-kavya), narrating a story, composed of songs, set to music with instrumental accompaniment; and, choreographed with dance movements, came to be known by different names such as: Natyabheda (in Avaloka of Dhanika); Geyarupaka (in Kavyanusasana of Hemacandra): Nrtyarupakas or, simply as the ‘other plays’ anyani rupakani (as by Ramacandra and Gunacandra), in which music and dance dominate.

The period between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries was a very highly significant phase in the evolution and development of Art in its varied dimensions. It was during this period that Dance, as Nrtya, gained recognition as an independent Art-form. And, Dance was no longer treated as a mere adjunct to drama. Similarly, vocal (Gita) and instrumental (Vadya) also began to flourish on their own.

The Dancing in India evolved by assimilating new forms and techniques; and, by moving away from its early dependence on Drama. In the process, it also widened its aesthetic scope beyond decorative grace; and, enlarged its content or repertoire to encompass depiction of emotional narrative themes. Now, the beauty of form walked in-hand with the richness of the lyrics and, with the depth of its emotional content; resulting in the growth of a complex art form.

During the period which spans the eleventh to the sixteenth century, many excellent works on Dance and music were written; and, new trends in Dancing were set. Now, many texts, exclusively devoted to Dance came into being (Say, Sangitaratnakara of Sarangadeva – Chapter seven;  the Nrtya-ratna-kosa of Maharana Kumbha ; the Nrttaratnavali of Jaya Senapati; Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala).

The texts of this period , though rooted in the principles of Natyashastra, did recognize and discuss Dance-forms and styles whose technique and structure differed from the Marga class described by Bharata- During this period, the emphasis of the texts shifted away from Natyashastra’s Marga tradition ; and, moved towards the styles known , generically, as Desi , regional or improvised.

It was during this period that Uparupakas developed into a common ground where the classical Natya of the Shastra (Marga) met the regional (Desi) forms of Dance of easy movements; allowing more freedom and greater degree of improvisation, within the given framework. It was here that the sophisticated fused with the folk forms.

The noted scholar Dr. Raghavan, therefore, described the Uparupaka as the golden link (svarna-setu) or common ground where the classical met the popular; and, where the sophisticated took the folk forms.

This period was also marked by the efforts to codify the less acknowledged, but popular forms; and, assign them a place within the framework of theory.

In the process, the theories of Dance adopted the terms and principles that were prevalent in the Kavya, poetics. Those dance forms which adhered to the established regulations and conventions; and, which had a definite structure were termed and classified as Nibaddha. And, those free-flowing dance forms, which were spontaneous, unregulated, unstructured and not bound by any rules, were treated as Anibaddha. Such unfettered dance-forms were not restricted by the requirements of Taala and such other disciplinesand, it did not also need the support of compositions woven with meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya). Sarangadeva defines Anibaddha as that which is not bound or as that which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva).

The Anibaddha also meant allowing the dancer considerable latitude in devising body movements that best suited the aesthetic and emotional content of the theme.; And , it also  made room for enterprise to come up with fresh idioms of expressions.

At the same time, the texts, such as the Sangita-samayasara, the Sangitaratnakara and the Nartananirnaya, suggested body movements as that of  simulating the quiver of a drop of water on a lotus leaf, or the trembling of a flame etc.

Such process of reorganization  and innovation covered not only the well regulated dance forms ; but, it  also  extended even to  the individual and   the group dances like Daṇḍaras, Raslīlā and other folk dances of similar nature, some of which have survived as dramatic group presentations.

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Dr. Mandakranta Bose in her Movement and Mimesis concludes : Our study of technique also shows that present day classical dancing in India is grounded more directly in the tradition recorded in the later dance manuals, especially the Nartananirnaya , than in the older tradition of the Natyashastra. This suggests that those styles which had marginal existence in Bharata’s time not only came to be admitted into the mainstream of dancing, but eventually became the dominant current. The evolutionary process is therefore one of dynamic growth rather than a static survival. Through the comparative analysis of the concepts and technique of dancing the present study attempts to mark the milestones of that process

As Dr. Sunil Kothari also observes in Part One of his research Paper  : the minor forms that were not specifically described by Bharata came into fore during the later periods. And, they have contributed greatly in the evolution of the dance concepts; and, in shaping and enriching the various dance forms, in their distinct regional milieu; as we see in contemporary India.

Dance-Drama

Dance-dramas

Dance and music have always formed an integral part of Sanskrit drama. But, it was the Uparupakas – minor class of drama- based in music and dance movements that eventually gave rise to the now living traditions such as KuchipudiBhagavata-Mela-Natakas, Yaksha-gana and Kuravanji    dance dramas.  Such forms of  Uparupakas  are very attractive formats, with the elements of the music and dance being predominant. And, most of them are based in dances accompanied by soulful songs, interpreting the emotional contents of the song through Abhinaya or gestures.

The Uparupakas also marked the emergence of dance-drama along with the solo exposition as a credible format of Dancing. Since then, dance-drama has come to stay and flourish side by side with the solo dance forms.

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The key element of the musical dramas was delighting in the spectacle of presentation and the emotions displayed by the characters on display. Their themes were crafted around Raga and Kavya elements, which dealt with the characters, themes, plots, emotional situations rooted mainly in Srngara (lovely and graceful) and Bhakthi (devotion) Rasas. The Uparupakas were, therefore, said to be Bhavatmaka or dependent on emotions.

The Uparupakas were broadly classified according to the dance-situations that were involved and the Rasas, the emotions, they projected. Among the Uparupakas, the Rasaka, Hallisaka, Narttanaka, Chalika and Samyalasya gave importance to Nrtta, the pure dance movements, in their performance. And, Natika, Sattaka, Prakaranika and Trotaka (Totaka) gave prominence to emotional aspects and to Abhinaya.

‘The Lovers Radha and Krishna in a Palm Grove’; miniature painting from the ‘Tehri Garhwal’ <i>Gita ­Govinda</i> (Song of the Cowherds), Punjab Hills, kingdom of Kangra or Guler, circa 1775–1780

Gita-Govinda

The most celebrated of the Raga-kavyas, Chitra-kavyas or Nrtya-prabandhas is the Gita-Govinda composed by Sri Jayadeva Goswami (about 1150 A.D), who was a court poet of the King Lakshmana of the Bengal region (12th century). It is the most renowned and the best loved among all the Raga-kavyas of the Prabandha class. Gita-Govinda occupies a preeminent position in the history of both the Indian music and dance.

The Gita-Govinda is a Khanda-Kavya, confined to description of some episodes. It comes under the Prabandha class of Kavyas. Jayadeva at the commencement of his Khanda-kavya states that he is composing a Prabandha Kavya (Etam karoti Jayadeva kavih prabandham). The Ashtapadi (eight footed) is a  Dvi-dhatu  Prabandha,  i.e. consisting two sections (Dhatu):  Udgraha and Dhruva.

from the Gita Govinda

This sublime Sringara-mahakavya, lovingly describes the emotive sports of Sri Radha, the Mahabhava – highly idealized personification Love and Beauty; and, Krishna the eternal lover (Sri Radha-Krishna-Lila).

Gita Govinda is the most enchanting collection of twelve chapters (Sarga). And, each Sarga commences with soulful a Sloka followed by one or two songs arranged in couplets. These songs are known as Giti, Prabandha or Ashtapadi, since twenty-four of such (but not all) employ eight couplets. Sri Jayadeva himself calls them as sweet and delicate Padavali-s (Madhura komala padavalim).

The Gita Govinda, permeated with intensely devotional and delicate Madhura Bhakthi, was one of the inspirations of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprbhu who was steeped in Krishna-bhakthi; and, it is now the primary text of the Gaudiya Vaishnava School of Bengal.

The popularity enjoyed by Gita Govinda is amazing. Each region and each language of India embraced it to its heart, with love and devotion; adopted it as its own; sang in its own chosen Raga; and, interpreted it in its own dance form.

The Gita Govinda also served as an inspiration or as a model for creation of dance-dramas, elaborating on parallel themes, in different parts of the country, in different languages. For instance; the dance sequences composed in the traditions of Kuchipudi of Andhra; the compositions of Sri Sankaradeva of Assam; Umapati of Bihar; Bhagavata Mela Natakas of the South; Yaksaganas of Karnataka ; and, Krsnattam and Kathakali of the Malayalam areas – were all inspired by the Gita-Govinda.

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Nauka Charitam

And, Sri Thyagaraja (1767- 1847) is said to have composed three musical dramas  (Geya-Nataka). Of these, only two namely: Prahlada-Bhakti-Vijayam and Nauka Charitam are available. But, the third – Sita Rama Vijayam – is sadly lost.

Nauka Charitam, mostly a product of Sri Thyagaraja’s imagination, improvising on an incident briefly mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam, comprises twenty-one Daru songs set in thirteen Ragas (some of which follow folk tunes) . Its theme extols the virtue of absolute surrender to the Lord with Love and devotion. Nauka Charitam lends itself beautifully well for production of a Dance-drama.

Dances

Regional Dance forms

By about the sixteenth century, the Nrtya-prabandhas, set free from the confines of the Drama, began to flourish and to evolve further, by assimilating new forms, more creative modes of expression and techniques. In the process, their aesthetic scope grew beyond mere decorative postures. They refined their skills to communicate the emotive content of the lyrics, more effectively. Beauty of form was blended with meaningful expressions (Abhinaya). The Uparupakas having developed into a complex Dance-form came to occupy a central position within the contemporary world of Art.

Even in this format, the dance element continued to be divided into Nrtta and Natya on the one hand; and, into Tandava and Lasya on the other. Another significant factor was that even though the Dance was mainly based in the theoretical principles of the Natyashastra; yet, in practice, it inculcated styles and techniques that were peculiar to each region. In each of those regions, the Dance practitioners also developed their own local vocabulary. These gave rise to distinctive dance forms and technical terms.

Each of such derivative forms formulated a tradition of its own; such as Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, and Kuchipudi and so on. And, each of those eminent dance forms rooted in its own regional and cultural background; anchored in its own philosophy and outlook, developed its own idioms of expressions.

There are also certain factors that are common to all those diverse types of dance forms. These, in brief, are : prominence to the narration of the theme;  the dominance of Natya-dharmi; performing to  the appropriate music, Laya (tempo) and Taala (time-units, beats) ; employment of all the four Abhinayas in varying degrees; in making a distinction between the Nrtta and the Nrtya, and maintaining their distinctive features while executing  the respective elements in the performance; taking care to see that the Nrtta aspect, particularly the individual dance movements and postures, are  governed by the special techniques developed by each school of Dance; and, recognition of both the  Ekaharya (solo – where a single dancer enacts the role of several characters) and Anekaharya (where several actors participate  to enact their respective role)  modes of presentation.

Yet, these Dance-forms have successfully retained their identity; and, have carried it forward to the present time.

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Kathak

As regards Kathak, its history as a performing art has to be viewed in the larger context of the history of the Dance forms of the North India. Kathak, in its earlier form had a long association with temple-dance. But, with the advent of Mughal rule; and with the influence it exerted on Indian life and culture, Kathak dance was remodeled into a different form.

For instance; it is said, by the time of Akbar (16th century), the Persian art and music had vastly influenced the cultural life of India, particularly the milieu surrounding the Mughal court. According to Pundarika Vitthala (Nartana-nirnaya), who had the opportunity to watch, appreciate and enjoy excellent presentations of the Persian oriented dance and music, the restructured Dance form of Kathak, was born out of the fusion of classical Natya with the dance of the Yavanas, (meaning, the Persians), which took place in the context of the cultural life of the Mughal inner court, during the time of Akbar.

Kathak, in its early period, had not only a special, unique manner of dancing, with its own phrases of Nrtta and Abhinaya; but it also had its own distinct structure of performance and philosophy. But, During the Mughal period, it became a source of recreation for those seeking escape from the day-to-day annoyances. Its purpose, then, was to provide sheer pleasure, entertainment and amusement. Thus with the advent of the Mughal rule there was a definite shift in its content as also in its emphasis. And, the elements of devotion, worship etc., that were there in its traditional form went into background. It acquired the epithet of Nautch.

Thereafter, with the fall of the Mughals, Kathak, somehow, managed to survive by shaping itself into a fine expression of a dance form aiming to please its newly acquired patrons, the rulers of small native states. It then branched into Gharanas named after the court that supported it ; like Lucknow Gharana , Jaipur GharanaRampur Gharana etc. (For more, please do refer to Kathak, Indian Classical Dance Art by Sunil Kothari )

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Kathak , which follows Nartanasarvasva , has a unique feature of taal-prastuti (a systematic elaboration of a time-cycle of a chosen number of beats) that is not found in any other classical Indian dance-forms. It has also a distinct way of presenting the syllables and Bols used in the text of the songs. The variations of these Dance-forms are also recognized by their nature, even in case their style is classical, folk, or modern.

And since the post-Independence days, happily, the classical Kathak is rediscovering itself. It is liberated from the confines of the past feudalistic court associations. The framework and outlook of the present-day classical Kathak is chaste – aesthetically and spiritually.

Odissi

Odissi

In contrast; the classic Odissi was, essentially, a temple-dance, enacting a devotional poem. It is steeped in devotion; and, in the concepts of spirituality of the Vaishnava tradition. It is performed as a way of submitting ones service (seva) to Lord Jagannath. Odissi is a lyrical form of dance with subtlety as its keynote. It is known for its fluidity and grace. Its sculpture-like poses are executed with harmony of line and movement. Odissi has developed its own vocabulary of foot positions, head movements, eye movements, body positions, hand gestures, rhythmic footwork, turns and spins.

Odissi, again, is based in the principles of the Natyashastra. It also follows other texts such as Abhinaya Chandrika of Mahesvara Mahapatra and Abhinaya Darpana of Nandlkesvara. Dr. Mandakranta Bose opines that the techniques of Odissi are also derived from the Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala.

The Odissi also observes the traditional formats of Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya, in their distinct forms.

The initial items, following soon after the invocation , the Mangalacharana, and Pushpanjali, are in the fast-paced, rhythmic pure dance movements of Nrtta class, known as Battu or Battu Nrtta. That is followed by Pallavi rendering in varied tempos.

The Nrtya segment of the Odissi is more elaborate. It consists narration of a theme; the interpretation of the words and sentences of the lyrics of the song; illustrating with grace Abhinaya articulated through elegant Bhavas, gestures and facial and eye expressions. Odissi is renowned for fluid, eloquent and gracefully charming movements and postures. The songs of Nrtya are, generally, in adoration of Vishnu, as Lord Jagannath. Apart from that, the Astapadis selected from Jayadeva Kavi’s Gita Govinda are the most popular numbers in it’s Nrtya repertoire. These soulful dance recitals celebrate the divine Love of Sri Radha and the eternal Lover Sri Krishna.

The Natya segment of a Odissi performance relates narration of a theme selected from the mythology, epic or a celebrated Kavya.

Kuchipudi

Kuchipudi

Similarly, Kuchipudi, the dance-drama  of the coastal Andhra Pradesh, is regarded as a religious art of the Vaishnava tradition, devoted to Lord Krishna (Bhama kalapam), where the dancer-actor narrates a story, conveying a spiritual message through expressive gestures, graceful body-movements and rhythmic footwork. In fact, a Kuchipudi performance commences with the recitation of the auspicious slokas extracted from Vedic texts; consecration of the stage with sprinkling of holy water (punyavachana); and , offering Puja to the Ranga Adidevata , the chief deity on the stage. That is followed by dance-offering to Ganapathi; prayers submitted to Goddess Tripurasundari, and to the Guru; and Naandi-stotra by the Sutradhara, the stage manager. The Kuchipudi Natyam is usually performed by a group or in some cases by a solo dancer who enacts, through dance movements, the roles of several characters.  The performance concludes with Mangalam, the benedictory verses; and, offering Aarati to gods.

The repertoire of Kuchipudi also follows three performance categories of dance forms; namely, Nrtta (Nrutham), Nrtya (Nruthiyam) and Natya (Natyam).  Here, ‘Nrtta’ is a technical performance where the dancer presents pure dance movements with stress on speed, form, pattern, range and rhythmic aspects without interpretive aspects. In ‘Nrtya’ the dancer-actor communicates a story, spiritual themes particularly on Lord Krishna through expressive gestures and slower body movements harmonized with musical notes thus engrossing the audience with the emotions and themes of the act. ‘Natyam’ is usually performed by a group or in some cases by a solo dancer who maintains certain body movements for specific characters of the play which is communicated through dance-acting.

(For more, please check Indian Classical Dances : Kuchipudi Dance )

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Manipuri

Manipuri , of Eastern India, is a classical dance form narrating themes rooted in the Vaishnava Bhakthi tradition, depicting the Love between Sri Radha and Lord Krishna  , mainly through the re-enactment of the sublime  ‘Raas Lila’. It is also fused with the pre-Vaishnava tradition of Lai Haraoba and Thang-ta, which add variety and vibrancy to its repertoire of movements. Here, again, dance and music are interwoven with rituals and religious practices.

It is said; the repertoire and basic play of this dance form revolves around different seasons. The traditional style of this art form incorporates graceful, gentle and lyrical movements. The fundamental dance movement of Raas dances of Manipur is Chari or Chali.

Manipuri dances are performed thrice in autumn from August to November; and, once in spring sometime around March-April, all on full moon nights. While Vasanta Raas is scheduled in spring when Holi, the festival of colours is celebrated, the other dances are scheduled around post-harvest festivals like Diwali.

The themes of the songs and plays comprise of Love and association of Radha and Krishna in company of the Gopis namely, Sudevi, Rangadevi, Lalita, Indurekha, Tungavidya, Vishakha, Champaklata and Chitra. One composition and dance sequence is dedicated for each of the Gopis; while the longest sequence is devoted to Radha and Krishna.

The dance drama is performed through excellent display of expressions, hand gestures and body language. Acrobatic and vigorous dance movements are also displayed by Manipuri dancers in certain plays.

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Mohiniattam

The Mohiniattam, a classical dance form that evolved in Kerala, is said to have been derived from the dance performed by Mohini, a female Avatar of Vishnu. It, again, is a temple-dance; but, with a predominance of graceful and gentle Lasya movements. The Mohiniattam dancers follow- among other manuals – the Balarama -bharatam as their guidebook.

Mohiniattam also comprises all the three elements of Nrtta (pure dance movements); Nrtya (narrating a theme with Abhinaya); and, Natya (enacting a play, usually by a group).

A performance of a Mohiniattam includes sequences commencing with invocation or Cholkettu; and then on to Jatisvaram, Varnam, Padam, Tillana, Shlokam and Saptam. Thus, Mohiniattam is aligned to what came to be known as Bharatanatya.

Its songs are composed with mixture (Manipravala) of Sanskrit and Malayalam words.

Traditionally, Mohiniattam is performed by a single dancer who enacts the roles of the other characters that feature in the lyrics of the song (Ekaharya Abhinaya). Of late, Mohiniattam is also performed as group dance.

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Dance forms

All these dance-forms, including Kathak, though they are basically individual performances, they are also enacted as group dances.

What is common to all these classical dances is that their roots are in religion, mythology and devotional stories. Central to these dances is the Nayika, the gentle heroine, who symbolizes the soul of the devotee. The spirit of Bhakthi permeates these dance forms. And, their traditions have been carried forward under the Guru-shishya –parampara, with each generation passing on to the next, with earnestness,  the knowledge, skill and the philosophy of its School.

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The Dance forms, such as, Kathak, Odissi or Kuchipudi narrate a story or an episode  chosen from an Epic or mythology. Etymologically, the term Kathak is related to Katha, the art of storytelling. The Western ballet also tells a story. But there are some significant differences between these Dance forms, with regard to their nature and the manners in which they are danced. For example; classical Ballet is performed as a group dance , where different dancers play different roles or characters to build a story. This story is performed as a dance-drama, where various scenes unfold one after the other.

And, another is that unlike in the western dance, the Indian Dances are not set to leaps and gliding movements in the air. It strives to achieve a perfect pose that can be frozen in time. Its technique depends on the skillful management of time (Taala), in order to achieve a series of perfect poses.

In contrast to ballet; the Kathak and other classical dance forms are, traditionally, solo dance-performances. Its dancer enacts all the roles or characters involved in the story (Ekaharya). Here, the story is presented mainly with the help of Abhinaya that involves facial expressions and meaningful hand-gestures. Apart from telling a story, the dancer will have to meticulously follow the rhythmic patterns (Taal) as required by the lyrics and also the sol-fa and other dance syllables rendered in varying speeds (Laya).

Similarly, the Varnams and Padams in the Bharata Natyam are, usually, presented as solo performances.  While presenting the theme of the song that is to be interpreted, the dancer skillfully assumes (Natyadharmi) the role of  several characters (ekaharya) that figure in the lyrics, with appropriate Sancari- bhavas; say, the roles of the Nayika (heroine), her friend/assistant (Sakhi) or of the Nayaka (hero)’. This is achieved through a series of  variations of Angikabhinaya, in which each word of the poetry is interpreted in as many different innovative ways as possible.

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Another significant point is that the present-day dance forms like Kathak, Odissi etc., are more related to medieval texts like Nartananirnaya than to the ancient manuals. This, in another way, could be taken to mean that certain dance-forms, which were marginalized in the Natyashastra, found a new life and due recognition as one among classical Dances of India. This again emphasizes the dynamic nature of Art, which rejuvenates and re-invents itself all the time.

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Influence of Nartana-nirnaya

Now, as regards the historical significance of Nartana-nirnaya; many scholars, after a deep study of the text, have observed that there is enough evidence to conclude that the text marks the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi. Dr.   Mandakranta Bose, the much respected scholar and authority on the principles and practices of the performing arts of India, also concurs that such connection seems highly plausible. The text was part of the same cultural world of the Mughal court that nurtured Kathak.

Dr. Bose, in her work, Movement and Mimesis: the Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition , points out that several technical terms used in Nartana-nirnaya match those used in Kathak today. And she goes on to say:

When we look closely at the technique of the dance described under the Anibandha category, we begin to see certain striking similarities with the technique of Kathak. One cannot say that the style described in the Nartana-nirnaya matches Kathak in every detail.  But one may certainly view that style as the precursor to Kathak; but the descriptions and the similarities in their techniques clearly show it to be the same as what we know today as Kathak.

The Nartana-nirnaya seems, thus, to be the proper textual source for Kathak. This claim becomes stronger still on examining points of technique.

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As regards Odissi, Dr. Bose observes that the Bandha-nrtta as practiced in the Odissi style is very similar to the descriptions given in the Nartana-nirnaya.  And, the basic standing postures prescribed in the Odissi style: Chauka and Tribhangi are the two main basic stances in Odissi. Chahka is a stable-wide stance, with weight of the body distributed equally on both the sides; and, the heels facing the centre. It is said to be a masculine posture.  Tribanghi, is a graceful feminine posture, with the body bent in three-ways). These are comparable to vaisakha-sthana and Agra-tala-sanchara-pada of the Nartana-nirnaya.  Further, some acrobatic postures still in use are: danda-paksam, lalata-tilakam and nisumbhitam (the foot raised up to the level of forehead), and several others are found both in Odissi and in Chau dance of Mayurbhanj region of OrissaFurther, there is in the Nartana-nirnaya, the description of a dance called Batu involving difficult poses; and it is very similar to the Batunrtta, a particularly difficult dance in the repertory of Odissi.

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Bharatanatya

The School of Nrtya that is prevalent in South India is Bharata-natya. It has gained ground through the efforts of some dedicated stalwarts.

During the period of national movement for attaining India’s independence, there was a revival and resurgence of Dance forms; and re-assertion of its values.

With the advent of the Maestro Uday Shankar; and with the efforts of the aesthetes like Rabindranath Tagore, Poet Vallathol of Kerala and Rukmini Devi and E. Krishna lyer of Kalakshetra at Adyar, the ancient form of dance (Marga), as in Bharata’s  Natyashastra, was re-established, by renaming it as Bharata-Natyam.

Along with that, the other classical dance forms like, Kathak, Odissi, Mohiniattam and Manipuri were also revived.

[Smt. Tanjore Balasaraswati, also known as T. Balasaraswati (1918-1984), the celebrated exponent of Bharata-natyam, who expanded the performance of this dance form beyond the precincts of the temples where it was traditionally performed; re-established it; and, made it famous in different parts of India and many parts of the world, writes:

The greatest blessing of Bharata-natyam is its ability to control the mind. Most of us are incapable of single-minded contemplation even when actions are abandoned. On the other hand, in Bharata-natyam , actions are not avoided; there is much to do but it is the harmony of various actions that results in the concentration we seek.

The burden of action is forgotten in the pleasant charm of the art. The feet keeping to time, hands expressing gesture, the eye following the hand with expression, the ear listening to the dance master’s music, and the dancer’s own singing-by harmonizing these five elements the mind achieves concentration and attains clarity in the very richness of participation.

The inner feeling of the dancer is the sixth sense which harnesses these five mental and mechanical elements to create the experience and enjoyment of beauty.

It is the spark which gives the dancer her sense of spiritual freedom in the midst of the constraints and discipline of the dance. The yogi achieves serenity through concentration that comes from discipline. The dancer brings together her feet, hands, eyes, ears and singing into a fusion which transforms the serenity of the yogi into a torrent of beauty.

The spectator, who is absorbed in intently watching this, has his mind freed of distractions and feels a great sense of clarity. In their shared involvement, the dancer and the spectator are both released from the weight of worldly life, and experience the divine joy of the art with a sense of total freedom.

To experience this rare rapture, a dancer has only to submit herself willingly to discipline. It will be difficult in the beginning to conform to the demands and discipline of rhythm and melody and to the norms and codes of the tradition. But if she humbly submits to the greatness of this art, soon enough she will find joy in that discipline; and she will realize that discipline makes her free in the joyful realm of the art.]

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Dance – Today and Tomorrow

Moving from temple to theater was a huge, a gigantic leap. During the last seventy-five years there have been tremendous changes in the arena of Dance, in terms of structure, content, theme, presentation techniques, teaching methods and so on. As it stepped into the open society and reached out to larger numbers of spectators, the well equipped huge auditoriums and theaters having excellent lighting and sound facilities and other means of technical support etc., also came up. With this, the reach of the Art expanded significantly. Now, not merely the well informed connoisseurs, but also the uninitiated audience began to have access to witness and enjoy Art performances. This has  been a very healthy and a robust development.

Up to the early 20th century, the songs to which dances were composed were exclusively those rich in Srngara bhava. In the post-independence India, the dance themes were diversified to depict subjects other than the usual mythological and religious themes and of a heroine pining for her hero.

This shift played an important role in prompting the dancers to re-think and seek new directions in Indian dance and its thematic content. The Dancers with imagination and with the ability to reflect upon the present-day issues, began to experiment; to innovate dance-expressions; to create new movements using space, different levels; and, to develop an impressive array of dance vocabulary.

In India, Dance has always been an activity associated with socially, culturally and ritually sanctioned practices. And, the present period is the age resurgence of Indian classical dancing, freed from its past associations. The youth who pursue classical dance are the educated middle class, both in India and elsewhere. Today Indian dances have crossed national borders; and, the exponents of Dancing in the Indian Diaspora have been  extending their dance horizons,  wherever they are.

In today’s world, the classical dance is an icon of high-art. It is also the representation of India’s preserved history, tradition and culture. It is a part of understanding our cultural heritage. The classical Dance as a specialized performing art draws fewer males than females. It, somehow, is essentially the domain of the females It is, therefore, the women who, mostly, have carried forward this form of traditional art.

These are interesting and vibrant days for Indian classical Dance in its varied forms. With that, it has to face new challenges; and, has to address itself to new questions. It has to look within to review the techniques, the structural principles and to reassess the internal strength of its traditional forms. And, it has also to look forward and project its future path; to explore new horizons. It has to gain power and strength to carry forward the various Dance forms; and, at the same time have the tenacity to preserve the purity of the essential principles of the classical Dance. It has to find resilient ways to reflect the contemporary progressive values; and, continue to be relevant to the society and the world we live in. And, at the same time, it has to devise safeguards to protect the Art against the dangers of the rampant commercialization, which might affect the standards and the quality of the classical dance forms. It is the shared responsibility of the Gurus, the learners and the art connoisseurs. And, it is indeed a very tall order.

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Commencing from the next part, we shall briefly discuss each of the significant texts that defined the nature and practice of Dancing in India. We may, as always, start with Natyashastra; and, thereafter go to other texts, following their chronological order.

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Continued

In

Part Six

References and sources

All images are from the Internet

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2018 in Art, Natya

 

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Concerning the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya

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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 origin; its nature; its theories; the theatrical techniques  with all their components of speech, body-language, gestures, costumes, décor as also the state of mind of the performers, apart from rituals, architecture of theater etc.

Apart from Drama per se, the Natyashastra covers a wide range of subjects such as the mythological origins of the Drama, the rituals (Purva-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 the 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 (natya-mantapa , 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, progressively, the yawning gap between the theory and practice did seem to further 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.

The arrangement of the subject-matter was somewhat unsystematic. The text was rather too elaborate and cumbersome for ordinary use.The myths, rituals and practices were all seemed to be mixed up.  And , some passages were repeated without valid  reason. For instance; the passages discussing the Prakrit dialects occur two times. Similarly, the portions discussing the explanatory/ intermediary scenes such as Viskambhaka etc., also appear twice, at chapters 18 and 19. Besides, some verses are repeated; but, out of context. There was also some confusion about terms such as Vithi and Prahasana , which were mentioned among the forms of Vrtti and also among the  types of Rupakas

Natyashastra was written in archaic Sanskrit, employing rather a too brief Sutra format. Its method of exposition was : classification, definition and analysis of technical terms with a brief explanation of the concept behind them. But, many times , a term  was just stated, without a clear explanation or without providing illustrations. As a result, in certain cases, it becomes  difficult to clearly ascertain what Bharata ‘really’ meant. 

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

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 written, 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 written 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.

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.

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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 criticized 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, such 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).

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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 (pratipadam aparam laksana kah kartum iste) ; 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 – kim cit pragunaracanaya laksanam samksipami .

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 //

And , at the same time , Dhananjaya , following the lead given by Bharata [who had said that he devised the dramas to give , among other things, relief to those unlucky ones afflicted with sorrow and grief or over-work – dukhārtānā śramārtānā śokārtānā– NS.1.114 ]makes it abundantly clear that the prime objective of a Drama is to provide entertainment (ananda).

Dhananjaya taunts; and mocks at one who naively believes that Drama, like history (itihasa), is there only to give knowledge.

He wryly remarks ‘ I salute  (tasmai namah) that simpleton  (alpabuddhih) who has averted his face from what is delightful ..!’

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

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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 Drsya 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”.

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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 unintelligible 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 an 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,  he had composed a treatise on poetics, titled Kavyanirnaya, from which he frequently quoted. 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 would 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  Kavyas of Magha and Kalidasa. Occasionally, he corroborates his statements by an excerpt from the Bharatiya Natyasastra or some other technical work.

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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 mainly 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 durimg  its time.

Another issue is with regard to the needlessly elaborate and hair-splitting exercise undertaken by Dhananjaya to classify and sub-classify its subjects , such as the Hero (Neta), Heroine (Nayika), Srngara-rasa and the plot (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 these 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 of 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  formats 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 not survived ”.

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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 examples.  But, sometimes, Dhanika’s examples are not quite appropriate to the point in question. It also said; Dhanika leaves many issues 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 her costumes and gestures (section 2) and Vyabhichari-bhavas or transitory waves of feelings  she experiences (section 4). But, he often, fails to convince  how the cited verses illustrate the point that 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 that 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.

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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) popular 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, categorizing 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.

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Finally , all said and done , Dasarupaka is still relevant  and has its usefulness . In fact , the scholar Sri Adya Rangacharya in the introduction to his edition of the Natyashastra  remarked : Almost a thousand years ago a writer called Dhananjaya wrote a treatise called Dasarupaka (ten forms of plays). He did what I originally intended to do, viz. abridge the work only as far as it concerned drama.

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.

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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 Dhananjaya – the son of Vishnu, 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 – Vakpathiraja– ( sa jayati Vakpatirajah sakala-arthi-manorathaika-kalpataruh); and, (Sarasvati kalpalataika-kandam/vandamahe Vakpatirajadevam / yasya prasadad vayam apy ananya-/ kavindracirne pathi samcaramah) etc.

Some 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) . Further, 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 (Maha-sadhya-pala) 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.

SHAKUNTHALAM

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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