The Lore of Natyasastra

The Natyasastra is probably one of the earliest and most exhaustive treatises on Indian Dramaturgy. The book dates back to the 7th or 8th Century AD. Its authorship is traditionally ascribed to Bharata, but it is attributed to Lord Bramha who originally created it for the celestial immortals ruled by Indra.

The lore behind the creation of the Natyasastra is very interesting. A very long time ago, the people of this world of pain and pleasure, goaded by greed and avarice, and jealousy and anger, took to uncivilised and vulgar ways of life. The world then was inhabited by gods, demons, yakshsas, rakshasas, nagas and gandharvas. Various lords were ruling. It was the gods among them who, led by Mahendra, approached God Bramha and requested him to give them something pleasing to the eyes and ears. Since the four Vedas were prohibited for the Shudras, they requested the creation of a fifth Veda which would be accessible for all varnas or castes. Lord Bramha agreed. He decided to compose a fifth Veda incorporating all the arts and sciences and enlightening too. He sat down in deep meditation and went through the four existing Vedas. He took the words and recitation from the Rig Veda, songs and music from the Sama Veda, four aspects of acting and movements and make up from the Yajur Veda and sentiments and emotional acting from the Atharma Veda. After collating all this together and codifying it he called it the “Natya Veda”.

The Natya veda was taught to Bharata. He in turn taught it to his 104 children (including students) and the Apsaras. For this, he used the three modes of expressions namely, Bharathi(vocal expressions), Satvathi( forceful expressions) and Arabhati(emotional) vrittis. Lord Bramha asked Bharata to include the Kaisiki Vritti also, ie, the finer emotions to be enacted by female characters. It also consisted of the manipulation of the limbs of the body. For presenting this Vritti, he created 24 apsaras who became adept in this form of dancing. He also made accompaniments in music like Pranava, Mridanga, Bhanda and Kamsa. Narada provided Tanpura accompaniment for vocal music.

After the preparations and practice of the Natyaveda, it was presented on the day of Dhvajotsava or the Flag Festival of Mahendra. But when this performance of great pomp and show ended with the defeat of the asuras, they became enraged and created many obstacles to interrupt the show, including black magic which froze the speech, movements and even memory of the performers. To prevent the demons from destroying the Naatya, Bramha called Vishwakarman , the celestial architect , to create a beautiful, wonderful and well-equipped stage. Bramha requested the Lords to protect the stage from the demons. Each of the gods were given the charge of the different directions. Chandra or the moon was given the overall supervision of the stage. The ashta-dikpalakaas, Varuna, and Vayu were given the charge of the different directional parts of the theatre. Agni deva, the lord of fire, was to protect the stage with utmost care from all calamities and dangers. The celestial musicians Narada and Thumburu were given the charge of the musical instruments. The elemental Gods were to look after the make-up materials. The apsaras were ordered to keep the stage in a good form, shape and order.

The Chaturvarnyaa devataas (Gods of the castes), namely Indra , Kubera, Agni and Yama were ordered to safeguard the main pillars, while Sun or soorya and Rudra were put in-charge of the sub-pillars. In addition, the gods of the oceans held the riggings while the serpent God held the hinges of the doors and windows. Kala and Kritant were to do the duties of the door-keepers. Yama’s club or gadaa guarded the door-frame, while Shiva’s trident or the Sula protected the portions of the door-frame.

The performance was done in the presence of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar and other Lords. Lord Bramha also gave instructions for the seating arrangements of the Lords. Bramha occupied the first part, Lord Shiva took the second part, Lord Vishnu the third part, lord Muruga the fourth. Serpent Gods namely Shesh, Takshak and Vasuki occupied the fifth part. The rest of the Lords were seated as per their status and rank. The Yakshas , Guhyakaas and Pannagaas were ordered to keep the stage base very strong and firm . Indra’s Vajraayudha (diamond weapon) was installed into the flag staff which was installed in position to drive away evil spirits. Bramha also advised Bharata to perform stage worship with the chanting of vedic mantras and also to offer Naivedyam.

Lord Bramha created the Natyaveda to show the good and the bad actions and the feelings of both the Gods as well as the Virupakshas. It is the representation of the entire universe including the three worlds and not only of the Gods or of the Virupakshas. Dharma, Artha, Kaama, humour or fights, greed or killing; right for the people going wrong; enjoyment for those who are pleasure – seekers; restraint of the ill-behaved or tolerance of the well – behaved; putting courage into cowards or the exploits of the brave ; Knowledge for the unknown or the wisdom of the wise; enjoyments of the rich or fortitude of the grief-stricken; money for those who want to make a living and stability to disturbed minds: Naatya is the representation (anukarna) of the ways of the world involving these various emotions and differing circumstances. It gives you peace, entertainment and happiness, as well as beneficial advice based on the actions of high, low and middle class people. It brings rest and peace to persons afflicted by sorrow or fatigue or grief or helplessness. There is no art, no knowledge, no yoga, no action that is not found in Natya. Such is the greatness of the Natyashastra.