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Essay on Natyasastra

The art of Music and Dance, which was well developed during Vedic age itself, has been systematized by Bharata in his Natyashastra. He condensed and codified the necessary laws which govern music, dance and drama. Not only these three but all that are essential to the authors and actors like the knowledge of grammar, prosody, rhetoric, rasa, bhava was also clearly mentioned in this work. His Natya Shastra with its 36 chapters includes the writing of drama and its production is an encyclopaedic work on dramatic art. It is considered the Fifth Veda- the ‘Natyaveda’. The word or speech is extracted from Rigveda, song from Samaveda, the art of acting and histrionic expressions from Yajurveda and the elements of Rasa from Atharvaveda. There were several authors like Parasara, Shilali, Krishashva, Kohala, Dantila, Thumbura, Narada Nandi and Shandilya who wrote on the principles of dance much earlier to Bharata but unfortunately the original works are not available now. Bharata adopted altered, added dramatic rules and regulations, and made a full-fledged work with minute details of dramatic art. It is believed that this work is composed between 200 BC and 200 AD. The technical terms used in Natya Shastra are found in Ramayana and Mahabharata. Natyashastra is fully accredited to Bharatamuni by Kalidasa (Vikramorvashiya-II-7, Kumarasambhava-7-91) hence he can be placed before Kalidasa. Considering references in Panini’s Ashtadhyayi and the Hathigumfa inscription of Kharavela, scholars are of the opinion that Bharata flourished before the Christian era most probably during 2nd century B.C. Traditionally, its authorship is ascribed to Sage Bharata, but it is believed to be a compilation of the works of various intellectuals and authors.

The entire text is in the form of a dialogue between Rishi Atreya and Bharat Muni. According to the Natyashastra, all the Gods requested Lord Brahma to produce something to play (Kirdaniyakam) (N.S.I 2) which could be seen, heard, was enjoyable and instructive- a fifth Veda for the benefit of all the people. Brahma in his meditation extracted the essence from all four Vedas (NS I,17) and created this Natya Veda which was full of stories from the epics, and legends that led people towards the righteous path. He then asked Bharata to make this art known to mankind. The Natya represents the life of Gods, Demons, Kings, Householders, and Great sages alike (NS I 107).

The chapter I of Natya Shastra named ‘Natyotpatti’- the origin of drama, contains 127 slokas. The questions raised by Atreya and the others about the circumstances leading to the creation of Natya, the creation of Natyaveda, the purpose of the delicate mode of expression, the first play produced during the festival of Indradhvaja, disturbances of the play, pacification, benefits of drama were all dealt with in this chapter. The five questions of the sages were:

(1) How was the Natyaveda created?

(2) For whom it was meant?

(3) What are the different parts of the Natyaveda?

(4) What is its extent?

(5) How is it to be applied?

But the answers to these questions do not go in a sequence, they are spread all over the text of Natyashastra. While explaining the nature and purpose of Natya, Brahma says that nothing that there is nothing which cannot be found in Natya, either knowledge, learning, action, device, or craft. It includes all the sciences, art and craft and is an imitation of all the situations of the three worlds. The theme of the play may be taken from the narratives of history, the Vedas and the Shastras and presented in an enjoyable way. Thus, Natya represents the pains and pleasures of the world through the medium of 4 types of abhinaya i.e. Angika – physical movements and gestures, Satvika- emotional reactions, Vachika – Voice and speech, and Aharya – Make-up and costume.

Chapter II deals with the Natya Mandapa (the theatre) in 105 slokas. It is called Prekshagraha lakshanam. The standards for theatre, constructions of the 3 varieties of Natyamandapas, namely Vikrishta – the rectangular, Chaturasara- the square, and Tyasra – the triangle, along with paintings of the walls, seating arrangements, entrances for the King and the others, the rear stage and front stage were described.

Chapter III deals with Ranga Devata Puja,ie, worship of the Gods in 102 slokas. It is called Rangadevat pujan. It contains the chants of Lord Siva, Brahma, Vishnu, Ganesha, Brihaspati for the benefit and uninterrupted presentation of the drama.

Chapter IV describes the Tandava dance in 320 slokas. It is known as the Tandava Lakshanam. The two plays Amritha Manthana and Tripuradaha were presented in the presence of Lord Shiva. The description of the 108 Karanas (postures) – the basics of pure dance with their detailed description and the usage of the 32 Angaharas (movements of limbs) and Rechakas (gestures) were also explained.

Chapter V contains Purvaranga Vidhaan, i.e., the details of the rituals to be presented before the actual presentation of dance in 174 slokas. The preliminaries like the Purva Ranga, Nandi, Druva, Prastavana etc. were explained.

Chapter VI is called the Rasaadhyaay. In this chapter, Bharata gives replies to the questions of the Sages on how sentiments enacted by the actor attain special qualities, what are bhavas and how do they make us feel, what are the main terms like Sangraha, Karika and Nirukta. The Sangraha which consists of the eleven aspects of drama, were established. These 11 aspects of drama are Rasa, Bhava, Abhinaya, Dharmi, Vritti, Pravritti, Sidhi, Swar, Gaan, Atodya and Ranga.

 Chapter VII, Bhaavaadhyaay, deals extensively with bhavas the emotions in 121 slokas with many prose passages. It establishes, in detail, the characteristics of Bhava – the emotion, Vibhava the determinant, Anubhava – the consequent and their inter-relationship, the importance of the 8 Sthayi Bhavas – the static emotions, 33 Sancharibhavas – transitory emotions and 8 Satvika Bhavas – responsive emotions in promoting Rasa in the heart of audience.

Chapter VIII, Upang vidhaan, holds a detailed description of the fourfold Abhinaya- namely Angika, Satvika, Vachika and Aaharya. The expression with head, glances, action with pupils, the eyelids, the eyebrows, the nose and nostrils, cheeks, lower-lip, neck, and colours of the face were described. These are the Upangas.

In chapter IX and X, Hastaabhinaya and Shareerabhinaya, Angabhinaya expression through gestures and limbs were dealt with, in 283 slokas. The 24 single hand gestures (Asamyutahastabhedas), 23 coupled hand gestures (Samyuta hasta bhedas), 27 hand gestures of Tandava (pure dance) Nritha hastas, Karanas of hand gestures, action with chest, sides, belly, waist, thighs, shanks and feet were explained. These include the Angas and Pratyangas.

Chapter XI, Chaari Vidhaan, was totally dedicated to varieties of foot work. Uses of 32 charis, Bhaumik and Aakashik(earthly and aerial), the sthanas, four Nyayas of using weapons, acts related to the bow, healthy exercise were treated in 103 slokas.

In Chapter XII, Mandala Prachaar, the Mandala movements both earthly and aerial were described in 70 slokas.

In Chapter XIII, Gati Prachar, the different gaits of men, women, the stout, the intoxicated, the Jester etc were found in 236 Slokas.

Chapter XIV describes Kakshya Vibhaga – stage division as regards to musical instruments and four kinds of Pravritti (the regional identity), and definitions of Loka Dharmi and Natyadharmi. It speaks of zones and local usages.

Chapter XV, Vaachikaabhinaya and Chhando vidhaan, deals with Vyakarana-the grammar and Chandah-the prosody in 133 slokas.

Chapter XVI decribes Vrittas or Metrical patterns in the Slokas. Metres of balanced slokas with examples, and metres with unbalanced slokas with examples. Aarya Vritta and Arya gita were dealt elaborately in 227 slokas.

Chapter XVII elaborates about the 36 Kavya Lakshana/Diction of a play – embellishments, or enhancements, 4 Alankaras (the figures of speech), 10 Gunas (the merits) and 10 Doshas (demerits) in 128 slokas.

Chapter XVIII and Chapter XIX deals with Kakusvara – the modulation in voice, Bhasha – the language, Sambhuddhi – the addressing, Name – the name, musical notes, origin of musical notes etc. It explains the rules on the use of languages along with the modes of address and intonation.

 Chapter XX gives full description of the Dasarupakas, i.e., the ten forms of drama in 126 verses. These are Nataka, Prakarana, Samavakara, Ihamrga, Dima, Vyayoga, Anka, Prahasana, Bhana and Vithi.

Chapter XXI discusses the Sandhi Nirupana – Construction of the Plot in 154 slokas. The division and nature of plot, the 5 Karyavasathas – the five executive processes, the 5 Arthaprakrittis – the five causations, the 4 Pataka sthanatas – the four dramatic ironies, the 5 Sandhis – the five divisions of the plot, the 64 Sandhyangas – intermediary divisions, the 5 Arthopakshepakas – the five suggestive devices, Lasyangas, along with ideal drama and its proprieties were discussed.

Chapter XXII is of Vritti Vikalpanam – Styles of expression- Bharati, Satvati, Kaisiki and Arabhati Vrittis were described (in 77 Slokas) for the promotions of Rasa in the drama.

Chapter XXIII gives a detailed description of Aharyabhinaya – Makeup and costume.

Chapter XXIV describes Samanyabhinaya or Harmonious Representation – general histrionic expression in 227 and 332 slokas respectively. Ornaments of men, women, making up the face and other limbs with grease paints etc, details of natural, derives and subsidiary colours false hair, manufacturing of masks etc were described in Aharyabhinaya. Physical, natural, involuntary graces in women, men, the twelve forms of voice expression, the eight varieties of heroines in love (Astavidha Nayikas), and general exclusions on the stage were treated.

Chapter XXV deals with Bahyopachara – the dealings with courtesans and the vaishika in 80 slokas. It also deals with the Prakriti – the character in men and women 89 slokas, the three types of characters in men and women, the four types of heroes, the four types of heroines with their assistants and details thereof.

Chapter XXVI deals with Chitrabhinaya or Varied Representation – the particular expression for indicating morning, sunset etc. Seasons, birds, animals, demons, celestials, expression in Soliloquies etc in 125 slokas. It also deals with Vikriti Vikalpa – that is creating moulds of animals and birds and set design in 38 slokas.

Chapter XXVII deals with Natya Siddhi – The Success of the Production of a play in 104 verses. The Daivi Siddhi, Manushi Siddhi (success due to divine blessings and success due to human effort), four types of interruptions in a play, qualifications of judges, audience, right time of the day when plays are to be produced and are not to be produced for the success were discussed.

Chapter XVIII deals with Jaativikalpanam – the properties of music, both Instrumental and Vocal in 142 Slokas. The four types of musical instruments, their nature, and variations, saptaswaras, gramas, moorchanas etc were detailed in this chapter.

Chapter XXIX is a continuation of the 28th chapter, which deals with stringed instruments – the Tata Vadyas. The use of melodies according to Rasa, the suitability of a particular musical note to the instrument and Rasa, playing the tunes in the preliminary rituals, the four varnas etc were dealt with in 119 slokas.

Chapter XXX deals with Sushira Atodya – the hollow, wind instruments played in combinations with Vina, Venu and Vocal in 125 slokas.

Chapter XXXI is Time measure or Tala Adhyaya where time, various units of time, laya, qualities of singer and instrumentalists, rhythm, tempo etc along with the delicate dance (lasya), its division and presentation were discussed in 378 slokas.

 Chapter XXXII deals with Dhruva songs or Dhruva Vidhana – the types of songs, the five situations in which the song is used, the content and metre of the song, its relationship with the character, emotion, and rasa in 436 slokas. Suggestions and purpose of song in drama is also discussed.

Chapter XXXIII deals with qualification of vocalists and instrumentalists in 23 slokas. It also deals with Pushkarvaadyas – percussion instruments/ Avanaddha instruments in 304 slokas include some prose passages. Major and minor instruments, various aspects of playing the three types of percussion instruments, various tastes of audience etc were discussed.

Chapter XXXV deals with Bhumika Vikalpa – the distribution of roles to the sutradhara, actors and actresses in 41 slokas.

Chapter XXXVI deals with Natya Shapa – the curse on drama in 50 slokas. The Sages asked Bharata regarding how drama dropped down to the earth from heaven, Bharata’s explanation, importance of preliminaries, arrogant sons of Bharata being cursed by the sages, representation of celestials, compromise by Bharata were discussed. Guhyatatvakathana (The Mythical account of the drama descending upon the earth) is dealt in 31 slokas. It speaks of Nahusha, who invited the sons of Bharata to bring the drama to the earth. The greatness of the Natyaveda and its benefits were explained.

Thus the 6000 slokas in Bharata Natyashastra have been distributed in 36 chapters.

In short, Bharata states that the eleven aspects are very important to define the picture of drama in so far as the author and the actor are concerned.

“Rasa Bhava Hyabhinayah dharme vatti pravattayah I

Siddhih Svarastathaatyodyam gaanam vangancha sangraha I”


They are the eight types of Rasas; the ninth Santa Rasa is added on. There are eight sthayi bhavas, thirty-three Sanchari bhavas, eight satvika bhavas, thus total number of Bhavas emotions are 49. Abhinaya- histrionic expression is of 4 types (Satvika) Vachika, Angika and Vachika. Dharmi school of acting is of two types Lokadharmi and Natya Dharmi. Vritti – mode of expression and Pravrithi regional identity are of four types each, Bharati, Satvati, Kaishiki and Arabhati vrittis, and   Avanti,Dakshinatya, Odri Magadhi, and Panchala Madhyama pravrittis respectively. Siddhi, the success is of two types – Daivi and Manushi.  Svara is the seven notes- Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni. Aatodhya i.e., instruments are of four types- Tata, Avanaddha, Ghana, Sushira.  Gana, the song is of five varieties- Praveshaka, Akshepa, Nishkrama Prasadika and Antara.  Ranga, the theatre, is of three forms -Chaturasra, Vikrishta and Tyasra. This is the essence of the Natya Shastra. The chief aim of the presentation is to arouse a particular sentiment in the minds of the audience. Drishya Kavya which is enacted on the stage and seen by the audience is more effective to give the desired aesthetic pleasure. The plot, the characterization and everything is subordinate in promoting Rasa. As Drama is a composite art, Bharata’s treatment towards all related subjects such as Architecture, Preliminaries, Postures, movements of limbs, songs, dance, speech, dress, musical instruments etc gave importance and greatness to Natyashastra.

The Natyasastra is unique due to the following qualities:

  1. It is sarva shastra sampannam, i.e., it has the wisdom of all authoritative works. It has elements from itihaas, the epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata and the wisdom derived from all the Shastras.
  2. It is sarva shilpa pradarshakam, i.e., it has the knowledge of all arts and crafts.
  3. It is sarva varnike, i.e., it is meant for all castes.
  4. It is a Drishya kavya, i.e., it is enacted onstage for the visual treat of the audience.
  5. It has no exclusive representation.
  6. It gives good morals lessons for all.

In conclusion, Bharata’s Natyashastra stands as a significant work that systematized and captured the essence of music, dance, and drama. It serves as a comprehensive guide containing not only the technical aspects of these art forms but also their philosophical and moral dimensions. Through its 36 chapters, it provides insights into every component of theatrical production, from stage design to character portrayal, from musical composition to narrative construction. Its universality, wisdom drawn from various sources, and its ability to cater to all societal strata makes it a everlasting treasure, offering insightful artistic experiences and moral lessons to all who engage with it.


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