Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Nāṭya-śāstra is where it all begins…..
Nāṭya- śāstra is an ancient treatise on the Indian Dramatic Arts. It is the oldest surviving text on stagecraft in India. There is no conclusive date as to when the Nāṭya- śāstra was exactly written. However, in all probability it was written between the 2nd century B.C. and 2nd century A.D. The authorship of Nāṭya- śāstra is attributed to sage Bharata. It is a major document, which explains the evolution and development of culture in the Indian Subcontinent. The Nāṭya- śāstra becomes an important historical document relating to India. It is not so important to the political history but has its value in the cultural history.
The Nāṭya- śāstra is an encyclopedic work that comprises of almost 6000 verses with a bit of prose and is divided into 36 chapters. It deals with various topics, which are necessary for the production and presentation of drama and is incredibly wide in its scope. It covers stage-design, music, dance, makeup, almost all aspects of stagecraft. Drama is the artistic representation of real life and as such, Nāṭya-śāstra gives an insight into the life and times of the era when it was written. It gives information relating to the dramaturgy and histrionics as well as music and dance. Drama embraces all the different activities of men and as the Nāṭya- śāstra recognizes this fact, it gives us a glimpse in varying degrees of the lives of all classes of people.
In the first and the thirty-six chapter, Bharata narrates the mythical origin of the Nāṭya- śāstra, which is akin to the four veda-s in its greatness, philosophy and usage. In the Trētā yuga there set in a deterioration in the nature and character of people. Their minds were diverted from the virtuous life and slowly sank into the quagmire of sensual pleasures, lust, greed, jealousy, dishonesty and negativity. There was chaos everywhere. In addition, the lower caste and women could not participate in the vedic activities so the propagation of the Veda-s was restricted. Hence, a greatly disturbed Indra and other Deva-s approached Brahma and asked him to help them. They requested him to give them some kind of entertainment that would be appealing to the masses through sound and visual media and would take their minds off all the negativity. It was then that Nāṭya was created by Brahma, the God of creation, to meet the demand of a pass time, a source of pleasure to minds worn out of conflict, discord, wants and miseries of existence. An art form like a drama, does it very beautifully and capably because it has a visual and aural appeal. Any form of advice or teaching when communicated through the visual form has more and lasting impact on human mind than any other form. Besides this, a drama apart from offering entertainment also can influence and uplift the minds and moods of the onlookers.
Therefore, Brahma created the fifth veda called the Nāṭya-Veda, the art of dramaturgy, which could be studied and practiced by everyone. While creating the fifth veda, Brahma took its constituents from the four existing veda-s. Recitation was taken from Ṛgveda, Music and song was adopted from Sāmaveda, Mime from Yajurveda, Rasa from Atharvaveda. Subordinate veda-s called the Upaveda-s were also united with the Nāṭya Veda.
The Nāṭya-śāstra not only contains valuable data about the history of Indian culture, but also discusses mythical origin of theatre and its coming down to earth, construction of a play house , choreographic elements, dance gestures, costumes and make-up, classification of plays and analysis of their structure, poetic aspects of a play and the speech used in them, theory of music, meters of songs, chants, elocution, mode of playing instruments and tāla-s to be observed during songs and playing of instruments , roles and characters in the play, classification, description and training of actors and actresses and makers of theatrical troupes, critical appreciation of a dramatic performance and the theory of Rasa.
Creation of Rasa is the very core of Sanskrit Nāṭya theory. The aim of every dramatic presentation is to evoke in the minds of the spectator an aesthetic experience, which is known as Rasa. The sixth chapter of the Nāṭya śāstra known as the Rasavikalpam discusses the concept of the Rasa theory of Bharata. Sage Bharata explains about sentiment (Rasa) which one (an artist) tries to achieve as the result of any artistic exposition. The word Rasa is derived from the root ‘rasaḥa’, which means juice, taste, flavor, relish. The extract of a fruit is referred to as rasa that is its juice which itself is the essence of it, the ultimate flavor.
The study of aesthetics deal with the realization of beauty in art, its relish or enjoyment, and the awareness of joy that accompanies an experience of beauty. Rasa has no equivalent in word or concept in any other language. The closest word to Rasa can be aesthetic relish. This aesthetic relish or Rasa is produced by a combination of determinants, consequents, and transitory states of fleeting emotions. Bharata explains Rasa as the essence derived from various ingredients. He draws a parallel with rasa (juice), which when combined with various condiments, having different flavors become enjoyable to taste. Therefore, that which can be tasted can be called Rasa.
Bhāva is derived from bhava that is, ‘to become’, ‘to come into existence’. Bhāva is the mental state or an emotion that brings awareness or makes one conscious of aesthetic pleasure or rasa. Bharata uses bhāva on two levels and defines it in two different ways. In real life, bhava is defined as that which happens. However, bhāva in drama is defined as that which is made to happen. It is on an imaginative level and is enacted by the actors. The unique nature of emotions in drama is that they are nobody’s in particular but everybody’s in general. These emotions pervade the spectators too. The poet with his view to evoke a particular emotion in the onlooker creates various characters and puts them in different situations; this helps the spectator to experience the aesthetic emotion or rasa. There can be no Bhāva without Rasa neither there can be Rasa without Bhāva. They are interdependent on each other and are achieved through Abhinaya.
The Rasa-s are eight in number:
“Śṛṅgāra hāsya karuṇa raudra vīra bhayānakaḥ I
Bībhatsa saṅgyo cetyaṣṭau nāṭyo rasaḥ smrtā”II”
Śṛṅgāra means beauty. It proceeds with love between a man and a woman. Śṛṅgāra is associated with youth and vitality. It begins from the permanent mental state rati. It is considered a rasa for men of cultivated taste and sophisticated nature.
Hāsya is the comic sentiment. The dominant mood here is hāsa, the humorous mood. Haasya has been translated as the ‘comic’ sentiment with laughter as its base. Later on it is interpreted more appropriately, as the ‘blossoming of the mind’ (chitasya vikaasa).
Karuṇa rasa is sentiment based on sorrow or Śoka. Karunna has been translated as the ‘pathetic sentiment’. Pathos or sorrow is its base. Later on it is interpreted as agonizing of all senses.”
Raudra rasa is the sentiment based on anger or krodha. The reasons that cause this rasa are rage, abusive language, insult, falsehood, lies, using cruel or harsh words, jealousy, friction, insult, revengefulness etc. This rasa is attributed to dānava-s, arrogant men and is caused by fights. Although other characters also feel this rasa but it is the central sentiment in dānava-s.
Vīra rasa is the heroic sentiment. It is based on enthusiasm or utsāha. Veera has been translated as the ‘heroic sentiment’. It is the base of all good or noble deeds and produces quick mental reactions. Bharata states that it pertains chiefly to the ‘uttama’ (superior) characters and has energy as its basis.
This is the most positive rasa and epitomizes dignity and restraint at any cost.
Bhayānaka is the terrible sentiment. It arises out of fear or bhaya.
Bhayaanaka has been translate as the ‘terrible sentiment’. Agitation and apprehension of mind are at its base. It implies fear or terror.
Bībhatsa is the odious sentiment and arises out of despise or jugupsa. Censure is its soul and it indicates contraction of the mind. It implies disgust, dislike, hate etc.
Adbhuta is the marvelous sentiment and arises from vismaya or astonishment. Bharata says that it arises from words, character, deed and personal beauty.
Bharata says Naṭya is the stage presentation through which experience of the world is communicated. And as such rasa is the soul of any presentation that an artist tries to achieve as the end result of any artistic exposition. Without the manifestation of the rasa-s the presentation will be superficial and will not penetrate the heart of the spectators or the onlookers which is the aim of any true artist.