Natyashastra (English)

by Bharata-muni | 1951 | 240,273 words | ISBN-13: 9789385005831

The English translation of the Natyashastra, a Sanskrit work on drama, performing arts, theater, dance, music and various other topics. The word natyashastra also refers to a global category of literature encompassing this ancient Indian tradition of dramatic performance. The authorship of this work dates back to as far as at least the 1st millenn...

Part 5 - Literature on the Ancient Indian Drama

1. The Early Writers

Śilālin and Kṛśāśva. Pāṇini (circa 500 B.C.) refers (IV.3.110-111) to the Naṭasūtras of Śilālin and Kṛśāśva. As the works of these two authors have perished beyond recovery we are not in a position to have any exact idea about their contents. But Lévi and Hillebrandt have taken them to be manuals for actors (naṭa) though Weber and Konow have considered these to have been sets of rules for dancers and pantomimists, and Keith has accepted their view. Konow further thinks that the treatises of Śilālin and Kṛśāśva were absorbed in the body of the Nāṭyaśāstra (ID. p. 1)


2. The so-called sons of Bharata

After Śilālin and Kṛśāśva come the writers whose names have been included in the list of the one hundred sons of Bharata, given in the extant version of the Nāṭyaśātra. (I.26-22). Among these Kohala, Dattila (Dhūrtila), Śālikarṇa (Śātakarṇa), Bādarāyaṇa (Bādari), Nakhakuṭṭa and Aśmakuṭṭa have been referred to and quoted by later writers as authorities on dramaturgy and histrionics. Besides these, Vātsya and Śāṇḍilya have been named as authorities on drama by some writers. Such references and quotations are our only source of knowledge of them and their work.

(a) Kohala

Among the writers on drama who wrote after Śilālin and Kṛśāśva, Kohala seems to be the most important. In the extant version of the Nāṭyaśāstra (XXXVI.63), it is given in the form of a prophecy that Kohala will discuss in a supplementary treatise all those topics on drama that have not been touched by Bharata. From quotations of his works made by Abhinava[1] and another commentator,[2] as well as from their references to his opinion, it appears that Kohala wrote on dance and dramaturgy as well as historionics and music.

(b) Dattila, Śāṇḍilyā, and Vātsya

Dattila seems to be identical with Dantila or Dhūrtila mentioned in the Nāṭyaśāstra (I.26). Abhinava too quotes from one Dattilācārya[3] and it is likely that he is not other than this Dattila. From these quotations it appears that he wrote on histrionics and music. Śāṇḍilya and Vātsya mentioned in the Nāṭyaśāstra (XXXVI.63) along with Dattila (Dhūrtila) are to us nothing but mere names. It is possible that they were writers on some aspects of drama and theatre.

(c) Śātakarṇi (Śātakarṇa, Śālikarṇa).

Śātakarṇi as a proper name is found in inscriptions from the first century B.C. to 149 A.C. Hence it is possible (though not quite certain) that Śātakarṇi the writer on drama flourished about the first century A.C.[4] Like kings in later times who were sometimes found to take interest among other subjects in drama and poetics and to write treatises on them, this Śātakarṇi might well have been a king or a person of royal descent. From the quotations made by later writers[5] from him it appears he wrote on dramaturgy.

(d) Aśmakuṭṭa and Nakhakuṭṭa.

These two writers from their names appear to have been contemporaries, probably belonged to the same locality. Sāgaranandin[6] and Viśvanātha[7] quote from Nakhakuṭṭa, and Sāgara only is known to have quoted from Aśmakuṭṭa[8], From these quotations it appears that Aśmakuṭṭa and Nakhakuṭṭa wrote on dramaturgy.

(e) Bādarāyaṇa (Bādari).

Sāgara quotes from Bādarāyaṇa twice[9] and possibly names him once as Bādari, and from the extracts quoted it seems that this early writer discussed dramaturgy.


3. Saṃgrahakāra

Abhinavagupta once mentioned the Saṃgraha and once the Saṃgrahakāra.[10] In the Nāṭyaśāstra (VI.3, 10) itself also one Saṃgraha has been mentioned. It seems that the reference is to the identical work. From these facts it appears that the work might have been a compendium treating of dramaturgy as well as histrionics.


4. The Present Text of the Nāṭyaśāstra (circa 200 A.C.).[11]

5. Medieval Writers on Drama

(a) Nandī (Nandikeśvara) Tumburu Viśākhila and Cārāyaṇa.

Besides the writers mentioned above Abhinava and Śāradātanaya refer to Nandī or Nandikeśvara[12] and the former also names Tumburu[13] and Viśākhila[14] with occasional reference to their views or actually quotations from them, and Cārāyaṇa has once been quoted by Sāgaranandin.[15]

(b) Sadāśiva, Padmabhū, Drauhiṇi, Vyāsa and Āñjaneya.

Abhinava and Śāradātanaya once refer to Sadāśiva[16] while some writers on drama, such as Padmabhū,[17] Drauhiṇi,[18] Vyāsa[19] and Āñjaneya[20] have been named by Śāradātanaya only. But we are not sure whether they were really old authors or these names have been attached to some late treatises to give them an air of antiquity.

(c) Kātyāyana, Rāhula and Garga

These three writers, quoted by Abhinava and Sāgara may be counted among the medieval writers on on drama. From the available extracts from his work Kātyāyana[21] seems to have been a writer on dramaturgy. Rāhula has been twice quoted in Abhinava’s commentary, and Sāgara[22] has once referred to his view.[23] From these it appears that Rāhula was a writer on dramaturgy as well as histrionics. Garga as an authority on drama has been mentioned by Sāgaranandin.[24] In the absence of any quotation from him we cannot say what exactly he wrote about.

(d) Śakaligarbha and Ghaṇṭaka.

Abhinava mentions among others the names of Śakaligarbha[25] and Ghaṇṭaka.[26] Of these two, Ghaṇṭaka seems to bo a contemporary of Śaṅkuka, and as for, Śakaligarbha, we have no definite idea about his time. From the references to their views it appears that they wrote on dramaturgy.

(e) Vārtika-kāra Harṣa.

Abhinava once quotes from the Vartikakṛt[27] and once from the Vārtika[28] and next time from the Harṣa-vārtika,[29] and besides this he once refers to the views of the Vārtika-kārī.[30] Sāgaranandin and Śāradātanaya refer to one Harṣavikrama[31] or Harṣa.[32] It seems possible that they all referred to the same author, and the name of the author of the Vārtika was Harṣa or Harṣa-vikrama. From these quotations and the references it appears that this Vārtika was an original treatise on dramaturgy and histrionics.

(f) Mātṛgupta.

Mātṛgupta has been taken to be a commentator of the Nāṭyaśāstra by Sylvain Lévi.[33] Though this view has been accepted by authors who have written later on the subject,[34] from the metrical extracts[35] made from his work by some commentators it appears that he composed an original work on the subject. It is probable that in this he occasionally explained in prose the view expressed by the author of the Nāṭyaśāstra.[36] Interpreting in this manner one can understand the words of Sundara-miśra, who, commenting on Bharata’s definition of the Benediction (nāndī), remarks that “in explaining this Mātṛgupta said etc”.[37] About the time of Mātṛgupta, we have no sufficient evidence. All that can be said is that, Abhinava quotes from his work once[38] and hence he was earlier than this great well-known commentator, Besides this Sāgaranandin, who is possibly earlier than Abhinava, names Mātṛgupta along with old writers such as Aśmakuṭṭa, Nakhakuṭṭa, Garga, and Bādarāyaṇa (Bādari);[39] hence it appears that he was not a late writer.

From the meagre information available about him scholars have identified him with the poet of that name living during the reign of Harṣa-vikramāditya of Kashmir who seems to have been the author of a work on drama called Vārtika. This would roughly place his work at the end of the 4th century A.C. or in the beginning of the 5th.[40] From the extracts made from his works it appears that wrote on dramaturgy and music.

(g) Subandhu.

Śāradātanaya refers to one Subandhu who wrote on dramaturgy.[41] If it is possible to identify him with the famous author of the Vāsavadattā, then he may be placed roughly in the 5th century A.C.

(h) The compilers of the Agnipurāṇa and the Viṣṇudharmottara,

The Agnipurāṇa treats of nāṭya, nṛtya, and rasa, but this treatment depends considerably on the Nāṭyaśāstra. There is literal borrowing from this work as well as parapharases of some of its metrical passages in this Purāṇa. This portion of the Agnipurāṇa is usually placed after Daṇḍin (circa. 7th century).[42] The Viṣṇudharmottara too treats of nṛṭṭa, naṭya and abhinaya, and this treatment too is dependent on the Nāṭyaśāstra and does not appear to be earlier than the 8th century.


6. Late writings on Drama

(a) Daśarūpa.

The Daśarūpa (Daśarūpaka) of Dhanañjaya was composed in the last quarter of the 10th century A.C. during the reign of Muñja (Vākpatirāja, II) the king of Malawa. This work, as its name implies, treats of the ten principal forms of dramatic works (rūpa) which constitute the subject-matter of chapter XX of the Nāṭyaśastra, but it actually brings in a few other relevant matters scattered over other parts of this comprehensive work.

Any careful student of the Nāṭyaśāstra will easily discover that Dhanañjaya in restating the principles of dramaturgy in a more concise and systematic form has carried too far the work of his abridgment and left out quite a number of important matters. The special stress which he lays on the literary aspect of drama by his exclusion of its histrionics and other technical sides, very clearly indicates the general decadene of India’s aesthetic culture at the time. With his professed reverence for the rules of the Nāṭyaśāstra (ascribed to Bharata), he seems to have misunderstood the aims and objects of its author who composed his work for the playwrights as well as the producers of plays.[43]

But whatever be its limitation, the Daśarūpa, and its commentary Avaloka without which it was only half intelligible, attained in course of time a wide popularity and gradually superseded the Nāṭyaśāstra which seems to have become very rare with the passage of time. And the Daśarūpa so thoroughly supplanted other dramaturgic works as existed before its time, that with the exception of the Nāṭyaśāstra it is the most well-known work on the subject and very frequently drawn upon by the commentators of plays as well as later writers on dramaturgy like Viśavanātha.

(b) Nāṭakalakṣaṇa-ratnakośa.

Slightly earlier than the Daśarūpa or contemporaneous with it,[44] is the Nāṭakalakṣaṇa-ratnakośa (briefly Nāṭakalakṣaṇa) of Sāgaranandin. Till about a quarter of a century ago our only knowledge of the work consisted of a few quotations from it in different commentaries. But in 1922 the late Sylvain Lévi discovered its Ms. in Nepal and published a report on its contents and other relevant matters (Journal Asiatique, 1922, p. 210). Since then the work has been carefully edited by M. Dillon and published (London, 1937). Just like Dhananjaya, Sāgaranandin too discusses in his Nāṭakalakṣaṇa, dramaturgy in detail and mentions only incidentally certain topics connected with histrionics. But unlike the Daśarūpa the Nāṭakalakṣaṇa docs not treat exclusively of dramaturgy, but refers to histrionics whenever necessary. Though the author professedly depends on no less than seven different authorities such as Harṣa-vikrama, Mātṛgupta, Garga, Aśmakuṭṭa, Nakhakuṭṭa, Bādari (Bādarāyaṇa), and Bharata (the mythical author of the Nāṭyaśāstra) yet his dependence on the last-named one seems to be the greatest. A large number of passages have actually been borrowed by him from the same.[45] Besides these borrowings the extent of Sāgaranandin’s dependence on the Nāṭyaśāstra is apparent from his echoing of the numerous passages[46] of the latter.

(c) Nāṭyadarpaṇa.

The Nāṭyadarpaṇa[47] of Rāmacandra and Guṇacandra is the next important work on dramaturgy after the Daśarūpa. Of the two joint-authors[48] of this text, who were Jains, Rāmacandra lived probably between 1100 and 1175 A.C., and he was a disciple of the famous Hemacandra. Rāmacandra wrote a largo number of works including many plays. But of Guṇacandra, the collaborator of Rāmacandra, very little is known except that he too was a disciple of Hemacandra. The Nāṭyadarpaṇa which is divided into four chapters, treats of dramaturgy.

This work; has been composed in Anuṣṭup couplets, its brevity of the treatment is compareable to that of the Daśarūpa, and as in the latter many, of its passages cannot be fully understood unless a commentary is consulted. Fortunately for us the joint-authors of the work have left for us a very clearly written and informative vṛtti (gloss). It is evident from the metrical text that the authors had access to the Nāṭyaśāstra and exploited it very thoroughly.[49] And whatever could not be accommodated in the text has been added in the prose vṛtti which has utilised also Abhinava’s famous commentary. Besides this the authors have occasionally criticised the views of other writers among whom the author of the Daśarūpa figures most prominently.[50] All this has given the Nāṭyadarpaṇa a unique value and some superiority over the Daśarūpa.

(d) Ruyyaka’s Nāṭakamīmāṃsā.

Ruyyaka alias Rucaka[51] who was a Kashmirian and flourish ed probably in the 12th century, was a voluminous writer on poetics. It was from one of his works (a commentary of Mahima-bhaṭṭa’s Vyaktiviveka) that we learn of his Nāṭakamīmāṃsā a work on dramaturgy.[52] No Ms. of this work has so far been discovered.

(e) Bhāvaprakāśana.

Śāradātanaya, who seems to have been a Southerner and flourished in the 12th century, wrote the Bhāvaprakāśana[53] which dealt with dramaturgy in greater detail than either the Daśarūpa or the Nāṭyadarpaṇa. And his work acquires an additional authority from the fact that Śāradātanaya had as his teacher one Divākara who was the Director of a theatre[54] and might be taken as deeply conversant with the theory and practice of Indian drama as it was current in his time. Though Śāradātanaya depends much on earlier authors for the materials of his work, yet his approach to the subject is to some extent original. As the name of his work implies, it deals with the “expression” prakāśa of the “State” (bhāva). Now the proper expression of the States by the actors according to the Nāṭyaśāstra gives rise to the Sentiments (rasa). Hence Śāradātanaya begins his work with the description of the States and everything connected with them. Next he passes very naturally to the discussion of the Sentiments, These being thoroughly discussed, he takes up the Heroines of different classes who are the main stay of the Sentiments. The time factor in the plot and the diction of the play which also are means of developing the Sentiments are considered next. Afterwards he analyses the body of the play and its different parts. This brings him to the consideration of the ten major and twenty minor types of play (rūpa), and finally of the miscellaneous matters connected with drama and theatre. To avoid prolixity we desist from giving here any detailed account of its contents which include all possible topics relating to dramaturgy. It may bo briefly said that Śāradātanaya’s treatment of the subject is in many respects more comprehensive than that of the Daśarūpa, the Nāṭakalakṣaṇa, and the Nāṭyadarpaṇa. And to attain his object Śāradātanaya has freely referred to the Nāṭyaśāstra[55] as well as the works of early writers like Kohala,[56] Mātṛgupta,[57] Harṣa[58] and Subandhu.[59] Besides this he has sometimes mentioned authors like Dhvanikṛt, Rudraṭa, Dhanika, Abhinava, Bhoja and, sometimes referred also to their views and criticised these.[60] All this adds to the great value of his work.

(f) Sāhityadarpaṇa and Nāṭakaparibhāṣa,

Viśvanātha Kavirāja, who flourished about the thirteenth century[61] was a poet and a scholar and in this latter capacity he wrote among other things the famous Sāhityadarpaṇa which treats all branches of the Skt. literature including drama. It was the sixth chapter of this work dealing with drama on which the early western writers of the ancient Indian drama mostly depended. For his treatment of drama Viśvanātha seems to have utilised the Nāṭyaśāstra,[62] the Daśarūpa[63] and its commentary Avaloka[64] as well as the work of Rudraṭa and others.

Śiṅga-Bhūpala’s Nāṭakaparibhāṣa is known only in name. But his Raśārṇavasudhākara[65] also treats of drama towards its end. It seems that no important treatise on drama was written after all these works,

Footnotes and references:


Ag I. pp. 173, 182, 183-184; II p. 26, 55, 130, 133, 142, 146, 148. 151, 155, 407, 416-417, 421,434, 438-439, 413, 452,459; De Ms. p. 413, 436, 496, 521, 680.


BhP. pp. 204, 210, 236, 245, 251.


Ag. I. p. 205, Besides this Ag. quotes and refers to Dattila no less than 14 times while commenting on chapter on music. Sea De’s Ms. pp. 544, 573, 576, 580, 583, 588, 590 624, 625, 628, 633, 638? 640, 642, 644, 650, 656. See also Kuṭṭa śl. 123.


Solect Inscriptions, pp. 191-207.


NL. 1101-1102, Rucipati’s Comm, on AR. p. 7.


NL. 2768-2769, 2904-2905.


SD. 294, Nakhakuṭṭa has also been mentioned by Bahurūpa in his Comm, on Dasarūpa (Indian and Iranian Studies presented to D. Ross, Bombay, p. 201), p. 201 f.n.


83, 437. 2766-2767, 2774-2775.


NL. 1092-1094, 2770-2771.


Ag. II. pp. 436, 2770-2771.


See below sections VI and VIII.


Ag. I. p. 171, De’s Ms. p. 559. This Nandikeśvara may be identical with the author of the AD.


Ag. I. pp. 165.


Ag. I, p. 199 also De’s Ms. pp. 547, 564,573, See also Kuṭṭa, sl. 123.


NL. 362-363.


BhP. 152, DR. IV. 38-39.


BhP. p. 47.


BhP. p. 239.


BhP. 251.


See note 19.


NL. 1484-1485. Ag. II. pp. 245-246.


Ag. I. pp. 115, 172. NL. 2873-2175.


NL. 3225.


NL. 3226.


Ag. II. p. 452. Kavi thinks that Śakaligarbha = Śākaleya = Udbhaṭa.


Ag. II. p. 436.


Ag. I. p. 172. This Vārtika seems to have been in original work like Kumārila’s Slokavārtika written in verso.


Ag. I. p 174.


Ag I. p. 207 also De’s Ms. p. 545.


Ag. I. p. 31.


NL. 3225


BhP. 238.


Le Theatre indien p. 15.


e.g. Skt. Poetics Vol. (p. 32-33).


A. dy pp. 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 13, 15, 110, 126, 230, NL, 102, 314-316, 459-471, 534. 1186 (?), BhP. p. 234.


For example Sāgara, (NL. 534ff.) discusses Mātṛgupta’s view in his compilation which is written in verse and prose. It seems that this author was his model.


Skt. Poetics Vol, I. pp. 102-103.


Ag. Do’s Ms. p. 543. Dr. S. K. De thought that Mātṛgupta was unknown to Ag. (Skt. Poetics, Vol. I. p. 33).


See note 23 above.


Keith, Skt. Drama, p. 291.


BhP. p. 238.


Skt. Poetics, Vol. I. p. 102-103.


Ag. I. p. 7.


See R. Kavi, ‘Date of Sā gara-Nandin’ in Indian and Iranian Studies presented to D. Ross, Bombay. 1939. pp. 198ff,


See NL. pp 143-144,


Printed out by M. Dillon in the margin of NL.


Ed. in G.O.S. Baroda, 1929.


See Introduction of ND. p.3.


But they have also drawn materials from older writers like Kohala, Śaṅkuka and Ag. See ND. p. 224.


See ND. Introduction p. 3.


Skt. Poetics, p. 190ff.


Ibid. p. 186.


Ed. G.O.S. Baroda, 1930.


BhP. p. 2 also Introduction, p. 6.


Śāradātanaya’s debt to NS has been pointed out by the editor of his work, See Introduction of BhP. pp. 64-67.


See above note 1.


See above notes 33-37.


See above notes 31-33.


See above note 41.


BhP. pp. 175, 179, 95, 150, 327, 82 160, 194, 313, 12, 152, 194, 213, 216, 242, 245, 251.


Skt. Poetics, Vol. 1. pp. 233 ff.


See SD. 281, 306, 321, 503, 517; 537.


See SD. Visvanātha wrongly a ascribed to Dhanika what belongs to DR. (III. 32-33). This misled some scholars to believe that Dhanika and Dhanañjaya were not different persons.


See Skt. Poetics. Vol. 1. pp. 243ff.


Ed. Trivandrum Oriental Series, 1916.

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