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 7 - Data of India’s Cultural History in the Nāṭyaśāstra

Besides giving all sorts of information relating to the dramaturgy and histrionics as well as the allied arts of dance and music, the Nāṭyaśāstra includes considerable other materials for the cultural history of India. The most important among these will be discussed below under their several heads.


1. Language

The Nāṭyaśāstra gives some description of Pkt. (XVIII. 1-25) and examples of Dhruvā songs in Pkt. (XXXII). From these materials it seems that the Pkt. of the Nāṭyaśāstra lie mid-way between the Pkt. of the classical dramas and that of Aśvaghoṣa’s plays. Besides this there occur in this work (XVIII. 44, 48) some references about the nature of languages used by the ancient tribes like the Barbaras, Kirātas, Andhras, Dramiḍas, Śabaras and Caṇḍālas. There are besides other interesting matters relating to the language used by men of different professions and status in life.


2. Literature

In addition to Prakrit verses given as examples of Dhruvās, the Nāṭyaśāstra cites numerous poetical stanzas in Skt. as examples of the Benediction and of the different metres (V. 108-112, 130-131: XVI). These arc very early specimens of the ancient Indian literature. It is on the testimony of these which arc free from the artificiality of the later classical poetry, that P. Regnaud placed the Nāṭyaśāstra about the beginning of the Christian era (Introduction to Grosset’s ed. of the NŚ. p. VII-VIII). The Nāṭyaśāstra contains also the earliest available discussion on figures of speech (alaṃkāra), and the method of criticism based on the theory of Sentiments (rasa) which became very popular amongst Indian scholars during the medieval times.


3. Art

In the Viṣṇudharmottara (II.2.4) it has been said that the canons of painting arc difficult to understand without an acquaintance with the canons of dancing. Now the Hindu drama as we have seen before depends a great deal on dance which is in fact its mainstay. The same work similarly connects the canons of painting with the canons of image-making. Thus the three arts being connected with one another, the Nāṭyaśāstra receives an aditional importance. This view is justified by the fact that the Nāṭyaśāstra describes various male postures (sthāna) such as Vaiṣṇava, Samapāda, Vaiśākha, Maṇḍala, Ālīḍha and Pratyālīḍha (XI. 50-71), and female postures (sthāna) (XIII.159-169) such as Āyata, Avahittha and Aśvakrānta. These and the various gestures described in the Nāṭyaśāstra may also be helpful in studying specimens of the ancient sculpture and painting. It should be noted in this connection that the Samarāṅgaṇa-sūtradhāra a medieval encyclopedic work while describing the rules of making images describes (ed. GOS. Vol. II. p. 301ff) the hand gestures etc., almost in the language of the Nātyaśāstra.


4. Metrics

Fiftyeight varieties of metre of sama, ardhasama and visama types have been described in the Nāṭyaśāstra (XVI). All these are perhaps anterior in time to the Chandhaḥ-sūtras of Piṅgala. One important aspect of this description is that the name of the following metres are different in the NŚ. e.g. Drutavilambita=Hariṇapluta (NŚ), Bhujaṅgaprayāta=Aprameyā (NŚ), Srāgviṇī=Padminī (NŚ), Mālinī=Nāndimukhī (NŚ), Hariṇī=Vṛṣabha-ceṣṭita (NŚ), Mandākrāntā=Śrīdharā (NŚ), Pṛthvī=Vilambita-gati (NŚ), Kusumita-latā-vellitā==Citralekhā (NŚ).


5. Poetics

The Nāṭyaśāstra enumerates (XVII.43-106) four poetic figures (alaṃkāra), ten Guṇas and ten faults (doṣa) of a composition. In brief these may be called the earliest writings on poetics. To the theory of Sentiment (rasa) and the States (bhāva) (VI-VII) also the same remark applies.


6. Costumes and Ornaments

Detailed descriptions of ornaments, and directions about costumes to bo used by characters in a play according to their social status, profession, religious faith, and tribal origin etc. are given in the Nāṭyaśāstra (XXIII.1-67, 110-127). These may throw interesting light on the social life of the Indian people in the remote past.


7. Mythology

The Nāṭyaśāstra mentions (I-V, XXXIII-XXXIV, XXXVI numerous gods, goddesses, demigods etc. Classified according to the system adopted by Hopkin in his ‘Epic Mythology’ they are as follows:

(a) Lower Mythology:

Serpent, Birds, Waters,

(b) Spirits:

Pitṛs, Bhūtas, Rākṣasas, Asuras, Daityas, Dānavas, Yakṣas, Guhyakas.

(c) The eight great gods:

Tho Sun-God, the Moon-God, the Wind-God, the Fire-God, the God of death, Varuṇa and Ocean, Indra, the Dikpālas (World-protector),

(d) The Host of Spirits:

Gandharvas, Apsarasas, Kāma, Aśvins, Maruts, Rudras, Viśvedevas, Ādityas,

(e) Divine Seers:

Bṛhaspati, Nārada, Tumburu,

(f) Earthly Ṛṣis and Personages:

Bala (deva), Nahuṣa, Sanatkumāra.

(g) The Three Supreme Deities:

Brāhman, Viṣṇu, Śiva.

(h) Lesser God:


(i) Goddesesses:

Sarasvatī, Lakṣmī, Umā, Pārvatī, Caṇḍikā, Siddhi, Medhā, Smṛti, Mati, Niyati, Nirṛti. It is probably significant that Ganeśa and the Avatāras of Viṣṇu are absent from this list.


8. Geography.

In its chapters XIV, XVIII and XXIII the Nāṭyaśāstra mentions some geographical names such as Aṅga, Anta (Anti) rgiri, Andhra, Avantī, Arvuda, Āvarta, Ānarta, Uśīnara. Oḍra, Kaliṅga, Kāśmīra, Kośala, Khasa, Tāmralipta, Tosala, Tripura, Dākṣinātya, Dramiḍa, Nepāla, Pañcāla, Pulinda (bhūmi), Pauṇḍra, Prāgjyotiṣa. Prāṃśu-pravṛtti, Plavaṃga, Bahirgiri, Brahmottara (Suhmottara), Bhārgava, Magadha, Madraka, Malavartaka, Mahārāṣṭra, Mārgava, Mālava, Mahendra, Mosala, Vaṅga. Vatsa, Vanavāsa, Vārtika (Mārtika), Vāhlīka, Vidiśā, Videha, Śūrasena, Śālaka, Sindhu, Suraṣṭra, Sauvīra, Gaṅgā, Carmaṇvatī, Vetravatī, Mahendra, Malaya, Sahya, Mekala, Kālapañjara, Himālaya, Vindhya, Bhārata.


9. Ethnological Data.

The names of the following tribes occur in the Nāṭyaśāstra. Kāśi, Kosala, Barbara, Andhra, Dramiḍa, Abhīra, Śabara, Caṇḍāla, Śaka, Pallava (Pahlava) and Yavana. From the costumes and colours to be assigned to their body it may be possible to trace them historically.


10. Ars Amatoria,

The Nāṭyaśāstra mentions Kāmitantra or Kāmatantra (XXV.38, 53-567) and Kāmaśāstra (XXXV.46). But as it divides women into twenty-four classes, and Vātsyāyana’s Kāmasūtra into four classes these names do not seem to relate to the Kāmasūtra which probably comes later.


11. Arthaśāstra.

The Nāṭyaśāstra is of opinion that “The members of the court (sabhā stāra) should be appointed after consulting the views of Bṛhaspati who thinks that the following are the qualities required for this office”. “They should be always ready for work, alert, free from indolence, undaunted by hard work, affectionate, forbearing, modest, impartial, skillful, trained in polity and good maimers, deeply conversant with the art of argumentation and all other branches of knowledge, and not affected by sexual passion and the like” (XXXIV.87-90). The word sabhāstāra which has been translated here as a member of the court, occurs in the Smṛti of Vyāsa who holds that this officer should hold discussion about morals (dharmāvakya) for the edification of those who are present (in court). In Mbh. 4.1.24, however sabhāstāra appears only as a courtier (sabhya, Nīlakaṇṭha) who is particularly interested in gambling (Jolly, Hindu law and Custom, pp. 287-288).

The description of the king, the senāpati, the amātya and the prāḍvivāka as given in the Nāṭyaśāstra (XXXIV.78-87) might well have been taken from the now lost work of Bṛhaspati recognised by Kauṭilya as one of his sources. The Nāṭyaśāstra gives besides one interesting information that the inmates of a royal palace included a snātaka (XXXIV.64-69) and that there was besides a functionary named kumārādhikṛta (XXXIV.76-77). As the definition has been lost, it is not possible to know what his duty was. Can he be identified with the kumārāmātya mentioned in Samudragupta’s inscription?


12. Psychology.

The Nāṭyaśāstra seems to be the first in recognizing the twofold importance of psychology in connexion with the production of a play. Its classification of Heroes and Heroines according to their typical mental and emotional states (XXIV. 210ff., XXXIV. 15ff). proves its admission of the importance of psychology on the creative side of the dramatic art; for with the complete knowledge of all possible reactions of different objects and incidents upon such Heroes and Heroines, the playwright as well as actors and actresses could attain the greatest possible success in characterisation. On the critical side also the importance of psychology was discovered by the Hindu theorists almost simultaneously. It was realised early that no strictly objective standard of beauty ever existed, and the enjoyment of a theatrical production consisted of peculiar reactions which the art of the playwright as well as that of the actors could successfully evoke in spectators of different types. It is on this assumption that the theory of Sentiments and States (VI-VII) important alike for the criticism of the theatre and the belles lettres has been elaborated by the author of the Nāṭyaśāstra. Such a view does not allow any kind of dogmatism in the criticism of art and literature, and will make due allowance for the views of people who may widely differ in their tastes because of their varying cultural equipment.

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