The Natyashastra

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 1 - The Present Work

The Volume II of the Nātyaśāstra (translation) falls into two parts: (1) Chapters XXVIII-XXXIII which are on music in its vocal as well as instrumental aspect and (2) Chapters XXXIV-XXXVI which are on residual matters concerning the production of plays, and the legendary origin of drama (nāṭya). Though the age of the entire work and other relevant matters have been treated of in the Introduction to the Volume I, the remaining Chapters require some preliminary notes. Naturally the Chapters on music are to be taken up first.

1. A Short History of the Study of Indian Music

As in the case of our drama, William Jones was also the pioneer in studying Indian Music. His article “The Musical Modes of Hindoos”[1], was originally written in 1784 five years before his translation of the Śakuntalā, and it was the first of its kind. Persons who interested themselves during the half a century that followed, discussed Indian music more or less in the lines of Jones, till an English military officer was attracted by the beauty of Indian music. Captain N. Augustus Willard—for that was the name of the officer—“was known to be a skilful performer of several instruments and to have enjoyed local advantages of observation from his appointment at the court of the Nawab of Banda”[2]. This is perhaps the reason why his work

brought about a new orientation in the study of Indian music, and to some extent superceded the work of Jones and his followers. Willard being very cultured, and well-read in his subject and thoroughly proficient in Hindustani, his mode of treatment and the depth of insight displayed in his work, were very remarkable, and according to a specialist, it is the earliest systematic treatise on Hindustani music[3] which has not perhaps yet lost its value. The author’s own summary of the contents of the work “A Treatise on the Music of Hindoostan” (Calcutta, 1884)[4] shows the significant features of his work. But its special importance lies in putting emphasis on the actual practice of music apart from whatever is available from the old Sanskrit texts. William Jones however started his enquiry with such texts, and hence his discussion, according to Willard, has been too academic to do justice to the subject.

But in spite of Willard’s emphasis on the practical side while writing on Indian music, his charges against Jones[5], were not justified. For, not only all discussion on classical Indian music, should be kept close to the traditional teachings contained in the texts, but one should bear in mind that Jones was a pioneer in the field without the advantage which Willard had in taking up the study after half a century during which much was already written on the subject. If Willard had a positive advantage over Jones in having what may be called a first-hand knowledge of the subject, his conclusions based on data collected from professionals only, needed checking in the light of old Sanskrit works. In order to have an historical view of Indian music such checking was indispensable. As Willard strove much merely to explore the contemporary (classical) music, and attained considerable success in this, such a view was naturally beyond his ken. This is the reason of his strong disapproval of Jones’ writing.

Notwithstanding Willard’s, criticism, Jones’ method did not long remain in disfavour. About thirty-five years after he had written, Kshetra Mohan Goswami discussed (1863) the practice as well as theory of Indian classical music in his Saṃgītasāra (Essentials of Music) written in Bengali. This was published under the patronage of Sourindra Mohan Tagore who himself compiled some years afterwards (1875) his Saṃgītasāra-saṃgraha which contained extracts (with English translation) from ancient authors like Śārṅgadeva[6] and Dāmodara[7]. Considering the relative scarcity of authentic data in the shape of published Sanskrit works on music at that time, the contributions of Goswami and Tagore were highly commendable. The next important writer on the Indian classical music, was the renowned Krishnadhan Banerji[8]. His magnum opus the Gītasūtrasāra (Essential Principles of Music) written in Bengali was published in 1885[9] just after a century of William Jones’ first article on the subject. Banerji besides being an accomplished Indian musician and a scholar, had sufficient acquaintance with the western music, and this imparted singular value to his work. According to a specialist, Banerji has not left a single phase of Indian classical music, without comments made with reason and insight, and “His critical faculty is astonishingly sensitive to finer shades of analogies. The book is valuable for its discussion of fundamentals of music and the searching criticism of existing theories”[10]. Writers on Indian music coming after Banerji, are legion, and they being more or less well-known will not be be mentioned in this short sketch. But a complete account of the ancient Indian music descriptive and historical, still remains to be written. For, a very few of the original Sanskrit texts on music have been critically studied[11], and the Nāṭyaśāstra which contains the oldest and most comprehensive treatment on the subject yet remains outside the reach of average interested persons[12]. Krishnadhan Banerji whose work is otherwise valuable, sometimes made assertions which need correction in the light of the NŚ. The same may possibly be said of other writers also, and cautious persons like F. Strangways, suspend their judgement in view of proper exploration of the contents of the NŚ. For example, Strangways once writes, “Unfortunately it is not possible at present to give such a detailed account of the Indian Mūrchanā (the equivalent of Harmoniā); more will perhaps be possible when Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra has been adequately translated” (MH.p. 141).

2. The Basic Text

The original text of the Chapters XXVIII-XXXIII critically edited by the translator, has been published in a separate volume. For details about its reconstruction, the readers are referred to the Introduction to the same and also to the Introduction to the Volume I of the translation (pp. XLI).

3. Translation and Notes

Principles regarding the translation and its annotation have also been detailed in the Introduction to the Volume I of the translation (pp.XLI-XLII).

Footnotes and references:


Originally published in the Asatik Researches Vol. III and republished in Sourindra Mohun Tagore’s Hindu Music from various Authors, Calcutta, 1875 (pp. 125-160.)


See the review of Willard’s work mentioned later, in the Journal of the Asiatic Society, Vol. XXV, 1834. This review has also been republished in Tagore’s Hindu Music etc. (pp. 235-239)


Hemendra Lal Roy, ‘A notable Book on Hindustani Music’ in the Visvabharati Quarterly, (New Series), Vol. 1. Part 1 July 1935; see also Roy’s Problems of Hindustani Music, Calcutta 1937 (pp. 37 ff).


The name of the work does not occur in the bibliography of F, Strangway’s work (MH).


See Roy’s Problems, p. 39.


The author of the Saṃgīta-ratnākara.


The author of the Saṃgīta-darpaṇa.


This scholar-musician of Bengal resigned his post in the Provincial Civil Service and devoted himself entirely to the study and dissemination of music. See the Gītavitāna-vārṣiki, Calcutta, 1944, (p.25).


Second Edition in 1897, and Third Edition in 1934. To this third edition, a valuble appendix has been added by Himangsu Sekhar Banerji a very able musical scholar who has made the work up to date. A summary of the work along with this appendix, has also been separately published in English translation in 1941, H.A. Popley in his Music of India (2nd ed.) does not mention this work.


H. L. Roy. Problems, p. 50.


The only exception in this regard, is Dāmodara’s Saṃgīta-darpaṇa ed. by Arnold A. Bake with English translation, notes and introduction under the title “The Mirror of Music”. Paris, 1930f. This too has been ignored by A. Danielou, and H. A. Popley (the second ed. of his Music of India).


J. Grosset’s French translation of the Chapter XXVIII of the NŚ. (treating of music) has not satisfied writers on the subject. See MH. p. 141. Chapters XXIX-XXXIII also dealing also with music, have not been translated before.

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