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...

Chapter XXXV - Distribution of Roles (bhūmikā)

1. I shall now speak of the distribution of roles in a play or of the kinds of men by which different roles are to be represented.

General Principles of Distribution

2. After considering together their gait, speech and movement of limbs as well as their strength and nature, the experts are to employ actors to represent different roles [in a play].

3. Hence the selection of actors should be preceded by an enquiry into their merits. The Director (lit. the master) will not feel difficulty in the choice [if such procedure is followed].

4. After ascertaining their natural aptitudes, he is to distribute roles to different actors.

The Role of gods

5-6. Persons who have all the limbs intact, well-formed and thick-set, who are full-grown (vayo'nvita), not fat or lean or tall or large, who have vivacity, pleasant voice and good appearance, should be employed to take up the role of gods.

The Role of Rākṣasas etc.

7-8. Persons who are fat, and have a large body and a voice like the peal of thunder (lit. cloud), furious looking eyes and naturally knit eyebrows, should be employed to take up the role of Rākṣasas, Dānavas and Daityas; for the performance of male actors [should be] in conformity with their limbs and movements.

The Role of Kings

9-11. Actors of the best kind who have beautiful eyes, eyebrows, forehead, nose, lips, cheeks, face, neck, and every other limbs beautiful, and who are tall, possessed of pleasant appearance, dignified gait, and are neither fat nor lean, and are well-behaved, wise and steady by nature, should be employed to represent the role of kings and princes (kumāra).

The Role of Army-leaders and Secretaries

12-13. Persons who have well-formed limbs, distinct speech, are neither tall nor fat, are heroic, have reasoning positive and negative, are brave, and eloquent and have presence of mind, should be employed to take up the role of army-leaders (senāpati) and secretaries (amātya).

The Role of the Kañcukīyas and the Śrotriyas

14. Persons who have brown eyes, long nose, and who are short or tall, should be employed in the role of Kañcukīyas and Śrotriyas.[1]

The Role of Minor Characters

15. In other cases too, similar dramatic convention has been prescribed; roles should be assigned after considering the actors’ age and physical condition.

16-17. [For example], persons[2] who are slow-moving, very dwarfish, hunch-backed, uncouth, odd-faced and fat, who have expressionless (lit. motionless) eyes, one eye blind, small chin and low nose, ugly raiments, evil nature, deformed body and who have marks of a slave, should be employed in the role of slaves.

The Role of Fatigued Persons

18. A person who is naturally thin, should be employed in a play to represent a tired person.

The Role of a Person in Health

A fat person should be employed to represent a person without any disease.

Special Cases of Assigning Roles

19. If however such persons are not available, the Director (lit. the master) should exercise discretion to employ [some one] after a consideration of the latter’s nature and movement as well as States [to be represented],

20. Such persons’ natural movements whether good, bad or middling, should be regulated by contact with the Director (lit. the master), and then they will properly represent [all] the States.

21. In other cases too, similar dramatic convention has been prescribed, and roles should be assigned to persons after considering their native places (deśa) and costume (veśa).

The Role of a Character with Extra and Special Limbs

22-24. In case of characters which have many arms, many heads, and uncouth faces and faces of animals, including beasts of prey, asses, camels, horses and the like, the Director (lit. the master) should according to his direction have the masks (lit. them) made with clay, wood, lac and leather. [3]

The Entry of a Character

24. One should not enter the stage in his own natural appearance. His own body should be covered with paints and decorations.

The Result of Impersonation

25. In the production of a play, a person in his natural form of the body, should be employed [to assume a role] according to his age and costume.

The Method of Proper Impersonation

26-27. Just as a man who renounces his own nature together with his body and assumes another’s nature by entering into his body[4] so the wise actor thinking within himself that ‘I am he’ should represent the States of another person by speech, gait, gesture and other movements.

Three Kinds of Impersonation

28. Human characters as they are represented on the stage fall into three classes: natural (anurūpā), unnatural (virūpā) and imitative (rūpānusāriṇī).

The Natural Impersonation

29. When women impersonate female characters and men male characters, and their ages are similar to that of the characters represented, the impersonation is called ‘natural’ (anurūpā).

The Unnatural Impersonation

30. When a boy takes up the role of an old man or an old man takes up that of a boy and betrays his own nature in acting, the representation is called ‘unnatural’ (virūpā).

The Imitative Impersonation

31-32. When a man assumes a woman’s character,[5] the impersonation is called imitative (rūpānusāriṇī) by the best actors. A woman also may assume if she likes, a man’s role in actual practice. But an old and a young man should not try [to imitate] each other’s manners.[6]

Special Suitability of Men and Women

33-34. Bold men who have heroism and strength, should be employed for recitatives, and women [should always be employed] for songs. Women’s nature is suited mostly to songs and that of men to recitatives.[7] For women’s voice is naturally sweet and that of men is forceful.

35-36. Though men know the rules of singing in their traditional characteristics, their songs being devoid of sweetness, do not create beauty.

Whenever there is [any] merit in women’s recitation and sweetness of voice in men, these are to be considered as being due to freaks (lit. inversion) of nature, and as such these should be [considered] ornaments.[8]

Women in Men’s Roles

37. In temples,[9] palaces[10] and houses of army-leaders and other prominent persons, dramatic performances (prayoga) are mostly held by women in men’s role.

Women’s Special Merit

38. A delicate person’s role is always to be taken up by women. Hence, in case of women as well as gods and men of delicate nature [women are to assume the roles].

39. [It is for this reason that] drama came to be established in heaven[11] through Rambhā, Urvaśī[12] and the like [nymphs]. And similar has been the case in king’s harems in this world.

Training Women in Different Roles

40. Directors (lit. masters) should instruct women according to the Śāstras, but they should not themselves give coaching to women in learning their [feminine] roles.

41-42. But masculine (lit. depending on men) roles should be carefully directed by them.

As natural amorousness is observed in women, their naturally graceful limbs are easily accessible to Sauṣṭhava; and sportful nature[13] will be their additional qualities (lit. ornaments) [when they assume a male role].

Result of Proper Assignment of Roles

43. When actors and characters in a play have similar conditions and behaviour, and have natural limbs and organs (karaṇa), they will embellish a dramatic performance.

44. Want of fatigue in dance and music, is always a quality of women, and a dramatic production partly attains its sweetness and partly its strength due to this.

45. A woman who is an adept in the practice of love, and is an expert in [representing] love-affairs, appears through her graceful acting on the stage, like a creeper full of various charms, on account of its [many] flowers.[14]

46. Hence [a Director] should always bestow undivided attention to women’s exercise (yogyā) [in dance and music], for without this, the States, Sentiments, the Sauṣṭhava cannot be produced by them in the least.[15]

Types of Dramatic Production

47. The production of a drama which includes many States and Sentiments, is of two kinds: delicate (sukumāra) and energetic (āviddha).

The Delicate Type of Production

48. Nāṭaka[16], Prakaraṇa, Bhāṇa, Vīthī and Aṅka[17] are to be known of the delicate type. For they depend on human beings.

49. This delicate type of production is pleasing to kings. Hence plays of this class including the Erotic Sentiment, should be produced by women.[18]

50. The play in which there occur violent fighting, great speed [of movement], and much excitement, should not be enacted by females, but by males.

51-52. If a play includes ordinary (lit. not exalted) incidents and no hurried or violent movement of limbs, and requires an observance of proper tempo, Tāla, Kalā and regulated utterance of syllables, and clearly divided words and has plenty of desired Sentiments, it should be produced by women.[19]

The Energetic Type of Production

53-54. The play which requires energetic (āviddha) type of Aṅgahāras to represent cutting, piercing, and fighting, and includes [a representation of] the use of magic and thaumaturgy as well as artificial objects and costumes, and has among its dramatis personae many males and a small number of females who are of quiet nature, and mostly the Grand and the Energetic Styles applied in its production, is of the energetic type.

55-56. Ḍima, Samavakāra, Vyāyoga and Īhāmṛga are known to be plays of the energetic of type by producers.

Production of plays of this kind, should be made by [an impersonation of] gods, Dānavas and Rākṣasas.

56. Thus one should assign different roles in the production of a play. Next I shall speak how a play attains excellence due to costumes and make-up.

The Typical Impersonation of a King

57-59. How are the qualities of a king to be represented by an actor who has a few wearing apparels? In this connection it has been said that when dramatic conventions have come into vogue I have made plays furnished with all these (i.e. conventions).

In them (i.e. plays) the actor (naṭa) covered with paint, and decorated with ornaments, reveal the signs of kingship when he assumes a grave and dignified attitude, and then he alone becomes, as it were, a refuge of the seven great divisions (saptadvīpa) of the world.

60-61. He should move his limbs only after he has been covered with paints. And trimmed according to the discretion of the Director and having the Sauṣṭhava of limbs, the actor becomes like a king, and [thus trimmed] the king also will be [very much] like an actor.[20]

61-63. Just as an actor is, so is the king and just as a king is, so is the actor.[21] The two will represent their States by similar deportments and Sauṣṭhava of limbs.

Just as by properly carrying out the instruction of the Director, the actor illumines the stage, similarly the king also will always be naturally brilliant.

His followers will be like that of divine personages.[22] In a play they are to be introduced with proper costume, language and age.

64. The producer should let the actor have the natural appearance of a character [by giving him suitable costume] and by associating him with suitable age through [proper] make-up.

65. Thus one should make a selection of persons for representing kingly manners. I shall next speak of the qualities of a Director (sūtradhāra).

In this connection I shall speak of the qualities of a Director. First of all, he should possess knowledge of characteristics [of everything concerning the theatre], desirable refinement of speech, knowledge of the rules of Tāla and theory of notes and instruments [in general].[23]

66-71. One who is an expert in playing the four kinds of musical instrument, has various practical experience, is conversant with the practices of various religious sects, and with polity and the science of wealth (arthaśāstra) and the manners of courtezans and ars amatoria, and knows the various conventional Gaits and movements, thoroughly understands all the Sentiments and the States, and is an expert in producing plays, acquainted with all arts and crafts, with words and the rules of prosody, and proficient in all (the Śāstras, the science of stars and planets, and the working of the human body, knows the extent of the earth, its continents, devisions, and mountains and people inhabiting them, and the customs these have, and the names of descendants of royal lines, and who listens about acts prescribed in Śāstras, can understand the same, and puts them into practice after understanding them, and gives instructions in the same, should be made a teacher and Director.

Natural Qualities of a Director

72-74. Now listen to me speaking about the natural qualities [which he should possess]. He should be possessed of memory and intelligence, and should be patient, liberal, firm in his words, poetical, free from any disease, sweet [in his manners], forbearing, self-possessed, sweet-tongued, free from anger, truthful, impartial, honest, and free from greed for praise.[24]

Characteristics of an Assistant of the Director

74-75. A person of the middling type who has slightly less number of qualities than that the Director is to possess, should be known as an Assistant ( pāripārśvika) of the Director.

Characteristics of an Actor

75-76. An actor (naṭa) should be lively (lit. bright), possessed of a good physique, acquainted with [theatrical) accessories and their uses, possessed of intelligence, conversant with the rules [of the theoretical practice], and expert in his own work.

Characteristics of a Parasite

76-77. Possessing all the qualities which the Director is to have with regard to the theatrical production, the Parasite (viṭa) should be an expert in dealing with courtezans, sweet [in his words], impartial, poetic, proficient in the meaning of the Śāstras and in the knowledge of courtezans, capable seeing the positive and the negative side of any argument, and eloquent and clever.

Characteristics of the Śakāra

78. The Śakāra[25] is one who wears gaudy (lit. brilliant) clothes and ornaments and grows angry without adequate reason and gets pacified likewise, and who is an inferior character and speaks Māgadhī[26] and has manifold changes [in his conduct].

Characteristics of the Jester

79. The Jester (vidūṣaka) should be dwarfish, should possess big teeth, and be hunch-backed, double-tongued[27] bald-headed and tawny-eyed.

Characteristics of a Servant

80. A servant (ceṭa) be should be fond of quarrel,[28] garrulous, uncouth in form and give service under bondage, and be expert in distinguishing between persons who are to be honoured and who are not.

Characteristics of a Courtezan

81-83. A woman who is always engaged in attending the teacher (ācārya) in connection with application of [various] arts and crafts, and is endowed with amorous movements, Emotion (hāva) and Feeling (bhāva), Temperament (sattva), discipline, sweetness [of manners], and is conversant with the sixty-four arts and crafts (kalā), is expert in dealing with the king, and free from female diseases, and has sweet and endearing words, is clear in her speech, clever and undaunted by fatigue[29] is called a courtezan (gaṇikā).

Characteristics of a typical Heroine

84-86. A woman with the following qualities should be given the role of a Heroine: she should be endowed with a good physical form, good qualities, character and young age and should possess gold necklace and garlands and should be shining, affectionate, sweet, and should possess charming words with a lovely voice and should be steady (lit. unperturbed) in the exercise (yogyā), and conversant with Laya and Tāla and Sentiments, and should have all kinds of ornaments and be dressed with garlands and scents.[30]

Women disqualified to take up a role

86-87. But a woman should not be made a Heroine in any theatrical show when she smiles on wrong occasions, is rough [in appearance], has an uneven gait and movement, persistent anger, miserable look, and is always haughty and fickle. These are the characters that the producers of plays should know about.

Members of a typical theatrical party

88-90. I shall next speak of different members of a theatrical party (bharata). They are: Bharata[31] [proper] (actor), who resort to Bharata (i.e. his art), the Jester (vidūṣaka), the musicians (tauripa), the actor-dancers (naṭa), the Director (sūtradhāra), playwright (nāṭyakāra) the crown-maker (mukuṭakāraka), the maker of ornaments (ābharaṇakṛt) and garlands, the dyer (rajaka), the painter (citrakāra), other and craftsmen (kāru and śilpin), and Kuśīlavas and others who are to be known by their names.

Characteristics of Bharata

91. As he alone conducts as the leader [the performance of] a play by acting in many roles and playing many instruments and by providing many accessories, he is called Bharata.[32]

Characteristics of a Jester

92-93. One who looks to people’s pleasure, can imitate manners of all people, resorts to various [means] and mixes with women, is ready-witted in disclosures made through Pleasantry,[33] or in Covert Pleasure[34] and is clever, and can give censure through his words, is to be known as a Jester (vidūṣaka).[35]

Characteristics of a Master-musician

94. One who is skilled in playing Tūra,[36] has a liking for all the instruments and is an expert in playing them all, and possesses [all kinds of] musical instruments, is called Tauripa[37] (master-musician).

Meaning of the word ‘Naṭa’

95. Meaning of the root naṭ is ‘to act’ (lit. acts) and hence, as he acts (naṭayati) again and again the stories of men with Sentiments, States and Temperament, he is called (lit. he becomes) a Naṭa (actor).

The Benediction

96-97. As one pleases by it the audience (lit. people) with sweet words of blessing, it is called Nāndī (Benediction). That which is spoken in the performance of a play to please people in various ways, with Sanskrit and Prakrit recitatives, is to be known as Nāndī.

Definition of a Director

98. One who knows from the teaching of the learned (śiṣṭa) the principles (sūtra) of applying songs, instrumental music and recitatives in their unity, is called a Sūtradhāra (Director).[38]

Definition of a Playwright

99. Because he puts in [different] Sentiments, States and Temperaments, as taught in the Śāstra, in different characters, a person is called a playwright (nāṭyakāra).[39]

Definition of an Actor

100. One who can apply the music of four kinds of instrument, and produce a play according to the meaning of the Śāstra as well as his own reasoning, is called an actor. (naṭa).[40]

Definition of an Actress

101. A woman who knows all about the playing of drums, Laya (tempo) and Tāla and is conversant with Sentiments, and is beautiful in all her limbs, should be made an actress[41] (nāṭakīyā).

The Crown-maker

102. He who makes masks and various special dresses together with headgears (śīrṣaka = pratiśīrṣaka) suited to various characters, is called a crown-maker (mukuṭakāra).[42]

The Maker of Ornaments

103. One who makes ornaments according to various rules, is called a maker of ornaments[43] (ābharaṇakṛt) and each [maker of ornaments] is to be named according to the material he uses.

The Maker of Garlands

104. He who makes five kinds[44] of garland, is called a maker of garlands (mālyakṛt).

The Veṣakāra

He who looks after dressing is called Veṣakāra.[45]

The Painter, the Dyer and the Craftsman

105. One who knows painting is a painter (citrakāra), and from his [knowledge of] dying (rañjana) [clothes][46] a person is called a dyer (rajaka).[47]

And one who fashions different objects out of lac, stone, metal and wood, is called a craftsman (kāru).

The Kuśīlava

106. He who can apply the principles of instrumental music and is himself an expert in playing instruments, is called a Kuśīlava because of his being kuśala (clever) and avadāta (refined) and free from agitation (avyathita).[48]

107. The man who takes to an art or a craft (śilpa), a profession or a practice, and has himself acquired proficiency in it, is called by its name.[49]

108. So much about the hereditary groups (jāti) known in connection with the rules of theatre as Naṭas who relate to various accessories [needed] for the production of various types of play.

109. I have spoken about the assignment of roles and about the makers of a drama according to their function, and have pronounced the Canons of Drama. Please mention, O sages, what more is to be said now.

Here ends the Chapter XXXV of the Nāṭyaśāstra, which treats of the Distribution of Roles.

Footnotes and references:


The racial type indicated by this description probably shows that the K. and Ś. were of the Aryan descent.


From the general description given in this passage and the marks mentioned in particular, it appears that slaves were of non-Aryan descent. And Kauṭilya seems to support this view by saying that āryasya na dāsa-bhāvaḥ (an Aryan should not be enslaved). From this description it also appears that the slaves were at one time branded with marks.


Details regarding this are given in XXIII.


This is said on the assumption that a Yogin possessing miraculous powers could, according to his will, leave his own body and enter that of another when the latter was just dead. Śaṅkarācārya is said to have practised this kind of miracle.


In the Shakesperian stage young men took up the role of women. Ag. (p. 502) explains bāliśa as virūpa (ugly).


This is due to an utter impossibility of successfully taking up of each other’s role by old and young men.


See XXXII. 504 and the note, and also XXXII. 506.


See XXXII. 504.


Devadāsīs or ‘maid-servants to gods’ seem to have been not only dancers, but also actresses assuming male roles also.


For the reason of women assuming male roles see above notes on 33-34.


Cf. Vikram III. (Viṣkambhaka).


See below XXXVI. 60.


The sportful nature belongs naturally to males.


It seems that boys also had to represent women’s character in the ancient Hindu theatre (see the Prastāvanā to Mālatī). And this shows the benefit of engaging actresses. Employment of boys in women’s role was considerably a handicap in depicting female characters in the Shakesperian stage. On this see “Shakespeare’s Dramatic Art” in Companion to Shakespeare Studies, Cambridge, 1946, p. 54.


This probably stresses on the importance of repeated rehearsal.


For a definition of this and the following types of play see XX. 10-1 Iff. 48ff, 107-108ff, 112-113ff, 94ff.


It is called Utsṛṣṭikāṅka also. See XX- 93.


An instance of such a play occurs in Priyadarśikā. Act III.


This probably shows that the Nāṭaka etc. mentioned in 48 above, being plays of ballet-type were better suited to be produced by women.


This is a very clever statement. The king though he is nothing but an ordinary human being, often assumes consciously or unconsciously an extraordinary appearance. The story goes that Napoleon sought the guidance of a contemporary actor of repute before taking up the imperial crown.


See the note above.


This was because the king was an incarnation of God or gods.


This and the two following passages (66-71, 72-74) show that the Hindus had very advanced ideas about of the responsibilities of a Director. Like his modern counterpart the regisseur (or “producer” as he is called in England) he was required to be an expert not only as regards acting but in all those arts which together constitute a performance. The Komisarjevsky, The Theatre, Dondon, 1935, p. 15. Thus so many varied qualities were required to ensure his fitness.


The “greed for praise” probably means a hankering after uncritical praise which may come from the multitude. This surely stands in the way of a first-rate artistic production.


Western scholars are sometime inclined to connect this character with the Śakas (Keith, Sanskrit Drama, p. 69). But Śakāra as described in DR (ii 42) and SD. (81) is nothing but the lowborn brother of a royal concubine. Naturally he bragged about his relationship with the king and was laughed at by people. Hence the term śyālaka gradually acquired a pejorative sense, and in NIA it has become śālā (a term of abuse). So people had to refer to him him euphemistically as Śa-kāra which means the fellow named with an initial ś. If the author of the NŚ. has not given such a definition, it was probably due to actual Śakāras being still available at his time he prudently remained silent about their anomalous social position.


It has been mentioned before that Śakāras should speak the Śākāri dialect (XVIII 52). But by Śākāri we are to understand a dialect of Māgadhī. See Puruṣottama’s Prākṛtānuśāsana. ed. Nilti-Dolci. XIII. 1; also Prākṛtakalpataru, ed. Ghosh, II. iii, 2ff.


The reading dvijan-man for dvijihva is evidently wrong See XXXJV. 21ff.


The ceṭa was evidently a slave. The term bandhasevaka (giving service under bondage) seems to indicate this.


The courtezan was evidently somewhat like a Greek hetaera.


The last hemistich of the text probably shows textual confusion.


The term “Bharata” seems to have originally meant those who sang ballads connected with the heroic exploits of the Bharata race. The term ‘Bharthari’ meaning singers on the exploits of Bhartṛhari a prince who renounced the world and attained spiritual eminence, is analogous to Bharata. The Bharata ballads were the nucleus of the Mbh. According to the hypothesis of Winternitz, such ballads gave rise to drama. See in this connexion the author’s Contributions to the History of Hindu Drama, Calcutta, 1957, pp. 15ff.


See note 1 to 88-90 above.


See XXII, 50.


See XXII, 53.


For another definition of a Jester see 79 above.


Its etymology is obscure. See note 2 below.


The word though connected with tūra is not directly available from it. The basis of tauripa is possibly tauripa one who engages himself with tūra meaning probably musical instruments in general.


For another definition of the Sūtradhāra see 66-74 above.


His duty was to compose a play on any given theme. He is comparable to ‘poets’ employed by Elizabethan theatrical companies. For more about the playwright see the introduction.


This probably shows the original connection of drama with music of all kinds.


This word has been used by Bhāsa. See Pratimā I. 4.8.


For rules about crowns see XXIII. 129ff.


For varieties of ornament used see XXIII. 11ff.


For the five kinds of garlands see XXIII. 10.


For the rules for different costumes see XXIII. 110ff.


For uses of clothes of different colour see XXIII. 53-56, 60, and for colours see XXIII,. 69ff.


See XXIII. 43.


The real etymology is obscure. This is only a folk-etymology of the word. There are however reasons to believe that it originally meant ballad-singers. The names of Rāma’s twin sons probably had its origin in kuśīlava.


Besides the craftsmen mentioned above, the theatrical troupes probably had with them artisans who made things with bamboo, grass and hide etc.

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