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Natya Shastra

The 2,000 year old Sanskrit drama tradition Kutiyattam, performed in Kerala, southern
India, strictly follows the Nātya Shastra.[1]. Guru Nātyāchārya Māni Mādhava Chākyār
as Ravana in Bhasa's play Abhiṣeka Nataka

The Natya Shastra (Sanskrit: Nātyaśāstra नाटय शासत) is an ancient Indian treatise on the
performing arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music. It was written during the period
between 200 BC and 200 AD in classical India and is traditionally attributed to the Sage

The Natya Shastra is incredibly wide in its scope. While it primarily deals with stagecraft,
it has come to influence music, classical Indian dance, and literature as well. It covers
stage design, music, dance, makeup, and virtually every other aspect of stagecraft. It is
very important to the history of Indian classical music because it is the only text which
gives such detail about the music and instruments of the period. Thus, an argument can
be made that the Natya Shastra is the foundation of the fine arts in India. The most
authoritative commentary on the Natya Shastra is Abhinavabharati by
Abhinavagupta.Contents [hide]
1 Date and authorship
1.1 Title and setting
2 Performance Art Theory
2.1 Rasa
3 Music
4 Impact
5 List of chapters
6 See also
7 References
8 Other books and references
9 External links

Date and authorship

The text, which now contains 6000 slokas, is attributed to the muni (sage) Bharata and is
believed to have been written during the period between 200 BC and 200 AD. The Natya
Shastra is based upon the much older Gandharva Veda (appendix to Sama Veda) which
contained 36000 slokas [2]. Unfortunately there are no surviving copies of the Natya
Veda. Though many scholars believe most slokas were transmitted only through the oral
tradition, there are scholars who believe that it may have been written by various authors
at different times.

The document is difficult to date and Bharata's historicity has also been doubted, some
authors suggesting that it may be the work of several persons. However, Kapila
Vatsyayan has argued[3] that based on the unity of the text, and the many instances of
coherent reference of later chapters from earlier text, the composition is likely that of a
single person. Whether his/her name really was Bharata is open to question[3]: near the
end of the text we have the verse: "Since he alone is the leader of the performance, taking
on many roles, he is called Bharata" (35.91[4]), indicating that Bharata may be a generic
name. It has been suggested that Bharata is an acronym for the three syllables: bha for
bhāva (mood), rā for rāga (melodic framework), and ta for tāla (rhythm). However, in
traditional usage Bharata has been iconified as muni or sage, and the work is strongly
associated with this personage.

Title and setting

Written in Sanskrit, the text consists of 6,000 sutras, or verse stanzas, incorporated in 36
chapters. Some passages are composed in a prose form.

The title can be loosely translated as A compendium of Theatre or a A Manual of

Dramatic Arts. Nātya, or nāṭaka means Dramatic Arts. In contemporary usage, this word
does not include dance or music, but etymologically the root naṭ refers to "dance".

The discourse is set in a frame where a number of munis approach Bharata, asking him
about nāṭyaveda (lit. nāṭya=drama,performance; veda=knowledge). The answer to this
question comprises the rest of the book, which is thus loosely a dialogue. Bharata says
that all this knowledge is due to Brahma. At one point he mentions that he has a hundred
"sons" who will spread this knowledge, which suggests that Bharata may have had a
number of disciples whom he trained.

Performance Art Theory

Classical Indian dance:

the inheritor of the Natya Shastra

The Natya Shastra ranges widely in scope, from issues of literary construction, to the
structure of the stage or mandapa, to a detailed analysis of musical scales and movements
(murchhanas), to an analysis of dance forms that considers several categories of body
movements, and their impacts on the viewer.

Bharata describes 15 types of drama ranging from one to ten acts. The principles for stage
design are laid down in some detail. Individual chapters deal with aspects such as
makeup, costume, acting, directing, etc. A large section deals with meanings conveyed by
the performance (bhavas) get particular emphasis, leading to a broad theory of aesthetics

Four kinds of abhinaya (acting, or histrionics) are described - that by body part motions
(angika), that by speech (vAchika), that by costumes and makeup (AhArya), and the
highest mode, by means of internal emotions, expressed through minute movements of
the lips, eyebrows, ear, etc. (sAttvika)[5].
Main article: Rasa (aesthetics)

"A Yakshagana artist expressing emotions on stage. Vaachikabhinaya is an important

part of Yakshagana"

The Nātyashāstra delineates a detailed theory of drama comparable to the Poetics of

Aristotle. Bharata refers to bhavas, the imitations of emotions that the actors perform, and
the rasas (emotional responses) that they inspire in the audience. He argues that there are
eight principal rasas: love, pity, anger, disgust, heroism, awe, terror and comedy, and that
plays should mix different rasas but be dominated by one.

Each rasa experienced by the audience is associated with a specific bhava portrayed on
stage. For example, in order for the audience to experience srngara (the 'erotic' rasa), the
playwright, actors and musician work together to portray the bhava called rati (love).

After the Samaveda that dealt with ritual utterances of the Vedas, the Natyashastra is the
first major text that deals with music at length. It is considered the defining treatise of
Indian Classical Music until the 13th century, when the stream bifurcated into Hindustani
classical music in North India and Pakistan, and Carnatic classical music in South India.

While much of the discussion of music in the Natyashastra focuses on musical

instruments, it also emphasizes several theoretical aspects that remained fundamental to
Indian music:

1. Establishment of Shadja as the first, defining note of the scale or grama. The word
Shadja (षडज) means 'giving birth to six', and refers to the fact that once this note (often
referred to as "sa" and notated S) is fixed, the placement of other notes in the scale is

2. Principle of Consonance: Consists of two principles:

a. The first principle states that there exists a fundamental note in the musical scale which
is Avinashi (अिवनाशी) and Avilopi (अिवलोपी) that is, the note is ever-present and

b. The second principle, often treated as law, states that there exists a natural consonance
between notes; the best between Shadja and Tar Shadja, the next best between Shadja and

3. The Natyashastra also suggest the notion of musical modes or jatis which are the origin
of the notion of the modern melodic structures known as ragas. Their role in invoking
emotions are emphasized; thus compositions emphasizing the notes gandhara or rishabha
are said to be related to tragedy (karuna rasa) whereas rishabha is to be emphasized for
evoking heroism (vIra rasa). Jatis are elaborated in greater detail in the text Dattilam,
composed around the same time as the Natyashastra.

To prove the utility of srutis in music, Bharata Muni while explaining Shadja grama and
Madhyam grama in chapter 28 and 30 of Bharat Natya Shastra expounded the Sarana
Chatushtai – the only experiment according to Bharata to obtain the correct physical
configuration of Śruti Swara arrangement to Shadja Grama notes on any musical
instrument (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni Sa,corresponding to 4-3-2-4-4-3-2 totalling 22
srutis in a Saptak). Sarana Chatushtai in recent centuries has been demonstrated and
proven by Avinash Balkrishna Patwardhan in the year 1998 on flute as well as on sitar
(this has also helped him develop a methodology for producing perfectly tuned flutes for
different thatas). This is the only known correct interpretation of the Bharata Muni's
Sarana Chatushtai after Bharata Muni himself and probably Sharang Dev.

The Natyashastra also suggests several aspects of musical performance, particularly its
application to vocal, instrumental and orchestral compositions. It also deals with the rasas
and bhavas that may be evoked by music.


Natyashastra remained an important text in the fine arts for many centuries; so much so
that it is sometimes referred to as the fifth veda. Much of the terminology and structure of
Indian classical music and Indian classical dance were defined by it. Many commentaries
have expanded the scope of the Natya Shastra; most importantly we may include
Matanga's Brihaddesi (5th-7th c.), Abhinavagupta's Abhinavabharati (which unifies some
of the divergent structures that had emerged in the intervening years, and outlines a
theory of artistic analysis) and Sharngadeva's Sangita Ratnakara (13th c. work that unifies
the raga structure in music)[6]. The analysis of body forms and movements also
influenced sculpture and the other arts in subsequent centuries[3]. The structures of music
outlined in the Natya Shastra retain their influence even today, as seen in the seminal
work Hindustani Sangeetha Padhathi[7] by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande from the early
20th century. The theory of rasa described in the text has also been a major influence on
modern Indian cinema especially in the Malayalam Film Industry.
List of chapters
Origin of drama
Description of the playhouse
Puja (offering) to the Gods of the stage
Description of the karana dance
Preliminaries of a play
Sentiments (rasas)
Emotional and other states
Gestures of minor limbs
Gestures of hands
Gestures of other limbs
Cari movements
Different gaits
Zones and local usages
Rules of prosody
Metrical patterns
Diction of a play
Rules on the use of languages
Modes of address and intonation
Ten kinds of play
Limbs of the segments
Costumes and make-up
Harmonious performance
Dealings with courtezans
Varied performances
Success in dramatic performances
Instrumental music
Stringed instruments
Time measure
Dhruva songs
Covered instruments
Types of character
Distribution of roles
Descent of drama on the Earth
See also
Indian classical dance
Sanskrit Literature
Natya Yoga
^ Māni Mādhava Chākyār (1996). Nātyakalpadrumam. Sangeet Natak Akademi, New
^ Ghosh, Manomohan (2002). Natyasastra. ISBN 81-7080-076-5 page = 2.
^ a b c Bharata: The Natyasastra (1996). Kapila Vatsyayan. Sahitya Akademi, New
^ Manmohan Ghosh, ed. (1950). Natyashastra,. Asiatic Society,. See introduction p. xxvi
for discussion of dates
^ Dr. Asawari Bhat. "Glimpses of Natyashastra". course notes, IIT Mumbai.
^ Musical Nirvana - Introduction to Indian Classical Music - The Origin
^ Hindustani Sangeetha Padhathi (4 volumes, Marathi) (1909-1932). Vishnu Narayan
Bhatkhande. Sangeet Karyalaya (1990 reprint).