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Intro to Sthaapatya Veda — Indic Architecture, Sculpture, & Painting

Indian Architecture has been the subject of much discussion and debate. Often times, rootless people have a tendency to downplay the native tradition and place emphasis on theorised “foreign contributions” to the Indic Canon. The reality, however, is that there is a long and ancient tradition of not only Art & Architecture, but even City Planning per the Vedic Tradition. In fact, while these are all often grouped under Vaastu Sastra, they are in fact properly categorised under the upaveda known as Sthaapatya Veda.

Introduction

Much as Sangeeta Sastra & Nrtya Sastra emerged from the Gandharva Veda, so too does our tradition assert that Vaastu Sastra, Silpa Sastra, and Chitra Sastra emerged from Sthaapatya Veda. “It expounds the principles involved in the areas of Vastusastra (Architecture and Planning), Silpasastra (Sculpture and Iconography), Chitrakalaa (Painting in all branches“. [1,1] Just as the Gandharva Veda is attached to the Saama Veda, this upaveda is attached to the Atharva Veda. Further, knowledge of Ayurveda, Gandharva Veda, Jyotisha, and Saamudrika Sastra is also relevant to the field.

Central to Sthaapatya Veda is the Sthaapathi (master-architect). Sthaapathoh karma sthapatyam (the work of an architect is Sthaapatya Veda). [4,44] Silpa-Sastra has a section called Sthaapati-lakshana, or the Characteristics of a Sthapathi. It says:

“I am now going to described the Sthaapatya as handed down to us from generation to generation, by the knowing of which the values and defects of the Sthaapati are known”. The Sthaapatya is fourfold— the traditional lore (Sastra), the practical experience (Karma), intuitive insight (Prajna) and the righteous conduct and character [4, 45]

Vishvakarma is considered the originator of this field of study, and Pauranic tradition holds him to the be the Divine Architect. The great cities of Dvaraka and Indraprastha are attributed to his supreme skill in the field of city planning.

For civilized people a comfortable residence is as necessary as food and clothes. In fact the standard of civilization seems to be regulated, amongst other things, by durability, scientific plan, aesthetic construction, and successful finish of buildings, religious, residential or military. [1]

Maanasaara (‘the essence of measurement’, is considered the authoritative and exhaustive text on this topic today. However, the philosophy behind Sthaapatya Veda in general and Vaastu in particular is far more ancient. “The Creative feelings of Rsis, who were attributed to be the authors of the Indian Vaastu and Silpa texts, and the practicing Silpins had to activate the centre called aakaasa or aatman“.[3,17] This aligns very much with the common thread of Dharmic thought across the native Indic traditions.

For ancient Indian writers, at any rate, architecture seems to have been a very fascinating subject, inasmuch as the Vedic, Buddhist, Epic, Pauranic, Agamic, Historical, Political and even Astronomical literature bears traces of it. [1,1]

Theoretical Foundations

As with the Indic tradition in general, the origins of epistemology date back to our most sacred texts. Along with the Vedas, the Puranas, Agamas, and literature from the Buddhist and other Nastika philosophies have all contributed to Indic Art and Architecture. Therefore, an article on Sthaapatya should give space to all of them.

Veda

The Hymns of the Atharva-veda give some information about the construction of a house.” [1,1] Maharishi Vasishta is recorded to have spoken in the Rig Veda of his wish to have a tri-dhaatu-saranam constructed for him, indicating the varied types of housing even at an ancient date. [4, 51] The Sulba-sutras, which supplement the vast corpus of the Kalpa-sutra literature, discusses the measurement and construction of various vedis (vedic altars). This is often seen as foundation for the origin of Architecture in India. Altars mentioned by Baudhayana and Apastamba reach to the height of 10-15 layers of bricks.

As western scholars would later minimisingly mention, “the authors of the Vedic literature ‘were not ignorant of stone forts, walled cities, stone houses, carved stones, and brick edifices“.[1, 3] This is, therefore, even more so the case with the authors of the Pauranic literature.

Purana

The Mahabharata contains short but comprehensive accounts of the cities of Dvaraka (III.5), Indraprastha (1.207, 30f), a floating city (III.173,3), Mithilaa (III.207, 7) and others.[1,9]

Itihaasa-Purana is valuable source of information for Classical Indic Architecture. While it is averred that many accounts may seem fantastical to our ‘modern’ eyes, they give insight on not only continuity of theory to the present day, but also provide understanding of native inspirations (rather than the current obsession with native implementations of foreign inspiration).

The Epics furnish copious description of cities, storeyed buildings, balconies porticos, triumphal arches, enclosing walls, flights of stone masonry steps for tanks and a variety of other structures, all indicative of a flourishing architecture in the country [of India]. [1,8]

Perhaps the most famous account of City Construction in the Epics was that of ancient Indraprastha (modern Delhi). From the clearing of Khandavaprastha forest to the yagna performed for its construction, to its design and implementation by Vishwakarma, to even its beguiling wonders that caused Duryodhana to fall and Draupadi to laugh, one sees the start, completion, and effects of such beautiful municipalities.

Notably, the city plan of Ayodhya is ‘strikingly similar’ to the town-plan listed in the Maanasara and various other Architectural treatises. “The temples (devaayatana) in this city (Ayodhya) were as resplendent as the sky. Its assembly-halls, gardens, and alms-houses (prapaa) were most elegant; and everywhere were arranged extensive buildings crowded with men and women……..The houses were as mines of gems, and the abodes of the goddess of fortune. The steeples (sikhara) of the houses were as resplendent as the crests of mountains and bore hundreds of pavilions (vimana) like the celestial palace of the chief among the Devas. The rooms were full of riches and corn, exquisitely gilt and decorated, and seemed as charming as pictures; and they were so arranged that men could pass from one room to another without perceiving any inequality.” [1, 9]

Puranas

While the Ramayana and Mahabharata are traditionally classified under Itihasa, the Puranas proper (said to number 108) provide a wealth of information on the science of Art & Architecture proper.  The Matsya purana has 8 expansive sections discussing Vaastu and Silpa in great detail. One entire chapter is dedicated to the pillar, which is considered ‘the regulator of the whole composition of a building’. 5 styles of columns with 8 different mouldings are described. The other chapters focus on silpa and discuss taalamaana (proportionate measurement of images). Skanda purana has 3 chapters dedicated to it, and makes mention of construction of a golden hall, special pavilions for the wedding of a princess, and even chariots. The Garuda purana comprehensively discusses the 3 main types of buildings: religious, residential, and military. Layouts of temples, palaces, pleasure-gardens, fortresses, and fortified cities are all reviewed. Murthi-sthaapana (installation of religious icons) are also discussed. These are performed by a Sthaapaka (architectural priest) distinct from Sthaapathi (professional architect). [1, 11]

Finally, the Agni Purana of all the Puranas, allocated the greatest length to Sthaapatya Veda. It devotes 16 chapters to town-planning, 2 chapters with residential building, and 13 for sculpture. That temples are again discussed here shows the antiquity of temples to Sanatana Dharma itself. There are of course other puranas which treat on the topic, such as the Naarada, Linga, Vaayu, and Varaaha, but there are all better expounded upon elsewhere.

The most notable of the minor puranas is the Vishnudharmottara. It extensively covers the Artistic tradition of India, with special emphasis on sculpture and painting.

Bhagavata Purana

Agama

The agamas are critical text to the Vedic tradition that are still used today for both temple construction and temple management. Though legend asserts that there were once countless agamas, today there are about 200, with  3 Main categories: Vaishnava (108), Shaiva (28), and Shakta (64). In fact, from these are collected the 64 Tantras (but that is a topic for another time).

The Kaamikaagama dedicates 60 of its 75 chapters to Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting. It is a highly technical and systematic text (much like the Silpa Sastra) and deals with matters such as soil testing and preparation, selection of sites, measurement scheme and cardinal points for building orientation, as well as ground plans. 20 different types of buildings are mentioned. It also provides exceedingly technical classifications such as the various styles (Nagara, Dravida, and Vesara), shapes (masculine, feminine, and neuter), materials (Suddha, Mishra, and Samkeerna), amalgamation of materials (Sthaanaka, Aasana, and Sayana), as well as various ayadi formulae regarding proportionality. [1, 13]

The Karanaagama  allocates much of its treatment to Sthaapatya Veda, with 37 chapters on the subject. The Suprabhedaagama dedicates 15 chapters, but is highly useful for laypeople due to its brevity, clarity, and precision. It is deemed superior to Varahamihira‘s Brhat Samhita in such matters and has much in common with the Maanasaara. Finally, the Vaikhaanasaagama has 2 chapters on sculpture and various taala measures.

There are other Indic texts discussing various topics under Sthaapatya Veda. These include the Arthasastra of Kautilya, the Harsacharita of Bana, the Garga-samhita, and so on. Poetry, such as Bhavabhuti’s Uttaramacharita also mention aspects of Sthaapatya, as does Yaaska’s Nirukta and other subsequent compilations such as the Amarakosa.

However, this is also a unique point of divergence as we see along with the Astika Vaidika Dharma tradition, the Bauddha Dharma contribution to the Indic concepts of Art & Architecture.

Bauddha

“In the Buddha’s time and in that portion of northern India where the Buddhist influence was most early felt—that is to say, in the districts including and adjoining those now called the United Provinces and Behar’—the arrangements of villages were practically similar…Villagers are described as ‘uniting of their own accord to build mote-hills and rest-houses and reservoirs, to mend the roads between their own and adjacent villages, and even to lay out parks.'” [1,3]

The stupa is arguably the most famous contribution of Bauddha Dharma to Indic Civilization. Amaravati, Sarnath, Sanchi, Naalanda, and Takshasila all feature constructions famous the world over. While much of it is naturally an outgrowth of the Vedic Canon, the Buddha himself appears to have been a progenitor of a distinct approach to architecture. “At places it appears as if Buddha were delivering discourses on architecture. As a matter of fact, he enjoined upon his devotees the supervision of building construction as one of the duties of the order. It is stated in one of the early texts that the Bhikkhus were told on a certain occasion by the Blessed One, after the delivery of a religious discourse, with respect to dwellings, thus: ‘I allow you O Bhikkus, abodes of five kinds—Vihara, Arddhayoga, Praasaada, Harmya, and Guhaa’.” [1,4]

Viharas are the famous grand monasteries of the Bauddhas, Ardhayoggas are considered to be unique to Vanga (Bengal) and were part ceremonial and part residential. Praasaadas are purely residential multi-storied constructions. Harmyas are more humble versions of praasaadas, and Guhas are part underground cave constructions, which are famous through India. These of course often feature the Chaitya halls known in rock-cut cave architecture. Just to give insight into the timescales associated with their completion, a small Vihara was said to take 5-6 years and a large Vihara or Prasada 10-12 years.

Houses were built comprising ‘dwelling-rooms and retiring-rooms, and store-rooms, and service halls and halls with fire-places in them, and store-houses,, and closets, and cloisters, and halls for exercise, and wells, and sheds for the well, and bath-rooms, and halls attached to the bath-rooms, and ponds, and open-roofed sheds.” [1,4-5]

There was also mention of pavilions, lotus ponds, and inner chambers of 3 types: Sivikaa-garbha (square halls), Naalikaa-garbha or rectangular halls, and Harmya-garbha (large dining halls). Gates, doors, screens, and revolving doors are all mentioned. We also find discussion of various types of furniture such as divans (pallanka), rectangular chairs (aasandako), sofa (sattango), state chair (bhadda-peetam), cushioned chair (paeetikaa), cane-bottomed chair (koccham) and so on. There is also description of carpets, rugs, pillows, and other such accents and fixtures.

Literature providing insight into the Buddhist approach to architecture includes the Jatakas, the Nikayas, various Sutras such as the Mahaa-Suddassana.

File:Amaravati Stupa relief at Museum.jpg
Frieze of Amaravati Stupa, Andhra Pradesh
Key Concepts

There are a vast and variegated number of concepts associated with Sthaapatya Veda, given its status as a meta-category for Art & Architecture. As this article is meant to primarily provide a snapshot for readers, it will be more restricted in coverage.

Any object is a vastu, hence any creation deriving from an object is Vaastu.  Vaastu literally means “site planning”.  [2] As such subjects discussed below include home planning, municipality planning, and public hygiene.

Home Planning

Land Type

There are 16 types of Lands. They are classified under forest lands, fertile lands and ordinary lands. One that is fertile, verdant, full of hills and valleys all around, contains tall and “sweet scented trees and shrubs, where the atmosphere is serene, cool, and calm, where songs of birds abound, such a location is ideal for the selection of a dwelling site.” [1, 17]

Soil Type

Per the Maanasaara, “the ground should have sweet, dense, soft, and pleasant soil.” [1,17]

Ground to be avoided include those having the smell of honey, ghee, burnt items, birds, fish, or rotten bodies, those adjacent to Royal palaces or factories or workshops, road crossings, tomb, thorny trees, uneven surface, circular/concave land, and those infested by wild animals. Suitable ground is characterised by “having various colours, taste, fertile, redolent like musk by black bees, having all good features“, sloping hills and ponds in the right directions, and so on. Such a plot of land should be selected and purified. [1,18]

Each House plan is divided into x number of plots. Each set of plots is dedicated to a deity (such as Brahma, Indra, Vivasvan, and so on). Various directions and sets of plots are specified as ideal for certain occupations. It is said that water bodies should be made in the North East, South/Southwest suitable for dining halls, etc. Specification for bedrooms, study rooms, treasuries, and rooms for amusements, and flower gardens are also made on the basis of plot set. Proportionality (something modern Indians lack in behaviour) is mandated everywhere.

Rituals

There is a specified ritual for commencement of construction. Jyotisha should be consulted to determined the auspicious moment, followed by bath and prayers. A Sthaapathi (Architect) should also be consulted.  Following this, erection of the gnomon (similar to a sundial)and pegs can be done with the assistance of a surveyor. There are 3 types of gnomons. These are long, middle and smaller.

Construction

At the centre of the prepared site a circle having a radius double that of the selected gnomon should be drawn using a chord. The gnomon should be firmly fixed at the centre of the circle.” [1, 19] It’s quite clear from descriptions from the Maanasaara, that not only Jyotihsastra, but even Ganita that was crucially & carefully applied by the Sthaapathis.

Municipality Planning

Artist representation of Lothal, Gujarat

Urban planning of the Indic variety did not merely focus on urban areas and forts. Towns and even villages were meticulously planned and established. As such, what is called city planning is better termed municipality planning, since even ancient Indic villages not only conformed to certain patterns, but had specified plans for development and maintenance.

32 ground plans are given in the Maanasaara for the construction of buildings, villages, towns, palaces, and forts. Rather than give an exhaustive list here, the construction types will be covered instead

Villages

Per Sthaapatya Veda, there were 8 types of Villages. A separate exegesis on Vaastu Saastra will better cover the topic. Nevertheless, here is a brief overview:

  1. Dandaka—suited for agraharas, with 12-300 houses, including some for munis.
  2. Sarvotabhadra—another village type suitable for aescetics (Vedic, Jain, Buddhist), but in this case housing all classes of people with different occupations. Mathas may also be constructed here.
  3. Nandyaavarta—meaning frog-shaped, this type of village may even feature royal residences. Streets here are larger and feature footpaths as well. Residences for musicians and dancers are also specified.
  4. Padmaka—Has 4-8 streets. Generally follows the pattern of the nandyaavarta.
  5. Svastika—This village type has 81 plots and is particularly purposed for the residence of kings. Naturally the main street shape is in the design of a Svastika.Has a royal palace, with residential buildings laid out around temples
  6. Prastara—with 81, 64, or 49 plots, this village type is square-shaped. There is a circular road, and it is ideal as fortified trading municipality.
  7. Kaarmuka—This village type is ideal for mercantile and productive classes. Vishnu and Siva temples are stipulated for construction at the junction of 2 streets.
  8. Chaturmukha—Square or rectangular in layout, it has four main streets in four cardinal directions, with a round boundary wall. This village type can be purposed for all ways of life.

Reading various texts of Sthaapatya Veda, the ideal of the Village Republic becomes clear. The first priority is made for defence. Each village was expected to be surrounded by a high wall of brick or stone, along with a ditch beyond it to serve as an obstacle in the event of an attack. Four main gates are considered the standard with 2 intersecting N-S and E-W streets. Often one for circumambulation of the entire village is also advised.  Tanks and ponds are also mentioned. Houses in the street could range from 1 to 12 storeys. [1,39] The main point was that residential houses should be located in areas without street congestion from traffic. In addition, murthi-sthaapana was to take place only during festivals or special occasions, and with proper religious rituals and honours. [1, 38]

Most notable, however, is that provision is made not only for village planning but re-planning!In the case of replanning a village, the architect or town planner should follow the order laid down for all villages.” [1,39] And for those who believe Hindus have no sense of heritage, here is a specific exhortation for village re-planning: “if there is any ancient building or temple in the village it should be retained and preserved.” [1, 39]

Cities

Palitana — Jain City of Temples

City and town planning are admittedly more complex.  These were categorised based on who resided in the area, the most important being the ruler of the particular polity.  There were 9 categories for cities based on 9 types of rulers: Astragrahin, Praharaarka, Pattaabhaj, Mandalesa, Pattaadhara, Parshnika, Narendra, Maharaja, Chakravartin. These in turn had various sub-categories.

The other set of cities are simply known as Nagara or Kevala:

  • Nagara/Kevala—City with four gates in the cardinal directions. Army barracks and guard quarters with temples and markets.
  • Pura—Without a royal palace.  It has many gardens and orchards for people of the various varnas. It is a centre of trade and commerce, with temples for worship
  • Nagaree—A city near a mountain or river. It should have a wall for protection
  • Kharvata—A city near pasture lands with mixed population
  • Kheta— A forest municipality inhabited by hunters
  • Kubjaka—A town with diverse types of people. It does not have a defensive wall
  • Pattana—A citadel near a river (much like Mohenjo-daro)

Forts were categorised as Sivira (camp or outpost), Vahinimukha (city with defence establishments), Sthaniya (strategic city near mountains/passes), Dronaka (fortified town built on banks of a river for commerce), Samviddha (town for brahmins), Kolaka (a samviddha with a palace for the king), Chaari/Nigama (town primarily for religious and commercial purposes), and Skandhavara (fortified town for kshatriyas). [1, 44]

There are of course the traditionally specified types of fortresses, which are 7 in number: Mountain fort (giri durgam), Forest fort (vana durgam), Water fort (jala durgam), Clay/Cave fort (panka/guha durgam), Chariot fort (ratha durgam), Divine fort (divya durgam, has extensive fortress with efficient defensive system), and Mixed fort (mishra durgam, situated among both both mountains and forest). [1, 45]

Temple construction is a topic of its own.

Harmandir Saheb – Golden Temple of Amritsar, Punjab

Given the technicality, Temple construction is better dealt with again under Vaastu Sastra. Not to play to the gallery by saying “pehle sauchalay, phir devalay“, (which should really not be an either or proposition…) but another critical aspect to discuss is the emphasis on public hygiene. Modern Indian municipalities may not be known for this (the cost of Colonialism), but ancient India certainly was.

Interestingly, not just cities, but even villages had to plan for hygiene, drainage, and catchment.

Drainage & Hygiene

With the passage of time and the efforts of archaeologists, it’s becoming more and more difficult to deny the greater and greater similarities between the Vedic culture that is recorded (and still lived today) and the ever increasing discoveries of the scale and spread of the Indus Valley Civilization, so much so, that it is increasingly being called the Sarasvati-Sindhu Civilization. This, of course, dovetails with the Vedic Tradition itself, which asserts the Sarasvati-Sindhu (Brahmavarta) as the original home of all Indians.

Given the likelihood of this, and texts such as the Arthasastra which specify the high degree of regimented and disciplined public hygiene, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are very much emblematic of Sthaapatya Veda’s emphasis on the same. If these cities in Sindhu desh show the urban plan of drainage, Sthaapatya Veda describes it right down to the village level.

It is also no wonder that Ayurveda is closely associated with it. According to Sthaapatya Ved it is imperative to known about other various valuable effects to the environment given out by various types of trees, plants, shrubs and herbs, etc. This has been studied methodically and their effects to human physiology have been stated. This is effectively used in planning a garden around a home, planting trees around a village, public gardens and tree in the cities. The trees and plants have been classified according to the location of their use.” [1, 48]

Vriksha Ayurveda, due to it extensive nature, is again, better discussed elsewhere. Nevertheless, this dovetails into the key terms for the topic.

Terminology

Keerthi Thorana, Warangal, Telangana
  • Vaastu Sastra—Study of Architecture & City Planning
  • Silpa Sastra—Study of Sculpture & Iconography
  • Chitra Sastra—Study of Painting
  • Chitra lakshana—Painting
  • Taksana—Carpentry
  • Rajadhani— Capital City
  • Graama— Village
  • Thorana—Arch
  • Devaayatana—Temple
  • Sabha—Assembly Hall
  • Sikhara—Steeple
  • Gala—Dome
  • Uttara—Lintel
  • Jaala—Jali (screen/lattice)
  • Gopura—Tower
  • Garbagriha—Sanctum Sanctorum
  • Praasaada—Palace
  • Vimaana—Pavilion
  • Visesha Bhavana—Palace of Beauty
  • Marga—Road
  • Manusyalaya—Residence
  • Aarama—Guest house
  • Alinda—Verandah
  • Prakaara—Ramparts
  • Parikha—Moats
  • Kapisirsaka—Battlements
  • Kautukalya—Museum
  • Silpasala— Art House
  • Istaka—Brick
  • Stambha—Pillar
  • Dvara—Door
  • Kaksa—Room
  • Gavaaksa—Window
  • Attaalika—Edifices/Buildings
  • Sthaapathi—Architect
  • Sthaapaka—Presiding priest at an architectural site
  • Silpi/Bhaskara—Sculptor
  • Chitrakaara—Painter

Important Texts

Vishvakarma Vastu Sastra

Vishvakarma Prakasa

Vishnudharmottara Purana

18 Mahapuranas (Matsya, Skanda, Garuda, Agni, etc)

Silpa Sastras

Silpa Ratna

Brihat Samhita of Varaahamihira

Maanasaara

Mayamata

Agamas, ie Kaamikaagama, Karanaagama, Suprabhedaagama & Vaikhaanasaagama

Suryasiddhanta

Siddhanta-shiromani

Samarangana Sutra of King Bhoja

Aparaajita-Prcchaa of Bhuvanadevacharya

Leelavati of Bhaskaracharya (mentions architecturally important concepts)

Conclusion

Much like virtually every field of study—even contribution—in Indic Civilization, Indian Art & Architecture is also subject to great controversy. On the one hand, western and western-sponsored “scholars” seek to minimise and question every accomplishment, be it intellectual or architectural, and on the other hand, the atisayokti-prone argumentative Indian reacts in grand hyperbole (“Taj Mahal was Shiva temple!“—[even this theory guys, asserts it was a palace that housed a Shiva Temple…details matter].

Marxist “historians” have only complicated matters more by inventing schools that didn’t previously exist “Indo-saracenic”, and crediting everything under the sun (pillars, domes, screens, even temples!) to foreign invaders. Finally, foreign invaders themselves gleefully catalogued their vandalism and iconoclasm that resulted in the destruction of many beautiful palaces and temples. Ghazni himself waxed eloquent on the wondrous temple of Mathura, saying it would take 200 years to build such a magnificent and glorious structure—before he proceeded to rob it of its inlaid gold and gems and burn it down with sulphur and naphta. Self-proclaimed “seculars” engage in all sorts of denialism of such realities, despite widespread primary source evidence. How can a person interested in facts, and Historical Truth, navigate his or her way through such a quagmire?

The answer lies in starting from the roots. And the roots of Indian Art & Architecture (real Indian Art & Architecture) are in Sthaapatya Veda.

Hindus had codified every branch of knowledge in some kind of Saastra and we had a Saastra on Art also. Among many Vedas and Upa-Vedas there was a Sthaapatya-Veda. Accordingly Hindu Art had a very vast scope in which Fine Arts, Technical Arts and Applied Arts, all were included. We had a full-fledged science which was called Shilpasasatra or Vaastusaastra. We had also a tradition of Kalaas what are known as ‘Catussastri-kalaas” [2, 1]

Srirangam Temple, Trichy, Tamizh Nadu

As seen  above with the Srirangam temple and also with the Vedanga Jyotisha, most of the traditional sciences in Indic Epistemology have an holistic unity. Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting are seamlessly integrated not only with themselves, but also with Ganita and Jyotihsastra. Many of course naturally protest saying the mythological and metaphysical should be kept apart from the modern and material. But in fairness, is that always the case?

Are the findings of Dvaraka real? —maybe. Are the roots of the Sarasvati-Indus Valley, Vedic?—possibly. But the answer to whether or not there was a native and ancient Indic approach to Art & Architecture should certainly be “definitely”. And that Indic approach to Art & Architecture is found in Sthaapatya Veda.

Click here to Buy this Book!!


References:
  1. Gaur, Niketan. Sthapatya Ved-Vastu Sastra: Ideal Homes, Colony and Town Planning. New Delhi: New Age Books. 2009
  2. Shukla, Lalit Kumar. A Study of Hindu Art and Architecture (with special reference to the terminology). Chowkhamba. 1972
  3. Singh, B. Satyanarayana. The Art and Architecture of Kakatiyas.Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. 1999
  4. Shukla, D.N. Hindu Science of Architecture (Vol. I). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. 2008

Book Discussion: Rasas in Bharatanatyam

RasasBook

Introduction & Book Summary

Bharatanatyam artist Prakruti Prativadi recently published a book ‘Rasas in Bharatanatyam’. ICP’s daughter portal shared an interesting introductory article written by the author. I got a copy of the book from Amazon.com a couple of weeks ago and ended up reading it multiple times. The work is an outcome of several years of research and a first-person experience of living the tradition. The book is intended to be the first of a series.

The author states that the book is aimed at the serious Bharatanatyam artist and connoisseur, and is also beneficial to those who want to learn more about Indic art traditions. An in-depth discussion of the different elements of Bharatanatyam including Abhinaya, Rasa, and Bhava is provided. The book also presents a brief and well-researched history of Bharatanatyam and related traditions in Hinduism, a topic which has endured much distortion and confusion in recent years. The author goes deep into the ancient roots of natya, and succinctly explains the concepts relying on primary sources in Sanskrit and Indic languages. The clarity and authority required to write in a crisp question-answer format, the shraddha, the attention to technical detail, and the reinforcement of key learning points give the book a stamp of authenticity that perhaps only a dedicated practitioner and teacher can produce.

Where to Buy

Readers can set up a discount code ($8.00 off) which is available only from the Createspace page (not the amazon.com page) by following these steps:

  1. Go to the book’s Createspace page:
  2. Add the Book to the Cart, this will take buyers to the checkout page
  3. Add this discount code: PYTKY7GV in the ‘Discount Code’ field and click ‘Apply Discount’ to get a discount, the price of the book will be $28.99.

Please note: Users will have to sign up for a Createspace account (if they don’t have one). Createspace is owned by Amazon.

Bharatanatyam: Embodied Learning & Direct Experience

Poet, Indic scholar, and computer scientist Prof. Subhash Kak has said that the best way to understand India is through its art [2], and the book reaffirms this point. Why art? India is the land of Vedas, so can’t one read Vedic text?

The author discusses the worldview underlying Bharatanatyam and notes that direct experience is central to Hinduism. Through sadhana and shraddha, potentially anyone can transcend their ordinary level of consciousness [1]. This is an amazing and powerful discovery by India’s ancient seers. The armchair-acharya (like the theoretical martial artist and air guitarist) tries to convince us otherwise, but Hinduism recognizes that textual knowledge is useful but it cannot fully delineate the scope of Dharma and Vedas, and we provide two independent explanations regarding this.

Prof. Kak quotes Yaaska [3], the author of the ancient Sanskrit treatise Nirukta: “One who reads the Veda but does not know its meaning is like a draught animal”, and explains that “the idea of knowing the Veda is not merely to read it, but to understand its meaning in one’s heart. This is paradoxical, since one cannot understand the text unless one has already had the experience of its deepest intuitions. The text of the Veda cannot in itself be used for instruction”. We have Bharata Muni’s Natya Sastra, revered as the fifth Veda, that has the wisdom of the four Vedas embedded within, which is available to all people, cutting through all barriers of social and economic status, gender, race, and geography.

In his book Indra’s Net [4], Rajiv Malhotra poses a related question: “How did the rishis ‘see’ the shruti in the first place? Unlike the Abrahamic religions, in which prophets hear from an external God, in the Vedas there is no external voice. There is no entity equivalent to Yahweh who speaks the Vedas to the rishis… Vedas are a-purusheya, i.e., beginningless and authorless. They existed before the rishis ‘saw’ them… Hinduism does not regard the rishis as inherently different in substance or essence from the rest of us…. each human has the same potential as the rishis, and that this potential is realized through disciplined sadhana (the inner sciences of adhyatma-vidya)”. In the Indian context, Rajiv Malhotra coined the term ‘embodied knowing’ to refer to adhyatma vidya, and Indic art forms that employ this inner science surely occupy a pride of place in India’s grand narrative [6]. The deepest authentic ‘ideas of India’ are embedded in Bharatanatyam. We owe a debt of gratitude to dedicated artists who tirelessly practice, promote, and preserve India’s sacred art forms.

Bharatanatyam as Yajna

The book has a brief but insightful discussion of Bharatanatyam as Yajna, which has been explained as a sacred process that establishes links (bandhus) between the inner and the outer world [6]. The material world is not considered separate and discarded but is harmoniously united with the spiritual within Bharatanatyam. Indic art forms are rooted in this Vedic view where consciousness is the basis of ultimate reality itself [3]. Such a Bharatanatyam is unacceptable to the enticing “sweet-speech” Charvaka School [5] that totally rejects Yajna, Puja, Bandhus, and the transcendental domain since they believe that consciousness emerges from neural matter [2]. Bharatanatyam is also incompatible with the irreconcilable duality of history-centric Abrahamic dogma that accepts the transcendental and the transactional domains but keeps their existence independent and infinitely apart [6].

Actively participating in Yajna leads to an internal transformation that is like undergoing a ‘rebirth’ [2]. This leads us to a second, and equally remarkable observation that any sensitive and attuned viewer (Sahridaya) immersed in a Bharatanatyam performance [1] can also potentially attain a higher state of consciousness and transcendental bliss, and this communication is possible due to Rasa. The book explains this process in-depth.

Rasa Ganita

Dharmic thought employs a finite and limited number of levels to manage quantities/qualities that may appear to be unlimited or huge in number, or even indivisible or continuous. How does it work?

On Rasa, Prof. Kak remarks [3]: “An aesthetic attitude is a combination, in varying measures, of the different essences (rasas) of it. It is one of the great insights of the Indian tradition that these essences are supposed to be discrete, and perhaps this idea emerged from the Vaisesika atomic doctrine as well as the idea of Nyaya that mind operates sequentially”. Like Panini and his rules of grammar, Bharata, using only a finite number of sutras, covered the profound topics of Rasa and Bhava and spanned the virtually unlimited expanse of dance and drama.

Paanini has been credited for a grand unified theory of language, and Bharata too can be credited for a similar theory of aesthetics thousands of years ago. The author notes how a danseuse can skillfully conjugate various dance elements such as movements, gestures, etc. mentioned in the Natya Sastra to generate innumerable permutations and combinations to artistically express the myriad emotions and situations that has occurred, or will occur in the future, and convey that meaning to the audience. Bharatanatyam does not limit but encourages unselfish self-expression.

Rasa Awakening in the Audience

In her book, Prakruti ji takes us on a fascinating journey through the Rasa awakening process in Bharatanatyam. The idea of Rasa is ancient and present in the Upanishads [1]. According to the author “Rasa is the supreme aesthetic experience and absolute aesthetic relish that the audience feels when witnessing an artistic performance… Rasa is a heightened state of consciousness and bliss… This experience is called Rasasvada, which is akin to Brahmasvada, a supreme knowledge… Rasa is a Sanskrit word that no equivalent word in English”. A simplified arrow-diagram view of the Rasa awakening sequence/combination given in the book can be described as follows (the interested reader should refer to the book to obtain a complete and correct picture).

Vibhava (cause/determinant): → Anubhavas (consequent reaction) → Vyabhichari Bhavas (temporary emotional states) → Sthayi Bhava (permanent emotional state) → Rasa

(Author dancing selected Paasurams from the Vaarinam Aayiram)

In Bharatanatyam, for example, the process can be triggered by witnessing the Abhinaya of the skillful artist, and given the right conditions, culminate in a heightened state of consciousness within a receptive audience. In an interview, Dr. Ramachandran Nagaswamy confirms this important point about Rasa while correcting the mistaken conclusion of a western Indologist.

Another crucial point made by the author is that the generation of Rasa in a performance is not guaranteed and it requires the harmonious integration of multiple inter-connected factors. The author likens it to a complex and rich recipe.  Rasa is not awakened by sensory stimuli such as personal sadness experienced in mundane life, or by artists using the stage to make purely political and social statements. And even if the performance is of the highest caliber, it still requires an attuned viewer (Sahridaya) [1] within whom the ‘aesthetic vibes’ of the performance can resonate. The author quotes Bharata “without Rasa, there can be no meaningful communication”.

Engineering Design Example

Natya Sastra ideas can find applications in diverse fields, including entertainment, advertising, public-service messaging, etc. Given its integral view, teaching Natya Sastra concepts authentically in schools and colleges will benefit not only young artists, but also engineers and scientists. As an analogy and example, modern highway design relies on the PIEV theory of driver response to visual stimuli:

Cause/determinant: → Perception → Intellection → Emotion → Volition

PIEV is used to measure the perception-reaction time of a driver. Triggered by observing an event, the driver first perceives (something happened), grasps the implications (danger to self/others), and this triggers one or more emotions (what to do?), before converging on a final, stable action (brake, steer, or accelerate). PIEV duration differs for a distracted versus fully conscious driver. When deciding where and how to install and calibrate a traffic light, one has to evaluate the combination of all inter-related factors – PIEV, visibility, topography, traffic conditions, etc., in order to maximize the percentage of drivers that will have sufficient time to go through PIEV and make the right decision. PIEV and Rasa may be two different things (although when in danger, even the most materialistic passenger and driver will invoke the divine transcendent charioteer to ensure fast PIEV so they can remain in their transactional world); however, there appear to be similarities – the importance of an integral perspective, a scientific approach, and understanding the roles of emotional states, cognition, and consciousness.

Bharatanatyam & Artificial Intelligence

Today, Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems can generate cooking recipes, write mournful poetry, and has even started writing musical scores. Can machine-generated artistic performances evoke Rasa? Can it replicate the transcendental leap [3] that is possible through a Yajna? These are interesting questions to be answered by experts. Machines are not conscious because they cannot have Bandhus [3], and their art output appears to be generated by algorithms using preset rules distilled from prior art, which were created by highly skilled human artists, not machines. The book has clearly established that the Rasa awakening process and the dance elements of Bharatanatyam are not mechanical.

While machine art may match humans and eventually do better in terms of purely materialist aesthetics, the sacred Indic art-as-Yajna rooted in an integral unity via bandhus that bind the inner and outer worlds, will not only survive, but thrive and give humanity a sense of hope and a glimpse of divinity. This makes it all the more important that Bharatanatyam and classic Indian art be preserved and taught in their authentic form and context. Prakruti Prativadi’s book is a welcome step in this direction.

Click here to Buy this Book!

RasasBook

(This post was written by an aesthetically-challenged Ganita professional ‘armed’ with two right feet, and is an informal exploration of ideas inspired by Prakruti Prativadi’s book)

References

  1. Rasas in Bharatanatyam. Prakruti Prativadi. CreativeSpace. 2017.
  2. Art and Cosmology in India. Subhash Kak. Patanjali Lecture, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. 2006.
  3. The Pragna Sutra: Aphorisms of Intuition. Subhash Kak. 2006.
  4. Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity. Rajiv Malhotra. Harper Collins, 2014.
  5. Epistemology and Language in Indian Astronomy and Mathematics. Roddam Narasimha. Journal of Indian Philosophy. 2007.
  6. Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. Rajiv Malhotra. Harper Collins, 2011.

Kolam — Computing and Cosmology within Indian Art

Background1.bmp
copyright: Indicportal.org
Introduction

Kolams are curved line patterns drawn by the women of Tamil Nadu every morning in front of their houses after sprinkling water and cleaning the ground. Traditionally, this is done using rice flour and is not intended to be a permanent design. Over the day, birds, ants, and tiny insects feed on it, and the wind and footsteps disturb it. The Kolam is disturbed and eventually erased, and the whole cycle is repeated the next day, and the Kolam is reborn.

Kolam patterns are quite fascinating and have caught the attention of researchers worldwide. ‘Ethnographers’ study the Kolam and compare it to ancient designs from other world cultures, while scientists seek to better understand the computing, linguistic, and mathematical rules embedded within these ‘mysterious’ curved lines. Many admire the aesthetic aspect of this female artistic expression. Some are moved to poetry. But it is the Indian woman, from vegetable vendor to ISRO rocket engineer, who have actually practiced and kept the tradition of Kolam alive across centuries. They are connecting with the sacred and the auspicious while creating a new Kolam in front of their home to start off another busy day.

Here are a couple of beautiful Kolam websites that you must visit. Kolams can be done in a variety of different ways. They can be something really simple that takes only a couple of minutes, or they can turn into serious art projects like the one shown in this video below.

In other regions of India, Kolam, especially with colors (e.g. see above video) is known as RangoliRangavalli, etc.  Each region has its own distinct version of Kolam or Rangoli. An incomplete list is provided below [1].

  • Muggulu (Muggu): Andhra
  • Alpana: Bengal
  • Puvidal: Kerala
  • Chowkpurna: Madhya Pradesh
  • Rangoli: Maharashtra, Karnataka
  • Mandana: Rajasthan
  • Kolam: Tamil Nadu
  • Sanjhi: Uttar Pradesh

Women artists in each of these Indian states create Kolam themes that are distinctive and reflective of their regional culture. However, one cannot fail to notice the commonality and consonance between the Rangoli patterns spread all across India, exemplifying India’s unity in diversity.  In southern India, Kolams are often drawn daily, while in other places, women may choose to do so during festive occasions.  There are also Kolam variations within any given region. For example, in Tamil Nadu, we have Pulli (dot) Kolam, Padi Kolam, etc.  Here is a video of a step-by-step construction of a Padi Kolam.

The Kolam structure naturally lends itself to a rich artistic expression. Indeed, the word ‘Kolam’ itself suggests ‘beauty’. It has certain fascinating mathematical properties, as well as a sacred cosmology associated with its construction. Let’s look at all these ideas after a brief review of its history

History of Kolam

Creating paintings on a natural surface has a really ancient history in India, as evidenced by the Bhimbetka frescoes that are at least 15, 000 years old.  This news article [2] talks about the use of Rangoli in the Mahabharata while another forum mentions the design in the Ramayana. Other floor designs, such as the endearing floor drawing of the footprints of little Krishna walking into the house during Janmashtami are well known in Indian tradition. One of the 64 arts mentioned in ancient India is तण्डुलकुसुमवलिविकाराः , i.e. Tandula (rice) Kusumavali (array of flowers), Vikara (transformation).  This is an art form of organizing an offering of rice and flowers. Rangoli appears to be an instance of this art form. Rangoli is mentioned in the Chitralakshana [3], one of the oldest Indian treatises on paintings, attesting to its ancient origins. In Tamil Nadu, Kolam floor designs were popular during the Chola rule [4].

An article summarizing the amazing work of Dr. Gift Siromoney, a pioneer of Kolam research, comments on the historicity of the Kolam patterns in Tamil literature [5]: “Contrary to popular belief, the common threshold patterns are not very ancient. The practice of decorating the floor may go back to about six hundred years and not more. A few designs may be traced to the Jain temples of South Kanara and at least one to Mahayana Buddhism“. The first conclusion is incorrect. While it may be possible that the usage of the word ‘Kolam’ in Tamil to denote these sacred designs may have been no earlier than 16th century, the actual practice of such floor drawings in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India is ancient, as mentioned earlier. The author is quite right in his second observation that the sacred practice of Kolam is common to all three dharmic systems of India.

Another interesting point mentioned here is that: “To save time in “drawing” the Kolam, many women use devices such as perforated rolling tubes and perforated trays“. We find that attempts to automate Kolam generation were made several decades ago. Of course, such a mechanical device would reproduce a single pattern.

The global research community appears to have noticed the Kolam of Tamil Nadu in 1929 via the work of Mrs. Gnana Durai [3].

Mrs. Durai’s note (source: jstor.org)

A few years later, American anthropologist Layard published a detailed treatise [4] that has been cited extensively. More recent studies done by researchers have covered a wide range of areas including art, computer science, math, sociology, etc.

Kolam Computing

Dr. Gift Siromoney at Madras Christian College co-authored a series of articles on Kolam in the 1970s-80s [5] by analyzing Kolam patterns as a ‘picture language’ in the context of computer graphics, image processing, and theoretical computer science topics. Dr. Siromoney was by all accounts, a remarkable multi-talented personality. His key contributions include:

  • A systematic analysis of Kolam that breaks down the construction of any complex design into a finite sequence of simple ‘Kolam moves’, which remains a key idea in Kolam pattern research even today. Based on this analysis, he was able to develop one of the earliest computer programs that could generate multiple Kolam designs.
  • Identifying the initial placement of Pullis (dots) to create a grid as a key facilitating step toward rapid Kolam creation.
  • A method to determine whether a given Kolam pattern is made up of a single curve (kambi) or multiple lines (multi kambi). He showed how single-line Kolams could be transformed into multi-line Kolams and vice versa, using certain elementary operations that are also noted in Circular DNA Splicing Theory (!). We also note here the single-kambi Kolam connection to an Eulerian graph.
  • Experiments that empirically demonstrate that Kolam creation requires skill that can be learned and improved via experience. Seasoned Kolam practitioners were able to store, recall, and more quickly create sophisticated patterns compared to novices.
  • Determining that a Kolam practitioner’s skill level had little correlation with their attained level of academic education.

After the pioneering work of Siromoney, a variety of western and Japanese research contributions were published. One of the common goals was the design and analysis of algorithms that could efficiently generate a variety of Kolam patterns. Innovative ideas from math topics ranging from knot theory to topology were employed to come up with methods for generating valid Kolam patterns. Some others tried to enumerate the number of single-kambi Kolam combinations possible for a given number of dots in a grid (not surprisingly, they grow exponentially).

Since the earliest works, several researchers have remarked on the ‘endless lines’ within some Kolams, which we discuss in the next section. Contemporary research is also trying to better understand how single-strand Kolam patterns can be encoded via a ‘sequential language’, i.e. the sequence of gestures employed by Kolam creators.  Recently (2011), researchers at SASTRA university in Thanjavur patented a steganographic  method  (encrypting and transmitting data using an image or pattern), using a pulli Kolam. Note that FIG 2. below resembles a single kambi Kolam. There may also be beneficial applications in the analysis of the Traveling Salesman Problem, a famously difficult problem in Computational Complexity Theory. Clearly, we have a long way to go before we fully decode its magic.

source: google.com (USPTO)

Whereas the western approach to art, science, and math is based on a separate and independent existence of the material and the transcendental world, the Indian approach sees no such dichotomy. Indian art, including Kolam, is rooted in a sacred cosmology, which we examine next.

Cosmology of the Sacred Kolam

Why do Tamil women draw Kolams daily at the threshold of their homes? Why not do something else?

This informative article poses such questions and provides an explanation from a western universal perspective. I present an alternative point of view from my Indian perspective. The linked article also has a nice discussion of the significance of a Kolam’s location at the point of entry into a home. It is clear from this discussion, as well as the history of Rangoli, that these designs involve a sacred transcendental dimension.  In Itihasa [1], Rangolis were drawn by the Gopis anxiously awaiting the return of their beloved Krishna, and by the joyous citizens of Ayodhya in anticipation of Rama’s return. Why did they do it?

We can see from Dr. Siromoney’s research, that 16th and 17th century Tamil works record Kolams being drawn prior to a puja invoking Ganapati, the deity who is a remover of obstacles. Today, Kolam drawing in front of their houses remains an integral part of daily life for many Indians, and is also a part of sacred Hindu festivals across India. A deeper understanding of Kolam (and Indian art in general) can be obtained via the traditional Indian approach that views art, science, etc. as not merely secular aesthetic-intellectual subjects, but also as a link to the sacred realm and worthy of reverence. We can recall that the Ganita genius Srinivasa Ramanujan employed this approach while generating truly astonishing results.

From an Indian perspective, we can find not one but several key dharmic ideas embedded within the observations made by various researchers about Kolam. We discuss some of them here.

  1. Order and Chaos: The harmonious existence of a Kolam and nature within an endless cycle; a gradual dissolution into chaos followed by an equally inevitable restoration of order the next day. Furthermore, there exists within the seemingly complicated ‘spaghetti’ patterns, some really simple and orderly moves that generate them.
  2. Recursion: for e.g., the fractals identified in the kolam [10]
    • Fractal Kolam: The Anklets of Krishna (source: math.yale.edu)
  3. The idealized Kolam: a single, unbroken line used to create the entire kolam
  4. The embodied skill required to recall and create complex Kolam designs

The reader is referred to [8] to better understand the first idea. As far as the second concept, many have observed a recursive generating rule pervading Indian art. A similar inductive approach is apparent in various fields such as Sanskrit Grammar (Paninian rules), and Ganita (e.g., Pingala‘s Mount Meru, Hemachandra series, etc.). For example, consider the Hindu representation of the cosmos as the Sri Yantra, which clearly exhibits this recursion. Here’s a simple DIY Sri Yantra Kolam.

Sri Yantra (source: sutrajournal.com)

The third feature suggests dharma’s integral unity:  the externally visible plurality of designs in a single-strand Kolam have no independent existence of their own, but exist within and as a single line (cycle) that has no beginning and end. This also represents the cosmological idea of a Brahma Mudichchu, or Brahma’s knot. Dr. Siromoney travel notes mention that “The South Canara district of Mysore region is studded with Jain temples and each temple has an ornamental flag-staff or dhvaja stambha. The Thousand Pillared Basti at Mudabidare built in the fifteenth century has many ornamental pillars. In some of the pillars there are some complicated designs similar to the Kolam patterns made of unending lines….The unending lines are clearly depicted showing a line superimposed and going over another line at the crossings..” Note that idea of integral unity is common to Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist dharma traditions. In fact, it appears that the Buddha may have been an expert at this art.

Today, multiple independent lines are often used to quickly complete Kolams that become too complex to be completed using a single line. However, mathematicians have been able to recreate elaborate integral Kolam instances (e.g. Pavithram (sacred) is the term used to denote kolams that have ‘never-ending lines’. See the Pavithram design below from [9]) by employing the principles of symmetry and recursion. Similarly, in Indian art, reconstruction of lost art traditions (actual examples include classical dance and poetry) is achieved via the resemblance principle of bandhu. In [8] we learn that “integral unity is not expressed only in terms of divinity and devotion; transcendence to such a state is also available through art. Since time immemorial in India, art has been a way to connect the manifest and the un-manifest, evoking through form the experience that is beyond form.

Brahma Mudi

This cosmic knot is not only present in Kolams. The knot that binds the three sacred threads (‘Poonal’ in  Tamil), as well as the joining together of the ends of the garments of the bride and groom during a Hindu marriage ceremony symbolizing their seamless and unending union, are other instances of a Brahma Mudichchu.  The Brahma knot is also present as the deep and sacred Yogic concept of Brahma Granthi in Kundalini Yoga.

A simple answer to the question of ‘why Kolam?’ is ‘why not Kolam’? All Indian art traditions seek to connect with the sacred transcendental and the Kolam is no exception. This reverence has a practical impact. Traditions rooted in sacred practice endure, while those that exclusively rely on the aesthetic or the intellectual become ephemera.  Our closing discussion on the fourth and final point shows how sacred Indian practices such as Kolam are preserved and transmitted.

Here is an interesting statement by a Japanese researcher praising the knowledge of Kolam practitioners [11]: “In southern India, there are many great female mathematicians who solve a complicated line pattern every morning, with white rice powder on the ground. The pattern is drawn around a grid pattern of dots so that the lines minimally encircle each dot, which is so called “Kolam” pattern in Tamil.”

Dr. Siromoney was able to practically demonstrate that a Kolam practitioner’s skill is an outcome of what we recognize today as the important Indic tradition of embodied knowing [8]. Dr. Siromoney’s experiments show: “… Expertise in Kolam drawing is, thus of the nature of a skill and exhibits all the attributes that psychologists associate with skill-acquisition and performance.” However, immediately after saying this, the article concludes that “Although the performance of this skill results in products (i.e., Kolam patterns) that possess complex grammatical properties, the practitioners of the skill are themselves unaware of this fact since a large proportion of the practitioners are nonliterate.”

This conclusion can now be recognized as inaccurate. Such decisive dismissals have been repeated by several western researchers, who, after using sophisticated instrumentation to record the amazing results achieved in Yoga and transcendental meditation by Hindu and Buddhist Yogis and monks, labeled them as eastern ‘mystics’ [8], in direct contrast to academy-trained ‘scientists’. Even Srinivasa Ramanujan was not spared since he did not provide a deductive proof for his results. Later, of course, almost all his results were proven by western researchers to be true to their satisfaction.

This confusion can be resolved when we understand that embodied knowing does not require literacy [8] or knowledge of scriptural text, and can be systematically accessed and transmitted in-person from Guru to Sishya, and mother to daughter. This is exactly how Sangeetam and Nrityam (traditional Indian music and dance) is taught via repeated demonstration-replication, where no dance-move textbook or musical score sheet is essential. Arguably, the depth of awareness, knowledge and skill acquired via embodied learning may be more than that achieved by tunneling through mountains of text.

Embodied knowing also democratizes and decentralizes the transmission and reception of knowledge. In fact, it appears that India’s scientific and technical prowess since ancient times until the 1700s was a result of the embodied knowing traditions being passed down from generation to generation by its artisans and engineering communities [8]. The assumption that text-parsing ability is vital to acquiring the deepest knowledge appears to be more typical of Abrahamic tradition, which has been internalized by both secular and religious scholars trained in western academia.

If you haven’t done so before, draw a Kolam at home and teach your kids. Let us rediscover this beautiful Indian tradition, and bring the sacred right to our doorstep and connect to infinity, and beyond! 

References
  1. Pongal Kolam. http://www.pongalfestival.org/pongal-kolam.html (2016).
  2. Colourful Tradition http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2003/01/07/stories/2003010700050200.htm (2003).
  3. Rangoli History. http://www.rangolidesign.net/rangoli-history.html. 2014.
  4. Explorations in Applied Geography, edited by Ashok K. Dutt et al. PHI Learning, New Delhi. (2008)
  5. Dr. Gift Siromoney’s work on Kolam. http://www.cmi.ac.in/gift/Kolam.htm. T. Robinson.
  6. Preliminary note on geometrical diagrams (kolam) from the Madras Presidency. H. G. Durai,  Man, Vol 77  (1929)
  7. Labyrinth Ritual in Southern India. John Layard. Folklore, Vol 158 (1937).
  8. Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. Rajiv Malhotra. Harper Collins India. 2011.
  9. Reconstruction and extension of lost symmetries: Examples from the Tamil of South India. P. Gerdes,  Computers & Mathematics with Applications, Vol 12 (1989).
  10. Thinking in Patterns: Fractals and Related Phenomena in Nature. By Benoit B. Mandelbrot, edited by Miroslav Michal Novak World Scientific Pub Co Inc. (2004).
  11. Solving Infinite Kolam in Knot Theory. Yukitaka Ishimoto. Computing Research Repository(2007).

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Classical Indic Literature III: Dramatics

rp_basis1.pngPranamya sirasa devau pitamaha-mahesvarau | natyasastram pravaksyami brahmanaya dudahrtam || NS 1.1

With a bow to Brahma and Siva I shall expound the Canons of Drama, as these were uttered by Brahma.

While the soul of our culture and civilization is Dharma, the body of it verily is the arts—the alankara of culture. Perhaps no extant text more deserves the title of “Fountain of the Arts” than that masterpiece by Bharata Mahamuni: Natya Sastra. This article is, therefore, a proper introduction to both it, and its composer.

Natya Sastra is an expansive text that deals with a variety of topics such as Nrtya (Dance), Chitra (Painting ), Silpa (Sculpture), Vaastu (Architecture),  Kavya (Poetry ) all under the umbrella of  Natya (Performance Arts or Histrionics).  Due to its originations of such concepts as Rasa, it is referred to as a work on Aesthetics and Beauty as well. Those of you who are long time readers would recall our articles on Classical Indic Literature. We previously dealt with Literary Theory (Saahithyalochana) and Poetics (Alankara Sastra or Kavya Sastra). This article will continue that series started over at Andhra Cultural Portal with Classical Indic Literature III: Dramatics (Nataka Sastra). It will focus more on the literary aspects of the illustrious work as well as its direct applications for literature (drama in particular), leaving performance aspects for another time.

Author

NatarajaGlow

It is said that ” No activity in a Society can remain unaffected by the Philosophy of that Society, be it a literary, or social or cultural or scientific activity.” [3, 1]  The elite Literature of Bharat, Saastriya Saahitya, is no different.  An important note: “the recent use of the term sastra as adjective, sastriya nrtya or sangita, it suggests quality of performance, sometimes genre, with an implied translation of the term ‘classical’ in English, as a qualitivative and not historical period category.” [1,43] Thus, our heritage is very old, but very much alive, and rather than secular, is sacred in nature. While our tradition maintains that Dharmic Civilization’s musical and theatrical canons originate with the Saama Veda (the fourth of the Vedas–the other three being the Rig, Yajur, and Atharva), and “[a] re-reading of the Upanisads is convincing proof of the concrete imagery of the senses, the sense perceptions and sense objects of these highly abstract metaphysical texts”[1, 54], India’s first great known treatise specifically on these canons is the Natya Sastra.

The origin of Classical Indian literary theory, as such, is traced to the Sanskrit treatise of Rishi Bharata. Natya translates to the performance arts (Histrionics). Conservatively dated to 200 B.C.E, but very likely much earlier,”[i]ts comprehensive treatment of artistic experience, expression and communication, content and form emerges from an integral vision which flowers as a many-branched tree of all the Indian arts”. [1]

Considered the earliest extant work on Dramaturgy, Natya Sastra is most famous for Bharata Muni’s rasa theory, and its pervasiveness in not only dance and music, but literature as well. He has sanctioned the use of all the rasas without reservation (NS, 19.147).

Not much is known about the author himself. There are several legends associated with him. There is strong reason to believe, however, that  Bharata Muni hailed from Kashmir.

The Natya Sastra in fact touches on the life of the great Sage ever so briefly. It mentions that he had 100 sons. They are said to have misused their skills and capacities to ridicule sages and other such dharmic personages (something very common even today).  They are therefore cursed by rishis who say, ‘as due to pride in your knowledge (jnana)  you have taken to arrogance (avinaya), your ill knowledge (kujnana) will be destroyed’ [1,9]. This is an appropriate warning not only to those who take interest in learning the fine arts, but also those today who have grown arrogant of their knowledge, and are misusing it for their own ends.

“Bharata’s initial statement that ‘I am creating a theory and text of performance, of practice and experimentation’ acquires crucial importance. The composer of the text consciously creates a fluid text. He calls it a sastra of prayoga i.e. a theory of praxis.”[1,38]

An important point is that “sastra is distinguished in literature and the arts as being a category distinct from the creative. While in the English language, we can easily use the terms ‘creative and critical literature’, ‘creative and technical literature’, when the terms are transferred to the sphere of the Indian, for that matter, the Asia arts, there is difficulty. “[1,40]

What’s more, artificial separateness does not characterise Bharata or the Indic tradition. There is a clear interrelationship between all the various artforms. “The  themes which the Indian dancer portrays are not only the raw material of literature, but are also the finished products of literary creation; the music which seems to accompany the dance is actually the life-breath of its structure and, indeed, dance interprets in movement what music interprets in sound; the postures and the stances it attains are the poses which the sculptor models; all these the dancer imbues with a living spirit of movement in a composition of form which is both sensuous and spiritual. The body is the medium to transcend the ‘body’. [1,112]

As such, teleology again becomes important. The sophisticated audience or refined reader (sahrdaya) recognises that each movement, each word, even each omission is filled with meaning and symbology. Therefore, merely dividing and subdividing to attempt to fathom is merely learning more and more about less and less. To gain a proper understanding, an holistic and systemic approach is required to understand what is very clearly an intentional methodology. All this was done with a specific design. It was not art for the sake of art or poetry for the sake of debauchery, but a system of aesthetics designed to not only be transcendant, but to transcend.

“Bharata had inherited a ‘vision’; he gave it form as concepts and framework. The creative artist, in turn, internalized the vision of the inner and outer life he had experienced. The principles of structure enumerated by Bharata were inherited directly or assimilated as part of a larger ambience, gave the artist the tools for creating a variegated world of ‘forms’ and multiple forms only to evoke the beyond form (pararupa).”[1,112]

Lineage

How old exactly is Bharata Mahamuni and his Great Tradition? According to Manomohan Ghosh, the Sage of Natya doesn’t mention the Arthasastra of Kautilya, but rather that of Brihaspati. This, therefore, leads to the logical inference that Bharata pre-dates the Maurya Empire, which puts him before the 3rd Century B.C.E, and some would say even earlier than the 5th. [6]

Per our Pauranic accounts, the origin of Natya is attributed to Narada muni. In fact, it is he who is said to have brought music and the arts from Brahma to the world of men. Nevertheless, this Sastra itself is a product of the intense Tapas of the present Muni, who refers to other authorities.

“To return to the inheritance the lineage of Bharata, as also those who inherited from him—we have already referred to Bharata’s indebtedness to the Vedas, the Upanisads and Brahmanical yajna practices. He incorporates the system of puja later codified in the agamas, draws freely from contemporary practice, and considers loka, the ‘people’, as the final authority.” [1,113]

There were other attempts of course. Even a certain celebrated grammarian touched on the topic and how there were other such treatises.“The Natasutras referred to by Paanini have been cited as examples. The Astadhyayi (IV.3.110-111) refers to them and the schools of Silaalin and Krsasva. Although the works are possible irretrievably lost, perhaps, this was the first attempt to codify some rules of dramaturgy.” [1,114]

The key takeaway however is that while Bharata may be the greatest in our present era, he may in fact not have been the first. “The fact that there was a flourishing tradition of poetry, dance and music, even of architecture, sculpture and painting, is evident from innumerable references in the Vedas and epics. Patanjali’s Mahabhaasya and Arthasastras, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata provide interesting details of theatre halls, recitals, social status and training, but of the works of writers Acaryas or rsis of the arts we learn little. Bharata provides a list of his gurus (teachers) and contemporaries. Apart from Pitamaha Siva and Mahesa, he mentions Kohala, Dhurtila (Dattila), Salikarn, Baadaraayana (Badari) and others.” [1,114]

Nevertheless, whatever his biography and lineage, Bharata Mahamuni managed what others have not:

“From amongs those that have received attention of scholars from the fields of literature, poetrics and dramaturgy, music, dance, architecture, sculpture and painting, it is possible to surmise that Bharata’s text provided the single unified source for a theory of art.”[1,115]

It is therefore, a complete theory of Aesthetics and provides an Adhyatmik approach to Beauty.

Composition

As seen above the Natya Sastra commences with a salutation to Siva and Brahma, and it credits knowledge behind the work to the Supreme. Bharata tells the munis of Brahman’s state of yoga, that is his concentration, and determination (sankalpa) which produced the fifth veda, or Natya Sastra. [1,8]

“Obviously the authority of the Vedas was recognized at this stage. This alone could enable Bharata to cull out a theory of aesthetic and a structure of drama from the Vedas. Important is the fact that he identifies paathya, the arti-culated spoken word, not just the word (sabda) with the Rgveda.”[1, 13] It explicitly cites the traditional four aims of life, or Purusharthas of Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha as ends of literature.

His assertion that he is creating a fifth Veda which will be accessible to all castes and classes at the same time likening it to the Vedas (i.e. creating a fifth Veda and the analogy of a ritual) transcends the accepted boundaries of hierarchy as also norms of inclusion and exclusion.[1,21]

Bharata emphasized the synthesising role of drama with respect to all spheres of knowledge from the sacred scriptures to arts and crafts to geography. This is what makes it open to all. Indeed, its written versions were a matter of history as well, as between 1900-1926 a hunt was on for more manuscripts. As a result, there was a sizeable find of 40 manuscripts and two recensions. This is fascinating as the Natya Sastra, like much of real Indic literature, was transmitted via the oral tradition. To have such an expansive written reach demonstrates its influence, both North and South.[1, 34]

Kapila Vatsyayan, noted authority on the Natya Sastra, had this to say on the matter:

“the division of many manuscripts into southern and northern recensions has been in many cases a superimposition of a tacit acceptance of marked differences in northern and southern recensions. In this case, the fact of the matter is that Abhinavagupta was a northerner but the closest approximation to his text is a manuscript in the Trivandrum collection. Other instances can be given. The more pertinent question to be asked is as to the manner and mode of transmission of a single text to different parts of India—ranging from Nepal, Almora to Ujjain, Darbhanga, Maharashtra, Bengal, Andhra, Tamilnadu and Kerala. All these manuscripts can be dated roughly between the twelfth and the eighteenth centuries with the exception of those of the commentator—Udbhata. One of his works was found in the Gilgit manuscript (tenth to eleventh century), now edited by Gnoli. The earliest manuscripts come from Nepal in Newari script. The text is available in many scripts—Newari, Devanagari, Grantha, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.”[1, p. 36]

Despite the Pan-Bhaarata reach of Bharata Mahamuni, Kerala is considered the strongest inheritor of Sanskrit drama and dramaturgy. Forms such as Kutiyattam and even the classical dance Kathakali all resonate with the influence of  the Natya Sastra. This is not only due to the genius of native Kerala son Kulasekhara, but also due to just how foundational the fifth Veda was and is.

Perhaps the single most interesting aspect about the Natya Sastra is that it is in fact one of many. Much like there were Arthasastras before Kautilya there were Natya Sastras before Bharata Muni. “Previous authors reputed to have written on Natya Sastra as a discipline include Kohala, Dattila, Tandu, and Salikarna.“ [1,8]

Interestingly enough, there is an hypothesis that ‘Bharata’ is an acronym for the syllables Bha, Ra, and Ta (standing for Bhava, Raga, and Tala respectively).“Bharata occupies a supreme place for being the master-developer of ‘categories’ for all the arts, particularly drama, dance, poetry, music. His distinction lies in his acumen for an uncanny precision in evolving a system of correspondence between the material, physical and the psychical, ethical and even spiritual”.[1, 25]

Structure

The Natya Sastra itself is of expansive structure. It consists of 6,000 slokas (verses) spread among 36 chapters. As with all else in the Indic tradition, this number too is rife with symbology. According to Subhash Kak, the 36 chapters are said to correspond to the 36 tattvas of Kashmiri Shaivism. [7] What’s more, “The thirty-six chapter of the Natyasastra can be grouped from the point of view of (i) artistic experience, (ii) the artistic content or states of being, the modes of expression through word, sound, gesture, dress, decorations and methods of establishing correspondences between physical movement, speech and psychical states, as also communication and reception by the audience, readers and (iii) structure of the dramatic form, popularly translated as ‘plot’. The itivrtta is, however, a more comprehensive term for structure and phasing.”[1, 58]

While 5 chapters are dedicated to music, certain key chapters give us insight into his dramatic methodology.

In chapters I and II, Bharata appears to lay a conceptual and physical foundation that is nevertheless redolent in the sacred. The origin of drama is attributed Brahman with various actors such as Vishnu, Shiva, Sarasvati, the Daityas and Bhutas, and Yakshas, all as actors–either protagonist or as agitators . In some ways, Indra can be conceived of as the hero, as his dhvaja or pole (jarjara) provides the fulcrum of the stage. Sarasvati is the heroine, as she is the embodiment of speech, and Shiva is the energizer.

“Two statements by Bharata at the end of chapter XXI are clear indication of his approach to all that he has suggested. After describing the characteristics and components of the dramatic form, called nataka, he emphasizes the fact that drama presents, re-narrates (anucaritam) through abhinaya (expression), but its success is possible only when the actor has overcome, suppressed, his personal self (svabhaavas tajyate: chapter XXI, v.12-1234).” [1,80] As one can see, the spiritual is very much immanent in this, the most dramatic of artforms.

The spiritual is therefore not only intertwined with the psychological and the conceptual, but even the sensual. We find that true the highly sophisticated use of various ornaments or devices or archetypes, specific reactions are catalysed.

“Pertinently, it is in this context that he describes the different types of graces (alamkaara) or women, namely, feeling (bhaava), emotion (haava) and passion (hela). These are not autonomous categories: they are psychic states with their emotional and involuntary reflect physical response co-ordinates in relation to the opposite sex (XXIV, verses 6-11) and in the sphere of kaama (normally, most inadequately translated as erotic). The underlying foundation of the entire chapter is thus kama and sense, body, mind and consciousness relationship. Logically, at the level of perception and expression, these are either inner or outer (aabhyantara and baahya) or indirect, implicit or invisible (paroksa) and direct and explicit (pratyaksa). Another group of terms, namely, suci (pointing needle), ankura (sprouting), saakha(branches) indicate the feeling, body and word-gesture relationship in different sequential order or concurrency, suggested or proliferated. It is on these foundations of perception and insight, that Bharata narrows down his concern from the generic character and personality types of women to the categories of heroines (naayika).”[1, 85]

Perhaps it is not for nothing that he is referred to by some as the first neuromarketer.

Key Concepts

Na tajjaana na tacchilpa na sa vidya na sakala|
Na sa yogo na tatkarma yanna tyesminna drsyate ||  NS 1.116.

There is no wise maxim, no learning, no art or craft, no device, no action that is not found/reflected in the drama.

“Only India believed that literature is efficacious in ‘sivetara-ksati’ or countering inauspiciousness”. [2, 7] The notion of mangalam, is a constant throughout the Dharmic tradition, and even drama is supposed to contribute to this idea of auspiciousness.

In Indian dramatics there is also a formal rule against tragedy (likely on account of the inauspiciousness of the genre). The celebrated dramatist Bhasa, however, set this rule aside in his famous Urubhanga, a one act play on the episode of the shattering of Duryodhana’s thigh.

Nevertheless, one thing is clear: “Bharata wants drama to not only enterain, but to teach and ennoble. The fruit which the hero desires being difficult to attain, the final success of the hero is an inspiration and exhortation to the spectators”. [2,205]

While lakshana(secondary meaning) is discussed by some as the most important concept to stem from the Natya Sastra, an interesting point is that tattastha seems to be the most underlying one. Literally meaning “spacing”, it becomes apparent that in poetry, music, dance, and the visual arts, the unsaid is frequently as important as the said. In fact, there is a legend that while Manavas prefer the direct, the Devas prefer the indirect. Lakshana and tattastha are both interrelated concepts that not only emphasise the importance of the idea but demonstrate the sophistication of Bharatavarsha’s Natya.

Although musical theory obviously dates back to the Saama Veda, Subhash Kak asserts that acting and indeed elements of the theatre tradition can in fact be found in the Yajur. “Since the four Vedas come together in the dramatic performance, natya is the Fifth Veda”.[6] As such, the sacred and sanskritic is very much a part of the Indic tradition of dramatics and histrionics.

He goes on to assert that the Natya Sastra took paathya (recitation) from the Rig Veda,  abhinaya (acting ) from the Yajur, rasa (sentiment) from the Atharva, and sangeeta (music) from the Saama.

The Play or Nataka was a very sophisticated matter. Generally, a rupaka (dramatic composition)was recommended to consists of between 5 and 10 acts. It would begin with  a Prastaavana (prologue) sanctified by a Svastivachana (benediction) which is part of the Naandi (introductory portion which suggests the plot). Acts were not to be too long, inauspicious events (such as wars) only indicated rather than portrayed, and the play was to end as it began, with another benediction. In this cause, it was fittingly named Bharatavakya.[2] Typically, the vasthu (plot) was based on pauranic or historical events.

Chitra-abhinayaa (translated, special enactment, special representation, mixed pictorial, a category of different types of enacting through speech and movement) was a key aspect to stage craft itself.[1,p.86] Indeed, it lays the foundation for histrionics, which stems from the dramatic.

The sutradhara (stage-manager) would frequently introduce the play, along with a host of other characters. Other important figures/concepts include prayokta (producers), prayoga (dramatic production) and saadhaka (creator-artist with inner control and discipline). There were in fact a whole set of rituals including puja performed in what was called the purvanga (preliminaries).

“Bharata reminds us that the entire act of creation and presentation is a saadhana where impersonalization, de-personalization and detachment is primary.”[1, 91]

Slokas from the critical chapter XXVI discuss some of the specifics of natya.

The triple basis of drama is discussed in slokas 118-119 as being the people (loka), the Vedas, and the spiritual faculty (adhyatma). [1,88] Indeed sloka 124 goes on to state that “Whatever sastras, laws, arts and activities are connected with human conduct (lokadharma) may be produced (literally called) as a drama).”[1, 89]

The prekshaka, or audience, also had its own dharma.

“As for the audience and spectators, they too must be attuned, trained and initiated. The demand from them is no less exacting. Preparedness of both attitude and initation into some technicalities is an essential pre-requisite.”[1,91]

Bharata goes on to lay the criteria for critics (samalochakas) and judges, laying down the qualifications for the jury. The last, as typical with the sastras, is near exhaustive. Experts in ritual (yajnavit), in archery (isvastravit), in dance (nartaka), in prosody (chandovit), in grammar (sabdavit), in painting (chitravit),  and music (gandharva) are all required. A king (rajan), king’s officer (rajasevaka), and interestingly even a courtesan (vesya) are all listed as well, likely due to their extensive training in The 64 Arts. [1,91]

Of course, no discussion of the Natya Sastra, indeed dramaturgy itself, is complete without mention of Rasa.

Rasa

As a refresher on Rasa, here are some introductory concepts we discussed in previous articles. Rasa theory is the outstanding contribution of Classical India to World music, dance, and above all literature. This sentiment is the lasting impression or feeling of the author that he/she aims to impress upon the audience. These are nine in number (hence the term Nava Rasa): Sringara (Romantic), Vira (Heroic), Haasya (Comedic), Karuna (Pathos), Raudra (Furious), Bhayaanika (Frightful), Bibhatsa (Loathsome), Adhbuta (Marvelous), and finally Shaantha (Calming).

The Sthayibhaava is the leitmotif or permanent sentiment of a composition. There are generally eight in number, based on eight of the nine rasas. They are as follows: rati (erotic), haasa (comic), shoka (sorrowful), krodha(angering), utsaha (enlivening), bhaya (frightening), jugupsa (disgusting), and vismaya (amazing). A ninth, sama (tranquility), is associated with Shaantha.[2]

Bhaava is the complete affecting of the heart by any emotion. Rasa means sentiment, sthayi bhava means dominant emotive state, and vyabhichari bhava means transitory or transferable stages.”They are the instrumentalities of conveying and communicating intangible but real states of mind.”[1,9]

Literature (Saahitya) in Sanskrit has typically been divided into drusya (what can be seen or exhibited on stage) and sravya (what can only be heard or read).

Dramatics falls into the first category. Nataka is the word for a play, while rupaka is the term applied to dramatic compositions. Minor or short dramas, such as the Ratnavali of Sri Harsa Deva (Emperor Harsha Vardhana of Kanyakubja (Kannauj), are called Natikas. While there are 17 other classes of these Uparupakas (minor dramas), they needn’t be examined for our purposes.

The 3 main aspects of a Rupaka are (1) The Plot (Vasthu) (2) The Hero (Neta) (3) The Sentiment (Rasa).

Bharata muni avers that literary artists should seek to use adhbuta rasa (sentiment of wonder) in the nirvahana samdhi (denouement). He gave highly sophisticated almost scientific sanction to dramaturgy. Indeed, so much care and preparation is allocated to the stage itself that modern (usually western/westernised) commentators wonder at how tenable its implementation was.

Bharata classifies drama into ten types. Each one has differing aims, length, and magnitude. “The structure of drama, according to Sanskrit dramatic theory, is the scheme of avasthas (Stages/phases) and samdhis (juncture) and samdhyangas (parts of junctures). These form the infrastructure of the drama.” [2,202]

Some hold that Lakshana (indirect expression or secondary meaning) is in fact the most important contribution of Bharata to literature in general and Poetics in particular. They believe that it is a “lost master-key which opens all the locked mansions of alankara [rhetorical device], guna [merit/quality], riti [diction], vrtti [mode of expression/style], chandas [metre], dhvani [resonance] and vakrokti [twist in expression] and aucitya [propriety]”. [2,5]

Whether via rasa or lakshana or tattastha (or all 3), the Natya Sastra is the conceptual foundation for the Indic Literary and Performance Arts.

Legacy

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“The arts provide both pleasure and education and are a vehicle of beauty, duty and conduct” [1, p .25]

The legacy of the Natya Sastra cannot be minimised. Scholars and commentators from Abhinavagupta to Manmohan Ghosh have all propounded its centrality not only to literature and the performance arts, but the Classical Indic Tradition itself.

“Natyasastra lays down the foundations of a theory and practice of the Indian arts which was adhered to by theoreticians and practicising arts” for thousands of years. This was done consistently throughout the subcontinent. [1,26]

And yet, despite the best efforts of many motivated men to muddle not only its importance but to limit it to Kashmir, the impact of it was not only pan-Indian but Pan-Asian as well. “It had validity and applicability outside the country, especially in Asia, and continues to have relevance today for articulating a theory of art which can be clearly distinguished from Aristotelian or subsequent theories of aesthetic and art in the post-Renaissance West.”[1,26]

Above all, above even rasa and lakshana, was the uniquely spiritual quality that the Rishi of Natya brought to dramatics and histrionics. As many artistes in disparate fields such as dance and art and music attest today, to perform based on the structures and tradition of India is not merely an experience of the senses, but an experience of the spirit:

“Bharata’s adherence and debt to this world-view is clear when he repeatedly speaks of the ‘eye’ and the ‘ear’ and purification. It is not only ritual purification; it is the constant endeavour to arrive at a greater and greater degree of subtlety and refinement. The theatrical universe is the world of the ‘audible’ and the visible’. The senses and sense-organs and perceptions play a crucial role in the evolution of the theory, as also the techniques of each of the four instrumentalities of expression—sound, word (vacika) and body language (angika), décor and dress (aahaarya) internal states (sattvika)”.[1,55]

The imprint of Bharata is felt, therefore not only in Classical Ancient India, but even in the medieval period and across regions. From the Manasollasa (Kannadigas) to the Dhvanyaloka (Kashmiris) to the Sangita Kaumudhi (Odias) to the Sangitaraja (Rajasthanis), the influence of his work is irreplaceable and undeniable, crossing centuries and corners of India. Even the Ain-e-akbari, Risala-i-Ragadarpana, Sangita Mallika, and Kitab e Nau Rasa all rely heavily on, and some would even say attempt to digest, the pioneering work of Bharata muni. Notably, however, this influence was neither regimented nor haphazard. [1,120]

Jayasenapati’s Nrttaratnavali from Andhra (thirteenth century) also reflects both adherence to and departures from the Natyasastra. While it follows the basic principles it focuses much greater attention on training vyaayama and a full account of the desi type of karanas.We gather very important information from this text on many matters, including the basic techniques of training, including those on the bar. Unlike others, he includes a section on construction of theatres.”[1,122] True integral unity with diversity. The canon itself provided general principles which were adapted to the local style and needs of the region. Indeed, Jayasena’s text was instrumental in reviving not only Andhranatyam but Perini Siva Thandava as well.

The reverbations of the ancient and medieval period, therefore, can still be felt today. Most importantly, vrtti (style) and pravrtti (regional school) both had their place and space, as opposed to regimented standardisation. Perhaps that is what makes the Indic tradition so dynamic. Appropriate flexibility exists to not only provide for the civilizational and the regional, but also the material (laukika) and the spiritual (adhyatmika). The spirit of dharma, therefore, can seamlessly move from school to school, region to region, and artform to artform.

The body and beating heart of a tradition and its values is in the arts. Study of the Natya Sastra is crucial because those prejudiced against Indic Civilization…real Indic Civilization…have long pretended that there is no classical canon. The same sophists who call India a british invention say this about classical Indian music.

The British and their elite academic atlantic relatives have historically taken pro-pak positions, pretending a variety of falseties for propagandic purposes. One theory that was floating around was that there was no true performance music before turks came and took “vedic chants” from the temples to create Hindustani music. This ignorant (or self-serving) view has no historical basis, as even the most committed hinduphobe knows the Natya Sastra is dated to 200 BCE, if not earlier.

It is also one of the reasons why adarsh liberals have always given such step-brotherly treatment to south India, long before l’affaire Jallikattu. This is because foreign influences are difficult to divine or impose on Carnatic. Even recent additions like the European violin have been adapted to suit the Indic taste, much as Hindustani and Kathak were merely modified Indic artforms to suit the Turkic taste.

To bring things back full circle, however, perhaps the best rebuttal came from a scholar of literary theory himself:

In my opening remarks I referred to narrow nationalism as going against the spirit of Comparative Literature…Narrow nationalism, however, is not the problem here; rather its opposite is the problem; and its opposite is not wider nationalism; it is absence of national feeling. We Indians are often unnecessarily apologetic about ourselves and about our national heritage. We unnecessarily feel guilty of jingoism, of cultural expansionism in such matters. This peculiar feeling has its roots in respect of some students of literary not in the thorough knowledge of our heritage, but in its opposite, namely, complete ignorance of our heritage. [3,185]

Understanding the root helps us learn where all the branches are. That is the importance of the Natya Sastra to Indic—real Indic—music, art, poetry, dance, and drama.“The Mahamuni provided the basic framework and a pan-Indian vocabulary which was to guide the theory and practice of the Indian arts for two millennia”,and likely more .[1,100]

Bharata’s work influenced millions directly or indirectly. For these reasons alone, Natya Sastra is one of the most important books ever written [6,19]

References:

  1. Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bharata: The Natyasastra. Sahitya Akademi.2007
  2. Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
  3. Pandey, Sudhakar and V.N.Jha.Glimpses of Ancient Indian Poetics.Satguru Publications: Delhi, 1993 .
  4. http://natyasastraced.blogspot.com/
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/cultural-research-complex-on-natya-sastra-planned/article3149469.ece
  6. Kak, Subhash. Early Indian Music. http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/manila.pdf
  7. Kak, Subhash. The Wonder that was Kashmir. http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/wonder.pdf
  8. Malhotra, Rajiv. Sulekha. 2002. http://creative.sulekha.com/the-axis-of-neocolonialism_103313_blog