Tag Archives: Cinema

The Civilizational Resonance of Baahubali

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal, on July 22, 2015


Much water has flowed down the waterfall south of Mahishmati since we last touched on this topic. Those of you following us on Andhra Cultural Portal would have read our Post 2 years ago when Baahubali-The Beginning was released. Well, unless you were living in one of those caves featured in the film, you would not only be familiar with this phenomenon, but also would have watched it…several times.

And make no mistake, this Andhra movies is not just a national or global phenomenon, but especially a civilizational one for all members of Indic Civilization. It is not for nothing this Telugu language movie was a hit in Nepal. Part 2’s distribution rights have already sold for 3 crores in Prithvi Narayan Sah‘s Hindu Rajya.

You would also have heard the new trailer was one of the fastest to garner 100 million views on YouTube. Wondering why? — see for yourself!

So in honour of Srisaila Sri Rajamouli’s digital age epic’s second installment, Baahubali 2-The Conclusion, we give a reprint of our review of Part 1. Enjoy. Watch the movie. And above all…

Jai Mahishmati!

The scores are in, the box office has reported, and the people have spoken: Baahubali-The Beginning is a box office behemoth. S.S. Rajamouli’s smash hit is truly a magnum opus that has swept all of India, South and North of the Vindhya. Indeed, much ink has already marked the proverbial paper, and a number of columns, cookie cutter top tens, and well-penned essays have made their mark. What’s more, long derided regional Telugu cinema is no longer seen as merely a source for remakes, but as even foreigners note, is a source of jealousy for Bollywood insiders. As Krishnarjun gaaru has written, the industry itself has the potential to go back to its golden age 3-5 decades ago, with classics such as Maya Bazaar and Missamma.

Nevertheless, while ACP typically analyzes movies long after the glitz and glamour of a premiere has passed, there is something special about this film that has come to underscore the present zeitgeist. As such, this post is not our standard cinematic analysis, or a fine study of symbology, or even a well-crafted commentary on the industry’s future. Rather it is about understanding the cultural resonance of Baahubali and why it’s relevant and indeed a revelation at this place and at this time. We have sought to do this with ** No Spoilers** for those of you who have yet to see it.

First, a Rejoinder

Despite all the acclaim— not only in the Telugu rashtras or even just Bharata desa, but also globally—sour grapes from the standard set has been increasing from dribble to a deluge. The bitter wine they swill is in the hopes of poisoning the popular opinion. As such, a rejoinder is in order.

Almost two weeks in, the knives are now out courtesy the usual suspects: “Idea of India” indoctrinues (copyright pending for portmanteau), Dubai-gang ghulams of bollywood, and assorted sordid-sickulars of all sorts are now slashing at this movie, after a proverbial puissant punch to the solar plexus. Gasping for breath, these pill-popping, phillim-hopping philistines have the gall to tear down this movie by hook or by crook. The “un-original” charges (Tarzan this, Lord of the Rings that) are particularly asinine, especially coming from bollywood. After all, Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay drew from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, which drew from John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, which ultimately drew from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. It’s invariable that inspiration here and there may come from different sources–the question is breathing new life, new vision, and new context into them, and weaving them into a unique piece. Baahubali has accomplished this to the shame of Bollywood.

As these intellectual imps impotently shriek and wailed “animal film!”, “symbolic molestation!”, “misogyny!”, they tried every trick in the book, first saying they “don’t review south movies”—but hey check out this no name flick from our sworn enemy), then they ridiculed looks  or even the very idea of a big hit “from south”, finally they began throwing mud through specious Freudian analyses and crackpot conclusions about tribal relations. In short:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Setting aside their ignorance about the Kalakeyas in the Mahabharata (yet another example of what happens when you don’t know your own epics), the question isn’t whether Bharatvarsha, the land of Rama’s friend Guha, Pratap’s friends among the Bhils, or Rani Durgavati’s own in-laws, treated its tribals well, but what happened to the tribes of Europe? Bharat respected the tribal way of life, and even saw its merits by encouraging vana prastha (forest life) for retired kings and other elites.

In any event, the body blow from Baahubali had left them in a week-long stupor that they are only now gurgling back from. Left with little other than Bajrangi Bhaijan to salve their wounds, they have united around this flick touting everything from “sentiment & emotion!” to “profitability” (a.k.a. the Sonam Kapoor defence)—poor dears. And yet, why this movie and why such mendacity? After all, Magadheera showed a native Bharatiya kingdom in a complimentary fashion. It too balanced CGI and Story with dramatic action and theatric performances. Those who point to a display of Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) in positive light, forget the Kala Bhairava Statue that served as the sentinel of cinematic climax. No, the reason why Bahubaali-The Beginning, this movie, at this time, has stirred up a hornet’s nest of hate, is because it is true cinematic splendour celebrating Dharma.

Despite the laughable claims about Bajrangi Bhaijan touting an emotive ideal, while Baahubali did not, it’s quite clear that this movie was refulgent with an ideal. Dharma, in all its myriad forms, in all its numerous nuances, is immanent throughout this Sistine chapel in celluloid. And unlike that metaphor, the fact that Rajamouli’s Masterpiece drew on native Indic forms (architecture harkens to Angkor, Amaravati, and Avanti) , native Indic fashion (Tamannah’s transformative couture is more the ancient standard), Indic names (Avantika, Baahubali), Indic Sacred History (Rishabhadeva’s sons are an overarching influence), and Indic Geography (Mahismati was the capital of Kartaveerya Arjuna), only roiled our stealth regressive royyalu (that’s Telugu for “shrimp”, btw) further. That it was able to do this by bringing Bharatiyas of all panths (religions) in to enjoy the ride and make them feel a part of the experience, was the last straw.

Dharmic Culture


In a way, it’s almost poetic that a movie so redolent in Dharma Culture was distributed and promoted by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions. Though obviously written, produced, directed, and lead acted by Telugus, this multi-starrer provided a tale and experience to which all Bharatiyas could relate.

We saw a dharmic society in action. From artistry and architecture to the traditional sastras and functioning of statecraft, it was an image of an India that once was. True, it was balanced by elements of fantasy and drew directly from the Puranas, via the Kalakeyas. But we also a saw a version of how our ancestors lived and the principles that drove them: patriotism, loyalty, self-sacrifice, motherhood, love, and above all Dharma.

What’s more, it was an image of not just how the elites might have lived, but the commoners as well.  We see how villagers and elites coexisted honorably. Albeit underneath a fantastic and fantastical waterfall, it was a portrait nonetheless of the idylls of rural and even forest life. It too was replete with Dharma—not the philosophical or intellectual dharma, but the everyday dharma, the common dharma. Society may have different classes, but if the elites behave properly and with humility and a sense of social duty, then society is at harmony. The Brahmanas we see on film present a living memory of such great yet humble men.

In a snub to faux animal welfare activists (who think eating fish is inhumane, but are miraculously pro-beef), a version of Jallikattu is presented as a martial pass time. What’s more we even see an internal rebuttal regarding animal sacrifice. A Right hand Tantra riposte of the Left hand is given, demonstrating that Dharma offers alternatives internally to such practices in the name of Kulachara.

We see shakti in action, with numerous strong roles played by numerous strong women. Rather than being mere chattel, our women, our queens, commanded respect, and Shakti balanced her counterpart. We see glimpses of love and even a version of Gandharva Vivaha, where lovers came together through choice. Rather than merely loving and leaving, it was union of souls. That it was indeed marriage was emblematic when the obligation of the girl also become the obligation of the boy. As such, more than anything else, it was duty, and in particular, Kshatriya duty, that truly made its mark on screen.

The Kshatriya Ideal

Magadheera was certainly a cinematic benchmark, but Baahubali is a cultural phenomenon.  The title role is not a common soldier, but a Kshatriya incarnate. As ‘The One with Strong Arms‘ he fights not only with his weapons and fists, but also with his wits. Indeed, we see that the true Kshatriya, the true King, is the one who protects his people and has their interests at heart. What’s more, this embodiment of Kshatriyata was not merely limited to men. We see a true Kshatrani in action, in conjunction with many strong and even warrior women. Ramya Krishnan alone deserves applause for her compelling and moving performance. In many ways it is she who presents the fulcrum of the film. Not only checking ambition within herself and her own family, she asserts that the true Kshatriya is not a usurper, but executes his duty to the ruling house loyally. Indeed, she provides a firm feminine rebuke to pig-headed male ambition.

The great Kshatriya vamsas of old not only had great power but expectations of great responsibility. The Kshatriya ideal of balancing education, training, statecraft, wealth, and power is the need of the hour. Rote-memorisation and blind application of and training in the sastras will not win the Kurukshetra. It is for this reason that adhyatmik and laukik knowledge were separated. Adhyatmik vidya is verily the soul of our tradition. But due to the high minded principles it inspires, it requires protection from evil via laukika vidya.

Therefore, Kshatriyas were the natural leaders of society. They had an understanding of and respect for the adhyatmik principles, but the pragmatism to recognize the era of falsehood that we live in, and the improvisation it requires. Hence, the true Kshatriya is not a hot-blooded, hot-head who loses his temper in blind anger, but is a strong willed defender of truth, by whatever means necessary. Varnashrama dharma certainly has degenerated in the past millennium into arrogant and brainless casteism from all ranks, and surely has its issues, but when properly conceived, it is one of balance. A society with an over-sized head, cannot be supported by the rest of its body. The true brahmanas of yore understood that as the teachers and philosophers of society, material living was not for them, and neither sought power nor wealth nor demanded sycophancy or undue influence. The true brahmana after all, is without ego. They also understood the limits of the brahmana varna, and as Parashurama corrected the imbalance of Kshatriyas crossing their limits, so too did Bhagavan Rama correct it with Ravana, and ironically, Parashurama himself.

Rama punishes Parashurama for ahankar from merit

The traditional partnership of Kshatriyas and Brahmanas is today mired in predation or pretentiousness. Those who aspire to those ideals must remember that Maharishi Veda Vyasa’s own son, the brahmana Suka deva, completed his education under the Rajarishi Janaka. Thus, while Kshatriyas were the natural political leaders and brahmanas the natural spiritual leaders, both required elements of the other to properly conduct their duties.

Competence is not mere aptitude or ability. After all, potential energy exists even in still water. Competence is being good at what you do. Ability too has varying degrees, but competence means you have sufficient ability for the job—not merely on the basis of natural talent, or studies, or even training, but due to habit of improvisation and adaptation confirmed through practical experience.

The sastras afford us with guidance, but it is the job of the general, the job of the Raja to not only learn and understand knowledge, but apply and improvise it. This is not done in the gurukul or ashram, but on the battle map or field of battle. After all, the tactics used by Chhatrapati Shivaji were evolved by Maharana Pratap—who had no Samarth Ramdas.

Gobind Singhji, Shivaji aur Pratap

Therefore, leadership in society requires balance. Of the spiritual with the practical, of the traditional with the necessary, of the brahmana with the kshatriya. That this movie was able to present the kshatriya spirit, the aristocratic ethos, without ridiculing Adarsh liberal’s favourite punching bag—Brahmins—is only fuel for the fire of indigestion they’ve been suffering since July 10th. That is what Baahubali presented—and oh so very artistically at that. Whether it was the One with Thousand Arms or the One with Strong Arms, Mahishmati was the Capital of Kings.

Artistic Highlights

From its waterfalls to its mountains to its maps, this film is pure artistic splendour. The cinematography is truly outstanding and world-beating, and all elements of cinema—from the visual and auditory to the dramatic and literary—are in sound balance. A complete movie, it serves as a grand canvas for not only fantasy, but indeed, on-screen poetry.

One of the more interesting aspects wasn’t the research into our Puranas or even the dress and architecture of the ancients, but the subtle inclusion of our classical literature’s approach to drama. Though perhaps not noticeable to our non-Andhra friends, the dialogue features different forms of Telugu, based on orders of society—a practice commonly used by the ancients. Thus, we see literary forms of the language ( granthikam ), along with dialectical ( mandalikam ) and colloquial ( janapadam ).

We are also given a vision of fashion and femininity that is nevertheless strong and full of Shakti. Traditional designs and forms are presented in a manner that is sensuous but not titillating.

Sorry, no Salwar Kameez here

Even rati bhava is treated with delicacy in a restrained manner. The artificial is blended with the natural, rather than challenging it. It is not the conquest of nature by man, but the harmony of man and woman with nature.

In short, this movie is a marriage of tradition and tastefulness, form and function, masculine and feminine, elite and common, ancient and modern, art and technology.

Inflection point for the Industry?

Long time readers may recall our early pieces on the Telugu film industry (tollywood no longer) bemoaning the state of the sector. Ironically, one of them actually touched on film and kshatriyata. Rather than being merely seen as an object for derision, it has an opportunity again to rise to its early heights in the 50s and 60s. From kitsch, are we truly seeing a return to art? One hopes that the smashing success of the film will ensure at least a few movies that at least aspire to such a level, even if they do not scale such Himalayan heights. The upcoming release of Rudhramadevi affords an opportunity. Indeed, Baahubali served as an exquisite launch vehicle for Anushka Shetty to a national audience. Whether Gunasekhar is ultimately able to balance CGI with cinematic depth and action with taste, remains to be seen. We remain hopeful.

A Riposte to the “Idea of India” & The Breakthrough of Bharat

This movie was nothing short of a riposte to the ineluctable “Idea of India”—hence its resonance with all classes. This colossus of a success has shown that cheap laughs, titillation and tawdriness, and the apotheosis of all things non-native, no longer need be the way to box office success, or more importantly, cinema and culture.

Above all, was the sense of belonging to a common society that truly resonated. This wasn’t just a Telugu movie about Telangana or Andhra Pradesh, but an Indian movie about India. The India that once was. What’s more, rather than attempting to pass for Persians or Syrians, the lead actor looked like he might actually be one of them—Indians. Full credit to Prabhas for the physique he developed to give a vision of a royal hero that actually looked like the people—a reality underscored by his own real life pedigree. Rana brought the glamour, but the heart and soul of kingship was played by the first lead.

Indeed, our brothers and sisters in the North have long been deprived of cultural expression of native high culture courtesy Bollywood. They have been taught and even expected to see themselves as part of that spectrum rather than the subcontinent’s as a whole. This movie changed all that. Perhaps nothing emphasised that more when Katappa’s native Indic khadga smashed the prized Persian sword. This scene was fitting not only in an artistic rejoinder to the Idea of India brigade, but in an historical and technological one as well. The famed wootz steel (ukku) ingots of India were what made the finest blades of the era. Indeed, the historical Andhra desa was distinguished for its khandas, and made the Kakatiya kingdom all the more splendrous.

Make no mistake, this was an original movie. Ostensibly, the fairy tale jibes will lead to the obvious Lord of the Rings, Tolkien comparisons. After all, suited simulacra can never see anything beyond the western. But what these indoctrinated ingénues forget was that Tolkien himself drew on Norse and biblical mythology to create one for the English. S.S. Rajamouli had no such need. He was able to draw on the incredible fountain of Classical Indic Literature, with all its epics, sophistication, beauty, and nava rasas, and use his talent, vision, and entrepreneurial courage, to bring them to life and make them relevant to the times. So let the pop-psychologists, Freudian hacks, Lutyens insiders, foreign sympathisers, and serial slanderers run their ignorant mouths…We, the native public, the real public, know the real reason behind The Civilizational Resonance of Baahubali.

Predictably ignorant of the native Literary canon, serial rudaali, PK pablum peddler, and apochryphal activist Aamir Khan is said to have remarked after watching Inceptionwe [Bollywood] can’t even think at that level [Hollywood]”. Perhaps Bollywood can’t think at that level, PK, but Bahubaali has shown that Bharatiyas—real Bharatiyas—certainly can.

 Jai Mahishmati!


  1. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Visakhapatnam/telugu-scholars-see-need-for-comprehensive-dictionary/article7121325.ece

The Politics of Language

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on September 30, 2014

While this guy may have said “no”, we say “yes”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent speech at the United Nations revived the old debate on “national language”.

In response, conventional media and social media have been alive with debate, some informed, most un-informed. Some object to the very notion of Hindi as national language, seeing it only as 1 of 2 official languages. Others reject it both as national and official. A smaller subset concedes its official status but insists on English or Sanskrit as “national” link language. Nevertheless, all this has yet again provided a moment for introspection. Is Sanskritised Hindi India’s official and national language? Was Shri Narendra Modi correct in using this version of Hindi (any version of Hindi) to represent India? While his previous directives to encourage the use of Hindi across the country initially stirred this pot, the General Assembly appearance (available in the full 35 minute video below) outright churned it.

What’s more, it added the additional seasoning of Shuddh Hindi vs Bollywood Bhasha (which has increasing left common Hindustani or even Urdu for outright near Rekhta, as is seemingly in fashion on the other side of Wagah…if that). That’s what makes the opposition of the naysayers so humorous. The same voices who raise a hue and cry about “Northern Imperialism” and “Brahminical conspiracy” have no problem imposing regional or even non-Indian infusions (i.e. English, etc)—hypocrisy in its worst form.

In a particularly telling incident a number of years ago, one buffoon spouted off on how because India was an “IT Choopar pavar” software could be developed to automatically translate orders from an officer to a jawan in his mother tongue. Said moron predictably failed to answer what the contingency would be if an EMP destroyed the translating device—rendering all conversation, let alone orders, unintelligible). And that, folks, is the problem.

For almost 70 years this debate has dragged on to such ridiculous extremes due to self-centeredness on one end, self-entitlement on the other, compounded by stubborn Indian Stupidity and its penchant for argument for the sake of argument. The current clash has virtually divorced the discourse from the fundamental premise of Hindi as Official and National language to begin with. So let us start with the basics:

Article 343 of the Indian Constitution specifically stipulates the following:

“(1) The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script

“(2) Notwithstanding anything in clause (1), for a period of fifteen years from the commencement of this Constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement:

Provided that the President may, during the said period, by order authorize the use of the Hindi language in addition to the English language and of the Devanagari form of numerals in addition to the international form of Indian numerals for any of the official purposes of the Union”

Article 344. Commission and Committee of Parliament on official language

(2) It shall be the duty of the Commission to make recommendations to the President as to—

(a) the progressive use of the Hindi language for the official purposes of the Union;

(b) restrictions on the use of the English language for all or any of the official purposes of the Union”

Article 351. Directive for development of the Hindi language.—“It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language…by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages” [emphasis mine]

The Constitution of India

As such, for all the whiners, hysterical drama-bazis, and whirling dervishes of outrage, the fact remains what the Prime Minister did, and has been doing, perfectly comports with the intent and the letter of the Constitution: Hindi drawing primarily from Sanskrit is the official language for the Union, and should be used to represent India internationally. In fact, rather than repeatedly copying and pasting the [strategically amended] preamble (which even a child can do), perhaps the naysayers should start reading the actual articles of the Constitution (especially A.44).

Concerns about Regional identity vs National identity

There have long been concerns about regional identity vs national identity. To what extent should regional culture be patronised without compromising unifying factors. In short, how to avoid the dangers of new Periyars and Bhindranwales, while at the same time ensuring preservation of and justifiable pride in regional identity?

On the other end, we have those who point to the bifurcation of old Andhra Pradesh state as evidence of the obsolescence of linguistic states and even regional identity itself. Unitary system advocates posit that Federalism itself is problematic, and speak in terms of 1 dimensional nationalism. But along with the Constitution (which is Federal in Structure; Unitary in Spirit) the Mahabharata itself gainsays this when it states:

Tyajet ekam Kulasyarthe, Gramasyarthe Kulam tyajet; Gramam Janapadasyarthe, Atmarthe prithivim tyajet

The essence of this “is that the individual owes duties to families, families to village [neighbourhood] village to the country. So the relation between the individual to the nation is interlinked and integrated by a sense of duty to one another. “

Thus, we all owe duties to our family, region (i.e. villages), and country (desh being above the rest in this ascending order). The entire business about citing Hindi’s pedigree versus more ancient Kannada or Tamil is preposterous. By that token, what is English’s pedigree compared to Hindi?–do the research on the origin of Angrez then talk (while you’re at it, ask the French what they think of English).

Dharma is our common thread, and Sanskrit the high language of its expression and culture. Hindi serves as a common tongue and is already used within the army by enlisted soldiers–it is the language of the jawan. Many of the same regionalists whining about Hindi would have no problem imposing their own regional language on others.

The language of government should be accessible to both the cultured grandee and the common man. Despite my love of Sanskrit, it is in recognition of this reality that I, as a proud Telugu, support Hindi as the national language, for the following reasons:

Reasons for Hindi

  • De Jure Basis
  • De Facto Basis
  • Historical analogue to Prakrit
  • National Pride

Basis for Opposition

  1. Hindi Hegemony (implies others less Indian)
  2. Regional languages threatened
  3. Native languages antiquated, English is Global, Modern

Rebuttal of Opposition

  1. Revive regional dialects of Hindi, many of which can be their own languages.
  2. Even without Hindi, regional languages already threatened…by English
  3. The most advanced/modern countries in the world use their own native languages

Reasons for Hindi

De Jure Basis

While we already touched on the substantive text of the Constitution establishing Hindi as the official language of India, it is quite clear time and again that the intent of the framers was for Hindi to be the national language as well. Article 351 clearly demonstrates how they desired to spread not English, or Farsi, or Abyssinian, or Esperanto, but Hindi throughout India. While the directive principles clearly establish the recognition of 22 Official languages of India, thereby preserving and sustaining the right of regional linguistic and cultural expression, the language of national dialogue and global representation of the nation was intended to be Hindi.

When that noble scholar in the English language (and Chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Committee), Shri Ambedkar, posited Sanskrit as the official language (demonstrating its validity to Indians across class and caste), it was ultimately Nehru, that Anglicised doyen of the left, who steered the official language to Hindi. Even Chakravarti Rajagopalacari a.k.a. Rajaji initially supported Hindi, despite being a Tamilian (and before TN politics later forced him to backtrack). No less than Gandhiji posited Hindi as the national language, yet his alleged inheritors on the left act as though English is somehow the Gandhian choice–it’s not, he chose Hindi. He pointed out that there are five requirements for a national language:

“‘(1) It should be easy to learn for government officials.

(2) It should be capable of serving as a medium of religious, economic, and political intercourse throughout India.

(3) It should be the speech of the majority of the inhabitants of India.

(4) It should be easy to learn for the whole country.

(5) In choosing this language considerations of temporary or passing interests should not count’.

English, Gandhi declared, did not satisfy any of these requirements, and he had no hesitation in declaring that Hindi satisfied all of them“.

De Facto Basis

Like it or not, two institutions have made Hindi use widespread. The first and most important is the Indian Army. While traveling in Chennai, I as a Telugu was faced with a conundrum when in need of information. Out of habit, I began my question in English. The very Tamilian jawan on duty said, and I quote, “no Angrez, only Tamil or Hindi”. I’m not going to lie, I felt a surge of post-colonial pride.

A similar occurrence took place when I was in Delhi. It so happened for whatever reason my relative’s housekeeper was a Tamilian, who didn’t speak much Telugu. Again, what language did two South Indians from different states and different socio-economic strata rely on for communication?—Hindi. Granted, this had less (really nothing) to do with the Army and more to do with location, it again demonstrated that I as a Telugu was no more inclined towards Tamil than I was to Hindi, despite the former’s geographic proximity (and vice versa).

The second and unofficial institution is Bollywood, which has also served to popularise Hindi to the extent that it’s actually become identified as the National Film Industry. The top talent from South and East gravitate to Hindi cinema for precisely this reason. Hema Malini, Rekha, Sridevi, and Aishwarya all cut their teeth in regional film before eventually going “national”. Indeed, one need only take a look at Telugu cinema’s actresses to see how Tollywood became a minor league of sorts for aspiring Bollywood stars.

But relying on Bollywood alone will not serve the cause of ensuring Hindi’s status as the national language, since “Hindi” cinema has also been in danger of drifting from the constitutional directive. An (North) Indian-American writer recently said as much:

The movie’s stilted dialogue in Persianized Urdu to evoke the Mogul era was as incomprehensible to my Indian aunt and uncle, who live in Gurgaon and speak fluent Hindi, as it was to me

Thus, it becomes all the more imperative to reorient Bollywood and our Cinema in general back to Sanskritic culture. As the incisive Christopher Hitchens once said, “Globalization is only really interesting if we all bring something different”. Rather than encouraging films catering to others in the name of “Being global”, we should focus on reviving the cultural essence of India.

Historical analog to Prakrit

With rare exception, Prakrit was the typical language of administration in Ancient India. Even the Satavahanas of Andhra and the Pallavas of Tamil Nadu used it for governance. The very meaning of the word Sanskrit is “refined”, whereas the word Prakrit means “normal or vernacular”. As there were many Prakrits (i.e. Ardh-Magadhi, Maharashtri, etc) so too are there many “Hindis” (Garhwali, Bhojpuri, Avadhi).  Even the Pali of Ashoka Maurya is considered part of the Prakrit family. The fact that distant Southern empires of Ancient India used Prakrit is only further evidence that Hindi too can be accepted as a language of national administration and international representation.

Let me further clarify by saying that I firmly believe the language of state administration should be the regional one and that resident students must learn the state language. State Assemblies should conduct business in the native regional language, whether it be Assamese, Gujarati, or Kannada, but let the language of Rashtrapati Bhavan and Sansad Bhavan indeed be Hindi. “Adhyaksha Mahoday(a)“.

National Pride

There is something really shameful about an ancient civilization that respectively boasts quite possibly the most refined and ancient language, the 4th most common language, and what I as an Andhraite will insist is the sweetest language, yet we rely on a parvenu patois of an undistinguished Germanic dialect heavily infused with Latin and Viking French for our national communication. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly do not caucus with the luddites who want to kick out English, computers, and anything else that prevents them from handing out jobs to their cronies/party workers, but there is a such a thing as national and civilizational pride.

Geopolitically and commercially, English does have value to India (and it can be taught alongside our own as part of the 3-language formula), but language is also culture. For the same reason we at ACP advocate to revive the linguistic culture of the people of Undivided Andhra, so too should India revive the national culture of its civilization through a native language.

Having established the fundamental premises for (re)-establishing Hindi as the national language, let us then examine and deconstruct the specific prongs of opposition to it.

Basis for Opposition

1. Hindi Hegemony (implies others less Indian)

This has been a common complaint for Indians hailing from South of the Vindhyas. Many resent the idea of Hindi as both official and national language because they feel it devalues and even disparages their own idiom. Languages such as Kannada and Tamil are hundreds (or depending on how we define Hindi) even thousands of years older, with rich pedigrees and classical status to boot. Tamil claims descent from Lord Shiva himself via Maharishi Agasthya, and Kannada was the language of dynasties such as the Rashtrakutas and Chalukyas that crossed the Vindhyas and ruled lands as far Nepal and Bengal.

This sentiment is frequently coupled with resentment at the assorted Madrasi/Northeastern jokes that many non-Hindiwallahs are frequently subjected to. While many do give back as good as they get, I certainly did, they internalised and congealed this feeling into stereotyping all Northerners and retaining resentment (which I did not). Thus, language to many of them has become a way of frustrating what they see as the “over-bearing behaviour of superiority complex-ed Northerners” all while using their linguistic/cultural/imperial pedigrees to construct their own.

Finally, there is the irritating reality that there are many Northerners who do come to cities like Bangalore and Chennai, and don’t learn the local languages…and refuse to. They hope to coast by on English or even put the onus on the local for learning Hindi. This has resulted in (justifiable) movements like No more “Kannada Baralla”

2. Regional languages threatened

There are of course the regional language champions. They complain that the flood of Hindi in schools, government, and movies means their own languages will die out.  In the name of defending their regional identity, some Manipuri militants have even “banned Hindi movies”–resulting in the growing popularity of Korean movies and K-Pop (is this going to help either national integration or regional identity?).

Then there is the opportunist. The self-starting, up from the boot-straps or clipped St.Stephens graduate who likes his English advantage with his single-malt Scotch, and will be damned if some “vernie” seeks to undercut his hard-earned or “inherited” privilege. Thus he posits English as the “link language” for fair play, much like his patrons from John Company once did.

3. Native languages antiquated, English is Global, Modern

This is the latest fashion for the anti-Shuddh Hindi /pro-Hinglish types. Many of these people even take pride in not knowing how to speak their own native regional language, let alone write it. For them, English is the only language of literacy, modernity, and fashionability…becharas. To be frank, I’ve never quite understood what goes on in the minds of these curious characters. But then why analyse what had already been spelled out as explicit colonial policy for subjects of Indian blood…

Rebuttal of Opposition

1. Revive regional dialects of Hindi, many of which can be their own languages

When there are many dialects of Hindi, many of which could be treated as their own language, how is this Hindi hegemony?

Bhojpuri’s vibrant cinema is already emblematic of this need for intra-Hindi cultural expression and diversity. Many speakers of Hindi dialects other than Hindustani/Kauravi often find it difficult to adjust to it, prefer their own enough to have a unique film industry, and have their own cultural heritages (Braj, Bundelkhand, Marwar, Mewar) that deserve to be celebrated rather than subsumed. Subsuming is” Synthetic unity”, we need “Integral unity”.

I agree, there shouldn’t only be one “authentic” Indian identity. Being a native of the Hindi heartland shouldn’t automatically designate one as more Indian. But, the same people who idolise China don’t know Mandarin is  merely one language of many, and only the prestige dialect of Mandarin (Putonghua) is the official language–with recognised “regional languages”.

prc language map410px-Map_of_sinitic_languages_cropped-en.svg

“In the early 1900s a program for the unification of the national language, which is based on Mandarin, was launched; this resulted in Modern Standard Chinese”. Much like Hindi, Mandarin holds native sway in a gigantic part of China. But even it is divided into various dialects, which are not always mutually intelligible. In fact, it is only the “prestige dialect” around the national capital region of Beijing that is used for Government, so why do these self-same China admirers in India balk at the use of the “prestige dialect” of Hindi (Kauravi/Hindustani) being used given its origin from around India’s national capital region. These are presumably the same people who went around saying “China’s Chairman is our Chairman”—or are intellectually (or genetically) descended from them.

2. Even without uniform Hindi use regional languages already threatened…by English

A recent Telugu movie said as much, given how English has increasingly gained currency for visa/job/fashionability (short clip.words may not be understood,but emotion will be).

Aside from threatening regional languages with obsolescence in modern Indian homes, English may also serve to shut the less fortunate out. Many of our self-styled saviours of regional language posit how English is a better choice, because it puts everyone at an equal disadvantage (Indian crab mentality doing its work) and prevents Hindi from drowning out “vernaculars”. However, as if on cue, a recent article discussed how “India’s media, English-educated elites, and its government have often seemed out of touch with the majority of India’s population.”

It goes on to note that “The problem with this is that it is logistically impossible for all Indians to learn English well enough to use it in this manner, which limits its learners to those who are either good at learning languages or to those who grow up in an environment that exposes them to it from birth so that they pick it up easily. Hundreds of millions of Indians who are otherwise hardworking or talented but poor or not good with languages often do not get the opportunities in life that they deserve simply because they do not know English.”

As the article concludes, Hindi is far more closely related to Gujarati, Marathi, Odia, and Bengali than English is, not only making it more accessible, but shielding these languages in the process. Presumably, the primary complaint comes from the South, but there again the prescience of India’s constitutional framers becomes clear as Hindi primarily drawing from Sanskrit was specifically stipulated–putting Hindi again closely in the grasp of Telugu and Malayalam, which draw over 80% from Sanskrit, and followed not too distantly by Kannada. Tamil is the only outlier, and by some estimates it too is around 30-40% influenced by the Pan-India classical language. Sanskrit vocabulary therefore forms the only significant repository common to India’s large, native languages, and preserves them in the process. Whereas English simultaneously becomes a threat to the professional prospects of less fortunate regional language speakers all while extinguishing the regional language itself in upper and increasingly middle class homes.

I also want to know what exactly these self-styled saviours have done for their own languages? It seems regional languages are only a tool to oppose Hindi/National integration rather than a principle put into practice. Other than sarcasm (in actuality petty poseur passive-aggressiveness garbed in affectation), these champions of parochialism go back to general uselessness when the dust of debate settles. For all the talk of “English exploding in India”, ” It should be noted that English is spoken or understood by about 150 million Indians, or about 10 percent of the population. This means that around 90 percent of Indians do not understand or speak English.” So only around 10 percent know varying degrees of English, but more than 41% speak Hindi as a first language. Non-native speakers of Hindi would easily give this existing plurality a majority.

Thus it’s clear India’s elite and upwardly mobile  only want to preserve their inherited English advantage or at best oppose because they “don’t want to give undue status to Hindi”. Yes, better for all to be equally enslaved than to have 1 first among equals–sounds vaguely familiar… Once again, it’s quite apparent these hypocrites are speaking only in their self-interest. The question is, who will speak out in the national interest?

Interestingly, this question of preserving native languages is not only an Indian one. In fact, the French themselves have long resisted the invasion of English. Once the language of culture and diplomacy of the European elite, la langue Francaise has been relegated to a global has-been, with only spheres of influence in parts of Africa and former colonial enclaves elsewhere (i.e. Pondicherry).

France’s Académie française, official custodians of the French language, has taken its battle to fight the invasion of English and bad French to the internet with a new interactive web service.

In their commitment to preserving the cultural validity and modern relevance of their language, the French have gone to the extent of not only insisting on translating Anglicisms such as “email”, but even attempting to anticipate popular words of science and business in order to translate them in advance. How easily we Indians give up what the French hold dear. Language is culture.

Looks like Rajnath Singh was right after all.

3.Stupidity. Japan, China & Korea are all more modern/advanced than India—and they don’t use English as their medium of communication and learning

Even those Chinese learning English don’t replace their own with it, only add to an existing quiver of languages.

The key is forming academies to ensure India’s languages keep pace with science and sociology. But establishing such academies seems to be too much work for our sepoys, who insist “only English will allow for debelopment”.

As a recent article discussed,

“of the top 20 richest countries in the world per capita, only four are English-medium based. 16 of the 20 richest have higher education, science, engineering, medicine, business, law all available in their own non-English languages. None of these 20 countries have a disconnect between the mother tongue of their people and the languages of higher education and government. None of these have an English-medium based class system where English is a marker of social and economic standing above the ‘natives’.”

Thus, rather than destroying class, English obsession is reinforcing it.

What is often posited as a regional pride issue is really an individual pride issue. The most vocal voices against Hindi speak not out of concern for the son of the street side hawker, but, as usual, for his own selfish interest. Either his English gives him an advantage, rather than the par or disadvantage that Hindi would, or he is yet another example of the crab mentality of Indians (I would rather see all of us go down, than one of us go up!!!)

As the original article notes, “The division of Indian languages simply for “literary value” and English for professional fields was also an Orientalist prejudice, mentioned in the Macaulay Minute. ” Indeed, “Indian languages are far more scientific than English. Their grammar is more structured, they are phonetic; their alphabet is based on a systemisation of sound. If Japanese and Chinese with their multi-thousand letter writing systems can be used for modern knowledge, there is no reason that Indian languages cannot.”

In sum, whether considering the ancient or modern, classical or scientific, we should remember the following dictum:

 “All major civilisations promote their own languages. “

Having laid out the case for Hindi as the official and the national language, what advice do I, as a Southerner, have for Northerners on what they can do to facilitate Hindi’s national use?

What can native Hindi speakers do to help

I recognise there are many well-meaning and even open-minded North Indians willing to learn a Southern or Eastern Indian language in the interest of national integration. For every boorish mohalla-Delhiwallah who throws his linguistic weight around in Bangalore or Mumbai (often with tragic results…), there are many more who are happy to learn beyond Bollywood stereotypes and “idli/vada/sambar”. So I am not here to perpetuate stereotypes, rather, I want to provide solutions. So what can native Hindi speakers do?

1. As previously stated, revitalise your native Hindi dialect’s cultural & literary canon

From the Prithviraj Raso to the Ramcharitmanas, there is an extensive literary canon for the various dialects of Hindi. It is incumbent upon the speakers of these dialects of Hindi to revitalise them. They deserve their due spotlight. North India is more than just Delhi-Agra-Jaipur. It is high time for the sons of Chittorgarh, Pithoragarh, and Pataliputra to take pride in not only historic, but also cultural and linguistic heritages. Your poetry and literature also counts. So take an interest in recovering it and passing it on to the next generation.

2. Ditch the Madrasi/Northeastern jokes

We all know the jokes, “Kallu this/Ch**ki that”, but nothing serves to more reinforce the resistance to Hindi than the “other”ising of your fellow Indian. Coming from Andhra (a region famous for comedians from Tenali Ramakrishna to Hindi film’s Johnny Lever) I am all for good-natured ribbing and witty one-liners. But brainless name-calling and lazy stereotypes are not wit, and making common cause with Pakistanis who, despite sharing the same background as most NI Punjabis, call all Indians “kallu” is the height of stupidity. If you want a united India, act like it.

I also know that with the development primarily in the South (though Gujarat and Gurgaon are actually ahead in some ways), the shoe of late has frequently been on the other foot. Many of our brothers from UP and Bihar have been at the receiving end of unprovoked mockery. So I am not saying don’t defend yourself, just be smart about it. An IT/Visa joke about a “Gult”= fair game. But attacking  darker skinned Southerners and epicanthic fold bearing Northeasterners for their looks is crass and cultureless. What’s more, many of them have identified vulnerabilities in the North (all too crass and offensive to be repeated here), so rather than devolve to mutual acrimony and hate-fests, respect others and respect yourself by behaving like gentlemen and ladies–and your fellow Indians will do the same. If they don’t, report them to people like me, and we’ll give them a talking to.

3. Most importantly: Learn the language & culture of the state you live in

It doesn’t matter whether you like the sound of your own mother tongue more (who doesn’t?–though as a Telugu I will axiomatically beg to differ with you), or don’t have a knack for learning new languages; make an effort and pick it up. Trust me, the goodwill you generate from even showing the slightest interest in the local regional tongue will be met with a flood of reciprocation. By not just referring to everyone from Dakshin Bharat as Madrasi or South Indian and taking the time to learn the difference between Telugu and Tamil (or Mizo and Khasi for that matter), you will do more for national integration than all the twitter fights could ever hope to accomplish.

I, as a South Indian, have stuck my neck out for Hindi at the risk of considerably displeasing many of my brethren in Andhra and other parts of India, in the name not of self-interest, but national and civilizational interest. How are you, mere bhaiyon aur behinon of Uttar Bharat, willing to reciprocate in the same national and civilizational interest?


Ultimately, I personally am fine with either Hindi or Sanskrit. Many of late have been vehement in their insistence that Sanskrit and Sanskrit alone fits the bill as national language, and possibly even official language.  Others more recently have proposed Hindi as the First Official Language but Sanskrit as the National Language. This suggestion, in fact has more merit, and is worthy of further study, as it allows government accessible to and conversation for the common man, while rooting national thought in the only true Pan-Indian language. However, this invariably calls for a reevaluation of the criteria for and the nature of a National Language (mandatory), and favours its replacement with a Civilizational Language (something available to all, but not mandatory).

I certainly believe Sanskrit is our common civilizational language of high culture, and along with Tamil, one of our two living classical languages, but show me how you’ll get the lance naik of the Indian army or the average auto wallah to learn the language speedily (i.e 1-5 years), then talk. Anybody can form an opinion, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so show how you would do it (not in a 140 character tweet, but a 14 or 140 page plan).

I don’t mean just making the case for Sanskrit, but providing the specific plans, timelines, and infrastructure to deliver the end result leading to Sanskrit as national language or official language. Otherwise, it’s quite clear that certainly in the near and even medium term, Hindi (as defined by the Constitution) alone fits the bill, and Sanskrit will remain a civilizational fountain. Pragmatism must also drive our decision and there is a need to organise ourselves correctly AND swiftly to meet the challenges of the future.

I mean for God’s sake, we are surrounded by hostile foreigners plotting to take our land and even our loved ones, but 70 years later we are still bickering over what language we should use for national communication?!!! Are we understanding the gravity of the situation? ARE WE A SERIOUS PEOPLE?!!!

The Bottom line is this: it has been almost 7 decades since India attained Independence. Whatever side you’re on, this debate is now beyond stale, and the “imposition” charges without merit. “Vell, VEE NEED CONSENSUS FIRST”, bray our gyaanis—well gyaani, there is such a thing as a reasonable time limit for consensus, and cloture for debate—and thanks to your dilly-dallying, the time is now up. Whether top-down or bottom-up, people, it’s time to make a call…what’s the national language?—as far as the Constitution is concerned, the matter is already settled…



  1. Constitution of India
  2. http://thediplomat.com/2014/07/why-india-must-move-beyond-english/
  3. http://thediplomat.com/2014/07/language-and-basic-rights-in-india-beyond-english/
  4. http://www.niticentral.com/2014/06/28/revitalising-indian-languages-will-unlock-our-civilisational-genius-232436.html
  5. http://rajivmalhotra.com/library/articles/response-postmodernist-charge-essentialism/
  6. Planet India. New York: Simon&Schuster. 2007. p.98
  7. http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/a-historical-sense
  8. http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-indias-english-obsession-must-end/20140626.htm
  9. Dasgupta, Jyotirindra. Language Conflict and National Development: Group Politics and National. p.110
  10. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/361585/Mandarin-language
  11. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/8820304/Frances-Academie-francaise-battles-to-protect-language-from-English.html
  12. http://www.academia.edu/7602522/The_Ability_of_Sanskrit_to_Coin_New_Words
  13. Rao, P.R. History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh. Delhi: Sterling. 1994

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.



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]


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.


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]


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.


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.


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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]


  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