Happy Ganesh Chaturthi from ICP!
Wishing you a year free of obstacles to spiritual enlightenment (and common sense).
Here is a composition for the occasion sung by none other than M.S.Subbulakshmi herself:
A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on January 31, 2015
This is a post on the structure of a Carnatic music Kutcheri (a traditional musical performance gathering) accompanied by a virtual kutcheri that I have put together.
The Kutcheri format as we know it today is said to have started out in the 1920s. That is not to say that it didn’t exist before that.
Traditionally, a kutcheri starts with a varnam. A varnam is a composition which basically tells you the swaras (notes: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni–> Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatham, Nishadam) that are present in that particular ragam both in the arohana (ascending scale) as well as avarohana (descending scale). It lays down the rules of how the various swaras can be combined in both the scales. It is split into specific parts and is a rather technical piece which lays out the rules for the development of a particular ragam. Thus the varnam is a composition which a student of carnatic music learns as a primer before going on to explore more elaborate nuances of ragas through kritis.
At this point let’s do a little more study of classical music. Carnatic music is made up of 72 fundamental ragas called the melakarta ragas or the janaka (giving birth) ragas or the parent ragas. All other ragas, and there are literally hundreds of them are derived (janya or given birth to) from these 72 janaka ragas. It just means that there are 7 swaras with 12 semi-tones in one octave. They are both in the ascending and descending scales combined in different ways to form these primary 72 ragas, i.e, these 72 ragas have the entire scale (Sa-Ni with their semi-tones) both in the ascending and descending scales. Hence they are called sampurna (complete) ragas. Janya ragas however are derived from these 72, meaning that they have have swaras left out from the parent. The number of swaras left out from the parent janaka raga can vary.
The list of the swaras and their semi-tones are like this: S, R1, R2=G1, R3=G2, G3, M1, M2, P, D1, D2=N1, D3=N2 and N3. Of these S and P do not have semi-tones.
In conjunction with swara is tala, which refers to the number and type of beats within a cycle. This is similar to the concept of meter and helps track the pace and time in a composition. There are 7 basic talams (Adi, Dhruva, Rupaka, etc), and 108 total talas, due to combinations with other factors known as angas and jathis.
I admit I have a fondness for the 28th Melakarta Raga called Harikambhoji. Many of the songs from the janyas of this raga are a favorite with me.
So, here’s my choice of varnam to start this personal kutcheri. I would love my kutcheri to start with this beautiful varnam called “Mathe Malayadhwaja”. Its not a traditional varnam nor an easy one, but its beautiful and captivating for me. So, here is Sudha Raghunathan singing “Mathe”, in raga Khamas, janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji set to Adi talam.
Arohanam: S M1 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S
Following this, the kutcheri format prescribes one or two compositions of the trinity in Ghana ragams. We will have only one.
Who are the trinity?
The Trinity is a group of three composers who are known as the creators of almost all the compositions that are sung today. They are Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, and Thyagaraja. While the latter two are Telugu origin, Muthuswamigal is Tamizh. Though our common Bharatiya Saastriya Sangeeta is obviously very ancient, the Carnatic School is traced to Karnataka’s Purandara Dasa in the 1500s, during the Vijayanagara Empire. This title is highly deserved, but honorary as he is predated by a number of other composers. Northern and Southern Indian Schools diverged in the medieval period, and Carnatic remained essentially unaffected by foreign influences. North or South, Classical Indic Music originated in the Natya Sastra of Bharata Muni.
What are Ghana ragams?
First, there are eight Ghana ragams in Carnatic music. They are Nattai, Goula, Bouli, Reetigowla, Malavasri, Arabhi, Varali and Sri. They are so called because they are said to be able to effectively portray masculine emotions like shouryam (ferocity), veeryam (bravery), roudram (anger) and so on.
So with this information, here is my second offering in the kutcheri. This is in Raga Nattai, janya raga of the 36th melakarta ragam Chalanattai and sung once again by the supremely talented Sudha Raghunathan. The song is “Swaminatha paripalaya” set to Adi Talam. The composition is by Muthuswami Dikshitar.
Arohanam: S R3 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S Avarohanam: S N3 P M1 G3 M1 R3 S
After this now we must have a composition in the shuddha madhyamam scale. Let us see what this is. This essentially means that the melakartas are divided into two types, the ragas which have shuddha madhyamam i.e, the first semi-tone of the swara M, M1 and those which have prati madhyamam or M2. So, now we have to select a raga that has shuddha madhyamam from one of the melakarta ragas. Let me choose my favorite melakarta raga Harikhamboji itself. It is after all my favorite one.
Here is the next offering from Balamurali Krishna in Harikhamboji. The song is called “Rama nannu brovara”, a Thyagaraja gem set to rupaka talam.
Arohanam: S R2 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S
Moving on to a composition in the prati madhyamam scale, let us see what this means. As I stated earlier, the melakarta ragas are divided into two: the shuddha and the pratimadhyamam scales. In fact, the first 36 ragas in the melakarta are in the shuddha madhyamam scale and the second 36 in the prati madhyamam scale. The most common one is Kalyani, also called the Mechakalyani. This is the composition “Nidhichaala Sukhama” by Thyagaraja rendered by the peerless and timeless M.S. Subbalakshmi in adi talam. Do enjoy.
Arohanam: S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S Avarohanam: S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R2 S
I cannot go on to the main composition without having my favorite raga in my kutcheri, can I? So, I will have a Dwijavanthi in my repertoire. This raga is a janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji. The composition is “Akhilandeshwari” by Muthuswamy Dikshitar sung by the Trichur brothers. The composition is in adi talam.
Arohanam: S R2 G3 M1 P D2 S Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 M1 R2 G2 R2 S
Now we come to the main piece of the concert where the kutcheri format says that the composition should be a rakti/naya raga.
A rakti or naya raga is called a feminine ragam. In fact, the entire set of ragams are classified as ghana ragams, rakti/naya ragams and desiya ragams.As we discussed earlier, ghana ragams are said to be masculine ragams. Desiya ragams are those that have been imported into the Carnatic school of music from either Folk music or the Hindustani school. Hence the rakti/naya ragams are those which are said to be feminine. This means that the large majority of ragams are feminine ragams which are said to be capable of portraying feminine emotions like karunam (compassion), sringaram (romance), vatsalyam (parental love) and so on. This is not to say that ghana ragams cannot portray feminine emotions or vice versa. For more on this, please refer to this excellent lecdem by Sri. R Visweshwaran.
This main piece is the one where the vocalist, the violinist and the percussionists all get to display their talents and can sometimes go for an hour. It is called the ragam-tanam-pallavi where the raga is first explored in all its nuances through the alapana (where the swaras comprising the raga are sung in a melodic form to set the mood of the raga). This is then followed by the tanam or the main part of the composition.
Tanam was first developed for the veena but began to be practiced by vocalists too, and it means expanding the raga rhythmically with the use of syllables like ta, nam, tom, aa and so on. In the tanam phase an extremely versatile and accomplished singer can also incorporate a few other ragas than the one s/he originally started out with. Then, in the pallavi section, the singer sings a single line and then explores it in different speeds. Finally, the percussionists are given the time to explore the rhythms in their turn and the whole can take about an hour or more. For more on this very complicated form of singing, please refer here.
Now, I present for your listening pleasure, a superbly crafted Ragam-tanam-pallavi by Sanjay Subramaniam. This comes with a warning however: The piece takes over an hour to listen to but I assure you its well worth the trouble 😉 . The composition is “Sabapathiku veru deivam” in raga Abhogi and rupaka talam. Raga Abhogi is a janya raga of the 22nd melakarta raga Kharharapriya. Gopalakrishna Bharati has composed this song.
Arohanam: S R2 G2 M1 D2 S Avarohanam: S D2 M1 G2 R2 S
Before we end the kutcheri, after such an intense encounter with ragam-tanam-pallavi (RTP), we have to unwind and lighten the knots that we had got into. Its now time for some lighter yet melodious and easier pieces called tukkadas. Let us listen to two of them.
Sit back and enjoy a soothing, gentle and lilting “Hey Govind, hey Gopala” in raga Desakshi and rupaka talam. Suddha Desi is a janya raga of by now you know which melakarta!…yes, it is a janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji. This divine song is rendered by the sister duo Ranjani-Gayatri and is composed by Surdas.
Raga: Suddha Desi
Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N2 S Avarohanam: S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S
Second to last in the kutcheri is another gem from the evergreen and ever remembered M.S Subbalakshmi. This time it is a ragamalika, meaning that the song is composed of multiple ragas. This one “Kurai ondrum illai”, is composed in three ragas Shivaranjani, Kapi and Sindhu Bhairavi. Shivaranjani and Kapi are janya ragas of the 22nd melakarta raga Kharaharapriya and Sindhubhairavi is a janya raga of the 10th melakarta raga Natakapriya. The composer of this song is the famous Indian politician and freedom fighter C.Rajagopalachari.
Ragamalika: Shivaranjani, Kapi and Sindhubhairavi
Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N3 S Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S
Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N3 S Avarohanam: S N2 D2 N2 P M1 G2 R2 S
Arohanam: S R2 G2 M1 G2 P D1 N2 S Avarohanam: N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S N2 S
Finally, we round off this kutcheri with the standard sign off raga which is Sowrashtram. The signature song is “Pavamana suthudu battu” and here it is rendered by K. J Yesudas. Sowrashtram is a janya raga of the 17th melakarta raga Sooryakantam. It is a composition by Thyagaraja set in adi talam.
Arohanam: S R1 G3 M1 P M1 D2 N3 S Avarohanam: S N3 D2 N2 D2 P M1 G3 R1 S
I hope you enjoyed the kutcheri as much as I did putting it together for you!!
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”. 
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. 
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.  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.
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”. 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. 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.
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.
“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]