A Timeless Classic: Bharat Muni’s Natyashastra



Apart from India, no other country in the world has an old classic committed completely to the creation, technique, and significance of music, dance, and theatre. The Natyasastra, attributed to Bharata and most likely composed about 200 BCE, is unique. This Sanskrit literature is ancient and timeless since much of what was said in this theatre manual is still pertinent today!

The Natyasastra combines the terms Natya, which alludes to techniques of dancer/actor, with “sastra,” which refers to science, resulting in a codified framework that is surprisingly secular in its setting. The work offers detailed descriptions of acting techniques, costumes, music, musical instruments, and so on, and it also serves as the social and philosophical underpinning for Indian classical dance styles such as Bharatanatyam, Oddisi, and Kuddiyatam.

Natyashastra is a classic on theatre and aesthetics that has been widely assigned to Bharata, the sage, as its creator. It is based on human psychology as it exists in India’s cultural framework, with a concentration on on-stage performance. The Rasa theory is central to the Natyashastra. Natyashastra is a work that analyses dramatic performance elements such as Natya, Vithi, Bhav, Vyabhichari Bhav, Satvik Bhav, Vibhav, Anubhav, Rasa, Rasa Sutra, Nishpatti, Model Spectator, and the profoundly spiritual idea of Shantih. The text’s value stems from its practical relevance for both creative and critical elements. It functions theoretically as both a classic and modern work. Bharata describes each Sutra in terms of determinants, and consequences, and Vyabhichari Bhav establishing his authority in comprehending human nature with an ability of analytical expression and dramatic depiction for the final Nishpatti of desired Rasas for the audience’s enjoyment and satisfaction. Natyashastra is regarded as a supplementary Ved in the lineage of Sanskrit academia and is a collection of performing arts, theatre, music, dance, and visual arts. Bharata has had a significant impact on succeeding Sanskrit critics like Abhinav Gupta, Manmohan and Vishwanath in India aesthetics. It is likely that art can discover the bedrock for art and fine arts based on Rasas’ practical experience.

Image – Arian Zwegers/Flickr

It takes the form of an informal discourse between Bharata Muni and a number of other Munis who approached him with Natya Veda-related questions. This text has 36 chapters and 6000 poetry poems portraying performing arts. The book covers topics such as dramatic composition, play structure and stage construction, acting genres, body motions, make-up and costumes, the function and aims of an art director, musical scales, musical instruments, and the incorporation of music with art performance.

Bharata mentions fifteen different styles of play, each with one to 10 acts. Full-scale dramas with five or more acts are divided into two categories: history and fiction. The “Natya Shastra” specifies eight varieties of one-to-four-act plays: heroic, tragic, or comedic plays, as well as satirical monologues, street plays, and three types of archaic plays concerning gods and demons. A separate four-act “light play,” a hypothetical, sensitive comedy about a genuine character, is also included. The basics of stage design are outlined in depth. Individual chapters include topics including cosmetics, wardrobe, acting, and directing. A substantial chunk focuses on how to accentuate the meanings transmitted by the performance (bhavas), leading to a wide aesthetic philosophy (rasas).

Four aspects of abhinaya (or histrionics) are discussed: the signals sent by movements of body parts (angika); speech (Achika); clothes and makeup (AhArya); and, at the greatest level, by interior feelings portrayed by minute movements of the lips, brows, ear, and so on (Attvika).

According to the “Natya Shastra,” drama developed from the conflicts that arose in society as the world deteriorated from the Golden Age (Kta Yuga) of harmony, and hence a play always depicts a struggle and its conclusion. The transformation of a tale into a dramatic plot is based on the single primary element that resolves the conflict, which is expanded in its components and conjunctions. Each full-scale drama has five “conjunctions”: an opening, a re-opening, an embryo, an obstacle, and a finale. Each of these “conjunctions” has up to a dozen dramatic episodes and circumstances that depict the characters in action. There are several theatrical tactics available for expressing the causes and repercussions of emotion.

Rasa in Natya Shastra


The Ntyashstra lays out a thorough philosophy of theatre equivalent to Aristotle’s Poetics. Drama’s objective is to amuse the audience. The audience’s delight (harşa) and consolation are purposely created by the actors using particular acting skills.

Bharata refers to bhavas, the performers’ emotional impersonations, and the rasas (emotional responses) they elicit in the audience. Love, humor, energy, wrath, fear, grief, disgust, and amazement are the eight primary bhavas (emotions). These are not immediately communicated to the spectator but are depicted through their causes and effects. The spectator experiences eight major reactions, or rasas, when seeing and picturing these emotions: love, pity, wrath, contempt, heroism, wonder, horror, and humour. Bharata suggests that plays combine several rasas yet be dominated by one. The audience mostly enjoys the play, but they are also educated by watching both good and negative behaviours, as well as the motives that drive them.

Each rasa felt by the audience is linked to a distinct bhava displayed on stage. For instance, in order for the audience to feel srngara (the ‘erotic’ rasa), the author, performers, and musician collaborate to represent the bhava known as rati (love).

Suggested read – Rasas In Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra

Ntyashstra in Dance

Natya Sastra dance mudra on Chidambaram Nataraja templ – Wikimedia

Dancing is connected to drama and, like drama, portrays the eight emotions. Drama relies heavily on words and gestures, whereas dance relies heavily on music and motions. The “Natya Shastra” defines thirteen head positions, thirty-six eye positions, nine neck positions, thirty-seven hand positions, and ten body positions. Modern Indian dancers still follow the guidelines outlined in the “Natya Shastra.”

When suitable, group or solo dances might be incorporated into a drama. Parvati’s solo dance, the lasya, represented a tale, or part of a plot, inside a theatre.

Ntyashstra in Music

Natyashastra-in Music
Image – Wikimedia

Following the Samaveda, which dealt with Vedic ceremonial utterances, the “Natya Shastra” is the first important literature that deals in depth with music. It is regarded as the defining book of Indian Classical Music until the thirteenth century, when it split into Hindustani classical music in North India and Pakistan and Carnatic classical music in South India.

While much of the “Natya Shastra” discussion of music concentrates on musical instruments, it also highlights many theoretical themes that have remained vital to Indian music:

  1. Shadja is established as the initial, defining note of the scale or grama. The term “shadja” means “giving birth to six,” and alludes to the fact that once this note (commonly referred to as “sa” and notated S) is defined, the location of subsequent notes in the scale is decided.
  2. Principle of Consonance: There are two principles:
  3. The first premise claims that there is a basic note in the musical scale called Avinashi and Avilopi, which is always present and unchangeable.
  4. The second concept, which is sometimes taken as law, claims that there is a natural consonance between notes, with the best being between Shadja and Tar Shadja and the second best being between Shadja and Pancham.
  5. The Natya Shastra also mentions musical modes or jatis, which are the basis of the present melodic patterns known as ragas. Compositions that highlight the notes gandhara or rishabha are thought to be associated with tragedy (karuna rasa), whereas rishabha is supposed to be emphasised for conveying valour (vIra rasa). Jatis are discussed in greater depth in the work Dattilam, which was written at the same time as the “Natya Shastra.”

Natya Shastra the Book

Natya Shastra Book Importance
Image – Prabhu B Doss/Flickr

The Natya Shastra examines numerous elements of musical performance, notably its application to vocal, instrumental, and symphonic works. It also addresses the rasas and bhavas that music might inspire.

The Natya Shastra is the world’s largest and most extensive theatrical and dance text, and it still serves as the foundation for India’s ancient styles of theatre and dance. Through decades of actual theatrical labour, the Natya Shastra teachings became established. It may be claimed that Bharata took a global perspective and asserted that art universalizes emotions, turning them into a tool for attracting onlookers. It is possible to argue that Natya Shastra is more relevant to practitioners than academics. The creator of Natya Shastra, Bharata Muni, has explicitly indicated that theatrical experiments (proyoga) and temporal notions should be included in the Shastra. As a result, it is a living, organic text in aesthetics and performing arts, rather than a fixed collection of ideas and instructions. Bharata’s Rasa theory is still very important today, since many current theatrical personalities are influenced by these rasas and utilize these basic emotions in their plays. The components of ” Rasa” act as a framework to sustain the emotional richness of a play.  

This 2000-year-old text has retained the cornerstone of classical Indian dance styles throughout the country and throughout the decades. This captures the core of practically all modern stage and film screenplays. It’s incredible that Bharata had the vision to outline the fundamentals of theatre almost 2000 years ago.

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