Examine the nature and function of dramatic art as propagated by Bharat Muni’s Natyashastra.
In the Indian context, the art forms like music, dance, architecture, painting etc., are found
mentioned in the earliest available works like the Vedas, Puranas, Itihasas etc. Thus, it is tedious
to place historically the advent of art forms, but, we have in a span of 100 years, (18th-19th cent
AD) located and arranged one of the earliest treatises dealing specifically with the art form and
the mechanism of art-experience known as Natya-Shastra attributed to Sage Bharata. The period
is roughly from 5th century BC to 3rd century AD. By this time, the art form is classified into
three arts, namely, Poetry (Kavya), Drama (or Theatre) (Natya) and Music (Gana). We find
classification of arts into 64 that includes stringing flowers, face-painting etc., but the
identification of the three arts seems to enhance the study of art-experience elevating it from the
physical plane to a spiritual plane. Even among these three, Bharata in the Natya-Shastra shows
that the highest form of art-experience is Poetry and it can be well brought out by acting. The
Natya-Shastra, deals with the three main arts and defines the art-experience as “Rasa” and
provides the mechanism of what came to be known later as rasa-experience. This word ‘Rasa’
though profound, reaching beyond the sensitive cognition, however over a period of time has
come to be identified with the word ‘Aesthetics’ of Western origin. Now, in the light of the three
main arts, we shall survey the literary development in these three art forms. We do have much
literature in the other art forms, here; we restrict to these three arts basically to understand the
evolution and development of Aesthetics in the Indian context.
The treatise Natya-Shastra attributed to Sage Bharata, deals with the Science of Dramaturgy and
we have at least three different editions with 36, 37 and 38 chapters. Considering the 36 chapters
work as the earliest, we find the description of characteristics of poetical works
(Kavyalakshanam) in the 17th chapter, different types of dramas (Natakas) also known as
Rupakas, in the 20th chapter and music (dhruvas) in the 32nd chapter. The famous definition of
Rasa in the aphoristic (sutra) form is given in the 6th chapter of Natya-Shastra. This is later
referred to by the Aestheticians as ‘Rasa-Sutra’.
The available commentary to the NatyaShastra is that of Abhinavagupta (10th-11th cent. AD).
The commentary is known as Natyaveda-vivritti and most popularly as Abhinavabharati.
Abhinavagupta comments this treatise in the background of Pratyabhijna Shaiva system that is
said to have prevailed widely in Kashmir. From this available commentary, we come to know
that there had been several earlier commentators to NatyaShastra, like, Udbhata, Bhatta Lollata,
Shri Shankuka, Bhattanayaka, Kirtidhara, Rahula, Shri Harsha and others. Basically the
commentators differed in the interpretation of the Rasa-sutra and evolved their theories of Rasa.
We shall deal with the theories of Rasa in 1.3 of this unit. The other features of the commentaries
are the different viewpoints on the nature of drama (rupaka), dramatic presentation (vritti),
histrionics (abhinaya), and different aspects of music and poetical compositions. In the broad
platform of Rasa theory developed various views on “aesthetically sound” poetic compositions.
We shall now see some of the literary contributions in the field of poetry that took a prime place
in the gamut of Aesthetic study.