The Nāṭyaśāstra (Science of Drama) is the earliest and most authoritative Indian text on the performing arts. Written in Sanskrit, mainly in epic ślokas with some prose fragments, it is dated by scholars from the 5th century BCE to the 7th–8th century CE. Apparently, between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, it acquired the presently known form. The surviving manuscripts of significantly later date consist of 36–37 chapters, containing approximately 6,000 verses, though the tradition refers to a text of 12,000 verses. The structure comprises a series of accounts on various aspects of theatrical arts, narrated by the legendary author Bharata. The names and succession of chapters vary in different manuscripts. According to Manomohan Ghosh Edition (MGE) (see Complete Editions), chapter 1 describes the genesis of drama; 2, the characteristics of the playhouse; 3, the pūjā for the consecration of a new theater; 4, techniques of the Tāṇḍava dance; 5, the ritual of pūrvaraṅga; 6, the theory of rasa; 7, the definition of bhāva; 8, facial mimics and differentiation of glances; 9, hand gestures (single, combined, dance); 10, acting techniques for body limbs and feet position; 11, basic steps, standing postures, and positions with weapons; 12, combined steps and movements; 13, types of scenic gaits; 14, stage zones and conventions, local theatrical customs; 15, the theory of prosody, Sanskrit recitation, and metrical patterns; 16, examples of metrical patterns; 17, attributes of poetry and figures of speech; 18, Prākr̥t recitation; 19, modes of addressing and enunciation; 20, ten kinds of play; 21, structure of a plot; 22, basic models of scenic representation; 23, stage properties, costumes, and make-up; 24, female theater; 25, definition of women of easy virtue and amorous men; 26, various representations; 27, success of the drama; 28, general description of Gāndharva music; 29, basic melody types and music parts of pūrvaraṅga; 30, hollow instruments; 31, time-measure, stage songs, and their application in female performance; 32, dhruvā songs; 33, covered instruments (drums); 34, types of characters; 35, distribution of roles, ideal troupe; 36, descent of drama on earth. Numerous medieval treatises, including the famous Daśarūpa of Dhanañjaya (10th century), depend on the Nāṭyaśāstra. From many commentaries only one survives: the of Abhinavagupta (10th–11th century) commonly known as Abhinavabhāratī. The significance of the Nāṭyaśāstra is far beyond a mere compendium on drama. It contains the notion of the profound theatrical aspect of life, which became the fundamental characteristic of post-Vedic culture and determined the appearance of the unique and purely Indian system of ideas, according to which the world is the fruit of the divine game.
The general studies of the Nāṭyaśāstra are few in number, both due to the encyclopedic character of the treatise and rich specter of its themes, and to the long established scholarly approach that tends to examine separately various aspects of this multidisciplinary text. As a result, the general overviews of the Nāṭyaśāstra are rarely connected to the study of the treatise itself. Instead, the text is regularly used for the analysis of the theory and practice of Sanskrit drama, for the problems related to poetics and aesthetics, for the study of the dance, and so on. Vatsyayan 1996 represents a rare example of an integral vision of the Nāṭyaśāstra text and its tradition; Tripathi 2004 and Appa Rao 2001 introduce a detailed outline of the content of the Nāṭyaśāstra; Tripathi 1991 presents an analytical and structural approach to the text; Gupta 1954 and Bhat 1981 use the Nāṭyaśāstra for the study of technical, structural, literary, and production aspects of drama; Rangacharya 1998 provides adapted accounts of the Nāṭyaśāstra content; Kale 1974 offers a selective critical exposition oriented to Western audience; and Bhattacharya 1974 explores the treatise through the application of Western principles.
Appa Rao, Ponangi Śri Rama. Special Aspects of Nāṭya Śāstra. Telugu Original. Translated by H.V. Sharma. New Delhi: National School of Drama, 2001.
Comprehensive rendering of the Nāṭyaśāstra content (excluding chapters on music). Contains evaluation and explanation of the terminology, opinions of the later theoreticians, and parallels from Greek, Roman, English, modern Indian, and Western theater traditions. Valuable and accessible introduction to the Nāṭyaśāstra material, advisable as a course-book. Black-and-white illustrations and schemes. Translated from the second revised Telugu edition of 1988: Bharatamuni praṇītamaina Nāṭyaśāstramu: Viślēṣaṇātmaka adhyayanaṃ (The Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata Muni: the content of chapters), Hyderabad: Nāṭyamālā. Originally published in 1959.
Bhat, Govind Keshav. Nāṭya-Mañjarī-Saurabha: Sanskrit Dramatic Theory. Pune, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1981.
Accurate summary of the basic topics of the Nāṭyaśāstra: origin and development of drama, preceding rituals, production of a play, structural and literary aspects of dramatic text, characteristics of the main and subordinate dramatic genres, principal and secondary dramatic characters. Useful as a course text.
Bhattacharya, Biswanath. Sanskrit Drama and Dramaturgy. Delhi: Sharada, 1974.
Treats drama as a literary form and essential part of Sanskrit poetry. Studies the nature of drama, the role of dramatist, the dramatic structure, preceding rituals, styles, and so on. Compares Greek and Sanskrit dramas from the standpoint of technique. Appendices include a comparison between Tamil and Sanskrit dramas, description of prologue (prastāvanā), and English equivalents of Sanskrit terms.
Gupta, Chandra Bhan. The Indian Theatre: Its Origin and Development up to the Present Day. Banaras, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1954.
Examines the presentation of Sanskrit plays, construction of the theater building, staging, accessory arts, troupe, foregoing drama religious ceremonies, scenic dialects, nature and types of drama. Contains diagrams of different types of theater buildings, created according to the Nāṭyaśāstra description.
Kale, Pramod K. The Theatric Universe (A Study of the Nāṭyaśāstra). Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1974.
Lucid and concise overview of the Nāṭyaśāstra material. Acknowledges the theater as a synthesis of sacred and profane elements, creating a vision of the nāṭya-Brahman (theatric universe). Conjectural interpretations of the key terms, with an idea to make them friendlier to the Western readers, raise a number of controversial points. Appendix contains compendious outline of the Nāṭyaśāstra content, based on Kedārnāth 1943 (cited under Complete Editions). Most appropriate for beginning students when used as supplementary material.
Rangacharya, Adya. Introduction to Bharata’s Nāṭya-Śāstra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1998.
Short, simple and intelligible overview of the Nāṭyaśāstra material, terminology and most important concepts, essential to the theory and practice of drama: origin of the theater, stage conventions and craft, preliminary rituals, ten forms of stage representations and rasa theory. Originally published in 1966 (Bombay: Popular Prakashan).
Tripathi, Radhavallabh. Lectures on the Nāṭyaśāstra. Pune, India: University of Poona, 1991.
Explores a wide range of topics related to the Nāṭyaśāstra, and presents an analytical study of the subject. Several appendices examine ritualistic, dramatic and aesthetic principles of the Indian stage, dramatic directions in the classical Sanskrit plays, and the distinctive features of court and temple theater.
Tripathi, Kamlesh Datta. “Nāṭyaśāstra.” In The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre. Edited by Ananda Lal, 308–311. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Treats the Nāṭyaśāstra as the most important comprehensive source for the understanding of the Sanskrit theater, poetics, aesthetics, dance, music, and other arts. Offers a brief outline of the Nāṭyaśāstra content according to the Gaekwad’s Oriental Series (GOS) edition numeration of chapters. Useful for introductory courses, and can be recommended for beginning students.
Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bharata, The Nāṭyaśāstra. New Delhi: Sahitya Academy, 1996.
Extensive study of the fundamental issues of the Nāṭyaśāstra: the problem of authorship, the date and structure of the text, the oral and written tradition, the cultural context, the primary text, its key-concepts, etc. Appendix presents a valuable database of the Nāṭyaśāstra manuscripts from different libraries, compiled in the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
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