The theory of rasa enunciated by Bharata has stimulated both creativity and critical discourse in the Indian arts for nearly two thousand years. The text of the Natyasastra is as relevant to literature, poetry and drama as it is to architecture, sculpture, painting, music and dance, its 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.
The present treatise asks fundamental questions not only on this text but on the nature of the Indian textual tradition. It re-examines issues of authorship, dating, primary material, orality and text. It places the text I the context of an overarching worldview and analyses with incisive sharpness, the structure of the text, it traces the history of the inflows and outflows, of the pretext, the precursors, the commentators and the interpreters of the text. The analogy of the perennial flow of the river, with its multiple streams, without loss of continuity and identity but potential for change and renewal makes this work as fresh as unconventional in its approach. It makes compelling reading for the specialist and the lay reader.
Kapil Vatsyayan, through her books and articles and specially Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, The Square and the Circle of the Indian Arts, Traditional Indian Theatre, Multiple Streams, Dance in Indian Painting, and Traditions of Indian Folk Dance has explored the aesthetics of the Natyasastra at the level of theory and practice. Besides, the six volume of the Gita Govinda in different miniature schools dwell at length on the interrelationship of text, image, sound and movement. Each of these works alongwith the volumes on Concepts of Space (akasa) and Time (kala) as also the unique exhibitions on these perennial themes has established a new model of understanding the Indian system, which moves concurrently along the physical and the metaphysical dimensions.
Kapila Vatsyayana's inter and multi-disciplinary work has been nationally and internationally acclaimed Elected Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi and Lalit Kala Akademi, she is a recipient of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fellowship and Shankaradeva Award. As founder, and being responsible for the conceptual plan and the programmes of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Art, her holistic integral vision has come to a fine fruition.
To be asked by the Sahitya Akademi to write a book on Bharata in the Biography series is a rare honour, little deserved. Had the great savants, the late Professor S.K. De, Dr Manomohan Ghosh, Dr V. Raghavan, even the late Professor K.J. Shah been alive, it would have been their prerogative. Amongst my peers and cotemporaries there are Professor G.K. Krishnamoorthy, Professor G.K. Bhatt, Professor G.H. Tarlekar, Professor Kamalesh Datta Tripathi , Dr Premlata Sharma, Dr Mukund Lath and others who have spent many years of their life studying the one and only text attributed to Bharata. All of them would have been eminently suitable and far more erudite and competent.
Thus, despite the full consciousness of inadequacy, I accepted the invitation as a student of the text and its contents because it gave me the rare opportunity to ask seminal questions on the broader issues of the textual tradition in India and to re-examine this fundamental text from the point of view of vision, context, structure and process. Also, instead of a descriptive chronological account of either the author or the work, I have chosen the more hazardous path of re-investigating the methodological tools so far adopted by scholars for a critical examination of the textual tradition in general and the history of aesthetics and art criticism in particular. Consequently, the short monograph is neither a recapitulization of the histories of Sanskrit literature nor a summary of the technicalities of each of the concerns of the Natyasastra, e. g. the origin of drama, the construction of the theatre, the four abhinayas, and the exposition of the theory of rasa first articulated by Bharata.
Instead, my attempt has been to re-view the Natyasastra as an important confluence in the perennial flow of the tradition with the twin processes of continuity and change, as also of the interplay of the sastra and the prayoga, not to speak of the integral vision which provides a unity of purpose and rigorousness of structure to the text.
An attempt has been made to place the text in the context of the flow of the parampara rather than to locate it in a particular period and specific place. The text encapsulates a discourse in diverse disciplines and in turn stimulates further discourse in a variety of disciplines. The intrinsic multi-disciplinary nature of the text has been generally accepted but a close examination of the system has so far not been attempted. Understandably, while some scholars have examined the chapters on aesthetics (rasa and bhava) others have concentrated either on the chapters relating to the construction of the theatre or music or dance (including me in my previous work). Here an attempt has been made to look at the text in its totality and its well laid-out system of connections and interconnections of the parts and the whole. I hope the book will help scholars to understand the structure as also the ‘systems’.
The text has a long and complex history of commentaries, interpretations, as also multiple streams of texts in the different arts which flowed out of the Natyasastra. In this filed also, although there has been distinguished history of scholarship in the field of literature, particularly poetics, dramaturgy, music and dance, the dialogue between and amongst them, viewing them as emerging from a single source has been an exception rather than a rule. I have attempted to indicate the paths and tools of this dialogue in what may be called the post-Bharata period.
To encompass the history of the commentators and interpreters, the makers of aesthetic theories, in a short monograph was a daunting takes. It could not be excluded because the discourse illuminates the text and reveals the nature of discourse within the tradition. A careful selection with acute discrimination of what I considered to be principle rather than secondary has been made. Naturally this has resulted in being not all ‘inclusive’. The aim was to highlight the manner and nature and intellectual tools of the discourse rather than the details of the content of particular works.
Logically, this should have been extended to the interpreters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, i.e. critical scholarship from Regnaud to Oldenburg, Keith, Indu Shekhar, Raghavan, Masson, Christopher Byrsky and Patwardhan and others. On second thought, I decided to exclude this because no re-assessment of this history can be made without addressing issues of Orientalist discourse. This will have to be another book.
Despite its exclusion, I hope there is material here for some hitherto not so well-known information and enough stimulation to ask questions on the proverbial problems of authorship, the relationship of the oral and the written, context, text the implicit and explicit text, and the history of discourse, not only in relation to the Natyasastra but also other texts of the tradition. The relevance of these questions, in the light of the contemporary debate on what constitutes a text is all too evident and needs no comment. If further questioning arise no reading this book my task is done.
I would like to thank the Sahitya Akademi for asking me to write. I would like to acknowledge my debt to the scholars mentioned above, particularly the late Dr M.M. Ghosh, Dr Raghavan, as also Professor K.D. Tripathi for the stimulation he has provided through his lectures and many personal discussions. Dr Irene Winter, Chairperson of the Department of Art History, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass, USA, facilitated access to the Widner Library. She and her husband, Professor Robert Hunt, not only provided space for writing much of the book but also provided the opportunity for many thought-provoking discussions on categories. These enabled me to ask unconventional questions in the context of the Natyasastra. I would like to thank them. Professor B.N. Saraswati read the manuscript and his reponses were most beneficial. Professor Indra Nath Choudhury and Dr Ranjit Saha have been most gracious and understanding. I thank Shri K.D. Khanna and Shri Pawan Kalia for their invaluable assistance in typing. I am grateful to my colleague Sri Satkari Mukhopadhyaya for seeing the second page proofs.
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