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Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dancer. Happily married to Dileep Kannan. Mother of a beautiful angel -Tamanna. Daughter of Mr. E.M Haridas & Mrs. Girija Haridas. Daughter-in-law of Dr. K. P Kannan & Mrs. Shobhana Kannan A Disciple of Smt. Shyamala Surendran at Dharani School of Performing Arts, Kochi MFA in Bharatanatyam from SASTRA University under the guidance of Dr. Padma Subramanyam

September 3, 2011

Chapter 4: Natyashastra

As mentioned earlier, Natyashastra is the encyclopaedia of Indian classical dance. The origin have already been explained in the previous chapter. Now I would like to provide a few details about Natyashastra. The list of chapters in the Natyashastra are:-
  • Origin of drama
  • Description of the theatre setting
  • Puja (offering) to the gods of the stage
  • Description of the Karana dance (key transitions)
  • Preliminaries of a play
  • Sentiments (Rasas)
  • Emotions and other states
  • Gestures of minor limbs
  • Gestures of the hands
  • Gestures of other limbs
  • Cari (leg movements)
  • Different gaits
  • Zones (geographical places) and local usages (customs, dress etc.)
  • Rules of Prosody (rhythm, stress and intonation of speech)
  • Metrical patterns (Patterns in music, rhythm & dance)
  • Diction of a play
  • Rules on the use of languages
  • Modes of address and intonation
  • Ten kinds of plays
  • Limbs of the segments (of the play)
  • Styles
  • Costumes and make-up
  • Harmonious performance
  • Dealings with courtesans
  • Varied performances
  • Success in dramatic performances
  • Instrumental music
  • Stringed instruments
  • Time measure
  • Dhruva songs (songs to be sung in a drama)
  • Covered instruments (percussion)
  • Types of character (roles)
  • Distribution of roles
  • Descent of drama on the Earth
Before the presentation of the drama or play, there are standard rituals which are described in detail in the Natyashastra. The principal deity of the drama or play, Shiva, is always worshipped. Shiva, in the form of Nataraja, is offered a puja before any stage performance, after which the well-being of the audience is wished for.

In the beginning, the drama was performed on the slopes of mountains or in the open. Later it was found that it needed protection from natural calamities and also from troublesome elements in society, especially when protests from some groups of people ending up taking a violent form. This can be seen even in present day dramas. So playhouses were constructed. Bharatamuni gives the details of construction of a playhouse right from the selection of land and its preparation, the construction material, building plans, pillars, measurements and so on.

Bharatamuni then goes on to describes histrionics, which is called Abhinaya in Natyashastra. The drama is communicated to the spectators in four ways:
  1. The communication through body movements, called Angika Abhinaya, where the movements of major limbs like head, chest, hands and feet as well as the movements of minor limbs like eyes, nose, lips, cheeks, chin etc. are involved. The glances, gestures, gaits are also part of angika abhinaya.
  2. The communication by speech is called Vachika Abhinaya. In this, the vowels, consonants and their places of origin in the mouth, intonation, modes of address etc. are discussed. While giving the literary aspect of drama Bharatamuni describes ten types of dramas which are known as Dasharupaka. One of them is Veethi i.e. road shows.
  3. Extraneous representation is called Aaharya Abhinaya and is executed by means of costumes, make up, ornaments, stage properties etc.
  4. Representation of temperament of the characters is called Sattvika Abhinaya. It is the highest quality of abhinaya expressing the inner feelings of the character by subtle movements of the lips, nose, trembling of the body, turning the face red, tears rolling down the face etc.    
Then Bharata describes how to represent the phenomena like sunrise, sunset, different times of the day, rains etc. which is called Chitrabhinaya. He also mentions in detail how to show the animals on stage, how to make them artificially and with what material.

Bharatamuni also makes a note of the dramatic competitions, how to conduct them, the qualification of judges, gifts to be given to the actors in one of the chapters.

A lot of importance is given to music in Natyashastra, wherein about nine chapters have been dedicated to music. In vocal and instrumental music, he describes Swara (a musical note) and its use in expressing particular aesthetic sense i.e. Rasa
  • Gandharam and Nishadam are used for expressing a tragic sense i.e. Karuna rasa
  • Shadjam and Rishabham is used for expressing a gallant and amazing sense respectively i.e. Veera and Adbhuta rasa
  • Madhyamam and Panchamam is used for expressing a sensual and comic sense respectively i.e. Shrungara and Hasya rasa
  • Dhaivata is used for expressing a repulsive sense i.e. Beebhatsa rasa
Details about Murcchana (a group of swaras to be sung together) and its types are also specified. The music is derived from the Sama Veda. Gandharva music is also Sama music. Seven notes were already established in Sama music. The Sama singers were connected with sacrifice and gandharvas were professional singers or musicians of the gods. Swara, Pada (composition) and Tala (beats) are the three constituents of gandharva music. Rhythm, i.e. Taal, is derived from tala, i.e. stability. Taal is the foundation essential to music. It is indicated by the clapping of hands also. Bharatamuni describes various taals. He says, "All music, vocal and instrumental, along with dance, should be performed harmoniously to give a pleasant experience". Bharatamuni then gives details about songs to be used in drama. They are called Dhruvas.

The musical instruments (all of which continue to be extensively used even nowadays) are divided in four groups:
  • Stringed instruments are called Tata (like the Veena & the Violin)
  • Wind-blown instruments are called Sushira (like the Flute)
  • Percussion instruments are called Avanaddha (like the Tabla, Mridangam, Idakka)
  • Cymbals are called Ghana (like the Nattuvangam)
Bharatamuni also describes how to play all the four groups of instruments. The examples of the instruments quoted just above are the major ones still used for all Mohiniyattam performances to this day.

All of the above that I have just written carries only a brief and concise introduction to the Natyashastra. There are many other topics described in it and their finer details would be given in the main manuscript. The Natyashastra invariably shows the deep level of thought and development of the arts, even in ancient times.


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