Nāṭyaśāstra, ascribed to Bharata or Bharatamuni is the oldest and the most voluminous treatise on nāṭya (Dramaturgy and Theatre). Compiled around the second century BC, the Nāṭyaśāstra is a work of truly encyclopedic nature, and also deals with various allied disciplines and a wide range of subjects like music and musicology, aesthetics and architecture etc. It is composed in verse-form and comprises around 6,000 stanzas in 37 chapters. The discovery of the manuscripts of the Nāṭyaśāstra and the subsequent publication of the text during the nineteenth century has been one of the most important events in the history of aesthetics and theater.
The Nāṭyaśāstra has served as an authentic source book for the traditions of performing and literary arts and aesthetic theories in India for the past two millennia. With a pluralistic approach that has offered scope for multiple interpretations, it also gave rise to a dynamic process of interplay between theory and practice, and to interaction between diverse streams of Indian theatre. The text has also initiated a unique process of continuity and change in traditional Indian forms of theatre and has helped in the sustenance of regional theatric traditions not only in India, but in the theatric traditions of other Asian countries as well. On the other hand, the interaction between the Nāṭyaśāstra and regional theatres of India has not simply been a one way affair. The regional theatric traditions, it is very likely, have contributed considerably towards restructuring of the text of the Nāṭyaśāstra.
With a view to providing a first-hand exposure of the text of the Nāṭyaśāstra and to discovering its contemporary relevance, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla is organizing a school on the Nāṭyaśāstra from 26th August 2014 to 7th September 2014.
Natyashastra (NŚ) is one of the most voluminous ancient Sanskrit texts produced more than two thousand years ago. It deals with performing and visual arts, theatre, aesthetics, poetry and drama, music, musicology; and even architecture and engineering. The diversified nature of this enormous text, which comprises 37 chapters, makes it an exceptionally challenging study. Appreciating the need of exposing specialists and researchers in diverse fields to the significance of the text, and to encourage a more complete and nuanced reading of it, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla organized a School on the Natyashastra from 26 August to 7th September 2014. A group of twenty senior scholars and young researchers belonging to various disciplines — theatre, literature, dance, music and even management — participated. For the first time in the recent history of studies on the NŚ, an exercise to understand this text by a group of specialists of diverse disciplines was attempted through this school.
Though the advertisement for the School was posted only on the website of the Institute, there was an overwhelming response, and requests for the participation were received from all parts of the country. The participants who were finally invited to attend came from Kerala, Tamilnadu, Pondicherry, Telangana/Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Punjab and various towns of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
In his opening remarks Chetan Singh, Director of the Institute, sought to explore the natural and close relationship of symbolism and its representation in life as it is actually lived and in the manner in which it is depicted in the performing arts. Dealing with the complex nature of an actor’s creative process, he touched upon the core of the concepts of theatre performance. In his introductory lecture, Radhavallabh Tripathi, the convener of the school, emphasized the need to acquire a perspective of the NŚ through a reading of the original text. He also explained how the philosophy and vision of theatre as spelt out by the NŚ have percolated deep into various forms of dance and drama not only in India, but also in other Asian countries. Despite the geographical, social and anthropological differences, this single text of Bharatamuni had paved the way for the sustenance of, and synchronization between diverse regional theatric traditions. The inadequacy of the Realist theatres of Europe and the search for reality has led some well known modern theatre persons to look towards the theatres of east. While the text of the NŚ came to be utilized largely by exponents of classical dance forms, and also by many theatre directors for rendering its systems and techniques into practice, its study is equally important for understanding a different world view, the rhythm of life and the holistic approach which has been lost in the present world. Tripathi also dwelled upon the relevance of the NŚ as a text against violence that is all too often unleashed indiscriminately.
Reading material consisting of readings from the NŚ was specially prepared by the convener and provided to participants. Abstracts of the lectures by resource persons, of presentations made by participants, and select readings from the works M.C. Byrski, F.B.J. Kuiper and C. Rajendran were also handed out beforehand.
Apart from Radhavallabh Tripathi, who undertook the task of teaching of the text of the NŚ, six other resource persons delivered lectures on different aspects of the Indian traditions of aesthetics, theatre and performance. Rajendra Mishra, former Vice Chancellor of Sampurnanad Sanskrit University, gave a special lecture on NŚ after the inaugural session. He presented an overview of the contents of the NŚ emphasizing the possibilities of their applications in the modern context. K.S. Rajendran, former professor of classical theatre in the National School of Drama, covered several aspects of theatre performance according to the NŚ and examined their relevance for modern theatre. Gautam Chatterjee delivered three lectures on rasa, bhāva and abhinaya. He explained the deep and intrinsic nature of basic emotions and their manifestation in performance. He underlined the relationship of rasa with the sense of serenity and a detached discriminating mind.
A documentary film on the NŚ with titled 'Pancham Veda' produced and directed by Gauram Chatterjee was screened during the school. The participants also viewed several other films of Sanskrit play productions by veteran theatre directors like Kavalam Narayan Pannikkar, Padma Subrahmanyam, K.S. Rajendran and Bhumikesh Singh.
Mahesh Champaklal, former Dean, Faculty of Performing Arts, M. S. UniMahesh Champaklal, former Dean, Faculty of Performing Arts, M. S. University, Baroda in his three lectures outlined the three phases of the revival of Sanskrit theatre in modern times: namely the phase of Western realistic oriented performances, the phase of performances based on the NŚ and the phase of contemporary experiments based on regional traditional theatre terms. He also established the relevance of the NŚ in terms of modern production techniques.
Bhumikesh Singh, a noted theatre director, known for his experiments with Chhau — a traditional dance form — showed the viability of this form for the performance of Sanskrit plays. He also demonstrated scenes from his own performances of Bhāsa’s plays. An evening of his demonstration-cum-lecture on the applications of Chhau was extremely stimulating. The lectures of Bharat Gupt covered authentic explanations of the musical system as envisaged in the NŚ. He gave a detailed account of ancient musical scales and melodies and explained in detail how the grammer of Indian music was then very different. He also explained the meaning of many technical terms and concepts as well as their relationship with Bhāvas and rasas.
There were thought-provoking discussions and presentations by the participants of the school. Pravin Bhole, from the Lalita Kalakendra of Poona University, presented a paper on ‘The Principles of Theatre Anthropology and the Technique of Āṅgika Abhinaya in Sanskrit Plays’. He examined the categories of abhinaya in the NŚ from modern concepts of theatre anthropology and presented an interesting study of the systems of the NŚ on the basis of the principle of balance, the principle of opposition and the principle of consistent-inconsistency. He also discussed how the systems of the NŚ can provide insights and new life in today’s performances. In his second presentation on ‘Abhinaya as described in the NŚ and Cognitive Neuroscience’, Bhole outlined an ambitious project of investigating the neurological effects of the physical gesticulations described in the NŚ on the performers. This will involve the use of science and theory to support practical tools for contextualizing theatre practice. He emphasized the need to de-mystify the systems of the NŚ and view them in the context of developments in cognitive neuroscience, with studies in the intersections of biology and cognition. SriMahaLakshmi presented her paper entilted ‘Natyashastra as a Pañcamaveda’, while Akhila Vimal, in her paper ‘Pañcamaveda: Heterogeneity and the Problematic of Spectatorship of Asuras and Śūdras’ discussed the idea of othering and subaltern discourse in the NŚ. Medini Hombal gave a demonstration-cum-lecture on the pūrvaraṅga or preliminaries that used to be performed before the start of any play. She convincingly brought out the regional adaptations of the pūrvaraṅga. The performance of Bharatantyam by Sonal Nimbkar was an example of a combination of classical grandeur with innovative skills. Sujata Mohan in her demonstration-cum-lecture showed how the adoption of karaṇas and aṅgahāras and other techniques of abhinaya from the NŚ have led to evolution of the new form of Bharatanrityam by Padma Subrahmanyam, her guru. An evening was also devoted to interaction with the larger community of scholars at the Institute in which there was also a dhrupad recital by Sangita Gundecha and rendering of various innovative compositions by Chinmmayi Tripathi
In the valedictory session held in the afternoon of 7 September 2014, the participants narrated experiences to their benefit from the School. Bharat Gupt described the School as an event of historical importance. Radhavallabh Tripathi presented a resume and hoped that the outcome of the School would gradually come to be reflected in redesigning the syllabi of various courses in departments of performing arts, literature, drama, aesthetics and theatre. It was envisaged that this would lead to a reconstruction of Indian aesthetics and a re-organising of the methods of actor-training. Chetan Singh emphasized the need for organising such schools in a wider cross-cultural perspective.
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