The national Mission for Manuscripts was established in February 2003 by the Ministry of culture. Its purpose is to locate document preserve and disseminate the knowledge content of Indian manuscripts. While looking ahead to reconnect with the knowledge of the past the Mission is in the process of trying to re-contextualize the knowledge contained in manuscripts for the present and the future generations. The mission organizes seminars on various subjects related to Indian knowledge in different locations of India. The papers presented in the seminar are collected and brought out under the Samiksika series.
In 2007 the Mission organized a seminar on Natyasastra and the Indian Dramatic Tradition in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh. The Seminar dealt with various aspects as well as related topics of India’s dramatic tradition starting from Bharat’s Natyasastra. The Seminar gave ample opportunity to the experts in the field on dramaturgy to put for the outcome of their research on manuscripts of Indian drama and allied subject matter.
There is a saying about the Mahabharata Yanna Bharate tanna Bharate that this great epic contains everything encompassed by this vast peninsula i.e. the Bharatavarsa and whatever this great epic does not contain this Bharatavarsa also does not have it. With a slight variation the same can be applied to the Natyasatra of Bharatamun. The Natyasastra encompasses all that belongs to the Indian tradition of art and aesthetics. Bharatamuni stands as a vyasa in the Indian theatric universe. His text has remained an akaragrantha an authentic source book for the whole tradition of performing and literary arts that has continued in India for more than two millennia.
The word Natya in Sanskrit stands for the art of drama and practice of theatre. Natyasastra literally meaning a discourse on the discipline of Natya is the most comprehensive and voluminous text in this language on Natya. It is composed in verse form and comprises around 6000 stanzas in thirty-six chapters Natya is the practice or the very dharma of a nata or an actor. The discipline describing this practice and regulating it is Natyasastra. Assuming both narrative and prescriptive functions for the natas or actors the Natyasastra gives an account of the practices of theatre and it also establishes the norms and standards for the artists connected with theatre including the poet or the dramatist. Abhinavagupta a very authentic commentator of the Natyasastra has aptly defined the purpose of this text Natyasya natavrttasya sastram sasanopayam grantham i.e. it is a text for disciplining the conducts of an actor. He has also termed this sastra as Bharatasiddhasadupayopadesaparakasaska a sastra showing the ways testified y skilled actors.
The earliest reference to Bharatamuni as a great master of theatre is by Kalidasa Shri Ramakrishna Kavi whose name has assumed legendary proportions for having brought out the first critical edition of the Natyasastra with Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta places Bharatauni sometime around 500 BC. On the basis of linguistic and anthropological evidences Harprasad Shastri establishes that NS was composed around second century BCE whereas scholars like P.V. Kane and S.K. Dr Tried to fix different periods for different portions of NS accepting it as a text which grew through ages.
The Yamalastakatantra records a tradition regarding the three recessions of NS Accordingly Brahma created a Natyaveda of 36000 verses which was abridged into 12,000 verses. This was further simplified and abridged by Bharatamuni in 6000 stanzas. Abhinavagupta has referred to two recessions of Natyasastra Dvadasasahasri (Having twelve thousand stanzas) and Satsahasri (with Six thousand stanzas). The Natyasastra of Brahma must have been in vogue till 8th century as damodara tells that his hero is adept in the Natyasastra by Brahma.
Kavi Classified the manuscript traditions of the Natyasastra into the categories of A and B maintaining that the recession A is of later origin and is influenced by the sphota school of Kashmir Saivism. Recension B, older in origin was followed by the adherents of Nyaya and Mimarpsa systems like Lollata, Sankuka et al. The manuscripts obtained from Tamil and Andhra regions belong to the older recension i.e., B whereas the manuscripts availed from Ujjain and northern parts of the country represent recension A. The Kavyamala and Kashi editions follow recension A, while some chapters of the NS published by Hall are close to B. Other editors of the IS/S e.g., M.M. Ghosh and KS. Ramaswami, did not agree with Kavi. Ramaswami argued that the duality of recensions is not responsible for changes evinced form the manuscripts, but the amendments by the commentators. R.I. Nanavati finds o versions of the NS.-.—one that accompanies Abhinavabhdrati, the only commentary available to us, and the other that goes without the commentary. The manuscripts have been divided by him in two groups, the Northern and the Southern. They have been termed as the Longer Version and the Southern Version (SV). SV is close to the Abhinavabhãrati.
Abhinavagupta presents a threadbare analysis of the problem to establish that the complete text of the NS is homognenous and authored by a single person named Bharatamuni. The text of the NS has evolved in answer to the five questions; therefore, it is a homogeneous text (Abh, Vol. I , p.9). There five questions are spelled out in the first chapter of the NãtyaSãstra in the following way (1) How did Nãtyaveda originate; (2) Whom, is it meant for; (3) What are its branches; (4) What is its extent and what are the criteria which authenticate it; (5) How is it practiced. The discussions on these five questions lead to the elaboration of the Nàtyasangraha, the fundamentals of theatre. Bharata-muni says that there are five elements constituting Natya three types of Abhinayas, music and songs (Abh., vol. I., p. 264). Kohala, said to be the disciple of Bharatamuni on the other hand, has enumerated eleven or thirteen constituents of Ndtya. The whole text of the NS consists of a systematic exposition of these eleven or thirteen elements as recounted in the NS VI. 10, with their divisions and different varieties.
The NSalso hints upon the interaction between the regional and the refined traditions that has been a mark of Sanskrit theatre right from its inception. Bharata indicates that there are diverse traditions in loka too and what an actor cannot gather from the sastra he must understand from loka. The concept of loka in the NS however does not visualize any difference between classical and folk. Loka is one of the three parameters of Natya other two being Veda and adhyatma and it is an ever lasting source for the practicing artist because sastra is not the solution for all his problems and for the questions the sastra does not slove loka has to be resorted to (XXV.120-23).
Abhinavagupta explains loka as the people living in janapadas with all their regional customs and behavioral patterns. These janapadas taken together form a desa. Therefore loka also means the people of a desa. The concept of loka in thus way encompasses the regional or desi tradition of art also.
From the references to Kohala by Abhinavagupta Ramacandra Gunacandra Sagaranandin, Hemacandra and other Acarya it is clear that he was a great exponent of desi traditions he standardized the definitions of minor forms of drama for the first time which are termed as Upanipakas later. The definitions of Upanipakas as given by the later authors indicate that the folk forms of drama are being classified.
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