Sanskrit Play Production in Ancient India moves through three levels of under-standing: (1) What the components of the traditional Natya production are as described in Neityas'astra and other ancient Indian dramaturgical works; how they are interrelated, and how they are employed in the staging of Rasa-oriented Sanskrit plays? (2) Evidence for the practice of these ancient techniques in the present-day traditional and folk forms in India and South Asia. (3) The relevance and the possibility of using these techniques today to produce Sanskrit plays. The plays of Bhasa to Bhavabhiiti (c. 200 B.C. to 800 A.D.) are used as the main terms of reference.
As the author explores the ancient cultural contexts from which these purely practice-based techniques emerged, curtain begins to rise on a theatre idiom unique to India. Probing deep into the immense reaches of time to India's archaic past, the author pieces together a fascinatingly intricate design of play production, down to the units and sub-units of expression and execution. The accent throughout is on the production techniques.
Exhaustive visualisations of scenes/ sequences of eight major Sanskrit plays with elaborate production notes, costume designs and property sketches throw light on the ancient style of play production while examining the possibility of its reconstruction in the present time.
The book includes 14 plates of illustrations and 8 tables presenting systematically a wealth of information on Indian Natya.
Glossary can be an immense help to those who are not familiar with Sanskrit or Indian dramaturgical expressions.
Dr. Tarla Mehta is a well-known actress on stage and films in Bombay. She has produced children's plays as well at Sanskrit plays in ancient Indian performing ' style. She has won a number of awards of Best Actress from the Governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
A language graduate of Bombay University, she earned the doctorate for her research into the ancient Indian theatre techniques at Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute in Bombay. The book is the result of her Ph.D. research.
An attempt to visualise and understand the traditions of ancient Sanskrit play production must encounter two seemingly antithetical positions. One, over a long period of time these traditions in their original forms are not to be seen as living, dynamic traditions. Two, there are nevertheless a number of evidences with the help of which; one can almost reconstruct these traditions in a fairly comprehensive form.
It is often argued that in the absence of a living model of continuously evolving Sanskrit theatre, there cannot be a pet solution such as locating the handing over of traditions through generations of performing artistes (gurus of gharanas). Despite that, one may not take it for granted that the tradition is irretrievably lost. The Indian habit of conserving and piling up of trends of past traditions, compared by Jawaharlal Nehru to a palimpsest, has not allowed that to happen. In fact, like those ancient manuscripts written over and over again on preceding unwiped layers, the remnants of the ancient Sanskrit theatre design can still be gleaned in the present-day performances of the traditional and folk theatres of India.
Over and above that, a wealth of information regarding ancient Indian drama production-prayoga vijitiana-is preserved in the treatises of Sanskrit dramaturgy, the commentaries on Sanskrit dramas and the play texts themselves.
Rich Dramatic Literature
We have inherited a rich dramatic literature. We have more than five hundred and odd ancient Sanskrit plays, which were composed, without exception, as plays for production before an audience, with a set of techniques best suited to their staging. It is known that Agvaghosa (c. 58 B.C.-A.D. 120) used to present his plays in Varanasi. The fragments of manuscripts on palm leaves of his plays discovered at Turfan reflect a well developed and sophisticated style of play-writing for production.
Bharata's Natyafastra (c. 200 B.C.-A.D. 200) with its several manuscripts found all over India, is a monumental encyclopaedia of the past theatre practices compiled by the later literate brahmin tradition. No one knows how far back these practices go. The earliest clear indication we get of them is in Panini's Astadhydylwhich dates back to c. 500 B.C. Partini refers to Nap Sutras (Aphorisms for actors) and suggests an existence in his time of two schools of actors' sacred practices which were linked with the Vedic branches of Krgaiva and This implication, apparently hints that the tradition of actor's art might lead back through the immense reaches of time to India's archaic past. Nalyagastra itself mentions many anonymous sources (referred to with such remarks as Acalya, tatha hi, anyc ca, atraucyate, etc.). It also includes a list of Bharata's one hundred sons (or disciples) and ends with a reference to the subsequently lost treatise of Kohala.
As far as available works on dramaturgy are concerned, there is a long gap of more than eight centuries between Natyafastra (c. 200 B.C.-A.D. 200) and Abhinavabharati (A.D. 980-1030) the illuminating commentary on NatyaOstra by the Kashmiri philosopher-aesthete Abhinavagupta. During this long interim period, we come across the names of a number of authorities2on ancient Indian drama, who are referred to in Abhinavabharati Daga rupaka, Bhava prakaia, Nataka laksana ratna kosa, Natya darpana and other dramaturgical texts. Even when the original works of the ancient authorities like Kohala, Kirtidhara, Matrgupta, Udbhatta, Sri S'alikuka, Lollata, Bhattanayaka and others are lost to us, the mention of their names, quotations and views indicates a lively thriving theatre activity, which formed a vital part of the life of the ancient Indian citizen. When this thriving performing tradition declined, and over a period almost disappeared around the 12th century, it however did not altogether vanish. The production design and the style of performance were carried forward via the uparapaka (minor drama forms with emphasis on dance, songs, abhinaya and sahityawhere the stress on texts written by playwrights was practically non-existent) tradition in the regional traditional theatres. The present traditional theatres can find links with these.
Indigenous Theatre Idiom
As regards Sanskrit play texts, interest in them was revived after a lapse of centuries, with the translation of Sakun tala by William Jones in 1789. Attempts to assess the possibilities of their theatre worthiness began in India and abroad. But by then India had already come under the strong influence of Western ideals of art, literature and theatre.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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