19 Dance Dramas in the Rig Veda (Post No.9858)


Post No. 9858

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Nineteen Dialogue poems in the Rig Veda spreading over several Mandalas of the Veda shows that Dance and Drama existed at the Vedic period.

Following are the interesting Dialogue poems:

RV.1-165, 170 & 179;

RV.3-33; 4-18, 26/27 &42;


RV.10-10, 28, 51,86,95, 102,108, 124,135

Then we have Vajasaneyi Samhita (Yajur Veda) and Taittiriya brahmana references to Sailusaa which later meant an actor following the tradition of Silaalin, the author of a nata sutra . Sailusaa has the same meaning in the Vedas.  Panini referred to nata sutras.

The Natyacharya or the instructor in the theatrical arts was a recognised figure , popular but not approved by the law books.  Baudhaayana dharmasutra condemned Natyacharya as a minor defilement.2-25

We have good evidence to state that the drama originated in India during Vedic period. In the beginning dance and drama were inseparable. 100 or 150 years ago drama meant songs with stories. It was easy to memorise them and pass it on to his or her disciples. Later prose was introduced as links between the songs so that one can have a break and start again.

We have evidence in the Tamil epic Silapaadikaram where we have dance and drama elements in the story. Indra festival was the one where the dance of Madhavi was staged. We see in Bharata’s Natya Shastra that the Indra Festival was suggested to enact the dance dramas. More over we read about 11 different dances staged by Madhavi. All those were based on Hindu mythology. Silapaadikaram is dated second century CE . I would date Bharata’s Natya shastra well before this date

Indian drama has no connection with the Greek drama at least in its early stage. We have well defined roles such as a Brahmin as comedian, a director who introduces the drama at the outset. Apart from this we have Bharatavakya (Benedictory Message) at the end. This is the like a national anthem wishing the king a long life and the people and the country a prosperous life. After Alexander’s invasion new elements might have been introduced, because Greeks also had well developed dramas.

Going back in time we have at least 19 dialogue poems in the Rig Veda. Some of the dialogue poems are comparable with the folk dances of the Tamils. During the Holi festival, that is known as Kaman Pandikai in South India, some sexy folk dances were staged in street corners at the dead of night. Tamil epic Silapaadikaram has lot of information about dance dramas . After Rigveda, we have good evidence in Paninis Ashtadhyayi and Kautilya’s Arthasastra. There is a gap of at least three hundred years between the Ashtadhyayi and Arthasastra.

Panini talk about Nata sutras, which scholars think, was a guide book or practical hand book for actors (Ashtadhyayi 4-3-110). We could not expect much from a grammar book like Ashtadhyayi. But Kautilya who came at least 300 years after Panini gives lot of information about dance and drama.

 Patanjali , author of Mahabhashya ,refers to the enacted spectacle of Killing of Kamsa by Vasudeva. He refers to actors and fans.

Dance drama did not exist in Krta Yuga. It came only in Treta Yuga gaaccording to Bharata. We see Lava Kusa enacting Ramayana. Later that Kusi Lava become a model for future Kusi Lavas.

The Arthasastra clearly distinguished between actors/Nata, dancers/nartaka, singers/gayakas, instrumentalists/ vadakas, story tellers/vajivana,bards/kusilavas, rope dancers/ plavakas, show men/saubhikas and wandering ministrels/caranas. This shows well developed and differentiated stage of performing arts. This is confirmed by Kautilya’s reference to the diverse arts/ Kala taught to the women who lived by the stage/Rangopajivini.

Kama sutra of Vatsyayana also gave a big syllabus for women with 64 arts. Tamil Sangam Literature mentioned Arya kuuthaadi meaning the pole/rope dancers visiting Tamil Nadu from North India. Silappadikaram also mentioned 64 arts.

Half baked foreigners try to place 1000s of books dealing with  subjects from A to Z within four centuries i.e. Second century BCE and second century CE. I is not possible to see such explosion.

But the above information gives us a clear picture of gradual development.

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Tags- dance drama, origin, dialogue poems, Rig Veda 

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