Interesting titbits about Natyashastra of Bharata Muni (Post No.9875)


Post No. 9875

Date uploaded in London –20 JULY   2021           

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Natya shastra Date – 500 BCE

Chapters in Bharata’s Book- 36

No. of Slokas/couplets – 6000

Language- Sanskrit

Author – Bharata Muni

Natya sastra of Bharata is known to be an encyclopaedic source for the reconstruction of Indian social and cultural history. It is not adequately used so far. Some scholars have dealt with dramaturgy and some others have dealt with dance or music elements in the book. But no one has treated his work as a whole.

The Natya sastra (NS) deals with theatre in the most comprehensive manner. It is not simply an elaborate treatise on dramaturgy, but most authoritative and surviving treatise on histrionics, dance and music. One of the famous commentators Abhinavagupta called it Bharata sutram. The work is also called Satasaahasri. According to Bahurupa Misra the original work had 12000 Slokas. Later Bharata summarised it in 6000 Slokas. The earlier work is lost .

According to tradition there are three stages in the development of the NS.

An original work called Gandharva Veda with 36,000 Slokas is attributed to Brahma;

a later work of 12000 verses , apparently in the form of dialogue between Siva and Parvati.

And the third one came from Bharata. But the first two works are lost.

Bharata means actor or Nata. NS may be a work of many hands. But Abhinvagupta confirmed that it is the work of Bharata. Bharata composed NS using the practices that existed among the actors and producers. That way one can say Bharata compiled all the materials available during his time and a long tradition existed before him. Because of this long tradition NS also is dated between 500 BCE and 300 CE.

Hindus always update their works to include the modern practices. So foreigners looked at the latest update and gave wrong dates. Like we amend our constitution through parliament resolutions  they also did it after scholarly discussion in the assembly. We have to look at the oldest material in any work and take that date as the date of the work.

Since there was a great intellectual revolution in the second century BCE,1000s of works are dated around that time. But it would not be possible to get that sort of intellectual development within that short time. Foreigners gave different dates to different works. And they are proved wrong by their own compatriots.

NS has 36 chapters. The first and the last chapters give interesting information about the dance drama. Bharata says drama began in the Treta Yuga and did not exist in the Krta Yuga. While creating it Brahma used elements from the Vedas. Like Mahabharata, NS also is described as the Fifth Veda. Like Mahabharata, NS also claim all that is in the world is inside NS. What is not found in NS,is not found anywhere else.

Abhinavagupta gives us very important information to show dramas were enacted during the Mauryan rule. He says Mahakavi Subandhu wrote Vasavadatta natyadhara. It was a play within a play. Bindusara watched it. In the drama itself Udayana was watching a drama with Vasavadatta.

NS mentioned several scholars. First we come across mythical characters like Brahma and Sadasiva. Then we come across Nandi, Kohala, Vatsya, Sandilya and Dhurtila..

Bharta use highly technical language of the performing arts. It is very difficult to understand it. A number of ancient scholars wrote commentaries on the NS. They are:-






Bhatta yantra and


Unfortunately, except for the last, all the earlier commentaries have been lost.

Abhinavagupta quotes occasionally the views of earlier commentators.

He belongs to Kashmir and he lived in the tenth century CE. He was a well known mystic, philosopher and a versatile scholar. His explanations constitute the most valuable key to the unlocking of the NS, especially of its sections dealing with music and aesthetics.

The sculptures of Sunga, Satavahana,  Saka and Kushana periods provide us lot of information regarding the music,dance, musical instruments, ornaments and dress of ancient India.

Compiled from two books on NS.


TAGS – Interesting, titbits,, Natyashastra, Bharata Muni