Natyashastra, the Shatsahasri

This entry is taken from the dissertation “Theory and Practice of Communication: Explorations from Natyashastra of Bharata” (A study conducted under the Bharata Muni Chair Research Fellowship of Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism and Communication, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India) by Dr. Nirmala Mani Adhikary.

Natyashastra, the Shatsahasri
By: Dr. Nirmala Mani Adhikary
Ph.D. and Postdoc in Communication, Mahamahopadhyaya (Hon.)
Kathmandu University, Nepal

Generally, whenever Natyashastra comes into our mind, it obviously invokes Bharata’s name. The tradition considers that there existed earlier texts entitled Dwadashasahasri and Natyaveda or Gandharva Veda before the present Natyashastra (Shatsahasri).

The word Natyashastra signifies a classical Sanskrit text authored by Bharata and/or the Shastra on Natya. The present study generally treats the word in the first sense. Hence, it is primarily concerned with the magnum opus of Bharata. Here, selected editions of the text are studied from the viewpoint of modern discipline of communication in order to garner its contemporary relevance to theory and practice of communication.
“This voluminous work” is “composed almost entirely in verse (about 6,000 couplets) with a sprinkling of prose and divided into thirtysix chapters” (Ghosh, 2007, p. xvii). This is why Bharata’s work is also known as Shatsahasri – a treatise consisting of 6000 verses. “Abhinavagupta, Dhanika, Saradatanaya and other late writers on dramaturgy refer to Bharata, the author of the N.S. as Satsahsrikara” (Nagar & Joshi, 2003, p. 10).
Here, following observations are also to note:
• “The work available now under the name of NS. of Bharata Muni contains about five thousand six hundred verses. There is a shorter version with a reduction of nearly two hundred verses.” (A Board of Scholars, 2003, pp. ix-x).
• “From the textual evidence it can be gathered that already by the 10th century A.D. the work was available in two recensions. Abhinavabharati says that there were two recensions of the N.S. … Kavi in the preface to his edition of the N.S. has dealt with this problem in detail. While collating the different manuscripts of the N.S., he found that no two of them fully coincide in their readings. He, therefore, asserted that there were at least two recensions of the N.S.” (Nagar & Joshi, 2003, p. 15)
Even there were two (or more) recensions of Bharata’s Natyashastra, it has been referred as the Shatsahasri.
Natyashastra also represents a discipline of knowledge that comprises a tradition – rich in both theory and practice – that was systematized and condensed in the Bharata’s work. Even in Bharata’s treatise, there are instances where the word Natyashastra is used to refer to the Shastra in general, rather than to the text itself in particular.
Traditionally, it is also believed that there existed an earlier work, also entitled Natyashastra, which consisted of 12000 verses (Nagar & Joshi, 2003, p. 10). This earlier text is referred as Dwadashasahasri – a treatise consisting of 12000 verses. The authorship of Dwadashasahasri is ascribed to Adibharata or Vriddhabharata (lieterally, the first Bharata or the elder Bharata). Those who believe the existence of Dwadashasahasri prior to the present Natyashastra of Bharata (also known as Shatsahasri) consider the latter to be an epitome of the former treatise (ibid.).
The traditional belief even goes further. And, it is believed that both Shatsahasri (present Natyashastra of Bharata) and Dwadashasahasri were based upon a still old treatise entitled Natyaveda or Gandharva Veda consisting of 36000 verses that was written by Brahma himself (ibid.). It is acknowledged in the first chapter (Adhyaya) of Bharata’s Natyashastra that Brahma created the Natyaveda, and Bharata learnt it from Brahma.
Thus, the traditional account considers existence of generations of thinkers and their texts on Natya. “It is probable that similar works like our Natyasastra might have been existing which are lost to us. But they might have been known to Abhinavagupta and early writers” (Nagar & Joshi, 2003, pp. 11-12). Bharata’s treatise “gives such minute details of the dramatic art that it must have had a long tradition of centuries to possess such perfection” (Tarlekar, 1999, p. 16). But, it is only the Shatsahasri of Bharata that is available presently. It is in this background, Bharata’s work has been referred as “The earliest elaborate treatise on drama” (Raghavan, 1991, p. 212), “the earliest extant work on poetics and dramaturgy” (Sastri, 1991b, p. 295) and “the oldest available treatise of dramaturgy and kindred arts” (Nagar & Joshi, 2003, p. 5).
It is evident that, for the time being, whenever Natyashastra comes into our mind, it obviously invokes Bharata’s name. However, we cannot say that texts entitled Dwadashasahasri and Natyaveda or Gandharva Veda did not exist before the present Natyashastra (Shatsahasri). “When even present Natyasastra was no available to scholars till Hall discovered it in 1865, how can we definitely say that a work named Natyasastra by Adibharata did not exist before our Natyasastra” (Nagar & Joshi, 2003, p. 12). Same is the case with Natyaveda ascribed to Lord Brahma.

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