The Sacred Text of Theatre – The Natyashastra

by Liz

Part of my notes, assignments and additional research in conjunction with my Performing Arts Industry Essentials certification program through NYU TISCH.

Our eyes should look where our hands are,

Our mind should go where the eyes look,

There will be expression of the heart where our mind goes,

And where there is expression, mood evokes.


The Natyashastra is an ancient Sanskirt treatise on the performing arts written by Bharata Muni possibly compiled between 200 BCD and 200 CE. Bharata acts more as the first recording historian of a verbal tradition. The original stories were too wieldy and obscure the way lord Brahma (who created the entire universe) delivered it to the Vedic people. Bharatumuni is compilation editor, making the Natyashastra simple, intelligent and interesting. The treatise covers dramatic composition, structure of a play, construction of a stage, genres of acting, body movements, make up and costumes, role and goals of an art director, musical scales, musical instrumens and music used in dance and drama.

The aesthetic “Rasa” theory is that entertainment is the desired effect of performing art, but not the primary goal. The main objective is to transport the audience into an expereinces of their own consciousness to reflect in wonder on spiritual and moral questions.

Vedic Theatre, or the roots of classical Indian theatre in ancient tribal drama, was founded in religious ritualism of the Vedic Aryans. The Natyashastra makes sense in the context of many plays already in existence before its composition, though they likely did not follow the forms the Natyashastra tries to formalize into technique and craft.

As a student of theatre history from a Western Liberal Arts Education, I was taught theatre began with the Greeks, but Aristotle hardly had a corner on the market. In the Natyashastra, there is a thorough collection of philosophy, aesthetics, mythos, theology and mechanics. In discussin on how to emotionally engage an individual audience member, the eight sentiments are outlined–erotic, comic, pathetic, terrible, furious, odious, heroic and marvellous. There is dramaturgy, psychology, and soaring ideology; Drama represents the truths about life, through emotions and circumstances, to deliver entertainment, yes, but also ethos, questions, peace and happiness.

So far, my education in this program has offered a brief introduction to Vedic Tehatre and the Natyashastra, but it is a rabbit-hole which I have happily thrown myself down.

You may also like