The Hindu Dramatic System

The invention of dramatic system is usually ascribed by Hindu writers to an inspired sage, named Bharata, while according to some authorities they had a still more elevated origin, the art having been gathered from the “Vedas” by the God, Brahma, and was by him communicated to Bharata. The dramatic representations consisted of three kinds: Natya, Nritya and Nritta, and these were exhibited before the Gods by the ‘Gandharvas’ and Apsaras, the spirits and nymphs of Lndra’s heaven, who were trained by Bharata to the exhibition of these different modes of representations. Only the ‘Natya‘, is properly the dramatic, being defined to be gesticulation with language. The Nritta is gesticulation without language, or pantomime, and the Nritya is simple dancing.

One of the best and earliest treatises on dramatic literature is “Dasa-Rupaka”, or description of the ten kinds of theatrical composition, of which the term ‘Rupaka’, that which has a form, is the most appropriate designation. The work is exclusively devoted to dramatic criticism.

The “Sarasvatl Kantha Bharna“, a work ascribed to Bhoja Raja treats generally of poetical or rhetorical composition, in five books, the last of which comprehends many of the details peculiar to dramatic writing. The examples quoted are from a variety of poems and plays. The “Kavya-Prakasa” is also a work on rhetorical composition in general, and is an authority of great repute. It is divided into ten sections, in different portions of which are scattered such details relating to dramatic writings as are common to them and other poems illustrated by extracts from the most celebrated poems.

The “Sahitya Darpan” is another work of great merit and celebrity on poetical writings, in ten sections, of which the sixth is mostly appropriated to theatrical technicalities. The quotations from the different plays are specified, and all the principal pieces in the collection are named, besides several of which copies are not procurable. The Sangita-Ratnakara, as the name implies, treats more especially of singing and dancing than of dramatic literature. It furnishes, however, some curious notices of theatrical representation and gesture.

The general term for, all dramatic composition is ‘Rupaka’, – from ‘Rupa’, form—it being their chief object to embody characters and feelings, and to exhibit the natural indications of passion. A play is defined, “a poem that is to be seen and heard”. Dramatic writings are arranged in two classes, the Rupakas, properly so termed and ‘Upa Rupakas’ the minor and inferior Rupakas ‘le theat’ re du second orde although not precisely in the same sense.

Natakas or play par excellence, are declared to be the most perfect kind of dramatic composition. The subject should always be celebrated and important. According to ‘Sahitya Darpan’ the story should be selected from mythological or historical record alone, but the ‘Dasa – Rupaka’ asserts that it may be also fictitious or mixed or partly resting on tradition, and partly the creation of the author.

Like, the Greek tragedy, however, the ‘Nataka’ is to represent worthy or exalted personages only and the hero must be a monarch, as Dushyanta; a demi~God, as Rama, or a divinity, as Krisna. The action, or more properly the passion should be but one, love or heroism. The plot should be simple, the incidents consistent.

The business should spring directly from the story as a plant from its stem, and should be free from episodical and prodix interruptions. The time should not be protracted, and the duration of an act, according to the elder authority should not exceed one day, but the Sahitya Darpan extends it to few days, or even to one year. The diction of a Nataka should be perspicuous and polished.

Written by Prof. D. Mukherjee and published in the Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 1974.