Bharat Muni’s Natyashastra - A classic on dramatics and aesthetics

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Natyashastra has been a classic on dramatics and aesthetics which has been commonly attributed to Bharata, the sage for its authorship. It has been founded on human psychology prevailing under conditions of India’s cultural system with a focus on on-stage performance. Rasa theory is at the center of the Natyashastra. Natyashastra is an analytical text of dramatic performance that categorically characterizes fundamentals such as Natya, Vithi, Bhav, Vyabhichari Bhav, Satvik Bhav, Vibhav, Anubhav, Rasa, Rasa Sutra, Nishpatti, Model Spectator, and highly spiritual concept of Shantih. The significance of the text lies in its applied relevance for both creative and critical aspects. It displays philosophically as a classic as well as a contemporary text. Bharata defines each Sutra offers us in terms of determinants, consequence,s and Vyabhichari Bhav establishing his authority in understanding the insight of human nature with an ability of analytical expression and dramatic representation for ultimate Nishpatti of desired Rasas for pleasure and delight of the audience. The tradition of Sanskrit scholarship regards Natyashastra as an additional Ved and is a compendium of performing arts, drama, music, dance, and fine arts. Bharata leaves deep influence on the subsequent Sanskrit critiques like Abhinav Gupta, Manmohan, or Vishwanath in India aesthetics. It is possible that on the basis of the practical experience of Rasas the art can find bedrock for art and fine arts.

A Modern Introduction to Indian Aesthetic Theory

Bharat Muni writes Natyashastra possibly at the age of 48. He is committed to a single discipline of art and fine art and is not an octogenarian like Aristotle. His reflection on Natyashastra finds root in the psychology of man under prevailing conditions of the cultural system of India with a focus shift towards performance. Education, culture, art, and fine art in the Indian context influence his findings in the discipline of Natyashastra. Bharat Muni as a sage has grown as a noble personality in establishing himself s perfect in the discipline of knowledge and art.

Natyashastra projects feature such as Natya, Vithi, model spectator, Bhav, vyabhichari bhav, Sattvik bhav, Vibhav, Anubhav, Rasa, Rasa sutra, Nishpatti and a perpetual debate over the status of Shantih, establishing itself as a permanent source of understanding new insights and new directions and artistic trajectories in his sentimental work on art and fine art with a special shift towards dramatic performance. His major contribution in the tradition of Sanskrit scholarship has been acknowledged for the Rasa theory which is practically useful as a guide not only for the creative artists but also for the audience or readers. Bharata defines each sutra of a Rasa in terms of determinants, consequent, and Vyabhichari bhav establishing his authority in understanding and insight of human nature but an ability of analytical expression and dramatic representation for ultimate Nishpatti of desired Rasas for pleasure and delight of the audience. The tradition of Sanskrit scholarship regards Natyashastra as an additional Veda. The date is generally referred to as the third century A.D. The authorship is ascribed to Bharata the sage. The definite and reliable information about Bharata and authorship is not known. Natyashastra is a compendium of performed arts, drama, music, and dance i.e. art and fine art. Bharata leaves deep influence on the subsequent Sanskrit critics like Abhinav Gupta, Manmohan, or Vishwanath in Indian aesthetics. Bharata is remembered as the exponent of the Rasa theory. Natyashastra provides an insight into the psychology of aesthetic reception and has been acknowledged as the scientific exposition of Rasa theory making a distinctive contribution in the form of Natya, Rasas, and Compendium based on scientific application of reason to human nature and experience. It is possible that on the basis of practical experience of Rasas the art can find bedrock for aesthetics of art and fine art. Manmohan Ghosh’s rendering is widely referred to for translations, though no rendering of Natyashastra is satisfactory including that of Manmohan Ghosh. G.K. Bhatta produced a Bharat Natya Manjiri (1975), a digest that is very useful for undergraduates of Sanskrit poetics based on Manmohan Ghosh’s translation.

भरतमुनि साहित्यशास्त्र के आदि आचार्य : Bharata Muni (An Old and Rare Book)

Natyashastra is a depiction and communication pertaining to emotions of the entire triple world including variety, sport, wealth, peace of mind, laughter, fighting, sexual passion, and slaughter all activities of life. According to Bharata, Natyashastra imitates the conduct of the world. Natyashastra will be the instrument of instruction for the world in addition to entertainment and pleasure. Natyashastra includes all knowledge, craft, art, lore, fine art, design, emotions, and acts of life. Natyashastra is an indication of the happenings in the life of gods, demons, kings, families, men, and sages who have spiritual knowledge. In fact the nature and behavior of the world intimately connected with happiness and misery, as rendered by physical and other forms of acting, to be called Natyashastra. Bharata says that the entire nature of human beings as connected with the experience of happiness and misery, joy and sorrow presented through the process of histrionics (Abhinaya) is called Natya.


Vithi should have one act. It has the character of all the sentiments and comprises thirteen aspects. It is to be acted by one or two characters. It may include three kinds of dramatic Prakriti, high, middling, and low.

Model spectator

A person who watches a dramatic performance with full concentration and makes a judgment on the basis of merit ignoring artistic faults can be judged as a model spectator. All these qualities cannot be expected in a single person.


It gives an account of rhetorical sentiments (Rasas), emotional states (Bhava), ascribing mental conditions (Sthayi Bhava), transient mental states (Vyabhichari bhav), psycho-physical conditions (Satvik Bhav), the four kinds of Abhinay, (histrionic representation), the Dharma (the mode of dramatic representation), the success of Natya, musical notes, and instruments, songs, the size, and shape of theatre in detail.

Bharata’s Natyasastram (Chapters VI and VII: Rasa and Bhava)


Bhava and Rasa are related mutually. Our view is that Rasa arises from mutual contact between Bhava and Rasa. The other view is that Rasa arises from the emotional states alone and not vice versa. During the process of histrionic representation, the two (Bhava and Rasa) accomplish their status and function by dual interaction. The Bhava produces poetic contents through words, gestures, and movements, and psycho-physical representation. ‘Bhav’ is a root that denotes compassion. Bhava is produced by Vibhav (stimulants) and functions as awareness to the spectator (Anubhav), and the acting modes of words and gestures (Sattva-abhinaya).

Vyabhichari Bhava

Vyabhichari Bhavas are more prominent towards creating the sentiments in a variety of ways. They move the spectators to the poetic sentiments in actual dramatic performance. They are thirty-three in number.

Sattvik Bhava

Satvik Bhava is something that originates in the mind. Sattva is produced when the mind is in perfect concentration on state of equipoise. The Sattvik bhavas are essential for the histrionic representation of human nature. They are eight in number.


Vibhav has the sense of cause or stimulant, an instrument of intention. Vibhav determines words, gestures, psycho-physical acts. Vibhav is the determinant or stimulant of Bhava. The actor determines words, gestures, and psycho-physical acts on the basis of Vibhav, and also the spectator determines out of actor’s representation of words, gestures, and psychophysical acts.


Anubhav is a dramatic experience i.e. consequence of physical reaction to acting through words and gestures.


Rasa has a twofold significance. It means both aesthetic content and aesthetic relish. Rasa arises from a proper combination of the stimulants (Vaibhav), the physical consequence (Anubhav), and the transient emotional state (Vyabhichari Bhav). It is called Rasa because it is capable of being tested or relished.

Now Rasas arise from a proper combination of the stimulants (Vibhav), the physical consequents (Anubhav), and the transient emotional states (Vyabhichari Bhav) (Bharat, Natyashastra trans. G.N. Devy 2002:6).


“Just as by a proper combination of different spicy foodstuffs (Vyanjana), leafy vegetable (Aushadhi), and other articles of food (Dravya), there is a flavor and taste produced in the same way when different emotional states come together, aesthetic flavor and relish are produced”.

The spectators in the right frame of mind taste the permanent mental conditions suggested (Vyarijita) by the representation (Abhinaya) of emotional states the Abhinaya carried out by speech delivery (Vac), physical gestures, movements (Anga), the physical acting of physical impacts (Sattva), and obtain pleasure and satisfaction.

Rasa Sutra

Bharata defines rasa sutra as “Vibhav-Anubhav-Vyabhichari-Samyogat-Rasa nishpatti”. He observes eight Rasas namely, shringar, hasya, veer, adbhut, roudra, karuna, bhibhatsa, and bhayanak. Bhava brings about the inner idea of the poet. It then pervades the mind of the spectator.

The Rasa Dance from Srimad Bhagavatam with Many Commentaries

Emotional states and Rasa

The permanent emotional states alone are said to obtain the status of the Rasa. They are eight in number of which four are primary and four are secondary. The primary Rasa produces the respective secondary Rasa in the following manner:

1. Erotic (Shringar) to Comic (Hasya);

2. Heroic (Veer) to Marvellous (Adbhut);

3. Furious (Rudra) to Pathetic (Karun);

4. Odious (Bibhatsa) to terrible (Bhayanak);

The Number of Rasa-s

The erotic, comic, heroic, and marvelous are positive traits of mind, however, the furious, pathetic, odious, and terrible are negative. The Erotic (Shringar) Rasa is derived from the dominant state of love and has its basis in shining and brighter aspects of the world such as white, pure, and beautiful. The Comic (Hasya) Rasa has its basis in the dominant emotion of laughter. It is derived from showing unseemly dress or ornament, impudence, greediness, quarrel or defective limb. The Heroic (Veer) Rasa has its basis in the superior type of persons, grandeur, greatness, goodness, strength, and energy. It displays the concentration of mind, perseverance, diplomacy, discipline, military strength, aggressiveness, the reputation of might, and frightening capacity, etc. The Marvellous (Adbhut) Rasa finds its basis in the dominant state of astonishment. It is derived from the determinants such as the sight of heavenly beings or events, attainment of the desired object, entrance into the superior mansion, temple, audience hall, seeing illusory and magical acts, etc. The Furious (Rudra) Rasa finds its basis in the dominant state of anger. It is derived from the determinant such as anger, rape, abuse, insult, untruth, allegation, jealousy, and the like. The Rakshasas, Danavas, and haughty men are its sources. The Pathetic (Karun) Rasa is rooted in the dominant state of sorrow, misery, and suffering. It is derived from determinants such as afflictions due to separation from dear ones, divorce, loss of wealth, person, death, accident or plight, and captivity. The Odious (Bibhatsa) Rasa has the dominant state of disgust. It is derived from determinants such as hearing unpleasant, offensive, impure, harmful things or seeing and discussing them. On the stage, it can be represented by consequents such as stopping the movement of all limbs, narrowing down the mouth, and the like. The Terrible (Bhayanak) Rasa is rooted in the dominant state of fear. It is derived from the determinants such as hideous noise, sight of ghosts, panic, anxiety, or voices of jackals and owls, an empty house, dense forest, sight of murder or death of hearing and discussion of such events and also horripilation, change of color and loss of voice, etc.

The wise should know that the Vibhav and the Anubhav are such matters in the art of acting as are actually created by human nature, and as closely follow the ways of human nature and worldly conduct.”


According to Bharata, “Nishpatti is a manifestation (Abhivyakti) of what was already latent.” Abhinav says, “All Rasas are dominated by pleasure, because of being the manifest and uninterrupted form of tasting one’s own consciousness.”

The debate over Shantih: Is it a Rasa?

Abhinav Gupta considers Shantih (peace) as the ninth Rasa. This is the point of debate over the status of Rasa in the tradition of Sanskrit scholarship in art and literature. The debate provides new directions and insights in exploring the nature of man and the nature of art from the point of view of dramatic performance and aesthetic realization of both entertainment and instruction for proper education and culture.

Abhinavabharati (Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra Chapter-XXVIII: English Translation with Historical Critical Explanations) : An Old and Rare Book

In the context of the art and literature of India, it is interesting to quote Max Muller, “If I am asked which nation had been advanced in the ancient world in the aspect of education and culture then I would say it was India”. The absence of Shantih as Rasa in Bharata’s Natyashastra is a question of debate and discussion in the philosophical systems in the East and the West as we do find Shantih being artistically used in the classic work by T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land. The structural changes in Bharata’s theatre have undergone different phases over the centuries. Rasas are the direct product of dependent co-production of determinants, consequent, and transitory mental states. However, Shantih is the ultimate peace and tranquillity which is a state of perfection of mind and absolute unconditioning from the law of dependent co-production (Buddha). Peace is free from either pleasure or pain. It is a state of ‘oneness’. It is possible that one may remember either ‘Nirgun’ of Krishna or ‘Nirvana’ of Buddha. It is not emptiness rather it is a state of ‘fullness’ (paradox). Therefore, the state of fullness, perfection, and oneness stand to be evidence for unconditioning of dependent co-production. The Indian tradition led by Krishna, Buddha, Mahavir, Nanak, and others can be cited as illustrations in support of the view that Shantih is not a Rasa. Shantih is beyond Rasa – a field of absolute knowledge and infinity (Anant). The issue debated needs to be seriously researched to discover the truth of Shantih. The experience of Rasas of transient nature may lead one beyond the transitoriness for ultimate peace i.e., permanent achievement. The taste of the Rasas of human nature with binary oppositions provides a catalyst to an individual for take-off from the state of unrest to the state of peace. The dramatic experience can be an opportunity for pleasures as well as for instructions into insight and tranquillity and peace.

Key Takeaways
1. The Natyashastra is a Sanskrit text on dramaturgy and aesthetics written by Bharata Muni around 200 BCE.
2. The Natyashastra contains detailed instructions on various aspects of drama, including acting, stage design, and music.
3. The text also discusses the aesthetic experience of theater and the emotional impact it can have on the audience.
4. The Natyashastra has had a significant influence on Indian performing arts, including theater, dance, and music.
5. The text continues to be studied and used by practitioners of these arts, and its principles have been adapted and reinterpreted over time.

References and Further Readings

1. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, Bhagavadgita. The Bhaktivedant Book Trust International, Inc. 1986.

2. Bhatt G.K. trans. Natyashastra in Devy G.N. Ed. Indian Literary Criticism. Orient Longman, 2002.

3. Devy G.N. Indian Literary Criticism. Orient Longman, 2002.

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