Bharata Muni, also known as Satsahasri, is the author of Natyashastra – the first book on performing arts in ancient India. Bharata and his sons (shishyas and other actors) popularized Natyaveda (art of theater), created by Brahma, in the world. People who followed him are known as Bharatas (actors) and even today, the Indian national award for best actor is known as Bharat Award.
The name Bharata is a combination of – Bha stands for Bhava (feelings) – Ra stands for Raga (melody) and Ta stands for tala (rhythm). Bhava, Raga and Tala is what makes an actor
Bharata Muni was the Vyasa of the world of performing arts. He systematized the works of his predecessors. He made new additions and alterations to existing ones. He thus created the first manual on performing arts in India. A guide book on the art of theater.
Date of Bharata Muni
There is no one opinion regarding the period of Bharata Muni nor about the year in which Natyashastra was published. But he lived before 5th century AD because there are references to and quotations from the dramaturgy in Malavikagnimitram and Vikramoravashiyam of Kalidasa.
Some scholars are of the view that Natyashastra of Bharata might have been influenced by Natyasutra of Silalin – a text referred by Panini in his Ashtadhyayi IV.3.110-111.
Amarakosha refers actors as Bharatas.
Abhinavagupta used the term Adi Bharata to refer to the author of Natyashastra.
Bharata Muni and Origin of Natyashastra
Natyashastra text that we have today was composed by a single author. There is uniformity in content and style. The author was an authority of Vedas and had firsthand knowledge of theater (drama).
It is believed that Bharata Muni compiled the text to systematize drama and theater when it was in its nascent form. When there was interest in dance, drama and music among people, it became necessary to formulate theories and systematize knowledge relating to them. Dancers, actors, musicians and other people involved with it needed a code of conduct. Thus a separate discipline was born – something new that was delight to the eyes and pleasing to the ears – and it was based on the Natyashastra of Bharata Muni.
Bharata Muni was inspired by the song from Sama Veda, the tandava of Shiva and lasya form of Goddess Parvati.
The drama was performed like an offering to the Gods. It was performed to propitiate the gods. This is how performances reached Hindu temples and it is continued even today.
Natyashastra contains history of theatrical art, its origin, performance, what keeps the audience engaged, role of the performer, how to enamor the audience, architecture of theater, navarasas, how an actor is selected, roles that an actor should play, dialogue delivery, diction, postures, movements and gestures. It is the A to Z of the performing arts.
Even today, it is the last word on performing arts. Traditional artists and art forms follow the rules prescribed in it.
There are verses, verses and prose explanations and aphorisms in the text. There are more than 5000 verses.
The origin of natya, worship of deities, preliminary rites before a performance and characteristics of dance are dealt in detail.
Special attention is given to music.