Who is Bharata?

January 19, 2017 § Leave a comment


Who is Bharata, the author of ‘Natyasastra’?

Unlike, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who raised the question, ‘What is Truth?’ and would not pause for an answer, I would ‘ pause’  and venture to think aloud about the question that I have raised.

Was Bharata from Kashmir or Kanchi?  Was he an ‘Aryan’ ora ‘Dravidian’?

True, it is difficult to find a perfect answer for such questions, considering the hoary past of our Indian heritage, deeply submerged in the darkness of pre-history and proto-history. The ethnic divide as ‘Aryan’ and ‘Dravidian’ was an imported concept created by the western philologists to fulfill the political agenda of their masters, the rulers of the then- occupied colony.  But Max Mueller, who introduced the Vedas to the west, later, revised his earlier opinion and said that these terms referred to the linguistic divisions of the languages spoken in the Northern parts of India and the Southern regions. That ‘Tiruvaimozhi’ by the vaishnavite saint ‘Nammalvar’ was hailed as ‘Dramido upanisad’ by the saint- scholars from both regions during the medieval period,  is worth pondering over.

Samskrit, as a language of communication between the various intellectual groups  in the North and South ,was a ‘created’ idiom, as the etymological root of the word itself suggests i.e ‘one that is cultivated’. Like English is, as of now the world over. The early Rgvedic language is totally different from Samskrit of the later periods. Scholars from both regions, the North and South wrote in Samskrit. And all those southern philosophers, poets and grammarians had a comprehensive knowledge of Samskrit. To whatever caste they belonged. Kamban  could not have excelled Valmiki in his masterly literary recreation of Ramayana in Tamil without knowing Samskrit.

That Bharata wrote his dramatic manual in Samskrit does not make him a North Indian as one  hailing from Kashmir. Secular literature in the field of art and culture found expression in the Southern region much before it was known in the North. The authors of these treatises could have written them in Samskrit but this does not warrant a North Indian origin in regard to their nativity.

Bharata was called ‘Bharata Muni’ and not ‘Bharata rishi’ like the authors of the religious works in Samskrit were called. ‘Muni’ is a word of non-samskritic origin, according to the eminent scholar, Manamohan Ghosh, the English translator of, ‘Natyasastra’.

‘Bharata’ means ‘actor’ and according to the traditional stories in regard to the author of this dramatic manual, though he was born a -Brahmin, since he was an actor-author, he was considered belonging to an inferior status in the caste hierarchy. This could have been the reason he was not given the exalted status of a rishi as was given to the authors of the idhikasas, Ramayana and Mahabharata..This  is corroborated by ‘Silappadik aram’, in which it is mentioned the inferior  category of Brahmins, like the musicians and practitioners of theatrical arts probably males) lived in the outskirts of Madurai city, far away from the colonies of the vedic-chanting Brahmins.

So  it is possible to believe that Bharata, who came in the rich   tradition of Tamil heritage and culture, could have composed ‘Natyasastra’ in Samskrit to give this art a pan-Indian appeal. According to Adiyarkunallar(14th century CE), the commentator of “Silappadikaram’, a treatise on theatre written in Tamil, called ‘Bharatam’ was lost. It is difficult to say, which was earlier, the one written in Tamil or the one written in Samskrit.

This brings us to the question of ‘Bharatanatyam’, whether it had its origin in the Tamil region or elsewhere. Of course, Bharata had nothing to do with the dance form associated with his name. What was once known as ‘sadir’, and remained as an exclusive possession of a privileged section of women in a feudal society, was ‘sanskritised’ (literally and as the sociologists would have it) and came to be known as ‘Bharataanatyam’ at the dawn of the 20th century.

The contemporary Bharatanatyam style ,perhaps, owes its origin to ‘Silappadikaram’ (5th century CE)wherein, it is described in detail in ‘Arangetru Kathai’ ,’Kataladukathai’ and ‘Venirkathai’.

The erotic aspect of this dance form is brought out in ‘Venirkathai’. Eight varieties of dancing styles are described. (1) Histrionic gesticulation of the heroine at her initial meeting with the hero that happens accidently. (2) A dance form in which the hero comes much too often to draw attention (3) The hero coming in disguise to meet the heroine.(4)The feigned  ignorance of the heroine in regard to the hero’s presence at the spot where she dances (5) Posture of an offended lover and the lovers’ quarrel mediated by an intermediary (6) Expressions of bitten love narrated to the companion (7) Acute pangs of separation that are exhibited by various expressions of sorrow and misery (8) Theatrical action of swooning in desperate mood of love hoping to be bodily  lifted by her lover.

Kovalan , the hero of ‘Silappadikaram’ mentions these eight styles of erotic dancing as befitting a courtesan like Madhavi and that he is not amused by her theatricals, when he decides to reject her and return to his lawfully-wedded wife Kannagi.

‘Sadir’, which was later baptized as ‘Bharatanatyam’, was in true succession of the styles of dancing as portrayed by the epic. A thin line divides eroticism and bhakt., Instead of a human lover, God was chosen as the Supreme Lover, which became the sum and substance of bridal mysticism.













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