Nāṭya and Śāstra

Illustrations from Ratlion by Radha Ramachandran

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The mouth utters the song,

The hand outlines the


The look enlivens the sentiment,

The feet catch the intensity and goes on beating it.

Where the hand is, the eyes follow

Where the eyes go, the mind follows

Where the mind is, there is feeling

Where there is feeling and sentiments, there is mood, flavour, sweetness,

Where sentiments rule sovereign, rasa arises and there is appreciation of art; aesthetic bliss

Yatho hastastato drish Tiryato drish Tistato manah

Yatho manastato bhavo yatho bhavastato rasah

Vast are the subtleties expressed in the hand gestures of hasta that the vastness of what being human entails, and perhaps even what the entire universe contains, might be expressed by the dancer.

Hence as ‘hasta’ form a distinct coded language which brings a unique poetic element while performing, so too when abhinaya (traditional facial expressions), pose (attitude), and rhythm complete the language, the dancer may express practically anything and everything to an attentive audience.

The Rasa theory, asserts that entertainment is a desired effect of performance arts but not the primary goal, and that the primary goal is to transport the individual in the audience into another parallel reality, full of wonder, where he experiences the essence of his own consciousness, and reflects on spiritual and moral questions.

The root of the Sanskrit word Natya is Nat (नाट) which means “act, represent”. The word Shastra (शास्त्र) means “precept, rules, manual, compendium, book or treatise”, for knowledge in a defined area of practice.

Hasta la vista

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(CC) 2016 Tysilyn Fernandez


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