The primary aim of this book is to confront the rival theories of dramatics, Greek and Indian, with a view to draw conceptual parallels and differences. It is argued here that the Greek system of poetics, of which drama was one part, began semiotically but in its later European application tapered into the lexical. On the other hand, the Indian system has remained semiotic through and through. Both systems, however, had a beginning in a semiotic structure which was based and sustained by what I have called hieropraxis.
There have been many partial and some complete studies on this subject. Most of them have resulted in broad generalizations. Their approach invariably has been to take a concept from Aristotle and juxtapose it with a parallel from Bharata Muni. This way only a logocentric comparison is achieved. I have adopted a different method. I have placed the two dramatic theories within the broad framework of ancient Indo-European culture and the art of hieropraxis or sacred drama for which they were formulated. In other words, much of the similarity between the theories owes to the fact that they both emerge from a common Indo-European world-view. Ancient Greeks and Indians not only upheld some common metaphysical and epistemological concepts, but they also regarded theatere as sacred action meant to please gods as well as men. Moreover, for them theater was not, as is often erroneously argued, meant for the ruling elite, or merely the worldly audience, it was for the whole cosmos which was its raison d’etre.
I have also argued that sacred drama required the perfection of certain production techniques which were synesthetic. Music, dance and semiotized gesture were all unified to produce a performance text and the Poetics and the Natyasastra are, above all, manuals that present theories for the production of such performance texts. Thus, in this study, the emphasis is on techniques of production or elements of theatrical representation. It is not upon dramatic genres such as tragedy, comedy or dasarupakas. These genres as lexical structure, have been the basis of comparison between Greek and Indian dramatic theories all too long.
besides pointing out the common Indo-European factor and the hieropraxic nature of the two ancient traditions, I have also emphasized that with the rise of post-Renaissance drama in Europe, the Greek tradition tapered from the semiotic to the word-centered performance text. This change was a departure from the hieropraxic towards the secular. Only the Byzantine period in Europe had achieved some sort of a synthesis between the sacred and the secular. From the Renaissance onwards, the sacred was too often redefined and at times even isolated from daily life under HUmanistic and Individualistic ideologies. This resulted in the break-up of the aural-visual unity of the hieropraxic kind which was primarily an expression of human and cosmic unity.
The Russian semiotician Yuri Lotman has noted the difference between Classical and European sensibility and formulated his theory of two kinds of aesthetics, that of "identity" and that of "opposition". For Lotman, all folklore, Middle Ages in Europe, Classicism and the Asian cultures practise the first, and Romanticism, Realism and Avant-garde follow the second. The aesthetics of identity, holds Lotman, rests upon the identity or nearness of the code of the sender with that of the receiver. Its absence generates the aesthetics of opposition. While accepting all this, I would further add that the opposition to the code of the sender or the absence of nearness to it always results in a desemiotization of gesture and opsis in theatre. The gap created between the sender and the receiver needs to be filled by laborious means. In European theatre, extensive verbal discourse was used to fill in the gap. Later on, naturalist scenery and costume were used for the same purpose. And still later, a breakdown of verbal discourse was used as a device for reflecting the Absurdist universe. This methos of filling in the gap created a total dependence upon logocentric means of theatre and reduced the synesthetic unity of the classical techniques. it may also be pointed out that, in the aesthetics of identity, the sender’s code works instantly upon the spectators and creates in them a deep emotional arousal resulting in an asethic pleasure which has been termed katharsis in one tradition and rasa in another. On the other hand, in the aesthetics of opposition, emotional arousal is replaced by intellectual reflection. The plays of Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht are the high point of this intellectual stimulation meant to lead one to certain ideologies. Quite in contrast to this, a major aim of hieropraxis was to provide a deep emotional relief or bliss, in which the psyche of the spectator was transformed from the ordinary state to a special state, just as on the stage the worldly reality was transformed into a unique reality produced through multi-disourse techniques.
Before beginning to ‘confront’ the two systems with each other, I offer a revaluation of the Natyasastra from a modern critical perspective. Its basic tenets are redefined in a modern intelligible language not for the sake of establishing a false analogue between it and the Poetics but for using it as a lexical site for interpreting its semiotic import. For the same reason, I have put in a whole chapter on the date of the NS which in my reading brings it closer to the Poetics historically as well as conceptually.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part opens with an Introduction whee I propose a definition of hieropraxis, and reasons for its decline in Europe. Then, I emphasize the need to look upon ancient drama from a non-European viewpoint. Next, I take up the problem of dating the NS, followed by a chapter which briefly explores the socio-cultural parallels between Greek and Indian dramatic themes. The first part is concluded with a chapter setting out the historical evolution of both the theatrical traditions from dance.
The second part, which makes for the bulk of the book offers a detailed analysis of all the conceptual tools, mechanical apparatus, the visual, the aural and the spatial elements together with a critical evaluation of the rival mimetic concepts. I begin with a chapter on a reassessment of the basic concepts of the two theories. I give here a scheme under which the rival concepts are juxtaposed for comparison and contrast. All the concepts are classified under three broad divisions: theatrical space, aural and visual content, and the dramatic genres. Then begins a detailed comparison. To start with, a chapter is given to an examination of the concepts of mimesis and anukarna. It is argued that the Greek theorists, Plato and Aristotle are preoccupied with gauging art in terms of the worldy objects and experiences, whereas the Indian approach attempts to create, almost entirely, an artistic universe independent of the one we live in. This is followed by a chapter on the media of initation, where the unification of the different channels of discourse is shown to be a concept that is common to both Aristotle and Bharata Muni. Then follows a chapter on performance space where it is argued that in both the theatres space was divided into areas meant predominantly for speech activity, dance motions and musical expressions. From here, I move on to a chapter dealing with visual content where Greek atage gestures, dance and choreology are contrasted with the Indian abhinaya and its theory. It is pointed out that in the ancient theatre, gesture was an independent language, neither subservient to the verbal nor just an amplification of the verbal intent, but a complimentary device that created its own area of signification.
In the chapter "Aural Content" the relationship between the spoken and the sung words in theatre is examined in detail. It is shown that rhythm was accepted as the common basis for speech, metre and song in both traditions. This chapter includes a juxtaposition of Greek musical theory with the Indian musical system called Gandharva. This part of the book concludes with a chapter on dramatic gentres and play-structure, in which the basis of genre classification as practiced by ancient societies is also stated. The rival concepts of muthos and itivrtta are also dealt with.
The third part of the book gears the argument to a conclusion. It is held that the two dramatic theories, earlier defined as hieropraxic, adopting the technique of multi-channeled discourse, aim at two objectives. One, that theatre is essentially the business of transforming reality, not of depicting it. Two, that theatre should provide a deep emotional arousal and a consequent psychological relief to the audience. Pre-occupied with transformation, hieropraxis avoids not only a portrayal of characters but also a depiction of social classes and the conflict of class interest as well. It does not aim to "reactualize on stage what has happened elsewhere" (Schechner 98), but creates a world of its own. Music, dance and gesture totally transform the objects of imitation. Bharata Muni has maintained that this transformation was either lokadharmi or natyadharmi. Though there is no parallel concept stated in Aristotle, in actual practice the Greek theatre acheived a transformation which was no less embellished that the one on the Indian stage. For this reason, our present day categories that divided theatre into "folk", "classical", "realistic" or "commercial" cannot be applied to hieropraxis. In the concluding chapter, I consider the concept of two dharmis indetail, explaining them as guidelines for theatrical transformation and then examine the purpose behind emotional arousal. Psuchagogia or emotional arousal as mentioned in Greek rhetorics and theatrical context, is reviewed and is confronted with the Indian theory of bhavavyanjana. The result of emotional arousal, namely katharsis, is also reviewed as a clinical, spiritual and aesthetic concept and is finally compared with the rasa concept as stated by Bharata Muni along with a critique of the four well known interpretations. A close scrutiny of these interpretations reveals some shortcomings and therefore, a fresh approach is proposed which is called samyuktivada.
In this study, I have attempted to create a new matric for comparative study on an examination of specific structural elements. It is shown here, that even though the Greek and the Indian concepts may be similar in many respects, their practical applications are very different. For instance, depersonalization of the actor is a common concept but one theatre does it through mask while the other through facial painting and expression. On the whole, the two dramatic theories get better clarified, even as comparison reveals differences rather than similarities now and then. Differences help us to understand each system better than interpretations in a unicultural context do. For instance, in this study, the difference between the Greek and the European dramatic approaches has been emphasized by placing the Indian system side by side the both of them. Most often, the Greek and European systems are clubbed together and regarded as one tradition called "Western". On the contrary, I have tried to show the closeness between the two ancient systems and their distance from the European practices.
A word about the critical editions of the two basic texts that I have used. For my purpose only a general statement of the concepts was sufficient and there was no need for an analysis of the variant textual readings and differing translations. I have, therefore, relied only on one translation of the Poetics, that by Butcher, and have not referred to the translations of Else or Bywater. For the same reason, I have used only the critical edition of the Natyasastra including Abhinavabharati published by the Oriental Institute, Baroda. I have thought it neither necessary nor very useful for the present purpose, to see the variant readings in Monmohan Ghose’s edition, or in the antiquated kavyamala edition. The Baroda edition is currently under revision and some of it is in the press, but it has not been possible for me to consult it.
For the exposition of the concepts and terms found in the Natyasastra, I have extensively depended upon the Abhinavabharati. This is not out of any blind admiration for the great doyen of Indian scholarship, but because I do not choose to forget, as do so many of my contemporaries, that Abhinavagupta belonged to a tradition in which the NS was studied as an exclusive and serious academic pursuit. There were many schools for its study in the country and Abhinava had been trained to study it under one of the most illustrious teachers of his day. His word then, is not his alone but stands for a whole era of scholarship. It has the authenticity of knowledge handed down systematically (sampradayiki siksa) through a traditional system of education.
I have tried to retain wherever possible, the original Sanskrit terms for the concepts stated in the NS and likewise the Greek terms used by Aristotle. Risking the odium of pedantry, I have done this to avoid confusion caused by translations. If we study classical concepts, we might as well cultivate the use of original terms. Therefore, terms like dianoia, ethos, vibhava, anubhava and many others have been retained. However, terms such a eleos, phobos, pathos, karuna, bhayanaka, gita, etc., which do not lose much in translation have been translated. All Sanskrit words are given in italics and the Greek words in bold italics.
All translations into English from the Natyasastra and the Abhinavabharati are my own. I have quoted extensively from the NS (Baroda edition) but in translation. To give the original Sanskrit verses for all the quotations in end-notes would have taken up too much space. I have, therefore, provided only the most essential verses of the NS and crucial passages from the Abhinavabharati in Sanskrit.
I must express my deepest gratitude to Professor J. Birje Patil, for showing me the way to place this rather old-fashioned topic in the perspective of conetmporary thinking on performing arts to highlight its present day utility. And no less, I have to thank Professor V.Y. Kantak, who was kind enough to spend many long hours in discussion. But for the constant vigil provided by him this book would not have taken its present shape. The key term, ‘heiropraxis’, which I have used to denote sacred drama as a category in itself in the history of drama, was suggested to me by Professor A.N. Athanassakis, Chairman, Department of Greek Studies, University of Crete. In the end, I sincerely thank all those who like Ganesa Vighnesvara, encouraged me to complete this work either by creating obstructions or by removing them.