Terms and People


Abhinavagupta.  Tenth century philosopher/theologian.  His commentary on the Natyashastra is regarded as the authoritative interpretation of the work.  Abhinavagupta correlates the Natyashastra’s rasa concept with experience of unity with Brahman, or ultimate reality in its thoroughly unified form.  After Abhinavagupta, rasa becomes a religious concept, and a ninth rasa—shantirasa, or “peace”—is codified as part of the Natyashastra’s theoretical heritage.

Ashvaghosha.  Author of very early fragments of Sanskrit dramas.  A Buddhist, his plays treat Buddhist subject matter.

Bharata.  Purported author of the Natyashastra.  Bharata may have lived between the first and fourth centuries, CE.  Although many different people may have contributed to the composition of the Natyashastra, the text demonstrates sufficient unity throughout to support the notion of a single, primary author who was remarkably well-informed about all aspects of theatrical production, including acting, architecture, costume design, movement, music, and aesthetics.

Bhasa.  Writer of the oldest complete Sanskrit dramas.  The thirteen plays attributed to Bhasa include very short, one-act plays and long, multi-act plays.  His play Daridracharudattam tells an early version of the story at the heart of Sudraka’s masterpiece Mrcchakatika.  Bhasa’s short play Urubhangam includes the onstage death of its protagonist, contrary to the conventions cataloged by the Natyashastra.

Kalidasa.  The greatest of the classical Sanskrit dramatists.  Probably active in the fourth or fifth century, CE, Kalidasa’s three extant plays are regarded as the mastery of the form.  Kalidasa’s play Shakuntala became popular throughout Europe in the centuries of colonial expansion, appearing in English, German, French, Italian, Russian and Danish by 1815.

Shudraka.  The author of the best-known example of prakarana, or comic, play.  Perhaps writing during the fifth or sixth century, Shudraka’s Mrcchakatika or Little Clay Cart, models the middle-class concerns of Sanskrit comic drama, and includes an honorable but impoverished middle class hero, a cruel and cowardly aristocratic ruler, noble convicts, clever townspeople, and a countryside of people who rise up in revolution.



Abhinaya.  Acting.  The Natyashastra uses this term to refer to the physical expression involved in portraying characters.

Bhava.  Feeling or emotion.  Divided into several subcategories in the Natyashastrabhava refers to physical and psychological feeling as experienced and used by actors.

Lokadharmi.  Common style.  Probably not anything like “naturalism” in the twentieth-century sense of the term, lokadharmi style was probably designed to appeal to more diverse audiences, and, so, to be less attentive to conventional codes and more open to improvisation and to whatever devices would suit a moment.

Nataka.  One of the two major types of Sanskrit drama.  Across multiple acts, the Nataka concerns royal and divine characters involved in stories with historical or mythic precedent.  Often love stories, the plots of natakas also concern patrician interests: war, gods and demons, religious thought and practice, and conventional, aristocratic values.  Kalidasa’s Shakuntala is the premiere example of nataka.

Natyadharmi.  Theatrical style.  A kind of theatrical presentation that depends on convention and abstraction in the way that actors move and speak, and even in costuming and scenic design.

Nandi.  Part of the purvaranga, the preliminary religious rites that preceded performances of Sanskrit dramas.  The nandi, or opening prayer, appears as the first lines of many Sanskrit dramas, invoking divine favor (usually of Shiva) on the performers and on audiences.

Nepathya.  The backstage area, as specified in the theatre architecture described by the Natyashastra.  Perhaps only behind a curtain, as opposed to a structure.  Many plays designate the nepathya as the area from which offstage voices and noises come.

Prakarana.  One of the two major types of Sanskrit drama.  Usually composed of several acts, prakarana plays concern fictional, middle-class characters, and revolve around problems not unlike those found in Greek comedy: romance, court intrigues, political plots, petty crime, and money.

Purvaranga.  The religious rites, perhaps requiring several hours, that preceded the performance of Sanskrit dramas.  The opening chapter of the Natyashastra describes how these rites are necessary as a means of protecting the theatre space from the interference of demonic forces that might not be pleased by the content of a play.

Rangapitha.  Probably part of the stage area of the common, rectangular theatre described by the Natyashastra.

Rangashirsha.  The primary “stage” area of the common, rectangular theatre described by the Natyashastra.

Rasa.  The “flavor” or “essence” of a performance.  Not to be confused with bhava, a term that refers to feeling and sensation, rasa has both a metatheatrical and metaphysical quality.  In theory, an audience member can reflect on, or savor, his or her own feelings and sensations as engendered by experience of theatrical artistry.  And audience member’s self-conscious examination of his or her own aesthetic experience can entail an impersonal sensibility of the physical and emotional apparatus at the root of sensation—that is, an impersonal sensibility of the audience member’s own self.

Vidushaka.  An almost obligatory comic character.  The “clown” appears in many Sanskrit dramas as the protagonist’s Brahmin sidekick, always hungry, seldom content, and little invested in the religious life of his putative vocation.