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Authoritative manual on theatrical arts of India

Natyasastra of Sage Bharata

Translation in Sinhala

by Ven. Hiripitiye Pannakitti

Four Volumes (Parts I-IV)

Published by S. Godage and Bros, Colombo 10

DANCE: The translation of the Natyasastra (Nts) of Bharata, the most celebrated and highly renowed author, critic and visionary, would indeed have been a formidable task for even an erudite scholar.

Considering the structure of the treatise dealing with a variety of disciplines and themes it has not been a forbidden undertaking to the eminent scholar, Ven. Pannakitti, endowed with the requisite skills to grapple with the terms and concepts used in defining and interpreting the wide range of material occurring in the Fine Arts with an emphasis laid on the literary, dramatic and performing traditions.

Ever since Nts. was accepted as the original and authentic work of Bharata many researchers, writers and scholars of the West and the East have assessed its value and position in Indian literary theory, dramaturgy and poetics as its date and authorship could throw light on the development of forms, styles and norms in creative writing.

Considering the vast range of subject matter taken up for comment and description in a very authoritative manner within 36 chapters and over 5000 verses (slokas) excluding the prose sections, the compilation of the original work assumes the prestigious format of an encyclopedia of Fine Art, a unique manual sastra demanding validity and acceptance.

Although I am entrusted with the task of assessing the Sinhala translation of the Nts. I considered it necessary to examine the contents of the original text while examining the version in Sinhala and the translator’s contribution. Research and writings on the Nts. has been quite profuse and covered many aspects of literature and literary criticism. Therefore, it is unnecessary to examine that material here.

Multi-layered structure

In writing this review I have been impressed considerably with the study of Bharata and the authorship of the text, entitled Bharata-Natysastra of Kapila Vatsyayan, published by the Sahitya Akademi (India) 1996,2001, as the book explores the problems involved and brought out the multi-layered structure of the work, examined from various points of view.

A brief review of the contents of Nts would, therefore, be helpful before assessing its value as an authoritative guide for those practising any of the Fine Arts where knowledge of both theory and practice were considered essential.

The sutra style of writing has been used following the same method in vogue in imparting knowledge of the subjects. The subject or theme is introduced tersely to aid the memory of the listener and also make it the topic for commenting, elaborating by the adherents or even critics. Thus this practice led to the growth of leading exponents/ teachers and also schools of thought.

The Nts. shows how and why it acquired its unique position as a standard Manual for the Fine Arts in due course. It is the prestigious corpus, the sastra of natya which had become an urgent need to inculcate the rules and prescriptions of natya, at first revealed by Brahman to the Sages who demanded the instruction. It also attained the status of the fifth veda, coeval with the earlier four Vedas, a secular need of the people. It earned the name of Natyveda.

Curiosity of sages

The first chapter discusses the curiosity of the sages regarding the origin and scope of the new Veda. The response given was that it is a composite creation using the elements from the earlier Vedas for its growth. The second chapter deals with the theatre and the details of its structure and the rituals and offerings thus showing that it had the blessings from above and responded to the secular need for viewing and enjoyment Chaps.

IV and V gives more details of preliminary activities including the enactment of mythological stories and also refers to the tandava (Masculine) technique of dance as opposed to the lasya (female), revealed by Brahman to Bharata, together with the other modes of dance along with the gestures and musical accompaniments enriching them.

Although these items are supposed to have been demonstrated by mythical heroes it is possible to infer that the experience and influence of Bharata’s predecessors in the teaching of dance and musical lore and the technical aspects are possibly hinted.

The sixth chapter, though different in content, is an important contribution of Bharata to the validity of the concept of rasa in his formulation of the theory and the constituents which relate to the themes and motifs and their appropriate usage in creative poetic composition.

Considering the manner in which the theory of rasa and the criteria mentioned in the operative areas in the evocation of a mature sentiment finally, as laid down by Bharatha entire range for the Sanksrit literature it may be necessary to postulate a school of thought that had brought the concepts to prominence.

He lays down the preliminary stages in the drama showing how such ideas had been known before his time.

Taken together the ideas and the concepts of the varied emotions jointly stimulating and producing the state of the mind generating the sentiment (rasa) suggests also precedent stages of discussion of the rasa-bhava connections.

The seventh chapter enlarges on the theory of the emotional states and feelings a drama could successfully evoke. The eighth chapter deals with an important aspect concerned with the four means of dramatic expression: speech/words - vag, body, physical movement - anga, sattva, mental feelings and aharya, external aids, to enhance the sentiments.

Technical terms signifying musical notations, dance sequences and processes associated with the (abhinaya) exposition of the themes by means of the postures, rhythms, cadences, described in detail.

Combined with the rasa theory which brings to the fore the connection between the physical and the mental feelings which finally creates the desired satisfaction in any composition, the nexus with the traditional system of medicine (ayurveda), also, shown in the Nts, throws light on the understanding of Bharata in the definition of the aesthetic experience.

Bharata has based his theory on the drama but applies its relevance to cover all the fine arts as the one aim is art appreciation is search and discovery of the ultimate poise and harmony which each can bring through the evocation of the feelings and states of mind involved leading to composure.

Translation and merits

A detailed statement of all chapters is not considered necessary as this review takes up the translation and its merits. From the VIIIth chapter onwards the technical aspects of the communication of the effective transmission of the actors’ movements, gestures and movements of the body and the limbs are identified and enumerated in a professional manner.

Bharat’s intimate knowledge of the varied movements of the body are stated and, as necessary, related to the styles and functions set out in the theory.

Up to the 23rd chapter the author is occupied with the very technical and intimate observations of differing characteristics of actors on stage, their speech, their portrayal of ethnic or individual attitudes, and, also the divisions of the drama and the pace of movement etc.

The end chapters are important as the verses (of the text) convey socio-economic differences and cultural traits of regions. Musical data and references are to be also found in a later chapter.

The last, 36th Chapter, refers to an interesting transference of the dramatic spectacles to the earth - the sages have made the appeal to Bharata owing to their keen desire to see them.

The Natyasastra, the most authoritative manual and a critical treatise on the arts in general, paying special attention to the theatrical arts of India, is not so well-known in academic circles perhaps because it is written in Sanskrit and adopts a style, commonly used in the (sastra) manuals. It is however recognised and studied as a valuable text by musicians and dance professionals.

This translation published by Venerable Buddhist author who has to his credit a large number of writings published during nearly four decades is an eminent scholar, deeply engrossed in academic pursuit of oriental and ideological works of value.

He uses material from ancient history, Buddhist philosophy, and particularly Sanskrit texts and specific treatises such as the Natyasastra which have influenced the growth of theoretical as well as practical understanding of acknowledged concepts of interpretation and evaluation in special disciplines.

Indian mind

His work receives due commendation as he attempts to offer by means of translations, the great Epic of India, the Mahabharata, and the treasured ‘ocean of stories’ (Kathasaritsagara), as both these compilations reflect the character and identity of the Indian mind, its wisdom and culture, not without significance to the Sri Lankan way of understanding.

The four volumes of the Natyasastra, in the Sinhala translation, carries the original Sanskrit text with the translation. The translations are further enlarged with additional comments and explanations, as necessary.

The author also states that the Hindi translations of Professor Babu Lala Shukla Sastri and the English translation of Manomohan Ghosh (a gift of the book by Prof. W. S. Karunatilaka) of the text were very useful aids in adding the notes and comments to the Sinhala versions. He also acknowledges reference to the single commentary on the text, Abhinavabharati in elucidating the difficulties.

The four volumes printed at Sridevi Press are published by Godage Book Publishers, Colombo, both institutions undertaking the tasks with their professional competence and fulfilling the academic need for such publications.

It is also necessary to state our appreciation of the research and publication of books and articles of Indology especially in the form of translations which would undoubtedly be of great benefit to students interested in these subjects.


Lessons in nation building

Singappuru Kathava

Translator: Ranjith Gunaratna

Available at leading bookshops

DEVELOPMENT: Singapore, with a population of 4.5 million living on a small island of 699 square kilometres, about the size of Colombo and Gampaha districts is one of the richest countries in the world. Its GNP per capita is $ 29,900.

During 1950s it was just a trading port of the British Empire with shanty dwellings, dirty surrounding now where mostly Chinese, Indian and other immigrants lived with no hope for their future.

Today, it has become a clean, green and neatly designed city state with all modern facilities and services. Above all, Singapore is a politically stable, trouble free thriving economy. How could this small island be developed into a splendid city and a flourishing country from a poor village-like port 50 years ago?

In order to understand Singapore’s contemporary history of the last half a century, Lee Kuan Yew’s The Singapore Story is a must-read. It is a beautifully and carefully written autobiography which looks at all the aspects of historical development of modern Singapore until 1965.

Today, the Sri Lankan readers too have got an opportunity to read The Singapore Story in Sinhala. It has been translated by Ranjith Gunaratna, a senior Foreign Service officer, who served in Singapore for about three years.

Ranjith Gunaratna, the translator of the book has captured the core of the original book accurately and has transformed it to an easily comprehensible book, allowing the Sri Lankan readers to grasp every detail of the original book without any difficulty.

Nation building

The Sinhalese translation was released on 11, November 2006. As it was correctly stated by Ajith Nivad Cabraal, the Governor of the Central Bank and Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, the Minister of Local Governments and Provincial Councils, during the launching ceremony of the book, the Sinhalese translation of The Singapore Story would certainly be a guide for us to find out where we stand in the path of nation building. Although there are different views about some of the strategies adopted by Lee Kuan Yew in his journey towards nation building, I am sure we can still agree with many of his actions.

In precise and clear language, Ranjith Gunaratna describes Lee’s childhood, life under colonial rule, life in England, the struggle to gain independence, his determination to bring the nation together, merger with Malaysia, events that led to break up from Malaysia and finally the emergence of Singapore as a free and independent country.

He colourfully portraits Lee’s strategies and approaches to each challenge enabling us to capture a panoramic view of the contemporary history of Singapore. Ranjith Gunaratna, not only depicts the evens as they occurred but also tries to recreate the events with his powerfully and carefully selected idiomatic expressions. You won’t feel that you are just reading a translation of a book.

The reason, I think, is that Ranjith Gunaratna has excelled in both English and Sinhalese languages. He has written poetry and songs. Thus, his language in The Singapore Story emanates the fragrance of poetry.

This book also covers Lee’s experiences as an opposition party member in the assembly. After organising The People’s Action Party (The PAP) he contested the election in 1959 and became the first Prime Minister at the age of 35 in a self-governing British colony from 1959 to 1965. During the same time he forged an alliance with Malaya in 1963. In realizing that Singapore should choose its own path to salvage the nation from the extreme poverty and extremist elements he broke this alliance in 1965.

Mixed feelings

As depicts in the book, Lee had some what mixed feelings about the Communists. Lee admired the skills and unyielding dedication of the Communists. However, he did not want to allow extreme communist elements to highjack the country to realize their day-dreams.

Evidently, the success stories emerged from China painted a glorious picture about communism in the minds of Singapore Chinese. They even had the aspiration of becoming a part of China.

The fact that many graduates from Chinese schools and Nanyang University did not have English proficiency to secure good jobs in Singapore, the dissatisfaction with employment prospects interwoven with resentment of the British imperialists provided fertile ground for the spreading of communist ideas in Singapore.

As a result, many associations and schoolchildren organized demonstrations and protests one after another to topple the colonial Government. Understanding this milieu correctly, Lee determined to switch all schools to using English as the teaching language in the 1960s and ‘70s, allowing young graduates move up on the economic ladder.

Today, in Singapore, English is the working language, providing cohesiveness for all three ethnic groups, and all students are obligated to learn English in school. Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, along with English are all official languages, despite the fact that almost 80% Singaporeans are ethnic Chinese, 14% Singaporeans are Malays and 7% are Indians.

Timely intervention

Lee introduced the teaching of three languages, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, in English schools. This was well received by all parents. To balance this, he introduced the teaching of English in Chinese, Malay and Tamil schools.

As a result of his timely intervention, Singapore was able to avoid any clash over the issue of languages. This is an ideal example for Sri Lankan as many issues of today have links to the language.

Malaya became independent from the British in August 1957. Later it became Malaysia in 1963 with the inclusion of Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneos. But Singapore was separated from Malaysia and became an independent country two years later, in August 1965.

Lee sought an alliance with Malaya mainly for two reasons viz. Singapore could never achieve complete independence from the British as it was too small in area and could not defend itself and in order to submerge the overwhelming pro-Communist sentiment in Singapore it was required to be a part of a much bigger country - Malaya, where Chinese were a minority.

Lee supported a Malaysia as a multiracial society of equal citizens, while Tunku, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia wanted a Malay-dominated Malaysia. They also had disputes over economic policies.

Lee did not tolerate the new phenomena and criticized publicly the policies of Malaysia. He angered Tunku by visiting foreign countries on behalf of Singapore. From Lee’s point of view, all he wanted was a practical, business-like working relationship with Tunku, not a loyalty-based relationship.

Political culture

Politically, Lee tried to foster a Southeast Asian identity instead of a Chinese identity in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore Story helps us to understand Singapore’s political culture at large and many government policies in specific.

In fact, the Singapore Story should have been translated into Sinhala long time ago. However, the efforts made by Ranjith Gunaratna to translate the book should be commended. Relatively large fonts, simple language and short sentences, enable even young readers to read and understand this remarkable book easily.

Unquestionably, this book should be available in every library for reference. It would definitely be a valuable source for those who are interested in politics of East Asia, especially Singapore. In particular, this should undoubtedly be a handbook for young politicians.


Genealogy of Malays exposed

Saga of the exiled Royal

Javanese unearthed

Author: Tuan Arfin Burah

An author publication

Available at Vijitha Yapa

Bookshops, Colombo

151 pp. Price Rs. 250

HISTORY: The Malays in Sri Lanka are the descendants of the kings, queens, princes and princesses, noblemen, dignitaries, artists, craftsmen, commanders and their retinue, who were part and parcel of the sovereign, exiled by the Dutch.

A hereto unknown factor, perhaps buried in the sands of time, has been unravelled by the author on the above. T. Arfin Burah a senior professional in Land Surveying and Land Economics has delved in unearthing from old records at the Archives and from several locations on ground, presenting them in a manner a glimpse of the functioning of Colonial rule, particularly in Java and Sri Lanka.

The book covers the occupation of the Dutch in Ceylon extending from A.D. 1640 to 1796, a period of 156 years. This book has been made possible with the correct interpretation after a great level of painstaking research and passion due entirely, as with divine providence by a Dutch Professor Vanden Belt of the Lieder University of Holland who played a major role in having given his valuable time and expertise to the translation to English from the Romanised Dutch records, and also the Assistant Archivist Mrs. Dias who had in many ways has helped the author.

This aspect of it has been the missing link that has prevented the narration of this epic story by other historians. The saga unfolds when for the first time one gets more than a glimpse of the exiled Javanese Prince Amankoeratte of Batavia and the royal retinue in Sri Lanka. The great role and responsibilities of the exiled royal party are detailed.

Developing and expanding the base of spices and commodity trade between Sri Lanka and Batavia has been his direct responsibility. Entrustment of these duties to him by the Dutch rulers highlights the capacity and the respect given to the royal party.

The book goes further to expand the role of the forefathers of the author and their contribution to many aspects of commerce and life in the wider community in Sri Lanka. Much emphasis has been confined in his research of the Prince Amankoeratte the 3rd of whom he asserts that his great grandfather has been a descendant.

In trying to establish the genealogy of the Javanese (now termed Malays) in Sri Lanka to their ancestors he has not only obtained information from archival records but has also visited many Malays in obtaining valuable data which had been passed down to them by their great grandfathers.

With the invasion of the British to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) communication between the Dutch in Java and the exiles comes to an abrupt end when the change of names took place to conceal their royal identity when taking the “Oath of Allegiance” to serve under the British when Ceylon ceded to the British. Most of the Javanese names therefore were anglicized for easy pronunciation by them.

With great delight I recommend this book to all Sri Lankans who should know the origin and the contribution made by the Javanese a must for the discernable historians and the general reader alike.

The author avers that with globalization an individual will be identified by a numeral and a name no longer relevant and hopes that his research will be used in preserving one’s identity.


Biography of Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Sarithai

Author: S.M. Haniffa

BIOGRAPHY: S.M. Haniffa, who is a veteran journalist, author and publisher, has brought out his latest publication ‘Sonia Sarithai’, which is a brief biography of Sonia Gandhi, in the Tamil language.

In his Foreword to the book, the author says: “To show my admiration of Sonia’s sacrifice, I decided to write her biography in the Tamil Language. As far as I know, nobody has made any attempt to write this in Thamil. Inspite of my advanced age and illness, I have undertaken this writing of this work at the age of 78, while suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, out of sheer zest to record my appreciation.”

In the next 150 pages, he has dealt with the contributions and sacrifices made by the Nehru family to the Indian motherland and explains how a reluctant and unwilling Sonia has been drawn to the forefront.

Born in 1946, she arrived in India in 1968. Until the death of her husband Rajiv; she was aloof from active politics. It was the assassination of her husband that brought her to the centre stage; just as how in Sri Lanka the assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the subsequent events made Sirimavo Bandaranaike the first woman Prime Minister of the world.

Today, she leads the 112 year old Congress and guides its Government with confidence and determination. This gradual, but steady transformation of Sonia has been narrated in a lucid flow of language in this book.

A recently published book named Sonia-A Biography by Rasheed Kidwani (2003) has been used as primary source by the author.

Sonia Sarithai is available at Poobalasingham Book Depot, Sea Street, Colombo 11.

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