Pappu Venugopala Rao's workshop on Natyasastra aimed at widening the knowledge base of performing artistes

The zeal to delve into the details embalmed within the pages of Bharata's Natyasastra, the oldest treatise on performing arts with special reference to dance/drama and music, brought well-known scholar Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao to organise a six-day workshop for performing artistes to enhance their grip over classical dance, at Saptaparni.

“The objective behind this workshop is to facilitate the younger generation of dancers to access the knowledge and tradition that is enshrined in 36 chapters of Natyasastra. Dance academics do not take the student through all these chapters. Most deal with aangikam and touch upon a few other sections (maximum three) of the Natyasastra. This treatise is the base upon which any dance tradition across the country evolved. It has no parallel in world literature, barring perhaps the Greek drama tradition,” says the veteran scholar who is an adept in both Sanskrit and Telugu literature.

Natyasastra, he says, was said to be authored by Bharata in 2nd century BC. This hoary tradition is now alive only in three regions: Kashmir, Kuchipudi and Kerala in their drama/dance art forms. The Bhagavatars of Kuchipudi preserved it through their Yakshaganams while the proponents and practitioners of Kathakali followed the Natyasastra to the T. Similarly the dramaturgy of Kashmir preserved this tradition right from 10th century Abhinava Gupta's time.

Pappu Venugopala Rao quickly gives us a glimpse into what exactly constitutes the Natyasastra. “It is meticulous and minutely detailed work on dramaturgy where the author explicitly underlines the norms of stage construction, the pre-and present performance (entry-exit), the costumes and a host of other paraphernalia, apart from body kinetics(angikabhinaya). Nearly four chapters are devoted to Angikabhinaya, another four to Vachikabhinaya, six chapters dwell on music and one on ahaarya (costume). “In just one sentence, I can safely proclaim that there is no text on the subject to better this treatise,” he states. What was envisaged 2000 odd years ago still holds good and that is the universality of our tradition and its authors.

Since it is impossible to delve into the entire text, Pappu Venugopala Rao gave a power point presentation for two hours every evening, wherein he presented the major components of each chapter to the one score dancers attending the workshop for six days at a stretch. It is indeed remarkable to find genuine scholars come forward to elucidate such ancient, mandatory texts of arts and widen the vistas of the present generation of artistes to perform with deep sense of respect and carry the tradition forward.