Conducting workshops on the Natyasastra is Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao’s way of preserving a culture.

Na tad saastram, na tad shilpam, na sa avidyaa na sa akalaa na sa yogah na sa karmah natye asmin yad na drusyate.

(There is no science, no sculpture, no branch of knowledge, no art, no yoga and no act that is not reflected in Natya.)

The Natyasastra of Bharata Muni is a definitive work on the art and craft of theatre and has had a strong impact on almost all the art forms not only in our country, but also other South East Asian countries. If rasa and navarasasare part of the educated discourse today, it is because of this work about two millennia ago and ‘Abhinavabharati’, its commentary by the brilliant Abhinavagupta in the 10th century AD.

But the Natyasastra is much more than the concept of rasa. There can be found in it detailed prescriptions regarding myriad aspects of theatre such as stage construction, types of stages, the placement of orchestra on the stage, division of the stage for performance, the seating arrangements in the auditorium, the composition of lyrics, the use of language, prosody and poetics, classification of musical instruments, voice defects, and qualities of gurus and sishyas. Whether it is various types of nose pins and ear rings, or the transient moods associated with the state of fear or love, or how a young man is to depict the role of an old man and the vice versa, Bharata gives the same serious attention to details.

When we say our present day classical dance and musical forms have come down from an ancient past, it is not for effect nor is it an exaggeration. One only has to read in the Natyasastra descriptions of the hastas or the charis or the details of depiction of this or that emotion to see the startling truth that this is what dancers today perform on stage.

“In the world of drama and dance, no one can go beyond Bharata , whether it is classical or folk or film or experimental,” avers Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao, who has been propagating the legacy of this great text through many workshops he has conducted in India and abroad.

Tryst with Natyasastra

Dr. Pappu’s tryst with the Natyasastra began as a student of Sanskrit (he holds a Ph.D in this as well as in Telugu and a D.Litt. in Indian Culture).

“My association with Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam for more than two decades helped me understand the practical aspects of Natyasastra. Later, my association with Prof. Anuradha Jonnalagadda and Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, pioneer in the study and propagation of Natyasastra, inspired me further.”

The unique achievement of Dr. Pappu is that he covers all the 36 chapters in his workshops. He tries to present the text in its entirety so that the participants can appreciate the breadth and the details that can be found in it. People who are from the world of dance, drama, choreography, and even those who are interested in the textures of our culture, attend these workshops and come away feeling rewarded. Apart from workshops in India, he has conducted two workshops in Singapore, ten in the U.S. and recently one in Russia.

Dancer Priya Murle, a participant in his workshop in Chennai, says: “It was superb. The Natyasastra is a vast text with so many subjects dealt with in such detail. To put it across in a simple and accessible way, was quite a feat.”

Pappu’s latest workshop was in St. Petersburg, Russia, with 46 participants, all Russians, involved in one or the other dance form of India. One participant expressed interest in what the text might have to say about anger: the anger of Siva is different from the anger of Radha not only in the physical manifestations but also inner psychological states. After appreciating the interactive and personalised approach of Dr. Pappu, he goes on to say: “Thanks also for providing material for independent reading and study. To create the zone of independent development - that is priceless!”

Dr. Pappu’s expertise and zeal for the propagation of this critical work has been widely appreciated, but he attributes it all to the genius of Bharata. “The Natyasastra is one text but has discussed the many aspects that make up the samahaarakalaa (complex art) that natya is.

Each of these areas developed into independent areas of enquiry over time. We have books discussing only the hasta abhinayas or rasa, books discussing music alone or prosody. It is important for every educated Indian to be aware of this priceless heritage of ours. And more particularly, it is very important for all dancers and musicians to be familiar with this text so that they can reflect on fundamental principles of their art and grow.”