Metaphysics in Natya History & Culture

Prana and the five elements

The confluence of classical dance, music, painting and literary traditions is evident in the theme of love, highlighting the Indian philosophy of life and creativity. Kamasastra played an important role in the development of Sanskrit kavya literature in which erotic sentiment, Sringara is one of the main Rasas to be evoked by the poet. Bharata Muni, in Natyasastra, has given a unique classification of the Nayikas or heroines based on their age, basic character, personality, relationship with lover and various stages of love. Similar is his analysis of Nayakas or heroes and other characters.

In the chapter, ‘Harmonious Representation,’ Ashta Nayikas or eight kinds of heroines are described. They are — one dressed up for union (vasakasajja), one distressed by separation (virahotkanthita), one having her husband in control (svadhinabhatrka), one separated by a quarrel (kalahantarita), one enraged (khandita), one deceived (vipralabdha), one with the sojourning husband (proshitabhatrka) and one who boldly moves (to her lover) (abhisarika). This theory reveals the innate understanding of the fundamental bodily humours — the alchemic tri-doshas of vata, kapha and pitta — which is also the basis for Ayurveda.

All matter is composed of five basic elements — panchamahabhutas — which inhere the properties of earth (pritvi), water (jala), fire (tejas), wind (vayu) and space (akasha). The subtlest is space and grossest is earth with every perceptive sense. The body structure is made up of five elements, but the functional aspect is governed by three biological humours. Ether and air together constitute vata; fire and water make up pitta and water and earth create kapha.

Within each person the doshas are continually interacting and with nature. This is why people possess a variety of differences in behaviour and vary in response to environment due to psycho-physio changes. Vata, pitta and kapha are distinctly present in every individual and express themselves according to predominance of the Gunas or qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Satvva, characterised by consciousness and clarity, is pure, free from disease and calm. It is responsible for the perception of knowledge. Rajas, the most active, has motion, stimulation and desires; ambitions and fickle-mindedness are a result. Tamas is characterised by disturbances in perception and activities of the mind; delusion, false knowledge, laziness, apathy and indolence are due to it. In Natya, the Sattva Guna is something invisible; but it gives support to psychological states and sentiments by means of horripilation, tears and similar other signs displayed in proper places and in harmony with the sentiments.

Erotic Sringara

The histrionic representation with an exuberant sattva is superior, the one with the levelled sattva is medium, and that with no sattva is inferior. Natya Sastra gives three kinds of Erotic Sringara associated with the Purusharthas of Kama, Artha and Dharma with associations of emotions like anger and energy as well. Sangitaratnakara, the treatise on musicology by Sarangadeva with the last chapter dedicated to dance called Nartanadhyaya, is considered an authoritative medieval text, around the middle of the 13th century. It gives a beautiful study of Sringara with the three sub-divisions of Bhakti, Rati and Sneha. Bhakti (devotion) and Sneha (affection) are only varieties of Love or Rati between men, free of erotic sentiment, says Sarangadeva. The topic on Satvika bhavas gives the necessary philosophical edge to his text.

He uses the word Stambha — stupefaction — as a similar expression for the aesthetic experience. When, by moods like love, one’s consciousness is modified and gets identified with the soul, Prana would identify with the body and a state of stupefaction is produced. This way, produced by the determinants (Vibhavas), which are relished and indicated by the consequent emotions (Anubhavas) such as stupefaction, these internal states or Satvika Bhavas shine forth in the soul on which consciousness has been super-imposed. They are called so as they rest in Sattva or the vital breath.

There is a beautiful exposition of the vital breath or Prana emanating from the elements and their respective perceptive senses. Sarangadeva shows an uncanny depth in tracing the flow of breath or energy from the earth, to water, to fire, to wind and to space and also vice versa. He directly associates Stambha with breath based on earth or Dhara, Ashru (tears) with breath based on water or Jala, Vaivarnya (change of colour) and Sveda (perspiration) from that based on fire or Teja and Pralaya (unconsciousness) from that based on ether (Akasha).

When Prana or breath is independent, it indicates Romancha (horripilation), Vepathu (trembling) and Svarabheda (change of voice) respectively, depending on whether it is weak, medium or strong. This way Sarangadeva implies that Prana Vayu moves up and down in an aesthetic journey. He says that external traits of stupefaction, etc., are not easily produced in the case of great people with a steady breath but is obvious in the ordinary.

The author is a Bharatanatyam exponent and researcher


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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 3:49:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/prana-and-the-five-elements/article24218715.ece

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