The Indian ‘Cosmic’ theater

Theatre was a model of the cosmos; each deity had a specific place in the cardinal directions that were demarked and the centre of brahma-mandala established on stage itself. It is said in the Nātya Śastra that, in the playhouse you must have adoration with offerings, performances of Homās with Mantras and Japās. Playhouses may be Vikrshta (Rectangular) Chaturashra (square) and Tryashra (triangular. The soil should be plain, firm hard and black or white for the purpose of erecting the playhouse. On a day with the Puśya Nakshatra/ star, the builder spreads a piece of white string of cotton, wool, Munja grass or the bark of a tree. Brahmins are propitiated and the Punynāa Mantra for initiation are recited. At the outset, white garlands and unguents and a piece of gold from an ear ornament are thrown at the foot of the Brahmin pillar. The Guru, Nātyāchārya offers ghee purified with Mantra. The playhouse has to resemble a mountain cave and Nātyāchārya consecrates it.  He has to be initiated for the purpose.  He would wear new clothes, having observed fast for three days and kept his senses under full control.He sprinkles his limbs with Mantra inspired water.  The stage is lit brightly for the Āchārya’s Pūja.

In connection with this ceremony, a Yantra -mystic diagram, is to be drawn in accordance with the injunctions at the due places. It has doors on all four sides.The moon god will protect the main building, the wind gods the four corners, Varuna, Mitra, the fire god, the clouds, the four Varnās, the Rudrās, the Ādityās, the Yakśinis, Yama will adorn the stage at various places. The trident shall be placed at the top. The protective thunderbolt, called Jarjara is consecrated and placed, having offered all the oblations. Then, at the outset, Lord Śiva is to be installed in the east. In accordance with these rules of procedure, all the deities are to be installed in their conventional form and colour in their respective positions. Niyati and Mrtyu are assigned the post of door keepers. The powerful Bhutas, Yakśās, Pisāchās and the Guhayakas are assigned the responsibility of guarding the pillars of the Mattavārani, literally meaning intoxicated elephants.

  In the center, Brahma is to be installed seated in a lotus. The Nātyāchārya performs Homā in the fire with ghee, duly uttering the requisite Mantras. He sprinkles holy water on the dancing girls and the king, along with the musical instruments. After the due performance of the Homa, the Nātyāchārya performs the rite of Kumbhabhedana (breaking the pot). When the pot is broken, the Āchārya can be without fear. He then takes up the lighted lamp and illuminates the entire dramatic hall. With the sounds from Śankhās and Dundubhis, as well as, Mrudangās and Panavā drums and blowing all the other musical instruments, he shall cause some fights on the stage. Wounds like bruises cuts and lacerations, spilling blood, is considered an omen of success.

  A well consecrated hall and stage shall bring about splendid results to the Lord, to the region and to the city including the old and the young. This adoration of the deities of the stage is on par with a Yajna (holy sacrifice). The Chaturaśrikarana or square was a basic structure of the Indian temple, as in the theatre. Identifying the Yajurveda as the source of ritual and body-language with gestures, Vedic yajna as a performance act is considered as a base. Brahma is constantly referred to as the principle of the central dimension and Vishnu is considered as the principle of the triangle. As seen above, Bharata’s description on the construction of the playhouse theatre and replicating the stage as a Vedika, reveals the coexistence of Āgamic Pūja with Nātya as a harmonizing and spectacular synthesizer. The stage space would be enlivened, given breath and soul. The artistes on stage would acquire the same potency as an image through the ceremony of prāna pratishta.

Deities are personified by their images that have esoteric meaning and significance. Assembling together and decoding these through dance enables the artiste to reach the common man who wishes to view a comprehensive, enjoyable, enlightening work of art. Both inspiration and imagination will add on to completeness. Better the genius, the greater the fulfillment out of this.

 The Shilpa (sculpture) and Chitra (painting) are closely related to dramaturgy. The rules of iconography (prathima lakshana), appear to have been derived from it. The Indian sculptures are often the versions of the gestures and poses of dance.

About the author

Dr Padmaja Venkatesh (Suresh)

Experienced and noted artiste of Bharatanatyam, teacher, researcher, TV host and social worker, Dr Padmaja holds degrees in Commerce, Law, Diploma in choreography, a Masters in Philosophy and a doctorate. Her institution Aatmalaya Academy, Bangalore imparts training and has a charitable wing Kalachaitanya for propagating arts for lesser privileged and rural children.

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