About the Author:
Bharat Gupt, as Associate Professor in English at the College of Vocational Studies, University of Delhi, is a classicist, theatre theorist, musicologist, cultural analyst, and newspaper columnist. Trained in modern European and traditional Indian educational systems, he has worked in theatre, music, culture and media studies. He learnt to play sitar and surbahar by Pandit Uma Shankar Mishra and studied musicology and classics under Acharya Brihaspati and Swami Kripalavananda. He was a student of Marshal McLuhan for while taking his degree of Toronto. For his interest in media, he was given the McLuhan fellowship and the Senior Onasis fellowship to research in Greece on revival of ancient Greek pltheatre. He has lectured extensively at Universities in India, North America, Europe, and Greece. He has been a Visiting Professor to Greece under the bilateral Cultural Exchange Program, Visiting Professor at the National School of Drama, Delhi, the Bhartendu Academy for Dramatic Arts, Lucknow, a resource scholar at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and several other major centers and academies of the arts. His other published books include: Natyasastra, Chapter 28: Ancient Scales of Indian Music (1996). Dr. Gupt has contributed a large number of newspapers and internet magazines, and has numerous books forthcoming.
About the Book:
This study offers a fresh approach in comparing ancient Greek and Indian dramatic theories. Instead of treating the Poetics and the Natyasastra as Western and Eastern viewpoint, it places them within the broad framework of ancient Indo-European culture and the art of sacred drama (hieropraxis). It demonstrates that hieropraxis was basically different from post-Renaissance European drama which was entirely secular in content and Realistic in presentation. The Poetics and the Natyasastra on the contrary, belonged to theatres which pleased both gods and men, and which used semiotised gesture, dance, music, and dialogue to create a highly ornate theatrical reality. The book aims at comparing not only the concepts as propounded by Aristotle and Bharata Muni, but also attempts to reconstruct the Greek and Indian performances to highlight their similarities and differences. In view of the increasing constrains imposed on artistic endeavours by commercial pre-occupations in today's world, this stimulating revaluation of the two major classical stage-crafts will go a long way in the discerning and shaping of newer modes of performance. Concepts like anukarana, dharmi, abhinaya, itivrtta, mimesis, muthos, melopoiia, katharsis and rasa, etc., as revisited and expounded here, can be seen as means of creating dramatic shows which go beyond message and entertainment to provide sublimer experience.
THE primary aim of this book is to confront the rival theories of dramatics, Greek and Indian, with a view to draw conceptual parallels and differences. It is argued here that the Greek system of poetics, of which drama was one part, began semiotically but in its later European application tapered into the lexical. On the other hand, the Indian system has remained semiotic through and through. Both systems, however, had a beginning in a semiotic structure which was based and sustained by what I have called hieropraxis.
There have been many partial and some complete studies on this subject. Most of them have resulted in broad generalizations. Their approach invariably has been to take a concept from Aristotle and juxtapose it with a parallel from Bharata Muni. This way only a logocentric comparison is achieved. I have adopted a different method. I have placed the two dramatic theories within the broad framework of ancient Indo-European culture and the art of hieropraxis or sacred drama for which they were formulated. In other words, much of the similarity between the theories owes to the fact that they both emerge from a common Indo- European world-view. Ancient Greeks and Indians not only upheld some common metaphysical and epistemological concepts, but they also regarded theatre as a sacred action meant to please gods as well as men. Moreover, for them theatre was not, as is often erroneously argued, meant for the ruling elite, or merely the worldly audience, it was for the whole cosmos which was its raison d'etre.
I have also argued that sacred drama required the perfection of certain production techniques which were synesthetic. Music, dance and semiotized gesture were all unified to produce a performance text and the Poetics and the Natyasastra are, above all, manuals that present theories for the production of such performance texts. Thus, in this study, the emphasis is on techniques of production or elements of theatrical representation. It is not upon dramatic genres such as tragedy, comedy or dasarupakas. These genres as lexical structures, have been the basis of comparison between Greek and Indian dramatic theories all too long.
Besides pointing out the common Indo-European factor and the hieropraxic nature of the two ancient traditions, I have also emphasized that with the rise of post-Renaissance drama in Europe, the Greek tradition tapered from the semiotic to the word-centered performance text. This change was a departure from the hieropraxic towards the secular. Only the Byzantine period in Europe had achieved some sort of a synthesis between the sacred and the secular. From the Renaissance onwards, the sacred was too often redefined and at times even isolated from daily life under Humanistic and Individualistic ideologies. This resulted in the break-up of the aural-visual unity of the hieropraxic kind which was primarily an expression of human and cosmic unity.
The Russian semiotician Yuri Lotman has noted the difference between Classical and European sensibility and formulated his theory of two kinds of aesthetics, that of "identity" and that of "opposition." For Lotman, all folklore, Middle Ages in Europe, Classicism and the Asian cultures practise the first, and Romanticism, Realism and Avant-garde follow the second. The aesthetics of identity, holds Lotman, rests upon the identity or nearness of the code of the sender with that of the receiver. Its absence generates the aesthetics of opposition. While accepting all this, I would further add that the opposition to the code of the sender or the absence of nearness to it always results in a desemiotization of gesture and opsis in theatre. The gap created between the sender and the receiver needs to be filled by laborious means. In European theatre, extensive verbal discourse was used to fill in the gap. Later on, naturalist scenery and costume were used for the same purpose. And still later, a breakdown of verbal discourse was used as a device for reflecting the Absurdist universe. This method of filling in the gap created a total dependence upon logocentric means in theatre and reduced the synesthetic unity of the classical techniques. It may also be pointed out that, in the aesthetics of identity, the sender’s code works instantly upon the spectators and creates in them a deep emotional aroual is replaced by intellectual reflection. The plays of Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht are the high point of this intellectual stimulation meant to lead one to certain ideologies. Quite in contrast to this, a major aim of hieropraxis was to provide a deep emotional relief or bliss, in which the psyche of the spectator was transformed from the ordinary state to a special state, just as on the stage the worldly reality was transformed into a unique reality produced through multi-discourse techniques.
Before beginning to 'confront' the two systems with each other, I offer a revaluation of the Natyasastra from a modern critical perspective. Its basic tenets are redefined in a modern intelligible language not for the sake of establishing a false analogue between It and the Poetics but for using it as a lexical Site for interpreting its semiotic import. For the same reason I have put in a whole chapter on the date of the NS which in my reading brings it closer to the Poetics historically as well as conceptually.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part opens with an Introduction where I propose a definition of hieropraxis, and reasons for its decline in Europe. Then, I emphasize the need to look upon ancient drama from a non-European viewpoint. Next, I take up the problem of dating the NS, followed by a chapter which briefly explores the socio-cultural parallels between Greek and Indian dramatic themes. The first part is concluded with a chapter setting out the historical evolution of both the theatrical traditions from dance.
DRAMA of the ancient world, no matter of what region, should be seen as a category by itself. In some respects, it may have been a forerunner of modern drama, but still the two are not to be equated. Ancient drama had a distinctive make-up, the characteristics of which can be found in its practices in Greece, India and Egypt. I t was primarily a communal and a sacred action which no later theatre could ever be. It was also not merely ritualistic and religious in spirit, as is often believed. On the contrary, it preserved very well the difference between theatre activity and religiuns rites. But, being sacred action performed on a festive occasion, ancient theatre came to acquire special characteristics and performance techniques which were quite different from modern theatre and are therefore, difficult to comprehend today. Let us consider those salient features of ancient drama which may have marked the great theatrical achievements of Greece and India and which Europe at a later date was unable to appreciate.
Ancient Drama as Hieropraxis
Ancient dramatic performances were localted within the wider activity of festivals (hieromenia or parva), a time when a community set aside the constraints of normal existence to communicate intensely with itself, with its ancestors and its gods. In this location, even though it did not seek the same end as religion, drama was meant to please the gods as well as men. This gave it a purpose significantly different from that of European drama which was meant to please the audience only. Besides being sacred, this drama was also an action (praxis), committed to enact a muthos or an itivrtta. I t was not supposed to depict merely a state of mind as in Hamlet. Rather, it had to be a drama or deed (action), which traversed from one state of being (avastha) to another, from fortune of one kind to that of the opposite kind. To highlight these two essential features of ancient drama, I have called it hieropraxis or sacred action. Later drama sidelined both the sacredness and the nature of action as conceived in ancient drama.
Some of the characteristics of hieropraxic drama may be stated briefly. I. Here, there was no primacy of the aural, particularly of the speech content, over the visual content. 2. The visual was never intended to be realistically representational but evolved instead as a sign language. 3. All gesture and body movement was highly embellished and codified and was mimetic of the cultural semi ones and habitual gestures of the people it represented. These semiones were codified modes of actions and gestures which had well-known meanings in their cultural context. 4. A major part of the visual content of hieropraxis was dance. It was often included as an act of worship, besides being a dramatic representation. 5. The aural content was wide in range, modulating from speech to intricate song. 6. Simple speech was used in a limited way but stylised speech, declamation and song-dialogue were amply used. 7. The visual and the aural were combined into a unified whole to produce a theatrical reality which was not meant to relfect directly upon the world beyond theatre, but was designed to be absorbing in itself. It was also meant to produce an elevated state of feeling in the audience. The theatrical practices of both ancient Greece and India were fine examples of hieropraxis, having all the characteristics noted above. The primary aim of this study is to show how the multi-channelled theatre was prescribed in the poetics and the Natyastra, and how the two traditions practiced it, each in its own way. But it is equally essential at the outsetof this study to point out how and why the production techniques of hieropraxis were forgotten both in the west (Greece and Europe) and in India.
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