Is the Natya-Shastra a manifesto and tool for the contemporary artist ? According to me, it absolutely is – Yes!
The Natya-Shastra, an approximately 2210 years old text with the main purpose, as I see it- is that this was and is a text that offers an infrastructure for the dissemination of creative knowledge.
This infrastructure has been applied up to the now in the majority, to construct and deconstruct Dance, Drama, Music and Theatre. But what about the visual artist? This is one of the key questions I ask and attempt to address through my research and investigation.
Often called the Fifth Veda, the construction of this text –the Natya-Shastra- took birth with the aim of engaging and educating a Vedic Population that did not have access to the Vedas and its teachings. At a grass roots level there was an almost non-existent interaction with the spiritual. The Natyashastra was thus created or as some spiritualists would say ‘downloaded’ by the grace of Lord Brahma. It became a treatise that was inspired by this situation and in taking form, provided a structure for carrying the essence of the four Vedas in an easy, engaging, entertaining and digestible format. Hence, to attempt and divorce or ignore the religious symbols and metaphors that are present and in the Natya-Shastra would be a great disservice to the rich tradition that it was born out of, and in some ways is a living breathing record of.
I feel that it is this spiritual aspect of the Natyashastra – this weaving of myth and ritual in the story telling – be it through Dance, Drama, Music and Theatre – and now the Visual Arts, that must not be ignored. The use of these symbols and metaphors in the aesthetic vocabulary of the contemporary visual artist is most definitely attributed to this first and primal text-the Natya-Shastra.
So what are these religious symbols and metaphors? What form do they take, and what are their links to the text?
How have the symbols and metaphors evolved and been translated into new idioms for the modern dancer, performer, musician, actor and/or visual artist?
Are some of the questions I am attempting to answer.