Monday, February 28, 2011

Sanskrit Movies and Drama in India


Films are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment and a powerful method for educating — or indoctrinating — citizens. The visual elements of cinema give motion pictures a universal power of communication.

Some films have become popular worldwide attractions by using dubbing or subtitles that translate the dialogue into the language of the viewer.

The origin of the name "film" comes from the fact that photographic film (also called film stock) has historically been the primary medium for recording and displaying motion pictures. Many other terms exist for an individual motion picture, including picture, picture show, moving picture, photo-play and flick. A common name for film in the United States is movie, while in Europe the term film is preferred. Additional terms for the field in general include the big screen, the silver screen, the cinema and the movies.

The cinema of India consists of films produced across India, including the cinematic culture of AndhraPradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Orissa , Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. Indian films came to be followed throughout South Asia and the Middle East. As cinema as a medium gained popularity in the country as many as 1,000 films in various languages of India were produced annually. Expatriates in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States continued to give rise to international audiences for Indian films of various languages.

Like films dramas are also very much entertaining. In fact, we have the ancient tradition of drama. Indian drama as a distinct genre of Sanskrit literature emerges in the final centuries BC, although its origins date back to the Rigvedic dialogue hymns of the late2nd millennium BC. Famous Sanskrit dramatists include Śhudraka, Bhasa, Asvaghosa and Kalidasa. Though numerous plays written by these playwrights are still available, little is known about the authors themselves. In this paper we will mention the number of Sanskrit Films which were directed and produced in India and also in the same way we will mention the dramas of ancient Sanskrit playwrights which were staged in India.


India with its rich and varied heritage has had an appealing history in the past. Apart from the history and culture India has been acknowledged as a talented country with its highest applaud given to its art. Indian Art has been classified into various forms and one of the most popular forms is Indian Drama. Indian drama and theatre is perhaps as old as its music and dance. Its origin was during the Vedic


1. History of Indian Cinema:

The birth of Cinema in India can be attributed to the Lumiere brother’s. Only a few months after the Lumiere brothers introduced the art of cinematography in Paris in 1895, cinema made its presence felt in India. The Lumiere Brothers’ held their first public showing at Mumbai’s Watson’s Hotel on July 7, 1896 and the Times of India glowingly referred to it as the ‘miracle of the century’. Westerners, who were quick to realize the value of India as a site of filmmaking both because of phenomenon did not create much a ripple. The Indian viewer took the new experience as something already familiar to him, thanks to the art of shadow play and the tradition of story-telling with hand-drawn images accompanied by live sound.

The Lumiere brother’s Cinematography fist show was a silent movie for 10 minutes. Six items, each of 17 meters, were included – Entry of cinematography, The Sea Bath, Arrival of a Train, A Demolition, Ladies and Soldiers on Wheels, and Twenty-four items were on, including A Stormy Sea and The Thames at Waterloo Bridge.

Next was F.B.Thanawala, who made his debut in 1900. Two of his films, Splendid New View of Bombay and Taboot Procession generated great interest. The first film explored some outstanding landmarks in the city of Bombay, and the second an annual Muslim procession.

In 1905 film production was linked with exhibition. J.F Madan, who had gained a wide reputation in the theatre world of Calcutta, went on to establish the Elphinstone Bioscope Company. In the years that followed, the Madan Theatre began to exercise great influence both inside India and outside. Madan was the first business to foresee the imminent business possibilities of filmmaking of India.

By 1920, that is seven years after the first Indian cinema appeared to be established on secure foundations- 18 feature films were produced in 1920, 40 films in 1921, and 80 in 1925. As cinema began to grow more and more popular among the masses and a lucrative industry was established, a number of indubitably gifted film directors made their debut; among them Suchat Singh, Dhiren Ganguli, Himansu Rai and V.Shantram, Many good films made during the initial period were greatly inspired by the two celebrated epics- the Ramayana and the Mahabhararata. Many of the directors sought to invest their mythological narratives with a clear social message relevant to contemporary society. The filmmakers associated with this phase in the growth of Indian cinema were Janus faced. They looked back to the past to the past lovingly and sought to reconnect with tradition; at the same time, they sought to draw on the resources and innovations of Hollywood. Until now all films were silent.

The golden period in the history of Indian cinema is attributed to the 1950s. Guru Dutt, Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor, Balraj Sahani, Nargis, Bimal Roy, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Dilip Kumar graced the screens. In south India esteemed actors like Rajkumar, Gemini Ganasan, NT Rama Rao and several other actors and actresses entertained the audiences. Besides them numerous singers, composers, scriptwriters, cameramen and technicians lend a helping hand in making some of the most outstanding films that carved their own niches in the history of Indian cinema.

The fist Sanskrit film was made by eminent South Indian film director Ganapathi Venkatrama Iyer known as G.V Iyer was a well known Indian film director and actor. He was nicknamed “Kannada Bheeshma”, and was the only person who made movies in Sanskrit. His films were well-known for their spiritual themes. He was born in 1917 in Nanjanagud in Mysore district of Karnataka state in South India. His most critically acclaimed film was Bhagwad Gita(1993), which won the National Film Award for Best Film and was nominated for best film at the Bogota Film Festival.

1.1 Sanskrit films:

G.V Iyer’s been proficient in both Kannada and Sanskrit and was soon to make the first movie in Sanskrit, about the famous philosopher Adi Shankaracharya (1983). The movie received the National Film Awards for Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Audiography and has been known as a masterpiece. It is believed that the movie made a great impact on Iyer. It was remarked that he stopped wearing footwear after making the movie. He later went on to make a movie a Madhavacharya in Kannada and Ramanujacharya in Tamil. He also made a remarkable Sanskrit movie Bhagavad Gita (1993), which won Best Film at the National Film Awards of 1993. The film was also nominated for the Best Film at the Bogota Film Festival.

The pride of Kannada filmdom veteran director KSL Swamee is following the footsteps of his mentor G V Iyer. Now KSL Swamee has taken up a film ‘Prabodha Chandrodayam’ in Sanskrit based on the 11th century work of ‘Krishnayathi-Mishra’ play. Sri Bharathi Thirtha Mahaswami launched the film in the religious way after performimg ‘Sahasra Modhaka Mahaganapathi Homam. Sri Ramakrishna Vidya Samsthe CS Krishnaswamy donated Rs.1 lakh for the project jointly produced by Sanathana Dharmavardhini Trust.

This is a film in Sanskrit taken up at accost of Rs. 100 lakhs for 100 minutes duration. The Managing Trustee of ‘Sanathana Dharmavardhini’ CVL Shastry has urged the Sanskrit and Peace lovers to sponsor 15 seconds at the rate of Rs.25000.

Recently a Sanskrit film has hit the theatres in Jaipur. The full length feature film is based on the ancient Sanskrit drama Mudrarakshasam, and shares the title with the dramatic piece, written byVishakhadatta around the 4th century B.C.

Mudrarakshasam tells the story of the overthrow of the Nandas by the famous stateman Chanakya, along with his disciple Chandragupta. The appeal of the film lies in the engrossing political drama that tells a tale of intrigue, design and espionage in the succession to the throne.

Producer-Director Umesh Sharma made the film hoped to make a film that would popularize the language held to be sacred by Brahminical Hindus.

2. Sanskrit Drama:

Indian drama as a distinct genre of Sanskrit literature emerges in the final centuries BC, although its origins date back to the Rigvedic dialogue hymns of the late2nd millennium BC. Famous Sanskrit dramatists include Śhudraka, Bhasa, Asvaghosa and Kalidasa. Though numerous plays written by these playwrights are still available, little is known about the authors themselves.

2.1 The Nãtyasãtra of Bharata

The Natya Sastra is an ancient Indian treatise on the performing Arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music. It was written during the period between 200 BC and 200 AD in classical India and is traditionally attributed to the sage Bharata.

The Natya Shastra is incredibly wide in its scope. While it primarily deals with stagecraft, it has come to influence music, classical Indian dance, and literature as well. It covers stage design, music, dance, makeup, and virtually every other aspect of stagecraft. It is very important to the history of Indian classical music because it is the only text which gives such detail about the music and instruments of the period. Thus, an argument can be made that the Natya Shastra is the foundation of the fine arts in India. The most authoritative commentary on the Natya Shastra is Abhinavabharati by Abhinavagupta.

The text, which now contains 6000 slokas, is attributed to the muni (sage) Bharata and is believed to have been written during the period between 200 BC and 200 AD. The Natya Shastra is based upon the much older Gandharva Veda (appendix to Sama Veda) which contained 36000 slokas. Unfortunately there are no surviving copies of the Natya Veda. Though many scholars believe most slokas were transmitted only through the oral tradition, there are scholars who believe that it may have been written by various authors at different times.

The document is difficult to date and Bharata's historicity has also been doubted, some authors suggesting that it may be the work of several persons. However, Kapila Vatsyayan has argued that based on the unity of the text, and the many instances of coherent reference of later chapters from earlier text, the composition is likely that of a single person. Whether his/her name really was Bharata is open to question near the end of the text we have the verse: "Since he alone is the leader of the performance, taking on many roles, he is called Bharata" (35.91), indicating that Bharata may be a generic name. It has been suggested that Bharata is an acronym for the three syllables: bha for bhāva (mood), for rāga (melodic framework), and ta for tāla (rhythm). However, in traditional usage Bharata has been iconified as muni or sage, and the work is strongly associated with this personage.

The discourse is set in a frame where a number of munis approach Bharata, asking him about nāṭyaveda (lit. nāṭya=drama,performance; veda=knowledge). The answer to this question comprises the rest of the book, which is thus loosely a dialogue. Bharata says that all this knowledge is due to Brahma. At one point he mentions that he has a hundred "sons" who will spread this knowledge, which suggests that Bharata may have had a number of disciples whom he trained. A still from Shakuntalam of Kalidasa

The Natya Shastra ranges widely in scope, from issues of literary construction, to the structure of the stage or mandapa, to a detailed analysis of musical scales and movements (murchhanas), to an analysis of dance forms that considers several categories of body movements, and their impacts on the viewer.

Bharata describes 15 types of drama ranging from one to ten acts. The principles for stage design are laid down in some detail. Individual chapters deal with aspects such as makeup, costume, acting, directing, etc. A large section deals with meanings conveyed by the performance (bhavas) get particular emphasis, leading to a broad theory of aesthetics (rasas).

Four kinds of abhinaya (acting, or histrionics) are described - that by body part motions (angika), that by speech (vAchika), that by costumes and makeup (AhArya), and the highest mode, by means of internal emotions, expressed through minute movements of the lips, eyebrows, ear, etc. (sAttvika)

Ø List of the Chapters of Bharata Natyashastra:

§ Origin of drama

§ Description of the playhouse

§ Puja (offering) to the Gods of the stage

§ Description of the karana dance

§ Preliminaries of a play

§ Sentiments (rasas)

§ Emotional and other states

§ Gestures of minor limbs

§ Gestures of hands

§ Gestures of other limbs

§ Cari moveme

§ Different gaits

§ Zones and local usages

§ Rules of prosody

§ Metrical patterns

§ Diction of a play

§ Rules on the use of languages

§ Modes of address and intonation

§ Ten kinds of play

§ Limbs of the segments

§ Styles

§ Costumes and make-up

§ Harmonious performance

§ Dealings with courtezans

§ Varied performances

§ Success in dramatic performances

§ Instrumental music

§ Stringed instruments

§ Time measure

§ Dhruva songs

§ Covered instruments

§ Types of character

§ Distribution of roles

§ Descent of drama on the Earth

Natyashastra remained an important text in the fine arts for many centuries; so much so that it is sometimes referred to as the fifth Veda. Much of the terminology and structure of Indian classical music and Indian classical dance were defined by it. Many commentaries have expanded the scope of the Natya Shastra; most importantly we may include Matanga's Brihaddesi (5th-7th c.),Abhinavagupta's Abhinavabharati (which unifies some of the divergent structures that had emerged in the intervening years, and outlines a theory of artistic analysis) and Sharngadeva's Sangita Ratnakara (13th c. work that unifies the raga structure in music). The analysis of body forms and movements also influenced sculpture and the other arts in subsequent centuries. The structures of music outlined in the Natya Shastra retain their influence even today, as seen in the seminal work Hindustani Sangeetha Padhathi by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande from the early 20th century. The theory of rasa described in the text has also been a major influence on modern Indian cinema especially in the Malayalam Film Industry.

Ø Performances of the Sanskrit Plays in India:

While describing the performances of the Sanskrit plays in India, first of I recall the name of the famous drama group in Southern India, named ‘Bhasabharati’.1

Bhasabharati has produce en number of Sanskrit plays.

The following list will show the names of the Sanskrit plays which Bhasabharati has produced.

1. Madhyama Vyayogam (1979) of Bhasa and directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

2. Sakunthalam (1982) of Mahakavi Kalidasa and directed by Kavalam Narayan Panikkar

3. Vikramorvasiyam (1982) of Mahakavi Kalidasa and directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

4. Karnabharam (1984) of Mahakavi Bhasa and directed by Kavalam Narayan Panikkar

5. Urubhangam (1987) of Mahakavi Bhasa and directed by Kavalam Narayan Panikkar

6. Swapna Vasavadattam (1993) of Mahakavi Bhasa and directed by Kavalam Narayan Panikkar

7. Vikramorvasiyam (1996) of Mahakavi Kalidasa and directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

8. Prathima (1999) of Mahakavi Bhasa and directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

9. Charudattam (2004) of Mahakavi Bhasa and directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

10. Vikramorvasiyam (2005 New version) of Makavi Bhasa and directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

11. Malavikagnimitram (2006) of Mahakavi Kalidas and directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar


The Nātyashāstra delineates a detailed theory of drama comparable to the Poetics of Aristotle. Bharata refers to bhavas, the imitations of emotions that the actors perform, and the rasas (emotional responses) that they inspire in the audience. He argues that there are eight principal rasas: love, pity, anger, disgust, heroism, awe, terror and comedy, and that plays should mix different rasas but be dominated by one.

Each rasa experienced by the audience is associated with a specific bhava portrayed on stage. For example, in order for the audience to experience srngara(the 'erotic' rasa), the playwright, actors and musician work together to portray the bhava called rati (love).

The Government of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development has recently took a initiative of performing Sanskrit plays. The Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, Deemed University under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, is organizing Vasantotsava, the Sanskrit drama competitions for the students of its various Campuses on 23-24 February, 2006, in Kamani Auditorium, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi from 10.00 a.m.

The plays which were performed are following:


2. Dehi Padapallavam






8. Subhadraharanam

9. Madhyamvyayogaha

10. Ablasamarthyam

In 10th December 2010 Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies , JNU organized a drama on Mahakavi Bhasa’s “Karnabharam” on the eve of the 4th International Sanskrit Computational Linguistics Symposium. The students of the Sanskrit Centre participated in the play and finally it was applauded well by the audience.

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