The Need of a Shaastric Framework for Indian Dance – 2

This article is part 2 of 5 in the series The Need of a Shaastric Framework for Indian Dance

Change is of two kinds – external and internal. Only when there is a harmonious balance between external and internal changes, activities associated with it can have a smooth flow. If one changes at a rate much higher than the other and if the two lose sync with each other, the whole system will face the danger of failure. Harmony will be lost and will lead to chaos. In most cases, such accelerated changes occur only on the external parameters, i.e., those related to the structure (form). The internal change is usually slow, steady and controlled. The fundamental reason for this disparity is that external changes depend on materials and internal ones on consciousness.

To give an example, the changes that have occurred in man’s external world over the millennia is drastic, but those associated with the antah-karana (consisting of the mind, intellect, ego and wisdom) is minimal. Man is able to walk on the moon today because of the development of technology, which belongs to man’s external world. Is it possible for him to walk on the moon without using a space-suit? With this suit, even a person from the stone-age can be made to land on the moon. However, even today, at the beginning of the 21st century, we cannot send a man to Antarctica without warm clothes. Shaastra is that which helps strike a balance between external and internal changes. The more harmonious the relationship between the two, the more successful is the relationship between art and shaastra. To reiterate, the association between art and shaastra is like that of the fruit and its peel, the body and the skin. When we talk of such comparisons, it is wrong to think that the peel and the skin are redundant or that they are inferior. We should keep in mind that these are after all the components of the same being and of the same creation. The peel finds it ‘fruitfulness’ in protecting the fruit and the fruit’s well-being is ensured by the peel. These two exist for our wholesome benefit. We should not forget that the ultimate goal of both art and shaastra is to refine the individual and to help in self-realisation. An art is the expression of an experience and shaastra is the exposition of that expression. (Art is the ಅಭಿವ್ಯಕ್ತಿ - abhivyakti of an ಅನುಭವ- anubhava and shaastra is the ‘ಅಭಿಯುಕ್ತಿ’-'abhiyukti' of that ಅಭಿವ್ಯಕ್ತಿ-abhivyakti. ‘ಅಭಿಯುಕ್ತಿ’- 'abhiyukti' is a word coined by me and roughly translates to ‘exposition’). It is for this reason that shaastra is held in high esteem in the Indian tradition.

The Sarvalakshana-sangraha says, shaastra is something that guides us for our well-being. The meaning of shaastra is expounded thus,

प्रवृत्तिश्च निवृत्तिश्च पुंसां येनोपदिश्यते |
तद्धर्माश्चोपदिश्यन्ते शास्त्रं शात्रविदो विदुः ||

Shaastra is that which educates people about the means of practicing pravrtti (dharma-artha-kaama) and achieving nivrtti (moksha).

To put it in technical terms, shaastra tells us about the saadhana-svaroopa, anusandhaana and anubandha-chatushtaya. ‘Vishaya’ (subject), ‘Prayojana’ (purpose), ‘Adhikaari’ (qualified person) and ‘Sambandha’ (relationship) form the anubandha-chatushtaya.

The Bhagavad-geeta says ‘तस्मात् शास्त्रं प्रमाणम्’ (14.24) and upholds all activities and establishes that causes and effects are governed by shaastra. In this context, Shankaracharya says that shaastra is a tool to achieve the knowledge of the Brahman. The etymology of the word ‘shaastra’ also implies something similar – ‘शस्यते अनेन शास्त्रम्’. In summary, the primary role of shaastra is to educate and to restrain. However, one must keep in mind that the purpose of educating and restraining is only for our growth and experience. Art takes us towards our heart, i.e., emotions, and shaastra paves the path for this journey.

While saying this, it is not uncommon that external factors take predominance and the internal aspects are forgotten. The reason for this is imitation, which is one of the aspects associated with the framework put down by a shaastra. One of the main purposes of shaastra is to help students learn an art through imitation. It is thus by and large technique-oriented. Many aspects of grammar and form can be learned by rote-learning and parroting, just by following the guidelines of shaastra. A beginner need not worry about the more profound concepts that a shaastra speaks about and those that can be realized only with practice and experience. Thus, even those who know a bit of grammar boast themselves as artists. Knowing just grammar is not art, but only craft. Moreover, this kind of mastery over skills limited just to the form cannot be said to be the essence of a shaastra. Its real essence is in leading us towards Rasa and helping in art to blossom. Thus, skill acquired in grammar is only a preliminary aspect of shaastra and is not its essence. In summary, those who learn just the techniques from shaastras and do not put them to use through their talent to create aesthetic experience, end up displaying only the rote-learning that they have done. There is not even a trace of creativity in such presentations. It is wrong to assume upon seeing such performances that shaastra hinders art. Although the techniques put down by a shaastra to learn an art might seem hard, it actually helps in channelizing talent. Shaastra is thus a boon and not a bane to creativity. The structure put down by a shaastra might seem rigid and hard to follow, but it at the same time helps in developing a great art. An art which is guided by a shaastra gains profundity and completion. We can take Sanskrit literature as a case study to prove this point. It is only because of the rigidity in language structure, grammar and other difficulties associated with Sanskrit, both poetry and prose in the language are very ornate. This rigidity also adds to the metrical melody and structural beauty. Similarly, one can find great beauty in Indian  dance, music, sculpture and other art forms and also in ayurveda, yoga and philosophy. It would not be wrong to say that the excellence these art forms and fields of knowledge have gained is mainly due to the unbroken tradition and the profundity of our shaastras. It is only because we have lost the rigour in understanding the shaastras and following the path laid down by them, their real essence is forgotten and arts that were based on them are have lost luster.


Adapted by Arjun Bharadwaj from the original Kannada




Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

Prekshaa Publications

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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

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