The Need of a Shaastric Framework for Indian Dance - 1

This article is part 1 of 5 in the series The Need of a Shaastric Framework for Indian Dance

The word ‘Shaastra’ means ‘to rule’ or ‘to govern’ and is derived from the root ‘शासु-अनुशिष्टौ’. ‘To govern’ means to protect like a king, and to keep everything that comes within his purview under control. However, this does not mean that shaastra is dictatorial, rigid and restrictive. Just like a forest protects a lion and the lion in turn protects the forest (popularly known as ‘vana-simha-nyaaya’), the shaastra and all the aspects that come under its purview mutually safeguard each other. Just like a king, however powerful he might be, is always under the control of dharma and the dharma reigns supreme, there is a fundamental frequency/ dharma underlying every shaastra. Such fundamental frequencies always draw inspiration from natural law. Vedantic philosophy that underlies shaastra can be compared to the rocks that form the shores on both sides of a flowing river. If the shores grow into the river, the width of the river is reduced, and this can result in drying up of its waters. On the other hand, if the river over-flows and floods its shores, its course might get lost and its eternal flow will be broken. It is thus inevitable and essential to have shaastra. Shankaracharya says – ‘ज्ञापकं हि शास्त्रं न कारकमिति स्थितिः’ (Brhadaranyakopanishat 1.4.10), a shaastra is essentially a reminder. Shaastra can neither inspire creativity nor kindle it.We should not look down upon it just because its sole purpose is to help art remain within a framework. It will suffice if we acknowledge its role in our lives and accept its governance. A shaastra is primarily a work of scholarship and it depends less on creative talent (pratibhaa). Talent is something that is independent of external factors and depends only on the individual. It is just like the aatman that is unaffected by external attributes. However, scholarship depends on space, time and on the individual. Only when talent and scholarship blend in the right proportion it can result in the creation of Bliss (ananda) that can be felt by all. Shaastra is something that helps in such a creation. Scholarship can be compared to the body and shaastra to the breath. Just like breath is a link between soul and body, shaastra is a bridge between talent and scholarship.

There is a misconception in our society that shaastra is only about blind-beliefs, irrational limitations and dictatorship. Shaastra is not a brainchild of people lacking talent; it has been developed by creative minds too. Talent can be compared to a waterfall: scholarship is like a device which helps convert kinetic energy in the water into electricity. Shaastra is an engineering management technique, which will help put all of this in place. Lights and audio equipment that are energized by electricity thus generated are the ‘arts’. Thus, scholarship gives robustness to creative talent and shaastra gives structure and the capacity of recreation to art. Art is born out of creative talent and shaastra out of scholarship. The two, however, are not discrete entities. They mutually influence and draw from each other. Any art that  lacks the framework provided by shaastra will lack luster. Moreover, as art is always new and improvisations keep happening each time an artist performs, art practitioners  find it difficult to learn such an ever-changing thing. Change is inevitable and is required for a living society. However, if change occurs at unimaginable rates, it will be difficult to identify a common thread and to grasp the fundamental governing philosophy. For example, if a little boy we have seen today grows up to be an adult tomorrow and grows into an old man the following day, how can we even identify him? Such accelerated changes occurring regularly can lead to the downfall of art at the same rate! Although there is some truth in the concern expressed by opponents of shaastra that art will stagnate and decay due to the rigidity of limits put by it, it is equally true that art, which is not governed by shaastra, will flow out of control and will see its end soon. Just like a language has its grammar, an art has shaastra governing it. If the structure and vocabulary of a language keep changing every day, it is impossible to put it to any use. Change should be such that the mind of a sensitive  artist should be able to register the forms before and after the change. For example, in a river, although at a given spot, the same droplet of water never stays and there is continuous flow, an onlooker will have the impression that it is the same river and the same kind of water. The water that flows at a spot is changing, yet there is a constant flux with similar pattern at the given spot. This should be the kind of change in art too. How is this possible? – this is the question that arises immediately. Let us discuss it in detail.

To be continued ...

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 poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

Prekshaa Publications


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।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...