|A Scene from Karnakatha Directed by Rout|
......Bharatmuni has provided enough materials to understand the detail pictures of Prekshagriha—Theatre-- in Natyashastra. Accordingly he has also codified the performances and their presentations in different types of theatre houses. Out of four types of[i]Abhinaya—acting— one major aspect is dedicated to Aharyabhinaya also, which means performance with the help of other external elements. It broadly includes; makeup, hair style, costumes, ornaments and jewelleries, stage props and other scenic elements. While he has discussed about all these things with specific descriptions along with their designs, he didn’t talk much of scenography and scene making. In the context of Indian theatre we only know about an empty space. It is true that Indian theatre performance never allowed external scenic elements in the performance. Neither any set nor any hand props were used to communicate the story to the audience in Sanskrit drama. Bharat has given emphasis on a neutral space where all the scenes can happen. But the stage which seems blank from its outward look is really empty? The answer is no. Bharat has never indicates towards an empty space.
We all know that modern theatre is segregated into many disciplines; acting, stage-design, costuming, light-design, makeup, choreography, etc. This is a western concept which we have adopted from the British. This division requires specialization in each field to achieve perfection in that discipline. But Natyashatra never discussed on these compartmental divisions. It indicates towards a wholistic theatre which can be achieved in its entirety. Scenography is also a segment of this wholistic performance theory. The speciality of Classical Indian drama lies in its performance which is presentational in its style of presentation rather than representational, a common practice in Occidental culture. An Indian performance never adopts life in its true form. It never perceives life from its external viewpoint. In theatre the life is presented through metaphor and symbols. Stylisation in the presentation is a common practice in Indian theatre. The principle of presenting a [ii]patra- character- on stage is also applied to the spatial presentations and scene makings. The Aristotelian concept of space- unit of space- can’t be implemented in Indian theatre. The space and the locals are constantly established by the actors’ performance ability along with the power of the text and their physical expressions. An existing local can be transformed into another by a ritualistic performance of the actor- [iii]parikrama-in front of the audience as per the demand of the text. The performance never carries out anything with it; be it a space, character or a plot. For that reason there are many locals, events and characters exist in one given time and space in a single performance. Everything is expressed through the actors’ way of presentation in an allegorical and symbolic approach.
Paul Kuritz in his legendary book on “The making of theatre history” analysed;
[iv]“The Indian stage used little scenery. The makeshift nature of the performance required few scenic items; it exploited instead the Indian love for symbolism, imagery, and costume. Sanskrit texts didn’t even indicate scenery, though female stagehands may have changed the yavanika to suggest various rasas—white for erotic settings, yellow for heroic, a dull colour for pathos, multicoloured for farce, black for tragedy and red for violence. The Indian ranga was, like the world, a neutral place where many different locations existed simultaneously. Indian theatre thus aimed for less illusory imitation than the Greek theatre.”
|Abhinaya through hasta mudra|
The Scenography in Indian theatre follows the strong concept of make belief in which text plays an important role. The actor establishes the scenes with the help of narration and the expressions which can be achieved through Chari- foot movement and Mudra -gestures, postures and mime. For example if a performer wants to establish a scene inside a forest, he has to enact the atmosphere of the forest through his physical gestures and body movements. By the power of his presentations and the subsequent narration, the audience would understand the situation. To have a clear understanding on Indian scenography we can exemplify a scene from the classical play [v]Abhijñānaśākuntalam, where [vi]Dushyant the great Indian king enters the stage on a chariot following a deer inside the jungle,. As we have already discussed, the performance area is a neutral empty space where the whole world can be created out of imagination and this particular scene is not an exception. The performer who is holding the patra of Dushyant would enter into the stage with elaborate foot movement – Chari- showing as if coming on a chariot. He would establish the horses and the cart by his hasta mudra and Natya. After establishing his entry with the help of movements, he would create the environment and the scenes (jungle) through his body movement and text. In the similar way the deer could be created out of hand gestures and movements. For the entire performance where scenograpgy is an integral part would be well received by the audience, whom in Indian term is called Rashika- A person who is able to receive the rasa (sentiment). In the whole episode of performance the audience mental participation to imagine the scenes is essential. In other words the Scenography in Indian theatre is the outcome of the imagination of the audience which can be established by the ability of the performance.
Classical Indian drama is full of with this kind of imaginary visual practices which are created with the help of text and performances. In another example of establishing the war field in the beginning of the play [vii]Urubhangam (Breaking the Thigh), a chorus of three soldiers enter into the stage and establish the atmosphere of war field through narrations and mime. In the similar situation in [viii]Madhayam vyayog the fight between Bhima and Ghatotkacha (Father and son) was established by pantomime and natya. The scenic visuals of the dense forest and mountains are well established by the actors’ physical presentations. In other way round, emphasis is given to costuming and makeup. The imageries are so intricate and spectacular that puts Indian drama as one unique performative practice in the world platform. With the exploration of costume, makeup, headgear and natya, Indian theatre is able to establish aesthetics of performance tradition over the years.
|Performance of Kathakali|
We can’t completely deny with the fact that Indian drama completely rejects the scenic elements. There are few properties used by the actors in the name of scenography. In the ritualistic practice of [ix]Purvaranga- prologue befor the play, the performers enter the stage with Jarjara dwaja and fix it on the up stage near vedika. This colourful flag, visually enriched was placed on the stage to mark the performance as a celebration, since the colours in the flag represents the colours of life.Rangapatti is another symbolic prop which was used for the entry and exit of the characters in different scenes. The entry of actors behind this colourful curtain provides visual elevation to the actors which add to the grandeur of the performance. There are evidences of using some hand props by the subordinate characters like; paricharika- female attendants and servantsor chatra dharini (who holds the royal umbrella).
The scenography in Indian drama is more related to the spiritual experiences than the bodily visual experiences. It flourishes by the power of choreography and Natya. With the help of all the elements the performance is able to transmit Rasa (sentiment) to the audience.
(Excerpts from my underwritten book "POETICS OF SPACE IN PERFORMANCE"
[i] Aharya abhinaya: Chapter-XXI, Natyashastra
[ii] The literary meaning of Patra is container. An actor in Indian theatre is always compared with a Patra, means a medium which can carry any ranga (colours or emotions) and can be able to reflect the colours in its purity. Broadly we can compare Patra with characters.
[iii] Parikrama is a ritualistic practice of the Hindus. The Hindus encircles the temple yard three times while visited the deities. Probably the concept entered into the theatre practice where an actor changes his locale by encircling the stage as a ritual.
[iv] The making of theatre history by Paul Kuritz, Pg: 79
[v] A play written by the great Indian poet Kalidasa.
[vi] A mythical king and the father of Bharata on whom the name of the country Bharatavarsa (India) is adorned.
[vii] The play is written by Mahakavi Bhasa in 2nd century BC. Thirteen number of plays written by Bhasa has been discovered yet.
[viii] Another play written by Bhasa.
[ix] It was a ritual, performed before the Ranga (play). It consists of certain activities which includes Jarjara sthapane, Nandi patha, Vishkambhaka etc.