Author: Yashila Prashadh, Chennai
Published as a part of Śāstra Raṅga-2023 Internship ; offered by Noopura Bhramari- IKS Centre. Article series No – 5
Nātyaśāstra is the most important text that talks about all the aspects of Nātya, of which dance is just a small part. It is a holistic book including every aspect beginning from origin of dance, how to set up stage, pùrvaraṅga vidhi, movements of different limbs of the body, bhava and rasa, costumes, make up, music, instruments, etc. to name a few. This essay talks about a general overview on Vŗtti or styles which is mentioned in the 22nd chapter of Nātyaśāstra.
This chapter begins with the explanation of how Brahma observed Viśnu fighting with two asuras Madhu and Kaiṭabha and from that he interpreted and named the different styles of his movements. He categorized into 4, namely, Bhārati Vŗtti (Verbal style), Sāttvati Vŗtti (Grand style), Kaiśiki Vŗtti (Graceful style) and Ārabhati Vŗtti (Energetic style). Brahma passes this concept over to the Devatas to be incorporated in the production of the plays after the addition of bhavas into it, which then, Bharata has noted down in the Nātyaśāstra.
Bhārati Vŗtti is the style in which verbal dialogues are being told. This style is dominated by the dialogues and recitations and hence the name verbal style. They can be broadly classified into 4, namely, Prarōcana which means laudation or praises during the play in order to attain success, prosperity and luck, Āmukha which is an introduction prologue given by the Jester, Vīthi which is a 1 act play and the Prahasana which is another type of play that includes comical dialogues.
Style that is endowed with the quality of Sattva and has exuberance of joy is known as the Grand style. This too can be classified into 4, which are, utthāpaka which is challenge, parivartaka which is change of action, saṅkalpa which means harsh discourse and saṅghāta the breach of alliance.
The Graceful style is majorly seen in themes of love and its enjoyment arising due to charming costumes worn by women, many different kinds of singing and dancing, etc. Its types are narma meaning pleasantry arising out of love and pure laughter, narma-sphurja meaning beginning of pleasure as in the first meeting of lovers, narma-sphota meaning unfoldment of pleasure and narma-garbha which is covert pleasure where the hero acts incognito through his qualities.
Energetic style is known to depict qualities of a bold person such as speaking many words, deception, bragging and falsehood. The types are saṅkśiptaka or compression, avapāta or commotion, vastutthāpana or plot elevation and saṅpheta or conflict. He also mentions in the 25th sloka of the chapter as follows “Ŗgvedadbharati ksipta yajurvedacc sattvati kaiseki samavedacc sesha caturvanadapi” meaning that the Bharati Vŗtti is taken from the Ŗg veda, Sāttvati from the yajur, kaiśiki from Samaveda and Ārabhati from the Atharvaveda. This very well coincides with what he tells in the first chapter of the book where he mentions that the recitation part of the Nātyaśāstra is from the Ŗg veda which emphasises on recitation and dialogue being predominant in Bhārati Vŗtti. The aspect of Songs taken from Samaveda coincides with the characteristics mentioned as the Kaiśiki Vŗtti.
Bharata broadly mentions about these styles theoretically, but when we look at the practicing traditions around us, we can observe them even today. We notice that Nātya traditions today like Yakśagāna have dialogues being recited as in verbal style, though missing in other dance traditions. In dance traditions like Bharatanatyam, Odissi and even folk forms like Bhangra, etc. we can notice Sāttvati, Kaiśiki and Ārabhati Vŗttis. The concept of Vŗtti becomes a classic example of how we can identify concepts of these lakśaṇa graṅthas in practice and hence motivates us into learning and interpreting these treatises.