Indian philosophy of art had its foundations laid by Bharata who is also known as Bharata Muni (‘Bharata the Saint’). His classic treatise, The Natyasastra, which has 6,000 stanzas, is India’s ancient-most work on the theory of art and its philosophy. India’s thought on the theory of arts and poetics begins with this invaluable work. And it continues to guide India’s efforts in arts. Even today the basis of India’s theatrical performances is built upon rasabhinaya, or the acting out of the rasa, as delineated by Bharata.

When was Bharata’s period of life? Which was his birthplace? The scholars conclude that his period should be between 2nd century B.C. and 2nd century A.D. But Dr. Nihar Ranjan Ray and his colleagues, in ‘The Sourcebook of Indian Civilization’ opine that the Natyasastra of Bharata in its present form may not be older than the fifth or sixth century A.D. At the same time, the book suggests an early pre-Christian century for its origin. The book gives us for the first time the regional distribution of the forms of speech on which depended the dramatic effect to a very large extent. Bharata’s rasasutra has been a subject for discussion for almost all the scholars and theoreticians of art and literature. Bharata’s lead was taken up later by the writers of texts on  alamkara, who continued to analyse and record the styles of speech and writing of the various regions of India  in accordance with their idioms, stresses, rhythms, etc., giving them regional names and indicating their faults and merits. The instructions Bharata gives to the use of the language or dialect each of the characters speaks is very significant. The speech of each character has to be written considering the character’s social status and the place from where the character hails.

Bharata’s distinction lies in that he brought out the theory of rasa, which is the basis of the aesthetic experience from art or literature. The term ‘rasa’ signifies ‘essence’. And India’s science of aesthetics rests on this ‘essence’. It is in the sixth chapter, labeled ‘Rasa Vikalpa’ of the Natyasastra that the theory of rasas is presented. Rasas are nine in number. But experts are of the opinion that Bharata has enunciated only eight rasas and the ninth, santham, is an interpolation. Sringaram, hasyam, karunam, viram, bhayanakam, bibhalsam, and adbhutam are the eight rasas. These eight rasas are identified as the basis for the hundred of emotions humans have.

Bharata classifies acting into four – amgikam, vachikam satvikam, and aharyam.  Acting making use of the body parts is amgikam. Vachikam is acting with words or speech, as well as songs. Satvikam is acting by expressing the emotions effectively. Aharyam represents the usage of dresses and other decorations.

Bharata divided theatrical performances as natyam, nrityam and nrittam. Acting in which speech or words is important is natyam. The best example for this is drama. Nrityam is the making use of songs from the background, contexts and the mudras in which the hands and fingers play. The famous dance drama of Kerala, the kathakali, is the best form of this category. And nrittam is the enchanting gesticulations and movements of the body, in rhythmic and significant motions.

Bharata does not leave anything out. He discusses everything from the structuring of the stage to the final response from the audience. And the classic work of his continues to inspire and influence the world of arts and literature.