ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design

16. The origin of Theatre

un attore con una maschera danza, colore rosso e nero

In India, everything that has to do with cinema, theater, dance, musical and marionettes comes from Natyashastra, an ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts traditionally attributed to the sage Bharata Muni.
In the first chapter, Bharata writes on the origins of theater:
“Once the earth was ruled by chaos. Despite humanity had received the four Vedas, books of sacred knowledge, their content was forbidden to the majority – an lower-castes were kept ignorant. Only the Brahmins were allowed to study the Vedas, and for this they acted unjustly.
This earthly restlessness troubled the gods who decided to ask Brahma’s favor and intervention. Brahma, the creator, appeased the gods and started meditating: how could he put humanity back on track? The answer was one and only: the way to restore peace and justice was “knowledge”. Since the four Vedas, source of every knowledge, were locked by Brahmins, the Creator combined the essence of the four Vedas in a fifth one, available for everyone in the world.
This is the origin of the Natyashastra, a treatise on stagecraft that teaches how to perform knowledge, making it comprehensible for everyone.
Brahma taught the Natyashastra to the sage Bharata, who passed the knowledge to his hundred sons. Bharata’s company prepared to perform the first play in front of an audience of gods. The play was about the victory of the King of the Indras on the demons (asuras), a subject the demons (not even invited to the celebration) were not really amused of.
Asuras flew into a rage when they saw how ridiculously they were performed and jumped on the stage to destroy everything. The actors fled in terror.  
Indra drove away the asuras with a great waft, but that was not over yet. How could the gods protect the stage from future attacks?
The gods assembled and established the proportions of the stage: after that, they put the gods of the directions in charge of the protection of borders. Meanwhile, a delegation of gods went to meet the demons to settle the thing in a more diplomatic manner (and avoid further attacks).
Brahma reassured the demons with his infinite wisdom: the theater was not meant for harming. On the contrary, the theater was created to teach and spread knowledge to everyone, demons included. If in the first representation they were defeated, in the next they would be probably depicted as victorious.
This is how peace was restored.
To be sure, Brahma suggested Bharata that he should never forget to bless and worship the stage before a play – both to please the guardian deities and pacify the asuras. This tradition reached our days, and first artists’ sons still bless the stage before entering.
Years passed and Bharata’s sons became popular. With fame came also pride, and the more of the first, the more of the latter.
In the 36th chapter, Bharata writes about how his sons’ pride was also their fall. His sons put together a play that angered the sages and the religious chiefs.  Despite all the mediations, however, they (Brahmins by birth) were cursed to become shudras, members of the last of the four castes.
Theater and the other performing arts are sacred and pure, a true gift to humanity, but the artists that breathe life into them are but humans of every social class. Through discipline, training and devotion, they can become gods on the stage or, in the case of cinema, Stars. Almost godlike.
Unlike their ancestors, however, they must stay away from pride to avoid divine countermeasures!

 

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