Tag Archives: Natyasastra

Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Rasa

By Prakruti Prativadi

(About the author)

Bharatanāṭyaṃ conjures images of statuesque dancers, adorned in fragrant flowers and beautiful temple jewelry, wearing vibrant costumes made from the finest sarees dancing to melodic classical Indian music. The dancer pays homage to the Divine, dances in fast rhythmic movements consisting of complex patterns and portrays characters from the many grand epics. The audience is charmed, stirred, entertained and may even recall the performance for some time afterward. Those discerning audience members will recognize the stories and characters portrayed in the dances. Some connoisseurs might delight in the rare Rāgams of the songs or an unusual composition in the repertoire. Others might appreciate the challenging foot movements (Nṛtta) or the dancer’s expressive portrayals (Abhinaya). And yet others may like the subtle interpretation to a venerated classic. There is something to delight in for everyone and unfortunately, for most people, these prosaic features are the totality of Bharatanāṭyaṃ. Experienced Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancers and teachers may understand the subtler aspects of the performance, but for the most part, the very cornerstone of the art is only grasped by few.

In recent years, Bharatanāṭyaṃ has seen an extraordinary increase in popularity and presence, both in India and globally; it is danced by a diverse group of people, throughout the world, from wide-ranging educational, linguistic, racial, religious and economic backgrounds. Ironically however, the understanding of the dance, its fundamental aim, origins and core philosophy has almost reached a nadir. Hailed as a beautiful dance of vibrant costumes and statuesque movements, the very soul of Bharatanāṭyaṃ is not seen or comprehended by many. Bharatanāṭyaṃ is often relegated as just another art form, a medium in which to voice opinions, or as a simple ritualistic dance of temples. Much confusion and misinformation persist among practitioners and teachers themselves, and among the public. The history of Bharatanāṭyaṃ also is often misunderstood and wrongly bears the mantle that it had to be reformed and many erroneously believe that the current dance of Bharatanāṭyaṃ is a sanitized form of a previous version.

Bharatanāṭyaṃ is much more than just a traditional ethnic dance. Bharatanāṭyaṃ embodies the thought system, profound philosophy and practice of an ancient and sacred art originating from a few millennia ago in India. The performance of Bharatanāṭyaṃ is akin to a type of Yoga and is a form of embodied knowing. There is a definite aim in Bharatanāṭyaṃ. It is not just a performance art that is limited to evoking beauty and creating a pleasant experience for the audience. The aim of Bharatanāṭyaṃ is to elevate the audience to experience a higher state of consciousness. To go above the mundane, limited world and realize a greater reality is a fundamental (and unique) concept in Hinduism. Much as Yoga is not just a series of stretches and is a systematized practice, called Sādhana, in which the practitioner aims to achieve a higher state of consciousness, Bharatanāṭyaṃ is also a systematized artistic Sādhana, in which the artist aims to achieve a higher state of consciousness and evoke this state in the audience, so that they can experience it as well. The dancer does this through the dance, the dance steps and the emotive portrayals and storytelling.


Origin of Indian Dance

To comprehend the essence of Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian aesthetics, one needs to step back and view this art from within the frame of reference of its origin – Hindu philosophy. Without this point of view, Bharatanāṭyaṃ will not be understood and will be reduced to a mere materialistic art. The Nāṭyaśāstra, written more than 2500 years ago, by Bharata, is the oldest extant treatise on dramaturgy, dance and music and still is the authority today. This treatise meticulously details, classifies and expounds the deep-rooted thought system, practical application, the fundamental purpose and nuance of Indian classical dance. All the extant classical dances of India (i.e. the Desi styles) are living manifestations of the Nāṭya described by Bharata in his Nāṭyaśāstra. The reason they have lived on for more than a few millennia is due to the enduring Dharmic root from which they emerged. The Nāṭyaśāstra is not a mere instruction manual, but a monumental work, in which Bharata connects the art of movement of the body to the mind, intellect and most significantly, to the human consciousness. These are not just Bharata’s own musings however, but a genuine representation of Indian aesthetics which is deeply enmeshed with Indian philosophy and thought. Bharata referenced earlier Hindu works on dance and drama to compile the Nāṭyaśāstra. As explained by Bharata, the stage, the artist and the audience are all unified in this artistic experience. Many treatises have been written about Indian classical dance after Bharata, but they all are based on his work.


Bharata makes it very clear in his work, that Indian dance, drama and music all derived from the Vedas and therefore represent the thought system and knowledge of the Vedas. He states in the Nāṭyaśāstra that by taking the recitative aspect from the g Veda, music from the Sāma Veda, Abhinaya (enactment) from the Yajur Veda and Rasa from the Atharva Veda, a fifth Veda called Nāṭyaveda was created (Nāṭyaveda refers to the practice and theory of drama, dance and music).



Furthermore, Bharata states that Nāṭyaveda was created to nurture and uphold Dharma:

“(Nāṭya) teaches Dharma to those who are against it, gives relief to those who are afflicted or overtired, brings determination to the sorrowful, enlightens those with poor intellect, brings courage to the cowardly, gives enthusiasm to the heroic, teaches love to those who are eager for it, rebukes the ill-mannered, promotes will-power in the disciplined, gives diversion to the noble and brings happiness, good counsel and knowledge to all.”

By Bharata’s explanation we see that Nāṭyaveda is a manifestation of the knowledge in the Vedas and is a complete experience that involves more than just providing entertainment or a worldly diversion to the audience. Indian dance was created to give knowledge of Vedic principles and benefit everyone in society. Significantly, we see that Indian dance is not just for the elite or the rich, and certainly not reserved only for connoisseurs, but is for the enjoyment and advantage of everyone from all parts of society. The dance is a transformative experience, like all Hindu customs and rituals. There is a definite aim in all Bharatanatyam performances.



“There can be no meaningful communication without Rasa” – Nāṭyaśāstra

In Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian Aesthetics, this aim is Rasa. Rasa does not have a direct translation in English, in this context. In aesthetics, Rasa does not translate to feeling, or emotion or mood. Rasa is a supreme aesthetic experience, a conscious-elevating state that can be experienced by all. Anyone can experience the Rasa state, anyone who is open to it and is a sensitive and attuned spectator (whom Bharata refers to as a Sahṛidaya). Remarkably, Rasa cannot be understood solely in the intellectual and emotional domains. Rasa involves the mind, intellect and consciousness, and must be experienced. The debate about the specifics of Rasa has been going on for millennia by great scholars like Abhinavagupta, Bhatta Nayaka and others. Thus, Rasa is not something that can be simplified and mapped into a one-word translation and the definition resides in the Dharmic world-view. Furthermore, one requires the experience of Rasa to begin to understand what it encompasses and how it applies to Bharatanāṭyaṃ. What is not of debate, however, is that Rasa is paramount. Rasa is not guaranteed in any given artistic work. It is something that must be carefully generated and is born only if meticulously chosen conditions arise in a dance performance.


“Rasa is born (Rasa-nipatti) from the combination of Vibhāvas, Anubhāvas and Vyabhicāri Bhāvas.” – Nāṭyaśāstra

Rasa does not exist in isolation; Rasas are the culmination of a complex process that involves the generation of varieties of Bhāvas, which are mental and emotional states that vary depending on the character and circumstance. There are a total of forty-nine Bhāvas consisting of thirty-three Vyabhicāri (impermanent) Bhāvas, eight Sātvika Bhāvas (with Sattva) and eight Sthāyi (permanent) Bhāvas. Rasa is born as result of all these beautiful Bhāvas – the Vibhāvas (determinants), Anubhāvas (consequent reactions), Vyabhicāri, Sātvika and Sthāyi Bhāvas emerging first. The organic and natural coming together of these results in the birth of Rasa in the onlooker (audience). It is not an afterthought or an automatic outcome. So, viewing a sad story does not necessarily mean the Karuna (pathos) Rasa is experienced. And viewing a comic story does not necessarily mean that Hāsya (humor) Rasa resulted. Thus, just having a Padaṃ or Varṇaṃ about a Nāyikā (female protagonist) does not necessarily mean that the audience experienced the Śṛṅgāra Rasa. The dancer must generate these Bhāvas and Vibhāvas in a genuine manner so that Rasa is born. The subject and themes she chooses to do this are of supreme importance. The limited-self disappears to reveal the more pervading Self – a key element in Hindu practices. Rasa is permanent; it touches and elevates your consciousness. The best part is that you experience Rasa by tuning into the performance, with an open mind and without any preconceived biases. That is why Bharata emphasizes that a Sahṛidaya is best suited to experience Rasa. A Sahṛidaya can be anybody who is a sensitive and attuned spectator, an open-minded and unbiased onlooker, and is not the same as a connoisseur. A connoisseur may be a Sahṛidaya but a Sahṛidaya need not be, and in most cases probably is not, a connoisseur. Significantly, one need not know any technical aspects of the dance in order to experience Rasa.

Originally, even the dance foot and hand movements called Karaṇas and Aṅgahāras (analogous to Aḍavus and Jatis of Bharatanāṭyaṃ) produced Rasa. Thus, Rasas should be generated by every aspect of the dance, not just the Abhinaya (expressive enactment) but also by Nṛtta (the rhythmic foot and arm movements). Bharatanāṭyaṃ is a dance of invoking the Divine and was performed, though not exclusively, in Hindu temples as part of the temple rituals. But Hinduism explicitly holds that the Divine is within all of us, so the Raṅga, or stage, becomes a sacred place as well.


Abhinaya and Rasa

Abhinaya is not just the ordinary enactment of stories and characters but the exalted, idealized and glorified re-enactment of stories and characters. This re-enactment generates Bhāvas and Rasas which are readily received and experienced by the Sahṛidaya. By watching the re-enactment of these stories and characters, which are carefully chosen and which enact the four Puruṣārthas of Dharma, Artha, Kāma and Mokṣa, the audience is removed from their mundane day-to-day troubles and problems. The audience forgets the petty limited everyday world and experiences something greater, a limitless Self where the ego disappears and a permanent innate joy is experienced. Hinduism recognizes that this limitless Self and joy is innate and resides in all of us. The dancer must, in effect, disappear from the performance, her ego must not be apparent. For instance, a dancer cannot effectively embody Ānḍāl or dance the Vāriṇaṃ Āyiraṃ without shedding her own persona. The dancer’s petty egos, problems and grievances cannot be visible in such a performance since, if it were, the performance would not be able to produce the desired Rasa experience in the onlooker. Indian dance has survived for millennia because of this unique characteristic. Indian aesthetic theory is unique in that the Rasa concept does not have parallels in aesthetic theories of other world cultures.


The author dancing selected Pāsurams from the Vāriṇaṃ Āyiraṃ 

Rasa is of such significance, that Bharata himself declared: “There can be no meaningful communication without Rasa.” Rasa cannot be an afterthought and it cannot be taken for granted in a performance. The challenge to the artist is to be able to produce this Rasa experience for all members in their audience in their performances.

True scholars of Indian aesthetics like Abhinavagupta have commented that Rasānanda (Rasa bliss experience) is akin to Brahmānanda (bliss of Brahman knowledge). Thus, Rasa is not trivial nor commonplace. Every single element of the dance, including the music Rāgas, Tālas, Aḍavus and even the dancer’s costume, makeup and accessories all come together to generate the Rasa experience.


Many may wonder why the Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancer projects the Dharmic view? After all, Bharatanāṭyaṃ is an art, and art has no religion. Certainly, a paintbrush and paint have no religion. But Bharatanāṭyaṃ is not a lifeless instrument like a paintbrush. Bharatanāṭyaṃ, and all Indian Nāṭya, is a vibrant systematized practice, a sincere Sādhana. It is not a mere vessel in which to voice any capricious view. Bharatanāṭyaṃ is a manifestation of the thought and knowledge of the four Vedas, and therefore, the dance intrinsically carries that world view. Syncretically trying to fit personal viewpoints, incompatible theories and politics into the Bharatanāṭyaṃ repertoire only results in a short-lived forgettable experience, with no Rasa to sustain it.

The responsibility of understanding the rich and sophisticated aesthetic theory manifested in Bharatanāṭyaṃ lies squarely on the shoulders of the dancers, dance teachers and propagators. The audience is not and cannot be expected to study these concepts, but the dancers, by having a well-rounded view, should reflect these in their dances.

Does this mean that the dancer is somehow limited in their artistic expression? No, since the literally innumerable permutations and combinations of facial, arm, hand, leg and body movements included in the Nāṭyaśāstra along with forty-nine Bhāvas and nine Rasas provide for countless variety and diversity of thought and ideas that can be portrayed by an innovative and imaginative artist, all while keeping the ultimate purpose of this great art in mind.

Thus, Bharatanāṭyaṃ is not just an art for art’s sake, nor is it a vehicle in which the artist expresses constrained and personal opinions. Indian dance is elevated, exalted and derives from the Vedas and therefore, reflects the wisdom of the Vedas and like the Vedas, seeks to uplift the consciousness of the onlooker.

Understanding the meaning and purpose of Bharatanāṭyaṃ will make it more accessible to all people, not just a chosen few. It will make it more enjoyable even to those who may not be aware of all its technical merits. And this is indeed a great thing. Because, this characteristic is the reason Indian dance has lasted for several millennia and will continue to endure for millennia to come. In other words, just as the illustrious Bharatamuni envisioned, by understanding and putting to practice the purpose of Bharatanāṭyaṃ, it becomes more reachable, beneficial and enjoyable to everyone.

This mask of Bharata Muni is worshipped by dancers in Cambodia; at left is Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam (source: www.apsarasarts.com)


About the author

Prakruti is the founder director of Kala Saurabhi Dance School in the US and she actively performs in the US and in India. Prakruti is also trained in Carnatic music and is fluent in Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada. She has spent seven years researching Sanskrit texts and other ancient treatises on Indian art and aesthetics. She has written a book based on her research, Rasas in Bharatanatyam, available at amazon.com.


Ghosh, M.M. 2006. P. Kumar (Ed.) Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni. (Vols. 1-4). Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation.

Prativadi, Prakruti. 2017. Rasas in Bharatanatyam. South Charleston: CreateSpace.

Sarangadeva, Sangītaratnākara. Adyar Library Series.

Srinivas, P. N. 2000. Mathugalu [Talks on Kannada Literary Criticism, in Kannada]. Bangalore: Purogami Sahitya Sangha.

Subhrahmanyam, Padma. 1979. Bharata’s Art Then and Now. Bombay: Bhulabhai Memorial Institute; Madras: Nrithyodaya.

Subrahmanyam, Padma. 2003. Karanas Common Dance Codes of India and Indonesia (Vols 1-3). Chennai: Nrithyodaya.

Vatsyayan, Kapila. 1997. The Square and the Circle of the Indian Arts. New Delhi: Abhinav



Copyright: Prakruti Prativadi. All Rights Reserved.


This article represents the views of the author, and is not necessarily a reflection of the views of the Tamizh Cultural Portal. The author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Tamil Nadu: The Land of Vedas – Part 2

source: amazon.in

Part-1: Introduction and Sangam Era


In Part-2, we discuss the chapter on Tolkappiyam in Dr. Nagaswamy’s recent book ‘Tamil Nadu: The Land of Vedas‘, and share some broader points regarding the preservation of Indian languages along their deep roots in dharma.

Tolkappiyar’s work on Tamizh grammar is the earliest extant one. We have extensively discussed as part of an earlier two-part series, Dr. Nagaswamy’s findings about the common foundation of dharma that supports Bharata’s Natyasastra, Ilango Adigal’s Silapathikaram, and Tolkappiyam.

  • Part-1 (massive evidence that demolishes the very idea of a Tamizh culture and tradition that is separate from those followed in the rest of India)
  • Part-2 (Natyasastra – a common thread in Tolkappiyam and Silapathikaram)


Dr. Nagaswamy. source: thehindu.com
Dr. Nagaswamy. link source: thehindu.com

What does Tolkappiyam contain?

Tolkappiyam, authored by Tolkappiyar,  is divided into three chapters:

  • Ezhutthu (varnah) – phonetics, including script
  • Sol (pada) – word formations
  • Porul (artha) – content and meanings

Dr. Nagaswamy mentions that the integration of Sanskrit tradition is visible in all three chapters, and has shown that it follows Natyasastra (see ‘part-2’ above). The ancient Tamizh poet Panampaaranaar notes that this text was composed after studying the common and popular usages, poetic convention of the Indians living in the region between Venkatam (Tirupathi) and Southern Kumari. Subsequently, he made this the technique of communication. Also, he had studied earlier texts on this subject. This simple but pertinent point reveals the nature of Tolkappiyam.

Epistemological Evidence

Nagaswamy has noted elsewhere that Tolkappiyar was well-versed in Panini’s Ashtadhyayi. However, Tolkappiyam is not a simple Tamizh translation of Panini’s astounding grammar work [1]. Neither was the content developed in isolation as some independent and perfect linguistic theory. Either of these options would have resulted in the work being imposed, either as ‘one-size fits all’ or ‘self-evident truth’, in a top-down manner on the people of Tamizhakam. This would not be a sustainable or harmonious solution. There is a deeper idea at work here. So how did Tolkappiyam come about? As the ancient poet Panampaaranaar noted,  Tolkappiyam organically arose from the ground-up, after carefully studying the reality of common spoken, recited, and written Tamizh patterns already in existence in Southern India,  and after analyzing prior texts. This ground-up approach is an important marker of the Vedic method wherein the real is considered the ideal, and preferred to the ‘abstract perfect’ that is at best, an approximation of reality.  The excerpt below (courtesy Indicportal.org) that discusses Patanjali’s commentary on Panini, shows that Tolkappiyar mirrors Panini in adopting this scientific Indian approach rooted in ultimate reality. In addition to the aesthetic and deep-cultural unity across Bharatvarsha due to Natyasastra, we have evidence of a methodological unity that spanned India’s vast and diverse expanse since ancient times.

picture source and copyright: IndicPortal.org

This Indian approach will have a valid pramanam and naturally unifies, as well as produces a plurality of languages, each possessing a structure and beauty that is distinct, yet not separate. This impact is visible in India from the era of Mahabharata to this day because  dharma teaches us to be garland-makers, not charcoal burners. In contrast, a top-down approach, e.g., seen in some Abrahamic traditions, is indifferent to any pramana and tends to produce a monoculture that annihilates and digests [2] all regional linguistic diversity, literature, and culture.



Speculation aside, it is highly improbable, if not impossible for Tolkappiyam to be a product of some separate non-dharmic culture. It is a quintessential Indian work; a cultural treasure of dharma civilization that every Indian must be aware of.

The poet Panampaaranaar further notes that Tolkappiyar got this grammar published in the royal court of King Nilam Taru Thiruvil Pandya. Prior to publication it was subject to review by the great scholar of Adankodu who was learned in all four Vedas and laws.  This approach bears resemblance to the modern peer review process followed by scientific journals. Dr. Nagasway notes that it is indisputable that Tolkappiyar was guided by such a Chaturvedi Brahman, which accounts for the prolific use of Vedic concepts in the text. Per the famous commentary of Naccinaarkkiniyaar based on a cited Tamizh text, Tolkappiyam adopted the technical vocabulary followed by Agastya (Vedic scholars of the Agastya gotra settled by the Chola kings).

How Old is Tolkappiyam?

Dr Nagaswamy notes the chapter on phonetics to date it to no earlier than 3rd century BCE (Brahmi script adapted to Tamizh, time of Ashoka), and based on the accounts of Tolkappiyar’s contemporaries, no later than the 1st century CE. Furthermore, Nagaswamy says “The origin of Brahmi script in Tamilnadu could not be taken earlier than the first BCE. As Tolkappiyam refers specifically to the Tamil script, it could either be contemporary with first cent BCE or later. We are satisfied to note that it could be firmly placed in the first cent CE.” Refer to the book for a detailed discussion.

Vedic Tradition in the Tolkappiyam

Tolkappiyam refers to the four-fold Varnashrama dharma, and Dr. Nagaswamy notes that during that time period, it did not solidify into a rigid ‘caste’ system. The division of the poetry in the text is based on the Hindu purusharthas, and classified as Aham (kama), and Puram (dharma, artha, moksha) and mirrors Bharata Muni’s Natyasastra. The latter is regarded as the greatest work on dramaturgy in history, and is widely recognized as a fifth Veda that is easily accessible and available to all people, and contains key elements from all four Vedas incorporated within. We briefly refer to key Sutras of the Tolkappiyam (both Aham and Puram) pointed out to the reader by Dr Nagasway.

  • Sutra 3 (Ahattinai): refers to the four fold division of the landscape found in the Vedas (refer to our prior posts for more details).
  • Each land division is associated with a divine icon who is also a Vedic deity (Indra, Varunam Krishna, Muruga). It is worth noting that Murugan is a popular Tamizh deity but not exclusively so, since it has been shown from several Sanskrit sources that he was also a Vedic deity.
  • Sutra 18 (Ahattinai): employs the word deivam which is a Sanskrit idea.
  • Sutras 27-29 has discussion around Varnasharamas.
  • A sutra toward the end of the Ahattinai refers to Nataka Vazhakku and Ulagiyal Vazhakku. This perfectly mirrors Natya Dharmi, and Loka Dharmi of Natyashastra, respectively. Dr. Nagaswamy concludes that “from the beginning to the end of the chapter, the Ahattinai chapter is based on Vedic concepts that are the main social concepts of the ancient Tamils.”
  • In the Purattinai, we find a Sutra (74) that employs the term Vahai (type) denoting the four Varnas. The sutra describes the general functions of a vahai. Vedic chanting and recital, Yagnas, study of the six angas, etc. are discussed. The Itihasas and Puranas, tantras, darshanas, etc. were part of the final studies.
  • A wealth of information about Vedic tradition followed by the Tamizh people is available in this section. For brevity, we skip details and list some examples:
    • Five fold system for kings
    • Six fold system for Vanigas, Vellalars, Yogins, etc.
    • Role of Dharma Sastras, impact of Purusharthas
    • Kalaviyal and Karpiyal. Eight forms of marriages given in the Vedas are listed.
    • Vedic tradition was followed by the Tamizhs with respect to their pre-marital life and marital customs.

What Earlier Works Does Tolkappiyam Follow?

Dr Nagaswamy notes that the chapter on Marabiyal deals with the translation of other language texts into Tamizh. A key definition specified in this chapter is Vazhinul, a derivative work created from an original text. Commentator Peraachiriyar states that Tolkappiyam is a derivative text that followed the Aggatiyam, carefully preserving the science of this prior text, and that this gives Tolkappiyam the position of an authoritative text. Per Nagaswamy, Peraachiriyar also showed that Kaakaipaatiniyaar created her text as a derivative of Tolkappiyar’s work, and questioned the attitude of a few Tamizhs who were opposed to following such derivative works because Tamizh language would be affected. The book notes that “the translation is an abridgment and elaboration and further enlargement [and] there need not be any fear for both the Tamils and the Aryas. As this process is called translation [Mozhi Peyarttal], the meaning will not be twisted or faulted“. In fact, Nagaswamy says is it evident from the chapter on word formation (Sol athikaram) that historically, “the Tamils were never against using northern words [Vada-Sol] and translations of Sanskrit texts like Vedas, aagamas, and logical texts..”, and that the Tamizhs remained forward looking for more than 2000 years until the 1950s (which coincides with a period of intense political agitation and the emergence of a more virulent Hinduphobic demagoguery in Tamil Nadu rooted in the racist Dravadian theory fabricated by Catholic Bishop Robert Caldwell). We delve deeper into the issue of translation and derivative texts.

When do Translations work well?

A translation of foundational Indian works from Indic to European languages is not as simple and transparent as Indic-to-Indic (e.g. Sanskrit to Tamizh). This is due to the presence of a large number of important non-translatables within Sanskrit and Indian languages that are not part of the western vocabulary, tradition, or psyche. These non-translatables end up getting mangled in the attempted translation, resulting in distorted output text filled with misleading interpretations that are biased in favor of the dominant cultural (western) perspective.

Language matters. Source: thehindu.com
Language matters. Source: thehindu.com

Refer to ‘Being Different(BD)‘ for a detailed discussion on the importance of non-translatables. For example, we can observe the mistranslations in the Murty classical library translation project in the US, which is part of a bigger battle for Sanskrit. This seemingly noble project is funded by an Indian billionaire’s money but operates without an insider voice or authority overseeing the quality, and is turning into a vehicle for brazen cultural appropriation. Such an enterprise precipitates a steady and sure shift in adhikaram away from native practitioners, scholars, and speakers, and into the hands of outsiders to the Indian traditions [2]. Lest Tamizhs think myopically that this is “someone else’s problem”, note that தமிழ்  too will not be spared by such anti-Indian Indologists.  These Indologists have been aware of the strategic importance of Tamil Nadu as the land of Vedas for a long time.

The Battle For தமிழ்

A key reason for these mistranslations, as Rajiv Malhotra states in a recent comment is that, “the mis-translation is not just of words but the ideas behind them. Once you require the original word to be retained, you also force people to think what the words mean more deeply. Because puja is not same as prayer, it compels the person to learn what puja is, where and why it differs, and why the difference matters a lot. The Sanskrit non-translatables initiative started in BD has far reaching implications, beyond just preserving certain words. Each word is an ecosystem of knowledge, a signpost to deep structures“.  On the other hand, as discussed in an earlier TCP post,  equivalent Tamizh words for crucial Sanskrit terms existed since ancient times; if not, Sanskrit terms were retained ‘as is’ along with their full range of meanings. Thus, a derivative or translation from/to Sanskrit/Tamizh, is likely to preserve satya and is a relatively straightforward procedure, as observed by the 12th century Tamizh poet, Peraachiriyar in his commentary on Tolkappiyam.  This nontranslatable ecosystem is also a beautiful shield that helped protect Sanskriti for thousands of years. It is also protecting Tamizh Kalacharam and preserving the distinctiveness of India’s diverse regional cultures. We should never surrender to those outside the Indian tradition, this divine armor and earrings that Indian languages are endowed with.



It is abundantly clear to Peraachiriyar that Tolkappiyar followed the great Vedic Rishi Agastya, who not only gave us Tamizh language, but is also considered the pioneering author of Muthamizh – the trinity that comprises the deep culture of Tamizhs including Iyal, Isai, and Naatakam. Nagaswamy notes that this information is mentioned in the commentary of Peraachiriyar (chapter on Uvamaiyal) who lived in the 12th century CE during the reign of Vikrama Chola. We conclude with a brief discussion of the book subsection on the Meypaattu portion of Tolkappiyam.

Meypaattu and Rasa Theory

Dr Nagaswamy calls our attention to a section in the porul athikaram chapter called Meypaattu, which he defines as “bodily reaction as a result of inner feeling of either the actor or the spectator when he was acting or witnessing a dance. It may also be said to be the basis of aesthetic joy while witnessing a dance. This feeling might be under any of the eight categories called rasa.  The entire section is related to Naatiyam (dance), as explained by the commentary of Peraachiriyar and he has no doubt that this text follows the Natyasastra, the great Indian text on dramaturgy that contains an exposition of rasa theory.  The commentator lists eight rasas in Meypaattu, omitting Krodha (Raudra, anger). Dr. Nagaswamy lists the commentator’s version:

  • Viram (Heroism)
  • Bhayanakam (Fear)
  • Adbhutam (Wonder)
  • Bibhatsam (Disgust)
  • Sringaram (Love)
  • Karuna (Grace)
  • Hasya (Laughter)
  • Shaantam (Middle State)

Nagaswamy notes that the Natyasastra does not mention Shaantam (nadu nilai, or middle state, i.e., tranquil) as a ninth rasa, which was included by the commentator Peraachiriyar in place of raudra. However, Nagaswamy notes that in the next Sutra of Tolkappiyam as well as in two others, the sthaayibhava (dominant emotion) of raudra is included as one of the eight Bhavas, and one finds no mention of the nadu nilai. Based on such evidence, Nagaswamy concludes that Tolkappiyar himself did not recognize Shaantam as a Natya rasa, and followed the eight rasas originally laid out in the Natyasastra. The interested reader can refer to the book for more technical details.

Next, Dr Nagaswamy directs our attention to the chapter of Meypaattiyal which refers to “the realisation of suvai (rasa) mentioned in Bharata’s Natyasastra….. persons who realise certain feelings in their own inner consciousness, communicate the same to outsiders, to see or visually understand it, that is called meyppatu. Nagaswamy notes that this section is related to dance and the whole chapter is related to natya and summarizes his findings as follows: “Meypaatu of Tolkappiyam is the rasa theory of Bharata’s Natya Sastra. A careful study of Tolkappiyam indicates it follows Natya Sastra of Bharata and so the whole text is a reflection of Natya Sastra and shows unmistakable role of the Vedas.

In the next part of this series, we will study the book chapter covering two of the greatest Sangam Tamizh works, Silapathikaram and Manimekalai.

Additional References

  1. The Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit, R. Nagaswamy [2012]
  2. The Battle For Sanskrit, Rajiv Malhotra [2016].

Acknowledgment: thanks to n.r.i.pathi for reviewing the Meypaattu section.