Natya Shastra is an old treatise about the arts, dance, music etc. which was written in the period between 200 BC and 200AD. This was attributed to sage Bharata who was considered as the father of Indian Classical Dances. It was considered as the main dramatic theory of Sanskrit drama. Bharata describes drama as an imitation of a condition or any situation. The scope of Natya Shastra is wide and it deals with the music and literature as well. The various aspects of stage shows like makeup, costumes, dance, music etc are covered in this. This is the only text available which provides details about the stagecraft of the ancient period. Thus we can say that Natya Shastra is the foundation of the arts of our country.
The Natya Shastra text consists of 6000 slokas written in Sanskrit and is based on the Gandharva Veda which has around 36000 slokas. This work has 37 chapters and in this are described how to present a drama before the audience. There are rumors that this has been the work of several people as it is difficult to exactly date the period of writing. But Kapila Vatsyayan said that the work has unity of text and the composition looks like that it had been done by a single person.
Bharata explains about 15 types of drama that ranges from one to ten acts. There is a section that explains about the meaning conveyed by certain performances. There are 4 types of acting or abhinaya described in this. They are the Angika which is the acting done by body parts motion, Vachika which is the acting done by speech, Aharya which is that done by costumes and makeup and the Sathvika which is the acting expressed through the movements of the lips, ears, eyes etc.
In the first chapter of Natya Shastra, Bharata explains about the origin of Natya. According to myth Natya was created by Brahma as a source of entertainment. It is a source of pleasure as it provides visual and aural treat to the audience. The four Vedas are believed to be created by Brahma itself but the lower caste were deprived of learning them. So according to myth the Natya Veda, the art of drama was the fifth Veda created so that every one could practice it. The Natya Veda was handed to Lord Indra which was then given to Bharata. The drama of ancient times was presented by dancing. The dance form was attributed to Lord Shiva and the feminine form of dance was taught by Goddess Parvathi. It was written that the dance was performed from mountain slopes so that they could be protected from any calamities or any social problems. The practice of building a special playhouse for performing the arts arouse from this belief. Bharata has explained about the construction of a playhouse in his work. The nine chapters in Natya Shastra explain about music.