The Natya Shastra was written by the sage Bharata or Bharatamuni who was directly inspired by the god Brahma, according to legend. It is believed to have been written during the period between 200 BCE and 200 CE. Some scholars believe it was written by various authors at different times.
The text is written in the Sanskrit language, and consists of 6,000 sutras, or verse stanzas, incorporated in 36 chapters. There are some passages that are composed in a prose form.
The name can be loosely translated as The Textbook on Drama. Natya, or nataka means drama, and in contemporary usage does not include dance. However, nataka originally derives from the word meaning “dance” (root: nat). This suggests that in traditional Sanskrit drama, music and dancing, as well as acting, were important. The Natya Shastra is incredibly wide in its scope. It consists of minutely detailed precepts for both playwrights and actors.
Bharata describes ten types of drama ranging from one to ten acts. In addition, he lays down principles for stage design, makeup, costume, dance (various movements and gestures), a theory of aesthetics (rasas and bhavas), acting, directing and music, each in individual chapters.
Bharata sets out a detailed theory of drama comparable to the Poetics of Aristotle. He refers to bhavas, the imitations of emotions that the actors perform, and the rasas (emotional responses) that they inspire in the audience. He argues that there are eight principal rasas: love, pity, anger, disgust, heroism, awe, terror and comedy, and that plays should mix different rasas but be dominated by one.