My present research project at IIAS  is intended as a development of my doctoral research, and its aim is to turn my PhD dissertation into a book, to be published in 2014. This dissertation, the title of which is “Theatre  and its other. The irresistible alterity of dance in Abhinavagupta’s theory of drama. A study, annotated translation and edition of selected portions from the fourth chapter of Abhinavagupta’s Abhinavabhāratī”, consists in a study of the fourth chapter of Abhinavagupta’s Abhinavabhāratī (11th c. C.E.) the only available commentary on the whole of Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra. As it is well-known, this ancient treatise on Sanskrit theatre (commonly dated between 2nd c. B.C. and 2nd c. C.E.) is referred to as an authority by all later writers on the subjects of theatre, dance and music. Its fourth chapter deals with the mythical introduction of dance (nṛtta) into theatre, with the technique of dance, and with its function within the play.

For my PhD dissertation, which was discussed in Rome in 2010, I presented an improved edition, a translation (the first into English) and a study of Abhinavagupta’s commentary on this chapter. The Abhinavabhāratī presents important conceptual innovations with regard to the treatment of dance found in the Nāṭyaśāstra, as well as detailed discussions about genres of performance unknown to Bharata. Even though later works treating of dance (Saṅgītaratnākara and Nṛttaratnāvalī for instance) incorporate materials from this commentary, especially from its technical parts, most of Abhinavagupta’s theoretical reflection on the nature and function of dance finds no continuation in the later texts, and has received comparatively little attention in modern studies on dance and drama. In particular, my study had focused on the role of dance and other non-representative elements (such as music and song) within the aesthetic process leading to the arousal of the rasa (essence and aim of theatre) as outlined by Abhinavagupta.

During the past two years, I have dedicated a post-doctoral research project in Paris (Ecole pratique des Hautes Etudes, section of Religious Studies), to another section of the Abhinavabhāratī, namely the fifth chapter, where dance is explored among other theatrical elements as part of the complex series of scenic operations which precede the performance of a play and takes the name pūrvaraṅga  or ‘preliminary rite’. This study aimed at highlighting the religious or ritualistic dimension of dance and music, and at furthering a larger investigation about the frontiers between ritual and theatre in South Asia, besides enquiring about Abhinavagupta’s specific views on ritual ad the role of art in it.

At IIAS, I will pursue this double line of enquiry (the aesthetic and the ritualistic), in view of  publishing my PhD dissertation. On the one hand, I will complete the critical edition of one portion of the fourth chapter, where the difference between theatre and dance is discussed in details, with the help of inedited manuscripts newly acquired during my last research stay in India. On the other hand, I will revise the introductory study on dance, following three main guidelines:

  • Exploring the relationship between theories and practices as reflected in the texts
  • Tracing the developments of literary and performing genres in medieval India and their codification in the theoretical treatises
  • Establishing the posterity of the Abhinavabhāratī and its aesthetic theories in Kashmir and beyond