Monthly Archives: July 2015

Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Six

Continued from Part Five

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]


Can Kavya be defined?

The beginning of Sanskrit Kavya is, usually, illustrated by a dramatic moment when the first poet Adi Kavi Valmiki was impulsively provoked to cry out in anguish, as he watched a hunter strike down one of the sweet-voiced Krauncha pair.  The scene occurs in the verses [1-2-9 to 16] of the Second Sarga (chapter) of the First Book (Kanda) – Balakanda of Ramayana.

Two cries are uttered: first, the piteous wailing cry of the bird (karuna gir) on seeing her mate struck down , and withering on the ground covered with blood; and, the second, the cry of the sage , stricken with grief on seeing  the Kraunca hen scream in pain.

It is the karuna gir, the mournful lament of the Kranunchi that evokes in Valmiki the Karunyam, empathy or compassion. The term  karuna – usually translated as compassion – that occurs three times in the passage – is derived from the root Kri – meaning ‘ to pour out’ ; and, the term is meant to suggest pouring out , in response; or sharing the pain and anguish by ‘entering into the agony of another’. In that sense, Valmiki is giving voice to the inarticulate painful, heart wrenching shrill of the mourning female bird.

In the intensity of his feeling of compassion, Valmki thought ‘this is wrong’; and, cried out:

‘Since Nishada, you killed one of this pair of Krauncha birds, engaged in love; you shall not live very long’.

 मा निषाद प्रतोष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः |यत् क्रौञ्चमिथुनादेकमवधीः काममोहितम् || १५||

It is said; Adi Kavi Valmiki after pronouncing his first (Adi) Sloka exclaimed in amazement; what is this that is uttered by me (Kim idam vyahtham maya … किमिदं व्याहृतं मया…!).

His exclamation – Kim idam – what is this? – is a perpetual question in Kavya-shastra and, has prompted endless debates over the centuries

What, then, is this wonderful thing called Kavya?


Many have tried to explain what Kavya is?

The following explanations  of Kavya , as put forward by various scholars, is quite interesting:

: – Saba- arthau -sahitau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning (Bhamaha, Kavyalankara 1.6);

: – Nanu Sabda-arthau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning (Rudrata, Kavyalamkara 2.1);

:- Tad adosau Sabda-arthau sagunya alamkriti punah kvapti – this poetry is word and meaning , without blemishes, adorned with excellences , sometimes without the Alamkaras, figurative expressions.(Mammata , Kavyaprakasa 1.4);

:- Adosau sagunau sa-alamkarau cha sabda-arthau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning , without blemishes, furnished with excellences and Alamkara figures of speech ( Hemachandra , Kavyanushasana  1) ;

:- Sadhu-sabda-artha-samdarbham  guna-alamkara-bhushitam , sphuta- itirara- sopetam Kavyam  kurvita kirtaye – Let the poet ,with the object of gaining fame, compose Kavya intertwining word and meaning , and decorated with excellences and figures (Alamkara) and other poetic  sentiments in a clear style  (Vagbhata , Vagbhata-alamkara 1.2);

: – Sabda-arthau- nirdoshou sagunau prayah alamkarau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning; without faults, furnished with excellences and – often – with Alamkara, figurative speech (Vagbhata, Vagbhata-alamkara 1; and Kuntaka, Vakroktivijaya 1.7);]


In addition, Kuntaka came up with a detailed explanation. According to him, the word (Sabda) alone is not the body of poetry, but it is the happy fusion of word and sound which stands for ‘the body’ :  Sabdartyha sahitau kavyam. Kuntaka says the word (Sabda) and sense (Artha) , blended like two friends, creating each other, make Kavya delightful

Sama-sarva gunau santau sahhrudaveva sangathi I parasparasya shobhayai sabdartau bhavato thatha II

Further, Kuntaka says that the Real word is that which is chosen out of a number of possible synonyms and expresses the desired sense most aptly.  And, the real sense is that which by its own alluring nature causes pleasure in the mind of the Sahrudaya  (person of taste and culture)

Sabdau vivaksitartha kavachakautheyshu sathvapi I arthah sahrudaya ahladkari sva spanda sundarah II V.J.1.9

The togetherness of the word and sense is nothing but a captivating state which creates in the mind of the reader or the listener poetic delight which is exactly what is desired by the poet himself, neither less nor more

Sahitya manayo shobha shalitam prati kashyasau I Atyunna na athiriktha manoharinya vasthithihi II V.J.1.17


Then again, the scholars of the later period attempted to come up with a technical ‘Definition’ of Kavya , in place of  ‘explanations’. When the Poetic scholars set out to define Kavya, they set for themselves certain norms, parameters and ground rules. And, also decided to keep out the Drama (which they considered it as Agama-antara, a different tradition) out of the purview of Kavya, for the limited purpose of arring at a definition; and, similarly, the non-literary forms of Kavya were also kept aside.

According to the rules so framed:  any definition of Kavya should be free from three kinds of flaws (Dosha): it should not be too terse, covering too little (A-vyapti); it should not be too verbose, saying more than what is needed (Ati-vyapti);  and , it should nor be improbable or incompetent (A-samartha).  Therefore, any definition of Kavya had to be brief, precise and easy to understand; it should be definite without shadow of alternatives; and, should, as far as possible, be free from technical terms that need further explanations.

But, Kavya, I reckon, cannot of course be defined with precision;  or be  presented in a capsule as a well knit, and packed accurate pellet of information.

Each generation of Poet-Scholars, right from Bhamaha to Jagannatha Pandita tried to define Kavya. They, at best, tried to draw its clear picture. Their attempts could be termed as explanations, circumscribed by their understanding, rather than as definitions.

The explanations offered by those scholars, nevertheless, help us to gain some insight into the nature and role of elements of poetry; and their mutual relationships. All those scholars base their explanations in certain technical terms and elements (Kavya-agama) each having its own connotation: Sabda, Artha, Rasa, Alamkara, Riti, Dhvani, Vakrokti, Dosha, and, Dhvani.

Bhamaha (6th century) said:  ‘Kavya is where the Sabda (word) and Artha (its meaning) are harmoniously combined – Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam .But, that was not regarded by many as an ideal explanation, since it does not specifically pertain to Kavya; and can  be extended to cover even non-literary or technical works.

Bhamaha then extended his explanation to bring in the element of Alamkara; and, said: Kavya is the happy fusion of Sabda words and Artha which expresses Alamkaras relating to them – Sabda-abhideya-alamkara-bhedadhistam dvayam tu nah I Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam (KA.1.15). It was not clear whether Bhamaha meant Alamkara as the poetic principle or as the ornamental figures of speech. Further, the term Alamkara itself needs to be explained. Hence, this definition was not considered ideal.

Dandin says the body of Kavya is a group of sounds which indicates the desired or the happy aim intended by the poet – Sariram tavad ista-artha vyvachinna padavali (KA 1.10b). Here, the term ista-artha the desired effect or the desired import of the poet is rather too vague; and needs to be explained. Further, Dandin seemed to be defining the body of the Kavya rather than the Kavya itself. And, Padavali – the group of words – by itself and not accompanied by sense is not of great merit.

Vamana said Kavya is the union of sound and sense which is free from poetic flaws and is adorned with Gunas (excellence) and Alamkaras (ornamentation or figures of speech). Here, it was pointed out that the poetic excellence (Gunas) might be an essential aspect of a Kavya; but, the same cannot be said about Alamkara, the figure of speech.

Then again, Vamana said; the essence of Kavya is Riti (Ritir Atma Kavyasya). Riti represents for Vamana the particular structure of sounds (Vishista-pada-rachana Ritihi) combined with poetic excellence (Vishesho Gunatma). According to Vamana, Riti is the going or the flowing together of the elements of a poem – Rinati gacchati asyam guna iti riyate ksaraty asyam vanmaddhu-dhareti va ritih (Vamana KSS).  But, Vamana’s definition involves technical terms that need to be commented upon offering explanations. Hence, it is not an ideal one.

Anandavardhana‘s definition of Kavya involves two statements: Sabda-Artha sariram tavath vakyam; and, Dhvanir Atma Kavyasa – the body of poetry is the combination of words and sounds; and; Dhavni, the suggestive power is the soul of the poetry. Anandavardhana talks in terms of the body and soul of the Kavya. And he also refers to the internal beauty of a meaningful construction of words in the Kavya. But, Dhvani is a highly technical term, needing much explanation. This definition again   was not treated as an ideal one.

Abhinavagupta outlines a good (uttama) Kavya as that which is composed by a poet gifted with creative genius (Prathibha)  consisting of  Rasa; Vaisadya; and , Soundarya (Rasavesa – vaisadya – Soundarya – Kavya nirmana kshamatvam). That is to say; a Kavya should necessarily provide the delight (Rasa) that a good-hearted reader can enjoy with relish (asvadayanyti sumanasah). Vaisadya is the diction, with clear, precise and yet enjoyable expressions that a reader can understand and appreciate  without too much effort. And, Soundarya is the beauty , the charm (ramaniyata)  that adorns the composition (kavi karma) , providing a rare delight (lokottaraaahlada-janaka) that enchants the reader and captivates his attention, with ease. 

Kuntaka defined Kavya on the basis of Vakrokti, a concept which he himself put forward.  According to him, Kavya is the union of sound, sense and arranged in a composition which consists Vakrokti (oblique expressions of the poet), delighting its sensible reader or listener – (Sabda-Artha sahitau vakra Kavi vakya vyapara shalini I bandhe vyavasthitau Kavya tat ahlada karini VJ 1.7). Kuntaka also said that  the word and sense, blended like two friends, creating each other, make Kavya  delightful – Sama-sarva gunau santau sahhrudaveva sangathi I parasparasya shobhayai sabdartau bhavato thatha  II .  These definitions too are not acceptable because Vakrokti, like Alamkara, Riti and Dhvani is again a technical term.

Mammatacharya , initially , comes up with a highly idealized general vision of the Kavya.  in his Kavyaprakasa  he defines Kavya as : that which touches the innermost cords of human mind ; and, diffuses itself into the crevices of the heart ; working up a lasting sense of delight. It is an expression of the beautiful form and melodious language of the best thoughts and noblest emotions, which is the spectacle of life, awakening the finest souls (translation of: Sri M Srinivasachariar)

Sakala-prayojan-amaulibhūta samanantarameva rasā-asvādana-samudbhūta vigalita vedya āntaramānandam prabhu-samita śabda pradhāna vedādiś āstrebhya śabdā –a rthayor gua-bhāvena rasā agabhūta vyāpārapravaatayā vilakaa yat kāvya lokottara varanā-nipua  kavi karma

And later , when he comes to the specifics , Mammata explains Kavya as  that which is constructed by word and sentence which are (a) faultless (A-doshau) , (b) possessed of excellence (Sugunau) , and (c) in which rarely a distinct figure of speech  (Alamkriti) may be absent – tadadoṣau śabdārthau saguṇāvan alaṃkṛtī punaḥ kvāpi /3/

This definition was attacked by many, pointing out that it is impossible to compose a Kavya without a single blemish; and not a single Kavya would satisfy Mammata’s requirement. Further, it was remarked that the adjective Alamkriti doesn’t seem to be quite appropriate as it merely enhances the quality of a Kavya, but is not an essential aspect of Kavya. And, Mammata has employed number of technical terms like : Dosha, Guna, and Alamkara , which again need to be explained ; and , it also includes an alternate view like ‘Alamkriti punah kvapi. Thus Mammata’s definition was also rejected.

Vishwanatha briefly defined Kavya as Vakyam rasathmakam Kavyam – Kavya is sentences whose essence is Rasa. But, here, Rasa is a technical term which has multiple explanations. And, many said Kavya cannot merely be sentences or collection of words; there has to a happy fusion of word (Sabda) and sense (Artha). Hence, this definition also fell short.

Jagannatha Pandita defined Kavya as: Ramaniya-artha prathipadakah sabdam kavyam ; poetry is the  combination of words that provides delight. Here, Ramaniyata denotes not only poetic delight Rasa, pertaining to the main variety of Dhvani-kavya, but also to all the ingredients of Kavya like Vastu-Dhvani Kavya; Alamkara-Dhvani –Kavya, Guni-bhutha –vyangmaya-kavya; Riti; Guna, Alamkara, Vakrokti etc.

This definition covering all aspects of poetics covers  a wider field than Rasa which is limited to certain criteria. Moreover, the word Ramaniyata is not a technical term, but it covers all the essentials of a Kavya.

Jagannatha Pandita’s definition of Kavya as : Ramaniya-artha prathipadakah sabdam , seems almost nearer to the ideal.

But, I reckon, Kavya is best left un-defined, not put into a straightjacket.   Leaving it to the delight and enterprise of each reader or listener to work out his own levels of appreciation, derive the sense he sees as the best and enjoy the experience of Kavya in his own way seems to be better approach.


 Cause of poetry (Kavya hetu)

According to Rajasekhara , the poet is endowed with Karayitri Prathibha the creative genius while the reader or listener is to have Bhavayitri Prathibha the faculty for appreciation of good poetry; obviously, the poet posses both the faculties.

The Kavi Prathibha the creative intuition is the essential without which no creative art is possible.

The scholars have tried to present other factors that might be responsible for outflow of poetry (Kavya hethu).

Dandin mentions three causes of poetry: Naisargika Prathibha natural or inborn genius; Nirmala-shastra –jnana clear understanding of the Shastras; Amanda Abhiyoga ceaseless application and honing ones faculties.

Rudrata and Kuntaka also mention three causes:  Shakthi, the inborn intellectual brilliance; Utpatti, the accomplished knowledge of the texts and literary works; and, Abhyasa, constant practice of composing poetic works.

Vamana says three causes of poetry are: Loka, knowledge of the worldly matters, norms of behavior; Vidya. learning of various disciplines; and Prakirna  , miscellaneous ,  that is six causes : Lakshajnata , study of the texts; Abhiyoga, practice ; Vrddha seva , instructions from the learned experienced persons; Avekshana, the   use of appropriate words avoiding  blemishes;  Prathibhana, the inborn poetic genius ; and Avadhana, concentration or single pointed devotion to learning and composing.

Mammata  , in his Kavyaprakasha, puts forth the following as the three causes of poetry, while doing so he included the causes mentioned by Vamana: inborn intuitive power; proficiency in worldly conduct as also the study of scriptures and standard literary works; and, practice of composing poetic works through the help of some persons proficient in this art.

śaktir nipuṇatā loka-śāstra kāvyādya-avekṣaṇāt / kāvyajña śikṣayā abhyāsa iti hetus tad udbhave // MKpr-K_3 //

Earlier, Bhamaha , in his Kavyalamkara , had mentioned the three elements _  Utpatti, Abhyasa and Prathibha  – as  being the cause (hetu) of Kavya.

kāvyaṃ tu jāyate jātu kasya citpra tibhāvataḥ // Bh_1.5 //

In the ‘causes of poetry’ (Kavya hethu) mentioned above, while Utpatti and Abhyasa stand for  the constant learning-effort  and refinements that polish the poetry , the terms Shakthi or Prathibha,  is explained in various ways.

According to Rudrata, Shakthi or Prathibha is that essential factor through which the poet spontaneously presents any subject matter that haunts him or occupies his mind, using appropriate expressions.  This explanation seems to  lay more stress on the external form of poetry. Therefore, Bhatta-tauta brought in the most essential internal factor ‘ He explained Prathibha , in his often quoted words,  as the genius of the intellect (prajna) which creates new and innovative modes of expressions in art poetry –  Nava-navonvesha –shalini prajna prathibha mathah.

Vamana said, Prathibha is the seed for creating Kavya : Kavitva-bijam prathibhanam (K.S.13.6)

Kuntaka and Mammata tried to explain the very basis of the Prathibha. Kuntaka said: the faculty of creating a poetic work is an unique intellectual power, which gains maturity due to the inborn and acquired impressions (Samskara paripaka prouda prathibha) gathered in poet’s life-time.

Mammata, adding, said: Shakthi is the intellectual power that could be said to be  a sort of a mass of  impressions serving as a seed for sprouting of poetic work: Shakthih kavitva bija-rupah samskara vishesha (Kavyaprakasa 1.3)

Both these scholars suggest that Prathibha or Shakthi is essentially an inborn talent or genius; and, it cannot be acquired artificially or by mere hard work.

Hemachandra also accepts Prathibha as the prime cause of poetry; but says, that such essential inborn poetic gift should be refined and honed or chiseled by intellectual application (Utpatti) and constant practice (Abhyasa) .

The other factors that go into creation of a good Kavya include Utpatti and Abhyasa. Utpatti stands for detailed study of literary works and scriptures as also for knowledge of worldly matters. Through it, the natural (Sahaja) or inborn Prathibha gets refined, precise and capable of understanding the essentials of poetry as also of life. And, Abhyasa is constant practice of writing and creating poetry.

Jagannatha Pandita mentions that in addition to the above three factors , the divine grace (Devatha anugraha) is also essential.

The general view appears to be that Prathibha is the most essential factor for creation of Kavya (Kavya hetu) but it needs to be refined and polished by Utpatti and Abhyasa.

Then there is also the question whether the cause of poetry (Kavya hetu) could be the same as the fruits of benefits of poetry (Kavya prayojana) , such as achieving riches or fame or poetic pleasure etc. The opinion, in general, appears to be negative. The reason adduced is that , the Kavya hetu the cause of poetry  is prior to composition of poetry, while Kavya prayojana , the fruits of poetry come after the Kavya is composed and read by others.  But, at times, the fruits of a Kavya may act as an incentive and spur the poet to compose more and better poetry.


The purpose of Kavya

While the earlier theorists on poetics – Bhamaha , Dandin and Vamana-  state that the objectives of poetry are the renown (Kirti) won by the poem and its poet; and , enjoyment (Priti) enjoyed by the readers or the listeners of the poetry. The later sets of critics add instructions (upadesha) as one of the other virtues of a good poetry.

While composing poetry, a poet experiences aesthetic pleasure as a poet. And, after that, while reading or witnessing his own composition he feels aesthetic delight as a Shrudaya.  But, in a situation when he does not feel aesthetic pleasure due to some reason, he is neither a poet nor a reader, but an ordinary person.

Dhananjaya , following the lead given by Bharata [who had said that he devised the dramas to give , among other things, relief to those unlucky ones afflicted with sorrow and grief or over-work – dukhārtānā śramārtānā śokārtānā– NS.1.114 ]makes it abundantly clear that the prime objective of a Drama is to provide entertainment (ananda). Dhananjaya taunts; and mocks at one who naively believes that Drama, like history (itihasa), is there only to give knowledge.

He wryly remarks ‘ I salute  (tasmai namah) that simpleton  (alpabuddhih) who has averted his face from what is delightful ..!’

anandanisyandisu rupakesu/ vyutpattimatram phalam alpabuddhih / yo ‘pitihasadivad aha sadhus/ tasmai namah svaduparahmukhaya//DR.1.6//


The purpose of Kavya is to communicate, and to communicate effectively. The ultimate aim of poetry is to provide a sort of aesthetic rupture – Rasanubhava. Its said; Sadah parnivrtutti, the unalloyed joy is the foremost purpose of poetry . The suggestions offered in a persuasive manner, the kantha samhitopadesha comes only next.

These experiences are related both to the poet and to the Sahrudaya, the reader or spectator , either directly or indirectly.


Kavya Prayojana

There have been elaborate discussions on Kavya Prayojana – the benefits derived from Kavya or poetry. Those benefits are seen both from the point of view of the poet (Kavi) and of the cultured reader with refined tastes (Sahrudaya).

[ There is a wise-saying (subhashita) that declares : In the whole of this insipid world, there are just two sweet things: enjoyment of Kavya and company of good friends

Asare khalu samsare dve phale hi  amrutopame / kavya-rasa svadah,  sujane  sangah saha ]

It is generally agreed that the study of Kavya benefits us all (Loka-mangala). That is because, there is a faith that the poetry purifies the hearts and minds of the readers; and, it leads to the well-being (hita) of all and to a more civilized world. As regards the poet, it purifies him/her also, because, it elevates the consciousness of the poet in creating such sublime poetry.

It is said; Kavya confers all the four kinds of benefits (Chatur-varga –prapti) that are the seminal and enduring values of human life (Purushartha): Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. And, apart from that there is an immediate sense of delight as the reader savours (asvada) the nectar of inspiring, sublime poetry (Kavya-amruta-rasa).

Visvanatha says that the group of four benefits (Chatur-varga phala-prapit) is obtained, with great difficulty, by persons of dry intellect through dull and insipid Shastras: but, the riches of the same group can be attained, with ease, even by dullards, through delightfully pleasing Kavya.

The drift of the discussions in the Indian poetics indicate that Kavya confers both the visible and the invisible benefits. Mammata mentions six types of benefits that Kavya produces or leads to. His views  and that of the other scholars  could ,  generally , be, summarized as :

  • (1) the joyful experience  (Rasa) of  delight  (Ananda)   is the prime purpose of the Kavya- Kavya-ananda;
  • (2) the grace (Devata Prasada) that  leads to liberation (Moksha) which is the highest goal of human existence;
  • (3) it brings to the poet fame (Yashas, Kirti)  and wealth  (Dhana);
  • (4) it imparts knowledge (jnana) instructions (Vyavahara –jnana) for the betterment of our lives;
  • (5) it whispers into our hearts the agreeable advice(Vibodha) as in the manner of a lover (Kantha-samhita) ;
  • (6)  it renders us emotionally stronger (Buddhi -vivardhana) with enthusiasm for life (Utsaha) love (Priti, kama) for life and enjoyment (Sukha,Vilasa) , fortitude (Dhairya) , control over senses (Nigraha ), avoidance of the harmful (Anista –nivarana) etc.


And, Abhinavagupta in his Locana, commenting on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka, Uddyota 1, muses:  I often wonder, is not this world, filled with materials and objects, truly inert (jada)? The men and women who populate also, at times, seem inert. Methinks, it is only the creative genius of the poet (prathibha) that has the power to energize (sacetana) and enliven such rather insipid and inert existence. It can make the hard, rock-like world spring forth life-giving water.

The poet gifted with creative intellect (Prakhya); and, the learned listener/ reader (sahrudaya) blessed with understanding heart (Upakhya), together enrich the literary principles  (Sarasvathyas tatvam kavi-sahrudaya-akhyam vijayate).

apūrvaṃ yadvastu prathayati vinā kāraṇ-akalāṃ- jagadbhāva prakhyaṃ nija-rasa-bharāt-sārayati ca/ kramāt prakhyopākhyā prasara subhagaṃ bhāsayati tat sarasvatyā-statvaṃ kavi-sahṛdayā-akhyaṃ vijayate //


For a very detailed discussion on Kavya Prayojana, please click here.





Next Part


Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

A History of Classical Poetry: Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit by Siegfried Lienhard

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 By Harold G. Coward



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Posted by on July 26, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Five

Continued from Part Four

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

Language of Kavya

Poetry is often concerned with the day-to-day experiences and speaks in the common language. But, when those words and expressions walk into poetry, they acquire a totally different nature. The common words (prasiddha) are transformed into suggestive expressions that are less known outside of poetry (a-prasiddha). This is akin to the movements in classical dance where a simple thing such as walking as in common life (loka dharmi) is transformed into idioms of dance expressions (natya dharmi). Similarly, in poetry, If the common language is understood by all (loka dharmi), the poetic expressions are relished by Sahrdaya, the cultured ones (kavya dharmi).

As regards the distinctions between language of poetry and the language of everyday, the earliest modes of such distinctions were of course the meter (chhandas), enlivening of the text with innovative and decorative phrases (Alamkara) along with detailed descriptions of the emotions as also of the surroundings. Kavya also makes abundant use of metaphors; the repetition of conventional patterns and images; and, of long winding unusual expressions. And, naturally, such poetry does not yield itself at the first glance or reading. It needs to be savored slowly in small measures, over and over again.

The technique of poetry makes use of different devices in various ways. But, to ensure that poetry retains its own natural language-flow, usually, it   avoids use of banal words.  In order to just avoid the over-used words, the poets often try being innovative and create words, phrases and expressions that are striking and rather unusual. The various forms of metaphors and similes thus created leads to a broadening of the perspective and produces a multiple view of the subject in an artistic manner. Not only the poets reveal familiar subjects in a new light, but they also reveal truths that hitherto were not quite obvious. They also unfold relationships and beauties that are either not present in ordinary life or else remain unrecognized.


Kuntaka (10th century) in his Vakrokti-jivita finds Bhamaha’s definition of Kavya – Sabdarthau sahitau Kavyam– ‘Poetry is composed of word and meaning together’ – rather inadequate. Kuntaka remarks:  the mere fact that word and meaning exist together cannot be the defining characteristic of poetic expression; for it is what characterizes all linguistic expressions whether be it prose, poetry or whatever; no linguistic expression is possible without it.

Therefore, Kuntaka observes, the language of poetry is a special kind of Sahitya – Visistam evah sahityam abhipretam.  Its uniqueness consists in the fact that the word and the meaning have equal importance: – Anyu-nana-atiriktatva. They ‘vie with each other’ – paraspara sparsparditva; they are united like two intimate friends – suhrudva iva samgatau; and,  they  delight in  the beauty of each other – parasparasya sobhaya bhavataha.  

samasarvaguṇau santau suhṛdāv iva saṅgatau / parasparasya śobhāyai śabdārthau bhavato yathā // VjivC_1.18 //

The relation between words in Kavya is indeed unique .  Their  harmony resides  in the creative genius  (pratibha) of the poet ; and, is  realized in an inspired  poetic instant (tat-kalo-likhita)  while on the sublime  road of poetry (alaukika kavya-marge)  i.e. of poetic activity (kavi-karma-vartmani) . Such inspired poetry enchants the minds of the sensitive readers or listeners (chetana-chamatkarita, sahrudaya-ahladakarita). Although several other words might possibly be available for expressing a single  idea, the expression chosen by a gifted poet  is exceptional and irreplaceable- sabdo vivakshit-arthai-kava-vacahako ‘nyesu satsv api.

Kuntaka illustrates how there is accord not only between the words and their meanings, but also between the words themselves; and between the meanings themselves – in fact, among all the constituent elements poetry.  He gives examples from the works of great poets such as Magha and Bhavabhuti.

Kuntaka shows how such accord results in the musical quality of poetry.  He remarks; like music, poetry is that which, by virtue of the beauty of tits expressions, its composition, fills the hearts of the connoisseurs with delight instantly, even when its meaning has not been pondered:

aparyalocite ‘py arthe bandha-saundarya-sampada / gitavad dhrdayahliidarh tadvidam vidadhati yat // VjivC_1.37 //


Poetry is a more liberated form of expression as compared to prose. One cannot easily define poetry.  Poetry discards the rigidity, the disciplines and the correctness of the structure prescribed by the grammar. Poetry enjoys the voluptuous malleability and freedom with words and sounds; it bends and twists them in any number of ways. Its concern is not so much with the correctness of form than with the sensitivity, refinement and brevity in expression of a range of thoughts, feelings and human emotions of joy, sorrow, grief, hope, despair, anger and fulfilment.

Poetry can be subtle and suggestive. The imagery that poetry evokes can hardly be captured in words. What is unsaid in poetry is more evocative than the explicit.

Grammar (Vyakarana) concerns itself with the arrangement of words into sentences. It does not, however, account for the pattern of meanings. The poetry on the other hand is much concerned with the arrangement of words. But, it does strive to convey a meaning. The poetic beauty does not solely dependent on the strict order of words or other conventions. It in fact goes beyond regulated regimens.

Poetry, in the Indian traditions, is often called ‘vyakaranasya puccham’ – the tail piece or the appendix of Grammar. The Grammar determines the correctness of the words and their arrangement within a sentence. The poetry is however more concerned with the appropriateness and mutual relations among the words.  The poetry, as far as possible, follows Grammar. But , when it find the rules of Grammar too constrained or suffocating , it switches over to other means of expressions that are more appropriate or conducive to its natural flow; or , it invents its own means. At times, when those inventive expressions of poetic suggestions are so charming and become so popular, they walk into Grammar per se.  Scholars like Nagesha Bhatta say that Grammarians must necessarily accept (svikara avashyakah) the power of suggestion (Dhvani) – vyakarananamapi etat svikara avashyakah).

It is , therefore, often said that the poets enjoy a rare privilege; and a certain liberty that others cannot claim. They seem tho have the licence to wield the language in any manner they choose appropriate to their work. In a way of speaking; a poet can typically write ‘against the natural language’; breaking conventions , transgressing grammatical rules , and saying what could not have been said ordinarily .

Thus, Poetry has the power to set us free from the limited confines of our own set rules. Poetry represents the world as a man chooses to see it. Poetry is Truth, but not necessarily reality.

Poetry is a search for syllables to express an unknown. It is direct and universal. It appeals to the heart. It finds its echo in another heart. Poetry is the heart talking through the mind.


The complex web of words and meanings capable of being transformed into aesthetic experience is said to have certain characteristic features. These are said to be Gunas and Alamkaras. These – words and meanings; Alamkara; Gunas; and, Rasa – though seem separable are in fact fused into the structure of the poetry. Poetics accounts for the nature of these features and their inter-relations

That is to say that poetry creates for itself a language which has a character of its own (Riti, Marga). It might, if it so chooses, depart from the ordinary day-to-day common usage. With that the poem aims at a definite stylistic effect (vishista). The poet arranges his material or the building-bricks in a non-standard fashion, in a manner that is different from the ordinary usage. As Vamana points out, it is the creative process that involves using word-order (pada-charana) in peculiar or specialized (Visista) ways that possess certain characteristics (Kavya-alamkara). Vamana puts forth the view that such special characteristics (Visesha) of a Kavya are mainly derived from the fact that the poet deliberately attempts to create a fresh or ingenious style of depiction with his unique expressions. The poetic language wears a clock or a veil, so to say.

This unique virtue of poetry provides space for experimentation. For instance; Bhamaha indulged in vakrokti, a twisted way of expressing a thing; Dandin brought in Samdhi-guna; and Udbhata introduced the secondary expressions (amukhya-vyapara). Such hitherto unknown or unusual terms necessarily called for explanations or indication (lakshana) in order to be understood.

In the process, Vamana and others lay much emphasis on the style (Riti or Marga); and, regard it as the most essential virtue of a Kavya. But, such views are not generally accepted, because Riti is but one among the ten traditionally recognized essential elements of a Kavya; and Riti(style ) is not everything that one looks for in a Kavya.

This has reference to the mistaken notion that Kavya is all about high-flown language. For instance; Bhatti takes pride in stating that his poems would not be intelligible to people who are not scholars. This wrong perspective arose probably from the fact that the grammatical and lexicographical sciences as well as the philosophical discipline had attained a high water-mark of respect with the learned people who alone could be the judges of poetry.  It had also something to do with the vain culture of Court-poetry where the rival poets threw challenges at each other in the form of abstruse verses. The failure to solve the puzzle-like verses invariably ended in humiliation.

This high-brow and twisted view of poetic language however, was not universal. Bhamaha urged that kavya should be written in such a manner as to be intelligible even to those who have no learning or general education. Later, Vamana who examined the whole issue said that the poetic beauty does not exist merely in twisted or unusual expressions; but, in the intrinsic merit (guna) of the poetry itself. Then he said, the ultimate object of good poetry in rasa, the enjoyment.

Thus, the general view is that in order to enable his text not only to convey   but also to dress its narration in an artistic manner , the poet might  reasonably  use complex expressions and  structures. But yet, he should not lose sight of the fact that the natural language is the foundation of good  poetry.

The popularity of Ramayana among the common people is the standing testimony to this truth. In spite of the high regard for finer poetry, Indians have always considered the simpler Epic of Ramayana as an ideal Kavya.


The poetic way of expression is employed both by the literary and the non-literary works.  The non-literary works though in poetic form are not regarded as Kavya per se. For instance; presentation of Astronomy in Varahamihira’s Brahmasamhita; or of Algebra in Bhaskara’s Leelavathi contain many verses, beautiful descriptions of nature and of poetic merit that they almost are Kavya. Similarly, Suryapandita’s work on Astronomy (Bhaskarabhushana) has beautiful verses praying to Sun god.  There are also numbers of philosophical works elucidated in poetry.

Even in the non-technical works, the materials of Shastra and Itihasa very often overlap. The materials of Shastra can appear in itihasa, as they frequently do in the Mahabharata or in a kavya. Similarly, the materials of Itihasa can appear in kavya, as in the Harshacharita of Banabhatta.  And, many masters of systematic thought across the religious and philosophical spectrum wrote kavya, often very un-philosophical kavya.

Sanskrit Poetics approves role of Kavya as a vehicle for imparting instructions. But, Kavya need not always deal with learned matters. In fact, too much learning will affect the appeal of a poem. It might turn preachy. There are therefore short poems or couplets that in a capsule form impart moral codes (Niti), wisdom and erotic (Sringara). The most well known poems of this genre are Bhartrhari’s sets of stanzas on Sringara and Vairagya.

Although the words used in Kavya and in the non-lterary Shastra works are the same they do not evoke the same joy or other emotions

Kshemendra makes a distinction between Kavya and Shastra; that is between the purely poetic works and other subject oriented works that are in poetic form. And he also mentions of works that fall in the intermediate zone: Shastra-kavya – poetry that is also technical; and, Kavya-shastra – a technical work that is also poetry.

Basically, Shastra is informative in its character and its style is textual; Kavya, on the other hand, is complex in its structure, employing a language of its own, embellished with artistic metaphors, similes and unusual expressions.

The non-literary work might use, within reasonable bounds, flowery or artistic language or aim at achieving a definite stylistic effect (vishista).But; it would be a mistake if it gets its priorities wrong. It should be more focused on its primary objective which is imparting information, instructions and knowledge, than on seemingly artistic flourish of its language. That would be, as they say, counting the trees but loosing the woods, which is laying premium on minor detail but missing the big picture.


Raja Bhoja (1011–1055) states: another way by distinguishing kavya from ordinary language is in terms of directness. Ordinary language is the direct language of Shastra and everyday life; kavya, in contrast, is the indirect language abounding in descriptions, but, its statements do not prescribe action. Its way of saying is  indirect , indirection (Vakrokti) — an unique manner of expression. .  Raja Bhoja says: Do not read kavya the way you read Shastra, Purana, or the Vedas; do not be concerned (except insofar as it is a source of pleasure) about a breach between what is said and what is really meant; about its relation with an actual world;   and about information or injunction. And do not expect the language of the kavya to be like ordinary language; its purposes are different.

According to Bhoja, all kinds of texts—science, narratives of things, including Shastra and Purana, have the capacity to teach us something by prescribing (Vidhi) or prohibiting  action (Nishedha) of some sort. Bhoja calls this the educative function. But, Kavya neither prescribes nor prohibits any sort of action; nor does it quote the past authorities in support of its suggestions. It does not expressly enjoin or define appropriate action. Its relevance resides precisely in its own utterances (Ukti). The Shastra and the Vedas act like a master in commanding (Prabhu Samhita) ; the texts of the wise sages are  like a counseling  by a friend in (Mitra Samhita) ;and,  kavya’s Ukti (utterances) are  like sweet whisperings  of the beloved (Kanta Samhita) . Kavya’s ways are endearing and more persuasive.


The Veda is set apart from the domain of Kavya, for various reasons.   The Vedas impart instructions in regard to true knowledge and right action (Dharmavidhi). Imparting knowledge and instructions are its primary functions; and the question of language, however meticulous, is secondary. The role of language in Veda does not seem to be as crucial as it is in a Kavya. At the same time, Kavya too instructs, in its own way; but without commanding the reader to act in a certain manner.

The Vedas are believed to be intuitive perceptions (Darshana) as envisioned by the seers (Rishi). They are direct; and, its authors transmit their vision, in its pristine purity, perfectly, by expressing exactly what they mean. However, in the kavya, as in everyday life, we often employ metaphorical language, which may give out multiple meanings.  But no such divergence occurs between verbal intention and the Truth as depicted in the texts of the Rishis. .

Elements of kavya are doubtless present in the Veda itself (Sruti) as also in   the Smruti (Vedic texts remembered),    in the narratives of the events that occurred in the past (itihasa), and in ancient lore (purana).  But such poetic elements are incidental to the principal objects of those texts; and, therefore are not of prime importance to their traditional readers or listeners.

There are also other difference between the Vedic poetry and Kavya. The language of the Vedas is different from the classic Sanskrit of the post-Panini era. The imagery and poetic vocabulary too are different. For instance; you do not find in the Samhitas descriptions of young , beautiful  adorable girls through pet idioms that became common in the Kavya works : moon-like or lotus-like face; fleeting eyes of a gazelle; narrow waist; gait like that of a swan etc. There are also no poetic conventions or symbolisms   in the Samhita that speak in terms of: a Chakora bird which is nourished by moon beams; a Chataka bird which feeds on rain-drops; or, Chakravaka which is ever faithful and pining for its partner.

The two ideas seem to be present here:  (i) what makes kavya different from everything else has essentially to do with language itself; (ii)   and, accordingly, literary analysis must center on language. These are two presuppositions that span the entire history of kavya theory and profoundly influenced its production.

A K Warder, in his Indian Kavya Literature (vol. One) explains the distinctions between the literary and non-literary works, particularly those on philosophical subjects. And, the dictions he mentions can very well cover the technical works:

 “Kavya is distinguished from philosophy and most scriptures, in that it is centered in man. As compared with philosophy, which may also be humanist in outlook, Kavya is an art form, presenting its truths and its comments through images and individual characters. The humanism of Kavya differs from that of the critical and analytical schools of philosophy in its endless riches of concrete details, which aims to present by examples the infinite variety of particular times, places, persons situations and actions. Its subject matter is human experiences of life, accumulated over thousands of years, an epic of humanity which is not available to us in any other form. This experience is presented in terms of human emotions: the reactions of the people to situations in life’.

lotus design

Continued in

Next Part





References and Sources

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

Indian Kavya Literature (vol. One) by A K Warder

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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

Dhvani – Rasa Dhvani

Poetry is basically a verbal icon or verbal structure; as such, there cannot be any poetry without words. Therefore, any discussion on poetry necessarily  involves discussion on words. The poetry also invokes emotional response. And, that is followed by the understanding of it’s  emotive language ; and, the appreciation by the reader of the true import of the poet. All these elements are , therefore, highly essential for enjoyment of poetry. Thus, the success of a good Kavya fundamentally involves three aspects:  the poet’s creative inspiration (Prathibha); its  form  by way  of the words (Sabda) and meaning (Artha), i.e. body (Sarira) of the Kavya ;  and , the aesthetic  effect it has  upon the reader (Rasa)  – Kavih karoti kvyam; Rasam jananthi panditah.

Abhinavagupta, quoting his teacher Bhattatauta, says: the the poet and an appreciative cultured listener/reader share a common experience of delight (kavaye shrotruh samanau anubhavas-tatah). And, both are partners in poetic experience; each is inspired in his own manner. While the poet is blessed with creative genius (karayatri), which is an unfettered faculty (Prakhya-purna); the good-hearted reader (sahrudaya) is endowed with the receptive power (Bhavayatri), which lets her/him enjoy good poetry with delight (Asvadana). He empathizes with the poet (Upakhya); and, recreates , for his relish, the poet’s  creative experience (Anu-sristi) ; just as the moon reflects the glow of the Sun.

Abhinavagupta says: If the poet has Prathibha, the creative genius ; the listener has its reflection or counterpart Prathibhana (Adhikari chatra vimala prathibhana sahrudayah). Yaska remarks that the poet and the listener , each in his own manner , could even be called a Rishi, a seer. The poet has direct experience (sakshath rishi) ; and, the listener derives the same delight by listening to the poet (shruth rishi).  

The ultimate object of Kavya is Rasa, the aesthetic delight. As Taittiriya Upanishad remarks in another context: rasam hi evaayam labhvaanandi bhavati- on experiencing Rasa , one becomes truly blissful.

Let’s, therefore, briefly talk about words, meanings and Rasa.

As mentioned earlier in the series, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and, it suggests (vyanjana).  The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed; its relation to the next word ; and, its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relationship among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

Of these, the Vyanjana-artha, which is the suggested sense or the essence of the word is most interesting; and, is much debated. This is based in the principle that   the meaning of word is not limited to its literal sense; the word has the power to reach far beyond the obvious. In poetry, the word acquires another power Vyanjana-vritti the suggestive function. It is the    power which activates the potential hidden in the word. And, the word acquires a new glow. Through the suggestive function of the word; a new meaning or plurality of meanings emerges transcending the obvious literal sense, far more beautiful and sensitive.

The suggestive word, the suggested meaning, the power of suggestion; and, their mutual relationship are virtually the lifeblood of Indian poetics.  In fact, this is what that distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature.

The suggested sense Vyanjana-artha, which (though not explicit) becomes the object of awareness, is regarded as the essence of poetry. The Dhvani School put forward by Anandavardhana (Ca. 850 AD) through his Dhvanyaloka (also called Kavyaloka and Sahridayaloka), brought focus on the potential power of the word in a Kavya. Here, the word (Sabda) together with its literal sense (Vakyartha) is said to form the body (Sarira) of Kavya, it is the cloak of its soul.  But, the essence of poetry is elsewhere; it is not directly visible; and, that essence is the suggested sense of the word (Vyanjana-artha).

Which is to say : it is not the direct literal and obvious meaning that is explicit in poetry, but it is the suggested, indirect (paroksha-artha) and emotive meaning that matters. It does not mean that words and primary meanings are unimportant.  What is suggested here is that:  though the words of a Kavya and their literal sense must be given their due importance, they are but a medium for emotive and indirect meaning to flash forth. In good poetry, this suggested meaning dominates over the words and their literal meaning. As Anandavardhana puts it, the latter are compared to a woman’s body ; and, the former to her grace and beauty, which is a subtler manifestation and a more profound meaning of the womanhood.

The primary meaning can be understood by all. But, the suggested meaning is understood only by those who are gifted with some imagination and a sort of intuition. Here, the mere knowledge of the word alone is not enough to understand and enjoy the poetic import or the essence of the Kavya. It needs intuition or Prathibha.  Mammatacharya calls Prathibha as – nava-navaonvesha-shalini prajna – the ever inventive and resourceful intellect. Prathibha is also called, at times, as Vasana.  Only those endowed with Prathibha can truly enjoy the essence and beauty of Kavya. That is why, it is remarked, that the Grammarians (unlike the goodhearted cultured reader the Sahrudaya) cannot truly appreciate and enjoy the Rasa of good poetry. They are incapable of looking beyond what appears obvious.

[One of the hymns of the Rig-Veda  makes a distinction between a person who merely learns the literal meaning of a verse ; and , a person who  goes beyond the ordinary meaning of the words, and  tries to understand  and grasp its inner significance. It says : the former sees , but , does not see; and, he hears , but does not hear. It is only to the latter that Vac (speech) reveals herself completely, just as a loving wife to her husband.

uta tvaḥ paśyan na dadarśa vācam uta tvaḥ śṛṇvan na śṛṇoty enām |  uto tvasmai tanvaṃ vi sasre jāyeva patya uśatī suvāsāḥ |RV_10,071.04|

In another passage of the Rig-Veda , it is said that the great poets select their words by ‘winnowing away the chaff from the grain’; and, only the persons of equal learning and refinement can truly appreciate their poems, fully.

saktum iva titaunā punanto yatra dhīrā manasā vācam akrata | atrā sakhāyaḥ  sakhyāni jānate bhadraiṣāṃ lakṣmīr nihitādhi vāci |RV_10,071.02 ]


It is said; in the highest class of Kavya, the denoted meaning (Vakyartha)  and  the denoting meaning (Lakshyartha)  is subservient to  revealing the suggested sense word (Vyanjana-artha); and , it is  called Dhvani by the scholars – dhvanir iti sūribhiḥ kathitaḥ  – Dhv.1.13

yatrārthaḥ śabdo vā tam artham upasarjanīkṛta-svārthau / vyaṅktaḥ kāvya-viśeṣaḥ sa dhvanir iti sūribhiḥ kathitaḥ // DhvK_1.13 //

The suggested sense of the word, designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion), is regarded by Anandavardhana as the soul of a Kavya:  Kavyasya Atma Dhvanih.

Mammata   (Kavyaprakasa 1.4-5) seems to suggest  that Anandavardhana graded the entire body of Kavya into three classes (some dispute Mammata’s statement and point out that Anandavardhana did not say any such thing ) :  

  • (a) Dhvani-kavya (the poetry that suggests) as the true Kavya, the best (Uttama), where Dhvani the unspoken suggestive element is dominant;
  • (b) the second, Gunibhuta-vamgmaya-kavya (well endowed descriptive poetry, as the middle (Madhyama) where Dhvani is secondary to Alamkara, and serves as a decoration for the spoken or expressed meaning; and ,
  • (c) and Chitra Kavya (poetry that structured into various patterns or drawings) as the least (Adhama) which depends entirely on verbal play for its elegance and elaboration, and where Dhvani the suggestive power of poetry is absent.

tadadoṣau śabdārthau saguṇāvan-alaṅkṛtī punaḥ kvāpi / idam-uttamam-atiśayini vyaṅgye vācyāddhvanirbudhaiḥ kathitaḥ // MKpr-K_4 //

atādṛśi guṇībhūta-vyaṅgyaṃ vyaṅgye tu madhyamam / śabdacitraṃ vācya citram avyaṅgyaṃ tvavaraṃ smṛtam // MKpr-K_5 

[Anandavardhana (9th century) and his theory of Dhvani mark the beginning of a new-phase (Navina) in Indian Poetics.   The Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana marks a departure from the old ways of understanding Kavya. It makes an attempt to study Poetics from aesthetic point of view, assimilating all the essentials of various other schools. By giving prominence to Rasa, he lends a new explanation to all the problems of Poetics. According to that, Alamkara, Riti and Guna have their importance only in the context of Dhvani the suggestion which is the soul of Kavya.

The older School (Prachina) – of Bhamaha, Dandin Vamana and others – that belonged to about the 7th century dealt with natural or human situation idealized by the poet , for its own sake. The attention of the Prachina School was focused on ornamented figures of speech (Alamkara) and the beauty (sobha, carutva) of the expression or on the ‘body’ of poetry. Their Rasa theory generally was based in dramatic art .Therefore it did not come under Poetic proper.

The Navina School pointed out that the reader should not stop at  the expression but should go further into the meaning that is suggested, or hinted, by it. This suggested sense is the essence of Kavya. It differs from the expressed and the indicated sense. The Navina School laid more importance on the emotional content (Bhava) of the Kavya. But, here, the emotive element was not directly expressed in words (Vachya) ; but , had to be grasped by  the reader indirectly (Parokshya ) through suggestions. Yet, through the description of the situation the reader understands the emotion and derives that exalted delight, Rasa.

Anandavardhana, in his Dhvanyaloka , says that Vynjaartha (the un-expressed or the suggested meaning) is Dhvani – perhaps, inspired by Bhartrhari’s theory of Sphota . It is the essence of poetry. It sheds light on the function of suggestion in poetry. It is Vyanjana (revealing) and Dhvanana (echoing) or gamana (implication) or pratyayana (acquainting) of poetry which is superior to Vachya (expressed meaning)

Here, the words (Sabda), explicit mean (Vakyartha) the body (Sarira) of the Kavya. The subtle, suggested essence of the Kavya that resides within and is extracted with delight by the cultured reader (Sahrudaya) is the Dhavni.

The Dhvani theory introduced a new wave of thought in Indian Poetics. According to this school the Kavya that suggests Rasa is excellent. In Kavya, they said, neither Alamkara nor Rasa but Dhvani which suggest Rasa, the poetic sentiment, is the essence, the soul ( Kavyasya-atma sa eva arthas –  Dhv.1.5).

While stating that Dhvani is superior, Navina also establishes the status of Rasa. In this scheme the relative positions of Rasa, Guna, Alamkara and Dosa get fixed. It gives due credit to poet’s imagination and his sense of propriety.

Though Dhvani was regarded the soul of poetry, the Navina did not lose sight of Rasa. It divided Dhvani into three kinds – Vastu (matter), Alamkara (figures of speech) and Rasa (emotion) .

Thus the evolution of the Navina School marks a transition from the ‘outer’ element to the ‘inner’ one, in regard to the method, the content and appreciation of the Kavya. The criteria, here, is not whether the expression sounds beautiful; but, whether its qualities (Guna) are adequate (Auchitya) to lead the reader to the inner core of the poetry.]

It is said; the concept of Dhvani was inspired by the ancient doctrine of Sphota, that which flashes or bursts forth the meaning. The term Sphota signifies:  bursting; opening; expansion; disclosure; the eternal and imperceptible element of sound and words; and, is the real vehicle of the idea which bursts or flashes on the mind when a sound is uttered.

Nagesha Bhatta (author of Manjusha and Shpota-vada) identifies Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rule, as the originator of the Sphota concept.  Bhartrihari quotes Yaska as mentioning that another ancient authority, the sage Audumbarayana together with Varttaksa held views similar to the Sphota theory. Yaska had mentioned (Nirukta: 1-2) about a theory suggested by Audumbarayana that a sentence or an utterance is primary and is a whole,  an indivisible unit of language. Audumbarayana, it appears, had also mentioned that the four-fold classification of words into : noun, verb, upasarga and nipata does not hold good. And therefore, Bhartrhari claimed that the views of these ancients support his own theory –Sphota-vada.


[But, Yaska himself had not agreed with Audumbarayana; and, had went on to talk about Bhava – the being and becoming of  verbs from their roots’ and about their transformations (Vikara) .]

 In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved.  Perhaps, this claim provided the model upon which the Vyakarana philosophers based their concept of Sphota. Indeed Sphota is often identified with Pranava.

It was Bhartrhari (around 485 AD) in his great work Vakyapadiya (all about sentence and word) elaborated and established the Sphota doctrine in the realm of Grammar and in Philosophy.

According to Bhartrhari, the perfect perception is that in which there is identity between the object (namely, the Sphota) and the form of its cognition (namely, words or the letters of sounds). This special kind of perception is held to be function of mind, rather than of the external senses.

Abhinavagupta (10th -11th century) who wrote a great commentary, titled Dhvanya-Lochana or Lochana, on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka, explains the concept of Dhavni in two ways: as  Sabda Shakthi moola based in the sound of the expression  ; and as Artha-Shakthi rnoola based in the implied meaning of the expression.  He says, Dhvani, in poetics, is so termed because it sounds, rings, or reverberates (Dhvanat iti Dhvani); and, in the second, he says Dhvanyate iti Dhvani that meaning which is implied is Dhvani. The second, suggesting the implied meaning is the more appropriate one. Thus, the faculty of indicating something which it is not is the distinguishing character of Dhvani. In other words, in a verbal expression abhidha and lakshana form the body; and, Vyanjana or Dhvani is in the nature of its  contents. Dhvani is the essence or soul of poetry.

While expanding on the concept of Dhvani, Anandavardhana did not confine himself to the words and sentences, but went on to include all contextual factors such as: the tone and gestures, the sound effect produced, the rhythm, the metere as well as the literal sense.

But at the same time, Anandavardhana did not get involved in the comprehensive linguistic phenomenon, the Vyanjana and its suggestive power. Similarly, he did not venture into the philosophical and grammatical world of Sphota as Bhartrhari did.  Anandavardhana confined his attention to the poetic language and to the suggestion of meanings of aesthetic value. His theory of Dhvani, to put it simply, is Vyanjana or suggestion as applied to poetry. In the process, Anandavardhana chose to align his theory of Dhvani with Rasa as initially outlined by Bharata. It is these two concepts – Dhvani and Rasa – that are the building blocks of Anandavardhana’s  theory of Poetics.

According to Anandavardhana, the element of Rasa has to reside in the poet, in his creation Kavya and in the reader, the enjoyer. The poet has to be inspired, charged with emotion to create a poetry that comes alive with suggestions (Dhvani). The poet is the first reader of his Kavya; and the first one to experience Rasa from its Dhvani sensitivities. For instance, Adi Kavi Valmiki was so intensely hurt and saddened by the wailing of curlew bird whose mate was shot down by a hunter in the woods, that his grief (Shoka) poured out into a verse (Shloka) filled with pathos that became the Rasa of Ramayana.

Anandavardhana maintained that experience of Rasa comes through the unravelling of the suggested sense (Dhavani). It is through Dhvani that Rasa arises (Rasa-dhavani).  The experience of the poetic beauty (Rasa) though elusive, by which the reader is delighted, comes through the understanding heart.

Thus, the principle of Dhvani is the most important of the Kavya dharma, understanding Kavya. And, the Rasa experience derived from its  inner essence is the ultimate aim of Kavya. Hence, the epithet Kavyasya Atma Dhvani resonates with Kavyasya Atma Rasah.

Although it decaled that the soul of Kavya is verily the Rasa, the Dhvani School did not abandon the concepts of the  earlier (Prachina)  Schools : Alamkara, Riti and Auchitya etc . It assimilated within it all their essences. It said; the Gunas really qualify the Rasa; hence a Kavya should employ Gunas that are relevant to its dominant Rasa. As regards the Alamkaras that decorate the body of Kavya   with beauteous and sparkling expressions and render it more attractive, they do nourish the Rasa. Thus, The Dhvani School accorded each element of Kavya its appropriate position.

And then there is the element or principle of Auchitya (propriety). Be it Alamkara or Guna, it would  be beautiful and relishing only so long it is  appropriate from the point of view of Rasa . And, they would be rejected if they are not appropriate to the main Rasa (Angirasa) of the Kavya. In the same vein, what is normally considered a Dosha (flaw) might turn into Guna (virtue) when it is appropriate to the Rasa. That again means, the beauty or the delight of a Kavya resides in its experience, Rasa.

Dhvani principle can be said, briefly, in statements: Rasa (aesthetic experience) is the soul of poetry; the mode in which the body of the poetry reveals it is Dhvani (suggestion); and, the harmonious accordance of the body and the soul is Auchitya (propriety) . Rasa, Dhvani and Auchitya are the Prastha traya, the three fundamental principles of Kavya Shastra.


As I understand it ; the basic position of Anandavardhana is that an emotion cannot be evoked in a reader by mere mention of a name or a term and its bare description. It has to be suggested by describing the situation and the contextual factors. These include the literary meaning as also the suggestive possibilities of the expression such as: intonation , stress, the sound echoing the sense, rhythm, indicative imagery (bodhaka) , and expressive symbols (vachaka).

According to Anandavardhana, all these devices are to be used for helping to evoke the right response in the mind and the heart of the reader. With that, the same utterance may convey different suggestions to different people depending upon their level of understanding and receptivity. He thus brought the emotional response or enjoyment of the listener or the reader (Rasa) within the ambit of ‘meaning’. Thus, language acquires a limitless suggestive power. The object of such power is to provide unalloyed pleasure (Ananda) to the reader by evoking the Rasa.

Anandavardhana introduced a sort of new norm into Kavya.  He said there should be one predominant Rasa (which he called Angirasa) in a Kavya which includes Drama, Epic, lyric etc. According to him, in a Kavya, all other Rasas that are either mutually conflicting or supportive   should be subordinate to its Angirasa. But, Bharata who was mainly concerned with the successful productions of Drama that has to please varieties of people with different   or varied tastes, did not seem to considered it from that angle. And, therefore, Bharata, though he stressed on the structural unity of the plot did not, perhaps, consider it necessary for a Drama (as a whole) to portray a particular single Rasa of its own. In a Drama, each character would evoke a rasa that is peculiar to it.

aṅgirasa-viruddhānāṃ vyabhicāriṇāṃ prācuryeṇāniveśanam, niveśane vā kṣipram evāṅgirasa-vyabhicāry-anuvṛttir iti dvitīyaḥ / aṅgatvena punaḥ punaḥ pratyavekṣā paripoṣaṃ nīyamānasyāpy aṅga-bhūtasya rasasyeti tṛtīyaḥ / anayā diśānye ‘pi prakārā utprekṣaṇīyāḥ / virodhinas tu rasasyāṅgirasāpekṣayā kasyacin nyūnatā sampādanīyā / yathā śānte ‘ṅgini śṛṅgārasya śṛṅgāre vā śāntasya / paripoṣa-rahitasya rasasya kathaṃ rasatvam iti cet-uktam atrāṅgirasāpekṣayeti /

The later writers of Kavya had adopted the idea of a predominant Rasa for the work as a whole. And, therefore, Anandavardhana stated that even the construction of a plot must be made in such a way that there is scope for highlighting a chosen predominant Rasa. According to him, events and descriptions, figures of speech etc not directly relevant to the development of the theme and its main Rasa should be avoided in a good Kavya.

Another point stressed by Anandavardhana is that the imaginative sensibility necessary for proper appreciation of a Kavya can be acquired only by close study of classical works and by constant practice of response to works of art. According to him, the most important element in the import of a Kavya is the emotion (Rasa) suggested; and that can be appreciated and enjoyed by persons of refined sensibilities (Sahrudaya). What is important is the harmony between the heart and mind of the reader and that of the poet (atrā sakhāyaḥ sakhyāni jānate bhadraiṣāṃ lakṣmīr nihitādhi vāci || Rig-Veda 10.71.2).

Anandavardhana remarks that not all scholars, Grammarians and logicians get to fully appreciate and enjoy a Kavya. Only those who rise above the confines of rules, petty prejudices and individual fixations can truly appreciate the poet’s point of view. 

Anandavardhana, therefore, says that Dhvani, the  suggested sense is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. Poetic beauty is apprehended (Vidyate, kevalam) only  by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

śabdārtha-śāsana-jñāna-mātreṇaiva na vidyate / vidyate sa tu kāvyārtha-tattvajñair eva kevalam // DhvK_1.7 //

Abhinavagupta, in his Lochana, explains the literary sensitivity (Sahrudayatva) as the faculty of entering into the heart of the poet. He says that the more a person is attuned to aesthetic impressions from literature by constant exposure to literary works, the more mirror- like becomes his heart.  The constant relishing (char­vana) of poetry refines his sensibility to an extent that suggestions (Dhvani) ignite in his heart the aesthetic experience. Such, aesthetic delight   (Rasa) has no end outside of itself.

dvitīyasmiṃs tu pakṣe rasa-jñataiva sahṛdayatvam iti / tathā-vidhaiḥ sahṛdayaiḥ saṃvedyo rasādi-samarpaṇa-sāmarthyam eva naisargikaṃ śabdānāṃ viśeṣa iti vyañjakatvāśrayy eva teṣāṃ mukhyaṃ cārutvam /vācakatvāśrayāṇāṃ tu prasāda evārthāpekṣāyāṃ teṣāṃ viśeṣaḥ / arthānapekṣāyāṃ tv anuprāsādir eva || DhvA_3.15-16 ||

Anandavardhana exalts the poetic-freedom of a creative writer which, according to him, transcends the powers of nature. He says in the world (Samsara) of poetry the Poet rules supreme, the whole world transforms according to his wishes. As Abhinavagupta explained, good poet through his intuitive power (Prathibha) can bring to life even the inanimate.

In the later times, the unalloyed aesthetic pleasure (Ananda) that a reader derives from the Kavya by evoking its Rasa was compared by Bhattanayaka (10th century) to Absolute Bliss (Brahmananda); and placed it even above Yogic experience. Abhinavagupta (11th century) however moderated Bhattanayaka’s claim by explaining that Yogic experience is Absolute and beyond subject-object relation. And, aesthetic experience, he said, gives bliss for short periods; and, therefore cannot be considered supreme, though it is superior to worldly pleasures.  This explanation was in line with Anandavardhana’s own views.


Ananadavardhana classifies Dhvani in various ways.The scheme of his   classification is detailed and complicated; there are in fact as many as fifty-one varieties of Dhvani.  One can, at best, attempt to give only the brief outlines of a few of it here.

Broadly, the Dhvani is classified in three ways:

1.According to the ways the suggested meaning is related to the literal or the prima facie meaning. This is divided into two types:

A (i), the first type where the literal sense is not intended or not meant (avivaksita – va­cya)

This is again subdivided into two:

: – the type where the literal sense is completely set aside (atyantatiraskita-vacya);

:and, the type where the literal meaning is shifted or deflected (arthantarasamkramita – va­cya); 

A (ii) The second type where the literal sense is in fact intended, but it sub-serves the implied sense (vivaksi­tanyapara – vacya);

2.the second type ac­cording to the element in the text which effects the suggestion of Dhvani;

3.and, the third principle of classification is based on the nature of Dhvani per se. Here,the suggested meaning may be of three kinds.

C(i) :-  It may be a thing (Vastu Dhvani), some rare fact or idea or an event or occur­rence is implied.

C (ii) : –  It may be some Alankaara or figure of speech that is suggested (Alamkara Dhvani) .

C (iii): – The third type of Dhvani is the most important type of Dhvani. It is called Rasa – Dhvani where in Rasa or flavour or emotion or mood or sentiment of poetry is evoked. Rasa is an ideal and impersonalised form of joy. Rasa can only be suggested but not described.

Both Vastu Dhvani and Alamkara Dhvani can be expressed by direct meaning (Vacyaartha) or by suggestion (Vyangyanartha). But the third variety of implicit sense of Rasa Dhvani cannot be expressed through the direct meaning of words, nor in words commonly used in day-to-day life (loka vyavahaara).

The Rasa Dhvani, the most important type of Dhvani, consists in suggesting Bhava, the feelings or sentiments. In Rasa Dhvani, emotion is conveyed through Vyanjaka, suggestion. Rasa is the subject of Vyanjaka, as differentiated from Abhidha and Lakshana. .

Anandavardhana regarded Rasa Dhvani as the principal one.  Abhinavagupta accepted that; and expanded on the concept by adding an explanation to it. He added the Pratiiyamana or implied sense which is two-fold :  one is Loukika or the one that we use  in ordinary life;  and the other is Kavya vyapara gocara  or one  which is used only in poetry.

The Loukika Dhvani in poetry is again two-fold:  the one that suggests Vastu or some matter (Vastu Dhvani); and, the other which suggests a figure of speech (Alamkara Dhvani) .

In Abhinavagupta’s classification, the Vastu Dhavani and Alamkara Dhavani are merely parts of poetry; but, are superior to direct designation. The real essence of poetry is , of course, the Rasa Dhavani.

Abhinavagupta differed from Anandavardhana over the issues of the emotion of the poet. Anandavardhana viewed the melting of experience in the poet and out flowing of this empathy as inspired poetic form solidified in words. Abhinavagupta, however, explained it as the generalized state of creative medium, where the poet is an impersonal observer expressing human experience in poetry, as an intermediary.

Ananadavardhana classification is generally accepted and has come to stay. But, what has changed is the types of discussions around it. The later discussions are more pointed and specific.


Ananadavardhana claims, it is the Dhvani that allows new poetry to come into being. Here, speech (Vani) that is adorned (vibhusita) by Dhvani attains a freshness (navatvam), even where the words are arranged to show apparent conventional meaning (pūrvārthā-anvayavaty api) – (Dhl.4.2). Though the relation between the word and its meaning might, at times, be fixed; the suggestions they evoke (Dhvani), in the context, are not conditioned by the conventional denotative meaning of those words.  

ato hy anyatamenāpi  prakārea vibhūitā / vāī navatvam āyāti pūrvārthānvayavaty api // DhvK_4.2 //

While commenting on this verse, Abhinavagupta explains that because of the wonders of the speech (ukti-vaichitryam), these poetic expressions take on countless meanings; and, still have scope for further innovations.  He asks : what is this ukti-vaichitryam (kimidam-uktivaicitryam ?); and ; responds by saying : it is the ever renewing (nava-navonvesha) wonder in speech that arises not only from the novelty of descriptions , but also , indeed, from the novelty of the object of utterance as well – uktirhi vācya-viśea-pratipādi vacanam / tad vaicitrye katha na vācya vaicitryam /

 In other words; it indicates a new description and a new object. Here, the speech or the language (Vacya) and that which is described (Vacaka), are intricately related to each other. Each poetic work has its own locale and objects. No new poet can merely borrow from earlier poets; and, yet be able to compose a credible new work. The unique perspective that each poet brings to the objects, enables the object to appear new and be described with awe and wonder. That ensures limitlessness of the poetic utterances.  That is why, he remarks, the poetry did not end with the first poet, Adi Kavi Valmiki. And, poetry can never come to an end.

yadyanvīyate anyaiḥ kavibhiḥ tattarhi ityarthaḥ / anyeṣāṃ vālmīkivyatiriktānām 


Many scholars did not entirely agree with Anandavardhana’s exposition of Dhvani. Those who criticized his views include: Bhattanayaka, Kuntaka, Mahimabhatta, Dhananjaya, Bhoja, Rajasekhra, Vishwanatha and few others. The questions raised were : If Guna and Alamkara are left out , what else is there to lend beauty to Kavya? If it is argued that Guna and Alamkara are different from Dhvani , how can they be said to produce beauty? Many seemed to accept Dhvani ; but as a secondary  function.  Mammata carried forward the argument that Rasa is the principle substance and the object of poetry. He stated vakyatha Rasatmakarth kavyam establishing the correlation between Rasa and poetry; and pushing down the Dhvani. Mahimabhatta included all types of Dhvani under the head Anumana, the inference, since Dhvani has no independent or cognizable existence

Bhattanayaka who wrote Hridayadarpana to refute Anandavardhana’s theory , pointed out that Rasa can be experienced; but not suggested.  He also introduced the concept of Sadharanikarana, the generalization of the art experience. And, as apart of that experience he mentioned that  Bhaavana generalizes  the content ; and; Bhoga brings about the aesthetic relish. 

In order to illustrate his concept, Bhatta Nayaka , observes : a  spectator cannot have Rati -bhava in respect of a heroine, say Shakuntala, because he knows that she is wife of Dushyanta. Hence, she cannot be the cause of  his emotional experience  of love (alambana-vibhava). Then , he asks, how can the spectator relish Sringara -rasa? To overcome this,  Bhatta Nayaka suggested Sadharanikarana , by the function of Bhavakatva. By this, the  sentiment based in a character ( say, Shakuntalatva etc) is forgotten for a moment ; and , she is visualized just as a Nayika, any lovely looking heroine . This helps, he says,  in enjoying Srngara-rasa, in a generalized way .

However , Abhinavagupta rejected Bhattanayaka’s hypothesis  , because ” it is a burden to accept two  separate functions like Bhavana and Bhoga”.


Dr. Kunjunni Raja concludes (page 315) : many of criticisms against the Dhvani theory are due to the fact that the poets and literary critics did not confine themselves to a relatively small portion of language behavior, which is definite; but, tried to extend it to the totality of human experience, including the emotional. 

Eventually, Ananadavardhana, Abhinavagupta , Mammata and others stoutly  defended  the Dhvani and Rasa Dhvani ; and, successfully deflected most of the criticisms.


Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

A History of Classical Poetry: Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit by Siegfried Lienhard

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 By Harold G. Coward


Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Three


Continued from Part Two

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

 Classifications of the Kavya


Kavya has been classified into  incredible number of different  categories.

Agnipurana –kavyadilakshanam– classifies Vanmaya (everything that is expressed in words, i.e. literature) in several ways: Dhvani, Varna, Pada and Vakya (Ag. pu. 336.1); and  into Shastra, Itihasa and Kavya (Ag.pu.3336.2).

dhvanir-varṇāḥ padaṃ vākyam ityetadi vāṅmayaṃ mataṃ //AP_336.001cd/
śāstre itihāsa vākyānāṃ trayaṃ yatra samāpyate /AP_336.002ab/

And later, Vanmaya was again classified into Shastra (Veda, Purana and even Epics) and Kavya. And, it was said ; in the Shastra the words (śabda)  are important; in the Itihasa (historical narration) the facts (niṣṭhatā) are important; whereas in the Kavya the ability to express the  meaning  (abhidhā)  is more important .

śāstre śabda pradhāna-tvam itihāseṣu niṣṭhatā //AP_336.002cd/
abhidhāyāḥ pradhānatvāt kāvyaṃ tābhyāṃ vibhidyate /AP_336.003ab/

Shastra , in turn , has again been classified into Apaurusheya and Paurusheya.

[ If we take a bird’s-eye view of the Sanskrit literature we may classify them as Epic and Lyric kavyas, the charita kavyas (dealing with the lives of kings and patrons of learning), the prasastis or panegyrical verses, the different types of dramas, lyric kavyas, the century collections or satakas, the stotra literature or adoration hymns, the Campus or works written in prose and verse, the katha, literature, the nlti literature, the didactic verses and stray verses such as are found in the anthologies. The sources of the materials of kavya as held by Rajasekhara, are Sruti, Smrti, Purana, Itihhsa, Pramana-vidya, Samaya-vidya or the sectarian doctrines of the Saivas, Pancaratrins, etc., the Arthashastra, the Natyashastra and the Kamashastra, the local customs and matiners, the different sciences and the literature of other poets

–  Prof. S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Sanskrit Literature – Classical Period – vol. I ]


In the Literary traditions

 (a) Shravya and Drshya

 In the literary traditions, even from the very early period, Kavya was classified in several different ways. The usual means were (a) by language; (b) by whether it was poetry or prose or a mixture of both; and (c) by the literary form.

And, to start with, Kavya was said to be either oral – Shravya (one that is listened to) or Drshya or Prekshya (one that is seen, visual comprehension) . This was the primary differentiation.

[ The classical name of what we call a play or a Drama was Rupaka. It was a generic term that comprised various types of plays.  And the best form of such Rupakas is the Nataka. Dhananjaya in his  Dasarupaka (ten forms of Drama) while talking about Rupaka explains : it is called a Rupaka or a representation because of the acts put on by the actors (abhinaya)  by assuming (rupakam tat samaropad )  the forms of various characters  such as gods or kings  and men and women  .  And, it is called a show because of the fact it is seen (rupam drsyatayocyate). Thus, Drama is the reproduction of a situation (Avastha-anikrtir natyam)  , in a visible form (rupa),  in the person of the actors.

The earlier authors considered Drama as the art of reproduction by imitation (anukriti). But, Abhinavagupta objected to such a banal view, saying that mere imitation of other’s movements would produce the ludicrous; and, the imitation of other’s feelings and emotions is impossible. He held the view that Drama is an artistic production, where music, dancing, acting and the dress, dyeing, and the stage environment etc., all come together in the dramatic performance. According to him, such Dramatic performance becomes an art when recitation in the form of dialogues associated with suitable gestures, postures, movement, dancing, dress and music etc., succeeds in giving expressions to sentiments and passions so as to rouse similar sentiments in the minds of the audience. Thus, Drama is an entirely a new art that aims to enliven the mind of the audience and to produce in them an aesthetic joy; and, it is not an imitation in any ordinary sense of the term. ]

Here, Drshya generally stands for Drama (Nataka) and Dance-drama (Geya-nataka) the visual comprehension of a theatrical performance; and, the Shravya covers the entire range of lyrical and epic poetry in general. And some times, in a narrow sense, the Shravya is itself known as Kavya. That might be because; in the ancient times the Epics were narrated or recited before a gathering of ardent listeners. And, individual poems or their stanzas, in most cases, gained popularity among the common people who enjoyed listening to them.  The boundaries between the oral and written poetry was never clear. Yet, the oral traditions seemed to have a strong influence over written versions.  And, in fact, even during the medieval times the written texts were corrected with reference to its oral version.

[However, as the classical poetry grew more complex and more elaborately structured, it became rather difficult to rely only on the oral rendering. Reading or studying a text gradually replaced listening as the commonest means of enjoying Kavya.]

But, the distinction of – Shravya and Prekshya– is not strictly observed. For instance; Drama (Nataka) is at once a Kavya- prose and poetry-  that can be read (Shravya) and that be witnessed (Drshya) on the stage. In fact, some of the finest poetry of the ancient times can be found in Sanskrit Dramas. Thus, the Drama came to be  regarded as the most enjoyable of all the forms of Kavya (Kavyeshu naatakam ramyam). Kalidasa endorses both the forms  : ‘Drama, verily, is a feast that is greatly enjoyed by a variety of people of different tastes- Natyam bhinnaruchir janasya bahuda-apekshym samaradhanam

Another is the Chitra-Kavya, where the words of the poetry are woven into figures and diagrams (Chiyrabandha) , that can be seen and read is at once a Shravya and Prekshya.

[For more on Chitrkavya: please check here :]

Coming back to Drama, the Drshya Kavya, it again was classified into two classes: Major (Rupaka) and Minor (Upa-Rupaka). Abhinavagupta explains Rupam as that which is seen by the eyes and the works containing such matter is Rupani or Rupaka. Dhanika while commenting on Dhanajyaya’s Dasarupakam explains that the terms Natyam, Rupam and Rupakam can be treated as synonymous.

Sanskrit Dramas are classified according to Subject-matter, Hero, and Rasa (Vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako). The main aspects of the Drama (Rupaka) are the plot, the hero and the Rasa (pradhāna, netà and rasa).

The subject or the story should always be about celebrated and important persons.

The Subject-matter (vastu) can be depicted in two ways (Vastu ca dvidha) the main theme (adhikarika) among with the subordinate (angam) and the incidental events (prasangika)  – Tatra adhikarikam  mukhyam angam  prasahgikam viduh.

The plot should be simple, the incidents are consistent; the progression of the events should spring direct from the story.

The hero (Neta) of the Nātaka should be a worthy or exhalted person of virtue.

Prakhyāta-vamso rājarsih-divyo-vā yatra näyakah/ tat prakhyātam vidhātavyam vrttam-atra-adhikārikam//

A Nataka should comprise one rasa-either Srngara or Vira; and in conclusion the Adbhuta becomes prominent

Eko rasa – angi -kartavyo virah srigara eva va / angamanye rasah sarve kuryannivahane -adbhutam

In the presentation of the play one should avoid showing such events as: long travel; murder; war; violent over throw; bloodshed; eating; taking bath; un-dressing;sex act etc.

Dura-dhavanam; vadham; yuddham; rajya-dessadiviplavan/ samrodham; bhojanam; snanam ; suratam; ca-anulepanam/ amvara-grahanadini pratyakshani na nirdiset na-adhikaraivadham kvapi tyajyam – avasyakam na ca //


Viswanatha in his Sâhitya-Darpana described Rupaka (Nataka) as the most logical and perfect theatrical composition. It progresses in a sytamatic manner and concludes successfully, bringing joy to all. He says, according to the Dasarupaka, the structure of the plot of the Rupaka consists three essential elements: Avastha; Arthaprakrti; and, Samdhi. These structural divisions or sequence of events of the drama correspond with the elements of the plot and the actions associated with the progressive stages in the hero’s attempts to successfully realize his purpose or objects.

(1) According that prescribed format for a Sanskrit Drama, the plot is expanded over five elements (Arthaprakrti): The opening sequence (mukha) is the seed (bija) very small at the beginning (arambha) ; and , expands (bindu) in multiple ways as the action proceeds into episodes (pathaka)  depicting various events (pathaki) and their resolution (karya). These are said to be the five elements of the plot (arthaprakrti).

Bīja bindu patākākhya prakaro kārya lakaā / arthapraktaya pañca tā etā parikīrtitā //

(2) These five stages (Avastha) of action that are related to the achievement of the hero’s desired object (phala) are mentioned as:  Arambha (the beginning) – mere eagerness for the obtaining of the most important result; Yathna or Prayatna (effort) – exertion attended with great haste; Prapthya (prospect of success) – with means at hand, but also with fear of failure; Niyathapthi (certainty of success) – the confidence  of succeeding because of the absence of risk; and Phalagama or phalayoga (successful attainment of the desired objective of the hero).

Avasthah panca karyasya prarabdhasya phalarthibhih / ararmbha-yatna-praptyasa-niyatapti-phalagamah.

(3) And, Samdhi is the third essential element of the narration of the story and in the development  or the unfolding of the plot. Such sequence of events (Samdhi) or Junctures  which are also five in number,  correspond to the five stages (Avastha)  associated with the actions or the stages in the hero’s realization of his purpose are : the opening (mukha); the progression (pratimukha); the development (garbha); the pause in which one stops to reflect because of anger or passion or temptation (avamarsa or Vimarsa); and, the  successful conclusion (upasamhrti or nirvahana).

Antaraik arthasambandhah samdhir ekanvaye sati / Mukha-pratimukhe- garbhahs avamarsa upasarnhrtih

Arthapraktaya pañca pañcāvastā samanvitā / yathā sakhyena jāyante mukhādyā pañca sandhaya 

The Nivahana (conclusion or finale) is that Samdhi (juncture) in which the elemrnts of the plot that started with the opening scene (Mukha) and sprouted (Bija) in the subsequent scenes and later systematically and progressively spread over in the later scenes finally concluded with the hero attaining his desired objective.

Bija va anto mukhadyartha viprakirna yathayatham / aikarthyam uparuyante yatra nirvahanam hi tat //

The plot may have all or any of the SamdhisThe Samdhis, in turn, are said to have sixty-four sub-divisions or limbs (Angas).  These help to fulfill the purpose of their respective Samadhi. The Samdhis are related to each other and to their limbs (Anga). And, they are also related to the five stages (Avastha) of the action in the play.

And, in a play it is not necessary to use all the sixty-four Angas; and, even when used,  they should be in tune with the dominant Rasa of the play.

Dr. Manjulal Gupta in her very well researched  scholarly work A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka enumerates these sixty-four Angas and discusses each; and, in detail, on particularly those  Angas on which Bharata and Dhananjaya differed.


An interlude should always be made in between the acts of a Drama; and, performed by one or more characters middling or inferior who connect to the story of the Drama and to the sub-divisions of the plot by briefly explaining to the spectators what has occurred in the intervals of the acts or what is likely to happen later on.

The initial scenes are always auspicious and happy–feeling (adi-mangala); and, as the story unfolds, unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted by the crafty villain on the virtuous hero. In the midst of all the troubles that the hero is facing, near about the mid-point of the story, something good happens to the hero (madhya-mangala).  Somewhere in the second-half of the story, the trials and tribulations of the lovers, relieved by the rather clumsy attempts of the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka .  And,  after a hard fought  and suspenseful struggle, eventually the good and the Dharma triumphs; and all ends well (antya-mangala).


Dhananjaya’s Dasarupakam says the the Dramas are of ten types ; and are based in Rasas ( dasadhaiva rasasrayam ) . It lists  the  major types of Dramas asnatakam ca prakaranam bhanah prahasanam dimah vyayoga samavakarau vithy ankeha- Ihāmrga iti

[The ten chief varieties of drama (Rupaka) are: the Nataka; the Prakarana; the Bhana; the Prahasana; the Dima; the Vyayoga; the Samavakara; the Vithi; the Anka (=Utsrstikanka); and , the Ihāmrga ]

Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana gives the  list of ten major Rupakas  along  with  examples of  these  varieties:

Major (Rupaka):

  • (1) Nataka (e.g. Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa);
  • (2) Prakarana (e.g. Malathi-Madhava of Bhavabhuti);
  • (3) Bhana (e.g. Karpuracharita of Vatsaraja);
  • (4) Vyayoga (e.g. Madhyama-Vyayoga of Bhasa);
  • (5) Samavakara (e.g. Samudra-manthana of Vatsaraja);
  • (6) Dima (Tripuradaha of Vatsaraja);
  • (7) Ihamrga ( e.g. Rukminiharana of Vatsaraja);
  • (8) Anka or Utsrstikanta (e.g. Sharmistha-Yayati) ;
  • (9) Vithi (e.g. Malavika) ,and
  • (10)  Prahasana (Mattavilasa of Mahendravarman).


As regards the Upa-rupakas, they were considered as a minor class of dramatic works; as distinct form the major works satisfying all the requirements prescribed for  a Rupaka or Nataka proper.  But, the earlier texts such as Natyashastra do not make a mention of the Upa-rupaka class of plays.

Perhaps, the earliest reference to Uparupaka occurs in is the Kamasutras of Vatsyayana who mentions plays  Hallisaka, latyarasaka and Preksanaka of Uparupaka type  watched by men and women of taste. Ahhinavagupta’s commentary on the Natyashastra occasionally mentions Upa-rupakas; but, witout defining the class. Rajashekara calls his Prakrit play Sattaka as not being a Nataka, but resemling a Natika, excepting that pravesakas, viskambhakas and ankas do not occur.

Thus , it seems that Upa-rupaka was a minor class of dramatic work; not satisfying all the classic, dramatic requirements, even when a full theme was handled.

Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana also lists the eighteen  minor types (Upa-Rupaka) , with examples :

Minor types of Drama (Upa-Rupaka)  :

  • (1) Natika (e.g. Ratnavali of Sri Harsha);
  • (2) Trotaka (e.g. Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa);
  • (3) Ghosti (e.g. Raivatamadanika);
  • (4) Natyarasaka (e.g.Vilasavathi );
  • (5) Sattaka (e.g. Rajasekhara’s Karpuramanjari);
  • (6) Prasthana (e.g. Srngaratilaka);
  • (7)Ullapya ( e.g. Devimahadeva);
  • (8) Kavya (e.g. Yadavodaya);
  • (9)  Prenkhana (e.g. Valivadha);
  • (10) Rasaka (e.g. Menakahita);
  • (11) Samlapaka (e.g. Mayakapalika);
  • (12) Srigadita (e.g. Kridarasatala);
  • (13) Silpaka (e.g. Kanakavathi-madhava);
  • (14) Vilasika ;
  • (15) Durmallika (e.g. Bindumathi);
  • (16) Prakaranika;
  • (17) Hallisa (e.g. Keliraivataka); and,
  • (18) Bhanika (e.g. Kamadatta)

(For a detailed discussion on Uparupakas : please click here)

[Whatever scholastic value these classifications may possess, it is not of much significance in the historical development of the drama, for most of the varieties remain unrepresented in actual practice. The earlier drama does not appear to subscribe fully to the rigidity of the prescribed forms, and it is only in a general way that we can really fit the definitions to the extant specimens.

In the theoretical works, everything is scholastically classified and neatly cataloged ; forms of the drama, types of heroes and heroines, their feelings, qualities, gestures, costumes, make-up, situations, dialects, modes of address and manner of acting. All this perhaps gives the impression of a theater of living marionettes. But in practice, the histrionic talent succeeds in infusing blood into the puppets and translating dry formulas into lively forms of beauty, while poetic genius overcomes learned scholasticism and creates a drama from the conflict of types and circumstances.

Prof. S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Sanskrit Literature – Classical Period – vol. I  ]



(b) Padya – Gadya – Champu


Source : Laws practice Sanskrit drama by Prof. S N Shastri

There is another classification based in the form in which a work is composed: works written in Padas (metrical poetry, padya); Gadya (prose); and Misra or Champu (in various mixed forms, partly in verse and partly in prose) – gadyaṃ padyañca miśrañca kāvyādi trividhaṃ smṛtam (AP.336.08). And, in Drama too the dialogues in prose are interspersed by lyrical songs.

Earlier, from Bhamaha (Ca.7th century) to Rudrata (Ca. 9th century), literature was classified either as poetry or as prose. The poetry was ‘nibaddha-mukta’ (unfettered) and prose as ‘sarga-bandha’ (structured into divisions or Cantos).


Works in Prose, generally, narrated romantic tales, prose romances etc. Such prose Kavya is categorized as (i) Katha, a narration in the form of story, fiction (e.g. Kadambari of Banabhatta; Dasakumara-Charita of Dandin, and Vasvadatta of Subandhu); and as (ii) Akhyayika, almost a non-fiction, historical narrative recounting the deed of Kings and heroes of old (e.g. Harshacharita of Banabhatta).

A distinction between historical and fictional genres (Akhyayika and Katha) was drawn as early as Bhamaha (seventh century), who contrasts Katha (imaginary tales) narratives with Akhyayika “that celebrate the real events of gods and others”.  These traditional categories often overlap each other. Historical facts were often treated as malleable material that could be molded in any manner to suit the desired impact of the text. Such supposedly historical narratives generally dealt with the contemporary Kings and their ancestors composed under Royal patronage; and, such Courtly works were meant, mainly, to please the patrons.

Katha is again of two types: complete story (Sakala katha) or a description of an episode (Eka-desa-varnana) called Knanda Katha. Here again, Katha was made into two other classes: those based on invented or fictional themes (Utpadya or Kalpita); and, those based on themes derived from well-known sources such as history (Itihasa) and legends (Purana).

The most well known among the Katha (stories) or fictional narrations themes (Utpadya or Kalpita) are the Brhat-katha of Guṇaḍya originally in Paisachi (a form of Prakrit) retold in Sanskrit by Somadeva (11th century) as Katha-saritsagara; the collection of moral tales or fables Pancha-tantra and Hitopadesa; and, the collection of highly entertaining stories or tales include the Vetala-pancavisatika, Sukasaptati   and Sihāsana-dvatrim-sātika.

Then there is the Kādambarī of Banabhatta  (7th century) which describes the affairs of two sets of lovers through a series of incarnations, in which they are constantly harassed by a cruel fate.

Another fine example of tales is the eminently readable Dasa-kumara-carita by Daṇḍin (6th-7th centuries), in which, within the framework of a boxing story, the picaresque adventures of ten disinherited princes are described in prose.


 The third genre Champu, with alternate narrations of prose and verse allows the poet greater ease or   felicity of expression. It affords the poet ample opportunities to display not only his erudition but also his command over prose as also over the verse form.

The Champu was usually a full-fledged composition of epic proportions. The Champu used metrical and non-metrical language with more or less equal prominence. The prose too was ornate and almost lyrical.

A narrative mixed in prose and verse has many examples. Sanskrit Drama too was a mixture prose and verse. Among the literary works there are many well known Champu Kavyas; for example:  Nalachampu of Trivikrama, and Ramayana Champu, Bhojachampu and Bhagavatachampu by Abhinava Kalidasa. The Prabandha or the prose in ornate style is also interspersed with verses.

The Jain writers used Champu for religious texts, while the Bengal Vaishnava School wrote Champu Kavyas relating to Krishna. The Bhoja-prabandha of Ballalasens (16th century) narrates stories of King Bhoja. The Jain Prabandhas are semi-historical works; a curious mix of legends and anecdotes.

A subject treated in prose romance was also, sometimes, rendered in Champu form. For instance; the Vasavadatta of Subandhu a work in prose   was rendered in Champu as Vasavadatta Champu.

The Champu and Prabandhas forms of literature appear to have been popular in South India, even during the later times. The Champu form of narration continued to grow with religious and biographical themes.  For instance; the political affairs of contemporary Deccan and Karnataka as well as Anglo-French conflicts form the theme of Anandaranga-champu of Shrinavasa. And, there was the Devashankara’s Purohit’s Alamkara-manjusha, which praises the achievements of Peshwa Madhav Rao I.

The longer compositions, be it Prose or Verse or the mixed Champu, all  share a few common features. They all treat a unified theme and develop it in all its fullness, spread over chapters or junctures (Sandhi) or stages in the development of the theme, following a proper sequence of events. In that sense, they resemble a Drama.


(c) Sanskrit –Prakrit -Misra

At later times, another type of classification was brought in by scholars such as Bhamaha (6th – 7th century) who classified all poetry as (i) Sanskrit; (ii) Prakrit ( local or regional languages commonly spoken) or (iii) Apabramsha (dialects prevalent  before the rise of the modern languages) . Dandin (6th -7th century), added one more category: Misra, a work written in a mixture of languages.

In the 8th-9th century, Rajasekhara, in his Kavya-mimamsa, a work devoted to literary theory, notes three important features of Indian literature: (i) It is composed in many languages including dialects and the speech of small communities; (ii) while having a distinct Indian character, it has immense regional variety of forms and themes; and (iii) it is worldly and concerns the travails of ordinary human life.

In his invocation to Lord Shiva, from whom Kavya is believed to have originated, Rajasekhara compares the various aspects of Kavya to the different organs of Shiva (Shivaroopa).  Following his interpretation if one compares Shiva to a Kavya Purusha, i.e.  to a human form, one could say that

Sabda (words) and Artha (meaning) constitute body (trunk) of the Kavya Purusha  .

Of the languages, Sanskrit is his face; Prakrit his arms; Apabhramsa his waist; and, Paisachi his   feet.  The mixed (Misra) languages are his chest.

Kavya Purusha, just as Shiva, is sweet, graceful; is having composure (Sama) pleasant nature  (prasanna), melody (madhura) as also vigor  (Ojas) and liberal (Udara) . His voice is noble.

Rasa is his soul (Atma) ; and,  Vritha its hair.

His verbal quirks are dialogues (questions and repartee, riddles (Prahelikas) and Samasya (problems).

Kavya Purusha is decorated with alliterations (Anuprāsa) and similes, Upama (sabda, artha, Alamkaras)

– (Rājaśekhara, Kāvyamīmā, Chapter 3 – kāvyapuruṣotpattiḥ tṛtīyo ‘dhyāyaḥ 3)

śabdārthau te śarīraṃ, saṃskṛtaṃ mukhaṃ, prakṛtaṃ bāhuḥ, jaghanam aparbhraṃśaḥ, paiśācaṃ pādau, uro miśram /
samaḥ prasanno madhura udāra ojasvī cāsi /
ukticaṇaṃ te vaco, rasa ātmā, rāmāṇi chandāṃsi, praśnottara pravahlikā dikaṃ ca vākkeliḥ, anuprās upamādayaśca tvām alaṅkurvanti /
bhaviṣyato ‘rthasyābhidhātrī śrurirapi bhava antamabhistauti-

‘catvāri śṛṅgāstrayo ‘sya pādā śīrṣe saptahastāso ‘sya /
tridhā baddho vṛṣabho roravīti maho devo martyānāviveśa’ /

Rajasekhara also says that a poet has to learn to compose Kavya in Sanskrit as also in Prakrit. His Prakrit composition has to be according to his own outlook, taste and talent. But, he should pay particular attention to the Vachya-Vachaka relation of Sabda and Artha. And, while handling more than one language, assigning meanings (Artha) has to be done with great care; and the poetry that flows from such careful process   would stand any test.

Drama, even in its earliest times, had been multi lingual, written in a mixture of languages. Here, the rural and certain other characters spoke not in chaste Sanskrit but in their own Prakrit or Apabhramsa dialects.  Among the Kavyas, an early example of the use of Apabramsha is the Vikramorvashiyam of Kalidasa, when Pururavas asks the animals in the forest about his beloved who had disappeared. Compositions in Apabhramsa continued (particularly in the Sindh region-Saindhava) until Vikram Samvat 1700 (about 1643 AD), when Bhagavatidasa wrote Migankaleha Chariu.


Source : Laws practice Sanskrit drama by Prof. S N Shastri

Even much earlier to that, Bharata in Natyashastra (around second century BCE) states, in general, the languages to be used in a play (pathya) as of four types: Atibhasha (to be used by gods and demi-gods); Aryabhasha ( for people of princely and higher classes); Jatibhasha (for common folks, including the Mleccha , the foreigners) and, Yonyantari ( for the rest , unclassified) . The security guards and doorkeepers were said to speak Dakshinatya (Southern) or Bahliki (Northwest -Bacteria region)

As regards the songs, the Dhruva songs sung by women were generally in Prakrit. Natyashastra also  discusses the features of the Dhruva songs composed in regional dialects ; and , in that context mentions seven known dialects  (Desha-bhasha) of its time : Māgadhī, Āvantī, Prācyā, Śaurasenī,  Ardha-māgadhī, Bāhlikā   and  Dākiātyā  (NŚ 5.17-48).

Śaurasenī was the language spoken around the region of Surasena (Mathura area). And, in the play the female characters, Vidūṣaka (jester), children, astrologers and others around the Queens’ court spoke in Śaurasenī. It was assigned a comparatively higher position among the Prakrit dialects.

In comparison, Magadhi , the dialect of the Magadha region in the East , was spoken in the play by lesser characters such as servants, washer -men, fishermen, , barbers ,doorkeepers , black-smiths, hunters  and by the duṣṭa (wicked)  . Even otherwise, the people of Magadha as such were not regarded highly and were projected in poor light.

In some versions, there is a mention of Mahārāṣṭ also. It was a language spoken around the river Godavari and according to linguists; it is an older form of Marāṭhī. In some plays, the leading-lady and her friends speak in Śaurasenī, but sing in Mahārāṣṭ.

It is said; in the earliest times the Sanskrit as a spoken language had at least three distinct dialects: Udichya (North West), Madhyadesya (Mid region) and Prachya (East). It is believed that the Classical Sanskrit, as refined by Panini, was based primarily in Udichya and Madhyadesya dialects.

The forms of Prakrit such as Magadhi, Ardha Magadhi and Apabhramsa were dominant in the East, up to the beginning of the 4th century AD. Most of the literary works during the early period were in Prakrit. Apabhramsa was of considerable importance till about 150 BCE. The earliest reference to Apabhramsa is found in Mahabhashya of Patanjali. It appears that Apabhramsa was not the name of any particular language but was used to denote all deviations from the normal Sanskrit.

 It was only by about the second century AD   more and more works, including those of Buddhists and Jains, came to be written in Sanskrit.

Following that period, some regional languages (Desi Bhasha) became vehicles of the living thought and emotions of the people. The literary activities in these languages picked up . And, lyrical poetry was composed in a mixture of languages- Sanskrit and Regional. There were of course number of great Kavyas in regional languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam and others. Here too the Poetic traditions of the Sanskrit language were closely followed.


 (d) Literary and the non-literary works

Kavya, the poetic way of expression is employed both by the literary and the non-literary works.  The non-literary works though in poetic form are not regarded as Kavya per se. For instance; presentation of Astronomy in Varahamihira’s Brahmasamhita; or of Algebra in Bhakara’s Leelavathi contain many verses, beautiful descriptions of nature and of poetic merit that they almost are Kavya. Similarly, Suryapandita’s work on Astronomy (Bhaskarabhushana) has beautiful verses praying to Sun god.  There are also numbers of philosophical works elucidated in poetry.

Sanskrit Poetics endorses the role of Kavya as a vehicle for imparting instructions. While the earlier theoreticians – Bhamaha, Dandin and Vamana- count the renown or fame (Kirti) won the poem and enjoyment (Priti) of the reader among aims of the Kavya, the later poets include instructions (Upadesha) as n additional aim. They also say that unlike scriptures (Prabhu samhita), the Kavya instructs in a gentle and persuasive voice, just as the sweet whispering of the beloved in to ones ears (Kantha-samhita).

At the same time, it would be incorrect to count educational or instructive poetry, religious hymns or narrative literature as Kavya. That is to say, it is not the mere outer form that decides the poetic merit of Kavya.

And, Kavya need not also always have to deal with learned matters. In fact, too much learning will affect the appeal of a poem. It might turn preachy. There are therefore short poems or couplets that in a capsule form impart moral codes (Niti), wisdom and erotic (Sringara). The most well known poems of this genre are Bhartrhari’s sets of stanzas on Sringara and Vairagya.

Kshemendra (11th century) makes a distinction between Kavya and Shastra, that is, between the purely poetic works and the subject oriented works that are in poetic form. And, he also mentions of works that fall in the intermediate zone: Shastra-kavya – poetry that is also technical; and, Kavya-shastra – a technical work that is also poetry.

This distinction, some regard, as useful, because a certain technical work may also provide good poetry while imparting knowledge. But, at the same time, a Kavya might also be sung as a stotra (e.g. Gitagovinda of Jayadeva).

Basically, Shastra is informative in its character and the style is textual; Kavya, on the other hand, is complex in its structure, employing a language of its own, embellished with artistic metaphors, similes and unusual expressions.

In order to allow his text not only to convey information but also to convey it in an artistic manner, the author-poet uses complex structures. But yet, the natural language is the foundation of the poetry. Although the words used in Kavya and in the non-literary Shastra works are the same they do not evoke the same joy or other emotions.

The poetry, on the other hand, creates for itself a language which has a character of its own (Riti, marga). It might depart from the ordinary day-to-day common usage. With that the poem aims at a definite stylistic effect (vishista). The poet arranges his building-bricks in a manner that is different from that of a non-literary work.

The poet assembles his material in a non-standard fashion; and as Vamana points out the creative process involve using a word-order (pada-charana) in peculiar or specialized (Visista) ways that possess certain characteristics (Kavya-alamkara). Vamana puts forth the view that that the special characteristics (Visesha) of a Kavya are mainly derived from the fact that the poet deliberately attempts to create a fresh or ingenious style of depiction with his unique expressions. The poetic language wears a clock or a veil, so to say.

Vamana and others lay much emphasis on the style (Riti or Marga); and, regard it as the most essential virtue of a Kavya. But, such views are not generally accepted, because Riti is but one among the ten traditionally recognized essential elements of a Kavya; and style is not everything that one looks for in a Kavya.


(e)  Mahakavya – Laghukavya

The other major division of lyrical poetry was to categorize Kavya into: (i) Mahakavya, long poems structured into chapters, following all the prescribed regulations of classical poetry; and, (ii) Laghu-kavya, shorter poems or poetry of the minor form.

Bhamaha and Vamana describe these forms as Nibaddha (cohesive poetry) and A-nibaddha (non-cohesive poetry).  Nibaddha which is equated with Mahakavya includes both the long poems (in verse, prose or a mixture of the two) as also Drama. A-nibaddha equated with Laghu-kavya covers all kinds of short poems say of one or two stanzas.

Mahakavya is the elaborate court epic  kavya in classic style narrating a noble story element (kathavastu) of sublime characters   spread over several cantos (sarga bandho mahākāvyam ārabdhaṃ saṃskṛtena) adorned with eighteen types of descriptions (asta-dasha-varnana), with well chosen forms (guna) of expression, syntax, and graces of rasa and beauty (alankara) and endowed with  eloquent imagination; and , at the same time,    satisfying all the norms and principles (kavya-lakshana)   prescribed  for a Maha-kavya by the Kavya -shastra texts – kāvyaṃ sphuṭad-alaṅkāraṃ guṇavad-doṣa varjitam (AP.336.07) . Apart from these, it must promote and further the cause of the Dharma.

Thus, a Mahakavya  composed by a great poet must be complete in all aspects :

sarva vṛtti pravṛttañca sarva bhāva prabhāvitam /sarva arītirasaiḥ puṣṭaṃ / ata eva mahākāvyaṃ tatkartā ca mahākaviḥ //AP.336.31-32//

The Laghu-Kavya comprises within it several: Muktaka – single stanza poem; Yugala – two stanza poem; Sandanitaka (or Vishesaka) = three stanza poem; Kapalaka = Four stanza poem; Kulaka – five to fifteen stanza poem; Samghata = series of stanzas; Kosha (treasure) – collection of stanzas; and Khanda-kavya– short poetic work – ākhyāyikā kathā khaṇḍa-kathā pari-kathā tathā.

mahākāvyaṃ kalāpaś ca paryābandho viśeṣakam //kulakaṃ muktakaṃ koṣa iti padya kuṭumbakam /AP.336.23-24//

Dandin in his Kavyadarsa gives an elaborate definition of Mahakavya, the summit of Kavya genre – sargabandho mahākavyam ucyate tasya lakṣaṇam :

The composition in Cantos (Sargabandha) begins with a benediction (Mangala), or a salutation or an indication of the plot – āśīrnamaskriyā vastunirdeśo vāpi tanmukham .

It is based on a traditional narrative, or on a true event from one or the other sources – itihāsa kathodbhūtam itarad vā sadāśrayam .

It deals with the fruits of the four aims of life (chatur-varga phala Purushartha) and four types of heroes – catur udātta-nāyakam . Its hero is skillful and noble (Dhirodatta).

Adorned (Alamkara) with eighteen (ahsta-dasha varnana) types of descriptions including that of  cities (nagara) , oceans (arnava) , mountains (shaila)  , seasons (vasantadi ritu), the raising of the sun and moon(chandra-surya udaya –asthamana) – nagarā arṇava śailā rtu candrā arka udaya varṇanaiḥ ; playing in pleasure-parks (vana vihara ), (udyana),  and in water (jala krida) , drinking parties and the delights of love-making (madyapana surata), weddings (vivaha), the separation of lovers (viraha) – udyāna salila kṛīḍā madhu pāna aratotsavaiḥ ; discussions with the wise (vipralambha), weddings, the birth of a son (putrodaya) – vipralambha vivāhaiś ca kumāro udaya varṇanaiḥ; state-craft (raja-mantra), gambling or sending messengers (dyuta), wars (yuddha),  campaigns (jaitra-yatra), and accomplishments of the hero (nayaka abyudaya) – mantra dūta prayāṇāji nāyakā abhyudayair api;

It is not too condensed; pervaded with Rasa (aesthetic mood) and Bhava (basic emotion) – alaṃkṛtam asaṃkṣiptaṃ rasa bhāva nirantaram; with Cantos that are not overly diffuse, in meters that are pleasing to hear, with proper junctures , and ending with different meters (that is, meters different from the main or the carrying meter of the Canto) – sargair anativistīrṇaiḥ śravyavṛttaiḥ susaṃdhibhiḥ .

Such a Kavya pleasing to the world and well ornamented (Sadalamkriti) will last until the end of creation – sarvatra bhinna vṛttāntair upetaṃ loka rañjanam ; kāvyaṃ kalpāntara sthāyi jāyate sad alaṃkṛti.

Even if it lacks some of these features, a Kavya does not become bad, if the perfection of the things that are present delights the connoisseurs (Sahrudaya). – nyūnam apy atra yaiḥ kaiś cid aṅgaiḥ kāvyaṃ na duṣyati, yady upātteṣu saṃpattir ārādhayati tadvidhaḥ  

sargabandho mahākavyam ucyate tasya lakṣaṇam &
āśīrnamaskriyā vastunirdeśo vāpi tanmukham // DKd_1.14 //
itihāsakathodbhūtam itarad vā sadāśrayam &
caturvargaphalāyattaṃ caturudāttanāyakam // DKd_1.15 //
nagarārṇavaśailārtucandrārkodayavarṇanaiḥ &
udyānasalilakṛīḍāmadhupānaratotsavaiḥ // DKd_1.16 //
vipralambhair vivāhaiś ca kumārodayavarṇanaiḥ &
mantradūtaprayāṇājināyakābhyudayair api // DKd_1.17 //
alaṃkṛtam asaṃkṣiptaṃ rasabhāvanirantaram &
sargair anativistīrṇaiḥ śravyavṛttaiḥ susaṃdhibhiḥ // DKd_1.18 //
sarvatra bhinnavṛttāntair upetaṃ lokarañjanam &
kāvyaṃ kalpāntarasthāyi jāyate sad alaṃkṛti // DKd_1.19 //
nyūnam apy atra yaiḥ kaiś cid aṅgaiḥ kāvyaṃ na duṣyati &
yady upātteṣu saṃpattir ārādhayati tadvidhaḥ // DKd_1.20 //

The ultimate test of a classic poet is Mahakavya, presented as a splendid unity of descriptive and narrative delight. Its long narrative has to be structured into Cantos (Sargabandha) rendering the theme in sequential junctures (Samdhi). The earliest surviving Kavya is Buddhacarita by Ashvaghosa (first century). Some of the renowned Mahakavya-are: Raghuvaśa and Kumārasambhava by Kalidasa; Kirātārjunīya by Bharavi; Śiśupāla-vadha by Māgha; Naiśadha-carita by Sri-Hara; and, Bhaṭṭikāvya, by Bhaṭṭi.

Unlike the prose narrative (Katha and Akhyayika) and the mixed genre of Champu or Drama, the Makakavya is a poem composed entirely of quatrain-like Kavya stanzas. The Kavya poet arranges his or her in variety of elaborate meters, usually keeping the single ‘carrying’ meter up to the end of the Canto.

The characteristics of a Mahakavya may generally be treated as falling under two broad heads: essential and non-essential or formal. The essential characteristics are based on three constituents of Kavya: plot (Vastu or Itivrtta), the hero (Netr or Nayaka) and the main emotional content that it aims to portray (Bhava).

The plot must not be entirely fictitious; but must have a base in history or in Purana. The hero must be accomplished person of very high linage, a very noble person (Dhirodatta). The delineations of various sentiments and emotions are the third characteristic.

The non-essential characteristics are many; and, they generally apply to the techniques of narration and descriptions. A list of such characteristics includes that the number of Sarga should not exceed thirty but should not be less than eight. The number of verses should not be less than thirty but should not exceed two hundred. The last two or three verses of a Canto should be composed in a different meter or meters.

These characteristics are not essential. They may or may not be present in a Kavya.(e.g. The Haravijaya has more than fifty Cantos; some Cantos of Naisadhiyacharita contains more than two hundred verses; and the first Canto of the Bhattikavya has only twenty-seven verses).


Among the Laghukavya-s, a comparatively more detailed form is Khanda Kavya, which takes an independent position between Laghukavya and Mahakavya.

Kavya consisting one Section (Khanda) is called Khanda Kavya. It is different from a series of stanzas (Samghata). Khanda can employ themes much more freely and it usually narrates a story; or it might sometimes provide a background to the narrative. The classic examples of Khandakavya are: Kalidasa’s Meghadutam having about just over one hundred stanzas and Bilhana’s Chauri-surata-panchasika (fifty stanzas concerning secret enjoyment of love-act).

The other forms of Laghu-kavya generally comprise : Muktaka – single stanza poem; Yugmaka (also called Yugma, Yugala or Yugalaka) – two-stanza poem; Sandanitaka (or Visesaka) – three stanza poem; Kapalaka – four –stanza poem; Kulaka – five to fifteen stanza poem; Samghata – series of stanzas;  and, Kosha – collection of stanzas – kulakaṃ muktakaṃ koṣa iti padya kuṭumbakam.

In Yugmaka, the pair, two stanzas are closely linked by both syntax and content. Both the Mukataka and Yugmaka show a clear tendency to be constructed on one sentence –one –stanza principle.

If the number of stanzas exceeds two  Sandanitaka (the chain) , Kapalaka (the group) or Kulaka (the multitude)  are the terms used , in a narrow sense, are the names given to poems of three , four or four or five to fifteen  stanzas respectively.

kalāpo ‘tra pravāsaḥ prāganurāgāhvayo rasaḥ / saviśeṣakañca prāptyādi saṃskṛtenetreṇa ca // ślokair anekaiḥ kulakaṃ syāt sandānitakāni tat/AP_336.036/

Samghata (the junction) is a sort of longer poetry all written in the same meter, dealing with one single theme through the whole series of stanzas: a mountain , a season, a wedding , a battle etc.

The Kosha (treasure) on the other hand is longer and heterogeneous. These perhaps could be called Anthologies; and these form an important category in Sanskrit and Prakrit literature. They are collections of Muktakas selected from various sources, arranged as per a theme or in a random fashion.

The single stray verse (Muktaka) containing a single line of thought, emotion or expression or description or a summary – muktakaṃ śloka ekaikaś camatkāra kṣamaḥ satā ṃ– is very often used in all types of Kavyas. It is either used at commencement of the Kavya either as benediction (Mangala) or to pay homage to the earlier Masters of the tradition or to summarize the theme that is going to be presented or the mood  of the Kavya itself . These single stanza poems could be compared to Indian miniatures; both present selected fields of animate and inanimate reality typical of the art in question.

The single unit of two or more stanzas in the same meter or in alternate meter (Paryaya Bandha)


(f)  Dhvani – Guna – Chitra

Anandavardhana (Ca. 850 AD) in his Dhvanyaloka chose a different type of classification. He graded the Kavya into three classes (a) Dhvani-kavya (the poetry that suggests) as the true Kavya, the best (Uttama), where Dhvani the unspoken suggestive element is dominant; (b) the second, Gunibhuta-vamgmaya-kavya (well endowed descriptive poetry, as the middle (Madhyama) where Dhvani is secondary to Alamkara, and serves as a decoration for the spoken or expressed meaning; and (c) and Chitrakavya (poetry that structured into various patterns or drawings) as the least (Adhama) which depends entirely on verbal play for  its elegance and elaboration, and where Dhvani the suggestive power of poetry is absent.

Anandavardhana believed that all good poetry has two modes of expression – one that is expressed by words  embellished by Alamkara ; and the other that is implied or concealed – what is inferred by the listener or the reader And , in  the implied one –  the Dhvani – lies the soul of the poetry.

Anandavardhana regarded Dhvani – the suggestive power of the Kavya as its highest virtue. The Alamkara, figurative ornamental language, according to him, came next. In both these types of Kavya, there is a close association between the word and its sound, and between speech (vak) and meaning (artha). The word is that which when articulated gives out meaning; and meaning is what a word gives us to understand. Therefore, in these two types of Kavya there is a unity or composition (sahitya) of word (sabda-lankara) and its meaning (artha-lankara).

Then, Anandavardhana expanded on the object (phala) of poetry and how it is achieved (vyapara). The Rasa, he said, is the ultimate enjoyment by the reader; such enjoyment is the object of poetry. According to him, Rasa is not made; but, it is revealed; and its revelation is best when done through Dhvani. And, that is why words and meanings must be transformed to suggestions (Dhvani) of Rasa.

Anandavardhana’s classification is generally accepted and has come to stay. But, what has changed is the types of discussions around it. The later discussions are more pointed and specific.

Let’s talk about the concepts of Sphota, Dhvani and Rasa in the next segment.


 Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

I gratefully acknowledge these and other wonderfully well researched  works of great merit

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

A History of Classical Poetry: Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit by Siegfried Lienhard

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

ALL Pictures are from Internet

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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Kavya, oral traditions, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Two

Continued from Part One

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama) . You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

 Kavya – Rise and Decline



Kavya literally means the creation of a Kavi, which term derived from ‘kru-varne’ denotes one who describes; and, it is generally taken to mean a poet. The term Kavi in the Vedic context, however, meant a Rishi, a Drastara (seer) who through his intuition envisions (Darshana) the true nature of entities and their varied states of being (vicitra-bhava-dharmamsa-tattva-prakhya). Later, according to Yaska, the great Etymologist, the term Kavi came to denote, comprehensively, all those who express themselves through their intuitional (artistic) creations . The creative expression could be through words, color, sculpture, sound, or any other form, so long it flows out of intuition (prathibha) and manifests in an enjoyable form, to the benefit of all beings. Kavitva (poetry) thus , basically ,  encompasses in itself all forms of art expressions.

A hymn in Rig Veda (RV.10.129.4) remarks : it is the Kavi who discovered in his heart,  through contemplation, the bond between the Eternal and the transitory . He is the seer krāntadarshi , one who has insight ; can see and grasp the inner significance of things.

sato bandhum asati nir avindan hṛdi pratīṣyā kavayo manīṣā – RV_10,129.04 

It was said; a Kavi can even visualize  the depths of the ocean (samudre antaḥ kavayo vi cakṣate – RV.10,177.01)

The entire universe is said to mirror in the mind of the Kavi (Mathi-darpane kavinam vishwam prathi-phalathi)

In the world of Kavya (Kavya samasara), the Kavi alone is the King. He can mold it in any manner he wishes.

Apare kavya-samsare kavireva prajapathihi / yathasmai rochate vishvam tathedam parivartate //

[In fact , the concept of Kavi was raised to sublime heights. The Isha Upanishad  addresses the Creator  of the Universe as the Supreme Poet (kavir manishi paribhuh swayambhuh – Ish Up  verse 8) who conceives the grand design and expresses himself spontaneously through his creation. He is the seer, the thinker who expands his consciousness to encompass the entire Universe (viśvā rūpāṇi prati muñcate kaviḥ- RV.5.81.2). The creator, the Kavi, through his all-pervasive consciousness becomes one with his creation.]

In the later times, the scope of the term Kavi was narrowed down to mean an author who creates Kavya. Here also , it was said that one cannot be a Kavi unless one is a seer having the faculty to envision (Darshana) and to see that which is beyond the obvious, lifting the veil of the apparent (Drasta) –  Nan rishir kurute kavyam

Kavya in the sense of poetry during the time of Natyashastra (first or second century BCE) was just an ingredient of Drama.

During the time of Natyashastra, Drama enjoyed the preeminent position; and was respected as being the highest form of art expression. All faculties, right from architecture, stage craft, painting, costumes, makeup and even poetry, music, dance etc were treated as the elements that contribute to a credible dramatic performance. It was only much later that each of these arts developed into independent disciplines gaining more depth and spread.

In the later times, a complete turnaround came about; and, Drama was classified as one of the forms of Kavya. Yet; Drama continued to be the most popular form of entertainment. Kalidasa remarked : ‘Drama, verily, is a feast that is greatly enjoyed by a variety of people of different tastes – Natyam bhinna-ruchir janasya bahuda-apekshym  samaradhanam. And, for some period of time, Drama was treated as the most delightful form of Kavya – Kavyeshu Natakan ramyam. 

Perhaps , the elevation of Drama to the most delightful form of Kavya  followed a sort of gradation of poetic experience. It was said; that to include Prose under Kavya  might sound good as a rhetorical principle.  But, the restrictions of Chhandas, rhyme etc do limit the scope as also the appeal of the prose-Kavyas. And,  for similar reasons , just as the metrical Kavya has advantage over prose, so the ‘recited poem’ and Drama have an advantage over metrical Kavya , as they both enjoy the benefit of the musical effects of the sounds that enhance the  beauty of presentation, and hence  the pleasure of the listener . The Drama scores over the ‘recited poem’ because it has the additional power to bring in the embellishment of spectacular the visual effects; hence, Kavyeshu Natakam ramyam.

But, with the decline of Drama, the Dramaturgy became stagnant after Bharata till about 13th or 14th century, that is until scholars such as Dhanajaya, Sagaranandi, Ramachandra-Gunachadra and Simhabhupa came to its rescue by writing treaties. Among these, Dhananjaya’s Dasa Rupaka is an outstanding work. Dhananjaya condensed Bharata’s vast work; and, treated the whole subject under four broad heads or elements: Vastu (plot); Neta (main character/s); Dasa-rupaka (ten classes or types of plays); and, Rasa (aesthetic enjoyment)

[We have inherited a rich collection of Dramas as also the literature on dramaturgy. More than about five hundred Sanskrit plays, meant for staging, are available. In addition, there are many fragments on palm leaves yet to be edited and published.

Natyashastra (Ca.200 BCE) is of course the most well known text on dramaturgy; and, it is a monumental encyclopedia on all aspects related to drama, dance ,  music and even Kavya. The varied versions of Natyashastra were followed in different parts of the country.

It appears there were texts on Drama even much prior to Natyashastra. Panini (Ca.500 BCE) the great Grammarian, in his Astadhyayi (4.3.110-11), mentions two ancient Schools  –  of Krsava and Silalin- that were in existence during  his time – Parasarya Silalibhyam bhikshu nata-sutreyoh  (4.3.110); karmanda krushas shvadinihi  (4.3.111). It appears that Parasara , Silalin , karmanda and Krsava were the authors of  Bhikshu Sutras and Nata Sutras. Of these , Silalin and Krsava  were said to have prepared the Sutras  (codes )  for the Nata ( actors or dancers). At times , Natyashastra refers to the performers (Nata) as Sailalaka -s  . The assumption is that the Silalin-school , at one time,  might have been a prominent theatrical tradition. Some scholars opine that the Nata-sutras of Silalin ( coming under the Amnaya tradition) might have influenced the preliminary part (Purvanga) of Natyashastra , with its elements of worship (Puja).

Natyashastra itself cites many previous sources, without, of course, specifically naming them.

Between the time of Natyashastra (Ca. 200 BCE) and the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century) there were several authors and commentators on the subject of Drama and related subjects. Some of such ancient authorities mentioned are: Kohala, Shandilya, Kirtidhara, Matrigupta, Udbhata, Sri Sanuka, Lottata, Bhattanayaka and others. But, sadly the works of those savants are lost to us; but, they survive in fragments as cited by the later authors.

However, these texts do point out and confirm that Drama, theater indeed formed a vital and engaging aspect of the Indian society.

But, this thriving performing-art tradition declined over a period and almost faded away by about the twelfth century.

The tradition, though tapering out, did continue in some forms as minor or one-act plays – Uparupakas– mainly in regional languages, with a major input of dance and songs; but, with just a little stress on Abhinaya (acting) and Sahitya (script).]


Mammaṭācārya  (11th century) explained that Kavya  meant poetry, prose , drama, music as also  dance  i.e. all those forms of art  which delight  and touch the inner most chord of human sensitivity . That was before; dance and music again branched out.

Kavya is very often translated as poetry. This is rather imprecise, because in Kavya both poetry (Padya) and prose (Gadya) are employed. The two – Padya and Gadya – are also used in Drama , Champu Kavya , as also in technical texts and treatises.

Ideally, Kavya has no restriction of languages or its forms . Kavya need not always have to be in Sanskrit (Marga). It could as well be in Prakrit covering group of regional languages (Desi), including Sinhalese, Javanese. As the scholar Sheldon Pollock says , the languages of the Kavya  termed such as Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsa or whatever , all refer to social and linguistic characteristics and not to particular people or places; and , least of all the structure and internsic merit of the work.

[ While on the question of languages, let me digress here for a while :

There is an interesting contrast between the Western and Indian concepts on the question of language.  In the West, one language is used for all purposes. That is in sharp contrast to the Indian practice. A different language for different purposes is the Indian way.  That brings in a greater depth and diversity into the cultural milieu of Indian life.

[For instance; say, in America or England, English is the language that almost everyone speaks at home, on the street, in office; and even in the Church. But, let’s say in Karnataka, one may speak Kannada /Telugu / Tulu/ Konkani etc at home as ‘mother-tongue’; use Kannada in the street; speak and submit application to Government and public offices in Kannada the ‘official language’; transact in English at workplace and with outside world; bargain with the meat vendor in Urdu and with the vegetable vendor in Tamil; sing Hindi movie songs; and, recite mantras and prayers in Sanskrit. ]

In ancient India, while Sanskrit was used for learning traditional texts; for intellectual discourses; and, for reciting mantras, it was the Prakrit that was used for popular music, poetry, dance, informal day-to-day conversations, and for simpler instructions. There was also a practice of composing songs with mix of Sanskrit and Prakrit words. Such compositions were named as Mani-pravala (a mix of gems and coral beads)

The Sanskrit drama too, in an attempt to reflect the everyday social behaviour, adopted a multi-lingual approach. The different characters in the play spoke different languages and dialects depending upon their standing in the court hierarchy or their cultural/ regional background.  

The Arthashastra does not anywhere specify a particular language as suited to statecraft or as the ‘official language’. The Edicts by the Kings were issued both in Sanskrit and in many other popular languages. There was no concept of National language or National literature.

Buddhism and Jainism which arose in the Eastern parts of India adopted primarily the regional languages of Pali and Magadhi for their texts. In fact, Vac as speech or any language was considered sacred, if it conveys noble thoughts or sacred knowledge.

Coming to the present-day India,  with formation of states on the basis of language, we have the three language formula of the Regional language, the official language and the link language. While the Regional languages got bitterly involved in rebelling against the domination of  Hindi , the English language gained greater acceptance in almost every field of activity. Now , English has marginalized all the Indian languages – including Hindi –  not only as the bureaucratic language, but also as the medium of business, administration,  judiciary, scientific studies, medicine, higher education  and every other intellectual writing , speech and media.

An unfortunate collateral damage of this mêlée of Hindi Vs Regional languages has been in the decline in the quality, growth and status of every language of India. In the pre-independence era , literary works in Indian languages and even in the dialects had been rich in quality  and reached great heights   . But, sadly, in the period after Independence , the quality of writing in Indian languages has gone down visibly . In contrast,  the English wiring by Indian authors has excelled and gained  larger readership across the continents.]


In fact, the early phase of the Kavya was dominated by Prakrit which was spread across many regions of India. It is only towards the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century that the Sanskrit Kavya began to flower in earnestness.

To say a few word about Prakrit;  the term is said to be derived from Prakrut, meaning natural (or the original as opposed to Vikrti, the modified) .  Another explanation says that Prakrit is the common name given various dialects which sprang up in the early times  in India from the corruption of Sanskrit (Prakritih , tatra –bhavam tata agatam va Prakritam– Hemachandra 13th century). Prof. E B Cowell who was the Professor of Sanskrit in the University of Cambridge, in the preface to his The Prakrit Prakasha (Prakrit Grammar of Vararuchi ) , Turner & Co, London , 1868 says :

Prakrit almost always uses the Sanskrit roots; its influence being chiefly restricted to alterations and elisions of certain letters in the original word. It everywhere substitutes a slurred or a indistinct pronunciation for the clear and definite utterance of the older tongue; and, continually affects a concurrence of vowels, such as is utterly repugnant to the genius of the Sanskrit.

In any case, Prakrit  was the language of the common people ; spoken by the social and cultural groups, other than  the elite. The earliest known Prakrit Grammar is Prakrita Prakasa ascribed to Vararuchi (first century).

Prakrit is a comprehensive term covering a group of regional languages and dialects.  In Vararuchi’s Grammar, only four varieties of Prakrit are mentioned: Maharastri, Paisachi, Magadhi and Suraseni.   The later Grammarians expanded the list. Prakrit, thus, would include what is now known as Pali (language of the Tripitakas); Magadhi (language of Magadha) and Ardha-Magadhi (language of the Jain texts); Sauraseni (language of the Matura region) ; Lati( language of Lata the southern  region of Gujarat);  Gaudi ( language of Eastern India and Bengal)  and Maharstri (earlier form Marathi) etc.

Because of the lack of strict rules governing these languages they were more relaxed in their nature; and, rather experimental in their usage.

Prakrit was also the language employed in the early centuries of literacy (c. 250 BCE – 250 AD.) for public inscriptions and Prashasti (praise-poems), until it was displaced, rather dramatically and permanently, by Sanskrit.

Then there were Paisachi and Apabhramsa two other forms of Prakrit. Paisachi, as Prof. A K Warder explains, was a dialect which appears to have been current, say between fourth century BCE and first century AD, in the region lying between Avanti (Ujjain) and the Godavari basin.  Besides that two other explanations are offered to indicate the sources of Prakrit  : one mentions the sub-Himalayan region, from Kashmir valley to Nepal/ Tibet; and, the other mentions Kekeya, the region on the east banks of the Indus River.

According to A K Warder; linguistically and historically, Paisachi, Pali and the language of the Magadha-inscriptions form a closely related group representing what may be called early Prakrit that was current between 4th century BCE and second century BCE; early Magadhi also belonged to this group.

[ However, George Abraham Grierson, in his research paper The Pisaca languages of north-western India  Published by the Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1906 , holds a different view:

We are therefore driven to the conclusion that the Modern Paisaca languages are neither of Indian nor of Eranian origin, hut form a third branch of the Aryan stock, which separated from the parent stem after the branching forth of the original of the Indian languages, but before the Eranian languages had developed all their peculiar characteristics. ]

The nouns and verbs in Prakrit forms ( Suraseni, Apabramsa, Magadhi, Ardha-Magadhi and Maharastri) follow that of Sanskrit , with local variations. For instance ; see the various forms of Sanskrit Putra ( son ) and Prakrit Putta :


(Source: :Prakrit / by George Abraham Grierson (1911) )

From the fragments of Paisachi of the Brhadkatha and those  from works of Vararuchi the Grammarian (Ca.1st century) that have survived, it appears, Paisachi resembled what came to be known as Pali, though distinct in minor details. It is said; the Paisachi went into decline mainly because the Shatavahana emperor (around first century BCE and first century AD) totally despised it, calling it low or vulgar Prakrit.

By about the first century, the Prakrit – the intermediate or unclassified – was replaced in speech by a sort of vernacular (Desi) called Apabhramsa. Historically , it is treated as the later form of Prakrit; but, rather as a corrupted form of Prakrit. And again, there were several forms of Apabhramsa; and, the major form of it was the one spoken in the Sindhu region, hence known as Saindhava.  Some regard Apabhramsa as the early phase of modern Indo-Aryan languages. Most of the texts in Apabhramsa belonging to the first millennium (say, up to 1000 AD) are lost. But some fragments or illustrations  of Apabhramsa lyrics  have survived  , for instance , in  the anthology  ( muktaka  or kosa) of the Prakrit lyrics of Satavahana ; in the act Four  of Kalidasa’s drama Vikramorvasiya ( early fourth century) ; in Puspadanta’s Mahapurana  (mid tenth century) ; in Raja Bhoja’s  Srñgaraprakasa ( eleventh century) ; and in Chalukya King Someswara’s Manasollasa ( twelfth  century) . Many of these citations are , in fact , erotic stanzas of a sort familiar to the Prakrit tradition. And they strive to create a rural , homely and amorous ambiance.

As Prakrit gained strength, it branched into independent languages; and, accumulated greater expressive power.  At the same time, Sanskrit began to decline steadily and losing its fluidity.

[In fact, Bhartrhari (Ca.450 CE) laments that the social influence of Prakrit was extremely great and was a threat to the historical tradition of Sanskrit Grammar. The schools of Sanskrit Grammar had fallen into disarray; and , in addition study of Prakrit was also flourishing.]

The period spanning between Bharata ‘s Natyashastra (say second century BCE) and the fourth century AD, could be said to be the period of Prakrit, in all its forms. Not only was Prakrit used for the Edicts and the Prasastis (praise-poems), but it was also used in writing poetical and prose Kavyas. The inscriptions of Asoka (304–232 BCE) were in simple regional and sub-regional languages; and, not in ornate Kavya style. The inscriptions of Asoka show the existence of at least three dialects: the Eastern dialect of the capital which perhaps was the official lingua franca of the Empire; the North-western;  and , the Western dialects. And much before Asoka, the Buddhist cannon (Tripitaka) and the Jataka tales were written in Prakrit forms, the then spoken language of the people.

In the period after Asoka, a number of Prakrit forms came to fore. Here, we find the old Ardha-magadhi, old Sauraseni and the Magadhi, besides Paisachi which perhaps was the language of the Vindhya region. There is an abundance of poetic works composed in Prakrit during the period of Satavahanas (say from 230 BCE to 220 AD). It seems that even during the period between Second century BCE and the First century AD, Prakrit was the language of the Royal Courts. The poetry of this period is represented by the Anthology Gatha-sattasai (the seven hundred songs) attributed to King Haala of the Satavahana dynasty (c. third century) ; and by the Brhad-katha of Gunadya (in Paisachi).

Further, during the earlier centuries up to 300 A. D., some kings like the Satavahanas, the Ikshwakus and the Pallavas had championed the cause of Prakrit and directed that local languages alone  be used  in the official and public documents.

However, as the period advanced ,  the Prakrits ceased to be used for public documents; and, even the Buddhists and the Jains disregarded the advice of the founders of their religions and began to compose works in Sanskrit. 


Rise of Kavya

The Arthashastra  ( dated somewhere between 150 BCE – 120 CE)  which reflects the conditions obtaining in the Royal Courts of its time  mentions  a host of Court employees such as : Sutas, Puranikas, Magadhas ( those who herald ) and Kusilavas (chroniclers , bards and singers) . There is even the mention of monthly honorariums granted to teachers and pupils (Acharyah Vidyavantas cha).  But, strangely, there is no mention of a court poet.  And, among the literary works mentioned in Arthashastra there is no mention, anywhere, of Kavya. Further, no Kavya of note belonging to the period between the 2nd century B.C. and the early  2nd century A.D. has come down to us.

It was perhaps towards the end of this period that the Kavyas seemed to develop. The Buddhacharita, the Kavya of Asvaghosa (Ca.  First century); the plays of Bhasa (First or Second century) belong to what could be called as the pre-classic period of early ornate Kavya period.  These are perhaps the earliest known Kavya-poets of eminence. And, Kavya as ornate court poetry perhaps blossomed in the courts of Western Ksatrapas (35–405) who ruled over the western and central part of India; and, during the reign of Kushanas, particularly in the second century AD. But, the dates of the works of this period cannot be ascertained with any certainty.

The later Sanskrit writers tried to bring in the informal flavor of Prakrit into their works. (And, another reason could be that the Sanskrit authors too had to come to terms with the changes taking place within the society they lived.) Some major writers such as, Kalidasa, Bhavabhuthi, Dandin, Vishakhadutta and Banabhatta made some of their local characters speak in Prakrit, just to usher a sense of reality into their dialogues. Dandin went a step further by grafting a theory of Riti, by legitimizing the Prakrit influence on Sanskrit. Writers like Rajashekara, Hemachandra, and Jayadeva, though scholars of Sanskrit coined fresh Prakrit terms and phrases for expressing new ideas.  Thus, whatever may have been their original regional specificity, by the time of Bhamaha and Dandin ( 6-7th century)  both the literary Prakrit and Apabhramsa were no longer treated as tied to a  particular place; but , were regarded  as varieties of  languages in their own right.

Therefore, Anandavardhana (Ca. 850) while drafting a new theory of Kavya made use of materials that had not been previously subjected to critical scrutiny. And, among such material were the Prakrit songs (gatha) from perhaps the second or third century. It is said; the informal and sensitive Prakrit lyrics helped Anandavardhana to appreciate how the meaning of the work as a whole resides in an emotional content (Rasa); and, how that can be effectively communicated only through suggestion (Dhvani).

And, Kshemendra (mid eleventh century), also from Kashmir, advises the aspiring poets of talent to “listen to the songs and lyrics and rasa-laden poems in local languages . . . to go to popular gatherings and learn local languages,”

For a short period, there was a practice among the writers to compose Kavyas both in Sanskrit and in Prakrit. For instance:  the lexicographer and poet Dhanapala, son of Sarvadeva, who lived at Dhara , the capital of  Malava, was the author of the Paiyalacchi, a Prakrit vocabulary, completed in 972-973 A.D, and after his conversion to Jainism, he composed Rsabhapancasika, fifty verses in Prakrit, in honor of Rsabha Deva, the first Thirthankara ;  Rajasekhara  (who lived about the year 900 A. D ) , the author of Kavyamimsa, composed a play called sattaka,  same as a natika or minor comedy , wholly in Prakrit; Dhanika son of Visnu, (last quarter of the tenth century), who prepared a commentary on the Dasarupa not only wrote poetry in Sanskrit but also in Prakrit; Visvanatha (first half of the fourteenth century), a literary theorist, wrote one Prakrit Kavya besides his Sanskrit works; ; and Anandavardhana, in addition to a courtly epic in Sanskrit, wrote a text in Prakrit “for the education of poets” , most likely a textbook on aesthetic suggestion. Muñja, king of the Paramaras who was  Raja Bhoja’s uncle (Ca.  996), appears to be the only Sanskrit poet who produced a serious body of verse in Apabhramsa as well as in Sanskrit (both  preserved only in fragments).

Although the number of Prakrit Kavyas tapered out, popular tales, songs and verses set in simple, natural and delightful styles continued to be composed in good numbers.  For instance; Kouhala (Ca.800), in his delightful Maharastri romance Lilavali, pictures a conversation between a youth and his Love. She goads her lover to  narrate a tale. The helpless young man pleads his ignorance: “Ah, my love, you will make me look ridiculous for my lack of learning in the arts of language. Far from telling a great tale, I should in fact keep silent.” She  does not give up , but cajoles him :  “Oh , come my beloved , tell me any story in clear Prakrit that I can understand. Why do we have care for rules and heavy words?  So tell me a  delightful tale in Prakrit, easy to understand which simple women love to hear. .”

In the biography of Yasovarman of Kanyakubja (Ca. 725) the poet defends the virtues of Prakrit, saying: “From time immemorial in Prakrit alone, that one could combine new content and mellow form. . . . All words enter into Prakrit and emerge out of it, as all waters enter and emerge from the sea”. And, he laments “…. many men no longer understand [Prakrit’s] different virtues; great poets [in Prakrit] should just scorn or mock or pity them, but feel no pain themselves.”

The golden age of Kavya

The golden age of ornate court Kavya was the stretch of about 125 years (from 330-455) during the reign of the Gupta dynasty (approximately between 350 and 550 AD). This was also the age of Kalidasa (say, between 375 and 413 AD) – acknowledged as the greatest of poets. The other great poets and scholars said to belong to this golden age of the Gupta Era were : Matrgupta; Mentha or Hastipaka; Amaru.  They were later followed by other distinguished poet–scholars like Bhartrihari (450-510); Varahamihira (505-587); Bhatti (about 600 AD); and, Bharavi (Ca.6th century) .

Then there was the Emperor Harsavardhana of Thanesar and Kanauj who ruled from 606 to 647 AD. And, Banabhatta his Court poet immortalized his patron in his historical romance Harshacharita. And, Magha (Ca. 7th century) a poet in the Court of King Varmalata of Sharmila (Gujarat/Rajasthan)   created undoubtedly one of the most complex and beautiful poetic works, the Shishupala-vadha. He was followed by   Bhavabuthi the playwright and poet in the court of the King Yashovarman of Kanauj (Ca.750 AD).

Around the seventh century , the convention was invented (and quickly adopted everywhere) of prefacing a literary work with a eulogy of poets past (kaviprasamsa). Bana, author of the Harsacarita (c. 640), the first Sanskrit literary biography that takes a contemporary as its subject, seems to have been the first to use it. This is not to say that earlier writers never refer or allude to predecessors. In a well-known passage in the prologue to Kalidasa’s drama Malavikagnimitra, an actor complains to the director, “How can you ignore the work of the great poets—men like Dhavaka, Saumilla, Kaviratna— and present the work of a contemporary poet like Kalidasa?” to which the director famously replies, “Not every work of literature is good just because it is old, or bad just because it is new.”


(The Old is not necessarily admirable; and the New always not despicable; the wise discriminate and decide; fools let others decide for them. – Kalidasa, Act-I, Malavikagnimitra)

Such kaviprasamsa-s, apart from paying homage and expressing one’s appreciation of the past-poets appreciation served other purposes as well. To start with, it was a way of familiarizing the past Masters, even those who have faded out of peoples’ memory. It was also indicative of the author’s affiliation to a linage (parampara) of his predecessors. For instance; Bana’s praise-poems or Eulogy (kaviprasamsa) offers a broad view  of the main varieties of Kavya that were current during his time; the foremost representations among each of those varieties that the author he appreciated most. Bana’s tributes to his elders include : in the  class of  the tale (katha) in Sanskrit prose (or Prakrit or Apabhramsa verse) was the Sanskrit work Vasavadatta of Subandhu (c. 600);  in the prose biography (akhyayika) , it was the lost Prakrit work of Adhyaraja; in the Sanskrit court-epic (mahakavya) , it was , of course, Kalidasa ;  and, in  the class of Prakrit court-epic (skandhaka) , it was Pravarasena ;  in the Sanskrit, Prakrit, or Apabhramsa lyric or anthology of lyrics (muktaka and rosa), it was  the Prakrit collection of Satavahana; and , in the drama (nataka) it was indeed  the match-less  Bhasa . 

And, amidst the conspicuous absence of any sort of Literary Criticism in the early periods of Kavya, such kaviprasamsa-s , as of Bana , provide a glimpse or a window-view into the standards that the authors adopted  to form  literary judgment over their predecessors works. It was also indicative of the values and merits that the writer himself cherished to look for in a Kavya. And, yet the criteria for selection the work were not clearly stated. Some of those virtues could perhaps  be : the beauty , elegance , charm of the language; command over the language  that splendidly brought out just the right meaning that author intended ; lucid and  sparkling expressions and phrases; the emotive content; vivid descriptions that graphically captured the locale as also the mood of the situation; the delight(Rasa) that it provides to the reader; and, the ways that the Kavya benefits the reader (Kavya-prayojana).

Having said that let me also mention that such kaviprasamsa served only a limited purpose. It was, at best , an appreciation; not an appraisal of the literary merits of a Kavya or its elements such as the  plot, characterization, or voice (Dhvani ) etc.  It did not also give even a clue to the chronology of the authors or the works.

[ A  practice of Prarochana , sequenced right after  the Naandi ( seeking the blessings of the Devatas for successful completion of the play and to bring joy (nanda) to the audience ) , but before the Prastavana , the prelude to commencement of  the play proper, became a common feature of Sanskrit plays , particularly after the time Bhasa ( 3rd or 4th century). In the Prarochana , the Sutradhara would praise  the literary merit and scholarship of the playwright   and  laud the high quality of his play that the audience is about to watch .

The Prarochana was , of course ,  just a manner of introducing the play and playwright while welcoming the audience . You could call it a ‘ promotion’ of the play; and, it did not mention the past lumeneries.]

With the passing of those wonderfully well gifted, creative, brilliant poet-scholars, the golden age or the  classical age of Kavya may be considered to have come to an end.

Rise of Sanskrit

The rise of Sanskrit as a medium of Kavya and other forms of literary works, and the fall of Prakrit are in some way related.

With the establishment of mighty Empires that stretched from Afghanistan in the West to the far ends of the East, the power and influence of Indian Empire, its culture, art, philosophy and literatures spread across to the lands beyond the Himalayas and across the seas. The religious scholars, particularly the Buddhists from China, Tibet and Far East travelled across many regions of India to study and to gather texts to be later translated into their own languages.  Their medium of study was invariably Sanskrit, which was written and spoken by most Indian scholars, in almost the same manner. One could say that Sanskrit was India’s language up to about the tenth century. It was in Sanskrit that Indian scholars discussed with the visiting scholars; and, it was also the language of its international diplomacy.

From the second century, and increasingly thereafter, Sanskrit came to be used for public texts, including the quite remarkable Kavya-like poems in praise of kingly lineages (Vamshavali). Prior to that , for about four centuries , say from 250 BCE  it was only the Prakrit that was used for inscriptions, whether for issuing a royal proclamation, glorifying martial deeds, commemorating a Vedic sacrifice, or granting land to Brahman communities.

Similarly, the early Buddhist Canon containing the discourses delivered by the Buddha and other Buddhist texts say up to first or second century of the Common Era were in Pali, a form of Prakrit.  Likewise, the religious texts of the Jains were composed mostly in Ardha –Magadhi, also a form of Prakrit.  These and others, in general, began to adopt Sanskrit for both scriptural and literary purposes.

Later, after the second century AD, large number Buddhist scriptures came to be written in Sanskrit (although the Buddha had insisted that his teachings be in the language spoken the common people). And, thereafter it became a practice to compose texts in Sanskrit. By about the Middle Ages, considerable numbers of eminent Buddhist scholars , who wrote their religious or secular texts in Sanskrit,  had gained renown across all Buddhist countries .  Just to name a few: Dharmakirti (c. 650); Ratnasrijñana (900); Dharmadasa (1000?), Jñananasrimitra (1000) and Vidyakara (1100).

The Jains who earlier composed their texts in a form of Prakrit also switched over to Sanskrit. For instance, take the case of Jains in Karnataka  who  created great Sanskrit poetic works like Adipurana of Jinasena , the Champu Kavyas ( mix of poetry and prose) of Somadevasuri and Prince Yasotilaka. At the same time , they wrote new work in Kannada (Pampa’s courtly epics of the mid-ninth century) and Apabhramsa (Puspadanta’s Mahapurana of 970).

The reasons that prompted the writers, even those writers on philosophy and religion, were many ; but, mostly , they were related to the changed circumstances and the eminent position that Sanskrit had secured, by then, not only in India’s neighboring countries but also in the far off lands.  Sanskrit had extended far beyond the Sub Continent, into Central Asia and as far as the islands of Southeast Asia.

At the same time, neither Prakrit nor Apabhramsa, nor any of the regional-language literature, could command such wide readership or audience. They were in no position to compete with Sanskrit, internationally. Although works of great merit were produced in these languages, they could not reach the readers beyond the limits of their vernacular world. They were hardly known in the outside world.

[ In a way of speaking, in terms of the literary and spoken means of communication in the present-day India – internally and internationally , English could be said to have replaced Sanskrit. And, in the visual media , Bollywood movies enjoy a wider reach and greater appeal than the regional films (however well they might be  made)]

The Sanskrit works, on the other hand, enjoyed readership even outside India. For instance; the works of the great Buddhist Sanskrit poets, such as, Asvaghosa (second century) and Matrceta (not later than 300), were read not only in Northern India but also in much of Central Asia. In Qizil and Sorcuq (in today’s Xinjiang region of China), manuscript fragments were found bearing portions of Asvaghosa’s dramas and his two courtly epics, Saundarananda and Buddhacarita.

Such wide range of circulation was possible not merely because of the influence that Buddhism commanded in those countries, but also because of  the universal acceptance of Sanskrit language and recognition of its aesthetic power and beauty.

The  non-religious Sanskrit poetry  spread as far as up to Southeast Asia, where by the ninth or tenth century at the latest, literati in Khmer country were studying masterpieces such as the Raghuvamsa  of Kalidasa; the Harsacarita , the early-seventh-century prose of the great writer Bana; and , the Suryasataka of the latter’s contemporary, Mayura.

Therefore, any writer of merit – whether religious or secular – aspiring for wider readership, more serious attention and greater fame, naturally opted to write in Sanskrit. And, his Sanskrit work had a better chance of acquiring an almost global readership and following among erudite, aesthetic Sahrudaya –s.

Therefore, the desire to reach out to a larger audience and to acquire recognition from the worthy peers , seems to have prompted aspiring writers to compose in Sanskrit . Such works covered a wide range of subjects – from Grammar, Chhandas, Alamkara, and poetic conventions to study of character, narratives, plots, and the organization of elements that create the emotional impact of a work – such as Rasa etc.

Prof. A.S. Altekar in his Education in  Ancient India ; Published by Nand Kishor & Brothers, Benaras – 1944;  talks about the neglect, of Vernaculars following the ascendancy of Sanskrit

The revival of Sanskrit that took place early in the first millennium was undoubtedly productive of much good; it immensely enriched the different branches of Sanskrit literature which began to reflect the ideals and ideas of the individual and the race. But owing to the deep fascination for Sanskrit, society began to identify the educated man with the classical scholar.

But when the best minds became engaged in expressing their thoughts in Sanskrit, Prakrits were naturally neglected. As long as Sanskrit was intelligible to the ordinary individual, this was not productive of much harm. But from about the 8th century A.D. Prakrits and vernaculars became widely differentiated from Sanskrit, and those who were using them began to find it difficult to understand the latter language. Hindu educationalists did not realize the importance of developing vernacular literature in the interest of the man in the Street.

Hence, the Hindu educational system was unable to promote the education of the masses probably because of its concentration on Sanskrit and the neglect of the vernaculars.


Decline of Kavya

Though Sanskrit in some form or other lingers on in today’s India, what is undeniable is that it’s vital signs have grown very weak.

The reasons for the rapid decline of Kavya are many; and, some of them complement each other. Perhaps the most telling blow was the political instability and virtual anarchy in North India following the invasion of Muslim forces starting from the tenth or the eleventh century. The Royal Courts and the systems that supported the growth of Kavya were totally destroyed; and were never revived. The Kavya and its creators were truly orphaned.

And, even when the Sanskrit poets secured patronage in some Royal Courts, their Kavya became inward looking and dispirited, having lost connection with the society at large. Virtually all the Court poetry was about caritas (poetic chronicles) , vijayas (battles fought and won ) , or abhyudayas (accounts of success), detailing this campaign and that military victory. The poets, as paid employees of the Court, were duty bound to praise their Masters.

Sheldon Pollock in his very well researched and presented  scholarly work Sanskrit Literary Culture from the Inside Out , examines the state of Kavya in the later times with particular reference to the Courts at Kashmir , Vijayanagar and Varanasi. I will try to summarize his views, briefly.

Sanskrit literary culture in Kashmir, commenced by about the sixth century; and by the middle of the twelfth century it reached its zenith, with more innovative literature being written than perhaps anywhere else in the region. By the end of the twelfth century , the orderly life in urban Kashmir suffered   near total dissolution. And, after the establishment of Turkic rule in Kashmir, around 1420, the literary culture was totally shattered. No Kashmiri Sanskrit literature was ever again created or was it circulated outside the valley, as it used to do. Many of its important literary works  survived only through recopying in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; but, virtually all of those originated from the twelfth century or earlier.

As regards Vijayanagar (1340–1565) in Karnataka, though the Literature, in general, did enjoy Royal patronage, the energy of Sanskrit Kavya slowly depleted. In Vijayanagara, Sanskrit was not dying rapidly as it did in Kashmir.  Sanskrit learning in fact continued during the long existence of the empire, and after. But, the spirit of the Kavya was somehow lost. Vijayanagara’s Sanskrit literature, as Sheldon Pollock says, presented a picture of an exhausted literary culture. It seemed as though the Court culture insulated the poets from the simple pleasure and pains of the ordinary day-to-day life of common people. Their poetry was mostly about singing the glory of their Royal patrons. Such Sanskrit poetry was socially irrelevant; but was supported by Court as sort  of   state enterprise.

Of the Sanskrit literary works of the Vijayanagara times, with rare exception, not a single one is recognized as great, and continued to be read after it was written. Most of its Kavyas were did not circulate to any extent beyond its region; nor did they attract serious commentaries, nor included in a credible anthology.

In contrast, the literature in regional languages – Kannada and Telugu- flourished during these times.  For instance; . Kumaravyasa’s Kannada Bharata (c. 1450) not only circulated widely in manuscript form but also continues to be  recited all over the Kannada-speaking world, as the Sanskrit Mahabharata itself had been recited all over India a thousand years earlier.

The Maratha court of Tanjavuru in the early eighteenth century was an active cultural centre in the South. Its Sanskrit scholarship as also that in regional languages was indeed of a high order. But, the Sanskrit literary production, while prominent, appeared  to have remained wholly internal to the palace. Not a single Sanskrit literary work of the period transcended its moment in time.

In the south as in the north, Sanskrit writers had ceased to make literature that made history. The Kavya of these later times seemed have been drained of vitality.   There seemed to be neither enterprise nor enthusiasm. What was strange was that the authors of Court-epics did not show much zeal to invent fresh themes. Most found it adequate to re-narrate the familiar myths and legends in their own characteristic styles.

As Sheldon Pollack puts it :  Sanskrit literature ended when it became a practice of repetition and not renewal, when the writers themselves no longer evinced commitment to a central value of the tradition and a feature that defined literature itself: the ability to make literary newness, “the capacity,” as a great Kashmiri writer put it, “to continually re-imagine the world.”


Dr. Buddhadeva Bose (1908-1974) , regarded as one of the five poets who moved to introduce modernity into Bengalipoetry, in his Modern Poetry and Sanskrit Kavya, writing about Kalidasa says  though he admires Sanskrit greatly , ‘ the truth is , no real connection has been established between our way of life today and Sanskrit literature…. The Sanskrit poetry is comprehensively artificial; and, no longer represents or speaks to, the intimate concerns of the modern reader.’  He asks : ‘how do we read Sanskrit poetry as poetry , if it  fails to provoke the intellectual and emotional response that draws us to poetic language; in other words, if it fails to fulfill our expectations about poetry’. Further he says : ’ In the whole world , only Sanskrit has been turned into a huge and much respected corpse , which cannot be approached without our first having mastered the technique of dissection. This is the main reason for our alienation from Sanskrit poetry’.

Literary criticism

The practical literary criticism of the type that we are familiar with today, discussing and analyzing issues such as the plot, catheterization, style of presentation, poetic content, its freshness , arrangement of chapters, the validity of the work etc did not for some reason develop in the Kavya tradition. The references to to earlier works would either to praise them very highly (Kavai-prashamsa) or to condemn it outright. The sense of balance in their approach somehow seemed to be lacking.

Prof. Sriramamurti of Andhra University , in his paper ‘Critic and criticism in Sanskrit‘ observed that even in the present period : The utter lack of practical criticism is a sad omission on the part of Sanskrit writers. This has led to the recent tradition of studying only portions of Maha kavyas and never looking at them as single artistic pieces. Hence we were unable to get at the spirit of the poem, much less to receive the message intended to be conveyed by the immortal poets of our literature.

Question of the sense of History

Then there is the question of the sense of History. It is not that the ancient Indian authors did not have taste for history; but, they did not seem to cultivate taste to chronicle the historical events and facts objectively. Although Bhamaha (early seventh century) drew a distinction between historical and fictional genres (akhyayika and katha), such distinction was hardly ever maintained. In the Indian tradition, the historical writing was usually a branch of Kavya. For instance, the Rajatarangini by Kalhana (Ca.1150) which chronicles the Royal linage of Kashmir is regarded by some as History. But Kalhana himself explicitly identifies his work as a Kavya; and , he affiliates it with literature by frequently citing earlier poems that had achieved the synthesis of literature with History. Moreover, the work was regarded as literature by his contemporaries.

What was surprising was that Anandavardhana (Ca. 850) counseled poets to alter any received historical account that conflicted with the emotional impact they sought to achieve. Thus, according to him, one can and should change fact to suit the dominant Rasa of the work.

The problem appeared to be that Chronology was malleable and was horribly mixed up. And, the events were not sequenced in the order they occurred. The other was the woeful lack of the critical approach.  The ancient authors did not seem to cultivate taste for criticism of the historical truths.

The  reason for such flexible approach could be that the author would invariably be serving as an employee of the King as his  Court poet, who was asked  to write the about the glory of his King’s  ( patron’s) predecessors. In the circumstances, the Poet would not go into analysis of the circumstances, critically examine historical facts; but, was duty bound to praise his patron and his ancestors. And, while writing the ‘History ’ (itivritta of heroes of the Nayaka), the poet would also try to exhibit his poetical skills in extolling his subjects by treating them as heroes (Nayaka) investing them with unbelievable virtues . And, in the narration , he would also try  make room  to entertain and to instruct as a Poet, to teach morals and to generalize the course of human destiny.

Some examples of the works of this genre are Banabhatta’s Harshacharita (7th century) about the life and times of King  Harshavadhana ; Vakpathi’s Prakrit work Gavdavaha ( 8th century) about King Yashovardhana of Kanauj; and, Bilhana’s Vikramankadevacharita (12th century) woven around the dynasty of Chalukya kings , and specially about his patron Vikramaditya VI.

Bilhana, in particular, rewarded his patron by mixing mythology with the chronicles of the Chalukya dynasty.  He makes an epic out of a historical theme. He commences with the allusion to gods who out of benevolence create the Chalukya dynasty in order to ensure and maintain safety of the world.

Continued in Part Three ->




Sources and References

I gratefully acknowledge these and other wonderfully well researched  works of great merit

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

A History of Classical Poetry: Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit by Siegfried Lienhard

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

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Posted by on July 12, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part One

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama) . You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]


Kavya Shastra


The Indian Poetics over the centuries was known by different names at different stages of its development.  Valmiki in his Epic, Ramayana, refers to Poetics as Kriya-kalpa (kriya-kalpa vidashcha kavyavido janan– Uttara Kanda.93.7).  Lalitavistara Sutra a Buddhist text believed to belong to the first or second century explains the term Kriya–kalpa as the rules  for creating poetic works  ( Kavya-karana-vidhi ) ; and says that  the term means  Kavya-alamkara , the poetics (kriya–kalpa iti kavya-karana-vidhi kavya-alamkara ithyarthaha .  Vatsayana  (Ca. second century) in his famous Kama sutra , while enumerating the fourteen types of arts (Kala) that a cultured urbane  person (Nagarika)  should cultivate , also uses the term Kavya-kriya-kalpa   to denote the Poetics (Kama sutra.1.3.16). The poet Dandin (6th-7th century) in his Kavyadarsha, a handbook of classical Sanskrit Poetics, calls Poetics as Kriyavidhi, the rules of poetry (Vacham vichitra-marganam nibbandha kavyalamkara ith arthaha).

But, by the time of Bhamaha (Ca.6-7th century) the term Alamkara or Alamkara shastra was in wide use.  It was believed that Alamkara the figurative speech or ornamentation was the principle virtue that lent Kavya its grace and brilliance (Kavya-shobha-karaan dharman alamkaran prachakshte). The titles of the books, of  his period and thereafter , on Poetics, therefore, were centered upon the term Alamkara , such as: Kavyalamkara (by Bhamaha, Ca.6- 7th century) ; Kavya-alamkara-sara- Samgraha ( by  Udbhata – 8th century) ; Kavya-alamkara- sutra-vritti (  by Vamana Ca. 8th ) and Kavya-alamkara ( by Rudrata – c. 9th-century ) .

The tendency to describe Poetics in terms of Alamkara went on for a considerable period of time. Though Alamkara was the general name for Poetics, the term Alamkara  referred  both to one of the principles of Poetics and  also to the specific expressions of   figures of speech like Anuprasa, Upama etc. And the concepts of Rasa, Guna, and Riti were also brought under the overall ambit of Alamkara principle.

Rajashekhara  ( 9th -10th  century)  the poet and scholar  treated  Poetics  as a Shastra; and , he named Poetics as  Sahitya Vidya . And the poets who followed Rajasekhara began to describe Poetics as Sahitya.  For instance;   Vishwanatha named his book on Poetics as Sahitya-darpana ; Ruyyaka titled his book as sahitya-mimamsa ; and, Bhojaraja called Poetics as Kavya shastra.

[Sahitya generally represents the notion of literature – everything preserved in writing, or even in speech; but, here, practically it was a synonym for Kavya. (Perhaps Vangmaya – things made of language) could be a better term) ]

Thus, over the long period, from time to time, the Shastra of Poetics had been called variously  as Kriya-kalpa; Kavya-karana-vidhi; Kavya-kriya-kalpa; Kriya-vidhi; Alamkara Shastra; Sahitya Vidya and Kavya shastra.

The terms Kriya–kalpa, Kavya–vidhi etc went out of use quite early. And, the scope of the term Alamkara, since the time of Anandavardhana  (Ca.10th  century)  got restricted to one of the elements of poetry , which is  the ornamentation and figures of speech like Anuprasa , Upama etc ; and,  it was scarcely used in its  wider sense of poetics.

The term  Sahitya which etymologically means to put together in the sense of  composition , coordination , balance , concord and contact , in recent times,  is used to cover all forms of literature (vangmaya) . It covers even Grammar, philosophy, logic, etymology, technical subjects like medicine , Law  etc; apart from  prose, poetry drama etc.

Therefore, the scholars generally opine that for Poetics, the term Kavya shastra seems more suited ( though some employed the grandiose term Kavya Mimamsa)  ; particularly since the term Kavya includes prose, poetry, Drama and all other forms of creative writings.  Besides, the suffix Shastra (Sahsanath shasanam) signifies the theory of practice as also the practice of theory. Further, the term Kavya Shastra sounds better than Kriya, Kapla, and Vidhi etc. And, Kavya Shastra was therefore used by writers like Bhamaha, Dandin, Vamana, Rudrata, Rajasekhara and others to denote Poetics. Since the Indian Poetics began to take a systemic form during the times of Bhamaha and Dandin, attempting to expound the essence of Kavya, its aesthetics and style and lucidity of composition etc, we may as well adopt their nomenclatures.  That is one view. And, there are other views too.


According to Dr. G.T. Deshpande (Bharathiya Sahityashastra, The Indian Poetics), the Indian Poetics developed in stages over a period of about two thousand years.  During these long centuries , the Indian Poetics attained maturity. He enumerates six stages of development : Kriyakalpa (around 2nd century BCE) ; Kavyalakshana (from Bharata up to 6th century AD) ; Kavya-alankara (600 AD to 850 AD) ;  Sahitya (say from 850 to 1100 AD); and, Sahitya-paddathi (1100 AD – 1650 AD).

Bharata’s Natyashastra , according to Dr. G.T. Deshpande , represents the first stage of Indian poetics (Kriyakalpa) where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics combined harmoniously to successfully produce an enjoyable play- Drshya-kavya.

During the next (second) stage (Kavyalakshana) the poetics grew independent of the theatre. The discussions during this period were mostly regarding the general nature of Kavya. This period is marked by the works of Bhamaha and Dandin, say up to 600 AD.

In the third stage (Kavya-alankara)   stretching from Bhamaha and Dandin up to Rudrata, say from 600 AD to 850 AD, the concepts of Alankara (embellishments) Gunas (characteristics) and Rasa gained a little more clarity. The characteristic beauty (Saundaryam or Shobha) associate with poetry and the means of creating highly enjoyable poetry came into discussion.

The fourth stage (Sahitya) was the period of analysis and understanding the basic concepts of literature and Grammar. This was the period from Mammata to Anandavardhana (say from 850 to 1100 AD). The questions raised during this period, basically, were : ‘What is truly Sahitya (literature)?’ ; ’Does it merely mean a combination of words and meanings? Or, is there anything more to it?’ ; ‘What are the special features of poetry?’ ;  ‘ Do the words in the poetry convey the same meaning as anywhere else?’ ; and ,  ‘How is the meaning  (Artha) of  poetry conveyed?’ etc.

It is in this period, the poetics (Kavya) became independent of the earlier concepts of Alamkara, Dvani etc.

And, the sixth stage (Sahitya-paddathi) was the methodical study of the poetry  in all its aspects . It was the period that stretched  from 1100 AD – 1650 AD, say ending with Jagannatha Pandita.



Main concerns – Sabda and Artha

One of the problems that engaged attention of the Grammarians and the philosophers alike was the subtle relation between the linguistic element (Sabda) and its meaning (Artha).  Sabda can roughly be understood as word, a sound, a meaningful unit of speech. Patanjali explained the term Sabda as that which when articulated gives out the meaning or intent the of the speaker.  And, Mandana Misra, in his Sphotasiddhi said: Sabda is the cause that produces the intended meaning.

According to Bhartrhari (4th or 5th century) “There is no cognition without the operation of words. All knowledge is illumined through words’’. In Bhartrhari’s scheme of things, the problem of meaning is basic. It is through the meaning conveyed by the words that knowledge is experienced.” “It is only the thought as expressed in words that can be understood, communicated and criticized. A language grows with the thought; or rather the thought grows with language. In the ultimate analysis they might even be identical.”

Two main concerns of the Sanskrit Poetics seemed to be: the word, and its meaning. The first one concerns how the word is treated in the text; and, mainly how it is formally used. It could be the elaborate embellishments (Alamkara) artistically arranged to enhance the beauty of the presentation; or it could be the elegance of the diction or even oblique ways of twisting. The other is about the shades or the layers of meaning that the word is capable of revealing. Generally, it was about the ways (vyapara) of achieving the objectives (phala) of the poet and his poetry.

The late-tenth-century philosopher and literary theorist Abhinavagupta felt that Kavya is not just about meaning, it is something more than that ; and, he put it  directly: “It is not the mere capacity for producing meaning as such that enables a text to be called Kavya. And that is why we never apply that term to everyday discourse or the Veda.”

Raja Bhoja (1011–1055) in his Srngaraprakasha says, that of the things made of language (Vangmaya) Kavya is one species. The elements that make the language are the words and meanings. And, word and meaning when  harmoniously  composed (sahitau) constitute Kavya. . Thus Kavya is a composition ( unity , sahitya) of word and meaning.

Then he goes on to say:

What, however, does the word “word” signify? It is that through which, when articulated, meaning is understood, and it is of twelve sorts, starting with base and affix and ending with sentence, section, and whole work.

“Meaning” is what a word gives us to understand, and it is of twelve sorts, starting with action and tense and ending with word-meaning and sentence-meaning.

And last, “composition” signifies the coordinated relation between word and meaning; and it, too, is of twelve sorts, starting with denotation and implication and ending with avoidance of faults, employment of expression-forms (guna), connection with factors of beauty (alañkara), and presence of rasa.

King Somesvara III (around 1130) of the Kalyana Chalukya dynasty in his Manasollasa, an encyclopedic work, says:

Words make up the body of a literary text, meaning is its life-breath, tropes its external form, emotional states and feelings its movements, meter its gait, and the knowledge of language its vital spot. It is in these that the beauty of the deity of literature consists.

Manasollasa vol 2-page 171 ( 225) verses 205-206

The scholars of Poetics, of course, need to be concerned with the beauty and elegance of expression; but, at the same time they also need to be exercised over the sense that such arrangements of words would produce. The Poetic-scholars realized that neither logic (Nyaya) nor Grammar (Vyakarana) would provide them with right answers. The position, simply put, is :

poetry in any of its forms does need words; and the arrangements of those words, however clever or elegant, do have to convey a sense or meaning. The poetic beauty does not solely dependent on the strict order of words or other conventions. It in fact goes beyond regulated regimens. It is only the right or judicious combination of the two – Sabda and Artha- that produces relishing aesthetic expressions and suggestive poetry. The ultimate merit of a Kavya is in its enjoyment (Rasa) by the Sahrudaya the reader endowed with culture and taste.

Now, regarding words:  according to Indian Poetics, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and it suggests (vyanjana).  The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed and its relation to the next word and its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relation among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

The meaning of a word or a sentence that is directly grasped in the usual manner is Vakyartha (denotation or literal sense); and, the power of the language which conveys such meaning is called Abidha-vritti (designating function). The term Sabdabodha ‘verbal comprehension’ or ‘verbal cognition’ is also used at times. It is intended to denote meaning of a sentence as understood by the listener.

In certain cases where a particular word is not capable of conveying the desired sense, another power which modifies that word to produce the fitting or suitable meaning is called Lakshana-vritti (indicative function).

The primary sense Vakyartha is the natural (Svabhavokti) and is the easily comprehended sense of the word. When the perception of the primary sense is obstructed, the word conveys the sense other than the primary sense; but, the two meanings (somehow) seem related.  Thus, the secondary sense (lakshana) could even be called an unnatural meaning (Vakrokti) of the word.

For instance; when the word Purusha is uttered, one immediately understands it as a reference to a male member of the human race. It is the primary sense of the word. It might refer to an individual or to a generic attribute. In any case; the word Purusha and its meaning are related. It is a signified–signifier relationship; one pointing towards the other. This relationship is termed Abhida.

However, in the world we live, we do not always use a word only in its primary sense. Many times, the word in its primary sense may not be adequate.  Then, we attempt to attribute a sense to the word that is different or distinct from the primary sense. This would be secondary sense – lakshanika or lakshyartha – of that word. The word in its secondary sense is called lakshana. The relationship between the secondary sense and the word is described as lakshya-lakshya sambandha

Such process of superimposition (aropita) is called lakshana or indication. The three: the obstruction caused due to incompatibility of primary sense; the connection between the primary and the secondary sense; and, the convention (rudi) – are all interrelated. Here, there ought to be some justification for switching over to the un-natural meaning of the word; and, it should be generally acceptable (or should have gained currency in the common usage).

The indication (lakshana) is thus of two types: one, sanctioned by usage (rudi-lakshana); and , the other , where the speaker uses it for a specific or a specialized purpose (prayojanavato lakshana).

lotus design

As regards the Grammarians’ point of view, of the three functions of the word, the secondary or the indicative Lakshana-vritti is the most important and popular.  Three conditions for Lakshana are generally accepted by all schools of Grammar.

The first is the incompatibility or inconsistency of the primary meaning in the context, which produces a break in the flow of thought, forcing the listener to think in order to understand what the speaker would really have meant by the uncommon usage and why he has used the word in an irregular way.  The inconsistency could be either because of  the impossibility of associating the normal meaning with the other word meanings of the sentence ; or  it could be because  of the normal meaning’s unsuitability in the context.

The second condition is about the kind of relation between the primary (normal) meaning of the term and its meaning as intended by the speaker in a given context. This relation can be one of proximity to the alternate ( contrary) meaning or one of similarity or of mixed quality. The latter type is called Gauni Lakshana which the Mimamsakas treat as an independent function called Gauni. According to Mimamsakas, the real Lakshana is only of the first type, a relation of proximity with contrariety (oppositeness).

The third condition could either be acceptance of its meaning in common usage ; or it could be a meaning derived from the root of the word (Dathu) for a  special purpose intended for introducing the Lakshana. All faded metaphors (nirudha lakshana) fall into the former category, and metaphorical usages, especially by the poets, fall into the latter.

[ The common examples given here are of Pankaja which in common usage means lotus; but literally means something born out of slush. The other is  the Ashva-karna a type of leaf , but literally the ears of a horse. In all such cases , it is the meaning in common usage that is  generally accepted ; and the literal meaning is treated as faded metaphor.]

[The Great Grammarian Panini did not accept Lakshana as a separate function in language. He did not consider the incompatibility etc on which the Lakshana was based by other Grammarians as quite relevant from the point of view of Grammar. The sentences such as:’ He is an ass’ and ‘He is a boy ‘are both correct grammatically. Panini’s Grammar provides some popular examples of Lakshana; like ‘the village on the river’ (gangayam ghosah) by considering proximity as one of the meanings of the locative case. Similarly, Panini does not mention or provide for the condition of yogyata or consistency, which is considered by the later Grammarians as essential for unity of sentence. The expression Agnina sinchati (He sprinkles with fire) is grammatically correct, though from the semantic point of view it may not be quite proper, because sprinkling can be done only with liquid and not with fire.]

It does not mean that some words are merely vachaka and certain others are only Lakshya, and so on. The use of words, their role and the intended effect are context sensitive. The same word could be employed in any number of ways; each performing its role its own context. All the shades of meaning are necessary and relevant in poetry; but, each in its own context.


Similarly, Riti, as put forward by Vamana, is an arrangement of words and meanings characterized by various Gunas. A particular Guna might be appropriate in a particular context. The verbal compositions could be tight knit and high flowing in a given context; but , a simple , lucid narration might be appropriate in  an  another situation. One may admire grandeur in one situation; and simplicity in another. It is the context that decides appropriateness of style.

Rajasekhara, therefore, says:  A sentence is an arrangement of words which embodies the content that the speaker wishes to convey

(pada-nama-abidhita-arthagrathanakarah sandarbhah vakyam – Kavyamimamasa (22) of Rajasekhara).

For instance; take the word Mother. The word in its primary sense is woman who has given birth to a child. In the specific context when one says ‘Kausalya is the mother of Rama’ you are referring to a particular person. And when one says , ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, one is not referring to a physical mother but to suggest the sense of ‘origin’. Here, the primary sense of the term does not work. Similarly, when the Saint Ramaprasad calls out to Devi in anguish as Mother, it suggests the intensity of his devotion and the depth of his longing for her love and protection. Devi is not the physical mother but a projection of the universal Mother principle as also the specific Mother deity. It is said; the  vibrations of the suggested meaning of the word are indeed truly powerful.

lotus design

Then, there is the most interesting and much debated Vyanjana-artha which is the suggested sense or the essence of the word. This is founded in the principle that   the meaning of word is not limited to its literal sense; the word has the power to reach far beyond the obvious. In poetry, the word acquires another power Vyanjana-vritti the suggestive function. It is the    power which activates the potential hidden in the word. And, the word acquires a new glow. Through the suggestive function of the word, a new meaning emerges, transcending the obvious literal sense, far more beautiful and sensitive.

The word which connotes the suggested sense (through the suggestive function Vyanjana –vritti) is named Vyanjaka. The relationship between the suggestive word and the suggested meaning (Vyanjana-artha) is described as vyangya-vyanjaka sambandha.

The suggestive word, the suggested meaning, the power of suggestion; and their mutual relationship are virtually the lifeblood of Indian poetics.  In fact, this is what that distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature.

The suggested sense Vyanjana-artha, which, though not explicit, becomes the object of awareness is regarded the essence of poetry. The Dhvani School put forward by Anandavardhana, brought focus on the potential power of the word in a Kavya. Here, the word (Sabda) together with  its literal sense  (Vakyartha )  is said to form the body of Kavya , it is its  cloak .  But, the essence of poetry is elsewhere; it is not directly visible; and, that essence is the suggested sense of the word (Vyanjana-artha).

It other words: it is not the direct literal and obvious meaning that is explicit in poetry, but it is the suggested, indirect and emotive meaning that matters.  Hence, though the words of a Kavya and their  the literal sense must be given their due importance , they are  but a medium for emotive and indirect meaning flash forth . In good poetry, this suggested meaning dominates over the words and their literal meaning. As Anandavardhana put it: The latter are compared to a woman’s  body and the former to her grace and beauty which is a subtler manifestation  and a more profound meaning of the womanhood.

The primary meaning can be understood by all. But, the suggested meaning is understood only by those who are gifted with some imagination and a sort of intuition.

Here, the mere knowledge of the word alone is not enough to understand and enjoy the poetic import or the essence of the Kavya. It needs intuition or Prathibha.  Mammatacharya calls Prathibha as – nava-navaonvesha-shalini prajna – the ever inventive and resourceful intellect. Prathibha is also called, at times, as Vasana.  Only those endowed with Prathibha can truly enjoy the essence and beauty of Kavya. That is why, it is remarked,  the Grammarians (unlike the goodhearted cultured reader the Sahrudaya) cannot truly appreciate and enjoy the Rasa of good poetry. They are incapable of looking beyond what appears obvious.

Anandavardhana, therefore, says that such suggested sense is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. It is apprehended only (Vidyate, kevalam) by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

It is said; in the highest class of Kavya, the denoted meaning (Vakyartha )  and  the denoting meaning (Lakshyartha)  is subservient to  revealing the suggested sense word (Vyanjana-artha); and , it is  called Dhvani by the scholars – Dhv.1.13

The suggested sense of the word designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion) is regarded Anandavardhana as the soul of Kavya : Kavyasya Atma Dhvanih.

[The concept of Dhvani was said to be inspired by the ancient doctrine of Sphota. The term Sphota signifies:  bursting; opening; expansion; disclosure; the eternal and imperceptible element of sound and words; and , is the real vehicle of the idea which bursts or flashes on the mind when a sound is uttered.

Nagesha Bhatta identifies Vedic Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rules, as the originator of Sphota theory. Bhartrhari, however, states that Audumbarayana (mentioned by Yaska) had put forth views similar to the Sphota concept. In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved.

It was Bhartrhari (around 485 AD) in his great work Vakyapadiya (all about sentence and word) elaborated and established the Sphota doctrine in the realm of Grammar and in Philosophy.

According to Bhartrhari, the perfect perception is that in which there is identity between the object ( namely, words or the letters of sounds ) and the form of its cognition (namely, the Sphota) . This special kind of perception is held to be function of mind, rather than of the external senses.

This is a major subject; and deserves to be discussed separately.]

But, when one begins to talk of words (Sabda), naturally, it leads to Grammar (Vyakarana), which concerns itself with the arrangement of words into sentences. It does not account for the pattern of meanings.  The poetry on the other hand is not much concerned with the arrangement of words. But, it does strive to convey a meaning.

In the case of poetry, the arrangement of words (Sabda or pada) might be  logical but not necessarily grammatical. That is because; the poetic beauty does not solely dependent on the strict order of words or other conventions. It , in fact,  goes beyond regulated regimens. The unique virtue of poetry is that it provides space for experimentation, and to introduce hitherto unknown or unusual terms and expressions, regardless of their grammatical correctness. And at the same time , it was recognized  that the poetic beauty does not merely depend on ornate figures of speech or on the twisted or unusual expressions ; but , it is primarily  in the intrinsic merit of the poetry itself.

The combination of words or arrangement of words expressing the idea or the content which the poet intends to convey at a ‘single stroke’ is the sentence (Vakya) in the poetry. A sentence is defined by Rajasekhara as an arrangement of words which embodies the content that the speaker wishes to convey (pada-nama-abidhita-arthagrathanakarah sandarbhah vakyam – Kavyamimamasa (22) of Rajasekhara).

The meaning of a sentence expresses a complete idea. The sentence in poetry is called Vachana (Vakyam vachanam vyavaharanti – Kavyamimamsa). In poetry the terms Vakya, Vachana and Ukti are synonymous. A characteristic turn of expression attains the status of poetry (Ukti-visesah kavyam).

[Among the ancient Grammarians, neither Panini nor Gautama defined the sentence. Katyayana was perhaps the first to define a sentence. He called it ekatin, that which has one finite verb. Panini, however, seems to have held that a sentence can have many more than one finite verb.  The later Grammarians also seemed to accept Panini’s view. But, from Katyayana’s point of view such a sentence may be considered as a complex sentence made up of two or more sentences, but fundamentally forming one single sentence.]

The relation between Grammar and poetry is interesting. Poetry, in the Indian traditions, is often called vyakaranasya puccham – the tail piece or the appendix of Grammar. The Grammar determines the correctness of the words and their arrangement within a sentence. The poetry is however more concerned with the appropriateness and mutual relations among the words.  The poetry, as far as possible, follows Grammar. But , when it find the rules of Grammar too constrained or suffocating , it switches over to other means of expressions that are more appropriate or conducive to its natural flow; or , it invents its own means. At times, when those inventive expressions of poetic suggestions are so charming and become so popular, they walk into Grammar per se; and, the Grammar must necessarily accept poetic inventions (svikara avashyakah).

Continued in

Part Two 


Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

A History of Classical Poetry: Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit by Siegfried Lienhard

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock


Posted by on July 9, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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