Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Four

24 Jul

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. These are all highly essential to enjoy the 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 and meaning , i.e. body  of the Kavya ;  and , the aesthetic  effect it has  upon the reader (Rasa) .

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 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.

 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 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 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 (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.

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.

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-kaya (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 (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 he says that Vynjaartha (the un-expressed or the suggested meaning) is Dhvani. 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 arthaa 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.  Bharthrhari 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, Bharthrhari 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: the sound echoing the sense, rhythm, imagery and symbols. 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.

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 (Sakhayah sakyani janate:  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. Poetic beauty is apprehended by only those (Vidyate, kevalam) who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.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.

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);


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


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 isthere 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. Bhattanayaka pointed out that Rasa can be experienced, but not suggested. Mahimabhatta included all types of Dhvani under the head Anumana, the inference, since Dhvani has no independent or cognizable existence


But , 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

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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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