[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.]
After the Riti School of Poetics propagated by Vamana, we should have, in the chronological order, dealt with the Dhvani elaborated by Anandavardhana. Since we have already talked about Dhvani, Rasa and Rasa Dhvani in the earlier installments of the series (Part four) , let’s move on to Vakrokti.
The concept of Vakrokti has been running like a thread through the Indian Poetics right from its very early times (6th-7th centuries); but was vaguely discussed as one of the secondary aspects by all the Schools of Kavya Shastra. It was however developed into a full-fledged theory of Poetics by the great Scholar Rajanaka Kuntaka of Kashmir who is said to have lived during the period between the middle of the tenth century and the middle of the eleventh century. He definitely was later than Anandavardhana (820–890 A D) the author of Dhvanyaloka, a landmark work that establishes the doctrine of Dhvani, the aesthetic suggestion. Kuntaka was perhaps a younger contemporary of the great Abhinavagupta (Ca. 950 – 1020 AD) or a contemporary who perhaps was relatively unknown or one who was yet to be adequately recognized by the Poetic scholars. Although Abhinavagupta in his Lochana (or formally, Dhvanyālokalocana – Illustration of Dhvanyāloka) refers to various views related to Vakrokti (atha sa kavya-jivitatvena vivaksita etc), he does not mention Kuntaka or the Vakroktijivita-kara by name.
However, in the later periods, Kuntaka came to be honored as one of the original thinkers in the field of Indian Poetics; and, his Vakrokti-jivita is recognized as a brilliant work that brings critical insight into investigation of Poetic elements. He is lauded for his systematic analyses of the principles of Poetics and their implications. His Vakrokti-jivita establishes the Vakrokti School which attempts to define Kavya in terms of its distinctive (vakra) expressions that are characteristic to poetry and to the essential principle of poetry itself (Alamkara – samanya –lakshana). His concept of Vakrokti brings within its comprehensive scope all known kinds of imaginative , innovative turns (ukti-vaichitrya) and modes of suggestive indirect (vakra) expressions (bhaniti-prakara) that are unique to poetry (away from the banal words) created by the skill (vaidagdhya or kavi-kaushala) of a poet gifted with inborn genius (prathibha).
Kuntaka explains Vakrokti as the artistic turn of speech (vaidagdhya bhaṅgī bhaṇitiḥ) or the deviated or distinct from the common mode of speech. Vakratva is primarily used in the sense of poetic beauty. It is striking, and is marked by the peculiar turn imparted by the creative imagination of the poet. It stands for charming, attractive and suggestive utterances that characterize poetry. The notion of Vakrata (deviation) covers both the word (Sabda) and meaning (Artha). The ways of Vakrokti are, indeed, countless. Vakrokti is the index of a poet’s virtuosity–kavi kaushala. Kuntaka describes the creativity of a poet as Vakra-kavi–vyapara or Kavi–vyapara–vakratva (art in the poetic process). This according to Kuntaka is the primary source of poetry; and, has the potential to create aesthetic elegance that brings joy to the cultured reader with refined taste (Sahrudaya).
While Anandavardhana emphasized the object and delight of poetry from readers’ point of view, Kuntaka brought a sense of balance into poetic appreciation by highlighting the poet’s own point of view. He attempted to outline the poetic process (Kavi vyapara), the genius-at work (kavi – karma) , and the mysterious process of how the Kavya takes shape in the poet’s mind and emerges as a thing of great beauty. .
Another important aspect of Kuntaka’s work is the holistic view it takes of the Kavya. According to Kuntaka, the words, their meanings, the poet and the reader are all integrated into a fabulously rewarding poetic experience; one cannot be artificially separated from the other.
The concept of Vakrokti, as elaborated by Kuntaka, is unique to Indian poetics. The western literary criticism has no notion that is either equivalent or that corresponds to it.
The term Vakrokti is composed of Vakra + Ukti, where the latter (Ukti) derived from Vac-paribhashane can easily be taken to mean a poetic expression, a clever speech or a pithy statement. It is however the former component (Vakra) of the term Vakrokti, evoking diverse shades of meanings and suggestions, that is widely discussed and interpreted in various manners.
In the classic Sanskrit poetry, the word Vakra has often been used in the sense of a ‘curvilinear nature’ (vakratva) of an object or an expression that suggests or evokes a sense of delicate beauty. For instance, the great poet Kalidasa in his Kumarasambhava (3.29) uses the term Balendu-vakrani ( बालेन्दु- वक्राण्यविकाशभावाद् बभुः पलाशान्यतिलोहितानि Ku.3.29) to describe the palasa flower buds that are curved (vakrani) like the just emerging crescent moon (Balendu). Here, Vakra implies the loveliness of the curve that enhances the grace and elegance of the palasa buds and of the crescent moon.
[Interestingly, Kuntaka also employs the phrase Balendu-sundara –samsthana-yuktatvam, itaratra rudyadi vaichitram (2.35) – like the delicate beauty of crescent moon – to explain the terms that are commonly associated with Vakrata.]
There is also a term Vakra-smita which suggests the gentle mischievous smile that plays tantalizingly at the curve of the lips (Vakrosthika).
The curly hairs coiled into lovely rings hanging down a handsome forehead are compared to the gentle curves of a river flowing placidly (Urmimat) along the plains. The loveliness is not just in the curve (vakratva) but it is more in the images of grace and beauty it evokes.
Similarly, a poetic expression that is uncommon, indirect, evasive and deviant or curved (vakra) does not become attractive unless it brings forth a sense of delight and beauty that gladdens the heart of the reader (sahrudaya). It is only then an indirect expression could be termed as Vakrokti.
Elsewhere, Bana Bhatta in his Kadambari terms the Vakra or crooked way of speech as parihāsa- jalpitā, the good humored banter or leg-pulling
Otherwise, the Dictionary meaning of Vakrokti is variously: oblique, evasive, crooked, bent, curved, curling, indirect, roundabout, cruel, retrograde, dishonest etc
In the Schools of Indian Poetics, Bhamaha (Ca.7th century) was perhaps the earliest to mention Vakrokti, as a concept. And, down the centuries discussions related to Vakrokti were carried out by Dandin, Vamana, Rudrata, Kuntaka, Abhinavagupta and Raja Bhoja among others. But, there is a marked divergence in their understanding of the concept, in their treatment and in their presentations as well.
For instance; the early scholars of Poetics – Bhamaha, Dandin and Vamana – treat Vakrokti to imply modes of expressions which evoke or reveal the beauty that is inherent in the structure of words (Sabda-almkara).
Bhamaha regards Vakrokti not as an Alamkara, but as a characteristic mode of expression which underlies all Alamkaras; and, as that which is fundamental to Kavya.
Dandin distinguishes Vakrokti from Svabhavokti – the natural way of narration- and assigns priority to the latter.
Later , Rudrata treats Vakrokti as a mere play of words or pretended speech in which a word or a sentence meant by the poet in one sense is understood by the reader in quite another sense, either because it is uttered with a peculiar intonation (kaku) which changes the meaning , or because the words carry more than one meaning (slesha).
[ For more on Slesha , please read :Extreme Poetry , the South Asian movement of simultaneous narration by Yigal Bronner. It is an excellent work , principally devoted to the study of Slesha]
Vamana differs from Rudrata and treats Vakrokti as an aspect of Artha-alamkara where the indicated sense (lakshana) is brought out or amplified by taking help of similarities (sadrushya). Thus, Vakrokti, in his view, is basically a metaphor (Sadrushya –laksnana- Vakroktihi).
Thus, while Bhamaha and Dandin use the term in an extended sense; Rudrata and Vamana limit its relevance to a particular figure of speech, be it Sabda-alamkara or Artha-alamkara.
It was Kuntaka who fully developed a unique theory of Poetics based upon Bhamaha’s explanation of Vakrokti as the distinguishing characteristic of all Alamkaras (Alamkara-samanya-lakshana). He expanded the concept to denote selection of words and phrases, as also turning of ideas that are peculiar to poetry. He tries to keep the matter-of-fact, day-to-day speech away from the language of poetry.
Likewise, Abhinavagupta explained Vakrata as a heightened form of expression, which is different from matter-of-fact speech ; and, which is a composite element of all figurative poetic expressions – Lokottarena rupena avasthanam .
To sum up : Bhamaha and Dandin use the term Vakrokti in an extended sense ; while , Vamana and Rudrata employ it to designate a particular figure of speech, whether be it Sabda-alamkara or Artha-alamkara.
Bhamaha’s concept of Vakrokti was fully developed into a unique theory of poetics by Kuntaka in his Vakrokti-jivita. Here, Kuntaka elaborates on Vakrokti as the distinguishing characteristic of all poetic- figurative language (Alamkara-Samanya-lakshana); and, analyzes all poetic speech from the point of view of Vakrokti .
Let’s take a look at the views of some of those scholars. in a little more detail.
Bhamaha treats Rasa as an aspect of Alamkara, Rasavat * (lit. that which possesses Rasa). According to him, the suggested sense (vyangyartha), which is at the root of Rasa, is implicit in the vakrokti. However, Bhamaha did not elaborate on the concept of Vakrokti; he did not define Vakrokti; and, he did not also regard Vakrokti as Alamkara. He did not also consider Vakrokti as a synonym for Alamkara. He meant Vakrokti as an expression which is neither simple nor clear-cut; but, as one which is evasive or rather ambiguous (vakra) – vakroktir anayārtho vibhāvyate. Vakrokti , according to him, is a poetic device used to express something extraordinary and has the potential to provide the aesthetic experience of Rasa. Such Vakrokti, according to Bamaha, is desirable for the purpose of adorning poetic speech (bhūṣāyai parikalpyate – Vjiv_1.36)
[However, Kuntaka asserts that Rasavat* and its related Alankaras, as explained by Bhamaha and others are not Alamkaras at all; but, are Alamkaryas – that which are adorned. Rasavat, that which possess Rasa, according to Kuntaka, reveals its own nature. For instance; Srngara, a Rasa is adorned by an Alamkara in the form of Rupaka, which is called Rasavat. Here, in this instance, a Rasa (say, Srngara) is an Alankarya, that which is ornamented by Alahkaras; and thus, it cannot be both Alankarya and Alankara, at the same time – alankaryatam natikramati. Having said that let me also mention, it is rather difficult, at times, to decide when a certain Alankara is Rasavat; and, when it is Alankara proper.]
Bhamaha was the champion of the Alamkara School; and, regarded Alamkara as the most essential element of poetry. He implicitly argued that Alamkara exemplifies the nature of poetry, which is characterized by the composition of speech (Sabda) and its meaning (Artha) in an ‘oblique’ (vakra) manner. It is not only what you say but also how you say it that matters.
Though Bhamaha did not explicitly define Vakrokti, he spoke about it in connection with Atishayokti (hyperbole), a form of Alamkara which he explains as one that excels , that which is distinct from ordinary speech , and that which transcends common usage of the of words (Lokathi-krantha-gocharam vachah). It is only through these, he said, the ordinary is transformed to extraordinary. This might be taken as his indirect way of explaining Vakrokti.
[Kuntaka appreciates Bhamaha’s views on Atishayokti one of the essential elements of Alamkara; and , he takes it as supporting his concept of Vakrokti ( Vakrokti-vaichitrya or Vichitra-marga). He says both the modes – Atishayokti and Vakrokti– represent departure from conventional usage (prasiddha-vyatirekitva). ]
Thus, Bhamaha’s Vakrokti is a striking expressive power (a quality of all Alamkaras), a capacity of language to suggest indirect meaning along with the literal meaning. It is the mode of expression that gives rise to Alamkara. He took Vakrokti as a fundamental principle of all modes of Alamkaras imparting beauty to their expressions (Vacham vakratha-sabdoktir-alamkaraya kalpate). He wonders and questions: What is poetic beauty – Alamkara- without Vakrokti (Ko alamkaraanya vina?)
Vakrokti contrasts with Svabhavokti, the matter-of-fact statements, the common ways of speech. Bhamaha underplays the role Svabhavokti in poetry. He argues that it is the Vakrokti which articulates the distinction between the languages of poetry from the conventional forms of speech – (yuktam vakra-svbhavokthya sarvamevai tadishyate – Kayalamkara: 1, 30).
Bhamaha states that Vakrokti is an essential element of poetry. Bhamaha regards Vakrokti as the core of all poetic works, as also of the evaluation and appreciation of art in general. According to him, all types of Kavya-s should have Vakrokti as Samanya lakshana. It is through Vakrokti the meaning of the poetry flashes forth; and, therefore, Vakrokti must adorn all forms of poetry like epics, Drama etc.
Dr, De remarks : apparently , Bhamaha regards Vakrokti not as an Alamkara ; but, as a characteristic mode of expression , which underlies all Alamkaras; and, which forms an essential element of poetry , whose meaning can be manifested by Vakrokti alone. … Thus, Bhamaha takes Vakrokti as the fundamental principle of all poetic expressions; and, indirectly of poetry itself.
saiṣa sarvaiva vakroktir anayārtho vibhāvyate / yatno ‘syāṃ kavinā kāryaḥ ko ‘laṅkāro ‘nayā vinā // Bh_2.85 //
It is often said; Kuntaka revived the old tradition of Alamkara, headed by Bhamaha. For Bhamaha, Vakrokti was the principle underlying all Alamkaras. And for Kuntaka, Vakroti is the very life of poetry and the only artistic way of expression, embellishing poetic word and sense.
Ubhiavetava alankaryau tayoh punar alankrtih / Vakrokti reva vaidagdhya bhangi bhaniti rucyate // (V.J. 1.10)
Kuntaka tried to project the concept of Alamkara as the distinguished quality of feeling brought about by the beauty of word and sense together. The function of an Alamkara is often described as adorning the thought and emotions with beauty. Even in this sense, Kuntaka treats every poetic concept in the light of Vakrokti, the life force (Jivita) of poetry; and, all other concepts being secondary.
Dr. S.K. De observes
“Alamkara system established by Bhamaha was given a new turn; or rather the implicit ideas were developed by Kuntaka to its logical consequences. In fact Vakrokti system of Kuntaka may properly be regarded as an offshoot of the older Alamkara system. In spite of the obviously extreme nature of his central theory and his somewhat quaint nomenclature his work is of great value as presenting a unique system or rather systematizing the Alamkara theory of earlier writers in a refreshing original way.
Kuntaka clarified and vindicated his position by pointing out that the correct term for the figure is not just Alamkara, the ornament, or figure of speech; but, it is Kavya-alamkara, the poetic figure. Therefore Vakratva Vaicitrya which is a peculiar turn of expression depending on the Kavi-vyapara differentiates a poetic figure. This is the significant original contribution of Kuntaka to Sanskrit Poetics.” (History of Sanskrit Poetics – Pp. 187-89).
Both – Bhamaha and Dandin – agree on the central place accorded, in Kavya, to Alamkara which lends beauty (Kavya-shobha-kara-dharma). Both hold that the mode of figurative expression (Alamkara), diction (Riti), grammatical correctness (Auchitya), and sweetness of the sounds (Madhurya) constitute poetry. Both deal extensively with Artha-alamkara that gives forth amazingly rich meaningful expressions.
Dandin, however, differed from Bhamaha on certain issues. He gave far more space to the discussion on those figures of speech that are defined as phonetic features (Sabda-alamkara) e.g. rhyme (Yamaka) than does Bhamaha.
As compared to Bhamaha, Dandin uses the term Vakrokti in a rather limited sense ; modifying it and confining it to an element , which along with others, suggests , in general , ornate poetic expression.
[This distinction is basic to all subsequent Alamkara related discussions. Their differences on this point do not lie chiefly in the kind or quality of Alamkara; but seems more to do with function of the organization and presentation of the materials.]
Dandin did not also agree with the idea that there is no Alamkara without Vakrokti. And he also did not agree with the statement that Savbhavokti, natural expressions, has no importance in Kavya. He said, the Alamkara, the figurative expressions could be of two kinds – Svabhavokti and Vakrokti; and that the former takes the priority (Adya.Alamkrith).
In fact, Dandin divides Kavya into two speech patterns (dvidhā svabhāvoktir vakroktiś ceti vāṅmayam) : Svabhavokti and all the rest (collectively called Vakrokti), thus restricting the significance of Vakrokti. He says Svabhavokti cannot be ignored in a Kavya. Dandin defines and illustrates three types of Svabhavokti and argues that Svabhavokti could very well be treated as an Alamkara. He rejects the idea that Svabhavokti does not constitute Alamkara.
śleṣaḥ sarvāsu puṣṇāti prāyo vakroktiṣu śriyam/ bhinnaṃ dvidhā svabhāvoktir vakroktiś ceti vāṅmayam //iti saṃsṛṣtiḥ // DKd_2.363 //
Dandin points out that the natural way of explaining – ‘telling as it is’ – Svabhavokti, is one of most essential modes of expression in all types of texts including philosophical or scientific treatise. And, Svabhavokti is a very highly desirable (ipsita) virtue (guna) in the Kavya also; and could be employed effectively , depending on the context.
nānāvasthaṃ padārthānāṃ rūpaṃ sākṣād vivṛṇvatī /svabhāvoktiś ca jātiś cetyādyā sālaṃkṛtir yathā // DKd_2.8 //
The Vakrokti-jivita is composed of Four Chapters (Unmesa). Dr. Sushil Kumar De sums up its contents as under:
Kuntaka prefaces his work Vakrokti-ivita with a pithy statement of objective.
jagattritayavaicitryacitrakarmavidhāyinam / śivaṃ śaktiparispandamātropakaraṇaṃ numaḥ // VjivC_1.1 //
lokottara camatkāra kāri vaicitrya siddhaye / kāvyasyāyam alaṅkāraḥ ko ‘pyapūrvo vidhīyate // Vjiv_1.2 //
Here, he mentions that the purpose of his writing the book was to establish the idea of vaichitrya which has the potential to reveal an extraordinary, out-of-the-world (lokottara) charm inherent in poetry (lokottara–chamatkara-kari-vaichitra-siddhaye). He agrees there might be many commonly used words (Svabhavokti) that could possibly convey a certain sense. But, he argues, it is only the meaning-laden poetic expression alive and throbbing with charm (Alamkara), in its own peculiar (Vakra) style (Riti) that can suggest (Dhvani) the true import of a poet gifted with genius (prathibha) and bring joy to the heart of a sensitive reader (Sahrudaya) . It is a delightful poetic experience in which the poet and the reader are equal partners. This, in a way, could be said to sum up the nature of Vakrokti in Kavya. And, these ideas form the core of Kuntaka’s theory of Poetics.
In his work, the phrases such as Vakratva, Vakra-bhava etc become synonymous with Vaichtrya (striking or charming presentation). Kuntaka explains that Vakratva or Vaichtrya consist unusual expressions which are different from the commonly accepted mode of speech, such as the ones we find in Shastras and other texts. Vakratva is thus a deviation from the matter-of-fact manner of narration or from the one that is generally used in day-to-day transactions. Vakratva or Vakrokti is employed to achieve a remarkable, extraordinary (lokottara) effect that enhances the quality and attractiveness of a Kavya.
The Vakrata created by the Kavi-vyapara is classified into six categories as it appears in the arrangement of the letters (Varna vinyasa), in the parts of the word (Pada), in a sentence (Vakya), in a specific topic (Prakarana) or in the whole composition (Prabandha). These six elements together cover all the elegance of Sabda and Artha lamkaras; the precision of grammatical affixes, termination etc ; the diction of the Riti; Gunas- the desirable virtues and merits of poetry; the element of Rasa , the joy of reading poetry . According to Kuntaka, it is this six-fold Vakrokti that distinguishes poetry from other types of narrations; and, in turn , these hold the vital essence of a Kavya.
kavi-vyāpāra-vakratva-prakārāḥ saṃbhavanti ṣaṭ / pratyekaṃ bahavo bhedāsteṣāṃ vicchitti-śobhinaḥ // Vjiv_1.18 /
varṇavinyāsa vicchitti pada saṃdhāna saṃpadā /svalpayā bandha saundaryaṃ lāvaṇyam abhidhīyate // Vjiv_1.32 //
Kuntaka refers to the conventional definition of Kavya which states that the friendly coexistence of words and meaning is indeed Kavya (Sabda-artha sahitau Kavyam). He quips , in literature, there is always a mutual tension between the word and the meaning (anyūnān-atirikt tatva-manohāriṇy-avasthitiḥ // Vjiv_1.17 //) ; But, he qualifies that statement by saying that the alliance of word and meaning must have some special, remarkable or outstanding qualities which he calls Vakratva or Vaichitrya. Kuntaka says: Poetry is composition where the word and meaning are harmoniously organized into a structure by the operation of Vakrokti, providing delight to the reader. According to Kuntaka , Vakrokti is the essence of poetic speech (Kavyokti); the very life (Jivita) of poetry; the title of his work itself indicates this.
Kuntaka describes Vakrokti as Vaidagdhya-bhangi-bhaniti suggesting that Vakrokti is a ‘clever or knowing’ mode of expression (bhaniti) characterized by peculiar turn (bhangi or Vaichiti) brought forth by the skill of the poet (Vaidagdhya or Kavi-kaushala).
abhāvetāvalaṅkāryau tayoḥ punaralaṅkṛtiḥ / vakroktireva vaidagdhya bhaṅgī bhaṇitir ucyate // Vjiv_1.10 //
Thus , it seems that Kuntaka’s concept of Vakrokti is something that brings within its comprehensive scope all known kinds of imaginative , innovative terns (ukti-vaichitrya) and modes of suggestive indirect (vakra) expressions (bhaniti-prakara) that are unique to poetry (away from the banal words) created by the skill ( vaidagdhya or kavi-kaushala) of a poet gifted with genius (prathibha).
Kuntaka also attempts to bring under the umbrella of Vakrokti the other elements of Poetics (Kavya-agama).
Kuntaka says that Vakrokti governs all the Alamkaras ; and he takes Alamkara to mean abhidana-prakara-visesha. He asserts that Alamkaras cannot be externally or artificially added on to poetry; the poetic speech by itself is an Alamkara. And, in fact, he describes, the Alamkaras as Vakya-vakratva. According to him, what are called as Alamkaras are nothing but different facets or aspects of Vakrokti.
Similarly, in regard to Rasa, he accepts the importance of Rasa; but, regards it as a particular way of realizing Vakratva in a Kavya.
In a like manner, Kuntaka accepts the concept of Dhvani, the power of suggestion; and, its importance, in a Kavya. But, he does not consider it as an independent element of Poetics (Kavya-agama). He does not also regard Dhvani as ‘the soul of the poetry’ (Kavyasya Atma). Kuntaka treats Dhvani as a particular form of Vakrokti by naming it as Upachara-vakrata, the suggestion based upon indication.
Kuntaka takes care to mention that Vakra or Vaichitra does not mean wild, eccentric or outlandish expressions that might disturb or annoy the reader. He asserts that the inventive expressions and phrases that a skillful poet creates out of his imagination should be pleasing, cultured and merited to delight the reader in a healthy way (tadvid-ahlada-kari).
śabdārthau sahitau vakra kavivyāpāra śālini /bandhe vyavasthitau kāvyaṃ tadvid āhlādakāriṇi // Vjiv_1.7 //
Kuntaka says it would be incorrect to presume that all Kavyas are appreciated by all types of people for a single reason. Different types of Kavyas holds different types of appeal to different sorts of people for whole sets of different reasons. Over generalization is indeed simplistic. As he puts it; there could be a hundred and one reasons for the appeal of different Kavya-s to readers of different tastes.
Kuntaka therefore does not totally reject the Svabhava or the common way describing emotions, events and objects. Kuntaka holds that vastu–svabhava has its own simple, natural beauty; and, Svabhavokti is ornamented (Alamkarya) in its own fashion. He brings Svabhavokti under the scope of a special kind of Vakya-vakrata in which the svabhava (character) of the subject matter – whether be it sahaja (natural) or aharya (artificial or made-up) – could be described in an elegant way (sukumara –marga).
In the Sukumara-marga the poet’s natural eloquence finds abundant scope (Satisaya) to bring out the sweetness (Madhurya), clarity (Prasada), loveliness (Lavanya) and fluency or smoothness (Abhijata).
Kuntaka mentions two other two other styles: Vaichitrya and Madhyama. The Vaichitrya –marga dominated by peculiar types of Alamkaras is regarded a rather difficult style demanding more skill and maturity of treatment. The Madhyama –marga is the style that stands midway between the Vaichitrya and Sukumara Margas combining the good features of the other two styles (Ubhayatmaka).
In that context, Kuntaka emphasizes that what is essential in a Kavya is the genius of the poet to transform – through his skill, imagination and creativity- that which t is ordinary into something extraordinary; and, present it as a wonderful object of great beauty bringing joy to the heart of the reader. He believed that the poet’s genius cannot be categorized (kimapi or kopi). The true poetic genius is ever resourceful rejuvenating itself all the time (nava-navonmesha shalini prathibha).
Kuntaka illustrates the phenomenon of transforming the mundane into something out of the ordinary (lokottara) by comparing the task of the poet (kavi vyapara) in creating his poetry with that of the painter in the creation of his Art. Just as the poet works with words in their innumerable forms, so also the artist paints a picture using various materials, lines, colors, tones and shades etc (vākya-vakratā – 111.4).
Kuntaka extends the analogy by saying that none of the materials that a painter employs is an object of beauty per se. For instance; the canvass, chalk, paint etc are all commonplace, drab things. The painter uses all those different items; and none of that is elegant. It is his genius that creates matchless beauty out of such ordinary things. Further, a painter conceives a picture in his mind and gives it a substance on the canvass by use of variety of strokes, different colors, varying shades etc. Though he paints the picture stroke by stroke, part by part he visualizes the image in his entirety. The viewer too, rightly, takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral experience.
yathā citrasya kimapi phalakā dyupakaraṇa kalāpavyatireki / sakala prakṛta padārtha jīvitāyamānaṃ citrakara-kauśalaṃ pṛthakatvena mukhyatayodbhāsate, tathaiva vākyasya mārgādi prakṛta padārtha sārthavyatireki kavi kauśala lakṣaṇaṃ kimapi sahṛdaya hṛdayasaṃvedyaṃ sakala prastuta padārtha sphurita bhūtaṃ vakratva mujjṛmbate
Similarly when we perceive a piece of cloth our cognition is of the cloth as whole; and it is quite distinct from the particular threads and colors involved.
The poetic process (Kavya karma) too is similar. The poet uses different means, rhetoric and other qualities of word and meaning, style (Riti); but, the beauty does not reside in any one of them singly. The real loveliness and beauty is created by the magic touch of the poet’s own genius. Art is what gives form and beauty to matter. Kuntaka’s approach to Poetics was that of an artist. Further, the Kavya, just as a painting, is much more than the sum of its parts.
Dr. K . Krishnamurthy explains this phenomenon in the scholarly fashion :Vakrokti is not just an out of the way expression or a poetic turn; it is the masterly art underlying every element of poetry and involving effortless and spontaneous transformation of prosaic raw materials into things of consummate beauty (New Bearings of Indian Literary Theory and Criticism).
It is said that Kuntaka ‘s views on the poetic process and on the integral nature of Kavya were inspired by the holistic theory of Bhartrhari (Ca.5th century) put forward in his remarkable work Vakyapadiya. In his doctrine of Sphota , Bhartrhari explaining the relations that exist between the word (pada) and the sentence (Vakya) argues that a sentence is an unbreakable whole , the meaning of which flashes forth only after it is completely uttered (Vakya-sphota). The words are but a part of the whole; and have no independent existence; and, are understood only in the context of a completed sentence. Thus, Bhartrhari asserted that the whole is real while parts are not, for they are constructs or abstracted bits. The natural home of a word is the sentence in which it occurs.
Kuntaka, at places, does refer to the arguments of Bhartrhari. He believed that a poem is an all-comprising thing of beauty; an organic entity. One cannot truly separate the ornament (Alamkara) from that which is adorned (Alamkarya); the joy of creation from the enjoyment of poetry. Thus, the words, their meanings, the Alamkara (ornament), the Alamkarya (that which is ornamented), the poet and the reader are all integrated into a fabulously rewarding poetic experience. The beauty consists in their wholeness; endearingly delighting in each other’s elegance – sāhityamanayoḥ śobhāśālitāṃ prati kāpyasau – Vjiv_1.17 . One cannot artificially separate them. Kuntaka, therefore, is often described as a holist.
[ Kalidasa had earlier remarked that the Sabda and Artha should both be equally beautiful ; and, the learned reader should find it hard to decide which enhances the other.
kaṇṭhasya tasyāḥ stanabandhurasya muktākalāpasya ca nistalasya / anyonya śobhā jananād babhūva sādhāraṇo bhūṣaṇabhūṣyabhāvaḥ // Ku.Sa_1.42 // ]
Kuntaka was aware of the theory about the suggestive power of poetry (Dhvani) that was introduced by Ānandavardhana. But, Anandavardhana’s emphasis was on the enjoyment (Rasa) that a reader derives by unraveling the poet’s intention through its suggestive power (Dhvani).
One could argue that Anandavardhana’s doctrine is loaded rather heavily on one side. It is the reader who is suggestible. His theory does not seem to put premium on poetic genius and the mysterious process of creating poetic beauty.
Kuntaka seeks to take a perspective view of things. He does appreciate the the ‘reader’s-side’ of the picture; why and how they enjoy poetry; and the importance of their experience or enjoyment of poetry. He does recognize that the joy it brings to the hearts is indeed the object of poetry.
At the same time, Kuntaka intended to present a balanced or an alternate view of the picture. He looked at poetry from the poet’s own point of view. He attempted to outline the poetic process (Kavi vyapara) – how the Kavya takes shape in the poet’s imagination and emerges as a thing of beauty. He forcefully proposed: that instead of merely looking for poetic words and expressions that suggest meanings and evoke emotions of love, etc., in the readers, one can could very well, also, appreciate and take delight in the wonderful poetic-genius-at work (kavi – karma) which creates poetic expressions of matchless beauty suggesting evocative poetic meanings that lovingly bind into each other like ardent lovers. The beauty of poetry cannot be compartmentalized; it is integral to poetry; and, resides in the harmony of its wholeness.
The importance of Kuntaka’s work lies in that it brings a fresh perspective to the appreciation of Kavya. In several places he refuses to follow conventional explanations. His style of writing is lucid, precise and yet vigorous. It is marked by elegance and sensitivity. Whatever be the reactions to the rather strange sounding name he assigns to his theory of Poetics, one has to appreciate his brilliance, literary acumen and critical insight he brings into investigation of Poetic virtues. He systematically analyses the principles of Poetics and their implications. His concept of Vakrata is doubtless an important contribution to the body of Poetics (Kavya Shastra).
What Kuntaka did was to extend and systematize the Alamkara theories of Bhamaha and Udbhata, and provide it with fresh interpretations. Though he respected the views of the Old Masters he did not take them in as a whole without questioning . He brought his own priorities, judgments and interpretations. His Vakrokti lends a new but unexpected dimension to the theory of Alamkara. His theory Vakrokti is unique, as it attempts to bring under its fold all the essential principles of Poetics.
It is rather unfortunate that the later Sanskrit Poetic tradition did not accord Kuntaka and his doctrine the attention and importance they deserved. It was perhaps the emotional appeal of Dhvani and the overwhelming influence exerted by Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta that sidelined Kuntaka’s concept of Vakrokti and its implications. Kuntaka’s was a lone voice. His isolation could also be because by then the Poetics was taken over by philosophers who dealt with the philosophy of Grammar and Grammar of philosophy. The aspects of suggestive expressions, poetic genius and the process of creating poetry were not further developed by orthodox writers.
Sources and References
- Vakrokti Jivita of Rajanaka Kuntaka: Edited and commented by Prof. Susil Kumar De
- Sanskrit Poetics as a Study of Aesthetics by Prof. Susil Kumar De
- The Concept of Vakrokti in Sanskrit Poetics: a Reappraisal by Suryanarayana Hegde
- Vakrokti and Dhvani Controversies about Theory of Poetry in Indian Tradition by Bimal Krishna Matilal
- 5. A Comparative Study of the Indian Poetics and the Western Poetics by Mohit Kumar Ray