Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Seven

19 Aug

Continued from Part Six

[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.]


Indian poetics – Kavya Shastra

It is customary to begin the history of Indian poetics with Natyashastra. Out of its thirty six chapters, two chapters deal with Rasa-bhava (Ch 6 & 7) and Alamkara-guna (Ch 16). The other chapters touch upon related topics, such as: plot (Ch 19), genre (Ch 18, 20), meter (Ch 15). By and large, the text relates to dramaturgy in its practical applications. The aspects of Poetics that appear in the text , of course, are not directly related to Kavya. In Natyashastra, the nature of poetry as outlined in it is incidental to the discussions on Drama; and, it does not have an independent status.

The Indian poetics effectively  takes off from Kavya-alamkara of Bhamaha (6th century)   and Kavyadarsa  ( 1, 2 and 3of Dandin (7th century).  There seems to be no trace of Kavya-s during the long centuries between Bharatha and Bhamaha. There are also no texts available on Kavya-shastra belonging to the period between the Natyashastra of Bharata and Bhamaha (6th century). Perhaps they were lost even as early as 6th century. The early phase of Indian Poetics, the Kavya-shastra, is represented by three Scholars Bhamaha, Dandin and Vamana.

The intervening period, perhaps, belonged to Prakrit. Not only was Prakrit used for the Edicts and the Prasastis, 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.

By about the sixth or the Seventh century the principles of Poetics that Bharata talked about in his Natyashastra (first or second century BCE) had changed a great deal. Bharata had introduced the concept of Rasa in the context of Drama . He described Rasa by employing the analogy of taste or relish, as that which is relished (Rasayatiti Rasah) ; and , regarded Rasa as an essential aspect of a Dramatic performance.  He said that no sense proceeds without Rasa (Na hi rasadrte kaschid- arthah pravartate). He did not, however, put forward any theories about the Rasa concept. He did not also elaborate much on Alamkaras, the figures of speech, which he mentioned as four: Upama, Dipaka, Rupaka and Yamaka. Later writers increased it vastly. Rajanaka Ruyyaka named as many as 82 Alamkaras.

As the concepts of Rasa and Alamkara were transferred to the region of Kavya, several questions were raised:  why do we read any poetry? Why do we love to witness a Drama? What is it that we truly enjoy in them? What makes poetry distinctive as a form and what distinguishes good poetry from the bad? , and so on.  Ultimately, the answer could be that we love to read or listen to a poem, or see a Drama because doing so gives us pleasure; and, that pleasure is par excellence, unique in itself and cannot be explicitly defined or expressed in words.

But, unfolding of the Indian poetics or the study of the aesthetics of poetry came about in stages. Generally speaking, the development of Sanskrit literary theory is remarkably tardy, spread over several generation of scholars.

The Organized thinking about Kavya seems to have originated with the aim of providing the rules by which an aspiring writer could produce good Kavya.


Kavya–agama, the elements of Poetics

The Indian aesthetics takes a start from Natyashastra, winding its course through the presentations of Bhamaha, Dandin and Vamana; and , later gains vastness in writings of Anandavardhana, Abhinavagupta, Vishwanatha and Jagannatha Pandita.

These scholars are, generally, classified as originators of ideas; compilers and commentators. Among the scholars , over the centuries, Bharatha, Bhamaha, Vamana , Anandavardhana and Kuntala could be called originators of poetic principles or elements. The compilers were: Mammata, Vishwanatha and Jagannatha. And among the commentators; Udbhata, Bhattaloa, Srismukha, Bhattanaya, Bhattatauta and Abhinavagupta are prominent.

Of the three scholars of the older School of Poetics – Bhamaha, Dandin and Vamana – Bhamaha (6th century) son of Rakrilagomin is the oldest ; and, is held in high esteem by the later scholars.


Books on Poetics have been written in three forms: in verse, in Sutra-form and in Karika.

Verses:  Bharatha, Bhamaha, Dandin, Udbhata, Rudrata, Dhananjaya, Vagbhata I , Jayadeva , Appayya Dikshita and others

Sutra vritti: The principles and concepts are written in concise Sutra form. the explanations are followed in the commentary. Initially, Vamana and Ruyyaka adopted this form. Some others in the later times almost followed it: Vagbhatta II , Bhanumisra , Jagannatha et al.

Karika: In crisp verses or couplets. Anandavardhana, Kuntaka, Mammata, Hemachandra, Vishwanatha and others adopted Karika form. Their basic statements are in Karika , while their explanations are  in prose.


Before we talk about the stages in the development of Indian Poetics let me mention, at the outset, the elements of Poetics in a summary form. Later we shall go through each stage or each School in fair detail.

The elements of Poetics or Kavya-agama are said to be ten: (1) Kavya-svarupa (nature of poetry); causes of poetry, definition of poetry, various classes of poetry and purpose of poetry; (2) Sabda-Shakthi, the significance of words and their power; (3) Dhvani-kavya , the poetry suggestive power is supreme ; (4) Gunibhuta-Vangmaya-kavya , the poetry where suggested  (Dhvani)  meaning is secondary to the primary sense; (5) Rasa: emotive content; (6)  Guna: excellence of poetic expression ; (7)  Riti ; style of poetry or diction; (8)  Alamkara : figurative beauty of poetic expressions ;(9)  Dosha ; blemishes in poetic expressions that need to be avoided; and , (10)  Natya-vidhana the  dramatic effect or dramaturgy. At times, the Nayaka-nayika-bheda the classification of the types of heroes and heroines is also mentioned; but it could be clubbed either under Rasa or Natya-vidhana.

Of these, we have already, earlier in the series, familiarized ourselves with the elements such as the causes, the definition, various classes as also the purposes of Kavya.  We have also talked about Sabda (word) and Artha (Meaning) as also the concepts of Dhvani and Rasa.  We shall in the following paragraphs talk about the other elements of Kavya such as Alamkara, Guna/ Dosha, Riti, Dhvani , Vakrokti Auchitya, etc.

Then again, the whole of Poetics broadly developed into eight Schools: Rasa, Alamkara, Riti, Guna/Dosha, Vakrokti, Svabhavokti, Auchitya and Dhvani. We shall briefly talk about these elements a little later.

Although the concepts of Rasa and Alamkara could be traced back to more ancient periods, it was Bharata who applied those concepts to the theory and practice of Drama.   In a similar manner, the notions of Riti and Guna were adopted into Bharata’s ideas of Guna and Dosha. He implied, although not explicitly, that the style must be appropriate with the matter presented and with the prevailing mood of a particular situation.

Bharata’s notions of Guna (merit), Dosha (defect), Riti (style) or Vakrokti (oblique poetry or deviations) , Savabhavokti (natural statements) , Auchitya ( propriety) etc. were fully developed by the later scholars such as Bhamaha, Dandin , Vamana and Kuntaka , although  each with slightly varied interpretations of the ideas suggested by Bharata.

Over the centuries , though many schools (sampradaya) developed in the field of Indian poetics , each was not opposed to the others. Each Sampradaya propagated its own pet ways of poetry ; and, at the same time making use of the expressions of other schools as well.  For instance : Bharata spoke , in particular ,  about Rasa; Bhamaha of Alamkara; Vamana of Riti; Anandavardhana of Dhvani; Kuntaka of Vakrokti; and Kshemendra of Auchitya (relevance). The later poets saw all of those as varied expressions of poetry that are not in conflict with each other. But , three things – Rasa , Guna and Alamkara – are accepted universally by poets of all schools.

But, let me give here an abstract in the words of Prof. Mohit Kumar Ray ( as given in his A Comparative Study of the Indian Poetics and the Western Poetics )

To sum up; all theorists agree that the language of poetry is different from the language of prose. They also agree that sound and sense are the two main elements of poetry; and that poetry is born when they are blended harmoniously together. The speculations about how this blending can be brought about leading to different schools _ Alamkara, Riti, Svabhavokti, Dhvani, Vakrokti etc

But, neither Alamkara nor Riti nor Vakrokti etc by itself, individually, accounts for poesies of a poem. An Alamkara cannot be super-added. It must be integral to the poem. Similarly, a particular style, all by itself, cannot make a Kavya. It must be in keeping with the cultural level of the poet and the reader as also with the nature of the thought-content of the poem. There are various factors that go to determine the style.

Again, a deviation or stating a thing an oblique way cannot make a Kavya. What is stated should be in harmony with the predominant passion or Rasa of the work.

In other words, the production of Rasa demands the use of all or some of the elements of the poetics depending upon the appropriateness or the nature of the idea envisioned in the Kavya; because, a Kavya is an organic unity. We must have suggestion, we may have elegant figures of speech or deviation also ; we may even have an attractive unique style and so on . But all these elements must be integrated into the matrix of the Kavya.

What is poetry if it does not produce Rasa or give the reader an experience of aesthetic delight?


The Indian Poetics


Of the various poetic Schools, chronologically, Rasa is taken as the oldest because it is discussed in Natyashastra, where, Rasa meant aesthetic appreciation or joy that the spectator experiences .  As Bharata says , Rasa  should be relished  as an emotional or intellectual  experience : na rasanāvyāpāra āsvādanam,api tu mānasa eva (NS.6,31) . The Nāṭyashāstra states that the goal of any art form is to invoke  such Rasa.

Bharata’s theory of  Rasa was crafted  mainly in the context of the Drama.  He was focused on the  dancer’s or actor’s performance ; and , the effort needed to convey her/his  own experiences to the spectator , in order to create aesthetic appreciation or enjoyment  of the art in the heart and mind of the spectator.  Bharata elaborated the process of producing  Rasa in terms of eight Sthayi Bhavas , the principle emotional state expressed with the aid of Vibhava ( the cause) and Anubhava (the enactment)  ; thirty-three Vyabhicāri  (Sanchari) bhāvās,  the transient emotions; and, eight Sattivikbhavas , the involuntary physical reactions.  These  various Bhavas involved expressions through words (Vachika), gestures (Angika) and other representations (Aharya), apart from involuntary body-reactions (Sattvika).  Such elements employed to convey the  psychological state of the character thus  , in all  , amounted to forty-nine or more . 

The famous Rasa-sutra or basic “formula”,  in the Nāṭyashāstra, for evoking  Rasa, states that   the vibhāva, anubhāva, and vyabhicāri bhāvas together produce Rasa : tatra vibhāvā-anubhāva vyabhicāri sayogād rasa nipatti

Thus, Bharata’s concept  and derivation of Rasa was mainly in the context of the Drama. That concept  – of the enjoyment by the recipient spectator- as also his views on the Gunas and Dosha that one must bear in mind while scripting and enacting the play , were later  enlarged , transported  and adopted into Kavya as well.

In the context of the Kavya, though Rasa is all pervasive, it has been enumerated separately, because Rasa, which came to be understood as the ultimate aesthetic delight experienced by the reader/listener/spectator, is regarded as the touch-stone of any creative art. Rasa has, therefore, been discussed in several layers  – independently as also in relation to other aspects of poetic beauty , such as : the number of Rasa, each type of Rasa,  nature of aesthetic pleasure of each of type Rasa, importance of Rasa, its association with other Kavya-agamas and so on. Some accepted Rasa as Alamkara (Rasavath), while others regarded it as the soul or the essential spirit of any literary work.

Both in Drama and in Kavya, Rasa is not a mere means; but, it is the desired end or objective that is enjoyed by the Sahrudaya, the cultured spectator or the reader. In the later texts, the process of appreciation of Rasa became far more significant than the creation of Rasa. The poet-scholars like Bhamaha and his follower took to Rasa very enthusiastically. Later, Anandavardhana entwined the concept of Dhvani (suggestion) with Rasa.

Indian Aesthetics considers that among the various poetic theories (Kavya-agama), Rasa is of prime importance in Kavya.  And, very involved discussions go into the ways and processes of   producing Rasa, the ultimate aesthetic experience that delights the Sahrudaya, the connoisseurs of Kavya.

Again, what is poetry if it does not produce Rasa or give the reader an experience of aesthetic delight?

Rasa is therefore regarded as the cardinal principle of Indian aesthetics.  The theory of Rasa (Rasa sutra) or the realization of Rasa  (Rasa Siddhi) is discussed in almost all the works on Alamkara Shastra in one way or the other. The importance of the Rasa is highlighted in Alamkara Shastra, by calling it the Atman (the soul), Angin (the principle element),  Pradhana-Pratipadya (main substance to be conveyed), Svarupadhyaka (that which makes a Kavya), and Alamkara ( ornamentation) etc.


The Alamkara School is said to have its origins in the works of Bhamaha and Dandin.  It appears , the two scholars were not separated much either in time or in location; and yet, it is hard to ascertain whether they were contemporaries. But, they seemed to have lived during a common period (6th or 7th century) or the time-interval between the two was not much. But, it is difficult to say with certainty who was the elder of the two, although it is assumed that Bhamaha was earlier . Generally, it is believed that Bhamaha lived around the late sixth century while Dandin lived in the early seventh century.

It could be said that the early history of Sanskrit poetics started with the theory of Alamkara that was developed into a system by Bhamaha and later by Dandin. It is however fair to recognize that their elaborations were based in the summary treatment of poetics in the 16th chapter of Natyashastra. The merit of the contributions of Bhamaha and Dandin rests in the fact that they began serious discussion on Poetics as an independent investigation into the virtues of the diction, the language and Alamkara (embellishments) of Kavya; and, in their attempt to separate Kavya from Drama and explore its virtues.

[In their discussions, the term Alamkara stands for both the figurative speech and the Poetic principle (Alamkara), depending on the context. That is to say; in their works, the connotation of Alamkara as a principle of embellishment was rather fluid. Though Alamkara , as a concept,  was the general name for Poetics, Alamkara also meant the specific figures of speech like Anuprasa, Upama etc. And, the concepts of Rasa, Guna, Riti were also brought under the umbrella of Alamkara. ]

Bhamaha’s Kavyaalamkara and Dandin’s Kavyadarsha are remarkably similar in their points of view, content and purpose. Both try to define the Mahakavya or the Sargabandha, elaborated in several Cantos. Their methods focus on the qualities of language (Sabda) and the meaning (Artha) of poetic utterances. Again, the format of their works is also similar. They often quote one another or appeal to a common source of reference or tradition. There are similarities as also distinctions between the views held by the two. At many places, it seems as if one is criticizing the other,  without however naming. It is as though a dialogue of sorts  had developed between the two authors. The major thrust of both the works pursues a discussion on the distinctive qualities (Guna) of Alamkara and debilitating distractions (Dosha) of poetic expressions.

Both the authors discuss the blemish or Dosha – the category that had come to represent the inverse of Alamkara, such as Jati, Kriya, Guna and Dravya.  They held the view that just as certain Gunas or merits enhance the poetic effects, so also certain Doshhas, blemishes – both explicit and implied – destroy the poetic  elegance and excellence. 

But, they also pointedly disagreed on certain issues. For instance; Dandin appears to reject Bhamaha’s views on the differences between the narrative forms of Katha and Akhyayika (1.23.5) – apādaḥ padasaṃtāno gadyam ākhyāyikā kathā / iti tasya prabhedau dvau tayor ākhyāyikā kila. And, he also seems  to argue against Bhamaha’s views that poetry must  have  Vakrokti .

Bhamaha , in turn, gives prominence to Alamkara, though he considered Rasa as an important element. According to him, all types of Kavya-s should have Vakrokti (oblique expressions) – as Samanya lakshana, Atishayokti (hyperbole) expressions transcending common usage of the of words (Svabhavokti) . It is only through these, he said, the ordinary is transformed to extraordinary. 

Dandin differed from Bhamaha.  He did not agree with the idea that there is no Alamkara without Vakrokti and that Savbhavokti, natural expressions, has no importance in Kavya.  He argued, the Alamkara, the figurative expressions could be of two kinds – Svabhavokti and Vakrokti; and the former takes the priority (Adya.Alamkrith).

[Vakrokti has no equivalent in the western literary criticism. Vakrokti could be referred to as ‘oblique or indirect’ reference.  It could also mean irony / ambiguity/ gesture/paradox / tension or all of them put together.]

Bhamaha did not speak much about the aspect of Guna. He briefly touched upon Madhurya (sweetness) , Ojas (vigor) and Prasada (lucidity) ; and , he did not even name them specifically as Guna-s. Further, he did not see much difference between Madhurya and Prasada :

Madhuryam abhibanchanti prasadam Ca samedhasah/ Samasavanti bhuyansi na padani prajunjate //KA.Ch. Bh_2.1 //

Dandin, on the other hand, devoted almost the entire of the first chapter of his Kavyadarsa to the exposition of two modes of poetic expressions, which ,for some reason, named them as :  Vaidarbhi and Gaudi . He seemed to favor the former –Vaidarbhi. According to Dandin, the ten Gunas are the life of the Vaidarbhi mode of expression – Slesha, Prasada, Samata, Madhurya, Sukumaratva, Arthavyaki, Udaratva, Ojas, Kanti and Samadhi.

Both – Bhamaha and Dandin- seemed to be   concerned with Kavya-sarira or the body of poetry. Both recognized that Kavya is essentially about language; and, that language is caught in a rather small compass. They seemed to argue that Kavya, however extensive, is knit together by its building-blocks – individual verses. Thus, the stanza is the basic unit of composition (Varna-vrtta metrics). And, every stanza has to strive towards perfection.  They held that for achieving such perfection, it is essential that there should be a happy confluence of Sabda (word) and Artha (meaning) that produces a beauteous  form (body) – Kavya-sariraSabda-Artha-sahitau-Kavyam . They also said that Alamkara, the poetic figures of speech, are essential ingredients of such beauteous  harmony.


During the period of Bhamaha and Dandin, the plot of the Kavya was seen as its body.  That, somehow, seemed to suggest that what is said is not as important as  how it is said. The artistic expressions – ornate language, polished phrases seemed to be the prime issue. Therefore, the forms of Alamkara such as rhetorical figures of speech, comparisons, rhythms and such others gained more prominence.

In other words, they believed that Kavya is a verbal composition conveying a definite sense. It must be presented in a charming manner, decorated with choosiest rhetorical devices or figures of speech – Sabda-alamkara and Artha-alamkara.

The fundamental idea appeared to be that every notion can be expressed in infinite number of forms. Therefore, gaining mastery over language is  a prerequisite for a  credible poet. That is because, mastering the language enables one to have access to the largest possible number of variations; and, employ them most appropriately.  Kuntaka in his Vakrokti- jivita  (Ca. 10th century)  says the :  the Real word is that which is chosen out of a number of possible synonyms  and that which is capable of  expressing  the desired sense most aptly. And the real sense is that which by its alluring nature , spontaneously delights  the mind of the Sahrudaya ( person of taste and culture) –ahladkari sva spanda sundarah

Sabdau vivaksitartha kavachakautheyshu sathvapi  I  arthah sahrudaya ahladkari sva spanda sundarah  // Vjiv_1.9 //

In the process, distinctions are made between figures of sound (Sabda-alamkara) and the figures of sense (Artha-alamkara).  In the Sabda-alamkara, many and varied options of paraphrasing are used. Here, the option to express something in an obvious, simple and clear manner i.e. to say exactly what one means, is avoided. Such plain statements are considered Gramya (rustic) in contrast to urbane and refined (Nagarika) expressions. For instance; Bhamaha gives prominence to Alamkara, though he considered Rasa as important element. According to him, all types of Kavya-s should have Vakrokti (oblique expressions), Atishayokti (hyperbole)  expressions transcending common usage of the of words (Svabhavokti) .It is only through these that the ordinary is transformed to something that is extraordinary.

Thus, the concept of Alamkara essentially denotes that which transforms ordinary speech into an extraordinary poetic expression (Sabartha sahitya). The term Alamkara stands for the concept of embellishment itself , as well as for the specific means and terms that embellish the verse.

As the Alamkara concept began to develop into a system, there appeared endless divisions and sub-divisions of these Alamkaras. In the later poetics, Alamkara is almost exclusively restricted to its denotation of poetic figures as a means of embellishment.

During the later periods of Indian Poetics, the Alamkara School was subjected to criticism. It was said that the Alamkara School was all about poetic beauty; and, it seemed to have missed the aspect of the inner essence of Kavya. The later Schools, therefore, considered Alamkara as a secondary virtue .  They declared that Poetry can exist without Alamkara and still be a good poetry.

Although the concept of Alamkara was played down in the later periods, its utility was always acknowledged as the Vishesha or quality of Sabda and Artha.


Both – Bhamaha and Dandin – agree on the central place accorded, in Kavya, to Alamkara, figurative speech. Both held 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 striking modes of meaningful expressions. Dandin, however, gives 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.

This distinction turns into a basic factor in all the subsequent Alamkara related discussions. The differences that cropped up on this point do not lie chiefly in the kind or quality of Alamkara; but, it seems more to do with function of the organization and presentation of the materials.

Let’s take a look at each of their works.



Bhamaha’s work, called Kavyalankara or Bhamahalankara consists of six Paricchedas or chapters and about 400 verses. They deal mainly with the objectives, definition and classification of Kavya,  as also with the Kavya-agama the elements of the Kavya , such as,  Riti ( diction), Guna ( merits), Dosha ( blemishes ), Auchitya  (Grammatical correctness of words used in Kavya ) ; and , mainly with  the Alamkara the figurative expressions .

The object of Kavya, according to Bhamaha, is chiefly twofold, viz. acquisition of fame on the part of the poet and delight for the reader.

While defining Kavya, Bhamaha says – sabdarthau sahitau kavyam; word and sense together constitute Kavya – in its both the forms of poetry and prose.  The Kavya could be in Sanskrit, Prakrit ( regional language) or even in Apabhramsha ( folk language) 

śabdārthau sahitau kāvyaṃ gadyaṃ padyaṃ ca taddvidhā / saṃskṛtaṃ prākṛtaṃ cānyad apabhraṃśa iti tridhā // Bh_1.16 //

This definition obviously focuses on the external element or the body of Kavya. His explanation implied that word and sense in a Kavya must be free from blemishes (nirdosa) and should be embellished with poetic ornamentation (salankara). 

Bhamaha lays great stress on Alamkara, the figurative ornamentation. In his opinion, a literary composition, however laudable, does not become attractive if it is devoid of Alamkara, embellishments. Alamkara, according to him, is indispensable for a composition to merit, the designation of Kavya. Bhamaha is, therefore, regarded as the earliest exponent, if not the founder, of the Alamkara school of Sanskrit Poetics.

Bhamaha divides (Bh_2.4)his Alamkara in four groups that are represented as layers of traditional development (Anyair udartha). They are similar to those four mentioned by Bharata (Upama =comparison; Rupaka = metaphorical identification; Dipaka = illuminating by several parallel phrases being each completed by a single un-repeated word; and, Yamaka = word-play by various cycles of repetition). In addition there is the fifth as alliteration (Anuprasa). Bhamaha in this context mentions one Medhavin  (ta eta upamādoṣāḥ sapta medhāvinoditāḥ ) who perhaps was an ancient scholar who wrote on the Alamkara theory. The four groups that Bhamaha mentioned perhaps represent earlier attempts to compile Alamkara Shastra.

anuprāsaḥ sayamako rūpakaṃ dīpakopame / iti vācāmalaṃkārāḥ pañcaivānyairudāhṛtāḥ // Bh_2.4 //

Bhamaha also talked about the other elements of Kavya such as Vakrokti and Riti, however, without much stress. And, he treated both these as supplements to Alamkara, the principal element of the Kavya. Bhamaha regarded Vakrokti as the charm of expression that aids Alamkara. He did not attach much importance to Riti or mode of composition; because, in his opinion, the distinction between the Vaidarbhi and the Gaudi Riti is of no consequence. He however, introduced the notion of Sausabdya, the grammatical appropriateness in poetry- which relates to the question of style , in general, rather than to any theory of poetics.

tadetadāhuḥ sauśabdyaṃ nārthavyutpattirīdṛśī / śabdābhidheyālaṃkāra- bhedādiṣṭaṃ dvayaṃ tu naḥ // Bh_1.15 //

His rejection of the usefulness of the Riti and the Marga analysis of poetry perhaps accounts for his comparatively lighter treatment of the Gunas of which he mentions only Madhurya, Ojas and Prasada.

Bhamaha, in fact, rejects the Guna approach as being ‘not-trustworthy’. He is a thorough Alamkarika. His concern is with the form of poetry; and, not so much with its variations. He is also believed to have held the view that Gunas are three (and not ten) – guṇānāṃ samatāṃ dṛṣṭvā rūpakaṃ nāma tadviduḥ; and,  are nothing but varieties of alliterations.

upamānena yattattvam upameyasya rūpyate / guṇānāṃ samatāṃ dṛṣṭvā rūpakaṃ nāma tadviduḥ // Bh_2.21 /

As regards Rasa, Bhamaha again links it to Alamkara. He 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. Bhamaha did not however elaborate on the concept of Vakrokti. He meant Vakrokti as an expression which is neither simple nor clear-cut; but, as one which has curvature (vakra) – vakroktir anayārtho vibhāvyate. He took it as a fundamental principle of poetic expression .

[It is not clear whether or not Bhamaha regarded Vakrokti as Alamkara]  

Vakrokti is explained as an expressive power, a capacity of language to suggest indirect meaning along with the literal meaning. This is in contrast to svabhavokti, the matter-of-fact statements. Vakrokti articulates the distinction between conventional language and the poetic language. Vakrokti is regarded as the essential core of all poetic works as also of the evaluation and appreciation of art in general. Thus, vakrokti is a poetic device used to express something extraordinary and has the inherent potential to provide the aesthetic experience of Rasa.

Thus the seeds of Vakrokti, Riti, Rasa and Dhvani which gained greater importance in the later periods can be found in Bhamaha’s work.

However, the critics of Bhamaha point out that Alamkara-s of Bhamaha are nothing but external elements; and that he seemed to have bypassed the innermost element the Atman (soul) of poetry.


Dandin’s Kavyadarsa (7th century) is a very influential text. And , it covers a wide range of subjects  concerning the Kavya , such as : the choice of language, and its relation to the  subject matter; the components or the  elements of Kavya : the story (kathavastu) ;  the types of descriptions and narrations that should go into Mahakavya also known as  Sarga-bandha (Kavya , spread over several Cantos) – sargabandho mahākavyam ucyate tasya lakṣaṇam; the ways (Marga) of Kavya, regional styles characterized by the presence or absence of the expression-forms (Guna); various features of syntax and semantics; factors of Alamkara- the figurative beauty of expressions; and  the Alamkara-s of sound  (Sabda) and sense (Artha).

Dandin in his Kavyadarsha said every poem needs a body and Alamkara. By body he meant set of meaningful words in a sentence to bring out the desired intent and effect.  Dandin clarified saying ; now, by body (sariram), I mean a string of words (padavali) distinguished by a desired meaning (ista-artha) – sariram tadvad ista-artha vyvachinnapadavali.

taiḥ śarīraṃ ca kāvyānām alaṃkārāś ca darśitāḥ – śarīraṃ tāvad iṣṭārthavyavacchinnā padāvalī // DKd_1.10 //

In the succeeding Karikas, Dandin , under the broad head Sariram discusses such subjects as meter, language, and genres of poetic compositions ( epic poems, drama etc.,) , and the importance of such categories. Such words putting forth the  desired meaning could be set either in poem (Padya) , prose (Gadya) or mixture (Misra) form.

padyaṃ gadyaṃ ca miśraṃ ca tat tridhaiva vyavasthitam – padyaṃ catuṣpadī tac ca vṛttaṃ jātir iti dvidhā // DKd_1.11 //

In his work, he talks mainly about Alamkara-s that lend beauty and glitter to the Kavya- Sabda-alamkara and Artha-alamkara. The first covers natural descriptions, similes (Upama) of 32 kinds, metaphors (Rupaka) , various types of Yamaka (poetic rhymes)  that juggle with  syllables and consonants . Among the Artha-alamkara is Akshepa that is to say concealed or roguish expressions, such as hyperbole (Atishayokti) , pun or verbal play  producing more than one meaning (Slesha) , twisted expressions (Vakrokti).

Dandin is, generally, accused of attaching more importance to the elegance of the form and to erudition than to creative faculty. I reckon , that is rather unfair. He was attempting to  draw a clear  distinction between  kavyasarira and Alamkara.

Dandin, like Bhamaha, belongs to what came to be known as Alamkara School.  But, his emphasis is more on Sabda-alamkara, the ornaments of sound (Sabda), which is not prominent in Bhamaha. The bulk of the third Pariccheda of his Kavyadarsa is devoted to an exhaustive treatment of Chitrakavya ( which later came to be labeled as Adhama – inferior- Kavya)   and its elements of  rhyming (Yamaka) , visual poetry (matra and Chitra) and puzzles (Prahelika).

With regard to Rasa, Dandin pays more importance to it than did Bhamaha. While dealing with Rasa-vada-alamkara, the theory of Alamkara combined with Rasa, he illustrates each Rasa separately. Dandin pays greater attention to Sabda-almkara than does Bhamaha. Dandin says : thanks to the words alone the affairs of men progress ( Vachanam eva prasadena lokayatra pravartate )

Iha śiṣṭānuśiṣṭānāṃ śiṣṭānām api sarvathā – vācām eva prasādena lokayātrā pravartate // DKd_1.3 //

Dandin also gives importance to alliteration (Anuprasa), which he discusses under Madhurya Guna, the sweetness or the alluring qualities of language. Alliterations and rhyming (Yamaka) were not ignored by Bhamaha (they were, in fact, his first two types of Alamkara); but, treated lightly.  In comparison, are accorded full treatment in Dandin‘s work.

Bahamas, as said earlier, mentions just four types of Alamkara-s such as: Upama, Rupaka, Dipaka and, Yamaka. He does not, however, go much into their details.  Dandin, on the other hand, while accepting the same figures as Bhamaha, explores the variations provided by each figure internally. He notices thirty-two types of similes (Upama) as also various other forms of Rupaka (Metaphors), etc.  This effort to look at Alamkaras in terms of ‘sound-effects’ than as theoretical principles was rejected by subsequent authors.

One of the criticisms leveled against Dandin is that he uses the term Alamkara in the limited sense of embellishment rather than as a broader theory or principle of Poetics. He defines Kavya in terms of its special features: Kavyam grahyam Alamkarat; Saundaryam alamkarah . The Alamkara here is not the principle but Soundaryam, beauty of the expression.

Dandin devotes a section of the first chapter or Pariccheda, to the ten Gunas or qualities mentioned by Bharata.

Slesah prasadah samata samadhir madhuryamojah Padasaukumaryam/ Arthasya Ca vyaktirudarata Ca kantisca kavyasya Gunah dasaite //NS.17.95//

śleṣaḥ prasādaḥ samatā mādhuryaṃ sukumāratā – arthavyaktir udāratvam ojaḥ kānti samādhayaḥ // DKd_1.41 //


But, Bharata had not discussed  much on the  Guna-doctrine; and nor did  he  state whether they belonged  to Sabda or Artha; nor in what relation they stand in poetry. He merely stated  that ten Gunas are the mere negation of Dohsa

Dandin  went on and  said the Gunas that make beautiful are called Alamkara  ; and, he included the Gunas dear to him under Alamkara. (Kavya shobha karan dharman alamkaran pracakshate).

kāvya śobhā kārān dharmān alaṃkārān pracakṣate – te cādyāpi vikalpyante kas tān kārtsnyena vakṣyati // DKd_2.1 //

[But, he does not seem to consider Gunas and Alamkaras as identical; for the Gunas relate to the forms of language – say, sound or its capacity to produce a meaning ; but, not specifically to the categories of Alamkara.]

But Dandin qualified his statement by remarking that Guna is an Alamkara belonging to the Vaidarbhi-Marga exclusively. Thus, it appears, in his view, Guna forms the essence or the essential condition of what he considers to be the best poetic diction. The importance of Gunas lies in their positive features. The contrary of a particular Guna marks another kind of poetry. Thus Ojas vigor (use of long compounds) marks the Gaudiya Marga; and, its absence marks the Vaidarbhi Marga.

It should be mentioned; Dandin elaborates a theory of two modes (Marga) or kinds of poetic diction or styles to which he assigns geographical names Vaidarbhi and Gauda. He mentions that excellences (Guna, like sweetness or lucidity) form their essence.

Iti vaidarbhamargasya prana dasa gunah smrtah/ Esamviparyah prayo drsyate gaudavartmani //KD.1.42//

But, such classification later became a dead issue as it was not logical; and many are not sure if such regional styles did really exist in practice. Only Vamana took it up later; but, diluted it.

Vamana , in his Kavyalamkara, stated that , poetry is acceptable from the ornamentation (Alamkara)  point of view. But , he is careful to explain Alamkara not in the narrow sense of a figure of speech, but in the broad sense of  the principle of beauty. He says : Kavyam grahyam alamkarat; Saundaryam alamkarah // VKal_1,1.1-2 // .

Dandin also mentions Vakrokti; but, he does not treat it as essential to Alamkara.

Chapter five of Kavyadarsa is an inquiry into poetic defects (Dosha) that spring from logical fallacies. It is based in the view that there is a limit to the poet’s power to set aside universal laws of reasonable discourse . The poet does not wish to speak nonsense; his ultimate declaration should be  as rational and as reasonable as that of any other person . Poetry does not therefore lie in the poet’s intention as such, but the unusual means he adopts to convey his meaning. This line of argument puts poetry properly on both sides of what is logical and what is illogical.


The older School (Prachina) – of Bhamaha, Dandin, Vamana and others – 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.

The Navina School represented by Anandavardhana (9th century) and his theory of Dhvani mark the beginning of a new-phase (Navina) in Indian Poetics.  It 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. 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.

Here, the words (Sabda), explicitly 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.

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.

Lets talk about these and other elements of Kavya in the subsequent issues.


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

A Comparative Study of the Indian Poetics and the Western Poetics by Mohit Kumar Ray

A history of Indian literature. Vol. 5, Scientific and technical …, Volume 5 by Edwin Gerow

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: