Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Nine

31 Aug

Continued from Part Eight

[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.

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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

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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.

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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 parikalpyateVjiv_1.36)

[However, Kuntaka asserts that Rasavat* and its related Alankaras, as explained by Bhamaha and others are not Alamkaras at all; but, are Alamkaryasthat 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).

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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:

The first Unmesha describes generally the nature of a Kavya and the characteristics of  Sabda and Artha as its constituent elements; among other things, dealing with Kuntaka’s theory of Kavi-vyapara-vakratha , which , according to him, is essential in poetry.

This Vakrata is is then classified categorically into varieties; enumerated as six numbers , according  as it appears in the arrangement of letters (Varna-vinyasa), in the parts of a word (Pada); in a sentence (Vakya) ; in a particular topic (Prakarana); or, in the whole composition (Prabandha).

The rest of the chapters gives a summary account of these , along with illustrations, describes the charaterestics of the three Margas (corresponding to Vamana’s three Ritis)- viz., Sukumara; Vichitra; and, Madhyama – concluding with  an account of their constituent Gunas or excellences.

Of the six varieties of Vakrata, which taken up in detail in the rest of the work , the second Unmesha deals with – (1) Varna-vinyasa; (2) Pada-purvardha Vakrata; and, (3) Pada-pararda-vakrata, called Pratyaya- vakrata.

The third Unmesha  deals with (4) Vakya-vakrata; while the fourth Unmesha is deoted to the explanation of (5) Prakarana-vakrata; and (6) Prabandha-vakrata.


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.

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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).

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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 kāpyasauVjiv_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.

design rangoli

According to Kuntaka, the Vakrata created by the Kavi-vyapara, operates at six levels: Varna-vinyasa-vakrata; Pada-purvardha-vakrata; Pada-parardha vakrata; Vakya-vakrata; Prakarana-vakrata; and, Prabandha-vakrata.

kavi-vyāpāra-vakratva-prakārā sabhavanti a / pratyeka bahavo bhedāsteā vicchitti-śobhina // Vjiv_1.18 /

Varavinyāsa vicchitti pada sadhāna sapadā / svalpayā bandha saundarya lāvayam abhidhīyate // Vjiv_1.32 //

Commencing from the arrangement of syllables (Varna), its coverage systematically extends from the former and the latter parts of a word (Pada-purvardha and Pada-parardha); to a sentence (Vakya); to a specific topic or episode (Prakarana); and, thereon to the composition as a whole (Prabandha).

The logic of this scheme appears to be that it moves progressively from the micro to the macro in the structure of a Kavya. The smallest unit in the language is the syllable (Varna) including the lexical stem and the grammatical suffix; next comes the words, which when woven together  constitute a sentence; and, a series of meaningful sentences help to construct an episode; and, the skilful arrangement of the episodes composes a Kavya.

 Here, apart from the fundamental smaller units,  Kuntaka takes into account the  larger units of the Kavya also –  such as, the  context , the Acts / Cantos, the varied innovative methods of presentation;  and, the  composition itself , as a whole . Thus, Kuntaka reviews the entire range of the poetic creation from the point of view of its artistic efficacy, which, among other things, involves deviation from the norm (Vakrata).

It is said; the Vakroktijivita is a treatise on the function of imagination and artistic skill in inventive poetry; and, Vakrokti is a linguistic manifestation of the basic obliquity of the poet’s creative process, infusing beauty and elegance to his work (saundarya lāvayam abhidhīyate).

Kuntaka’s classification of Vakrokti, to a large extent, is based on Anandavardhana’s concept of Dhvani; and, its elaboration.  Anandavardhana organizes Dhvani into Varna, Pada; pada-avayava; and so on. His categorization, principally, is in terms of the Vyanjaka.  The word which connotes the suggested sense (through the suggestive function (Vyanjana-vritti) is named as Vyanjaka. The relationship between the suggestive word and the suggested meaning (Vyanjana-artha) is described as vyangya-vyanjaka sambandha. It is this mutual relationship, which, virtually, is the lifeblood of Indian poetics.  In fact, this is what that distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature.

Following Anandavardhana, Kuntaka’s classification is based on the different devices of language, beginning from syllables, the very small ingredients; moving on further in scale, extending to the whole work. But, the entire gamut of such varied components of language has necessarily to spring from the innate creative genius of the poet, his Prathibha.

The six elements of Vakratva that Kuntaka enumerates  together cover the elegance of all Sabda and Artha Alamkaras; 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 Vakrata that distinguishes poetry from other types of narrations; and, in turn, these enhance the vital essence (Vakrokti-jivitam) of a Kavya.


I. Varna-vinyasa-vakrata

The first is Varna-vinyasa-vakrata (oblique arrangement of consonants or syllables). It works at the level of phoneme, when similar or identical syllables or consonants are skilfully arranged or are repeated at varying intervals; or when new consonants or syllables are employed ; or , when stops are combined with their homorganic nasals, with a view to produce certain sound-effects. It also includes alliteration and chime. This Varna-vinyasavakrata itself is recognised as Anuprasa or alliteration.  The Varna-vinyasa-vakrata, according to Kuntaka, is wide enough to include varieties of beauties in the arrangement of syllables

Vara Vinyāsa Vakratā lakaa śabdā-alakāro apyatitarā ramaīyaḥ; Varṇa Vinyāsa vicchittivihitā lāvaṇya lakṣaṇa guṇa saṃpadasty eva (VjivC_1.19)

Kuntaka, here, insists on maintaining harmony of the sound effect with the meaning of the words and their aptness to the context of theme and it’s Rasa.


II. Pada-purvardha-vakrata

The second type of Vakrata is Pada-purvardha-vakrata (lexical obliquity).  It is said; the lexical aspects (शाब्द) of the language may contribute to the total effect of the poetry; as it would augment the possibilities of bringing to surface the latent poetic beauty (Dhvani) through the artistic use of Pratipadika and Dhatu, which form the base part of the nouns and the verbs, respectively. This type of Vakrata includes the peculiar use of synonyms, conventional words, attributive words, covert expressions and so on.

The Pada-purvardha-vakrata would, in turn, include several modes of Vakrata, obliquities, such as   :

(1) Rudhi-vaicitrya-vakrata: the words of common usage are employed even to elucidate complex ideas or to expand on unusual attributes or to denote the meaning of certain peculiar terms – yatra rūher asabhāvya dharmādhyā aropa garbhatā pratīyate (Vjiv_2.8). This is the art of beautifying the word-structure through conventional means

(2) Paryaya-vakrata: use of a synonym which approximates most to the meaning intended; and, contributes to the excellence of the presentation

paryāyastena vaicitrya parā paryāya vakratā (Vjiv_2.12)

(3) Upacara-vakrata: when two objects distinctly differ from each other (dūrāntare) , a common attribute, however slight (leśenāpi) , is metaphorically superimposed in order to bring out some sort of resemblance (sāmānyam upacaryate) – Vjiv_2.14

(4) Visesana-vakrata – use of appropriate epithets and adjectives to endow a novel or a fresh charm, even to the familiar Alamkaras; and, when such substitute- epithets have great poetic merit, they contribute to heighten the charm of verbs or nouns. This type of Vakrata is, therefore, regarded as the vital essence (jivita) of all good poetry. Kuntaka insists that such epithets should be purposefully utilized by the poet in order to infuse extraordinary charm into the three-fold poetic entity (vastu): Rasa, Svabhava and Alamkara

Viśeaasya māhātmyāt kriyāyā kārakasya vā / yatra ullasati lāvaya sā viśeaa vakratā // Vjiv_2.15 /

(5) Samvriti-vakrata: when the subject that is being described is deliberately concealed by the use of pronouns etc., (sarvanāmā-di bhi) sometimes, pronouns are used to conceal an object when its nature is uncertain. It is also said; certain exceedingly beautiful subjects shine most by their concealment; and hence, it is needless to go for elaborate descriptions in such cases.

Yatra savriyate vastu vaicitryasya  vivakayā  / sarvanāmādi bhi kaiścit soktā savti vakratā // Vjiv_2.16 /

(6) Vritti-vaicitrya-vakrata: peculiar use of Vrttis such as adverbial compounds (Avyaya),, verbal and nominal derivatives in order to provide an effective base for suggesting a sense of beauty (ramaīyatā), in a unique way;

Avyayībhāva mukhyānā vttīnā ramaīyatā / yatra ullasati sā jñeyā Vtti –vaicitrya-vakratā // Vjiv_2.19 //

(7) Bhava-vaicitrya-vakrata: wherein an activity that is yet to be accomplished is imaginatively described as if it has already been completed (siddhatvenā abhidhīyate), to produce a sense of surprise and delight – yatra bhāvo bhavedeṣā Bhava-Vaicitrya- vakratā (Vjiv_2.20)

(8) Linga-vaicitrya-vakrata: strange use of genders to signify one and the same object.Although other genders are equally possible (sāmānā adhikaraṇyataḥ),  a specific gender is preferred; or, the feminine gender is preferred  to designate an object, even though other genders of the word could possibly have been employed   (śobhābhyudetyeṣā Liṅga-vaicitrya-vakratā Vjiv_2.21); and,

(9) Kriya-vaicitryavakrata: artistic use of verb-roots, in varied manners, to produce a unique beauty of expression. It has five varieties; and, these five which add charm to the idea described are regarded as the five forms of beauty in action.

karmādisavti pañca prastuta aucitya cārava/ kriyā-vaicitrya-vakratva prakārāsta ime sm  // Vjiv_2.25 //


III. Pada-parardha-vakrata

The third type of Vakrata is Pada-parardha-vakrata (grammatical obliquity relating to the terminal part of the word)- parārdhasya pratyaya-lakaasya vakratā. It consists in a peculiar use of tense, case, number, voice, person, affix and particles.

This type of Vakrata is again sub-divided into seven varieties:  Kala-vaicitrya-vakrata; Karaka-vakrata; Sankhya-vakrata; Purusha-vakrata; Upagraha-vakrata: Pratyaya-vakrata; and, Pada-vakrata.

(1) Kala-vaicitrya-vakrata: employing tenses appropriate (aucityāntarata samayo ramaīyatām) to the subject of description; (Vjiv_2.26)

(2) Karaka-vakrata: elevating a common supplementary action and treating it as if it is primary (kāraka-sāmānya prādhānyena-nibadhyate); and, reducing the status of the really pre-eminent one into that of an auxiliary (kārakāā viparyāsa; ( Vjiv_2.27). Here, even the inanimate objects are projected as if they are alive

tattvā adhyāropaān mukhya gua bhāvā abhidhānata .

(3) Samkhya-vakrata: oblique use of singular or plural numbers (yatra sakhyā-viparyāsa sakhyā-vakratā vidu); where ‘we’ is used in place of “I’, or when two words of different numbers are brought together in a strange manner; (Vjiv_2.29)

(4) Purusha-vakrata: when third person (He) is employed in the place of first (I) or the second person (You) – – with a view to induce a dramatic effect;

Pratyaktā parabhāvaś ca viparyāsena yojayate / yatra vicchittaye saiā jñeyā Puruha vakratā  (Vjiv_2.30)

(5) Upagraha-vakrata: verb-affix- it is when two affixes are possible for a root; but when, one is preferred as against the other, for aesthetic reasons;

– padayor ubhayor ekam aucityād viniyujyate (Vjiv_2.31)

(6) Pratyaya-vakrata: use of unusual affixes apart from and also in place of the usual affixes; and, – pratyayādanya pratyaya kamanīyatām (Vjiv_2.32)

(7) Pada-vakrata: the parts of speech , in Sanskrit, are classified into four groups viz., Nama (noun), Akhyata (verb), Upasarga (preposition) and Nipata (having no inflections). While the Nouns and verbs were discussed in the earlier classifications, Kuntaka covered under this section, the Nipata and Upasarga, the words that do not take case terminations.

The Upasargas and the Nipatas have the usual meaning assigned to them by grammarians; but, in poetry, they tend to acquire special meaning due to the ingenuity of the poet; and, they are rendered into the means of suggesting the desired Rasa

Rasādi-dyotana yasyām Upasarga Nipātayo / vākyaika jīvitatvena sāparā Pada vakratā (Vjiv_2.33)


IV. Vakya-vakrata

Vakya-vakrata – the   deviation from the common mode of constructing a sentence, or its artistic improvisation – is the fourth type of Vakrata. It is an index of the poet’s skill; as it comprises all the three principal entities of poetry: Rasa; Svabhava; and, Alamkara.

Kuntaka compares the artistic composition of a Kavya to the creation of a painting.

According to Kuntaka: Just as the total appeal of a painting is distinct from the beauty of its individual elements, like: lines, the colour-shades etc., that go to fashion it; similarly, it is the over-all brilliance and beauty of a poetry that brings out the inherent ‘poetic-image’ to life, captivating and enthralling the persons of taste (Sahrudaya); and, it is not the mere external verbal usage.

Kuntaka says: out of the countless varieties of artistic beauty, even a single type is enough to contribute the extraordinary delight to the men of taste. And, when several such varieties of Vakrata harmoniously blend, enhancing the beauty of one another (parasparasya śobhāyai) , they bring extraordinary beauty to poetry , just as in the case of a  portrait  composed  of many pleasing colours

janayantyetā citra-cchāyā manoharām  (Vjiv_2.34)

Thus, in Vakya-vakrata, different constituent elements of poetry like words, meanings etc., contribute their own, beauty; but, the unique skill of the poet shines out distinctively through its overall composition and its subtle suggestive power.  The lucidity of the self-expression (Dhvani) of the sentence-form should be regarded as the essence of its beauty.

Both Bhartrhari and Mandana Misra employ a similar analogy to illustrate the relation that exists between a sentence and its words. They point out that when we view a picture, it is conceived as a whole, over and above its various parts. The composite image is quite distinct from the particular strokes, sketches, threads and colour-shades etc., that have gone into making of it. An artist paints the picture in parts though he visualizes it as a single image. The viewer of a  painting , rightly, also  takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral unit; and , he  does not look for individual strokes, shades etc or the permutation of such details that went into making the picture. Similar is the case, they say, with the construction of a sentence through use of many words. The listener grasps and understands those series of word- sounds as a single unit.


Further, Kuntaka says that this Vakya-vakrata or the beauty of the content of the subject matter that is being described could be said to have two sub-verities: Sahaja-vakrata (natural) and Aharyavakrata (imposed); and, these do enhance the beauty of other kinds of Vakrokti as well

Sahajā-Ahārya-kavi-kauśala-śālinī, nirmiti nūtana ullekha lokāti-krānta-gocarā (Vjiv_3.2)

(a) The first type of this Vastu-vakrata is:  When the subject-matter is endowed with natural grace and beauty (sahaja-saundarya), its inherent beauty, by itself, is enough to capture the hearts of the refined readers. In these cases, the expressions are to be delicately adorned with subtle Alamkaras; taking care to avoid overdoing it. Kuntaka advices that in the case of Sahaja-vakrata, the poets must exercise adequate discretion while choosing words from out of the many charming expressions that the language offers. And, only that particular one which is most appropriate; and, that which conveys intended idea in the best possible manner should be selected.

(b) The other type of Vastu-vakrata, which makes abundant use of Alamkaras, is studded or superadded (Aharya) with skilful and ingenious expressions crafted by a poet gifted with originality and enterprise. Such unique creative Alamkaras do enhance the charm and brilliance of the narration.

Thus, the Vakya-vakrata combines in itself the three essential virtues of a good poetry: Svabhava (natural charm); Alamkara (ornamentation); and, Rasa (delightful poetic experience). And, therefore, the range of the Vakya-vakrata, which is mainly concerned with the pleasurable (tad vid āhlāda-dāyinīm) poetic content (Vastu); and, that which is relevant to his subject is indeed very vast:  Rasa- Rasa

-Svabhāvā-Alakārāā sarveā kavi-kauśala-meva jīvitam (VjivC_3.16).


 V. Prakarana-vakrata

The art of devising episodes or incidents in such a way that they heighten the total effect of the poetry is regarded as Prakarana-vakrata or the distinctive excellence in the arrangement of the episodes; and, the proper placement of each episode.

The Prakarana vakrata comprises all those factors which contribute to the effective presentation of the sequence of events in an episode. Apart from the contextual metaphorical figures of speech (Alamkaras), it brings together all the interesting strategies that are employed in composing the episodes or the narrative poetry.

Vakratāyā Prakārāām-Aucitya-Gua-śālinām/etad uttejanāyāla sva-spandam-ahatāmapi //VjivC_3.23// Rasa-Svabhāv- Alakārā- sasāram api  sthitā / anena navatā yānti tad vid āhlāda-dāyinīm // VjivC_3.24 //

The originality or ingenuity in plot-construction through innovations; organic unity among the episodes; the systematic unfolding of the series of events in the plot through a sequence of episodes ; the techniques like introducing a play within the play (garbhanka); maintaining suspense till the end; and, integration of various segments into a harmonious whole, come under the Prakarana-vakrata.

Again, the fifth type of the Vakrata, viz., the Prakarana-vakrata is sub-classified into eight modes of innovation.

(1)  Bhava-purna-sthiti-vakrata : Kuntaka suggests that, a poet should select only such themes, from the well-known source ,   as are capable of evoking Rasas, Bhavas, and of generating a sense of wonder (camatkāra-kāraaṃ. Utpāditā-adbhutām)

(2) Utapadya-lavanya-vakrata: When a poet is constructing a plot of his own, even though it might be based  on a wall-known source, if he succeeds in infusing even a small streak of originality; and modifies the original to enhance its effectiveness ,that would sparkle the narration.

–  itivtta-prayukte api kathā vaicitrya vartmani / utpādya lāvayā danyā lasati vakratā (Vjiv_4.3)

(3)  Prakarana-upakarya-upkaraka bhava vakrata: The poet should try to achieve and to maintain an organic unity; to bind a consistent relationship between the various incidents described in the different parts of the episode as also of the work, as a whole

Upakārya-Upakarttva pari-spanda parisphuran (Vjiv_4.5)

 (4) Angirasa nisyandanikasa – vakrata : When the same theme or a similar event (say, like moon-rise, sun-rise etc.,) is repeatedly described at different places, it might tend to get rather tedious (eka evā abhidheyātmā badhyamāna puna puna). In such cases, the poet needs to exercise restrain while elaborating on descriptions of  such themes; and, should ensure that it is concise; appropriate to the plot; blends with the context  harmoniously; and, it is endowed with the suitable Alamkaras and Rasas.  It should also be invested with beauty; and presented in a strikingly new style crafted by the poet – (bheda-bhagīm-utpāditā-adbhutām –Vjiv_4.8)

Yatrā Agirasa niyandanikaa ko ‘pi lakyate / pūrvottarai rasapādyakāde kāpi vakratā // Vjiv_4.10 //

(5) Viśiṣṭā- prakarna-vakrata: All the incidents in a Drama or the Cantos of a Kavya cannot be equally important. The poet’s skill resides in making good use of even a small incident; and, transforming it, so that it makes a significant contribution to the plot, as a whole

pradhāna-vastu-nipattyai vastvantara-vicitratā (Vjiv_4.11)

(6)  A-pradhana prasanga –vakrata: Similarly, all the Acts of a Drama or Cantos (Sarga-Bandhā) in an epic may not be of equal importance. Usually, that particular Act or canto, where the dominant Rasa flourishes, would be made particularly beautiful.  Its artistic excellence cannot either be imitated or be repeated in other parts of the work. Yet; the poet should strive to maintain a balance among the prominent and the not-so-prominent (A-pradhana) Acts or Cantos

yad aga sargabandhāde saundaryāya nibadhyate (Vjiv_4.9

(7) Prakarana-antara vakrata or Garbhanka: The poet could ingeniously device to introduce a play within the play, where the main actors themselves are seen in the role of an audience witnessing a play performed by other actors- Kvacit prakaraasyā anta smta prakaraā antaram (Vjiv_4.13)

(8)  Sandhi-vinivesa-vakrata: It is essential that the preceding and succeeding episodes in a literary work are lucidly related. Therefore, the sequence of episodes in a play should flow naturally; each episode following the next logically; and, the series of episodes are bound (viniveśanam) to each other through delightful junctures (Sandhi).

Mukhābhi-Sandhi-sahlādi savidhānaka -bandhuram / pūrvottarādi sagatyā adagānā Viniveśanam // Vjiv_4.14 //


[Some scholars observe that Kuntaka’s Vakrokti-jivita is indeed a very useful manual or a guidebook to the aspiring poets and authors. At the same time, they point out, the tendency , bordering on obsession, to classify and sub-classify each concept; and, to pigeonhole those countless miniscule fragments, sadly, led to a sort of pedantic hair-splitting. It almost restricted and suffocated poetic-freedom; and, that eventually turned the Sanskrit Kavyas of the later periods into listless, unenterprising works lacking originality. Thus, though Sanskrit, in some form or other, lingered on, what is undeniable is that its vital signs had grown very weak. And, the past glory of its golden era was lost forever.]

VI. Prabandha vakrata

The outstanding eminence (visesata) of the composition, as a whole, is regarded as Prabandha-vakrata. It is marked by originality, resourcefulness and inventive genius of the poet (Prathibha).

The Prabandha Vakrata is, again, classified by Kuntaka into varieties having varied distinctive features of the Kavya; such as:

Rasantara vakrata; Samapana-vakrata; katha-viccheda-vakrata; Anusangika –phala-vakrata; Namakarana vakrata; and, Tulya-katha-vakrata.

(1)Rasantara vakrata: When there is a departure from the dominant Rasa of the source or the original story; and, when the poet,  in his own modified version of the theme deliberately abandons the original Rasa;  and , substitute it with another Rasa , endowing  a fresh beauty to the whole narration  of his work till its conclusion (nirvahaa),  is regarded as Rasantara vakrata

Rasāntarea ramyea yatra nirvahaa bhavet (Vjiv_4.16)

(2) Samapana-vakrata:  The poet, in his wisdom, might opt to deviate from the way the original story ended. He might choose to conclude (Samapanam) his version of the same story with a different sort of Rasa, to delight the readers. It transforms a rather depressive ending of the original story into heart-warming ’happy-ending’. This is said to be one of the inventive ways (Vakrata) of beautifying the nature of the whole composition; and, bringing hope and cheer into one’s life –

itihāsaika-adeśena prabandhasya samāpanam.. kurvota yatra sukavi sā vicitrāsya vakratā (Vjiv_4.18-19)

(3) Katha-viccheda-vakrata :  Supposing , the even flow of the original story is been broken (viccheda) ; and, its Rasa (aesthetic import – vicchinna virasā kathā)  is impaired by the intrusion of an incident whose connection with the main story is not quite significant ; the poet might , then, in his modified version, give such an  incident a new turn so that it attains importance in maintaining unbroken course of events  ; and, it  eventually  becomes  a key factor  in  the  successful conclusion of the main story . Such a transformation of a stray incident into a substantive one; binding the poet’s own version into a cohesive narration; and investing the whole composition with novelty, is recognized as Katha-viccheda-vakrata.

(Prabandhasyā anubadhnāti navā kāmapi vakratāmVjiv_4.21)

(4) Anusangika –phala-vakrata:  The Hero (Nayaka) of an Epic story or a classical Drama is, usually, focused on achieving his goal; and, marches towards it, despite several intrusions, with a single-minded devotion (yatraika phala sapatti samudyukto api Nāyaka). And, along his way, he might also accomplish some accidental or incidental (Anusangika) victories that eventually bear fruits (Phala); and, enhance his glory

sva māhātmya camatkārāt sā parāpyasya vakratā (Vjiv_4.23)

(6) Tulya-katha-vakrata: The poet could skilfully weave into the principal theme of his composition, the stories relating to the subsidiary characters; and, their stories   could run parallel (Tulya-katha) to the life-events of the Hero (Nayaka) , the main character – tat tulya pratipattiu (Vjiv_4.22)

(7) Namakarana vakrata: A poet can also display his artistic skill in assigning fresh and attractive titles (Namakarana) to the main work (pradhāna-savidhānā) as also to each of its Acts or Chapters (akanāmn). Such pithy and eye-catching titles could capture the essence and the nature of the events that are about to unfold there under

pradhāna-savidhānā-akanāmn āpi kurute kavi  (Vjiv_4.24)

design rangoli

Imagination in Indian Poetics’ in ‘An Introduction to Indian Poetics’– Edited by Dr. Raghavan and Nagendra 

Kuntaka’s remarkable classic Vakroktijivita is a sustained attempt to define modes of Vakrokti as manifested in the works of great poets. But, while the Rasa theory and Dhvani theory of Indian poetics are relatively well known, the same cannot be said of Vakrokti, which has not received the attention it merits. But, actually, Vakrokti deserves closer scrutiny because of its consistent orientation towards poetic art; and, also because of its contemporary relevance as an effective tool in the interpretation of a work of art , in its own right.

 Kuntaka takes the stand that one has to analyze the obliquity manifested in the poetic language in order to fathom the creativity of the poet. The modern stylisticians also take a similar stand, defining style as a deviation from the norm; and, analyzing linguistic expressions to find out the nature and extent of the deviations literary language manifests.

 However, while the methods followed in modern stylistics are more or less mechanical, it is remarkable that Kuntaka does not for once forget the fact that it is the creative imagination of the poet which fashions the obliquity of the he poetic language. He also reiterates that obliquity is not an end in itself; it is aimed at creating aesthetic enjoyment in the discerning reader through the strikingness Vaicitrya .

Prof. T N Srikantaiah rightly points out that Kuntaka’s Vakroktijivita is nothing but a treatise on the function of imagination in poetry; and Vakrokti, is a linguistic manifestation of the basic obliquity of the poet’s creative process.


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.




 Continued in

Next Part



Sources and References

  1. Vakrokti Jivita of Rajanaka Kuntaka: Edited and commented by Prof. Susil Kumar De
  2. Sanskrit Poetics as a Study of Aesthetics by Prof. Susil Kumar De
  3. The Concept of Vakrokti in Sanskrit Poetics: a Reappraisal by Suryanarayana Hegde
  4. Vakrokti and Dhvani Controversies about Theory of Poetry in Indian Tradition by Bimal Krishna Matilal
  5. 5. A Comparative Study of the Indian Poetics and the Western Poetics by Mohit Kumar Ray
1 Comment

Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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One response to “Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Nine

  1. Nalin Joshi

    January 2, 2016 at 4:02 am

    Sir, My daughter has given birth to a girl child in US. My son in low has decided on naming her KAVYASYA . On google I found this site while searching the meaning . Please enlighten us. We have limitation in understanding the literature language.


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