Monthly Archives: September 2015

Bodhayana the Vrttikara – Part One

Baudhayana- Bodhayana

1.1. Baudhayana is a very celebrated name in the long line of scholars of very ancient India. There have been many eminent persons in various fields of study going by the name of Baudhayana. It is also said that Bodhayana is the Southern form of Baudhayana. Further, the name Baudhayana itself stands for ‘descendent of Budha or Bodha’.

1.2. To start with, there is a single reference to one Jara-Bodha in the Rig Veda: Jara-bodha tad vividdhi vise-vise yagniyaya stoman rudraya   drisikam (RV 1.27.10). He is praised as a hero of high knowledge and wide fame; and, one who awakens others.  The term Bodha is also used in the sense of illumination, awakening. Thus, it is deduced that the name Jara Bodha (Bodha the elder)   might refer to a sage who was alert in his ripe old age. And as an adjective, Jara Bodha gives the meaning ‘attending to the invocation’.

1.3. Bodha is also the name of a Risi in the Mantra Patha (2. 16, 14). And, Budhi-putri is the name of a female descendent of Bodha. She is mentioned in the last Vamsa (list of teachers) of Madhyamdina recession of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (6. 4, 31) as the pupil of the Rishi Salankayaniputra.

1.4. There is also mention of Prati-Bodha along with Bodha in two passages of the Atharvaveda (AV: 5.30.10; and 8.1.3). Prati-Bodha, it is said, refers to a Rishi possessed with ‘mystic intelligence’.

Kena Upanishad (Section 2.4 ) states that one attains the realization (matam) the Oneness  of all that permeates and pervades the whole of existence by the inner awakening , a kind of intuition or  reflective perception (pratibodha-viditam matam ).

Pratibodha-viditam matam amrtatvam hi vindate I Atmana vindate viryam vidyaya vindate amrtam /4/

The names Bodha and Prati- Bodha obviously refer to persons having alert, watchful mind and a sort of intuition.

1.5. And, there is also a Prati-Bodha-Putra who is said to be the son of a female descendent of Prati Bodha. She is mentioned as a teacher in the Aitareya Aranyaka (3 1, 5) and Sankyayana Aranyaka (7.13).

Baudhayana-s as Sutrakara-s

2.1. In the later Vedic literature, there are references to Baudhayana as the earliest of the Sutrakaras; his successors being Bharadwaja, Apastamba and Hiranyakeshin.

2.2. In the development of Vedic lore, the Vedanga-s (the limbs of the Vedas) plays a very important role. There are six Angas or explanatory limbs, to the Vedas: the Siksha and Vyakarana of Panini; the Chhandas of Pingalacharya; the Nirukta of Yaskacharya; the Jyotisha of Garga; and, the Kalpas authored by various Rishis.

Regarding the Kalpa, each of the four divisions of the Vedas has its own special Kalpa Sutra.  They are meant to guide the daily life and conduct of those affiliated to its division.

2.3. There are several Schools and traditions of Kalpa Sutras; and are ascribed to various Rishis. Among the Kalpa Sutras, the Asvalayana, Sankhyana and the Sambhavya belong to the Rig-Veda. The Mashaka, Latyayana, Drahyayana, Gobhila and Khadirai belong to the Sama-Veda. The Katyayana and Paraskarai belong to the Sukla Yajur-Veda. The Apastamba, Hiranyakesi, Bodhayana, Bharadvaja, Manava, Vaikhanasa and the Kathaka belong to the Krishna Yajur-Veda. The Vaitana and the Kaushika belong to the Atharva-Veda.

3.1. These Kalpa Sutras are generally divided into three or four divisions: Srauta, Grihya and Dharma; and when it is divided into four divisions, the Sulbha Sutra is included.

Generally, the set of Kalpa Sutra texts include: Grihya-sutra (relating to domestic rituals); Srauta-sutra (relating to formal Yajnas); and, Dharma-sutra (relating to code of conduct, ethics, customs and laws).

3.2. The Sulba-sutra (derived out of the root ‘ Sulb’ meaning ‘ to measure or to mete out’) relates to mathematical calculations involved in construction of Yajna altars (vedi, chiti) , Kamya Agnis (fire places) and platforms); and specification of the implements used in Yajna (yajna-ayudha).

3.3. Thus, Kalpa sutras by their nature are supplementary texts affiliated to the main division of a Veda.

4.1. The Sulba Sutra needs special mention. The Sulbha sutras are the oldest geometrical treaties which represent in coded form. It represents the much older and traditional Indian mathematics. The Sulba Sutras are considered to date from 800 to 200 BCE. There are four, named after their authors: Baudhayana (800 BCE), Manava (750 BCE), Apastamba (600 BCE), and Katyayana (200 BCE).

[Please check: ]

4.2. The oldest among them is said to be Baudhayana Sulbha sutra.  It is believed to have been compiled by or composed by Baudhayana.  Or, more precisely, it belonged to the School of Bodhayana or was compiled by the descendents or followers of Bodhayana. It belongs to Taittiriya Samhita of Krishna Yajurveda; and is the 19th Prashna or Chapter of the Baudhayana Srauta Sutra, the oldest sutra of Taittiriya recession.

Sutras ascribed to Baudhayana

5.1. Apart from Sulba Sutra, the list of sages associated with Srauta, Grihya and Dharma Sutras, includes Baudhayana . He is regarded the earliest of the Sutrakaras; the first to compose the Kalpa Sutras of the Taittiriya Samhita He was followed by Bharadwaja, Apastamba and Hiranyakeshin.

5.2. Thus, the name Bodhayana or Baudhayana (who originally was said to belong to Kanva Shakha of Shukla Yajurveda)  is associated with each of the Kalpa Sutras classified under the Taittiriya Shakha of Krishna Yajurveda. The Sutras ascribed to Baudhayana are six in number: the Srauta Sutra; the Karmanta Sutra; the Dvividha Sutra; the Grihya Sutra; the Dharma Sutra; and the Sulbha Sutra.

Age of the Sutras associated with Baudhayana

6.1. As regards the age of the Sutras associated with Baudhayana:

(a) Among the Srauta Sutras the Baudhayana Srauta Sutra, the one composed by Baudhayana or his followers,   is considered the oldest. Some say, in all probability, it is older than some of the Brahmanas, such as the Gopatha Brahmana. And, it is regarded as one of the most important texts of the late Vedic period in general.  They are among the earliest texts of the sutra genre, perhaps compiled in the 8th to 7th centuries BCE

(b) And, the Baudhayana Grihya Sutra is oldest Sutra of the Taittiriya ;  and,  it  mentions  Kanva  Baudhayana  as the maker of the Pravachana  , while it names  Apastamba , Vaikhanasa,  and Satyasadhi  Hiranyakeshin  as   Sutra-karas,  the compilers of Sutras  . Among them, Bodhayana the Pravachana-kara is respected as a teacher par excellence, and as the originator of the whole system of instructions among its followers. Bodhayana the Pravachana-kara is placed above the Sutra-karas, the compilers of the Sutras.

(c) Dharma sutras of Gautama, Apastamba, Baudhayana and Vashita are assigned to 600 to 300 BCE.

(d) The Sulbha Sutras of Baudhayana are placed around 800 BCE. It deals with Vedic Geometry and is said to contain the first use of what has come to be known as Pythagorean theorem , quadratic equations ; finding a circle whose area is the same as that of a square (the reverse of squaring the circle); as also the calculation of the square-root of 2 correct to five decimal places; and so on.

[ dīrghasyākaayā rajjuh pārśvamānī, tiryadam mānī, cha yatpthagbhute kurutastadubhayā karoti

A rope stretched along the length of the diagonal produces an area which the vertical and horizontal sides make together.]

[Please also check:] ]

6.2. Thus, the Sutras ascribed to Bodhayana or Baudhayana are spread over long centuries generally accepted as ranging from 800 BCE to 300 BCE. These texts cannot obviously be the works of a single person, but could be the descendents and followers of Baudhayana School or tradition.

[The noted scholar R L Kashyap in his Date of the Rigveda  argues: The Shulba Sūtrā texts of Baudhāyana, Ashvalāyana etc., can be dated 3100-2000 BCE; 1900 BCE is the drying up of Sarasvati and the end of Vedic age. The Vedic civilisation ended, as indicated by the Harappa ruins, due to ecological causes, draughts and desertification. There was no invasion by anyone.]

The other Baudhayana –s

7.1. Away from Baudhayana the Sutrakara, down the line, there were numerous others who went by the name of Baudhayana or Bodhayana. For instance:

(a) A certain Bodhayana makes his appearance in the Mahabharata.  In an interesting episode , Bodhayana a Rishi happens to  meet Krishna in the dead of the night  on the battle field ; and requests Krishna to name after him (Bodhayana)  the Amavasya (no moon night) that occurs one day prior to the normal Amavasya .  On the Bodhayana Amavasya, generally, those who follow Bodhayana Sutras offer oblation (tarpana)  to their  departed ancestors (Pitris) .

(b) Further away from all these, there is a Bodhayana in the 6th -7th century AD. He is said to be the author of a farce or a satirical comedy titled Bhagavadajjukam (The saint-courtesan) which hilariously pictures the confusions and absurd situations that follow when the souls of a hermit and a courtesan get interchanged. The monk and his transformation as a courtesan by the exchange of souls give enough scope for amusement as also to ridicule the hypocrisy  and to  puncture the vanity that shrouds the ‘high society’. The work also exposes the practices of sham mendicants and lampoons the degeneration of the contemporary society.

Bhagavadajjukam of this Bodhayana is one of the earliest farces and it is often clubbed with the Mattavilasa-prahasana of the Pallava King Mahendravarman since both the works are mentioned in the Mamndur inscription of the Pallava ruler.

Bodhayana the Vrttikara

8.1. But, the present article is not about any of the Baudhayana-s or Bodhayana-s mentioned above. The Bodhayana about whom we are about to discuss is the Bodhayana the Vrttikara. He is the celebrated author of the Vrtti (a short gloss explaining the Sutras  in a little more, extended manner, but not as extensively as a Bhashya, a full blown commentary) on the Brahma-sutras, the guidebook to understanding Vedanta. His Vrtti is of cardinal importance to the history of Sri Vaishnava philosophy.

8.2. Not much is known for certain about Bodhayana, other than his authorship of the Vritti.  However, a tradition holds that Bodhayana was a direct disciple of Vyasa. We do not know that for certain. But, whatever be the case, Bodhayana the Vrttikara was certainly a great teacher of Vedanta; and is always referred to with great respect.

8.3.  And, in any case, he was not one among the many Bodhayana-s who were associated with Srauta, Grihya, Dharma and Sulba Sutras which are surmised to range between 800 BCE and 600 BCE. Bodhayana’s Vrtti is a commentary on Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra; and the Brahma Sutra, in turn, is dated around 200 BCE. Some scholars opine that Bodhayana the Vrttikara may have lived in or around the fifth century AD.

Bodhayana- Upavarsha

9.1. There is much debate concerning the relation between Bodhayana and Upavarsha another Vrttikara.   There are even suggestions which make out that Bodhayana and Upavarsha were the names of one and the same person.

[ For more on Upavarsha the Vrttikara , please check:]

(a). A  Vedanta text of a much later period Prapancha-hrdaya mentions that Bodhayana wrote a very detailed commentary titled Krtakoti on  all the twenty parts of Mimamsa, covering both the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa (Mimamsa sutra 12 parts and Samkarshana-kanda 4 parts , all ascribed to Jaimini; together with  the Brahma sutra 4 parts ascribed to Badarayana). It was also said that the commentary on Brahma sutra (Brahma–sutra Vrtti), in particular, was quite detailed. Since the commentary covers both karma and jnana kanda-s, Bodhayana was respected as an adept in both aspects of Mimamsa.

It was said that these three works were unified under a title called Krtakoti. Fearing that the great length of the commentary would cause it be cast into oblivion, Upavarsha somewhat abridged it.

Tad grantha bahulya –bhayad upekshya kimchid samsksiptam Upavarshena krtam (Prapanchahrdaya .45)

And later, it is said, Devasvamin further abridged Upavarsha’s abridged version.

All these works of Bodhayana are dispersed and lost; and none is available now. Since Sri Ramanuja quoted from Bodhayana’s commentary on Brahma sutra it could be taken that the rare fragments of those texts were extant until his time (11th century). But, his commentaries on Mimamsa sutra were lost much earlier; and had passed out of existence by the time of Kumarila Bhatta (Ca. 700 A D).

According to this version Upavarsha was a successor to Bodhayana.

[That doesn’t look quite plausible since Upavarsha is generally dated around 400 BCE and Bodhayana the Vrttikara is placed around 5th century A D]

(b) . There are versions that identify Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

There are also traditions which recognize Krtakoti as the name of an author. According to Avanti-sundari-katha of Dandin, Krtakoti was the name of Upavarsha who was also known as Bodhayana.   And, also according to Manimekhalai, Krtakoti was a scholar of Mimamsa and was reckoned along with Vyasa and Jaimini. And, in the Sanskrit lexicon Vaijayanti, Krtakoti-kavi is said to be another name of Upavarsha]

(c) Apart from that, some scholars believed that Bodhayana and Upavarsha were the two names of one and the same person; and Bodhayana might have been the Gotra name of Upavarsha.

The great scholar Sri Vedanta Desika (14th century) in his Tattvatika, a commentary on Sri Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashya, identified Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

Vrttikarasya Bodhayanasyiva hi Upavarsha iti syan nama

It is surmised that Sri Vedanta Desika might have come to that conclusion because ‘Bodhayana’ might have been the Gotra of Upavarsha. The other reason could be that the Vedanta scholars frequently referred to a Vrttikara, without, however, mentioning his name. In the process, both Upavarsha and Bodhayana were each addressed as Vrttikara. There might have been a mix-up.

In any case, Sri Vedanta Desika does not cite any authority or a tradition in support of statement.

(d) Sri Ramanuja, who reckons Bodhayana as being the foremost among his Purava-acharya-s (Past Masters of his tradition Viz. Bodhayana, Tanka, Dramida, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Baruchi) does not, anywhere, equate Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

(e) Another reason for not identifying Bodhayana with Upavarsha is the stand taken by their followers on the question of the unity or otherwise of the Mimamsa as a whole.

It is said; Bodhayana laid equal importance of Jnana and Karma Kandas; as   the two together constituted the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva).   He held the view that directly after completing the rituals one should take up the investigation into Brahman, which is the study of Vedanta. His position was coined by the later Vedanta Schools as jnana-karma-samucchaya-vada, the doctrine that synthesizes jnana and karma.  This was also the position taken by Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya.

 Sri Sankara, on the other hand, did not accord much significance to rituals, naturally, tended to differ from Bodhayana.

Bodhayana’s position also meant that Purva and Uttara Mimamsa are two sections of the same text.

But, Sri Sankara’s basic position was that the Mimamsa Sutra which commences with the statement  Atato Dhrama jijnasa is quite separate from the Brahma Sutra commencing with Atato Brahmajijnasa.  Sri Sankara’s Shatra-aramba refers to the beginning of the Brahma sutra; and not to Mimamsa that covered both Purva and UttaraSri Sankara presents his commentary as a sort of Mimamsa by calling it as Vedanta-mimamsa. He does not use the terms Purva Mimamsa or Uttara -Mimamsa. He did not seem to regard Brahma Sutra as a latter part of the same text.

Sri Sankara maintained that the two systems are addressed to different class of persons. Karma-kanda consist injunctions to act in order to achieve certain results. But, liberation is not a product or a thing to be achieved. Jnana-kanda is about Brahman that already exists; it pertains to the ultimate purpose which is true knowledge of Self, and it is addressed to one who is intent on liberation.   Each section of Veda is valid in its own sphere; but, the two sections cannot logically be bound together.

Sri Sankara generally followed the explanations provided by Upavarsha. And, these were not the same as the views attributed to Bodhayana.  Naturally, these led to doctrinal differences between Sri Ramanuja and Sri Sankara.

(e) .Thus, the Advaita School believes that Bodhayana is different from Upavarsha.  That is also quite possible because of the vast time difference between the two. While Upavarsha may belong to about the fourth century BCE, Bodhayana the Vrttikara may have lived in the fifth or the sixth century AD.

It, therefore, seems safe to assume that Upavarsha, Krtakoti and Bodhayana as being three different persons.

In the next part, let’s talk about the thoughts of Bodhayana as reflected in the fragments quoted in Sri Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashya.



 In the

 Next Part

Sources and References

  1. 1. Vedic index of names and subjects II (i912) by Arthur Anthony MacDonnell
  2. 2. A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part 2by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  3. The Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 3: Advaita Vedanta Up to … edited by Karl H. Potter
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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha


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About Upavarsha … Part Three

Continued from Part Two


 Upavarsha – Bodhayana

1.1. Sri Sankara, in his commentary on Brahma sutras, adopts a particular way of presentation. On each subject (vishaya), he first gives one interpretation and then follows it up by the other interpretation. It is explained; the first one represents the opposing views (purva-paksha) of ‘others’ (apare); and, it is meant to be rejected.  But, Sri Sankara does not quote the opposing views nor does he mention the name of the opponent. He merely sums up, raises them as the views of ‘others’, and finally dismisses them. Sri Sankara’s own views are presented in the later set of interpretation.

1.2. In contrast, Sri Sankara whenever he refers to the views of Upavarsha not only he mentions the Vrttikara by name but also treats him with great respect, as Bhagavan. Sri Sankara in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53) quotes the views of Upavarsha as being authoritative.  Following his lead, the latter Sub-commentators of Advaita School, Anandajnana and Govindananda, recognize Upavarsha as the most eminent Vrttikara.

1.3. Similarly, in the Mimamsa School also, Sabarasvamin a noted Mimamsaka, in his Bhashya (Sabara bhashya) on the fifth sutra of Mimamsa sutra of Jaimini refers to a Vrttikara prior to his (Sabara’s) time, without, of course, mentioning his name. At the same time, in his Bhashya on the same sutra (1.1.5), Sabarasvamin refers to Upavarsha by name addressing him with the epithet ‘Bhagavan’. It, therefore, seems reasonable to conclude that the Vrttikara referred to by Sabara was not Upavarsha.  And yet; it is not clear who that Vrttikara was.

[An unfortunate feature of the traditional texts is that they do not mention the names of the old teachers-commentators whose opinions are being quoted. Such practice might have been an idiom of a well-understood literary etiquette. But, it has led to needless debates and speculations.  Very often, it is left to a commentator who comes perhaps a century or more later to tell us that (let’s say) Sri Sankara actually meant such-and–such commentator when he said ‘someone ‘or ‘others’. Similar is the position with regard to those commentators that are referred to as ‘Vrttikara ‘or ‘Vakyakara’ without mentioning their names or the titles of their texts.  There is therefore always an element of skepticism associated with such sub-commentaries. ]

1.4. The Advaita scholar, Govindananda in his Ratna-prabha explains that the ‘others’ (apare) referred by Sri Sankara in his Bhashya does actually, stands for the Vrttikara Bodhayana.  Another Advaita scholar Anandagiri agrees with this identification.

1.5. The Advaita School, thus, believes that Upavarsha and Bodhayana are two different persons.  And, the other dimension of the debate is that many wonder whether the terms ‘others ‘or ‘some’ truly refer to Bodhayana. That debate is still not concluded.



2.1. The mention of Bodhayana in this and similar other contexts give rise to number of questions such as: Who was this Bodhayana? What were his views? Why Bodhayana and Upavarsha are often mentioned in the same breath? Do the names Bodhayana and Upavarsha refer to one and the same person; or they two different persons? And so on.

2.2. Bodhayana is a very celebrated name in the long line of scholars of very ancient India. There have been many eminent persons in various fields of study going by the name of Bodhayana. It is also said that Bodhayana is the southern form of Baudhayana. Further, the name Baudhayana itself stands for ‘descendent of Budha or Bodha’. The linage of Bodhayana stretches at least from about 800 BCE to 200 BCE.

But for the limited purpose of our discussion here, let us confine to Bodhayana the Vrttikara.  His commentary on the Brahma sutra was recognized as an authority by many teachers of the later period, particularly by Sri Ramanuja.

2.3. And again, not much is known for certain about Bodhayana, other than his authorship of the Vritti (commentary) on the Brahma-sutras, the guidebook to understanding Vedanta. This Vritti is of cardinal importance to the history of Sri Vaishnava philosophy, because Sri Ramanuja mentioned that he followed the interpretations of Bodhayana while commenting on the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana.

In the opening verse of Sri Bhashya, Sri Ramanuja mentions: ‘The previous masters have abridged the detailed commentary on Brahma sutra which had been composed by Bhagavad Bodhayana. The words of the sutra will be explained in accordance with their views.

(Bhagavad Bhodayana kritam vistirnam Brahma-sutra – vrttim purvacharyah samskipuh I tan-mata-anusarena sutraksarani vyakhyasyante II)

2.4. In the Sri Bhashya of Sri Ramanuja, Bodhayana is generally addressed as Vrttikara, the commentator. He quotes the views of the Vrttikara Bodhayana seven times.

The interpretations of Bodhayana are traditionally respected by the followers of Sri Ramanuja. And, their tradition regards Bodhayana second only to the author of Brahma sutra (Badarayana). Yet; the commentary of Bodhayana is not extant today, apart from its fragments quoted by Sri Ramanuja. Sri Ramanuja quoted the above seven comments of the Vrttikara Bodhayana. And, these are his only words that have survived.

Even though they are few in number, each of them expresses a special point of Bodhayana’s thought.

2.5. As regards time of Bodhayana, the scholars surmise that the Vrttikara may have lived in the fifth century (?) A D.



3.1.   As mentioned earlier, the Advaita School believes that Bodhayana is different from Upavarsha.  That is also quite possible because of the vast time difference between the two. While Upavarsha may belong to about the fourth century BCE, Bodhayana the Vrttikara may have lived in the fifth or the sixth century AD.

3.2. However, there are very interesting references and comments linking Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

(a) A  Vedanta text of a much later period Prapancha-hrdaya mentions that Bodhayana wrote a very detailed commentary titled Krtakoti on  all the twenty parts of Mimamsa, covering both the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa (Mimamsa sutra 12 parts and Samkarshana-kanda 4 parts – ascribed to Jaimini; together with  the Brahma sutra 4 parts ascribed to Badarayana). It was also said that the commentary on Brahma sutra (Brahma–sutra Vrtti), in particular, was quite detailed.

It was said that these three works were unified under a title called Krtakoti. Fearing that the great length of the commentary would cause it be cast into oblivion, Upavarsha somewhat abridged it.

Tad grantha bahulya –bhayad upekshya kimchid samsksiptam Upavarshena krtam (Prapanchahrdaya .45)

And later, it is said, Devasvamin further abridged Upavarsha’s abridged version.

But, all those works ascribed Bodhayana are dispersed and lost; and none is available now. Since Sri Ramanuja quoted from the condensed version of Bodhayana’s commentary on Brahma sutra, it could be said the rare fragments of those texts were extant until his time (11th century). But, Bodhayana commentaries on Mimamsa sutra, if any, were lost much earlier; and had passed out of existence by the time of Kaumarila Bhatta (8th century).

(b) There is also a tradition which recognizes Krtakoti as the name of an author. According to Avanti-sundari-katha of Dandin, Krtakoti was the name of Upavarsha who was also known as Bodhayana.   And, also according to Manimekhalai, Krtakoti was a scholar of Mimamsa and was reckoned along with Vyasa and Jaimini. And, in the Sanskrit lexicon Vaijayanti, Krtakoti-kavi is said to be another name of Upavarsha]

(c) There is another complication. Some scholars believe that Bodhayana and Upavarsha were the two names of one and the same person; and Bodhayana might have been the Gotra name of Upavarsha. The great scholar Sri Vedanta Desika (14th century) in his Tattvatika, a commentary on Sri Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashya, identified Bodhayana with Upavarsha- Vrttikarasya Bodhayanasyiva hi Upavarsha iti syan nama.

It is surmised that Sri Vedanta Desika might have come to conclusion because ‘Bodhayana’ might have been the Gotra of Upavarsha. The other reason could be that the Vedanta scholars frequently referred to a Vrttikara, without, however, mentioning his name. In the process, both Upavarsha and Bodhayana were each addressed as Vrttikara. There might have been a mix-up. In any case, Sri Vedanta Desika does not cite any authority or a tradition in support of statement.

(d) Sri Ramanuja reckons Bodhayana as being the foremost among his Purava-acharya-s (Past Masters of his tradition) Viz. Bodhayana, Tanka, Dramida, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Baruchi. But, he does not, anywhere, equate Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

(e) Another reason for not identifying Bodhayana with Upavarsha is the stand taken by their followers on the question of the unity or otherwise of the Mimamsa as a whole.

It is said; Bodhayana laid equal importance of Jnana and Karma Kandas; as   the two together constituted the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva).   He held the view that directly after completing the rituals one should take up the investigation into Brahman, which is the study of Vedanta. His position was coined by the later Vedanta Schools as jnana-karma-samucchaya-vada, the doctrine that synthesizes jnana and karma.  This was also the position taken by Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya.

 Sri Sankara, on the other hand, did not accord much significance to rituals, naturally, tended to differ from Bodhayana.

(f) Bodhayana’s position also meant that Purva and Uttara Mimamsa are two sections of the same text.

But, Sri Sankara’s basic position was that the Mimamsa Sutra which commences with the statement Atato Dhrama jijnasa is quite separate from the Brahma Sutra commencing with Atato Brahmajijnasa.  Sri Sankara’s Shatra-aramba refers to the beginning of the Brahma sutra; and not to Mimamsa that covered both Purva and Uttara. Sri Sankara presents his commentary as a sort of Mimamsa by calling it as Vedanta-mimamsa. He does not use the terms Purva Mimamsa or Uttara -Mimamsa. He did not seem to regard Brahma Sutra as a latter part of the same text.

Sri Sankara maintained that the two systems are addressed to different class of persons. Karma-kanda consist injunctions to act in order to achieve certain results. But, liberation is not a product or a thing to be achieved. Jnana-kanda is about Brahman that already exists; it pertains to the ultimate purpose which is true knowledge of Self, and it is addressed to one who is intent on liberation.   Each section of Veda is valid in its own sphere; but, the two sections cannot logically be bound together.

Sri Sankara generally followed the explanations provided by Upavarsha. And, these were not the same as the views attributed to Bodhayana.  Naturally, these led to doctrinal differences between Sri Ramanuja and Sri Sankara.

(g) It, therefore, seems safe to assume that Upavarsha, Krtakoti and Bodhayana as being three different persons.


Sphota – Varna

4.1. Sri Sankara, in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya, mentions Upavarsha on two occasions. First, in the commentary on the Sutra at 3.3.53 which discusses the existence of Atman (We have talked about this aspect in the earlier part of this article).

And, the second, in a passage   comments on the Sutra which deals with the doctrine of words (Varna Vada). At the end of the discussion, he states: Bhagavan Upavarsha says the words (Pada) are none other than the various letter-sounds (Varna). He agrees with Upavarsha. Before that, he goes through the opposing view (Purva-paksha) put forward by a Sphotavadin a votary of the Sphota theory.

4.2. Sri Sankara, of course, does not usally name the Purvapakshin the one who hold the opposing view point. Accordingly, in the commentary on the Sutra in question also he does not name or specify the Sphotavadin who in the present case is the Purvapakshin. But his commentators identify the Sphotavadin with the Grammarian (Vyakarana-kara) Bhartrhari who generally is referred by the epithet

5.1. Bhartrhari (c. 450-510 CE?) was a Grammarian and also a philosopher. He was well versed in the study of Mimamsa and Vedanta. In the citation to the  later editions of the text Bhartrhari  is celebrated as a great Grammarian ( Maha-vaiyyakarana) , Great poet (Maha-kavi) , Yogi (Maha Yogi) , a great warrior  (Maharaja) and the ruler of Avanti (Avantisvara)  who composed Vakyapadiya   (iti Sri Bhartrhari virachitam Vakyapadiyam ).

5.2. In his celebrated work the Vakyapadiya (a treatise on sentences and words) Bhartrhari expounded the Sphota-vada (doctrine of Sphota) which had its origins in the germ-ideas mentioned in ancient texts.

6.1. The term ‘Sphota’ does not easily translate into English, as it usually happens.  The Sphota is derived from the root ‘sphut‘ which means ‘to burst’, but it also describes what ’is revealed’ or ’is made explicit’. Sphota can also refer to the abstract or conceptual form of an audible word. Sphota is somewhat similar to the Ancient Greek concept of logos or Word.

[ The Sphota theory is one of the significant contributions of India to the philosophy of Grammar. The Sphota concept was developed over long periods; but, it was fully put forward by Bharthrhari .

The earliest historical figure who dealt with linguistic study seems to be Sakalya, the author of the Pada-paatha of Rig-Veda, and who is mentioned by Panini. Sakalya is credited with breaking down the Samhita (the original text of the verses) into words, identifying the separate elements of compound words. Later, Brihad-devata attributed to Saunaka said that a sentence is made up of words; and the words, in turn, are made of phonemes (Varna).

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


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

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

 Bharthrhari maintained that the primary function of the words was to combine into a sentence, in its complete utterance, to give forth a meaning.  The sentence with its words is to be taken as an integral unit; and, not as a clutter of fragments. Bharthrhari argued that for the purpose of linguistic analysis it might be fine to split the sentence into words, then into the roots and suffixes of the words, syntaxes etc. Such analytical splitting might be useful for study of language and its grammar.

But, such fragmented approach is surely not suitable in the real world where men and women live, communicate and transact. In a speech-situation where the speaker communicates ones ideas and the listener grasps his/her speech, it is necessary that the utterance has to be complete. The speaker communicates and the listener understands his/her utterance as a single unit. The listener grasps it as a whole; and the understanding is like an instantaneous flash of insight (prathibha). Just as the meaning derived from the sentence is unitary, the symbol (the sentence) which signifies it is also an integral unit.  Its meaning is experienced, known through perception. This, rather roughly put, is the concept called Sphota – the sentence being taken as an integral symbol.

Let’s say, when a painter conceives a picture in his mind and gives it a substance on the canvass he does use variety of strokes, different colors, varying shades etc. But, that does not mean one has to look for individual strokes shades etc. or as a permutation of those that went in to make the picture. The viewer, rightly, takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral unit.

 Bharthrhari says those who know the language well, listen to the sentence. And those who do not know the language may hear words only as sound bits.  Sphota in essence is the real experience of listening to a sentence as a whole and grasping its meaning through perception.]

6.2. In his Sarva-darshana-samgraha, Sri Madhava (generally accepted as the pre-ascetic name of Sri Vidyaranya who was the Jagadguru of Sri Sringeri Mutt from 1380 to 1386) describes Sphota in two ways. The first as: that from which the meaning bursts forth or shines forth. And, the second as: an entity that is manifested by the spoken letters and sounds. Sphota may, thus, be conceived as a two sided coin. On the one side it is manifested by the word-sound; and, on the other it simultaneously reveals word meaning.

6.3. In philosophical terms, Sphota may be described as the transcendent ground on which the spoken syllables (Varna) and conveyed meanings (Artha) find their unity as word or Sabda. To put it in another way, that which expresses a meaning; or the process of expressing a meaning through a word could be called Sphota.

7.1. Bhartrhari deals with Sphota at two levels: one on the metaphysical plane and the other on the empirical plane. . Sphota refers to the ‘non-differentiated language principle’. This gave rise to the theory of “word monism – Sabda-advaita. The theory is that Brahman first manifested itself as Sound and then as form. The Sphota, Sabda-Brahman, manifested as Logos or Word, is the power through which the Lord manifests in the universe. Liberation is achieved when one attains unity with that ‘supreme word principle’. Within this theory, consciousness and thought are intertwined; and Grammar becomes a path to liberation. Sphota-vada is a monistic (Advaita) philosophy based on Sanskrit grammar (as per Swami Vivekananda’s   explanation).

7.2. At the empirical level, Bhartrhari is concerned with the process of communicating meaning. He deals with the word and the sound distinctions; the word meaning; the unitary nature of the whole sentence; the word object connection; and the levels of speech, etc. His focus is on cognition and language.

8.1. Bhartrhari explains : If the letters  float away and disappear the instant we utter them and if each sound is replaced by another in quick succession, then one can hardly perceive the word  or a sentence as a whole. And the question that comes up is- then, how does one grasp the meaning of a word or of a sentence?

Bhartrhari goes on to say that a sentence is not a mere collection of words or an ordered series of words. A sentence-Sphota is the primary unit of meaning. A sentence is a sequence-less, part-less whole that gets expressed or manifested in a sequential and temporal utterance. A word or sentence is grasped as a unity by intuition (pratibha). According to Bhartrhari, Sphota is an auditory image of word. It is indivisible and without inner-sequence.

8.2. Bhartrhari explains that initially the word exists in the mind of the speaker as a unity, but is manifested as a sequence of different sounds, giving raise to the appearance of differentiation. Bhartrhari states: “All difference presupposes a unity”; and where there is a duality there is an identity pervading it. Otherwise one cannot be related to the other or each would constitute a world by itself.

8.3. For Bhartrhari, Sphota is the real substratum, proper linguistic unit, which is identical with its meaning. Language is  the vehicle of meaning or of thought. Thought anchors language and the language anchors thought. In this way, there are no essential differences between a linguistic unit and its meaning or the thought it conveys.

[Bhartrhari argues that the words do not designate the objects in the external world directly (sakshat), but indirectly through the intervention (upadana) of universals which are mental, and which reside in words. Universals which are thus intimately connected with the language and mind, on the one hand, and with the whole of existence, on the other, constitute the basis of our knowledge of the external world.]

9.1. However, Upavarsha rejected the Sphota-vada; and, argued all this talk of unity of meaning etc. is largely an illusion, for it is the words, its articulated elements (Varna) that make the unity.  By rejecting the Sphota -theory ,  Upavarsha , in effect , dismissed its notion that  every act of creation and every sound that issues forth in the universe is the duplication of the initial Big Bang. When we utter a sound or word the Big Bang is duplicating itself in our mind.

(For that reason, some Western scholars call Upavarsha the Fred Hoyle of ancient India.)

9.2. Upavarsha, in turn, came up with his theory of   Varna-vada; according to which the smallest phonetic units that can carry the meaning (phonemes =Varna-s) alone are real constituents of a word.  He said: what is called as a ‘word’ (Sabda) is its individual letters – (for instance the word ‘gauh’ – cow is made of ‘g’, ’au’ and ‘h’). He decaled sounds are only Varna -s; and, there is no need for a Sphota.

9.3. The position so taken by  Upavarsha opposes the Sphota doctrine (Sphota Vada) which is based in the philosophical principle which  in effect says that ‘gauh’ is the essence of the word; and, its individual letter-sounds are artificially distinct from that word.

[10 .1. The Sphota theory developed by Bhartrhari had its supporters as also its opponents.

The main opposition seems to have come from Mimamsa School. Sabarasvamin presents Upavarsha’s views in his Mimamsa-sutrabhasya. But, pointed attack came in the later periods, particularly in the works of Kaumarila Bhatta, a noted Mimamsa Scholar (7th -8th century). He attacked the manner in which the Sphota phenomenon was supposed to reveal the meaning of word-sounds (Sabda). Kaumarila argued that the word (Sabda), whether be it individual or be a part of sentence, is nothing more than a collection of word-sounds or spoken words . And, it is with this collection of sounds alone that the meaning is associated. The listener grasps the sound of the words and their meaning. There is nothing else here, he said, one need not assume a mystical process of Sphota etc. Kaumarila the Mimamsaka was, thus, in agreement with Upavarsha on the issue of Sphota.

10.2. Interestingly, the support to Bhartrhari also came from another Mimamsa Scholar Mandana Misra, a contemporary of Kaumarila Bhatta. Mandana wrote a brilliant book (Sphota-siddhi) based Bhartrhari’s Vakya-padiya. He supported Bhartrhari’s presumption of the whole being prior to the parts as also the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. He agreed with Bhartrhari, it is not the individual words but the complete thought of the sentence that ultimately matters.

Mandana offers the example of a picture. He points out that in our perception of a picture; it is conceived as a whole, over and above its various parts. 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.

He says: This aspect is brought out clearly by Bhartrhari who describes the painter as going through three stages when he paints a picture:  “when a painter wishes to paint a figure having parts like that of a man, he first sees it gradually in a sequence , then as the object of a single cognition ; and then he paints it on the surface of a cloth or whatever”.

10.3. The Jain philosopher Prabhachandra in his Prameya-kamala-marthanda attempts to reconcile the two opposing views; and, comes up with his own doctrine of ‘Interminacy’ (syavada, anekantavada),which, essentially, is a principle that encourages acceptance of multiple or plural views on a given subject]

[ Devadatta Kali (David Nelson) in the introduction to his very well written work Svetasvataropanisad: The Knowledge That Liberates, writes:

Although the Indian thinkers are not immune to disputation , by and large , their culture has valued the principle of accommodation and acceptance and acceptance…Throughout the centuries of Indian philosophical traditions , the differing views have often been seen as just that – as differing views of a single reality that lies beyond human power of articulation. The tendency has often been to harmonize opposing views as distinct parts of a larger whole whose fullness lies well beyond the reach of mere perception or reason. It needs to be stressed that the primary purpose of sacred literature is to impart spiritual knowledge, not to fuel intellectual or sectarian debate – or to create confusion.]

11.1. Sri Sankara refers to Upavarsha as the originator of Varna-vada, which contrasted with Sphota-vada of Bhartrhari. Sri Sankara agrees with Upavarsha and supports Varna- vada as against Sphota-vada (Sankara Bhashya on Brahma Sutra: 1.3.28). He does not approve the concept of Sphota-vada; and, says the meaning of a word can be known from its constituent letters, sounds and the context.  Here, he remarks: Bhagavad Upavarsha says ‘but, the words are none other than various letter-sounds (Varna)- varna eva tu sabddh id bhagavan upavarsah (BS: 1.3.28).

11.2. He then follows up with a debate on whether the words are letter-sounds of this kind or whether they are Sphota. And then built up his own arguments to oppose the Sphota vada, based on what he calls ‘the tradition of the Masters’- (Acharya –sampradayokti-purvakam siddantam aaha varna iti).

11.3. While he agrees that the word is nothing other than letter-sounds (Varna) Sri Sankara does not seem to be emphatic. On the question why a letter-sound (say, ’a’) should be heard differently according to its utterances, Sri Sankara explains that such differences are duo the conditions (Upadi) imposed externally or from elsewhere. Otherwise (Athava – meaning or) the differences could be due to intonation; and not necessarily due to the letter-sounds. And, therefore, he says, there is no weakness in our contention.  And, there is no need, he says, to bring in the concept of Sphota to decide upon the meaning of the word when it can be derived directly from the Varna-s that form the word.

The scholars believe, here, Sri Sankara, was not putting forth an original argument, but was merely condensing the previous refutations of the Sphota theory.

11.4. In his argument in favor of Varna Vada, Sri Sankara says: only the individual letters are perceived; and, they are combined through inference of the mind into word aggregate. Because the psychological process is one of inference and not of perception, there can be no degree of cognition. According to Sri Sankara, the inference Pramana is all –or-nothing process*. The error, if it is to be overcome, must be completely replaced all at once by a new inferential construction of mind or by a super-conscious intuition of Brahman.

[* According to almost all the Schools of Indian philosophy, the valid means of knowledge (Pramana) other than perception either reveal the object completely or do not reveal at all. However, Bhartrhari argues that perception need not always be an ‘all–or-nothing processes’. There could be vagueness initially; but, the perception could improve as one tries to gain clarity of an object (say as a distant tree or committing a stanza after repeated attempts).

According to Bhartrhari , each sound helps in understanding meaning bit by bit, at first vaguely, the next one little more clearly, and so on, until the last sound, aided by the preceding impressions, finally revea1.s the meaning with clarity and distinctness. The Sphota is revealed in stages by each succeeding sound, but by itself it is indivisible. It is comprehended in a process which begins with complete ignorance, passes through partial understanding, and ends in complete knowledge (dyana)

Bhartrhari asserts that it is the cognition of the Sphota in its entirety that is important in understanding meaning. That is not to say that we do not cognize the individual letters or sounds, but that they are secondary in relation to the Sphota, which is the real object of cognition.

This point is very important to Sphota theory in its contention that error due to vagueness of perception of initial letters can gradually and positively be overcome. It is also crucial for the Sphota theory in its contention that the existence of Sphota is not guesswork, as Mimamsaka-s maintain, but is a proved by direct and clear perception.]

11.5. The other Acharyas and commentators also toed the line of Bhagavan Upavarsha and Sri Sankara; and, supported Varna- vada as against Sphota-vada. Vacaspati Misra, who commented on Sri Sankara’s Vedanta Sutra Bhashya, also rejected the Sphota theory. He came up with his own theory of Abhihitanvaya-vada; and, said the understanding of the meaning of a whole sentence is reached by inferring to it, in a separate act of lakshana or implication, from the individual meanings of the constituent words.

12.1. Thus, the Vedic Vak as Sabda-Brahman became the object of philosophical debate during the later periods. The early Mimamsa School which championed Varna-vada argued that the individual word or the letter (Varna) as the prime substance of Vak. The School of the Grammarians, on the other hand, put forth Sphota-vada which developed the notion of Sphota to explain the mysterious manner by which meaning is conveyed in sentence. They explained Sphota as a process of cognition which culminates in the intuitive perception of the Absolute as Sabda –Brahman. These two are the main platforms for the discussion of the Indian philosophy of language.

12.2. Two principle Schools, Mimamsa and the School of Grammarians (Vaiyyakarani) have made huge contributions to the study of language and the philosophy of Grammar and of language. And, both were particularly interested in Sabda. Both believed that Sabda is eternal and manifests itself; and, is not created. They, however, differ on the view in regard to Sabda and the meaning (artha).

13.1. Bhagavan Upavarsha, whoever he might have been, was indeed an intellectual giant of his times. He was a worthy successor to the remarkable sage-scholars such as Badarayana and Jaimini. His contribution to the development of Indian thought is enormous.

13.2. Many however feel that Upavarsha   could have given little more thought to the Sphota theory instead of dismissing it off-hand. That perhaps could have leant a greater impetus to the growth of rational thinking within the Indian philosophical traditions.

[For more on Bhartrhari and the Sphota theory, please visit ]


Sources and References

  1. A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part 2 by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  2. The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 3: Advaita Vedanta Up to … edited by Karl H. Potter
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha


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About Upavarsha … Part Two

Continued from Part One


Upavarsha the Vrttikara

1.1. In the earlier part, we surmised that Upavarsha – a revered scholar, commentator and teacher might have originated from the Takshashila region in the North West; and later, perhaps, might have migrated to Pataliputra in the East sometime before the Fourth century BCE. And that according to some sources , Upavarsha was the brother of Varsha a teacher of great repute; and that Panini the Grammarian and his younger brother Pingala both  studied under Varsha. Further , that Vyadi (also called Dakshayana), another student of Varsha, was either the maternal uncle (mother’s brother) of Panini or was the great-grandson of Panini’s maternal uncle.

[It seems Upavarsha might not have been his real name. It merely means that he was the ‘younger brother of Varsha’.]

Thus all those learned scholars and great teachers were related to each other in one way or the other; they all hailed from Takshashila region; and they all sought patronage in the Court of the Kings at Pataliputra. Among them, Upavarsha an authoritative commentator (Vrttikara) on   Mimamsa (a system of investigation, inquiry into or discussion on the proper interpretation of the Vedic texts) was looked upon and honored as the most venerable, Abhijarhita.

1.2. Upavarsha was regarded as an authority by all branches of the orthodox Schools;, including the Mimamsa School. Both Sabaraswamin and Bhaskara, the Mimamsaka-s, treat the ancient Vrttikara as an authority; and, quote his opinions as derived from ‘the tradition of Upavarsha ‘(Upavarsha-agama).  Bhaskara calls Upavarsha as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’.

In the Vedanta School, Sri Sankara, in particular, had great reverence for Upavarsha and addressed him as Bhagavan, as he does Badarayana; while he addressed Jaimini and Sabara, the other Mimasakas, as Teachers (Acharya). Sri Sankara’s disciples and followers continued to make frequent references to the works of Vrittikara on the   Brahma Sutra often referred to Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti of Sage Upavarsha.

1.3. In the later centuries, Bhagavan Upavarsha came to be celebrated as the most venerable (Abhijarhita) Shastrakara and Vrittikara, the commentator par excellence.

In this segment of the article, we shall talk of Upavarsha the Vrittikara.


Before that, a short explanation about Vritti and related terms:

At a stage in the development of Vedic texts and certain other subjects, there came into vogue a practice of collating each School’s salient arguments, the essential aspects and important references bearing on the subject into very short or briefest possible pellets of terms.  Such highly condensed text-references came to be known as Sutra-s.

 The term Sutra literally means a thread; say, such as the one over which gems are strewn (sutre mani gana eva). But, technically, in the context of ancient Indian works, Sutra meant an aphoristic style of condensing the spectrum of all the essential aspects, thoughts of a doctrine into terse, crisp, pithy pellets of compressed information  ( at times rather disjointed )  that could be committed to memory. The object of the Sutras appeared to be to aid the student to learn it by heart; and, use it as a sort of synoptic notes on a subject mentioned in a text.  And, by tapping that Sutra, the student would recall the relevant expanded form of the referred portions of the text. . A Sutra was therefore not merely an aphorism but was also a key to an entire discourse on a subject. Traditionally, each Sutra is considered as a discourse rather than as a statement.

But, the problem appeared to be that the concept of Sutra was carried too far and to ridiculous extremes. Brevity became its most essential character. For instance; sve cha is a Sutra; and, it has to be linked to a text and to the relevant statement in that text.  It is said, a Sutrakara would rather give up a child than expend a word. The Sutras often became so terse as to be inscrutable. And, one could read into it any meaning one wanted to. It was said, each according to his merit finds his rewards.

The problem was worse compounded when a Sutra was repeated number of times. For instance in the Mimamsa Sutras, lingadarsanac ca is repeated thirty times and tatha canyarthadarshanam is repeated twenty-four times. It becomes very difficult to unfathom the intentions of the Sutrakara.

Vritti (Sadvrittih sannibandhana) is the next generation text which attempts to lessen the ambiguity and bring some clarity into Sutra-patha    . The Vritti , simply put , is  a gloss, which expands on the Sutra; seeks to point out the derivation of forms that figure in the Sutra (prakriya); offers explanations on what is unsaid (anukta)  in the Sutra and also clarifies on what is misunderstood or imperfectly stated  (durukta) in the Sutra.

Vrittika is a Note or an annotation in between the level of the Sutra and the Vritti. It attempts to focus on what has not been said by a Sutra or is poorly expressed.  And, it is shorter than Vritti.

 Bhashya is a detailed , full blown ,  exposition on the subjects dealt with by  the Sutra ; and it  is primarily based on the Sutra , its Vrittis , Vrittikas ,  as also on several other authoritative texts and traditions. Bhashya  includes in itself  the elements of :   explanations based on discussion (vyakhyana); links to other texts that are missed or left unsaid in the Sutra (vyadhikarana) ;  illustrations using examples (udaharana) and counter-examples (pratyudhaharana) ; rebuttal  or condemnation  of   the opposing views of rival schools (khandana) ; putting forth  its own arguments  (vada) and counter arguments (prati-vada)  ; and , finally establishing   its own theory and  conclusions (siddantha).

For instance;  Panini’s Astadhyayi is the principal text in Sutra format; Vararuchi-Katyayana wrote a Vartika , a brief explanations on selected Sutras of Astadhyayi; and,  Patanjali wrote his Maha-bhashya, a detailed commentary on Panini’s Astadhyayi, making use of Katyayana’s Vritti as also  several other texts and references on the subject. Patanjali presented the basic theoretical issues of Panini’s grammar; expanded on the previous authors; and, supported their views and even criticized them in the light of his own explanations.  


Before we get into a discussion on the Upavarsha the Vrittikara, we need to learn a little bit about Mimamsa, one of the six Darshanas or systems of the Indian philosophy (Nyaya, Vaseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Uttara Mimamsa and Purva Mimamsa).

The term Mimamsa derived from the root ‘man’ suggests the meaning of ‘to think’ or to analyze. And, it particularly refers to ‘probing and acquiring proper knowledge’ (pujita-vichara) or ‘critical review and rational investigation of the Vedas’ (Vedartha-vichara).

Presently, Mimamsa Sutra is said to be in two segments: the Purva (earlier or the first) Mimamsa compiled by Jaimini; and the Uttara (latter) Mimamsa ascribed to Badarayana.

There is a line of argument which asserts that Mimamsa Sutra was a single text and was having twenty chapters (vimshathy adhyayah) comprising twelve Chapters (Adhyayas) of Mimamsa dealing with the ritual aspects of the Vedas; four chapters of Devata Kanda or Sankarshana kanda addressing various deities  ; followed by four chapters of Mimamsa dealing with Upanishad doctrines.

The portion of twelve chapters dealing with rituals together with four chapters of Devata Kanda is known as Purva Mimamsa (Karma Kanda). And the remaining last four chapters dealing with Upanishads is known as Uttara Mimamsa (Jnana Kanda).

There is a counter argument which states that  the  Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa were initially two independent treaties authored by Jaimini and Badarayana respectively; and, were later put together with suitable emendations by someone described as Vyasa – ‘the arranger’. 

[Sureshvara, an early commentator and said to be a disciple of Sri Sankara, in his Nishkarmyasiddhi, a commentary on Mimamsa sutra (1.2.1), seems to suggest that Jaimini was also the author of the Brahma Sutra. This supports the view that Uttara and Purva Mimamsa were a part of a single text. But this interpretation is generally rejected.]

In any case, Purva-Mimamsa (prior investigation) collated by Jaimini dwells on the early portion of Vedas, particularly the Brahmans; and, is mainly concerned with Vedic rituals. Therefore, it is also called Karma-Mimamsa or simply Mimamsa.

Jaimini the champion of Purva Mimamsa strongly holds the view that performance of rituals as prescribed by the Vedas is the fundamental duty of a householder. Thus, raising of the offspring and faithfully performing the prescribed rituals is the duty.  Jaimini declared that  the purpose of human life (Purusharta) is to attain heaven (Svarga) through performance of rituals which is the most essential duty of a person. A person leading life on the right path (Dharma) has to perform the prescribed rituals throughout his life, even in case he has gained knowledge of Brahman. 

The Purva Mimamsa system attaches a lot of importance to the Verbal testimony which is essentially the Vedic text. Jaimini accepts the ‘Word’, the ‘Sabda’ as the only means of knowledge. ; and,  that ‘Sabda’ is necessarily the Vedic word.

According to Jaimini, knowledge has twofold meaning: Vidya and Upasana. He said, since the rituals are prescribed by the Vedas, the knowledge (vidya) of the Vedas is essential in order to perform the rituals properly. The term Vidya also means remembrance (jnapaka) which is used in the sense of worship (upasana). In the case of a person who performs rituals (karma) diligently with knowledge (vidya) and contemplates (upasana) on the deity, the fruits of his actions (Karman) will follow him even after his death.

[His Holiness Sri Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam while in conversation with Professor Hajime Nakamura, Professor of Indian philosophy, University of Tokyo (during January 1960) explained the difference between Jnana and Upasana. The Paramacharya said that the two are entirely different. While Upaasana is mental action, Jnana, which also belongs to the realms of the mind, is not action. Action is something done in obedience to an injunction. When the knowledge of Reality is comprehended, the mind continues to dwell on that Reality ; and, it  does not respond to any injunction, whether that injunction comes from any external agency or is the result of the prompting of the senses… You concentrate on God, imagining He is like this or that, until real Jnana dawns on you and you understand God as He really is. Thereafter you do not react to any direction to worship this or that form.]

Jaimini hardly involves God (Isvara) into his scheme of things. He clings to the prescriptive and liturgical aspects of Vedas, setting aside their esoteric message. He generally ignores the Upanishads. His follower Sabaraswamin described the non-human origin of the Vedas in terms of the anonymity or inability to remember the authors of the Vedas.

In the view of Purva Mimamsa, Upanishads are mere appendages; and, do not have an independent status.

In sharp contrast, the Uttara-Mimamsa (posterior investigation) of Badarayana is centred primarily on the Upanishads. It regards Upanishads as highest authority and the most meaningful, valid means of knowing the Absolute Truth.  Badarayana recognized Upanishads as Shruthis, the Revelations, the super sensory intuitional perceptions of the ancient Rishis; and as the crowning glory of Vedic thought.

The Uttara-Mimamsa centred on Upanishads is mainly concerned with Vedic metaphysics (jana Kanda), primarily an inquiry into Ultimate Reality or Truth, the Brahman. Therefore, it is also called Brahman-Mimamsa or simply Vedanta.

It has also been called by many other titles, such as : Brahma–vichara–Shastra, the treatise for investigating Brahman; Vedanta-mimamsa-Shastra or Vedanta shastra; Vedanta Sutra; Sariraka sutra or Sariraka shastra or Sarirakam shastram.  It is also the Chatur-lakshani (having four chapters) as compared to Dwadasha-lakshani (the Purva Mimamsa of twelve chapters).

Brahma Sutra is regarded the logical foundation (Nyaya prasthana) of Vedanta. Its forte is Para Vidya, the Supreme knowledge which liberates.  Badarayana does not value the rituals, much; but aims at the ultimate release or liberation, Moksha,

Brahma Sutra appears to have been compiled mainly for two reasons: to uphold the authority of Upanishads; and, to criticize the views of the rival schools (say, Samkhya, Vaisheshika and Buddhist) that did not honor Upanishads. But, its ultimate goal is guide the ardent seeker along the path culminating in realization of  the true   nature of the Absolute Reality  (Brahman) , which indeed is the final liberation , the Moksha.  

 Thus, the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa project two opposite views of life; and yet are closely allied.

Sri Sankara regards Brahma Sutra as distinct and separate shastra (prathak-shastra) from Purva Mimamsa

Sri Sankara was the most ardent supporter of the Brahma Sutra or Uttara Mimamsa. He argued vigorously to uphold the Supremacy of Upanishads as the crown of the Sruti (Sruti Siras). He emphasized that Upanishads are the means towards attaining Brahman. 

He declared Self (Atman) is Brahman. This knowledge (vidya) of this One Reality is not only the foundation of all knowledge (vidyas) but is also the absolute ‘truth of the fact’- Brahmavidya sarva vidya pratistha (Mundaka Up.1.1.1)


2.1. Upavarsha, respected as  the foremost among the Vrttikara-s,   is said to have written Vritti-s (commentaries) on both the segments of the Mimamsa Sutra. And, his Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti is believed to be   the earliest commentary on Badarayana’s Brahma Sutras.

In this context, it should be mentioned that there is a belief that it was Upavarsha who first divided the Vedic texts into Karma-kanda (ritualistic section) and Jnana-kanda (knowledge section) leading to better understanding of the themes and problems in Vedanta.

2.2. Sri Sankara often refers to Vritti-s. He speaks more specifically of Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti, a commentary on Brahma Sutra, the author of which is identified as Upavarsha.

Sri Sankara refers to a discussion held by Upavarsha on the nature of Self in Brahma Sutra (3.3.53) – eka atmanah sarire bhavat – , which according to Sri Sankara establishes the existence of Self.  He says the existence of a self that is different from the body and capable of enjoying the fruits of shastra is (already) stated at the beginning of the shastra (Shastra-aramba), in the first Paada – Shastrah-pramukha eva prathame pade. The scholars wonder whether this expression refers to the first Tantra (Prathama Tantra) which is commonly understood as Purva Mimamsa.

And, the same discussion appears in the commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra (1.1.5).

2.3. Further, Sri Sankara mentions:  ‘ Bhagavan Upavarsha has written a Vrtti on Purva Mimamsa. And, in that, he is referring to his another Vrtti on Saririka Mimamsa.

Ata Eva Bhagavata Upavarshena Prathame Tantre I Atma-stitv-abhidhana-prasaktau Sarirake Vakshyamaha ityuddharaha Krutaha II (3.3.53)

All these statements seem to support the view that that Upavarsha may have commented on both Purva and Uttara Mimamsa. This, in a way, is confirmed by Sabaraswamin the author of a major commentary on Mimamsa Sutra, who in his work summarizes the views of Upavarsha.


3.1. It is said; during the time of Sabarasvamin (Ca.  300-200 BCE) a noted Mimasaka, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa formed one philosophical system. But, by the time of Kumarila Bhatta and Sri Sankara they were regarded as two separate, mutually exclusive philosophies.

Giving up the ideal of liberation by the Mimamsakas, and the rejection of the rituals by the Vedantins must have come about at a later stage. But, again by the time of Kumarila Bhatta the Mimamsa came closer to the idea of liberation.

3.2. In any case, both the Schools of Mimamsa hold Upavarsha in very high esteem. Sabarasvamin in his Bhashya (Sabara bhashya– 1.1.5), the oldest surviving commentary on the Purva-mimamsa-sutra, refers to Upavarsha with great reverence, addressing him as Bhagavan, the venerable. Sabarasvamin is said to have drawn on Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra.

[Sabara bhashya is remarkable for various reasons. Sabarasvamin in many places differs from the views of his contemporaries. The most noticeable is the absence of reference to re-birth and liberation. Sabara is therefore believed to belong to a conservative school that did not subscribe to these notions, but staunchly adhered to performance of Yajnas.

According to some scholars, this obliquely points to the speculation that the belief in re-birth could have originally belonged to other traditions, but found its way into Upanishads.

Incidentally, Sabarasvamin’s commentary seems to mark the point of departure for other commentators of the Mimamsa. Its varied interpretations gave rise to two main schools Mimamsa philosophy: that of Kaumarila Bhatta (AD 620-700) and Prabhakara Misra (AD 650-720).]

3.3. Another ancient writer Sundarapandya (Ca. Prior to sixth century) who is said to have written Vrttika-s on  Mimamsa Sutra and on Brahma Sutra  had  also commented in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti. The followers of the Advaita School and the Mimamsaka Kumarila Bhatta quote Sundarapandya.  Vachaspathi Misra in his Bhamathi says: atraiva brahmavidam gatham udaharanti.

3.4. Another Mimamsaka, Bhaskara (who was later than Sri Sankara but before Vachaspathi Misra) also addresses Upavarsha as Bhagavan. Both Sabaraswamin and Bhaskara treat the ancient Vrttikara as an authority; and, quote his opinions as derived from ‘the tradition of Upavarsha ‘(Upavarsha-agama).  Bhaskara describes Upavarsha as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’

3.5.  In a similar manner, Sri Sankara whenever he refers to Upavarsha treats him with great respect and quotes his views in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53) as being authoritative.

4.1. Sri Sankara indicates that Upavarsha’s commentary on Brahma Sutra was called Sariraka –mimamsa – vritti (but that work is now lost). Sri Sankara perhaps adopted the term Sariraka from Upavarsha; and, titled his own Bhasya on Brahma Sutra as Sariraka –mimamsa – Bhashya.

Sri Sankara regards Upavarsha as an elder teacher of his own tradition (sampradaya). He displays enormous reverence towards Upavarsha and addresses him as Bhagavan and Sampradaya vit, the upholder of the right tradition; just in the manner he addresses the Great Badarayana. Sri Sankara generally followed the views of Upavarsha; and often quoted him.

Bhagavan Upavarsha matena Uttaram dattam

Tatra Upavarshasya etad darsanam napunarasyeti bhranti nirakaranartham aha Pratyaksha iti !

4.2. Following his lead, the latter commentators of Advaita School (such as Padmapada, Govindananda, Anandagiri, as also Jayanta Bhatta an exponent of the Nyaya School) respect Upavarsha as the  great Vrttikara ; and,  have cited certain views which they attribute to Upavarsha.

4.3. Thus, Upavarsha was held in great esteem by Mimamsakas as well as by Vedantins.


5.1. Sabarasvamin, the great Mimamsaka, is said to have drawn on Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra. Some of Sabarasvamin’s arguments resemble those put forward in Sri Sankara’s Sariraka Bhashya. Thus, indirectly, both their arguments were derived from Upavarsha.

For instance; there is a discussion in Sabara–bhashya (MS: 1.1.1) on the question as to whether Dharma is well known or unknown.  And , it is  very similar to  Sri Sankara’s  discussion ,  in his Sariraka –bhashya,   in regard to the nature of Brahman ,  as to whether Brahman is known or unknown.  The commentators remark that the objections raised therein and their solutions can be traced back to Upavarsha. Thus, both Sabaraswamin and Sri Sankara base some of their arguments on the explanations provided by. Upavarsha

5.2. In a similar manner, Sundarapandya in his Varttika on Mimamsa Sastra drew upon Upavarsha. And, Sri Sankara in turn sourced both from Upavarsha and Sundarapandya.

Many ideas of Upavarsha put forward by Sundarapandya echo in the works of Sri Sankara. For instance:

(a) :- Sri Sankara in his commentary on the fourth Sutra of the first Pada of the first Adhyaya of Brahma Sutra cites three karikas which were later identified as those belonging to Sundarapandya. The Prabodha-parisuddhi, a commentary on Padmapada’s Pancapadika refers directly to the three verses of Sundarapandya, saying: slokatrayam sundarapandya-pranitam pramanayati iti aha.

Sundarapandya in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti, had mentioned the six means of knowledge (cognition) advocated by Upavarsha. These are, briefly: Pratyaksha (direct or immediate); Anumana (inference); Sabda  (verbal or textual testimony); Upamana (analogy);  Artha-patti  (presumption);   and, Abhava  (non- apprehension).

Sundarapandya remarks that the Vrttika-kara   (Upavarsha) believes that these six modes of acquiring knowledge are valid only until the Self is ascertained.  But, once the subject-object differentiation is erased they no longer matter. He therefore makes a distinction between relative knowledge (sesha-jnana) and absolute knowledge (a-sesha-jnana). Upavarsha, he says, believes that absolute knowledge is attainable through Adyaropa or Apavada (adyaropa-apavada-ubhayam nishprapancham prapanchate).

In a similar manner, Sri Sankara recognizes Vedanta Shastra as the most potent means to pierce through the veil of Avidya, ignorance. Anything that shows false as false, the distortion as distortion is helpful; as it guides us to   move towards the ‘fact itself’, Atmaikatva. The texts contribute to causing the discovery of truth; enabling the truth to assert itself (svapramanya).

However, Sri Sankara pointed out that the texts; the scriptural authorities including Vedas are wound around the instructor and the instructed – sisrita and shishya – relations.  As long as distinctions such as the knower -the known – and the means of knowing (Pramata, Prameya and Prama) are maintained there can be no experience of non-distinction or oneness of Reality. Because, the Absolute is beyond the subject-object relations. And, its experience does not dependent on external factors or on proof   to reveal it (paradhina-prakasha).

(b) : – Sundarapandya explains:  the attribute-less Brahman can at best be described by the method of superimposition followed by its withdrawal. The Absolute knowledge, however, is neither the process of superimposition nor is it the negation.  Incidentally, Sundarapandya is also believed to have contemplated on the concept of Maya and on the pristine nature of Brahman without Maya.

[The Adhyaropa-Apavada method of logic is said to have been  pioneered by Upavarsha; and, it consists in initially assuming a position and later withdrawing that assumption, after a discussion.

This method can effectively illustrate the distinction between appearance and reality. An excellent application of this method can be found in the treatment of the three states of life, viz. waking, dreaming and sleeping. Gaudapaada’s karika on the Mandukya-Upanishad takes this up as the main theme; and, shows how the method could be employed to arrive at the fourth state, the Turiya, by sublimating the other three. By the residual reasoning, Gaudapaada states that Turiya alone is proved real while the others are mere assumptions or constructions (Vikalpa) ]

In order to educate the mind to interpret the reality as it is, Sri Sankara and others in the Vedanta School employed Adhyaropa-Apavada of deliberate provisional ascription and its later withdrawal. For the convenience of teaching, you accept a thing or an attribute that is actually not there ; and,  later negate that once the student is mature enough to realize the actual position. For example, we teach the child about sun.-rise, sun-set and about East-West and other directions. But , as the child advances in age and in  learning, the earlier teaching is negated and the child realizes that the sun neither  rises nor sets ; and the what we call directions are , after all , notional.

Similarly, Adhyaropa-Apavada logic was employed to prove the theory of transformation (Vivarta) in the phenomenal world, by taking the specific illustration of a pot made of clay. Here clay is the cause (adhyaropa);  and  its transformation (apavada) is the pot .

(c) :- His verses quoted by Amalanda and Kumarila Bhatta indicate that Sundarapandya believed  that Karma and Jnana  Kanda-s are separate; and, that he  rejected  the idea of their  combination ,  jnana-karma samuccaya.

Sri Sankara  also regarded Brahma Sutra as distinct and separate shastra (prathak-shastra) from Purva Mimamsa.

Sri Sankara also said that the study of the Mimamsa was intended for a particular class of people; but not necessarily for those who would inquire into the nature of Brahman.  He pointed out that the Purva-Mimamsa and the Uttara-Mimamsa were intended for different purposes; and were written by different authors. These should not therefore be regarded as integrally related as two parts of a unified work.

5.3. Thus, while the ancient commentator Sabaraswamin drew upon Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra, another ancient writer Sundarapandya wrote a Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti. Sri Sankara, in turn, followed the sub-commentary of Sundarapandya.  It is said; the doctrine   elaborated by Sri Sankara in his Adhyasa Bashya stemmed out of the germ ideas put forth by Upavarsha and Sundarapandya (among others). It is not surprising that Sri Sankara held both the teachers in such high regard.


6.1. Apart from delineating the six means of knowledge that were adopted by the later Advaita Schools, Upavarsha is believed to have initiated a discussion on self-validation (svathah pramanya) that became a part of the Vedanta terminology. Svatah pramana: true knowledge is valid by itself; not made valid or invalid by external conditions (sva-karya-karane svatah pramanyam jnanasya).

[As a general rule, knowledge (except memory) is taken to be valid on its own strength, unless invalidated by contrary knowledge. (Memory is not considered valid knowledge as it is dependent on previous cognition or impressions which might get faded or distorted; and, so is the dream.)]

6.2. According to Sri Sankara, Upavarsha was the first to draw attention to the paradoxical essence of Atman, beyond the pale of its ordinary sense.

7.1.. It is said; Upavarsha developed a theory on Atman (Atma-vada).  He emphasized that the postulation of ‘Self’ as distinct from body and the mental process was rather inevitable. He argued that   the Self cannot in any manner be revealed to another person; but, it cannot be denied by oneself either. It is affirmed by introspection, but that process cannot itself be regarded as self.

As for the proof of the existence of Atman, Upavarsha holds the view that Atman is known by perception as it is the object of ‘I’.

7.2. A verse quoted in Nyayamanjari of Jayanta of the Nyaya School (dated around ninth century) cites the Atman-theory of ‘the followers of Upavarsha’ (Aupavarsha): ‘they understand the Atman to be directly perceptible (pratyaksha) ;  For Atman can be known by ‘I’ consciousness.

[Tatra pratyaksham atmanam Aupavarsha prapedire I aham-pratyaya-gamyatvat svayuthya api kechana II]

The argument seems to be that the existence of Atman need not be proved by reasoning or verbal arguments. It is in each one’s own experience. Self is the consciousness of being. This was also the faith of the later Mimamsa school of Kumarila Bhatta.

Sri Sankara too adopted the proposition of Upavarsha; and, explained: “For all men are conscious that the Atman (self) exists. No one ever thinks ‘I do not exist’.

At another place (BS: 1.1.1), he says that the inner-self (pratyagatma) is the object of “I consciousness’ (asmat-pratyaya-vishaya); and, that it is directly perceptible (aparoksha).

7.3. Sri Sankara expanded further on the Atman-theory of Upavarsha, and extended it to the Supreme Self, transcending the individual.


8.1. Then there is also the concept of Atmaikatva which in some way was derived from Upavarsha.

8.2. Atmaikatva, absolute oneness of Self, is the main theme of Sri Sankara’s Sariraka Mimamsa Bhashya.  It is about the unity of the Atman as pure consciousness ,  which is the goal of all Upanishads – as  expressed by Sri Sankara in his Brahma Sutra commentary on Sutra 4 : : Atmaikatava-vidyapratipattayesarva Vedanta arabhyante .

This one Self is Brahman. This knowledge (vidya) of this One Reality is not only the foundation of all knowledge (vidyas) but also is the absolute ‘truth of the fact’- Brahmavidya sarva vidya pratistha (Mundaka Up.1.1.1)

8.3. But, this vidya which Upanishads teach is rather shrouded (guhahitagahvaresta); and, is attainable only through Adyatma –yoga (contemplation on Self).  Vedanta texts can only prepare you for that and point the way towards its experience.

8.4. The truth is self-revealing (svaprakasha), and not dependent on an external factor to reveal it (paradhina-prakasha). The Self needs no proof, needs no Pramanas in their conventional meaning. Because they all involve the distinctions of the knower, the known and the means of knowing:  Pramata, Prameya and Prama.

But the Absolute is beyond the subject-object relations. So long as such distinctions are maintained there can be no experience of non-distinction or oneness of Reality.

The texts can only contribute to causing the discovery of truth; leaving the truth to assert itself (svapramanya).

8.5. Sri Sankara declares the supremacy of direct experience , the final proof (antya-pramanam) which he calls – anubhava, avagati or Brahmavagati

Regarded in its true essence and as it is, Atmaikatva, Brahmatvatva, or Sarvatmata is a self-conscious, self-radiant experience which cannot be taken as object (vishaya).


9.1. Upavarsha is believed to have held the view that Brahman is the source, the ground and the goal of all universes. Sri Sankara and Padmapada (Sri Sankara’s disciple) expanded on this view. Upavarsha is quoted as explaining the term ‘Brahma-jignasa’ as Brhmane jignasa,meaning the enquiry for Brahman. Sri Sankara and others remark that when Vrttikara (Upavarsha) says that the enquiry is for Brahman, he is right, for, knowledge of Brahman is indeed the fruit of this enquiry.

9.2. Padmapada says that Upavarsha explained the word ‘atha’   appearing at the opening of the Brahma Sutra as referring to that ‘after the enquiry into the antecedent condition’, the enquiry into Brahman follows ( Ref :Panchapadika )




In the

Next Part



 Sources and References:

  1. A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part 2 by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  2. Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies: Advaita Vedānta up to Śakara…By Karl H. Potter
  3. The Philosophy of Sankar’s Advaita Vedanta by Shyama Kumar Chattopadhyaya
  4. H.H. JAGADGURU’S Madras Discourses (1957-1960) Part II- Japanese Professor’s Interview

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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Eleven

Continued from Part Ten

[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.]


The  Court Poet

So far in the series we have talked about Poetry (Kavya) and the Poetics (Kavya Shastra), let us round up the discussion with a few words about the Poet (Kavi) himself.

Poetry in India, of course, is very ancient; and has been in vogue even from the Vedic times. In the context of Rig Veda, Kavi refers to one who through his intuitional perception (prathibha), sees the unseen (kavihi-krantha-darshano- bhavathi) and gives expression to his vision (Darshana), spontaneously, through words. He is the wise Seer. It was said: one cannot be a Kavi unless one is a Rishi (naan rishir kuruthe kavyam). However, not all Rishis are Kavi-s. A Kavi is a class by himself.

But, the Kavi, the Poet, we are referring to in the series and here is not the Vedic Kavi. He is far different from the Vedic Kavi in almost every aspect; and, is vastly removed from him in space, time, environment, attitude, objective etc.  And, his poetry is neither a Rik nor a mantra; but, is a cultivated art ornate with brilliance and flashing elegance.

The Sanskrit poet who creates Kavya is neither a Rishi nor a seer; but, he is very much a person of the world who has taken up writing as a profession to earn his living. He usually sprang from a class that possessed considerable cultural refinement. And, Sanskrit being the language of the academia and the medium of his work, he was well versed in handling it.  

He is urbane, educated and is usually employed in the service of a King. Apart from writing classy poetry, his other main concern is to please and entertain his patron. He is very much a part of the inner circle of the Court; and, is surrounded by other poets and scholars who invariable are his close rivals in grabbing the King’s attention and favors.

During those times, a Great King would usually have in his service a number of poet-scholars who vied with each other to keep the King happy and pleased. Their main task was to entertain the King. Apart from such Court poets, there were a large number of wandering bards who   sang for the common people. They walked through towns and villages singing songs of love and war. Of course, their recitations were not classy or of the standard of the court poet-singers.

As Vatsayana (in his Kama sutra) describes, the Court poet, generally:  is an educated suave gentleman of leisure having refined taste and versatility; fairly well-off; lives in urban surroundings (Naagara or Nagarika); loves to dress well (bit of a dandy, indeed- smearing himself with sandal paste, fragranting his dress with Agaru smoke fumes, and wearing flowers); appreciates art, music and good food; and, loves his occasional drink in the  company of friends and courtesans.

A Court poet, sometimes, is also portrayed as rather vain, nursing a king-sized ego; and, desperately yearning to be recognized and honored as the best among all the poets in the Royal Court.

Thus, his attitudes find expressions in various ways – outwardly or otherwise. The dress, polished manners and cosmetics all seemed to matter. But, more importantly, it seemed necessary to have  a sound educational foundation, idioms of  social etiquette , and a devotion to classical literature (Sahitya)  , music (Samgita) and other fine arts (lalita kala).  Though his Poetry was developed in the court, its background was in the society at large.


The Poet

Rajasekhara an eminent scholar, critic and poet, was the Court poet of the Gurjara – Prathihara King Mahendrapala (Ca.880 to 920 AD) who ruled over Magadha. In his Kavyamimamsa, which is virtually an Handbook guiding aspiring poets, Rajasekhara outlines the desirable or the recommended  environment, life-style, daily routine, dispositions etc for a poet,     as also the training and preparations that go to make a good poet.

Sanskrit Kavya, in middle and the later periods, grew under the patronage of Royal courts. And, sometime the King himself would be an accomplished scholar or a renowned poet.

According to Rajasekhara, many of the poets depended on the patronage of local rulers and kings. Among them, the more eminent ones were honored as Court-poets (Asthana Kavi).  Those who performed brilliantly  endeared themselves to the king; and, were richly rewarded  . There was, therefore, a fierce rivalry among the poets in the King’s court to perform better than the next poet;  and , somehow,   be the  king’s favorite.

A successful poet would usually be a good speaker with a clear voice; would understand the language of gestures and movements of the body; and would be familiar with other languages  , arts as well.

An archetypical picture of a poet that Rajasekhara presents is very interesting. The Kavi, here, usually, lives in upper middle class society that is culturally sensitive. His house is kept clean and comfortable for living. He moves from places – changing his residence – about three times in an year, according to the seasons. His country residence has private resting places, surrounded by antelopes, peacocks and birds such as doves, Chakora, Krauncha and such other. The poet usually has a lover (apart from his wedded wife) to whom he addresses his love lyrics.

As regards the daily life of the poet, Rajasekhara mentions the Kavi would usually be a householder following a regulated way of life such as worshipping at the beginning of each day, followed by study of works on poetics or other subjects or works of other poets. All these activities are, however, preparatory; they stimulate his innate power of creativity and imagination (prathibha). His creative work proper (Kavya-kriya) takes part in the second part of the day.

Towards the afternoon, after lunch, he joins his other poet-friends (Kavi-ghosti) where they indulge in verse-riddle games structured around question-answers (Prashna-uttata). Sometimes, the poet discusses with close friends the work he is presently engaged with.

In the evening, the poet spends time socializing with women and other friends, listening to music or going to the theater.   The second and the third parts of the night are  for relaxation, pleasure and sleep.

Of course, not all poets followed a similar routine; each had his own priorities.  Yet; they all seemed to be hard-working; valuing peace, quiet and the right working conditions.

There were also those who chose to write when moved or inspired or during  their leisure . They were, as Rajasekhara calls them, occasional poets (data-vasara). Among them was a class who wrote only on occasions (prayojanika) to celebrate certain events.

Rajasekhara also mentions of those poets who were totally devoted to their poetic work. They invariably shut themselves from daylight (asuryamupasya), dwelling in caves or remote private homes away from sundry noises and other disturbances

As regards the poet’s writing materials and other tools, Rajasekhara mentions that the writing materials are almost always within the reach of the poet; and, are contained in a box. The contents of the box were generally:  a slate and chalk; a stand for brushes and ink-wells; dried palm leaves (tadapatra) or birch bark (bhurjapatra); and an iron stylus (Kantaka). The common writing materials were palm leaves on which letters were sketched with metal stylus. The alternate writing surface was the birch bark cut into broad strips. The slate and chalk was for preparatory  or draft work.


What does it take to make one a ‘good’ poet

There is an extended debate interspersed across the theories of Indian Poetics speculating on what does it take to make one a good poet.

Dandin mentions the requisites of a good poet as:  Naisargika Prathibha natural or inborn genius; Nirmala-shastra – jnana clear understanding of the Shastras; Amanda Abhiyoga ceaseless application and honing ones faculties.

Bhatta-tauta   explained Prathibha   as the genius of the intellect which creates new and innovative modes of expressions in art poetry – Nava-navonvesha –shalini prajna prathibha mathah

Rudrata and Kuntaka add to that Utpatti, the accomplished knowledge of the texts and literary works; and, Abhyasa, constant practice of composing poetic works.

According to Vamana, Utpatti includes in itself awareness of worldly matters (Loka-jnana); study of various disciplines (Vidya) ; and , miscellaneous information (Prakirna).

Vamana also mentions: Vrddha seva – instructions from the learned experienced persons;   Avekshana– the   use of appropriate words avoiding blemishes by through study of Grammar; and ; Avadhana – concentration or single pointed devotion to learning and composing as other the other areas of study and learning.

Thus, to sum up, most seem to agree that the natural inborn genius is the seed out of which poetry sprouts (Kavitva-bijam prathibhanam – Vamana. K.S.13.6); and that talent needs to be nurtured and developed through training Utpatti (detailed study of  Grammar, the literarily works and scriptures as also of  knowledge of worldly matters) ; and  Abhyasa , Abhiyoga, Prayatna (constant practice of composing poetry) .

An aspiring poet gifted with natural talent would do well to sincerely  follow the prescribed regimen either on his own or , better still, under the guidance of a well-informed teacher who himself is a poet or a learned scholar.


The great scholar Abhinavagupta (Ca.950-1020 AD) in his Lochana (a commentary on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka) says that Prathibha the intuition might be essential for creation of good poetry. But, that flash of flourish alone is not sufficient. Abhinavagupta explains that Prathibha is inspirational in nature; and, it does not last long; and it also, by itself or   automatically, does not transform into a work of art or poetry. There definitely is a need of a medium  that obeys  objective laws (which he calls unmeelana –shakthi) ; and, which sustains, harnesses and gives form and substance to those fleeting moments of inspiration. Apart from that, the aspiring poet has to study hard, broaden his intellect, hone his skills and practice his craft diligently.  It is only then, he says, a poetic work can bring forth refined, lively and forceful expressions that delight all.



Rajasekhara, just prior to Abhinavagupta, had also emphasized the importance of training and preparation in the making of a poet.  He treats the subject in a little more detail.

He mentions that the cultivator of Sanskrit poetry, variously known as Kavi, Budha or Vidwan, is not born as poet; nor is he self taught. Anyone gifted with talent (Prathibha) to create poetry and determined to become a poet should be prepared for detailed education (Utpatti)  spread over long years of hard work (abhiyoga, prayatna), study (Abhyasa) with  ceaseless dedication (Shraddha) . He should have the strength of mind not to be enticed away from his chosen path; and should pursue the study of Kavya in all its forms and layers with single-pointed (Ekagra) devotion.

Rajasekhara remarks there is no merit in becoming a half-baked poet. If one is truly sincere to his intention, then one should strive to become a professional poet of  true class . He should make that as his life-ambition, the ultimate goal in his life; and, should be prepared to make whatever sacrifices it demands.

The ardent learner is advised to seek guidance from a professional, learned teacher (Upadhyaya) and study under him the basic subjects of phonetics such as Vyakarana (Grammar) , Nirukta (Etymology) , Kosha (lexicon) , Alamkara (ornamentation) and Chhandas ( poetic meters) along with standard works on Kavya Shastra (Poetics).  Apart from studying these subjects individually, they should be studied with special reference to classic works of Kavya that have been written according to the formats and disciplines prescribed in texts of Kavya Shastra.

The study of the works of the Master would help the student to gain wholesome appreciation of the poetic process, the techniques of various forms of poetry and their components, such as meter (Chhandas), grammar (Vyakarana) , embellishments (Alamkara) etc. He should try out the principles he learnt by applying them to practice-poems (Abhyasa kriti) to be crafted as a part of his learning process.

The training included exercises to improve the student’s literary and the non-literary vocabulary, use of right words, picking the apt terms among the various synonyms; developing metrical skill; finding the most appropriate expression for each attribute, the most suitable simile, etc; and, creating verbal structure according to syntax within the rhythmic framework.

The preparation and the training would also include gaining familiarity with various branches of learning, such as: art (Kala), music (samgita), erotic’s (kamasastra), logic (nyaya), state craft (arthasastra) as also of the  natural world of mountains, oceans, trees , birds  and animals etc . He could also gain an understanding of sciences, astronomy, gemology etc. And, of course, familiarity with such important sources of literary material as the Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as with the Puranas was also essential

The object of such elaborate training was to ensure that the student learnt to work at his text in a deliberate manner respecting the host of rules and norms that govern Kavya; and also to ensure that his poetic compositions grow out of a clear thought process based on a free but carefully made choice of all the elements. Far more important was the organization and co-ordination of these elements to give the composition the quality of a work of art.

Thus, at the end, very little would separate the connoisseur and critic from the writer of kavya.





While on the subject of ‘The Poet’, I cannot resist talking about the redoubtable Banabhatta. Let’s dwell on him for a while.

The Sanskrit poets are generally reticent when it comes to their personal details. Some might perhaps give out frugal particulars such as the names of their parents, their Gotra and the village they came from. Beyond that, hardly any information that might throw light on the cultural and social life of their period is given out. Sometimes, even the simple task of ascertaining their period, by itself, becomes a minor exercise.

A notable exception to such general practice was Banabhatta, a versatile scholar and poet, a contemporary and a close associate of King Harsha Vardhana of Thaneshvar and Kanuj, who ruled over North India from 606 to 647 A D.  Banabhatta’s fame rests on his remarkable romantic prose work Kadambari, perhaps the world’s first Novel; and on Harshacharita a glorified biography of his friend and patron King Harsha Vardhana. Banabhatta, sadly, passed away before he could complete his magnum opus Kadambari woven into complicated, interrelated plots   involving two sets of lovers passing through labyrinth of births and re-re-births. It was later completed by his son Bhushanabhatta.

Banabhatta gives glimpses of his early life and youth in the introductory verses of his Kadambari and in the first two Ucchavasas of the Harshacharita. And, in the third Ucchavasa of Harshacharita he describes how he came to write that work.

His story is truly amazing.

Banabhatta mentions that he was born to Chitrabhanu and Rajadevi of Bhojaka Brahmin family, which was rich in wealth and in learning, belonging to Vatsyayana Gotra. They lived in the village of Pritikuta on the banks of Hiranyabahu (the Sona River) which raises in the Vindhya hills and flows through the Dandaka forest. The scholars opine that the ancestral home of Banabhatta might have been  in the region of Madhya Pradesh from where the Sona river rises . From here , Banabhatta , later , went to the court of King  Harshavardhana in Kanyakubja (Kanuj) in Uttar Pradesh.

Bana lost his mother Rajyadevi at a tender age. He was brought up by his father Chitrabhanu who was learned in scriptures and in literature. Chitrabhanu played a large part in molding his interests ; and,  remained a great influence even in the later years . But, sadly, Bana lost his father while he was just about fourteen years of age. He felt his father’s absence very deeply and missed him sorely.

The death of his father left the clueless young Bana just stepping into adolescence rather rudderless. He came into wealth and money with none to guide him. After recovering from anguish and sorrow, he found life rather hollow and boring; grew more and more impatient by each day; and got into irregular life of nasty habits.  Bana   went totally astray indulging in carefree, reckless, restless life in the company of a most weird bunch of friends.

His motley crowd  of friends, medley of varied talents, came from an amazing assortment of backgrounds , various classes of life and professions. Bana, in fact, names about forty-four of his friends, some them of dubious character. His friends circle included poets, singers, actors, story tellers, physicians, jugglers, goldsmiths, potters, Jain monks, Buddhist nuns, shampooers, gamblers, snake doctors and so on. There were also many women in the group.

For instance ,  he mentions that among his friends , Candasena and Matrsena  were born out of a Brahmin father and a Sudra mother; Isana, Rudra, Venibhadra  and Narayana were poets; Bharata was a composer of songs; Govinda was a writer; Susivana was a panegyrist (an orator who delivers eulogies or panegyrics); Mayuraka was a snake-charmer ; Viravarman was a painter; Kumaradatta was a varnisher; Jimuta was a  drummer; Somila , Grahaditya  were singers; Jayasena was a story teller; Madhukara and Paravata were pipers; Darduraka and Tandavika were dance teachers; Sikkhadaka was an actor; Chandaka was a physician; Akhandalaka and Bhlmaka were  dice players (gamblers); Viradeva was a  Jain  monk;  Cakoraka was a juggler ;  Karalakesa was a magician ; and Vakaragoha was a snake doctor (Visha vaidya)  so on.

There were also many women among his friends.  Among them :  Mayuraka was the daughter of a forest-man; Anangavana and Suchivana  were born in family of Prakrit poets;  Chandaka was the seller of betel leaves;  Sudrati was an artist;  another Chandaka was a physician  ; Karangika was an  independent artisan; Keralika was massage girl; Haramika was a dancing girl; Karangika, the maid of honor ; and, Sumati  and Cakravakika were  Buddhist  nuns.

After the excitement the of a fling at wild and reckless living wore off, Bana set out to take a look at the world; and took along with him a colorful   bunch of his friends and his two half brothers. He aimlessly wandered across many countries,  in an irresponsible manner.

The good outcome of his travels was that during the sojourn   , he studiously attended a number of assemblies (gosthl) of poets and connoisseurs; and, other scholarly circles (mandala). As he said: he paid visits to Royal courts; submitted his respects to ‘the Schools of the wise’; attended ‘assemblies of able men deep in priceless discussions’; and, ‘plunged into circles of clever men endowed with profound natural wisdom’.

Bana gained a great deal of experience during these febrile years of wandering. That gave him a direct experience of life outside of his closed circle.  That helped him to gain an insight into life, its nature and an understanding of the many-sided world filled with men and women of various manners of behavior. His travel experiences widened his horizons; and,  also   ignited the poetic genius latent in him.

Bana returned home a much more mature, wiser and determined.

On his return, he was surprised to see his home taken over by host of his relatives; most whom sporting long brown hair like wisps of fire had their forehead besmeared with ashes. Worse still, the house choked with smoke emanating from Homa kunda (fire-altar),  was echoing with Vedic chants. The smoke of the clarified butter had darkened the foliage of trees. The backyard of the house marked by hoofs of cows was filled with remains of Kusa grass;  littered with pieces of wood and cow dung. The whole ground was rendered brown by the sacrificial offerings.

Inside the house, the floor was littered with puffed rice, nivara paddy rice cakes, mats made of dark deer skins; branches of fig leaves were hanging by the pegs on the wall. At many places, the soma-juice was oozing out of the hollows in the wood. The children with little tufts were running around the house; and , some sat on different sides  of the altar watching  , curiously, what was going on.

That was rather too much for Bana to take in. He, definitely, was very uncomfortable with the scene as also by those who filled it.

Bana then promptly went back to his country house in the mango grove outside of the village. His friends were overjoyed with his return, clasped him to their hearts; and, celebrated the joyous reunion by drinking, dancing and singing all night. As Bana said, the reunion with his long last childhood friends was like the joy of the highest release (moksha).

Bana, thereafter, spent some of the most enjoyable days of his life amidst his friends.

One summer afternoon while Bana was lazing under the shadow of a mango tree, a messenger delivered him a letter from Krishna the brother of King Harshavardhana. In that, Krishna urged Bana to posthaste call on the King who was camping at Manitara. Accordingly, Bana promptly set out meet the mighty ruler.  He  travelled two days and one night and reached Manitara on the third day; and sought audience with the King. And, that meeting with the King changed the course of Bana’s life, in a very healthy way.

The King, who had heard of the wayward ways of the spoilt youth, was rather reluctant to talk to him. He even tried to reproach the young Brahman for wasting his wealth, heath and youth; and, smearing the fair name of his family.

But, as they conversed, the atmosphere cleared ; the two came to  like each other and, became sort of friends. And, in time Banabhatta won the  regard of the Emperor who became his patron.

It seems, Bana spent some considerable time with King Harshavardhana.

When Bana later revisited his Prithikuta one autumn, he was besieged by his friends who lustily cheering , demanded accounts of King Harsha, his stay in the Capital and other interesting experiences he had.

To comply with their wishes, Bana tells us, he began writing  the great biography of Emperor Harshavardhana. That was how Harshacharita came to be written. Harshacharita narrates Harsha’s  rise to power and glory; and ends with his conquest of the world. The work is a sophisticated, erudite display of Banabhatta’s descriptive and poetic genius.

Later on, Banabhatta married and led a happy married life. He settled down in the Court of King Harshavardhana as his poet and confidant,

What rescued Bana from the abyss of depravation were his poetic genius and the moderating influence of his patron King.

Banabhatta’s regret was that he could not complete his Kadambari an intricate work spread over a large canvas. His son Bhushanabhatta, who by then had grown up, did complete the third and the last part of Kadambari’s elaborate structure.

Bhushnabhatta wrote:

I bow in reverence to my father,

Master of speech.

This story was his creation,

A task beyond other men’s reaches.


The world honoured his noble spirit in every home.

Through him I, propelled by

Merit, gained this life.


When my father ascended to heaven

The flow of his story

Along with his voice

Was checked on earth.


I , considering the unfinished work to be

A sorrow to the good,

Again set it in motion-

But out of no pride in my poetic skill.


(Translation of Prof. Gwendolyn Layne, University of Chicago)



Sources and References

A history of Sanskrit literature – Classical period – Vol. I  – by  Prof. S. N. Dasgupta

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

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Prof. Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Kāvya Literature: The bold style (Śaktibhadra to Dhanapāla) By Anthony Kennedy Warder

Kadambari – translated by Prof. Gwendolyn Layne

Banabhatta – His Life and Literature by S V Dixit


Posted by on September 9, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine

[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.]

Kavyasya Atma – the Soul of Poetry


Another line of speculation that is unique to Indian Poetics is to muse about the soul (Atman) of Poetry. Every literary endeavour was regarded a relentless quest to grasp or realize the enigmatic essence that inhabits the Kavya body.

As Prof Vinayak Krishna Gokak explains in his An Integral View of Poetry: an India Perspective:  Poetry in its manifestation resembles the series of descending arches in a cave. It is dim lit, leaving behind the garish light of the day, as we walk into it. And as we begin to feel our way, we detect another passage, leading to yet another. But, we do know that there is light at the other end. And, when we have passed through the archways, we stand face-to-face with the ultimate mystery itself. This seems to the inner core, the essence and the fulfillment of poetry. It is the Darshana, perception, of Reality

Then he goes on to say:  When we say the poet is inspired, we mean that he had a glimpse of Reality, its luminous perception. It is this perception that elevated him into a state of creative excitement. Such vision is the intuitive perception. It reveals the many-splendored reality that is clouded by the apparent. It is the integral experience in which the intuitive and instinctive responses are in harmony.

But, this intuitive perception in poetry is rarely experienced in its pristine purity. It is colored, to an extent, by the attitudes, the experiences and the expressions of the poet. The attitude seeps into the structure of words, phrases, rhythms that give form to poetry. The attitude forms the general framework of the poetic experience.

The soul of the Kavya is truly the poet’s vision (Darshana) without which its other constituents cannot come together.


Thus, the inquiry into the appeal of the Poetry was meant to suggest a sort of a probe delving deep into the depths of Kavya to seize its essence. It was an exploration to reach into the innermost core of the Kavya.  The term used to denote that core or the fundamental element or the principle which defines the very essence of Kavya was Atma, the soul. In the context of Kavya, the concept of Atma, inspired by Indian Philosophy, was adopted to characterize it as the in-dweller (Antaryamin), its life-breath (Prana), its life (Jivita) , consciousness (Chetana) ; and to differentiate it from the  exterior or the body (Sarira) formed out of the words. That is to say; while structure provided by the words is the physical aspect of Kavya, at its heart is the aesthetic sensitivity that is very subtle and indeterminate.

In the Indian Poetics, the term Atma stands for that most elusive factor which is the highly essential, extensive factor illumining the internal beauty of Kavya. Though one can talk about it endlessly, one cannot precisely define it. One could even say, it is like a child trying to clasp the moonbeams with its little palms.   It is akin to consciousness that energizes all living beings (Chaitanya-atma). Its presence can be felt and experienced; but one cannot see its form; and, one cannot also define it in technical terms


Traditionally, the Kavya was defined by Bhamaha as Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam (KA.1.15) – the combination or a complex of words and their meanings. His explanation also implied that word and sense in a Kavya must be free from blemishes (nirdosa) .  Bhamaha then extended his explanation to bring in the element of Alamkara; and, said: Kavya is the happy fusion of Sabda and Artha which expresses Alamkaras relating to them

Sabda-abhideya-alamkara-bhedadhistam dvayam tu nah I Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam (KA.1.15).

Dandin also said the body of Kavya is a group of sounds which indicates the desired effect or the desired import of the poet

Sariram tavad ista-artha vyvachinna padavali (KA 1.10b).

But, the later Schools pointed out that Bhamaha and Dandin seemed to be talking about the body of Kavya, but not about the Kavya itself. And, their   definition of Kavya is centred on the external element or the body of Kavya; but, it misses the spirit or the soul of the Kavya.  The basic idea, here, was that Kavya is much more than a collection of words; it is about the vision of the poet and the aesthetic delight it presents to the reader.

It was argued that if the structure of words (Pada-rachana or Padavali) could be taken as the body (Sarira) of the Kavya, then it is separate or different from its soul (Atma) which is its   inner–being. Further, Padavali – the group of words – by itself and not accompanied by sense is not of great merit.

Thus, a clear distinction was sought to be made between the body and the spirit or the soul which resides within it. And from here, there began a quest for the soul of Kavya (Kavyasya Atma).

As regards the meaning (Artha) conveyed by words in the Poetry, it was also examined in terms of its external and internal forms. It was said; the language and its structural form lead us to meaning in its dual forms. Thought in poetry manifests itself in two ways: as the outer and the inner meaning. The Outer meaning dominates poetry through its narration. Yet, it permits inner meaning to come into its own through its narrative patterns or poetic excellence. The Outer meaning plays somewhat semi transparent role in poetry.  It achieves its fulfillment when it becomes fully transparent revealing what lies beneath it.

The inner meaning of poetry is embodied in it’s suggestive, figurative or expressions evoking Visions.  It reveals the moods, the attitudes and the vision of the poet expressed with the aid of imagery and rhythm. “Such vision is the intuitive perception. It reveals the many-splendored reality that is clouded by the apparent”.


It was perhaps Vamana the author of Kavyalankara-sutra-vrtti who initiated the speculation about the Atman or the soul of poetry. He declared – Ritir Atma kavyasya – (Riti is the soul of Poetry). Vamana’s pithy epithet soon became trendy; and, ignited the imagination of the champions of other Schools of poetics. Each one re-coined Vamana’s phrase by inserting into it (in place of Riti) that Kavya-guna (poetic virtue) which in its view was the fundamental virtue or the soul of poetry.

For instance; Anandavardhana said Dhvani is the Atma of Kavya; Visvanatha said Rasa is the Atma of Kavya; while Kuntaka asserted that Vakrokti as the Jivita – the life of Kavya. Besides, Rajasekhara (9th century) who visualized literature, as a whole, in a symbolic human form (Kavya Purusha) treated Rasa as its soul (Atma).


Although Vamana was the first to use the term Atma explicitly, the notions of the spirit or the inner-being of Kavya were mentioned by the earlier scholars too, though rather vaguely.  They generally talked in terms Prana (life-breath) or Chetana (consciousness) and such other vital factors in the absence of which the body ceases to function or ceases to live.

[ But, those epithets, somehow, seemed to suggest something that is essential, but not quite inevitable.]

For instance; Dandin had earlier used the term Prana (life-breath) of the body of poetry which he said was the Padavali (string of words or phrases) – Sariram tavad istartha vyavachhina padavali (KA-1.10). He also used Prana in the sense of vital force or vital factor (say for instance: iti vadarbhi –margasya pranah).

Udbhata who generally followed Dandin, in his Alamkara-samgraha, a synopsis of Alamkara, stated that Rasa was the essence or the soul of Kavya.

While Dandin and his followers focused on Sabda Alamkara, Vamana (Ca.8th century) raised questions about the true nature of Kavya; and said Ritiratma Kavyasya – the soul of the poetry abides in its style – excellence of diction.

Anandavardhana said: all good poetry has two modes of expression – one that is expressed by words embellished by Alamkara; and the other that is implied or concealed – what is inferred by the listener or the reader.  And , this implied one or the suggested sense, designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion) , is indeed  the soul of Kavya: Kavyasya Atma Dhvanih.

A little later than Anandavardhana, Kuntaka (early tenth century) said that indirect or deflected speech (Vakrokti) – figurative speech depending upon wit, turns , twists and word-play is the soul of Kavya. He said that such poetry showcases the inventive genius of the poet at work (Kavi-karman).

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

All theories, one way or the other, are interrelated; and, illumine each other.  The various aspects of Kavya starting from making of poetry (kavya-kriya-dharma) up to the critique of poetry (kavya-mimamsa)  and how human mind perceives and reacts to it, was the main concern for each theory. ]



Alamkara denotes an extraordinary turn given to an ordinary expression; which makes ordinary speech into poetic speech (Sabartha sahitya) ; and , which indicates the entire range of rhetorical ornaments as a means of poetic expression. In other words, Alamkara connotes the underlying principle of embellishment itself as also the means for embellishment.

According to Bhamaha, Dandin and Udbhata the essential element of Kavya was in Alamkara. The Alamkara School did not say explicitly that Alamkara is the soul of Poetry. Yet, they regarded Alamkara as the very important element of Kavya. They said just as the ornaments enhance the charm of a beautiful woman so do the Alamkaras to Kavya: shobha-karan dharman alamkaran prakshate (KA -2.1). The Alamkara School, in general, regarded all those elements that contribute towards or that enhance the beauty and brilliance of Kavya as Alamkaras. Accordingly, the merits of Guna, Rasa, and Dhvani as also the various figures of speech were all clubbed under the general principle of Alamkara.

Though Vamana advocates Riti, he also states that Alamkara (Soundarya-alamkara) enhances the beauty of Kavya. Vamana said Kavya is the union of sound and sense which is free from poetic flaws (Dosha) and is adorned with Gunas (excellence) and Alamkaras (ornamentation or figures of speech).

According to Mammata, Alamkara though is a very important aspect of Kavya is not absolutely essential. He said; Kavya is that which is constructed by word and sentence which are (a) faultless (A-doshau) (b) possessed of excellence (Sugunau) , and (c) in which rarely a distinct figure of speech  (Alamkriti) may be absent.


Vamana called the first section (Adhikarana) of his work as Sarira-adhikaranam – reflexions on the body of Kavya. After discussing the components of the Kavya-body, Vamana looks into those aspects that cannot be reduced to physical elements. For Vamana, that formless, indeterminate essence of Kavya is Riti.

Then, Vamana said; the essence of Kavya is Riti (Ritir Atma Kavyasya); just as every body has Atma, so does every Kavya its Riti. And, Riti is the very mode or the act of being Kavya. Thus for Vamana, while Riti is the essence of Kavya, the Gunas are the essential elements of the Riti. The explanation offered by Vamana meant that the verbal structure having certain Gunas is the body of Kavya, while its essence (soul) is, Riti.

Riti represents for Vamana the particular structure of sounds (Vishista-pada-rachana Ritihi) combined with poetic excellence (Vishesho Gunatma) . According to Vamana, Riti is the going or the flowing together of the elements of a poem

Rinati gacchati asyam guna iti riyate ksaraty asyam vanmaddhu-dhareti va ritih (Vamana KSS). 

The language and its structural form lead us to the inner core of poetry. And, when that language becomes style (Riti), it absorbs into itself all the other constituent elements of poetry. It allows them, as also the poetic vision, to shine through it.

Vamana, therefore, accorded Riti a very high position by designating Riti as the Soul of Kavya –Ritr Atma kavyasya Sareerasyeva (I.2.6) – Riti is to the Kavya what Atman is to the Sarira (body). Here, it is explained that in his definition of Riti, Pada-rachana   represents the structure or the body while Riti is its inner essence. Through this medium of Visista Padarachana the Gunas become manifest and reveal the presence of Riti, the Atman.


Kshemendra – wrote a critical work Auchitya-alamkara or Auchitya-vicharachara (critical research on proprieties in poetry), and a practical handbook for poets Kavi-katnta-abharana (ornamental necklace for poets) – calls Auchitya the appropriateness or that which makes right sense in the given context as the very life-breath of Rasa – Rasajivi-bhootasya. He said Auchitya is the very life of Kavya (Kavyasya jivitam) that is endowed with Rasa (Aucityam rasa siddhasya sthiram kavyasya jivitam).

According to Kshemendra, all components of Kavya perform their function ideally only when they are applied appropriately and treated properly. “When one thing befits another or matches perfectly, it is said to be appropriate, Auchitya”:

(Aucityam prahuracarya sadrasham kila; Aucitasya ka vo bhava stadaucityam pracaksate).

It said; be it Alamkara or Guna, it will be beautiful and relishing if it is appropriate from the point of view of Rasa; and, they would be rejected if they are in- appropriate. And, what is normally considered a Dosha (flaw) might well turn into Guna (virtue) when it is appropriate to the Rasa

But, many are hesitant to accept Auchitya as the Atma of the Kavya. They point out that Auchitya by its very nature is something that attempts to bring refinement into to text; but, it is not an independent factor. And, it does not also form the essence of Kavya. Auchitya is also not a recognized School of Poetics.


Kuntaka defined Kavya on the basis of Vakrokti, a concept which he developed   over the idea earlier mentioned by Bhamaha and others.  According to him, Kavya is the union of sound, sense and arranged in a composition which consists Vakrokti (oblique expressions of the poet), delighting its sensible reader or listener –

(Sabda-Artha sahitau vakra Kavi vakya vyapara shalini I bandhe vyavasthitau Kavya tat ahlada karini:  VJ 1.7).

Kuntaka also said that  the word and sense, blended like two friends, pleasing  each other, make Kavya  delightful

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

Kuntaka, declared Vakrokti as jivitam or soul of poetry. By vakrokti, he meant the artistic turn of speech (vaidagdhyam bhangi) or the deviated from 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).

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.


Rasa (the poetic delight) though it is generally regarded as the object of Kavya providing joy to the reader rather than as the means or an element of Kavya , is treated  by some as the very essence of Kavya.

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

The Rasa was described as the state that arises out of the emotion evoked by a poem through suggestive means, through the depiction of appropriate characters and situations and through rhetorical devices. The production of Rasa or aesthetic delight was therefore regarded the highest mark of poetry.  It was said – The life breath (Prana) of Kavya is Rasa.

Further, Poetry itself came to be understood as an extraordinary kind of delightful experience called Rasa. It was exclaimed: Again, what is poetry if it does not produce Rasa or give the reader an experience of aesthetic delight?

Rasa is thus regarded as the cardinal principle of Indian aesthetics.  The theory of Rasa (Rasa Siddhanta) and its importance is discussed in almost all the works on Alamkara Shastra in one way or the other. The importance of the Rasa is highlighted 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.

Mammata carrying forward the argument that Rasa is the principle substance and the object of poetry, stated ‘vakyatha rasatmakarth kavyam’, establishing the correlation between Rasa and poetry.

Vishwanatha defined Kavya as Vakyam rasathmakam Kavyam – Kavya is sentences whose essence is Rasa.

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


[While talking about Rasa, we may take a look at the discussions on Bhakthi Rasa.

Natyashastra mentions eight Rasas (not nine). These Rasas were basically related to dramatic performance; and Bhakthi was not one of those. Thereafter, Udbhata (9th century) introduced Shantha Rasa. After prolonged debates spread over several texts across two centuries Shantha was accepted as an addition to the original eight.

But, it was Abhinavagupta (11th century) who established Shantha Rasa as the Sthayi-bhava the basic and the abiding or the enduring Rasa form which all Rasas emerge and into which they all recede. His stand was: one cannot be perpetually angry or ferocious or sad or exited or erotic, at all the time. These eight other Rasas are the passing waves of emotions, the colors of life. But, Shantha, tranquility, is the essential nature of man; and it is its disturbance or its variations that give rise to shades of other emotions. And, when each of that passes over, it again subsides in the Shantha Rasa that ever prevails.

During the times of by Abhinavagupta and Dhanajaya, Bhakthi and Priti were referred to as Bhavas (dispositions or attitudes); but, not as Rasas. Even the later scholars like Dandin, Bhanudatta and Jagannatha Pandita continued to treat Bhakthi as a Bhava.

[Later, each system of Philosophy or of Poetics (Kavya-shastra) applied its own norms to interpret the Rasa-doctrine (Rasa Siddantha) ; and in due course several Rasa theories came up. Many other sentiments, such as Sneha, Vatsalya; or states of mind (say even Karpanya – wretchedness) were reckoned as Rasa. With that, Rasas were as many as you one could identify or craft (not just nine).]

It was however the Gaudiya School of Vaishnavas that treated Bhakthi as a Rasa. Rupa Goswami in his Bhakthi-Rasa-amrita–Sindhu; and the Advatin Madhusudana Sarasvathi in his Bhagavad-Bhakthi Rasayana asserted that Bhakthi is indeed the very fundamental Rasa. Just as Abhinavagupta treated Shantha as the Sthayi Rasa, the Vaishnava Scholars treated Bhakthi as the Sthayi, the most important and the abiding Rasa.

Their texts described twelve forms of Bhakthi Rasas – nine of the original and three new ones. Instead of calling each Rasa by its original name, they inserted Bhakthi element into each, such as: Shantha-Bhakthi-Rasa, Vira-Bhakthi-Rasa, Karuna-Bhakthi-Rasa and so on. They tried to establish that Bhakthi was not one among the many Rasas; but, it was the fundamental Rasa, the other Rasa being only the varied forms of it. The devotee may assume any attitude of devotion like a child, mother, master, Guru or even an intimate fiend. It was said “Bhakthi encompasses all the Nava-rasas”.

Bhakthi, they said, is the Sthayi (abiding) Rasa; and it is the original form of Parama-Prema (highest form of Love) as described in Narada Bhakthi Sutra. What constitutes this Love is its essence of Maduhrya (sweetness) and Ujjvalata (radiance).

Although, an element of individualized love is involved in Bhakthi, it is not confined to worship of a chosen deity (ista Devatha). The Vedanta Schools treat Bhakthi as a companion of Jnana in pursuit of the Brahman. They hold that Bhakthi guides both the Nirguna and the Saguna traditions. Just as Ananda is the ultimate bliss transcending the subject-object limitation, Bhakthi in its pristine form is free from the limitations of ‘ego centric predicament’ of mind. And, both are not to be treated as mere Rasas.

Bhakthi is that total pure unconditional love, accepting everything in absolute faith (Prapatthi).

Now, all Schools generally agree that Bhakthi should not be confined to theistic pursuits alone; it pervades and motivates all aspects human persuasions including studies, arts and literature. In the field of art, it would be better if the plethora of Rasa-theories is set aside; because, the purpose of Art, the practice of Bhakthi and the goal of Moksha are intertwined.

Therefore, it is said, it is not appropriate (an-auchitya) to narrow down Bhakthi to a mere Rasa which is only a partial aspect. Bhakthi is much larger; and it is prime mover of all meaningful pursuits in life.]


Dhvani and Rasa-Dhvani

With the rise of the Dhvani School, the elements of Rasa and Dhvani gained prominence, and superseded the earlier notions of poetry. And, all poetry was defined and classified in terms of these two elements.

Anandavardhana said: all good poetry has two modes of expression – one that is expressed by words embellished by Alamkara; and the other that is implied or concealed – what is inferred by the listener or the reader.

The suggested or the implied   sense of the word designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion) through its suggestive power brings forth proper Rasa. Abhinavagupta   qualified it by saying:   Dhvani is not any and every sort of suggestion, but only that sort which yields Rasa or the characteristic aesthetics delight.

For Anandavardhana, Dhvani (lit. The sounding-resonance) is the enigmatic alterity (otherness) of the Kavya-body- Sarirasye va Atma ….Kavyatmeti vyavasthitam (as the body has Atma, so does Dhvani resides as Atma in the Kavya)

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

Anandavardhana‘s definition of Kavya involves two statements: Sabda-Artha sariram tavath vakyam; and, Dhvanir Atma Kavyasa – the body of poetry is the combination of words and sounds; and; Dhavni, the suggestive power is the soul of the poetry. Here, Anandavardhana talks about poetry in terms of the body (Sabda–artha sariram tavath vakyam) and soul of the Kavya (Dhvanir atma Kavyasa). And he also refers to the internal beauty of a meaningful construction of words in the Kavya. And, he declares Dhvani as the Atma, the soul of poetry.

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

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

Then, Anandavardhana expanded on the object (phala) of poetry and how it is achieved (vyapara). The Rasa which is the object of poetry, he said, is not made; but, it is revealed. And, that is why words and meanings must be transformed to suggestions of Rasa (Rasa Dhvani).

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

Anandavardhana in some instances considers Rasa as the Angi (soul) of poetry. Its Anga-s (elements) such as Alamkara, Guna and Riti seem to be dependent on this Angi.

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

Anandavardhana regarded Rasa-Dhvani as the principal or the ideal concept in appreciation of poetry. He said that such suggested sense is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. It is apprehended only (Vidyate, kevalam) by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

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

He also termed the latter type of Rasa-Dhvani as Aloukika, the out-of–the world experience. It is an experience that is shared by the poet and the reader (Sahrudaya). In that, the reader, somehow, touches the very core of his being. And, that Aloukika is subjective ultimate aesthetic experience (ananda); and, it is not a logical construct. As Abhinavagupta says, it is a wondrous flower; and, its mystery cannot really be unraveled.

One can hardly disagree with Abhinavagupta. The concept of Kavyasya-Atma, the soul of Poetry is indeed a sublime concept; and, one can take delight is exploring layers and layers of its variations. Yet, it seems, one can, at best, only become aware of its presence, amorphously; but, not pin point it. Kavyasya-Atma, is perhaps best enjoyed when it is left undefined.

Happiness is such a fragile thing!! Very thought of it disturbs it.



in the

Next Part

Sources and References


An Integral View of Poetry: an India Perspective by Prof Vinayak Krishna Gokak

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by  Dr. Satya Deva Caudharī


Posted by on September 5, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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