Category Archives: Abhinavagupta

The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Eleven

Continued from Part ten


Para vac

According to Abhinavagupta

As mentioned in the previous Part, it is explained that the process of manifestation of speech, like that of the Universe, takes place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness (Sva-prakasha-chaitanya) is Para-vac (the voice beyond). Thereafter, this intention takes a shape. We can visualize the idea (Pashyanthi-vac) though it is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed; but, yet searching for words to give expression to the intention. This is the second stage in the manifestation of the idea. Then, the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes, finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of an idea into words, in the silence of the mind, is the third stage. It is the intermediary stage (Madhyama-vac) between un-manifest and manifest. The fourth stage being manifestation of the till then non-vocal verbalized ideas into perceptible sounds. It is the stage where the ideas are transmitted to others through articulated audible syllables (Vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the word.

In this part, let’s talk about the theories expounded and the explanations offered by two of the great thinkers – Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari – on the subject of different levels of speech or awareness.

While Bhartrhari regards levels of speech as three (Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari), Abhinavagupta discusses on four levels (Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari).

Some scholars have tried to reconcile that seeming difference between the stance of the two scholars  by explaining that Bhartrhari’s concept of the speech-principle Sabda-tattva or Sabda-brahman the fundamental basis of the all existence, virtually equates to Para Vac , the Supreme Consciousness adored by Abhinavagupta. In this connection, they remind of a passage in Bhartrhari’s Vritti on his Vakyapadiya where the description of Paśyantī Vac  is followed by a subtle hint at a para paśyantī – rūpam, which they take it as pointing towards  Abhinavagupta ‘s   Parā Vāc.

Let’s briefly take a look at the theories expounded by Abhinavagupta on various stages of language, speech and consciousness.


Abhinavagupta Acharya (Ca. 950 to 1020 C.E) the great philosopher, mystic and a true sadhaka, was the intellectual and a spiritual descendant of Somananda the founder of the Pratyabijnya School of Kashmiri Shaiva monism.  He was a many sided genius; a visionary endowed with incisive intellectual powers of a philosopher who combined in himself the experiences of a spiritualist and a Tantric. He was a prolific writer on Philosophy, Tantra, Aesthetics, Natya, Music and a variety of other subjects. His work Tantraloka in which he expounds Anuttara Trika, the ‘most excellent’ form of Trika Shaivism (Nara- Shakthi- Shivatmakam Trikam)  is regarded as his magnum opus. It is a sort of an encyclopedia on Tantra – its philosophy, symbolism and practices etc.

Abhinavagupta was also a scholar-commentator par excellence, equipped with extraordinary skills of an art critic.  Among his notable commentaries are: the Īśvarapratyabhijñā-vimarśini and its detailed version Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both being commentaries on Isvara-Pratyabhijña – kārikā and vtti (Recognition of Shiva as self) by Utpaladeva or Utpalācārya (early 10th century), an earlier philosopher of the Pratyabhijñā Darśhana School. And, Abhinavagupta’s Paratrisika-Laghuvritti (also known as the Anuttara-tattva-vimarsini) and its expanded form Parātrīśikā–vivarana a commentary on Parātrīśikā also known as the Trikasūtra (a seminal text on Kashmiri Shaivism) – which is based in the concluding portion of the Rudra-yamala-tantra – is held in high esteem.

And, his work Abhinavabharati though famed as a commentary on  Bharata’s  Natyasastra  is,  for all purposes, an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, poetry, music and art; and , it helps in understanding Bharata and also a number of other scholars and the concepts they had put forth. The Abhinavabharati along with his other two works – Isvara pratyabhijna Vimarshini and Dhvanyaloka Lochana – are highly significant works in the field of Indian aesthetics.

 [For more on Abhinavagupta, please click here]


Generally speaking, the Tantra-s of all tendencies deal with the nature of Vac and its manifestations. But, the tradition to which Abhinavagupta belonged – namely the Bhairava Tantra, and in particular to the Kula and Trika Tantras –  differs from the others in that it bestows greater importance to the nature and to the role of Vac.  It views Vac (language) at its highest level as identical with the Supreme Reality.

Abhinavagupta’s ideas and concepts with regard to language are based in the scriptures of his School and in his philosophy of language. Abhinavagupta’s speculations on the nature, on the levels of Vāc and its manifestations are, therefore, some of the important aspects of all his works. They run like a thread that ties together the diverse aspects of Abhinavagupta’s vast body of works.  The speculations on Vac also interweave his views on the religious and philosophical traditions that he expounds.

According to the Pratyabhijna School, Shiva is the Ultimate Reality; and, the individual and Shiva are essentially one. The concept of Pratyabhijna refers to self-awareness (parämarsa); to the way of recognition and realization of that identity. It firmly asserts that the state of Shiva-consciousness is already there; you have to realize that; and, nothing else. As Abhinavagupta puts it: Moksha or liberation is nothing but the awareness of one’s own true nature –Moksho hi nama naivathyah sva-rupa-pratanam hi tat.

Abhinavagupta, while explaining this school of recognition, says, man is not a mere speck of dust; but is an immense force, embodying a comprehensive consciousness; and, is capable of manifesting , through his mind and body, limitless powers of knowledge and action (Jnana Shakthi and Kriya Shakthi).

According to the Tantras of Kashmir Shaiva tradition, which recapture the ancient doctrine of Sphota, the manifestation of all existence is viewed as the expression of Shiva (visarga-shakthi) occurring on four levels. These represent the process of Srsti or outward movement or descending or proceeding from the most sublime to the ordinary. It is said; such four levels of evolution correspond with the four levels of consciousness or the four levels in the unfolding (unmesa) of speech (Vac).

Just as a Samkalpa (a pure thought) has to pass through several stages before it actually manifests as a concrete creative force, so also the Vac has to pass through several stages before it is finally audible at the gross level as Sabda (sound). Each level of Vac corresponds to a different level of existence. Our experience of Vac depends upon the refinement of our consciousness.

The latent, un-spoken, un-manifest, silent thought (Para) unfolds itself in the next three stages as pashyanti (thought visualized), Madhyamā (intermediate)   and Vaikhari (explicit) speech).

Though the speech (Vac) is seen to manifest in varied levels and forms, it essentially is said to be the transformation (Vivarta) of Para Vac, the Supreme consciousness (Cit),   which is harboured within Shiva in an undifferentiated (abheda) unlimited  form (Swatrantya).


Abhinavagupta describes Parā vāk as a luminous vibration (sphurattā) of pure consciousness in an undifferentiated state (paramam vyomam). While Shiva is pure consciousness (Prakasha); Devi is the awareness of this pure light (Vimarsha). It is highly idealized; and, is akin to a most fabulous diamond that is also aware of its own lustre and beauty. The two – Prakasha and Vimarsha – are never apart. The two together are manifest in the wonder and joy (Chamatkara) of Para vac. And, there is no knowledge, no awareness, which is not connected with a form of Para vac.

The Devi, as Parā Vāc, the vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda) is regarded as the foundation of all languages, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions; and, is, therefore, the seat of consciousness (cit, samvid). Consciousness, thus, is inseparable from the Word, because it is alive.

Vac (speech), he says, is a form of expression of consciousness. And, he argues, there could be no speech without consciousness. However, Consciousness does not directly act upon the principle of speech; but, it operates through intermediary stages as also upon organs and breath to deliver speech.

 Thus, Vac is indeed both speech and consciousness (chetana), as all actions and powers are grounded in Vac. Abhinavagupta says: Someone may hear another person speak, but if his awareness is obscured, he is unable to understand what has been said. He might hear the sounds made by the speaker (outer layer of speech); but, he would not be able to grasp its meaning (the inner essence – antar-abhiläpa)).


Abhinavagupta explains the process of evolution (Vimarsa) of speech in terms of consciousness, mind and cognitive activity (such as knowing, perceiving, reasoning, understanding and expressing).

In his Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-viti-vimarśinī  Abhinavagupta says: the group of sounds (Sabda-rasi) is the Supreme Lord himself; and, Devi as the array of alphabets (Matraka)   is his power (Shakthi) .

iha tāvat parameśvara śabdarāśi, śaktir asya bhinnābhinnarūpā mātkādevī, vargāṣṭaka rudraśaktyaṣṭaka pañcāśad varā pañcāśad rudraśaktaya

Abhinavagupta says: “When She (Parā vāc) is differentiating then she is known in three terms as Pašhyantī, Madhyamā, and Vaikharī.” The Kashmir Shaiva tradition, thus, identifies the Supreme Word, the Para Vac with the power of the supreme consciousness, Cit of Shiva – that is Devi the Shakthi.


According to Abhinavagupta, the Vac proceeds from the creative consciousness pulsations (spanda) of the Devi as Para-Vac, the most subtle and silent form of speech-consciousness. And then, it moves on, in stages, to more cognizable forms: Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi , going forth as seeing , ready to create in which there is no difference between Vachya– object and Vachaka – word); Madhyamā ( the sabda in its subtle form as existing in the anthahkarana or antarbhittï prior to manifestation); and ,  Vaikhari (articulated as gross physical speech). This is a process of Srsti or outward movement or descending proceeds from the most sublime to the mundane.

It is said; the gross aspect (sthūla) of nāda is called ‘sound’; while the subtle (sūkma) aspect is made of thought (cintāmaya bhavet); and, the aspect that is devoid of thought (cintayā rahita) is called Para, the one beyond

Sthūlam śabda iti prokta sūkma cintāmaya bhavet | cintayā rahita yat tu tat para parikīrtitam |

[This is similar to the structure and the principle of Sri Chakra where the consciousness or the energy proceeds from the Bindu at its centre to the outward material forms.

The Bindu or dot in the innermost triangle of the Sri Chakra represents the potential of the non-dual Shiva-Shakti. When this potential separates into Prakasha and Vimarsha it is materializes into Nada, the sound principle.]


There are also other interpretations of the four stages in the evolution of Vac.

:-It is also said; the stages of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari correspond to our four states of consciousness – Turiya (the transcendental state); Sushupti  (dreamless state);  Swapna  (dreaming state), and Jagrut (wakeful state).

Thus, Para represents the transcendental consciousness, Pashyanti represents the intellectual consciousness, Madhyamā represents the mental consciousness, and Vaikhari represents the physical consciousness. Our ability to experience different levels depends upon the elevation of our consciousness.

:-The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression are said to represent iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will), jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and kriya-shakthi (power of action) of the Devi .These three are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the centre of which is the dot-point (bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion Para-vac. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as Sabda-Brahman.

Rāmakantha (aka Rājānaka Rāma; Ca. 950 CE) in his commentary (Vritti) on Spandakārikā, explains, “The speech is indeed an action, the mediating part of the Word is made of knowledge, the will is its visionary part, which is subtle and is common essence in all [of them].”

Vaikharikā nāma kriyā jñānamayī bhavati madhyamā vāk/ Icchā puna pašyant ī sūkmā sarvāsā samarasā vtti/ /

 :-According to the Yoga School, the Para stage manifests in the Karanabindu in Muladhara chakra; and then it passes through Manipura and Anahata chakras that denote Pashyanti and Madhyama states of sound. And, its final expression or Vaikhari takes place in Vishudhi chakra.

 The Yoga Kundalini Upanishad explains thus: “The Vac which sprouts in Para gives forth leaves in Pashyanti; buds forth in Madhyamā, and blossoms in Vaikhari.”

:-The Tantra worships Devi as Parā Vāc who creates, sustains and dissolves the universe. She is the Kuṇḍalinī Śkakthi – the serpent power residing in the human body in the subtle form coiling around the Mūladhāra Chakra


According to Abhinavagupta, the Para Vac is always present and pervades all the levels of speech; and, is indeed present on all the levels from the highest to the lowest. By its projection, it creates the flash of pašyantī vāc, the intellectual form; and finally the articulate form, the Vaikhari. He also says that without Her (parā vāk), darkness and unconsciousness, would prevail.

pašyantyādi dašasv api vastuto vyavasthitā tayā vinā / pašyantyādiu aprakāšatāpattyā jaJaā-prasagāt /

 “Everything (sarvasarvātmaiva); stones, trees, birds, human beings, gods, demons and so on, is but the Para Vac present in everything and is, identical with the Supreme Lord.”

 ata eva sarve pāšāa-taru-tirya-manuya-deva-rudra-kevali -mantratadīša- tanmahešādikā ekaiva parābhaṭṭārikā-bhūmi sarva-sarvātmanaiva paramešvara- rūpeāste

Thus, the entire process of evolution of Vac is a series of movements from the centre of Reality to the periphery, in successive forms of Para-Vani.  Abhinavagupta states: Shiva as Para is manifested in all the stages, from the highest to the lowest, right up to the gross sound through his Shakthi; and, he remains undivided (avibhaga vedanatmaka bindu rupataya).


To put the entire discussion in a summary form:

:- According to the explanations provided here: Para is the highest manifestation of Vac. Para and Pashyanti are inaudible; they are beyond the range of the physical ear; and so is Madhyama which is an internal dialogue.

Thus, it is said, there are three stages in the manifestation of Vac: Para (highest); Sukshma (subtle – Pashyanti and Madhyama); and, Sthula (gross – Vaikhari)

Para, the transcendent sound, is beyond the perception of the senses; and, it is all pervading and all encompassing. Para is pure intention. It is un-manifest. One could say, it is the sound of one’s soul, a state of soundless sound. It exists within all of us. All mantras, infinite syllables, words, and sentences exist within Para in the form of vibration (Spanda) in a potential form.

Para-Vani or Para Vac, the Supreme Word, which is non-dual  (abeda) and  identified with  Supreme consciousness, often referred to as Sabda Brahma, is present in all  the subsequent stages; in  all the states of experiences and expressions  as Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari.


:-  Pashyanti , which also means the visual image of the word, is the first stage of Speech. It is the intuitive and initial vision; the stage preceding mental and verbal expression.  

Paśyantī is prior to sprouting of the language or ‘verbalization’, still potent and yet to unfold. Pasyanti, says Abhinavagupta, is the first moment of cognition, the moment where one is still wishing to know rather than truly knowing. 

In Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi, going forth as seeing, ready to create) there is no difference between Vachya – object and Vachaka – word. The duality of subject-object relation does not exist here. Pashyanti is indivisible and without inner-sequence; meaning that the origin and destination of speech are one, without the intervention of mental constructs (Vikalpa). Paśyantī is the state of Nirvikalpa.

It is the power of intent or will (Icchāśakti) that acts in Paśhyantī state. And yet, it carries within itself the potentials of the power of cognition, jñāna šhakthi, and the power of action, kriyā šhakthi.


:- Madhyama is an intellectual process, during which the speaker becomes aware of the word as it arises and takes form within him; and, grasps it. Madhyama vac is a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought, Here, the sound is nada; and, is in a wave or a vibratory (spandana) form.

Madhyamā is the intermediate stage (madhyabhūmi) of thinking. It is the stage at which the sabda in its subtle form exists in the anthahkarana (the internal faculty or the psychological process, including mind and emotions) prior to manifestation) as thought process or deliberation (chintana) which acts as the arena for sorting out various options or forms of discursive thought (vikalpa) and choosing the appropriate form of expression to be put out.

The seat of Madhyamā, according to Abhinavagupta, is intellect, buddhi. Madhyamā represents conception and internal articulation of the word- content. Madhyamā is the stage of Jñānaśakti where knowledge (bodha) or the intellect is dominant. It is the stage in which the word and its meaning are grasped in a subject-object relationship; and, where it gains silent expressions in an internal-dialogue.


:- And, finally, Vaikhari Vac is sequenced and verbalized speech, set in motion according to the will of the person who speaks. For this purpose, he employs sentences comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other.

Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which in a waveform reaches the ears and the intellect of the listener. Vaikhari is the physical form of nada that is heard and apprehended by the listener. It gives expression to subtler forms of vac.

The Vaikhari (which is related to the body) is the manifestation of Vac as gross physical speech of the ordinary tangible world of names and forms. Vaikharī represents the power of action Kriyāśakti. This is the plane at which the Vac gains a bodily- form and expression. Until this final stage, the word is still a mental or an intellectual event. Now, the articulated word comes out in succession; and, gives substance and forms to ones thoughts. Vaikharī is the final stage of communication, where the word is externalized and rendered into audible sounds (prākta dhvani).

There are further differences, on this plane, between a clear and loud pronunciation (Saghosha) and a one whispered in low voice (aghosha), almost a sotto voce. Both are fully articulated; what distinguishes them is that the former can be heard by others and the latter is not.


That is to say; Vac originates in consciousness; and, then, it moves on, in stages, to more cognizable forms : as Pashyanti, the vision of what is to follow; then as Madhyama the intermediate stage between the vision and the actual; and , finally as Vaikhari the articulated , fragmented, conventional level of everyday vocal expressions.

Thus, the urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para, Pashyanti into Vaikhari epitomizes, in miniature, the act of One becoming Many; and the subtle energy transforming into a less- subtle matter. Thus, the speech, each time, is an enactment in miniature of the progression of the One into Many; and the absorption of the Many into One as it merges into the intellect of the listener.


While on Abhinavagupta, we may speak briefly about the ways he illustrates the relation that exists between Shiva, Devi and the human individual, by employing the Sanskrit Grammar as a prop.

In the alphabetical chart of the Sanskrit language, A () is the first letter and Ha (ह) is the last letter. These two, between them, encompass the collection of all the other letters of the alphabets (Matrka).

Here, the vowels (Bija – the seed) are identified with Shiva; and, the consonants are wombs (yoni), identified with Shakthi. The intertwined vowels and consonants (Malini) in a language are the union of Shiva and Shakthi.

[ In the Traika tradition, the letters are arranged as per two schemes: Matrka and Malini. Here, Matrka is the mother principle, the phonetic creative energy. Malini is Devi who wears the garland (mala) of fifty letters of the alphabet.

The main difference between the Matrka and Malini is in the arrangement of letters. In Matrka , the letters are arranged in regular order ; that is , the vowels come first followed by consonants in a serial order. In Malini, the arrangement of letters is irregular. Here, the vowels and consonants are mixed and irregular; there is no definite order in their arrangement.]

According to Abhinavagupta, word is a symbol (sanketa). The four stages of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari represent the four stages of evolution and also of absorption ascent or descent from the undifferentiated to the gross.

Abhinavagupta then takes up the word AHAM (meaning ‘I’ or I-consciousness or Aham-bhava) for discussion. He interprets AHAM (अहं) as representing the four stages of evolution from the undifferentiated to the gross (Sristi); and, also of absorption (Samhara) back into the primordial source. In a way, these also correspond to the four stages of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama – and Vaikhari.


He explains that the first letter of that word – A () – represents the pure consciousness Prakasha or Shiva or Anuttara, the absolute, the primal source of all existence. It also symbolizes the initial emergence of all the other letters; the development of the languages.

And, Ha (ह) is the final letter of the alphabet-chart; and, it represents the point of completion when all the letters have emerged. Ha symbolizes Vimarsha or Shakthi, the Devi. The nasal sound (anusvāra) which is produced by placing a dot or Bindu on ‘Ha(हं) symbolises the union of Shiva and Shakthi in their potent state.

The Bindu (◦) or the dimension-less point is also said to represent the subtle vibration of the life-force (Jiva-kala) in the process of creation. It stands at the threshold of creation. It is the pivot around which the cycle of energies from A to Ha rotate. Bindu also is also said to symbolize in the infinite nature (aparimitha-bhava) of AHAM.

As regards and the final letter M (ह्म) providing the final nasal sound, it comes at the end of the vowel series, but before the consonants. It is therefore called Anusvara – that which follows the Svaras (vowels). And, it represents the individual soul (Purusha).


Abhinavagupta interprets AHAM as composed of Shiva; the Shakthi; and the Purusha – as the natural innate mantra the Para vac.

In the process of expansion (Sristi), Shiva, representing the eternal Anuttara, which is the natural, primal sound A () , the life of the entire range of letter-energies (sakala-kala-jaala-jivana –bhutah) , assumes the form of Ha’ (हं) the symbol of Shakthi; and, then he expands into Bindu (◦) symbolizing phenomenal world (Nara rupena).

Thus, AHAM is the combine of Shiva-Shakthi that manifests as the world we experience. Here, Shakthi is the creative power of Shiva; and it is through Shakthi that Shiva emerges as the material world of human experience. AHAM , therefore, represents the state in which all the elements of experience, in the inner and the outer worlds, are fully displayed. Thus, Shakthi is the creative medium that bridges Nara (human) with Shiva.


At another level, Abhinavagupta explains: The emergence (Visarga) of Shakthi takes place within Aham.  She proceeds from A which symbolizes unity or non-dual state (Abedha). Shakthi as symbolized by Ha represents duality or diversity (bedha); and, the dot (anusvara or bindu) on Ha symbolizes bedha-abeda – that is, unity transforming into diversity. These three stages of expansion are known as Para visarga; Apara visarga; and Para-apara visarga.

Here, Para is the Supreme state, the Absolute (Shiva) ; Para-apara is the intermediate stage of Shakthi, who is identical with Shiva and also different; she is duality emerging out of the undifferentiated; and, Apara is the duality that is commonly experienced in the world.

Aham (अहं), in short, according to Abhinavagupta, encapsulates the process of evolution from the undifferentiated Absolute (Shiva) to the duality of the world, passing through the intermediate stage of Bheda- abeda, the threshold of creation, the Shakthi. All through such stages of seeming  duality , Shiva remains undivided (avibhaga vedanatmaka bindu rupataya).

The same principle underlines the transformation, in stages, of the supreme word Para Vac the Supreme Word, which is non-dual and identified with Supreme consciousness, into the articulate gross sound Vaikhari.


[ Abhinavagupta in his Paratrisika Vivarana says :  In all the dealings , whatever happens , whether it is a matter of knowledge (jnana) or action (kriya) – all of that arises in the fourth state (turyabhuvi) , that is in the Para-vac in an un-differentiated  (gatabhedam ) way. In Pashyanti which is the initial field in the order of succession (kramabhujisu) there is only a germ of difference. In Madhyamā, the distinction between jneya (the object of knowledge) and karya (action) appears inwardly, for a clear-cut succession or order is not possible at this stage (sphutakramayoge).

Moreover , Pashyanti and Madhyamā fully relying on Para which is ever present and from which there is no distinct distinction of these ( bhrsam param abhedato adhyasa)  (later ) regards that stage as if past like a mad man or one who has got up from sleep.


Abhinavagupta in his Para-trisika Varnana explains and illustrates the Tantric idiom ‘sarvam sarvatmakam’: everything is related to everything else. The saying implies that the universe is not chaotic ; but , is an inter-related system. The highest principle is related to the lowest (Shiva to the gross material object) .

Abhinavagupta illustrates this relation by resorting to play on the letters in the Sanskrit alphabets, and  the tattvas or the principles of reality.

He says “ the first is the state of Pasu , the bound individual; the second is the state of jivanmuktha or of the Pathi , the Lord himself  for : khechari –samata is the highest  state of Shiva both in life and in liberation”. Khechari is the Shakthi moving in free space (kha) , which is an image of consciousness. Khechari-samaya is described as the state of harmony and identity with the Divine I-consciousness-Akritrima-aham-vimarsha .]


In a play on words, Abhinavagupta turns Aham backwards into Maha; and, interprets it to mean the withdrawal (Samhara) or absorption of the material existence into the primordial state. Here again, in MAHA, the letter Ma stands for individual; Ha for Shakthi; and, A for Shiva (Anuttara the ultimate source).

In the reverse movement, Ma the individual (Nara) is absorbed into Shakthi (Ha) which enters back into the Anuttara the primal source the Shiva (A).  That is; in the process of withdrawal, all external objects come to rest or finally repose in the ultimate Anuttata aspect (Aham-bhava) of Shiva.

Thus the two states of expansion (sristi) and withdrawal (samhara) are pictured by two mantras Aham and Maha.

In both the cases, Shakthi is the medium. In Aham, it is through Shakthi that Shiva manifests as multiplicity. And, in Maha, Shakthi, again, is the medium through which the manifestation is absorbed back into Shiva. She, like the breath, brings out the inner into the outer; and again, draws back the outside into within. That is the reason Shakthi is often called the entrance to Shiva philosophy (Shaivi mukham ihocyate).

 Abhinavagupta remarks: this is the great secret (Etad Guhyam Mahaguhyam); this is the source of the emergence of the universe; and, this is the withdrawal of the mundane into the sublime Absolute. And, this also celebrates the wonder and delight (Chamatkara) emanating from the union of the two Shiva and Shakthi.


[ In all the voluminous and complex writings of Abhinavagupta, the symbolism of Heart (Hrudaya) plays an important role. He perhaps meant it to denote ‘the central point or the essence’. His religious vision is explained through the symbol of heart, at three levels – the ultimate reality, the method and the experience. The first; the Heart, that is, the ultimate nature (anuttara – there is nothing beyond) of all reality, is Shiva. The second is the methods and techniques employed (Sambhavopaya) to realize that ultimate reality.  And, the third is   to bring that ideal into ones experience.

The Heart here refers, in his words ‘to an experience that moves the heart (hrudaya-angami-bhuta). He calls the third, the state of realization as Bhairavatva, the state of the Bhairava. He explains through the symbolism of Heart to denote   the ecstatic light of consciousness as ‘Bhaira-agni-viliptam’, engulfed by the light of Bhairava that blazes and flames continuously. Sometimes, he uses the term ‘nigalita’ melted or dissolved in the purifying fire-pit the yajna–vedi of Bhairava. He presents the essential nurture (svabhava) of Bhairava as the  self-illuminating (svaprakasha) light of consciousness (Prakasha).  And, Bhairava is the core phenomenon (Heart – Hrudaya) and the ultimate goal of all spiritual Sadhanas.

When we use the term ‘understanding’, we also need to keep in view the sense in which Abhinavagupta used the term.  He makes a distinction between the understanding that is purely intellectual and the one that is truly experienced. The latter is the Heart of one’s Sadhana.

The Heart of Abhinavagupta is that a religious vision is not merely intellectual, emotional or imagined. But, it is an experience that is at once pulsating, powerful and transforming our very existence.

The Triadic Heart of Siva by Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega]


In the next part let’s see the explanations and the discussions provided by Bhartrhari on the various levels of the language (Vac).



In the

 Next Part

Sources and References

Abhinavagupta and the word: some thoughts By Raffaele Torella

Sanskrit terms for Language and Speech

The Four levels of Speech in Tantra

Bettina Baeumer -Second Lecture – Some Fundamental Conceptions of Tantra

 Sphota theory of Bhartrhari

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 edited by Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, Karl H Potter

Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained by William S. Haney



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Abhinavabharati – an interpretation of Bharata’s Natyasastra

This may be treated as a sequel to my earlier blog Abhinavagupta wherein I presented a brief life sketch of the great scholar and mystic. I made, therein, a passing reference to his monumental work Abhinavabharati (a commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra) but could not discuss its salient features as the blog was already getting lengthy. I propose to talk here about a few aspects of Abhinavabharati. It would not be a review or a commentary on the great work, because such a task is beyond my capabilities. I shall try to avoid as many technical terms as possible.

1. Abhinavagupta (11th century) was a visionary endowed with incisive intellectual powers of a philosopher who combined in himself the experiences of a mystic and a tantric. He was equipped with extraordinary skills of a commentator and an art critic. His work Abhinavabharati though famed as a commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra is, for all purposes, an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, poetry, music and art. Abhinavabharati along with his other two works Isvara pratyabhijna Vimarshini and Dhvanyaloka Lochana are important works in the field of Indian aesthetics. They help in understanding Bharata and also a number of other scholars and the concepts they put forth.

2. There are only a handful of commentaries that are as celebrated, if not more, as the texts on which they commented upon. Abhinavabharati is one such rare commentary. Abhinavagupta illumines and interprets the text of the Bharata at many levels: conceptual, structural and technical. He comments, practically, on its every aspect; and his commentary is a companion volume to Bharata’s text.

3. There are a number of reasons why Abhinavabharati is considered a landmark work and why it is regarded important for the study of Natyasastra. Just to name a few, briefly:

(i).The Natyasastra is dated around second century BCE. The scholars surmise that the text was reduced to writing several centuries after it was articulated. Until then, the text was preserved and transmitted in oral form. The written text facilitated reaching it to different parts of the country and to the neighbouring states as well. But, that development of turning a highly systematized oral text in to a written tome, strangely, gave rise to some complex issues, including the one of determining the authenticity of the written texts. Because, each part of the country, where the text became popular, produced its own version of Natyasastra and in its own script. 

For instance, Natyasastra spread to Nepal, Almora to Ujjain, Darbhanga, Maharashtra, Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The earliest known manuscripts which come from Nepal are in Newari script. The text also became available in many other scripts – Devanagari, Grantha, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam. There were some regional variations as well. It became rather difficult for the later-day scholars, to evolve criteria for determining the authenticity and purity of the text particularly with the grammatical mistakes and scribes errors that crept in during the protracted process of transliterations. Therefore, written texts as they have comedown to us through manuscripts merely represent the residual record or an approximation to the original; but not the exact communication of the oral tradition that originated from Bharata. [Similar situation obtains in most other Indian texts/traditions.]

His commentary Abhinavabharati dated around tenth or the eleventh century predates all the known manuscripts of the Natyasastra, which number about fifty-two; and all belong to the period between twelfth and eighteenth century. The text of Natyasastra that Abhinavagupta followed and commented upon thus gained a sort of benchmark status.

(ii). Because Natyasastra was, originally, transmitted in oral form, it was in cryptic aphoristic verses –sutras that might have served as “memory-aid” to the teachers and pupils, with each Sutra acting as pointer to an elaborate discussion on a theme. The Sutras, by their very nature, are terse, crisp and often inscrutable. Abhinavabharati, on the other, hand is a monumental work largely in prose; and it illumines and interprets the text of the Bharata at many levels, and comments on practically every aspect of Natyasastra. Abhinava’s commentary is therefore an invaluable guide and a companion volume to Bharata’s text.

(iii).Abhinavabharati is the oldest commentary available on Natyasastra. All the other previous commentaries are now totally lost. The fact such commentaries once existed came to light only because Abhinavagupta referred to them in his work and discussed their views. Abhinava is the only source for discerning the nature of debate of his predecessors such as Bhatta Lollata, Srisankuka, Bhatta Nayaka and his Guru Bhatta Tauta. The works of all those masters can only be partially reconstructed through references to them in Abhinavabhrati. Further, Abhinavagupta also brought to light and breathed life into ancient and forgotten scholarship of fine rhetoricians Bhamaha, Dandin and Rajashekhara.

What was interesting was that each of those scholars was evaluating Bharata’s exposition of the concepts of rasa and Sthayibhava against the background of the tacit assumptions of their particular school of thought such as Samkhya, yoga and others. Abhinavagupta presented the views of his predecessors and then went on to expound and improve upon Bharata’s concepts in the light of his own school –Kashmiri Shaivism.

 (iv).Abhinavaguta’s influence has been profound and pervasive. Succeeding generations of writers on Natya have been guided by his concepts and theories of rasa, bhava, aesthetics and dramaturgy. No succeeding writer or commentator could ignore Abhinavaguta’s commentary and the discussions on two crucial chapters of the Natyasastra namely VI and VII on Rasa and Bhava.

Abhinavabharati is thus a bridge between the world of the ancient and forgotten wisdom and the scholarship of the succeeding generations.

(v).The publication of Abhinavabharati brought in to focus and opened up a whole new debate on Bharata’s theories on rasa the aesthetic experience. Abhinava extended the eight rasas categorized by Bharata, by adding one more to the list, the Shanta rasa. Abhinava considered Shantha rasa(peace, tranquillity) as not merely an additional rasa but the summun bonum of all rasas. It is one attribute, he said, that permeates all else and in to which everything else moves to reside (hridaya_vishranthi). Since then, almost everyone goes by the concept of Navarasa, the nine-rasas.

(v). Abhinavagupta turned the attention away from the linguistic and related abstractions; instead, brought focus on the human mind, specifically the mind of the reader or viewer or the spectator. He tried to understand the way people respond to a work of art or a play. He called it rasadhvani.According to which the spectator is central to the appreciation of a play.

He placed the spectator at the centre of the aesthetic experience. He said the object of any work of art is Ananda. He emphasized that the Sahrudaya, the initiated spectator/audience/receptor, the one of attuned heart, is central to that experience. Without his hearty participation the expressions of all art forms are rendered pointless. An educated appreciation is vital to the manifestation and development of art forms. . And, an artistic expression finds its fulfillment in the heart of the recipient.

The aim of a play might be to provide pleasure; that pleasure must not, however, bind but must liberate the spectator.

4. Abhinavabharati just as Natyasastra is also a bridge between the realms of philosophy and aesthetics, and between aesthetic of mysticism. Abhinava did not consider aesthetics and philosophy as mutually exclusive. On the other hand, his concepts of aesthetics grew out of the philosophies he admired and practiced – the Shiva siddantha. 

Interestingly, while Abhinavagupta extended and applied philosophical schools of thought to understand and to explain concepts such as rasabhava etc, the latter-day exponents of aesthetics such as the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, reversed the process. They strove to derive a school of philosophy by lending interpretations to poetic compositions and to the characters portrayed in them. For instance. The Vaishnavas interpreted poet Jayadeva’s most adorable   poetry Gita_Govinda; and its characters of Krishna and Radha in their own light; and derived from that, a new and a vibrant philosophy   of divine love based in Bhakthi rasa.

The two approaches have become so closely intertwined that it is now rather difficult to view them separately. In any case, they enrich and deepen the understanding of each other.

6. The aesthetics and philosophy, in his view, both aim to attain supreme bliss and freedom from the mundane. Along their journey towards that common goal, the two, at times, confluence as in a pilgrimage; interact or even interchange their positions.

Abhinava’s view, in a way, explains the thin and almost invisible dividing line between the sacred and profane art; religious and secular art; or between religion and art in the Indian context. 

8. Abhinava begins by explaining his view of aesthetics and its nature. Then goes on to state how that aesthetic experience is created. During the process, he comments on Bharata’s concepts and categories of rasa and sthayibhava, the dominant emotive statesHe also examines Bharata’s other concepts of Vibhava, Anubhava and vyabhichari (Sanchari) bhavas and their subcategories Uddipana (stimulant) and aalambana (ancillaries). Abhinava examines these concepts in the light of Shaiva philosophyand explains the process of One becoming many and returning to the state of repose (vishranthi). [I would not be discussing here most of those concepts.]

For Abhinavagupta, soaked in sublime principles of Shaivism, the aesthetic experience is Ananda the unique bliss.He regards such aesthetic experience as different from any ordinary experience and as a subjective realization. It is alukika (out of the ordinary world), he said, and is akin to mystic experience. That experience occurs in a flash as of a lightening; it is a Chamatkara .It is free from earthly limitations and isself luminous (svaprakasha). It is Ananda.


9. Abhinava makes a distinction between the world of drama and the real but ordinary life. In the artistic process, we are moving from the gross to more subtle forms of expressions and experiences; we move from individualized experiences to general representations; and from multiplicity to unity.

He says that the feeling that might cause pain in real life is capable of providing pleasure in an art form. He explains, while viewing a performance on stage one might appreciate and enjoy the display of sorrow, separation, cruelty, violence and even the grotesque; and one may even relish it as aesthetic experience. But, in real life no one would like to be associated with such experiences.

A true connoisseur of arts has to learn to detach the work of art from its surroundings and happenings; and view it independently.

He asserts, the “wilful suspension of disbelief” is a prerequisite for enjoying any art expression. The moment one starts questioning it or doubting it and looking at it objectively; the experience loses its aesthetic charm and it becomes same as a mundane object.

One enjoys a play only when one can identify the character as character from the drama and not as ones friend or associate. The spectator should also learn to disassociate the actor from the character he portrays.

He says the theatrical experience is quite unlike the experience in the mundane and the real world; it is alaukika.

In summary; he draws a theory that the artistic creation is the expression of a feeling that is freed from localized distinctions; it is the generalization of a particular feeling. It comes in to being through the creative genius (prathibha) of the artist. It finally bears fruit in the spectator who derives Ananda, the joy of aesthetic experience. That, he says, is Rasa – the ultimate emotional experience created in the heart of the sahrudaya. 

He illustrates his position through the analogy of a tree and its fruit. Here, the play is the tree; performance is the flower; and spectator’s experience is the fruit.

Rasa, the relish of the spectator, is the ultimate product (phala) of a dramatic performance, as that of a fruit borne by a tree :  “the play is born in the heart of the poet; it flowers as it were in the actor; and, it bears fruit in the delight (ananda) experienced by the spectator.” .. ”And, if the artist or poet has inner force of creative intuition (prathibha)…that should elevate the spectator to blissful state of pure joy ananda.”

 According to Abhinavagupta, the object of the entire exercise is to provide pure joy to the spectator. Without his participation all art expressions are pointless.

Thus, he brought the spectator from the edge of the stage into the very heart of the dramatic  performance and its experience.


Let’s talk a little more about rasa.

10. Rasa–roughly translated as artistic enjoyment or emotive aesthetics –is one of the most important concepts in classical Indian aesthetics, having pervasive influence in theories of painting, sculpture, dance, poetry and drama. It is hard to find a corresponding term in the English language. In its aesthetic employment, the word rasa has been translated as mood, emotional tone, or sentiment or more literally, as flavour, taste, or juice.

The chapters VI and VII in Bharata’s Natyasastra have been the mainstay of the rasa concept in all traditional literature, dance and theatre arts in India. Bharata says that which can be relished – like the taste of food – is rasa – Rasyate anena iti rasaha (asvadayatva) .Though the term is associated with palate, it is equally well applicable to the delight afforded by all forms of art; and the pleasure that people derive from their art experience. It is literally the activity of savouring an emotion in its full flavour. The term might also be taken to mean the essence of human feelings.

If rasa is that which can be tasted or enjoyed; then Rasika is the connoisseur.

Dhananjaya, the author or the treatise called Dasrupaka says,” Anything be it beautiful or ugly, dignified or despicable, dreadful or of a pleasing appearance, deep or deformed, object or non-object, whatever it be, could be transformed in to rasa by poets’ imagination”

11. According to Bharata, the principal human feelings are eight: delight, laughter, sorrow, anger, energy, fear, disgust, heroism, and astonishment. These correspond to eight rasas: erotic, comic, pathetic, furious, heroic, terrible, odious, and marvelous. These rasas comprise the components of aesthetic experience.

Abhinavagupta interpreted rasa as a “stream of consciousness”.  He then went on to expand the scope and content of the rasa spectrum by adding the ninth rasa: the Shantha rasa, the one of tranquillity and peace.

Abhinava explained that Shantha rasa underlies all the other mundane rasas as their common denominator. All the other rasas emanate from the Shantha rasa and resolve in to it. Shantha rasa is a state where the mind is at rest, in a state of tranquility.The other rasas are more transitory in character than is shanta rasa. The Shanta Rasa is the ultimate rasa the summum bonum.

Following Abhinavagupta, the theory of nine-rasas, the navarasa, became universally acceptable in all branches of Indian aesthetics. And, shantha rasa has come to be regarded as the rasa of rasas.

Abhinavagupta mentioned Bhakti as an important component of the Shantha rasa. Following which, the later poetic traditions reckoned Bhakthi (devotion) and Vathsalya (affection) as being among the navarasa. The magnificent epic Srimad Bhagavatha was hailed as the classic example of portrayal ofBhakthi, Vathsalya, and Shantha rasas. The poets and the divine inspired singers, notably after 11thcentury, provided a tremendous impetus to the Bhakthi movement.


12. Rasa is conveyed to the enjoyer– the Rasika or Sahrudaya – through words, music, colors, forms, bodily expressions, gestures etc. These modes of expressions are called bhavas. For example, in order for the audience to experience srngara (the erotic rasa), the playwright, actors and musician work together employing appropriate words, music, gestures and props to produce the bhava called rati (love).

The term bhava means both existence and a mental state, and in aesthetic contexts it has been variously translated as feelings, psychological states, and emotions. In the context of the drama, they are the emotions represented in the performance.

According to Bharata, the playwright experiences a certain emotion, which then is expressed on the stage by the performers through words, music, gestures and actions. The portrayal of emotions is termed bhavasRasa, in contrast, is the emotional response the bhavas inspire in the spectator. Rasais thus an aesthetically transformed emotional state experienced, with enjoyment, by the spectator.

While rasas are created by bhavas, the bhavas by themselves carry no meaning in the absence of Rasa (Nahi rasadyate kashid_apyarthah pravattate). Their forms and manifestations are defined by the rasa.

13. Abhinavagupta argues that a play could be a judicious mix of several rasas, but should be dominated by one single rasa that defines the tone and texture of the play. He cites Nagananda of Sri Harsha and explains though the play had to deal with the horrific killing of the hapless Nagas; it underplays scenes of violence, and radiates the message of peaceful coexistence and compassion. It is that aesthetic experience of peace and compassion towards the fellow beings that the spectator carries home.

Similarly, Abhinava explains, a character in the play might display several rasas; but its inner core or essence is meant to convey a single dominant rasa. The bhava – the modes of expressions, the facial and bodily gestures – would be colored or delineated by the dominant rasa meant to be conveyed by that character.

For instance, Rama is regarded the personification of grace, dignity, courage and valour. He conveys a sense of peace and nobility .That does not mean Rama should perpetually be looking dull and stiff like a starched scarf. He too has his moments of humour, anger, frustration, rage, helplessness, sorrow, dejection and even boredom. The modes of expression of those emotions (bhavas) through his gesture and words have to find a form to contribute to the overall rasa that Rama conveys – the shantha. Therefore , his smile is gentle and beatific, his laugh is like peels of temple bells, his love is graceful , he does not lose composure while in sorrow , his anger is like a white-hot flame with no smoke of haltered, and his treatment of the enemy is dignified and has an undercurrent of compassion.

While in the portrayal of Ravana, the smile is sardonic, the laughter is bellowing and thunderous , the expressions of love are heavily tinted with greed and passion, his anger is grotesque and full of hate, his treatment of his followers is laced with contempt , he is intolerant of any dissent and shows no mercy to the vanquished. Raudra, the fearsome aspect is conveyed through his bhavas.

The gestures – smile, laughter, love, anger etc. – in either case are the similar; but the manner they are enacted, the personality they radiate and the character they help to portray are different. But all such bhavas contribute to conveying the intended rasa.

It is therefore said, bhava is that which becomes (bhoo, bhav, i.e., to become); and bhava becomes rasa. And, it is not the other way. Rasa is the essence of art conveyed.


14. There is a very interesting discussion about the progression in the development of a character, from the playwright’s desk (or even prior) to the theatrical stage. . Abhinava discusses the arguments, in this regard, of his predecessors (such as Sankuka, Lollota, and Bhattanayaka) and then puts forth his own views.

 Let’s, for instance, take a character from history or mythology (say, Rama).No one, really, was privy to the mental process of that person. Yet, the playwright tries to grasp the essence of the character; and strives to give a concrete form to the abstract idea of Rama, in his own way. The director, the sutradara, tries to interpret the spirit and substance of the play, and the intentions of the playwright, as he understands it. The actor in turn absorbs the inputs provided by both the playwright and the director. In addition, the actor brings in his own creative genius, skill, his experience on the stage, and his own understanding of the character in order to recreate the “idea” of Rama. All the while, the actor is also aware that he is just an actor on stage trying to portray a character. 

The actor’s emotional experience while enacting the character might possibly be similar to what the playwright and /or the director had visualized; but it certainly would not  be identical.

The actor as a true connoisseur and a skilled performer has an identity of his own; he does not merely imitate (anukarana) the character as if he were its mold (paratikrirti); but, he projects the possible responses of the character (anukirtana) to the situations depicted in the play-text, in his own way, through the portals of the character’s stated disposition (bhava) and its essential nature (svabhava) , as he has understands it (aropita-svarupa).

What is presented on stage is the amalgam, in varying proportions, of experiences and impressions derived from diverse sources.  The actor’s inspiration finds its roots in several soils. His performance on stage, thus , resembles the mythical inverted tree, bearing fruits of the dedication and efforts of many – seen and unseen.

In so far as the spectator is concerned, he, of course, would not be aware of the contributions of either the playwright or the director; or even of the mental process of the actor in producing the artistic creation. His experience is derived, entirely, from the performance presented on the stage.

There is absolutely  no way an actor or a spectator could feel and experience in exactly the same way as the “original “- on whom the character was modelled. The spectator does not obviously receive the original; instead he infers from the forms of created artistic imitations of the original presented on the stage, sieved through the combined efforts and experiences of the playwright, the director and the actor.

Abhinava remarks, the question whether the idea of the character as received by the spectator through the performance on the stage , was identical to its “original “ historical personage, is not quite relevant. What matters, he says, is the emotional experience (rasa) inspired in the shahrudaya the goodhearted – cultured spectator. How did it impact him? That, in fact, is the essence and fulfilment of any art.

Another illustration discussed in this context is that of Chitra_turaga, a pictorial horse. Abhinava said he got it from his predecessor Sri Sankuka, .A painting of a horse is not a horse; but it is an idea or the representation of a horse. One doesn’t mistake the painting for the horse. The artistic creation though not real can arouse in the mind of the spectator, the experience of the original object. Art cannot reproduce all the qualities of the original subject. The process of artistic creation is, therefore, inferential and indirect; rather than direct perception.

Mammata, an eleventh century Kashmiri aesthete, endorsed Abhinava’s views by stressing that the object in art is a virtual and not physical.

According to Abhinavagupta a real work of art, in addition to possessing emotive charge carries a strong sense of suggestion and the potential to produce various meanings. It can communicate through suggestions and evoke layers of meanings and emotions.

A true aesthetic object, Abhinava declares, not merely stimulates the senses but also ignites the imagination of the viewer. With that, the spectator is transported to a world of his own creation. That experience sets the individual free from the confines of place, time and ego (self); and elevates him to the level of universal experience. Thus art is not mundane; it is Alaukika in its nature.


Please also read Bharata’s Natyasastra -some reflections

Bharata: The Natyasastra by Kapila Vatsayan

Introduction to Bharata’s Natyasastra by Adya Rangacharya

 A glimpse into Abhinavagupta’s ideas on aesthetics by Geetika Kaw Kher


Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Abhinavagupta, Natya, Sanskrit


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Bharata’s Natya-Shastra – some reflections

Nayana dutta2

1. Natya-Shastra is a detailed compendium of technical instructions about the performing arts. It was meant as a practical manual for  production of successful theatrical performances, which included music and dance as well as acting. It was also intended as a guide to the poet and to the performer, alike. 

1.1. The text is in the form of elaborate dialogues between the author and a group of Munis , sages who wished to know about Natya-Veda, the knowledge of the performing arts such as dance, music and dramaThe author, in response, presents a detailed inquiry in to the various facets of drama including its nature; is origin; its theories, techniques of the theater with all its components of speech, body-language, gestures, costumes, décor and the state of mind of the performers, apart from rituals, architecture of theater etc. Written in archaic form of Sanskrit, the text consists about six thousand (5,569 – to be exact) sutras or verse-stanzas spread over thirty-six chapters. Some passages are in prose.

Because the Natyasastra has about 6,000 verses, the text is also known as Sat-sahasri. The later authors and commentators (Dhanika, Abhinavagupta and Sarada-tanaya) refer to the text as Sat-sahari; and, its author as Sat-sahasri-kara.

But, the text having 6,000 verses is said to be a condensed version of an earlier and larger text having about 12,000 verses (dwadasha_sahasri). It is said; the larger version was known as Natya- agama and the shorter as Natya-shastra.

2. Though the  Natya-Shastra speaks of theater (natya), it actually encompasses all forms of art expressions. The text, in fact, claims that there is no knowledge, no craft, no lore, no art, no technique and no activity that is not found in Natya-Shastra (1.16). The reason that theater-arts were discussed specifically is that, in the ancient Indian context, drama was considered the most comprehensive form of art-expressions. Further, at the time the Nataya Shastra was compiled, the arts of poetry, dance, music and drama; and even painting, sculpture and architecture were not viewed as separate and individualized streams of art forms. It was an integral vision of art, which blossomed in multiplicity. All art expressions were viewed as vehicles of beauty providing both pleasure and education, through refinement of senses and sense perceptions. The object of the drama was to show men and women the proper way to live, a way in which one could live and behave, so that one might be a still better person.

“A play shows your actions and emotions. Neither gods nor demons are depicted as always good or always evil. Actually, the ways of the world as represented here are not only of the gods but also of yours. It gives you good advice; it gives you enlightenment and also entertainment. It provides peace of mind to those who afflicted with miseries, sorrow, grief or fatigue. There is no art, no knowledge, no yoga, and no action that is not found in Natya.”  (Natya-Shastra 1: 106=07; 112-14)

 Bharata explained Drama as the representation of the actions of Men of various natures (Prakrti).That is to say; the Drama, in its various forms of art, poetry etc , strives to depict the infinite variety of human characters .

That is the reason, Bharata says, one should study the various human habits and natures (Prakrti) on which the art of Drama is based.  And, for which the world, the society we live in is the most authoritative source of knowledge (Pramana) . All those involved with the Drama should realize this truth – (NS: 25.123)

Nana-sheelah prakutyah  sheele natyam pratihitam / tasma-loka-pramane hi vigneyam natya yo krubhihi // (NS: 25.123)

Bharata also mentions the five elements of the plot (artha-prakrti) of the Drama as the seed (Bija); the prominent point (Bindu); the episode (Pataka); the incident in the episode (Prakari) and the dramatic outcome (Karya). These are to be used according to the main Rasa of the play and the prescriptions of the Shastra.(NS: 19.21)

Bijah Bindu Pataka cha Prakari  karyameva cha / Artha-prakrutyah pancha tatva yojya tata vidihi // (NS:19.21)

2.1. The text employs Natya as a generic term, which broadly covers drama, dance and music .It does not treat dance as a separate category of art form. Bharata while dealing with Angikabhinaya (body-language) speaks of nrtta, pure movements that carry no meaning – as compared to Abhinaya (literally meaning that which carries the meaning forward towards the audiencei. e. gestures that convey specific meaning. Nrtta was, in fact, meant to provide beauty, grace and a certain luster to the performance. The postures of the nrtta (called karanas) were classified by Bharata as tandava and sukumara, to convey vigor and grace.

[ Nandikeshwara (circa sixth century), author of Abhinaya_darpana, is believed to be the first to recognize dance as an independent art. He called it natanam; and classified it in to nrtta (Pure dance), nrtya (abhinaya – expressional aspectand natya (combination of nritta and nrtya with a dramatic element to it).]

3. It is said that the text which we know as Natya-Shastra was based on an earlier text that was much larger. And, many views presented in Natya-Shastra are believed to be based on the works of other scholars. There are frequent references to other writers and other views; there are repetitions; there are contradictory passages; there are technical terms, which are not supported by the tradition.

 [ In the preface to his great work Natya-shastra of Bharatamuni (Volume I, Second Edition , 1956) Pundit M. Ramakrishna Kavi mentions that Panini , in his Astadhyayi refers to  two  groups or schools of Nata-sutra-kara ( actors – directors- producers) : Silali and Krasava. But in the Natyavarga of Amara-kosha (2.10.12) there is reference to three types, groups ( or schools ) of Nata-sutra-kara : Silali ; Krasava; and,  Bharata .


It appears that in the later times,  the former two Schools (Silali and Krasava) , which flourished earlier to Bharata , went out of existence or merged with the School of Bharata; and, nothing much has come down to us  about these older Schools. And, it is said, the Bharata himself was  predeceded  by  Adi-Bharata and Vriddha (senior) Bharata.  And, all the actors of whatever earlier Schools, later came to be known as Bharata-s. ]

3.1. These factors lend support to the view that Natya-Shastra might have been the work of not one single author but of several authors, spread over a long period of time.

Ms. Kapila Vatsyayan, a well known scholar, however observes that the text projects an integrated vision and   a unity of purpose. She points out many instances of reference to later chapters in the text, and says they are indicative of the coherent and well knit organic nature of the work. 

For those reasons, she concludes, Natya-Shastra was the work of a single author.

3.2. Bharata gave a definite structure to the drama; and said every play must have a rasa and each of the eight rasas providing enjoyment to the audience. A rasa depends on the type of the story and sort of the hero. According to him, hero (neta), story (vastu) and rasa (artistic enjoyment) constitute the essential ingredients of a drama.

Natya-Shastra strives with a single pointed devotion to bestow an artistic form and content to what was still then a vulgar source of entertainment. Bharata could say with pride “parents could watch a dramatic performance in company of their sons and daughters-in-law.”(Natya-Shastra– 22:288)

3.3. That leads us to the question who was this author? Was Bharata his name   ? Was Bharata the name of his tribe? Or, was it a clever acronym?

There are, of course, no clear answers to these questions. The author made no attempt to reveal his identity. The book, as I mentioned earlier, is in the form of dialogue between Bharata and the sages.  The author was explaining the broad parameters, the basic principles and techniques of theatrical art as they then existed. He was not expounding the text as if it were his discovery or as his personal position. He was lucidly and systematically explaining a tradition that was alive and vibrant. These factors lead us to believe that Bharata, whoever he was, might have been a practicing- well informed-leading performer of his time belonging to a certain tradition . Bharata perhaps   belonged to a community of artists, actors, dancers, poets, musicians who shared a common heritage and common aspirations. 

3.4. From the prologue, couched in mythological language and imagery, it appears, Bharata was also a teacher and a preceptor of a school or an academy. He had a number (100?) of sons and pupils each of them being an accomplished performer or a learned theoretician. He produced plays with their assistance; by assigning each one a specific role.

3.5. Incidentally, the text – in its last chapter- provides a sort of definition of the term Bharata: one who conducts as the leader of a performance – by acting in many roles, by playing many instruments and by providing many accessories – is called Bharata. (Natya-Shastra 35:91).The term Bharata perhaps initially referred to a multi-talented virtuoso; and also a producer of plays. The author of the Natya-Shastra was perhaps one such“Bharata”.

3.6. The author of the Natya-Shastra is also often addressed, in later times, as Bharata­muni. Shri Adya Rangacharya, a noted scholar, remarks.  “The usual trappings of a muni (sage) are nowhere mentioned”. On the other hand, his sons misused their knowledge and   ridiculed the sages; and the enraged sages promptly cursed them “as due to pride in your knowledge you have taken to arrogance; your ill knowledge (ku-jnana) will be destroyed.” (Natya-Shastra 36: 29 – 35).

3.7. Bharata recounting this sad episode, cautions the community of artists not to overreach themselves, in arrogance, just because the art had bestowed upon them a special position in the society . The art that empowered them, he counsels, derives its strength from the society; and, the artists, therefore, have a special responsibility to cultivate discipline, self-restraint and humility (Natya-Shastra 36: 29 – 38).

3.7.1. Bharata refers, repeatedly, to the power that creative art is capable of wielding; and to the responses – both subtle and intense – they can evoke in the hearts of men and women. He asks his sons and disciples not to destroy drama which has its origins in the hoary past of the Vedas and their upangas (supplementary texts). He implores them to preserve the dramatic art by teaching it to their disciples; and to spread the art by practicing it.

3.8. [The attempt to explain Bharata as an acronym for three syllables Bha (bhava), Ra (raga) and Ta (tala) is not convincing at all. At the time Natya-Shastra was composed, music was discussed in terms of pada (words), svara (notes) and tala (rhythm) forming components of a certain style of music called gandharva said to have been derived from Sama. Bharata talks about structured and unstructured music: bhaddha (structured like a verse or a stanza; and with rhythm) and anibhaddha (unstructured – without rhythm, analogues to the present-day aalap). The term raga did not come to prominence  until Matanga (about sixth century), in his Brihaddesi, elucidated the categories of muchchhanas and jatis; and introduced the term raga and outlined its concept.]

3.9.The author of the Natya-Shastra, whoever he might be, comes across as a person of great learning, culture and rooted in good tradition (sampradaya, parampara). He was well grounded not merely in Vedic learning and its ethos  , but also  in kavya (literature) , fine arts, Ayurveda (medicine), jyothisha (astrology), ganitha (mathematics), vastu- shilpa (architecture) and  hathayoga. His understanding of the human anatomy- particularly the motor and sensory systems and the joints; the relation between the physical stimulus and psychic response; as also the relation between psychic states and expressions through physical movements  were truly remarkable.

4. As regards its date, it is not clear when the Natya-Shastra was initially articulated. There are, of course, a host of debates concerning the date of composition of the text. I however tend to go along with the argument that Natya-Shastra was a post Upanishad text; but it was prior to the age of the Puranas; and certainly much earlier to the age of classic Sanskrit drama. The following, briefly, are some of the reasons:

*. Natya-Shastra describes itself as Natyaveda, the fifth Veda that would be accessible to all the four castes (1:12). It claims that the text imbibes in itself the articulated- spoken word (paatya) from Rig-Veda ; the ritual and the body-language (abhinaya) from Yajur Veda; musical sound , the sung-note, from Sama Veda; and Sattvika (understanding of the relation between mind and body-expressions) – for conveying various bhavas through expressions exuding grace and charm – from Atharva Veda . (Natya-Shastra – 1:17-19)

*. The text is permeated with the Vedic symbolism and the imagery. The theatrical production is compared to yajna; with the stage being the vedika,   the altar. The dramatic spectacle, just as yajna, is said to have a moral and ethical purpose.

The text might have, therefore, arisen at a time when the Vedas were not a remote theoretical fountain head, but a living-immediate experience. 

*. The text strongly recommends that puja, worship, be offered to the stage before commencement of the show. It however recognizes puja as distinct from yajna. There is, however, no reference to “image” worship.

*. The gods revered and worshiped in the text are the Vedic gods; and not the gods celebrated in the puranas. For instance, Natya-Shastra begins with a salutation to Pitamaha (Brahma) and Maheshwara. There is no specific reference to Shiva. There is no mention of Nataraja even while discussing karanas and angaharas. Ganesha and the avataras of Vishnu are conspicuously absent. There are no references either to Krishna or to the celestial raasa dance. 

*.The gifts showered by the gods on successful performance of the play are similar to the gifts received by the performer at the conclusion of the yajna.

“Indra (Sakra) gave his auspicious banner (dhwaja) , then Brahma a kutilaka ( a crooked stick) and Varuna a golden pitcher (bhringara) , Surya an umbrella, Shiva success (siddhi) and Vayu a fan , Vishnu a throne (simhasana), Kubera a crown  and Saraswathi –visibility and audibility.” (Natya-Shastra-1.60-61)

*. It therefore appears; during the time Natya-Shastra was compiled the prominent gods were the Vedic gods such as Indra, Varuna and Vayu; and not the gods of the Puranas that came in to prominence centuries later.

*.The mention of the Buddhist bhiksus and Jain samanas indicate that Natya-Shastra was post –Buddha and Mahavira.

*. Natya-Shastra employs a form of Prakrit, which predates the great poet Ashvaghosha’s play (first century).

For these reasons, the scholars generally agree that Natya-Shastra might have been composed sometime between second century BCE and second century AD, but not later.


5. The questions whether or not the Natya-Shastra was compiled in a particular year by a particular person are not  very important. Whatever are the answers to those questions, the importance of the work would not be diminished nor its wisdom distracted. What is of great importance is that Natya-Shastra has provided a sustainable foundation and framework for development of theory and practice of arts in India. Just as Panini standardized the classical form of Sanskrit, Bharata standardized the classical form of drama. He gave it status and dignity; a form and an objective; a vision and finally a technique.

5.1. Bharata ensured that drama and dramatic performance is first a work of art before it is literature – drsya kavya a form of literature that could be seen and heard.

5.2. His brilliant intuition and intellect has inspired generations of artists over several centuries. It is immaterial whether or not Bharata was an individual or when he lived.


6.1. It could be said that the Natya-shastra is broadly modeled into four sections, based on Abhinaya or modes of conveying theatrical expressions which bring pleasure, pure delight (Rasa) to the cultured spectators (sahrudaya). Such Abhinaya-s are: Sattvika (conveyed through expressions which delight the mind); Angika (natural and appropriate movements of body, limbs and face); Vachika (delivery through speech and songs); and Aharya (costume, decoration, make-up and such others to heighten the beauty or the effectiveness of the dramatic presentation).


The author of the Natya-shastra seems to have assigned greater importance to Sattvika elements, the expressions of which are conveyed through the aid of movements, gestures (Angika) and speech (Vachika).

6.2. The Sattvika aspects are dealt in Chapters 6 and 7; followed by Angika in Chapters 8 to 13; and, Vachika in Chapters 14 to 20.  The Aharya which deals with costume, scenic presentation, movement on the stage along with music from the wings etc follow in the later Chapters.

The four-fold core Chapters are supported by information and descriptions about the origin and greatness of the theatrics; different forms of the stage and the norms for construction; qualifications and desirable modes of behavior of the actors; and the rituals and pryers before and after the play etc.

Thus, the core of the theatrical art and science is dealt in 29 Chapters  – from 6 to 34.


7.1.  A question that is often asked is: why were the ancient Indian scholars and seers reluctant to disclose, in their works, details of themselves and of their times? Did they lack a sense of history? 

There is, of course, an array of explanations, in answer to that.

But, I think it had a lot to do with the way the ancients defined their relation to a school of thought, and the position, they thought, their text occupied in the tradition of that school. They always viewed themselves as a part of an ongoing tradition – parampara. Invariably, even the best known of our thinkers (say, the Buddha, Badarayana or Shankara) did not claim that they propounded an absolutely new idea that was totally unknown hitherto. They always said, they were interpreting or elucidating the truth in the light of eternal pristine principles.  They did not lay claim to novelty or uniqueness. They placed their work in relation to the larger and broader river or stream of the tradition. Within that tradition, individual styles, innovative ideas or enterprising leaps of thought were surely discerned; but they were always placed and viewed in context of the overall ongoing tradition.

7.2. As regards Natya-Shastra, as Kapila Vatsyayan  summed up beautifully:

“ it was analogous to the Gomukh demarcating the glaciers above and the rivers which flow with streams of the Alakananda and the Mandakini , the Bhagirathi and others with their manifold confluences and some divergences , but all of which we recognize as the Ganga. The analogy of streams, confluences (prayaga) and the continuous flowing and yet unchanging nature of the river is the closest approximation in which the parampara of the Natya-Shastra, the text and dramatics of inflow confluences, outflow and ultimate inflows in to the ocean, can be explained.”

7.3. The individual biological identity in terms of the physical events of the birth and the personal life of the author did not, therefore, seem to be a psychical concern. Individual effort and contribution in furthering a school of thought was, no doubt, important; but it was viewed as an integral part of the dynamics of the flow and course of the river called parampara, characterized with its nature of continuity and change.

The attitude signified being alive to a sense of tradition rather than lack of a sense of history.


8. Why the text was called a Shastra?

The term Shastra does not always carry connotations of ritual or religion. Nor does it always mean classical, as in shastriya sangeeth

The Sanskrit- English dictionary of Sir Monier-Williams describes the term as an order, a command, a rule, teaching, and instruction manual relating to religious precepts. But,  Shastra, in fact, means much more than that.

8.1.In the Indian context , Shastra is a very extensive term that takes in almost all human activities – right from cooking to horse and elephant breeding; love making to social conduct; economics to waging wars; justice system to thievery ; and of course all the arts- from archery to poetry. There  is a  Shastra – a way of doing and rationalizing — for almost everything. A Shastra binds together the theory that provides a framework for rationalizing the practice; and the practice that illustrates the theory. Shastra is, at once, the theory of practice and practice of a theory- enriching each other.

8.2. The author of Natya-Shastra prefers tocall it a prayoga Shastra – a framework of principles of praxis or practice. Bharata makes a significant opening statement: “I am creating a theory and text of performance; of practice and experimentation” .He also underlines the fact that the efficacy of its formulation lies in practice (prayoga).

8.3. There is a certain flexibility built in to the structure of the text. It provides for varied interpretations and readings. The author himself encourages innovations and experimentations in production and presentation of plays. He even permits modification of his injunctions; and states the rules “can be changed according to the needs of time (kaala) and place (desha)” . The text accordingly makes room for fluidity of interpretation and multiple ways of understanding it. The intellectual freedom that Bharata provided to his readers/listeners ensured both continuity and change in Indian arts over the centuries.

tree of life

9. Natya-Shastra,throughout, talks in the metaphor of the seed (bija) and the tree. It talks of the organic inter-relatedness of the parts and the whole; each branch of the text being distinct and yet inspired by the unitary source. Introduction of the core theme is the seed (bija) and its outer manifestation is like a drop of liquid or a point (bindu) that spreads and enlarges (vistara) to fill the structured space. That denotes both the process and the structure.

9.1. Bharata also explains the relationship between the structure of the drama, its plot, bhava and rasa through the imagery of a tree. The text grows like a tree and gives out shoots like the proverbial Asvattha tree.” Just as a tree grows from a seed and flowers and fruits… So the emotional experiences (rasa) are the source (root) of all the modes of expressions (bhava). The Bhavas, in turn, are transformed to rasa.”(Natya-Shastra: 6-38)

9.2. This idea of multiplicity springing out of a unity is derived from the worldview nourished by the ancient Indians. It views the world as an organism, a whole with each part interrelated and inter dependent. The expanding universe is viewed as a process of sprouting from the primordial source (bija), blooming, decaying and withering away, at some time; but only to revive and burst forth with renewed vigor. The seed (Bija) is the source / origin of the tree; and, Bija is also its end product. The relationship between the universe and the human; between nature and man, too, has to be understood within the cyclical framework of the Bija- and -the tree concept.

Bharata seems to suggest that theater is an organism, just as life is an organism that re-invents itself.


10 . Let me end this in the way Bharata concluded his Natya-Shastra:

He who hears the reading of this Shastra , which is auspicious, sportful, originating from the mouth of Brahman , very holy , pure good, destructive of sins; and he who puts in to practice and witnesses carefully the performance of drama will attain  the same blessed goal which masters of Vedic knowledge and performers of yajna – attain.” (Natya-Shastra-37:26-28 )

ya idaṃ śruṇuyān nityaṃ proktaṃ cedaṃ svayambhuvā । kuryāt prayogaṃ yaścaivamathavā’dhītavān naraḥ 26

 yā gatirvedaviduṣāṃ yā gatiryajñakāriṇām । yā gatirdānaśīlānāṃ tāṃ gatiṃ prāpnuyāddhi saḥ 27

 dānadharmeṣu sarveṣu kīrtyate tu mahat phalam । prekṣaṇīyapradānaṃ hi sarvadāneṣu śasyate 28



Please also read Abhinavabharati – an interpretation of Bharata’s Natya-Shastra


Sources and references

Bharatamuniya Natya-Shastra by prof.SKR Rao

Bharata: The Natya-Shastra by Kapila Vatsyayan

Introduction to Bharata’s Natya-Shastra by Adya  Rangacharya

An introduction to natya shastra – gesture in aesthetic arts  by  M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.

Translation of the Natya-Shastra verses from the Natya-Shastra by Man Mohan Ghosh

Images are from Internet


Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Abhinavagupta, Music, Natya, Sanskrit


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Though Hinduism has now virtually been rooted out of Kashmir , the region at onetime was a renowned center of learning ; and its erudite and enlightened scholars such as Abhinavagupta (10thcentury),Augusta (8thcentury), Somananda (9thcentury),Utpaladeva (9thcentury) Anandavardhana (9thcentury) and others made immense contribution to the development of Indian thought , literature and art.

The most outstanding of them was Abhinavagupta Acharya (c. 950 to c. 1020 C.E) a great philosopher, intellectual and a spiritual descendant of Somananda the founder of the Pratyabijnya the “recognition” metaphysics school of Kashmiri Saivite monism. He was a many sided genius and a prolific writer on Shaivism, aesthetics, music and a variety of other subjects. Among his most notable philosophic works are the Isvara-pratyabhijña-vimarsini and the more detailed Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both commentaries on Isvara-pratyabhijña (“Recognition of God”), by Utpaladeva an earlier philosopher of the pratyabhijna school .

His famous commentaries on poetry, drama, and dance; the Lochana on the Dhvanyaloka and theAbhinavabharati on Bharata Muni’s Natyasastra cover almost every important aspect of Indian aesthetic and poetics . His theory of rasa is a land mark in Sanskrit art and literature.

Abhinavagupta was born in Kashmir probably around 950 A.D. The tradition has it that after his 70thyear Abhinavagupta entered the Bhairava cave near the village Bhiruva, along with his 1200 disciples and was never seen again.

What little is known of him comes from his commentries. At the end of Ishwar Pratyabijnya Vimarsini, a commentary on Kashmir Shaivism work by Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta states that his remote ancestor Attrigupta, a great Shaiva teacher, who lived in Antarvedi – a tract of land lying between the Ganga and the Yamuna, migrated to Kashmir at the invitation of the King Lalitaditya ( 700-736 A.D) .Many generations later, one of his descendants, Varahagupta was also a great scholar of Shaiva philosophy. His son, Narasimhagupta a great Shaiva teacher was the father of Abhinavagupta; and Vimla or Vimalkala the mother. His father’s maternal grandfather, Yashoraja, was a man of great learning and wrote a commentary on Paratrinshika .a dialogue between Bhairava (Shiva) and Bhairavi (Shakti) .

Abhinavgupta always described himself as kashmirika, from the land of Kashmira.

It is believed that Abhinava was a Yoginibhu, i.e. born of a Yogini. The Kaula system believes that a progeny of parents who are sincere devotees of Lord Shiva is endowed with exceptional spiritual and intellectual prowess and will be a depository of knowledge.

Abhinava might not have been his real name, but one assigned to him by his teachers because of his brilliance. He describes his work Tantraloka (1.50): ‘This is the work written by Abhinavagupta, who was so named by his Gurus”.The name  Abhinava suggests the virtue of being “ever –new and creative, progressively innovating oneself”; it also suggests competence and authoritativeness. Abhinavagupta was, in fact, all these and more.

He was also referred to as Abhinavagupta_pada. The suffix pada signifies a reverential form of address.  There is also a clever explanation of the term “gupta_pada” which translates to “one with hidden limbs” , a poetic  synonym for snake. Thus, Abhinava was also regarded as an incarnation of Sesha, the legendry serpent.

Abhinava lost his mother Vimalakala when he was just two years of age. The pain of separation and the longing for his mother haunted him all his life. He, later in his works, frequently referred to his mother with love and reverence. The relation between the mother and the child, he said, is the closest that nature can forge. The bond of love and friendship between the mother and the child is the strongest and the most enduring bond in the world.

His father Narasimha gupta, after the death of his wife Vimalakala, assumed an ascetic way of life; and yet continued to bring up his three children. He became more focused on his spiritual endeavor. He was Abhinava’s first teacher. Abhinava, later, recalled with gratitude the training he received from his father in grammar, logic, literature and music (geya vidya).

He was a diligent pupil and put his heart and soul in to his studies. By one account Abhinava had as many as fifteen teachers; Narasimhagupta, his father being his first teacher.  Among them was Lakshmanagupta, a direct disciple of Somananda, in the lineage of Trayambaka .  He taught Abhinavagupta the monastic subjects:  Krama,  Trika  and  Pratyabhijna    (except Kula).

The most prominent of his teachers was, of course, Shambhu Natha of Jalandhara (in the present-day Punjab). Guru Shambhu Natha preached monistic shaivism and initiated Abhinava in toArdha_thrayambaka , a doctrine of Kaula school of Tantric tradition. It is said that Shambhu Natha asked his wife to act as a conduit (dauti) for transmitting the intiation through Kaula process (having sexual connotations).It was at the instance of Shambhu Natha that Abhinava authored his monumental Tantraloka, in which he compared Shambhu Natha to the sun in his power to dispel the darkness of ignorance; and to the moon shining over the ocean of Trika knowledge.

As regards his immediate family, it is said, Abhinava had a younger brother Manoratha and an elder sister Amba. Manoratha was one among Abhinava’s earlier batch of disciples; and one of his fellow students was Karna who married Amba. Karna and Amba had a son Yogis war _datta who was precociously talented in Yoga. After the death of her husband, Amba too devoted herself entirely to Yoga and to worship of Shiva. Amba’s in-laws too became devote followers of Abhinava.

A cousin of Abhinava was Kshema who later became renowned as his illustrious disciple Kshemaraja. Mandra, the cousin and childhood friend of Karna, too became Abhinava’s disciple. Vatasika, Mandra’s aunt, took exceptional care of Abhinava and offered him support to carry on his life’s work. It was while staying in her suburban house at Pravapura (present-day Srinagar) that Abhinava wrote and completed his Tantraloka, in which he recorded his gratitude to Vatasika for her concern, dedication and support. Abhinavagupta also mentioned his disciple Rāmadeva as faithfully devoted to scriptural studies and for serving his master.

Abhinava did not become a wandering monk nor did he take on Brahmincal persuasions. He did not marry and he followed an ascetic way of life; and yet, he lived in his ancestral home surrounded by the members of his family, loving friends and disciples. He lived the life of a scholar, a teacher and a Yogi immersed in Shiva. Referring to the atmosphere in his family, Abhinava said,” All the members of the family regarded material wealth as a straw and they set their hearts on the contemplation of Shiva”.

He lived in a nurturing and a caring environment. An epoch pen-painting depicts him  seated in Virasana, surrounded by devoted disciples and family, performing on Veena while dictating verses of  Tantrāloka to one of his attendees, as  two dauti (women yogi) wait on him. He was ever surrounded by his friends and disciples.

No wonder that about 1,200 of his friends and disciples faithfully followed Abhinavagupta, as he marched in to the Bhairava cave reciting loudly his Bhairara_stava, never to be seen again.


A prolific writer on a wide ranging subjects , Abhinava  authored more than about 40 works, some of which survive to the present day.

Abhinavagupta’s works are sometimes classified according the branches of his triad (trika) will (icchā) – knowledge (jnana) – action (kriya).

But according to another classification, Abhinavagupta’s works fall into four broad groups. The first group of his works deals with Tantra. His monumental encyclopedic work the Tantraaloka or Light on the Tantras is an authoritative text. It explores doctrine and the inner meaning of rituals in the Shaiva and Shakta Aagamas .The text enumerates the Tantrik Agamas and the three methods of realizing the Ultimate Reality: Sambhavopaya, Saktopaya and Anovapaya. The other important work of this group is Malini-Vijaya Vivrti , a commentary.

The second group consists few small treatises like Bodh-Punch Dashika;  and  Strotras  or hymns in praise of deities such as Bhairava.

A third group includes his works on art of the theatre and art of writing plays; poetics; aesthetics and the rhetoric. The great scholar Prof. P.V. Kane remarked “his two works, i.e. Lochana and AbhinavBharati are monuments of learning, critical insight, literary grace and style.” Lochan,his commentaryon Dhvanyaaloka is a highly regarded work in aesthetics. Abhinav Bharati is an extensive commentary on Natyasastra of Bharata Muni. His analysis of rasa is very appealing and distinguishable from other interpretations. For example, Bharata talks about eight types of rasa, while distinguishing it fromsthaayibhaava. The Abhinava Bharati and Lochana suggest that bhoga (pleasure) is produced not only by the senses but also by the removal of moha (ignorance). They also suggest that art and literature are not mere vinoda (entertainment) but are outpourings of the ananda arising of knowledge

Abhinavagupta emphasized that intuition (prathibha), inner experience was the lifeblood of good poetry. He said , creativity (karaka) was the hallmark of poetry as it brings into the world a new art experience. Poetry need not aim to remind (jnapaka) what is already present; that , he said , was the function of sastras. A poet need not seek justification or approval of scriptural authority. He is the lord of his domain. He is the creator. Abhinava  recommend, the poet need not allow himself to be bound by logic, propriety and such other restrictions.

Abhinavagupta in his Lochana says prathibha the intuition might be essential for creation of good poetry .But ,that flash of enlightenment alone is not sufficient . He explains , what sustains that vision is the “unmeelana_shakthi” which is something that charges the mind, opens up or awakens the potent faculties. Abhinavagupta clarifies that prathibha is inspirational in nature and it does not, by itself , transform automatically, into a work of art or poetry. It needs a medium to  harness it, bring it forth through lively , delghtful or forceful expression .And , that medium has to be cultivated, honed and refined diligently over a period to produce a work of class.

In this context, Abhinavagupta mentions three essentials that a poet has to keep in view. They areRasa (rasa_vesha), Vaishadya and Saundarya. The rasa concept is well known and ls expounded by Bharata muni. The second one refers to clarity in thought, lucidity in expression and comfortable communication with the reader. The third is the sense of poetic beauty . A good poetry can manifest, according to him, only when the delightful combination of these three essentials are charged or supported by prathibha.

He cites Valmiki and kaalidasa as classic examples and states it is the wonderful combination of those poetic virtues and prathibha that sets them apart from the rest of the tribe.

The fulfilment of poetry is Ananda, joy. It therefore needs a good reader (Sah_hrudaya) who can understand, appreciate, empathize and enjoy the beauty of the poetry. He is an integral part of poetic experience.

Subash kak remarks “Abhinava emphasized the fact that all human creativity reveals aspects of the seed consciousness. This explains his interest in drama, poetry, and aesthetics.”

The last group constitutes his work on the Pratya bhijnyasastra, the monistic philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism. In this group we have his matchless contributions to this system. Among his most notable works in this category are the Isvara-pratyabhijña-vimarsini and the more detailed Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both commentaries on Isvara-pratyabhijna (“Recognition of God”) by Utpaladeva, an earlier philosopher of the pratyabhijna school.

Abhinavagupta was a devotee of Lord Shiva and led a celibate life. He is considered the greatest exponent of the Kashmiri Saivite monism. This school viewed Shiva (the manifestation of ultimate reality), the individual soul, and the universe as essentially one. The philosophy of pratyabhijna refers to the way of realizing this identity.

Kashmir Shaivism is intensely monistic. It is not much concerned with worshiping a personal god ;its emphasis is upon meditation , reflection and guidance by a guru. It aims at attaining the transcendental state of Shiva consciousness.

It explains the creation as Shiva’s abhasa, shining forth of himself in his dynamic aspect of Shakti.Abhasavada is therefore another name of the system . Shiva the Supreme Self is immanent and transcendent; and performs , through Shakti , the five actions of creation, preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing. During this process , Shiva as the Universe Vishwanatha, on his own will creats , expands, flourishes , retracts in to a most minute form till the next cycle of creation and expansion.

Kashmir Shaivism is called Trika philosophy because all its interpretations are three fold. Trika stands for threefold science of the individual, the energy and the universal consciousness. it also represents three modes of knowledge of Reality, viz. non-dual (abheda), nondual-cum-dual (bhedabheda), and dual (bheda). The Trika school also argued that reality is represented by three categories: transcendental ( para ), material ( apara ), and a combination of these two ( para_para ) . This three-fold division is again reflected in the principles shiva, shakti, anu or pashu .The Trika is also known asSvatantryavadaSvatantrya and Spanda expressing the same concepts.

The purpose of Trika is to show how an individual rises to the state of universal consciousness through Shakthi. Shiva represents pure consciousness, shakti its energy, and anu the material world.Pashu is the individual who acts according to his conditioning, almost like an animal, pashas are the bonds that tie him to his behavior, and pathi or pashupathi (Lord of the Flock) is shiva personified whose knowledge liberates the pashu and makes it possible for him to reach his potential.

Abhinavagupta classified Trika philosophy into four systems : Krama  system,  Spanda  system,  Kulasystem and Pratyabijnya system.

The mind is viewed as a hierarchical (krama) collection of agents (kula) that perceives its true self spontaneously ( pratyabhijna ) with a creative power that is vibrating  or pulsating (spanda)

Explaining the Spanda system, Abhinavagupta says whatever that appears to be moving is actually established in the unmoved point. Although everything seems to be moving , actually, they are not moving at all.

As for the Kula system, he says that Kula means the science of totality. In each and every part of the universe totality shines . Take an infinitesimally small object, in that you will find the universal energy. A macrocosm resides in microcosm .

The fourth , the Pratyabijnya system deals with the school of recognition. This school conceived Shiva (the manifestation of ultimate reality), the individual soul, and the universe as essentially one; pratyabhijna refers to the way of realizing this identity. Abhinavagupta, while explaining this school of recognition, says, man is not a mere speck of dust but an immense force, comprising a comprehensive consciousness and capable of manifesting through his mind and body limitless powers of knowledge and action (Jnana Shakti and Kriya Shakti). The state of Shiva-consciousness is already there, you have to realize that and nothing else.

His non-dual philosophy, in essence, is similar to the one expounded by Sri Shankara. He considers the universe completely real, filled with infinite diversity and not different from Shiva , the supreme consciousness. He expands on this concept and shows that the various levels of creation, from the subtlest to the grossest, are all the same and Shiva.

He conceived Shiva, the I or Consciousness, as an expression of the supreme freedom This concept of freedom (Swatrantya) is one of the principal achievements of Kashmiri Shaivisim .

Kashmir Shaivism, reached its culmination in the philosophy of Abhinavagupta and Kshemaraja (10thcentury) and in the theory of Recognition , Shaivite philosophy found its full flowering .

Together with Somananda’s disciple Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta is the most important representative of the school . Many believe Shiva himself appeared in Kashmir in the form of Abhinavagupta to enlighten the people. In any case , Abhinavagupta is a precious jewel of our heritage . His works and teachings continue to influence our thoughts.

Abhinavgupta talks about Shadanga_yoga, a system of yoga comprised of six aspects. According to him prana (life force) and manas (mind) are interdependent. The Yoga consists in harnessing these two together. The disciplines of yama, niyama and aasana prescribed by Patanjali are meant for conditioning the body; they are the indirect methods.

Whereas, the methods that help directly are  dhyana  (meditation),  dharana (contemplation),  tarka (reasoning) and  Samadhi  (absolute identity with the ideal).  Contemplating on the identity of self and the Shiva  is essential; and it can be achieved through divine grace. It leads to emancipation and freedom from ignorance; and roots out the sense of duality. This he called it Prathyabhigna the new method  (margo navaha).





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