Category Archives: Kavya

Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Eleven


Continued from Part Ten

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]



The  Court Poet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Court poet

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

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

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


The Poet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Towards the afternoon, after lunch, he joins his other poet-friends,seated comfortably  (tatra yathāsukhamāsīnaḥ kāvyagoṣṭīṃ pravarttayed) where they indulge in verse-riddle games structured around question-answers (Prashna-uttata). Sometimes, the poet discusses with close friends the work he is presently engaged with – antarāntarā ca kāvyagoṣṭhīṃ śāstra-vādā-nanujānīyāt.

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

Of course, not all poets followed a similar routine; each had his own priorities.  Yet; they all seemed to be hard-working; valuing peace, quiet and the right working conditions. They were of four kinds: caturvidhaścāsau/asūryampaśyo,niṣaṇṇo, dattāvasaraḥ, prāyojanikaśca /

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

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

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

tasya sampuṭikā saphalakakhaṭikā, samudgakaḥ, salekhanīkamaṣībhājanāni tāḍipatrāṇi bhūrjatvaco vā, salohakaṇṭakāni tāladalāni susabhmṛṣṭā bhittayaḥ, satatasannihitāḥ syuḥ /


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

A notable exception to such general practice was Banabhatta, a versatile scholar and poet, a contemporary and a close associate of King Harsha Vardhana of Thaneshvar and Kanuj, who ruled over North India from 606 to 647 A D.  Banabhatta’s fame rests on his remarkable romantic prose work Kadambari, perhaps the world’s first Novel; and on Harshacharita a glorified biography of his friend and patron King Harsha Vardhana.

[Banabhatta is also credited with some other, lesser known, works.  It is said; Banabhatta composed a devotional poem Candisataka, of one hundred and two stanzas, in praise of goddess Chandi. Further, Parvathi-parinaya, a drama in five acts describing the marriage o f Siva and Pravathi; and, another drama, Mukutataditakam concerning the conflict between Bhima and Duryodhana, are also ascribed to Banabhatta. But, nothing much is known about these works.]

kadambari_of_banaBanabhatta, sadly, passed away before he could complete his magnum opus Kadambari woven into complicated, interrelated plots   involving two sets of lovers passing through labyrinth of births and re-re-births. It was later completed by his son Bhushanabhatta.

In this marvelous complex texture, men and demigods; the earth and the regions beyond; the natural and the supernatural; love and curses, are all blended naturally. There are also amazing transformations of gods into demigods; demigods into men; men into animals and birds. Their relations persist and continue over   successive births. They create unusual situations that make the author to construct intriguing devices to advance the development of the plot.

There is a well-known, interesting adage with a play on words: Kādambari rasajnānām āhāropi na rochate- while savouring ‘Kādambari‘ – the book, readers lose interest in (eating) food (Kādambari).

Bana, especially, in his Kadamabari, was celebrated  for  his rich  figurative speech; his command over  language;  his clever use of words;  and,  his  deep understanding of human nature. His descriptions are amazing; his similes and metaphors are matchless; and, even his critics could not help admire, exclaim Bana’s brilliance. He had a unique  manner of describing even the most familiar things in life. For instance; look at the ingenuity in scripting the  love-message that Princess Kadambari sent to her lover:

love letter

“What message can I send to you?   If I say: ‘You are very dear to me’, that would be a needless repetition;  If I say: ‘I am yours’ , that would be a childish prattle; In case I say: ‘I have deep affection for you’, that would  be improper for a Queen;  I cannot say:  ‘Without you I cannot live’, because that would be rather untrue;   If I cry out: ‘I am overtaken by Cupid’, that would sound silly ; I cannot, of course, say :  ‘I have been forcibly abducted’,  that would be sheer helplessness  of a captive girl; ‘ If I insist : You must come at once ‘, that might be construed as arrogance ;   If , on the other hand, I offer myself and say : ‘I will come to you of my own accord’, then I could be mistaken to be a horny , fickle minded  woman; If  I submit , imploring : ‘This slave is not devoted to anybody else, but to you alone’, then that would amount to demeaning myself , a Queen;   If I make a pretext  : ‘I do not send messages for fear of refusal’, that would be a rather senseless excuse  lacking trust in you;  If I beseech you wailing : ‘I shall suffer terrible pains in case I lead an undesired life’, that would suggest that I am weak and lacking conviction in myself; and, If I finally declare :  ‘You will come to know of my love through my death’, that would be pointless”. [History of Indian Literature by Moriz Winternitz (page 409)]


[ Please click here for Kadambari, with a scholarly introduction and translation, as rendered by  by Prof. C M Ridding, formerly scholar of Griton College, Cambridge; published by the Royal Asiatic Society, London , 1896 ]


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

His story is truly amazing.

Banabhatta mentions that he was born to Chitrabhanu and Rajadevi of Bhojaka Brahmin family, which was rich in wealth and in learning, belonging to Vatsyayana Gotra. Chandrasena and Matrsena were his half-brothers. And, Ganapathi, Adipathi, Tarapathi and Shyamala were his parental cousins..

They lived in the village of Pritikuta on the banks of Hiranyabahu (the Sona River) which raises in the Vindhya hills and flows through the Dandaka forest. The scholars opine that the ancestral home of Banabhatta might have been  in the region of Madhya Pradesh from where the Sona river rises . From here , Banabhatta, later , went to the court of King  Harshavardhana in Kanyakubja (Kanuj) in Uttar Pradesh.

Bana lost his mother Rajyadevi at a tender age. He was brought up by his father Chitrabhanu who was learned in scriptures and in literature. Chitrabhanu played a large part in molding his interests ; and,  remained a great influence even in the later years .

Bana’s teacher was said to be one, Bhravu . Banabhatta, at the commencement of his Kadambari, submits his salutations to his teacher Bhravu, who was also respected by the kings of the Mukharin dynasty – (namami bharvos-carana-ambuja-dvayam  sasekharair moukharibhih krtarcanani). The commentator, Bhanuchandra, however, mentions that Banabhatta’s teacher was known as Bhatusa or Bhartsu.

Sadly, Bana lost his father while he was just about fourteen years of age. He felt his father’s absence very deeply and missed him sorely. The death of his father left the clueless young Bana , just stepping into adolescence, rather rudderless. He came into wealth and money with none to guide him. After recovering from anguish and sorrow, he found life rather hollow and boring; grew more and more impatient by each day; and got into irregular life of nasty habits.  Bana   went totally astray indulging in carefree, reckless, restless life in the company of a most weird bunch of friends.

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

For instance ,  he mentions that among his friends , Candasena and Matrsena  were born out of a Brahmin father and a Sudra mother; Rudra, Venibhadra  and Narayana were poets; Isana was song writer in Prakrit; Bharata was a composer of songs set to music ; Govinda was a writer; Sudrsti was a reader of letters; Susivana was a panegyrist (an orator who delivers eulogies or panegyrics); Mayuraka was a snake-charmer ; Viravarman was a painter; Kumaradatta was a varnisher; Damodara was, a potter ;   Kumaraan was a manufacturer of dolls; Carmkara and Sindhusena were goldsmiths;  Jimuta was a  drummer; Somila , Grahaditya  were singers; Jayasena was a story teller; Madhukara and Paravata were pipers; Darduraka and Tandavika were dance teachers; Sikkhadaka was an actor; Mandaraka was a physician; Akhandalaka and Bhlmaka were  dice players (gamblers); Vihamgama was an alchemist;  Lohitaksa was  a treasure-seeker ; Tamracuda was a shaiva  ascetic; Viradeva was a  Jain  monk;  Cakoraka was a juggler ;  Karalakesa was a magician ; and Vakaragoha was a snake doctor (Visha vaidya)  so on.

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

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

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

Bana gained a great deal of experience during these febrile years of wandering. That gave him a direct experience of life outside of his closed circle.  That helped him to gain an insight into life, its nature and an understanding of the many-sided world filled with men and women of various manners of behavior. His travel experiences widened his horizons; enabled him to depict in his works the pictures of  varied  characters in real   life; and, it  also   ignited the poetic genius latent in him. Bana returned home a much more mature, wiser and determined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ Please click here for The Harsa-Carita of Bana; Translated by Edward Byles Cowell and F.W. Thomas; Published under the patronage of The Royal Asiatic Society, London – 1897] 

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

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

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

Bhushnabhatta wrote:

I bow in reverence to my father,

Master of speech.

This story was his creation,

A task beyond other men’s reaches.


The world honoured his noble spirit in every home.

Through him I, propelled by

Merit, gained this life.


When my father ascended to heaven

The flow of his story

Along with his voice

Was checked on earth.


I , considering the unfinished work to be

A sorrow to the good,

Again set it in motion-

But out of no pride in my poetic skill.


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



Sources and References

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

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

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Prof. Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Kadambari – translated by Prof. Gwendolyn Layne

Banabhatta – His Life and Literature by S V Dixit



Posted by on September 9, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

Kavyasya Atma – the Soul of Poetry


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

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

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

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

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


Thus, the inquiry into the appeal of the Poetry was meant to suggest a sort of a probe delving deep into the depths of Kavya to seize its essence. It was an exploration to reach into the innermost core of the Kavya.  The term used to denote that core or the fundamental element or the principle which defines the very essence of Kavya was Atma, the soul.

In the context of Kavya, the concept of Atma, inspired by Indian Philosophy, was adopted to characterize it as the in-dweller (Antaryamin), its life-breath (Prana), its life (Jivita) , consciousness (Chetana) ; and to differentiate it from the  exterior or the body (Sarira) formed out of the words. That is to say; while structure provided by the words is the physical aspect of Kavya, at its heart is the aesthetic sensitivity that is very subtle and indeterminate.

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


In the Kavya-shastra, generally, two types of texts are recognized: Lakhshya grantha and Lakshana grantha.

The texts that describe the characteristics of good poetry and define the technical terms of Kavvya shastra are the Lakshana granthas. These outline and define the concepts ;and, illustrate them with the aid of citations from  recognized and time-honored works of poetry or drama, composed by  poets of great repute. Sometimes, the author of a Lakshana grantha would himself compose illustrative model pieces,  as examples.

Lakshya Grantha is  a creative work of  art , the Kavya , in the form of a poem or a drama , generally, following the prescriptions of the Lashana granthas.

Various thinkers and writers of the Lakshana granthas, over a long period, have put forward several theories based on their concept of the essential core , the heart or the soul of the  Kavya (kavyasya Atma). While the authors like Bhamaha, Dandin, Udbhata and Rudrata focused on Alamkara; Vamana emphasized the concept of Riti. However, it was Anandavardhana who changed the entire course of discussion by introducing the concept of Dhvani.  But, , Dhananjaya the author of Dasharupaka and its commentator Dhanika , as also  Mahimabhatta the author of Vyaktiviveka , firmly opposed the concept of Dhvani.

Let’s see some of these in a summary form before we get into a discussion:

Author Lakshana Grantha Atma
Bharata Natyashastra Rasa
Bhamaha Kaavya-alamkara Alamkara
Dhandi Kaavya-adarsha Dasha (ten ) Gunas
Vamana Kaavya-alankara-sutra Reeti
Anandavardhana Dhvanya-loka Dhvani
Kshemendra Auchitya-vicharachara Auchitya 
Mammata Kavya-prakasha Dhvani
Kuntaka Vakrokti Jivitam Vakrokti


kavya lakshana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As regards the meaning (Artha) conveyed by words in the Poetry, it was also examined in terms of its external and internal forms. It was said :

the language and its structural form lead us to meaning in its dual forms. Thought in poetry manifests itself in two ways: as the outer and the inner meaning. The Outer meaning dominates poetry through its narration. Yet, it permits inner meaning to come into its own seeping through its narrative patterns or poetic excellence. The Outer meaning plays a somewhat semi transparent role in poetry.  It achieves its fulfillment when it becomes fully transparent revealing what lies beneath it.

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


It was perhaps Vamana the author of Kavyalankara-sutra-vritti  who initiated the speculation about the Atman or the soul of poetry. He declared – Ritir Atma kavyasya – // VKal_1,2.6 // (Riti is the soul of Poetry). Vamana’s pithy epithet soon became trendy ; and, ignited the imagination of the champions of other Schools of poetics. Each one re-coined Vamana’s phrase by inserting into it (in place of Riti) that Kavya-guna (poetic virtue) which in his view was the fundamental virtue or the soul of poetry.

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


Although Vamana was the first to use the term Atma explicitly, the notions of the spirit or the inner-being of Kavya were mentioned by the earlier scholars too, though rather vaguely. They generally talked in terms Prana (life-breath) or Chetana (consciousness) and such other vital factors in the absence of which the body ceases to function or ceases to live. But, such concepts were not crystallized. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

Then, Vamana said; the essence of Kavya is Riti (Ritir Atma Kavyasya – VKal_1,2.6 ); just as every body has Atma, so does every Kavya has its Riti. And, Riti is the very mode or the act of being Kavya. Thus for Vamana, while Riti is the essence of Kavya, the Gunas are the essential elements of the Riti. The explanation offered by Vamana meant that the verbal structure having certain Gunas is the body of Kavya, while its essence (soul) is, Riti.

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

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

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

Vamana, therefore, accorded Riti a very high position by designating Riti as the Soul of Kavya – rītirnāmeyam ātmā kāvyasya / śarīrasyeveti vākyaśeṣaḥ  (I.2.6) – Riti is to the Kavya what Atman is to the Sarira (body). Here, it is explained that in his definition of Riti, Pada-rachana   represents the structure or the body while Riti is its inner essence. Through this medium of Visista Pada-rachana  (viśiṣṭā padaracanā rītiḥ viśeṣo guṇātmā – 1,2.7the Gunas become manifest and reveal the presence of Riti, the Atman.


Kshemendra – wrote a critical work Auchitya-alamkara or Auchitya-vichara-charcha (discussions or the critical research on proprieties in poetry), and a practical handbook for poets Kavi-katnta-abharana (ornamental necklace for poets) – calls Auchitya the appropriateness or that which makes right sense in the given context as the very life-breath of Rasa – Rasajivi-bhootasya.

He said Auchitya is the very life of Kavya (Kavyasya jivitam) that is endowed with Rasa (Aucityam rasa siddhasya sthiram kavyasya jivitam).

Abhinavagupta avers that the life principle (jivitatvam) of Kavya could said to be  the harmony that exists among the three : Rasa, Dhvani and Auchitya –  Uchita-sabdena  Rasa-vishaya-auchityam bhavatithi darshayan Rasa-Dhvane jivitatvam   suchayati.  Thus, Auchitya is entwined with Rasa and Dhvani

He asserts that Auchitya implies , presupposes and stands for ‘suggestion of Rasa’ – Rasa-dhvani – the principles of Rasa and Dhvani. 

The most essential element of Rasa , he said, is Auchitya.  The test of Auchitya is the harmony between the expressed sounds and the suggested Rasa. And , he described  Auchitya as that laudable virtue (Guna) which embalms the poetry with delight  (aucityaṃ stutyānāṃ guṇa rāgaś ca andanādi lepānām – 10.31)

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

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

The concept of Auchitya could , perhaps, be understood as the sense of  proportion  between the whole (Angin) and the part (Anga) and harmony on one side; and, appropriateness and adaptation on the other.

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

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

[Please click here for a detailed discussion on Auchitya. Please also read the research paper : ‘A critical survey of the poetic concept Aucitya in theory and practice’ produced by Dr. Mahesh M Adkoli

Please also read Dr.V. Raghavan’s article: The History of Auchitya in Sanskrit Literature ]



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

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

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

Sama-sarva gunau santau sahhrudaveva sangathi I parasparasya shobhayai sabdartau bhavato thatha  II 1.18.II

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

abhāvetāv alaṅkāryau tayoḥ punar alaṅkṛtiḥ / vakroktir eva vaidagdhya bhaṅgī bhaṇitir ucyate – Vjiv_1.10

Vakratva is primarily used in the sense of poetic beauty. It is striking, and is marked by the peculiar turn imparted by the creative imagination of the poet. It stands for charming, attractive and suggestive utterances that characterize poetry. The notion of Vakrata (deviation) covers both the word (Sabda) and meaning (Artha). The ways of Vakrokti are, indeed, countless.

Vakrokti is the index of a poet’s virtuosity–kavi kaushala. Kuntaka describes the creativity of a poet as Vakra-kavi–vyapara or Kavi–vyapara–vakratva (art in the poetic process).  This according to Kuntaka , is the primary source of poetry; and, has the potential to create aesthetic elegance that brings joy to   the cultured reader with refined taste (Sahrudaya).

According to Kuntaka, Vakrokti is the essence of poetic speech (Kavyokti); the very life (Jivita) of poetry; the title of his work itself indicates this.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dhvani and Rasa-Dhvani

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

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

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

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

yo ‘rthaḥ sahṛdaya-ślāghyaḥ kāvyātmeti vyavasthitaḥ / vācya-pratīyamānākhyau tasya bhedāv ubhau smṛtau –DhvK. 1.2

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

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

kāvyasyātmā dhvanir iti budhair yaḥ samāmnāta-pūrvas tasyābhāvaṃ jagadur apare bhāktam āhus tam anye / kecid vācām sthitam aviṣaye tattvam ūcus tadīyaṃ tena brūmaḥ sahṛdaya-manaḥ-prītaye tat-svarūpam // DhvK_1.1 //

The Dhvani theory introduced a new wave of thought into the Indian Poetics. According to this school, the Kavya that suggests Rasa is excellent. In Kavya, it said, neither Alamkara nor Rasa , but Dhvani which suggest Rasa, the poetic sentiment, is the essence, the soul (Kavyasya-atma sa  eva arthaa Dhv.1.5). He cites the instance of the  of the sorrow (Soka) separation (viyoga) of two birds  (krauñca-dvandva) that gave rise to poetry (Sloka) of great eminence.

kāvyasyātmā sa evārthas tathā cādikaveḥ purā / krauñca-dvandva-viyogotthaḥ śokaḥ ślokatvam āgataḥ  – DhvK_1.5

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

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

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

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

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

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

śabdārtha-śāsana-jñāna-mātreṇaiva na vedyate / vedyate sa tu kāvyārtha-tattvajñair eva kevalam – Dhv.1.7

The confusion and chaos that prevailed in the literary circles at that time prompted Mammata to write Kavyaprakasa , to defend and  to establish the Dhvani theory on a firm footing ; and, also to  refute the arguments of its  opponents.

Abhinavagupta accepted Rasa-Dhvani ; and expanded on the concept by adding an explanation to it.  He said, the pratīyamānā or implied sense which is two-fold:  one is Laukika or the one that we use in ordinary life; and the other is Kavya vyapara gocara  or one  which is used only in poetry – pratipādyasya ca viṣayasya liṅgitve tad-viṣayāṇāṃ vipratipattīnāṃ laukikair eva kriyamāṇānām abhāvaḥ prasajyeteti.

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

As regards the Drama , Abhinavagupta and Dhananjaya  both agree that Rasa is always pleasurable (Ananadatmaka); and Bhattanayaka compares such Rasa – Anubhava (experience of Rasa) to Brahma-svada, the relish of the sublime Brahman.  

[However, the scholars , Ramachandra and Gunachandra , the authors of Natya Darpana (12th century), sharply disagreed and argued against such ‘impractical’ suppositions.  They pointed out that Rasa, in a drama,  is after-all  Laukika (worldly, day-to-day experience); it is  a mixture of pain and pleasure (sukha-dukka-atmaka); and , it is NOT always pleasurable (Ananadatmaka) . They argued, such every-day experience  cannot in any manner be Chamatkara or A-laukika (out of the world) ecstasy comparable to Brahmananda etc., But, their views did not find favor with the scholars of the Alamkara School ; and, it  was eventually, overshadowed  by the writings of the stalwarts like Abhinavagupta, Anandavardhana, Mammata, Hemachandra , Visvanatha and Jagannatha Pandita.]

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

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



in the

Next Part

Sources and References


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

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by  Dr. Satya Deva Caudharī


Posted by on September 5, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Nine

Continued from Part Eight

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]


After the Riti School of Poetics  propagated by Vamana, we should have, in the chronological order, dealt with the Dhvani elaborated by Anandavardhana. Since we have already talked about Dhvani, Rasa and Rasa Dhvani in the earlier installments of the series (Part four) , let’s move on to Vakrokti.



The concept of Vakrokti has been running like a thread  through the Indian Poetics right from its very early times (6th-7th centuries); but was vaguely discussed as one of the secondary aspects by all the Schools of Kavya Shastra. It was however developed into a full-fledged theory of Poetics by the great Scholar Rajanaka Kuntaka of Kashmir who is said to have lived during the period between the middle of the tenth century and the middle of the eleventh century. He definitely was later than Anandavardhana (820–890 A D) the author of Dhvanyaloka, a landmark work that establishes the doctrine of Dhvani, the aesthetic suggestion. Kuntaka was perhaps a younger contemporary of the great Abhinavagupta (Ca. 950 – 1020 AD) or a contemporary who perhaps was relatively unknown or one who was yet to be adequately recognized by the Poetic scholars. Although Abhinavagupta in his Lochana (or formally, Dhvanyālokalocana – Illustration of Dhvanyāloka) refers to various views related to Vakrokti (atha sa kavya-jivitatvena vivaksita etc), he does not mention Kuntaka or the Vakroktijivita-kara by name.

However, in the later periods, Kuntaka came to be honored as one of the original thinkers in the field of Indian Poetics; and, his Vakrokti-jivita is recognized as a brilliant work that brings critical insight into investigation of Poetic elements. He is lauded for his systematic analyses of the principles of Poetics and their implications.  His Vakrokti-jivita establishes the Vakrokti School which attempts to define Kavya in terms of its distinctive (vakra) expressions that are characteristic to poetry and to the essential principle of poetry itself (Alamkara – samanya –lakshana). His concept of Vakrokti brings within its comprehensive scope all known kinds of imaginative , innovative turns (ukti-vaichitrya)  and modes of suggestive indirect (vakra)  expressions (bhaniti-prakara)  that are unique to poetry (away from the banal words) created by the skill (vaidagdhya or kavi-kaushala) of a poet gifted with inborn genius (prathibha).

Kuntaka explains Vakrokti as the artistic turn of speech (vaidagdhya bhaṅgī bhaṇitiḥ) or the deviated or distinct from the common mode of speech. Vakratva is primarily used in the sense of poetic beauty. It is striking, and is marked by the peculiar turn imparted by the creative imagination of the poet. It stands for charming, attractive and suggestive utterances that characterize poetry. The notion of Vakrata (deviation) covers both the word (Sabda) and meaning (Artha). The ways of Vakrokti are, indeed, countless. Vakrokti is the index of a poet’s virtuosity–kavi kaushala. Kuntaka describes the creativity of a poet as Vakra-kavi–vyapara or Kavi–vyapara–vakratva (art in the poetic process).  This according to Kuntaka is the primary source of poetry; and, has the potential to create aesthetic elegance  that brings joy to   the cultured reader with refined taste (Sahrudaya).

While Anandavardhana emphasized the object and delight of poetry from readers’ point of view, Kuntaka brought a sense of balance into poetic appreciation by highlighting the poet’s own point of view.  He attempted to outline the poetic process (Kavi vyapara), the genius-at work (kavi – karma)  , and the mysterious process of how the Kavya takes shape in the poet’s mind and emerges as a thing of great beauty. .

Another important aspect of Kuntaka’s work is the holistic view it takes of the Kavya. According to Kuntaka, the words, their meanings, the poet and the reader are all integrated into a fabulously rewarding poetic experience; one cannot be artificially separated from the other.

The concept of Vakrokti, as elaborated by Kuntaka, is unique to Indian poetics. The western literary criticism has no notion that is either equivalent or that corresponds to it.

srivatsa enless knot


The term Vakrokti is composed of Vakra + Ukti, where the latter (Ukti) derived from Vac-paribhashane can easily be taken to mean a poetic expression, a clever speech or a pithy statement. It is however the former component (Vakra) of the term Vakrokti, evoking diverse  shades of meanings and suggestions, that is widely discussed and interpreted in various manners.

In the classic Sanskrit poetry, the word Vakra has often been used in the sense of a ‘curvilinear nature’ (vakratva) of an object or an expression that suggests or evokes a sense of delicate beauty. For instance, the great poet Kalidasa in his Kumarasambhava (3.29) uses the term Balendu-vakrani  ( बालेन्दु- वक्राण्यविकाशभावाद् बभुः पलाशान्यतिलोहितानि Ku.3.29) to describe the palasa flower buds that are curved (vakrani) like the just emerging crescent moon (Balendu). Here, Vakra implies the loveliness of the curve that enhances the grace and elegance of the palasa buds and of the crescent moon.


[Interestingly, Kuntaka also employs the phrase Balendu-sundara –samsthana-yuktatvam, itaratra rudyadi vaichitram (2.35) – like the delicate beauty of crescent moon – to explain the terms that are commonly associated with Vakrata.]

There is also a term Vakra-smita which suggests the gentle mischievous smile that plays tantalizingly at the curve of the lips (Vakrosthika).

The curly hairs coiled into lovely rings hanging down a handsome forehead are compared to the gentle curves of a river flowing placidly (Urmimat) along the plains. The loveliness is not just  in the curve (vakratva) but it  is more in the images of grace and beauty it evokes.

Similarly, a poetic expression that is uncommon, indirect, evasive and deviant or curved (vakra) does not become attractive unless it brings forth a sense of delight and beauty that gladdens the heart of the reader (sahrudaya). It is only then an indirect expression could be termed as Vakrokti.

Elsewhere, Bana Bhatta in his Kadambari terms the Vakra or crooked way of speech as parihāsa- jalpitā, the good humored banter or leg-pulling

Otherwise, the Dictionary meaning of Vakrokti is variously: oblique, evasive, crooked, bent, curved, curling, indirect, roundabout, cruel, retrograde, dishonest etc

Nineplanets Navagraha 2



In the Schools of Indian Poetics, Bhamaha (Ca.7th century) was perhaps the earliest to mention  Vakrokti, as a concept.   And, down the centuries discussions related to Vakrokti were carried out by Dandin, Vamana, Rudrata, Kuntaka, Abhinavagupta and Raja Bhoja among others. But, there is a marked divergence in their understanding of the concept, in their treatment and in their presentations as well.

For instance; the early scholars of Poetics – Bhamaha, Dandin and Vamana – treat Vakrokti to imply modes of expressions which evoke or reveal  the beauty that is inherent in the structure of words (Sabda-almkara).

Bhamaha regards Vakrokti not as an Alamkara, but as a characteristic mode of expression which underlies all Alamkaras; and, as that which is fundamental to Kavya.

Dandin distinguishes Vakrokti from Svabhavokti – the natural way of narration- and assigns priority to the latter.

Later , Rudrata treats Vakrokti as a mere play of words or pretended speech in which a word or a sentence meant by the poet in one sense is understood by the reader in quite another sense, either because it is uttered with a peculiar intonation (kaku) which changes the meaning , or because the words carry more than one meaning (slesha).

[ For more on Slesha , please read :Extreme Poetry , the South Asian movement of simultaneous narration by Yigal Bronner. It is  an excellent work , principally devoted to the study of Slesha]

Vamana differs from Rudrata and treats Vakrokti as an aspect of Artha-alamkara where the indicated sense (lakshana) is brought out or amplified by taking help of similarities (sadrushya). Thus, Vakrokti, in his view, is basically a metaphor (Sadrushya –laksnana- Vakroktihi).

Thus, while Bhamaha and Dandin use the term in an extended sense; Rudrata and Vamana limit its relevance to a particular figure of speech, be it Sabda-alamkara or Artha-alamkara.

It was Kuntaka who fully developed a unique theory of Poetics based upon Bhamaha’s explanation of Vakrokti as the distinguishing characteristic of all Alamkaras (Alamkara-samanya-lakshana). He expanded the concept to denote selection of words and phrases, as also turning of ideas that are peculiar to poetry. He tries to keep the matter-of-fact, day-to-day speech away from the language of poetry.

Likewise, Abhinavagupta explained Vakrata as a heightened form of expression, which is different from matter-of-fact speech ; and, which is a composite element of all figurative poetic expressions – Lokottarena rupena avasthanam .

To sum up : Bhamaha and Dandin  use the term Vakrokti  in an extended sense ; while , Vamana and Rudrata employ it to  designate a particular figure of speech, whether be it Sabda-alamkara or Artha-alamkara.

Bhamaha’s concept of Vakrokti was fully developed into a unique theory of poetics by Kuntaka in his Vakrokti-jivita. Here, Kuntaka elaborates on Vakrokti as the distinguishing characteristic of all poetic- figurative language  (Alamkara-Samanya-lakshana); and,  analyzes all poetic speech from the point of view of Vakrokti .

Let’s take a look at the views  of some of those scholars. in a little more detail.

Nineplanets Navagraha 2


Bhamaha treats Rasa as an aspect of Alamkara, Rasavat * (lit. that which possesses Rasa). According to him, the suggested sense (vyangyartha), which is at the root of Rasa, is implicit in the vakrokti. However, Bhamaha did not elaborate on the concept of Vakrokti; he did not define Vakrokti; and, he did not also regard Vakrokti as Alamkara. He did not also consider Vakrokti as a synonym for Alamkara. He meant Vakrokti as an expression which is neither simple nor clear-cut; but, as one which is evasive or rather ambiguous (vakra) – vakroktir anayārtho vibhāvyate.  Vakrokti , according to him, is  a poetic device used to express something extraordinary and has the potential to provide the aesthetic experience of Rasa. Such Vakrokti, according to Bamaha, is desirable for the purpose of adorning poetic speech (bhūṣāyai parikalpyateVjiv_1.36)

[However, Kuntaka asserts that Rasavat* and its related Alankaras, as explained by Bhamaha and others are not Alamkaras at all; but, are Alamkaryasthat which are adorned. Rasavat, that which possess Rasa, according to Kuntaka, reveals its own nature. For instance; Srngara, a Rasa is adorned by an Alamkara in the form of Rupaka, which is called Rasavat. Here, in this instance, a Rasa (say, Srngara) is an Alankarya, that which is ornamented by Alahkaras; and thus, it cannot be both Alankarya and Alankara, at the same time – alankaryatam natikramati. Having said that let me also mention, it is rather difficult, at times, to decide when a certain Alankara is Rasavat; and, when it is Alankara proper.]


Bhamaha was the champion of the Alamkara School; and, regarded Alamkara as the most essential element of poetry. He implicitly argued that Alamkara exemplifies the nature of poetry, which is characterized by the composition of speech (Sabda) and its meaning (Artha) in an ‘oblique’ (vakra) manner.  It is not only what you say but also how you say it that matters.

Though Bhamaha did not explicitly define Vakrokti, he spoke  about it in connection with Atishayokti (hyperbole), a form of Alamkara which he explains as one that excels , that which is distinct from ordinary speech , and that which transcends common usage of the of words (Lokathi-krantha-gocharam vachah). It is only through these, he said, the ordinary is transformed to extraordinary.  This might be taken as his indirect way of explaining Vakrokti.

[Kuntaka appreciates Bhamaha’s views on Atishayokti one of the essential elements of Alamkara; and , he takes it as supporting his concept of Vakrokti ( Vakrokti-vaichitrya or Vichitra-marga). He says both the modes – Atishayokti and Vakrokti– represent departure from conventional usage (prasiddha-vyatirekitva). ]

Thus, Bhamaha’s Vakrokti is a striking expressive power (a quality of all Alamkaras), a capacity of language to suggest indirect meaning along with the literal meaning. It is the mode of expression that gives rise to Alamkara. He took Vakrokti as a fundamental principle of all modes of Alamkaras imparting beauty to their expressions (Vacham vakratha-sabdoktir-alamkaraya kalpate). He wonders and questions: What is poetic beauty – Alamkara- without Vakrokti (Ko alamkaraanya vina?)

Vakrokti  contrasts with Svabhavokti, the matter-of-fact statements, the common ways of speech. Bhamaha underplays the role Svabhavokti in poetry. He argues that it is the Vakrokti which articulates the distinction between the languages of poetry from the conventional forms of speech – (yuktam vakra-svbhavokthya sarvamevai tadishyate – Kayalamkara: 1, 30).

Bhamaha states that Vakrokti is an essential element of poetry. Bhamaha regards Vakrokti as the core of all poetic works, as also of the evaluation and appreciation of art in general. According to him, all types of Kavya-s should have Vakrokti as Samanya lakshana. It is through Vakrokti the meaning of the poetry flashes forth; and, therefore, Vakrokti must adorn all forms of poetry like epics, Drama etc.

Dr, De remarks : apparently , Bhamaha regards Vakrokti not as an Alamkara ; but, as a characteristic mode of expression , which underlies all Alamkaras; and, which forms an essential element of poetry , whose meaning can be manifested by Vakrokti alone. … Thus, Bhamaha takes Vakrokti as the fundamental principle of all poetic expressions; and, indirectly of poetry itself. 

saiṣa sarvaiva vakroktir anayārtho vibhāvyate / yatno ‘syāṃ kavinā kāryaḥ ko ‘laṅkāro ‘nayā vinā // Bh_2.85 //

It is often said; Kuntaka revived the old tradition of Alamkara, headed by Bhamaha. For Bhamaha, Vakrokti was the principle underlying all Alamkaras. And for Kuntaka, Vakroti is the very life of poetry and the only artistic way of expression, embellishing poetic word and sense.

Ubhiavetava alankaryau tayoh punar alankrtih / Vakrokti reva vaidagdhya bhangi bhaniti rucyate // (V.J. 1.10)

Kuntaka tried to project the concept of Alamkara as the distinguished quality of feeling brought about by the beauty of word and sense together. The function of an Alamkara is often described as adorning the thought and emotions with beauty. Even in this sense, Kuntaka treats every poetic concept in the light of Vakrokti, the life force (Jivita) of poetry; and, all other concepts being secondary.

Dr. S.K. De observes

“Alamkara system established by Bhamaha was given a new turn; or rather the implicit ideas were developed by Kuntaka to its logical consequences. In fact Vakrokti system of Kuntaka may properly be regarded as an offshoot of the older Alamkara system. In spite of the obviously extreme nature of his central theory and his somewhat quaint nomenclature his work is of great value as presenting a unique system or rather systematizing the Alamkara theory of earlier writers in a refreshing original way.

Kuntaka clarified and vindicated his position by pointing out that the correct term for the figure is not just Alamkara, the ornament, or figure of speech; but, it is Kavya-alamkara, the poetic figure. Therefore Vakratva Vaicitrya which is a peculiar turn of expression depending on the Kavi-vyapara differentiates a poetic figure. This is the significant original contribution of Kuntaka to Sanskrit Poetics.” (History of Sanskrit Poetics – Pp. 187-89).

Nineplanets Navagraha 2



Both – Bhamaha and Dandin – agree on the central place accorded, in Kavya, to Alamkara  which lends beauty (Kavya-shobha-kara-dharma). Both hold that the mode of figurative expression (Alamkara), diction (Riti), grammatical correctness (Auchitya), and sweetness of the sounds (Madhurya) constitute poetry. Both deal extensively with Artha-alamkara that gives forth    amazingly rich meaningful expressions.

Dandin, however, differed from Bhamaha on certain issues. He gave far more space to the discussion on those figures of speech that are defined as phonetic features (Sabda-alamkara) e.g. rhyme (Yamaka) than does Bhamaha.

As compared to Bhamaha, Dandin uses the term Vakrokti in a rather limited sense ; modifying it and confining it to an element , which along with others,  suggests , in  general , ornate  poetic expression.

[This distinction is basic to all subsequent Alamkara related discussions. Their differences on this point do not lie chiefly in the kind or quality of Alamkara; but seems more to do with function of the organization and presentation of the materials.]

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

In fact, Dandin divides Kavya into two speech patterns (dvidhā svabhāvoktir vakroktiś ceti vāṅmayam) Svabhavokti and all the rest (collectively called Vakrokti), thus restricting the significance of Vakrokti. He says Svabhavokti  cannot be ignored in a Kavya. Dandin defines and illustrates three types of Svabhavokti and argues that Svabhavokti could very well be treated as an Alamkara. He rejects the idea that Svabhavokti does not constitute Alamkara.

śleṣaḥ sarvāsu puṣṇāti prāyo vakroktiṣu śriyam/ bhinnaṃ dvidhā svabhāvoktir vakroktiś ceti vāṅmayam //iti saṃsṛṣtiḥ // DKd_2.363 //

Dandin  points out that the natural way of explaining – ‘telling as it is’ – Svabhavokti, is one of most essential modes of expression in all types of texts  including philosophical or scientific treatise. And, Svabhavokti is a very highly desirable (ipsita) virtue (guna) in the Kavya also; and could be employed effectively , depending on  the context.

nānāvasthaṃ padārthānāṃ rūpaṃ sākṣād vivṛṇvatī /svabhāvoktiś ca jātiś cetyādyā sālaṃkṛtir yathā // DKd_2.8 //



The Vakrokti-jivita is composed of Four Chapters (Unmesa).  Dr. Sushil Kumar De sums up its contents as under:

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

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

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

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

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


Kuntaka prefaces his work Vakrokti-ivita with a pithy statement of objective.

jagattritayavaicitryacitrakarmavidhāyinam / śivaṃ śaktiparispandamātropakaraṇaṃ numaḥ // VjivC_1.1 //

lokottara camatkāra kāri vaicitrya siddhaye / kāvyasyāyam alaṅkāraḥ ko ‘pyapūrvo vidhīyate // Vjiv_1.2 //

Here, he mentions that the purpose of his writing the book was to establish the idea of vaichitrya which has the potential to reveal  an  extraordinary, out-of-the-world (lokottara) charm inherent in poetry (lokottara–chamatkara-kari-vaichitra-siddhaye).  He agrees there  might be many commonly used words (Svabhavokti) that could possibly convey a certain sense. But, he argues,  it is only the  meaning-laden poetic expression alive and throbbing with charm (Alamkara), in its own peculiar (Vakra) style (Riti) that can suggest (Dhvani)   the true import of a poet gifted with genius (prathibha) and   bring  joy to the heart of a sensitive reader (Sahrudaya) . It is a delightful poetic experience   in which the poet and the reader are equal partners.  This, in a way, could be said to sum up the nature of Vakrokti in Kavya. And, these ideas form the core of Kuntaka’s theory of Poetics.

In his work, the phrases such as Vakratva, Vakra-bhava etc   become synonymous with Vaichtrya (striking or charming presentation). Kuntaka explains that Vakratva or Vaichtrya consist unusual expressions which are different from the commonly accepted mode of speech, such as the ones we find in Shastras and other texts. Vakratva is thus a deviation from the matter-of-fact manner of narration or from the one that is generally used in day-to-day transactions. Vakratva or Vakrokti is employed to achieve a remarkable, extraordinary (lokottara) effect that enhances the quality and attractiveness of a Kavya.

srivatsa enless knot

Kuntaka refers to the conventional definition of Kavya which states that the friendly coexistence of words and meaning is indeed Kavya (Sabda-artha sahitau Kavyam).  He quips , in literature, there is always a mutual tension between the word and the meaning (anyūnān-atirikt tatva-manohāriṇy-avasthitiḥ // Vjiv_1.17 //) ; But, he qualifies that statement by saying that the alliance of word and meaning must have some special, remarkable or outstanding qualities which he calls Vakratva or Vaichitrya. Kuntaka says: Poetry is composition where the  word and meaning are harmoniously organized into a structure by the operation of Vakrokti, providing delight to the reader. According to Kuntaka , Vakrokti is the essence of poetic speech (Kavyokti); the very life  (Jivita) of poetry; the title of his work itself indicates this.

Kuntaka describes Vakrokti as Vaidagdhya-bhangi-bhaniti suggesting  that Vakrokti is a ‘clever or knowing’ mode of expression (bhaniti) characterized by peculiar turn (bhangi or Vaichiti) brought forth by the skill of the poet (Vaidagdhya or Kavi-kaushala).

abhāvetāvalaṅkāryau tayoḥ punaralaṅkṛtiḥ / vakroktireva vaidagdhya bhaṅgī bhaṇitir ucyate // Vjiv_1.10 //

Thus , it seems that Kuntaka’s concept of Vakrokti is  something that brings within its comprehensive scope all known kinds of imaginative , innovative terns (ukti-vaichitrya)  and modes of suggestive indirect (vakra)  expressions (bhaniti-prakara)  that are unique to poetry (away from the banal words) created by the skill ( vaidagdhya or kavi-kaushala) of a poet gifted with genius (prathibha).


Kuntaka also attempts to bring under the umbrella of Vakrokti the other elements of Poetics (Kavya-agama).

Kuntaka says that Vakrokti governs all the Alamkaras ; and he takes Alamkara to mean abhidana-prakara-visesha.  He asserts that Alamkaras cannot be externally or artificially added on to poetry; the poetic speech by itself is an Alamkara.  And, in fact, he describes, the Alamkaras as Vakya-vakratva. According to him, what are called as Alamkaras are nothing but different facets or aspects of Vakrokti.

Similarly, in regard to Rasa, he accepts the importance of Rasa; but, regards it as a particular way of realizing Vakratva in a Kavya.

In a like manner, Kuntaka accepts the concept of Dhvani, the power of suggestion; and, its importance, in a Kavya. But, he does not consider it as an independent element of Poetics (Kavya-agama). He does not also regard Dhvani as ‘the soul of the poetry’ (Kavyasya Atma).  Kuntaka treats Dhvani as a particular form of Vakrokti by naming it as Upachara-vakrata, the suggestion based upon indication.


Kuntaka takes care to mention that Vakra or Vaichitra does not mean wild, eccentric or outlandish expressions that might disturb or annoy the reader. He asserts that the inventive expressions and phrases that a skillful poet creates out of his imagination should be pleasing, cultured and merited to delight the reader in a healthy way (tadvid-ahlada-kari).

śabdārthau sahitau vakra kavivyāpāra śālini /bandhe vyavasthitau kāvyaṃ tadvid āhlādakāriṇi // Vjiv_1.7 //

Kuntaka says it would be incorrect   to presume that all Kavyas are appreciated by all types of people for a single reason. Different types of Kavyas holds different types of appeal to different sorts of people for  whole sets of different reasons. Over generalization is indeed simplistic. As he puts it; there could be a hundred and one reasons for the appeal of different Kavya-s to readers of different tastes.

Kuntaka therefore does not totally reject the Svabhava or the common way describing emotions, events and objects. Kuntaka holds that vastu–svabhava has its own simple, natural beauty; and, Svabhavokti is ornamented (Alamkarya) in its own fashion.  He brings Svabhavokti under the scope of a special kind of Vakya-vakrata in which the svabhava (character) of the subject matter – whether be it sahaja (natural) or aharya (artificial or made-up) – could be described in an elegant way (sukumara –marga).

In the Sukumara-marga the poet’s natural eloquence finds abundant scope (Satisaya) to bring out the sweetness (Madhurya), clarity (Prasada), loveliness (Lavanya) and fluency or smoothness (Abhijata).

Kuntaka mentions two other two other styles: Vaichitrya and Madhyama. The Vaichitrya –marga dominated by peculiar types of Alamkaras is regarded a rather difficult style demanding more skill and maturity of treatment. The Madhyama –marga is the style that stands midway between the Vaichitrya and Sukumara Margas combining the good features of the other two styles (Ubhayatmaka).

srivatsa enless knot

In that context, Kuntaka emphasizes that what is essential in a Kavya is the genius of the poet to transform – through his skill, imagination and creativity- that which t is ordinary into something extraordinary; and, present it as a wonderful object of great beauty bringing  joy to the heart of the reader. He believed that the poet’s genius cannot be categorized (kimapi or kopi).  The true poetic genius is ever resourceful rejuvenating itself all the time (nava-navonmesha shalini prathibha).

Kuntaka illustrates the phenomenon of transforming the mundane into something out of the ordinary (lokottara) by comparing the task of the poet (kavi vyapara) in creating his poetry with that of the painter in the creation of his Art. Just as the poet works with words in their innumerable forms, so also the artist paints a picture using various materials, lines, colors, tones and shades etc (vākya-vakratā – 111.4).

Kuntaka extends the analogy by saying that none of the materials that a painter employs is an object of beauty per se. For instance; the canvass, chalk, paint etc are all commonplace, drab things. The painter uses all those different items; and none of that is elegant.  It is his genius that creates matchless beauty out of such ordinary things. Further, a painter conceives a picture in his mind and gives it a substance on the canvass by  use of variety of strokes, different colors, varying shades etc. Though he paints the picture stroke by stroke, part by part he visualizes the image in his entirety. The viewer too, rightly, takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral experience.

yathā citrasya kimapi phalakā dyupakaraṇa kalāpavyatireki / sakala prakṛta padārtha jīvitāyamānaṃ citrakara-kauśalaṃ pṛthakatvena mukhyatayodbhāsate, tathaiva vākyasya mārgādi prakṛta padārtha sārthavyatireki kavi kauśala lakṣaṇaṃ kimapi sahṛdaya hṛdayasaṃvedyaṃ sakala prastuta padārtha sphurita bhūtaṃ vakratva mujjṛmbate 

Similarly when we perceive a piece of cloth our cognition is of the cloth as whole; and it is quite distinct from the particular threads and colors involved.

The poetic process (Kavya karma) too is similar. The poet uses different means, rhetoric and other qualities of word and meaning, style (Riti); but, the beauty does not reside in any one of them singly. The real loveliness and beauty is created by the magic touch of the poet’s own genius. Art is what gives form and beauty to matter. Kuntaka’s approach to Poetics was that of an artist. Further, the Kavya, just as a painting, is much more than the sum of its parts.

Dr. K . Krishnamurthy explains this phenomenon in the  scholarly fashion  :Vakrokti is not just an out of the way expression or a poetic turn; it is the masterly art underlying every element of poetry and involving effortless and spontaneous transformation of prosaic raw materials into things of consummate beauty (New Bearings of Indian Literary Theory and Criticism).


It is said that Kuntaka ‘s views on the poetic process and on the integral nature of Kavya  were inspired by the holistic theory of Bhartrhari (Ca.5th century) put forward in his remarkable work Vakyapadiya. In his doctrine of Sphota , Bhartrhari explaining the relations that exist between the word (pada) and the sentence (Vakya) argues that a sentence is an unbreakable whole , the meaning of which flashes forth only after it is completely uttered (Vakya-sphota). The words are but a part of the whole; and have no independent existence; and, are understood only in the context of a completed sentence. Thus, Bhartrhari asserted that the whole is real while parts are not, for they are constructs or abstracted bits. The natural home of a word is the sentence in which it occurs.

Kuntaka, at places, does refer to the arguments of Bhartrhari.  He believed that a poem is an all-comprising thing of beauty; an organic entity. One cannot truly separate the ornament (Alamkara) from that which is adorned (Alamkarya); the joy of creation from the enjoyment of poetry. Thus, the words, their meanings, the Alamkara (ornament), the Alamkarya (that which is ornamented), the poet and the reader are all integrated into a fabulously rewarding poetic experience. The beauty consists in their wholeness; endearingly delighting in each other’s elegance  –  sāhityamanayoḥ śobhāśālitāṃ prati kāpyasauVjiv_1.17 . One cannot artificially separate them. Kuntaka, therefore, is often described as a holist.

[Kalidasa had earlier remarked that  the Sabda and Artha should both be equally beautiful ; and, the learned reader should find it hard to decide which enhances the other.

kaṇṭhasya tasyāḥ stanabandhurasya muktākalāpasya ca nistalasya / anyonya śobhā jananād babhūva sādhāraṇo bhūṣaṇabhūṣyabhāvaḥ // Ku.Sa_1.42 // ]


Kuntaka was aware of the theory about the suggestive power of poetry (Dhvani) that was introduced by Ānandavardhana. But, Anandavardhana’s emphasis was on the enjoyment (Rasa) that a reader derives by unraveling the poet’s intention through its suggestive power (Dhvani).

One could argue that Anandavardhana’s doctrine is loaded rather heavily on one side. It is the reader who is suggestible. His theory does not seem to put premium on poetic genius and the mysterious process of creating poetic beauty.

Kuntaka seeks to take a perspective view of things. He does appreciate the the ‘reader’s-side’ of the picture; why and how they enjoy poetry; and the importance of their experience or enjoyment of poetry. He does recognize that the joy it brings to the hearts is indeed the object of poetry.

At the same time, Kuntaka intended to present a balanced or an alternate view of the picture.  He looked at poetry from the poet’s own point of view.  He attempted to outline the poetic process (Kavi vyapara) – how the Kavya takes shape in the poet’s imagination and emerges as a thing of beauty. He forcefully proposed: that instead of merely looking for poetic words and expressions that suggest meanings and evoke emotions of love, etc., in the readers, one can could very well, also, appreciate and take delight in the wonderful poetic-genius-at work (kavi – karma) which creates poetic expressions of matchless beauty suggesting evocative poetic meanings that lovingly bind into each other like ardent lovers. The beauty of poetry cannot be compartmentalized; it is integral to poetry; and, resides in the harmony of its wholeness.

design rangoli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The six elements of Vakratva that Kuntaka enumerates  together cover the elegance of all Sabda and Artha Alamkaras; the precision of grammatical affixes, termination etc ; the diction of the Riti; Gunas – the desirable virtues and merits of poetry; the element of Rasa, the joy of reading poetry. According to Kuntaka, it is this six-fold Vakrata that distinguishes poetry from other types of narrations; and, in turn, these enhance the vital essence (Vakrokti-jivitam) of a Kavya.


I. Varna-vinyasa-vakrata

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

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

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


II. Pada-purvardha-vakrata

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

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

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

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

paryāyastena vaicitrya parā paryāya vakratā (Vjiv_2.12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


III. Pada-parardha-vakrata

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

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

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

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

tattvā adhyāropaān mukhya gua bhāvā abhidhānata .

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

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

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

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

– padayor ubhayor ekam aucityād viniyujyate (Vjiv_2.31)

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

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

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

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


IV. Vakya-vakrata

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

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

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

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

janayantyetā citra-cchāyā manoharām  (Vjiv_2.34)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


 V. Prakarana-vakrata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yad aga sargabandhāde saundaryāya nibadhyate (Vjiv_4.9

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

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

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


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

VI. Prabandha vakrata

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

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

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

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

Rasāntarea ramyea yatra nirvahaa bhavet (Vjiv_4.16)

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

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

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

(Prabandhasyā anubadhnāti navā kāmapi vakratāmVjiv_4.21)

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

sva māhātmya camatkārāt sā parāpyasya vakratā (Vjiv_4.23)

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

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

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

design rangoli

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

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

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

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

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


The importance of Kuntaka’s work lies in that it brings a fresh perspective to the appreciation of Kavya. In several places he refuses to follow conventional explanations.  His style of writing is lucid, precise and yet vigorous.  It is marked by elegance and sensitivity. Whatever be the reactions to the rather strange sounding name he assigns to his theory of Poetics, one has to appreciate his brilliance, literary acumen and critical insight he brings into investigation of Poetic virtues. He systematically analyses the principles of Poetics and their implications. His concept of Vakrata is doubtless an important contribution to the body of Poetics (Kavya Shastra).

What Kuntaka did was to extend and systematize the Alamkara theories of Bhamaha and Udbhata, and provide it with fresh interpretations.  Though he respected the views of the Old Masters he did not take them in as a whole without questioning   . He brought his own priorities, judgments and interpretations. His Vakrokti lends a new but unexpected dimension to the theory of Alamkara. His theory Vakrokti is unique, as it attempts to bring under its fold all the essential principles of Poetics.

It is rather unfortunate that the later Sanskrit Poetic tradition did not accord Kuntaka and his doctrine the attention and importance they deserved. It was perhaps the emotional appeal of Dhvani and the overwhelming influence exerted by Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta that sidelined Kuntaka’s concept of Vakrokti and its implications. Kuntaka’s was a lone voice. His isolation could also be because by then the Poetics was taken over by philosophers who dealt with the philosophy of Grammar and Grammar of philosophy. The aspects of suggestive expressions, poetic genius and the process of creating poetry were not further developed by orthodox writers.




 Continued in

Next Part



Sources and References

  1. Vakrokti Jivita of Rajanaka Kuntaka: Edited and commented by Prof. Susil Kumar De
  2. Sanskrit Poetics as a Study of Aesthetics by Prof. Susil Kumar De
  3. The Concept of Vakrokti in Sanskrit Poetics: a Reappraisal by Suryanarayana Hegde
  4. Vakrokti and Dhvani Controversies about Theory of Poetry in Indian Tradition by Bimal Krishna Matilal
  5. 5. A Comparative Study of the Indian Poetics and the Western Poetics by Mohit Kumar Ray
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Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Eight


Continued from Part Seven

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

Udbhata and Vamana

The scholars of the early period of Indian Poetics, somehow, seem to come in pairs. It was Bhamaha and Dandin followed by Udbhata and Vamana; and then came Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta.

Udbhata and Vamana were both said to be in the service of King Jayapida of Kashmir (Ca. 776-807 AD). Udbhata followed Bhamaha ; while Vamana followed Dandin. They developed upon and expounded the distinctive features of Dandin and Bhamaha; as also upon the differences that separate the two.

Udbhata is said to have written a commentary titled Bhamaha-vivarana (also called Kavya-alankara-vivrti ), on Bhamaha’s Kavyalamkara. It is believed that he also wrote a commentary on Bharata’s Natyashastra. Both the works are now not available. He is also credited (by some) with a Kavya: Kumarasambhava. What has come down to us is his Kavya-alamkara-sara- samgraha (a synopsis of the essence of Kavya Alamkara) clarifying the position of Alamkara principles that govern the Kavya.

And, Vamana in his Kavya-alamkara–sutraVritti expanded on the concept of Gunas dealt in Dandin’s work; and, at the same time, he underplayed the importance of Alamkaras. Vamana’s work, unlike that of his predecessors, is in the Sutra format interspersed by couplets or aphorisms (Karika). Because of that, his work marks a phase in the history of Sanskrit Poetic literature. The illustrations he provides are chosen from the works of the previous authors. A commentary on Kavya-alamkara–sutraVritti titled Kavi-priya is also credited by some sources to Vamana

Though Udbhata and Vamana were contemporaries, and were both employed in same Royal Court, each does not mention the other by name while criticizing the other’s views.

Their predecessors – Bhamaha and Dandin – generally dealt with Alamkara as figurative speech; Udbhata and Vamana, however, treat Alamkara as a poetic principle; and, talk in terms of its theories. Thus, in different ways, Udbhata and Vamana represent the initial efforts to organize the concept of poetic diction under theoretical principles.  Both authors, however, continued the major thrust of the Alamkara or Alamkara–oriented tradition of speculation.



Udbhata’s Bhamaha-vivarana, which is an explanation or commentary on Bhamaha’s Kavyalankara is said to have dealt mainly with Alamkara. In his explanations, he generally followed Bhamaha and his definitions of certain Poetic principles. The Alamkaras that Udbhata talks about in his Kavya-alamkara-sara-sangraha are almost the same as those mentioned by Bhamaha in his Kavyalankara. Udbhata’s work gained great fame; almost overshadowing the original work of Bhamaha, perhaps because he remained focused on Alamkara and did not deviate into discussions on Guna / Dosha (grammatical purity) or such other elements of Kavya.

He expanded on the forms of Alamkara mentioned by Bhamaha. For instance; Bhamaha mentioned one kind of Atishayokti (hyperbole) while Udbhata distinguishes four varieties of it. Similarly, in place of Bhamaha’s two forms of Anuprasa (Alliteration), Udbhata describes four. He adds Drastanta (illustration) and Kavya-lingana (poetical reasoning- where the sense of a sentence or of a word is represented as a cause of something of which it becomes an attribute) to the forms of Alamkara-s mentioned by Bhamaha.  While dealing with the varieties of Anuprasa, Udbhata recognises three different Vrttis or modes of expression. His classification of Alliterations into three classes was based on the ‘aural-effects’: primary alliterations classed as elegant (upa-nagarika); ordinary (gramya), and harsh (parashu).

Udbhata also brought into his work the element of analysis of the principles involved in the concepts. He explains the grammatical basis for different forms Upama (Similes). Here, he illustrates the forms of resemblance as qualified by different suffixes like – vat, – kyac, – kalpap etc. He also differs from Bhamaha on some minor points.

[ As regards the grammatical basis for the concept of  Upama (similes), it may be mentioned that a general theory of comparison was in existence even before the time of the Kavyas. The grammarian Panini (Ashtadhyayi; 2.3.72; 3.1.10) uses the four elements of comparison: the subject of comparison (upameya or upamita); the thing with which it is compared (upamana); the property of similarity (samanya, or samanadharma); and the grammatical indicator of comparison (samanya-vacana or dyotaka). These were perhaps basic or general concepts; but, not full-blown rhetorical theories of poetics.

upamānāni sāmānya-vacanaiḥ upamitaṃ vyāghra-ādibhiḥ sāmānya-aprayoge || PS_2,1.55-56 ||… tulya-arthair atulā-upamābhyāṃ tṛtīyā ‘nyatarasyām || PS_2,3.72 ||… upamānād ācāre || PS_3,1.10 |

The technical terms used for describing the process involved in bringing out comparisons in a Kavya, also seemed have links with poetics in Yaska’s Nirukta. Yaska (Nirukta 3.13) discusses an idea about upama or simile, which he attributes to Gargya: atha.ata.upamāh/ yad.atat.tat.sadṛśam.iti.gārgya , ‘Not that, but like that’ – the illustration provided merely suggests some aspects of resemblance to properties in the subject; but it is not identical to the subject.

That is to say that similes and allegory  do perform useful functions in a Kavya; but, they have their limitations. It is another way of suggesting that an allegory is untidy or incomplete,  in that there is always a residue of meaning that cannot be adequately brought out by an allegorical Interpretation.

Yaska and Panini were perhaps concerned with semantic properties of language. Panini used these terms to explain grammatical constructions that create similarities, such as compounds, suffixes, and so on. But, Yaska seemed to be focused on the question whether the subject of comparison (upameya) is greater or less than its compared (upamana).

In both cases, however, there is a sense of commonality (sadharana-dharma) that bridges the subject (Upameya) and the object picked up for comparison (Upama); and, the necessity of balancing both the meanings in the comparison, explicitly or otherwise.

And during the later periods of the Kavya, comparisons were  not  tied down or limited  to mere terms or expression, but were extended and  stretched over to sentences and even to chapters; and, presented as allegories ]

Udbhata’s contribution to the theory of Rasa (Rasa-vada) is more significant. He improved upon the elements of Rasa enumerated by in Natyashastra. In his Kavya-alamkara-sara-samgraha while discussing Rasa-vada-alamkara, the principles of Rasa in conjunction with the theories of Alamkara (santaḥ kavaya iti saṃbandhaḥ), he included the Shanta Rasa (tranquility) to the eight Rasa-s mentioned by Bharata. Later, Abhinavagupta elaborated on the theories of Rasa and accepted Shanta, suggested by Udbhata, as the primary or the fundamental Rasa from which all Rasa-s arise into which all Rasa-s subside.

anaucityapravṛttānāṃ kāmakrodhādikāraṇāt / bhāvānāṃ ca rasānāṃ ca bandha ūrjasvi kathyate // UKss_4.5 //

The seeds of the Alankara doctrine as in Bhamaha’s work thus flower in Kavya-alamkara-sara-samgraha of Udbhata. The notion of Rasa is, comparatively, more developed in Udbhata’s work   than in that of his predecessor. It was Udbhata who brought out a clear distinction as also the relation between Rasa and Bhava. According to him, Bhava is a particular state of mind or emotion; Anubhava (that which follows Bhava) is the external manifestation or expression of that Bhava; and, Rasa is the aesthetic delight or experience caused by Anubhava.

ratyādikānāṃ bhāvānāmanubhāvādisūcanaiḥ / yatkāvyaṃ badhyate sadbhis tat preyasvadudāhṛtam // UKss_4.2 //rasa bhāva tadābhāsavṛtteḥ pra śamabandhanam /
anyānubhāva niḥśūnyarūpaṃ yattatsamāhitam // UKss_4.7 //



Vamana is held in high esteem among the major scholars in the early Indian Poetics. His Kavyalankara-sutra-vrtti is a very significant work that comes up with original ideas and concepts.  It is regarded as the earliest attempt at evolving a philosophy of literary aesthetics.

The Kavyalankara-sutra-vrtti is divided into five Divisions or topics (Adhikarana), each of which consist two or three chapters (adhyaya). There are in all twelve Adhyayas.

:- The first Adhikarana (having three chapters: Prayojana pariksha; Adhikari chinta; and Kavya-kanti) deals with the need or prayojana of Kavya ; characterises the nature of those who are fit for studying Alankaras, and declares that style is the soul of poetry.

:- The second Adhikarana (having two chapters: Pada Dosha and Vakya Dosha) is about the defects of words, sentences, propositions and their meanings.

:- The third Adhikarana (having two chapters : Guna-alamkara- vivechana; and Sabda–Guna nirupana)  discusses the aspects of  Gunas

:- the fourth Adhikarana (having three chapters : Sabda-Alankarika  vichara ; Upamani nirupana ; and , Upama prapancha nirupana) deals with Yamaka , Anuprasa, Upama and such other Alamkaras.  

:- The fifth Adhikarana (having two chapters: Kavya samaya; and Sabda shodhana) is devoted to poetical conventions, observance of the rules of sandhi, necessity of grammatical purity and the like. The last chapter also deals with the purity of words.


Just as Udbhata followed Bhamaha, Vamana followed Dandin. But, unlike Udbhata, who focused on a single principle for inquiry (Alamkara), Vamana attempted to find a way of covering under a single organized whole the various principles that had been discussed by his predecessor Dandin. He brings into his work an analytic interest to the study of poetry attempting to offer rational explanations of the principles involved in the subject. Further, he introduces fresh concepts and ideas into the theory of Poetics.

[ Please see a detailed note on the influence of Vamana on the later writers of sanskrit poetics.]


Guna and Alamkara

Though Vamana elaborated upon the ideas put forward by Dandin, he does markedly differ from Dandin on several issues. For instance; Dandin uses the term Alamkara in the sense of embellishment or ornamentation that decorates the body of Kavya. Alamkara in Dandin’s work is not the principle ; but , is Soundaryam, beauty of the expression or figurative speech.  Vamana, on the other hand, generalizes Alamkara as a theoretical principle.  Further, though Vamana uses some of the older names of Alamkaras, such as, visesokti, rupaka, or aksepa, he gives entirely different meanings. And in all he describes thirty-three Alamkaras.

ekasya guṇasya hāneḥ kalpanāyāṃ śeṣairguṇaissāmyaṃ yattasya dārḍhyaṃ viśeṣoktiḥ / rūpakaṃ cedaṃ prāyeṇeti / // VKal_4,3.23 //upamānasya kṣepaḥ pratiṣedha upamānā akṣepaḥ /// VKal_4,3.27 //

Vamana opens his work with the famous quote pithily catching his view of Kavya: Kaavyam graahyam alankaaraat; Soundaryam alankaarah (VKal_1,1.1-2). A Kavya becomes agreeable on account of Alamkara; and, Alamkara means Beauty. Thereafter, he outlines the notions of merit or Guna and Alamkara; and, links Alamkara with Guna in a Kavya.

Earlier, Bhamaha had said that Kavya is made out of words and meaning (Sabda Artha sahitau Kavyam) . Perhaps, Bhamaha himself was aware of the limitations of his definition; and, therefore he added on to it the element of beauty by way of elegant figures of speech. Vamana, however, differed from Bhamaha; and said that Kavya is an organic whole composed of elements where Guna (quality or poetic excellence) and Alamkara (the principle of beauty) are also vital to it. Thus, Kavya has two dimensions: the substance (Vastu) of which it’s made (words and meaning); and the value of beauty for which it is made (Guna and Alamkara). The merit of Vamana’s theory lies in coordinating this principle with other elements of Kavya.

vastūnāṃ bhāvānāṃ svabhāvasya sphuṭatvaṃ yadasāv arthavyaktiḥ – VKal_3,2.14

Vamana says: the special features that create beauty (shobha) of Kavya are the Gunas (Kavya-shobhayah kartaro dharmah Gunah-VKal_3,1.1). And, those elements that enhance or brighten that beauty are the Alamkaras (Taditasya–hetavastu Alamkarah –VKal_3,1.2). Of the two, the former (Guna) is highly essential (nitya) for a Kavya (Purve niyatah). According to him there can be no luster in the Kavya without Guna (pūrve guṇā nityāḥ tair vina kavya sobha anupapatteh-VKal_3,1.3). Thus, Vamana assigns greater importance to the notion of Guna or stylistic element or poetic excellence; and, Alamkara comes next.  In the process, Vamana attempted to clarify the distinction between Guna and Alamkara.

Though Vamana retained the ten Gunas enumerated by Dandin (1. Ojas:  vigour or brilliance of long compounds; 2. Prasada:  clarity and lucidity; 3. Shlesha:  well knit composition skilfully employing many shades of meanings; 4. Samata:  evenness of sound within a line; 5. Samadhi:  ambivalence through the use of metaphors; 6. Madhurya:  sweetness in the refinement of expression; 7. Sukamarata: soft and delicate; 8. Udaratva:  exaltation or liveliness; 9. Arthavyakti: directness avoiding obscure words, pun etc; and, 10. Kanti: glow or luminous elegant turns of phrases or grace), he modified their names, and also increased the number of Gunas to twenty.  He also explained the Gunas in his own manner.

While retaining the ten traditional Gunas, Vamana created  two sets of the same ten Gunas under two broad heads: Sabda-Gunas (qualities relating to words) and Artha-gunas (qualities relating to sense or meaning).  These two classifications are sometimes referred to as the subtle (Artha Sarira) and gross (Sabda Sarira) bodies of Kavya.  That again harks back to the two basic concerns of the Sanskrit Poetics -Sabda and Artha – the word and its meaning; the first is about how the word is treated in the text, and the other is about the shades or the layers of meaning that the word is capable of revealing. Both, Sabda and Artha brighten the beauty (Kavya shobha) and enhance the quality of Kavya – khalu śabdā-arthayor dharmāḥ kāvya śobhāṃ kurvanti te guṇāḥ. And, the distinctions of the two groups as marked by Vamana helped to clear some of the vagueness in the definition of Guna as offered by Bharata and Dandin.

Vamana attempts to explain each Guna in terms of both Sabda and Artha. For example, Prasada (clarity and lucidity) as a Sabda-Guna, according to him, means readability (saithilya) of the text – bandhasya śaithilyaṃ śithikatvaṃ prasādaḥ; and, as Artha-guna it means propriety (auchitya) of sense – samprati artha guṇa vivecanā artha māha .

Generally, Vamana treats Guna-Dosha as relative concepts.  Along with excellent Gunas that shine brilliantly, there could be some whose luster has dimmed and do not fit well into the context. At the same time, there could be defects (Dosha) which cannot boast of any redeeming feature; but yet, somehow,  turn  into merits because  the context desperately  needs such expressions.

As Dandin says, collyrium (a kind of dark eye shadow) is not a thing of beauty in itself; yet, it endows glamour and luster to the sparkling eyes of a beautiful woman.

Elsewhere, it is mentioned that Nir-doshatva or faultlessness is itself a Guna. Thus Gunas and Doshas are not absolute entities. Their merits or defects are relative; and, each, in its turn, enhances or diminishes the beauty of the composition depending on the context in which it is placed.



As regards Rasa, Vamana accords it a comparatively a higher position than his predecessor did. He abandoned the approach of Bhamaha and Dandin who treated Rasa as a subsidiary element (Rasavat) of the verse. Instead, he treated Rasa as an aspect of Guna which is considered essential to Kavya. And, within the Guna, he assigned Rasa the virtue of of Kanti (glow or brightness) and classified it under Artha Guna. Vamana did not however accord an independent status to Rasa.

The later Schools criticized Vamana for treating ‘unfairly’. They pointed out that Vamana erred in failing to recognize the merit of Rasa which is the ultimate poetic experience. It was argued that Rasa should have been accorded an independent status , if not the prime status.


Riti could , broadly , be taken as the characteristic way of presentation adopted by a poet; and, its synonyms are : Marga, Gati, Pantha and Prasthana.  Dandin had earlier highlighted two styles (Marga) of presenting a Kavya: Vaidarbhi and Gaudi, each having its special characteristics. To that, Vamana added Panchali – sā tridhā vaidarbhī gauḍīyā pāñcālī ceti . (And, much later, Rudrata, in his Kavya-alamkara, added Latiya as the fourth Riti; while Raja Bhoja in his Sringara Prakasa added Avantika and Magadhi as other styles.)

All these names perhaps suggest styles that were characteristic to those geographical regions. According to Vamana, only the Vaidarbhi Marga, which he approves, has all the twenty Gunas – sweet as the notes of the lute. According to Vamana, the Gaudiya is marked by Ojas (vigour) and Kanti (grace) , but it lacks Madhurya  (sweetness) and Saukumarya (delicacy) plagued by long winding compounds and bombastic words. And, Panchali, he says, while it has Madhurya and Saukumarya, it is devoid of Ojas and Kanti.  He remarks that the difference between Vaidarbhi and other modes (Gaudi, Panchali etc) is analogous to differences between silken thread and jute fiber (I.2.11-18).

Gauḍī dambarabaddhā syād vaidarbhī lalitakramā / pāňcālī miśra bhāvena lāṭī tu mṛdubhiḥ  padaiḥ //

As said earlier; Dandin had named certain literary styles as Marga-s (say, Vaidarbhi and Gaudiya Marga). Vamana not only modified the concept of style, but also renamed Marga as Riti – style or diction – rītīnāṃ pūrvā vaidarbhī grāhyā , guṇānāṃ sākalyāt .  Riti, according to him, is a particular mode or organization of verbal structure that is different from common usage –   Visista pada-racana – having the excellences of Gunas. He, in fact, calls this structure or arrangement of words as Viseso Gunatma (1.2.8) – a combination of various Gunas. 

Thus, though he inherited the idea of Marga from Dandin, Vamana integrated it with the notion of Guna, the poetic excellences or virtues. And, his idea of Riti brought into its fold other modes of analysis and poetic principles, particularly Alamkara, to create a holistic view of poetry. Vamana is revered as the originator and exponent of the Riti School.

(For more on Riti, please click here)


Before going to Vamana (Ca. 776-807 AD) , lets us take a leap in time  ; and, reach Kuntaka who  perhaps was a younger contemporary of the great Abhinavagupta (Ca. 950 – 1020 AD.

Kuntaka preferred to do away Riti’s  association  with  the obsolete geographical   areas ; and, advocated classifying the manners of expression (Riti) in the light of prevailing tendencies among the erudite scholars of Sanskrit literature. He tried to show how each Marga or Riti or style is characterized by the manner of employing Alamkaras and delineating the Rasas.

He said; these Ritis – having synonyms  such as  Gati, Marga, Pantha  and Prasthana etc. ,- are the characteristic ways of a writer.   The Ritis  are unique to each author, springing from his creative genius and his approach to the subject (Kavi-svabhava) . And, it is rather too simplistic to merely associate a Riti with a geographical area. 

Kutaka also objected to the old practice of classifying the Vaidarbhi,  Gaudi and Panchali type of Ritis as Uttama , Madhyama and Adhama , receptively.  He said; the quality of a Kavya and its presentation  cannot  be decided merely  going  by  part of the country from which  it originated and its customs (Desa-achara) . What truly matters , he said,  is the poetic genius, innovative skill and craftsmanship (Prathibha , Shakthi , and Vyutpatti).

Kuntaka mentions that in this context one could perhaps consider three styles (Margas) , the hallmark of each poet (Kavi svabhava); each of which having  a charm of its own : Sukumara (graceful); Vichitra (graphic or artistic skill); Madhyama (combination of both).  And, it is rather absurd to treat  one among them as being superior (Uttama)  and the rest as either passable (Madhyama) or bad (Adhama)

He also speaks of certain virtues (Gunas) of each those three Margas .

For instance ; in regard to Sukumara Marga, he mentions Madhurya (sweetness of expressions) that gracefully and lucidly combines Sabda (Pada-nama samatvam) with Artha (Sabda-rtha ramaniyata ya vinyasa vaichitram)  . The next is Prasada , the Guna by  virtue of which an idea is presented with clarity and ease. The third Guna is Lavanya , the alluring beauty that delights the heart of a responsive reader (Sahrudaya)

The Vichitra Marga of Kuntaka is dominated by the intricately crafted  flashy style (Vakrata) .

Though Kuntaka speaks, mainly, of the two Margas and their combinations, he cautions that these are mere illustrations. And, Margas , which spring from  poetic genius , are indeed countless in their varieties and in their subtle differences depending upon the skill and the attitude of the poet (Kavi-svabhava). 

kuntaka vj

Thus, Riti is not just a regional mode of arranging words or diction or style; and, it could mean harmony and rhythm in the composition , as well. Just as in the human body the placement and proportion of each organ contributes to the handsome or otherwise appearance of a person, so also the arrangement of the words which aptly bring out the poetic and the dramatic intent of the component are highly important. Riti aims to harmonize Sabda and Artha, the body and the soul.

Prof.SK De (in his Sanskrit Poetics) explains : it should be observed that the term Riti is hardly equivalent to the English word style, by which it is often rendered, but in which there is always a distinct subjective valuation. … Riti is not, like the style, the expression of poetic individuality as is generally understood by western criticism, but it is merely the outward presentation of its beauty called forth by a harmonious combination of more or less fixed ‘literary excellence (Gunas)’.


Riti represents for Vamana the collection of Gunas in harmony with faultless (A-doshau) Alamkara-s , which produce Soundaryam (or Shobha) of Kavya. Paka (maturity) is another term that Vamana introduced to denote Shobha or the natural beauty of the thing described. It is this Paka, the inexplicable delight that the Sahrudaya enjoys.

(udayati hi sa tādṛk kvāpi vaidarbha rītau  sahṛdaya hṛdayānāṃ rañjakaḥ ko’pi  pākaḥ VKal_1,2.21.)

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

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

As Riti, according to Vamana, is the essence (soul) of Kavya, so the Gunas are the essential elements of the Riti. That is to say; the Gunas, being essential to Riti, are the inseparable property of poetry; whereas, the Alamkaras being only external ornamentation to the body of poetry are not recognised as inseparable property of poetry.  In other words:- the Gunas are inherent to poetry (Samavaya-samvandha) ; and,  the Alankaras are merely connected with poetry (Samyoga-samyandha).

padānāṃ sandhiḥ padasandhiḥ / sa ca svara samavāyarūpaḥ pratyāsattimātrā rūpo vā / sa virūpo yasminniti vigrahaḥ //2.2. 7/

The explanation offered by Vamana meant that the verbal structure having certain Gunas is the body of Kavya, while its essence, Riti, is the soul of Kavya. Thus, Vamana independently introduced the concept of Atman (soul) into the Kavya composition. The earlier scholars had not discussed or visualized the ‘soul’ (Atman) of Kavya. The later authors followed the lead provided by Vamana and started visualizing Kavya and talking about it in terms of the body (Sarira) and soul (Atman) of poetry.

With the heightened position of Riti as the essence of Kavya, the Alamkara had to take a secondary place. The Alamkara, the decorative ornamentation of the verbal structure or the charm of expressions came to be looked upon as the external features that beautify (saundaryam alankarah) the body of Kavya – kavyam grahyam alankarat. Thus, it is quite feasible for a good Kavya to subsist without Alankaras, which are extraneous elements; but not without Riti its very soul. Thus, a clear distinction emerges between Guna /Riti the poetic excellence which is the soul and the Alamkara the ornamentation which is the body of Kavya.

[The later critics , of course, wondered, how Gunas could be any more ‘inherent – Samavaya-samvandha’ than the Alamkara in a poetic expression, if they are present or absent as required for the differentiation that Vamana made in the styles  (Riti) that he highlighted.]

Literally interpreted, this doctrine means: the Alamkara-s are just imposed on the   body of Kavya which is already ‘en-souled’   by Guna-s the poetic excellences or qualities. That is; the body and soul are distinct. The soul is not perceptible to the senses or to the onlookers. But, the soul resides in the body; and reveals itself through body and lends the body its life and a purpose to exist.

Whatever be the views adopted / accepted  or rejected  by the later scholars, it was Vamana who first brought into discussion the concept of soul and tried to make a distinction between the body (structure) and soul (essence) of poetry. He also attempted to define Kavya with reference to specific verbal structures possessing certain specific virtues (such as beauty, Soundaryam or Shobha) that hold within its bosom the essence of Kavya; and that essence, according to Vamana is Riti. As he explains, Riti is the flowing together of all the essential elements of Kavya – :

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

Thus, Vamana is the first Alamkara writer (Alamkarika) to bring a sense of balance into his School.  Till his advent, the Alamkara School was engrossed with elegant expressions of   poetic beauty; and, they seem to have missed the aspect of the inner essence of Kavya. Vamana brought into discussion the aesthetic effect as something other than an appreciation of alluring word-play.  He also makes the process of understanding the purpose or the intentions of the poet himself as central to poetic appreciation. If the poet and the reader, in harmony, commonly share the poetic delight that would be the  greatest fulfillment of the Kavya.  He thus broadens his inquiry by bringing together the poet and the reader, and also by including the proper effect of poetry seen as a coordinated outcome or flowering of   all the elements of poetry. With his concepts of Riti and Guna we move almost close to the essence of poetry.


Vamana’s mode of thought – forging a dualism between the soul and the body of Kavya, between the qualities of the soul and the ornaments of the body – paved way for the advent of a theory in the ninth century, which since then has dominated Sanskrit poetics and literary criticism: the theory of suggestion (Dhvani). The Dhvani School propagated by Anandavardhana retains the distinction between the body and soul of Kavya. But, here the soul is Dhvani, the suggestive power of poetry, and not Riti the diction.

With the emergence of later Schools, the concept of Riti came under attack. The theory of Riti suffered a setback , as the proponents of the Dhvani School asserted that the heart of all art-forms – drama, poetry, music or art- is one and the same –  the aesthetic experience of the Sahrudaya – the cultured reader or listener.

The Dhvani School argued that although Vamana said that Riti is the soul of poetry, it does not go into the inner depths of Kavya. Riti, at best, is an arrangement of words and meanings characterized by various Gunas. A particular Guna might be appropriate in a specific context. The verbal compositions could be tight knit and high flowing in a given context; but, a simple, lucid narration might be appropriate in another situation. One may admire grandeur in one situation; and simplicity in another. It is the context that decides appropriateness of style.  This is an essential aspect of any Kavya. The Riti School, somehow, seemed to have missed this point.

[Although Anandavardhana did not support the theory of Riti, he reduced the ten Gunas stated by Vamana into three; and, equated them to the three Ritis put forward by Vamana. Anandavardhana did not go further in analyzing the Guna doctrine.

Mammata following Anandavardhana, discussed the doctrine of Guna in his Kavyaprakasa; and, remarked  that the ten Gunas defined by Dandin and Vamana were  nothing but some Alamkaras ; and,  some of them could be treated as the  reverse of the Doshas.]

It is true, they said, that Alamkara – the figures of speech, and Riti – the  distinctive verbal compositions , do lend a charm to Kavya.  But, that represents the body of Kavya while its essence or soul is Rasa.  And, the essential objective of Kavya is Rasa, the experience of the Sahrudaya – the cultured reader or listener. It is for the delight the Sahrudaya that Kavya is created. They also pointed out that the Riti School seemed to have missed the involvement of the reader in the process of poetic experience. And, that perhaps is the reason, they said, why the advocates of Riti could not assign Rasa its due place in poetics

The Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana expanded on the object (phala) of poetry; and, how it is achieved (vyapara). The Rasa, it said, is the ultimate enjoyment by the reader; such enjoyment is the object of poetry. According to Anandavardhana, Rasa is not made; but, it is revealed; and its revelation is best when done through Dhvani, the power of suggestion. And, that is why words and meanings must be transformed to suggestions (Dhvani) of Rasa.

There was however some respite to the Riti SchoolDespite the overwhelming importance accorded to suggestion and to the suggestion of Rasa, the Dhvani School could not ignore the relevance of expression (Riti). It was pointed out by other critiques that a worthy poet who carefully seeks the suggested sense (Dhvani) has necessarily to rely on apt words in order to covey the suggestion.

It was also pointed out that suggestion (Dhvani) can hardly be evoked by mere mention of a name or a term. It needs a certain environment. The sense of ‘suggestion’ has to arise out of the contextual factors backed by appropriate descriptions. These include the literary meaning as also the suggestive possibilities of the expression such as: the sound echoing the sense, rhythm, imagery and symbols. All these devices are to be used for helping to evoke the right response in the mind and the heart of the reader.  Such environment for evoking Dhvani , it was pointed out, is nothing but Riti.  Thus , it is only through Riti that the language acquires a limitless suggestive power. Eventually Dhavni, however lauded, which aims to evoke emotional response or enjoyment of the listener or the reader (Rasa)  has inevitably to depend on  Riti for its manifestation.

As regards Alamkara, they said, it might belong to body of Kavya, but to a gifted poet it comes spontaneously without much effort; and, that does help the suggestion of Rasa. As Vamana said, Kavya springs (Kavya bija) from poets creative genius (pratibha). It is the beautiful mind that gives birth to beautiful expressions; and beautiful expressions bring forth beautiful suggestions. And, all suggestions need not be poetic.

The doctrine of Riti, despite its limitations, is truly a major contribution to the study of literary compositions. During the recent times it attracted much attention as it was recognized that the theory of Riti has close affinities with modern day stylistic studies of literature.

Lotus pond

Continued in

Next Part


Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 By Harold G. Coward

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

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

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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Seven

Continued from Part Six

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]


Indian poetics – Kavya Shastra

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

[In Chapter sixteen of the Natyashastra, titled as kāvyalakao nāma oaśo’dhyāya , Bharata lists thirty-six of  Kavya Lakshanas (features)atriśa-lakaānyeva kāvya-bandheu nirdiśet 16. 135

He calls them as Kavya Vibhushanam, the adornments which enhance the beauty of a Kavya (prabandha śobhākaraāni); and, together help in producing the Rasa – samyak prayojyāni rasāyanāni.

Etāni kāvyasya ca lakṣaṇāni/  ṣaṭtriṃśad uddeśa nidarśanāni । prabandha śobhākaraṇāni  tajjñaiḥ /  samyak prayojyāni rasāyanāni 16.172

But, Bharata neither illustrates these Lakshanas , nor does he specify how these are to be employed in a Kavya. He also does not try to differentiate the Lakshanas from the Alamkaras.

The renowned scholar Dr. V. Raghavan observes: By Lakshanas , Bharata refers to the features of the Kavya in general ; and, not necessarily of Drama alone.  He also makes a rather ambiguous statement :  Lakshana differs from Alamkara , in the sense that it is more comprehensive ; and, is also not a separate entity like the  ornament . Lakshana belongs to the body of the Kavya  . It is Aprathaksiddha ; it is the  Kavyasarira itself.  It is said; the Lakshana gives grace to Kavya; while, Alamkara is added to it for extra beauty. (Let me admit; I do not pretend to have understood this , entirely)

Dr. Raghavan also  says;  gradually , the Lakshana died in the Alamkara shastra. And , in the later times , some authors assigned the Lakshanas different names. For instance; Raja Bhoja and Saradatanaya call it as Bhushana; and, Jagaddhara calls it Natya-alamkara.

For more on Lakshanas , please click here]


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

The intervening period, perhaps, belonged to Prakrit. Not only was Prakrit used for the Edicts and the Prasastis, but it was also used in writing poetical and prose Kavyas. The inscriptions of Asoka (304–232 BCE) were in simple regional and sub-regional languages; and, not in ornate Kavya style. The inscriptions of Asoka show the existence of at least three dialects, the Eastern dialect of the capital which perhaps was the official lingua franca of the Empire, the North-western and the Western dialects.

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

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

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

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


Kavya–agama, the elements of Poetics

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

These scholars are, generally, classified as originators of ideas; compilers and commentators.

Among the scholars , over the centuries, Bharatha, Bhamaha, Vamana , Anandavardhana and Kuntala could be called originators of poetic principles or elements.

The compilers were: Mammata, Vishwanatha and Jagannatha.

And among the commentators; Udbhata, Bhattaloa, Srismukha, Bhattanaya, Bhattatauta and Abhinavagupta are prominent.

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


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

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

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

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


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

The elements of Poetics or Kavya-agama are said to be ten:

  • (1) Kavya-svarupa (nature of poetry); causes of poetry, definition of poetry, various classes of poetry and purpose of poetry;
  • (2) Sabda-Shakthi, the significance of words and their power;
  • (3) Dhvani-kavya , the poetry suggestive power is supreme ;
  • (4) Gunibhuta-Vangmaya-kavya , the poetry where suggested  (Dhvani)  meaning is secondary to the primary sense;
  • (5) Rasa: emotive content;
  • (6)  Guna: excellence of poetic expression ;
  • (7)  Riti ; style of poetry or diction;
  • (8)  Alamkara : figurative beauty of poetic expressions ;
  • (9)  Dosha ; blemishes in poetic expressions that need to be avoided; and ,
  • (10)  Natya-vidhana the  dramatic effect or dramaturgy.

At times, the Nayaka-nayika-bheda the classification of the types of heroes and heroines is also mentioned; but, it could be clubbed either under Rasa or under Natya-vidhana.

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

Then again, the whole of Poetics broadly developed into eight Schools: Rasa, Alamkara, Riti, Guna/Dosha, Vakrokti, Svabhavokti, Auchitya and Dhvani.

We shall briefly talk about these elements a little later.

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

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

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

theories of poetics

theories of poetics2

(Source; Thanks to Sagar G.Ladhva )

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Indian Poetics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Although Bharata , in his Natyashastra mentions four components of Alamakara  (upamā rūpakaṃ caiva dīpakaṃ yamakaṃ) as related to Drama, he does not elaborate on it.

upamā rūpaka caiva dīpaka yamaka tathā alakārāstu vijñeyā catvāro nāakāśrayā NS.6.  41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dandin differed from Bhamaha.  He did not agree with the idea that there is no Alamkara without Vakrokti and that Savbhavokti, natural expressions, has no importance in Kavya.  He argued, the Alamkara, the figurative expressions could be of two kinds – Svabhavokti and Vakrokti; and the former takes the priority (Adya Alamkrith). The Svabhavokti  is a clear (sputa)  and beautiful (Charu) statement of things as they are : Svabhavokti raso charu yathavad vastu varnanam.

And,  Svabhavokti , also known as Jati (Jatimiva Alamkrtinam)  . It has to have a well balanced (Adhika-mrudva samanam) emphasis on the content, emotion and thought; as also on its form and poetic expression.

Svabhavokti cannot be Gramya (rustic), vulgar, insipid or stale ; but, it has to be a clear (sputa, pusta) , well coined, attractive  (Charu), statement of things , as they are:

Navosthor Jatir- agramya shlesho klistaha sputo rasaha / vikata-akshara bandasha krutsva-mekatra durlabham // Bana’s harsha-charita//

(For more on Svabhavokti , please click here)

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

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

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

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

Rajasekhara also hails the Vaidarbhi enthusiastically : Aho hrudyam Vaidarhi Ritihi /  Aho Madhuryam paryaptam /   Aho nish-pramadaha Prasadaha // (Vidda-salabhanjika  Act One)


Here, we need to briefly talk about the concept of Vritti, which  like many such others that originated in the Natyashastra, later walked into the arena of the Kavya.

Bharata regards the Vrttis or the modes of expression as one among the most important constituent elements of the play. In fact, he considers the Vrttis as the mother of all poetic works – sarveāmeva kāvyānā-mātkā vttaya  smḥ  (NS.18.4). 

In a play, the Vrtti stands for the ways of rendering a scene; or, the acting styles and the use of language, diction that different characters adopt in a scene, depending upon the nature or the Bhava that is peculiar to that character– rasochita-artha-sandarbha.

The Vrttis are said to be of four kinds (vrttis caturdha) : Kaisiki; Sattvati; Arabhati; and, Bharati. The explanations provided by Bharata were principally with regard to the theatrical performances.

The Kaisiki-vrtti (graceful style) which characterizes the tender  Lasyanga  associated  with expressions of love, dance, song as also with charming costumes and delicate actions portrayed with care, is most suited to Srngara-rasa (tatra kaisiki gita-nrtya-vilasadyair mrduh srngara- cestitaih ).

The Sattvati Vrtti (flamboyant style) is a rather gaudy style of expressing ones emotions with excessive body-movement; exuberant expressions of joy; and, underplaying mellow or sorrow moods. It is a way of expressing ones emotions (mano-vyapara) through too many words.

The Arabhati-vrtti is a loud, rather noisy and energetic style. It is a powerful exhibition of one’s anger, valour, bordering on false-pride, by screaming, shouting, particularly, in tumultuous scenes with overwhelming tension, disturbance and violence.  It involves furious physical movements (kaya-vyapara).

And, the Bharati-vrtti is mainly related to a scene where the speech or dialogue delivery is its prominent feature.  But, generally, the Bharati-vrtti, related to eloquence, is of importance in all the situations (vrttih sarvatra bharati).


And, when you come to the Kavya, the written texts, which are either read or recited (Shravya Kavya), you find that the Vritti which is predominant here is the Bharati Vrtti, the eloquent and free flowing speech or well composed words and sentences. And, there is, of course, the Kaisiki Vrtti, for depicting the scenes of love (Srngara), tenderness (Lavanya) , lovely evenings, moon lit nights, graceful locations  and captivating speech etc.

And, the Sattavati – which is used for portraying violent action – is almost absent in the Kavya.

Bharati or the words of the text of the Kavya will be modified, according to the situation, by Kaisiki and Arbhati vrttis. This gives raise to two modes (Marga) or kinds of poetic diction or styles (Riti):  Vaidarbhi Riti and Gaudi Riti.  The excellence (Guna), like Madhurya (sweetness or lucidity) and Ojas (vigour) form their essence.

According to Dr. V.  Raghavan, the Madhurya Guna and Kaisiki Vrtti  (sweetness and delicate grace) characterize the Vaidarbhi Riti; while, Ojas Guna and Arbhati Vrtti  (vigor and energy) go with the Gaudi Riti.


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


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

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

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

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

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

The basic idea is : Kavya (poetry) is neither a mere thought nor emotion nor even a matter of style. It is how an alluring idea incarnates itself in  beautiful expressions . The function of the Alamkara is to heighten the effect; to aid the poet to present his thought and emotion splendidly and naturally .

Alamkara is that which adorns (Bhusana) or that by which something is adorned – Alankarotiti alankarah; Alankriyate anena iti alankarah. And, Alamkara is ‘the beauty in poetry’ Saundaryam alahkarah – Vamana: K.A.S. 1.2. The function of an Alamkara is to provide a brilliant touch (Camatkara) to the object of description, Camatkrtir-alamkarah.

It is said; the term Alamkara combines within itself the elements of Poetics and of the Aesthetics as well. Alamkara-sastra is therefore the science which suggests and instructs how a Kavya should be; and, also prescribes certain canons of propriety.

As Nilakantha Diksita says: a Poet, who is gifted with the genius of creating extraordinary composition (vinyasa visesa bhavyaih), can turn even the  common place situations into very interesting episodes.

Yaneva sabda-nvayam- alapamah  /  yaneva cartha-nvaya-mullikhamah / Taireva vinyasa visesa bhavyaih  / sammohayante kavayo jaganti  //

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

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

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

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

[ Please click here to read more on the concept of Alamkara]


Both – Bhamaha and Dandin – agree on the central place accorded, in Kavya, to Alamkara, figurative speech. Both held that the mode of figurative expression (Alamkara), diction (Riti) , grammatical correctness (Auchitya) , and sweetness of the sounds (Madhurya) constitute poetry. Both deal extensively with Artha-alamkara that gives forth striking modes of meaningful expressions.

Dandin also recognized the importance of Alamkaras, as means of adding charm to poetry – Kavya sobhakaran dharmann alamkaran pracasate  – K.D. II.1. Dandin, however, gives far more space to the discussion on those figures of speech that are defined as phonetic features (Sabda-alamkara) e.g. rhyme (Yamaka) than does Bhamaha.

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

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



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

As an addendum to the text , appearing after the final verse 64 of the last  Chapter – Pariccheda (6.64) – there are two verses which summarize the topics  covered  by Kavyalankara.  It says: the subject relating to the body of the poetry (śarīraṃ)  was determined (nirṇītaṃ) in sixty verses; in one hundred and sixty verses , the topic of Alamkara was discussed; the defects and blemishes (Dosha) that could occur in a Kavya were mentioned in fifty verses; the logic that determines (nyāya-nirṇayaḥ) the format of a Kavya are stated in seventy verses; and, the criteria that specify the purity of words (śabdasya śuddhiḥ) used in a Kavya are enumerated in sixty verses.

Thus, in all,  five subjects (vastu-pañcakam), in that order (krameṇa) , spread over six Paricchedas (ṣaḍbhiḥ paricchedair), comprising  four hundred verses, have been dealt with by Bhamaha , for the benefit of the readers. 

ṣaṣṭyā śarīraṃ nirṇītaṃ śataṣaṣṭyā tva-alaṅkṛtiḥ / pañcāśatā doṣadṛṣṭiḥ saptatyā nyāyanirṇayaḥ // Bh_6.65 // ṣaṣṭyā śabdasya śuddhiḥ syād ityevaṃ vastupañcakam /
uktaṃ ṣaḍbhiḥ paricchedair bhāmahena krameṇa vaḥ // Bh_6.66 //

Bhamaha’s kavyalankara , was perhaps, meant to facilitate a critical study of the subject of Kavya ; and, to serve as a practical handbook  for the benefit of those engaged in the art of poetical composition .

At the end of Kavyalankara (Pariccheda 6. 64), Bhamaha says : after gaining a good understanding of the views of reputed poets; and, having worked out the characteristics  of Kavya by ones own effort and intelligence,  this work is composed by Bhamaha , the son of Rakrila Gomin, for the benefit of the good people .

avalokya matāni satkavīnām avagamya svadhiyā ca kāvyalakṣma /  Bhāmahena grathitaṃ Rakrila-gomi sūnu-nedam // Bh_6.64 //

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

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

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

Towards the end of the First Pariccheda, Bhamaha provides the broad guideline for composing a delightful and charming Kavya (śobhāṃ viracitamidaṃ). He instructs that the poet should exercise great caution ; and , use his discretion while  selecting the words that are most apt in the given  context.

He says: a garland-maker (malakara), while stringing together a garland,  selects the sweet-smelling , beautiful looking flowers (surabhi kusumaṃ) ; and,  rejects the ordinary ones ; and again , he also knows precisely that of  the flowers so selected, which flower of a particular color and shape  , placed in its appropriate position,  would look pretty when interwoven with other flowers  and enhance the beauty of the garland . In a similar manner; just as the garland-maker  does (sādhu vijñāya mālāṃ yojyaṃ), the poet , while composing a Kavya, should take abundant care to select the appropriate words and place them in their right position, in order to produce a charming Kavya

etad grāhyaṃ surabhi kusumaṃ grāmyam etannidheyaṃ dhatte śobhāṃ viracitamidaṃ sthānamasyaitadasya / mālākāro racayati yathā sādhu vijñāya mālāṃ yojyaṃ kāvyeṣvavahitadhiyā tadvadevā-bhidhānam // Bh_1.59 //

At the same time, Bhamaha cautions that mere eloquence is of no avail , if it fails to produce powerful poetic expressions. He exclaims : what is wealth without modesty?! What is night without the bright and soothing moon ? What use is of  mere clever eloquence, without the capacity to compose a good poetry (Sat-kavita)? 

vinayena vinā kā śrīḥ ; kā niśā śaśinā vinā / rahitā satkavitvena kīdṛśī vāgvidagdhatā // Bh_1.4 //

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

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

Bhamaha regards Alamkara as that principle of beauty which adorns poetry; and, that which distinguishes poetry from Sastra (scriptures) and Varta (ordinary speech) . He says; a poetry devoid of Alamkaras can have no charm – Na kantamapi  nirbhusam vibhati vanita mukham –  kavyalankara 1.36.

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

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

Panini had earlier used the term Upama, in a general sense to denote Sadrasha (similarity) –  Upamanani samanya-vacanaih / Upamitam vyaghradibhih samanya prayoge . But, Bhamaha accorded Upama, the element of comparison, much greater importance. Bhamaha discusses , at length (Pariccheda 2.verses 43 to 65), the criteria that should be kept in mind while assessing the degree of similarity and dissimilarities between the two objects that are chosen for comparison. He says; the two objects might resemble ; but they cannot be identical. Therefore, one should select only those  qualities that are  common to both; and, are appropriate in the context . But, in any case, the Upama should be real; and, should not be pushed to extremes. 

Bhamaha recognized Vakrokti, the extra-ordinary turn given to an ordinary speech,  as an essential entity underlying all Alamkaras; and, as one of the principal elements of a Kavya. 

Saisa sarvaiva vakroktiranay artho vibhavyate / Yatno a’syam kavina karyah kol-amkaro’ naya  vina / –  kavyalankara 11.85

He also talked about the other elements of Kavya such as  Riti, however, without much stress.  He did not seem to attach much importance to Riti or mode of composition; because, in his opinion, the distinction between the Vaidarbhi and the Gaudi Riti is of no consequence. He however, introduced the notion of Sausabdya, the grammatical appropriateness in poetry- which relates to the question of style , in general, rather than to any theory of poetics.

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

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

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

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

As regards Rasa, Bhamaha again links it to Alamkara. He treats Rasa as an aspect of Alamkara, Rasavat (lit. that which possesses Rasa). According to him, the suggested sense (vyangyartha), which is at the root of Rasa, is implicit in the vakrokti. Bhamaha did not however elaborate on the concept of Vakrokti. He meant Vakrokti as an expression which is neither simple nor clear-cut; but, as one which has curvature (vakra) – vakroktir anayārtho vibhāvyate. He took it as a fundamental principle of poetic expression .

[Bhamaha regarded Vakrokti as an essential entity underlying  Alamkaras; but, is not clear whether or not Bhamaha regarded Vakrokti as an Alamkara  per se]  

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

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

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

[ Please also read Kavalankara of Bhamaha (Edited , with translation into English) by Pandit P.V.Naganatha Sastry ; Motilal Banarsidass, 1970]


[Bhamaha  also speaks of a  concept called Bhavikatva , which he treats  it as an Alamkara  which has the virtue (Guna) of  adorning not merely a sentence (vakya) but a passage or a composition (Prabandha) as a whole (Bhavikatvamiti prahuh prabandha –vishayam gunam– 3.53).

bhāvikatvam iti prāhuḥ prabandhaviṣayaṃ guṇam / pratyakṣā iva dṛśyante yatrārthā bhūta-bhāvinaḥ // Bh_3.53 //

It is described as Prabandha-guna, by virtue of which – as Dr. V Raghavan explains – the events or the ideas of the past (bhuta) and future (bhavi) narrated by the poet come alive and present themselves  so vividly as if they belong to the present. As one reads a Kavya, the beauty and the essence of it should appear (dṛśyante) before one’s eyes; and, the events in the story should unfold in reality as if they are happening  right in her/his presence (pratyakshayam-antva). Such a Guna of an Alamkara, the imagination or visualization, creating a mental image (vastu samvada) which instills a sense of virtual-reality  (pratyakṣā iva dṛśyante yatrārthā) into the rendering, also goes by the name Bhavana or Udbhavana or Bhavika; the very essence of the Rasa realization (Rasavad). It binds the Kavi and the Sahrudaya together into a shared aesthetic experience.

Dandin also refers to Bhavikatva or Bhavika or Kavi-bhava, as a Prabandha-guna. But, he seems to relate it to Auchitya and Kavi-abhipraya, the attitude and the approach of the poet (Bhavah Kaveh abhiprayah). However, Dandin’s interpretation was not carried forward by the later writers, who preferred to follow Bhamaha.

And, in the later periods, Bhavika, somehow, got mixed up with other concepts (Prasada; Sadharanikarana etc) ; and , lost its focus .

For more on Bhavika , please click here; and here ]



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

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

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

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

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

Dandin accepted Alamkara-s as beautifying factors that infuse grace and charm into poetry; and, as an important aspect of which raises far above common-place rustic crudity.

Kamam sarvepya alankaro rasam-arthe nisincatu / Tathapya gramyatai vainam bharam vahati bhuyasa //  kavyadarsa. 1.63.

He said; Alamkara-s are the beautifying factors of poetry and they are infinite in number;  and,  whatever beautifies poetry could be  called Alamkara

Kavya sobhakaran dharmann-alahkaran pracaksate  – kavyadarsa. II. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Rudrata also classified the Artha-alamkara into four types :  Vastava (direct statement of facts) ; Aupamya (simile); Atishaya (exaggeration); and , Slesha (play or twist of words)

Udbhata does not, however, divide Alamkaras into Sabda-alamkaras and Artha-alamkaras; but , he gives six groups of Alamkaras; of which , four are Sabda-alamkaras and the rest are Artha-alamkaras.

He has given much importance to Anuprasa; and, his concept of Kavya-vrtti is based on Anuprasa. Among the Artha-alamkaras, he gives greater importance to Slesa, which he treats as the very secret of the poetic language. Udbhata considers both Gunas and Alamkaras as the beautifying factors of poetry]


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vamana laid more emphasis on Riti; yet, he accords importance to Alamkaras . He clearly states that it is a synonym for Saundarya i.e., beauty; and, because of this beauty, poetry is distinguished from Sastra and Lokavarta.

He further said that although Gunas make a poem charming, the Alamkaras enhance such poetic charm :

Kavya sobhayah kartaro dharmah gunah tad atisayahetu vastvalankarah –   kavyalankarasutra – III.l

For Bhamaha , Alamkara is the principle of beauty in poetry; and, for Dandin, Alamkara is Sobha-dharma. Dandin also considers the whole Vanmaya (literature) into two modes of figurative expression.

But, Vamana takes a broader approach than that of Bhamaha and Dandin; and, he recognizes Alamkara as Saundarya itself. Thus, he not only considered Alamkara as an essential element of poetry;  but,  also identified beauty with it – Saundaryam alamkarahkavyalankarasutra; 1.2

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

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

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

[ Before going further , let me mention in passing about the Kannada classic Kavi-raja-marga ….

It is said; Kavi-raja-marga (Ca.850 C.E.), the earliest and one of the foundational texts available on rhetoric, poetics and grammar in the Kannada language, was inspired by the Kavyadarsa of Dandin . It is generally accepted that Kavi-raja-marga was co-authored by the famous Rashtrakuta King Amoghavarsha I Nrupathunga (who ruled between 814 A.D. and 878 A.D); and, his court poet Sri Vijaya – ‘Nrupatungadeva-anumatha’ (as approved by Nrupatungadeva).

Though the Kavi-raja-marga generally follows Kavyadarsa, it goes far beyond and tries to forge a meaningful interface between Sanskrit and Kannada.

Kavi-raja- marga, praised as a mirror and guiding light to the poets, was perhaps composed during the formative stages in the  growth of Kannada literature. And, it was meant to standardize the writing styles in Kannada, for the benefit of aspiring poets. It was also intended to serve as a guide book to the Kannada Grammar, as it then existed.

The work is composed of 541 stanzas, spread over three Chapters. The First Chapter enumerates  errors (Dosha) that one might possibly commit while writing poetry; the Second Chapter deals with Sabda-alamkara; and, the Third Chapter covers Artha-alamkara.

The Book, among other things, dwells on the earlier two styles of composing  poetry in Kannada (kavya-prakaras) – the Bedande and  the Chattana;  and , the way of prose writing – the Gadya-katha. And, it mentions that these styles were recognized by Puratana-kavi (earlier poets) and Pruva-acharyas (past Masters).  

In that context, Kavi-raja-marga recalls with reverence many Kannada poets, authors and scholars who preceded its time:  Vimalachandra , Udaya, Nagarjuna, Jayabhandu and the 6th century King Durvinita of the Western Ganga Dynasty as the best writers of Kannada prose; and, Srivijaya; Kavisvara, Pandita, Chandra and Lokapala as the best Kannada poets.

But, sadly, the works of all those eminent poets and authors are lost to us.

The Kavi-raja-marga continues to inspire, educate and guide the Kannada scholars, even to this day.]


The older School (Prachina) – of Bhamaha, Dandin, Vamana and others – dealt with natural or human situation idealized by the poet for its own sake. The attention of the Prachina School was focused on ornamented figures of speech (Alamkara) and the beauty (sobha, carutva) of the expression or on the ‘body’ of poetry.

The Navina School represented by Anandavardhana (9th century) and his theory of Dhvani mark the beginning of a new-phase (Navina) in Indian Poetics.  It pointed out that the reader should not stop at the expression but should go further into the meaning that is suggested, or hinted, by it. The Navina School laid more importance on the emotional content (Bhava) of the Kavya. But, here, the emotive element was not directly expressed in words (Vachya) ; but , had to be grasped by  the reader indirectly (Parokshya ) through suggestions. Yet, through the description of the situation the reader understands the emotion and derives that exalted delight, Rasa.

Raja Bhoja , in his Srngaraprakasha, classified Alamkara into those of Sabda (Bahya – external); those of Artha (Abhyantara – internal) and, those of both Sabda and Artha (Bhaya-abhyantara – internal as well as external). In any case; Alamkara has to aid the realization of the Rasa or to heighten it; and, shall not dominate the vital   aspects of the Kavya.  

Here, the words (Sabda), explicitly mean (Vakyartha) the body (Sarira) of the Kavya. The subtle, suggested essence of the Kavya that resides within and is extracted with delight by the cultured reader (Sahrudaya) is the Dhavni.

Thus the evolution of the Navina School marks a transition from the ‘outer’ element to the ‘inner’ one, in regard to the method, the content and appreciation of the Kavya. The criteria, here, is not whether the expression sounds beautiful; but, whether its qualities (Guna) are apt (Auchitya) to lead the reader to the inner core of the poetry.

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

lotus -leaf

Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 By Harold G. Coward

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

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

For more on What is Kavya , please click here


Other illustrations are from Internet


Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Six

Continued from Part Five

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]


Can Kavya be defined?

The beginning of Sanskrit Kavya is, usually, illustrated by a dramatic moment when the first poet Adi Kavi Valmiki was impulsively provoked to cry out in anguish, as he watched a hunter strike down one of the sweet-voiced Krauncha pair.  The scene occurs in the verses [1-2-9 to 16] of the Second Sarga (chapter) of the First Book (Kanda) – Balakanda of Ramayana.

Two cries are uttered: first, the piteous wailing cry of the bird (karuna gir) on seeing her mate struck down , and withering on the ground covered with blood; and, the second, the cry of the sage , stricken with grief on seeing  the Kraunca hen scream in pain.

It is the karuna gir, the mournful lament of the Kranunchi that evokes in Valmiki the Karunyam, empathy or compassion. The term  karuna – usually translated as compassion – that occurs three times in the passage – is derived from the root Kri – meaning ‘ to pour out’ ; and, the term is meant to suggest pouring out , in response; or sharing the pain and anguish by ‘entering into the agony of another’. In that sense, Valmiki is giving voice to the inarticulate painful, heart wrenching shrill of the mourning female bird.

In the intensity of his feeling of compassion, Valmki thought ‘this is wrong’; and, cried out:

‘Since Nishada, you killed one of this pair of Krauncha birds, engaged in love; you shall not live very long’.

 मा निषाद प्रतोष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः |यत् क्रौञ्चमिथुनादेकमवधीः काममोहितम् || १५||

It is said; Adi Kavi Valmiki after pronouncing his first (Adi) Sloka exclaimed in amazement; what is this that is uttered by me (Kim idam vyahtham maya … किमिदं व्याहृतं मया…!).

His exclamation – Kim idam – what is this? – is a perpetual question in Kavya-shastra ; and, it has prompted endless debates over the centuries

What, then, is this wonderful thing called Kavya? !!


Before we progress further, let me digress here for a while..

Sri Aurobindo studied the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; and wrote on the greatness of these epics; and of the Great Poet Valmiki.

The Ramayana of Maharishi Valmiki is said to be the first metrically composed poem in Sanskrit.  So it is known as Adikavya, where Maharishi Valmiki describes beautifully the story of Rama’s banishment, Sita’s abduction and Ravana’s destruction.

As we follow the hero’s adventures step by step, we see him walking with Visvamitra in the Bala-kanda; crossing the Ganges with Guha in the Ayodhya-kanda; journeying in Dandaka with Sita and Lakshmana in the Aranya-kanda; meeting Sugriva in the Kishkinda-kanda; listening to Sita’s message from Hanuman in the Sundara-kanda; and, killing Ravana in the Yuddha-kanda.

Several times the story is recapitulated. Repetitions are used as brushstrokes to make the structure absolutely clear. Though the epic is long, nowhere we miss the main thread of the story. It is the simplicity of the structure and the creative genius of Valmiki that made Ramayana so popular.

 Sri Aurobindo comparing the Ramayana with the Mahabharata says,

… It differs only by a greater simplicity of plan, a more delicate ideal temperament and a finer glow of poetic warmth and colour. The main bulk of the poem in spite of much accretion is evidently by a single hand and has a less complex and more obvious unity of structure. There is less of the philosophic, more of the purely poetic mind, more of the artist, less of the builder. The whole story is from beginning to end of one piece and there is no deviation from the stream of the narrative.”

According to Sri Aurobindo, Valmiki remains unsurpassed till today. Valmiki is not a mere story-teller. He is the hero as a poet taking the civilizations of the past in their entirety to study the step reached so far by mankind struggling towards perfection. He has made the epic a path-finder, a character-builder and  a means for attaining human perfection

Sri Aurobindo points out that through  the  ideal  characters  of  Ramayana, Valmiki  “makes us  conscious  of the immense forces that are behind our life…”. The poet, by the living characterization   of the ideal human beings, has made the great human values like strength and courage, gentleness and purity “fidelity and self sacrifice‟ appealing to the emotion and the aesthetic sense in a gracious and harmonious manner.

In the Ramayana  the  poet  has  “lent a  certain  high  divineness to the   ordinary  things  of  life, conjugal  and filial and maternal and fraternal feeling, the duty of the prince and leader and the  loyalty of follower and subject, the greatness of the great and the truth and worth of the simple…]


Many have tried to explain what Kavya is?

The following explanations  of Kavya , as put forward by various scholars, is quite interesting:

: – Saba- arthau -sahitau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning (Bhamaha, Kavyalankara 1.6);

: – Nanu Sabda-arthau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning (Rudrata, Kavyalamkara 2.1);

:- Tad adosau Sabda-arthau sagunya alamkriti punah kvapti – this poetry is word and meaning , without blemishes, adorned with excellences , sometimes without the Alamkaras, figurative expressions.(Mammata , Kavyaprakasa 1.4);

:- Adosau sagunau sa-alamkarau cha sabda-arthau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning , without blemishes, furnished with excellences and Alamkara figures of speech ( Hemachandra , Kavyanushasana  1) ;

:- Sadhu-sabda-artha-samdarbham  guna-alamkara-bhushitam , sphuta- itirara- sopetam Kavyam  kurvita kirtaye – Let the poet ,with the object of gaining fame, compose Kavya intertwining word and meaning , and decorated with excellences and figures (Alamkara) and other poetic  sentiments in a clear style  (Vagbhata , Vagbhata-alamkara 1.2);

: – Sabda-arthau- nirdoshou sagunau prayah alamkarau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning; without faults, furnished with excellences and – often – with Alamkara, figurative speech (Vagbhata, Vagbhata-alamkara 1; and Kuntaka, Vakroktivijaya 1.7);]


In addition, Kuntaka came up with a detailed explanation. According to him, the word (Sabda) alone is not the body of poetry, but it is the happy fusion of word and sound which stands for ‘the body’ :  Sabdartyha sahitau kavyam. Kuntaka says the word (Sabda) and sense (Artha) , blended like two friends, creating each other, make Kavya delightful

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

Further, Kuntaka says that the Real word is that which is chosen out of a number of possible synonyms and expresses the desired sense most aptly.  And, the real sense is that which by its own alluring nature causes pleasure in the mind of the Sahrudaya  (person of taste and culture)

Sabdau vivaksitartha kavachakautheyshu sathvapi I arthah sahrudaya ahladkari sva spanda sundarah II V.J.1.9

The togetherness of the word and sense is nothing but a captivating state which creates in the mind of the reader or the listener poetic delight which is exactly what is desired by the poet himself, neither less nor more

Sahitya manayo shobha shalitam prati kashyasau I Atyunna na athiriktha manoharinya vasthithihi II V.J.1.17


Then again, the scholars of the later period attempted to come up with a technical ‘Definition’ of Kavya , in place of  ‘explanations’. When the Poetic scholars set out to define Kavya, they set for themselves certain norms, parameters and ground rules. And, also decided to keep out the Drama (which they considered it as Agama-antara, a different tradition) out of the purview of Kavya, for the limited purpose of arriving at a definition; and, similarly, the non-literary forms of Kavya were also kept aside.

According to the rules so framed:  any definition of Kavya should be free from three kinds of flaws (Dosha): it should not be too terse, covering too little (A-vyapti); it should not be too verbose, saying more than what is needed (Ati-vyapti);  and , it should nor be improbable or incompetent (A-samartha). 

Therefore, any definition of Kavya had to be brief, precise and easy to understand; it should be definite without shadow of alternatives; and, should, as far as possible, be free from technical terms that need further explanations.

But, Kavya, I reckon, cannot of course be defined with precision;  or be  presented in a capsule as a well knit, and packed accurate pellet of information.

Each generation of Poet-Scholars, right from Bhamaha to Jagannatha Pandita tried to define Kavya. They, at best, tried to draw its clear picture. Their attempts could be termed as explanations, circumscribed by their understanding, rather than as definitions.

The explanations offered by those scholars, nevertheless, help us to gain some insight into the nature and role of elements of poetry; and their mutual relationships. All those scholars base their explanations in certain technical terms and elements (Kavya-agama) each having its own connotation: Sabda, Artha, Rasa, Alamkara, Riti, Dhvani, Vakrokti, Dosha, and, Dhvani.

Bhamaha (6th century) said:  ‘Kavya is where the Sabda (word) and Artha (its meaning) are harmoniously combined – Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam .But, that was not regarded by many as an ideal explanation, since it does not specifically pertain to Kavya; and can  be extended to cover even non-literary or technical works.

Bhamaha then extended his explanation to bring in the element of Alamkara; and, said: Kavya is the happy fusion of Sabda words and Artha which expresses Alamkaras relating to them – Sabda-abhideya-alamkara-bhedadhistam dvayam tu nah I Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam (KA.1.15). It was not clear whether Bhamaha meant Alamkara as the poetic principle or as the ornamental figures of speech. Further, the term Alamkara itself needs to be explained. Hence, this definition was not considered ideal.

Dandin says the body of Kavya is a group of sounds which indicates the desired or the happy aim intended by the poet – Sariram tavad ista-artha vyvachinna padavali (KA 1.10b). Here, the term ista-artha the desired effect or the desired import of the poet is rather too vague; and needs to be explained. Further, Dandin seemed to be defining the body of the Kavya rather than the Kavya itself. And, Padavali – the group of words – by itself and not accompanied by sense is not of great merit.

Vamana said Kavya is the union of sound and sense which is free from poetic flaws and is adorned with Gunas (excellence) and Alamkaras (ornamentation or figures of speech). Here, it was pointed out that the poetic excellence (Gunas) might be an essential aspect of a Kavya; but, the same cannot be said about Alamkara, the figure of speech.

Then again, Vamana said; the essence of Kavya is Riti (Ritir Atma Kavyasya). Riti represents for Vamana the particular structure of sounds (Vishista-pada-rachana Ritihi) combined with poetic excellence (Vishesho Gunatma). According to Vamana, Riti is the going or the flowing together of the elements of a poem – Rinati gacchati asyam guna iti riyate ksaraty asyam vanmaddhu-dhareti va ritih (Vamana KSS).  But, Vamana’s definition involves technical terms that need to be commented upon offering explanations. Hence, it is not an ideal one.

Anandavardhana‘s definition of Kavya involves two statements: Sabda-Artha sariram tavath vakyam; and, Dhvanir Atma Kavyasa – the body of poetry is the combination of words and sounds; and; Dhavni, the suggestive power is the soul of the poetry. Anandavardhana talks in terms of the body and soul of the Kavya. And he also refers to the internal beauty of a meaningful construction of words in the Kavya. But, Dhvani is a highly technical term, needing much explanation. This definition again   was not treated as an ideal one.

Abhinavagupta outlines a good (uttama) Kavya as that which is composed by a poet gifted with creative genius (Prathibha)  consisting of  Rasa; Vaisadya; and , Soundarya (Rasavesa – vaisadya – Soundarya – Kavya nirmana kshamatvam). That is to say; a Kavya should necessarily provide the delight (Rasa) that a good-hearted reader can enjoy with relish (asvadayanyti sumanasah). Vaisadya is the diction, with clear, precise and yet enjoyable expressions that a reader can understand and appreciate  without too much effort. And, Soundarya is the beauty , the charm (ramaniyata)  that adorns the composition (kavi karma) , providing a rare delight (lokottaraaahlada-janaka) that enchants the reader and captivates his attention, with ease. 

Kuntaka defined Kavya on the basis of Vakrokti, a concept which he himself put forward.  According to him, Kavya is the union of sound, sense and arranged in a composition which consists Vakrokti (oblique expressions of the poet), delighting its sensible reader or listener – (Sabda-Artha sahitau vakra Kavi vakya vyapara shalini I bandhe vyavasthitau Kavya tat ahlada karini VJ 1.7). Kuntaka also said that  the word and sense, blended like two friends, creating each other, make Kavya  delightful – Sama-sarva gunau santau sahhrudaveva sangathi I parasparasya shobhayai sabdartau bhavato thatha  II .  These definitions too are not acceptable because Vakrokti, like Alamkara, Riti and Dhvani is again a technical term.

Mammatacharya , initially , comes up with a highly idealized general vision of the Kavya.  in his Kavyaprakasa  he defines Kavya as : that which touches the innermost cords of human mind ; and, diffuses itself into the crevices of the heart ; working up a lasting sense of delight. It is an expression of the beautiful form and melodious language of the best thoughts and noblest emotions, which is the spectacle of life, awakening the finest souls (translation of: Sri M Srinivasachariar)

Sakala-prayojan-amaulibhūta samanantarameva rasā-asvādana-samudbhūta vigalita vedya āntaramānandam prabhu-samita śabda pradhāna vedādiś āstrebhya śabdā –a rthayor gua-bhāvena rasā agabhūta vyāpārapravaatayā vilakaa yat kāvya lokottara varanā-nipua  kavi karma

And later , when he comes to the specifics , Mammata explains Kavya as  that which is constructed by word and sentence which are (a) faultless (A-doshau) , (b) possessed of excellence (Sugunau) , and (c) in which rarely a distinct figure of speech  (Alamkriti) may be absent – tadadoṣau śabdārthau saguṇāvan alaṃkṛtī punaḥ kvāpi /3/

This definition was attacked by many, pointing out that it is impossible to compose a Kavya without a single blemish; and not a single Kavya would satisfy Mammata’s requirement. Further, it was remarked that the adjective Alamkriti doesn’t seem to be quite appropriate as it merely enhances the quality of a Kavya, but is not an essential aspect of Kavya. And, Mammata has employed number of technical terms like : Dosha, Guna, and Alamkara , which again need to be explained ; and , it also includes an alternate view like ‘Alamkriti punah kvapi. Thus Mammata’s definition was also rejected.

Vishwanatha briefly defined Kavya as Vakyam rasathmakam Kavyam – Kavya is sentences whose essence is Rasa. But, here, Rasa is a technical term which has multiple explanations. And, many said Kavya cannot merely be sentences or collection of words; there has to a happy fusion of word (Sabda) and sense (Artha). Hence, this definition also fell short.

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

This definition covering all aspects of poetics covers  a wider field than Rasa which is limited to certain criteria. Moreover, the word Ramaniyata is not a technical term, but it covers all the essentials of a Kavya.

Jagannatha Pandita’s definition of Kavya as : Ramaniya-artha prathipadakah sabdam , seems almost nearer to the ideal.

But, I reckon, Kavya is best left un-defined, not put into a straight jacket.   Leaving it to the delight and enterprise of each reader or listener to work out his own levels of appreciation, derive the sense he sees as the best and enjoy the experience of Kavya in his own way seems to be better approach.


 Cause of poetry (Kavya hetu)

According to Rajasekhara , the poet is endowed with Karayitri Prathibha the creative genius while the reader or listener is to have Bhavayitri Prathibha the faculty for appreciation of good poetry; obviously, the poet posses both the faculties.

The Kavi Prathibha the creative intuition is the essential without which no creative art is possible.

The scholars have tried to present other factors that might be responsible for outflow of poetry (Kavya hethu).

Dandin mentions three causes of poetry: Naisargika Prathibha natural or inborn genius; Nirmala-shastra –jnana clear understanding of the Shastras; Amanda Abhiyoga ceaseless application and honing ones faculties.

Rudrata and Kuntaka also mention three causes:  Shakthi, the inborn intellectual brilliance; Utpatti, the accomplished knowledge of the texts and literary works; and, Abhyasa, constant practice of composing poetic works.

Vamana says three causes of poetry are: Loka, knowledge of the worldly matters, norms of behavior; Vidya. learning of various disciplines; and Prakirna  , miscellaneous ,  that is six causes : Lakshajnata , study of the texts; Abhiyoga, practice ; Vrddha seva , instructions from the learned experienced persons; Avekshana, the   use of appropriate words avoiding  blemishes;  Prathibhana, the inborn poetic genius ; and Avadhana, concentration or single pointed devotion to learning and composing.

Mammata  , in his Kavyaprakasha, puts forth the following as the three causes of poetry, while doing so he included the causes mentioned by Vamana: inborn intuitive power; proficiency in worldly conduct as also the study of scriptures and standard literary works; and, practice of composing poetic works through the help of some persons proficient in this art.

śaktir nipuṇatā loka-śāstra kāvyādya-avekṣaṇāt / kāvyajña śikṣayā abhyāsa iti hetus tad udbhave // MKpr-K_3 //

Earlier, Bhamaha , in his Kavyalamkara , had mentioned the three elements _  Utpatti, Abhyasa and Prathibha  – as  being the cause (hetu) of Kavya.

kāvyaṃ tu jāyate jātu kasya citpra tibhāvataḥ // Bh_1.5 //

In the ‘causes of poetry’ (Kavya hethu) mentioned above, while Utpatti and Abhyasa stand for  the constant learning-effort  and refinements that polish the poetry , the terms Shakthi or Prathibha,  is explained in various ways.

According to Rudrata, Shakthi or Prathibha is that essential factor through which the poet spontaneously presents any subject matter that haunts him or occupies his mind, using appropriate expressions.  This explanation seems to  lay more stress on the external form of poetry. Therefore, Bhatta-tauta brought in the most essential internal factor ‘ He explained Prathibha , in his often quoted words,  as the genius of the intellect (prajna) which creates new and innovative modes of expressions in art poetry –  Nava-navonvesha –shalini prajna prathibha mathah.

Vamana said, Prathibha is the seed for creating Kavya : Kavitva-bijam prathibhanam (K.S.13.6)

Kuntaka and Mammata tried to explain the very basis of the Prathibha. Kuntaka said: the faculty of creating a poetic work is an unique intellectual power, which gains maturity due to the inborn and acquired impressions (Samskara paripaka prouda prathibha) gathered in poet’s life-time.

Mammata, adding, said: Shakthi is the intellectual power that could be said to be  a sort of a mass of  impressions serving as a seed for sprouting of poetic work: Shakthih kavitva bija-rupah samskara vishesha (Kavyaprakasa 1.3)

Both these scholars suggest that Prathibha or Shakthi is essentially an inborn talent or genius; and, it cannot be acquired artificially or by mere hard work.

Hemachandra also accepts Prathibha as the prime cause of poetry; but says, that such essential inborn poetic gift should be refined and honed or chiseled by intellectual application (Utpatti) and constant practice (Abhyasa) .

The other factors that go into creation of a good Kavya include Utpatti and Abhyasa. Utpatti stands for detailed study of literary works and scriptures as also for knowledge of worldly matters. Through it, the natural (Sahaja) or inborn Prathibha gets refined, precise and capable of understanding the essentials of poetry as also of life. And, Abhyasa is constant practice of writing and creating poetry.

Jagannatha Pandita mentions that in addition to the above three factors , the divine grace (Devatha anugraha) is also essential.

The general view appears to be that Prathibha is the most essential factor for creation of Kavya (Kavya hetu) but it needs to be refined and polished by Utpatti and Abhyasa.

Then there is also the question whether the cause of poetry (Kavya hetu) could be the same as the fruits of benefits of poetry (Kavya prayojana) , such as achieving riches or fame or poetic pleasure etc. The opinion, in general, appears to be negative. The reason adduced is that , the Kavya hetu the cause of poetry  is prior to composition of poetry, while Kavya prayojana , the fruits of poetry come after the Kavya is composed and read by others.  But, at times, the fruits of a Kavya may act as an incentive and spur the poet to compose more and better poetry.


The purpose of Kavya

While the earlier theorists on poetics – Bhamaha , Dandin and Vamana-  state that the objectives of poetry are the renown (Kirti) won by the poem and its poet; and , enjoyment (Priti) enjoyed by the readers or the listeners of the poetry. The later sets of critics add instructions (upadesha) as one of the other virtues of a good poetry.

While composing poetry, a poet experiences aesthetic pleasure as a poet. And, after that, while reading or witnessing his own composition he feels aesthetic delight as a Shrudaya.  But, in a situation when he does not feel aesthetic pleasure due to some reason, he is neither a poet nor a reader, but an ordinary person.

Dhananjaya , following the lead given by Bharata [who had said that he devised the dramas to give , among other things, relief to those unlucky ones afflicted with sorrow and grief or over-work – dukhārtānā śramārtānā śokārtānā– NS.1.114 ]makes it abundantly clear that the prime objective of a Drama is to provide entertainment (ananda). Dhananjaya taunts; and mocks at one who naively believes that Drama, like history (itihasa), is there only to give knowledge.

He wryly remarks ‘ I salute  (tasmai namah) that simpleton  (alpabuddhih) who has averted his face from what is delightful ..!’

anandanisyandisu rupakesu/ vyutpattimatram phalam alpabuddhih / yo ‘pitihasadivad aha sadhus/ tasmai namah svaduparahmukhaya//DR.1.6//


The purpose of Kavya is to communicate, and to communicate effectively. The ultimate aim of poetry is to provide a sort of aesthetic rupture – Rasanubhava. Its said; Sadah parnivrtutti, the unalloyed joy is the foremost purpose of poetry . The suggestions offered in a persuasive manner, the kantha samhitopadesha comes only next.

These experiences are related both to the poet and to the Sahrudaya, the reader or spectator , either directly or indirectly.


Kavya Prayojana

There have been elaborate discussions on Kavya Prayojana – the benefits derived from Kavya or poetry. Those benefits are seen both from the point of view of the poet (Kavi) and of the cultured reader with refined tastes (Sahrudaya).

[ There is a wise-saying (subhashita) that declares : In the whole of this insipid world, there are just two sweet things: enjoyment of Kavya and company of good friends

Asare khalu samsare dve phale hi  amrutopame / kavya-rasa svadah,  sujane  sangah saha ]

It is generally agreed that the study of Kavya benefits us all (Loka-mangala). That is because, there is a faith that the poetry purifies the hearts and minds of the readers; and, it leads to the well-being (hita) of all and to a more civilized world. As regards the poet, it purifies him/her also, because, it elevates the consciousness of the poet in creating such sublime poetry.

It is said; Kavya confers all the four kinds of benefits (Chatur-varga –prapti) that are the seminal and enduring values of human life (Purushartha): Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. And, apart from that there is an immediate sense of delight as the reader savours (asvada) the nectar of inspiring, sublime poetry (Kavya-amruta-rasa).

Visvanatha says that the group of four benefits (Chatur-varga phala-prapit) is obtained, with great difficulty, by persons of dry intellect through dull and insipid Shastras: but, the riches of the same group can be attained, with ease, even by dullards, through delightfully pleasing Kavya.

The drift of the discussions in the Indian poetics indicate that Kavya confers both the visible and the invisible benefits. Mammata mentions six types of benefits that Kavya produces or leads to. His views  and that of the other scholars  could ,  generally , be, summarized as :

(1) the joyful experience  (Rasa) of  delight  (Ananda)   is the prime purpose of the Kavya- Kavya-ananda;

(2) the grace (Devata Prasada) that  leads to liberation (Moksha) which is the highest goal of human existence;

(3) it brings to the poet fame (Yashas, Kirti)  and wealth  (Dhana);

(4) it imparts knowledge (jnana) instructions (Vyavahara –jnana) for the betterment of our lives;

(5) it whispers into our hearts the agreeable advice(Vibodha) as in the manner of a lover (Kantha-samhita) ;

(6)  it renders us emotionally stronger (Buddhi -vivardhana) with enthusiasm for life (Utsaha) love (Priti, kama) for life and enjoyment (Sukha,Vilasa) , fortitude (Dhairya) , control over senses (Nigraha ), avoidance of the harmful (Anista –nivarana) etc.


And, Abhinavagupta in his Locana, commenting on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka, Uddyota 1, muses:  I often wonder, is not this world, filled with materials and objects, truly inert (jada)? The men and women who populate also, at times, seem inert. Methinks, it is only the creative genius of the poet (prathibha) that has the power to energize (sacetana) and enliven such rather insipid and inert existence. It can make the hard, rock-like world spring forth life-giving water.

The poet gifted with creative intellect (Prakhya); and, the learned listener/ reader (sahrudaya) blessed with understanding heart (Upakhya), together enrich the literary principles  (Sarasvathyas tatvam kavi-sahrudaya-akhyam vijayate).

apūrvaṃ yadvastu prathayati vinā kāraṇ-akalāṃ- jagadbhāva prakhyaṃ nija-rasa-bharāt-sārayati ca/ kramāt prakhyopākhyā prasara subhagaṃ bhāsayati tat sarasvatyā-statvaṃ kavi-sahṛdayā-akhyaṃ vijayate //


Vishvanatha Kavi (Sahityadarpana – 3.6 to 7) avers :  Poetry is an unusual out-of-the world (Alaukika) phenomenon, which cannot be defined in terms of ordinary human logic. It is an extraordinary creation of a highly gifted genius-Alaukika-vibhavatam. In the day-to-day common life; sorrow proceeds from sorrow; fear breeds fear; and, even what seems to be pleasure can later cause pain.  But, the poetic genius performs the miracle of deriving pleasure even from painful situations; it even transforms horror into aesthetic experience.  Hence, why not have faith in poetry, which can turn any kind of unpleasant experience, including pain and sorrow, into aesthetic poetic delight.?.!.

Hetutvam soka-harshader-gatebyo loksamsrayat/ Soka-harsha-dyo loke jayantam nama laukikah //3.6//

Alaukika-vibhavatam praptebhyah kavyasasrayat/ Sukham sanjayate tebhyah sarvebhyo apiti ka ksatih  //3.7//


Sri Aurobindo studied the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; and wrote on the greatness of these epics; particularly on their relevance to our lives.

He said; the two great Epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are not merely the sagas of heroes or a mythology but a day to day reality for Indians. The thoughts and ideas embodied herein have greatly influenced the thinking of the common man of India. They are, as Sri Aurobindo says, “…a highly artistic representation of intimate.

As regards Ramayana, Sri Aurobindo said that it has played a vital role in building a strong foundation for the Indian culture. “The work of Valmiki has been an agent of almost incalculable power in the molding of the cultural mind of India: it has presented to it to be loved and imitated in figures like Rama and Sita, made so divinely and with such  a  revelation  of  reality  as  to become  objects  of enduring cult and worship, or like Hanuman, Lakshmana, Bharata  the living human image of its ethical ideals; it has fashioned much of what is best and sweetest in the national character, and it has  evoked and fixed  in  it  those  finer  and  exquisite  yet  firm soul-tones  and  that  more delicate humanity  of temperament  which  are  a  more  valuable  thing  than the  formal  outsides  of  virtue and conduct.”

Ramayana is not just an epic written for the sake of the entertainment of the intellect but it is a revelation propelled by the supreme afflatus of the divine urge. Its penetrating attractiveness causes profound elation and high-spiritedness in each and every sensible heart. It makes us realize the mystically luminous and resplendent history of India encompassing the true cultural processes. The whole of the Ramayana is molded for a greater societal transformation from an unreal materialism to enduring spiritualism. It is truly the heart and soul of India.


For a very detailed discussion on Kavya Prayojana, please click here.


lotus twin





Next Part


Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 By Harold G. Coward



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Posted by on July 26, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Five

Continued from Part Four

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

Language of Kavya

Prose is often concerned with the day-to-day experiences and speaks in the common language. But, when those words and expressions walk into poetry, they acquire a totally different nature. The common words (prasiddha) are transformed into suggestive expressions that are less known outside of poetry (a-prasiddha). This is akin to the movements in classical dance where a simple thing such as walking as in common life (loka dharmi) is transformed into idioms of dance expressions (natya dharmi). Similarly, in poetry, If the common language is understood by all (loka dharmi), the poetic expressions are relished by Sahrdaya, the cultured ones (kavya dharmi).

As regards the distinctions between language of poetry and the language of everyday, the earliest modes of such distinctions were of course the meter (chhandas), enlivening of the text with innovative and decorative phrases (Alamkara) along with detailed descriptions of the emotions as also of the surroundings. Kavya also makes abundant use of metaphors; the repetition of conventional patterns and images; and, of long winding unusual expressions. And, naturally, such poetry does not yield itself at the first glance or reading. It needs to be savored slowly in small measures, over and over again.

The technique of poetry makes use of different devices in various ways. But, to ensure that poetry retains its own natural language-flow, usually, it   avoids use of banal words.  In order to just avoid the over-used words, the poets often try being innovative and create words, phrases and expressions that are striking and rather unusual. The various forms of metaphors and similes thus created leads to a broadening of the perspective and produces a multiple view of the subject in an artistic manner. Not only the poets reveal familiar subjects in a new light, but they also reveal truths that hitherto were not quite obvious. They also unfold relationships and beauties that are either not present in ordinary life or else remain unrecognized.


Kuntaka (10th century) in his Vakrokti-jivita finds Bhamaha’s definition of Kavya – Sabdarthau sahitau Kavyam– ‘Poetry is composed of word and meaning together’ – rather inadequate. Kuntaka remarks:  the mere fact that word and meaning exist together cannot be the defining characteristic of poetic expression; for it is what characterizes all linguistic expressions whether be it prose, poetry or whatever; no linguistic expression is possible without it.

Therefore, Kuntaka observes, the language of poetry is a special kind of Sahitya – Visistam evah sahityam abhipretam.  Its uniqueness consists in the fact that the word and the meaning have equal importance: – Anyu-nana-atiriktatva. They ‘vie with each other’ – paraspara sparsparditva; they are united like two intimate friends – suhrudva iva samgatau; and,  they  delight in  the beauty of each other – parasparasya sobhaya bhavataha.  

samasarvaguṇau santau suhṛdāv iva saṅgatau / parasparasya śobhāyai śabdārthau bhavato yathā // VjivC_1.18 //

The relation between words in Kavya is indeed unique .  Their  harmony resides  in the creative genius  (pratibha) of the poet ; and, is  realized in an inspired  poetic instant (tat-kalo-likhita)  while on the sublime  road of poetry (alaukika kavya-marge)  i.e. of poetic activity (kavi-karma-vartmani) . Such inspired poetry enchants the minds of the sensitive readers or listeners (chetana-chamatkarita, sahrudaya-ahladakarita). Although several other words might possibly be available for expressing a single  idea, the expression chosen by a gifted poet  is exceptional and irreplaceable- sabdo vivakshit-arthai-kava-vacahako ‘nyesu satsv api.

Kuntaka illustrates how there is accord not only between the words and their meanings, but also between the words themselves; and between the meanings themselves – in fact, among all the constituent elements poetry.  He gives examples from the works of great poets such as Magha and Bhavabhuti.

Kuntaka shows how such accord results in the musical quality of poetry.  He remarks; like music, poetry is that which, by virtue of the beauty of tits expressions, its composition, fills the hearts of the connoisseurs with delight instantly, even when its meaning has not been pondered:

aparyalocite ‘py arthe bandha-saundarya-sampada / gitavad dhrdayahliidarh tadvidam vidadhati yat // VjivC_1.37 //


Poetry is a more liberated form of expression as compared to prose. One cannot easily define poetry.  Poetry discards the rigidity, the disciplines and the correctness of the structure prescribed by the grammar. Poetry enjoys the voluptuous malleability and freedom with words and sounds; it bends and twists them in any number of ways. Its concern is not so much with the correctness of form than with the sensitivity, refinement and brevity in expression of a range of thoughts, feelings and human emotions of joy, sorrow, grief, hope, despair, anger and fulfillment.

Poetry can be subtle and suggestive. The imagery that poetry evokes can hardly be captured in words. What is unsaid in poetry is more evocative than the explicit.

Grammar (Vyakarana) concerns itself with the arrangement of words into sentences. It does not, however, account for the pattern of meanings. The poetry on the other hand is much concerned with the arrangement of words. But, it does strive to convey a meaning. The poetic beauty does not solely dependent on the strict order of words or other conventions. It in fact goes beyond regulated regimens.

Poetry, in the Indian traditions, is often called ‘vyakaranasya puccham’ – the tail piece or the appendix of Grammar. The Grammar determines the correctness of the words and their arrangement within a sentence. The poetry is however more concerned with the appropriateness and mutual relations among the words.  The poetry, as far as possible, follows Grammar. But , when it find the rules of Grammar too constrained or suffocating , it switches over to other means of expressions that are more appropriate or conducive to its natural flow; or , it invents its own means. At times, when those inventive expressions of poetic suggestions are so charming and become so popular, they walk into Grammar per se.  Scholars like Nagesha Bhatta say that Grammarians must necessarily accept (svikara avashyakah) the power of suggestion (Dhvani) – vyakarananamapi etat svikara avashyakah).

It is , therefore, often said that the poets enjoy a rare privilege; and a certain liberty that others cannot claim. They seem to have the licence to wield the language in any manner they choose, appropriate to their work. In a way of speaking; a poet can typically write ‘against the natural language’; breaking conventions , transgressing grammatical rules , and saying what could not have been said ordinarily .

Thus, Poetry has the power to set us free from the limited confines of our own set rules. Poetry represents the world as a man chooses to see it. Poetry is Truth, but not necessarily reality.

Poetry is a search for syllables to express an unknown. It is both direct and indirect ; and, is  universal. It appeals to the heart. It finds its echo in another heart. Poetry is the heart talking through the mind.


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

That is to say that poetry creates for itself a language which has a character of its own (Riti, Marga). It might, if it so chooses, depart from the ordinary day-to-day common usage. With that the poem aims at a definite stylistic effect (vishista). The poet arranges his material or the building-bricks in a non-standard fashion, in a manner that is different from the ordinary usage. As Vamana points out, it is the creative process that involves using word-order (pada-charana) in peculiar or specialized (Visista) ways that possess certain characteristics (Kavya-alamkara). Vamana puts forth the view that such special characteristics (Visesha) of a Kavya are mainly derived from the fact that the poet deliberately attempts to create a fresh or ingenious style of depiction with his unique expressions. The poetic language wears a clock or a veil, so to say.

This unique virtue of poetry provides space for experimentation. For instance; Bhamaha indulged in vakrokti, a twisted way of expressing a thing; Dandin brought in Samdhi-guna; and Udbhata introduced the secondary expressions (amukhya-vyapara). Such hitherto unknown or unusual terms necessarily called for explanations or indication (lakshana) in order to be understood.

In the process, Vamana and others lay much emphasis on the style (Riti or Marga); and, regard it as the most essential virtue of a Kavya. But, such views are not generally accepted, because Riti is but one among the ten traditionally recognized essential elements of a Kavya; and Riti(style ) is not everything that one looks for in a Kavya.

This has reference to the mistaken notion that Kavya is all about high-flown language. For instance; Bhatti takes pride in stating that his poems would not be intelligible to people who are not scholars. This wrong perspective arose probably from the fact that the grammatical and lexicographical sciences as well as the philosophical discipline had attained a high water-mark of respect with the learned people who alone could be the judges of poetry.  It had also something to do with the vain culture of Court-poetry where the rival poets threw challenges at each other in the form of abstruse verses. The failure to solve the puzzle-like verses invariably ended in humiliation.

This high-brow and twisted view of poetic language however, was not universal. Bhamaha urged that kavya should be written in such a manner as to be intelligible even to those who have no learning or general education. Later, Vamana who examined the whole issue said that the poetic beauty does not exist merely in twisted or unusual expressions; but, in the intrinsic merit (guna) of the poetry itself. Then he said, the ultimate object of good poetry in rasa, the enjoyment.

Thus, the general view is that in order to enable his text not only to convey   but also to dress its narration in an artistic manner , the poet might  reasonably  use complex expressions and  structures. But yet, he should not lose sight of the fact that the natural language is the foundation of good  poetry.

The popularity of Ramayana among the common people is the standing testimony to this truth. In spite of the high regard for finer poetry, Indians have always considered the simpler Epic of Ramayana as an ideal Kavya.


The poetic way of expression is employed both by the literary and the non-literary works.  The non-literary works though in poetic form are not regarded as Kavya per se. For instance; presentation of Astronomy in Varahamihira’s Panchasiddhantika. or his Brihadjataka ; or of the Algebra in Bhaskara’s Lilavathi contain many verses (click here for its review), beautiful descriptions of nature and of poetic merit that they almost are Kavya. Similarly, Suryapandita’s work on Astronomy (Bhaskara-bhushana) has beautiful verses praying to Sun god.  There are also numbers of philosophical works elucidated in poetry.

Even in the non-technical works, the materials of Shastra and Itihasa very often overlap. The materials of Shastra can appear in Itihasa, as they frequently do in the Mahabharata or in a kavya. Similarly, the materials of Itihasa can appear in kavya, as in the Harshacharita of Banabhatta.  And, many masters of systematic thought across the religious and philosophical spectrum wrote kavya, often very un-philosophical kavya.

Sanskrit Poetics approves role of Kavya as a vehicle for imparting instructions. But, Kavya need not always deal with learned matters. In fact, too much learning will affect the appeal of a poem. It might turn preachy. There are therefore short poems or couplets that in a capsule form impart moral codes (Niti), wisdom and erotic (Sringara). The most well known poems of this genre are Bhartrhari’s sets of stanzas on Sringara and Vairagya.

Although the words used in Kavya and in the non-lterary Shastra works are the same they do not evoke the same joy or other emotions

Kshemendra makes a distinction between Kavya and Shastra; that is between the purely poetic works and other subject oriented works that are in poetic form. And he also mentions of works that fall in the intermediate zone: Shastra-kavya – poetry that is also technical; and, Kavya-shastra – a technical work that is also poetry.

Basically, Shastra is informative in its character and its style is textual; Kavya, on the other hand, is complex in its structure, employing a language of its own, embellished with artistic metaphors, similes and unusual expressions.

The non-literary work might use, within reasonable bounds, flowery or artistic language or aim at achieving a definite stylistic effect (vishista).But; it would be a mistake if it gets its priorities wrong. It should be more focused on its primary objective which is imparting information, instructions and knowledge, than on seemingly artistic flourish of its language. That would be, as they say, counting the trees but loosing the woods, which is laying premium on minor detail but missing the big picture.


Raja Bhoja (1011–1055) states: another way by distinguishing kavya from ordinary language is in terms of directness. Ordinary language is the direct language of Shastra and everyday life; kavya, in contrast, is the indirect language abounding in descriptions, but, its statements do not prescribe action. Its way of saying is  indirect , indirection (Vakrokti) — an unique manner of expression. .  Raja Bhoja says: Do not read kavya the way you read Shastra, Purana, or the Vedas; do not be concerned (except insofar as it is a source of pleasure) about a breach between what is said and what is really meant; about its relation with an actual world;   and about information or injunction. And do not expect the language of the kavya to be like ordinary language; its purposes are different.

According to Bhoja, all kinds of texts—science, narratives of things, including Shastra and Purana, have the capacity to teach us something by prescribing (Vidhi) or prohibiting  action (Nishedha) of some sort. Bhoja calls this the educative function. But, Kavya neither prescribes nor prohibits any sort of action; nor does it quote the past authorities in support of its suggestions. It does not expressly enjoin or define appropriate action. Its relevance resides precisely in its own utterances (Ukti). The Shastra and the Vedas act like a master in commanding (Prabhu Samhita) ; the texts of the wise sages are  like a counseling  by a friend in (Mitra Samhita) ;and,  kavya’s Ukti (utterances) are  like sweet whisperings  of the beloved (Kanta Samhita) . Kavya’s ways are endearing and more persuasive.


The Veda is set apart from the domain of Kavya, for various reasons.   The Vedas impart instructions in regard to true knowledge and right action (Dharmavidhi). Imparting knowledge and instructions are its primary functions; and the question of language, however meticulous, is secondary. The role of language in Veda does not seem to be as crucial as it is in a Kavya. At the same time, Kavya too instructs, in its own way; but without commanding the reader to act in a certain manner.

The Vedas are believed to be intuitive perceptions (Darshana) as envisioned by the seers (Rishi). They are direct; and, its authors transmit their vision, in its pristine purity, perfectly, by expressing exactly what they mean. However, in the kavya, as in everyday life, we often employ metaphorical language, which may give out multiple meanings.  But no such divergence occurs between verbal intention and the Truth as depicted in the texts of the Rishis. .

Elements of kavya are doubtless present in the Veda itself (Sruti) as also in   the Smruti (Vedic texts remembered),    in the narratives of the events that occurred in the past (itihasa), and in ancient lore (purana).  But such poetic elements are incidental to the principal objects of those texts; and, therefore are not of prime importance to their traditional readers or listeners.

There are also other difference between the Vedic poetry and Kavya. The language of the Vedas is different from the classic Sanskrit of the post-Panini era. The imagery and poetic vocabulary too are different. For instance; you do not find in the Samhitas descriptions of young , beautiful  adorable girls through pet idioms that became common in the Kavya works : moon-like or lotus-like face; fleeting eyes of a gazelle; narrow waist; gait like that of a swan etc. There are also no poetic conventions or symbolisms   in the Samhita that speak in terms of: a Chakora bird which is nourished by moon beams; a Chataka bird which feeds on rain-drops; or, Chakravaka which is ever faithful and pining for its partner.

The two ideas seem to be present here:  (i) what makes kavya different from everything else has essentially to do with language itself; (ii)   and, accordingly, literary analysis must center on language. These are two presuppositions that span the entire history of kavya theory and profoundly influenced its production.

A K Warder, in his Indian Kavya Literature (vol. One) explains the distinctions between the literary and non-literary works, particularly those on philosophical subjects. And, the dictions he mentions can very well cover the technical works:

 “Kavya is distinguished from philosophy and most scriptures, in that it is centered in man. As compared with philosophy, which may also be humanist in outlook, Kavya is an art form, presenting its truths and its comments through images and individual characters. The humanism of Kavya differs from that of the critical and analytical schools of philosophy in its endless riches of concrete details, which aims to present by examples the infinite variety of particular times, places, persons situations and actions. Its subject matter is human experiences of life, accumulated over thousands of years, an epic of humanity which is not available to us in any other form. This experience is presented in terms of human emotions: the reactions of the people to situations in life’.

lotus design

Continued in

Next Part





References and Sources

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

Indian Kavya Literature (vol. One) by A K Warder

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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

Dhvani – Rasa Dhvani

Poetry is basically a verbal icon or a verbal structure; and, as such, there cannot be any poetry without words. Therefore, any discussion on poetry necessarily  involves discussion on words. The poetry also invokes emotional response. And, that is followed by the understanding of it’s  emotive language ; and, the appreciation by the reader of the true import of the poet. All these elements are , therefore, highly essential for enjoyment of poetry.\

Thus, the success of a good Kavya fundamentally involves three aspects:  the poet’s creative inspiration (Prathibha); its  form  by way  of the words (Sabda) and meaning (Artha), i.e. body (Sarira) of the Kavya ;  and , the aesthetic  effect it has  upon the reader (Rasa)  – Kavih karoti kvyam; Rasam jananthi panditah.

Abhinavagupta, citing his teacher Bhattatauta, says: the the poet and an appreciative cultured listener/reader share a common experience of delight (kavaye shrotruh samanau anubhavas-tatah). And, both are partners in poetic experience; each is inspired in his own manner.

While the poet is blessed with creative genius (karayatri), which is an unfettered faculty (Prakhya-purna); the good-hearted reader (sahrudaya) is endowed with the receptive power (Bhavayatri), which lets her/him enjoy good poetry with delight (Asvadana). He empathizes with the poet (Upakhya); and, recreates , for his relish, the poet’s  creative experience (Anu-sristi) ; just as the moon reflects the glow of the Sun.

Abhinavagupta says: If the poet has Prathibha, the creative genius ; the listener has its reflection or counterpart Prathibhana (Adhikari chatra vimala prathibhana sahrudayah). Yaska remarks that the poet and the listener , each in his own manner , could even be called a Rishi, a seer. The poet has direct experience (sakshath rishi) ; and, the listener derives the same delight by listening to the poet (shruth rishi).  

sākṣāt.kṛta dharmāṇa ṛṣayo babhūvuḥ / te avarebhyo asākṣāt kṛta dharmabhya upadeśena mantrānt samprāduḥ //Nir. 1.20//

The ultimate object of Kavya is Rasa, the aesthetic delight. As Taittiriya Upanishad remarks in another context: rasam hi evaayam labhvaanandi bhavati- on experiencing Rasa , one becomes truly blissful.

Let’s, therefore, briefly talk about words, meanings and Rasa.


As mentioned earlier in the series, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and, it suggests (vyanjana). 

The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed; its relation to the next word ; and, its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relationship among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

Of these, the Vyanjana-artha, which is the suggested sense or the essence of the word is most interesting; and, is much debated. This is based in the principle that   the meaning of word is not limited to its literal sense; the word has the power to reach far beyond the obvious.

In poetry, the word acquires another power Vyanjana-vritti the suggestive function. It is the    power which activates the potential hidden in the word. And, the word acquires a new glow. Through the suggestive function of the word; a new meaning or plurality of meanings emerges transcending the obvious literal sense, far more beautiful and sensitive.

The suggestive word, the suggested meaning, the power of suggestion; and, their mutual relationship are virtually the lifeblood of Indian poetics.  In fact, this is what that distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature.

The suggested sense Vyanjana-artha, which (though not explicit) becomes the object of awareness, is regarded as the essence of poetry. The Dhvani School put forward by Anandavardhana (Ca. 850 AD) through his Dhvanyaloka (also called Kavyaloka and Sahridayaloka), brought focus on the potential power of the word in a Kavya. Here, the word (Sabda), together with its literal sense (Vakyartha) is said to form the body (Sarira) of Kavya, it is the cloak of its soul.  But, the essence of poetry is elsewhere; it is not directly visible; and, that essence is the suggested sense of the word (Vyanjana-artha).

Which is to say : it is not the direct literal and obvious meaning that is explicit in poetry, but it is the suggested, indirect (paroksha-artha) and emotive meaning that matters. It does not mean that words and primary meanings are unimportant.

What is suggested here is that:  though the words of a Kavya and their literal sense must be given their due importance, they are but a medium for emotive and indirect meaning to flash forth. In good poetry, this suggested meaning dominates over the words and their literal meaning. As Anandavardhana puts it, the latter are compared to a woman’s body ; and, the former to her grace and beauty, which is a subtler manifestation and a more profound meaning of the womanhood.

The primary meaning can be understood by all. But, the suggested meaning is understood only by those who are gifted with some imagination and a sort of intuition. Here, the mere knowledge of the word alone is not enough to understand and enjoy the poetic import or the essence of the Kavya. It needs intuition or Prathibha.  

Mammatacharya calls Prathibha as – nava-navaonvesha-shalini prajna – the ever inventive and resourceful intellect. Prathibha is also called, at times, as Vasana.  Only those endowed with Prathibha can truly enjoy the essence and beauty of Kavya.

That is why, it is remarked, that the Grammarians (unlike the goodhearted cultured reader the Sahrudaya) cannot truly appreciate and enjoy the Rasa of good poetry. They are incapable of looking beyond what appears obvious.

[One of the hymns of the Rig-Veda  makes a distinction between a person who merely learns the literal meaning of a verse ; and , a person who  goes beyond the ordinary meaning of the words, and  tries to understand  and grasp its inner significance. It says :

the former sees , but , does not see; and, he hears , but does not hear. It is only to the latter that Vac (speech) reveals herself completely, just as a loving wife to her husband.

uta tvaḥ paśyan na dadarśa vācam uta tvaḥ śṛṇvan na śṛṇoty enām |  uto tvasmai tanvaṃ vi sasre jāyeva patya uśatī suvāsāḥ |RV_10,071.04|

In another passage of the Rig-Veda , it is said that the great poets select their words by ‘winnowing away the chaff from the grain’; and, only the persons of equal learning and refinement can truly appreciate their poems, fully.

saktum iva titaunā punanto yatra dhīrā manasā vācam akrata | atrā sakhāyaḥ  sakhyāni jānate bhadraiṣāṃ lakṣmīr nihitādhi vāci |RV_10,071.02

Yaska , the Niruktakara, remarks : a person, who merely recites the Vedas, without comprehending its meaning, is like a pillar (sthaanu) or a mere load-bearer (bhara-haara). And, it is only he who fully grasps and appreciates the meaning of what he is reciting (arthajña) that will attain the good both here and hereafter (bhadram-aśnute-nākam); having been purged of all impurities by the power of knowledge (jñāna vidhūta pāpmā).

sthāur ayam bhāra-hāra kila abhūd adhītya vedam na vijānāti yo artham  / yo arthajña it sakalam bhadram aśnute nākam eti jñāna vidhūta pāpmā (Nir.1. 18)  ]


It is said; in the highest class of Kavya, the denoted meaning (Vakyartha)  and  the denoting meaning (Lakshyartha)  is subservient to  revealing the suggested sense word (Vyanjana-artha); and , it is  called Dhvani by the scholars – dhvanir iti sūribhiḥ kathitaḥ  – Dhv.1.13

yatrārthaḥ śabdo vā tam artham upasarjanīkṛta-svārthau / vyaṅktaḥ kāvya-viśeṣaḥ sa dhvanir iti sūribhiḥ kathitaḥ // DhvK_1.13 //

The suggested sense of the word, designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion), is regarded by Anandavardhana as the soul of a Kavya:  Kavyasya Atma Dhvanih.

Mammata   (Kavyaprakasa 1.4-5) seems to suggest  that Anandavardhana graded the entire body of Kavya into three classes (some dispute Mammata’s statement and point out that Anandavardhana did not say any such thing ) :  

(a) Dhvani-kavya (the poetry that suggests) as the true Kavya, the best (Uttama), where Dhvani the unspoken suggestive element is dominant;

(b) the second, Gunibhuta-vamgmaya-kavya (well endowed descriptive poetry, as the middle (Madhyama) where Dhvani is secondary to Alamkara, and serves as a decoration for the spoken or expressed meaning; and ,

(c) and Chitra Kavya (poetry that structured into various patterns or drawings) as the least (Adhama) which depends entirely on verbal play for its elegance and elaboration, and where Dhvani the suggestive power of poetry is absent.

tadadoṣau śabdārthau saguṇāvan-alaṅkṛtī punaḥ kvāpi / idam-uttamam-atiśayini vyaṅgye vācyāddhvanirbudhaiḥ kathitaḥ // MKpr-K_4 //

atādṛśi guṇībhūta-vyaṅgyaṃ vyaṅgye tu madhyamam / śabdacitraṃ vācya citram avyaṅgyaṃ tvavaraṃ smṛtam // MKpr-K_5 

[Anandavardhana (9th century) and his theory of Dhvani mark the beginning of a new-phase (Navina) in Indian Poetics.   The Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana marks a departure from the old ways of understanding Kavya. It makes an attempt to study Poetics from aesthetic point of view, assimilating all the essentials of various other schools. By giving prominence to Rasa, he lends a new explanation to all the problems of Poetics. According to that, Alamkara, Riti and Guna have their importance only in the context of Dhvani the suggestion which is the soul of Kavya.

The older School (Prachina) – of Bhamaha, Dandin Vamana and others – that belonged to about the 7th century dealt with natural or human situation idealized by the poet , for its own sake. The attention of the Prachina School was focused on ornamented figures of speech (Alamkara) and the beauty (sobha, carutva) of the expression or on the ‘body’ of poetry. Their Rasa theory generally was based in dramatic art .Therefore it did not come under Poetic proper.

The Navina School pointed out that the reader should not stop at  the expression but should go further into the meaning that is suggested, or hinted, by it. This suggested sense is the essence of Kavya. It differs from the expressed and the indicated sense. The Navina School laid more importance on the emotional content (Bhava) of the Kavya. But, here, the emotive element was not directly expressed in words (Vachya) ; but , had to be grasped by  the reader indirectly (Parokshya ) through suggestions. Yet, through the description of the situation the reader understands the emotion and derives that exalted delight, Rasa.

Anandavardhana, in his Dhvanyaloka , says that Vynjaartha (the un-expressed or the suggested meaning) is Dhvani – perhaps, inspired by Bhartrhari’s theory of Sphota . It is the essence of poetry. It sheds light on the function of suggestion in poetry. It is Vyanjana (revealing) and Dhvanana (echoing) or gamana (implication) or pratyayana (acquainting) of poetry which is superior to Vachya (expressed meaning)

Here, the words (Sabda), explicit mean (Vakyartha) the body (Sarira) of the Kavya. The subtle, suggested essence of the Kavya that resides within and is extracted with delight by the cultured reader (Sahrudaya) is the Dhavni.

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

While stating that Dhvani is superior, Navina also establishes the status of Rasa. In this scheme the relative positions of Rasa, Guna, Alamkara and Dosa get fixed. It gives due credit to poet’s imagination and his sense of propriety.

Though Dhvani was regarded the soul of poetry, the Navina did not lose sight of Rasa. It divided Dhvani into three kinds – Vastu (matter), Alamkara (figures of speech) and Rasa (emotion) .

Thus the evolution of the Navina School marks a transition from the ‘outer’ element to the ‘inner’ one, in regard to the method, the content and appreciation of the Kavya. The criteria, here, is not whether the expression sounds beautiful; but, whether its qualities (Guna) are adequate (Auchitya) to lead the reader to the inner core of the poetry.]

It is said; the concept of Dhvani was inspired by the ancient doctrine of Sphota, that which flashes or bursts forth the meaning. The term Sphota signifies:  bursting; opening; expansion; disclosure; the eternal and imperceptible element of sound and words; and, is the real vehicle of the idea which bursts or flashes on the mind when a sound is uttered.

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


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

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

It was Bhartrhari (around 485 AD) in his great work Vakyapadiya (all about sentence and word) elaborated and established the Sphota doctrine in the realm of Grammar and in Philosophy.

According to Bhartrhari, the perfect perception is that in which there is identity between the object (namely, the Sphota) and the form of its cognition (namely, words or the letters of sounds). This special kind of perception is held to be function of mind, rather than of the external senses.


Abhinavagupta (10th -11th century) who wrote a great commentary, titled Dhvanya-Lochana or Lochana, on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka, explains the concept of Dhavni in two ways:

As  Sabda Shakthi moola based in the sound of the expression  ; and as Artha-Shakthi rnoola based in the implied meaning of the expression. He says, Dhvani, in poetics, is so termed because it sounds, rings, or reverberates (Dhvanat iti Dhvani);

And, in the second, he says Dhvanyate iti Dhvani that meaning which is implied is Dhvani. The second, suggesting the implied meaning is the more appropriate one.

Thus, the faculty of indicating something which it is not is the distinguishing character of Dhvani. In other words, in a verbal expression abhidha and lakshana form the body; and, Vyanjana or Dhvani is in the nature of its  contents. Dhvani is the essence or soul of poetry.

While expanding on the concept of Dhvani, Anandavardhana did not confine himself to the words and sentences, but went on to include all contextual factors such as: the tone and gestures, the sound effect produced, the rhythm, the metere as well as the literal sense.

But at the same time, Anandavardhana did not get involved in the comprehensive linguistic phenomenon, the Vyanjana and its suggestive power. Similarly, he did not venture into the philosophical and grammatical world of Sphota as Bhartrhari did.  Anandavardhana confined his attention to the poetic language and to the suggestion of meanings of aesthetic value. His theory of Dhvani, to put it simply, is Vyanjana or suggestion as applied to poetry. In the process, Anandavardhana chose to align his theory of Dhvani with Rasa as initially outlined by Bharata. It is these two concepts – Dhvani and Rasa – that are the building blocks of Anandavardhana’s  theory of Poetics.

According to Anandavardhana, the element of Rasa has to reside in the poet, in his creation Kavya and in the reader, the enjoyer. The poet has to be inspired, charged with emotion to create a poetry that comes alive with suggestions (Dhvani). The poet is the first reader of his Kavya; and the first one to experience Rasa from its Dhvani sensitivities. For instance, Adi Kavi Valmiki was so intensely hurt and saddened by the wailing of curlew bird whose mate was shot down by a hunter in the woods, that his grief (Shoka) poured out into a verse (Shloka) filled with pathos that became the Rasa of Ramayana.

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

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

Although it decaled that the soul of Kavya is verily the Rasa, the Dhvani School did not abandon the concepts of the  earlier (Prachina)  Schools : Alamkara, Riti and Auchitya etc . It assimilated within it all their essences. It said; the Gunas really qualify the Rasa; hence a Kavya should employ Gunas that are relevant to its dominant Rasa. As regards the Alamkaras that decorate the body of Kavya   with beauteous and sparkling expressions and render it more attractive, they do nourish the Rasa. Thus, The Dhvani School accorded each element of Kavya its appropriate position.

And then there is the element or principle of Auchitya (propriety). Be it Alamkara or Guna, it would  be beautiful and relishing only so long it is  appropriate from the point of view of Rasa . And, they would be rejected if they are not appropriate to the main Rasa (Angirasa) of the Kavya. In the same vein, what is normally considered a Dosha (flaw) might turn into Guna (virtue) when it is appropriate to the Rasa. That again means, the beauty or the delight of a Kavya resides in its experience, Rasa.

Dhvani principle can be said, briefly, in statements: Rasa (aesthetic experience) is the soul of poetry; the mode in which the body of the poetry reveals it is Dhvani (suggestion); and, the harmonious accordance of the body and the soul is Auchitya (propriety) . Rasa, Dhvani and Auchitya are the Prastha traya, the three fundamental principles of Kavya Shastra.


As I understand it ; the basic position of Anandavardhana is that an emotion cannot be evoked in a reader by mere mention of a name or a term and its bare description. It has to be suggested by describing the situation and the contextual factors. These include the literary meaning as also the suggestive possibilities of the expression such as: intonation , stress, the sound echoing the sense, rhythm, indicative imagery (bodhaka) , and expressive symbols (vachaka).

According to Anandavardhana, all these devices are to be used for helping to evoke the right response in the mind and the heart of the reader. With that, the same utterance may convey different suggestions to different people depending upon their level of understanding and receptivity. He thus brought the emotional response or enjoyment of the listener or the reader (Rasa) within the ambit of ‘meaning’. Thus, language acquires a limitless suggestive power. The object of such power is to provide unalloyed pleasure (Ananda) to the reader by evoking the Rasa.

Anandavardhana introduced a sort of new norm into Kavya.  He said there should be one predominant Rasa (which he called Angirasa) in a Kavya which includes Drama, Epic, lyric etc. According to him, in a Kavya, all other Rasas that are either mutually conflicting or supportive   should be subordinate to its Angirasa. But, Bharata who was mainly concerned with the successful productions of Drama that has to please varieties of people with different   or varied tastes, did not seem to considered it from that angle. And, therefore, Bharata, though he stressed on the structural unity of the plot did not, perhaps, consider it necessary for a Drama (as a whole) to portray a particular single Rasa of its own. In a Drama, each character would evoke a rasa that is peculiar to it.

aṅgirasa-viruddhānāṃ vyabhicāriṇāṃ prācuryeṇāniveśanam, niveśane vā kṣipram evāṅgirasa-vyabhicāry-anuvṛttir iti dvitīyaḥ / aṅgatvena punaḥ punaḥ pratyavekṣā paripoṣaṃ nīyamānasyāpy aṅga-bhūtasya rasasyeti tṛtīyaḥ / anayā diśānye ‘pi prakārā utprekṣaṇīyāḥ / virodhinas tu rasasyāṅgirasāpekṣayā kasyacin nyūnatā sampādanīyā / yathā śānte ‘ṅgini śṛṅgārasya śṛṅgāre vā śāntasya / paripoṣa-rahitasya rasasya kathaṃ rasatvam iti cet-uktam atrāṅgirasāpekṣayeti /

The later writers of Kavya had adopted the idea of a predominant Rasa for the work as a whole. And, therefore, Anandavardhana stated that even the construction of a plot must be made in such a way that there is scope for highlighting a chosen predominant Rasa. According to him, events and descriptions, figures of speech etc not directly relevant to the development of the theme and its main Rasa should be avoided in a good Kavya.

Another point stressed by Anandavardhana is that the imaginative sensibility necessary for proper appreciation of a Kavya can be acquired only by close study of classical works and by constant practice of response to works of art. According to him, the most important element in the import of a Kavya is the emotion (Rasa) suggested; and that can be appreciated and enjoyed by persons of refined sensibilities (Sahrudaya). What is important is the harmony between the heart and mind of the reader and that of the poet (atrā sakhāyaḥ sakhyāni jānate bhadraiṣāṃ lakṣmīr nihitādhi vāci || Rig-Veda 10.71.2).

Anandavardhana remarks that not all scholars, Grammarians and logicians get to fully appreciate and enjoy a Kavya. Only those who rise above the confines of rules, petty prejudices and individual fixations can truly appreciate the poet’s point of view. 

Anandavardhana, therefore, says that Dhvani, the  suggested sense is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. Poetic beauty is apprehended (Vidyate, kevalam) only  by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

śabdārtha-śāsana-jñāna-mātreṇaiva na vidyate / vidyate sa tu kāvyārtha-tattvajñair eva kevalam // DhvK_1.7 //

Abhinavagupta, in his Lochana, explains the literary sensitivity (Sahrudayatva) as the faculty of entering into the heart of the poet. He says that the more a person is attuned to aesthetic impressions from literature by constant exposure to literary works, the more mirror- like becomes his heart.  The constant relishing (char­vana) of poetry refines his sensibility to an extent that suggestions (Dhvani) ignite in his heart the aesthetic experience. Such, aesthetic delight   (Rasa) has no end outside of itself. Abhinavagupta names such out-of-the-world poetic relish enjoyed by a Sahrudaya as Chamatkara (Chitta-vistara) .

dvitīyasmiṃs tu pakṣe rasa-jñataiva sahṛdayatvam iti / tathā-vidhaiḥ sahṛdayaiḥ saṃvedyo rasādi-samarpaṇa-sāmarthyam eva naisargikaṃ śabdānāṃ viśeṣa iti vyañjakatvāśrayy eva teṣāṃ mukhyaṃ cārutvam /vācakatvāśrayāṇāṃ tu prasāda evārthāpekṣāyāṃ teṣāṃ viśeṣaḥ / arthānapekṣāyāṃ tv anuprāsādir eva || DhvA_3.15-16 ||

Anandavardhana exalts the poetic-freedom of a creative writer which, according to him, transcends the powers of nature. He says in the world (Samsara) of poetry the Poet rules supreme, the whole world transforms according to his wishes. As Abhinavagupta explained, good poet through his intuitive power (Prathibha) can bring to life even the inanimate.

In the later times, the unalloyed aesthetic pleasure (Ananda) that a reader derives from the Kavya by evoking its Rasa was compared by Bhattanayaka (10th century) to Absolute Bliss (Brahmananda); and placed it even above Yogic experience. Abhinavagupta (11th century) however moderated Bhattanayaka’s claim by explaining that Yogic experience is Absolute and beyond subject-object relation. And, aesthetic experience, he said, gives bliss for short periods; and, therefore cannot be considered supreme, though it is superior to worldly pleasures.  This explanation was in line with Anandavardhana’s own views.


Ananadavardhana classifies Dhvani in various ways.The scheme of his   classification is detailed and complicated; there are in fact as many as fifty-one varieties of Dhvani.  One can, at best, attempt to give only the brief outlines of a few of it here.

Broadly, the Dhvani is classified in three ways:

1.According to the ways the suggested meaning is related to the literal or the prima facie meaning. This is divided into two types:

A (i), the first type where the literal sense is not intended or not meant (avivaksita – va­cya)

This is again subdivided into two:

: – the type where the literal sense is completely set aside (atyantatiraskita-vacya);

:and, the type where the literal meaning is shifted or deflected (arthantarasamkramita – va­cya); 

A (ii) The second type where the literal sense is in fact intended, but it sub-serves the implied sense (vivaksi­tanyapara – vacya);

2.the second type ac­cording to the element in the text which effects the suggestion of Dhvani;

3.and, the third principle of classification is based on the nature of Dhvani per se. Here,the suggested meaning may be of three kinds.

C(i) :-  It may be a thing (Vastu Dhvani), some rare fact or idea or an event or occur­rence is implied.

C (ii) : –  It may be some Alankaara or figure of speech that is suggested (Alamkara Dhvani) .

C (iii): – The third type of Dhvani is the most important type of Dhvani. It is called Rasa – Dhvani where in Rasa or flavour or emotion or mood or sentiment of poetry is evoked. Rasa is an ideal and impersonalised form of joy. Rasa can only be suggested but not described.

dhvani types

Both Vastu Dhvani and Alamkara Dhvani can be expressed by direct meaning (Vacyaartha) or by suggestion (Vyangyanartha). But the third variety of implicit sense of Rasa Dhvani cannot be expressed through the direct meaning of words, nor in words commonly used in day-to-day life (loka vyavahaara).

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

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

The Loukika Dhvani in poetry is again two-fold:  the one that suggests Vastu or some matter (Vastu Dhvani); and, the other which suggests a figure of speech (Alamkara Dhvani) .

In Abhinavagupta’s classification, the Vastu Dhavani and Alamkara Dhavani are merely parts of poetry; but, are superior to direct designation. The real essence of poetry is , of course, the Rasa Dhavani.

Abhinavagupta differed from Anandavardhana over the issues of the emotion of the poet. Anandavardhana viewed the melting of experience in the poet and out flowing of this empathy as inspired poetic form solidified in words. Abhinavagupta, however, explained it as the generalized state of creative medium, where the poet is an impersonal observer expressing human experience in poetry, as an intermediary.

Ananadavardhana classification is generally accepted and has come to stay. But, what has changed is the types of discussions around it. The later discussions are more pointed and specific.


Ananadavardhana claims, it is the Dhvani that allows new poetry to come into being. Here, speech (Vani) that is adorned (vibhusita) by Dhvani attains a freshness (navatvam), even where the words are arranged to show apparent conventional meaning (pūrvārthā-anvayavaty api) – (Dhl.4.2). Though the relation between the word and its meaning might, at times, be fixed; the suggestions they evoke (Dhvani), in the context, are not conditioned by the conventional denotative meaning of those words.  

ato hy anyatamenāpi  prakārea vibhūitā / vāī navatvam āyāti pūrvārthānvayavaty api // DhvK_4.2 //

While commenting on this verse, Abhinavagupta explains that because of the wonders of the speech (ukti-vaichitryam), these poetic expressions take on countless meanings; and, still have scope for further innovations.  He asks : what is this ukti-vaichitryam (kimidam-uktivaicitryam ?); and ; responds by saying : it is the ever renewing (nava-navonvesha) wonder in speech that arises not only from the novelty of descriptions , but also , indeed, from the novelty of the object of utterance as well – uktirhi vācya-viśea-pratipādi vacanam / tad vaicitrye katha na vācya vaicitryam /

 In other words; it indicates a new description and a new object. Here, the speech or the language (Vacya) and that which is described (Vacaka), are intricately related to each other. Each poetic work has its own locale and objects. No new poet can merely borrow from earlier poets; and, yet be able to compose a credible new work. The unique perspective that each poet brings to the objects, enables the object to appear new and be described with awe and wonder. That ensures limitlessness of the poetic utterances.  That is why, he remarks, the poetry did not end with the first poet, Adi Kavi Valmiki. And, poetry can never come to an end.

yadyanvīyate anyaiḥ kavibhiḥ tattarhi ityarthaḥ / anyeṣāṃ vālmīkivyatiriktānām 


Many scholars did not entirely agree with Anandavardhana’s exposition of Dhvani. Those who criticized his views include: Bhattanayaka, Kuntaka, Mahimabhatta, Dhananjaya, Bhoja, Rajasekhra, Vishwanatha and few others. The questions raised were : If Guna and Alamkara are left out , what else is there to lend beauty to Kavya? If it is argued that Guna and Alamkara are different from Dhvani , how can they be said to produce beauty? Many seemed to accept Dhvani ; but as a secondary  function.  Mammata carried forward the argument that Rasa is the principle substance and the object of poetry. He stated vakyatha Rasatmakarth kavyam establishing the correlation between Rasa and poetry; and pushing down the Dhvani. Mahimabhatta included all types of Dhvani under the head Anumana, the inference, since Dhvani has no independent or cognizable existence

Bhatta Nayaka (8th-9th centuries) who wrote Hridayadarpana to refute  Anandavardhana’s theory , pointed out that Rasa can be experienced; but not suggested.  He also introduced the concept of Sadharanikarana, the generalization of the art experience. And, as apart of that experience he mentioned that  Bhaavana generalizes  the content ; and; Bhoga brings about the aesthetic relish. 

Bhatta Nayaka states that poetic experience is never narrow nor is it limited only to the incidents relating to an individual; it is always universal. The emotional experiences portrayed in Kavya are freed from personal limitations; they no longer are the pains and pleasures of a particular hero or heroine; but, are transformed and elevated into aesthetic experiences enjoyed by all the receptive, sensitive readers and spectators (Sahrudaya).

Thus, freed from the limitations of space and time, the poetic experiences (Rasa) attain a universal form, bringing delight to all, across the varied classes, regions and generations. Bhatta Nayaka names such a phenomenon as Bhavakatva or Sadharanikarana (universalized form) – Bhavakatva vyaparena bhavyamano Raso bhogena param bhujyate.

In order to illustrate his concept, Bhatta Nayaka , observes : a  spectator cannot have Rati -bhava in respect of a heroine, say Shakuntala, because he knows that she is wife of Dushyanta. Hence, she cannot be the cause of  his emotional experience  of love (alambana-vibhava). Then , he asks, how can the spectator relish Sringara -rasa? To overcome this,  Bhatta Nayaka suggested Sadharanikarana , by the function of Bhavakatva. By this, the  sentiment based in a character (say, Shakuntalatva etc) is forgotten for a moment ; and , she is visualized just as a Nayika, any lovely looking heroine . This helps, he says,  in enjoying Srngara-rasa, in a generalized way .

However , Abhinavagupta rejected Bhattanayaka’s hypothesis  , because ” it is a burden to accept two  separate functions like Bhavana and Bhoga”.


Dr. Kunjunni Raja concludes (page 315) : many of criticisms against the Dhvani theory are due to the fact that the poets and literary critics did not confine themselves to a relatively small portion of language behavior, which is definite; but, tried to extend it to the totality of human experience, including the emotional. 

Eventually, Ananadavardhana, Abhinavagupta , Mammata and others stoutly  defended  the Dhvani and Rasa Dhvani ; and, successfully deflected most of the criticisms.


Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 By Harold G. Coward

Click to access 06_chapter3.pdf

Click to access 06_chapter3.pdf



Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Three


Continued from Part Two

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

 Classifications of the Kavya


Kavya has been classified into  incredible number of different  categories.


Agnipurana –kavyadilakshanam– classifies Vanmaya (everything that is expressed in words, i.e. literature) in several ways: Dhvani, Varna, Pada and Vakya (Ag. pu. 336.1); and  into Shastra, Itihasa and Kavya (Ag.pu.3336.2).

dhvanir-varṇāḥ padaṃ vākyam ityetadi vāṅmayaṃ mataṃ //AP_336.001cd/
śāstre itihāsa vākyānāṃ trayaṃ yatra samāpyate /AP_336.002ab/

And later, Vanmaya was again classified into Shastra (Veda, Purana and even Epics) and Kavya. And, it was said ; in the Shastra the words (śabda)  are important; in the Itihasa (historical narration) the facts (niṣṭhatā) are important; whereas in the Kavya the ability to express the  meaning  (abhidhā)  is more important .

śāstre śabda pradhāna-tvam itihāseṣu niṣṭhatā //AP_336.002cd/
abhidhāyāḥ pradhānatvāt kāvyaṃ tābhyāṃ vibhidyate /AP_336.003ab/

Shastra , in turn , has again been classified into Apaurusheya and Paurusheya.

The term Shastra commonly refers to a treatise or text on a specific field of knowledge. In early Vedic literature, the word referred to any precept, rule, teaching, ritual instruction or direction. For instance; in the Rig-Veda 8.33.16 the term Sastra  means rule or instruction :  nahi ṣastava no mama śāstre anyasya raṇyati.

    And, the Ṛigveda-prāti-śākhya (11.36; 14.30) uses the term Shastra to refer        to  its  prātiśākhya tradition.

And, in late and post Vedic literature Shastra referred to any treatise, book or instrument of teaching, any manual or compendium on any subject in any field of knowledge, including religious.

Yaska calls Nirukta (etymology) as a Shastra – śabdānām itaretara upadeśaḥ  śāstra- Nir.1.2

And, Shastra  is often a suffix, added to the subject of the treatise, such as Yoga-Shastra, Nyaya-Shastra, Dharma-Shastra, Koka– or Kama-Shastra, Artha-Shastra, Alamkara-Shastra (rhetoric), Kavya-Shastra (poetics), Sangita-Shastra (music), Natya-Shastra (theatre & dance) ; and such  others.

Here, the term Shastra is commonly understood as that which instructs or teaches; it covers the theory of a practice as also the practice of a theory.


Just by the way, let me mention about a totally different kind of interpretation of the term Shastra ,  which is commonly understood as that which instructs or teaches .

Paramartha (an Indian Buddhist scholar-monk who arrived in China during 546 C E; and went on to the Court of the Emperor Wu, at Liang), in his translation into  Chinese of Abhidhammakosa-bhashya, of Vasubandhu, explains the term Shastra by breaking it into two syllables – shas and tra.

According to Paramartha, the first (shas) relates NOT to the root ‘to instruct’; but, to the root shas, ‘to destroy’.

And, the second part (tra) relates to the root ‘trayi’, meaning ‘to to save or to rescue’ (trayate, trati); OR, to the root Tr, related to the meaning ‘to cross over’ (tarati, tarayati).

Accordingly, Paramartha interpreted the term Shastra as that which destroys the impediments (klesha); and, as that which rescues, saves and enables one to cross over the sea of existence (samsara). ]


[ If we take a bird’s-eye view of the Sanskrit literature we may classify them as Epic and Lyric kavyas, the charita kavyas (dealing with the lives of kings and patrons of learning), the prasastis or panegyrical verses, the different types of dramas, lyric kavyas, the century collections or satakas, the stotra literature or adoration hymns, the Campus or works written in prose and verse, the katha, literature, the nlti literature, the didactic verses and stray verses such as are found in the anthologies. The sources of the materials of kavya as held by Rajasekhara, are Sruti, Smrti, Purana, Itihhsa, Pramana-vidya, Samaya-vidya or the sectarian doctrines of the Saivas, Pancaratrins, etc., the Arthashastra, the Natyashastra and the Kamashastra, the local customs and matiners, the different sciences and the literature of other poets

–  Prof. S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Sanskrit Literature – Classical Period – vol. I ]

design rangoli

In the Literary traditions

 (a) Shravya and Drshya

In the literary traditions, even from the very early period, Kavya was classified in several different ways. The usual means were (a) by language; (b) by whether it was poetry or prose or a mixture of both; and (c) by the literary form.

And, to start with, Kavya was said to be either oral – Shravya (one that is listened to) or Drshya or Prekshya (one that is seen, visual comprehension) . This was the primary differentiation.

[ The classical name of what we call a play or a Drama was Rupaka. It was a generic term that comprised various types of plays.  And the best form of such Rupakas is the Nataka. Dhananjaya in his  Dasarupaka (ten forms of Drama) while talking about Rupaka explains : it is called a Rupaka or a representation because of the acts put on by the actors (abhinaya)  by assuming (rupakam tat samaropad )  the forms of various characters  such as gods or kings  and men and women  .  And, it is called a show because of the fact it is seen (rupam drsyatayocyate). Thus, Drama is the reproduction of a situation (Avastha-anikrtir natyam)  , in a visible form (rupa),  in the person of the actors.

The earlier authors considered Drama as the art of reproduction by imitation (anukriti). But, Abhinavagupta objected to such a banal view, saying that mere imitation of other’s movements would produce the ludicrous; and, the imitation of other’s feelings and emotions is impossible. He held the view that Drama is an artistic production, where music, dancing, acting and the dress, dyeing, and the stage environment etc., all come together in the dramatic performance. According to him, such Dramatic performance becomes an art when recitation in the form of dialogues associated with suitable gestures, postures, movement, dancing, dress and music etc., succeeds in giving expressions to sentiments and passions so as to rouse similar sentiments in the minds of the audience. Thus, Drama is an entirely a new art that aims to enliven the mind of the audience and to produce in them an aesthetic joy; and, it is not an imitation in any ordinary sense of the term. ]

Here, Drshya generally stands for Drama (Nataka) and Dance-drama (Geya-nataka) the visual comprehension of a theatrical performance; and, the Shravya covers the entire range of lyrical and epic poetry in general. And some times, in a narrow sense, the Shravya is itself known as Kavya. That might be because; in the ancient times the Epics were narrated or recited before a gathering of ardent listeners. And, individual poems or their stanzas, in most cases, gained popularity among the common people who enjoyed listening to them.  The boundaries between the oral and written poetry was never clear. Yet, the oral traditions seemed to have a strong influence over written versions.  And, in fact, even during the medieval times the written texts were corrected with reference to its oral version.

[ Please do read the Article Oral Traditions]

[However, as the classical poetry grew more complex and more elaborately structured, it became rather difficult to rely only on the oral rendering. Reading or studying a text gradually replaced listening as the commonest means of enjoying Kavya.]

But, the distinction of – Shravya and Prekshya– is not strictly observed. For instance; Drama (Nataka) is at once a Kavya- prose and poetry-  that can be read (Shravya) and that be witnessed (Drshya) on the stage. In fact, some of the finest poetry of the ancient times can be found in Sanskrit Dramas. Thus, the Drama came to be  regarded as the most enjoyable of all the forms of Kavya (Kavyeshu naatakam ramyam). Kalidasa endorses both the forms  : ‘Drama, verily, is a feast that is greatly enjoyed by a variety of people of different tastes- Natyam bhinnaruchir janasya bahuda-apekshym samaradhanam

Another is the Chitra-Kavya, where the words of the poetry are woven into figures and diagrams (Chiyrabandha) , that can be seen and read is at once a Shravya and Prekshya.

[For more on Chitrkavya: please check here :]

Coming back to Drama, the Drshya Kavya, it again was classified into two classes: Major (Rupaka) and Minor (Upa-Rupaka). Abhinavagupta explains Rupam as that which is seen by the eyes and the works containing such matter is Rupani or Rupaka. Dhanika while commenting on Dhanajyaya’s Dasarupakam explains that the terms Natyam, Rupam and Rupakam can be treated as synonymous.

Sanskrit Dramas are classified according to Subject-matter, Hero, and Rasa (Vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako). The main aspects of the Drama (Rupaka) are the plot, the hero and the Rasa (pradhāna, netà and rasa).

The subject or the story should always be about celebrated and important persons.

The Subject-matter (vastu) can be depicted in two ways (Vastu ca dvidha) the main theme (adhikarika) among with the subordinate (angam) and the incidental events (prasangika)  – Tatra adhikarikam  mukhyam angam  prasahgikam viduh.

The plot should be simple, the incidents are consistent; the progression of the events should spring direct from the story.

The hero (Neta) of the Nātaka should be a worthy or exhalted person of virtue.

Prakhyāta-vamso rājarsih-divyo-vā yatra näyakah/ tat prakhyātam vidhātavyam vrttam-atra-adhikārikam//

A Nataka should comprise one rasa-either Srngara or Vira; and in conclusion the Adbhuta becomes prominent

Eko rasa – angi -kartavyo virah srigara eva va / angamanye rasah sarve kuryannivahane -adbhutam

In the presentation of the play one should avoid showing such events as: long travel; murder; war; violent over throw; bloodshed; eating; taking bath; un-dressing;sex act etc.

Dura-dhavanam; vadham; yuddham; rajya-dessadiviplavan/ samrodham; bhojanam; snanam ; suratam; ca-anulepanam/ amvara-grahanadini pratyakshani na nirdiset na-adhikaraivadham kvapi tyajyam – avasyakam na ca //


Viswanatha in his Sâhitya-Darpana described Rupaka (Nataka) as the most logical and perfect theatrical composition. It progresses in a sytamatic manner and concludes successfully, bringing joy to all. He says, according to the Dasarupaka, the structure of the plot of the Rupaka consists three essential elements: Avastha; Arthaprakrti; and, Samdhi. These structural divisions or sequence of events of the drama correspond with the elements of the plot and the actions associated with the progressive stages in the hero’s attempts to successfully realize his purpose or objects.

(1) According to such a format prescribed for a Sanskrit Drama, the plot is expanded over five elements (Arthaprakrti): The opening sequence (mukha) is the seed (bija) very small at the beginning (arambha) ; and , expands (bindu) in multiple ways as the action proceeds into episodes (pathaka)  depicting various events (pathaki) and their resolution (karya). These are said to be the five elements of the plot (arthaprakrti).

Bīja bindu patākākhya prakaro kārya lakaā / arthapraktaya pañca tā etā parikīrtitā //

(2) These five stages (Avastha) of action that are related to the achievement of the hero’s desired object (phala) are mentioned as:  Arambha (the beginning) – mere eagerness for the obtaining of the most important result; Yathna or Prayatna (effort) – exertion attended with great haste; Prapthya (prospect of success) – with means at hand, but also with fear of failure; Niyathapthi (certainty of success) – the confidence  of succeeding because of the absence of risk; and Phalagama or phalayoga (successful attainment of the desired objective of the hero).

Avasthah panca karyasya prarabdhasya phalarthibhih / ararmbha-yatna-praptyasa-niyatapti-phalagamah.

(3) And, Samdhi is the third essential element of the narration of the story and in the development  or the unfolding of the plot. Such sequence of events (Samdhi) or Junctures  which are also five in number,  correspond to the five stages (Avastha)  associated with the actions or the stages in the hero’s realization of his purpose are : the opening (mukha); the progression (pratimukha); the development (garbha); the pause in which one stops to reflect because of anger or passion or temptation (avamarsa or Vimarsa); and, the  successful conclusion (upasamhrti or nirvahana).

Antaraik arthasambandhah samdhir ekanvaye sati / Mukha-pratimukhe- garbhahs avamarsa upasarnhrtih

Arthapraktaya pañca pañcāvastā samanvitā / yathā sakhyena jāyante mukhādyā pañca sandhaya 

The Nivahana (conclusion or finale) is that Samdhi (juncture) in which the elemrnts of the plot that started with the opening scene (Mukha) and sprouted (Bija) in the subsequent scenes and later systematically and progressively spread over in the later scenes finally concluded with the hero attaining his desired objective.

Bija va anto mukhadyartha viprakirna yathayatham / aikarthyam uparuyante yatra nirvahanam hi tat //

The plot may have all or any of the SamdhisThe Samdhis, in turn, are said to have sixty-four sub-divisions or limbs (Angas).  These help to fulfill the purpose of their respective Samadhi. The Samdhis are related to each other and to their limbs (Anga). And, they are also related to the five stages (Avastha) of the action in the play.

And, in a play it is not necessary to use all the sixty-four Angas; and, even when used,  they should be in tune with the dominant Rasa of the play.

Dr. Manjulal Gupta in her very well researched  scholarly work A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka enumerates these sixty-four Angas and discusses each; and, in detail, on particularly those  Angas on which Bharata and Dhananjaya differed.


An interlude should always be made in between the acts of a Drama; and, performed by one or more characters middling or inferior who connect to the story of the Drama and to the sub-divisions of the plot by briefly explaining to the spectators what has occurred in the intervals of the acts or what is likely to happen later on.

The initial scenes are always auspicious and happy–feeling (adi-mangala); and, as the story unfolds, unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted by the crafty villain on the virtuous hero. In the midst of all the troubles that the hero is facing, near about the mid-point of the story, something good happens to the hero (madhya-mangala).  Somewhere in the second-half of the story, the trials and tribulations of the lovers, relieved by the rather clumsy attempts of the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka .  And,  after a hard fought  and suspenseful struggle, eventually the good and the Dharma triumphs; and all ends well (antya-mangala).

[ For more on the structure of Sanskrit Drama, please do read a very scholarly article by Ven.Dr.Thero.]

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Dhananjaya’s Dasarupakam says the the Dramas are of ten types ; and are based in Rasas ( dasadhaiva rasasrayam ) . It lists  the  major types of Dramas asnatakam ca prakaranam bhanah prahasanam dimah vyayoga samavakarau vithy ankeha- Ihāmrga iti

[The ten chief varieties of drama (Rupaka) are: the Nataka; the Prakarana; the Bhana; the Prahasana; the Dima; the Vyayoga; the Samavakara; the Vithi; the Anka (=Utsrstikanka); and , the Ihāmrga ]

Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana  (6. 7-11 page 118-119) gives the  list of ten major Rupakas  along  with  examples of  these  varieties:

Major (Rupaka):

  • (1) Nataka (e.g. Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa);
  • (2) Prakarana (e.g. Malathi-Madhava of Bhavabhuti);
  • (3) Bhana (e.g. Karpuracharita of Vatsaraja);
  • (4) Vyayoga (e.g. Madhyama-Vyayoga of Bhasa);
  • (5) Samavakara (e.g. Samudra-manthana of Vatsaraja);
  • (6) Dima (Tripuradaha of Vatsaraja);
  • (7) Ihamrga ( e.g. Rukminiharana of Vatsaraja);
  • (8) Anka or Utsrstikanta (e.g. Sharmistha-Yayati) ;
  • (9) Vithi (e.g. Malavika) ,and
  • (10)  Prahasana (Mattavilasa of Mahendravarman).


Please do read a brief study of the Dasarupaka of Viswanatha , according to his Sahityadarpana – by Dr. Leena Chandra K


As regards the Upa-rupakas, they were considered as a minor class of dramatic works; as distinct form the major works satisfying all the requirements prescribed for  a Rupaka or Nataka proper.  But, the earlier texts such as Natyashastra do not make a mention of the Upa-rupaka class of plays.

Perhaps, the earliest reference to Uparupaka occurs in is the Kamasutras of Vatsyayana who mentions plays  Hallisaka, latyarasaka and Preksanaka of Uparupaka type  watched by men and women of taste. Ahhinavagupta’s commentary on the Natyashastra occasionally mentions Upa-rupakas; but, witout defining the class. Rajashekara calls his Prakrit play Sattaka as not being a Nataka, but resemling a Natika, excepting that pravesakas, viskambhakas and ankas do not occur.

Thus , it seems that Upa-rupaka was a minor class of dramatic work; not satisfying all the classic, dramatic requirements, even when a full theme was handled.

Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana also lists the eighteen  minor types (Upa-Rupaka) , with examples :

Minor types of Drama (Upa-Rupaka)  :

  • (1) Natika (e.g. Ratnavali of Sri Harsha);
  • (2) Trotaka (e.g. Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa);
  • (3) Ghosti (e.g. Raivatamadanika);
  • (4) Natyarasaka (e.g.Vilasavathi );
  • (5) Sattaka (e.g. Rajasekhara’s Karpuramanjari);
  • (6) Prasthana (e.g. Srngaratilaka);
  • (7)Ullapya ( e.g. Devimahadeva);
  • (8) Kavya (e.g. Yadavodaya);
  • (9)  Prenkhana (e.g. Valivadha);
  • (10) Rasaka (e.g. Menakahita);
  • (11) Samlapaka (e.g. Mayakapalika);
  • (12) Srigadita (e.g. Kridarasatala);
  • (13) Silpaka (e.g. Kanakavathi-madhava);
  • (14) Vilasika ;
  • (15) Durmallika (e.g. Bindumathi);
  • (16) Prakaranika;
  • (17) Hallisa (e.g. Keliraivataka); and,
  • (18) Bhanika (e.g. Kamadatta)

(For a detailed discussion on Uparupakas : please click here)

[Whatever scholastic value these classifications may possess, it is not of much significance in the historical development of the drama, for most of the varieties remain unrepresented in actual practice. The earlier drama does not appear to subscribe fully to the rigidity of the prescribed forms, and it is only in a general way that we can really fit the definitions to the extant specimens.

In the theoretical works, everything is scholastically classified and neatly cataloged ; forms of the drama, types of heroes and heroines, their feelings, qualities, gestures, costumes, make-up, situations, dialects, modes of address and manner of acting. All this perhaps gives the impression of a theater of living marionettes. But in practice, the histrionic talent succeeds in infusing blood into the puppets and translating dry formulas into lively forms of beauty, while poetic genius overcomes learned scholasticism and creates a drama from the conflict of types and circumstances.

Prof. S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Sanskrit Literature – Classical Period – vol. I  ]



(b) Padya – Gadya – Champu


Source : Laws practice Sanskrit drama by Prof. S N Shastri

There is another classification based in the form in which a work is composed: works written in Padas (metrical poetry, padya); Gadya (prose); and Misra or Champu (in various mixed forms, partly in verse and partly in prose) – gadyaṃ padyañca miśrañca kāvyādi trividhaṃ smṛtam (AP.336.08). And, in Drama too the dialogues in prose are interspersed by lyrical songs.

Earlier, from Bhamaha (Ca.7th century) to Rudrata (Ca. 9th century), literature was classified either as poetry or as prose. The poetry was ‘nibaddha-mukta’ (unfettered) and prose as ‘sarga-bandha’ (structured into divisions or Cantos).

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Works in Prose, generally, narrated romantic tales, prose romances etc. Such prose Kavya is categorized as (i) Katha, a narration in the form of story, fiction (e.g. Kadambari of Banabhatta; Dasakumara-Charita of Dandin, and Vasvadatta of Subandhu); and as (ii) Akhyayika, almost a non-fiction, historical narrative recounting the deed of Kings and heroes of old (e.g. Harshacharita of Banabhatta).

A distinction between historical and fictional genres (Akhyayika and Katha) was drawn as early as Bhamaha (seventh century), who contrasts Katha (imaginary tales) narratives with Akhyayika “that celebrate the real events of gods and others”.  These traditional categories often overlap each other. Historical facts were often treated as malleable material that could be molded in any manner to suit the desired impact of the text. Such supposedly historical narratives generally dealt with the contemporary Kings and their ancestors composed under Royal patronage; and, such Courtly works were meant, mainly, to please the patrons.

Katha is again of two types: complete story (Sakala katha) or a description of an episode (Eka-desa-varnana) called Knanda Katha. Here again, Katha was made into two other classes: those based on invented or fictional themes (Utpadya or Kalpita); and, those based on themes derived from well-known sources such as history (Itihasa) and legends (Purana).

The most well known among the Katha (stories) or fictional narrations themes (Utpadya or Kalpita) are the Brhat-katha of Guṇaḍya originally in Paisachi (a form of Prakrit) retold in Sanskrit by Somadeva (11th century) as Katha-saritsagara; the collection of moral tales or fables Pancha-tantra and Hitopadesa; and, the collection of highly entertaining stories or tales include the Vetala-pancavisatika, Sukasaptati   and Sihāsana-dvatrim-sātika.

Then there is the Kādambarī of Banabhatta  (7th century) which describes the affairs of two sets of lovers through a series of incarnations, in which they are constantly harassed by a cruel fate.

Another fine example of tales is the eminently readable Dasa-kumara-carita by Daṇḍin (6th-7th centuries), in which, within the framework of a boxing story, the picaresque adventures of ten disinherited princes are described in prose.


 The third genre Champu, with alternate narrations of prose and verse allows the poet greater ease or   felicity of expression. It affords the poet ample opportunities to display not only his erudition but also his command over prose as also over the verse form.

The Champu was usually a full-fledged composition of epic proportions. The Champu used metrical and non-metrical language with more or less equal prominence. The prose too was ornate and almost lyrical.

A narrative mixed in prose and verse has many examples. Sanskrit Drama too was a mixture prose and verse. Among the literary works there are many well known Champu Kavyas; for example:  Nalachampu of Trivikrama, and Ramayana Champu, Bhojachampu and Bhagavatachampu by Abhinava Kalidasa. The Prabandha or the prose in ornate style is also interspersed with verses.

The Jain writers used Champu for religious texts, while the Bengal Vaishnava School wrote Champu Kavyas relating to Krishna. The Bhoja-prabandha of Ballalasens (16th century) narrates stories of King Bhoja. The Jain Prabandhas are semi-historical works; a curious mix of legends and anecdotes.

A subject treated in prose romance was also, sometimes, rendered in Champu form. For instance; the Vasavadatta of Subandhu a work in prose   was rendered in Champu as Vasavadatta Champu.

The Champu and Prabandhas forms of literature appear to have been popular in South India, even during the later times. The Champu form of narration continued to grow with religious and biographical themes.  For instance; the political affairs of contemporary Deccan and Karnataka as well as Anglo-French conflicts form the theme of Anandaranga-champu of Shrinavasa. And, there was the Devashankara’s Purohit’s Alamkara-manjusha, which praises the achievements of Peshwa Madhav Rao I.

The longer compositions, be it Prose or Verse or the mixed Champu, all  share a few common features. They all treat a unified theme and develop it in all its fullness, spread over chapters or junctures (Sandhi) or stages in the development of the theme, following a proper sequence of events. In that sense, they resemble a Drama.


(c) Sanskrit –Prakrit -Misra

At later times, another type of classification was brought in by scholars such as Bhamaha (6th – 7th century) who classified all poetry as (i) Sanskrit; (ii) Prakrit ( local or regional languages commonly spoken) or (iii) Apabramsha (dialects prevalent  before the rise of the modern languages) . Dandin (6th -7th century), added one more category: Misra, a work written in a mixture of languages.

In the 8th-9th century, Rajasekhara, in his Kavya-mimamsa, a work devoted to literary theory, notes three important features of Indian literature: (i) It is composed in many languages including dialects and the speech of small communities; (ii) while having a distinct Indian character, it has immense regional variety of forms and themes; and (iii) it is worldly and concerns the travails of ordinary human life.

In his invocation to Lord Shiva, from whom Kavya is believed to have originated, Rajasekhara compares the various aspects of Kavya to the different organs of Shiva (Shivaroopa).  Following his interpretation if one compares Shiva to a Kavya Purusha, i.e.  to a human form, one could say that

Sabda (words) and Artha (meaning) constitute body (trunk) of the Kavya Purusha  .

Of the languages, Sanskrit is his face; Prakrit his arms; Apabhramsa his waist; and, Paisachi his   feet.  The mixed (Misra) languages are his chest.

Kavya Purusha, just as Shiva, is sweet, graceful; is having composure (Sama) pleasant nature  (prasanna), melody (madhura) as also vigor  (Ojas) and liberal (Udara) . His voice is noble.

Rasa is his soul (Atma) ; and,  Vritha its hair.

His verbal quirks are dialogues (questions and repartee, riddles (Prahelikas) and Samasya (problems).

Kavya Purusha is decorated with alliterations (Anuprāsa) and similes, Upama (sabda, artha, Alamkaras)

– (Rājaśekhara, Kāvyamīmā, Chapter 3 – kāvyapuruṣotpattiḥ tṛtīyo ‘dhyāyaḥ 3)

śabdārthau te śarīraṃ, saṃskṛtaṃ mukhaṃ, prakṛtaṃ bāhuḥ, jaghanam aparbhraṃśaḥ, paiśācaṃ pādau, uro miśram /
samaḥ prasanno madhura udāra ojasvī cāsi /
ukticaṇaṃ te vaco, rasa ātmā, rāmāṇi chandāṃsi, praśnottara pravahlikā dikaṃ ca vākkeliḥ, anuprās upamādayaśca tvām alaṅkurvanti /
bhaviṣyato ‘rthasyābhidhātrī śrurirapi bhava antamabhistauti-

‘catvāri śṛṅgāstrayo ‘sya pādā śīrṣe saptahastāso ‘sya /
tridhā baddho vṛṣabho roravīti maho devo martyānāviveśa’ /

Rajasekhara also says that a poet has to learn to compose Kavya in Sanskrit as also in Prakrit. His Prakrit composition has to be according to his own outlook, taste and talent. But, he should pay particular attention to the Vachya-Vachaka relation of Sabda and Artha. And, while handling more than one language, assigning meanings (Artha) has to be done with great care; and the poetry that flows from such careful process   would stand any test.

Drama, even in its earliest times, had been multi lingual, written in a mixture of languages. Here, the rural and certain other characters spoke not in chaste Sanskrit but in their own Prakrit or Apabhramsa dialects.  Among the Kavyas, an early example of the use of Apabramsha is the Vikramorvashiyam of Kalidasa, when Pururavas asks the animals in the forest about his beloved who had disappeared. Compositions in Apabhramsa continued (particularly in the Sindh region-Saindhava) until Vikram Samvat 1700 (about 1643 AD), when Bhagavatidasa wrote Migankaleha Chariu.


Source : Laws practice Sanskrit drama by Prof. S N Shastri

Even much earlier to that, Bharata in Natyashastra (around second century BCE) states, in general, the languages to be used in a play (pathya) as of four types: Atibhasha (to be used by gods and demi-gods); Aryabhasha ( for people of princely and higher classes); Jatibhasha (for common folks, including the Mleccha , the foreigners) and, Yonyantari ( for the rest , unclassified) . The security guards and doorkeepers were said to speak Dakshinatya (Southern) or Bahliki (Northwest -Bacteria region)

As regards the songs, the Dhruva songs sung by women were generally in Prakrit. Natyashastra also  discusses the features of the Dhruva songs composed in regional dialects ; and , in that context mentions seven known dialects  (Desha-bhasha) of its time : Māgadhī, Āvantī, Prācyā, Śaurasenī,  Ardha-māgadhī, Bāhlikā  and   Dākiātyā  (NŚ 5.17-48).

Śaurasenī was the language spoken around the region of Surasena (Mathura area). And, in the play the female characters, Vidūṣaka (jester), children, astrologers and others around the Queens’ court spoke in Śaurasenī. It was assigned a comparatively higher position among the Prakrit dialects.

In comparison, Magadhi , the dialect of the Magadha region in the East , was spoken in the play by lesser characters such as servants, washer -men, fishermen, , barbers ,doorkeepers , black-smiths, hunters  and by the duṣṭa (wicked)  . Even otherwise, the people of Magadha as such were not regarded highly and were projected in poor light.

In some versions, there is a mention of Mahārāṣṭ also. It was a language spoken around the river Godavari; and, according to linguists, it is an older form of Marāṭhī. In some plays, the leading-lady and her friends speak in Śaurasenī; but , sing in Mahārāṣṭ.

It is said; in the earliest times the Sanskrit as a spoken language had at least three distinct dialects: Udichya (North West); Madhyadesya (Mid region) ; and, Prachya (East). It is believed that the Classical Sanskrit, as refined by Panini, was based primarily in Udichya and Madhyadesya dialects.

The forms of Prakrit such as Magadhi, Ardha Magadhi and Apabhramsa were dominant in the East, up to the beginning of the 4th century AD. Most of the literary works during the early period were in Prakrit. Apabhramsa was of considerable importance till about 150 BCE. The earliest reference to Apabhramsa is found in Mahabhashya of Patanjali. It appears that Apabhramsa was not the name of any particular language but was used to denote all deviations from the normal Sanskrit.

 It was only by about the second century AD   more and more works, including those of Buddhists and Jains, came to be written in Sanskrit.

Following that period, some regional languages (Desi Bhasha) became vehicles of the living thought and emotions of the people. The literary activities in these languages picked up . And, lyrical poetry was composed in a mixture of languages- Sanskrit and Regional. There were of course number of great Kavyas in regional languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam and others. Here too the Poetic traditions of the Sanskrit language were closely followed.


 (d) Literary and the non-literary works

Kavya, the poetic way of expression is employed both by the literary and the non-literary works.  The non-literary works though in poetic form are not regarded as Kavya per se. For instance; presentation of Astronomy in Varahamihira’s Brahmasamhita; or of Algebra in Bhakara’s Leelavathi contain many verses, beautiful descriptions of nature and of poetic merit that they almost are Kavya. Similarly, Suryapandita’s work on Astronomy (Bhaskarabhushana) has beautiful verses praying to Sun god.  There are also numbers of philosophical works elucidated in poetry.

Sanskrit Poetics endorses the role of Kavya as a vehicle for imparting instructions. While the earlier theoreticians – Bhamaha, Dandin and Vamana- count the renown or fame (Kirti) won the poem and enjoyment (Priti) of the reader among aims of the Kavya, the later poets include instructions (Upadesha) as n additional aim. They also say that unlike scriptures (Prabhu samhita), the Kavya instructs in a gentle and persuasive voice, just as the sweet whispering of the beloved in to ones ears (Kantha-samhita).

At the same time, it would be incorrect to count educational or instructive poetry, religious hymns or narrative literature as Kavya. That is to say, it is not the mere outer form that decides the poetic merit of Kavya.

And, Kavya need not also always have to deal with learned matters. In fact, too much learning will affect the appeal of a poem. It might turn preachy. There are therefore short poems or couplets that in a capsule form impart moral codes (Niti), wisdom and erotic (Sringara). The most well known poems of this genre are Bhartrhari’s sets of stanzas on Sringara and Vairagya.

Kshemendra (11th century) makes a distinction between Kavya and Shastra, that is, between the purely poetic works and the subject oriented works that are in poetic form. And, he also mentions of works that fall in the intermediate zone: Shastra-kavya – poetry that is also technical; and, Kavya-shastra – a technical work that is also poetry.

This distinction, some regard, as useful, because a certain technical work may also provide good poetry while imparting knowledge. But, at the same time, a Kavya might also be sung as a stotra (e.g. Gitagovinda of Jayadeva).

Basically, Shastra is informative in its character and the style is textual; Kavya, on the other hand, is complex in its structure, employing a language of its own, embellished with artistic metaphors, similes and unusual expressions.

In order to allow his text not only to convey information but also to convey it in an artistic manner, the author-poet uses complex structures. But yet, the natural language is the foundation of the poetry. Although the words used in Kavya and in the non-literary Shastra works are the same they do not evoke the same joy or other emotions.

The poetry, on the other hand, creates for itself a language which has a character of its own (Riti, marga). It might depart from the ordinary day-to-day common usage. With that the poem aims at a definite stylistic effect (vishista). The poet arranges his building-bricks in a manner that is different from that of a non-literary work.

The poet assembles his material in a non-standard fashion; and as Vamana points out the creative process involve using a word-order (pada-charana) in peculiar or specialized (Visista) ways that possess certain characteristics (Kavya-alamkara). Vamana puts forth the view that that the special characteristics (Visesha) of a Kavya are mainly derived from the fact that the poet deliberately attempts to create a fresh or ingenious style of depiction with his unique expressions. The poetic language wears a clock or a veil, so to say.

Vamana and others lay much emphasis on the style (Riti or Marga); and, regard it as the most essential virtue of a Kavya. But, such views are not generally accepted, because Riti is but one among the ten traditionally recognized essential elements of a Kavya; and style is not everything that one looks for in a Kavya.


(e)  Mahakavya – Laghukavya

The other major division of lyrical poetry was to categorize Kavya into: (i) Mahakavya, long poems structured into chapters, following all the prescribed regulations of classical poetry; and, (ii) Laghu-kavya, shorter poems or poetry of the minor form.

Bhamaha and Vamana describe these forms as Nibaddha (cohesive poetry) and A-nibaddha (non-cohesive poetry).  Nibaddha which is equated with Mahakavya includes both the long poems (in verse, prose or a mixture of the two) as also Drama. A-nibaddha equated with Laghu-kavya covers all kinds of short poems say of one or two stanzas.

Mahakavya is the elaborate court epic  kavya in classic style narrating a noble story element (kathavastu) of sublime characters   spread over several cantos (sarga bandho mahākāvyam ārabdhaṃ saṃskṛtena) adorned with eighteen types of descriptions (asta-dasha-varnana), with well chosen forms (guna) of expression, syntax, and graces of rasa and beauty (alankara) and endowed with  eloquent imagination; and , at the same time,    satisfying all the norms and principles (kavya-lakshana)   prescribed  for a Maha-kavya by the Kavya -shastra texts – kāvyaṃ sphuṭad-alaṅkāraṃ guṇavad-doṣa varjitam (AP.336.07) . Apart from these, it must promote and further the cause of the Dharma.

Thus, a Mahakavya  composed by a great poet must be complete in all aspects :

sarva vṛtti pravṛttañca sarva bhāva prabhāvitam /sarva arītirasaiḥ puṣṭaṃ / ata eva mahākāvyaṃ tatkartā ca mahākaviḥ //AP.336.31-32//

The Laghu-Kavya comprises within it several: Muktaka – single stanza poem; Yugala – two stanza poem; Sandanitaka (or Vishesaka) = three stanza poem; Kapalaka = Four stanza poem; Kulaka – five to fifteen stanza poem; Samghata = series of stanzas; Kosha (treasure) – collection of stanzas; and Khanda-kavya– short poetic work – ākhyāyikā kathā khaṇḍa-kathā pari-kathā tathā.

mahākāvyaṃ kalāpaś ca paryābandho viśeṣakam //kulakaṃ muktakaṃ koṣa iti padya kuṭumbakam /AP.336.23-24//


According to Bhamaha, a Mahakavya should be composed of Sargas (Cantos- Sargabandha – sargabandho mahakavyam). Its subject matter (Vastu) should be Noble. It may concern the humans or the legends of divine beings (devadicarita). It may be based on a traditional lore or on an imagined story (Utpadya-vastu) rooted in Arts (Kalashraya) or in treaties (Shastras).

Its hero (Nayaka) should be noble; and, should be endowed with all the virtues. Prominence should be given to the hero; describing his noble birth, prowess, training in Shastra etc.

A Kavya, according to Bhamaha, may be in prose (Gadya) or verse (Padya). It may be written in Sanskrit, Prakrit or Apabhramsa.

The story should be narrated in refined language (a-gramya) with graceful and meaningful words adorned with Alankaras (salamkaram).

Manthra (state councils), Doothaprayana (emissaries-relation with other states), battles, victory of the hero, are to narrated in five Samdhis.  It should be comprehensible without detailed explanation; but, complete in all aspects.

One predominant sentiment should run through the entire length of the poem. The other Rasas could be brought out separately.

Though it deals with the four-fold Purusharthas, the Artha should be given prominence. Worldly matters should be depicted.

sargabandho mahakavyam mahatamca mahaccayat; a-gramya,, sabdamartham ca salamkaram sadasrayam mantra-dutaprayarajinayakabhyudayaisca yat; panacabhih santibhiryuktam natiyakhyeyamrdhimat; Caturvargabhidhanepi bhuyasarthopadesakrt yuktam lokasvabhavena rasaisca sakalaihiiprthak; nayakam pragupanayasya vamsaviryasrutadibhithi natasyaiva vadham bruyadanyot karsabhidhitaya yadi kavya’ sarirasya na sa vyapitayesyate – Kavyalankara I, 18-23 .


Dandin in his Kavyadarsa gives an elaborate definition of Mahakavya, the summit of Kavya genre – sargabandho mahākavyam ucyate tasya lakṣaṇam :

The composition in Cantos (Sargabandha) begins with a benediction (asis or Mangala), or a salutation (namaskriya) or an indication of the plot (Vastu-nirdesha) – āśīrnamaskriyā vastunirdeśo vāpi tanmukham .

Its story (Katha) is based on a traditional narrative (itivrtta), or on a true event  (ithihasa) from one or the other sources – itihāsa kathodbhūtam itarad vā sadāśrayam .

It deals with the fruits of the four aims of life (chatur-varga phala Purushartha) and four types of heroes – catur udātta-nāyakam . Its hero  or the principal character (Nayaka) is well accomplished in all the arts, graceful  and noble (Dhirodatta). The Anti-hero (Prati-nayaka) lacks all such virtues; but is powerful , passionate and full of anger.

The sequence of events in the Sarga-bandha should be structured in Samdhis (junctures) providing for a logical progression of the events in the story. Accordingly, a Kavya should begin with an happy opening (Mukha or Adi-mangala) , against which is set the second Samdhi (Prati-mukha) . Following which the third Samdhi , the Garbha (embryo) gradually unfolds the plot. That leads to the fourth Samdhi , the Vimarsa the crisis or the testing-times in the life of the principal character (Nayaka). And, his trails and tribulations are resolved (Nirvahana)  in the fifth Samdhi. And , the Kavya is concluded on an auspicious note ( Antya-mangala).

Adorned (Alamkara) with eighteen (ahsta-dasha-varnana) types of descriptions  including that of 

the cities (nagara); oceans (arnava); mountains (shaila); seasons (vasantadi ritu); the raising of the sun and moon (chandra surya-udaya-asthamana);

nagarā arṇava śailā rtu candrā arka udaya varṇanaiḥ ;

playing in pleasure-parks (vana vihara), (udyana), and in water (jala krida); drinking parties , first blossoming of love (Purva-raga) and the delights of love-making (madyapana surata); weddings (vivaha); the separation of lovers (viraha) – udyāna salila kṛīḍā madhu pāna aratotsavaiḥ; discussions with the wise (vipralambha), weddings, the birth of a son (putrodaya)

– vipralambha vivāhaiś ca kumāro udaya varṇanaiḥ;

state-craft (raja-mantra); gambling or dispatching  messengers (dyuta);  wars  (yuddha);  campaigns (jaitra-yatra); and,  accomplishments of the hero (nayaka abyudaya)

mantra dūta prayāṇāji nāyakā abhyudayair api.


It is not too condensed; but , is pervaded with Rasa (aesthetic mood) and Bhava (basic emotion) – alaṃkṛtam asaṃkṣiptaṃ rasa bhāva nirantaram;

having  Cantos (Sarga) that are not overly diffuse; composed in meters that are pleasing to hear, with proper junctures , and ending with different meters (that is, meters different from the main or the carrying meter of the Canto)

sargair anativistīrṇaiḥ śravyavṛttaiḥ susaṃdhibhiḥ .

Such a Kavya pleasing to the world and well ornamented (Sadalamkriti) will last until the end of creation

– sarvatra bhinna vṛttāntair upetaṃ loka rañjanam ; kāvyaṃ kalpāntara sthāyi jāyate sad alaṃkṛti.

Even if it lacks some of these features, a Kavya does not become bad, if the perfection of the things that are present delights the connoisseurs (Sahrudaya).

nyūnam apy atra yaiḥ kaiś cid aṅgaiḥ kāvyaṃ na duṣyati, yady upātteṣu saṃpattir ārādhayati tadvidhaḥ  

sargabandho mahākavyam ucyate tasya lakṣaṇam &
āśīrnamaskriyā vastunirdeśo vāpi tanmukham // DKd_1.14 //
itihāsakathodbhūtam itarad vā sadāśrayam &
caturvargaphalāyattaṃ caturudāttanāyakam // DKd_1.15 //
nagarārṇavaśailārtucandrārkodayavarṇanaiḥ &
udyānasalilakṛīḍāmadhupānaratotsavaiḥ // DKd_1.16 //
vipralambhair vivāhaiś ca kumārodayavarṇanaiḥ &
mantradūtaprayāṇājināyakābhyudayair api // DKd_1.17 //
alaṃkṛtam asaṃkṣiptaṃ rasabhāvanirantaram &
sargair anativistīrṇaiḥ śravyavṛttaiḥ susaṃdhibhiḥ // DKd_1.18 //
sarvatra bhinnavṛttāntair upetaṃ lokarañjanam &
kāvyaṃ kalpāntarasthāyi jāyate sad alaṃkṛti // DKd_1.19 //
nyūnam apy atra yaiḥ kaiś cid aṅgaiḥ kāvyaṃ na duṣyati &
yady upātteṣu saṃpattir ārādhayati tadvidhaḥ // DKd_1.20 //


The ultimate test of a classic poet is Mahakavya, presented as a splendid unity of descriptive and narrative delight. Its long narrative has to be structured into Cantos (Sargabandha) rendering the theme in sequential junctures (Samdhi).

The earliest surviving Kavya is Buddhacarita by Ashvaghosa (first century). Some of the renowned Mahakavya-are: Raghuvaśa and Kumārasambhava by Kalidasa; Kirātārjunīya by Bharavi; Śiśupāla-vadha by Māgha; Naiśadha-carita by Sri-Hara; and, Bhaṭṭikāvya, by Bhaṭṭi.

Unlike the prose narrative (Katha and Akhyayika) and the mixed genre of Champu or Drama (Rupaka) , the Makakavya is a poem composed entirely of quatrain-like Kavya stanzas. The Kavya poet arranges his or her in variety of elaborate meters, usually keeping the single ‘carrying’ meter up to the end of the Canto. The concluding verses are , however, composed in a different meter. 

The characteristics of a Mahakavya may generally be treated as falling under two broad heads: essential and non-essential or formal. The essential characteristics are based on three constituents of Kavya: plot (Vastu or Itivrtta), the hero (Netr or Nayaka) and the main emotional content that it aims to portray (Bhava).

The plot must not be entirely fictitious; but must have a base in history or in Purana. The hero must be accomplished person of very high linage, a very noble person (Dhirodatta). The delineations of various sentiments and emotions are the third characteristic.

The non-essential characteristics are many; and, they generally apply to the techniques of narration and descriptions. A list of such characteristics includes that the number of Sarga should not exceed thirty but should not be less than eight. The number of verses should not be less than thirty but should not exceed two hundred. The last two or three verses of a Canto should be composed in a different meter or meters.

These characteristics are not essential. They may or may not be present in a Kavya.(e.g. The Haravijaya has more than fifty Cantos; some Cantos of Naisadhiyacharita contains more than two hundred verses; and the first Canto of the Bhattikavya has only twenty-seven verses).


Among the Laghukavya-s, a comparatively more detailed form is Khanda Kavya, which takes an independent position between Laghukavya and Mahakavya.

Kavya consisting one Section (Khanda) is called Khanda Kavya. It is different from a series of stanzas (Samghata). Khanda can employ themes much more freely and it usually narrates a story; or it might sometimes provide a background to the narrative. The classic examples of Khandakavya are: Kalidasa’s Meghadutam having about just over one hundred stanzas and Bilhana’s Chauri-surata-panchasika (fifty stanzas concerning secret enjoyment of love-act).

The other forms of Laghu-kavya generally comprise : Muktaka – single stanza poem; Yugmaka (also called Yugma, Yugala or Yugalaka) – two-stanza poem; Sandanitaka (or Visesaka) – three stanza poem; Kapalaka – four –stanza poem; Kulaka – five to fifteen stanza poem; Samghata – series of stanzas;  and, Kosha – collection of stanzas – kulakaṃ muktakaṃ koṣa iti padya kuṭumbakam.

In Yugmaka, the pair, two stanzas are closely linked by both syntax and content. Both the Mukataka and Yugmaka show a clear tendency to be constructed on one sentence –one –stanza principle.

If the number of stanzas exceeds two  Sandanitaka (the chain) , Kapalaka (the group) or Kulaka (the multitude)  are the terms used , in a narrow sense, are the names given to poems of three , four or four or five to fifteen  stanzas respectively.

kalāpo ‘tra pravāsaḥ prāganurāgāhvayo rasaḥ / saviśeṣakañca prāptyādi saṃskṛtenetreṇa ca // ślokair anekaiḥ kulakaṃ syāt sandānitakāni tat/AP_336.036/

Samghata (the junction) is a sort of longer poetry all written in the same meter, dealing with one single theme through the whole series of stanzas: a mountain , a season, a wedding , a battle etc.

The Kosha (treasure) on the other hand is longer and heterogeneous. These perhaps could be called Anthologies; and these form an important category in Sanskrit and Prakrit literature. They are collections of Muktakas selected from various sources, arranged as per a theme or in a random fashion.

The single stray verse (Muktaka) containing a single line of thought, emotion or expression or description or a summary – muktakaṃ śloka ekaikaś camatkāra kṣamaḥ satā ṃ– is very often used in all types of Kavyas. It is either used at commencement of the Kavya either as benediction (Mangala) or to pay homage to the earlier Masters of the tradition or to summarize the theme that is going to be presented or the mood  of the Kavya itself . These single stanza poems could be compared to Indian miniatures; both present selected fields of animate and inanimate reality typical of the art in question.

The single unit of two or more stanzas in the same meter or in alternate meter (Paryaya Bandha)


(f)  Dhvani – Guna – Chitra

Anandavardhana (Ca. 850 AD) in his Dhvanyaloka chose a different type of classification. He graded the Kavya into three classes (a) Dhvani-kavya (the poetry that suggests) as the true Kavya, the best (Uttama), where Dhvani the unspoken suggestive element is dominant; (b) the second, Gunibhuta-vamgmaya-kavya (well endowed descriptive poetry, as the middle (Madhyama) where Dhvani is secondary to Alamkara, and serves as a decoration for the spoken or expressed meaning; and (c) and Chitrakavya (poetry that structured into various patterns or drawings) as the least (Adhama) which depends entirely on verbal play for  its elegance and elaboration, and where Dhvani the suggestive power of poetry is absent.

Anandavardhana believed that all good poetry has two modes of expression – one that is expressed by words  embellished by Alamkara ; and the other that is implied or concealed – what is inferred by the listener or the reader And , in  the implied one –  the Dhvani – lies the soul of the poetry.

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

Then, Anandavardhana expanded on the object (phala) of poetry and how it is achieved (vyapara). The Rasa, he said, is the ultimate enjoyment by the reader; such enjoyment is the object of poetry. According to him, Rasa is not made; but, it is revealed; and its revelation is best when done through Dhvani. And, that is why words and meanings must be transformed to suggestions (Dhvani) of Rasa.

Anandavardhana’s classification is generally accepted and has come to stay. But, what has changed is the types of discussions around it. The later discussions are more pointed and specific.

Let’s talk about the concepts of Sphota, Dhvani and Rasa in the next segment.


 Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

I gratefully acknowledge these and other wonderfully well researched  works of great merit

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

ALL Pictures are from Internet

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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Kavya, oral traditions, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Two

Continued from Part One

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama) . You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

 Kavya – Rise and Decline



Kavya literally means the creation of a Kavi, which term derived from ‘kru-varne’ denotes one who describes; and, it is generally taken to mean a poet. The term Kavi in the Vedic context, however, meant a Rishi, a Drastara (seer) who through his intuition envisions (Darshana) the true nature of entities and their varied states of being (vicitra-bhava-dharmamsa-tattva-prakhya). Later, according to Yaska, the great Etymologist, the term Kavi came to denote, comprehensively, all those who express themselves through their intuitional (artistic) creations . The creative expression could be through words, color, sculpture, sound, or any other form, so long it flows out of intuition (prathibha) and manifests in an enjoyable form, to the benefit of all beings. Kavitva (poetry) thus , basically ,  encompasses in itself all forms of art expressions.

sarvāi prajñānāni pratimuñcate medhāvī / kavi krānta darśano  bhavati  vyacikhyapan nākam savitā varanīyah  /Nir.12,13/

A hymn in Rig Veda (RV.10.129.4) remarks : it is the Kavi who discovered in his heart,  through contemplation, the bond between the Eternal and the transitory . He is the seer krāntadarshi , one who has insight ; can see and grasp the inner significance of things.

sato bandhum asati nir avindan hṛdi pratīṣyā kavayo manīṣā – RV_10,129.04 

It was said; a Kavi can even visualize  the depths of the ocean (samudre antaḥ kavayo vi cakṣate – RV.10,177.01)

The entire universe is said to mirror in the mind of the Kavi (Mathi-darpane kavinam vishwam prathi-phalathi)

In the world of Kavya (Kavya samasara), the Kavi alone is the King. He can mold it in any manner he wishes.

Apare kavya-samsare kavireva prajapathihi / yathasmai rochate vishvam tathedam parivartate //

[In fact , the concept of Kavi was raised to sublime heights. The Isha Upanishad  addresses the Creator  of the Universe as the Supreme Poet (kavir manishi paribhuh swayambhuh – Ish Up  verse 8) who conceives the grand design and expresses himself spontaneously through his creation. He is the seer, the thinker who expands his consciousness to encompass the entire Universe (viśvā rūpāṇi prati muñcate kaviḥ- RV.5.81.2). The creator, the Kavi, through his all-pervasive consciousness becomes one with his creation.]

In the later times, the scope of the term Kavi was narrowed down to mean an author who creates Kavya. Here also , it was said that one cannot be a Kavi unless one is a seer having the faculty to envision (Darshana) and to see that which is beyond the obvious, lifting the veil of the apparent (Drasta) –  Nan rishir kurute kavyam

Kavya in the sense of poetry during the time of Natyashastra (first or second century BCE) was just an ingredient of Drama.

During the time of Natyashastra, Drama enjoyed the preeminent position; and was respected as being the highest form of art expression. All faculties, right from architecture, stage craft, painting, costumes, makeup and even poetry, music, dance etc were treated as the elements that contribute to a credible dramatic performance. It was only much later that each of these arts developed into independent disciplines gaining more depth and spread.

In the later times, a complete turnaround came about; and, Drama was classified as one of the forms of Kavya. Yet; Drama continued to be the most popular form of entertainment. Kalidasa remarked : ‘Drama, verily, is a feast that is greatly enjoyed by a variety of people of different tastes – Natyam bhinna-ruchir janasya bahuda-apekshym  samaradhanam. And, for some period of time, Drama was treated as the most delightful form of Kavya – Kavyeshu Natakan ramyam. 

Perhaps , the elevation of Drama to the most delightful form of Kavya  followed a sort of gradation of poetic experience. It was said; that to include Prose under Kavya  might sound good as a rhetorical principle.  But, the restrictions of Chhandas, rhyme etc do limit the scope as also the appeal of the prose-Kavyas. And,  for similar reasons , just as the metrical Kavya has advantage over prose, so the ‘recited poem’ and Drama have an advantage over metrical Kavya , as they both enjoy the benefit of the musical effects of the sounds that enhance the  beauty of presentation, and hence  the pleasure of the listener . The Drama scores over the ‘recited poem’ because it has the additional power to bring in the embellishment of spectacular the visual effects; hence, Kavyeshu Natakam ramyam.

But, with the decline of Drama, the Dramaturgy became stagnant after Bharata till about 13th or 14th century, that is until scholars such as Dhanajaya, Sagaranandi, Ramachandra-Gunachadra and Simhabhupa came to its rescue by writing treaties. Among these, Dhananjaya’s Dasa Rupaka is an outstanding work. Dhananjaya condensed Bharata’s vast work; and, treated the whole subject under four broad heads or elements: Vastu (plot); Neta (main character/s); Dasa-rupaka (ten classes or types of plays); and, Rasa (aesthetic enjoyment)

[We have inherited a rich collection of Dramas as also the literature on dramaturgy. More than about five hundred Sanskrit plays, meant for staging, are available. In addition, there are many fragments on palm leaves yet to be edited and published.

Natyashastra (Ca.200 BCE) is of course the most well known text on dramaturgy; and, it is a monumental encyclopedia on all aspects related to drama, dance ,  music and even Kavya. The varied versions of Natyashastra were followed in different parts of the country.

It appears there were texts on Drama even much prior to Natyashastra. Panini (Ca.500 BCE) the great Grammarian, in his Astadhyayi (4.3.110-11), mentions two ancient Schools  –  of Krsava and Silalin- that were in existence during  his time – Parasarya Silalibhyam bhikshu nata-sutreyoh  (4.3.110); karmanda krushas shvadinihi  (4.3.111). It appears that Parasara , Silalin , karmanda and Krsava were the authors of  Bhikshu Sutras and Nata Sutras. Of these , Silalin and Krsava  were said to have prepared the Sutras  (codes )  for the Nata ( actors or dancers). At times , Natyashastra refers to the performers (Nata) as Sailalaka -s  . The assumption is that the Silalin-school , at one time,  might have been a prominent theatrical tradition, particulaly in Mathura of Surasena region. Some scholars opine that the Nata-sutras of Silalin (coming under the Amnaya tradition) might have influenced the preliminary part (Purvanga) of Natyashastra , with its elements of worship (Puja).

Natyashastra itself cites many previous sources, without, of course, specifically naming them.

Between the time of Natyashastra (Ca. 200 BCE) and the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century) there were several authors and commentators on the subject of Drama and related subjects. Some of such ancient authorities mentioned are: Kohala, Shandilya, Kirtidhara, Matrigupta, Udbhata, Sri Sanuka, Lottata, Bhattanayaka and others. But, sadly the works of those savants are lost to us; but, they survive in fragments as cited by the later authors.

However, these texts do point out and confirm that Drama, theater indeed formed a vital and engaging aspect of the Indian society.

But, this thriving performing-art tradition declined over a period and almost faded away by about the twelfth century.

The tradition, though tapering out, did continue in some forms as minor or one-act plays – Uparupakas– mainly in regional languages, with a major input of dance and songs; but, with just a little stress on Abhinaya (acting) and Sahitya (script).]


Mammaṭācārya  (11th century) explained that Kavya  meant poetry, prose , drama, music as also  dance  i.e. all those forms of art  which delight  and touch the inner most chord of human sensitivity . That was before; dance and music again branched out.

Kavya is very often translated as poetry. This is rather imprecise, because in Kavya both poetry (Padya) and prose (Gadya) are employed. The two – Padya and Gadya – are also used in Drama , Champu Kavya , as also in technical texts and treatises.

Ideally, Kavya has no restriction of languages or its forms . Kavya need not always have to be in Sanskrit (Marga). It could as well be in Prakrit covering group of regional languages (Desi), including Sinhalese, Javanese. As the scholar Sheldon Pollock says , the languages of the Kavya  termed such as Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsa or whatever , all refer to social and linguistic characteristics and not to particular people or places; and , least of all the structure and internsic merit of the work.

[ While on the question of languages, let me digress here for a while :

There is an interesting contrast between the Western and Indian concepts on the question of language.  In the West, one language is used for all purposes. That is in sharp contrast to the Indian practice. A different language for different purposes is the Indian way.  That brings in a greater depth and diversity into the cultural milieu of Indian life.

[For instance; say, in America or England, English is the language that almost everyone speaks at home, on the street, in office; and even in the Church. But, let’s say in Karnataka, one may speak Kannada /Telugu / Tulu/ Konkani etc at home as ‘mother-tongue’; use Kannada in the street; speak and submit application to Government and public offices in Kannada the ‘official language’; transact in English at workplace and with outside world; bargain with the meat vendor in Urdu and with the vegetable vendor in Tamil; sing Hindi movie songs; and, recite mantras and prayers in Sanskrit. ]

In ancient India, while Sanskrit was used for learning traditional texts; for intellectual discourses; and, for reciting mantras, it was the Prakrit that was used for popular music, poetry, dance, informal day-to-day conversations, and for simpler instructions. There was also a practice of composing songs with mix of Sanskrit and Prakrit words. Such compositions were named as Mani-pravala (a mix of gems and coral beads)

The Sanskrit drama too, in an attempt to reflect the everyday social behaviour, adopted a multi-lingual approach. The different characters in the play spoke different languages and dialects depending upon their standing in the court hierarchy or their cultural/ regional background.  

The Arthashastra does not anywhere specify a particular language as suited to statecraft or as the ‘official language’. The Edicts by the Kings were issued both in Sanskrit and in many other popular languages. There was no concept of National language or National literature.

Buddhism and Jainism which arose in the Eastern parts of India adopted primarily the regional languages of Pali and Magadhi for their texts. In fact, Vac as speech or any language was considered sacred, if it conveys noble thoughts or sacred knowledge.

Coming to the present-day India,  with formation of states on the basis of language, we have the three language formula of the Regional language, the official language and the link language. While the Regional languages got bitterly involved in rebelling against the domination of  Hindi , the English language gained greater acceptance in almost every field of activity. Now , English has marginalized all the Indian languages – including Hindi –  not only as the bureaucratic language, but also as the medium of business, administration,  judiciary, scientific studies, medicine, higher education  and every other intellectual writing , speech and media.

An unfortunate collateral damage of this mêlée of Hindi Vs Regional languages has been in the decline in the quality, growth and status of every language of India. In the pre-independence era , literary works in Indian languages and even in the dialects had been rich in quality  and reached great heights   . But, sadly, in the period after Independence , the quality of writing in Indian languages has gone down visibly . In contrast,  the English wiring by Indian authors has excelled and gained  larger readership across the continents.]


In fact, the early phase of the Kavya was dominated by Prakrit which was spread across many regions of India. It is only towards the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century that the Sanskrit Kavya began to flower in earnestness.

To say a few word about Prakrit;  the term is said to be derived from Prakrut, meaning natural (or the original as opposed to Vikrti, the modified) .  Another explanation says that Prakrit is the common name given various dialects which sprang up in the early times  in India from the corruption of Sanskrit (Prakritih , tatra –bhavam tata agatam va Prakritam– Hemachandra 13th century).

The first complete edition of the original text of Prákrita-PrakásaThe Prákrit grammar of Vararuchi, with the commentary (Manoramá) of Bhámaha,  along with various readings from a collation of six manuscripts, which were stored in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and in the libraries of the Royal Asiatic Society and the East India House, as prepared by Prof. Edward Byles Cowell, the Professor of Sanskrit in the  Oxford University, was published by Stephen Austin, Hertford – 1854.

Prof. E B Cowell,  in the preface to his The Prakrit Prakasha (Prakrit Grammar of Vararuchi ) , Turner & Co, London , 1868 says :

Prakrit almost always uses the Sanskrit roots; its influence being chiefly restricted to alterations and elisions of certain letters in the original word. It everywhere substitutes a slurred or a indistinct pronunciation for the clear and definite utterance of the older tongue; and, continually affects a concurrence of vowels, such as is utterly repugnant to the genius of the Sanskrit.


An important commentary on Prakrita-Prakasha , the Grammar of Vararuchi ,is that by Bhamaha (10-11th century). He cites two verses in Paisachi from the Brahatkatha, now lost:  Under Sutra 4:  ivasya pi vah / Kamalam piva mukham/; Sutra I4 . hrdayasya hitaakam / Hitaakam barasi me taluni /

Another important Prakrit Grammar is that of Hemachandra of Gujarat (1088-1172)


In any case, Prakrit  was the language of the common people ; spoken by the social and cultural groups, other than  the elite. The earliest known Prakrit Grammar is Prakrita Prakasa ascribed to Vararuchi (first century).

Prakrit is a comprehensive term covering a group of regional languages and dialects.  In Vararuchi’s Grammar, only four varieties of Prakrit are mentioned: Maharastri, Paisachi, Magadhi and Suraseni.   The later Grammarians expanded the list. Prakrit, thus, would include what is now known as Pali (language of the Tripitakas); Magadhi (language of Magadha) and Ardha-Magadhi (language of the Jain texts); Sauraseni (language of the Matura region) ; Lati( language of Lata the southern  region of Gujarat);  Gaudi ( language of Eastern India and Bengal)  and Maharstri (earlier form Marathi) etc.

According to Prof. Alfred C . Woolner (Introduction to Prakrit , published by the  University of the Punjab, Lahore, 1917): The non-canonical texts of the Svetambaras were written in a form of Maharastri  , which is termed as Jaina-Maharastri. And, the language of the Digambara cannon, in some respects, resembles Suraseni; and, is termed as Jaina-Suraseni.


Because of the lack of strict rules governing these languages they were more relaxed in their nature; and, rather experimental in their usage.

[The Buddhist scholar A. Thitzana in his book Kaccayana Pali Vyakaranam  (a translation along with notes and explanations, of the ancient Pali Vyakarana composed  by Kaccayana (Snkt. Kathyayana) said to be a close disciple of the Buddha ; and , one who was honored with an an exalted position in the Sangha – Etadagga ), writes : The Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit are the languages interwoven and intertwined with the ancient Indian society as the linguistic threads in the matter of daily communications and in learning , among diverse communities. It is no wonder, therefore, the Grammar of each language have certain things in common , despite having some distinctive features of their own in many respects.

The Pali Vyakarana (Grammar)  written by the grammarian Kaccayana , though to an extent , is based upon and related to the Grammar -tradition of Panini ,is for all purposes an independent work , which has its own style and character . Thus , there are significant differences and independent ways of  presentation of its Grammar and its rules.]

Prakrit was also the language employed in the early centuries of literacy (c. 250 BCE – 250 AD.) for public inscriptions and Prashasti (praise-poems), until it was displaced, rather dramatically and permanently, by Sanskrit.

Then there were Paisachi and Apabhramsa two other forms of Prakrit. Paisachi, as Prof. A K Warder explains, was a dialect which appears to have been current, say between fourth century BCE and first century AD, in the region lying between Avanti (Ujjain) and the Godavari basin.  Besides that two other explanations are offered to indicate the sources of Prakrit  : one mentions the sub-Himalayan region, from Kashmir valley to Nepal/ Tibet; and, the other mentions Kekeya, the region on the east banks of the Indus River.

According to A K Warder; linguistically and historically, Paisachi, Pali and the language of the Magadha-inscriptions form a closely related group representing what may be called early Prakrit that was current between 4th century BCE and second century BCE; early Magadhi also belonged to this group.

[ However, George Abraham Grierson, in his research paper The Pisaca languages of north-western India  Published by the Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1906 , holds a different view:

We are therefore driven to the conclusion that the Modern Paisaca languages are neither of Indian nor of Eranian origin, hut form a third branch of the Aryan stock, which separated from the parent stem after the branching forth of the original of the Indian languages, but before the Eranian languages had developed all their peculiar characteristics. ]

The nouns and verbs in Prakrit forms ( Suraseni, Apabramsa, Magadhi, Ardha-Magadhi and Maharastri) follow that of Sanskrit , with local variations. For instance ; see the various forms of Sanskrit Putra ( son ) and Prakrit Putta :


(Source: :Prakrit / by George Abraham Grierson (1911) )

From the fragments of Paisachi of the Brhadkatha and those  from works of Vararuchi the Grammarian (Ca.1st century) that have survived, it appears, Paisachi resembled what came to be known as Pali, though distinct in minor details. It is said; the Paisachi went into decline mainly because the Shatavahana emperor (around first century BCE and first century AD) totally despised it, calling it low or vulgar Prakrit.

By about the first century, the Prakrit – the intermediate or unclassified – was replaced in speech by a sort of vernacular (Desi) called Apabhramsa (falling away), a vernacular of Western India which achieved literary form in the Middle Ages ; and,  was used by Jaina writers in Gujarat and Rajasthan for the composition of poetry. Its chief characteristic is the further reduction of inflexions, which are in part replaced by prefixes, as in modern Indian vernaculars.

Historically , Apabhramsa is treated as the later form of Prakrit; but, rather as a corrupted form of Prakrit. And again, there were several forms of Apabhramsa; and, the major form of it was the one spoken in the Sindhu region, hence known as Saindhava.  Some regard Apabhramsa as the early phase of modern Indo-Aryan languages.

According to Prof. Alfred C . Woolner (Introduction to Prakrit , published by the  University of the Punjab, Lahore, 1917): The only text of Grammar which describes the literary Apabramsa is the Nagara-Apabramsa, which perhaps belonged to Gujarat. This again, is said to to be related to Varcada Apabramsa of Sindh. Some other forms , such as Dakkani and other dialects of Prakrit are also sometimes styled as Apabramsa.

Most of the texts in Apabramsa belonging to the first millennium (say, up to 1000 AD) are lost. But some fragments or illustrations  of Apabramsa lyrics  have survived  , for instance , in  the anthology  ( muktaka  or kosa) of the Prakrit lyrics of Satavahana ; in the act Four  of Kalidasa’s drama Vikramorvasiya ( early fourth century) ; in Puspadanta’s Mahapurana  (mid tenth century) ; in Raja Bhoja’s Srñgaraprakasa (eleventh century); and in Chalukya King Someswara’s Manasollasa (twelfth  century) . Many of these citations are , in fact , erotic stanzas of a sort familiar to the Prakrit tradition. And they strive to create a rural , homely and amorous ambiance.

Some isolated verses in Apabramsa occur in Jain works; in the tales like Betala Panca-vimshati ; and, also in Prakrita –pingalam , an anthology of about the fourteenth century.


As Prakrit gained strength, it branched into independent languages; and, accumulated greater expressive power.  At the same time, Sanskrit began to decline steadily and losing its fluidity.

[In fact, Bhartrhari (Ca.450 CE) laments that the social influence of Prakrit was extremely great and was a threat to the historical tradition of Sanskrit Grammar. The schools of Sanskrit Grammar had fallen into disarray; and , in addition study of Prakrit was also flourishing.]

The period spanning between Bharata ‘s Natyashastra (say second century BCE) and the fourth century AD, could be said to be the period of Prakrit, in all its forms. Not only was Prakrit used for the Edicts and the Prasastis (praise-poems), but it was also used in writing poetical and prose Kavyas. The inscriptions of Asoka (304–232 BCE) were in simple regional and sub-regional languages; and, not in ornate Kavya style. The inscriptions of Asoka show the existence of at least three dialects: the Eastern dialect of the capital which perhaps was the official lingua franca of the Empire; the North-western;  and , the Western dialects. And much before Asoka, the Buddhist cannon (Tripitaka) and the Jataka tales were written in Prakrit forms, the then spoken language of the people.

The edicts of Asoka employ two types of scripts. The most important, used everywhere in India , except the North-West, was Brahmi; which is normally read from left to right. Local variations of the Brahmi script are evident even at the time of Asoka. In the following centuries these differences developed further, until distinct alphabets evolved. The tendency to ornamentation increased with the centuries, until in the late medieval period the serifs at the tops of letters were joined together in an almost continuous line, to form the Nagari alphabets.

The other script used in the edicts of Asoka was called Kharosthi; which was derived from the Aramaic alphabet, which was widely used in Achaemenid Persia and in the North-West India.  The Kharosthi is read from right to left. Kharosthi was adapted to the sounds of Indian languages by the invention of new letters and the use of vowel marks, which were lacking in Aramaic. Kharosthi was little used in India proper after the 3rd century A.D.; but, it survived some centuries longer in Central Asia, where many Prakrit documents in Kharosthi script have been discovered. Later, Kharosthi was replaced in Central Asia by a form of the Gupta alphabet, from which the present-day script of Tibet is derived.

[It is said; the rock inscription of Asoka at Brahmagiri (in Chitradurga District of Karnataka) , though it is etched in the Brahmi script, it is composed in Prakrit language (inscribed from left to right). The person who etched the inscription (Lipikara) , conveying the message of the Emperor Asoka, was Chapada , who hailed from the Gandhara region. At the foot the Edict, Chapada  singed his name in Kharosthi  language (from right to left) – as Chapadena Likitham Lipikarena .

  1. से हेवं देवानंपिये
  2. आहा | मातापितीसु सुसूसितविये | हेवमेव गरुत्वं प्राणेसु द्रहीयतवयं | सचं
  3. वतवियं | से इमे धंमगुणा पवतितवया | हेवमेव अंतेवससिना
  4. आचारिये अपचायितविये ज्ञातिकेसु च कु य(था) – रहं पवतितये
  5. पोराणा पकिती दिघावुसे च एसं हेवं एत कटविये |

The practice of etching the message composed in Prakrit language , using the Brahmi script, continued for a considerable period of time. For instance; the kings of the Shatavahana , the Vakataka and the Pallavala  dynasties , up to about the end of Fourth Century,  followed the same method.]

In the period after Asoka, a number of Prakrit forms came to fore. Here, we find the old Ardha-magadhi, old Sauraseni and the Magadhi, besides Paisachi which perhaps was the language of the Vindhya region. There is an abundance of poetic works composed in Prakrit during the period of Satavahanas (say from 230 BCE to 220 AD). It seems that even during the period between Second century BCE and the First century AD, Prakrit was the language of the Royal Courts. The poetry of this period is represented by the Anthology Saptasataka OR Gatha-sattasai (the seven hundred songs) attributed to King Haala of the Satavahana dynasty (c. third century) ; and by the Brhad-katha of Gunadya (in Paisachi).

The most important literary work in Prakrit is the Saptasataka of the Satavahana King Haala, who ruled in the Deccan in the 1st century A.D. It is a large collection of self-contained stanzas of great charm and beauty, in the Arya metre (Chhandas). Its great economy of words and masterly use of suggestion (Dhvani)  would indicate that the verses were written for a highly educated literary audience; but , they contain simple and natural descriptions and references  to the lives of peasants and common people , which point to popular influence. The treatment of the love affairs of country folk suggests that Haala may have adopted from widely diffused source in South Indian folk-song traditions.

Further, during the earlier centuries up to 300 A. D., some kings like the Satavahanas, the Ikshwakus and the Pallavas had championed the cause of Prakrit and directed that local languages alone  be used  in the official and public documents.

Karpura-Manjari by  Rajashekhara (Ca.9th century), esteemed for his proficiency in the Prakrit,  is a unique play, which is entirely in Prakrit; and, even the King the hero, speaks and sings in Sauraseni Prakrit. In the preliminary to the Drama per se, the Sutradhara (stage-manager) muses aloud : Why has this poet totally abandoned Sanskrit ; and, used only the Prakrit in the play? His assistant , who is by his side, replies in Maharastri : Sanskrit poems are harsh ; but, a Prakrit poem is smooth and easy to sing. The difference between the two is as that between a mirthless man and a pleasant   woman.

The Karpura-Manjari, in its four Acts (Javanikantara), narrates how king Candapala eventually succeeds in marrying the beautiful Karpura-Manjari, the daughter of the Kuntala King ; and, thus becomes a paramount sovereign.

The fame of Rajashekhara rests firmly on his play Karpūra-Mañjarī, which, it is said, to please his wife, Avantisundari, a woman of taste and accomplishment.


However, as the period advanced ,  the Prakrits ceased to be used for public documents; and, even the Buddhists and the Jains disregarded the advice of the founders of their religions and began to compose works in Sanskrit. There were also not many Prakrit plays in the latter periods. 

Rise of Kavya

The Arthashastra  ( dated somewhere between 150 BCE – 120 CE)  which reflects the conditions obtaining in the Royal Courts of its time  mentions  a host of Court employees such as : Sutas, Puranikas, Magadhas ( those who herald ) and Kusilavas (chroniclers , bards and singers) . There is even the mention of monthly honorariums granted to teachers and pupils (Acharyah Vidyavantas cha).  But, strangely, there is no mention of a court poet.  And, among the literary works mentioned in Arthashastra there is no mention, anywhere, of Kavya. Further, no Kavya of note belonging to the period between the 2nd century B.C. and the early  2nd century A.D. has come down to us.

It was perhaps towards the end of this period that the Kavyas seemed to develop. The Buddhacharita, the Kavya of Asvaghosa (Ca.  First century); the plays of Bhasa (First or Second century) belong to what could be called as the pre-classic period of early ornate Kavya period.  These are perhaps the earliest known Kavya-poets of eminence. And, Kavya as ornate court poetry perhaps blossomed in the courts of Western Ksatrapas (35–405) who ruled over the western and central part of India; and, during the reign of Kushanas, particularly in the second century AD. But, the dates of the works of this period cannot be ascertained with any certainty.

The later Sanskrit writers tried to bring in the informal flavor of Prakrit into their works. (And, another reason could be that the Sanskrit authors too had to come to terms with the changes taking place within the society they lived.) Some major writers such as, Kalidasa, Bhavabhuthi, Dandin, Vishakhadutta and Banabhatta made some of their local characters speak in Prakrit, just to usher a sense of reality into their dialogues. Dandin went a step further by grafting a theory of Riti, by legitimizing the Prakrit influence on Sanskrit. Writers like Rajashekara, Hemachandra, and Jayadeva, though scholars of Sanskrit coined fresh Prakrit terms and phrases for expressing new ideas.  Thus, whatever may have been their original regional specificity, by the time of Bhamaha and Dandin ( 6-7th century)  both the literary Prakrit and Apabhramsa were no longer treated as tied to a  particular place; but , were regarded  as varieties of  languages in their own right.

Therefore, Anandavardhana (Ca. 850) while drafting a new theory of Kavya made use of materials that had not been previously subjected to critical scrutiny. And, among such material were the Prakrit songs (gatha) from perhaps the second or third century. It is said; the informal and sensitive Prakrit lyrics helped Anandavardhana to appreciate how the meaning of the work as a whole resides in an emotional content (Rasa); and, how that can be effectively communicated only through suggestion (Dhvani).

And, Kshemendra (mid eleventh century), also from Kashmir, advises the aspiring poets of talent to “listen to the songs and lyrics and rasa-laden poems in local languages . . . to go to popular gatherings and learn local languages,”

For a short period, there was a practice among the writers to compose Kavyas both in Sanskrit and in Prakrit. For instance:

:-  the lexicographer and poet Dhanapala, son of Sarvadeva, who lived at Dhara , the capital of  Malava, was the author of the Paiyalacchi, a Prakrit vocabulary, completed in 972-973 A.D, and after his conversion to Jainism, he composed Rsabha-pancasika, fifty verses in Prakrit, in honor of Rsabha Deva, the first Thirthankara ; 

:- Rajasekhara  (who lived about the year 900 A. D) , the author of Kavyamimsa, composed a play called Sattaka,  same as a Natika or minor comedy , wholly in Prakrit;

:- Dhanika son of Visnu, (last quarter of the tenth century), who prepared a commentary on the Dasarupa not only wrote poetry in Sanskrit but also in Prakrit;

:- Visvanatha (first half of the fourteenth century), a literary theorist, wrote one Prakrit Kavya besides his Sanskrit works;  and

:- Anandavardhana, in addition to a courtly epic in Sanskrit, wrote a text in Prakrit “for the education of poets” , most likely a textbook on aesthetic suggestion.

Muñja, king of the Paramaras who was  Raja Bhoja’s uncle (Ca.  996), appears to be the only Sanskrit poet who produced a serious body of verse in Apabhramsa as well as in Sanskrit (both  preserved only in fragments).

Although the number of Prakrit Kavyas tapered out, popular tales, songs and verses set in simple, natural and delightful styles continued to be composed in good numbers.  For instance; Kouhala (Ca.800), in his delightful Maharastri romance Lilavali, pictures a conversation between a youth and his Love. She goads her lover to  narrate a tale. The helpless young man pleads his ignorance: “Ah, my love, you will make me look ridiculous for my lack of learning in the arts of language. Far from telling a great tale, I should in fact keep silent.” She  does not give up , but cajoles him :  “Oh , come my beloved , tell me any story in clear Prakrit that I can understand. Why do we have care for rules and heavy words?  So tell me a  delightful tale in Prakrit, easy to understand which simple women love to hear. .”

In the biography of Yasovarman of Kanyakubja (Ca. 725) the poet defends the virtues of Prakrit, saying: “From time immemorial in Prakrit alone, that one could combine new content and mellow form. . . . All words enter into Prakrit and emerge out of it, as all waters enter and emerge from the sea”. And, he laments “…. many men no longer understand [Prakrit’s] different virtues; great poets [in Prakrit] should just scorn or mock or pity them, but feel no pain themselves.”

The golden age of Kavya

The golden age of ornate court Kavya was the stretch of about 125 years (from 330-455) during the reign of the Gupta dynasty (approximately between 350 and 550 AD). This was also the age of Kalidasa (say, between 375 and 413 AD) – acknowledged as the greatest of poets. The other great poets and scholars said to belong to this golden age of the Gupta Era were : Matrgupta; Mentha or Hastipaka; Amaru.  They were later followed by other distinguished poet–scholars like Bhartrihari (450-510); Varahamihira (505-587); Bhatti (about 600 AD); and, Bharavi (Ca.6th century) .

Then there was the Emperor Harsavardhana of Thanesar and Kanauj who ruled from 606 to 647 AD. And, Banabhatta his Court poet immortalized his patron in his historical romance Harshacharita. And, Magha (Ca. 7th century) a poet in the Court of King Varmalata of Sharmila (Gujarat/Rajasthan)   created undoubtedly one of the most complex and beautiful poetic works, the Shishupala-vadha. He was followed by   Bhavabuthi the playwright and poet in the court of the King Yashovarman of Kanauj (Ca.750 AD).

Around the seventh century , the convention was invented (and quickly adopted everywhere) of prefacing a literary work with a eulogy of poets past (kaviprasamsa). Bana, author of the Harsacarita (c. 640), the first Sanskrit literary biography that takes a contemporary as its subject, seems to have been the first to use it. This is not to say that earlier writers never refer or allude to predecessors. In a well-known passage in the prologue to Kalidasa’s drama Malavikagnimitra, an actor complains to the director, “How can you ignore the work of the great poets—men like Dhavaka, Saumilla, Kaviratna— and present the work of a contemporary poet like Kalidasa?” to which the director famously replies, “Not every work of literature is good just because it is old, or bad just because it is new.”


(The Old is not necessarily admirable; and the New always not despicable; the wise discriminate and decide; fools let others decide for them. – Kalidasa, Act-I, Malavikagnimitra)

Such kaviprasamsa-s, apart from paying homage and expressing one’s appreciation of the past-poets , served other purposes as well. To start with, it was a way of educating the present generation about  the past Masters, even those who have faded out of peoples’ memory.

It was also indicative of the author’s affiliation to a linage (parampara) of his predecessors. For instance; Bana’s praise-poems or Eulogy (kaviprasamsa) offers a broad view  of the main varieties of Kavya that were current during his time; the foremost representations among each of those varieties that the author he appreciated most. Bana’s tributes to his elders include : in the  class of  the tale (katha) in Sanskrit prose (or Prakrit or Apabhramsa verse) was the Sanskrit work Vasavadatta of Subandhu (c. 600);  in the prose biography (akhyayika) , it was the lost Prakrit work of Adhyaraja; in the Sanskrit court-epic (mahakavya) , it was , of course, Kalidasa ;  and, in  the class of Prakrit court-epic (skandhaka) , it was Pravarasena ;  in the Sanskrit, Prakrit, or Apabhramsa lyric or anthology of lyrics (muktaka and rosa), it was  the Prakrit collection of Satavahana; and , in the drama (nataka) it was indeed  the match-less  Bhasa . 

And, amidst the conspicuous absence of any sort of Literary Criticism in the early periods of Kavya, such kaviprasamsa-s , as of Bana , provide a glimpse or a window-view into the standards that the authors adopted  to form  literary judgment over their predecessors works. It was also indicative of the values and merits that the writer himself cherished to look for in a Kavya. And, yet the criteria for selection the work were not clearly stated. Some of those virtues could perhaps  be : the beauty , elegance , charm of the language; command over the language  that splendidly brought out just the right meaning that author intended ; lucid and  sparkling expressions and phrases; the emotive content; vivid descriptions that graphically captured the locale as also the mood of the situation; the delight(Rasa) that it provides to the reader; and, the ways that the Kavya benefits the reader (Kavya-prayojana).

Having said that let me also mention that such kaviprasamsa served only a limited purpose. It was, at best , an appreciation; not an appraisal of the literary merits of a Kavya or its elements such as the  plot, characterization, or voice (Dhvani ) etc.  It did not also give even a clue to the chronology of the authors or the works.

[ A  practice of Prarochana , sequenced right after  the Naandi (seeking the blessings of the Devatas for successful completion of the play and to bring joy (nanda) to the audience  and to the gods : Nandati devata asyam  iti  Naandi) ; but, before the Prastavana , the prelude to the commencement of  the play proper, became a common feature of Sanskrit plays , particularly after the time Bhasa ( 3rd or 4th century). In the Prarochana , the Sutradhara would praise  the literary merit and scholarship of the playwright   and  laud the high quality of his play that the audience is about to watch .

The Prarochana was , of course ,  just a manner of introducing the play and playwright while welcoming the audience . You could call it a ‘ promotion’ of the play; and, it did not mention the past luminaries.]

With the passing of those wonderfully well gifted, creative, brilliant poet-scholars, the golden age or the  classical age of Kavya may be considered to have come to an end.

Rise of Sanskrit

The rise of Sanskrit as a medium of Kavya and other forms of literary works, and the fall of Prakrit are in some way related.

With the establishment of mighty Empires that stretched from Afghanistan in the West to the far ends of the East, the power and influence of Indian Empire, its culture, art, philosophy and literature spread across to the lands beyond the Himalayas and across the seas.

Buddhist influence

The religious scholars, particularly the Buddhists from China, Tibet and Far East traveled across many regions of India to study and to gather texts to be later translated into their own languages.  Their medium of study was invariably Sanskrit, which was written and spoken by most Indian scholars, in almost the same manner. One could say that Sanskrit was India’s language up to about the tenth century. It was in Sanskrit that Indian scholars discussed with the visiting scholars; and, it was also the language of its international diplomacy.

From the second century, and increasingly thereafter, Sanskrit came to be used for public texts, including the quite remarkable Kavya-like poems in praise of kingly lineages (Vamshavali). Prior to that , for about four centuries , say from 250 BCE  it was only the Prakrit that was used for inscriptions, whether for issuing a royal proclamation, glorifying martial deeds, commemorating a Vedic sacrifice, or granting land to Brahman communities.

Similarly, the early Buddhist Canon containing the discourses delivered by the Buddha and other Buddhist texts say up to first or second century of the Common Era were in Pali, a form of Prakrit.  Likewise, the religious texts of the Jains were composed mostly in Ardha –Magadhi, also a form of Prakrit.  These and others, in general, began to adopt Sanskrit for both scriptural and literary purposes.

Later, after the second century AD, large number Buddhist scriptures came to be written in Sanskrit (although the Buddha had insisted that his teachings be in the language spoken the common people). And, thereafter it became a practice to compose texts in Sanskrit. By about the Middle Ages, considerable numbers of eminent Buddhist scholars , who wrote their religious or secular texts in Sanskrit,  had gained renown across all Buddhist countries .  Just to name a few: Dharmakirti (c. 650); Ratnasrijñana (900); Dharmadasa (1000?), Jñananasrimitra (1000) and Vidyakara (1100).

The Jains who earlier composed their texts in a form of Prakrit also switched over to Sanskrit. For instance, take the case of Jains in Karnataka  who  created great Sanskrit poetic works like Adipurana of Jinasena , the Champu Kavyas ( mix of poetry and prose) of Somadevasuri and Prince Yasotilaka. At the same time , they wrote new work in Kannada (Pampa’s courtly epics of the mid-ninth century) and Apabhramsa (Puspadanta’s Mahapurana of 970).

The reasons that prompted the writers, even those writers on philosophy and religion, were many ; but, mostly , they were related to the changed circumstances and the eminent position that Sanskrit had secured, by then, not only in India’s neighboring countries but also in the far off lands.  Sanskrit had extended far beyond the Sub Continent, into Central Asia and as far as the islands of Southeast Asia.

At the same time, neither Prakrit nor Apabhramsa, nor any of the regional-language literature, could command such wide readership or audience. They were in no position to compete with Sanskrit, internationally. Although works of great merit were produced in these languages, they could not reach the readers beyond the limits of their vernacular world. They were hardly known in the outside world.

[ In a way of speaking, in terms of the literary and spoken means of communication in the present-day India – internally and internationally , English could be said to have replaced Sanskrit. And, in the visual media , Bollywood movies enjoy a wider reach and greater appeal than the regional films (however well they might be  made)]

The Sanskrit works, on the other hand, enjoyed readership even outside India. For instance; the works of the great Buddhist Sanskrit poets, such as, Asvaghosa (second century) and Matrceta (not later than 300), were read not only in Northern India but also in much of Central Asia. In Qizil and Sorcuq (in today’s Xinjiang region of China), manuscript fragments were found bearing portions of Asvaghosa’s dramas and his two courtly epics, Saundarananda and Buddhacarita.

Such wide range of circulation was possible not merely because of the influence that Buddhism commanded in those countries, but also because of  the universal acceptance of Sanskrit language and recognition of its aesthetic power and beauty.

The  non-religious Sanskrit poetry  spread as far as up to Southeast Asia, where by the ninth or tenth century at the latest, literati in Khmer country were studying masterpieces such as the Raghuvamsa  of Kalidasa; the Harsacarita , the early-seventh-century prose of the great writer Bana; and , the Suryasataka of the latter’s contemporary, Mayura.

Therefore, any writer of merit – whether religious or secular – aspiring for wider readership, more serious attention and greater fame, naturally opted to write in Sanskrit. And, his Sanskrit work had a better chance of acquiring an almost global readership and following among erudite, aesthetic Sahrudaya –s.

Therefore, the desire to reach out to a larger audience and to acquire recognition from the worthy peers , seems to have prompted aspiring writers to compose in Sanskrit . Such works covered a wide range of subjects – from Grammar, Chhandas, Alamkara, and poetic conventions to study of character, narratives, plots, and the organization of elements that create the emotional impact of a work – such as Rasa etc.

Prof. A.S. Altekar in his Education in  Ancient India ; Published by Nand Kishor & Brothers, Benaras – 1944;  talks about the neglect, of Vernaculars following the ascendancy of Sanskrit

The revival of Sanskrit that took place early in the first millennium was undoubtedly productive of much good; it immensely enriched the different branches of Sanskrit literature which began to reflect the ideals and ideas of the individual and the race. But owing to the deep fascination for Sanskrit, society began to identify the educated man with the classical scholar.

But when the best minds became engaged in expressing their thoughts in Sanskrit, Prakrits were naturally neglected. As long as Sanskrit was intelligible to the ordinary individual, this was not productive of much harm. But from about the 8th century A.D. Prakrits and vernaculars became widely differentiated from Sanskrit, and those who were using them began to find it difficult to understand the latter language. Hindu educationalists did not realize the importance of developing vernacular literature in the interest of the man in the Street.

Hence, the Hindu educational system was unable to promote the education of the masses probably because of its concentration on Sanskrit and the neglect of the vernaculars.


Decline of Kavya

Though Sanskrit in some form or other lingers on in today’s India, what is undeniable is that it’s vital signs have grown very weak.

The reasons for the rapid decline of Kavya are many; and, some of them complement each other. Perhaps the most telling blow was the political instability and virtual anarchy in North India following the invasion of Muslim forces starting from the tenth or the eleventh century. The Royal Courts and the systems that supported the growth of Kavya were totally destroyed; and were never revived. The Kavya and its creators were truly orphaned.

And, even when the Sanskrit poets secured patronage in some Royal Courts, their Kavya became inward looking and dispirited, having lost connection with the society at large. Virtually all the Court poetry was about caritas (poetic chronicles) , vijayas (battles fought and won ) , or abhyudayas (accounts of success), detailing this campaign and that military victory. The poets, as paid employees of the Court, were duty bound to praise their Masters.

Sheldon Pollock in his very well researched and presented  scholarly work Sanskrit Literary Culture from the Inside Out , examines the state of Kavya in the later times with particular reference to the Courts at Kashmir , Vijayanagar and Varanasi. I will try to summarize his views, briefly.

Sanskrit literary culture in Kashmir, commenced by about the sixth century; and by the middle of the twelfth century it reached its zenith, with more innovative literature being written than perhaps anywhere else in the region. By the end of the twelfth century , the orderly life in urban Kashmir suffered   near total dissolution. And, after the establishment of Turkic rule in Kashmir, around 1420, the literary culture was totally shattered. No Kashmiri Sanskrit literature was ever again created or was it circulated outside the valley, as it used to do. Many of its important literary works  survived only through recopying in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; but, virtually all of those originated from the twelfth century or earlier.

As regards Vijayanagar (1340–1565) in Karnataka, though the Literature, in general, did enjoy Royal patronage, the energy of Sanskrit Kavya slowly depleted. In Vijayanagara, Sanskrit was not dying rapidly as it did in Kashmir.  Sanskrit learning in fact continued during the long existence of the empire, and after. But, the spirit of the Kavya was somehow lost. Vijayanagara’s Sanskrit literature, as Sheldon Pollock says, presented a picture of an exhausted literary culture. It seemed as though the Court culture insulated the poets from the simple pleasure and pains of the ordinary day-to-day life of common people. Their poetry was mostly about singing the glory of their Royal patrons. Such Sanskrit poetry was socially irrelevant; but was supported by Court as sort  of   state enterprise.

Of the Sanskrit literary works of the Vijayanagara times, with rare exception, not a single one is recognized as great, and continued to be read after it was written. Most of its Kavyas were did not circulate to any extent beyond its region; nor did they attract serious commentaries, nor included in a credible anthology.

In contrast, the literature in regional languages – Kannada and Telugu- flourished during these times.  For instance; . Kumaravyasa’s Kannada Bharata (c. 1450) not only circulated widely in manuscript form but also continues to be  recited all over the Kannada-speaking world, as the Sanskrit Mahabharata itself had been recited all over India a thousand years earlier.

The Maratha court of Tanjavuru in the early eighteenth century was an active cultural centre in the South. Its Sanskrit scholarship as also that in regional languages was indeed of a high order. But, the Sanskrit literary production, while prominent, appeared  to have remained wholly internal to the palace. Not a single Sanskrit literary work of the period transcended its moment in time.

In the south as in the north, Sanskrit writers had ceased to make literature that made history. The Kavya of these later times seemed have been drained of vitality.   There seemed to be neither enterprise nor enthusiasm. What was strange was that the authors of Court-epics did not show much zeal to invent fresh themes. Most found it adequate to re-narrate the familiar myths and legends in their own characteristic styles.

As Sheldon Pollack puts it :  Sanskrit literature ended when it became a practice of repetition and not renewal, when the writers themselves no longer evinced commitment to a central value of the tradition and a feature that defined literature itself: the ability to make literary newness, “the capacity,” as a great Kashmiri writer put it, “to continually re-imagine the world.”


Dr. Buddhadeva Bose (1908-1974) , regarded as one of the five poets who moved to introduce modernity into Bengalipoetry, in his Modern Poetry and Sanskrit Kavya, writing about Kalidasa says  though he admires Sanskrit greatly , ‘ the truth is , no real connection has been established between our way of life today and Sanskrit literature…. The Sanskrit poetry is comprehensively artificial; and, no longer represents or speaks to, the intimate concerns of the modern reader.’  He asks : ‘how do we read Sanskrit poetry as poetry , if it  fails to provoke the intellectual and emotional response that draws us to poetic language; in other words, if it fails to fulfill our expectations about poetry’. Further he says : ’ In the whole world , only Sanskrit has been turned into a huge and much respected corpse , which cannot be approached without our first having mastered the technique of dissection. This is the main reason for our alienation from Sanskrit poetry’.


Prof. Bhupendra Yadav in his article Decline of Sanskrit writes:

The blame for Sanskrit’s decline lies not in the manner the new curricula framework has been drafted, but in its very “complexity” that for long made it inaccessible to a majority of the population

It is wrong to argue that Sanskrit has lost importance because the new NCF does not give it “it’s due”. The decline of Sanskrit had set in much earlier. The intricacies of Sanskrit language have made it difficult to comprehend of most Indian languages though the rich literature in Sanskrit is the fount of our cultural heritage. Hindu religious ceremonies are impossible without the recitation of mantras in Sanskrit. Yet, Sanskrit is not our link language. It is, however, listed as one of our 18 “national languages” in the Constitution’s Eighth Schedule. Sanskrit acquired a grammar even before classical literature (like the works of Kalidasa) ; and, epics (like Ramayana and Mahabharata) were written in Sanskrit. Ancient Sanskritists made Sanskrit obscure more than two thousand years ago. Consequently, Sanskrit failed to be the mother tongue of any significant section of society with less than 50,000 people owning it as their mother tongue in 1991.

Calling Sanskrit a Deva-basha caused it more harm than good  . And, Sanskrit has been turned into a “heritage site” ; and, like all such items, Sanskrit has everyone’s respect but no one’s support on crucial occasions, like when the lingua-franca was decided in the Constituent Assembly of India in 1949.


However , Dr. Kunhan Raja  feels all is not lost ; and, it is not as bad as it is made to look.

Kunhan Raja (1961:2-3) writes that among the languages that started developing a literature in the pre-Christian era, Sanskrit is the only one that continues as a living language. The languages of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Syria and Carthage are only historical names now. The Chinese and Greek of those early days have changed and hence, in – comprehensible. But; Sanskrit has continued substantially the same throughout these millennia. Vedic texts are intelligible to those who know modern Sanskrit

[Please check here for a collection of articles concerning the studies of Sanskrit undertaken  in various parts of the world, in countries outside India, covering a vast range of texts and topics pertaining to the Vedic lore, Buddhism, Jainism, Indian philosophy, art, archaeology, epics , classics, literature and literary criticism.]


Literary criticism

The practical literary criticism of the type that we are familiar with today, discussing and analyzing issues such as the plot, catheterization, style of presentation, poetic content, its freshness , arrangement of chapters, the validity of the work etc did not for some reason develop in the Kavya tradition. The references to to earlier works would either to praise them very highly (Kavai-prashamsa) or to condemn it outright. The sense of balance in their approach somehow seemed to be lacking.

Prof. Sriramamurti of Andhra University , in his paper ‘Critic and criticism in Sanskrit‘ observed that even in the present period : The utter lack of practical criticism is a sad omission on the part of Sanskrit writers. This has led to the recent tradition of studying only portions of Maha kavyas and never looking at them as single artistic pieces. Hence we were unable to get at the spirit of the poem, much less to receive the message intended to be conveyed by the immortal poets of our literature.

Question of the sense of History

Then there is the question of the sense of History. It is not that the ancient Indian authors did not have taste for history; but, they did not seem to cultivate taste to chronicle the historical events and facts objectively. Although Bhamaha (early seventh century) drew a distinction between historical and fictional genres (akhyayika and katha), such distinction was hardly ever maintained. In the Indian tradition, the historical writing was usually a branch of Kavya. For instance, the Rajatarangini by Kalhana (Ca.1150) which chronicles the Royal linage of Kashmir is regarded by some as History. But Kalhana himself explicitly identifies his work as a Kavya; and , he affiliates it with literature by frequently citing earlier poems that had achieved the synthesis of literature with History. Moreover, the work was regarded as literature by his contemporaries.

What was surprising was that Anandavardhana (Ca. 850) counseled poets to alter any received historical account that conflicted with the emotional impact they sought to achieve. Thus, according to him, one can and should change fact to suit the dominant Rasa of the work.

The problem appeared to be that Chronology was malleable and was horribly mixed up. And, the events were not sequenced in the order they occurred. The other was the woeful lack of the critical approach.  The ancient authors did not seem to cultivate taste for criticism of the historical truths.

The  reason for such flexible approach could be that the author would invariably be serving as an employee of the King as his  Court poet, who was asked  to write the about the glory of his King’s  ( patron’s) predecessors. In the circumstances, the Poet would not go into analysis of the circumstances, critically examine historical facts; but, was duty bound to praise his patron and his ancestors. And, while writing the ‘History ’ (itivritta of heroes of the Nayaka), the poet would also try to exhibit his poetical skills in extolling his subjects by treating them as heroes (Nayaka) investing them with unbelievable virtues . And, in the narration , he would also try  make room  to entertain and to instruct as a Poet, to teach morals and to generalize the course of human destiny.

Some examples of the works of this genre are Banabhatta’s Harshacharita (7th century) about the life and times of King  Harshavadhana ; Vakpathi’s Prakrit work Gavdavaha ( 8th century) about King Yashovardhana of Kanauj; and, Bilhana’s Vikramankadevacharita (12th century) woven around the dynasty of Chalukya kings , and specially about his patron Vikramaditya VI.

Bilhana, in particular, rewarded his patron by mixing mythology with the chronicles of the Chalukya dynasty.  He makes an epic out of a historical theme. He commences with the allusion to gods who out of benevolence create the Chalukya dynasty in order to ensure and maintain safety of the world.

[Talagunda_Pillar_inscription_(455-460_AD)The efforts to eulogies, singing the praise of the patrons to the skies, extended even to inscriptions etched on rocks and pillars . The earliest and the most elaborate example of such laudatory inscriptions is the one scripted by Kubja Kavi (Kubjasva kavyam idam shamtale lilekha). The inscription carved vertically on the shaft of the pillar, dated around the fifth century, is located in the Talagunda village of Shivamogga district, Karnataka. It was set up in the time of the Kadamba king Śāntivarma (c. 455-60)

In a very scholarly, beautifully crafted meticulous inscription, running into thirty five stanzas, composed in chaste and refined Sanskrit, employing nine types of Chhandas (meters) , the poet  Kubja sings the glory and eminence of the ancestors of his patron Santivarma; particularly that of the founder of the Kadamba dynasty,  King Mayura Varma (r.345–365 C.E.) , elevating them to the level of gods and demigods.  He also spins a fanciful tale vividly describing and extolling the valor and generosity of the youthful King Mayura Varma.]

Continued in Part Three ->




Sources and References

I gratefully acknowledge these and other wonderfully well researched  works of great merit

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

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Posted by on July 12, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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