Tag Archives: Alamkara

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Sama-sarva gunau santau sahhrudaveva sangathi I parasparasya shobhayai sabdartau bhavato thatha  II 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 in the Indian Poetics 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.



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 Parihasa-jalpita, 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




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).

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.

Let’s take a look at their views in a little more detail.



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.

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.




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.

[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 //



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.

The Vakrata created by the Kavi-vyapara is classified into six categories as it appears in the arrangement of the letters (Varna vinyasa), in the parts of the word (Pada), in a sentence (Vakya), in a specific topic (Prakarana) or in the whole composition (Prabandha). These six elements together cover all the elegance of Sabda and Artha lamkaras; 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 Vakrokti that distinguishes poetry from other types of narrations; and, in turn , these hold the vital essence of a Kavya.

kavi-vyāpāra-vakratva-prakārāḥ saṃbhavanti ṣaṭ / pratyekaṃ bahavo bhedāsteṣāṃ vicchitti-śobhinaḥ // Vjiv_1.18 /

varṇavinyāsa vicchitti pada saṃdhāna saṃpadā /svalpayā bandha saundaryaṃ lāvaṇyam abhidhīyate // Vjiv_1.32 //


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). But, he qualifies that statement by saying that such 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).


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. One cannot artificially separate them. Kuntaka, therefore, is often described as a holist.


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.


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.]

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 ; and , 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.


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 Lati 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).

Gaudi dambara-bandha syat Vaidarbhi lalitatmika / Panchali misra-bhavena , Lati tu mrudubhih padaih //

As said, 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. 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.

Riti is not just a 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 excellences (Gunas)’.

Riti represents for Vamana the collection of Gunas in harmony with faultless (A-doshau) Alamkara-s   that 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 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 ‘ensouled’   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.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kavya–agama, the elements of Poetics

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

We shall briefly talk about these elements a little later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Indian Poetics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Both – Bhamaha and Dandin – agree on the central place accorded, in Kavya, to Alamkara, figurative speech. Both held that the mode of figurative expression (Alamkara), diction (Riti) , grammatical correctness (Auchitya) , and sweetness of the sounds (Madhurya) constitute poetry. Both deal extensively with Artha-alamkara that gives forth striking modes of meaningful expressions. Dandin, however, gives far more space to the discussion on those figures of speech that are defined as phonetic features (Sabda-alamkara) e.g. rhyme (Yamaka) than does Bhamaha.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

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

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

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

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Kavya and Indian Poetics – 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 Shastra


The Indian Poetics over the centuries was known by different names at different stages of its development.  Valmiki in his Epic, Ramayana, refers to Poetics as Kriya-kalpa (kriya-kalpa vidashcha kavyavido janan– Uttara Kanda.93.7).  Lalitavistara Sutra a Buddhist text believed to belong to the first or second century explains the term Kriya–kalpa as the rules  for creating poetic works  ( Kavya-karana-vidhi ) ; and says that  the term means  Kavya-alamkara , the poetics (kriya–kalpa iti kavya-karana-vidhi kavya-alamkara ithyarthaha .  Vatsayana  (Ca. second century) in his famous Kama sutra , while enumerating the fourteen types of arts (Kala) that a cultured urbane  person (Nagarika)  should cultivate , also uses the term Kavya-kriya-kalpa   to denote the Poetics (Kama sutra.1.3.16). The poet Dandin (6th-7th century) in his Kavyadarsha, a handbook of classical Sanskrit Poetics, calls Poetics as Kriyavidhi, the rules of poetry (Vacham vichitra-marganam nibbandha kavyalamkara ith arthaha).

But, by the time of Bhamaha (Ca.6-7th century) the term Alamkara or Alamkara shastra was in wide use.  It was believed that Alamkara the figurative speech or ornamentation was the principle virtue that lent Kavya its grace and brilliance (Kavya-shobha-karaan dharman alamkaran prachakshte). The titles of the books, of  his period and thereafter , on Poetics, therefore, were centered upon the term Alamkara , such as: Kavyalamkara (by Bhamaha, Ca.6- 7th century) ; Kavya-alamkara-sara- Samgraha ( by  Udbhata – 8th century) ; Kavya-alamkara- sutra-vritti (  by Vamana Ca. 8th ) and Kavya-alamkara ( by Rudrata – c. 9th-century ) .

The tendency to describe Poetics in terms of Alamkara went on for a considerable period of time. Though Alamkara was the general name for Poetics, the term Alamkara  referred  both to one of the principles of Poetics and  also to the specific expressions of   figures of speech like Anuprasa, Upama etc. And the concepts of Rasa, Guna, and Riti were also brought under the overall ambit of Alamkara principle.

Rajashekhara  ( 9th -10th  century)  the poet and scholar  treated  Poetics  as a Shastra; and , he named Poetics as  Sahitya Vidya . And the poets who followed Rajasekhara began to describe Poetics as Sahitya.  For instance;   Vishwanatha named his book on Poetics as Sahitya-darpana ; Ruyyaka titled his book as sahitya-mimamsa ; and, Bhojaraja called Poetics as Kavya shastra.

[Sahitya generally represents the notion of literature – everything preserved in writing, or even in speech; but, here, practically it was a synonym for Kavya. (Perhaps Vangmaya – things made of language) could be a better term) ]

Thus, over the long period, from time to time, the Shastra of Poetics had been called variously  as Kriya-kalpa; Kavya-karana-vidhi; Kavya-kriya-kalpa; Kriya-vidhi; Alamkara Shastra; Sahitya Vidya and Kavya shastra.

The terms Kriya–kalpa, Kavya–vidhi etc went out of use quite early. And, the scope of the term Alamkara, since the time of Anandavardhana  (Ca.10th  century)  got restricted to one of the elements of poetry , which is  the ornamentation and figures of speech like Anuprasa , Upama etc ; and,  it was scarcely used in its  wider sense of poetics.

The term  Sahitya which etymologically means to put together in the sense of  composition , coordination , balance , concord and contact , in recent times,  is used to cover all forms of literature (vangmaya) . It covers even Grammar, philosophy, logic, etymology, technical subjects like medicine , Law  etc; apart from  prose, poetry drama etc.

Therefore, the scholars generally opine that for Poetics, the term Kavya shastra seems more suited ( though some employed the grandiose term Kavya Mimamsa)  ; particularly since the term Kavya includes prose, poetry, Drama and all other forms of creative writings.  Besides, the suffix Shastra (Sahsanath shasanam) signifies the theory of practice as also the practice of theory. Further, the term Kavya Shastra sounds better than Kriya, Kapla, and Vidhi etc. And, Kavya Shastra was therefore used by writers like Bhamaha, Dandin, Vamana, Rudrata, Rajasekhara and others to denote Poetics. Since the Indian Poetics began to take a systemic form during the times of Bhamaha and Dandin, attempting to expound the essence of Kavya, its aesthetics and style and lucidity of composition etc, we may as well adopt their nomenclatures.  That is one view. And, there are other views too.


According to Dr. G.T. Deshpande (Bharathiya Sahityashastra, The Indian Poetics), the Indian Poetics developed in stages over a period of about two thousand years.  During these long centuries , the Indian Poetics attained maturity. He enumerates six stages of development : Kriyakalpa (around 2nd century BCE) ; Kavyalakshana (from Bharata up to 6th century AD) ; Kavya-alankara (600 AD to 850 AD) ;  Sahitya (say from 850 to 1100 AD); and, Sahitya-paddathi (1100 AD – 1650 AD).

Bharata’s Natyashastra , according to Dr. G.T. Deshpande , represents the first stage of Indian poetics (Kriyakalpa) where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics combined harmoniously to successfully produce an enjoyable play- Drshya-kavya.

During the next (second) stage (Kavyalakshana) the poetics grew independent of the theatre. The discussions during this period were mostly regarding the general nature of Kavya. This period is marked by the works of Bhamaha and Dandin, say up to 600 AD.

In the third stage (Kavya-alankara)   stretching from Bhamaha and Dandin up to Rudrata, say from 600 AD to 850 AD, the concepts of Alankara (embellishments) Gunas (characteristics) and Rasa gained a little more clarity. The characteristic beauty (Saundaryam or Shobha) associate with poetry and the means of creating highly enjoyable poetry came into discussion.

The fourth stage (Sahitya) was the period of analysis and understanding the basic concepts of literature and Grammar. This was the period from Mammata to Anandavardhana (say from 850 to 1100 AD). The questions raised during this period, basically, were : ‘What is truly Sahitya (literature)?’ ; ’Does it merely mean a combination of words and meanings? Or, is there anything more to it?’ ; ‘What are the special features of poetry?’ ;  ‘ Do the words in the poetry convey the same meaning as anywhere else?’ ; and ,  ‘How is the meaning  (Artha) of  poetry conveyed?’ etc.

It is in this period, the poetics (Kavya) became independent of the earlier concepts of Alamkara, Dvani etc.

And, the sixth stage (Sahitya-paddathi) was the methodical study of the poetry  in all its aspects . It was the period that stretched  from 1100 AD – 1650 AD, say ending with Jagannatha Pandita.



Main concerns – Sabda and Artha

One of the problems that engaged attention of the Grammarians and the philosophers alike was the subtle relation between the linguistic element (Sabda) and its meaning (Artha).  Sabda can roughly be understood as word, a sound, a meaningful unit of speech. Patanjali explained the term Sabda as that which when articulated gives out the meaning or intent the of the speaker.  And, Mandana Misra, in his Sphotasiddhi said: Sabda is the cause that produces the intended meaning.

According to Bhartrhari (4th or 5th century) “There is no cognition without the operation of words. All knowledge is illumined through words’’. In Bhartrhari’s scheme of things, the problem of meaning is basic. It is through the meaning conveyed by the words that knowledge is experienced.” “It is only the thought as expressed in words that can be understood, communicated and criticized. A language grows with the thought; or rather the thought grows with language. In the ultimate analysis they might even be identical.”

Two main concerns of the Sanskrit Poetics seemed to be: the word, and its meaning. The first one concerns how the word is treated in the text; and, mainly how it is formally used. It could be the elaborate embellishments (Alamkara) artistically arranged to enhance the beauty of the presentation; or it could be the elegance of the diction or even oblique ways of twisting. The other is about the shades or the layers of meaning that the word is capable of revealing. Generally, it was about the ways (vyapara) of achieving the objectives (phala) of the poet and his poetry.

The late-tenth-century philosopher and literary theorist Abhinavagupta felt that Kavya is not just about meaning, it is something more than that ; and, he put it  directly: “It is not the mere capacity for producing meaning as such that enables a text to be called Kavya. And that is why we never apply that term to everyday discourse or the Veda.”

Raja Bhoja (1011–1055) in his Srngaraprakasha says, that of the things made of language (Vangmaya) Kavya is one species. The elements that make the language are the words and meanings. And, word and meaning when  harmoniously  composed (sahitau) constitute Kavya. . Thus Kavya is a composition ( unity , sahitya) of word and meaning.

Then he goes on to say:

What, however, does the word “word” signify? It is that through which, when articulated, meaning is understood, and it is of twelve sorts, starting with base and affix and ending with sentence, section, and whole work.

“Meaning” is what a word gives us to understand, and it is of twelve sorts, starting with action and tense and ending with word-meaning and sentence-meaning.

And last, “composition” signifies the coordinated relation between word and meaning; and it, too, is of twelve sorts, starting with denotation and implication and ending with avoidance of faults, employment of expression-forms (guna), connection with factors of beauty (alañkara), and presence of rasa.

King Somesvara III (around 1130) of the Kalyana Chalukya dynasty in his Manasollasa, an encyclopedic work, says:

Words make up the body of a literary text, meaning is its life-breath, tropes its external form, emotional states and feelings its movements, meter its gait, and the knowledge of language its vital spot. It is in these that the beauty of the deity of literature consists.

The scholars of Poetics, of course, need to be concerned with the beauty and elegance of expression; but, at the same time they also need to be exercised over the sense that such arrangements of words would produce. The Poetic-scholars realized that neither logic (Nyaya) nor Grammar (Vyakarana) would provide them with right answers. The position, simply put, is :

poetry in any of its forms does need words; and the arrangements of those words, however clever or elegant, do have to convey a sense or meaning. The poetic beauty does not solely dependent on the strict order of words or other conventions. It in fact goes beyond regulated regimens. It is only the right or judicious combination of the two – Sabda and Artha- that produces relishing aesthetic expressions and suggestive poetry. The ultimate merit of a Kavya is in its enjoyment (Rasa) by the Sahrudaya the reader endowed with culture and taste.

Now, regarding words:  according to Indian Poetics, 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 and 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 relation among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

The meaning of a word or a sentence that is directly grasped in the usual manner is Vakyartha (denotation or literal sense); and, the power of the language which conveys such meaning is called Abidha-vritti (designating function). The term Sabdabodha ‘verbal comprehension’ or ‘verbal cognition’ is also used at times. It is intended to denote meaning of a sentence as understood by the listener.

In certain cases where a particular word is not capable of conveying the desired sense, another power which modifies that word to produce the fitting or suitable meaning is called Lakshana-vritti (indicative function).

The primary sense Vakyartha is the natural (Svabhavokti) and is the easily comprehended sense of the word. When the perception of the primary sense is obstructed, the word conveys the sense other than the primary sense; but, the two meanings (somehow) seem related.  Thus, the secondary sense (lakshana) could even be called an unnatural meaning (Vakrokti) of the word.

For instance; when the word Purusha is uttered, one immediately understands it as a reference to a male member of the human race. It is the primary sense of the word. It might refer to an individual or to a generic attribute. In any case; the word Purusha and its meaning are related. It is a signified–signifier relationship; one pointing towards the other. This relationship is termed Abhida.

However, in the world we live, we do not always use a word only in its primary sense. Many times, the word in its primary sense may not be adequate.  Then, we attempt to attribute a sense to the word that is different or distinct from the primary sense. This would be secondary sense – lakshanika or lakshyartha – of that word. The word in its secondary sense is called lakshana. The relationship between the secondary sense and the word is described as lakshya-lakshya sambandha

Such process of superimposition (aropita) is called lakshana or indication. The three: the obstruction caused due to incompatibility of primary sense; the connection between the primary and the secondary sense; and, the convention (rudi) – are all interrelated. Here, there ought to be some justification for switching over to the un-natural meaning of the word; and, it should be generally acceptable (or should have gained currency in the common usage).

The indication (lakshana) is thus of two types: one, sanctioned by usage (rudi-lakshana); and , the other , where the speaker uses it for a specific or a specialized purpose (prayojanavato lakshana).

lotus design

As regards the Grammarians’ point of view, of the three functions of the word, the secondary or the indicative Lakshana-vritti is the most important and popular.  Three conditions for Lakshana are generally accepted by all schools of Grammar.

The first is the incompatibility or inconsistency of the primary meaning in the context, which produces a break in the flow of thought, forcing the listener to think in order to understand what the speaker would really have meant by the uncommon usage and why he has used the word in an irregular way.  The inconsistency could be either because of  the impossibility of associating the normal meaning with the other word meanings of the sentence ; or  it could be because  of the normal meaning’s unsuitability in the context.

The second condition is about the kind of relation between the primary (normal) meaning of the term and its meaning as intended by the speaker in a given context. This relation can be one of proximity to the alternate ( contrary) meaning or one of similarity or of mixed quality. The latter type is called Gauni Lakshana which the Mimamsakas treat as an independent function called Gauni. According to Mimamsakas, the real Lakshana is only of the first type, a relation of proximity with contrariety (oppositeness).

The third condition could either be acceptance of its meaning in common usage ; or it could be a meaning derived from the root of the word (Dathu) for a  special purpose intended for introducing the Lakshana. All faded metaphors (nirudha lakshana) fall into the former category, and metaphorical usages, especially by the poets, fall into the latter.

[ The common examples given here are of Pankaja which in common usage means lotus; but literally means something born out of slush. The other is  the Ashva-karna a type of leaf , but literally the ears of a horse. In all such cases , it is the meaning in common usage that is  generally accepted ; and the literal meaning is treated as faded metaphor.]

[The Great Grammarian Panini did not accept Lakshana as a separate function in language. He did not consider the incompatibility etc on which the Lakshana was based by other Grammarians as quite relevant from the point of view of Grammar. The sentences such as:’ He is an ass’ and ‘He is a boy ‘are both correct grammatically. Panini’s Grammar provides some popular examples of Lakshana; like ‘the village on the river’ (gangayam ghosah) by considering proximity as one of the meanings of the locative case. Similarly, Panini does not mention or provide for the condition of yogyata or consistency, which is considered by the later Grammarians as essential for unity of sentence. The expression Agnina sinchati (He sprinkles with fire) is grammatically correct, though from the semantic point of view it may not be quite proper, because sprinkling can be done only with liquid and not with fire.]

It does not mean that some words are merely vachaka and certain others are only Lakshya, and so on. The use of words, their role and the intended effect are context sensitive. The same word could be employed in any number of ways; each performing its role its own context. All the shades of meaning are necessary and relevant in poetry; but, each in its own context.


Similarly, Riti, as put forward by Vamana, is an arrangement of words and meanings characterized by various Gunas. A particular Guna might be appropriate in a particular context. The verbal compositions could be tight knit and high flowing in a given context; but , a simple , lucid narration might be appropriate in  an  another situation. One may admire grandeur in one situation; and simplicity in another. It is the context that decides appropriateness of style.

Rajasekhara, therefore, says:  A sentence is an arrangement of words which embodies the content that the speaker wishes to convey

(pada-nama-abidhita-arthagrathanakarah sandarbhah vakyam – Kavyamimamasa (22) of Rajasekhara).

For instance; take the word Mother. The word in its primary sense is woman who has given birth to a child. In the specific context when one says ‘Kausalya is the mother of Rama’ you are referring to a particular person. And when one says , ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, one is not referring to a physical mother but to suggest the sense of ‘origin’. Here, the primary sense of the term does not work. Similarly, when the Saint Ramaprasad calls out to Devi in anguish as Mother, it suggests the intensity of his devotion and the depth of his longing for her love and protection. Devi is not the physical mother but a projection of the universal Mother principle as also the specific Mother deity. It is said; the  vibrations of the suggested meaning of the word are indeed truly powerful.

lotus design

Then, there is the most interesting and much debated Vyanjana-artha which is the suggested sense or the essence of the word. This is founded 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 emerges, transcending the obvious literal sense, far more beautiful and sensitive.

The word which connotes the suggested sense (through the suggestive function Vyanjana –vritti) is named Vyanjaka. The relationship between the suggestive word and the suggested meaning (Vyanjana-artha) is described as vyangya-vyanjaka sambandha.

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 the essence of poetry. The Dhvani School put forward by Anandavardhana, 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 of Kavya , it is its  cloak .  But, the essence of poetry is elsewhere; it is not directly visible; and, that essence is the suggested sense of the word (Vyanjana-artha).

It other words: it is not the direct literal and obvious meaning that is explicit in poetry, but it is the suggested, indirect and emotive meaning that matters.  Hence, though the words of a Kavya and their  the literal sense must be given their due importance , they are  but a medium for emotive and indirect meaning flash forth . In good poetry, this suggested meaning dominates over the words and their literal meaning. As Anandavardhana put 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,  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.

Anandavardhana, therefore, says 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

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 – Dhv.1.13

The suggested sense of the word designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion) is regarded Anandavardhana as the soul of Kavya : Kavyasya Atma Dhvanih.

[The concept of Dhvani was said to be inspired by the ancient doctrine of Sphota. 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 identifies Vedic Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rules, as the originator of Sphota theory. Bhartrhari, however, states that Audumbarayana (mentioned by Yaska) had put forth views similar to the Sphota concept. 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.

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, words or the letters of sounds ) and the form of its cognition (namely, the Sphota) . This special kind of perception is held to be function of mind, rather than of the external senses.

This is a major subject; and deserves to be discussed separately.]

But, when one begins to talk of words (Sabda), naturally, it leads to Grammar (Vyakarana), which concerns itself with the arrangement of words into sentences. It does not account for the pattern of meanings.  The poetry on the other hand is not much concerned with the arrangement of words. But, it does strive to convey a meaning.

In the case of poetry, the arrangement of words (Sabda or pada) might be  logical but not necessarily grammatical. That is because; the poetic beauty does not solely dependent on the strict order of words or other conventions. It , in fact,  goes beyond regulated regimens. The unique virtue of poetry is that it provides space for experimentation, and to introduce hitherto unknown or unusual terms and expressions, regardless of their grammatical correctness. And at the same time , it was recognized  that the poetic beauty does not merely depend on ornate figures of speech or on the twisted or unusual expressions ; but , it is primarily  in the intrinsic merit of the poetry itself.

The combination of words or arrangement of words expressing the idea or the content which the poet intends to convey at a ‘single stroke’ is the sentence (Vakya) in the poetry. A sentence is defined by Rajasekhara as an arrangement of words which embodies the content that the speaker wishes to convey (pada-nama-abidhita-arthagrathanakarah sandarbhah vakyam – Kavyamimamasa (22) of Rajasekhara).

The meaning of a sentence expresses a complete idea. The sentence in poetry is called Vachana (Vakyam vachanam vyavaharanti – Kavyamimamsa). In poetry the terms Vakya, Vachana and Ukti are synonymous. A characteristic turn of expression attains the status of poetry (Ukti-visesah kavyam).

[Among the ancient Grammarians, neither Panini nor Gautama defined the sentence. Katyayana was perhaps the first to define a sentence. He called it ekatin, that which has one finite verb. Panini, however, seems to have held that a sentence can have many more than one finite verb.  The later Grammarians also seemed to accept Panini’s view. But, from Katyayana’s point of view such a sentence may be considered as a complex sentence made up of two or more sentences, but fundamentally forming one single sentence.]

The relation between Grammar and poetry is interesting. 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; and, the Grammar must necessarily accept poetic inventions (svikara avashyakah).

Continued in

Part Two 


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


Posted by on July 9, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Seventeen

Continued from Part Sixteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Seventeen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

10. Pundarika Vittala

Perhaps the first Musicologist who applied Ramamatya’s system of 19 Mela (basic scales) to North Indian Music was Pundarika Vittala (16th century).

Till about the late 16th century both the South and North traditions followed the same set of texts.  Then, Pundarika Vittala a musician-scholar from Karnataka  , Karnata Desiya , (from Sathanur , around Shivaganga Hills about 50 KMs from Bangalore), of Jamadagni gotra, who settled down in the North under the patronage of Muslim King Burhan Khan  in Anandavalli  (near Nasik) in the district of Khandesh, wrote a series of books concerning Music of North India.

(Karnate Shivaganga abhidana giri nikate, Satanur-hrudaye yo gramasta janma pravarasunikarath Jamadagni yo asmita vamsa)

While in Anandavalli during 1560-1570, Pundarika Vittala wrote his famous Sad-raga-chandodaya having three Chapters: Svara-prasada, Svara-mela prasada, and Aalapi-prasada.  In this text, he introduced Ramamatya’s Mela system to the North Indian Music. He almost adopted Ramamatya’s 19 Mela (as in Svara-mela-kalanidhi)   . But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas.

Of the 19 Melas listed by Pundarika Vittala, 11 are identical with those mentioned by Ramamatya:  Mukhari, Malavagaula, Sri, Shuddhanata, Desaksi, Karnatagaula, Kedaragaula, Abhiri, Shuddhavarali, Shuddharamakri and Nadanamakri.

AS regards the other eight Melas either their notes are different or their names as well as their names are different (few of them have only one note different).  For instance; Ramamatya‘s Hejuri becomes Pundarika’s Hijeja; Similarly Vasanthabhairavi becomes Todi, and Saranganata becomes Saranga.

The Hindola Mela is entirely different in both the systems.

In his Sad-raga-chandodaya, Pundarika Vittala says that due to different application of a Svara in different Ragas, different Sthana (positions) of the same Svara in different ragas occurs. He further says that it is important to know the exact structure of Raga,

Later, when he moved to the court of the Prince Madhavasimha and Manasimha who ruled from Jaipur as the feudatory of Akbar, Pundarika Vittala wrote Raga Manjari. In his writings, Pundarika Vittala carried forward the work of Gopala Nayaka (14th century) of grafting Karnataka music on to the newly evolving North Indian music.  Raga Manjari shows a further leaning towards North Indian Music, although the set of twenty Melas is the same as in his earlier Sad-raga-chandrodaya. He adopts the typical North Indian classification of Ragas as: Male (Purusha), female (Stri) and infant (Putra) Ragas. However, in both these works as well as in the third treatise named Ragamala written in 1576 (which he says was written for one Kapila muni- Srimath Kapilamuniyarthe  kriyate Raga –maalikah) , Pundarika Vittala uses for his Shuddha scales, the notes of the South Indian Mela Mukhari 0r Kanakangi scale .

According to the great  Scholar Pandit VN Bhatkhande, : The Ragamala distinctly shows that Pundarika Vittala had come into contact with the music and musicians of North India ,perhaps   in  Delhi or Agra, because the names of Ragas  he mentions , like Chaiiri, Gowdi, Musali, Iraq, Bakharej, Yemen, Husaini, and Tirban distinctly belong to that region.

[Prof. O C Ganguly in his Raga and Ragini (Nalanda Books, 1935; pages 54-57)  and also Chapter II Pundarika Vittala of Shodhganga   ( which is a part of  a thesis titled – The Study of Pundarika Vittala’s Treatises with Reference to the Systems of Raga Classification in Post Ratnakara Period by  Dr.Padma Rajagopal) give details of the three works that Pundarika Vittala wrote under the auspices of three successive royal patrons: (1) Sadraga-candrodaya written under the service of the Faroqi Prince Burhan Khan of Khandesh; (2) Ragamala, written probably under the patronage of the Jaipur prmces, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas; and, (3) Ragamanjari, probably composed under the patronage of Raja Mansingh Kacchwa

1. Sadraga Chandrodaya

The first one Sadraga-candrodaya was written some time between 1562 and 1599 under the service of the Faroqi Prince Burhan Khan of Khandesh which was incorporated in the Mughal empire after the seige of Asirgarh in 1599.

It is a very extensive text covering almost all the aspects of Music . It is spread over three Chapters ( Prasada) , titled as : Svara Prasada; Svara Mela Prasada; and, Alapti Prasada.

In the first chapter (Svara Prasada) Pundarika briefly describes the music-terms , such as  Nada, Sruti, Svara (defines suddha, vikruta, vadi, samvadi etc),  Grama, Murhcana, Tana prastara etc.. He also briefly discusses about graha, amsa, nyasa, apanyasa vidari, sadja as universal graha. Then he takes up various alankaras, sthaya, aroha, avaroha varieties of alankaras, etc.,

The second chapter, Svara Mela Prasada, has two sub-sections. In the first  (Svara prakarana ) Pundarika discusses about arrangement of frets on theVeena; and then, in the second section (Mela prakarana )  he takes up the description of Mela formation (paryayavriti) and number of melas formed when two, three, four and five svaras are made vikruti (mela prastara) totaling 90 melas.  In the Mela prakarana, he provides a list of 19 Melas   and their deravatives. For more on that – please click here.

In the third chapter – Alapti Prasada – Pundarika,  first describes different types of Gamakas totaling 15; and , then dicusses different varieties of sthayas and alapti, when playing of a raga on Veena.

 In this work, Pundarika deals with both the Southern and Northern systems of ragas and classifies them under nineteen Thats or parent scale, viz.: Mukhari, Malava-gaula, Sri, Suddha-natta, Desaki, Karnata-gauda, Kedara, Hijeja, Hamir, Kamode, Todi, Abhiri, Suddha-varati, Suddha-ramakri, Devakri, Saranga, Kalyana, Hindola and Nada-Ramakri. Out of these nineteen original (Mela) ragas, he attrIbutes to five of them their respective derivative forms (janya-raga).

Dr. Padma Rajagopal observes:

In Sadraga Chandrodaya he gave only 19 melas his explanations resemble those of Ramamatya, but only the names of the svaras differed. For example, Pundarika Vittala  explains the raga Kamata Gauia’s svaras as after Sa, the first svara occurs on the 6th sruti, it is in the realm of Ga, it means that suddha Ga is on the 5th sruti and the 6th sruti is sadharana Ga. The second svara occurs on the 12th sruti, he calls it as lagu Ma, but it can be also taken as one of the varieties of Ga. (he himself says that lagu Ma represents antra Ga). So he explains both svaras as Ga. But Ramamatya explains Kamata Gaula as having the same svaras, but after Sa the first svara on the 6th sruti he calls it as shatsruti Ri, the svara on the 12th sruti. Ramamatya calls it as chyuta madhyama gandhara.

As Prof. Bhatkhande remarks, “the Hindusthani musician will find this classification very interesting. He wIll find many of his own ragas in the list. Some of these latter seem to have retained their original svaras (notes) to this day.”

The work, is, therefore, of great significance for the data provided for the hIstory of the ragas. It is noteworthy, that when the author composed his works, the recognized melodies in the north far exceeded the limits of an exhaustive enumeration as is evident from the author’s remark: “Owing to the ragas being innumerable it is impossible to describe each individual one, I am reciting, here, some of them, following a particular school.”

Anantatvattu raganam pratyekam vaktumakrmah / Kesaacin-matam ashritya kati ragan vadamyaham //


In his next treatise Ragamala, written probably under the patronage of the Jaipur prmces, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas, Pundarika Vittala classifies the Ragas (Raga-Ragini Parivara) under six male ragas, and attributes to each, five ‘spouses’ (bharyyas) and five ‘sons’ (Raga putra). He also gives the details related to their Svaras, such as:  graha, amsa, nyasa etc.  He also explains the Raga structures in terms of:  nada, sruti, svara, sthana, grama, murchana, tana, etc.

In all, he covers six  Male Ragas-  with five Raginis and five Putra (sons) for each Male Raga- totaling 66 Ragas.

Male Raga: Suddha Bhairav

First Ragini: Dhannasi; Second Ragini: Bhairavi ; Third Ragini: ; Fourth Ragini: Maravi ;  and, Fifth Ragini: Asaveri .

First Son: Bhairava; Second Son: Suddha Lalita; Third Son: Panchama ; Fourth Son: Paraj ;  Fifth Son: Bangala.

Male Raga: Hindola

First Ragini: Bhupali; Second Ragini: Varali; Third Ragini: Todika; Fourth Ragini: Pratama Manjari; and, Fifth Ragini: Yavana Todika .

 First Son: Vasanta; Second Son: Suddha Bangala ; Third Son: Syama ; Fourth Son: Samantha ; and, Fifth Son: Kamoda.

Male Raga: Deshikar

First Ragini: Ramakri ; Second Ragini: Bahuli ; Third Ragini: Desi ; Fourth Ragini: Jayatasri ; and, Fifth Ragini: Gurjari .

First Son: Lalita; Second Son: Bhibas; Third Son: Saranga; Fourth Son: Ravana; and, Fifth Son: Kalyan

Mela Raga: Sri Raga

First Ragaini: Goudi; Second Ragini: Padi ; Third Ragini: Gunakri ; Fourth Ragini: Nadaramakri ; and, Fifth Ragini: Gundakri .

First Son: Takka; Second Son: Devagandhari; Third Son: Malava; Fourth Son: Sudhagouda; and, Fifth Son: Karnata Bangala.

Male Raga: Suddha Nata

First Ragini: Malava Sri; Second Ragini: Desakshi; Third Ragini Devakri; Fourth Ragaini: Madumadhavi; and, Fifth Ragini: Aberi.

First Son: Jijavant; Second Sons: Salanga Nata; Third Son: Karnata; Fourth Son: Chayanata; and, Fifth Son: Hamir Nata.

Male Raga: Natta Narayana

First Ragini: Velavali; Second Ragini: Kamboji ; Third Ragini: Saveri ; Fourth Ragini: Suhavi ; and,Fifth Ragini: Sourastri .

First Son: Malhara; Second Son: Gaunda; Third Son: Kedar; Fourth Son: Sankarabharana; and, Fifth Son: Bihagada


He mentions that Suddha, Chayalaga and Sankirna ragas were analysed as ragas and putras. He also gives a natural explanation to the classification. He introduced a new concept ‘gathi’ in the book, which meant movement of svaras from one sruti to another. He gives for all these ragas their svaras, colour of the body, colour of clothes, ornaments worn, tilakas in the forehead, time of the day, season for singing these ragas.

These 66 ragas probably represented the then current melodies as Pundarika Vittala found them in Northern India when he sat down to compose his work. But the Ragamala, from our point of view, is the most important document, as it is in this work that we come across for the first-time descriptive verses, actually giving the visual pictures, along with the component notes of the melodies, and also an indication of the time allocated to the singing of the ragas.

 (Please refer to Dr. Padma Rajagopal’ paper for a detailed discussion on the Raga-Ragini system of Raga classification, Please also see the Appendix : List of Raga-Ragini Parivar Ragas , according to different authors)

Further, as regards  the treatment of the Mela system in two  of Pundarika’s works – Sadraga Chandrodaya and  Ragamala – Dr. Padma Rajagopal mentions :

The difference in mela details between Sadraga Chandrodaya and Ragamala were: (1) in Sadraga Chandrodaya he gives 19 melas and in Ragamala he gives 20 melas; (2) in Sadraga Chandrodaya he introduced a new term lagu sadja, lagu madhyama, etc. and also used the conventional terms sadharana gandhara, antra gandhara, kakali Ni and Kaisiki Ni. In Ragamanjari, he introduced the new turn gathi while explaining the ragas. He clearly mentioned chatuscruti rishabha and dhaivata and suggested dvisruti rishabha and dhaivata which later on became komal. May be from his period only the fourth sruti Ri was considered as suddha for the musicologists of the north, and in the South, they considered dvisruti as suddha svara.

The details of the Mela system discussed in Sadraga Chandrodaya and in Ragamala are provided in Chapter VIII of Dr. Padma Rajgopal’s thesis

3. Ragamanjari

The third treatise, Ragamanjari, was probably composed by Pundarika Vittala under the patronage of Raja Mansingh Kacchwa and after he was introduced to the Imperial Court at Delhi. In this work, he cites twenty Melas as parents of the 64 derivatives (janya ragas). First, he gives the svaras of Mela ragas; and, then the derivative ragas. The twenty Melas are as follows: Mukhari, Soma-raga, Todi, Gaudi, Varati, Kedara, suddha-niata, Desaki, Desi-kara, Saranga, Aheri, Kalyana, Kamoda, Hijeja, Rama-kri, Hindola, Karnata, Hamira, Malav-kaisika, and Sri-raga.

But the interesting feature of this work is the recognition of the place of as many as sixteen Persian melodies ; and,  relating them to the Indian Ragas by their nearest equivalents.

Most probably, these imported melodies had already obtained a place in current Indian music of the North; and, the author only confirmed the practice by including them in his work and by indicating their characters by assigning them to their places in relation to the Indian models.

As Professor Bhatkhande remarks that the use of the locative case termination of the Indian ragas named “is intended to show that the Persian melody is not exactly the same as the Indian but that the two are founded on the same scale.” He accepts them as part of the Hindusthani system though he characterized them as “Persian” and recognized that they are “the gift from others” (parada). They are sixteen in number and are known as: Rahayi, Nisavar, Mahura, Jangula, Mahang(?), Vara, Sunhath, Iraya, Huseni, Yaman, Sarpharada, Vakhreja, Hijejaka, and Musak.

It is significant that Turuska Todi, which must have received an earlier affiliation is not mentioned in this list. On the other hand, Sarparda, which is ascribed by tradition to Amir Khusrau, is here enumerated as a new-comer… By this time, the melodies had too far exceeded in number to be confined within the limits of the six ragas and their wives.]

Together with Ramamatya’s tuning of Shuddha Mela Veena, which corresponds to the Hindustani Been (Rudra Veena), Pundarika Vittala adopted Ramamatya’s 12 semi tones (Sruti). However, in his description of the Melas, he uses more than 12 Svaras. In his works Ragamala and Ragamanjari (a small work in two Chapters : Svara and Raga)  he develops a system of 18 micro intervals, the application of which was however restricted to middle octave (madhyama saptaka).

While discussing the 18 Sruti positions, he says that the octave contains 22 theoretical Sruti positions. However, 4 of which (that is: between Shuddha Sa and Shuddha Ri , and between the notes Shuddha Pa and Shuddha Dha) should not be used in practice.  Later, Somanatha in his Raga-vibodha adopted this system of 18 notes, omitting only one note (ekagatika Madhyama) and changing the name the Vikrta notes.

[Even as late as in the 16th century, the texts usually began with the traditional description of the scales in terms of the 22 Srutis. But, in actual practice (application), the octaves seemed to have been composed of 12 basic Srutis. In Sad-raga-chandrodaya, for instance, the octave is said to contain 14 notes. But, in his description of the fretting of the Veena, Pundarika Vittala locates only 12 frets, because, he says, the other two notes would be too close to their adjacent frets on the finger board. He adds, if these two frets should be needed in any Raga, the adjacent higher fret would be acceptable, as the difference of one Sruti will not make much difference in the general effect on the Raga.]

Pundarika’s system was later adopted by the North Indian musicologists. It is likely that Somanatha’s Ragas which reflect Pundarika’s theories mostly correspond to modern Hindustani Ragas, while the Karnataka Ragas of the same name developed along different lines.

Apart from Music, Pundarika Vittala was well versed in Sanskrit literature. He is credited with compiling two lexicons: Shigara-bodhini Namamala and Dutikarma Prakasha.

Besides the above mentioned works, Pundarika Vittala may have written the following treatises the chapters of which are available in the Tanjore Sarasvathi Mahal Library: Nartana-nirnaya (written to please Akbar – Akbar-nrupa-ruchyartha krutamidam); Sangita-vrtta-ratnakara; and Vittaliya.

[ I would like to post here a short Note on Pundarika Vittala’s  Nartana-nirnaya based mainly on the work of Dr. Mandakranta Bose.


  Regarding Nartana-nirnaya

The fame of Pundarika Vitthala rests mainly on the texts he compiled on the subjects related to Music. But, his work on dancing and dramaturgy, the Nartana-nirnaya, written in the sixteenth century, while was in the Mughal Court, is no less significant.  It is indeed a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Oddisi – that are prevalent today. But, it is sad that Nartana-nirnaya has not received the level of attention and depth of study that it rightly deserves.

By the time of Akbar, the Persian art and music had vastly influenced the cultural life of India, particularly the milieu surrounding the Mughal court. Though the regional traditions did exist, the Persian tradition was the dominant one.

Pundarika Vitthala, while in the Mughal Court, had the opportunity to watch. appreciate and enjoy excellent presentations of the Persian oriented dance and music. He also had the privilege of discussing varied issues related to art with the Persian scholars and connoisseurs attached to the Royal Court. 

Citing the circumstances that prompted him and that led to his writing of Nartana-nirnaya, a text about dance, Pundarika Vitthala states that he wrote the book in order to please the Emperor Akbar

Akbar nrupae icchartha bhuloke sangitam / krutamidam bahu tara bhedam sah-hrudam hrdaye sukam bhuyath // N N 53 b //.

 In the world, this simple Sangita is created with a lot of varieties in order to please the king Akbar. May it please the heart of the goodhearted ones.

The Nartana-nirnaya, an authentic text on dance and dramaturgy, written in a variety of metres (chhandas), has four chapters, one each on, rhythm (259 verses); drum (116 verses); vocal music (579 verses); and,  on dance (the largest, with 916 verses).

And, at the outset, Pundarika states that along with the various regional styles of dancing he would be describing the dance of the Yavanas, (meaning, the Persians).

In his work, Pundarika Vitthala does not confine only to the traditional dances of India and Persia; but, he also describes the various dance traditions of the different regions of India that were practiced during his time. The information he provides on regional dance forms is quite specific, in the sense that he points to the part/s of India from where the particular style came from, the language of the accompanying songs and the modes its presentation. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, an invaluable treasure house on the state of regional dance forms as they existed in the sixteenth century India

Dr. Mandakranta Bose, in her very well researched paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition )  stresses the historical importance and relevance of Nartana-nirnaya; and , states   :  This text ,thus, offers us a major breakthrough in understanding both the evolution and the continuity of the art of dance;  because , it enables us to reconstruct the styles prevalent at a transitional period in the cultural history of India.

Thus, Nartana-nirnaya serves as a bridge between the older and present-day traditions of classical Indian dancing.


While explaining the title of his work (Nartana-nirnaya); and the use of the term Nartana, generally, to mean ‘Dance’, Pundarika said that by Nartana he meant it to be a general class name for Dance. And, that the term Natrana would cover the three forms of Dance: Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta. The last (Nrtta) would again be subdivided into three other types:  visama (acrobatic), vikata (ludicrous) and laghu (light and graceful), identified respectively as rope-dancing, a comic dance, and a dance based on easy karanas.

Thus, it seems, while Nartana stood for the general class name; the other three were its sub-divisions.


As rgards the definition of these terms, Pundarika said he would be adopting those offered by Sarangadeva (11th century).

And, Saragngaseva had, in turn, followed the explanations given by the earlier writers like Somesvara, Dhananjaya and such others (perhaps from Nadikesvara too?)

According to those explanations, generally (although there were some slight variations among them):

Natya: refers to an art form that gives forth Rasa (ultimate aesthetic enjoyment) ; and, is based in Rasa – Natyam rasam-ashrayam (DR.I. 9). It gives expressions to the inner or true meaning of the lyrics through dance gestures – vakyartha-abhinayatmaka.

Nrtya: is a means of putting forth different aesthetic moods or bhava (bhavahetu or bhavashraya) or giving expression to individual words of the song through appropriate gestures and/or facial expressions  pada –artha-abhinayatmaka

Nrtta: are  display of smart looking (shobhahetu) limb movements,  in  tune with attractive and catchy Taala (rhythym) and Laya (tempo) – Nrttam Taala Laya ashrayam (DR.I. 9). But, in itself, it is devoid of meaningful content; and, is valued for its mere visual beauty of  body movements (gatrasya viksepaha).


Nandikeshvara (Abhinayadarpana. 1. 15-16) distinguished Nrtya from Nritta, thus:

Bhavabhinaya-hinam tu nrittamitya-abhidhyate | Rasabhava-vyanjana adi yuktam nrityam ity uchyate

And, Sarangadeva said that Nrtya and Nrtta can both be of two kinds –Tandava and Lasya (SR. 7. 28); and, while Tandava is uddhata (vigorous), the Lasya is of Lalita (delicate) movements (SR. 7. 29- 30).

But, Pundarika, in his Nartana-nirnaya, throughout, uses the terms Nrtta and Nrtya interchangeably, perhaps, because, both those dance forms involved, in some measure, the elements of abhinaya or interpretative movements.


But, the more significant theoretical aspect of Nartana-nirnaya is the adoption of the two sets of concepts to classify the dance forms.

Pundarika adopts Marga and Desi class  concepts into the Lakshana and Lakshya (theory and practice) of Dance, for classifying its  forms.  

And then, he introduces a novel feature (hitherto not tried by anyone else), which is the principles of Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured) for stratifying the dance forms into two separate classes.

(1) Pundarika carried forward the practice of the earlier scholar-writers who distinguished the dance forms along the lines of Marga and Desi. The term Marga (literally ‘of the way’ or ‘path’) refers to those arts that adhere to codified rules; while Desi is understood as the unregulated regional variations.   

The concepts of Marga and Desi were originally introduced into Music by Matanga in his Brhaddeshi (around seventh or eighth century) to distinguish the pure and well-structured Music (Marga) from the innovative regional melodies (Desi).

As regards the dance forms; by about the eleventh century, Somesvara adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the then existing Dance forms. Later, around the same time, Sarangadeva, in his Sangitaratnakara, systematically presented the Marga and Desi forms as distinct styles of dance. 

Here, in these texts, the classical style, that is the one codified by Bharata in the Natyashastra; and, acknowledged by tradition   as the core of classical art was regarded as the Marga.  The Nrtya, for instance, was classified under Marga form of dance.

The regional and popular dance styles, with easy movements, that allowed more freedom free improvisation within the given framework were classified under Desi. Nrtta, for instance, was treated as a Desi form of dance.

Pundarika Vitthala, in his Nartana-nirnaya, also adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the different dance forms. Nartana-nirnaya describes several entirely new dance forms that were popular at that time.

(2) Matanga had classified Music  into two classes – Nibhadda and Anibhadda – the one that is regulated and structured with Dhatus (elements) ; and , the other  that is not structured (un-bound).

According to Matanga’s classification:  Anibaddha Gita is free flowing music that is not restricted by Taala; it is also   free from disciplines of Chhandas (meter) and Matra (syllables); and, it does not also need the support of compositions woven with meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya). In fact, not one of these – neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita. Sarangadeva explains Anibaddha as Aalapa which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

And the Nibaddha Gita, in comparison, is a rendering of a pre-composed structured musical composition that is governed by Chhandas and Taala; and has words (meaningful or otherwise); as also has a definite beginning and an end. In short; it is a composition (like Prabandha, Giti, and Kriti etc.)


Pundarika was the first scholar to apply the Nibaddha – Anibhaddha type of classification to Dance forms. That is to say; almost 1500 years after these terms came into use in music, Pundarika Vitthala’s work applied them to Dance forms in order to segregate well-structured dance forms from rather free flowing regional dances.

 While both parts followed certain rules of structure and of exposition, Anibaddha was comparatively loose in its construction since it was free of the regimen of Tala. Anibandha-nrttas are, thus ,  flexible in both form and content , within the broadly specified aesthetic frameworks .

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

It would seem that the Anibandha nrttas were unlike any other dance pieces described in the literature before the Nartana-nirnaya.   The Anibandha-nrttas seemed to be short dance-sequences, using which a dancer could choreograph her own piece. Thus, they have the same function in the dancer’s choreographic design as the karanas of the Marga tradition. But, their structural principle is entirely different from that of karanas in that they are entirely flexible as to their components and structure while karanas are of course rigidly set structures.

Roughly, it would seem Bandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there already were prescribed rules; and, the Anibandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there were none or minimal.

In contrast, Bhaddha-nrtta was more rigorously constructed, bound as it was by the constraining patterns of Tala; and, was performed by dancers who were appropriately trained; and, who could interpret a composition perfectly, executing all the movements in detail and precisely as per the prescribed sequence.

Pundarika grouped under the Bandha-nrtta class those dances that were characterized by yati, tala, laya, sthana, carl and hasta etc. as prescribed in the Sastras. He enumerated twelve varieties; and, described in detail their specific movements, their structured sequences, including karanas (N2V.43a-45b)

All the other dance forms were drought under Anibandha dance form. In the Nartana- nirnaya, the Anibandha dances are described in two parts; the first consisting of twenty-one Anibandha urupas (denoting  a broad category of dance sequences formed with the karanas); and, the second consisting two Anibandha-nrtyas. Of the two Anibandha-nrtyas, one comes from Persia and the other is Raasa, which includes the form called Dandarasa (NN. 53a-b). Raasa is the only dance recorded by Pundarika which seems to have continued over centuries and is found even today in at least two regions of India, Gujarat and Manipur.

In the later times, many works on dancing followed the Nartana-nirnaya’ s approach to the categories of dance; and, that eventually became part of their conceptual framework.


Now, as regards the historical significance of Nartana-nirnaya; many scholars, after a deep study of the text, have observed that there is enough evidence to conclude that the text marks the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi. Dr. Bose also concurs that such connection seems highly plausible. The text was part of the same cultural world of the Mughal court that nurtured Kathak.

 She points out that several technical terms used in Nartana-nirnaya match those used in Kathak today. And she goes on to say:

When we look closely at the technique of the dance described under the Anibandha category, we begin to see certain striking similarities with the technique of Kathak. One cannot say that the style described in the Nartana-nirnaya matches Kathak in every detail.  but one may certainly view that style as the precursor to Kathak; but the descriptions and the similarities in their techniques clearly show it to be the same as what we know today as Kathak.

The Nartana-nirnaya seems, thus, to be the proper textual source for Kathak. This claim becomes stronger still on examining points of technique, ….


As regards Odissi, Dr. Bose observes that the Bandha-nrtta as practiced in the Odissi style is very similar to the descriptions given in the Nartana-nirnaya.  And, the basic standing postures prescribed in the Odissi style: Chauka and Tribhangi  . (Chauka and Tribhangi are the two main basic stances in Odissi. Chahka is a stable-wide  stance, with weight of the body distributed equally on both the sides; and, the heels facing  the center. It is said to be a masculine posture.  Tribanghi, is a graceful feminine posture, with the body bent in three-ways) . These are comparable to vaisakha-sthana and Agra-tala-sanchara-pada of the Nartana-nirnaya.  Further, some acrobatic postures still in use are: danda-paksam, lalata-tilakam and nisumbhitam (the foot raised up to the level of forehead),  and several others are found both in Odissi and in Chau dance of Mayurbhanj region of OrissaFurther, there is in the Nartana-nirnaya, the description of a dance called Batu involving difficult poses; and it is very similar to the Batunrtta, a particularly difficult dance in the repertory of Odissi.

For more on Nartana- nirnaya and other texts on Dance forms ; as also  for the details of the few mentioned here , please do read  Dr. Mandakranta Bose’s research  paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition

[Ref: Pundarika Vittala by Dr. Padma Rajagopal; Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis; Dr. Mandakranta Bose’s research  paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition]

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11 . Raga-vibodha of Somanatha

Raga-vibodha of Somanatha (1610 A.D) is an important text in many ways. It is also an interesting link between the Karnataka Sangita of the South and Hindustani Music of the North.

Pandit V. N. Bhatkhande in his ‘A Short Historical Survey of the Music of Upper India’ writing about Ragavibodha of Somanatha says:

The date of Raga Vibodha appears to be the 3rd Asbvin Shuddha, Shaka year 1531, i.e., A.D. 1610- as given by the author.

The work clearly shows that the author had himself come under the influence of the music of Northern India. He uses in the Raga Vibodha the svara—names of both the Southern and the Northern systems of music. It is; impossible to say whether he had obtained a copy of the Raga Tarangini because the only names of his predecessors he refers to in his book are Hanuma, Matanga and Kallinatha. His use of the svara names as Tivra, Tivratara and Tivratama; and the term ‘Thata’, as a synonym for “Mela,” will also show that he had come into contact with Northern music. Somnatha Pandit, unlike the writers of his time, makes use of the Svara names Mrudu-Sa, Mrudu-Ma, and Mrudu-Pa to denote the sounds of the third Shruti of each of the notes Sa, Ma and Pa.

Ahobala in his Parijata refers to these notes  and follows Somanatha. Their works may safely be cited as instances of the tendency of those times to establish! good musical relations between the North and the South.


Apart from discussing theories (Lakshana) of Music, the Raga Vibodha pays special attention to practical (Lakshya) aspects of music performance. It deals elaborately with the Gamakas and Alamkaras (graces and ornamentation) that adorn and enhance the beauty of music-presentation. Though his exposition is based on the vocal styles of Gamakas and Sthaya (a characteristic phase of a song) , Somanatha excels in offering varieties of  left and right-finger-techniques for  playing on stringed instruments (Veena) –Vadana bedha –  such as, deflections , slides  and others that help to explore the limits of the subtleties that the instrument is capable of.  Veena occupies an exalted position in Raga- vibohda.

Raga-vibodha of Somanatha closely follows the Svara-mela-kala-nidhi of Ramamtya. The author himself has written a detailed commentary (titled Viveka) on his work.

The Raga-vibodha is made of five Chapters.  The first chapter deals with Sruti and Svara-s; the second with Veena; the third with Mela; the fourth with Raga; and, the fifth with Raga-rupa (structure of the raga). There are 83 verses in the First chapter; 53 in the Second; 61 in the Third; 48 in the Fourth; and, 225 in the Fifth.

 Somanatha mentions that, in his work, he has adopted the Arya Chhandas (meter) throughout, as it is the only meter that  provides the facility to express short syllables  like Sa, Ri, Ga and Ma in quick succession.

 [For a complete text of Raga-vobodha of Somanatha along with his own commentary thereupon (Viveka) as edited and translated by Pandit M Subrahmanya Sastry (Adyar Library; 1945), please click here.

 Please also do read the scholarly explanations provided by Dr. C . Kunhan Raja in his elaborate introduction to Pandit Subrahmanya sastri‘s edition of Raga-vobodha. He covers a number of technical aspects such as Sruti-s- Svara-s; Shuddha Svara; Vikrta Svara-s; their respective positions; Murchana-s; varieties of Alamkara-s etc. He also discusses the differences in the treatment of these concepts by Sarangadeva and Somanatha .]

While discussing the technical aspects of music and particularly Veena, Somanatha, in his commentary, offers lucid explanations and also quotes many previous authorities. He quotes mainly from Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara together with its commentary by Kallinatha. The other authorities, ‘sources’ mentioned by Somanatha include ancient Masters such as Kohala, Matanga, Hanuman and others.

 In the process, Somanatha presents the details of Art as it was practiced during his time, in comparison with what was in vogue in the earlier periods. Thus, Raga-vibodha, apart from its own merit, also serves as a valuable source-book on the history of Indian Music. Further, its Chapter Four would be of particular interest to those studying   the history of musical instruments in India.

The Raga-vibodha, a distinctive text, serves as a bridge between the music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and that of the present-day. Somanatha is, therefore, regarded by many as the most important and the most original of all the sixteenth and seventeenth century Musicologists.

Somanatha makes a very valid observation that the Shastra-s (texts on technical subjects) should present and explain the facts as they really are; and, should never twist the facts to suit it’s own views and pet opinions.

Shastranam laksha-anugruhaya pravrutvat yatra tayo viruddhah tatra shastrasya niryamitasyapi arthasya upa-lakshana-tvadina  prakarantarenaapi gatihi kartavya  I  Na tu lakshyam upekshyam I

Raga-vibodha deals with the Marga and the Desi streams of classical Indian Music. Following the earlier tradition, Somanatha describes Marga Music as that which was sought for (from the root Mrg, to search) by the gods; And, as the pristine Music that was practiced by Bharata and other sages  in the presence of Shiva . Marga, therefore, he says, is worthy of veneration.

 Margaha sa yo viricchadyoh   anvistau Bharatadi Shambhor-agre pratyukto-acharyah II 1.6 II

[  Somanatha brings in the concepts of the Tantra School to explain how the sound is produced within the body-mind complex; and , is put out ( 1.10-13) : ‘ The urge to speak excites the mind; the mind strikes fire in the body ; this , in turn , sets in motion the air that resides in Brahma-granthi. This air raises up through the navel, the chest , the throat , the head and the mouth producing sound. It is only the sound which passes beyond the chest, the throat and the head that can be used for singing.

 About the organs of speech; and, the differences in the pitch of the sound: the twenty-two Naadi-s in the chest , produce twenty-two Sruti-s; each successive Sruti being higher in pitch than its preceding one. A similar arrangement exists in the head and the throat.]


Somanatha (1610 A.D – Ku-dahana-tithi-ganita-Sake 1531)) a musician scholar hailing from Andhra Desha, son of Mudgala Suri a versatile scholar in all arts (sakala kala) , was perhaps the earliest musician-scholars to introduce the system writing notation (Raga-sanchara) to music passages in a systematic manner. Some say that Raga-vibodha is perhaps the only example before the modern times of any Indian Music using Notations. That may not be entirely correct.

[Examples of early Indian Melody in Notation occur in the 7th century Kudumiyamalai Inscriptions, the Brihaddesi of Matanga, and Sarasvathi-hrdaya-alamkara-hara of Nanyadeva of 10-11th century. Nanyadeva the ruler of Tirhut in Nepal is cited as an authority by Sarangadeva . His text not only includes descriptions of several Ragas but also about 15 examples of compositions ( called Panikas, which are of lighter nature might have been used for dancing as also for singing in groups)  with notations  for vocal rendering. The Panikas belong to a genre of music forms called Gitakas or Prakaranas of varying rhythmic patterns ( as opposed to the modern compositions set to a particular Taala). These are no longer in use. Each rhythmic suit is identified by the number of  matras (time units) , by claps and gestures to measure the time of the beats.

The Notation used by Nanyadeva are simple pitch notations by numbering the Svaras (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni). However no distinction is made between Shuddha Ga and Antara Ga; or between the standard Shuddha Ni and Kakili Ni. Some notations are indicated by placing dots as superscripts. In some cases it is not clear; as it appears the copyists might have got confused.

For more on Nanyadeva and notations on Panika songs please the remarkable study made by D.R .Widdess in his paper :Tāla and Melody in Early Indian Music: A Study of … – jstor]

Somanatha also scripted Dhyanas the pictorial or iconographical descriptions of certain Ragas. He also outlined the norms regarding the preferred time of performance, the special characters (Raga-lakshana) or the atmosphere in regard to some 27 Ragas. Somanatha improved upon the traditional themes associated with Ragas as in the Dhyanas of Sudhakalasha and Kumbha and of the later scholars Damodara, Shubhankara and Srikantha; and, he diversified Dhyanas by relating Ragas to deities, human characters, seasons etc.

It is sad; Raga-vibodha did not get the level attention it deserved from merited composers and musicians of Karnataka Sangita. Further, the system of musical notations that Somanatha introduced was not followed upon; and it is now almost completely lost. Similarly, the Dhyanas, the ancient system of aesthetics that characterized the Ragas, were totally by  passed in Karnataka Sangita, though some norms regarding the time of performance or the special character or atmosphere of some Raga still lingers on in the Hindustani Sangita.

Somanatha largely adopted  Ramamatya’s Mela system and his Veena techniques, as also the theoretical aspects of Music as in the works of Pundarika Vittala.  His Raga-vibodha, spread over five Chapters, also follows the general plan of Ramamatya’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi and Pundarika Vittala’s Ragamanjari.

The first Chapter of Raga Vibodha closely resembles the first Chapter of Pundarika Vittala’s Ragamanjari. It summarizes the ancient terminologies in the same order. Somanatha starts in Chapter Two a discussion on tuning of the Shuddha and Madhya-mela Veena, which resembled Hindustani Bin (Rudra Veena). This Chapter corresponds to Chapter 3 of Svara-mela-kalanidhi of Ramamatya.

In Chapter Three, Somanatha mentions eleven Persian modes, just as Pundarika Vittala did at the end of his Ragamanjari. The seven out of Somanatha’s eleven names for Persian Maqamat are mentioned: Irakha, Huseni, Musali, Vakhareja, Hijeja, Puska ( or Muska) and Saraparda.

The Chapter Three of Raga-vibodha again corresponds to Chapter Four of Svara-mela- kalanidhi; of Ramamatya; and, it deals with Melas. Here, Somanatha added five  more Melas  (Bhairava, Malhara, Kalyana, Suddha-vasanta and Hammira ) to the 20 listed by Ramamatya  and deleted two Melas  ( Hindola, and Hejujji ) to bring up the net number of Melas to 23. (In this list ,  Malava-gauda  is sometimes accepted in place of Bhairava).

Somanatha’s  arrangement of 23 Mela (scales) is based on the division of the Octave (Saptaka) of 17 notes, some of which bear two names. Therefore, the 22 (theoretical) names of the notes cover only 17 actual Srutis.

Out of these, thirteen Melas are identical with Ramamatya’s Melas; and, three (Shuddhavarati, Sriraga and Karnatagaula) are slightly different from their equivalents in Ramamatya’s system.

Out of the remaining Seven Melas, three (Todi, Hammira and Saranga) corresponds to the Melas of the same name which Pundarika Vittala describes in his Ragamanjari.  Of the other four, Somanatha’s Kalyana has its equivalent in Srikantha’s system. And, Somanatha’s Mallari, Bhairavi and Vasantha Melas are not found in any of the works of his predecessors.

In Chapter Four, which corresponds to Chapter Five of Somanatha’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi, describes the individual characteristics (Lakshanas) of the Ragas. Here, after giving the division of the Ragas according to the different standards, their structure in terms of Graha, Amsa and Nyasa are presented.

Somanatha in his Raga-vibodha mentions 51 Ragas, of which 29 are used in the Music of the present-day: 17 in Karnataka Music, 8 in Hindustani and 4 in both the systemsSome scholars surmise Somanatha’s Ragas mostly correspond to modern Hindustani Ragas; and, though the names of some his Ragas resemble those in Karnataka system it is likely they developed along different lines.

Chapter 5 which is the last Chapter is the most valuable part of Raga Vibodha. Following his processor Srikantha, Somanatha gives the pictorial descriptions (Dhyana) of the Ragas and specifies their appropriate times of performance.  But, in Somanatha’s opinion a mere abstract, aesthetic picture (Devamaya rupa = Divine form) of the Ragas would not suffice. He therefore presents their sound-pictures (Nadatmaka rupa) as well through musical notations.

Thus, Somanatha has presented most interesting music examples of the history of Indian Music.  In contrast to the ancient and almost forgotten music-examples of Jati and Gramas as in the older treatise, Somanatha’s music-pictures give an insight into contemporary music practices. The notations he provides indicate various musical ornaments (Gamakas) that were played on the Veena.

The notations

Somanatha’s work is unique because right from the older times Music compositions have come down to us through Oral traditions; and,   no composition could have had musical notations. And, where their lyrics (Sahitya) were written down, they were, sometimes, marked at the top with only the names of the Ragas and Taalas in which the song was set.  Even in the case of  the Music-texts (Lakshana granthas) that described various concepts and  theories and provided illustrations ,  they  merely discussed   the Lakshanas, Svaras, of the basic scale.

However, Somanatha’s music illustrations offer more details. They not only illustrate the scale (Mela) and the modal character (Lakshana) of the Ragas but also indicate the musical ornamentation (Gamaka) and special ways of playing Veena, the left and right hand techniques, by means of particular notational symbols or signs. Since no Taala is involved in these examples, Somanatha’s explanations virtually represent written guidelines outlining    Raga Alapana and other modes of elaborations i.e. a map for improvised explorations in freestyle.

Although Somanatha’s system of notations was not generally accepted and did not lead to a common system of Gamaka-notations, his explanations and his application of various types of ornamentation (Alamkara) to Veena playing (Vadana-bheda) are indeed highly interesting. Somanatha has described twenty Vadana-bhedas plus three other terms to indicate (1) specific registrar positions (Sthana) of the Svaras and (2) phrase endings. His Vadana-bheda techniques roughly fall into four categories: (1) fingering, (2) deflection, (3) slides and (4) others.

Gamakas and Notations


The Veena techniques (Vadana-bheda) expounded in Somanatha’s work generally follows the traditional pattern. Some of Somanatha’s terms referring to the techniques have equivalents in the ancient Gamakas mentioned in Matanga’s Brhaddeshi and Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara.

Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi, while discussing about Raga-giti , one of the seven charming song-forms, he mentions that Ragagitis should be rendered with varied delicate Gamakas (lalithau–Gamakau-vichitrau); and should be adorned with Svara pronunciations, lucid, powerful and even (300); and that the Vibhasha–giti should be sung blending in the Gamakas that are pleasant on the ears (Gamakau–srotra-sukhadai-lalithairasthu) and are also delicate , according to the will of the singer (yadrucchaya samyojya)   to the delight of the people (lokan-ranjathe)- (308).

 Gamaka is any graceful turn, curve or cornering touch given to a single note or a group of notes, which adds emphasis to each Raga’s unique character. Gamaka, in short, is the movement of Svaras which bounce, slide, glide, shivers, rapidly oscillates or skips. It provides movement and animates Svaras to bring out the melodic character and expression (bhava) of a Raga. Each Raga has specific rules on the types of Gamakas that might be applied to specific notes, and the types that may not. Every Raga has, therefore, to be necessarily rendered with the appropriate Gamakas. They depend on the manner of quivering, oscillations or shaking that the Svaras can be endowed with.

Gamaka-rendering is a highly individualistic and a specialized skill. Not merely that the Gamakas are designed specifically for vocal music and for instrumental music, but also that each performer would, in due course, develop her/his own Gamaka-improvisations. And therefore, two Ragas with identical ascending (Aroha) and descending (Avaroha) Svaras and born out of the same parent (Janaka) Raga might sound totally different in character and expression, mainly because of the Gamakas that are employed. [In Hindustani Music, Meend and Andolan are similar to Gamakas.]

Sarangadeva in Chapter three: Prakīrņaka-adhyāya of his Sangita-ratnakara treats Gamaka in greater detail. He lists fifteen types of Gamakas (Panchadasha Gamaka): the various kinds of shake or oscillations that Svaras can be endowed with.


Prof. Ranganayaki Veeraswamy Ayyangar, University of Pennsylvania , (who has studied, edited and translated the manuscripts, lithograph versions and printed versions of Raga-vibodha),   in her Gamaka and Vadanabheda: a study of Somanatha’s Ragav- ibodha in historical and practical context, mentions:

among the many music treatises that describe the Gamakas, Somanatha’s Raga-vibodha is the most important because it is the only text that has an entire chapter on ornaments. Somanatha has called these ornaments vadana-bheda; and, has created notational symbols for them after having described, in detail, their realizations on the contemporaneous fretted instrument, the Rudra Veena. Further, he has exemplified the vadana-bhedas by incorporating them in his extensive music examples. Somanatha has acknowledged that his vadana-bhedas were based on the Gamakas and Sthayas (components of a raga) encountered in the Sangita-ratnakara (13thc. A.D) and  other earlier texts.

Somanatha has described twenty vadana-bhedas plus three other terms to indicate specific registral positions of the scale degrees and (phrase endings. A study of the vadana-bheda techniques indicates that most of them fall roughly into four categories, namely, (1) fingering, (2) deflection, (3) slides and (4) others… An analysis of the distribution of the various types of the vadana-bhedas in the musical illustrations in Raga-vibodha indicates that there are in each of the first three categories, at least one type that is widely distributed either singly or in combination and some that occur rarely, again either singly or in combination. Further, it also indicates that some combinations are widely distributed, whereas some others are narrowly restricted….

It is important to reiterate that Somanatha was the first theorist, in the descriptive tradition, to attempt to describe in his Raga-vibodha, instrumental vadana-bhedas based on vocal Gamakas. He was also the first to describe, with adequate notation using these vadana-bhedas, actual music of his time through extensive music examples.


Somanatha while describing the Veena techniques employs terms that are equivalents to the Gamakas mentioned by Sarangadeva   (Spurita – Pratihati; Kampa-Kampita; Kurulu-Parata; Uchata- Ahati; Ahota- Ahuti; Ulhasita-ghasana; Plavita-Gamaka ).

Dr. Ramanathan the noted Musician-scholar explains Somanatha’s Pratihati as equivalent to the present day Spurita. Similarly Somanatha’s Vikarsa, Dolana, Gamaka and Kampana , he says, are comparable to four types of modern Kampita: (1) Vikarsa : single deflection of the string , pulling it away from Veena fret; (2) Dolana : deflection and release allowing the string to assume its original position; (3)  Gamaka: number of slow oscillations – prolonged Kampita; and (4)  Kampa: small number of fast oscillations .

Somanatha’s Garshana is equivalent to Hindustani Ghasit and Karnataka’s ekku or erra and downward (digu) slide (jaru). Pida, heavily stressed (pressure by left hand) is Khandimpu. And, Naimnya, a heavy pluck of the string, is periya-mittu.

Dr. E. Te Nijenhuis, in her the Ragas of Somanatha, observes that Somanatha was well conversant with both the Karnataka and Hindustani systems of Music. And, eight of the twenty-nine Ragas that he dealt with in his work, are exclusively Hindustani Ragas that are still current. She also mentions that the notation systems adopted by Somanatha are admittedly more precise than most of the others in vogue; and, definitions and signs for various types of ornamentation are indeed distinctive.

Dr. Ramanathan , however, observes: It is doubtful if the Notations of Somanatha were ever used by the practicing Musicians. That is perhaps because; the Musicians of India had not felt it necessary to develop an elaborate system of notations as in the West. Up to the present day in Indian Music a great freedom is left to the performing artist in the form of Raga improvisation. In the South it might be Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi; and in the North Aalap, Jor and Gath. Even in the pre composed forms of the South (Kriti, Varnam and Padam) and of North (Drupad, Khyal and Tumri) are always rendered with improvised and elaborate ornamentation and figurative variations adorned with Gamaka (grace notes), Sangathi or Tans ( melodic variations) , Svara vistara or Sargam (sol-fa) and improvised preludes (Alapana) .

And, even in modern times, the Notation system did not come into use until the end of 19th century when the first printed books on Music of South India appeared. But at that time there was no uniformity, with each composer or editor developing his own system.

The Dhyanas

As regards the Dhyanas, although the earlier musicologists like Damodara, Shunamkara and Srikantha had presented Dhyanas, their descriptions seemed to have bypassed the traditional themes associated with Ragas. They switched on to Nayaka-Nayaki dramatic situations, personifying the Rasas (aesthetic experiences) particularly of Srngara (erotic) Rasa.

Somanatha obviously considered Rasa personification an important aspect of pictorial Raga description since he himself refers to eight types Nayaka-Nayaki situations or eight different states (avastha)of  Nayika in Nayaka-Nayaki relationship. Somanatha relates Abhisarika Nayika (eager to meet her lover) with Raga Bahuli; Vasakasajja Nayika (dressed up for the meet) with Raga Bhupali; and Proshitabhartruka Nayika (proceeding to meet the lover) with Raga Dhanasri. Similarly, he relates Khandita Nayika ( angry with the lover) with Raga Lalitha ; and Abhisarika ,Vasakasajja and  Uktha Nayika  with the Ragas Saurasri. He relates Dakshina Nayaka with the Ragas Hindola;  and the Proshitabhartruka  Nayika  (sojourning with lover)  with Raga  Kamodi .

Some of Somanatha’s Dhyanas resemble the ancient iconographical Raga descriptions which relate to gods. The Dhyanas of Raga s Bhairava, Kedara and Shankarabharana, for instance, refer to Shiva; the Dhyanas Natanarayana to Vishnu; the Dhyanas of Hindola and Pavaka to Krishna; the Dhyanas of Mallari to Vishnu-Krishna; the Dhyanas of Ragas Adana, Paraja and Vibhangada to Kamadeva; and the Dhyana of Vasantha to god of spring Vasantha.

Besides, Somanatha presents some very vague descriptions which do not refer to any particular deity, human character or state of mind. For instance; in the Dhyanas of the Ragas Dhavala, Gauda , Gaudi, Hammira and Pauravi.

There is an interesting Dhyana which refers neither to a deity nor to a human character. It is the Raga Chaity which personifies the month of Chaitra. This perhaps was the forerunner of the Barahmasa poetry and paintings.

One of the illustrations provided  in Chapter Four of Raga-vibodha describes Raga Abhiri (equivalent to Abheri as it is known now) as a woman (Abhira) , dark in complexion , wearing a black dress adorned with a garland of fresh flowers around her neck, attractive ear ornaments. She has a soft and a tender voice; and, wears her hair in beautiful strands. Abira is idealized as a pretty looking Gopi of the Abhira tribe of Mathura region. She is an attractive looking dark complexioned tribal girl.  In the traditional Indian Music , dark complexion of the Ragini and her  dark clothes correspond to the predominant note (Amsa) Pa

As Emmie te Nijenhuis remarks: Apparently, the ancient Indian aesthetics had already fallen into disuse. The ancient Dhyanas which associates Svaras with particular deity deities, social class, animals, sentiments, colors etc – the system reflecting the ancient Indian mystical view of life – became rather irrelevant, when in the course of time, musicians changed the modal characteristics of Raga.

After Somanatha, the ancient system of aesthetics which was already on decline was completely forgotten in the South. Modern Hindustani Music however has preserved something of this ancient system. Its rules regarding the time of performance or the special character or atmosphere of some its Raga still remind us of the ancient Indian aesthetics.

[Ref: The Rāgas of Somanātha: Musical examples. Part 2 by Emmie te Nijenhuis; Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis; DR. S Ramanathan on Raga-vobodha

For a complete text of Raga-vobodha of Somanatha along with his own commentary thereupon (Viveka) as edited  by Pandit M Subrahmanya Sastry (Adyar Library; 1945), please click here ]


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Posted by on June 8, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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