Tag Archives: Guna

Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Eight


Continued from Part Seven

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

Udbhata and Vamana

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Guna and Alamkara

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

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

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

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

vastūnāṃ bhāvānāṃ svabhāvasya sphuṭatvaṃ yadasāv arthavyaktiḥ – VKal_3,2.14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(For more on Riti, please click here)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kuntaka vj

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lotus pond

Continued in

Next Part


Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

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

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

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

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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Seven

Continued from Part Six

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


Indian poetics – Kavya Shastra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on Lakshanas , please click here]


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

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

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

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

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

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


Kavya–agama, the elements of Poetics

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

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

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

The compilers were: Mammata, Vishwanatha and Jagannatha.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

We shall briefly talk about these elements a little later.

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

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

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

theories of poetics

theories of poetics2

(Source; Thanks to Sagar G.Ladhva )

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Indian Poetics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(For more on Svabhavokti , please click here)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

lotus -leaf

Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

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

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

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

For more on What is Kavya , please click here


Other illustrations are from Internet


Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Three


Continued from Part Two

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

 Classifications of the Kavya


Kavya has been classified into  incredible number of different  categories.


Agnipurana –kavyadilakshanam– classifies Vanmaya (everything that is expressed in words, i.e. literature) in several ways: Dhvani, Varna, Pada and Vakya (Ag. pu. 336.1); and  into Shastra, Itihasa and Kavya (Ag.pu.3336.2).

dhvanir-varṇāḥ padaṃ vākyam ityetadi vāṅmayaṃ mataṃ //AP_336.001cd/
śāstre itihāsa vākyānāṃ trayaṃ yatra samāpyate /AP_336.002ab/

And later, Vanmaya was again classified into Shastra (Veda, Purana and even Epics) and Kavya. And, it was said ; in the Shastra the words (śabda)  are important; in the Itihasa (historical narration) the facts (niṣṭhatā) are important; whereas in the Kavya the ability to express the  meaning  (abhidhā)  is more important .

śāstre śabda pradhāna-tvam itihāseṣu niṣṭhatā //AP_336.002cd/
abhidhāyāḥ pradhānatvāt kāvyaṃ tābhyāṃ vibhidyate /AP_336.003ab/

Shastra , in turn , has again been classified into Apaurusheya and Paurusheya.

The term Shastra commonly refers to a treatise or text on a specific field of knowledge. In early Vedic literature, the word referred to any precept, rule, teaching, ritual instruction or direction. For instance; in the Rig-Veda 8.33.16 the term Sastra  means rule or instruction :  nahi ṣastava no mama śāstre anyasya raṇyati.

    And, the Ṛigveda-prāti-śākhya (11.36; 14.30) uses the term Shastra to refer        to  its  prātiśākhya tradition.

And, in late and post Vedic literature Shastra referred to any treatise, book or instrument of teaching, any manual or compendium on any subject in any field of knowledge, including religious.

Yaska calls Nirukta (etymology) as a Shastra – śabdānām itaretara upadeśaḥ  śāstra- Nir.1.2

And, Shastra  is often a suffix, added to the subject of the treatise, such as Yoga-Shastra, Nyaya-Shastra, Dharma-Shastra, Koka– or Kama-Shastra, Artha-Shastra, Alamkara-Shastra (rhetoric), Kavya-Shastra (poetics), Sangita-Shastra (music), Natya-Shastra (theatre & dance) ; and such  others.

Here, the term Shastra is commonly understood as that which instructs or teaches; it covers the theory of a practice as also the practice of a theory.


Just by the way, let me mention about a totally different kind of interpretation of the term Shastra ,  which is commonly understood as that which instructs or teaches .

Paramartha (an Indian Buddhist scholar-monk who arrived in China during 546 C E; and went on to the Court of the Emperor Wu, at Liang), in his translation into  Chinese of Abhidhammakosa-bhashya, of Vasubandhu, explains the term Shastra by breaking it into two syllables – shas and tra.

According to Paramartha, the first (shas) relates NOT to the root ‘to instruct’; but, to the root shas, ‘to destroy’.

And, the second part (tra) relates to the root ‘trayi’, meaning ‘to to save or to rescue’ (trayate, trati); OR, to the root Tr, related to the meaning ‘to cross over’ (tarati, tarayati).

Accordingly, Paramartha interpreted the term Shastra as that which destroys the impediments (klesha); and, as that which rescues, saves and enables one to cross over the sea of existence (samsara). ]


[ If we take a bird’s-eye view of the Sanskrit literature we may classify them as Epic and Lyric kavyas, the charita kavyas (dealing with the lives of kings and patrons of learning), the prasastis or panegyrical verses, the different types of dramas, lyric kavyas, the century collections or satakas, the stotra literature or adoration hymns, the Campus or works written in prose and verse, the katha, literature, the nlti literature, the didactic verses and stray verses such as are found in the anthologies. The sources of the materials of kavya as held by Rajasekhara, are Sruti, Smrti, Purana, Itihhsa, Pramana-vidya, Samaya-vidya or the sectarian doctrines of the Saivas, Pancaratrins, etc., the Arthashastra, the Natyashastra and the Kamashastra, the local customs and matiners, the different sciences and the literature of other poets

–  Prof. S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Sanskrit Literature – Classical Period – vol. I ]

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In the Literary traditions

 (a) Shravya and Drshya

In the literary traditions, even from the very early period, Kavya was classified in several different ways. The usual means were (a) by language; (b) by whether it was poetry or prose or a mixture of both; and (c) by the literary form.

And, to start with, Kavya was said to be either oral – Shravya (one that is listened to) or Drshya or Prekshya (one that is seen, visual comprehension) . This was the primary differentiation.

[ The classical name of what we call a play or a Drama was Rupaka. It was a generic term that comprised various types of plays.  And the best form of such Rupakas is the Nataka. Dhananjaya in his  Dasarupaka (ten forms of Drama) while talking about Rupaka explains : it is called a Rupaka or a representation because of the acts put on by the actors (abhinaya)  by assuming (rupakam tat samaropad )  the forms of various characters  such as gods or kings  and men and women  .  And, it is called a show because of the fact it is seen (rupam drsyatayocyate). Thus, Drama is the reproduction of a situation (Avastha-anikrtir natyam)  , in a visible form (rupa),  in the person of the actors.

The earlier authors considered Drama as the art of reproduction by imitation (anukriti). But, Abhinavagupta objected to such a banal view, saying that mere imitation of other’s movements would produce the ludicrous; and, the imitation of other’s feelings and emotions is impossible. He held the view that Drama is an artistic production, where music, dancing, acting and the dress, dyeing, and the stage environment etc., all come together in the dramatic performance. According to him, such Dramatic performance becomes an art when recitation in the form of dialogues associated with suitable gestures, postures, movement, dancing, dress and music etc., succeeds in giving expressions to sentiments and passions so as to rouse similar sentiments in the minds of the audience. Thus, Drama is an entirely a new art that aims to enliven the mind of the audience and to produce in them an aesthetic joy; and, it is not an imitation in any ordinary sense of the term. ]

Here, Drshya generally stands for Drama (Nataka) and Dance-drama (Geya-nataka) the visual comprehension of a theatrical performance; and, the Shravya covers the entire range of lyrical and epic poetry in general. And some times, in a narrow sense, the Shravya is itself known as Kavya. That might be because; in the ancient times the Epics were narrated or recited before a gathering of ardent listeners. And, individual poems or their stanzas, in most cases, gained popularity among the common people who enjoyed listening to them.  The boundaries between the oral and written poetry was never clear. Yet, the oral traditions seemed to have a strong influence over written versions.  And, in fact, even during the medieval times the written texts were corrected with reference to its oral version.

[ Please do read the Article Oral Traditions]

[However, as the classical poetry grew more complex and more elaborately structured, it became rather difficult to rely only on the oral rendering. Reading or studying a text gradually replaced listening as the commonest means of enjoying Kavya.]

But, the distinction of – Shravya and Prekshya– is not strictly observed. For instance; Drama (Nataka) is at once a Kavya- prose and poetry-  that can be read (Shravya) and that be witnessed (Drshya) on the stage. In fact, some of the finest poetry of the ancient times can be found in Sanskrit Dramas. Thus, the Drama came to be  regarded as the most enjoyable of all the forms of Kavya (Kavyeshu naatakam ramyam). Kalidasa endorses both the forms  : ‘Drama, verily, is a feast that is greatly enjoyed by a variety of people of different tastes- Natyam bhinnaruchir janasya bahuda-apekshym samaradhanam

Another is the Chitra-Kavya, where the words of the poetry are woven into figures and diagrams (Chiyrabandha) , that can be seen and read is at once a Shravya and Prekshya.

[For more on Chitrkavya: please check here :]

Coming back to Drama, the Drshya Kavya, it again was classified into two classes: Major (Rupaka) and Minor (Upa-Rupaka). Abhinavagupta explains Rupam as that which is seen by the eyes and the works containing such matter is Rupani or Rupaka. Dhanika while commenting on Dhanajyaya’s Dasarupakam explains that the terms Natyam, Rupam and Rupakam can be treated as synonymous.

Sanskrit Dramas are classified according to Subject-matter, Hero, and Rasa (Vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako). The main aspects of the Drama (Rupaka) are the plot, the hero and the Rasa (pradhāna, netà and rasa).

The subject or the story should always be about celebrated and important persons.

The Subject-matter (vastu) can be depicted in two ways (Vastu ca dvidha) the main theme (adhikarika) among with the subordinate (angam) and the incidental events (prasangika)  – Tatra adhikarikam  mukhyam angam  prasahgikam viduh.

The plot should be simple, the incidents are consistent; the progression of the events should spring direct from the story.

The hero (Neta) of the Nātaka should be a worthy or exhalted person of virtue.

Prakhyāta-vamso rājarsih-divyo-vā yatra näyakah/ tat prakhyātam vidhātavyam vrttam-atra-adhikārikam//

A Nataka should comprise one rasa-either Srngara or Vira; and in conclusion the Adbhuta becomes prominent

Eko rasa – angi -kartavyo virah srigara eva va / angamanye rasah sarve kuryannivahane -adbhutam

In the presentation of the play one should avoid showing such events as: long travel; murder; war; violent over throw; bloodshed; eating; taking bath; un-dressing;sex act etc.

Dura-dhavanam; vadham; yuddham; rajya-dessadiviplavan/ samrodham; bhojanam; snanam ; suratam; ca-anulepanam/ amvara-grahanadini pratyakshani na nirdiset na-adhikaraivadham kvapi tyajyam – avasyakam na ca //


Viswanatha in his Sâhitya-Darpana described Rupaka (Nataka) as the most logical and perfect theatrical composition. It progresses in a sytamatic manner and concludes successfully, bringing joy to all. He says, according to the Dasarupaka, the structure of the plot of the Rupaka consists three essential elements: Avastha; Arthaprakrti; and, Samdhi. These structural divisions or sequence of events of the drama correspond with the elements of the plot and the actions associated with the progressive stages in the hero’s attempts to successfully realize his purpose or objects.

(1) According to such a format prescribed for a Sanskrit Drama, the plot is expanded over five elements (Arthaprakrti): The opening sequence (mukha) is the seed (bija) very small at the beginning (arambha) ; and , expands (bindu) in multiple ways as the action proceeds into episodes (pathaka)  depicting various events (pathaki) and their resolution (karya). These are said to be the five elements of the plot (arthaprakrti).

Bīja bindu patākākhya prakaro kārya lakaā / arthapraktaya pañca tā etā parikīrtitā //

(2) These five stages (Avastha) of action that are related to the achievement of the hero’s desired object (phala) are mentioned as:  Arambha (the beginning) – mere eagerness for the obtaining of the most important result; Yathna or Prayatna (effort) – exertion attended with great haste; Prapthya (prospect of success) – with means at hand, but also with fear of failure; Niyathapthi (certainty of success) – the confidence  of succeeding because of the absence of risk; and Phalagama or phalayoga (successful attainment of the desired objective of the hero).

Avasthah panca karyasya prarabdhasya phalarthibhih / ararmbha-yatna-praptyasa-niyatapti-phalagamah.

(3) And, Samdhi is the third essential element of the narration of the story and in the development  or the unfolding of the plot. Such sequence of events (Samdhi) or Junctures  which are also five in number,  correspond to the five stages (Avastha)  associated with the actions or the stages in the hero’s realization of his purpose are : the opening (mukha); the progression (pratimukha); the development (garbha); the pause in which one stops to reflect because of anger or passion or temptation (avamarsa or Vimarsa); and, the  successful conclusion (upasamhrti or nirvahana).

Antaraik arthasambandhah samdhir ekanvaye sati / Mukha-pratimukhe- garbhahs avamarsa upasarnhrtih

Arthapraktaya pañca pañcāvastā samanvitā / yathā sakhyena jāyante mukhādyā pañca sandhaya 

The Nivahana (conclusion or finale) is that Samdhi (juncture) in which the elemrnts of the plot that started with the opening scene (Mukha) and sprouted (Bija) in the subsequent scenes and later systematically and progressively spread over in the later scenes finally concluded with the hero attaining his desired objective.

Bija va anto mukhadyartha viprakirna yathayatham / aikarthyam uparuyante yatra nirvahanam hi tat //

The plot may have all or any of the SamdhisThe Samdhis, in turn, are said to have sixty-four sub-divisions or limbs (Angas).  These help to fulfill the purpose of their respective Samadhi. The Samdhis are related to each other and to their limbs (Anga). And, they are also related to the five stages (Avastha) of the action in the play.

And, in a play it is not necessary to use all the sixty-four Angas; and, even when used,  they should be in tune with the dominant Rasa of the play.

Dr. Manjulal Gupta in her very well researched  scholarly work A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka enumerates these sixty-four Angas and discusses each; and, in detail, on particularly those  Angas on which Bharata and Dhananjaya differed.


An interlude should always be made in between the acts of a Drama; and, performed by one or more characters middling or inferior who connect to the story of the Drama and to the sub-divisions of the plot by briefly explaining to the spectators what has occurred in the intervals of the acts or what is likely to happen later on.

The initial scenes are always auspicious and happy–feeling (adi-mangala); and, as the story unfolds, unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted by the crafty villain on the virtuous hero. In the midst of all the troubles that the hero is facing, near about the mid-point of the story, something good happens to the hero (madhya-mangala).  Somewhere in the second-half of the story, the trials and tribulations of the lovers, relieved by the rather clumsy attempts of the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka .  And,  after a hard fought  and suspenseful struggle, eventually the good and the Dharma triumphs; and all ends well (antya-mangala).

[ For more on the structure of Sanskrit Drama, please do read a very scholarly article by Ven.Dr.Thero.]

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Dhananjaya’s Dasarupakam says the the Dramas are of ten types ; and are based in Rasas ( dasadhaiva rasasrayam ) . It lists  the  major types of Dramas asnatakam ca prakaranam bhanah prahasanam dimah vyayoga samavakarau vithy ankeha- Ihāmrga iti

[The ten chief varieties of drama (Rupaka) are: the Nataka; the Prakarana; the Bhana; the Prahasana; the Dima; the Vyayoga; the Samavakara; the Vithi; the Anka (=Utsrstikanka); and , the Ihāmrga ]

Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana  (6. 7-11 page 118-119) gives the  list of ten major Rupakas  along  with  examples of  these  varieties:

Major (Rupaka):

  • (1) Nataka (e.g. Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa);
  • (2) Prakarana (e.g. Malathi-Madhava of Bhavabhuti);
  • (3) Bhana (e.g. Karpuracharita of Vatsaraja);
  • (4) Vyayoga (e.g. Madhyama-Vyayoga of Bhasa);
  • (5) Samavakara (e.g. Samudra-manthana of Vatsaraja);
  • (6) Dima (Tripuradaha of Vatsaraja);
  • (7) Ihamrga ( e.g. Rukminiharana of Vatsaraja);
  • (8) Anka or Utsrstikanta (e.g. Sharmistha-Yayati) ;
  • (9) Vithi (e.g. Malavika) ,and
  • (10)  Prahasana (Mattavilasa of Mahendravarman).


Please do read a brief study of the Dasarupaka of Viswanatha , according to his Sahityadarpana – by Dr. Leena Chandra K


As regards the Upa-rupakas, they were considered as a minor class of dramatic works; as distinct form the major works satisfying all the requirements prescribed for  a Rupaka or Nataka proper.  But, the earlier texts such as Natyashastra do not make a mention of the Upa-rupaka class of plays.

Perhaps, the earliest reference to Uparupaka occurs in is the Kamasutras of Vatsyayana who mentions plays  Hallisaka, latyarasaka and Preksanaka of Uparupaka type  watched by men and women of taste. Ahhinavagupta’s commentary on the Natyashastra occasionally mentions Upa-rupakas; but, witout defining the class. Rajashekara calls his Prakrit play Sattaka as not being a Nataka, but resemling a Natika, excepting that pravesakas, viskambhakas and ankas do not occur.

Thus , it seems that Upa-rupaka was a minor class of dramatic work; not satisfying all the classic, dramatic requirements, even when a full theme was handled.

Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana also lists the eighteen  minor types (Upa-Rupaka) , with examples :

Minor types of Drama (Upa-Rupaka)  :

  • (1) Natika (e.g. Ratnavali of Sri Harsha);
  • (2) Trotaka (e.g. Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa);
  • (3) Ghosti (e.g. Raivatamadanika);
  • (4) Natyarasaka (e.g.Vilasavathi );
  • (5) Sattaka (e.g. Rajasekhara’s Karpuramanjari);
  • (6) Prasthana (e.g. Srngaratilaka);
  • (7)Ullapya ( e.g. Devimahadeva);
  • (8) Kavya (e.g. Yadavodaya);
  • (9)  Prenkhana (e.g. Valivadha);
  • (10) Rasaka (e.g. Menakahita);
  • (11) Samlapaka (e.g. Mayakapalika);
  • (12) Srigadita (e.g. Kridarasatala);
  • (13) Silpaka (e.g. Kanakavathi-madhava);
  • (14) Vilasika ;
  • (15) Durmallika (e.g. Bindumathi);
  • (16) Prakaranika;
  • (17) Hallisa (e.g. Keliraivataka); and,
  • (18) Bhanika (e.g. Kamadatta)

(For a detailed discussion on Uparupakas : please click here)

[Whatever scholastic value these classifications may possess, it is not of much significance in the historical development of the drama, for most of the varieties remain unrepresented in actual practice. The earlier drama does not appear to subscribe fully to the rigidity of the prescribed forms, and it is only in a general way that we can really fit the definitions to the extant specimens.

In the theoretical works, everything is scholastically classified and neatly cataloged ; forms of the drama, types of heroes and heroines, their feelings, qualities, gestures, costumes, make-up, situations, dialects, modes of address and manner of acting. All this perhaps gives the impression of a theater of living marionettes. But in practice, the histrionic talent succeeds in infusing blood into the puppets and translating dry formulas into lively forms of beauty, while poetic genius overcomes learned scholasticism and creates a drama from the conflict of types and circumstances.

Prof. S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Sanskrit Literature – Classical Period – vol. I  ]



(b) Padya – Gadya – Champu


Source : Laws practice Sanskrit drama by Prof. S N Shastri

There is another classification based in the form in which a work is composed: works written in Padas (metrical poetry, padya); Gadya (prose); and Misra or Champu (in various mixed forms, partly in verse and partly in prose) – gadyaṃ padyañca miśrañca kāvyādi trividhaṃ smṛtam (AP.336.08). And, in Drama too the dialogues in prose are interspersed by lyrical songs.

Earlier, from Bhamaha (Ca.7th century) to Rudrata (Ca. 9th century), literature was classified either as poetry or as prose. The poetry was ‘nibaddha-mukta’ (unfettered) and prose as ‘sarga-bandha’ (structured into divisions or Cantos).

design rangoli

Works in Prose, generally, narrated romantic tales, prose romances etc. Such prose Kavya is categorized as (i) Katha, a narration in the form of story, fiction (e.g. Kadambari of Banabhatta; Dasakumara-Charita of Dandin, and Vasvadatta of Subandhu); and as (ii) Akhyayika, almost a non-fiction, historical narrative recounting the deed of Kings and heroes of old (e.g. Harshacharita of Banabhatta).

A distinction between historical and fictional genres (Akhyayika and Katha) was drawn as early as Bhamaha (seventh century), who contrasts Katha (imaginary tales) narratives with Akhyayika “that celebrate the real events of gods and others”.  These traditional categories often overlap each other. Historical facts were often treated as malleable material that could be molded in any manner to suit the desired impact of the text. Such supposedly historical narratives generally dealt with the contemporary Kings and their ancestors composed under Royal patronage; and, such Courtly works were meant, mainly, to please the patrons.

Katha is again of two types: complete story (Sakala katha) or a description of an episode (Eka-desa-varnana) called Knanda Katha. Here again, Katha was made into two other classes: those based on invented or fictional themes (Utpadya or Kalpita); and, those based on themes derived from well-known sources such as history (Itihasa) and legends (Purana).

The most well known among the Katha (stories) or fictional narrations themes (Utpadya or Kalpita) are the Brhat-katha of Guṇaḍya originally in Paisachi (a form of Prakrit) retold in Sanskrit by Somadeva (11th century) as Katha-saritsagara; the collection of moral tales or fables Pancha-tantra and Hitopadesa; and, the collection of highly entertaining stories or tales include the Vetala-pancavisatika, Sukasaptati   and Sihāsana-dvatrim-sātika.

Then there is the Kādambarī of Banabhatta  (7th century) which describes the affairs of two sets of lovers through a series of incarnations, in which they are constantly harassed by a cruel fate.

Another fine example of tales is the eminently readable Dasa-kumara-carita by Daṇḍin (6th-7th centuries), in which, within the framework of a boxing story, the picaresque adventures of ten disinherited princes are described in prose.


 The third genre Champu, with alternate narrations of prose and verse allows the poet greater ease or   felicity of expression. It affords the poet ample opportunities to display not only his erudition but also his command over prose as also over the verse form.

The Champu was usually a full-fledged composition of epic proportions. The Champu used metrical and non-metrical language with more or less equal prominence. The prose too was ornate and almost lyrical.

A narrative mixed in prose and verse has many examples. Sanskrit Drama too was a mixture prose and verse. Among the literary works there are many well known Champu Kavyas; for example:  Nalachampu of Trivikrama, and Ramayana Champu, Bhojachampu and Bhagavatachampu by Abhinava Kalidasa. The Prabandha or the prose in ornate style is also interspersed with verses.

The Jain writers used Champu for religious texts, while the Bengal Vaishnava School wrote Champu Kavyas relating to Krishna. The Bhoja-prabandha of Ballalasens (16th century) narrates stories of King Bhoja. The Jain Prabandhas are semi-historical works; a curious mix of legends and anecdotes.

A subject treated in prose romance was also, sometimes, rendered in Champu form. For instance; the Vasavadatta of Subandhu a work in prose   was rendered in Champu as Vasavadatta Champu.

The Champu and Prabandhas forms of literature appear to have been popular in South India, even during the later times. The Champu form of narration continued to grow with religious and biographical themes.  For instance; the political affairs of contemporary Deccan and Karnataka as well as Anglo-French conflicts form the theme of Anandaranga-champu of Shrinavasa. And, there was the Devashankara’s Purohit’s Alamkara-manjusha, which praises the achievements of Peshwa Madhav Rao I.

The longer compositions, be it Prose or Verse or the mixed Champu, all  share a few common features. They all treat a unified theme and develop it in all its fullness, spread over chapters or junctures (Sandhi) or stages in the development of the theme, following a proper sequence of events. In that sense, they resemble a Drama.


(c) Sanskrit –Prakrit -Misra

At later times, another type of classification was brought in by scholars such as Bhamaha (6th – 7th century) who classified all poetry as (i) Sanskrit; (ii) Prakrit ( local or regional languages commonly spoken) or (iii) Apabramsha (dialects prevalent  before the rise of the modern languages) . Dandin (6th -7th century), added one more category: Misra, a work written in a mixture of languages.

In the 8th-9th century, Rajasekhara, in his Kavya-mimamsa, a work devoted to literary theory, notes three important features of Indian literature: (i) It is composed in many languages including dialects and the speech of small communities; (ii) while having a distinct Indian character, it has immense regional variety of forms and themes; and (iii) it is worldly and concerns the travails of ordinary human life.

In his invocation to Lord Shiva, from whom Kavya is believed to have originated, Rajasekhara compares the various aspects of Kavya to the different organs of Shiva (Shivaroopa).  Following his interpretation if one compares Shiva to a Kavya Purusha, i.e.  to a human form, one could say that

Sabda (words) and Artha (meaning) constitute body (trunk) of the Kavya Purusha  .

Of the languages, Sanskrit is his face; Prakrit his arms; Apabhramsa his waist; and, Paisachi his   feet.  The mixed (Misra) languages are his chest.

Kavya Purusha, just as Shiva, is sweet, graceful; is having composure (Sama) pleasant nature  (prasanna), melody (madhura) as also vigor  (Ojas) and liberal (Udara) . His voice is noble.

Rasa is his soul (Atma) ; and,  Vritha its hair.

His verbal quirks are dialogues (questions and repartee, riddles (Prahelikas) and Samasya (problems).

Kavya Purusha is decorated with alliterations (Anuprāsa) and similes, Upama (sabda, artha, Alamkaras)

– (Rājaśekhara, Kāvyamīmā, Chapter 3 – kāvyapuruṣotpattiḥ tṛtīyo ‘dhyāyaḥ 3)

śabdārthau te śarīraṃ, saṃskṛtaṃ mukhaṃ, prakṛtaṃ bāhuḥ, jaghanam aparbhraṃśaḥ, paiśācaṃ pādau, uro miśram /
samaḥ prasanno madhura udāra ojasvī cāsi /
ukticaṇaṃ te vaco, rasa ātmā, rāmāṇi chandāṃsi, praśnottara pravahlikā dikaṃ ca vākkeliḥ, anuprās upamādayaśca tvām alaṅkurvanti /
bhaviṣyato ‘rthasyābhidhātrī śrurirapi bhava antamabhistauti-

‘catvāri śṛṅgāstrayo ‘sya pādā śīrṣe saptahastāso ‘sya /
tridhā baddho vṛṣabho roravīti maho devo martyānāviveśa’ /

Rajasekhara also says that a poet has to learn to compose Kavya in Sanskrit as also in Prakrit. His Prakrit composition has to be according to his own outlook, taste and talent. But, he should pay particular attention to the Vachya-Vachaka relation of Sabda and Artha. And, while handling more than one language, assigning meanings (Artha) has to be done with great care; and the poetry that flows from such careful process   would stand any test.

Drama, even in its earliest times, had been multi lingual, written in a mixture of languages. Here, the rural and certain other characters spoke not in chaste Sanskrit but in their own Prakrit or Apabhramsa dialects.  Among the Kavyas, an early example of the use of Apabramsha is the Vikramorvashiyam of Kalidasa, when Pururavas asks the animals in the forest about his beloved who had disappeared. Compositions in Apabhramsa continued (particularly in the Sindh region-Saindhava) until Vikram Samvat 1700 (about 1643 AD), when Bhagavatidasa wrote Migankaleha Chariu.


Source : Laws practice Sanskrit drama by Prof. S N Shastri

Even much earlier to that, Bharata in Natyashastra (around second century BCE) states, in general, the languages to be used in a play (pathya) as of four types: Atibhasha (to be used by gods and demi-gods); Aryabhasha ( for people of princely and higher classes); Jatibhasha (for common folks, including the Mleccha , the foreigners) and, Yonyantari ( for the rest , unclassified) . The security guards and doorkeepers were said to speak Dakshinatya (Southern) or Bahliki (Northwest -Bacteria region)

As regards the songs, the Dhruva songs sung by women were generally in Prakrit. Natyashastra also  discusses the features of the Dhruva songs composed in regional dialects ; and , in that context mentions seven known dialects  (Desha-bhasha) of its time : Māgadhī, Āvantī, Prācyā, Śaurasenī,  Ardha-māgadhī, Bāhlikā  and   Dākiātyā  (NŚ 5.17-48).

Śaurasenī was the language spoken around the region of Surasena (Mathura area). And, in the play the female characters, Vidūṣaka (jester), children, astrologers and others around the Queens’ court spoke in Śaurasenī. It was assigned a comparatively higher position among the Prakrit dialects.

In comparison, Magadhi , the dialect of the Magadha region in the East , was spoken in the play by lesser characters such as servants, washer -men, fishermen, , barbers ,doorkeepers , black-smiths, hunters  and by the duṣṭa (wicked)  . Even otherwise, the people of Magadha as such were not regarded highly and were projected in poor light.

In some versions, there is a mention of Mahārāṣṭ also. It was a language spoken around the river Godavari; and, according to linguists, it is an older form of Marāṭhī. In some plays, the leading-lady and her friends speak in Śaurasenī; but , sing in Mahārāṣṭ.

It is said; in the earliest times the Sanskrit as a spoken language had at least three distinct dialects: Udichya (North West); Madhyadesya (Mid region) ; and, Prachya (East). It is believed that the Classical Sanskrit, as refined by Panini, was based primarily in Udichya and Madhyadesya dialects.

The forms of Prakrit such as Magadhi, Ardha Magadhi and Apabhramsa were dominant in the East, up to the beginning of the 4th century AD. Most of the literary works during the early period were in Prakrit. Apabhramsa was of considerable importance till about 150 BCE. The earliest reference to Apabhramsa is found in Mahabhashya of Patanjali. It appears that Apabhramsa was not the name of any particular language but was used to denote all deviations from the normal Sanskrit.

 It was only by about the second century AD   more and more works, including those of Buddhists and Jains, came to be written in Sanskrit.

Following that period, some regional languages (Desi Bhasha) became vehicles of the living thought and emotions of the people. The literary activities in these languages picked up . And, lyrical poetry was composed in a mixture of languages- Sanskrit and Regional. There were of course number of great Kavyas in regional languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam and others. Here too the Poetic traditions of the Sanskrit language were closely followed.


 (d) Literary and the non-literary works

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

Sanskrit Poetics endorses the role of Kavya as a vehicle for imparting instructions. While the earlier theoreticians – Bhamaha, Dandin and Vamana- count the renown or fame (Kirti) won the poem and enjoyment (Priti) of the reader among aims of the Kavya, the later poets include instructions (Upadesha) as n additional aim. They also say that unlike scriptures (Prabhu samhita), the Kavya instructs in a gentle and persuasive voice, just as the sweet whispering of the beloved in to ones ears (Kantha-samhita).

At the same time, it would be incorrect to count educational or instructive poetry, religious hymns or narrative literature as Kavya. That is to say, it is not the mere outer form that decides the poetic merit of Kavya.

And, Kavya need not also always have to deal with learned matters. In fact, too much learning will affect the appeal of a poem. It might turn preachy. There are therefore short poems or couplets that in a capsule form impart moral codes (Niti), wisdom and erotic (Sringara). The most well known poems of this genre are Bhartrhari’s sets of stanzas on Sringara and Vairagya.

Kshemendra (11th century) makes a distinction between Kavya and Shastra, that is, between the purely poetic works and the subject oriented works that are in poetic form. And, he also mentions of works that fall in the intermediate zone: Shastra-kavya – poetry that is also technical; and, Kavya-shastra – a technical work that is also poetry.

This distinction, some regard, as useful, because a certain technical work may also provide good poetry while imparting knowledge. But, at the same time, a Kavya might also be sung as a stotra (e.g. Gitagovinda of Jayadeva).

Basically, Shastra is informative in its character and the style is textual; Kavya, on the other hand, is complex in its structure, employing a language of its own, embellished with artistic metaphors, similes and unusual expressions.

In order to allow his text not only to convey information but also to convey it in an artistic manner, the author-poet uses complex structures. But yet, the natural language is the foundation of the poetry. Although the words used in Kavya and in the non-literary Shastra works are the same they do not evoke the same joy or other emotions.

The poetry, on the other hand, creates for itself a language which has a character of its own (Riti, marga). It might depart from the ordinary day-to-day common usage. With that the poem aims at a definite stylistic effect (vishista). The poet arranges his building-bricks in a manner that is different from that of a non-literary work.

The poet assembles his material in a non-standard fashion; and as Vamana points out the creative process involve using a word-order (pada-charana) in peculiar or specialized (Visista) ways that possess certain characteristics (Kavya-alamkara). Vamana puts forth the view that that the special characteristics (Visesha) of a Kavya are mainly derived from the fact that the poet deliberately attempts to create a fresh or ingenious style of depiction with his unique expressions. The poetic language wears a clock or a veil, so to say.

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


(e)  Mahakavya – Laghukavya

The other major division of lyrical poetry was to categorize Kavya into: (i) Mahakavya, long poems structured into chapters, following all the prescribed regulations of classical poetry; and, (ii) Laghu-kavya, shorter poems or poetry of the minor form.

Bhamaha and Vamana describe these forms as Nibaddha (cohesive poetry) and A-nibaddha (non-cohesive poetry).  Nibaddha which is equated with Mahakavya includes both the long poems (in verse, prose or a mixture of the two) as also Drama. A-nibaddha equated with Laghu-kavya covers all kinds of short poems say of one or two stanzas.

Mahakavya is the elaborate court epic  kavya in classic style narrating a noble story element (kathavastu) of sublime characters   spread over several cantos (sarga bandho mahākāvyam ārabdhaṃ saṃskṛtena) adorned with eighteen types of descriptions (asta-dasha-varnana), with well chosen forms (guna) of expression, syntax, and graces of rasa and beauty (alankara) and endowed with  eloquent imagination; and , at the same time,    satisfying all the norms and principles (kavya-lakshana)   prescribed  for a Maha-kavya by the Kavya -shastra texts – kāvyaṃ sphuṭad-alaṅkāraṃ guṇavad-doṣa varjitam (AP.336.07) . Apart from these, it must promote and further the cause of the Dharma.

Thus, a Mahakavya  composed by a great poet must be complete in all aspects :

sarva vṛtti pravṛttañca sarva bhāva prabhāvitam /sarva arītirasaiḥ puṣṭaṃ / ata eva mahākāvyaṃ tatkartā ca mahākaviḥ //AP.336.31-32//

The Laghu-Kavya comprises within it several: Muktaka – single stanza poem; Yugala – two stanza poem; Sandanitaka (or Vishesaka) = three stanza poem; Kapalaka = Four stanza poem; Kulaka – five to fifteen stanza poem; Samghata = series of stanzas; Kosha (treasure) – collection of stanzas; and Khanda-kavya– short poetic work – ākhyāyikā kathā khaṇḍa-kathā pari-kathā tathā.

mahākāvyaṃ kalāpaś ca paryābandho viśeṣakam //kulakaṃ muktakaṃ koṣa iti padya kuṭumbakam /AP.336.23-24//


According to Bhamaha, a Mahakavya should be composed of Sargas (Cantos- Sargabandha – sargabandho mahakavyam). Its subject matter (Vastu) should be Noble. It may concern the humans or the legends of divine beings (devadicarita). It may be based on a traditional lore or on an imagined story (Utpadya-vastu) rooted in Arts (Kalashraya) or in treaties (Shastras).

Its hero (Nayaka) should be noble; and, should be endowed with all the virtues. Prominence should be given to the hero; describing his noble birth, prowess, training in Shastra etc.

A Kavya, according to Bhamaha, may be in prose (Gadya) or verse (Padya). It may be written in Sanskrit, Prakrit or Apabhramsa.

The story should be narrated in refined language (a-gramya) with graceful and meaningful words adorned with Alankaras (salamkaram).

Manthra (state councils), Doothaprayana (emissaries-relation with other states), battles, victory of the hero, are to narrated in five Samdhis.  It should be comprehensible without detailed explanation; but, complete in all aspects.

One predominant sentiment should run through the entire length of the poem. The other Rasas could be brought out separately.

Though it deals with the four-fold Purusharthas, the Artha should be given prominence. Worldly matters should be depicted.

sargabandho mahakavyam mahatamca mahaccayat; a-gramya,, sabdamartham ca salamkaram sadasrayam mantra-dutaprayarajinayakabhyudayaisca yat; panacabhih santibhiryuktam natiyakhyeyamrdhimat; Caturvargabhidhanepi bhuyasarthopadesakrt yuktam lokasvabhavena rasaisca sakalaihiiprthak; nayakam pragupanayasya vamsaviryasrutadibhithi natasyaiva vadham bruyadanyot karsabhidhitaya yadi kavya’ sarirasya na sa vyapitayesyate – Kavyalankara I, 18-23 .


Dandin in his Kavyadarsa gives an elaborate definition of Mahakavya, the summit of Kavya genre – sargabandho mahākavyam ucyate tasya lakṣaṇam :

The composition in Cantos (Sargabandha) begins with a benediction (asis or Mangala), or a salutation (namaskriya) or an indication of the plot (Vastu-nirdesha) – āśīrnamaskriyā vastunirdeśo vāpi tanmukham .

Its story (Katha) is based on a traditional narrative (itivrtta), or on a true event  (ithihasa) from one or the other sources – itihāsa kathodbhūtam itarad vā sadāśrayam .

It deals with the fruits of the four aims of life (chatur-varga phala Purushartha) and four types of heroes – catur udātta-nāyakam . Its hero  or the principal character (Nayaka) is well accomplished in all the arts, graceful  and noble (Dhirodatta). The Anti-hero (Prati-nayaka) lacks all such virtues; but is powerful , passionate and full of anger.

The sequence of events in the Sarga-bandha should be structured in Samdhis (junctures) providing for a logical progression of the events in the story. Accordingly, a Kavya should begin with an happy opening (Mukha or Adi-mangala) , against which is set the second Samdhi (Prati-mukha) . Following which the third Samdhi , the Garbha (embryo) gradually unfolds the plot. That leads to the fourth Samdhi , the Vimarsa the crisis or the testing-times in the life of the principal character (Nayaka). And, his trails and tribulations are resolved (Nirvahana)  in the fifth Samdhi. And , the Kavya is concluded on an auspicious note ( Antya-mangala).

Adorned (Alamkara) with eighteen (ahsta-dasha-varnana) types of descriptions  including that of 

the cities (nagara); oceans (arnava); mountains (shaila); seasons (vasantadi ritu); the raising of the sun and moon (chandra surya-udaya-asthamana);

nagarā arṇava śailā rtu candrā arka udaya varṇanaiḥ ;

playing in pleasure-parks (vana vihara), (udyana), and in water (jala krida); drinking parties , first blossoming of love (Purva-raga) and the delights of love-making (madyapana surata); weddings (vivaha); the separation of lovers (viraha) – udyāna salila kṛīḍā madhu pāna aratotsavaiḥ; discussions with the wise (vipralambha), weddings, the birth of a son (putrodaya)

– vipralambha vivāhaiś ca kumāro udaya varṇanaiḥ;

state-craft (raja-mantra); gambling or dispatching  messengers (dyuta);  wars  (yuddha);  campaigns (jaitra-yatra); and,  accomplishments of the hero (nayaka abyudaya)

mantra dūta prayāṇāji nāyakā abhyudayair api.


It is not too condensed; but , is pervaded with Rasa (aesthetic mood) and Bhava (basic emotion) – alaṃkṛtam asaṃkṣiptaṃ rasa bhāva nirantaram;

having  Cantos (Sarga) that are not overly diffuse; composed in meters that are pleasing to hear, with proper junctures , and ending with different meters (that is, meters different from the main or the carrying meter of the Canto)

sargair anativistīrṇaiḥ śravyavṛttaiḥ susaṃdhibhiḥ .

Such a Kavya pleasing to the world and well ornamented (Sadalamkriti) will last until the end of creation

– sarvatra bhinna vṛttāntair upetaṃ loka rañjanam ; kāvyaṃ kalpāntara sthāyi jāyate sad alaṃkṛti.

Even if it lacks some of these features, a Kavya does not become bad, if the perfection of the things that are present delights the connoisseurs (Sahrudaya).

nyūnam apy atra yaiḥ kaiś cid aṅgaiḥ kāvyaṃ na duṣyati, yady upātteṣu saṃpattir ārādhayati tadvidhaḥ  

sargabandho mahākavyam ucyate tasya lakṣaṇam &
āśīrnamaskriyā vastunirdeśo vāpi tanmukham // DKd_1.14 //
itihāsakathodbhūtam itarad vā sadāśrayam &
caturvargaphalāyattaṃ caturudāttanāyakam // DKd_1.15 //
nagarārṇavaśailārtucandrārkodayavarṇanaiḥ &
udyānasalilakṛīḍāmadhupānaratotsavaiḥ // DKd_1.16 //
vipralambhair vivāhaiś ca kumārodayavarṇanaiḥ &
mantradūtaprayāṇājināyakābhyudayair api // DKd_1.17 //
alaṃkṛtam asaṃkṣiptaṃ rasabhāvanirantaram &
sargair anativistīrṇaiḥ śravyavṛttaiḥ susaṃdhibhiḥ // DKd_1.18 //
sarvatra bhinnavṛttāntair upetaṃ lokarañjanam &
kāvyaṃ kalpāntarasthāyi jāyate sad alaṃkṛti // DKd_1.19 //
nyūnam apy atra yaiḥ kaiś cid aṅgaiḥ kāvyaṃ na duṣyati &
yady upātteṣu saṃpattir ārādhayati tadvidhaḥ // DKd_1.20 //


The ultimate test of a classic poet is Mahakavya, presented as a splendid unity of descriptive and narrative delight. Its long narrative has to be structured into Cantos (Sargabandha) rendering the theme in sequential junctures (Samdhi).

The earliest surviving Kavya is Buddhacarita by Ashvaghosa (first century). Some of the renowned Mahakavya-are: Raghuvaśa and Kumārasambhava by Kalidasa; Kirātārjunīya by Bharavi; Śiśupāla-vadha by Māgha; Naiśadha-carita by Sri-Hara; and, Bhaṭṭikāvya, by Bhaṭṭi.

Unlike the prose narrative (Katha and Akhyayika) and the mixed genre of Champu or Drama (Rupaka) , the Makakavya is a poem composed entirely of quatrain-like Kavya stanzas. The Kavya poet arranges his or her in variety of elaborate meters, usually keeping the single ‘carrying’ meter up to the end of the Canto. The concluding verses are , however, composed in a different meter. 

The characteristics of a Mahakavya may generally be treated as falling under two broad heads: essential and non-essential or formal. The essential characteristics are based on three constituents of Kavya: plot (Vastu or Itivrtta), the hero (Netr or Nayaka) and the main emotional content that it aims to portray (Bhava).

The plot must not be entirely fictitious; but must have a base in history or in Purana. The hero must be accomplished person of very high linage, a very noble person (Dhirodatta). The delineations of various sentiments and emotions are the third characteristic.

The non-essential characteristics are many; and, they generally apply to the techniques of narration and descriptions. A list of such characteristics includes that the number of Sarga should not exceed thirty but should not be less than eight. The number of verses should not be less than thirty but should not exceed two hundred. The last two or three verses of a Canto should be composed in a different meter or meters.

These characteristics are not essential. They may or may not be present in a Kavya.(e.g. The Haravijaya has more than fifty Cantos; some Cantos of Naisadhiyacharita contains more than two hundred verses; and the first Canto of the Bhattikavya has only twenty-seven verses).


Among the Laghukavya-s, a comparatively more detailed form is Khanda Kavya, which takes an independent position between Laghukavya and Mahakavya.

Kavya consisting one Section (Khanda) is called Khanda Kavya. It is different from a series of stanzas (Samghata). Khanda can employ themes much more freely and it usually narrates a story; or it might sometimes provide a background to the narrative. The classic examples of Khandakavya are: Kalidasa’s Meghadutam having about just over one hundred stanzas and Bilhana’s Chauri-surata-panchasika (fifty stanzas concerning secret enjoyment of love-act).

The other forms of Laghu-kavya generally comprise : Muktaka – single stanza poem; Yugmaka (also called Yugma, Yugala or Yugalaka) – two-stanza poem; Sandanitaka (or Visesaka) – three stanza poem; Kapalaka – four –stanza poem; Kulaka – five to fifteen stanza poem; Samghata – series of stanzas;  and, Kosha – collection of stanzas – kulakaṃ muktakaṃ koṣa iti padya kuṭumbakam.

In Yugmaka, the pair, two stanzas are closely linked by both syntax and content. Both the Mukataka and Yugmaka show a clear tendency to be constructed on one sentence –one –stanza principle.

If the number of stanzas exceeds two  Sandanitaka (the chain) , Kapalaka (the group) or Kulaka (the multitude)  are the terms used , in a narrow sense, are the names given to poems of three , four or four or five to fifteen  stanzas respectively.

kalāpo ‘tra pravāsaḥ prāganurāgāhvayo rasaḥ / saviśeṣakañca prāptyādi saṃskṛtenetreṇa ca // ślokair anekaiḥ kulakaṃ syāt sandānitakāni tat/AP_336.036/

Samghata (the junction) is a sort of longer poetry all written in the same meter, dealing with one single theme through the whole series of stanzas: a mountain , a season, a wedding , a battle etc.

The Kosha (treasure) on the other hand is longer and heterogeneous. These perhaps could be called Anthologies; and these form an important category in Sanskrit and Prakrit literature. They are collections of Muktakas selected from various sources, arranged as per a theme or in a random fashion.

The single stray verse (Muktaka) containing a single line of thought, emotion or expression or description or a summary – muktakaṃ śloka ekaikaś camatkāra kṣamaḥ satā ṃ– is very often used in all types of Kavyas. It is either used at commencement of the Kavya either as benediction (Mangala) or to pay homage to the earlier Masters of the tradition or to summarize the theme that is going to be presented or the mood  of the Kavya itself . These single stanza poems could be compared to Indian miniatures; both present selected fields of animate and inanimate reality typical of the art in question.

The single unit of two or more stanzas in the same meter or in alternate meter (Paryaya Bandha)


(f)  Dhvani – Guna – Chitra

Anandavardhana (Ca. 850 AD) in his Dhvanyaloka chose a different type of classification. He graded the Kavya into three classes (a) Dhvani-kavya (the poetry that suggests) as the true Kavya, the best (Uttama), where Dhvani the unspoken suggestive element is dominant; (b) the second, Gunibhuta-vamgmaya-kavya (well endowed descriptive poetry, as the middle (Madhyama) where Dhvani is secondary to Alamkara, and serves as a decoration for the spoken or expressed meaning; and (c) and Chitrakavya (poetry that structured into various patterns or drawings) as the least (Adhama) which depends entirely on verbal play for  its elegance and elaboration, and where Dhvani the suggestive power of poetry is absent.

Anandavardhana believed that all good poetry has two modes of expression – one that is expressed by words  embellished by Alamkara ; and the other that is implied or concealed – what is inferred by the listener or the reader And , in  the implied one –  the Dhvani – lies the soul of the poetry.

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

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

Anandavardhana’s classification is generally accepted and has come to stay. But, what has changed is the types of discussions around it. The later discussions are more pointed and specific.

Let’s talk about the concepts of Sphota, Dhvani and Rasa in the next segment.


 Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

I gratefully acknowledge these and other wonderfully well researched  works of great merit

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

ALL Pictures are from Internet

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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Kavya, oral traditions, Sanskrit


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