Tag Archives: Katha

Discussions, Debates and Arguments: Ancient India – Part Two


 Continued from Part One

 Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda


Vaada is a debate between two persons of equal standing. The term Vaada by itself means a theory, doctrine or thesis. In the debate, the proponent who puts forward arguments in support of his doctrine (Vaada) is termed as Vadin. The opponent who refutes that theory through his counter-arguments is termed as Prati-vadin. Unlike in Samvada, there is no teacher-taught relationship here; nor is it a discourse. 

Ideally, both the parties to the Vaada should have mutual regard, respecting each other’s learning and status; and should participate with an open mind in order to explore various dimensions of the subject on hand; to examine it thoroughly by applying the accepted norms of logic and reasoning (Tarka), supported by passages from  texts of undisputed authority (Sabda Pramana). The principal aim of a wholesome Vaada is to resolve the conflict; and, to establish ‘what is true’. The proceedings of the Vaada should be characterized by politeness, courtesy and fair means of presenting the arguments. You might call it a healthy discussion. 

Vatsayana in his commentary Nyāya Bhāya, says that congenial debate (Anuloma Sambasha) takes place when the opponent is not wrathful or malicious; but, is learned , wise, eloquent and patient  ; is well versed in the art of persuasion ; and, is gifted with sweet speech. 

As regards the benefits (Sambasha prashamsa or prayojana)  of such peaceful and congenial debates  : If a learned person debates with another scholar, both versed in the same subject, it would increase the depth of their knowledge, clear misapprehensions, if any, and lead them to  find certain minor details which hitherto might have escaped their attention . It was said: Vade Vade jayate tattvabodhah – Truth emerges out of debates – Besides, it would heighten their zeal to study further; and bring happiness to both.   

But, in cases where two scholars hold contrary views, the Vadin and Prati-vadin will each try very hard to establish the doctrine which he believes is true; and to convince the other to accept its veracity through fair and effective presentation and arguments. At the same time, each is willing to understand and appreciate the arguments of the other; and accept any merit they might find in it. In case, one is in doubt or unable to respond  satisfactorily , one can take a break to re-group his position or to re-examine the issue to see whether he can refute the opponent’s argument more effectively or put up a sounder defense.

And, if one is convinced that the doctrine and the argument presented by the opponent is valid, he adopts it with grace.   And, at the end, one of the two might be proven wrong; or both could be right.  In any case, they accept the outcome of the debate, whatever be it; and, part their ways without rancor. 


The Buddhist text Milinda Panha (The Questions of King Milinda) dated between second and first century BCE is said to be a record of the conversations that took place between the Indo-Greek king Menander I Soter  (who is said to have ruled over the regions of Kabul and Punjab) and the Buddhist monk Nagasena. 

[Menander (Milinda), originally a general of Demetrius, is probably the most successful Indo-Greek king, and the conqueror of a vast territory. The finds of his coins are the most numerous and the most widespread of all the Indo-Greek kings. From at least the 1st century AD, the “Menander Mons“, or “Mountains of Menander”, came to designate the mountain chain at the extreme east of the Indian subcontinent, today’s Naga Hills and Arakan, as indicated in the Ptolemy world map of the 1st century.  

Minander had expanded his kingdom into Gangetic plains, where Buddhism was flourishing. He is reputed to have been a secular King , who protected the beliefs of his Greek and Buddhist subjects.

Menander is remembered in Buddhist literature (the Milinda Panha) for his conversations with the Buddhist elder Monk Nagasena. According to Milinda –panha, the King Milinda carefully listens to Nagasena’s teachings; and, at the end of each discourse exclaims ‘Very good, Bhante* Nagasena’.

[*Bhante (Sanskrit: Bhavanta) is a respectful title used to address elder Buddhist monks in the Theravada tradition. The term literally means “Venerable Sir’.]

Sagala , the city in which King Milinda met the Bhikku Nagasena is identified with Sialkot . The Jatakas  mention : There is , in the country of the Yonakas , a great center of trade , a city that is called Sagala, situated in a delightful country, abounding in parks , groves , lakes and tanks ; a paradise of rivers, woods and mountains.

Source : Greeks and Buddhism: Historical Contacts in the Development of a Universal Religion by Demetrios Th. Vassiliades ]

Milinda panha

At the outset, Nagasena remarks that the debate they would be having would be one between two wise men; and it would not be a debate for the King.

Then, King Menander enquirers as to the distinction between the two. 

Monk Nagasena explains:   

When scholars debate, your Majesty, there is summing up and unraveling of a theory, convincing and conceding; there is also defeat, and yet the scholars do not get angry at all.   

When the Kings debate, your Majesty, they state their thesis, and if anyone differs from them, they order him punished, saying ‘Inflict punishment upon him’. 

Thus, in a good debate there could be defeat or censure or clincher (Nigraha-sthana) but no animosity.

milinda nagasena

 [Dr. Sangeetha Menon, in her scholarly article, though she writes about Savāda, she is actually referring to Vada:

(Sa)vāda, is meant to lead to transforming experiences, in the process of which attempts are made jointly to (i) ascertain what is true knowledge, (ii) to understand new ideas, and,  (iii) to understand the nature of the inquirer herself/himself.

(Sa) vāda plays a central role in understanding Indian philosophy as well as Indian psychology. It has references not only to logical and epistemological methods but also to states of mind which are important in the discussion about the primal nature of self. Hence, the discussions on metaphysical and ontological issues are always interrelated to understanding ethical, axiological, aesthetic and spiritual issues. There is a constant attempt to reconcile and integrate different experiences, and the existence of contradictions so as to generate worldviews based on an understanding of life with answers for fundamental questions about self-identity, nature of world, creation, purpose of life, nature of knowledge, value systems etc.

Apart from the content of the dialogue, the process of dialogue plays an important role in contributing to the well-being of the partners involved. It gives total and one-time attention to how world views are formed, how mental and physical discipline are significant to conceive an idea, how way of living is connected with the self-identity of the inquirer.

Being and Wellbeing In Upanishadic Literature  by Dr. Sangeetha Menon ]



Nyaya Sutra in its First Book enumerates the steps or the categories (padartha) of the methods (Vadopaya) for structuring the argument and for presentation of the subject under debate, while the rest of the four Books expand on these steps. The Vada-marga (the stages in the course of a debate) is classified under sixteen steps: 

  • 1) Pramana (the means of knowledge);
  • 2) Prameya (the object of right knowledge);
  • 3)  Samsaya (creating doubt or misjudgment );
  • 4) Prayojana (purpose);
  • 5) Drshtanta  (familiar example);
  • 6) Sidhanta (established  tenet or principle);
  • 7) Avayava (an element of syllogism);
  • 8) Tarka ( reasoned argument);
  • 9) Niranaya (deduction or determination of the question); 
  • 10) Vada (discussion to defend or to arrive at the truth);
  • 11) Jalpa (wrangling or dispute to secure a win );
  • 12) Vitanda (quibble or mere attack);
  • 13) Hetvabhasa (fallacy, erratic  contrary , ill-timed challenges);
  • 14) Chala (misleading or willfully misinterpreting the words);
  • 15) Jati (futile objections founded on similarities or otherwise) ;and
  • 16) Nigrahaslhana (disagreement in principle or  no purpose in arguing further or the point nearing  defeat). 


These sixteen steps are meant to ascertain and establish ‘what is true’ (yathartha).The first four steps deal, mainly, with logic; while the latter seven perform the function of preventing and eliminating the errors. Among the first fou; Pramana with its four reliable means of obtaining knowledge is of cardinal importance [Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sabda (reliable verbal testimony)].

As said earlier, these sixteen categories are discussed in detail in four sections of the Nyaya Sutra.  The Nyāya Sūtra (verse 1.1.2) declares that its goal is to study and describe the attainment of liberation from wrong knowledge, faults and sorrow, through the application of above sixteen categories of perfecting knowledge.

duḥkha-janma-pravṛttidoṣa-mithyājñānānām uttarottarāpāye tadanantarā pāyāt apavargaḥ (1.1.2: )


Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) – (vāda-lakṣaṇam) states that Vaada, the good or honest debate, is constituted by the following characteristics:

 1. Establishment of the thesis and refutation of the counter thesis should be based upon adequate evidence or means of knowledge (pramana) as well as upon proper reasoning (tarka). Pramana, the valid knowledge, is defined as the cognition of the objects as they actually are, free from misapprehension (tatha bhuta rtha jnanam hi pramanam uchyate); and, anything other than that is invalid A-pramana or Bhrama – the cognition of objects as they are not (atha bhuta rtha jnanam hi apramanam). Pramana stands both for the valid -knowledge, and for the instrument or the means by which such valid knowledge is obtained.

2. The conclusion should not entail contradiction with analytical or ‘accepted doctrine’; 

3.  Each side should use the well-known five steps (syllogism) of the demonstration (Sthapana) explicitly.

4.  They should clearly recognize a thesis to be defended and a counter thesis to be refuted.

(pramāṇa-tarka-sādhanopālambhaḥ siddhāntāviruddhaḥ pañcāvayavopapannaḥ pakṣapratipakṣaparigrahaḥ vādaḥ 1.21 )


Nyaya Sutra (1.1.32- avayava-uddeśasūtram; and 1.1.39- nigamana-lakṣaṇam) lays down a five-part syllogism for proper presentation of the elements of the arguments (Vaada).  It states that any valid argument must include the following five factors, as they help to establish the object of right knowledge. These five steps also combine in themselves the four means of cognition: viz., Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sabda (reliable verbal testimony):

1. Pratijna – the proposition or the enunciation of the object – that needs to be proved in the light of the approved texts (Sabda)

2. Hetu – the reason or evidence through the vehicle of inference (Anumana); it furnishes a means to prove the proposition;

3. Udaharana – the citation of examples (well recognized, universally acceptable and independently verifiable) that illustrates (Pratyaksha) the  common principle underlying the subject in question and the example  . It provides the supporting reason or evidence;

4. Upanaya – the application (validity of the example cited- Upamana) evidencing that present thesis is essentially similar to example cited.


5. Niranaya – the conclusion eliminates all plausible contrary conclusions against the proposition; and re-states the proposition or the thesis as proved and established beyond doubt – derived by bringing together all the four means of right knowledge (proposition, reason, example and application)

 ( pratijñā-hetū-udāharaṇa-upanaya-nigaman āni avayavāḥ -1.1.32)

 ( hetvapadeśāt pratijñāyāḥ punarvacanam nigamanam- 1.1.39)

Pratijna is enunciation of the thesis that is sought to be proved – (e.g. Purusha is eternal). Sthapana is establishing the thesis through a process employing reason (hetu), example (drstantha) , application of the example( upanaya)  and conclusion (nigamana) — (e.g. the statement – Purusha is eternal- has to be supported by valid reasoning (hetu)- because he is uncreated; by examples (drstantha) – just as the sky (Akasha ) is uncreated and it is eternal ;  by showing similarity between the subject of the example and the subject of the thesis (Upanaya) – just as Akasha is uncreated a , so the Purusha is uncreated and eternal : finally establishing the thesis (Nigamana) –therefore Purusha is eternal.

Prativada is refuting the proposition or thesis put forth by the proponent. Thus when the proposition of the thesis Sthapana is Purusha is eternal, the   Prati-stapana, the counter proposition, would be Purusha is non-eternal; because it is perceivable by senses and the jug which is perceivable by senses is non-eternal; Purusha is like the jug; therefore Purusha is non-eternal


At the commencement of the Vaada, the Judge or the arbiter (Madhyastha) lays down rules of the Vaada. The disputants are required to honor those norms and regulations. They are also required to adhere to permissible devices; and not to breach certain agreed limits (Vada maryada). For instance; in the case of debates where the Vadin and Prati-vadin both belong to Vedic tradition it was not permissible to question the validity of the Vedas or the existence of  God and the Soul. And, any position taken during the course of Vaada should not contradict the Vedic injunctions.

In the case of the Vada where one belongs to Vedic tradition and the other to Non-Vedic traditions (say, Jaina or Bauddha) they had to abide by the rules and discipline specifically laid down by the Madyastha.

As mentioned earlier, according to Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) Vaada comprises defense and attack (Sadhana and Upalambha). One’s own thesis is defended by means of genuine criteria of knowledge (Pramana) and the antithesis (opponent’s theory) is refuted by negative dialectics of Tarka (logic). But, when defense or attack is employed excessively, merely for the sake of scoring a win, then there is the risk of the debate degenerating into Jalpa.

It is said; Vaada and Jalpa are contrasting counterparts. In Vaada, the thesis is established by Pramana-s; and the anti-thesis is disproved by Tarka or different set of Pramana-s. Whereas in Jalpa, the main function is negation; the Pramana-s do not have much use here.  Jalpa tries to win the argument by resorting to quibbling, such as Chala, Jati and Nigrahasthana. None of these can establish the thesis directly, because their function is negation. But, indirectly , they help to disprove anti-thesis. Thus, Jalpa in general is the dialectical aid for Vada (Nyaya Sutra: 4.2.50-51

[It is said; at times, the Madhyastha might allow or overlook ‘Jalpa-like’ tactics ‘for safeguarding the interests of truth, ‘just as a fence of thorny hedges is used to protect the farms’.]

It is at this stage in the Vaada that the Madyastha might  intervene  to ensure that the participants, especially the one who is at the verge of defeat (Nigraha-sthana) do not resort to tricks such as quibbling (Chala) , false rejoinder (Jati)  etc. 

The Madyastha may even call off the Vada; and award to the candidate who in his view performed better. 

The Vada could be also treated as inconclusive (savyabhicara) and  brought to an end if there is no possibility of reaching a fair decision; or the very subject to be discussed is disputed (Viruddha); or when arguments stray away from the subject that is slated for discussion (prakarana-atita) ; or when the debate prolongs beyond a reasonable (Kalatita).

In this context, it is said the debate could be treated as concluded and one side declared defeated: a) When a proponent misunderstands his own premises and their implications; b) when the opponent cannot understand the proponent’s argument; c) when either party is confused and becomes helpless; d) when either is guilty of faulty reasoning or pseudo-reasoning (hetvabhasa); because, no one should be allowed to win using a pseudo-reason; or e) when one cannot reply within a reasonable time. 

When one party is silenced in the process, the thesis stays as proven.  Hence, in Vaada, there is no explicit ‘defeat’ as such. The sense of defeat (Nigraha-sthana) becomes apparent when there are contradictions in logical reasoning (hetvabhasa); and the debate falls silent.

And, at the end, one of the two might be proven wrong; or both could be right.  In any case, when one is convinced that the doctrine and the argument presented by the opponent are valid, he adopts it with grace. Ideally, whatever might be the outcome of a Vaada, it should be accepted; and, both – Vadin and Prati-vadin  should part their ways without rancor.

[The most celebrated Vaada is said to be the one that took place between the young monk Sri Sankara and the distinguished Mimamsa scholar, householder, Mandana Misra.  Considering the young age of the opponent, Mandana Misra generously offered Sri Sankara the option to select the Madyastha (Judge) for the ensuing debate. Sri Sankara, who had great respect for the righteousness of Mandana Misra, chose his wife Bharathi Devi, a wise and learned person.  

Shankarar in argument with Mandanamisrar's wife

During the course of the lengthy debate when Mandana Misra seemed to be nearing Nigrahasthana (clincher) Bharathi Devi raised questions about marital obligations.  Sri Sankara being a monk had, of course, no knowledge in such matters. He requested for and obtained a ‘break’ to study and to understand the issue. It is said; he returned after some time equipped with the newly acquired knowledge, renewed the Vaada and won it. Thereafter, Mandana Misra and Bharathi Devi accepted Sri Sankara as their teacher, with grace and respect.] 



Please click here for a writing about Vada-vidhi (method of argumentation), a treatise about the methods to mould flawless logic, ascribed to the celebrated Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu (4th to 5th century CE). Vāda-vidhi is the only work of Vasubandhu on logic which has survived. Vasubandhu contributed to Buddhist logic and is held to have been the origin of formal logic in the Indian tradition. His text paved the way for the later Buddhist scholars like Dignaga and Dharmakirti, in the field of logic.

Vasubandhu’s methods for distinguishing fallacious arguments from valid ones rely heavily on his theory of cognition.

He describes a number of logical fallacies, which he classifies into three types: reversed, incorrect or unreal, and contradictory. He then moves on from the trivial examples to complex ones. Vasubandhu’s formal system of argumentation is simple and practical, and especially well-suited for the quick back-and-forth of the verbal debates that were very much in vogue in Vasubandhu’s day. He had a reputation for being an experienced, ferocious debater, with a sharp mind.

His ideas on cognition are quite interesting. The underlying principle in Vasubandhu’s treatise on logic is an unstated premise seemed to be that the objects in the argument structure have no independent existence. Instead, they only come into existence provisionally, when cognized. He further breaks down our process of cognition into direct perception, such as perceptions of pleasure, pain, sound, or sight, and inferred perception, such as the perception of a mountain as fire-possessing when it is observed to be smoke-possessing.

According to him : Knowledge through inference can be specified as an observation coming when the means-of-evidence is directly observed, and the invariable concomitance between it and what can be inferred is remembered. One does not occur unless something else is directly known. Otherwise there is no inference.

Vasubandhu points out, we can never be absolutely certain about anything, because we can only make inferences based upon our perceptions, which can be misleading, and memory, which is unreliable. He goes on to give examples of problems with cognition, such as a false cognition-of-silver arising from looking at mother-of-pearl, and cognition of objects that do not exist, such as a luminous circle that is perceived when a torch is hurled in an arc.

This method makes the example and counter-example so vital to the argument. Any thesis can be disproved by showing that the proposed invariable concomitance is not, in fact, invariable.

 The last part of Vāda-vidhi is devoted to methods that can be used to distinguish logical fallacies from valid arguments.

For more , please read, ]



As per the classification made by Akshapada Gautama in his Nyaya Sutra (1.2.2- jalpa-lakṣaṇam), while Vaada is a ‘good’  or congenial debate (anuloma sambasha or Sandhya sambasha), Jalpa along with Vitanda is treated as ‘bad’ or hostile  argument (Vigrahya sambasha).

Jalpa is described as debate between two rivals who are desperate to win, by fair or foul means. It is characterized as clever or tricky disputation and a quarrelsome verbal fight that is often noisy.

Unlike Vaada which is an honest debate aiming to ascertain ‘what is true’, Jalpa is an argument where each strives to impose his thesis on the other. The question of ascertaining the ‘truth’ does not arise here. Each party to the Jalap is already convinced that his thesis is true and perfect; while that of the opponent is false and totally wrong. Each is not prepared to understand and appreciate the rival argument; but, is over anxious to ensure the opponent is ‘defeated’ and is made to accept his thesis. Even while it   becomes apparent  that one might be on the verge of defeat , he will not accept the position;  instead , he will  try to  devise a strategy or  will take a ‘break’  to gather  some material or to  concoct  a fallacious argument  to evade defeat and , if possible, to prove the other wrong.

Both the Vadin and the Prati-vadin work hard to establish their thesis through direct and indirect proofs. In Jalpa, the Pramana-s, the means of valid knowledge do not have much role to play. The arguments in Jalpa relay more on negation or negative tactics, such as: discrediting the rival argument, misleading the opponent or willfully misinterpreting rival’s explanations. The main thrust of the arguments in Jalpa is not so much as to establish the thesis directly, as to disprove or refute the rival’s thesis, through circumvention.

The reason why Jalpa is labeled as tricky is that apart from traditional means of proving one’s thesis and for refuting the opponent’s thesis, the debater can use elusive and distracting devices such as: quibbling or hair-splitting (Chala); inappropriate rejoinders (Jati), and any kind of ruse that tries to outwit and disqualify the opponent (nigrahasthana),    circumvention, false generalization and showing the unfitness of the opponent to argue; without, however, establishing his own thesis.

 (yathoktopapannaḥ chala-jāti-nigrahasthāna-sādhanopālambhaḥ jalpaḥ -1.2.2)

Nyaya Sutra gives a fairly detailed treatment to the negative tactics of Jalpa. Nyaya Sutra (1.2.11-14; 5.1.1- 39; and 5.2.1-25) enumerates three kinds of quibbling (Chala); twenty-four kinds of inappropriate rejoinders (Jati); and twenty-two kinds of clinchers or censure-situations (Nigrahasthana).

 (jāti-lakṣaṇam —  sādharmyavaidharmyābhyām pratyavasthānaṃ jātiḥ -1.2.18)

(nigrahasthāna-lakṣaṇamn – vipratipattiḥ apratipattiḥ ca nigrahasthānam-1.2.19)

 (nigrahasthānabahutva-sūtram — tadvikalpāt jātinigrahasthānabahutvam-1.2.20)

It is said; such measures or tricks to outwit the opponent are allowed in Jalpa arguments, since the aim of the debate is to score a victory. However, those maneuvers are like double-edged swords; they cut both ways. Over-indulgence with such tactics is, therefore, rather dangerous.    One runs the risk of being censured, decaled unfit and treated as defeated, if the opponent catches him at his own game.


Quibbling (Chala) is basically an attempt to misinterpret the meaning of an expression (Vak-chala); or, improperly generalize its meaning (samanya-chala); or by conflation of an ordinary use of a word with its metaphorical use (upacara-chala), with a view to derange the argument.

(chala-lakṣaṇam —  vacana-vighātaḥ artha-vikalpopapattyā chalam – 1.2.10)

(chala-bheda-uddeśa-sūtram – – tat trividham – vākchalam sāmānyacchalam upacāracchalam ca iti- 1.2.11)

For instance; when one says: the boy has a nava kambala (= new) blanket; the other would look horrified and exclaim:  why would a little boy need nava (=nine) blankets !

And, when one says: he is a hungry man (= purusha) , the other would generalize Man – Purusha as ‘ humans’ , and ask why are all the human beings hungry? and, all at the same time?

Similarly, term ‘mancha’ ordinarily means a cot; but, its metaphorical meaning could be platform or dais or the people sitting on it. The opponent would wonder ‘why on earth , would the couple choose to sleep on a public platform , while many persons are already seated on it ?’.

There are many other similar words, such as:  Mantapa which normally is understood as an open-hall; but, its etymological meaning could be ‘one who drinks scum of boiled rice (Ganji)’. And, the term Kushala is generally used to denote an expert or a highly skilled person (pravina); but, its etymology analysis would lead to one who is ‘good at cutting grass (kush). And, similarly, Ashva-gandha is literally ‘smell of the horse; but in common usage it refers to a medicinal herb.

A mischievous quibbler would deliberately twist the meaning of such words; take them out of the context; and, try to distract and confuse the his rival 

Improper rejoinder or futile rejoinder (Jati) is generally through falsifying the analogy given; and ridiculing it.

For instance; when one says: sound is impermanent because it is a product, such as a pot; the other would ignore the ‘impermanent’ property of the analogy (pot), but would pick up a totally un-related property of the analogy (say, the hollow space or emptiness in the pot) and say that a pot is filled with space (akasha) which is eternal, then how could you say that a pot is impermanent? And, further pot is not audible either.

Censures or the point at which the Jalpa could be force-closed (Nigrahasthana)  by pointing out that the opponent is arguing against his own thesis  ; or , that he is willfully abstracting the debate; or to his inappropriate ways. 


There are also some statements that defend the Jalpa-way of arguments.

One reason adduced for allowing in the debate the diverse interpretations of the terms is said to be the flexibility that the Sanskrit language has, where compound-words can be split in ways to suit one’s argument; where words carry multiple meanings; and, where varieties of contextual meanings can be read into with change in structure of phrases, sentences and context of topics.   

And, the other is that the ancient texts in Sutra format – terse, rigid and ambiguous – can be read and interpreted in any number of ways. Each interpretation can be supported by one or the other authoritative text. There is therefore, plenty of scope for legitimate disputation.

It is said; that Jalpa way of arguments is at times useful as a defensive measure to safeguard the real debate (Vada),just as the thorns and branches are used for the protection of the (tender) sprout of the seed’.

The other reason is that it would be in the interest of an aspiring debater to be familiar with divisive tactics; and, also the ways and means of deflecting them.

It is also said that Jalpa-tactics might come in handy to a novice or an inexperienced debater, as a ploy . If such a person, without adequate skills,   enters into a debate, he might not be able to come up with proper rejoinder at the right time to safeguard his thesis. In such a crisis, he may get away with such tricky debate. In any case, if the opponent is not quick witted, the (novice) debater may gain some time to think of the proper reason. Thus, he may even win the debate and the sprout of his knowledge would be protected.

However, this justification was not altogether acceptable.


The next question would be why would a debater resort to such tactics as quibbling and dishonest rejoinder?  Or why would anyone waste his time and effort in learning those tactics?

Bimal Krishna Matilal in his The Character of Logic in India explains:

‘ Uddyotakara, in the beginning of his commentary on chapter five of the Nyaya Sutra explains that it is always useful to learn about these bad tricks, for at least one should try to avoid them in one’s own debate and identify them in the opponent’s presentation in order to defeat him. Besides, when faced with sure defeat, one may use a trick, and if the opponent by chance is confused by the trick, the debater will at least have the satisfaction of creating a doubt instead of courting sure defeat.

This last point was, however, a very weak defense; and not convincing at all , as the Buddhist scholar Dharmakirti (c. 600-660) elaborately pointed out in his book on debate, Vada-nyaya.’


The crucial difference between Vada and Jalpa  appears to be that in the case of Vada the ‘truth’ is established by positive evidence; and, the invalid knowledge (A-pramana) masquerading as a good reason (that is, a hetvabhasa) is detected and eliminated. No one is really defeated and the truth is established.

In the case of Jalpa, it mainly depends on negation (which is non-committal) and on effective refutation of the proponent’s argument. There is no earnest effort to build positive irrefutable proof. And, the fear of defeat overhangs the whole proceedings.

 The scholarly opinion is that the rejection or refutation of a position may not always amount to the assertion of a counter-position. And, determination and establishment of truth depends upon positive evidence; and not merely on refutation.




In Akshapada’s Nyaya-Sutra (1.2.3), Vitanda is classified as a ’bad’ or hostile argument (Vigrahya sambasha) or wrangling, which does not allow the opponent to establish his  argument . In terms of merit; it is the worst; it is rated inferior to Jalpa, which also employs such trickery as quibbling and illegitimate rejoinder. While Jalpa tries to argue for the success of its thesis by whatever means, Vitanda does not seriously attempt to put up any counter-thesis. That is because, its debater has no thesis of his own to put forward.

In other words, the debater here tries to ensure his victory simply by refuting or demolishing the thesis put forward by the other side, by browbeating or misleading or ridiculing the opponent. The whole purpose of its exercise seems to be to prove the opponent wrong and incompetent; and to confuse and humiliate him.  Vitanda is therefore termed as a destructive debate.

(vitaṇḍā-lakṣaṇam — saḥ pratipakṣa-sthāpanā-hīnaḥ vitaṇḍā- 1.2.3 )

Vitanda is a ruthless debate, the major part of which is spent in denying the opponent’s views, in discrediting him or in quarrelling. Vaitandika, the one who adopts Vitanda style of argument, might at times pick up the opponent’s thesis (though he himself might not believe in it) and argue in its favor just to demonstrate that the opponent is not doing a ‘good job’; and rebuke him saying that his thesis might not be after all so bad, but he made it look worse by making a terrible mess of it.

Vaitandika makes it a point to disagree with the other, no matter what the other says. It is a way of saying: you are wrong, not because your statement by itself is wrong; but, it is wrong because you said it. He tries to effectively undermine the credibility of the opponent; and demonstrate to him that he is neither competent nor qualified to discuss the subtleties of the logic. Then he would shout:” go back and study for one more year at the feet of your teacher; you have done enough for today”.

What the Vaitandika says might be irrational or illogical; but, he tries to effectively silence the opponent. In such type of debates either ‘valid knowledge’ or ‘truth’ has no place.

In a Vitanda, where both the parties employ similar tactics, the debate would invariably get noisy and ugly. The Madhyastha or the Judge plays a crucial role in regulating a Vitanda. He has the hard and unenviable task of not merely controlling the two warring debaters and their noisy supporters, but also to rule on what is ‘Sadhu’ (permissible) or ‘A-sadhu’ (not permissible) and what is true (Sat) what is just a bluff (A-sat). And, when one debater repeatedly oversteps and breaches the accepted code of conduct, the Madyastha might have to disqualify him and award the debate to the other; or, he may even disqualify both the parties and scrap the event declaring it  null and void.


Vatsayana, the commentator of the Nyaya Sutra finds the Vitanda debate irrational and rather pointless. He observes that it is unfair that a debater is simply allowed to get away with irresponsible statements, particularly when he is neither putting forward a thesis nor is defending one. In fact, most of the times, he has no position of his own, but attacks rabidly whatever the other debater utters. This is a travesty and abuse of the platform.

According to Vatsayana, the format of Vitanda is totally wrong. Vatsayana insists, whatever might be the tactics adopted by Vaitandika, he must be forced to specify his stand. And, when the opponent states his thesis, the Vaitandika must be asked either to accept it or oppose it.  If he concedes, the debate is virtually over. And, if he argues against the thesis, he must argue logically, in which case he gives up his status of Vaitandika (refuter). And, if he does not choose either of the options then, his rationale should be questioned; or, the debate be brought to an end, if need be, by disqualifying him.

Vatsayana’s observations and recommendations are sound and healthy. But, sadly, they were hardly acted upon.


Sources and References:

A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Mediaeval, and Modern Schools

By Mahamahopadyaya Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana

The Character of Logic in India Edited  by Bimal Krishna Matilal, Jonardon Ganeri, Heeraman Tiwari

The Nyâya Sûtras of Gotama by Nandalal Sinha

Hindu Philosophy  by Theos Bernard

Categories of Cognition and Proof – Shodhganga

A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 By Surendranath Dasgupta

The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought  by  David B. Zilberman

History of Indian philosophy: The philosophy of the Veda and of …, Volume 1 By Erich Frauwallner


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Discussions, Debates and Arguments: Ancient India- Part One

Discussions, Debates    and Arguments:  Samvada – Vaada – Jalpa and Vitanda

 Part One

In the Indian traditions, including the Buddhist and Jain traditions, four formats of discussions, debates and arguments are described. These are named as:  Samvada, Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda. The merit and esteem of each of these types of discussions is graded in terms of the honesty of their purpose, the quality of debate, the decorum and the mutual regard of the participants.

Of these four forms of discussions, Samvada is regarded the noblest type of dialogue that takes place, in all earnestness, between an ardent seeker of truth and an enlightened teacher. Most of the ancient Indian texts are in this format.

While Samvada is a discourse or imparting of teaching, the other three – Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda – are clever and structured (Tantrayukthi) debates and arguments between rivals.  

Let’s talk of  Nyaya (well-organized logical ways of ascertaining the true nature of the objects and subjects of human knowledge) and Samvada on one part; and, the debates/arguments on the other. 


Nyaya Sutra

As is well known, there was a long and a time-honored tradition in ancient India where philosophers and thinkers met to discuss metaphysical issues over which there were multiple views. There are detailed narrations of such discussions, debates and dialogues recorded in Chandogya-Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Prashna-Upanishad.

The other early texts such as Aitareya Brahmana , Kathopanishad  and others  use terms  like : tarka (reasoning); Vada (debate); Yukti (sustained arguments), Prameya (object of knowledge); Pramana (proof); Nirnaya (ascertainment)  etc. which later became the principal terminologies of the Nyaya School. It is also said that the idioms of inquiry (Anveshiki) dealing with the theory of reasons (Hetu-vidya or Hetu-shastra) were mentioned in Manu-samhita and Panini’s Astadhyayi.

Although the intellectual debates were quite common during the Upanishad-times, and even later, there was perhaps no well laid out theory or an approved structure for conduct of various types of debates.   It is said; it was during the Sramana and the Buddhist period that debates became really very serious.

As Bimal Krishna Matilal observes (in The Character of Logic in India):

.. The intellectual climate in India was bristling with controversy and criticism. At the center of controversy were certain dominant religious and ethical issues. Nothing was too sacred for criticism. Such questions as: “Is there a soul different from body?”; “Is the world (loka) eternal?”; ”What is the meaning, goal, or purpose of life?”; and, “Is renunciation preferable to enjoyment?” etc. were of major concern.  While teachers and thinkers argued about such matters, there arose a gradual awareness of the characteristics or patterns of correct, acceptable and sound reasoning. There were    also concerns to evolve the norms to distinguish sound reasoning from pseudo-reasoning (hetvabhasa) which is unacceptable. 

The debates tended to get more passionate, animated and even noisy.  Gradually, the notions of ‘good’ and acceptable debates took shape as distinct from wrong and ugly arguments. That gave rise to the development of a branch of study dealing with theories of reasoning and logic (Hetu-vidya or Hetu shastra). It was perhaps around the fifth century BCE that manuals came to be written for conduct of proper and successful debates (Tarka vidya or Vada vidya). Such manuals included instructions and learning methods for the guidance of aspiring debaters. The earliest known text of that genre was Tantra-yukti (structured argument) compiled perhaps in the sixth-fifth century BCE to systematize debates conducted in learned councils (Parishad). 

Debates and arguments then came to be recognized both as art of logical reasoning (Tarka-vidya) and science of causes (Hetu-shastra) following the path of a well-disciplined method of inquiry (ânvikŝiki) testing scriptural knowledge by further scrutiny. 

The monks and priests belonging to various Schools and sects were imparted training in Tarka–vidya: the art and skills of conducting impressive successful debates and disputations (Sambasha or Vada vidhi) in learned assemblies (parishad).

Apart from  methods of presenting arguments as per a logically structured format, the training modules included ways to stoutly defend ones thesis  by means of genuine criteria of knowledge (Pramana) and to attack the opponent’s thesis by means of indirect arguments (Tarka); estimating the strengths and weaknesses of arguments of either side; establishing one’s own points while setting aside those of the opponent.

They were also trained for handling different types of challenges, such as: how to vanquish a person of blazing fame; how to behave with a senior opponent; how to handle an aggressive and troublesome opponent; and,  how to conduct oneself in prestigious Parishads  , to influence the flow of debate and to impress the judges and the onlookers  etc.

These types of debates and arguments broadly came under the purview of Nyaya or Nyaya Shastra.

[The Charaka Samhita , a principal Ayurveda Text (dated around the second century), in its  third part, called Vimanasthana, along with other topics like training of a physician, ethics of medical practice, pathology, diet and nourishment, taste of medicines, etc.,  also  contains a discussion on the principles of debate.]


Nyaya, as a system,  is one among the six Darshanas (systems of Indian philosophy). It deals with well-organized logical ways of ascertaining the true nature of the objects and subjects of human knowledge (Pramana-Sastra).  Nyaya is also called Tarka-vidya (logic) and Vada-vidya or Vada’rtha (reasoned argument); and, is included among the fourteen principal branches of learning. 

Nyaya is founded on the belief that knowledge is not self-revealing; man must make effort to gain correct knowledge ; and, to abandon incorrect knowledge, through a systematic process. It asserts that the analytical way of Nyaya is the greatest protection to a young person whose intellect is still in the process of growth and is yet to attain equanimity. And, it is only by thorough examination of the modes and sources of correct knowledge that a thinking person can gain a clearer perspective of life. It asks each one to think for himself; and, not to tacitly accept beliefs handed down by the older generation. And, therefore, it instructs, the teachings that have come down to us through traditions must be critically examined before accepting them.

Vatsayana in his Nyāya Bhāya , Commentary on Nyaya Sutra (1.1.1) , asserts that the analytical investigation and examination (Anveshiki) of issues which bring clarity into the intellectual aspects of man’s life help him to attain freedom (moksha) from delusions and confusions in life. Nyaya which enables us to discern the true from the false is therefore regarded as Moksha-Sadhana the way to absolute freedom or liberation.

nirdeśe yathāvacanaṃ vigrahaḥ|
cārthe dvandvaḥ samāsaḥ|
pramāṇādīnāṃ tatvamiti śaiṣikī ṣaṣṭhī|
tatvasya jñānaṃ niḥśreyasasyādhigama iti ca karmaṇi ṣaṣṭhyau|
ta etāvanto vidyamānārthāḥ|
so ‘yamanavayavena tantrārtha uddiṣṭo veditavyaḥ/ NyS_1,1.1 /


Nyaya, in particular, also denotes a method or a scheme of logic employed to prove or to disprove a proposition through proper evidence (pramana). The employment of a Nyaya would become necessary when the subject discussed was either vague or was disputed; and when the other methods of reasoning were ineffective.

The Nyaya School was essentially logistic in its orientation. It tried to examine the sources and contents of valid knowledge. It built a logical link between the subject, the knower (pramata); the means or method of obtaining knowledge (pramana) ; and the object , the knowable (prameya) . In addition, it put forth analogy (Upama) as the fourth method.

Analogy (Upama), it is said, comprehensively includes in itself the other three methods. However, the main purpose of Upama is to illustrate. This  models attempts to represent something that which cannot be perceived. However, this Nyaya is like the finger; and, it is not the moon. Therefore , Analogy, the Upama has its own limitations; it could be brittle at times; and , if pressed too hard it might even crumble .

In its working method; Upama employs something that is already familiar , in order to explain certain concepts that are at once abstract and real. But, an analogy cannot be not perfect; as there cannot be complete identity between the  subject and the object.  Therefore, there  cannot be a perfect analogy; and, mere  argument is not evidence. Which is to say; while the analogy or illustration is important , the more important than that is the validity of the argument, its  precision and its import. Therefore, there is always an element of inadequacy in the Upama . One has to strive to extract from the model what is called “a positive analogy”; or Samanya-guna a relevant factor that is common to both the subject and the object . The notion of transformation (Vivarta) is thus what one could call a logical construction.

Nonetheless, the value of these Nyayas consists in that they facilitate a passage from the observable to the actual ; and,  from the factual to the theoretical .

[ Prof. Surendranath Dasgupta explains in A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 (p.406):

Pramana in Sanskrit signifies the means and movement by which valid knowledge is acquired Pramata means the subject or the knower who cognizes, Prama – the result of pramana i.e., right knowledge, knowledge of reality or valid cognition, prameya – the object of knowledge and pramanya – the validity of knowledge acquired.  The verbal root ma of these terms derived with the prefix pra, means also to measure (apart from meaning to cognize) . Thus, what is to be measured is the prameya; and, that by which to measure is pramana.]

[In Sanskrit, the term Jnana stands for all kinds of knowledge – whether be it of truth or of falsehood. The term Prama, however, is used to designate only a true cognition (yatartha-jnana) as distinct from a false one (mithya-jnana). A Pramana is an active and a unique cause of Prama or knowledge. Pramā means ‘knowing an object as it is’: tadvati tat prakārā-anubhavaḥ  pramā.  The term  pramāṇis also  understood as- pramāyāḥ karaṇam, pramāṇam. Alternatively, yathārthā-anubhavah pramā – the actual experience is pramā.  To see a rope as rope is pramā. If we see a snake instead of the rope, it is apramā- ayathārtha-anubhavaḥ apramā.

The Samkhya and Yoga Schools of Indian philosophy accept three means of cognition, Pramanas: 

Pratyaksha : direct perception generated through sense organs – indriyārtha – sannikarṣajanya . That is,   when there is a contact between the senses and the object – jñānamakam pratyakṣam. Gautama defines Pratyakṣa as – akṣam akṣam pratityutpadyate iti pratyakṣam – meaning ‘knowledge born of sensory perception, such as eyes is pratyakṣaAnd. Pratyaksha is regarded as the basic (Mula) Pramana; because, the other pramānas such as Anumāna, Arthāpatti, Upamāna and śabda are dependent on it.

Anumana (inference) literally means knowledge gained  afterwards ; i.e. knowledge that ‘follows other knowledge’ –  jñāna-kāraka-jñānam.). In Anumāna, first the liṅga (minor primise) is seen, then by liṅga or hetu, the sādhya-sambandha-jñāna  or vyāpti-jñāna (invariable concomitant) takes place. This Sādhya (major primise) is known as anumiti. Thus, since this knowledge takes place after liṅga-darśana, this is known as Anumāna

And Sabda is verbal testimony , through scriptures. Bhartrhari asserts, the traditional knowledge (Agamawhich consists of the revealed (Sruti) or remembered (Smrti) scriptures cannot be set aside by inference, since they are more dependable than inference.


The Mimamsa School accepts six types of Pramanas: Pratyaksha, Anumana, Sabda, Upamana (analogy), Arthapatti (presumption) and Abhava (non-apprehension). 

The same set of six Pramanas is also stated by Vedanta. There are, of course, variations among these Schools regarding the specific understang of each of the Pramans.


Within Vyakarana, Bhartrhari in his Maha-bhashya-tika accepts three Pramanas: Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference) and Agama or Sabda (scriptures). He argues that perception, at times, could be erroneous because of weakness or improper functioning of sensory organs. Some even think, he says, that inference is superior to perception. But he asserts that Agama or Sabda which consists of the revealed (Sruti) or remembered (Smrti) scriptures is a strong Pramana; and, it is more dependable than inference.

According to Bhartrhari, it is not justifiable to replace scriptures (Sabda) with inference particularly in non-empirical matters. He also says that philosophical views (Vada) cannot be independent of the scriptures. He argues that inference alone, without the steadying influence of the scriptures is an inadequate means of valid knowledge. In his Vakyapadiya (1.34), it is said: ‘whatever is inferred with great effort through clever reasoning can easily be put aside  by a much more clever reasoning or argument’.

yatnenānumito+apy arthaḥ kuśalair anumātṛbhiḥ / abhiyuktatarair anyair anyathaivopapādyate -VP.1.34

The words of the Rishis convey super-sensory knowledge that cannot be set aside by inference. Thus, Bhartrhari asserts that Dharma or right conduct cannot be determined by reasoning alone, without the guidance of the scriptural traditions. Even the knowledge which the sages possess has the scriptures for its reference (Vakyapadiya: 1.30). Thus, tor true knowledge, the support of the scriptures (Sabda) is essential.

na jāgamād ṛte dharmas tarkeṇa vyavatiṣṭhate /  ṛṣīṇām api yaj jñānaṃ tad apy āgamapūrvakam – VP.1.30

In this context, Bharthari says that the role of Vyakarana (Grammar) is very important,  as it helps  to safeguard the correct  transmission of the scriptural knowledge , and to assist the aspirant in realizing the the truth of the  revealed knowledge of  Sabda.]


The Sutra text attached to Nyaya School is the Nyaya Sutra ascribed to Akapāda Gautama (variously estimated between 6th-century BCE and 2nd-century CE). Nyaya Sutra treats mainly five subjects: Pramana (instruments or means of right knowledge); Prameya (the object of right knowledge); Vaada (debate or discussion); Avayava (the elements or steps of syllogism); and, Anya-matha-pariksha (review or examination of the doctrines of other Schools).

[Please click here for The Nyaya Sutras of Gotama; Translated by Mahamahopadhyaya Satish Chandra Vidyabhushan; Published by The Panini Office, Bhuvaneshvari Ashram, Bahadurganj, Allahabad – 1913 ]


While discussing Vaada, Nyaya Sutra talks about sixteen padarthas  (topics or categories ) involved in the development of the debate (Vada marga);  the four reliable means of obtaining valid knowledge (pramāa) viz.:

Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sabda (reliable testimony ); the five-part syllogism (Nyaya); the structure (vada vidhi); the ways of developing sound evidence (pramana); the logical reasoning (tarka) to support ones thesis which needs to be proved (Pratijna) and its object (nirnaya); the disciplined (anusasana) mode of presentation (vadopaya); and the exceptions (prthaka-prasthana), as also the limits or the ‘dos and don’ts’ (vada-maryada) of three formats of such debates.

(vāda-lakṣaṇam : pramāṇa-tarka-sādhanopālambhaḥ siddhāntā-viruddhaḥ pañcā-vayavopapannaḥ pakṣa-pratipakṣa-parigrahaḥ vādaḥNyS_1,2.1)

Gautama’s text was followed by commentaries; the first of which being Nyāya Bhāya by Vātsyāyana (c. 450–500 CE). The commentary by Vatsayana was followed the ones by the Nyāya-vārttika of Uddyotakāra (c. 6th–7th century); Tātparya-tīkā by Vācaspati Miśra (9th century); Tātparya-pariśuddhi by Udayana (10th century); Nyāya-mañjarī by Jayanta (10th century); Nyaya-sara by Bhasarvajna (10th century); and Tatva-chintamani by Gangesa (12th  century). These commentaries further developed the Nyaya Sutra expanding upon Gautama’s work.

As per these texts, the debates and arguments are grouped under a broad head titled ‘Katha’. In Sanskrit, the term ‘Katha’, in general, translates as ‘to inform’, ‘to narrate’, ‘to address or to refer to somebody’. In the context of Nyaya Shatra, which provides the knowledge (Vako-Vakya or Vada-vidya) about the methods for presenting arguments as also the rules governing the debates, the term ‘Katha’ implies formal conversation (Sambasha) as in a debate. The conversation here is not in the casual manner as in day-to-day life. But, it is articulate, precise and well thought out utterances.

The Katha is described as ‘polemical conversation’, meaning that it is passionate and strongly worded , but a well balanced  argument against or in favor of somebody or something. That is why; the discussions (Vaada) are never simple. A Katha, in essence, is a reasoned and a well-structured philosophical discussion.

Vatsayana at the beginning of his commentary on Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) mentions that Katha is classified into two kinds of debates (Dvi-vidha sambasha):  Vaada (the good-Sandhya sambasha) on one hand; and Jalpa and Vitanda (the bad- Vigrahya sambasha) on the other.

Uddyotakara in his Nyāya Vārttika further explains that this threefold classification is according to the nature of the debate and  the status of the persons taking part in the debate.

(padārtha-uddeśa-sūtram:pramāṇa-prameya-saṃśaya-prayojana-dṛṣṭānta-siddhāntāvayava-tarka-nirṇaya-vāda-jalpa-vitaṇḍāhetvābhāsa-cchala-jāti-nigrahasthānānāmtattvajñānāt niḥśreyasādhigamaḥ- NyS_1,1.1 )

The first variety ,  Vaada is an honest , peaceful  and congenial (sandhaya) debate that takes place between two persons of equal merit or standing, trying to explore the various dimensions of a subject with a view to ascertain and establish ‘what is true’.  The Vaada, at its best, is a candid friendly discussion (anuloma sambasha or sandhya sambasha) or debate in the spirit of: ’let’s sit-down and talk’.

The other two are hostile arguments (vigrhya sambasha) between rivals who desperately want to win. Thus, by implication, while the goal of a Vaada is establishment of truth or an accepted doctrine; and that of the other two hostile debates (Jalpa and Vitanda) is seeking victory.

Of the two types of hostile debates, Jalpa is described (in Nyaya Sutra 1.2.2) as a disputation or wrangling or a ’tricky’ debate between two rivals , where each is thoroughly convinced that he is absolutely right and the other (termed as the opponent – Prativadin) is hopelessly wrong. The first party to the debate is dogmatically committed to his own thesis, while the other party takes a rigid contrary position (Prati-paksha) on a given subject; and, sometimes at the cost of truth. Each is prepared to employ various deceptive or sophistic devices, such as quibbling (Chala); unreasonable (A-hetu) responses; shifting the reason or the topics ( Hetvantara or Arthantara); irrelevant rejoinders provoking the opponent to lose focus , to get perturbed and yet continue with the dispute (Jati) somehow; and , such other devices to outwit the opponent.

(jalpa-lakṣaṇam :  yathoktopapannaḥ chalajātinigrahasthānasādhanopālambhaḥ jalpaḥ-NyS_1,2.2)

Unlike in Vaada, the purpose of Jalpa is not so much as to ascertain the truth, as to establish one’s own position or thesis, and to prove the opponent wrong; and, make him accept defeat. What is at stake here is the ‘prestige and honor’ of one’s School (Matha). And, therefore, each will try to win the debate by fair or foul means.   And, when one senses that he might be losing the argument (nigrahasthāna), he will try to invent every sort of face-saving device or ruse to wriggle out of a bad situation that is quickly turning worse , like being trapped on quicksand sinking down each moment . Jalpa, predictably, could therefore be noisy , unpleasant and even be desperate.

And, Vitanda is the worst type of argument or squabbling descending to the level of quarrel and trickery. It is  described as a destructive type of argument; the sole aim of each party being not only to inflict defeat on the opponent but also to demolish and humiliate him .

The Vaitandika , the debater who employs Vitanda, is basically a refuter; he relentlessly goes on refuting whatever  the proponent says. He has no thesis of his  own – either to put forward or to defend.  Sometimes he might pick up a thesis  just for argument’s sake, even though he may have no faith in the truth of his own argument. The aggressive Vaitandika goes on picking holes in the rival’s arguments  and destabilises his position , without any attempt to offer an alternate thesis.

Both the participants in a Vitanda are prepared to resort to mean tactics in order to mislead, browbeat the opponent by fallacies (hetv-abhasa); by attacking the opponents statement by willful misrepresentation (Chala) ; ill-timed rejoinders (Atita-kala) and, make the opponent ‘bite the dust’. It is virtually akin to a ‘no-holds-barred’ sort of street fight. The ethereal values such as: truth, honesty, mutual respect and such others are conspicuously absent here.

(vitaṇḍā-lakṣaṇam : saḥ pratipakṣa-sthāpanā-hīnaḥ vitaṇḍā –NyS_1,2.3)

It is said; in the case of Jalpa the contending parties have a position of their own, fight hard to defend it, and aim to make the rival accept it, by whatever means.  However, in the Vitanda, the disputant has neither a position of his own nor is he trying to defend any specific thesis.  He is merely trying to derange and humiliate the other party to the debate. Vatsayana in his Nyaya-sutra Bhashya calls one who resorts to Vitanda (Vaitandika) as self-destructive.

Even in the case of Jalpa and Vitanda, the disputants had to agree, beforehand, to certain rules, norms and devices, so that the defeat could be forced by the judge (Madyastha) on one or the other party.

A debate with the mere aim of win or humiliation of the other is looked down. Therefore, Jalpa and Vitanda are deemed contrary to the overall aim of the Nyaya Shastra which is oriented towards determination of the true nature of objects.

[The skills in waging debates and arguments (Vada-vidya) of the Jalpa and Vitanda might have been relevant during the medieval times when the inter–religious or intra-religious debates (Shastrartha) were held among the rival traditions (Sampradaya) or sects, each trying hard to prove the superiority of its Matha (thesis or sect) over the others. In the present context, such beliefs and arguments have become obsolete in India, though their techniques are very well preserved and practiced in Tibetan Buddhist debates.

Having said that , Prof. A L Basham remarks : ” Modern logicians might make short work of these rather pedantic systems of ontological and epistemological relativity, but they have a fundamental quality of breadth and realism, implying a full realization that the world is more complex and subtle than we think it, and that what is true of a thing in one of its aspects may at the same time be false in another.”

Further . the syllogism, logical structure and methods of presenting reasoned arguments as described in the ancient texts  are still of great interest. Its methodology based on a system of logic is the same for us today in our lecture halls and programming desks as it was for the medieval scholars.]

vada samvada

 Let’s look at each of these types of discussions and arguments in a little more detail. 

lotus design



Samvada is a dialogue that takes between the teacher and the taught in all earnestness.  The one who approaches the teacher could be a disciple; student; friend (as in Krishna-Arjuna or Krishna-Uddhava) ; son (as in Shiva-Skanda or Uddalaka-Swetaketu); or spouse (as in Shiva-Prvathi or Yajnavalkya-Maitreyi);  or parent (as Sage Kapila teaching his mother);  or anyone else seeking knowledge (as in Nachiketa -Yama or the six persons who approach Sage Pippalada in Prashna Upanishad).

What characterizes the Samvada in such cases is the sincerity and eagerness of the learner; the humility in his/her approach; and the absolute trust in the teacher.  The wise teacher , in turn , with full of grace , imparts instructions out of enormous love for the ardent seeker of truth.

kapila teaching his motherUhdava  Krishna.JPGUddalaka Swetaketu -samvadaSatyakama

(siddhānta-sūtra : jñāna-grahaṇā-abhyāsas tad-vidyaiśca saha saṃvādaḥ- 4.2.47

vidhya-artha-vādā-anuvāda-vacanaviniyogāt ; vidhiḥ vidhāyakaḥ; stutiḥ nindā parakṛtiḥ purākalpaḥ iti arthavādaḥ ;na anuvādapunaruktayoḥ viśeṣaḥ, śabdābhyāsopapatteḥ ; śīghrataragamanopadeśavat abhyāsāt na aviśeṣaḥ; mantrāyurvedaprāmāṇyavat ca tatprāmāṇyam, āpta-prāmāṇyāt (2.1.63-69)

shiva skanda

Another remarkable text of this genre is The Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra (a component of Rudrayamala Tantra), a principal text of the Trika school of Pratyabhijna (KashmiraShaiva Siddantha). It is composed as a discourse (Samvada) between the Lord Bhairava and his consort Bhairavi.  Here, Bhairava imparts instructions to the Devi; teaching her as many as 112 Tantric meditation methods or centering techniques (Dharana or types of Yoga). The Vijñāna Bhairava utilizes all the traditional techniques of Yoga (such as Mudra, Pranaskthi, mantra-japa, awakening of Kundalini, bhakthi, jnana etc.). These include several variants of breathawareness, concentration on various centers in the body, non-dualawareness, mantrachanting, imagination and visualization and contemplation through each of the senses. These techniques are said to help / guide the aspirant along the path to realize her/his identity with the highest reality – recognized here as Bhairava, the Absolute.

The Devi listens to the Lord with rapt attention : Shrutam deva maya sarvam rudrayamala  sambhavam.

A Samvada is thus a discourse or a dialogue that teaches, imparts instructions or passes on knowledge to a sincere seeker of Truth. 



The bulk of the Upanishad teachings have come down to us in the form of Samvada, which took place in varieties of contexts. Apart from intimate sessions where an illumined teacher imparts instructions to an aspirant , there are instances of varied kind, say, as when : a wife is curious  to learn from her husband  the secrets of immortality; a teenage boy approaches Death itself to learn the truth of life and death; a king seeks instruction from an recluse sage who speaks from his experience ; Brahmans advanced in age and wisdom sit at the feet of a Kshatriya prince seeking instructions as also inspiration ; and , when sometimes the sages are women who are approached by kings .There are other sorts of dialogues , say, when Jabala is taught by bulls and birds (Ch. Up 4.4-9) , Upakosala by the sacred fires (Ch. Up. 4.10-15), and Baka is by a dog (Ch. Up 1.12). 

Nothing in the Upanishads is more vital than the relationship between a student and his guide. The teacher talks, out his experience, about his ideas of the nature of the world, of truth etc. or about particular array of phenomena visualized through mental images that stay etched in memory. 

An Upanishad-teacher ignites in the heart of the boy a spark that sets ablaze his desire to learn and to know the central principles which make sense of the world we live in. The guide inflames the sense of challenge, the urge to reach beyond the boy’s grasp and to know the unknown. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad calls upon :

‘You are what your deep, driving desire is; as your desire is, so is your will (sa yathā-kāmo bhavati tat-kratur-bhavati); as your will is, so is your deed (yat-kratur-bhavati tat-karma kurute) ; as your deed is, so is your destiny (yat-karma kurute tad-abhi-sapadyate”- (Brhu. Up. 4.4.5).

sa yathākāmo bhavati tat-kratur bhavati | yat-kratur bhavati tat karma kurute | yat karma kurute tad abhi-saṃpadyate || BrhUp_4,4.5 |

In the end, all achievement is fueled by burning desire. 

The Bhagavad-Gita suggests that an ardent seeker of truth should approach a learned teacher in humility and seek instructions from him; question him repeatedly: 

Tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya I Upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah II (B G.; Ch.4; verse 34) 

The student questions the teacher not because he doubts (samshaya) the wisdom or the understanding of the teacher; nor is he / she questioning the authenticity of the teaching . The questions are asked with open mind and guileless heart; and, are meant to clear doubts, and to gain a flawless understanding of the teaching.

The teacher is neither annoyed nor does he discourage the student from asking questions.  On the other hand, he encourages the learner to examine, enquire and test the teaching handed down to him.  A true teacher, in a Samvada does not prescribe or proscribe. He lets the student the freedom to think, to ponder over and to find out for himself the answers to his questions. A student needs humility, persistence, and honesty of purpose to go further and to arrive at his own understanding. 

lotus design

Yaska  tenders sage-like counsel. Yaska instructs (Nir.1.18): what is taken from teacher’s mouth, but not understood and, is merely repeated, never flares up. It is like dry firewood flung on something that is not fire.

  • Don’t memorize, seek the meaning
  • What has been taken from the teacher’s mouth  but not understood,
  • Is uttered by mere memory  recitation,
  • It never flares up, like dry firewood without fire.
  • Many a one, although seeing, do not see Speech,
  • Many a one, although hearing, do not hear her,
  • And many a one, she spreads out Her body, like a wife desiring her husband.
  • The meaning of Speech is its fruit and flower.

yad ghītam avijñāta nigadena eva śabdyate/  anagnāv iva śuka edho na taj jvalatikarhicit/  sthāus tiṣṭhater artho arter araastho vā / Nir. 1.18 /

lotus design


The Buddha, the best of the teachers, also adopted a similar approach. He insisted that his followers should not try borrowing ideas or experiences from him; but they should arrive at their own.  In the first sermon he delivered (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) in the Deer-park (Miga-daya) at Isipatana (Saranath), soon after attaining enlightenment, he asked his listeners:

O monks and wise men, do not accept my Dharma merely out of respect for me, but analyze and test it the way a goldsmith examines a pieces of gold by  burning , cutting and rubbing it on a touchstone.(please  see the note below)

A teaching would not be true, valid or trustworthy merely because it was uttered by an eminent person of great renown. It would be so only in case it is thoroughly tested, clearly understood and truthfully brought into one’s own experience.  

The Buddha guides the aspirant on the path that leads to right-understanding. But he disclaims any personal authority; and asks the follower to work it out himself. The follower when he succeeds in attaining the enlightenment will not become a second Buddha or a replica of the Buddha. In the final analysis, both the Buddha and his follower free themselves from the bonds of samsara; yet, each retains his individuality.


[This often quoted analogy of testing a piece of gold  appears in many texts ; such as :  Jnanasara-samuccaya (31) a Sanskrit text of a later period (perhaps a translation of the Tibetan text – sTug-po bkod-pa’i mdo) ; in  Nyāya-bindu-pūrvapakṣa-saṃkṣipti, a commentary on Dharmakīrti’s, Nyāyabindu (1.18–1.21) and also  in Śāntarakṣita’s Tattva-saṁgraha (verse 3588) .

It reads in Sanskrit as :

Tāpāc chedāc ca nikasat svarnam iva panditaih / Parikshya blikshavo grāhyam madvaco na tu gauravāt

However, the kalama Sutta appearing in Aṅguttara Nikaya (III.653) , which is a part of Tipitaka, merely lays down the principle of taking an objective view after a thorough examination (charter of free inquiry ); but, it does not specifically mention the instance of ” jewel-testing” :

“Come, O Kālāmas, Do not accept anything thinking that thus have we heard it from a long time (anussava). Do not accept anything thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations (paramparā). Do not accept anything on account of rumours (itikirā). Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures (piṭaka-sampadāna). Do not accept anything by mere surmise (takka-hetu); nor upon an axiom (naya-hetu). Do not accept anything by mere inference (ākāra-parivitakka). Do not accept anything by merely upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over (diṭṭhi-nijjhān-akkh-antiyā). Do not accept anything by coming under another’s seems ability (bhabba-rūpatāya). Do not accept anything merely because the monk-teacher says so (samaṇo no garū). Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (and therefore it is right to accept his word.)

“Kalamas, when you know for yourselves —these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow – then indeed you do  reject them.

“But Kalamas, when you know for yourselves –  these things are good; these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise; these things when undertaken and observed, lead to well-being and happiness- enter upon and abide in them. ]



Continued in Part Two

.. Vada, Jalpa and Vitanda

Sources and References:

A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Mediaeval, and Modern Schools By Mahamahopadyaya  Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana

The Character of Logic in India Edited by Bimal Krishna Matilal, Jonardon Ganeri, Heeraman Tiwari

The Nyâya Sûtras of Gotama by Nandalal Sinha

Hindu Philosophy by Theos Bernard

Categories of Cognition and Proof – Shodhganga

A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 By  Prof. Surendranath Dasgupta

The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought by David B. Zilberman

History of Indian philosophy: The philosophy of the Veda and of …, Volume 1 by Erich Frauwallner

All images are taken from Internet


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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  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.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

design rangoli

In the Literary traditions

 (a) Shravya and Drshya

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

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

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

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

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

[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 that prescribed format 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.]

design rangoli

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 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).


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//

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 (Mangala), or a salutation or an indication of the plot – āśīrnamaskriyā vastunirdeśo vāpi tanmukham .

It is based on a traditional narrative, or on a true event 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 is skillful and noble (Dhirodatta).

Adorned (Alamkara) with eighteen (ahsta-dasha varnana) types of descriptions including that of  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 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 sending 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; pervaded with Rasa (aesthetic mood) and Bhava (basic emotion) – alaṃkṛtam asaṃkṣiptaṃ rasa bhāva nirantaram; with Cantos that are not overly diffuse, 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, 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 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

Leave a comment

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


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,