Tag Archives: Kavi

Kavi, Rishi and the Poet

1. Kavi the Sanskrit term, generally, means poet, the one who creates poetry.

If the meaning of the term were to be derived from the root “kru_varne”, it means “one who describes”. In which case, it refers, particularly, to those creations that spring from intuition (prathibha) rather from logic. The poetic genius (prathibha) has two aspects; Bhavaitri, the inner experience (also called darshana); and, karayitri the skill, virtuosity in expression (vivrana). What shines forth into the outer world is Kavitva, poetry.

2. According to Yaska, the term Kavi denotes, comprehensively, all those who express themselves through their intuitional (artistic) creations . The creative expression could be through words, color, sculpture, sound, or any other form, so long it flows out of intuition (prathibha) and manifests in an enjoyable form, to the benefit of all beings. Kavitva (poetry) thus encompasses in itself all forms of art expressions.

3.The Rig Veda mentions the term Kavi, any number of times. Yaska_charya in his glossary derives the meaning of the word from the root “kram” and interprets kavi as one who can see the unseen (kavihi_krantha_darshano_bhavathi) . Here again it is  the intuition that inspires the kavi to expand his consciousness and express himself spontaneously. Yaska suggests a close empathy, unison  between the creator and his creation, and that each tends to become a part of the other.

4. The Rig Veda further enlarges this concept and addresses the Creator as the Supreme Poet (kavir manishi paribhu swayambhuh) who conceives the grand design and expresses himself spontaneously through his creation. He is the seer, the thinker who expands his consciousness to encompass the entire Universe (Vishwa_rupaani_prathimancha_kavihi). The creator, the kavi, through his all-pervasive consciousness becomes one with his creation. That undoubtedly is the most sublime concept of a poet.

5. Poetry raised to its sublime heights is mantra to which the Rishi gives utterance. It is said; the Rishi not only knows the mantra but also is the essence of it.

Kavi is the forerunner of Rishi in the Rig Veda. He is the wise seer. One cannot be a Kavi unless one is a Rishi (naan rishir kuruthe kavyam). However, not all Rishis are kavis. A Kavi is a class by himself.

6. Yasca_charya makes a very significant classification of the Rishis.He draws a clear distinction between a Sakshath_ Krutha_ Rishi, the seer who has the direct intuitional vision; and the Srutha_Rishi, the one who heard it from the seers and remembered what he heard.

6.1. The Kavi, the seer is the Sun (savitr, Agni) who shines by himself (swayabhu), who spreads light and life to benefit all beings. He is the great  inspirer (sarvasya prasavita). The Kavis (mantra drastarah) envisioned the entities beyond the range of human senses and realized the Truth by direct intuition. They were the ones who had the direct intuitional perception and who conceived the self-evident knowledge (svatah pramana). The Kavis, the seers were “the hearers of the Truth” (kavayah satya_srurtah).

Sri Aurobindo described Shruti as “divine recordings of the cosmic sounds of truth” heard by the Rishis. The Vedas are thus Sruthis, revealed scriptures. That is the reason; the Vedas are Apaurusheya, not authored by any agency.

6.1.1. It is preciously because of those reasons, Sri Aurobindo emphasized that Vedas have a deeper, esoteric meaning apart from their superficial meaning.

6.1.2. Vamadeva, an unusual Rishi, in one of his hymns (RV 4.3.16) describes himself as illumined; expressing the Truth reveled to him (ninya vachasmi).

Rig Veda mentions about four hundred Rishis and about twenty-five of them were women.

6.2. The Srutha_rishi, in comparison, is like the mirror or the moon that basks in the glory of the sun (kavi). The moon and the mirror both take in the glory of the sun and put forth the shine to the world in their own way. The Srutha_rishi obtained the knowledge by listening to the Kavi and more importantly by remembering what he heard.

6.3. The bifurcation of the Vedas/Upanishads on one hand (as Shruthi, as heard) and the Vedangas, Sastras, Puranas, Ithihasa etc. on the other (as smriti, as remembered) stems from the above concept. Smriti, in general, is secondary in authority to Shruti.


7. A brief explanation about prathibha, before we proceed further.

7.1. Well, bha meaning light is at the root of prathibha; prati is a proactive term. Prathibha is generally understood as light that flashes within; perceived without the intervention of senses or the mind (logic).It is a direct perception.

7.2.That kind of perception (intuition) is not uncommon. Ordinary people in their day-to-day life experience it at times. However, it has neither intensity nor a sense of direction. In the case of Rishis or yogis, it is said, this natural gift is cultivated over years of sustained practice. It is therefore a more comprehensive, intense and direct understanding.

7.3. As it usually happens, there is no single term in English that brings out all shades of the meaning of prathibha. Perhaps one could use terms like genius, poetic genius, creative imagination, invention, inventive flash or intuition; or all of them. I preferred to use intuition, as I thought it was nearer to the Sanskrit term, and it was shorter.

7.4. A considerable bulk of literature has grown around the attempts to define prathibha (intuition or whatever term), its source, its relation to reality, its fulfillment etc.

This is particularly true in the Indian context. It is debated widely, not merely in Vedic literature but also in poetics, yoga (sadhana). Sri Aurobindo makes frequent references to this intuitional (super-sensory) force.

7.5. Bharatha, the author of the natya_shastra, while discussing about Rasa, its embodiment, its fulfillment etc.talks of the importance of prathibha.

7.6. The vedangas, nyaya, yoga and shaiva siddanthas, shaktha siddantha also employ the concept; but each has its own interpretation about the source, the role of prathibha.


8. Continuing the discussion on the dichotomy of intuition (prathibha) and memory (Smrithi or call back), centuries later the Indian scholars Ananda Vardhana (Kashmir c.860 AD) and Abhnava Gupta (Kashmir c.960AD) emphasized that intuition, inner experience was the lifeblood of good poetry.

They declared, creativity (karaka) was the hallmark of poetry as it brings into the world a new art experience. They said the poetic genius reinvents itself all the time (nava navonvesha shalini prathibha). Poetry need not aim to remind (jnapaka) what is already present; that they said was the function of sastras. A poet need not seek justification or approval of scriptural authority. He is the lord of his domain. He is the creator. They recommend, the poet need not allow himself to be bound by logic, propriety and such other restrictions.

9. There is, in fact, such type of poetry that disregards all restrictions. For instance, Bhanudatta, a scholar of poetics (c.15 century AD) describes three “out of world” (alaukika) types of poetry that totally disregard the mundane realities of the world.

Snapika, is a dream like creation beyond space, time or reason. There is utter disregard for reality. The poet creates a world of his own.

The second is Manorathika. It is a fantasy ride; the object is to realize unfulfilled wishes. Unlike in the first one the poet is not completely cut off from the reality. His wishes have some relation to the real world.

The third is Aupanayika, where poet describes the world as he sees or as it pleases him; and not merely the actual world.

9.1. According to Bhanudatta, the third (Aupanayika) is a more credible form of poetry. It offers scope for grafting the poet’s views on the reality without rejecting or condemning the world. It could be a fine blend of expressions that evoke sense of beauty, idealism (chamath_kruthi) and harsh reality (pratheethi).The poet could whisper into ears of the reader as his beloved does (kantha_samhitha). That, Bhanudatta says, is a subtle and a persuasive way of communicating with the reader.

9.2. He says certain things shine in contrast. For instance, a flash of kindness in a cruel heart; a pair of beautiful eyes in an otherwise ordinary face; smile breaking through the teary face of a little girl.

He was trying to say the world is not one-dimensional (eka_mukha). The world is full of opposites (dwandwa). The way you look at it and the choices you make; that is what matters.

10. Our poetic scholars described that the word and its meaning (vak, Artha) as the body of the poetry; the essentials such as rasa, dhwani (tone), merit as internal organs of poetry. Intuition (prathibha), they said, was the vital driving force. Without intuition (prathibha), they said, a poem would read like a “toll collector’s   manual”.

11. Abhinava Gupta adds one more dimension to the issue in his”Dwanya_loka_lochana”.

He says prathibha may be a flash of enlightenment; but what sustains that vision is the “unmeelana_shakthi”. He refers to something that charges the mind, opens up or awakens the potent faculties.

Abhinava Gupta clarifies that prathibha is inspirational in nature and it does not transform itself, automatically, into a work of art or poetry. It needs a medium to express it self. And , that medium has to be cultivated, honed and refined diligently over a period to produce a work of class.

11.1. In this context, Abhinava Gupta mentions three essentials that a poet has to keep in view. They are Rasa (rasa_vesha), Vaishadya and Saundarya.

The Rasa  concept is well known and I do not wish to elaborate it here.

The second one refers to clarity in thought, lucidity in expression and comfortable communication with the reader.

The third is the sense of poetic beauty about which the Alankarikas have produced delectable works. A good poetry can manifest, according to him, only when the delightful combination of these three essentials are charged or supported by prathibha.

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

12.. The fulfillment of poetry is Ananda, joy. It therefore needs a good reader (Sah_hrudaya) who can understand, appreciate, empathize and enjoy the beauty of the poetry. He is an integral part of poetic experience. Magha, the poet, said, a good poetry draws the reader towards it repeatedly and each time he finds in it a new source of enjoyment. He remarked the diction, ornamentation, structure and other virtues of poetry could shine only when poetic genius, the intuition, Prathibha, charges them.


Tags: , , ,