Tag Archives: Rasa

Concerning the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Dasarupaka of Dhananjaya


David Cooper Photography 2008

The Second Chapter of the Dasarupa , in its 72 verses, classifies, sub-classifies and describes, in great detail, the types of characters in a play, especially the four types of Heroes (bhedais caturdha); three Kinds of Heroines (tadguna nayika tridha) with their twenty variations (strinam alamkaras tu virnsatih) according to their relations with the Hero; the opponent of the hero (Pratinayaka); the companions and those devoted to the hero; messengers of the Heroine and so on.


The term Nayaka (Hero) is derived from the root Ni, meaning to carry. The concept of Nayaka or Neta comprised not merely the hero but several other characters as well that appear in the play. Unlike Dhananjaya, Bharata did not regard Nayaka as the distinguishing element on the basis of which the ten forms of the Rupaka are classified. Bharata’s approach was broader as it covered a wide range of character-types of all classes.

Sri Rama

As per the  concept presented by Dhananjaya, the hero (Neta) the leading character of the Nātaka should be an ideal person, a worthy and exalted person of virtue; of noble lineage; resolute, young, endowed with intelligence, energy, memory, and wisdom; brave, firm, graceful, charming, sweet-tempered, soft-spoken, liberal, clever, affable, popular, upright, and eloquent. It is , basically, his story that forms the main theme of the Drama.

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

The noble hero  has control over his senses; does not let emotions override his actions; maintains his composure even under dire circumstances; shelters the weak and threatened; always wishes and strives to do good to others; is also wise, well versed in Shastras and is skilled in arts;

netā vinīto madhuras tyāgī dakṣaḥ priyagvadaḥ / raktalokaḥ śucir vāṅmī rūḍha vaṃśaḥ sthiro yuvā // DhDaś_2.1 //

The eight qualities of an ideal hero are: nobility of character (sobha), liveliness (vilasa), sweet-temper (madhurya), poise (gambhirya), firmness (sthairya), sense of honour or brightness (tejas), grace (lalita), and magnanimity (audarya).

 Sobha vilaso madhuryam gambhiryam sthairya tejasi lalita udaryam ity astau sattvajah paurusa gunah// DhDaś_2.9 /

Dhananjaya mentions four kinds of heroes- bhedais caturdha lalita santo udatto -ddhatair ayam. :

(1) Dhira-lalita, the light-hearted hero, fond of arts, happy, gentle, free from stress – niscinto dhiralalitah kalasaktah sukhi mrduh;

(2) Dhira-shantha, the self-controlled and calm hero , possessed of generic merits of a hero – samanya-guna-yuktas tu dhirasanto dvijadikah;

(3) Dhirodatta, the self-controlled and exalted hero of great excellence , exceedingly earnest, forbearing, not boastful, resolute with self-assertion  suppressed, and firm of purpose-mahasattvo ‘tigambhirah ksamavan avikatthanah sthiro nigudhahamkaro dhirodatto drdhavratah; and,

(4) Dhiroddhata, the vehement hero, altogether dominated by pride and jealousy, wholly devoted to magic practices, and deceitful, self-assertive, fickle, irascible and boastful – darpa-matsarya-bhuyistho maya-chadma-parayanah dhiroddhatas tv ahamkarl calas cando vikatthanah..

In a play in which a Hero is endowed with noble qualities of the type known as self-control, and exalted (Dhirodatta) , glorious , eager for fame, of great energy , a preserver of three Vedas (Trayi) , a ruler of the world , of renowned linage , a royal seer or a god – in that , his characterization is to be made the principal subject (Adhikarana).

Sita Ram


Dhananjaya initially mentions and describes three kinds of Heroines (Nayika tridha) : the hero’s own (Sva) wife; another person’s (Anya) wife; and, the common-woman (Sadharana-stri). These , again , are classified as Mugdha (modest , shy and inexperienced) ;Madhya (between adolescence and full womanhood, enthusiastic and enterprising); and, Pragalbha (mature and well conversant with the art)

svā anyā sādhāraṇastrīti  tadguṇā nāyikā tridhā / mugdhā madhyā pragalbh eti svīyā śīlārjavādiyuk // DhDaś_2.14 //

Bharata had presented a different classification: divya (celestial); nrpa patni (queen); kulastri (modest house-wife); and ganika (courtesan). And, each one of these four types is associated with a trait : Dhira (patient); Lalitha (delicate) ; Udatta (gallant) and Nibhrta ( fearless).


There is also an eight-fold classification of the Heroines (Ashta Nayika), depending upon their relations with the Hero:

One who loves to dominate her husband (svadhina- bhartrka or svadhina-patika);


One who loves to dress well and to adorn herself, as she joyfully waits for her lover (vasaka-sajja);


One who cannot tolerate her lover being away from her (viraha-utkanthita) and is disturbed (unmanas) when he delays meeting her;


One who gets very angry (khandita) when she discovers that her lover is having an affair with another woman;


One who after a quarrel with her lover moves out (kalaha-antarita), and later upset with herself in righteous anger and remorse ;

lover quarrelvipralabdha

One who feels deceived and is deeply hurt (vipralabdha) when her lover fails to show up on-time at the rendezvous agreed upon;


One who is lonely (prosita-priya) when her lover is in a distant land because of war or business;   

lover seperationAbhisarika nayika

 And, one who, deeply in love, sets out in great hurry and anxiety to meet her lover  (abhi-sarika).

praṇayā yogayorutkā pravāse proṣitapriyā / kalahānta riterṣyāyāṃ vipralavdhā ca khaṇḍitā // DhDaś_4.62 //

[Dhanika, further divides the eight into two classes; and, by permutation comes up with 128 varieties of heroines.]

shringarbodh_navgeet indian_beauty

Dhananjaya lists as many as twenty natural graces of women in the prime of youth. These are again made into three groups.

The first three are related to expressions or manifestation of love: emotions or feeling (bhava); bodily gestures (hava); and passion (hela).

 yauvane sattvajāḥ strīṇāmalaṅkārāstu viṃśatiḥ / bhāvo hāvaśca helā ca trayastatra śarīrajāḥ // DhDaś_2.28 //

The second group of seven components are related to the inherent characteristics of the heroine: graceful beauty (sobha); lustrous loveliness (kanthi); endearing sweetness (madhurya); poise and courage (pragalbhata); generosity (audarya); and steadfastness (dhairya).

śobhā kāntiśca dīptiśca mādhuryaṃ ca pragalbhatā / audāryaṃ dhairyamityete sapta bhāvā ayatnajāḥ // DhDaś_2.29 /

The third group of ten virtues relate to her attitude and dispositions: sportive attitude (Lila); charmingly delightful (vilasa); good-taste (vicchitti); a bit of confusion (vibhrama), easily excitable (kila-kinchita); very affectionate (mottayita); pretending to be angry , in jest (kuttamita); mock-indifference (bibboka); a bit laid-back or relaxed (lalita); and, bashful (vihrta).

līlā vilāso vicchittir vibhramaḥ kilakiñcitam / moṭṭāyitaṃ kuṭṭamitaṃ bibboko lalitaṃ tathā / vihṛtaṃ ceti vijñeyā daśa bhāvāḥ svabhāvajāḥ // DhDaś_2.30 //

 [These twenty qualities are again discussed, in detail, later in the text.)


The Sanskrit Drama carefully classifies and sub-classifies the Heroine into as many as sixteen types.

 heroine b-w


Such fondness , bordering on obsession, for minute sub-division of almost every element of the Drama into as many theoretically possible numbers of types as possible   is a defect in the Sanskrit dramaturgy. Such stereotyped threadbare manipulation of characters, actions, styles is rather futile.  Apart from being of no practical use, they rob the playwright of his initiative and enterprise. Every aspect of Drama is typecast and pigeonholed. It is not therefore surprising that over a period, the Sanskrit Drama lost freshness ,  became too conventional and eventually losing their appeal.


[ Before proceeding further with the treatise of Dhananjaya , it would be worth reproducing ( in a summarized form) the views of Abhinavagupta  on the participation  played by the Hero , heroine and the spectators , as well.

According to Abhinavagupta, a true connoisseur of arts has to learn to detach the work of art from its surroundings and happenings; and view it independently.

He asserts, the “willful suspension of disbelief” is a pre-requisite for enjoying any art expression. The moment one starts questioning it or doubting it and looking at it objectively; the experience loses its aesthetic charm; and, it becomes same as a mundane object.

One enjoys a play only when one can identify the character as character from the drama and not as ones friend or associate. The spectator should also learn to disassociate the actor from the character he portrays.

The Hero and Heroine  in a play are just portraying the roles assigned  to them, as best as they can. In other words; they are trying to convey certain states of emotions and the sate of being of the character-roles they are playing . They are like a pot (patra) or receptacle, which carries the emotional state of primary (real) role to the spectator. The actor merely  serves as a vessel or  a receptacle or a means of serving relish (Asvadana) ; and, that is the reason, a role is called a Patra. The characters on the stage represent the role ; but , are not the real ones; and, they do not completely identify themselves with the original. Hence, the Vibhava is like a cause; but, not an exact cause. The performance, the acting by the hero, heroine and other characters in a play is Anubhava, one of the several ways of bringing out the emotional states of the characters they are playing out on the stageSuch Anubhava could be called as ensuing responses.

The hero or heroines in a play don’t become the lover and beloved in real life. They understand and accept here  , what their their roles are; and, try to show what might be the emotional experiences of the character , and its reactions to the given situation  . The actors  try to  resemble the character , for few hours of the play ; and, act on the stage accordingly, through which the spectators understand , grasp and enjoy  the emotional states in the play.

Abhinava makes a distinction between the world of drama  (Nātyadharmī) and the real but ordinary life (Lokadharmī). In the artistic process, where presentations are  made with the aid of various kinds of dramatic features such as Abhinayas and  synthetic creations  ,  we are moving from the gross  and un-stylized movements of  daily life to more subtle forms of expressions and experiences; we move from individualized experiences to general representations; and from multiplicity to unity.

He says that the feeling that might cause pain in real life is capable of providing pleasure in an art form. He explains, while viewing a performance on stage one might appreciate and enjoy the display of sorrow, separation, cruelty, violence and even the grotesque; and one may even relish it as aesthetic experience. But, in real life no one would  ever like to be associated with such experiences.

Abhinavagupta , therefore,  observes that the theatrical experience is quite unlike the experience in the mundane and the real world; it is Alaukika – out of the world.

In summary; he draws a theory that the artistic creation is the expression of a feeling that is freed from localized distinctions; it is the generalization (sadharanikarana)  of a particular feeling. It comes into being through the creative genius (prathibha) of the artist. It finally bears fruit in the spectator who derives Ananda, the joy of aesthetic experience. That, he says, is Rasa – the ultimate emotional experience created in the heart of the Sahrudaya. 

Abhinavgupta talks about Sadharanikarana, the generalization. He points out that while enjoying the aesthetic experience, the mind of the spectator is liberated from the obstacles caused by the ego and other disturbances. Thus transported from the limited to the realm of the general and universal, we are capable of experiencing Nirvada, or blissfulness. In such aesthetic process, we are transported to a trans-personal level. This is a process of de-individual or universalization – the Sadharanikarana.\

According to Abhinavagupta a real work of art, in addition to possessing emotive charge carries a strong sense of suggestion and the potential to produce various meanings. It can communicate through suggestions and evoke layers of meanings and emotions.

He illustrates his position through the analogy of a tree and its fruit. Here, the play is the tree; performance is the flower; and spectator’s experience .

Rasa, the relish (Asvada) by the spectator, is the ultimate product (phala) of a dramatic performance, as that of a fruit borne by a tree :  “the play is born in the heart of the poet; it flowers as it were in the actor; and, it bears fruit in the delight (ananda) experienced by the spectator.” .. ”And, if the artist or poet has inner force of creative intuition (prathibha)…that should elevate the spectator to blissful state of pure joy Ananda.”

At another place, Abhinava declares, a true aesthetic object,  not merely stimulates the senses but also ignites the imagination of the viewer. With that, the spectator is transported to a world of his own creation. That experience sets the individual free from the confines of place, time and ego (self); and elevates him to the level of universal experience.  It is liberating experience. Thus art is not mundane; it is Alaukika in its nature

According to Abhinavagupta, the object of the entire exercise is to provide pure  aesthetic  joy to the spectator. Without his participation , all art expressions are pointless.

Thus, he brought the spectator from the edge of the stage into the very heart of the dramatic  performance and its experience. ]


Supporting characters

The section on Neta, apart from the Hero and the Heroine, includes the supporting characters, such as the companions of the hero; the  maids and messengers in service of the heroine ; and , the opponents of the Hero as well. Just mention about these briefly:

The companions of the Hero, i.e., those assisting and attending (pithamarda) and devoted to him are, usually, possessed of qualities similar to that of the Hero, though in a lesser degree. In addition, there would a fun and food loving, good-natured, but a rather incompetent jester (Vidushaka); and another, a sort of parasite (Vita).

The Heroine, usually, has in her service a set of maidens, who attend on her as maid-servant (dasi), and also serve as messengers (dutyo).  The Heroine might use any of those women, as also a foster-sister (dhatreyi), a woman skilled in crafts (silpini), a neighbour (prativesika), and a female ascetic (lingini) to pass on private messages to her lover. Some of these are also her friends (sakhi), confidants and advisors – (dutyo dasi sakhi karur dhatreyi prativesika lingini silpini svam ca netr mitra gunanvitah.)

The opponent of the hero (prati-nayaka), falling under the fourth type of the Hero (Dhiroddhata) is often depicted as avariciousness, vehement, stubborn, criminal and vicious (lubdho dhiroddhatah stabdhah papakrd vyasani ripuh)

queen and friends



Bharata had mentioned:  Vrttis or Styles are traditionally known as the constituent elements of all dramatic works (lit. poems).  It is said; the Vrttis have been so named because of the element or the action that is predominant in them.  the ten kinds of play are considered to have proceeded from these Vrittis.

sarveāmeva kāvyānā mātkā vttaya sm ābhyo vinista hyetad-daśarūpa prayogata 18.4

Another important element of the Drama that is discussed in Book  Two  of the Dasarupa is the concept of Vrtti  (which Bharata considered as the mother of all poetic works – kāvyānā mātkā vttaya sm), the ways of rendering a scene; or , the acting styles and the use of language , diction that different characters adopt in a play, depending upon the nature or the Bhava that relates to the character. Thus, the Vrttis get related to the four types of heroes and four kinds of representations. And, since Vrttis are also related with Rasas, they set the mood or ambiance on the stage by their distinct style of dramatic representation. In other words; the Vrttis call for the excellence of the mental, physical and vocal efforts of the actors portraying their characters.

Some other associations are also mentioned with regard to the Vrttis. For instance with : Angikam,Vacikam,Sathvikam and Aharyam. Further, Bharati with Rigveda; Sattavati with Yajurveda; Kaisiki with Samaveda; and, Arabhati with Atharva Veda.

Vrttis are said to be of four kinds (vrttis caturdha): Kaisiki; Sattvati; Arabhati; and, Bharati.

The Kaisiki-vrtti (graceful style) which characterizes the tender Lasyanga associated with expressions of love, dance, song as also charming costumes and delicate actions portrayed with care, mostly by women,   is most suited to Srngara-rasa (tatra kaisiki gita-nrtya-vilasadyair mrduh srngara-cestitaih). Kaisiki has four varieties (Bhedas): Narma (good-natured small-talk); Narmaspinja (pleasure blooms at the first meeting of lovers); Narmasphota (the lovers delighting in each other company); and, Narma-garbha (covert pleasure; incognito). The prefix Narma indicates cheer or laughter.  Kaisiki is the most charming and delightful combination of Srngara and Hasya, playful expression one’s affection or longing for union with the lover.

Sattvati Vrtti (flamboyant style) is a rather gaudy style of expressing ones emotions with excessive body-movement; exuberant expressions of joy; and, underplaying mellow or sorrow moods. It is a way of expressing ones emotions through words (mano-vyapara).  It is associated with the Vira , Adbhuta and Rauidra Rasas (vire sattvaty) – arabhati punah rase raudre ca bibhatse vrttih sarvatra bharati. The Sattvati Vritti has four varieties: Uttpatha (raising up to the conflict); Sallapaka or Samlapaka ( heroic and passionate words or challenge); Sanghatya (breach of alliance or that which breaches alliance; and, Parivartaka ( when a character abruptly changes a course of his actions).

Arabhati-vrtti is a loud, rather noisy and energetic style. It is a powerful exhibition of one’s anger, valour, bordering on false-pride, by screaming, shouting, particularly, in tumultuous scenes with overwhelming tension, disturbance and violence.  It involves furious physical movements (kaya-vyapara). It is associated with Raudra (furious) and Bhibhatsa (odious) Rasas (arabhati punah rase raudre ca bibhatse). The Arabhati has four varieties: : Sanskipta (brief, elaboration , condensed representation of the plot); Avapata ( commotion, fear, jubilation , panic, fall, puzzled behaviour, quick entrance and exit of characters); Vastu Uttahapanam (elevation of the plot, combination of all other Vrttis); and , Sampheta (conflict, fights, combats, betrayal, excitement). Arabhati is also attended with feats of jugglery, conjunction and conflicting situations, where bodily actions are prominent.

And, Bharati-vrtti is mainly related to a scene where the speech or dialogue delivery is its prominent featureBut, generally, the Bharati-vrtti, related to eloquence, is of importance in all the situations (vrttih sarvatra bharati). It is devoid of Srngara, Karuna and Nirveda (dispassion).  The Bharati-Vrtti has four varieties: Parochana (introducing the play and playwright to the spectators); Amukha or Prastavana (where the Sutradhara strikes a conversation with the Nati or Vidushaka, as a prologue to the play); Vithi (sort of monologue the Sutradhara carries on before the play proper); and, Prahasana (hilarious conversations between minor actors). Abhinavagupta suggested the terms: Kathodghata (which consists in some characters catching up with the words or intent of the Sutradhara); Pravartakam (introducing the subject), Prayogatishaya (where the director mentions the entry of a character of the drama), in place of Parochana, Amukha and Vithi. All these take place, mostly, in the Purvanga, the preliminary to the play proper.

[There is much confusion about the terms Vithi and Prahasana. They are used in different contexts carrying different meanings. The Vithi and Prahasana mentioned by Bharata as the Bhedas of Bharati Vrtti refer to the Angas of Vithi and also the two kinds of dramas. 

And, similarly , Vritti which denotes diction or style   is also used in three other senses: (1) verbal-force (Shabda-shakti), like Abhidha, Lakshana and others; (2) Alliteration, Anuprasa Alamkara; and, (3) grammatical formatives like Samasa and Taddhita  ]


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

Before concluding on the Vrttis, Dhananjaya mentions : the actions that take place in a play should be an authentic portrayal of the language, the gestures, the costumes and the characteristics (Desa-bhasa-kriya-vesa-laksanah) of the people of the region, to which the plot of the play belongs. The playwright should promptly adopt such suitable details (yatha-ucityam prayojayet), as are in practice – Pravrtti (pravrttayah) among the common people (lokad) of that region. It is a way of depicting the details of a particular character (viseha- vesa-vinyasa-krama) ; to render it authentic.

 Desa-bhasa-kriya-vesa-laksanah syuh pravrttayah lokad ava-vagamyaita yatha-ucityam prayojayet.

Here, Dhananjaya introduces another division among these four Vrttis. He creates two other sub-classes: Artha-vrtti and Sabda-vritti. According to Dhananjaya, the first three (Kaisiki; Sattvati; Arabhati) which deal mainly with action fall under Artha-vrtti; while, Bharati, where language and the presentation of the speech is of importance, is brought under Sabda-vritti.

But, neither Bharata nor anyone else had made such a distinction.  Many scholars opine the sub-classification made by Dhananjaya was rather needless.

According to Bharata, of the ten forms of Drama, Nātakas and Prakaranās should contain all the four Vrttis; hence, they are called Pūrna-vrtti Rūpakas (NS.17.7). And, the other eight Rūpakas should be represented without giving prominence to Kaisiki-vrtti (NS.18.8-9).They may contain one of the other three Vrttis as the prominent one, and the three others to a lesser degree.

However, Abhinavagupta had pointed out:  it is not the number of Vrttis, alone, that is important. In certain types of plays one form of Vritti might be prominent or otherwise. The combination, the treatment and the variations of the Vrittis differs from one type of play to the other. Thus, the classification of the Rupakas is based on the treatment of the Vrttis, which might either be complete with all its Angas (elements) or be lacking in some of them. Thus, the mere number of Vrttis in a play, by itself, is not very significant.

[ The critics point out: though Bharata mentioned ten types of Drama, he discussed mainly about its two forms – Nataka and Prakarana, perhaps because these two alone fulfilled all those requirements that were necessary for Rupaka (Major type). Further, Bharata had also explained :  ‘as these two major forms alone depict varieties of situations , made up all the styles (Vrttis) and representations,  they lend  enough scope for display of Rasas (Rasapradhana or Rasabhinaya or vakya-artha-abhinaya); while the other eight forms are incomplete , as they are not presented in the graceful style, the kaisikivrtti’.

Thus, while Bharata and Abhinavagupta stressed Vrtti as the distinguishing character of a Drama; Dhananjaya and Dhanika held Vastu (subject-matter), Neta (Hero) and Rasa (sentiment) as the elements which distinguish one form of drama (Rupaka)  from its other forms  (vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako) .

For Dhananjaya, these three were pivotal points; and, he went about constructing his work, analyzing the whole of dramaturgy around these three parameters (pradhāna, netà and rasa). Therefore, while conducting a study of each class of the Drama, he does it with reference to : (1) their subject-matter or the plot (Vastu), the main theme (adhikarika), the episodes (angam) and the incidental events (prasangika);  (2) the types of characters they portray (Neta), such as the class of the hero, heroine and other supporting roles;  (3) the structural divisions of the play , the stages in their  corresponding with the elements of the plot (avastha), the actions essential for attaining the object of the play (Arthaprakrti) ,  the  sequence of  episodes (in the development of the play (Samdhi); and, (4) the Rasa , the  principal or the  dominant  sentiment of the play.]

rama sita

Dhananjaya concludes the Second Book of Dasarupa, which covered a number of essential ingredients of the Drama, with homage to Bharata and to Lord Shiva:

Who but Bharata or the crescent-crested god Shiva would have been able to enumerate , without omission, all the varieties of action (Vrttis) , the qualities (Guna) , the utterances (Vak) , and the involuntary States (sattvabhava) that are inseparable from (a-vibhinna) the ten (four types of heroes and six types of heroines) varieties of leading character (netara-dasa-vibhinnan) ?’

Cesta-guno-dahrti sattvabhavan / asesato netara-dasa-vibhinnan / ko vaktum Iso Bharato na yo va /  yo va na devah Sasi khandamaulih //


In the next Part, we shall talk about the ten forms of Drama which is the main theme of Dhananjaya’s work; and about Rasa as discussed in Book Three and Book Four of the Dasarupa.

Nayana4 crop



Part Four

Sources and References

The Dasarupa a treatise on Hindu dramaturgy by George C. O. Haas, Columbia University press / 1912

 A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka – by Manjul Gupta

Sahityadarpanah of Viswanathakavirajah

The Theory of the Samdhis and the Samdhyangas in Natya Shastra by T.G. Mainkar

Sanskrit Dramaturgy

All images are from Internet

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Concerning the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya – Part Two

Continued from Part One


As mentioned earlier, the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya is a compilation of the extracts taken from the Natyashastra of Bharata.

Dhananjaya’s work is , essentially, a collection of the rules, the terminologies, their definitions and the elements pertaining to Drama, as extracted from the Natyashastra; and, arranged under certain broad heads. The Dasarupa is a compact work, intended to serve as a manual for the use of those interested in the subject of Drama.

As its name suggests, the text is focused on the ten types or classes of Drama that were mentioned in the Natyashastra; and, on the presentation and analysis of their technical features, plot constructions along with their distinguishing characteristics.

[Let me mention, at the outset, what I have posted below is but a brief summary of the few of the selected topics described in the Dasarupa. I have tried to avoid going into various sub-classifications and too many details enumerated in the text. For the complete text, with its translation in English, please click here.]


Before we discuss the main subjects covered by the Dasarupa, let’s briefly take a broad look at its structure and the arrangement of its theme and topics. .

The Dasarupa which commences with a prayer submitted to Lord Ganesha has four Prakashas or sections, containing, in all, about three hundred Karika (verses).

Namas tasmai Ganesaya yatkanthah puskarayate / mada-abhoga-ghana-dhvano nilakanthasya tandave //

Homage to that Ganesha whose throat, deeply resonant in his excessive frenzy (mada-abhoga), serves as a drum in the vibrant  dance of Shiva, just as the sound of the wildly expanding thundercloud at the dance of the peacock

ganesha puja


The First Book or the First Chapter consists of 68 verses.  After paying homage to Lord Vishnu who displayed ten incarnations (Dasa-Avatara); and, to Bharata who enunciated the ten forms of Drama (Dasarupa), Dhananjaya seeks the blessings of Sarasvathi the Goddess of wisdom, arts and all learning. He says : the goddess Sarasvati graciously provides themes for literary works to persons of intelligence; and , through those works culture is spread among others.

kasya cid eva kada cid dayaya visayam Sarasvati vidusah / ghatayati kam api tam anyo vrajati jano yena vaidagdhim.

He then states the objective of his work as to give concisely and directly the import of the rules pertaining to Drama, as set down in Natyashastra, in its own words (tasyarthas tatpadais tena samksipya kriyate anjasa)

Dhananjaya then goes on to list (pratipadam laksma) the definitions of some of the fundamental technical terms that appear in the Natyashastra – (pratipadam aparam laksma kah kartum iste)

He commences by stating that Drama is an imitation of situations in life (Avastha-anikrtir natyam); and, it is called a Rupa (form), because it is, basically, a visual presentation (rupam drsyatayocyate), made by actors who assume the forms of various characters that are assigned to them (rupakam tat samaropad), such as gods, kings, men or women of various sorts.  It is said; Rupa refers to delineation, giving a concrete form to an idea. Then, he just lists the names of the ten chief varieties of Drama that are based in different Rasas (dasadhaiva rasasrayam)

natakam ca prakaranam bhanah prahasanarn dimah vyayoga samavakarau vlthyankeha imrga iti

[The phrase Avastha-anikrtir natyam, as quoted by Dhananjaya might give an  impression as though the Drama is the art of reproduction by imitation (anukriti), But, Abhinavagupta had  earlier 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 creation, where music, dance, acting as also the dress, colours, and the stage environment etc., all unite harmoniously in an effort to create a delightful dramatic performance. According to him, such a presentation becomes an art when its narration in the form of dialogues associated with suitable gestures, postures, movement, dance, 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 hearts and minds of the audience; generates in them an aesthetic joy; and, it is not an imitation in the ordinary sense of the term. ]



 Marga- Desi

Dhananjaya mentions the broad categories of Dance-forms as: the Marga (the pure or pristine); and, the Desi (the regional or improvised) – adyam padartha-abhinayo Margo Desi tatha param.

As regards the particular Dance forms, Dhananjaya says: the Nrtya, which, principally, is display of various emotional states (bhava-asrayam nrtyam), is a representation of the traditional Marga class. While, Nrtta, with emphasis on limb-movements, in tune with rhythm and timing (nrttam tala-laya-asrayam), belongs to the popular Desi style.

Under each of these (Nrtya and Nrtta) there is again a two-fold division: Lasya, the graceful, gentle and fluid pleasing dance; and, Tandava, the vigorous, energetic and brisk invigorating movements (lasya-tandava-rupena natakad-dyupakarakam.)

[ Here, Dhananjaya markedly deviated from Bharata . To start with, Bharata had not  classified Tandava and Lasya  as either vigorous or gentle dances . In fact , the term Lasya does not appear in the Natyashastra. Bharata had merely mentioned of these two (Tandava and Sukumara) as the types of dances  that are performed in the Purvaranga, before the commencement of the play.

And , Dhanajaya’s attempt to classify Nrtta as Desi (regional) and Nrtya as Marga (pure and traditional) was criticized as  being illogical. It was pointed out that Nrtta was the dance that Shiva taught to his disciple Tandu ; and , it was pure and pristine. And, Nrtta is indeed of the Marga class.]


After offering short definitions of these terms, which  are auxiliaries to Nataka and to the other varieties of Drama,  Dhananjaya moves on to the definition of such terms as are directly connected with the major theme of his work –  the Drama (Rupa).

He broadly follows Bharata , who had said : A Nātaka is having five Arthaprakrti; five kâryāvasthās; five Samdhis; four Vrittis;   sixty-four Sandhyaga; twenty-one Sandhyantārā, thirty-six Abhusanas; and, ninety music.. Yattu pancachatuh –sastiscatuh –pancaikavisatih / sattrinsatravtisca tat-Natakam


Vastu -Neta -Rasa

The rest of the First Chapter is devoted to the discussion of Vastu, the subject-matter, in detail, about its sub-divisions; and, also of the structural components or the elements of the plot.

He states that the three essential elements , on which the  Dramas are based and  classified,  are : the Vastu (subject-matter) ; the Neta (the leading character- the Hero) ; and , the Rasa (the sentiment it portrays ) . It is on the basis of these three criteria that Dramas are categorized into different types – Vastu Neta Rasas tesam bhedako.

The plot should be simple; the incidents should be consistent; and, the progression of the events should spring direct from the story. It should make an interesting presentation on the stage; and, should provide entertainment to varied class of spectator. That is the basic purpose of the Drama. The ability to please the spectators, to capture their imagination and to make them visit the theatre more often is a major indicator of the success of the play.

The Subject-matter (vastu) can be of two-folds (Vastu ca dvidha) :  the main theme  known as the principal subject (adhikarika); and,  the subordinate (angam)  as the  incidental events (prasangika)

– Tatra adhikarikam mukhyam angam prasahgikam viduh.

The major theme (Vrttam) of a Drama would, usually, be about the intense desire or the objective (Adhikara) of the principal character of the play (i.e., the Hero, the Adhikarin); and, how he goes about to realize that goal. The sequence of incidents or actions that follow during the course of the Hero’s attempts, mainly, to achieve his objective or the desired result would be its principal subject (Adhikarika); and, the related minor ones would form the incidental the subject (prasangika).

[For instance; in Ramayana, the story of Rama and Sita is Adhikarika. The stories of Sugriva and Vibhishana are Prasangika, supplementary to the main story.]


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


The action of the play expands in manifold ways (vistary anekadha), just as a seed (Bija) very small at the beginning, grows, in stages, and expands into a tree.

The process of unfolding of the story could be marked by five stages or elements of action (Arthaprakrti or Karyalakshana):

:- (1) the beginning (Bija) or the cause (hetu) giving rise to various types of actions;

:- (2) the expansion (Bindu), which like the drop of oil in water, spreads and joins the broken ends, expands and maintains the continuity (accheda-karana), till the very end of the play, in all the Acts;

:- (3) the episodes of  considerable length (Pathaka), which  carry forward  and support the main cause of the  action ;

:- (4) the incidents within the episode (Prakari), of limited duration and of minor importance , yet, serving the principal plot; 

:- (5) and, finally, the conclusion (Karya), which also sums up the whole action, starting  from the beginning  and leading up  to the ultimate gainful result  (Phala).

Bija-bidu-patakakhya prakari-karya-laksanah arthaprakrtayah panca ta etah parikirtitah.

Following the analogy of the seed and the tree, it is explained, in Arthaprakrti also, the Bija, the germinal-idea, just like a seed, is the origin. And, it goes through several stages namely: appearance (Utpatti); opening up (Udgnatana); going forth or sprouting (Udbheda); and, coming out distinctly (Nirbedha). And, just as the seed develops gradually into a tree and bears fruit, here too the Bija develops, in stages, and finally concludes in Karya. And, thus, it succeeds in bringing the whole series of actions in the play to  a happy (mangala) desired finale  (Phala) .

Bīja bindu patākā ca prakarī kāryameva ca arthapraktaya pañca jñātvā yojyā yathāvidhi NS.19.21

 [The charge levelled against Dhananjaya and Dhanika is that they just state the Arthaprakrti and fail to discuss its importance in the play or its relation with the Avastha, another format of plot-construction.]



The plot could also be structured in another manner so as to depict the successive, ordered (Yathasamkhya) stages of action (Avastha) in the Hero’s (Neta) attempts to accomplish his purpose. The actions involved in the hero’s way to success are structured into five distinct segments or stages :

:- (1) beginning of the action (Arambha) with eagerness to attain the result;

:- (2) the efforts made by the hero to move resolutely, with great haste, towards his objective, despite the odds and resistance he has to contend with (Yatna or Prayathna);

:- (3) actions leading him nearer to the objective, with hope of success mixed with fear of failure (Prathi-sambhava);

:- (4) actions or incidents that ensure certainty of realizing his goal,  as by then the dangers and risks  would have been bypassed or  eliminated (Niyatapti) ; 

(5) and, finally, the crowning glory, the complete and satisfactory achievement of his desired objective (Phala-agama or Phala-prapti or Phala-yoga)

Avasthah panca karyasya prarabdhasya phalarthibhih ararnbha-yatna-praptyasa-niyatapti-phalagamah.

The Avastha, with its five stages, is a comprehensive model which begins with eagerness and zeal; resolutely passes through strenuous efforts, overcoming several obstacles, mixed with anxiety, hope and fear; and, finally ends happily  in the total acquisition of the desired object.  Its elements, taken together, portray the physical, mental and psychological states of the hero (Neta) throughout the action of the play. 

These five stages, in their successive order (Yathasamkhya), form the essential, classic features of any type of human endeavour; not merely Drama.

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 yathā-kāmo bhavati tatkratur bhavati | yatkratur bhavati tat karma kurute |  yat karma kurute tad abhi-saṃpadyate || BrhUp_4,4.5 ||



Another way of structuring the plot (the body, the Sarira of the play) is by creating links, for connecting one scene with the other. These are the Samdhis, the segments of the plot (Artnavayavah), joined mutually or with the limbs (angaih) of the otherantaraika-artha-sambandhah samdhir ekanvaye sati. These Samdhis (junctures) are meant to knit together the various structural divisions of the Drama, consistent with the elements of the plot, and with the stages in the Hero’s struggle on his way to achieving his purpose, right from the beginning up to the successful conclusion.

The five stages of  the developments or the progressions in the action of the play in that regard are :  

:- (1) Mukha (lit. face) , the section where the action originates in a seed-form (Bija) giving rise to various purposes and sentiments (mukham bijasamutpattir nana-artha-rasa-sambhava );

:- (2) Prathimukha ,  the development of the seed – sometimes visible  and sometimes not ; but, there all the while and progressing (laksya-alaksya atayodbhedas tasya pratimukham bhavet);

:- (3) Garbha, the section of the play where the seed springs up and strives to grow despite the difficulties and challenges it is confronted with (garbhas tu drstanastasya bijasya-anvesanam muhuh);

:- (4) Vimarsa or Avamarsa, a crucial or rather testing time in the development of the seed which has now  grown into Garbha , facing troubles; and, when  one stops to reflect (avamrsed) because of getting embroiled in entanglements (aslesa), snared in temptations (vilobana), doubts, anger , or following a misleading clue, thus temporarily arresting its development (krodh en avamrsed yatra vyasanad va vilobhanat); 

(5) and, finally, the Nirvahana  or the Upasamhrti, when the scattered threads are harmonized and knit together;  when all the main incidents of the play are  meaningfully interwoven ; and , the play is brought to a successful conclusion – (bijavanto mukhadyartha viprakirna yathayatham aikarthyam uparuyante yatra nirvahanam hi tat).

Mukha-pratimukhe garbhah sa vamarsa upasarnhrtih.

 [For an exhaustive study of the Samdhis, please click here.[


These three – Arthaprakrti, Avastha and Samdhi – could be treated as parallel methods of structuring the divisions of the play.  It is also said; they are not mutually exclusive. The five elements, that mark the stages of action, in each of these, correspond with the five elements of the other two, in an ordered sequence – Krama (yathasamkhyena jayante).

Arthaprakrtayah panca panca-avastha-samanvitah yathasamkhyena jayante mukhadyah panca samdhayah.

The structural divisions or sequence of events of the drama – Avastha; Arthaprakrti; and, Samdhi – each in its own manner,   corresponds 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 object.

:- Avastha are the stages of action in the progression of the events in the play

:- Arthaprakrtis are in effect, the means for attaining the desired result or success (Phala). These, again, are said to be sequenced in five stages of action (Avastha)

:- The Samdhis are junctures or the sequence of events in the development of the play; and, associated with the actions or the stages in the hero’s realization of his purpose (Phala-siddhi).

[It seems that Bharata had suggested just two parallel methods or principles of classification for projecting the development of the plot – Avastha and Samdhi – each having five steps. The Samdhi was again divided into 64 sub-sections –Samdhyangas. And, Bharata had not discussed or even suggested inter-relation between these two models.

The schemes of the Avastha (stages) and the Samdhi (junctures), both having five phases, are related to the structure of the play, the dramatic incidents, the development of the theme, and the movement of the plot. While Avastha attempts to delineate or mark the successive stages in the action of the play through various sub-divisions; the Samdhi, following the analogy of the seed and its growth, tries to combine the various types of action into meaningful whole.

When taken together, you find that the Avastha and Samdhi are closely related, with each stage of the Avastha corresponding with each juncture of the Samdhi. Both mark the divisions in the development of the plot, in five stages. Bharata had said: the Samdhis depend on the Avasthas (Samdhyo hi Avastha paratantrah)

Dr. Manjul Gupta explains: Looking at the position, we may finally say that Samdhis are the important parts of a plot. A plot is divided into five parts marking different phases of the main aim. These five Samdhis are related to each other, ‘to their limbs’. .. and, somehow or other, with the five Avasthas of the action.

Thus, the Arambha of Avastha corresponds with Mukha of Samdhi; and similarly, the Prayathna with the Prathimukha; the Prathisambhava with the Garbha; the Niyatapi with the Vimarsa; and, the Phalayoga with the Nirvahana.


Dhananjaya goes further and inserts Arthaprakrti, the constituent elements in a plot, mentioned by Bharata (NS.19.21) as the third format (besides Avastha and Samdhi) for outlining the structure of the plot. And, he had said, they are found in the Itivrtta, just as the five Avasthas do.

bījaṃ binduḥ patākā ca prakarī kāryameva ca / arthaprakṛtayaḥ pañca jñātvā yojyā yathāvidhi // BhN_19.21 //

Dhananjaya suggested that the five elements of the Arthaprakrti (viz., Bija; Bimdu; Pathaka; Prakari; and Karya), corresponded with the five stages  of action as described under Avastha ; and , from these arise five junctures , the Samdhi , beginning with Mukha , the opening.

arthaprakrtayah panca panca-avastha-samanvitah yathasamkhyena jayante mukhadyah panca samdhayah // DR.1.21//

The difference between Avastha and Arthaprakrti seems to be that while the former (Avastha) pertains to the principal plot; the latter (Arthaprakrti) covers the subsidiary plots also. And, while the action of every play consists of five Avasthas, but, in the case of five Arthaprakrtis, it is not necessary that all should be present. The other difference appears to be that in the Avastha, its stages follow an ordered sequence. But, Arthaprakrti is not bound by such regulations; the sequence and the prominence of its elements might be altered to suit the needs of the plot. 

However, Bharata had not said anything about the inter-relations that might exist among the three formats of the play, viz., the Avastha, the Samdhi and the Arthaprakrti.

But the later writers (e.g. Katayavema and Dhundiraja) accepted the suggestion made by Dhananjaya for treating Avastha, Samdhi and Arthaprakrti as parallel ways of dividing or demarcating the structure of the Drama into successive ordered segments (yathasamkhyena jayante).

It could, therefore, be said that each element of Samdhi identifies; and, also leads to the corresponding elements of the Arthaprakrti and Avastha.

Arthaprakrti, Samdhi , Agama0004

It has been suggested that these three sets of five each, Pentad (panchayatam), could be taken as three ways of analyzing the structure of the plot of a Sanskrit Drama (Rupaka) from three different angles.

Summing up, Viswanatha in his Sâhitya-Darpana described Rupaka (Nataka) as the most logical and perfect theatrical composition. It progresses in a systematic manner and concludes successfully, bringing joy to all.  He says, according to the Dasarupa, the structure of the Rupaka consists: five elements of the plot (Arthaprakrti), matching with the five stages (Avastha) of the action, from which arise five structural divisions or sequence of events (Samdhi) of the drama, which correspond with the elements of the plot and the actions associated with the stages in the hero’s attempts to successfully realize his purpose or objects.

Please also read the brief study of the Dasarupaka of Viswanatha by Dr. Leena Chandra K ]


[The Shakuntalam of Kalidasa  (check here for an English translation) is hailed as a classic play  that epitomizes all the virtues and characteristics of the hoary Sanskrit theatrical traditions.

We may take a look at the structure of the play in terms of the three modes of Samdhi , Arthapaprakrti and Avastha.

Kalidasa’s celebrated  play  Abhijnana Shakuntalam has seven Acts; and, the action is spread over six years. The plot is structured into series of actions , each leading to the next.

The progression of the plot of the Shakuntalam can be analyzed according to dramatic conventions set out in the Natyasastra. This may be done taking into account all the three axes : Arthaprakrti ; Avastha-s ( states of action); and, Sandhi-s (joints of action) .

Act I features the Mukha-Sandhi, in which the King Dushyanta comes upon the beautiful lass Shakuntala; it gives rise to cause (hetu) for the beginibg of action (Bija – Arthaprakrti), which is the King deeply falling in love with Shakuntala; and, that  opening sets the  stage for action in the play (Arambha-Avastha).


Act II and Act III explore the expansion (ArthaprakrtiBindu), when the King makes effort (AvasthaYatna or Prayathna) to moves towards his objective ; and that develops into their wedding (Pratimukha-Sandhi),

But the King  and Shakuntala must urgently separate; and, they  are filled with hope of success mixed with fear of failure (Prathi-sambhava Avastha); and their love  strives to grow despite the difficulties and challenges it is confronted with (Garbha Sandhi). That gives reason to  carry forward  and support the main cause of the  action (Pathaka Arthaprakrti ) .


Acts IV and V relate to the period of separation, wherein hope of reunion is affirmed , despite absence; and this section is a continuation of the Garbha-Sandhi. This occurs when Shakuntala leaves the hermitage and also when she and the king are separated, after his rejection of her;  serving the principal plot (Prakari Arthaprakrti).

This state of uncertainty also marks  Vimarsa or Avamarsa Sandhi , when the King actually does reject Shakuntala , a crucial or rather testing time in the development of the seed (Bija) which has now  grown into Garbha , facing troubles; and, when  the charecters  stops to reflect (avamrsed) because of getting embroiled in entanglements (aslesa), snared in temptations (vilobana), doubts, anger , or following a misleading clue, thus temporarily arresting its development.

Acts V and VI bring hope of realizing the  goal (Niyatapti-Avastha), when Indra calls upon Dushyanta to join him in heaven; and, the audience knows that the King will  eventually reunite with Shakuntala.  It is followed by actions or incidents that ensure certainty of realizing the Lovers’ goal,  as by then the dangers and risks  are likely to be  bypassed or  eliminated .

The final Act VII celebrates the reunion of Shakuntala and Dushyanta; it marks the Nirvahana  or the Upasamhrti Sandhi, when all the scattered threads are harmonized and knit together;and, all the main incidents of the play are  meaningfully interwoven ; and , when the play is brought to a successful conclusion.

This final Arthaprakrti (Karya) also sums up the whole action, starting  from the beginning  and leading up  to the ultimate gainful result  (Phala). This Avastha (Phala-agama or Phala-prapti or Phala-yoga) is indeed  the crowning glory, the complete and satisfactory achievement of the desired objective  of the hero and the Leading Lady  as they joyfully reunite with their son Bharata.]




As regards the story of a play, it could either be adopted (itivrttam) from the incidents that occur in the well-known (Prakhyatha) legends of the past; or, could be a story invented (Uthpadya) by the poet; or else, it could be a mixture (Misra) of the two.  The story could also be about gods (Divya), humans (Marthya) and the like (Divyadivya).

prakhyatam itihasader utpadyam ; kavi-kalpitam;  misram ca samkarat tabhyam divya-martyadi-bhedatah.

It is also said; whatever be the original story, if it is not suitable for the hero or is inconsistent with the sentiment (Rasa) he represents, then the story can be modified or re-arranged in some other way. After determining the beginning and end of the play in this manner; and, after dividing it into five parts, the author should then break it up into small sections; the divisions called junctures (Samdhi).

[Surprisingly,even in the case of historical narrations (akhyayika), Anandavardhana (Ca.850) counseled poets to alter any received historical account that conflicted with the emotional impact they sought to achieve. Thus, according to him, one can and should change fact to suit the dominant Rasa of the work.]

The purpose of such reshaping of the story and characters by the playwright is to achieve a harmony of theme and character in order to serve the ultimate purpose of the drama ,  the Rasa – the  enjoyment by the cultured spectators concept of

 Yat tatra-anucitam Kim cin nayakasya rasasya va viruddham tat parityajyam anyatha va prakalpayet.

[The best example of this is Kalidasa’s reworking of Abijnana-shakuntalam and Vikramorvasiya, the former from the Mahabharata and the latter from the Vedas, Epics, and Puranas.]

Dhanika the commentator mentions that the Vastu is initially classified as the principal (Adhikarana) and subsidiary (Prasangika); and, each of these two are again sub-divided in three ways (Prakhyatha, Uthpadya and Misra), keeping in view of the source of the story, the characters, the portrayal and the dramatic conventions.

[But, Bharata had divided the plot (Itivrtta) into only two classes – the principal and the subsidiary; and, had not attempted their further sub-divisions. 

tivṛttaṃ tu nāṭyasya śarīraṃ parikīrtitam / pañcabhiḥ sandhibhistasya vibhāgaḥ samprakalpitaḥ // BhN_19.1 /

itivtta dvidhā caiva budhastu parikalpayet ādhikarikameka syāt prāsagikam-athāparam 19. 2

The explanation provided is that Bharata did not attempt to divide the dramatic components into tight compartments, because:  he was more concerned with the successful production of a play.  He was focused on coming up with an interesting presentation that would provide wholesome entertainment to the spectators ; and , at the same time he had to pay attention to the  playwright , the actors and the very process of production.

But, the later commentators like Abhinavagupta and Dhananjaya were basically theoreticians who relished offering  scholarly interpretations of the vast variety of technical terms , principles and concepts etc., together with illustrations of their applications by citing passages from the  great plays that preceded their times (such as the plays of Bhasa, kalidasa, Bhavabuthi, Sriharsha and others). These scholars were, however, not much concerned with the nutty gritty or practical details of play-production or the structure and management of the playhouse.]

Dhananjaya says that the chosen subject could be arranged in six ways: showing what needs to be put forth; displaying emotion; the element of surprise; representations for sustaining interest in the story; and concealing what needs to be concealed,

The task of dramatization of the underlying story (Itivrtta) calls for selection, omission and meaningful arrangement of the incidents. Some types of actions should be presented on the stage; while certain other types that are unsuitable for display might either be indicated by words or not shown at all.

There might be incidents in the play which have happened either in the past or in the distant lands; and, there might also be certain types of actions which might neither be possible nor advisable to show on stage. All such matters have to be suggested or indicated by various other clever devices (Arthopaksepaka).

[Normally, the action in a play depicts the events that occurred during the course of that day (or night). But, there are some noted exceptions to such conventions. For instance: in the Uttara-rama-charita of Bhavabhuthi, the events in the first  Act and the second Act are separated by as many as twelve years. Similarly, several years elapse between the last two Acts of the Abhijnana-shakuntalam . In such cases, an intermediate scene (Vishkambha) is introduced as a link; and, also to explain / narrate the occurrences that took place  subsequent to  the previous Act.

Further, it is said; a chariot, an elephant or a horse should not be brought on the stage. Similar is the case with palaces, hills or lakes. Such animals and geographical features might be suggested or indicated through models made of cheap materials. And, in case an army has to be introduced on the stage, that should be symbolically represented by the movement (gati-vīcāra) of four to six persons dressed as soldiers.

But, in many cases, the unity of place is not strictly observed; and, travels are undertaken, often, by aerial routes, riding the celestial rathas]

In regard to the continuity of action taking place after a lapse of time , that is achieved through  suggestions or indications   made in  one oe more of the five ways  : (1) Vishkambha, an interlude; (2) Pravesaka confined to lesser characters, which use Prakrit; (3) Culika, suggestions from behind the curtain; (4) Ankamukha, anticipatory scene, at the close of an Act a character alludes to the subject of the following Act; and, (5) Ankavatara , the seed of the subject-matter of an Act in the previous Act before it has drawn to its close, so that the following is a continuation of the one preceding it. 

arthopakṣepakaiḥ sūcyaṃ pañcabhiḥ  pratipādayet / viṣkambha cūlikā aṅgāsy āṅkāvatāra praveśakaiḥ // DhDaś_1.52 //

It is only that part of the action which is fit to be exhibited is divided into Acts and presented on the stage in an ingenious and a highly interesting manner.

[Natyashastra prescribes that in the presentation of the play , one should avoid showing such events as: long travel; murder; war; violent overthrow; bloodshed; eating; taking bath; undressing; 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 // ]


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

[The classical Sanskrit Drama, in its presentation, followed a traditional format.

Plays were usually presented at the spring festival. The Srngara and Vira are the usual dominant Rasas of the play. The dialogues are interspersed with lyrical stanzas and songs; and, often with dance movements. Tragedy, in the Western sense of the term, was not there, for every drama must have a happy ending.

A drama always opened with Naandi, or benediction, submitted by the well accomplished Sutradhara, stage-manager or director, to Lord Shiva, praying for successful completion of the play , for the joy (nanda) and the prosperity of the audience. It is said; it is called Naandi , because it pleases (Nanda) the gods –Nandati devata asyam  iti  Naandi ; and, also because , it pleases the spectators and confers blessings on them. 

Right after the Naandi, the Sutradhara  , appears in a section , preliminary to the play, called  Prarochana ,  where he would praise the literary merit and scholarship of the playwright;   laud the high quality of his play that the audience is about to watch; and, compliment the audience for their wisdom in choosing to witness such an excellent play (unmukhī karaṇaṃ tatra praśaṃsātaḥ prarocanā) . The Prarochana would be followed by Prastavana, the prelude to  the play-proper, where the Sutradhara would strike a light-hearted conversation with a Nati , Vidusaka or a minor character regarding the play that is just about to be presented. All these take place in the Purvanga, the preliminary , before the commencement of the play .

sūtradhāro naṭīṃ brūte mārṣaṃ vātha vidūṣakam / svakāryaṃ prastutākṣepi citroktyā yat tadāmukham // DhDaś_3.7 // prastāvanā vā tatra syuḥ kathādghātaḥ pravṛttakam / prayogā tiśayaścātha vīthyaṅgāni trayodaśa // DhDaś_3.8 //

The initial scenes are always auspicious, spreading a happy–feeling (adi-mangala); and, as the story unfolds, unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted  on the virtuous hero , by the crafty villain. 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, amidst the trials and tribulations of the lovers,  a sort of relief  arrives  through the  clumsy attempts of the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka .  And, after a hard fought and suspenseful struggle (in which the gentle heroine, for no fault of her, is somehow drawn in), the anti-hero falls; eventually the Good, the Love and the Dharma triumphs; and, all ends well (antya-mangala).

The play concludes with a Bharatavakya, praying for the welfare of the king with good governance, the happiness of his subjects ; and, the peace and  prosperity of all beings in all the three worlds.]

lotus offering

Numerous subdivisions

The Dasarupa goes into lot of details, enumerating the subdivisions of the various elements of action (much of it not being quite significant). For instance:

  • 12 subdivisions of the opening scene (Mukha);
  • 13 subdivisions of the progression (Prathimukha);
  • 12 subdivisions of the development (Garbha); 
  • 13 subdivisions of the pause (avamarsa) ,
  • 5 kinds of intermediate scenes (arthopaksepaka) ;
  • 14 subdivisions of the conclusion ( Nirvahana )
  • 64 types of Samdhyangas (Divisions or Limbs of Samdhis)
  • 12 limbs of Garbha
  • 13 types of Avamarsa
  • 72 types of Sandnyantaras which act as inter-links
  • And so on


The First Book of Dasarupa concludes with the advice:  after examining the entire body of divisions of the subject matter presented in these and the following sections, as well as in the works like the Ramayana and Brhatkatha, one should thereupon compose a story expanded with the appropriate selection of Hero (Neta) and sentiments (Rasa) , bound together with appropriate and pleasing words (ucita-caru-vacah).’

ityady asesam iha vastu-vibhedajatam / Ramayanadi ca vibhavya Brhatkatham ca / asutrayet tad anu netrra-sanugunyac / citram katham ucita-caru-vacah-prapancaih //DhDaś_1.61 //


In the next part we shall talk about the types of Heroes , Heroines and the supporting charecters ; and, also about the Vrttis , which Bharata regarded as the mother of all poetic works.


Nayana5 crop




Part Three

Sources and References

The Dasarupa a treatise on Hindu dramaturgy by George C. O. Haas, Columbia University press / 1912

 A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka – by Manjul Gupta

Sahityadarpanah of Viswanathakavirajah

The Theory of the Samdhis and the Samdhyangas in Natya Shastra by T.G. Mainkar

Sanskrit Dramaturgy

All images are from Internet

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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine

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

Kavyasya Atma – the Soul of Poetry


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

kavya lakshana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dhvani and Rasa-Dhvani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



in the

Next Part

Sources and References


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

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by  Dr. Satya Deva Caudharī


Posted by on September 5, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Nine

Continued from Part Eight

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

srivatsa enless knot


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Nineplanets Navagraha 2



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nineplanets Navagraha 2


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. S.K. De observes

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

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

Nineplanets Navagraha 2



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

srivatsa enless knot

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

srivatsa enless knot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

design rangoli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I. Varna-vinyasa-vakrata

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

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

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


II. Pada-purvardha-vakrata

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

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

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

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

paryāyastena vaicitrya parā paryāya vakratā (Vjiv_2.12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


III. Pada-parardha-vakrata

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

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

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

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

tattvā adhyāropaān mukhya gua bhāvā abhidhānata .

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

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

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

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

– padayor ubhayor ekam aucityād viniyujyate (Vjiv_2.31)

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

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

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

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


IV. Vakya-vakrata

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

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

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

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

janayantyetā citra-cchāyā manoharām  (Vjiv_2.34)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


 V. Prakarana-vakrata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yad aga sargabandhāde saundaryāya nibadhyate (Vjiv_4.9

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

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

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


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

VI. Prabandha vakrata

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

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

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

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

Rasāntarea ramyea yatra nirvahaa bhavet (Vjiv_4.16)

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

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

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

(Prabandhasyā anubadhnāti navā kāmapi vakratāmVjiv_4.21)

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

sva māhātmya camatkārāt sā parāpyasya vakratā (Vjiv_4.23)

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

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

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

design rangoli

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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




 Continued in

Next Part



Sources and References

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


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Eight


Continued from Part Seven

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

Udbhata and Vamana

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Guna and Alamkara

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

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

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

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

vastūnāṃ bhāvānāṃ svabhāvasya sphuṭatvaṃ yadasāv arthavyaktiḥ – VKal_3,2.14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(For more on Riti, please click here)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kuntaka vj

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lotus pond

Continued in

Next Part


Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

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

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

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

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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Seven

Continued from Part Six

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


Indian poetics – Kavya Shastra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on Lakshanas , please click here]


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

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

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

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

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

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


Kavya–agama, the elements of Poetics

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

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

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

The compilers were: Mammata, Vishwanatha and Jagannatha.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

We shall briefly talk about these elements a little later.

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

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

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

theories of poetics

theories of poetics2

(Source; Thanks to Sagar G.Ladhva )

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Indian Poetics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(For more on Svabhavokti , please click here)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

lotus -leaf

Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

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

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

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

For more on What is Kavya , please click here


Other illustrations are from Internet


Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

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

Dhvani – Rasa Dhvani

Poetry is basically a verbal icon or a verbal structure; and, as such, there cannot be any poetry without words. Therefore, any discussion on poetry necessarily  involves discussion on words. The poetry also invokes emotional response. And, that is followed by the understanding of it’s  emotive language ; and, the appreciation by the reader of the true import of the poet. All these elements are , therefore, highly essential for enjoyment of poetry.\

Thus, the success of a good Kavya fundamentally involves three aspects:  the poet’s creative inspiration (Prathibha); its  form  by way  of the words (Sabda) and meaning (Artha), i.e. body (Sarira) of the Kavya ;  and , the aesthetic  effect it has  upon the reader (Rasa)  – Kavih karoti kvyam; Rasam jananthi panditah.

Abhinavagupta, citing his teacher Bhattatauta, says: the the poet and an appreciative cultured listener/reader share a common experience of delight (kavaye shrotruh samanau anubhavas-tatah). And, both are partners in poetic experience; each is inspired in his own manner.

While the poet is blessed with creative genius (karayatri), which is an unfettered faculty (Prakhya-purna); the good-hearted reader (sahrudaya) is endowed with the receptive power (Bhavayatri), which lets her/him enjoy good poetry with delight (Asvadana). He empathizes with the poet (Upakhya); and, recreates , for his relish, the poet’s  creative experience (Anu-sristi) ; just as the moon reflects the glow of the Sun.

Abhinavagupta says: If the poet has Prathibha, the creative genius ; the listener has its reflection or counterpart Prathibhana (Adhikari chatra vimala prathibhana sahrudayah). Yaska remarks that the poet and the listener , each in his own manner , could even be called a Rishi, a seer. The poet has direct experience (sakshath rishi) ; and, the listener derives the same delight by listening to the poet (shruth rishi).  

sākṣāt.kṛta dharmāṇa ṛṣayo babhūvuḥ / te avarebhyo asākṣāt kṛta dharmabhya upadeśena mantrānt samprāduḥ //Nir. 1.20//

The ultimate object of Kavya is Rasa, the aesthetic delight. As Taittiriya Upanishad remarks in another context: rasam hi evaayam labhvaanandi bhavati- on experiencing Rasa , one becomes truly blissful.

Let’s, therefore, briefly talk about words, meanings and Rasa.


As mentioned earlier in the series, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and, it suggests (vyanjana). 

The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed; its relation to the next word ; and, its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relationship among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

Of these, the Vyanjana-artha, which is the suggested sense or the essence of the word is most interesting; and, is much debated. This is based in the principle that   the meaning of word is not limited to its literal sense; the word has the power to reach far beyond the obvious.

In poetry, the word acquires another power Vyanjana-vritti the suggestive function. It is the    power which activates the potential hidden in the word. And, the word acquires a new glow. Through the suggestive function of the word; a new meaning or plurality of meanings emerges transcending the obvious literal sense, far more beautiful and sensitive.

The suggestive word, the suggested meaning, the power of suggestion; and, their mutual relationship are virtually the lifeblood of Indian poetics.  In fact, this is what that distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature.

The suggested sense Vyanjana-artha, which (though not explicit) becomes the object of awareness, is regarded as the essence of poetry. The Dhvani School put forward by Anandavardhana (Ca. 850 AD) through his Dhvanyaloka (also called Kavyaloka and Sahridayaloka), brought focus on the potential power of the word in a Kavya. Here, the word (Sabda), together with its literal sense (Vakyartha) is said to form the body (Sarira) of Kavya, it is the cloak of its soul.  But, the essence of poetry is elsewhere; it is not directly visible; and, that essence is the suggested sense of the word (Vyanjana-artha).

Which is to say : it is not the direct literal and obvious meaning that is explicit in poetry, but it is the suggested, indirect (paroksha-artha) and emotive meaning that matters. It does not mean that words and primary meanings are unimportant.

What is suggested here is that:  though the words of a Kavya and their literal sense must be given their due importance, they are but a medium for emotive and indirect meaning to flash forth. In good poetry, this suggested meaning dominates over the words and their literal meaning. As Anandavardhana puts it, the latter are compared to a woman’s body ; and, the former to her grace and beauty, which is a subtler manifestation and a more profound meaning of the womanhood.

The primary meaning can be understood by all. But, the suggested meaning is understood only by those who are gifted with some imagination and a sort of intuition. Here, the mere knowledge of the word alone is not enough to understand and enjoy the poetic import or the essence of the Kavya. It needs intuition or Prathibha.  

Mammatacharya calls Prathibha as – nava-navaonvesha-shalini prajna – the ever inventive and resourceful intellect. Prathibha is also called, at times, as Vasana.  Only those endowed with Prathibha can truly enjoy the essence and beauty of Kavya.

That is why, it is remarked, that the Grammarians (unlike the goodhearted cultured reader the Sahrudaya) cannot truly appreciate and enjoy the Rasa of good poetry. They are incapable of looking beyond what appears obvious.

[One of the hymns of the Rig-Veda  makes a distinction between a person who merely learns the literal meaning of a verse ; and , a person who  goes beyond the ordinary meaning of the words, and  tries to understand  and grasp its inner significance. It says :

the former sees , but , does not see; and, he hears , but does not hear. It is only to the latter that Vac (speech) reveals herself completely, just as a loving wife to her husband.

uta tvaḥ paśyan na dadarśa vācam uta tvaḥ śṛṇvan na śṛṇoty enām |  uto tvasmai tanvaṃ vi sasre jāyeva patya uśatī suvāsāḥ |RV_10,071.04|

In another passage of the Rig-Veda , it is said that the great poets select their words by ‘winnowing away the chaff from the grain’; and, only the persons of equal learning and refinement can truly appreciate their poems, fully.

saktum iva titaunā punanto yatra dhīrā manasā vācam akrata | atrā sakhāyaḥ  sakhyāni jānate bhadraiṣāṃ lakṣmīr nihitādhi vāci |RV_10,071.02

Yaska , the Niruktakara, remarks : a person, who merely recites the Vedas, without comprehending its meaning, is like a pillar (sthaanu) or a mere load-bearer (bhara-haara). And, it is only he who fully grasps and appreciates the meaning of what he is reciting (arthajña) that will attain the good both here and hereafter (bhadram-aśnute-nākam); having been purged of all impurities by the power of knowledge (jñāna vidhūta pāpmā).

sthāur ayam bhāra-hāra kila abhūd adhītya vedam na vijānāti yo artham  / yo arthajña it sakalam bhadram aśnute nākam eti jñāna vidhūta pāpmā (Nir.1. 18)  ]


It is said; in the highest class of Kavya, the denoted meaning (Vakyartha)  and  the denoting meaning (Lakshyartha)  is subservient to  revealing the suggested sense word (Vyanjana-artha); and , it is  called Dhvani by the scholars – dhvanir iti sūribhiḥ kathitaḥ  – Dhv.1.13

yatrārthaḥ śabdo vā tam artham upasarjanīkṛta-svārthau / vyaṅktaḥ kāvya-viśeṣaḥ sa dhvanir iti sūribhiḥ kathitaḥ // DhvK_1.13 //

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

Mammata   (Kavyaprakasa 1.4-5) seems to suggest  that Anandavardhana graded the entire body of Kavya into three classes (some dispute Mammata’s statement and point out that Anandavardhana did not say any such thing ) :  

(a) Dhvani-kavya (the poetry that suggests) as the true Kavya, the best (Uttama), where Dhvani the unspoken suggestive element is dominant;

(b) the second, Gunibhuta-vamgmaya-kavya (well endowed descriptive poetry, as the middle (Madhyama) where Dhvani is secondary to Alamkara, and serves as a decoration for the spoken or expressed meaning; and ,

(c) and Chitra Kavya (poetry that structured into various patterns or drawings) as the least (Adhama) which depends entirely on verbal play for its elegance and elaboration, and where Dhvani the suggestive power of poetry is absent.

tadadoṣau śabdārthau saguṇāvan-alaṅkṛtī punaḥ kvāpi / idam-uttamam-atiśayini vyaṅgye vācyāddhvanirbudhaiḥ kathitaḥ // MKpr-K_4 //

atādṛśi guṇībhūta-vyaṅgyaṃ vyaṅgye tu madhyamam / śabdacitraṃ vācya citram avyaṅgyaṃ tvavaraṃ smṛtam // MKpr-K_5 

[Anandavardhana (9th century) and his theory of Dhvani mark the beginning of a new-phase (Navina) in Indian Poetics.   The Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana marks a departure from the old ways of understanding Kavya. It makes an attempt to study Poetics from aesthetic point of view, assimilating all the essentials of various other schools. By giving prominence to Rasa, he lends a new explanation to all the problems of Poetics. According to that, Alamkara, Riti and Guna have their importance only in the context of Dhvani the suggestion which is the soul of Kavya.

The older School (Prachina) – of Bhamaha, Dandin Vamana and others – that belonged to about the 7th century dealt with natural or human situation idealized by the poet , for its own sake. The attention of the Prachina School was focused on ornamented figures of speech (Alamkara) and the beauty (sobha, carutva) of the expression or on the ‘body’ of poetry. Their Rasa theory generally was based in dramatic art .Therefore it did not come under Poetic proper.

The Navina School pointed out that the reader should not stop at  the expression but should go further into the meaning that is suggested, or hinted, by it. This suggested sense is the essence of Kavya. It differs from the expressed and the indicated sense. The Navina School laid more importance on the emotional content (Bhava) of the Kavya. But, here, the emotive element was not directly expressed in words (Vachya) ; but , had to be grasped by  the reader indirectly (Parokshya ) through suggestions. Yet, through the description of the situation the reader understands the emotion and derives that exalted delight, Rasa.

Anandavardhana, in his Dhvanyaloka , says that Vynjaartha (the un-expressed or the suggested meaning) is Dhvani – perhaps, inspired by Bhartrhari’s theory of Sphota . It is the essence of poetry. It sheds light on the function of suggestion in poetry. It is Vyanjana (revealing) and Dhvanana (echoing) or gamana (implication) or pratyayana (acquainting) of poetry which is superior to Vachya (expressed meaning)

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

The Dhvani theory introduced a new wave of thought in Indian Poetics. According to this school the Kavya that suggests Rasa is excellent. In Kavya, they said, neither Alamkara nor Rasa but Dhvani which suggest Rasa, the poetic sentiment, is the essence, the soul ( Kavyasya-atma sa eva arthas –  Dhv.1.5).

While stating that Dhvani is superior, Navina also establishes the status of Rasa. In this scheme the relative positions of Rasa, Guna, Alamkara and Dosa get fixed. It gives due credit to poet’s imagination and his sense of propriety.

Though Dhvani was regarded the soul of poetry, the Navina did not lose sight of Rasa. It divided Dhvani into three kinds – Vastu (matter), Alamkara (figures of speech) and Rasa (emotion) .

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

It is said; the concept of Dhvani was inspired by the ancient doctrine of Sphota, that which flashes or bursts forth the meaning. The term Sphota signifies:  bursting; opening; expansion; disclosure; the eternal and imperceptible element of sound and words; and, is the real vehicle of the idea which bursts or flashes on the mind when a sound is uttered.

Nagesha Bhatta (author of Manjusha and Shpota-vada) identifies Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rule, as the originator of the Sphota concept.  Bhartrihari quotes Yaska as mentioning that another ancient authority, the sage Audumbarayana together with Varttaksa held views similar to the Sphota theory. Yaska had mentioned (Nirukta: 1-2) about a theory suggested by Audumbarayana that a sentence or an utterance is primary and is a whole,  an indivisible unit of language. Audumbarayana, it appears, had also mentioned that the four-fold classification of words into : noun, verb, upasarga and nipata does not hold good. And therefore, Bhartrhari claimed that the views of these ancients support his own theory –Sphota-vada.


[But, Yaska himself had not agreed with Audumbarayana; and, had gone on to talk about Bhava – the being and becoming of  verbs from their roots’ and about their transformations (Vikara) .]

 In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved.  Perhaps, this claim provided the model upon which the Vyakarana philosophers based their concept of Sphota. Indeed Sphota is often identified with Pranava.

It was Bhartrhari (around 485 AD) in his great work Vakyapadiya (all about sentence and word) elaborated and established the Sphota doctrine in the realm of Grammar and in Philosophy.

According to Bhartrhari, the perfect perception is that in which there is identity between the object (namely, the Sphota) and the form of its cognition (namely, words or the letters of sounds). This special kind of perception is held to be function of mind, rather than of the external senses.


Abhinavagupta (10th -11th century) who wrote a great commentary, titled Dhvanya-Lochana or Lochana, on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka, explains the concept of Dhavni in two ways:

As  Sabda Shakthi moola based in the sound of the expression  ; and as Artha-Shakthi rnoola based in the implied meaning of the expression. He says, Dhvani, in poetics, is so termed because it sounds, rings, or reverberates (Dhvanat iti Dhvani);

And, in the second, he says Dhvanyate iti Dhvani that meaning which is implied is Dhvani. The second, suggesting the implied meaning is the more appropriate one.

Thus, the faculty of indicating something which it is not is the distinguishing character of Dhvani. In other words, in a verbal expression abhidha and lakshana form the body; and, Vyanjana or Dhvani is in the nature of its  contents. Dhvani is the essence or soul of poetry.

While expanding on the concept of Dhvani, Anandavardhana did not confine himself to the words and sentences, but went on to include all contextual factors such as: the tone and gestures, the sound effect produced, the rhythm, the metere as well as the literal sense.

But at the same time, Anandavardhana did not get involved in the comprehensive linguistic phenomenon, the Vyanjana and its suggestive power. Similarly, he did not venture into the philosophical and grammatical world of Sphota as Bhartrhari did.  Anandavardhana confined his attention to the poetic language and to the suggestion of meanings of aesthetic value. His theory of Dhvani, to put it simply, is Vyanjana or suggestion as applied to poetry. In the process, Anandavardhana chose to align his theory of Dhvani with Rasa as initially outlined by Bharata. It is these two concepts – Dhvani and Rasa – that are the building blocks of Anandavardhana’s  theory of Poetics.

According to Anandavardhana, the element of Rasa has to reside in the poet, in his creation Kavya and in the reader, the enjoyer. The poet has to be inspired, charged with emotion to create a poetry that comes alive with suggestions (Dhvani). The poet is the first reader of his Kavya; and the first one to experience Rasa from its Dhvani sensitivities. For instance, Adi Kavi Valmiki was so intensely hurt and saddened by the wailing of curlew bird whose mate was shot down by a hunter in the woods, that his grief (Shoka) poured out into a verse (Shloka) filled with pathos that became the Rasa of Ramayana.

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

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

Although it decaled that the soul of Kavya is verily the Rasa, the Dhvani School did not abandon the concepts of the  earlier (Prachina)  Schools : Alamkara, Riti and Auchitya etc . It assimilated within it all their essences. It said; the Gunas really qualify the Rasa; hence a Kavya should employ Gunas that are relevant to its dominant Rasa. As regards the Alamkaras that decorate the body of Kavya   with beauteous and sparkling expressions and render it more attractive, they do nourish the Rasa. Thus, The Dhvani School accorded each element of Kavya its appropriate position.

And then there is the element or principle of Auchitya (propriety). Be it Alamkara or Guna, it would  be beautiful and relishing only so long it is  appropriate from the point of view of Rasa . And, they would be rejected if they are not appropriate to the main Rasa (Angirasa) of the Kavya. In the same vein, what is normally considered a Dosha (flaw) might turn into Guna (virtue) when it is appropriate to the Rasa. That again means, the beauty or the delight of a Kavya resides in its experience, Rasa.

Dhvani principle can be said, briefly, in statements: Rasa (aesthetic experience) is the soul of poetry; the mode in which the body of the poetry reveals it is Dhvani (suggestion); and, the harmonious accordance of the body and the soul is Auchitya (propriety) . Rasa, Dhvani and Auchitya are the Prastha traya, the three fundamental principles of Kavya Shastra.


As I understand it ; the basic position of Anandavardhana is that an emotion cannot be evoked in a reader by mere mention of a name or a term and its bare description. It has to be suggested by describing the situation and the contextual factors. These include the literary meaning as also the suggestive possibilities of the expression such as: intonation , stress, the sound echoing the sense, rhythm, indicative imagery (bodhaka) , and expressive symbols (vachaka).

According to Anandavardhana, all these devices are to be used for helping to evoke the right response in the mind and the heart of the reader. With that, the same utterance may convey different suggestions to different people depending upon their level of understanding and receptivity. He thus brought the emotional response or enjoyment of the listener or the reader (Rasa) within the ambit of ‘meaning’. Thus, language acquires a limitless suggestive power. The object of such power is to provide unalloyed pleasure (Ananda) to the reader by evoking the Rasa.

Anandavardhana introduced a sort of new norm into Kavya.  He said there should be one predominant Rasa (which he called Angirasa) in a Kavya which includes Drama, Epic, lyric etc. According to him, in a Kavya, all other Rasas that are either mutually conflicting or supportive   should be subordinate to its Angirasa. But, Bharata who was mainly concerned with the successful productions of Drama that has to please varieties of people with different   or varied tastes, did not seem to considered it from that angle. And, therefore, Bharata, though he stressed on the structural unity of the plot did not, perhaps, consider it necessary for a Drama (as a whole) to portray a particular single Rasa of its own. In a Drama, each character would evoke a rasa that is peculiar to it.

aṅgirasa-viruddhānāṃ vyabhicāriṇāṃ prācuryeṇāniveśanam, niveśane vā kṣipram evāṅgirasa-vyabhicāry-anuvṛttir iti dvitīyaḥ / aṅgatvena punaḥ punaḥ pratyavekṣā paripoṣaṃ nīyamānasyāpy aṅga-bhūtasya rasasyeti tṛtīyaḥ / anayā diśānye ‘pi prakārā utprekṣaṇīyāḥ / virodhinas tu rasasyāṅgirasāpekṣayā kasyacin nyūnatā sampādanīyā / yathā śānte ‘ṅgini śṛṅgārasya śṛṅgāre vā śāntasya / paripoṣa-rahitasya rasasya kathaṃ rasatvam iti cet-uktam atrāṅgirasāpekṣayeti /

The later writers of Kavya had adopted the idea of a predominant Rasa for the work as a whole. And, therefore, Anandavardhana stated that even the construction of a plot must be made in such a way that there is scope for highlighting a chosen predominant Rasa. According to him, events and descriptions, figures of speech etc not directly relevant to the development of the theme and its main Rasa should be avoided in a good Kavya.

Another point stressed by Anandavardhana is that the imaginative sensibility necessary for proper appreciation of a Kavya can be acquired only by close study of classical works and by constant practice of response to works of art. According to him, the most important element in the import of a Kavya is the emotion (Rasa) suggested; and that can be appreciated and enjoyed by persons of refined sensibilities (Sahrudaya). What is important is the harmony between the heart and mind of the reader and that of the poet (atrā sakhāyaḥ sakhyāni jānate bhadraiṣāṃ lakṣmīr nihitādhi vāci || Rig-Veda 10.71.2).

Anandavardhana remarks that not all scholars, Grammarians and logicians get to fully appreciate and enjoy a Kavya. Only those who rise above the confines of rules, petty prejudices and individual fixations can truly appreciate the poet’s point of view. 

Anandavardhana, therefore, says that Dhvani, the  suggested sense is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. Poetic beauty is apprehended (Vidyate, kevalam) only  by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

śabdārtha-śāsana-jñāna-mātreṇaiva na vidyate / vidyate sa tu kāvyārtha-tattvajñair eva kevalam // DhvK_1.7 //

Abhinavagupta, in his Lochana, explains the literary sensitivity (Sahrudayatva) as the faculty of entering into the heart of the poet. He says that the more a person is attuned to aesthetic impressions from literature by constant exposure to literary works, the more mirror- like becomes his heart.  The constant relishing (char­vana) of poetry refines his sensibility to an extent that suggestions (Dhvani) ignite in his heart the aesthetic experience. Such, aesthetic delight   (Rasa) has no end outside of itself. Abhinavagupta names such out-of-the-world poetic relish enjoyed by a Sahrudaya as Chamatkara (Chitta-vistara) .

dvitīyasmiṃs tu pakṣe rasa-jñataiva sahṛdayatvam iti / tathā-vidhaiḥ sahṛdayaiḥ saṃvedyo rasādi-samarpaṇa-sāmarthyam eva naisargikaṃ śabdānāṃ viśeṣa iti vyañjakatvāśrayy eva teṣāṃ mukhyaṃ cārutvam /vācakatvāśrayāṇāṃ tu prasāda evārthāpekṣāyāṃ teṣāṃ viśeṣaḥ / arthānapekṣāyāṃ tv anuprāsādir eva || DhvA_3.15-16 ||

Anandavardhana exalts the poetic-freedom of a creative writer which, according to him, transcends the powers of nature. He says in the world (Samsara) of poetry the Poet rules supreme, the whole world transforms according to his wishes. As Abhinavagupta explained, good poet through his intuitive power (Prathibha) can bring to life even the inanimate.

In the later times, the unalloyed aesthetic pleasure (Ananda) that a reader derives from the Kavya by evoking its Rasa was compared by Bhattanayaka (10th century) to Absolute Bliss (Brahmananda); and placed it even above Yogic experience. Abhinavagupta (11th century) however moderated Bhattanayaka’s claim by explaining that Yogic experience is Absolute and beyond subject-object relation. And, aesthetic experience, he said, gives bliss for short periods; and, therefore cannot be considered supreme, though it is superior to worldly pleasures.  This explanation was in line with Anandavardhana’s own views.


Ananadavardhana classifies Dhvani in various ways.The scheme of his   classification is detailed and complicated; there are in fact as many as fifty-one varieties of Dhvani.  One can, at best, attempt to give only the brief outlines of a few of it here.

Broadly, the Dhvani is classified in three ways:

1.According to the ways the suggested meaning is related to the literal or the prima facie meaning. This is divided into two types:

A (i), the first type where the literal sense is not intended or not meant (avivaksita – va­cya)

This is again subdivided into two:

: – the type where the literal sense is completely set aside (atyantatiraskita-vacya);

:and, the type where the literal meaning is shifted or deflected (arthantarasamkramita – va­cya); 

A (ii) The second type where the literal sense is in fact intended, but it sub-serves the implied sense (vivaksi­tanyapara – vacya);

2.the second type ac­cording to the element in the text which effects the suggestion of Dhvani;

3.and, the third principle of classification is based on the nature of Dhvani per se. Here,the suggested meaning may be of three kinds.

C(i) :-  It may be a thing (Vastu Dhvani), some rare fact or idea or an event or occur­rence is implied.

C (ii) : –  It may be some Alankaara or figure of speech that is suggested (Alamkara Dhvani) .

C (iii): – The third type of Dhvani is the most important type of Dhvani. It is called Rasa – Dhvani where in Rasa or flavour or emotion or mood or sentiment of poetry is evoked. Rasa is an ideal and impersonalised form of joy. Rasa can only be suggested but not described.

dhvani types

Both Vastu Dhvani and Alamkara Dhvani can be expressed by direct meaning (Vacyaartha) or by suggestion (Vyangyanartha). But the third variety of implicit sense of Rasa Dhvani cannot be expressed through the direct meaning of words, nor in words commonly used in day-to-day life (loka vyavahaara).

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

Anandavardhana regarded Rasa Dhvani as the principal one.  Abhinavagupta accepted that; and expanded on the concept by adding an explanation to it. He added the Pratiiyamana or implied sense which is two-fold :  one is Loukika or the one that we use  in ordinary life;  and the other is Kavya vyapara gocara  or one  which is used only in poetry.

The Loukika Dhvani in poetry is again two-fold:  the one that suggests Vastu or some matter (Vastu Dhvani); and, the other which suggests a figure of speech (Alamkara Dhvani) .

In Abhinavagupta’s classification, the Vastu Dhavani and Alamkara Dhavani are merely parts of poetry; but, are superior to direct designation. The real essence of poetry is , of course, the Rasa Dhavani.

Abhinavagupta differed from Anandavardhana over the issues of the emotion of the poet. Anandavardhana viewed the melting of experience in the poet and out flowing of this empathy as inspired poetic form solidified in words. Abhinavagupta, however, explained it as the generalized state of creative medium, where the poet is an impersonal observer expressing human experience in poetry, as an intermediary.

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


Ananadavardhana claims, it is the Dhvani that allows new poetry to come into being. Here, speech (Vani) that is adorned (vibhusita) by Dhvani attains a freshness (navatvam), even where the words are arranged to show apparent conventional meaning (pūrvārthā-anvayavaty api) – (Dhl.4.2). Though the relation between the word and its meaning might, at times, be fixed; the suggestions they evoke (Dhvani), in the context, are not conditioned by the conventional denotative meaning of those words.  

ato hy anyatamenāpi  prakārea vibhūitā / vāī navatvam āyāti pūrvārthānvayavaty api // DhvK_4.2 //

While commenting on this verse, Abhinavagupta explains that because of the wonders of the speech (ukti-vaichitryam), these poetic expressions take on countless meanings; and, still have scope for further innovations.  He asks : what is this ukti-vaichitryam (kimidam-uktivaicitryam ?); and ; responds by saying : it is the ever renewing (nava-navonvesha) wonder in speech that arises not only from the novelty of descriptions , but also , indeed, from the novelty of the object of utterance as well – uktirhi vācya-viśea-pratipādi vacanam / tad vaicitrye katha na vācya vaicitryam /

 In other words; it indicates a new description and a new object. Here, the speech or the language (Vacya) and that which is described (Vacaka), are intricately related to each other. Each poetic work has its own locale and objects. No new poet can merely borrow from earlier poets; and, yet be able to compose a credible new work. The unique perspective that each poet brings to the objects, enables the object to appear new and be described with awe and wonder. That ensures limitlessness of the poetic utterances.  That is why, he remarks, the poetry did not end with the first poet, Adi Kavi Valmiki. And, poetry can never come to an end.

yadyanvīyate anyaiḥ kavibhiḥ tattarhi ityarthaḥ / anyeṣāṃ vālmīkivyatiriktānām 


Many scholars did not entirely agree with Anandavardhana’s exposition of Dhvani. Those who criticized his views include: Bhattanayaka, Kuntaka, Mahimabhatta, Dhananjaya, Bhoja, Rajasekhra, Vishwanatha and few others. The questions raised were : If Guna and Alamkara are left out , what else is there to lend beauty to Kavya? If it is argued that Guna and Alamkara are different from Dhvani , how can they be said to produce beauty? Many seemed to accept Dhvani ; but as a secondary  function.  Mammata carried forward the argument that Rasa is the principle substance and the object of poetry. He stated vakyatha Rasatmakarth kavyam establishing the correlation between Rasa and poetry; and pushing down the Dhvani. Mahimabhatta included all types of Dhvani under the head Anumana, the inference, since Dhvani has no independent or cognizable existence

Bhatta Nayaka (8th-9th centuries) who wrote Hridayadarpana to refute  Anandavardhana’s theory , pointed out that Rasa can be experienced; but not suggested.  He also introduced the concept of Sadharanikarana, the generalization of the art experience. And, as apart of that experience he mentioned that  Bhaavana generalizes  the content ; and; Bhoga brings about the aesthetic relish. 

Bhatta Nayaka states that poetic experience is never narrow nor is it limited only to the incidents relating to an individual; it is always universal. The emotional experiences portrayed in Kavya are freed from personal limitations; they no longer are the pains and pleasures of a particular hero or heroine; but, are transformed and elevated into aesthetic experiences enjoyed by all the receptive, sensitive readers and spectators (Sahrudaya).

Thus, freed from the limitations of space and time, the poetic experiences (Rasa) attain a universal form, bringing delight to all, across the varied classes, regions and generations. Bhatta Nayaka names such a phenomenon as Bhavakatva or Sadharanikarana (universalized form) – Bhavakatva vyaparena bhavyamano Raso bhogena param bhujyate.

In order to illustrate his concept, Bhatta Nayaka , observes : a  spectator cannot have Rati -bhava in respect of a heroine, say Shakuntala, because he knows that she is wife of Dushyanta. Hence, she cannot be the cause of  his emotional experience  of love (alambana-vibhava). Then , he asks, how can the spectator relish Sringara -rasa? To overcome this,  Bhatta Nayaka suggested Sadharanikarana , by the function of Bhavakatva. By this, the  sentiment based in a character (say, Shakuntalatva etc) is forgotten for a moment ; and , she is visualized just as a Nayika, any lovely looking heroine . This helps, he says,  in enjoying Srngara-rasa, in a generalized way .

However , Abhinavagupta rejected Bhattanayaka’s hypothesis  , because ” it is a burden to accept two  separate functions like Bhavana and Bhoga”.


Dr. Kunjunni Raja concludes (page 315) : many of criticisms against the Dhvani theory are due to the fact that the poets and literary critics did not confine themselves to a relatively small portion of language behavior, which is definite; but, tried to extend it to the totality of human experience, including the emotional. 

Eventually, Ananadavardhana, Abhinavagupta , Mammata and others stoutly  defended  the Dhvani and Rasa Dhvani ; and, successfully deflected most of the criticisms.


Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

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





Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part One

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


Kavya Shastra

The Indian Poetics over the centuries was known by different names at different stages of its development.  Valmiki in his Epic, Ramayana, refers to Poetics as Kriya-kalpa (kriya-kalpa vidashcha kavyavido janan– Uttara Kanda. 93.7).  Lalitavistara Sutra a Buddhist text believed to belong to the first or second century explains the term Kriya–kalpa as the rules  for creating poetic works  (Kavya-karana-vidhi) ; and says that  the term means  Kavya-alamkara , the poetics (kriya–kalpa iti kavya-karana-vidhi kavya-alamkara ithyarthaha).  Vatsayana  (Ca. second century) in his famous Kama sutra , while enumerating the fourteen types of arts (Kala) that a cultured urbane  person (Nagarika)  should cultivate , also uses the terms  chando-jñānamKavya-kriya-kalpa   to denote the Poetics  (Kamasutra 1.3.15). 

Jayamangala , in his commentary on Kamasutra, explains the term  Kriyakalpa as the science that determines  the nature of poetry (Kriyakapa iti Kavya-karana-vidhi , Kavya-alamkara ityartha).  The poet Dandin (6th-7th century) in his Kavyadarsha, a handbook of classical Sanskrit Poetics, calls Poetics as Kriyavidhi, the rules of poetry (vācāṃ vicitra-mārgāṇāṃ nibabandhuḥ kriyāvidhim // 1.9 //)

But, by the time of Bhamaha (Ca.6-7th century) the term Alamkara or Alamkara shastra was in wide use.  he opens his work with words Kavya-alamka ityeshu yatha buddi vidiyate; and, follows it with the phrase Kavya-lakshana. Dandin also uses the term Kavya-lakshana.  It was believed that Alamkara the figurative speech or ornamentation was the principle virtue that lent Kavya its grace and brilliance (Kavya-shobha-karaan dharman alamkaran prachakshte).

The titles of the books, of  his period and thereafter , on Poetics, therefore, were centered upon the term Alamkara , such as: Kavyalamkara (by Bhamaha, Ca.6- 7th century) ; Kavya-alamkara-sara- Samgraha (by Udbhata-8th century) ; Kavya-alamkara- sutra-vritti (by Vamana Ca. 8th ) and Kavya-alamkara (by Rudrata – c. 9th-century) .

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

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

[Sahitya derived from the root ‘Sahita‘ – being together or united – suggests a system that binds together Sabda (word) and Artha (its meaning).That relation is natural – Nisarga siddha sabda-artha sambandha.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The fourth stage (Sahitya) was the period of analysis and understanding the basic concepts of literature and Grammar. This was the period from Mammata to Anandavardhana (say from 850 to 1100 AD). The questions raised during this period, basically, were :

:- ‘What is truly Sahitya (literature)?’ ; ’Does it merely mean a combination of words and meanings? Or, is there anything more to it?’ ;

:- ‘What are the special features of poetry?’ ;

:- ‘ Do the words in the poetry convey the same meaning as anywhere else?’ ; and ,

:-  ‘How is the meaning  (Artha) of  poetry conveyed?’ etc.

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

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



Main concerns – Sabda and Artha

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

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

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

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

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

Then he goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

Manasollasa vol 2-page 171 ( 225) verses 205-206

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

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

design rangoli

Now, regarding words:  according to Indian Poetics, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and it suggests (vyanjana).


The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed and its relation to the next word and its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relation among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lotus design

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

lotus design

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

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

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

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


Then, there is the most interesting and much debated Vyanjana-artha which is the suggested sense or the essence of the word. This is founded in the principle that   the meaning of word is not limited to its literal sense; the word has the power to reach far beyond the obvious.

In poetry, the word acquires another power Vyanjana-vritti the suggestive function. It is the    power which activates the potential hidden in the word. And, the word acquires a new glow. Through the suggestive function of the word, a new meaning emerges, transcending the obvious literal sense, far more beautiful and sensitive.

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

The suggestive word, the suggested meaning, the power of suggestion; and their mutual relationship are virtually the lifeblood of Indian poetics.  In fact, this is what that distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature.

The suggested sense Vyanjana-artha, which, though not explicit, becomes the object of awareness is regarded the essence of poetry. The Dhvani School put forward by Anandavardhana, brought focus on the potential power of the word in a Kavya. Here, the word (Sabda) together with  its literal sense  (Vakyartha )  is said to form the body of Kavya , it is its  cloak .  But, the essence of poetry is elsewhere; it is not directly visible; and, that essence is the suggested sense of the word (Vyanjana-artha).

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

In a good poetry, this suggested meaning dominates over the words and their literal meaning. As Anandavardhana put it: The latter are compared to a woman’s  body and the former to her grace and beauty which is a subtler manifestation  and a more profound meaning of the womanhood.

The primary meaning can be understood by all. But, the suggested meaning is understood only by those who are gifted with some imagination and a sort of intuition.

Here, the mere knowledge of the word alone is not enough to understand and enjoy the poetic import or the essence of the Kavya. It needs intuition or Prathibha. Mammatacharya calls Prathibha as – nava-navaonvesha-shalini prajna – the ever inventive and resourceful intellect. Prathibha is also called, at times, as Vasana

Only those endowed with Prathibha can truly enjoy the essence and beauty of Kavya. That is why, it is remarked,  the Grammarians (unlike the goodhearted cultured reader the Sahrudaya) cannot truly appreciate and enjoy the Rasa of good poetry. They are incapable of looking beyond what appears obvious.

Anandavardhana, therefore, says that such suggested sense is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. It is apprehended only (Vidyate, kevalam) by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

It is said; in the highest class of Kavya, the denoted meaning (Vakyartha )  and  the denoting meaning (Lakshyartha)  is subservient to  revealing the suggested sense word (Vyanjana-artha); and , it is  called Dhvani by the scholars – Dhv.1.13

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

[The concept of Dhvani was said to be inspired by the ancient doctrine of Sphota. The term Sphota signifies:  bursting; opening; expansion; disclosure; the eternal and imperceptible element of sound and words; and , is the real vehicle of the idea which bursts or flashes on the mind when a sound is uttered.

Nagesha Bhatta identifies Vedic Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rules, as the originator of Sphota theory. Bhartrhari, however, states that Audumbarayana (mentioned by Yaska) had put forth views similar to the Sphota concept.

In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved.

It was Bhartrhari (around 485 AD) in his great work Vakyapadiya (all about sentence and word) elaborated and established the Sphota doctrine in the realm of Grammar and in Philosophy.

According to Bhartrhari, the perfect perception is that in which there is identity between the object (namely, words or the letters of sounds ) and the form of its cognition (namely, the Sphota) . This special kind of perception is held to be function of mind, rather than of the external senses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

design rangoli

The relation between Grammar and poetry is interesting.

Yaska , the great Etymologist of the ancient times,states : Vyakarana  (Grammar) deals with linguistic analysis to establish the exact form of words to properly express ideas, while Nirukta focuses on linguistic analysis to help establish the proper meaning of the words, given the context they are used in the Vedic texts.

But , at the same time, Yaska remarks : while deriving the meaning of a word, in its own context, one should try to stick to the rules of the Grammar (Vyakarana) as far as possible; but, if this is of no avail in bringing out the hidden meaning of the term in question, then one should abandon such rules – na saṃskāram ādriyeta / viśaya-hi vṛttayo bhavanti (Nir.2.1)


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

Continued in

Part Two 


Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock



Posted by on July 9, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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Siddha and the way of Rasa

[Dear vasudev-anand , the subject of Siddhas, Rasa, sexual fluids, rejuvenation etc is rather bizarre. Here, I hesitate to write about it candidly. But, since you persist, I am posting an outline of it – for whatever it is worth. Trust this helps your task. ]

Siva Appears as a Siddha


1.1. A Siddha is one who is said to have attained superhuman powers (Siddhis) or Jivanmukthi (It could also be perfection? or immortality?). Such a Siddha with a divine body (divyadeha) is Shiva himself (Maheshvara Siddha).  He is the perfect One, who has transcended the barriers of time, space and human limitations. A Siddha in his idealized form is freed from all wants (anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam), the one who has attained flawless identity with the Reality.

1.2. For a Siddha, the world is a play-area (Lila kshetra) in which he experiences the absolute as he does the world. He, therefore, seeks Jivanmukthi, freedom from human constraints and weaknesses; and, not Moksha the total liberation from existence.    A Siddha is thus, a death-defying, wonder-working wizard. He is in the world; and yet, he is out of it.  For a Siddha, the world has gently slipped away, even as it still remains.

1.3. Siddha is also described as a Kavi, in the Rig-Vedic sense of an exalted seer, in the mold of Asura Kavya Usanas (Shukra – ?) –  said to be the son of Rishi Bhrigu and Kavyamata (Ushana) – who brought together the worlds of the Indra and Rudra. It is said; Kavya Usanas alone knew the secret knowledge (guhya vidya) of life-giving-magic that rejuvenated the old and ailing, and also brought the dead back to life (Sanjivani vidya). A Siddha , who is pure , is also compared to Brihaspathi (the counterpart of Kavya Usanas – Shukra), the Guru of the light-filled worlds of the gods and demigods.

[ It is interesting that the healers in the Ayurveda tradition go by the title Kaviraja]

2.1. There have been various traditions of Siddhas: Ancient Alchemist Sittars of South India (18 Sittars starting from Agastiyar and including Kagapujandar, Boghar and others); the nomadic Buddhist Tantrics of Bengal, adepts in Vajrayana techniques (Maha-siddhas, Siddhacharyas); the Alchemists and Yogis of medieval India (Rasa Siddhas); and mainly the North Indian hoard (ganas) of Natha Siddhas, following the cult founded by Matsyendranatha and developed by Gorakshakanatha.

The names of Matsyendranātha and Gorakanātha are taken with great reverence in the Nātha sampradāya. Goraksanātha is considered as a disciple of Matsyendranātha, as per the Sampradāya.

Natha siddha lianage

Apart from these Yogīs, the name of the other Yogīs like Cauragīnātha; Jālandharnātha; Kāniphanātha; Mīnanātha; Gahiīnātha; Carpaī; Gopīcanda; Maināvatī; Bharthari; Ratananātha; Dharmanātha; Mastanātha;  etc., are also well known in the Natha Sampradāya.


2.2. The Siddhas were proficient in yoga, alchemy, magical powers (siddhi) and other occult practices. They were also famous for their whimsical behaviour. Some names of Siddhas are related to the Nātha tradition of 84 Siddhas.  The Siddhas are, therefore, worshiped in the Nātha tradition with great respect even today.

As regards the Nathas, the term Natha is often used as a name for Lord Śhiva. In Nātha texts, Śhiva is often called ‘Ādinātha’, the first   or primeval Lord. Scholars Lorenzen and Muñoz explain the word ‘Nātha’ in this way:

Linguistically, the word Nātha is associated with the Sanskrit root Nāth, meaning ‘to have dominion or power” but also “to implore or beseech”. Nātha is also explained in traditional sources according to a homiletic etymology. Thus the Rāja-guhya states that the syllable Nā connotes the anādi (literally “without origin”)-i.e., the primordial form, whereas the syllable that connotes sthāpita, the “established”.  Nātha then would mean the primeval form or dharma established in the three worlds (bhuvana-tryam) according to this religious speculation”.  (Lorenzen & Muñoz 2011: x; Dvivedi 1950: 3).


2.3. Siddhamata; Siddhamārga; Yogamārga; Yoga sampradāya; Avadhūtamata; Avadhūta-sampradāya; Gorakh-sampradāya; and, Kānaphaas; etc., are other popular names for Nātha-sampradāya or Nātha Pantha.

The Nātha sampradāya is also known as ‘Ādinātha- sampradāya’ (Order of the Primordial Śhiva)

Traditionally, there are twelve sub- branches within the main Sampradāya. They are :  

Satyanāthī; Dharmanāthi; Rāmapantha; Nāeśvarī;  Kanhaa; Kapilānī; Bairāgapantha; Mānanāthi; Āīpantha; Pāgalapantha; Dhajapantha; and  Gagānāthī .

2.4. In the tradition of the Siddhas (Siddha Sampradaya), 84 *Siddhas and 9 Nathas are recalled with awe and reverence.

The Caturasiti-siddha-pravrtti ‘The Lives of the Eighty-four Siddhas’, a Sanskrit text compiled by Abhayadatta Sri during 11th or 12th century provides brief sketches of the 84 Mahasiddhas. Four of the Mahasiddhas were women: Manibhadra, Lakshmincara, Mekhala and Kanakhala. By and large, typically, the Siddhas were saints, doctors, alchemists and mystics all at once. 

For the list of the 84 Siddhas, according to various traditions, please check the Table 3.1 of the thesis submitted to the Deccan College, Post Graduate and Research Institute (Deemed University) by Dr. Vijay Sarde.

*[* The number eighty-four is regarded   a ‘whole’ or ‘perfect’ number: (3+4) x (3×4). The number is matching with the number of Siddhi or occult powers. Thus, the eighty-four Siddhas can be seen as archetypes representing the thousands of exemplars and adepts of the Tantric way.]

The Navanāthas, the nine Nathas are : Ādinātha; Udayanātha, Santoanātha; Gajbalī –Gajakantharanātha; Acala-Acambhenātha; Satyanātha; Matsyendranātha; Gorakanātha; and Cauragīnātha.

There are some other lists of twenty-seven  Rasa Siddhas and Nātha Siddhas.

Siddha Natha siddhas

Though there are many classifications among the Siddhas, there is no strict demarcation between the various the Siddha Sampradayas. The titles, Siddha, Mahasiddha, Natha and Yogi are used by all interchangeably.  Further,  the Siddha traditions occur in Hindu, Buddhist, Tibetan  and also in Jain traditions alike .

 2.5.  Despite wide disparities among the diverse Schools of the Siddhas in regard to their unique techniques and goals of their Sadhana,   one of the major aims of all the Siddhas was to attain a state of deathless-ness. That is, their goal was to deliver the body free from ravages of age and disease; to attain a sort of Invincibility. This, they sought to achieve through a sustained and an incredibly rigorous process of Hata Yoga aided by an Alchemic process (nectar making – amrtikarana) involving the production and consumption of a concoction (rasayana) based mainly in purified  Mercury.

[ For a detailed treatment of the Natha sampradaya , please read Chapter 3: A Brief History of the Nātha sampradāya (Pages 29-76) of the  Research Paper produced by Dr. Vijay Sarde.]


3. Ayurveda and Rasa-shastra

It is said:

The term Rasa, in this context, generally refers to the science and the technique of preparing medicines based in minerals; and, in particular, to element Mercury. According to Rasa Shastra doctrine, many types of minerals, including Mercury, though commonly considered as toxic, can , by proper procedures, be made into medicines.

Rasa-shastra is a pharmaceutical branch of Indian system of medicine which mainly deals with the metals, minerals, animal-origin products, toxic herbs and their use in therapeutics.

The preparation of Ayurveda medicines involves processes by which various metals, minerals and other substances, including mercury, are purified and combined with herbs, in an attempt to treat illnesses and to strengthen the system.

In Ayurveda, generally, about twenty per cent of its medicines are herbal preparations; about thirty percent are pure mineral preparations; and, the rest fifty per cent is a mixture of herbal and mineral preparations.

The credit of developing Rasa Shastra as a stream of classical Ayurveda, especially in fulfilling its healthcare-related goals, goes to Nagarjuna (5the Century CE).

The methods of Rasa shastra are contained in a number of Ayurveda texts, including the Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita. An important feature is the use of metals, including several that are considered to be toxic, in medicines. In addition to mercury, gold, silver, iron, copper, tin, lead, zinc and bell metal are used. Apart from these metals,  other substances such as salts, coral, seashells, and feathers are also used. Sublimation and the preparation of a mercury sulphide are also  used in the preparation of its materia-medica.

The usual means used to administer these substances is by preparations called Bhasma, Sanskrit for “ash”. Calcinations, which is described as Shodhana, ‘purification’, is the process used to prepare these Bhasma for administration.  A variety of methods are used for purification and removal of undesirable qualities ;  enhancing  their therapeutic power.


Kaviraj Bhudeb Mookerji

Rasa-Jala-Nidhi or Ocean of Indian Chemistry and Alchemy, Compiled in Sanskrit (with English translation) by Rasacharya Kaviraj Bhudeb Mookerji; Published in Calcutta – 1926

The voluminous Rasa-Jala-Nidhi, spread over Four Volumes, is  based on numerous traditional texts on Ayurveda and Rasa-shastra.

Shri Mookerji , towards the end of his introduction to  Volume One of  the Rasa-Jala-Nidhi remarks :

The treatment of diseases by Rasa (Mercury) , Gems, Metals etc ., is divine; that by incantations and vegetable drugs is human; and, that by surgical instruments is diabolical. Metallurgy is therefore, to be learnt very carefully.




4.1. Mercury is one of the densest possible substances; and, it is in liquid form – the only liquid metal.  And, it always stays in liquid form. It is highly sensitive to heat; and expands quickly as its temperature rises. That is the reason it is used in thermometers. Once the Mercury is energized and maintained in proper conditions, it stays energized for a very long time, without dissipation. In the olden times, it appears, mercury deposits/ traces were found in the Siddhipur region of Gujarat; and, in Srisailam hills in AP (?). Mercury in purer form was imported from Roman regions.

4.2. In India, there is an abundance of traditional literature about alchemical and clinical mercury; and about the many ways it can be prepared, purified and handled. Several classical works praise solidified mercury, and talk about the various processes of its purification and solidification to perfect it into a glorious Rasa.

4.3.  Because of its popular appeal, Mercury is called by various names, such as: Rasa, Padarasa, Parada, Sukta, Vaikrnta, Vyomadharana, Avithyaja, Rasayana–shresta, Rasendra , Maha-rasa and by many other names/epithets. Mercury is also associated with Moon:  as Soma, Indu, and Bindu (drop or mind).  It is also related to Amrta Rasa, the elixir of immortality and to Soma offered to gods.

4.4. Mercury occupies a very important position in the Siddha ways of training and also in Ayurveda, the science of life.  In the Indian traditional literature there are copious references to Mercury, to its properties, its virtues and its supposed magical powers. There are elaborate descriptions of various processes of purification and solidification of Mercury in order to render it perfect, into an exalted essence.

Mercury in Ayurveda

5.1. The Ayurveda has eight divisions; and, the seventh is titled Rasayana – (Rasa+Yana), Rasa meaning Mercury, and Yana the clinical procedures involving Mercury (Rasa Chikitsa). Generally, Rasayana is taken as the way or the procedures of Mercury.  In Ayurveda, Rasayana refers to Mercury as medicine (elixir), as also to a whole group of medical tinctures based in Mercury  , herbs  and other minerals (including processed gold).

[For the process of cleansing and preparing the the Mercury for clinical purposes – Rodhana Samskara of Parada – please click here.]

5.2. As a method of treatment, Rasayana is a way of cleansing the body (samsodhana cikitsa; and, a rejuvenation therapy for replenishing the bodily fluids (rasa) and supplementing other substances (dhatus) of the body.  The treatment is also termed as kshetri-karana, preparation of the body for absorbing the medicines per se.  Here, Rasa or Rasa-bija – the essence in a substance – is used to influence and enhance the health of vital bodily fluids or its constituents in the body.

5.3. The Rasayana line of treatment aims to arrest physical and mental decay. This is a part of sets of detailed procedures, regimen, meant to ensure a prolonged healthy and happy life. Ayurveda claims the clinical use of systematically purified and treated mercury can stimulate cerebral functions without agitating the mind; improve concentration, reduce fickle mindedness; and, enhances memory power.   And physically it renders the person vigorous, disease-free, enabling him to enjoy a long youthful life.

5.4 The texts –Rasaśāstra (Rasāyana), the Ānandakanda, and the Rasa-svacchanda – which are based in the Tantra-scriptures such as the Rasa-ratna-samuccaya (which is credited to Vāgbhata), teach the initiatory Tantric alchemic-cult aimed for the attainment of immortality and liberation through the use of mercurial elixirs.

Vāgbhata, a scholar believed to have lived during 12th century, is said to be the author of the texts relating to Ayurveda, such as the Ashtāga-sagraha and the Ashtānga-hridaya-sahitā.  The one other work credited to Vāgbhata, viz., Rasa-ratna- samuccaya   deals with the alchemic extraction, purification, conversion of metals/minerals (such as Pārada, Abhraka, Añjana, Vaikrānta, Capala, Gandhaka  etc.,) into therapeutically suitable forms.

The Chapter Two of the Rasa-ratna -samuccaya   describes eight Mahārasas (eight metals which are considered superior in processing mercury); their types;, acceptable varieties; their therapeutic attributes; and,  the detailed procedures of purification and calcinations or thermal treatment process.

And the Chapter Eleven mentions various units of measurements and the Pārada -aṣṭa saskāra (eight basic processing steps of mercury). Along with that, it also details use of mercury in the treatment of wounds and burns. It also underlines the precautions that have to be taken before and while using mercury internally. It also deals with the treatment of the adverse effects caused by the improper use of mercury or improperly processed mercury.

[For more on this, please do read the Critical Review of Rasaratna Samuccaya : A Comprehensive Treatise of Indian Alchemy]


5.5 .  Rasacharya Kaviraj  Shri Bhudeb Mookerji in the Volume One of  his Rasa-Jala-Nidhi in its Eight Chapters, from page 29 to page 350, commencing from Chapter Three deals, almost exclusively, in great detail, with  Mercury (Parada). It specifies the particulars regarding the setting up of the laboratory, the apparatus, the crucibles, the equipment, the tools etc. then it goes on to describe the  attributes of Mercury; the processes involved in purification of mercury; sublimation of mercury;  swallowing by Mercury of other metals, sulphur (Rasa-sindhuram) etc.,; Killing of Mercury; pharmaceutical applications of purified Mercury;  administration of such Mercury based medicines;  and,  dietary regulations   etc.

The Rasa Siddantha believes that Parada, the mercury, has six different kinds of taste –sweet, sour, saline, pungent, bitter and astringent. The purified Mercury enhances the medicinal properties of other drugs with which it is compounded. Parada, in its purified form, has a soothing effect on the human system; and, is capable of destroying three kinds of Doshas (faults) – Vata, Pittha and Kafa (Tri-dosha).  Parada, when it is properly reduced to the form of ashes (Bhasma) effectively prevents on set of diseases and premature old age. It nourishes and increases the strength of the vital parts of the body ; and , improves the eyesight.

[ As regards the  subjects covered in the other volumes of the Rasa-Jala-Nidhi:

Volume Two, in its four Chapters, deals with the preparation and applications of the medicines prepared with metallic content, such as Mica (Abraca), Silver, Copper, tin, lead, Bitumen, Sulphur, Cinnabar etc.

Volume three, in its eleven chapters, details the use of Iron (Lauha); Zinc (Jasoda); Mixed metals such as Brass (Pitala),Bell-metal (Kansya), etc.

It also enumerates (Chapter four)  the use of gems , such as Diamond (Vajra), Emerald (Marakata), Ruby (Manikya), Pearl (Mukta), Safire (Nila), Zircon (Gomedha), Garnet (Vikranta), Quartz (Spatika), Coral (Pravala), Topaz (Pushaya-raga ),  and cats-eye and similar other stones (Vaidurya) etc.

Then it goes on to talk about varieties of alkalis (Kshara), oils (taila), extracts (takra), cow urine (gomutra) and other substances, their properties and applications  in medicine . And then of salts (Lavana) ; of poisons (Pashana or Visha), semi-poisons (Upa-pashana or Upa-visha) like, Arka, Languli, Gunja , Dattura, Opium etc.

Chapter ten , details the liqueurs, the alcoholic based medicines , tinctures etc. such as : Gouri, Madhavi, Palsti, Kadamvari, Varuni , Madhuki etc.

And, the Volume four covers peripheral issues such as  the management of feverish conditions (Jwara lakshana) ; other diseases; their side effects; observance of recommended diet (Pathya sevane); administration of medicines, their dosage, frequency .; healthy living habits etc.]


Mercury in Siddha traditions

6.1. The wonderful and exhilarating elixir-like benefits of Mercury-treatment seemed to have excited the Siddhas, inspiring them to speculate on achieving a sort of an amazing immortal body. That prompted Siddhas to explore the diverse and manifold possibilities surrounding the applications of solidified Mercury. Ayurveda thus, it seems, paved the way for Alchemist Siddhas to speculate on the immortality of the body and to concoct an enabling elixir. Attaining immortality then became the life-ambition and the goal of many Siddha traditions.

6.2.  According to Siddhas, Mercury is a poison for the uninitiated who partake of it or its compounds improperly. Mercury, they said, has always been a part of the nature; and, has not poisoned either the air, the waters or the earth. It is only its abuse that brings forth its deadly effects.  Even the combination of the so-called poisons – neither too strong, nor too weak- when properly prepared, can act as nourishing medicine. The medicinal blend of poisons (Visha) in prescribed proportions can energize the body, invigorate its functions and generally act as a tonic. And, in some ancient temples (e.g. Palini Hills) the idol of the main deity, it is said, is crafted  out of an alloy of nine types of deadly poisonous minerals, herbs, chemicals and crystals (nava-pashana).

6.3. The Siddhas asserted that for   an initiated alchemist Siddha, Mercury if properly treated and processed can be transformed into nectar of immortality.  It converts from visha into amrita. They believed that its soft and subtle blue energy invigorates the vital functions of the body; and   ‘through the use of mercury that is healing and medicinal in nature, one rapidly obtains a body that is un-aging and immortal; and endowed with concentration of the mind. He who eats treated mercury (mrtasutaka) truly obtains both transcendent and mundane knowledge, and his mantras are effective’ (Rasasara, XV, 19-22)


Rasa Siddhas and Natha Siddhas

7.1. The Siddhas therefore became engaged in developing a branch of chemistry or proto-chemistry known as Rasa-shastra (science of Mercury) or generally the Rasayana-shastra. This whole science of solidifying and energizing mercury is called Rasa Vidya.

The prominent among such Alchemist Siddhas were the specialist Rasa Siddhas and Natha Siddha.

7.2. The most important innovation of the Rasa Siddhas and the Natha Siddhas was the method they crafted for attaining Siddha status and Siddha powers. They claimed that dedicated humans through practice of Yoga, Tantra and Alchemy can become Semi Divine Siddhas, provided they rigorously followed the prescribed disciplines.

7.3. Apart from the Semi Divine Siddhas, there is another classification of Siddhas into three strands (ogha): the divine, the perfect and the human. Among these, the human-kind Siddhas sought an ageless physical body (svarna deha); the perfect sought a perfected (siddhadeha) or indestructible (vajradeha) physical body; and Maheshvara Siddha sought to attain an ethereal divine body (divyadeha) of an integrated nature. Otherwise, the dividing lines among them are rather unclear.

7.4. The Natha Siddhas along with Rasa Siddhas recount their lineage from Shiva (Adi Guru) himself and from Dattatreya, Adinatha, Naganatha, Caparti, Matsyendranatha, Gorkhnatha, and other Gurus of Natha Sampradaya.

[For a study-note on the Nath Sampradaya by Dr. Anoop Pati Tiwari ,  please click here.

And , for about the Nāth Yogī Ascetics in Modern South Asia by VÉRONIQUE BOUILLIER , please click here.]

8.1. These two groups, in particular, – Rasa and Natha Siddhas- interacted with a third group that flourished mainly in the Nepal region (though it is likely the cult was initially based in the western Himalayas). This was the Pashima-amnaya (the westward), a Shakta cult devoted to a Tantric goddess Kubjika. They too were engaged in alchemy.


Kubjika secret goddess

Kubjikā a secret goddess, having immense metaphysical depth, a large varieties of forms, and varied methods of yoga (especially those linked with the movement of vital breath), appears in the Bhairava and then the Western Kaula Tantra  (Paschima-amnaya ) Traditions of the Himalayan regions  during 7th century.  She is variously addressed in her Tantras as :Kubjinī – the Hunchback Girl; Kubjī, Kujā, Kujī, Khañjinī – the Lame One; Vakrikā or Vakrā – the Crooked One;  Ciñcinī – the Goddess residing in the Tamarind tree;  Kulālikā – the Potteress; Ambā or the vernacular forms as : Avvā, Anāmā, Laghvikā; and, most common of all as Śrī – the Royal One who has as her scripture, teaching, school and tradition (anvaya, āmnāya);  and as the Śrīmata.  Kubjinī, a very secret goddess is worshiped in her Tantras along with Bhairava, her consort.  As Kundalini, Kubjika is worshipped as the Goddess who is curled up and sleeping, waiting to be awakened. The sect of Nine Natahas is believed to have propagated the cult of Kubjika throughout Nepal and North India. 

In the Kaula Tantra  (Paschima-amnaya) Tradition, Devi Kubjika  is worshiped with Shiva with his five faces Sadyojata; Vamadeva, Tatpurusha; Aghora and Ishana.. The hallowed mother Kubjika has six faces.

She is adorned with serpents: Karotaka as a waist band; Takshaka as a mid-riff ornament; Vasuki as garland; and, the venomous cobra Kulika as an ear ornament.

She holds in her arms as skull, a king-cobra, a crystal-bead rosary, skull-topped rod, a conch, a book, a trident, a mirror, a straight sword, a gem necklace, an ankusha (goad) and a bow. She is of fair complexion like a young jasmine flower.

The mantra of Kubjika is Om Shrim Prim Kubjike Devi Hrim Thah Svaha. The yantra of her worship is

                 kubjikA Yantra

As per the Kaula Tantra (Paschima-amnaya), Lord Bhairava initiates the Devi into the Kubjikā-mata-tantra, saying:  Oh the Goddess of great fortune! O bestower of great bliss! (Mahābhāge Mahā-ananda-vidhāyini) The teaching that you have requested is truly astonishing and salutary (atyadbhutam anāmayam). That is kept secret by all the Rudras, Tantric heroes, and Bhairavas. Nevertheless, I will teach you that secret Tantra, which has come down through a series of transmissions,established through the line of Siddhas (Siddha mārga kramāyāta Siddha pakti vyavasthita)..

Sādhu sādhu Mahābhāge Mahā-ananda-vidhāyini | pcchita yat tvayā vākyam atyadbhutam anāmayam || gopita sarva Rudrāā vīrāā Bhairaveu ca | Siddha-krama nirācāra tathāpi kathayāmi te || Siddha mārga kramāyāta Siddha pakti vyavasthita – Kubjikāmatatantra 1.44-46:

 The Kaula Śhaiva Siddantha recognizes the lineage (santati) of four innately enlightened Siddhas (sāṃ-siddhika), the Masters of Four Ages (Yuga-nāthas) in the transmission (krama) of the Kaula-marga.

Abhinavagupta, in his Tantrāloka, recalls with reverence the Guru-linage (Guru-santati) , commencing with the four Siddhas, the Yuga-nāthas, together with their consorts: Khagendra and Vijjāmbā; Kūrma and Maṅgalā; Meṣa and Kāmamaṅgalā;  and finally,  Macchanda (Matsyendranātha) and Kuṅkuṇāmbā (Koṅkaṇā).

khagendra sahavijjāmba illāri ambayā saha || vaktaṣṭir vimalo ‘nantamekhalāmbāyuta purā | śaktyā magalayā kūrma illāri ambayā saha || jaitro yāmye hy avijitas tathā sānandamekhala | kāmamagalayā mea kullāri ambayā saha || vindhyo ‘jito ‘py ajarayā saha mekhalayā pare | macchanda kukuāmbā ca ayugma sādhikārakam. – Tantrāloka 29.29cd-31:

Matsyendranātha or Macchandanātha, the most iconic Siddha, is said to be primarily responsible for the spread of the Kaula-marga of the Shaiva Siddantha in this Kali Age.

Apart from Matsyendranātha, some other Siddhas were also said to have played an important role in propagation of the Kula-mārga.

The Tantric text, Devīpañcaśatikā, mentions the set of four other Siddha-couples: Niṣkriyānanda and Jñānadīpti; Vidyānanda and Raktā; Śaktyānanda and Mahānandā; and , Śivānanda and Samayā

nikriyānandanāthaś ca jñānadīptyā sahaikata ||vidyānandaś ca raktā ca dvitīya kathitas tava | śaktyānando mahānanda ttīya siddhapūjita || śivānando mahānanda samāyātaś caturthaka | khagendrādyādisiddhānā kathitā gurusantati  – Devīpañcaśatikā 3.15cd-17.

Please also refer to: ]

siddhi chakra yantra

8.2. Apart from their traditional goals, the one other interest that Natha Siddhas and Rasa Siddhas shared with the Pashima-amnaya Siddhas was the mystic doctrine and practices involving sexual fluids – male and female. Their beliefs in this regard were rooted   in Rasa vada, the theory concerning Rasa.



9.2. In the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.7) the expression ‘Raso vai sah’ is meant to suggest the essence, the very core of ones being; and it is of the nature of pure bliss (Raso hyevayam labdhva anandi bhavati). But, elsewhere, Rasa is the fluid element (essence) that Vedic sages identified as the juice of life and of non-death (a-mruta), which sustains both the gods and the humans. Rasa is also understood as Dravya – the substance combining in itself   the properties of all the five elements – having sixty three varieties.   Rasa, as essential element, in its many forms is both manifest and dormant.

9.3.  In Ayurveda, Rasa stands for vital body fluids.  Its treatment (Rasayana), the Rasa or Rasa-bija – the essence in a substance – is used to influence and enhance the health of bodily fluids or its constituents in the body.

9.4. According to Tantra ideology, male and female vital fluids, semen and uterine blood, are power-substances (Shakthi dhathu) because their combination gives rise to life and vitality. These Rasas are even identified with gods and goddesses whose boundless energy was often portrayed as sexual in nature. Usually the god invoked in this context was some form of Shiva and the female was some form of Devi.

Siva- devi

9.5. Those ardent followers- the Tantrics , Siddhas and others – who aimed to attain the status of second – Shiva sought to realize their goal through the conduit of wild goddesses (who then were identified with their human consorts) generally known as Yoginis. These ‘bliss-starved’ minor goddesses would converge into the consciousness of the Sadhaka the ardent practitioner, to transform him into a sort of god on earth.

9. 6. The doctrine of Rasa (Rasa vada) as  adopted by the mystique Siddhas is based on the theory that Rasa – all kinds of fluid elements found in universe , world , human beings , plants , rain , waters , and the oblations in the  Yajna –  is the fountainhead of life. There are countless manifestations of Rasa including the vital sexual fluids in male and female, blood, bone marrow, mucus and every other fluid substance in body and as water , snow , moisture etc  in nature.

siddhas alchemists

Alchemist Siddhas

10.1. With the advent of the great scholar and Tantrik Abhinavagupta (ca.10th century – Kashmir) and his school of Trika Kaula philosophy, the messy parts of the Tantra practises were cleaned up, ‘sanitized’, refined ,  and given a sophisticated look ( at least outwardly).In these “High’ Tantric Schools many of the sordid looking elements and practices were sublimated . The cult of the Yoginis, ritual reproductions, offering and consuming sexual fluids etc were refined and re-defined.  However, the old practices did not go away altogether; but, they went underground and were practiced as ‘secret-learning’ (gupta vidya) by closed circle of initiates.

Shiva as Hata Yogi

10 .2. Then came the Siddhas of Natha Pantha, who brought into fore the Hata yoga, a rather violent method of exertion. Matsyendranatha was the pioneer of this School of Natha Siddhas. He visualized Shiva as a Hata-yogi.  He preached the doctrine of Six Chakras of transformation. But, the secret part of it was the belief in the transformation of the sexual fluids into a sort of potent power, the amrita, the nectar of immortality.

10.3.  According to this sect, the combination of male and female sexual fluids brings into existence an explosive power that is truly unique. No other elements or fluids in the whole of the universe have the power to create life. And, that is remarkable.  For the Natha Siddhas, persuasion of that line of creative power became the route to attain Siddhis (miraculous powers) and Jivanmukthi (liberation while in the body).

11.1. They were followed by a third group, the Rasa Siddhas, the alchemists who coined the phrase: yatha lohe, tatha dehe (as in the metal, so in the body). They, in principle, adopted the doctrine of Natha Siddhas regarding the power of sexual fluids. But, they lent it a rather unexpected twist, that of metallurgy.  

11.2. The Rasa Siddhas seemed to believe that metals are living-substances; and, gold was the natural endpoint of their countless years of gestation within the earth’s womb.  Adopting the metaphor of the humans, they said mica (abhraka) and sulphur (gandhaka – literally meaning that which has aroma) were analogous to the female reproductive fluids   from which the metals   arose. Here the male fluids came to be identified with the eighth metal, the Mercury, Rasendra, the King of Rasas, the shining liquid amazingly volatile, as if having a life of its own.

[The Alchemist Siddhas equated Mercury with a male, warm substance which controls the elements Earth and Water. And, symbolically it was   called the semen of Shiva.  Mica which is cold was the element of air; and regarded the female counterpart of Shiva, the Shakthi.  Therefore through the union of mercury and mica, male and female, (Shiva and Shakthi or Yang and Yin), they sought to obtain a married metal which controls the elements Earth (solids), Water (fluids) and Air (mental aspects in the body).  But, it increases the element Fire, the invigorating heat in the body. ]


11.3. An important finding that the Rasa Siddhas came upon was that purified mercury, through a special process, can be made to devour or digest (meaning, assimilate) an enormous amount of other metals without the swallowing (grasa) mercury gaining appreciable weight. The assimilation (jarana) of base metals into mercury became the hub of an entire regimen of an alchemy engaged in transforming base metals into gold.

[In the Indian alchemy texts, the chemical substances are divided into five main categories: Maha (primary) Rasa; Uparasa (secondary); Dhatu (minerals), Ratna or Mani (crystal or salts -lavana) and Visha (toxins or poisons). And again within these , there are eight Maha Rasas ; eight Uparasas;  seven Dhatus  – Sapta DhatuSuvarna ( gold) , Rajata ( silver) , Tamra (copper ) , Trapa (tin) , Ayas or Tikshna  (iron ) , Sisha or Naga (lead ) and Vaikrantika . And, Mercury in a special category is included under metals. The alloys include alloys: brass (pitala), Bell metal (kamsya), and a mixture of five metals (kamsya). The Salts are five: Sauvaechala, Saindhava, Vida, Aubhida, and Samudra.  The powdered metals and salts are Bhasmas.  Substances derived from animal (horns, shells, feathers etc) and plant sources are also grinded into it.

Various plant products, minerals, fluids etc having toxic properties are included under Visha. In Siddha system sixty four types of poisons are mentioned for therapeutic purpose].

[ Please do read the classic : A History of Hindu Chemistry  From the earliest times to the middle of the sixteenth century, A.D., with Sanskrit texts, variants, translation and illustrations. By Prafulla Chandra Ray; Published by The Bengal Chemical & Pharmaceutical Works, Ltd., Calcutta – 1903]

 Agni and Varuna


12.1. The Siddhas have always been technicians of the concrete; transforming base metal into gold, ailing into the healthy; and mortals into immortals. They are the masters of the process, seeking raw and ruthless power over natural processes, say over aging, death and political, social rulers and leaders.

12.2. The process of transforming Mercury into gold or elixir (Rasa-karma); to transmute a base metal into the noble one; and to make the perishable body an ever immortal is very complicated and time-consuming, spread over several months. Indian alchemy developed a wide variety of chemical processes.


11.3. The Rasashastra texts – such as, Rasarnava of 11th century (perhaps the oldest Rasa Tantra text available   , narrated as series of dialogues between Bhairava and Devi), Rasarathnakara, Rasendramangala, Bhutikaprakarana and Rasahrudaya describe the procedures meticulously and in great detail. There are hundreds of verses in the Rasashastra texts which deal with a wide variety of processes.  The texts also caution that among all the Sadhakas only an infinitesimally small number of worthies might achieve their goal.


12.4. According to Rasa-shastra texts – Rasa-ratha-samucchaya and Rasa-rathnakara – the Alchemic Siddha (Rasacharya) should be a highly learned person (jnanavan), respected by all (sarva-manya ), well versed in the science of Mercury (Rasa-shastra-kovida) ,proficient in processing Mercury ( Rasa-karma-kaushala) , highly competent in his task (daksha) , free from greed , lust, hatred and other weaknesses (dhira -vira) , dear to Shiva (Shiva vatsala) and devoted to Devi (Devi bhaktha) . His intentions for undertaking task should be pure and noble; and, blessed by his Guru. Else, the entire process would end fruitless (nishphala).

Needless to say, a worthy Rasa Siddha is extremely hard to find.

13.1. The process, which is spread over eighteen stages, and carried out over several months, involved planting a ‘seed (bija)’ of gold into a mass of mercury (whose power of absorption has already been increased enormously by series of treatments of mica, sulphur and other female elements) which then becomes a ‘mouth’ capable of swallowing incredible amounts base metals (usually, 1:6; mercury absorbing six times its mass of Mica).

[The process of making the Mercury absorb (grasa) in ever increasing quantities of Mica or Sulphur called Jarana is carried on till the Mercury becomes   (baddha) or killed (mrta).This is done in three stages each consisting six steps. In the first stage; Mercury is made to take in mouthfuls (grasa) of mica, in six successive operations. At each step in this process, the mercury becomes physically altered: in the first step, in which it consumes one sixty-fourth of its mass of mica, mercury becomes rod like (danda vat). It next takes on the consistency of a leech, then that of crow droppings, thin liquid, and butter. With its sixth and final “mouthful,” in which mercury swallows one-half its mass of mica, it becomes a spherical solid.

This six-step process, by which mercury is bound, is followed by another six-step process, in which the proportions of mica or sulphur swallowed by mercury greatly increase. It is this latter process that constitutes jarana proper. Here,  mercury  is made  to absorb a mass of mica equal to its own.

Next, mercury is made to swallow twice its mass of mica, and so on until the proportions ultimately reach 1:6, with mercury absorbing six times its mass of mica. In this final and optimal phase mercury, said to be “six-times killed,” is possessed of fantastic powers of transmutation. At the conclusion of this process, mercury takes the shape of a Linga. ]


13.2. Mercury is regarded as ’killed’ when it becomes a hard metal or a red-blood stone. The mercury that is ‘killed’ – mrta  or stilled (rendered non-volatile – baddha and reduced to ashes- bhasma) with the help of powerful herbs, is transmuted into gold through a mystic process (samskara).That is to say; after having been killed or fixed, Mercury changes its character, it takes on a nobler, more exalted form and is reborn.

After the mercury has been completely purified, a process which usually requires several months, it must be allowed to   cool down and solidify. The cooling-operation is done with the application of concentrated vegetable extracts and mineral ashes which have cooling properties. These ingredients help the Mercury to coagulate quickly.

14.1. It was believed that after undergoing seventeen sequential processes, the mercury would be rendered   pure (detoxified) solution and fit for consumption. At this stage, the Mercury cleansed of its poisons can be handled safely. The Mercury thus treated and processed over elongated procedures acquires new properties and becomes beneficial to humans.

[There is a mention of another peculiar property of solidified Mercury:  its psychological effect. Those who swallow it become aware of an aspect of their consciousness which they did not explicitly know. Solidified mercury thus acts as a revealing agent, providing the person an opportunity to cleanse himself.] 

14.2. At the end of the fantastic series of samskaras, the mercury itself would have disappeared leaving only the ‘noble and immortal’ metal – the gold. The final product, if consumed in prescribed quantity would, it was claimed, rejuvenate the body and make it as resplendent and burnished as gold. ”The Siddha who ingests is immediately transported to the realms of the gods, Siddhas, and Vidyadharas”.

 14.3. The gold here becomes an insignia of immortality. And, by swallowing a pellet of such created gold the alchemist becomes a second Shiva, a Siddha, perfected, golden and immortal*. There is also a Vedic myth of Prajapathi turning into gold (hiranya purusha): ‘he is Prajapathi, he is Agni, he is made of gold, for gold is light and fire is light, gold is immortality and fire is immortality’ (Shatapatha Brahmana: 4.1.18).

 [*This is regarded a re-enactment of the cosmic process. Mercury here symbolizes Shiva, the all-absorbing supreme ascetic, at the end of time cycle, effortlessly withdrawing into himself the whole of the Universe; transforming matter into essence – Rasa. The swallower and the swallowed are immortal.

The process is also described in another manner: metal, the earth element (muladhara) is absorbed into water element (svadistana); the water element into fire element (manipura); the fire element is absorbed into element of air (anahata) ; and the air is absorbed into ether – akasha (vishuddhi) . And, at the sixth stage, all these are telescoped, swallowed back into manas – mind (ajna). Finally, everything merges into pure Shiva consciousness, prakasha – at the thousand-petalled sahasra.]

14.4. In a way of speaking, the shodhana (purification) of mercury and the Sadhana (accomplishment) of the Siddha are analogues; as they both aim for perfection.

The goal of Siddha alchemy (which essentially is a spiritual technique) is immortality of body, invincibility and transcendence of human conditions. The transformation of base metals into gold is largely a symbolic concept than a concrete objective.  At another level, what is of prime importance is liberation (Moksha or Paramukti) which requires self-purification and separation from baser earthly bonds, as also from their tendencies.  The path of the Siddhas though alchemic in nature is entwined with Yoga and spiritual traditions.

[In comparison, the Ayurvedic use of mercury (rasa shastra) which by far pre-dates that of Siddha Alchemists was for medicinal purposes. Rasa Shastra was basically a medical alchemy. It was a process which attempted  to fuse metals, minerals, gem-stones, animal products, herbal ingredients and other substances to concoct medicinal compounds aim to cure chronic diseases , to rejuvenate the system and ultimately achieve indefinitely long-life. Thus, its primary application was therapeutic (rogavada), to restore health; and not to create a second Shiva or a Superman.]

group of Nath yogis

 Decline of the Siddha traditions

15.1. However, in the later times, the practice of consuming treated mercury and its allied elixirs in order to attain various Siddhis and longevity sharply declined. That was, perhaps, mainly because the samskara techniques of purifying mercury, and transforming it into elixir were lost. Another reason could be that the standards set by the texts for a qualified Alchemic Siddha (Rasacharya) were exceedingly high; and in the later periods  there were hardly any who measured up to those lofty standards.

15.2. Because of such imperfections, the Siddha techniques and aspirations became rather faulted. In recent times, many would- be – Seekers have attempted to bind Mica, Sulphur and Mercury together, but with little success. And, in a few cases where they succeeded the mercury could not be entirely detoxified or the resultant ‘gold’ did not gain the requisite physical (specific gravity, colour etc) and chemical properties of true natural gold. Therefore, the sort of transmutation power ascribed to mercury in the old texts could not be realized.  Some scholars even wonder whether Mica and Sulphur mentioned in the texts did actually mean the metals. It is quite likely, they surmise, those terms might have been employed as symbols or codes to denote something else.


16.1. As regards the Siddha cults, except for a sprinkling of Natha Siddhas in North India the other Siddha sects have virtually vanished.  The sects of the Siddhas were, mostly, the victims of their own excesses.

16.2. The first, I reckon, was the bad publicity they gained because of their reckless living and lack of decorum in public.  But, to be fair to them, they were merely living out or putting into practice, in good faith, the traditional beliefs of their sect.  In seeking to be true to the principle of non-difference, being indifferent to – the good and the bad; sacred and the profane; beauty and ugliness; pure and the sordid; exalted and the demented; squalor and grandeur; decent and indecent etc – many aspiring Siddhas, clueless ,  indulged in what appeared to common people as anti social, atrocious and totally unacceptable reprehensible  behaviour. The Siddhas were in due time ostracized by the polite society.


16.3. The other was the sanitization or sophistication brought in by Abhinavagupta and his School. This rendered the Siddha and Tantric ways into refined, mystique, highly complicated and theorized schools of thought. Such elite and cerebral teachings were beyond the ken of most initiates who ordinarily came from the lower rung of the society. The new entrant could neither grasp nor identify himself with such ethereal discourses. The new teachings were unrelated to a common man’s day-to-day experiences,  entangled in a web of social and family bonds; living, loving, eking out a living; aging and dying as anyone else did.  The thirty-six or thirty-seven steps of metaphysical levels of existence (tattvas) charted out by Abhinavagupta were beyond the understanding of common man; and, it held out few answers to his concerns and aspirations.

siddhas3 Tantric

The adherents of Natha Siddha cult, therefore, fell back to the older and primitive beliefs of Pashupathas and Kapalikas, the devotees of terrible forms of Shiva, who practiced in seclusion and lived away from the puritan and highly discriminating learned class. Natha Siddhas, away from public gaze, now offered concrete pleasures and powers that could be experienced in the real world by aspiring men. The Natha Siddhas, the kanphatas (split ear lobes) thus emerged as a sort of powerful distant ideals  for the ordinary men of this world.

Natha yogi

 [ A Note:

 A-mruta (non-death) or immortality has been one of the fascinations of the ancients.  It is said; in the Vedic times the gods attain and maintain eternal life by offering Soma to one another, as oblations among themselves. The message is:  It is not enough to merely possess the Soma drink to gain immortality. The secret lies in offering it as oblation to another god. It is only then , one gains immortality that Soma confers. The Asuras were perhaps not aware of this secret; and greedily drank the soma without offering it to others.  And, therefore they gained no benefit from the Soma drink.

The premise of the Yajna, it is said, is based on this secret. The humans offer oblations idealized as Soma into Agni who in turn hands them over to Svaha Devi to pass on to other gods. The oblation offered sustains the gods; and, maintains their immortality. The humans receive from the gods the benefit of the Soma offered to them, as god-given gifts of wealth, happiness, full-life span (visvayus) and even immortality.  In order to live a full and a satisfying life, one needs to be ever engaged in Yajnas, in giving and sharing. ]


Sources and References

The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India  by David Gordon White

Mysticism and Alchemy through the Ages: The Quest for Transformation by Gary Edson

Alchemical Traditions: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde  by Aaron Cheak

Alchemically purified and solidified mercury by  Petri Murien



Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Siddha Rasa, Tantra, Uncategorized


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Abhinavabharati – an interpretation of Bharata’s Natyasastra

This may be treated as a sequel to my earlier blog Abhinavagupta wherein I presented a brief life sketch of the great scholar and mystic. I made, therein, a passing reference to his monumental work Abhinavabharati (a commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra) but could not discuss its salient features as the blog was already getting lengthy. I propose to talk here about a few aspects of Abhinavabharati. It would not be a review or a commentary on the great work, because such a task is beyond my capabilities. I shall try to avoid as many technical terms as possible.


1. Abhinavagupta (11th century) was a visionary endowed with incisive intellectual powers of a philosopher who combined in himself the experiences of a mystic and a tantric. He was equipped with extraordinary skills of a commentator and an art critic. His work Abhinavabharati though famed as a commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra is, for all purposes, an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, poetry, music and art. Abhinavabharati along with his other two works Isvara pratyabhijna Vimarshini and Dhvanyaloka Lochana are important works in the field of Indian aesthetics. They help in understanding Bharata and also a number of other scholars and the concepts they put forth.


2. There are only a handful of commentaries that are as celebrated, if not more, as the texts on which they commented upon. Abhinavabharati is one such rare commentary. Abhinavagupta illumines and interprets the text of the Bharata at many levels: conceptual, structural and technical. He comments, practically, on its every aspect; and his commentary is a companion volume to Bharata’s text.

3. There are a number of reasons why Abhinavabharati is considered a landmark work and why it is regarded important for the study of Natyasastra. Just to name a few, briefly:

(i).The Natyasastra is dated around second century BCE. The scholars surmise that the text was reduced to writing several centuries after it was articulated. Until then, the text was preserved and transmitted in oral form. The written text facilitated reaching it to different parts of the country and to the neighbouring states as well. But, that development of turning a highly systematized oral text in to a written tome, strangely, gave rise to some complex issues, including the one of determining the authenticity of the written texts. Because, each part of the country, where the text became popular, produced its own version of Natyasastra and in its own script. 

For instance, Natyasastra spread to Nepal, Almora to Ujjain, Darbhanga, Maharashtra, Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The earliest known manuscripts which come from Nepal are in Newari script. The text also became available in many other scripts – Devanagari, Grantha, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam. There were some regional variations as well. It became rather difficult for the later-day scholars, to evolve criteria for determining the authenticity and purity of the text particularly with the grammatical mistakes and scribes errors that crept in during the protracted process of transliterations. Therefore, written texts as they have comedown to us through manuscripts merely represent the residual record or an approximation to the original; but not the exact communication of the oral tradition that originated from Bharata.

[Similar situation obtains in most other Indian texts/traditions.]

His commentary Abhinavabharati dated around tenth or the eleventh century predates all the known manuscripts of the Natyasastra, which number about fifty-two; and all belong to the period between twelfth and eighteenth century. The text of Natyasastra that Abhinavagupta followed and commented upon thus gained a sort of benchmark status.

(ii). Because Natyasastra was, originally, transmitted in oral form, it was in cryptic aphoristic verses –sutras that might have served as “memory-aid” to the teachers and pupils, with each Sutra acting as pointer to an elaborate discussion on a theme. The Sutras, by their very nature, are terse, crisp and often inscrutable. Abhinavabharati, on the other, hand is a monumental work largely in prose; and it illumines and interprets the text of the Bharata at many levels, and comments on practically every aspect of Natyasastra. Abhinava’s commentary is therefore an invaluable guide and a companion volume to Bharata’s text.

(iii). Abhinavabharati is the oldest commentary available on Natyasastra. All the other previous commentaries are now totally lost. And , therefore ,  the  importance of Abhinavagupta’s work can hardly be overstated. The fact such commentaries once existed came to light only because Abhinavagupta referred to them in his work and discussed their views.

Abhinava is the only source for discerning the nature of debate of his predecessors such as Utpaladeva , Bhatta Lollata, Srisankuka, Bhatta Nayaka and his Guru Bhatta Tauta. It is through Abhinavagupta’s quotations from Kohala , whose work is occasionally referred to in the Natyashastra, that we can reconstruct some of the changes that took place in the intervening period between his time and Bharata’s. Among other authorities cited by Abhinavagupta are : Nandi, Rahula, Dattila, Narada, Matanga, Visakhila, Kirtidhara, Udbhata, Bhattayantra and Rudrata, all of whom wrote on music and dance.

The works of all those masters can only be partially reconstructed through references to them in Abhinavabhrati. Further, Abhinavagupta also brought to light and breathed life into ancient and forgotten scholarship of fine rhetoricians Bhamaha, Dandin and Rajashekhara.

Abhinava also drew upon the later authors to explain the application of the rules and principles of Natya. For instance; he quotes from Ratnavali of Sri Harsh  (7th century); Venisamhara of Bhatta Narayana (8th century); as also cites examples from Tapaas-vatsa-rajam  of Ananga Harsa Amataraja  (8th century) and Krtyaravanam (?).

[ But, it is rather surprising  that Abhinava does not mention or discuss the works of renowned dramatists such as Bhasa, Sudraka, Visakadatta and Bhavabhuti, though he regards Valmiki and Kalidasa as the greatest of the writers.]

What was interesting was that each of those scholars was evaluating Bharata’s exposition of the concepts of rasa and Sthayibhava against the background of the tacit assumptions of their particular school of thought such as Samkhya, yoga and others. Abhinavagupta presented the views of his predecessors and then went on to expound and improve upon Bharata’s cryptic statements and concepts in the light of his own school –Kashmiri Shaivis.

As Prof. Mandakranta Bose observes : One of the most illuminating features of Abhinavagupta’s work is his practice of citing  and drawing upon the older authorities critically , presenting their views to elucidate Bharata’s views ; and , often rejecting their views , putting forth  his own observations to  provide evidence to the contrary . For instance, while explaining the ardhanikuttaka karana which employes ancita of the hands, Sankuka’s description, which is different from Bharata’s, is included. Abhinavagupta’s citation of the two authorities thus shows us that this karana was performed in two different ways.

It is  apparent that Abhinava’s  grasp of the subject was not only extraordinarily thorough but  was also based on direct experience of the art as it was practiced in his time. From his experience , he explains the Natyashastra according to the concepts current in his own time. And, many times , therefore, he differed from Bharata. And, often he introduced concepts and practices that were not present during Bharata’s time. For instance, Abhinavagupta speaks of minor categories of drama, such as  nrttakavya and ragakavya – the plays based mainly in dance or in music. The concept of  such minor dramas was , however,  not there in the time of  Natyashastra . 

Abhinavagupta provides the details of several dance forms that are mentioned but not described in the Natyasastra. For instance, he describes bhadrasana, one of the group dances termed pindlbandha by Bharata but not described by him . 

His  commentary on the fifth Chapter of Natyashastra expands on Bharata’s description of the preliminaries of a dramatic performance ; and , covers such topics as the use of Tala, vocal and instrumental music, and the arousal of the sringara and raudra rasas in course of depictions of gods and goddesses.

Abhinavagupta , thus,  not only expands on Bharata but  also interprets him in the light of his own experience and knowledge . His commentary , therefore, presents the dynamic , and evolving state  of the art of  his time,  rather than a description of  Natya  as was frozen in Bharata’s time .

(iv).Abhinavaguta’s influence has been profound and pervasive. Succeeding generations of writers on Natya have been guided by his concepts and theories of rasa, bhava, aesthetics and dramaturgy. No succeeding writer or commentator could ignore Abhinavaguta’s commentary and the discussions on two crucial chapters of the Natyasastra namely VI and VII on Rasa and Bhava.

His work came to be accorded the highest authority and was regarded as the standard work , not only on music and dance but on  poetics (almkara shastra)  as well. Hemacandra in his Kavyanusasana, Ramacandra and Gunacandra in their Natyadarpana, and Kallinatha in his commentary on the Sangitaratnakara often refer to Abhinavagupta.  The chapter on dance in Sarangadeva’s Sangitaratnakara  is  almost entirely based on Abhinava’s work. 

Abhinavabharati is thus a bridge between the world of the ancient and forgotten wisdom and the scholarship of the succeeding generations.


(v). Abhinavagupta turned the attention away from the linguistic and related abstractions; instead, brought focus on the human mind, specifically the mind of the reader or viewer or the spectator. He tried to understand the way people respond to a work of art or a play. He called it Rasa-dhvani. According to which the spectator is central to the  active appreciation (anuvyavasāya) of a play.

He placed the spectator at the centre of the aesthetic experience. He said the object of any work of art is Ananda . He emphasized that the Sahrudaya, the initiated spectator/audience/receptor, the one of attuned heart, is central to that experience. Without his hearty participation the expressions of all art forms are rendered pointless. An educated appreciation is vital to the manifestation and development of art forms. And, an artistic expression finds its fulfillment in the heart of the recipient.

The aim of a play might be to provide pleasure; that pleasure must not, however, bind but must liberate the spectator.

4. Abhinavabharati just as Natyasastra is also a bridge between the realms of philosophy and aesthetics, and between aesthetic and mysticism. Abhinava did not consider aesthetics and philosophy as mutually exclusive. On the other hand, his concepts of aesthetics grew out of the philosophies he admired and practiced – the Shiva siddantha. 

Interestingly, while Abhinavagupta extended and applied philosophical schools of thought to understand and to explain concepts such as rasabhava etc, the latter-day exponents of aesthetics such as the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, reversed the process. They strove to derive a school of philosophy by lending interpretations to poetic compositions and to the characters portrayed in them. For instance. The Vaishnavas interpreted poet Jayadeva’s most adorable poetry Gita_Govinda; and its characters of Krishna and Radha in their own light; and derived from that, a new and a vibrant philosophy   of divine love based in Bhakthi rasa.

The two approaches have become so closely intertwined that it is now rather difficult to view them separately. In any case, they enrich and deepen the understanding of each other.

6. The aesthetics and philosophy, in his view, both aim to attain supreme bliss and freedom from the mundane. Along their journey towards that common goal, the two, at times, confluence as in a pilgrimage; interact or even interchange their positions.

Abhinava’s view, in a way, explains the thin and almost invisible dividing line between the sacred and profane art; religious and secular art; or between religion and art in the Indian context. 


8. The famous Rasa sutra or basic formula to invoke Rasa, as stated in the yasāstra, is : vibhāva anubhāva vyabbhicāri samyogāt rasa nispattih.

Vibhāva represents the causes, while Anubhāva is the manifestation or the performance of its effect communicated through the abhinaya.  The more important vibhāva and anubhāva are those that invoke the sthāyi bhāva, or the principle emotion at the moment of the performance. The Sthayibhava combines and transforms all other Bhavas ; and , make them one with it.

Thus, the Rasa sutra states that the Vibhāva, Anubhāva, and Sanchari or the Vyabhicāri bhāvas together (samyogād) produce Rasa (rasa nispattih).

[ Mammata says that vibhavas, anubhavas and vyabhicchari-bhavas are called so only in case of a drama or a poem. In the practical world , they are known simply as causes, effects and auxiliary causes respectively.

Karananyatha karyani sahakarini yani ca/ Ratyadeh sthayino loke tani cen natya-kavyayoh/ Vibhava anubhavasca kathyante vyabhiicarinah/ Vyakah sa tair vibhavadyaih sthayibhavo smrtah // (Kayaprakasha .4.27-28 ) ]

[ In the context of the Drama and Poetry , the  terms Vibhava, Anubhava, Sanchari, Sattvika and Sthayi are explained thus:

Vibhava, Vibhavah, Nimittam, and Hetu all are synonyms; they provide a cause through words, gestures and representations to manifest the intent (vibhava-yante); and the term Vibhavitam also stands for Vijnatam – to know vividly.  The Vibhavas are said to be of two kinds : Alambana,  the primary cause (kaarana) or the stimulant for the dominant emotion ; and , Uddipana  that which inflames and enhances the emotion caused by that  stimulant.

Anu’ is that which follows; and, Anubhava is the manifestation or giving expression the internal state caused by the VibhavaIt is Anubhava because it makes the spectators feel (anubhavyate)  or experience the effect of the acting (Abhinaya) by means of words, gestures and the sattva. Thus, the psychological states (Bhavas) combined with Vibhavas (cause) and Anubhavas (portrayal or manifestations) have been stated.

Vybhichari bhava or Sanchari Bhavas are  complimentary or transitory psychological states. Bharata mentions as many as thirty-three transitory psychological states that accompany the Sthayi Bhava, the dominant Bhava that causes Rasa.

The Sattvika Bhavas are reflex actions or involuntary bodily reactions to strong feelings or agitations that take place in ones mind. Sattvas are of eight kinds : Stambha (stunned and immobile); (Svedah sweating); Romanchaka (thrilled, hair-standing-on-end); Svara bedha (change in voice); Vipathuh (trembling); Vivarnyam (pale or colorless);  Asru ( breaking into tears); and, Pralaya ( fainting). These do help to  enhance the effect of the intended expression or state of mind (Bhava). 

The  Sthayi Bhavas  , the dominant Bhavas, which are most commonly found in all humans are said eight : Rati (love); Hasya (mirth); Sokha (sorrow); Krodha (anger); Utsahah (energy); Bhayam (fear); Jigupsa (disgust); andl Vismaya ( wonder).

Thus, the eight Sthāyi bhavās, thirty-three Vyabhicāri bhāvās together with eight Sātvika bhāvas, amount to forty-nine psychological states, excluding Vibhava   and Anubhava.

Bharata lists the eight Sthayibhavas as: Rati (love); Hasaa (mirth); Shoka (grief); Krodha  (anger); Utsaha (enthusiasm or exuberance) ; Bhaya (fear) ; Jigupsa (disgust)  ; and Vismaya (astonishment ).

rati-hāsaśca śokaśca krodho-utsāhau bhayaṃ tathā । jugupsā vismayaśceti sthāyibhāvāḥ prakīrtitāḥ ॥ 6. 17

And , each of these Sthayibhavas  gives rise to a Rasa. 

Rati  to Srngara Rasa; Haasa – Hasya; Shokha – Karuna; Krodha – Raudra ; Utsaha – Veera; Bhaya- Bhayajaka; Jigupsa  – Bhibhatsa; and, Vismaya – Adbhuta.

śṛṅgāra-hāsya-karuṇā-raudra-vīra-bhayānakāḥ।bībhatsā-adbhuta saṃjñau cetyaṣṭau nāṭye rasāḥ smṛtāḥ ॥ 6.15

The Eight Sattivikbhavas are; Stambhana (stunned into inaction); Sveda (sweating); Romancha (hair-standing on end in excitement); Svara-bheda (change of the voice or breaking of the voice); Vepathu (trembling); Vairarnya (change of color, pallor); Ashru (shedding tears); and, Pralaya  (fainting) .

stambhaḥ svedo’tha romāñcaḥ svarabhedo’tha vepathuḥ । vaivarṇyam-aśru pralaya ityaṣṭau sātvikāḥ smṛtāḥ ॥ 6.22॥

The Sanchari-bhavas  or Vybhichari-bhavas are enumerated as thirty in numbers; but, there is scope a few more. They are Nirveda (indifference); Glani (weakness or confusion); Shanka (apprehension or doubt); Asuya (envy or jealousy); Mada (haughtiness, pride), Shrama (fatigue); Alasya (tiredness or indolence), Dainya (meek, submissive), Chinta (worry , anxiety); Moha (excessive attachment , delusion), Smriti (awareness, recollection), Dhrti (steadfast ); Vrida (shame); Chapalata (greed ,inconsistency); Harsa (joy); Avega (thoughtless response, flurry); Garva (arrogance, haughtiness ); jadata (stupor, inaction ); Vishada (sorrow, despair); Autsuka (longing); Nidra (sleepiness); Apsamra (Epilepsy); Supta (dreaming), Vibodha (awakening); Amasara (indignation); Avahitta (dissimulation); Ugrata (ferocity), Mati (resolve); Vyadhi (sickness); Unmada (insanity); Marana (death); Trasa (terror);  and, Vitarka (trepidation).


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

Dhanika explain these Bhavas as follows-:

Vibhāva indicates the cause, while Anubhāva is the performance of the bhāva as communicated through the Abhinaya. The more important Vibhāva and Anubhāva are those that invoke the Sthāyi bhāva, or the principle emotion at the moment. Thus, the Rasa-sutra states that the Vibhāva, Anubhāva, and Vyabhicāri bhāvas together produce Rasa.

These Bhavas are expressed  by the performer with the help of speech (Vachika); gestures and actions (Angika) , and costumes etc., (Aharya).

The Āngika-abhinaya (fascial expressions, gestures/movement of the limbs) are of great importance, particularly in the dance. There are two types of basic Abhinayas:  Padārtha-abhinaya (when the artist delineates each word of the lyrics with gestures and expressions); and,   or Vākyārtha-abhinaya (where the dancer acts out an entire stanza or sentence). In either case, though the hands (hastha) play an important part, the Āngika-abhinaya involves  other body-parts , as well,  to express meaning of the lyrics , in full .

Here, the body is divided into three major parts – the Anga, Pratyanga and Upānga

1) The six Angās -: Siras (head); Hasta (hand); Vakshas (chest); Pārshva (sides); Kati-tata (hips); and, Pāda ( foot ). Some consider Grivā (neck) to be the seventh

2) The six Pratyangās -: Skandha (shoulders ); Bāhu (arms); Prusta (back); Udara (stomatch); Uru (thighs); Janghā (shanks).Some consider Manibandha (wrist); Kurpara (elbows) and Jānu (knees) also as Pratyanga

3) The twelve Upāngās or minor parts of the head or face which are important for facial expression.-: Druṣṭi (eyes) Bhrū (eye-brows); Puta (pupil); Kapota (cheek); Nāsikā (nose); Adhara (lower lip); Ostya (upper lip);  Danta (teeth);  Jihva ( tongue) etc,. ]


It is explained; they are called Bhavas because they happen (Bhavanti), they cause or bring about (Bhavitam);  and, are felt (bhava-vanti). Bhava is the cause bhavitam, vasitam, krtam are synonyms. It means to cause or to pervade. These Bhavas  help to bring about (Bhavayanti) the Rasas to the state of enjoyment. That is to say : the Bhavas manifest  or give expression  to the states of emotions – such as pain or pleasure- being experienced by the character – Sukha duhkha dikair bhavalr bhavas tad bhava bhavanam//4.5//

Bharata explains they are called  Bhavas because they effectively bring out the dominant sentiment of the play – that is the Sthāyibhāvā – with the aid of various supporting expressions , such as words (Vachika),  gestures (Angika), costumes (Aharya) and bodily reflexes (Sattva) – for the enjoyment of the good-hearted spectator (sumanasaḥ prekṣakāḥ) . Then it is called the Rasa of the scene (tasmān nāṭya rasā ity abhivyākhyātāḥ).

Nānā bhāvā abhinaya vyañjitān vāg aṅga sattopetān / Sthāyibhāvān āsvādayanti sumanasaḥ prekṣakāḥ / harṣādīṃś cā adhigacchanti tasmān nāṭya rasā ity abhivyākhyātāḥ //6.31//

The terms Samyoga and Nispatti  are at the center of all discussions concerning Rasa.

Bharata used the term Samyogad in his Rasa sutra (tatra vibhāvā-anubhāva vyabhicāri sayogād rasa nipatti ), to indicate the need to combine these Bhavas properly. It is explained;  what is meant here is  not the combination of the Bhavas among themselves; but, it is their alignment with the Sthayibhava the dominant emotion at that juncture. It is only when the Vibhava ( cause or Hetu), Anubhava ( manifestation or expression and sancharibhava  ( transitory moods ) as also  the Sattvas ( reflexes)   meaningfully unite with  the Sthayibhava, that the right , pleasurable , Rasa is projected (Rasapurna). 

The Sthayi bhava and Sanchari bhava cannot be realized without a credible cause i.e., Vibhava , and its due representations i.e., Anubhava. The Vibhavas and Anubhavas as also Sattva, on their own, have no relevance unless they are properly combined with the dominant Sthayibhava and the transient Sanchari bhava.

That is to say; it is only when  the Sthayi bhava combines all these through Sanchari bhava , and transforms them  eventually  Rasa could be produced ; else, the Vibhava and Anubhava  etc., on their own  are of  no value.

Bharata uses the term  Nispatthi (rendering) for realization of the Rasa in the heart  and mind of the Sahardya.

[Bharata made a distinction between Rasa and Sthayin. He discussed eight Rasas and eight Sthayins separately in his text.

He also omitted to mention  Sthayin in his Rasa-sutra. But, he asserted that only Sthayins attain the state of Rasa.  And in the discussion on the Sthayins , Bharata elaborated how these durable mental states attain Rasatva .]

Dhananjaya also explains that such desired Rasa results only when the Sthayin produces a pleasurable sensation by combining the Vibhavas, Anubhavas and the Sattvikas; as also the Sanchari Bhavas

vibhavair anubhavais ca sattvikair vyabhicaribhih aniyamanah svadyatvam sthayi bhavo rasah smrtah//

Bharatha explains: when the nature of the world possessing pleasure and pain both is depicted by means of representations through speech, songs, gestures , music and other (such as, costume, makeup, ornaments etc ) it is called Natya. (NS 1.119)

yo’ya  svabhāvo lokasya sukha dukha samanvita som gādya abhinaya ityopeto nātyam ity abhidhīyate  1.119


Dhanajaya  explains Natya as an art form that is based in Rasa – Natyam rasam-ashrayam (DR.I. 9). It gives expressions to the inner or true meaning of the lyrics through dance gestures – vakyartha-abhinayatmaka

Natyashastra (6.10) provides a comprehensive framework of the Natya, in a pellet form, as the harmonious combination (sagraha) of the various essential components that contribute towards the successful production of a play.

Rasā bhāvā hya abhinayā dharmī vtti pravttaya siddhi svarās tathā atodya gāna ragaśca sagraha 6.10

The successful production (Siddhi) of a play enacted on the stage (Ranga) with the object of arousing joy (Rasa) in the hearts of the spectators involves  various  elements of the components of  the actors’ gestures, actions (bhava) and speech ; bringing forth (abhinaya) their intent, through the medium of  theatrical ( natya dharmi) and common (Loka dharmi) practices; in four styles of representations (Vritti-s) in their four regional variations (pravrttis) ; with the aid of  melodious songs  accompanied by  instrumental music (svara-gana-adyota).

The Naṭyashastra asserts that the goal of any art form is to invoke Rasa, the aesthetic enjoyment of the cultured spectator (sumanasaḥ prekṣakāḥ or Sahrudaya) . And, such enjoyment has got to be an emotional or an intellectual experience : Na rasanāvyāpāra āsvādanam,api tu mānasa eva ( N.S ,6.33)

Abhinava begins by explaining his view of aesthetics and its nature. Then goes on to state how that aesthetic experience is created. During the process, he comments on Bharata’s concepts and categories of Rasa and Sthayibhava, the dominant emotive states , and of Sattvika , the involuntary bodily reflexes He also examines Bharata’s other concepts of Vibhava, Anubhava and vyabhichari (Sanchari) bhavas and their subcategories Uddipana (stimulantand Aalambana (ancillaries).

Abhinava examines these concepts in the light of Shaiva philosophyand explains the process of One becoming many and returning to the state of repose (vishranthi). [I would not be discussing here most of those concepts.]

For Abhinavagupta, soaked in sublime principles of Shaiva Siddantha, the aesthetic experience is Ananda the unique bliss.He regards such aesthetic experience as different from any ordinary experience; and, as a subjective realization. It is Alukika (out of the ordinary world), he said, and is akin to mystic experience. That experience occurs in a flash as of a lightening; it is a Chamatkara. It is free from earthly limitations and is self luminous (svaprakasha). It is Ananda.

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

[The scholars , Ramachandra and Gunachandra , the authors of Natyadarpana  (12th century), argued against such ‘impractical’ suppositions.  They pointed out that Rasa, in a drama,  is after-all  Laukika ( worldly , day-to-day experience); it   is   a mixture of pain and pleasure (sukha-dukka-atmako-rasah) ; and , it is NOT always pleasurable (Ananadatmaka) . They argued ,  such every-day experience  cannot  in any manner   be Chamatkara or A-laukika (out of the world) ecstasy comparable to Brahmananda etc.

They pointed out that the reader or the spectator enjoys reading poetry or witnessing a Drama not because he relishes pain or horror; but, because he appreciates the art and skill of the poet or the actors in portraying varied emotions  so effectively. One should not take a simplistic view ; and, be deceived by unrealistic suppositions; pain is ever a pain 

But, their views did not find favor with the scholars of the Alamkara School ; and, it was eventually, overshadowed  by the writings of the stalwarts like Abhinavagupta, Anandavardhana, Mammata, Hemachandra , Visvanatha and Jagannatha Pandita.]


Let’s talk a little more about rasa.

9. Rasa–roughly translated as artistic enjoyment or emotive aesthetics –is one of the most important concepts in classical Indian aesthetics, having pervasive influence in theories of painting, sculpture, dance, poetry and drama. It is hard to find a corresponding term in the English language. In its aesthetic employment, the word rasa has been translated as mood, emotional tone, or sentiment or more literally, as flavour, taste, or juice.

The chapters VI and VII in Bharata’s Natyasastra have been the mainstay of the Rasa concept in all traditional literature, dance and theater arts in India. Bharata says that which can be relished (āsvādana, rasanā) – like the taste of food – is Rasa –Rasyate anena iti rasaha (asvadayatva) .Though the term is associated with palate, it is equally well applicable to the delight afforded by all forms of art; and the pleasure that people derive from their art experience. It is literally the activity of savoring an emotion in its full flavor. The term might also be taken to mean the essence of human feelings.

If Rasa is that which can be tasted or enjoyed; then Rasika is the connoisseur.

The Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara purana  says,” Anything be it beautiful or ugly, dignified or despicable, dreadful or of a pleasing appearance, deep or deformed, object or non-object, whatever it be, could be transformed in to rasa by poets’ imagination and skill ”

10. Bharata, initially, names four Rasas (Srngara, Raudra, Vira and Bhibhatsa) as primary; and, the other four as being  dependent upon them . That is to say that the primary Rasas, which represent the dominant mental states of humans, are the cause or the source for the production of the other four Rasas.

Bharata pairs each of these principal Rasas with a specific subsidiary: Sṛṅgāra with Hāsya; Raudra with Karua (pathos); Vīra with Adbhuta (wonder); and, Bībhatsa with Bhayānaka (terror).

Bharata explains that Hasya (mirth) arises from Srngara (delightful) ; Karuna (pathos) from Raudra (furious); Adbhuta (wonder or marvel) from the Vira (heroic);  and, Bhayanaka (fearsome or terrible) from Bhibhatsa (odious).

śṛṅgārādhi bhaved hāsyo raudrā cca karuṇo rasaḥ vīrā ccaivā adbhuto utpattir bībhatsā cca bhayānakaḥ  6.39

It is explained;  each of these pairs exemplifies a different mode of ‘causation’ that may, in reality, be generalized to all our emotions.

Hāsya would be the natural result of the ‘semblance’ (ābhāsa) of any emotion; Karua exemplifies those evoked by the real-life consequences of the same actions that evoke the principal emotion (destructive anger); Adbhuta typifies the class of those directly evoked in onlookers by the very actions that evoke the primary Rasa (admiring the exemplary feats accomplished against all odds, instead of simply identifying ourselves with the hero);  and Bhayānaka the possibility of two different emotions being occasioned by the same cause.


The publication of Abhinavabharati brought in to focus and opened up a whole new debate on Bharata’s theories on Rasa the aesthetic experience.

But, Abhinavagupta in his Abhinavadharati does not entirely agree with Bharata. He accepts that each Rasa , in its own manner provides pleasure to the spectators. But, he wonders , how could the basic four Rasas give raise to the other four. The Rasa that mimics (anukrti) the original could, at best, might be a semblance; but,  it cannot be the same as the original. Further, he remarks, it is hard to believe that Raudra (ferocious) would cause a sense of Karuna (pity or compassion) in the heart of the spectator. Actually, he says, when the spectator is witnessing Raudra, he is enjoying the fury and ferocious aspect of the action.

Abhinava did however accept the eight Rasas identified Bharata as corresponding to fundamental  human feelings, such as : delight, laughter, sorrow, anger, energy, fear, disgust, heroism, and astonishment. These Rasas comprise the components of aesthetic experience. A Rasa , thus denotes an essential mental state or the primary feeling that is evoked in the person who  reads or listens or views a work of art.

srungāra hāsya karuna–raudra vīra bhayānakah Bibhatsā adbhuta sangjñaucetyastau nātye rasāh smrutāh //NS.6.15//

Abhinavagupta interpreted Rasa as a “stream of consciousness”.  He then went on to expand the scope and content of the Rasa spectrum by adding the ninth Rasa: and, establishing the Shantha rasa, the Rasa  of tranquility and peace.

[ It needs to be mentioned, here, that Abhinavagupta was not the first to speculate on the Shantha-rasa. For instance; much earlier to his time, Udbhata (8th-9th century), another scholar from Kashmir, in his Kavya-alankara-vivrti was said to have introduced Shantha Rasa. After prolonged debates, spread over several texts across two centuries, Shantha was accepted as an addition to the original eight Rasas.

There is an interesting sidelight:

According to Dr. VM Kulkarni (Some Unconventional Views on Rasa), the Anu-yoga-dvara-sutra  (Ca.3rd century), one of the sacred texts of the Svetambara Jains ( as also one of the oldest canonical literature on mathematics) , lists nine types of Kavya-rasas, as  : Vira, Srngara, Adbhuta, Raudra, Vridanaka, Bhibhatsa, Hasya, Karuna and Prashantha  .

The enumeration of the Rasas, as also the explanations offered thereon by the Anu-yoga-dvara-sutra, in many ways, differ from those in Bharata’s Natyashastra.  Here, not only the sequence in listing of Rasas is altered; but also, it excludes the Bhayanaka-rasa, which is replaced by Vridanaka –rasa. Further it, extends Bharata’s list by adding Prashantha (same as Shantha) as the ninth Rasa.

Hemachandra  Suri  (late 11th century) , another Jain scholar and author of Kavya-anushasana, a work on poetics,  explains that Vira , here, is the first , the best  and the noblest of all Rasas , as it stands for Tyga-vira ( magnanimity in  renunciation ) and Tapo-vira ( excellence in austerities) , which are much superior to Yuddha-vira ( heroics in a battle), which basically is cruelty ,  causing injury to others (paropaghata).

The Vridanaka rasa (modesty)  whose Sthayi-bhava is Vrida or Lajja ( shyness, bashfulness ) is illustrated by the love and reverence that aged parents show towards  the newly wedded bride who steps into their home , which causes a sense of shyness and gratefulness in the heart of the bride.

The Anu-yoga-dvara-sutra (3rd century or earlier), which pre-dates Abhinavaguta (11th century) by several centuries, is perhaps the earliest text that recognizes Prashantha (Shantha) as a Rasa ; and , lists it as   the ninth Rasa. Prashantha is described , here, as a Rasa characterized by Sama (tranquility) which arises from composure of the mind divested of all Vikaras (aberrations or passions) . As an illustration of Prashantha , it cites the lotus-like glowing  face of a Jina , adorned  with calm eyes, gentle smile, unaffected  by passions like anger, attachment, fear etc.

It is very unlikely that either Udbhata or Abhinavagupta had come across the  third century Jaina-text Anu-yoga-dvara-sutra ; and  its explanations of Shantha-rasa .] 


Abhinava explained that Shantha Rasa underlies all the other mundane Rasas as their common denominator (Sthayin). Shantha Rasa is a state where the mind is at rest, in a state of tranquility. The other Bhavas are more transitory  (sancharin) in character than is Shanta rasa.  For instance ; one cannot be either angry , amorous, fearsome or humorous all the time . Those are the moods or the responses to varying situations (Sanchari ). The mental states, Rati etc., do change. But, Shanta  , the undisturbed tranquility is your basic state; and , it is a permanent state – Nitya Prakrti.  It is from Shanta  all the other Rasas emanate ;  and , it is into Shanta they all resolve back. Shanta Rasa is the ultimate Rasa , the summum bonum.

Abhinava considered Shantha Rasa (peace, tranquility) – where there is no duality of sorrow or happiness; or of hatred or envy;  and, where there is equanimity towards all beings –  as being not merely an additional Rasa;  but, as the highest virtue of all Rasas. It is one attribute, he said, that permeates all else; and, in to which everything else moves back to reside (hridaya_vishranthi). 

na yatra duḥkhaṃ na sukhaṃ na dveṣo nāpi matsaraḥ । samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu sa śāntaḥ prathito rasaḥ ॥

Following Abhinavagupta, the theory of Nine-Rasas, the Navarasa, became universally acceptable in all branches of Indian aesthetics. And, shantha rasa has come to be regarded as the Rasa of Rasas. Even Ramachandra and Gunachandra (authors of Natya-Darpana) accepted Shantha as the ninth Rasa; but, remarked that there could be more number of Rasas than mere nine . They pointed out that  emotional states such as Sukha, Dukkha, Sneha , Laulya etc., could also be treated as Rasas.  Likewise; Rudrata added Preyas (with Sneha as the dominant state) ; Raja Bhoja added Vatsalya; others added Bhakthi; and, Visvesvara added Maya (with mithya-jnana as the dominant state). Thus, in a way of speaking, Rasas are virtually countless. 

However, the question whether Shanta Rasa is fit for stage; and, whether a Sthayi-bhava, Anubhava, Sanchari and Sattvika can be aligned to Shanta Rasa is a subject of endless debate since the eighth century.  Some , particularly Dhananjaya  (DR.4.35) and Dhanika, argued that Shanta Rasa can occur in kavya ; but , it cannot occur in Nataka, as it is not possible to enact it on stage. They even crticized inclusion of Sama among the Sthayibhavas . It was pointed out that it is impossible to enact Shama which is complete stoppage of all action; and, in fact ,it  has no connection with acting .  They , therefore, claimed that Shanta Rasa is not fit to be depicted in drama.

As against that, Abhinavagupta and others of his School argued strongly and rejected such objections.

They pointed out that if other Sthayins can be presented as Rasa, then Sama ( equanimity)  and desire for tattva-jnana  (philosophical knowledge) can also be turned into Rasa.

And, as if to rebut the objections raised by Dhananjaya and others ,  Mammata  ( 12thcentury),  a follower of Abhinavagupta, in his  Kavyaprakasha ,  describing the characteristics of the Shanta Rasa , states : Shantha-rasa is to be known from that which arises from the desire to attain liberation, which leads to the knowledge of the Truth ; and Truth is just another name  for knowledge of the ever blissful  Self (Atma-jnana), the highest happiness. The realization that Truth alone is the means to attain liberation (mokha-pravartakaa) is the Sthayi-bhava of Shantha. Its nature is different from that of other Sthayi-bhavas, like Rati etc., which are transitory, as they arise and disappear from time to time.

The virtues such as Nirveda (dispassion), Tattva-jnana (philosophical knowledge) and Vairagya (renunciation) are its Vibhavas. Its Anubhavas (manifestations) are the practices of Yama (self-control), Niyama (self-regulation), Adyathma  (spiritual outlook),  Dhyana  (meditation),  and Dharana (rooted in the self).  And , its  Sanchari  Bhavas  (passing moods) are  Nirveda  (world-weariness),  Smrti  (awareness), Dhriti  (steadfast),  unperturbed ( no romancha) ; and,  Sthamba  (unwavering mind).

Nirveda can be both sthayi-bhava and vyabhichari-bhava. When it is born of tatvajnana, it is permanent; and , is the sthayibhava of Shanta-rasa. Otherwise, it is only a vyabhichari-bhava.]

Further, they pointed out and argued,  if Shanta can be portrayed in poetry, why not in Drama , which is also a form of poetry (Drishya Kavya). A virtuoso, an expert actor, can create any Sthayi and present any delectable Rasa. And, therefore, the Shanta rasa can also be enjoyed as an aesthetic experience by the spectators in a drama. If it is said that Shanta cannot be enjoyed by all, then the other Rasa such a Roudra , Bhibathsa and Bhayanaka  cannot also be enjoyed by all. We cannot deny Shanta just because it is not portrayed more often. In the plays depicting the lives of saints who try to attain self-realization or liberation (Moksha) as also  the lives of other noble persons ( say, like the hero in  the play Nagananda), the  Shanta Rasa should be the dominant Rasa. The other instance of such successful presentation is  the role of Buddha in the dramas. Similar is the case with  the Natakas like Prabodhachandrodaya  and Sankalpasuryodaya .

Abinavagupta also said  that the philosophical outlook  and knowledge (Tattva-jnana) and the desire or liberation (mumukshatva) is the means to liberation (Mokska). When such intense desire for Atma-jnana (realization of the self) is presented as the hero’s object of attainment (phala-yoga) ), the Shanta has to be most suitable Rasa.

Further, Abhinavagupta mentioned Bhakti as an important component of the Shantha Rasa. Following which, the later poetic traditions reckoned Bhakthi (devotion) and Vathsalya (affection) as being among the Navarasa. The magnificent Epic Srimad Bhagavatha was hailed as the classic example of portrayal of Bhakthi, Vathsalya, and Shantha rasas. The poets and the divine inspired singers, notably after 11th century, provided a tremendous impetus to the Bhakthi movement.

white lotus

11. Rasa is conveyed to the enjoyer– the Rasika or Sahrudaya – through words, music, colors, forms, bodily expressions, gestures etc. These modes of expressions are called Bhavas. For example, in order for the audience to experience Srngara (the erotic rasa), the playwright, actors and musician work together employing appropriate words, music, gestures and props to produce the Bhava called Rati (love).

The term Bhava means both existence and a mental state; and, in aesthetic contexts it has been variously translated as feelings, psychological states, and emotions. In the context of the drama, they are the emotions represented in the performance.

According to Bharata, the playwright experiences a certain emotion, which then is expressed on the stage by the performers through words, music, gestures and actions. The portrayal of emotions is termed bhavasRasa, in contrast, is the emotional response that is inspired in the spectator. Rasa , thus, is an aesthetically transformed emotional state experienced, with enjoyment, by the spectator.

Bharata accepted Rasa as the essence of a dramatic production; and it is the ultimate test of its success. And, in the Sixth Chapter of Natyashastra, he states that While the Rasas are created by Bhavas, the Bhavas by themselves carry no meaning in the absence of Rasa  . It is from the combinations of Bhavas that the Rasa emerges; and, not the other way.  In the prose-passage following the verse thirty-one of Chapter six , Bharata commences his exposition of Rasa , saying : I shall  first explain Rasa; and, no sense or meaning proceeds without Rasa (Na hi rasa-adrate kaschid-arthah pravartate). The forms and manifestations  of the Bhavas are defined by the Rasa.

12. Abhinavagupta argues that a play could be a judicious mix of several rasas, but should be dominated by one single rasa that defines the tone and texture of the play. He cites Nagananda of Sri Harsha and explains though the play had to deal with the horrific killing of the hapless Nagas; it underplays scenes of violence, and radiates the message of peaceful coexistence and compassion. It is that aesthetic experience of peace and compassion towards the fellow beings that the spectator carries home.

Similarly, Abhinava explains, a character in the play might display several Bhavas ; but, its inner core or essence is meant to convey a single dominant RasaHe also says there is one main Rasa (Maha rasa) in which other Rasas appear as shades

 [Dhananjaya , in his Dasarupaka  said : 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

But, Abhinava  , does not mention any such restrictions.]

The varying  Anubhavas – the modes of expressions, the facial and bodily gestures; the passing moods (Sancharin), as also involuntary reflexes ( sattvika)  – would be colored or delineated by the enduring Bhava (Sthayin) relating to the intended dominant the Rasa that is meant to be conveyed to the spectator (prekshaka) .

For instance, Rama is regarded the personification of grace, dignity, courage and valor. He projects a sense of peace and nobility . That does not mean Rama should perpetually be looking dull and stiff like a starched scarf. He too has his moments of humor, anger, frustration, rage, helplessness, sorrow, dejection and even boredom. The modes of expression of those emotions (Anubhava and sanchari bhavas) through his gesture and words are meant  to contribute to the overall Sthayi-bhava that Rama conveys , leading to  the Shantha Rasa. Therefore , his smile is gentle and beatific, his laugh is like peels of temple bells, his love is graceful , he does not lose composure while in sorrow , his anger is like a white-hot flame with no smoke of haltered, and his treatment of the enemy is dignified and has an undercurrent of compassion.

While in the portrayal of Ravana, the smile is sardonic, the laughter is bellowing and thunderous , the expressions of love are heavily tinted with greed and passion, his anger is grotesque and full of hate, his treatment of his followers is laced with contempt , he is intolerant of any dissent and shows no mercy to the vanquished. Raudra, the fearsome aspect is conveyed through the combination of the Anubhavas , the sanchari bhavas and the sattvika , that are appropriate to his character 

The gestures ( Anubhavas and Sanchari Bhavas, as also Sattvika ) – smile, laughter, love, anger and other reflex action  etc., – in either case are the similar; but, the manner they are enacted, the personality they radiate and the character they help to portray are different. But all such bhavas , combining into a Sthayi Bhava, contribute to conveying the intended Rasa.

[ In this context , he talks about the relation between the Bhava and the Rasa. He says : when Rati (love)  is expressed towards  god , then the suggested mood (Bhava) is called  Bhakthi  .  Similar is the case with regard to love shown towards muni (sage) , guru (teacher), nrupa (king), putra (son) etc. When that  love is suggested or expressed towards  a beloved  (kantha), it is termed as Srngara- rasa

(Rati-devadi vishaya vyabhichari tathanjitha  Bhavah proktaha / yadi sabdan muni-Guru-nrupa-putradi vishayaha , kantha vishayasthu vyakta Srungaraha )

Then he talks about misplaced or inappropriate (anauchitya) expressions such the Bhavas  leading to aberration or their improper manifestations  : Rasa-Abhaasa or Bhava Abhaasa .

For instance ; Rati or Srngara towards  another man’s wife (upanayika) – Ravana; Hasya , humor  or  fun  or ridicule directed against a Guru ; Raudra or Vira , anger,  against one’s own parents ; and, projecting Bhayanaka  or horror in a noble hero like Rama – are all considered as Abhaasa , aberrations..

 Tad abhasa anuchitya pravarthitaha / tadbhasa rasa-abhasa, bhava-abhasa uctyate/  ]

Dhanajaya , therefore , says that  when Sthayin is brought out by means of  authentic Vibhava, Anubhava, Sattvika and Vyabhicharin ;  the resultant produce is enjoyed by the spectator; and, it is then Rasa.

It is therefore said, Bhava is that which becomes (bhoo, bhav, i.e., to become); and Bhava becomes Rasa. And, it is not the other way. Rasa is the essence of art  that is conveyed.


13. Abhinava makes a distinction between the world of drama  (Nātyadharmī) and the real but ordinary life (Lokadharmī). In the artistic process, where presentations are  made with the aid of various kinds of dramatic features such as Abhinayas and  synthetic creations  ,  we are moving from the gross  and un-stylized movements of  daily life to more subtle forms of expressions and experiences; we move from individualized experiences to general representations (sadharani-karana); and from multiplicity to unity (aneka-eka).

Among the primary emotions, anger (krodha), sorrow (śhoka), disgust (jigupsā), and fear (bhaya) are painful; whereas , love (rati), enthusiasm (utsāha), surprise (vismaya), and laughter (hāsa) are pleasant.

Abhinava analyzes each in turn to demonstrate how the pleasurable emotions necessarily contain elements of pain and vice-versa

He says that the feeling that might cause pain in real life is capable of providing pleasure in an art form. He explains, while viewing a performance on stage one might appreciate and enjoy the display of sorrow, separation, cruelty, violence and even the grotesque; and one may even relish it as aesthetic experience. But, in real life no one would like to be associated with such experiences.

[ Natyadarpana of the Jain scholars Ramachandra and Gunachandra (12th century), however, refute Abhinavagupta’s position that all Rasas are always pleasurable (Ananadatmaka). They, instead, point out that each Rasa, in its wake, brings its own pleasure and pain as well (sukha-dukkha-atmaka). They call attention to the fact that the four Rasas –Karuna, Raudra, Bhayanaka and Bhibhatsa – do cause indescribable pain to the Sahrudayas; and, those gentlefolk simply shudder when they are made to watch horrific scenes, such as the abduction of Sita or the disrobing of Draupadi in an open court.  

Similar views were expressed by Siddhichandra in his Kavya-prakasha-khandana.]


According to Abhinavagupta, a true connoisseur of arts has to learn to detach the work of art from its surroundings and happenings; and view it independently (svātantrya) .

He asserts, the “willful suspension of disbelief” (Artha-kriyākāritva) is a pre-requisite for a receptive spectator to  enjoy any art expression. The moment one starts questioning it or doubting it and looking at it objectively; the experience loses  its aesthetic charm; and, it becomes same as a mundane object.

One enjoys a play only when one can identify the character as character from the drama and not as ones friend or associate. The spectator should also learn to disassociate the actor from the character he portrays.

The Hero and Heroine  in a play are just portraying the roles assigned  to them, as best as they can. In other words; they are trying to convey certain states of emotions and the sate of being of the character-roles they are playing . They are like a pot (patra) or receptacle, which carries the emotional state of primary (real) role to the spectator. The actor merely  serves as a vessel or  a receptacle or a means of serving relish (Asvadana) ; and, that is the reason, a role is called a Patra.

The characters on the stage represent the real role ; but , are not the real ones; and, they do not completely identify themselves with the original. Hence, the Vibhava is like a cause; but, not an exact cause. The performance, the acting by the hero, heroine and other characters in a play is Anubhava, one of the several ways of bringing out the emotional states of the characters they are playing out on the stage. Such Anubhava could be called as ensuing responses.

The hero or heroines in a play don’t become the lover and beloved in real life. They understand and accept here, what their their roles are; and, try to show what might be the emotional experiences of the character , and its reactions to the given situation  . The actors  try to  resemble the character , for few hours of the play ; and, act on the stage accordingly, through which the spectators understand , grasp and enjoy  the emotional states in the play. The act of the lovers on stage is  essentially  a ‘third person’ experience

While our hearts resonate (hdaya-spanda) with the presentations of the dramatis personae, our focus is centered on understanding (tanmayī-bhavana) the interactions going on the stage . Abhinavagupta  observes that the theatrical experience is quite unlike the experience in the mundane and the real world; it is Alaukika – out of the world.

In summary; he draws a theory that the artistic creation is the expression of a feeling that is freed from localized distinctions; it is the generalization (sadharanikarana)  of a particular feeling. It comes into being through the creative genius (prathibha) of the artist. It finally bears fruit in the spectator who derives Ananda, the joy of aesthetic experience. That, he says, is Rasa – the ultimate emotional experience created in the heart of the Sahrudaya. 

He illustrates his position through the analogy of a tree and its fruit. Here, the play is the tree; performance is the flower; and spectator’s experience .

Rasa, the relish (Asvada) by the spectator, is the ultimate product (phala) of a dramatic performance, as that of a fruit borne by a tree :  “the play is born in the heart of the poet; it flowers as it were in the actor; and, it bears fruit in the delight (ananda) experienced by the spectator.” .. ”And, if the artist or poet has inner force of creative intuition (prathibha)…that should elevate the spectator to blissful state of pure joy Ananda.”

According to Abhinavagupta, the object of the entire exercise is to provide pure joy to the spectator. Without his participation all art expressions are pointless.

Thus, he brought the spectator from the edge of the stage into the very heart of the dramatic  performance and its experience.


14. There is a very interesting discussion about the progression in the development of a character, from the playwright’s desk (or even prior) to the theatrical stage. . Abhinava discusses the arguments, in this regard, of his predecessors (such as Sankuka, Lollota, and Bhattanayaka) and then puts forth his own views.

Let’s, for instance, take a character from history or mythology (say, Rama). No one, really, was privy to the mental process of that person. Yet, the playwright tries to grasp the essence of the character; and, strives to give a concrete form to the abstract idea of Rama, in his own way. The director, the sutradara, tries to interpret the spirit and substance of the play, and the intentions of the playwright, as he understands it. The actor in turn absorbs the inputs provided by both the playwright and the director. In addition, the actor brings in his own creative genius, skill, his experience on the stage, and his own understanding of the character in order to recreate the “idea” of Rama. All the while, the actor is also aware that he is just an actor on stage trying to portray a character. 

The actor’s emotional experience while enacting the character might possibly be similar to what the playwright and /or the director had visualized; but it certainly would not  be identical.

The actor as a true connoisseur and a skilled performer has an identity of his own; he does not merely imitate (anukarana) the character as if he were its mold (paratikrirti); but, he projects the possible responses of the character (anukirtana) to the situations depicted in the play-text (paatya), in his own way, through the portals of the character’s stated disposition (bhava) and its essential nature (svabhava) , as he has understands it (aropita-svarupa).

What is presented on stage is the amalgam, in varying proportions, of experiences and impressions derived from diverse sources.  The actor’s inspiration finds its roots in several soils. His performance on stage, thus, resembles the mythical inverted tree, with its roots in the sky and its branches spreading down towards the earth. Its roots are invisible. But, its branches and leaves spreading down in vivid forms are very alive; and, the fruits they bear are within our experience.

We see the actors on the stage; and applaud their performance. But, the whole of the dramatic production and display is the fruit (siddhi, phala) of the collective participation of all those involved with it; and, bringing it to us alive. They are like the extensions of the roots, branches, and leaves. The actors on the stage are like the, flowers and fruits, ever green, tender and fresh, inviting us to partake and enjoy. What is witnessed is the fulfillment or the fruits of the dedication and efforts of many – seen and unseen.

In so far as the spectator is concerned, he, of course, would not be aware of the contributions of either the playwright or the director or the supporting technicians; or even of the mental process of the actor in producing the artistic creation. His experience is derived, entirely, from the performance presented on the stage.

Further, there is absolutely  no way an actor or a spectator could feel and experience in exactly the same way as the “original “- on whom the character was modeled. The spectator does not obviously receive the original; instead he infers from the forms of created artistic-imitations of the original presented on the stage, sieved through the combined efforts and experiences of the playwright, the director and the actor.

Abhinava remarks, the question whether the idea of the character as received by the spectator through the performance on the stage , was identical to its “original “ historical personage, is not quite relevant. What matters, he says, is the emotional experience (rasa) inspired in the shahrudaya the goodhearted – cultured spectator. How did it impact him? That, in fact, is the essence and fulfilment of any art.

Another illustration discussed in this context is that of Chitra_turaga, a pictorial horse. Abhinava said he got it from his predecessor Sri Sankuka .  He had said: about a painted horse we can say that it is a horse and it is not a horse; and, from  the aesthetic point of view, it is real and unreal. Thus , a  painting of a horse is not a horse; but, it is an idea or the representation of a horse. One doesn’t mistake the painting for the horse. The artistic creation though not real can arouse in the mind of the spectator, the experience of the original object. Art cannot reproduce all the qualities of the original subject. The process of artistic creation is, therefore, inferential and indirect; rather than direct perception.

Mammata, a eleventh century Kashmiri aesthete, endorsed Abhinava’s views by stressing that the object in art is a virtual and not physical.

Bhattauta, another scholar from Kashmir, in his treatise called Kavya Kautuka, alo says that a dramatic presentation is not a mere physical occurrence. In witnessing a play we forget the actual perpetual experience of the individuals on the stage. The past impressions, memories, associations etc. become connected with the present experience. As a result, a new experience is created and this provides new types of pleasure and pains. This is technically known as ‘Aesthetic rapture’ (camatkāra) – rasvadana, camatkara, carvana.

Anandvardhan extended the scope of Rasa to  literature. He combines Rasa with his Dhvani theory. According to him, Dhvani is the technique of expression; and, Rasa stands for the ultimate enjoyment of poetry or drama. Suggestion (Dhvani) in abstraction does not have any relevance in an art. The suggested meaning has to be charming and it is the Rasa element which is the ultimate source of charm in drama and poetry.

A very attractive  form of ‘suggestion’ (Dhvani) is said to be when  the poem is dramatized (yāyita) by the creative imagination (bhāvakatva) so that all the signifying elements of sound, syntax, rhythm, rhyme, intonation, context and composite sense  come alive and converge on the evocation of Rasa as the  primary meaning  (Mukhyā-artha).

According to Abhinavagupta a real work of art, in addition to possessing emotive charge carries a strong sense of suggestion and the potential to produce various meanings. It can communicate through suggestions and evoke layers of meanings and emotions.

Mammaa says the simple statement “the sun sets,” can, in real life, suggest a virtually unlimited number of meanings to different listeners.


Abhinavgupta talks about Sadharanikarana, the generalization. He points out that while enjoying the aesthetic experience, the mind of the spectator is liberated from the obstacles caused by the ego and other disturbances. Thus transported from the limited to the realm of the general and universal, we are capable of experiencing Nirvada, or blissfulness. In such aesthetic process, we are transported to a trans-personal level. This is a process of de-individual or universalization – the Sadharanikarana.

[Anandavardhana says, the sorrow (soka) of the First Poet, which arose out of the separation of the couple of the krauncha birds, took the form of a verse (sloka).

Kavyasyatma sa evarthas tatha cadikaveh pura/ Kraunca dvandva viyogottha sokah slokatvamagatah (Dhyanyaloka.1.5)

Abhinavgupta explains; the soka which took the form of sloka is the sthayibhava of karunarasa that was experienced by the Adi Kavi Valmiki. And, that sorrow is not to be taken merely as the personal sorrow of the sage-poet (na tu muneh soka iti mantavyam ); but , it belongs to the muni and the bird alike; and, indeed, it is also the generalized (sadharinikarana) or the universal form of sorrow that is experienced and relished by the aesthetes (sahrudaya) of all the generations.]

A true aesthetic object, Abhinava declares, not merely stimulates the senses but also ignites the imagination of the viewer. With that, the spectator is transported to a world of his own creation. That experience sets the individual free from the confines of place, time and ego (self); and elevates him to the level of universal experience.  It is liberating experience. Thus art is not mundane; it is Alaukika in its nature.


Please also read Bharata’s Natyasastra -some reflections

Bharata: The Natyasastra by Kapila Vatsayan

Introduction to Bharata’s Natyasastra by Adya Rangacharya

 A glimpse into Abhinavagupta’s ideas on aesthetics by Geetika Kaw Kher



Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Abhinavagupta, Natya, Sanskrit


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