[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.]
Can Kavya be defined?
The beginning of Sanskrit Kavya is, usually, illustrated by a dramatic moment when the first poet Adi Kavi Valmiki was impulsively provoked to cry out in anguish, as he watched a hunter strike down one of the sweet-voiced Krauncha pair. The scene occurs in the verses [1-2-9 to 16] of the Second Sarga (chapter) of the First Book (Kanda) – Balakanda of Ramayana.
Two cries are uttered: first, the piteous wailing cry of the bird (karuna gir) on seeing her mate struck down , and withering on the ground covered with blood; and, the second, the cry of the sage , stricken with grief on seeing the Kraunca hen scream in pain.
It is the karuna gir, the mournful lament of the Kranunchi that evokes in Valmiki the Karunyam, empathy or compassion. The term karuna – usually translated as compassion – that occurs three times in the passage – is derived from the root Kri – meaning ‘ to pour out’ ; and, the term is meant to suggest pouring out , in response; or sharing the pain and anguish by ‘entering into the agony of another’. In that sense, Valmiki is giving voice to the inarticulate painful, heart wrenching shrill of the mourning female bird.
In the intensity of his feeling of compassion, Valmki thought ‘this is wrong’; and, cried out:
‘Since Nishada, you killed one of this pair of Krauncha birds, engaged in love; you shall not live very long’.
मा निषाद प्रतोष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः |यत् क्रौञ्चमिथुनादेकमवधीः काममोहितम् || १–२–१५||
It is said; Adi Kavi Valmiki after pronouncing his first (Adi) Sloka exclaimed in amazement; what is this that is uttered by me (Kim idam vyahtham maya … किमिदं व्याहृतं मया…!).
His exclamation – Kim idam – what is this? – is a perpetual question in Kavya-shastra ; and, it has prompted endless debates over the centuries
What, then, is this wonderful thing called Kavya? !!
Many have tried to explain what Kavya is?
The following explanations of Kavya , as put forward by various scholars, is quite interesting:
: – Saba- arthau -sahitau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning (Bhamaha, Kavyalankara 1.6);
: – Nanu Sabda-arthau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning (Rudrata, Kavyalamkara 2.1);
:- Tad adosau Sabda-arthau sagunya alamkriti punah kvapti – this poetry is word and meaning , without blemishes, adorned with excellences , sometimes without the Alamkaras, figurative expressions.(Mammata , Kavyaprakasa 1.4);
:- Adosau sagunau sa-alamkarau cha sabda-arthau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning , without blemishes, furnished with excellences and Alamkara figures of speech ( Hemachandra , Kavyanushasana 1) ;
:- Sadhu-sabda-artha-samdarbham guna-alamkara-bhushitam , sphuta- itirara- sopetam Kavyam kurvita kirtaye – Let the poet ,with the object of gaining fame, compose Kavya intertwining word and meaning , and decorated with excellences and figures (Alamkara) and other poetic sentiments in a clear style (Vagbhata , Vagbhata-alamkara 1.2);
: – Sabda-arthau- nirdoshou sagunau prayah alamkarau Kavyam – Poetry is word and meaning; without faults, furnished with excellences and – often – with Alamkara, figurative speech (Vagbhata, Vagbhata-alamkara 1; and Kuntaka, Vakroktivijaya 1.7);]
In addition, Kuntaka came up with a detailed explanation. According to him, the word (Sabda) alone is not the body of poetry, but it is the happy fusion of word and sound which stands for ‘the body’ : Sabdartyha sahitau kavyam. Kuntaka says the word (Sabda) and sense (Artha) , blended like two friends, creating each other, make Kavya delightful
Sama-sarva gunau santau sahhrudaveva sangathi I parasparasya shobhayai sabdartau bhavato thatha II
Further, Kuntaka says that the Real word is that which is chosen out of a number of possible synonyms and expresses the desired sense most aptly. And, the real sense is that which by its own alluring nature causes pleasure in the mind of the Sahrudaya (person of taste and culture)
Sabdau vivaksitartha kavachakautheyshu sathvapi I arthah sahrudaya ahladkari sva spanda sundarah II V.J.1.9
The togetherness of the word and sense is nothing but a captivating state which creates in the mind of the reader or the listener poetic delight which is exactly what is desired by the poet himself, neither less nor more
Sahitya manayo shobha shalitam prati kashyasau I Atyunna na athiriktha manoharinya vasthithihi II V.J.1.17
Then again, the scholars of the later period attempted to come up with a technical ‘Definition’ of Kavya , in place of ‘explanations’. When the Poetic scholars set out to define Kavya, they set for themselves certain norms, parameters and ground rules. And, also decided to keep out the Drama (which they considered it as Agama-antara, a different tradition) out of the purview of Kavya, for the limited purpose of arriving at a definition; and, similarly, the non-literary forms of Kavya were also kept aside.
According to the rules so framed: any definition of Kavya should be free from three kinds of flaws (Dosha): it should not be too terse, covering too little (A-vyapti); it should not be too verbose, saying more than what is needed (Ati-vyapti); and , it should nor be improbable or incompetent (A-samartha).
Therefore, any definition of Kavya had to be brief, precise and easy to understand; it should be definite without shadow of alternatives; and, should, as far as possible, be free from technical terms that need further explanations.
But, Kavya, I reckon, cannot of course be defined with precision; or be presented in a capsule as a well knit, and packed accurate pellet of information.
Each generation of Poet-Scholars, right from Bhamaha to Jagannatha Pandita tried to define Kavya. They, at best, tried to draw its clear picture. Their attempts could be termed as explanations, circumscribed by their understanding, rather than as definitions.
The explanations offered by those scholars, nevertheless, help us to gain some insight into the nature and role of elements of poetry; and their mutual relationships. All those scholars base their explanations in certain technical terms and elements (Kavya-agama) each having its own connotation: Sabda, Artha, Rasa, Alamkara, Riti, Dhvani, Vakrokti, Dosha, and, Dhvani.
Bhamaha (6th century) said: ‘Kavya is where the Sabda (word) and Artha (its meaning) are harmoniously combined – Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam .But, that was not regarded by many as an ideal explanation, since it does not specifically pertain to Kavya; and can be extended to cover even non-literary or technical works.
Bhamaha then extended his explanation to bring in the element of Alamkara; and, said: Kavya is the happy fusion of Sabda words and Artha which expresses Alamkaras relating to them – Sabda-abhideya-alamkara-bhedadhistam dvayam tu nah I Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam (KA.1.15). It was not clear whether Bhamaha meant Alamkara as the poetic principle or as the ornamental figures of speech. Further, the term Alamkara itself needs to be explained. Hence, this definition was not considered ideal.
Dandin says the body of Kavya is a group of sounds which indicates the desired or the happy aim intended by the poet – Sariram tavad ista-artha vyvachinna padavali (KA 1.10b). Here, the term ista-artha the desired effect or the desired import of the poet is rather too vague; and needs to be explained. Further, Dandin seemed to be defining the body of the Kavya rather than the Kavya itself. And, Padavali – the group of words – by itself and not accompanied by sense is not of great merit.
Vamana said Kavya is the union of sound and sense which is free from poetic flaws and is adorned with Gunas (excellence) and Alamkaras (ornamentation or figures of speech). Here, it was pointed out that the poetic excellence (Gunas) might be an essential aspect of a Kavya; but, the same cannot be said about Alamkara, the figure of speech.
Then again, Vamana said; the essence of Kavya is Riti (Ritir Atma Kavyasya). 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). But, Vamana’s definition involves technical terms that need to be commented upon offering explanations. Hence, it is not an ideal one.
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. Anandavardhana talks in terms of the body and soul of the Kavya. And he also refers to the internal beauty of a meaningful construction of words in the Kavya. But, Dhvani is a highly technical term, needing much explanation. This definition again was not treated as an ideal one.
Abhinavagupta outlines a good (uttama) Kavya as that which is composed by a poet gifted with creative genius (Prathibha) consisting of Rasa; Vaisadya; and , Soundarya (Rasavesa – vaisadya – Soundarya – Kavya nirmana kshamatvam). That is to say; a Kavya should necessarily provide the delight (Rasa) that a good-hearted reader can enjoy with relish (asvadayanyti sumanasah). Vaisadya is the diction, with clear, precise and yet enjoyable expressions that a reader can understand and appreciate without too much effort. And, Soundarya is the beauty , the charm (ramaniyata) that adorns the composition (kavi karma) , providing a rare delight (lokottara–aahlada-janaka) that enchants the reader and captivates his attention, with ease.
Kuntaka defined Kavya on the basis of Vakrokti, a concept which he himself put forward. 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, creating each other, make Kavya delightful – Sama-sarva gunau santau sahhrudaveva sangathi I parasparasya shobhayai sabdartau bhavato thatha II . These definitions too are not acceptable because Vakrokti, like Alamkara, Riti and Dhvani is again a technical term.
Mammatacharya , initially , comes up with a highly idealized general vision of the Kavya. in his Kavyaprakasa he defines Kavya as : that which touches the innermost cords of human mind ; and, diffuses itself into the crevices of the heart ; working up a lasting sense of delight. It is an expression of the beautiful form and melodious language of the best thoughts and noblest emotions, which is the spectacle of life, awakening the finest souls (translation of: Sri M Srinivasachariar)
Sakala-prayojan-amaulibhūtaṃ samanantarameva rasā-asvādana-samudbhūtaṃ vigalita vedya āntaramānandam prabhu-saṃmita śabda pradhāna vedādiś āstrebhyaḥ śabdā –a rthayor guṇa-bhāvena rasā aṅgabhūta vyāpārapravaṇatayā vilakṣaṇaṃ yat kāvyaṃ lokottara varṇanā-nipuṇa kavi karma
And later , when he comes to the specifics , Mammata explains Kavya as 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 – tadadoṣau śabdārthau saguṇāvan alaṃkṛtī punaḥ kvāpi /3/
This definition was attacked by many, pointing out that it is impossible to compose a Kavya without a single blemish; and not a single Kavya would satisfy Mammata’s requirement. Further, it was remarked that the adjective Alamkriti doesn’t seem to be quite appropriate as it merely enhances the quality of a Kavya, but is not an essential aspect of Kavya. And, Mammata has employed number of technical terms like : Dosha, Guna, and Alamkara , which again need to be explained ; and , it also includes an alternate view like ‘Alamkriti punah kvapi. Thus Mammata’s definition was also rejected.
Vishwanatha briefly defined Kavya as Vakyam rasathmakam Kavyam – Kavya is sentences whose essence is Rasa. But, here, Rasa is a technical term which has multiple explanations. And, many said Kavya cannot merely be sentences or collection of words; there has to a happy fusion of word (Sabda) and sense (Artha). Hence, this definition also fell short.
Jagannatha Pandita defined Kavya as: Ramaniya-artha prathipadakah sabdam kavyam ; poetry is the combination of words that provides delight. 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.
This definition covering all aspects of poetics covers a wider field than Rasa which is limited to certain criteria. Moreover, the word Ramaniyata is not a technical term, but it covers all the essentials of a Kavya.
Jagannatha Pandita’s definition of Kavya as : Ramaniya-artha prathipadakah sabdam , seems almost nearer to the ideal.
But, I reckon, Kavya is best left un-defined, not put into a straight jacket. Leaving it to the delight and enterprise of each reader or listener to work out his own levels of appreciation, derive the sense he sees as the best and enjoy the experience of Kavya in his own way seems to be better approach.
Cause of poetry (Kavya hetu)
According to Rajasekhara , the poet is endowed with Karayitri Prathibha the creative genius while the reader or listener is to have Bhavayitri Prathibha the faculty for appreciation of good poetry; obviously, the poet posses both the faculties.
The Kavi Prathibha the creative intuition is the essential without which no creative art is possible.
The scholars have tried to present other factors that might be responsible for outflow of poetry (Kavya hethu).
Dandin mentions three causes of poetry: Naisargika Prathibha natural or inborn genius; Nirmala-shastra –jnana clear understanding of the Shastras; Amanda Abhiyoga ceaseless application and honing ones faculties.
Rudrata and Kuntaka also mention three causes: Shakthi, the inborn intellectual brilliance; Utpatti, the accomplished knowledge of the texts and literary works; and, Abhyasa, constant practice of composing poetic works.
Vamana says three causes of poetry are: Loka, knowledge of the worldly matters, norms of behavior; Vidya. learning of various disciplines; and Prakirna , miscellaneous , that is six causes : Lakshajnata , study of the texts; Abhiyoga, practice ; Vrddha seva , instructions from the learned experienced persons; Avekshana, the use of appropriate words avoiding blemishes; Prathibhana, the inborn poetic genius ; and Avadhana, concentration or single pointed devotion to learning and composing.
Mammata , in his Kavyaprakasha, puts forth the following as the three causes of poetry, while doing so he included the causes mentioned by Vamana: inborn intuitive power; proficiency in worldly conduct as also the study of scriptures and standard literary works; and, practice of composing poetic works through the help of some persons proficient in this art.
śaktir nipuṇatā loka-śāstra kāvyādya-avekṣaṇāt / kāvyajña śikṣayā abhyāsa iti hetus tad udbhave // MKpr-K_3 //
Earlier, Bhamaha , in his Kavyalamkara , had mentioned the three elements _ Utpatti, Abhyasa and Prathibha – as being the cause (hetu) of Kavya.
kāvyaṃ tu jāyate jātu kasya citpra tibhāvataḥ // Bh_1.5 //
In the ‘causes of poetry’ (Kavya hethu) mentioned above, while Utpatti and Abhyasa stand for the constant learning-effort and refinements that polish the poetry , the terms Shakthi or Prathibha, is explained in various ways.
According to Rudrata, Shakthi or Prathibha is that essential factor through which the poet spontaneously presents any subject matter that haunts him or occupies his mind, using appropriate expressions. This explanation seems to lay more stress on the external form of poetry. Therefore, Bhatta-tauta brought in the most essential internal factor ‘ He explained Prathibha , in his often quoted words, as the genius of the intellect (prajna) which creates new and innovative modes of expressions in art poetry – Nava-navonvesha –shalini prajna prathibha mathah.
Vamana said, Prathibha is the seed for creating Kavya : Kavitva-bijam prathibhanam (K.S.13.6)
Kuntaka and Mammata tried to explain the very basis of the Prathibha. Kuntaka said: the faculty of creating a poetic work is an unique intellectual power, which gains maturity due to the inborn and acquired impressions (Samskara paripaka prouda prathibha) gathered in poet’s life-time.
Mammata, adding, said: Shakthi is the intellectual power that could be said to be a sort of a mass of impressions serving as a seed for sprouting of poetic work: Shakthih kavitva bija-rupah samskara vishesha (Kavyaprakasa 1.3)
Both these scholars suggest that Prathibha or Shakthi is essentially an inborn talent or genius; and, it cannot be acquired artificially or by mere hard work.
Hemachandra also accepts Prathibha as the prime cause of poetry; but says, that such essential inborn poetic gift should be refined and honed or chiseled by intellectual application (Utpatti) and constant practice (Abhyasa) .
The other factors that go into creation of a good Kavya include Utpatti and Abhyasa. Utpatti stands for detailed study of literary works and scriptures as also for knowledge of worldly matters. Through it, the natural (Sahaja) or inborn Prathibha gets refined, precise and capable of understanding the essentials of poetry as also of life. And, Abhyasa is constant practice of writing and creating poetry.
Jagannatha Pandita mentions that in addition to the above three factors , the divine grace (Devatha anugraha) is also essential.
The general view appears to be that Prathibha is the most essential factor for creation of Kavya (Kavya hetu) but it needs to be refined and polished by Utpatti and Abhyasa.
Then there is also the question whether the cause of poetry (Kavya hetu) could be the same as the fruits of benefits of poetry (Kavya prayojana) , such as achieving riches or fame or poetic pleasure etc. The opinion, in general, appears to be negative. The reason adduced is that , the Kavya hetu the cause of poetry is prior to composition of poetry, while Kavya prayojana , the fruits of poetry come after the Kavya is composed and read by others. But, at times, the fruits of a Kavya may act as an incentive and spur the poet to compose more and better poetry.
The purpose of Kavya
While the earlier theorists on poetics – Bhamaha , Dandin and Vamana- state that the objectives of poetry are the renown (Kirti) won by the poem and its poet; and , enjoyment (Priti) enjoyed by the readers or the listeners of the poetry. The later sets of critics add instructions (upadesha) as one of the other virtues of a good poetry.
While composing poetry, a poet experiences aesthetic pleasure as a poet. And, after that, while reading or witnessing his own composition he feels aesthetic delight as a Shrudaya. But, in a situation when he does not feel aesthetic pleasure due to some reason, he is neither a poet nor a reader, but an ordinary person.
Dhananjaya , following the lead given by Bharata [who had said that he devised the dramas to give , among other things, relief to those unlucky ones afflicted with sorrow and grief or over-work – duḥkhārtānāṃ śramārtānāṃ śokārtānāṃ– NS.1.114 ], makes it abundantly clear that the prime objective of a Drama is to provide entertainment (ananda). Dhananjaya taunts; and mocks at one who naively believes that Drama, like history (itihasa), is there only to give knowledge.
He wryly remarks ‘ I salute (tasmai namah) that simpleton (alpabuddhih) who has averted his face from what is delightful ..!’
anandanisyandisu rupakesu/ vyutpattimatram phalam alpabuddhih / yo ‘pitihasadivad aha sadhus/ tasmai namah svaduparahmukhaya//DR.1.6//
The purpose of Kavya is to communicate, and to communicate effectively. The ultimate aim of poetry is to provide a sort of aesthetic rupture – Rasanubhava. Its said; Sadah parnivrtutti, the unalloyed joy is the foremost purpose of poetry . The suggestions offered in a persuasive manner, the kantha samhitopadesha comes only next.
These experiences are related both to the poet and to the Sahrudaya, the reader or spectator , either directly or indirectly.
There have been elaborate discussions on Kavya Prayojana – the benefits derived from Kavya or poetry. Those benefits are seen both from the point of view of the poet (Kavi) and of the cultured reader with refined tastes (Sahrudaya).
[ There is a wise-saying (subhashita) that declares : In the whole of this insipid world, there are just two sweet things: enjoyment of Kavya and company of good friends
Asare khalu samsare dve phale hi amrutopame / kavya-rasa svadah, sujane sangah saha ]
It is generally agreed that the study of Kavya benefits us all (Loka-mangala). That is because, there is a faith that the poetry purifies the hearts and minds of the readers; and, it leads to the well-being (hita) of all and to a more civilized world. As regards the poet, it purifies him/her also, because, it elevates the consciousness of the poet in creating such sublime poetry.
It is said; Kavya confers all the four kinds of benefits (Chatur-varga –prapti) that are the seminal and enduring values of human life (Purushartha): Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. And, apart from that there is an immediate sense of delight as the reader savours (asvada) the nectar of inspiring, sublime poetry (Kavya-amruta-rasa).
Visvanatha says that the group of four benefits (Chatur-varga– phala-prapit) is obtained, with great difficulty, by persons of dry intellect through dull and insipid Shastras: but, the riches of the same group can be attained, with ease, even by dullards, through delightfully pleasing Kavya.
The drift of the discussions in the Indian poetics indicate that Kavya confers both the visible and the invisible benefits. Mammata mentions six types of benefits that Kavya produces or leads to. His views and that of the other scholars could , generally , be, summarized as :
(1) the joyful experience (Rasa) of delight (Ananda) is the prime purpose of the Kavya- Kavya-ananda;
(2) the grace (Devata Prasada) that leads to liberation (Moksha) which is the highest goal of human existence;
(3) it brings to the poet fame (Yashas, Kirti) and wealth (Dhana);
(4) it imparts knowledge (jnana) instructions (Vyavahara –jnana) for the betterment of our lives;
(5) it whispers into our hearts the agreeable advice(Vibodha) as in the manner of a lover (Kantha-samhita) ;
(6) it renders us emotionally stronger (Buddhi -vivardhana) with enthusiasm for life (Utsaha) love (Priti, kama) for life and enjoyment (Sukha,Vilasa) , fortitude (Dhairya) , control over senses (Nigraha ), avoidance of the harmful (Anista –nivarana) etc.
And, Abhinavagupta in his Locana, commenting on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka, Uddyota 1, muses: I often wonder, is not this world, filled with materials and objects, truly inert (jada)? The men and women who populate also, at times, seem inert. Methinks, it is only the creative genius of the poet (prathibha) that has the power to energize (sacetana) and enliven such rather insipid and inert existence. It can make the hard, rock-like world spring forth life-giving water.
The poet gifted with creative intellect (Prakhya); and, the learned listener/ reader (sahrudaya) blessed with understanding heart (Upakhya), together enrich the literary principles (Sarasvathyas tatvam kavi-sahrudaya-akhyam vijayate).
apūrvaṃ yadvastu prathayati vinā kāraṇ-akalāṃ- jagadbhāva prakhyaṃ nija-rasa-bharāt-sārayati ca/ kramāt prakhyopākhyā prasara subhagaṃ bhāsayati tat sarasvatyā-statvaṃ kavi-sahṛdayā-akhyaṃ vijayate //
Vishvanatha Kavi (Sahityadarpana – 3.6 to 7) avers : Poetry is an unusual out-of-the world (Alaukika) phenomenon, which cannot be defined in terms of ordinary human logic. It is an extraordinary creation of a highly gifted genius-Alaukika-vibhavatam. In the day-to-day common life; sorrow proceeds from sorrow; fear breeds fear; and, even what seems to be pleasure can later cause pain. But, the poetic genius performs the miracle of deriving pleasure even from painful situations; it even transforms horror into aesthetic experience. Hence, why not have faith in poetry, which can turn any kind of unpleasant experience, including pain and sorrow, into aesthetic poetic delight.?.!.
Hetutvam soka-harshader-gatebyo loksamsrayat/ Soka-harsha-dyo loke jayantam nama laukikah //3.6//
Alaukika-vibhavatam praptebhyah kavyasasrayat/ Sukham sanjayate tebhyah sarvebhyo apiti ka ksatih //3.7//
For a very detailed discussion on Kavya Prayojana, please click here.
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