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Kashmir's Contribution to Indian Aesthetics

By Dr. S.S. Toshkhani

It is really very exciting to think that this small paradisal Valley nestled in the Himalays has produced a succession of brilliant thinkers who have formulated most of the fundamental concepts of Sanskrit poetics and have given us a whole body of aesthetic thought profound in conception and impressive in volume and value. One cannot but be overwhelmed by the fact that almost all the major schools of Indian aesthetics were founded by Kashmiri theoriticians -the Alankara School by Bhamaha, Riti School by Vamana, Vakrokti School by Kuntaka, Dhvani School by Anandavardhana and Auchitya School by Kshemendra. Though the concept of Rasa was evolved by Bharata, and perhaps by thinkers even before him, it was only the great Abhinavagupta who perfected it as an integrating \theory basic to the aesthetic philosophy of the Indians. Nor was the contribution of those Kashmiri rhetoricians any less important who analysed, interpreted, elaborated and commented upon what the original exponents propounded, thus providing the building blocks on which the Indian aesthetic thought stands today. Profound thinkers like Udbhata, Bhatta Lollata, Shankuka, Bhatta Nayaka, Bhatta Tauta, Rudrata, Ruyyaka, Mahima Bhatta and others. The issues they raised, the solutions they provided, the views they propounded  provided grist to the great intellectual debates about the relation of aesthetic object and aesthetic experience which raged throughout India for quite a long time.

To understand the full significance of the art-ideas introduced by the successive Kashmiri thinkers, we shall have to look at them in the overall perspective of the development of Indian aesthetical thought. As we know, it is in the Natya Shastra, the legendary Bharata’s monumental treatise on dramaturgy, that we find the first systematic exposition of Rasa-a concept central to Indian aesthetic thinking. Supposed to have been written between the 2nd century BC and the 2nd century AD, the Natya Shastra provides a deep insight into the psychology of aesthetic experience. It conceives of the drama as the perfect synthesis between all arts and integrates in its form poetic text, histrionics, stage-craft, music, dance, painting and even architecture into an organismic whole, with Rasa as its soul. “There is no art”, claims Bharata, “no science, no craft, no skill that does not fall within the purview of drama”.

Na Tajjnana no tat shilpam

N sa vidya na sa kala

Na sau yogo na tat karma

Natye’smin yanna-drishyate

His well known formulation on Rasa in the Natya Shastra-vibhavnubhava vyabhichari bhava samyogad rasanish-pattih-explains the aesthetic experience in terms of the prime stimuli or the leading characters in a dramatic presentation, their behavioural features and the transient but ancillary emotional reactions they evoke. Scholars have variously interpreted and translated the Sanskrit terms vibhava, anubhava, sanchari bhava and rasa according to their individual perceptions of what these terms mean. Thus, Dr K.C. Pandey translates vibhava as the emotive situation, anubhava as the physical changes consequent upon the rise of an emotion, vyabhichari bhava as transient emotions and rasa as the aesthetic object. Raniero Gnoli prefers to use expressions like “Determinants”, “Consequents” and “Transitory Mental States” for them, leaving rasa untranslated. For the purpose of this paper, however, I have mostly used the equivalents given by Krishna Chaitanya for these key terms for the essential constituents of the aesthetic presentation which enables the aesthetic emotion to be experienced and relished.

We shall have to examine a few more concepts before Bharatas formulation becomes a bit more clear. The vibhavas or the primary stimuli arouse the conative dispositional factors abidingin human nature, which cannot be exactly called instincts but could be described as innate sentiments. In Sanskrit poetics these abiding mental states have been given the name sthayi bhavas. It is the sthayi bhava or basic sentiment awakened by the union of vibhavas, anubhavas and the vyabhichari bhavas that is finally relished as rasa. Put in simpler terms this means that when the prime stimuli or determinants, their consequent behavioural pattern and the transient but ancillary emotional reactions they evoke combine, the basic sentiment is activated and develops into rasa or aesthetic emotion.

The Natya Shastra distinguishes eight abiding mental states that are latent in a man’s psychological organisation. These are Love (rati), Laughter (hasya), Sorrow (shoka), Anger (krodha), Heroism (utsaha), Fear (bhaya), Disgust (jugupsa), and Wonder (vismaya). To these a ninth one, Serenity (shama) was added later. The corresponding nine rasas are: the Erotic (shringara), the Comic (hasya), the Pathetic (karuna), the Furious (raudra), the Heoric (vira), the Terrible (bhayanaka), the Odious (bibhatsa), and the Marvellous (adbhuta).

With this background we can now proceed to understand how ideas which eventually crystallised to form a cogent theory of rasa took off from this point of departure. Going back to Bharatas formulation, the Rasa Sutra, we find that it contained two crucial words that lent themselves to various interpretations, unleashing storms of controversy. These were samyoga and nishpattih. There were other questions also that arose from Bharatas condensed but pregnant statement. Where is Rasa located? Is the aesthetic experience subjective or objective? How is it related to the other emotions or states of consciousness? Every participant in the great debate that ensued took a stand on these on the basis of his own philosophical outlook. Among the earliest to address these questions was Bhatta Lollata who lived in Kashmir in the late 8th century or the early 9th. A contemporary of the great Shaivite thinker Bhatta Kallata, Lollata approached those questions as a Mimansaka or grammarian. His works have unfortunately been lost, but from what we learn from the Abhinava Bharati, Abhinavagupta’s commentary on the Natya Shastra, Lolatta took only the denotational sense of the word nishpattih into consideration and interpreted it as causal origination. Rasa, he said, is an effect of which the vibhavas or the aesthetic object is the direct cause. It resides in the original historical character (Rama etc.) represented on the stage, as well as the impersonating actor. The actor feels himself as the represented historical personage during the duration of the enactment but remembers his real nature through the faculty of anusandhana or recollection (realization, according to Gnoli).

The important question underlying all this discussion is as to how the poetic emotion is transferred from life to art, and Lollata’s answer is that the spectator relishes rasa or the sentiment located in the character portrayed directly and not through emotional induction by the aesthetic process of activating it. Abhinavagupta quickly rejects this view-point which seeks to turn the sentiment or sthayi bhava into an object of perception. Pointing this out, Krishna Chaitanya writes: “Abhinava Gupta’s brilliant mind noticed at once that the literalism of the Mimansakas would annex aesthetics to grammar and bring about as complete an impoverishment in aesthetics as it had brought in philosophy. He saw that Lollata was confusing aesthetic communication with intellectual discourse, the emotive symbol with the denotative sign. Noting that the sthayi bhava, which abides as a potential reality and is raised to the relishable state only through the configuration of stimuli etc. (vibhavadi), Abhinava argues that it cannot be staticised as an object of perception “existing at only one specific conjunction of space and time.” Mammata, an eleventh century Kashmiri aesthete, endorses Abhinavas views by stressing that the object in art is a virtual and not a physical object. It is a virtual object “because the whole phenomenon is processual, the process involving the activity of institution and emotion”. Bhatta Lollata’s theory, it seems, is totally unconcerned with the spectator’s view-point.

Shankuka, another Kashmiri and a younger contemporary of Lollata, approaches the problem of how the spectator relishes rasa or the aesthetic experience from the point of view of a logician, naiyayaka, which he actually was. Rasa, he said, applying syllogistic reasoning, was not produced as an effect as Lollata claimed but could be logically arrived at by the process of inference. Using the analogy of a forest fire he says that just as it can be inferred from the smoke rising from above the top of a cluster of trees, in the same manner the basic mental state can be inferred from the situation presented  by the stimuli etc.

Dr  K.C. Pandey calls Shankuka’s point of view “psycho-epistemic”. “In actual life”, he points out explaining Shankuka’s view-point, “the mental state of a man is revealed by the visible effects of his feeling i.e. the consequents and their concomitant feelings or the transitory mental state. The successful imitation by the actor of the characters and their experiences is no doubt, Shankuka says, artificial and unreal or illusory but is not realised to be so by the spectators who forget the difference between the actors and the characters and inferentially experience the mental state of the characters themselves”. Shankuka, in fact, uses the analogy of a painted horse, chitraturaga, to bring out the beauty of this imitation (anukarna) and holds that aesthetic experience, which is a peculiar form of inference (anumana), cannot be classified under any known forms of knowledge.

Shankuka’s views, like those of Lollata, have been presented in brief by Abhinavgupta in his famous commentary on Natya Shastra, the Abhinava Bharati, as Shankuka’s works too are lost. The inference and imitation theories of Lollata and Shankuka, which hold the aesthetic presentation to be “the efficient cause (karaka hetu) or the logical cause (jnapak hetu)” respectively of the aesthetic emotion, were later demolished by Abhinava and the exponents of the Dhvani or Suggestion School of poetics. But before we look at what they have to say in the matter, let us try to appreciate the views of Bhatta Nayaka, a great aesthetic thinker who lived in the late 9th century Kashmir and joined the debate to point out the “inwardness of the whole situation”. Here again we have to rely upon the Abhinava Bharati as Bhatta Nayaka’s work the Hridaya Darpana, too is not available. He rejects the idea that rasa or the aesthetic emotion can be affected or inferred, and tries to extend the Sankhya concept of bhoga or enjoyment to the field of aesthetics. Rasa, he posits, is neither atmagata nor paragata nor is it tatastha vedya. That is, it cannot be perceived as located in the spectator or as located in anyone else, whether it be the character portrayed or the actor portraying that character. We can have no perception of rasa at all: “rasah na pratiyate”!.

What Bhatta Nayaka means in other words is that the spectator or the reader does not feel the sorrow or the happiness of the character represented personally as his own because of the aesthetic distance. That is why even a tragic play or a poem does not cause any feeling of pain in him and he is able to “enjoy” or savour its flavour too.Further,he says, ordinary spectator or reader can never identify himself with the extraordinary virtues of such a great hero as Rama. What happens actually is that he enjoys the aesthetic emotion through the bhojaka-bhojya relationship. That is, through the relationship of the enjoyer and the enjoyed. Bhatta Nayaka, thus, stresses the importance of bhavana vyapara or imagination, which, according to him, comes into play as an aspect of aesthetic experience. Poetic experience, he maintains, has another power besides abhidha or the detonational power which enables the sahridaya or the aesthetically sensible person to see the characters presented in an aesthetic creation in a generalised way, “independently of any relationship with his ordinary life or the life of the actor or the hero of the play or poem”, as Gnoli puts it. This special power Bhatta Nayaka calls bhavakatva, the power of generalisation.

The protagonists in their generalised character are perceived to rise above their “specific contextal reference”. Thus Rama’s love for Sita though particular becomes the universalised experience of love in general. Even pain is transfigured into a sort of pleasure which can be savoured aesthetically. This universalisation of the aesthetic object and subject through the power of bhavakatva frees them from all limitations of individuality and is called sadharanikarana. The concept of sadharanikarna or universily of the aesthetic experience is Bhatta Nayaka’s greatest contribution in the field of aesthetic thought.

To explain the relation between the subject and object, Bhatta Nayaka posits another power or function of language - that of bhojakatva or enjoyment. It is by the virtue of this power, according to him, that we relish the experience presented in a poetic creation, not at the practical but at the aesthetic level. All practical considerations fade away due to the predominance of sattva or innate goodness of human nature, a state of psychological poise which makes us repose in our own consciousness. The other two potentialities described in the Sankhya philosophy, rajas, physical dynamism and tamas, insensibility, are rendered ineffective. Thus the bhoga or enjoyment of rasa is a process of delectation very much akin to the state of self-sufficient blissful consciousness which one experiences on realising the Supreme Reality (Brahman). Bhatta Nayaka’s another important contribution, therefore, is that he brings the aesthetic experience at par with mystic experience. By stressing that it is not determined by practical considerations but is a state of being, he makes it more internal and contemplative, bringing the relisher face to face with the ultimate Universal Reality.

In his comment on Bhatta Nayaka’s formulation about universalisation of experience in aesthetics, Abhinavagupta does not seem inclined to dismiss it altogether. In fact, he absorbs his core contentions into his own aesthetic theory and develops them in accordance with his own monistic outlook. He admits that aesthetic enjoyment is similar to the joy that comes from realising one’s identity with Brahman, but he rejects his three-fold classification of the powers of language on the ground that there is no need “to staticise either the generalising function of poetry as a separate power of bhavakatva or the appreciative activity of the reader or spectator as a distinct, isolated power bhojakatva”, as this only leads to unnecessary multiplication of concepts.

We shall refer to Abhinavgupta’s philosophy of aesthetics later. Suffice it to say here that he accepted Bhatta Nayaka’s view that the aesthetic and the mystic experiences spring from the same source and the bliss we derive from them is a state of independence from all extraneous factors--a repose into our own self. But while the state of mystical consciousness is marked by “the complete disappearance of all polarities, the lysis of all dialexis in the dissolving fire of God”, to use the words of R.Gnoli “in aesthetic consciousness the feelings and facts of everyday life remain always present”, even though they are transfigured. The fact put so succinctly by K.Krishnamurthy, is that so far as the idea of rasa is concerned, Abhinavgupta “takes over where Bhatta Nayaka leaves”.

As aesthetic thinking further developed in India, it slowly moved away from the habit of analysing the creative process in terms of dramaturgy alone and looked to pure poetics for further addition to its conceptual armoury till Abhinavgupta synthesized both the traditions. It was Bhamaha, a Kashmiri, who heralded the shift and developed Sanskrit poetics along scientific and independent lines. From all available sources, Bhamaha was the first authority on poetics in the post-Bharat era with an influence that was so strongly pervasive that almost all important theoriticians in the field found it compulsive to refer to him. There is a difference of opinion about the time he flourished, but Anandavardhana has quoted a sentence from him alongside another sentence from Bana, which he considers older, than the latter. Bhamaha’s time can, therefore, be safely placed between the 5th century and the beginning of the 7th.

In his book “Kavyalankara”, on which Udbhata has written a commentary, he emerges as an alankarist who gives foremost place to embellishment in poetry, considering figures of speech essential for the enhancement of its beauty. Bhamaha’s famous comparison of an embellished expression to the beauty of a lady bedecked with ornaments has been often quoted--and misquoted. Bhamaha has provided definitions for a total of thirtyone poetic figures, giving equal importance to verbal figures (shabdalankara) and ideational figures (aerthalankaa). Bhamaha, however, is no mere formalist, his objective is only to lay emphasis on the distinctive quality of poetic expression of which he gives a very significant definition: “shabdarthau sahitam kavyam” (poetry is that in which word and meaning coexist). It is from this definition that the Sanskrit term for literature, sahitya, was derived by Kuntaka. This makes poetic tissue “an organismic union of word and idea”--a concept also emphasised by several European writers. Baudelaire says that “idea and form are two realities in one. And in Flaubert’s view, “Form is the flesh itself of othe idea, as the idea is the soul of life. T.S. Eliot stresses the same idea when he says, “the music of poetry is not something which exists apart from its meaning.

Bhamaha totally ignores Bharata and his concept of rasa when he talks of the beauty of aesthetic expression except when he uses the term in defining mahakavya or the epic poem. He gives it only a minor role to play as rasavada alankara. It is interesting to note Bhamaha’s interpretation of svabhavokti or natural description, even as he accepts vakrokti or deviant expression as an essential element of poetry. He includes svabhavokti as an ideational figure (arthalankara). He seeks to make a distinction not so much between svabhavokti and vakrokti but between vakrokti and varta (news or information). News, whether it is lokavarta or a report of current events, or shastra varta or technical information does not as poetry, he poetry, he points out, but svabhavokti or naturalistic description does, even though it is devoid of ornament, simply because it is charged with poetic power. It is the poet’s imaginative power, pratibha, that is the source from which poetry emanates. Abhinava was particularly fond of this quotation from Bhamaha: “Even a stupid man can learn the Shastras from the teachings of his professor. But poetry is only given to the person who has imaginative genius”. (Translation: J.L. Masson)

Vamana, the author of Kavyalankara Sutravritti and the founder of the Riti School flourished in Kashmir in the 8th century and was the minister of King Jayapida. Though he has expressed his views on various elements of poetic composition, he is best known for having claimed riti or diction to be the soul fo poetry: Ritiratma kavyasya. Before him Bhamaha and Dandi had used the term marga instead of riti to denote diction. Defining riti to denote diction. Defining riti as “vishishta pada rachana” or a special arrangement of words, Vamana seeks to establish that diction has a “higher integrative reallity” than figure or image. Elaborating his conception Vamana relates diction to poetic excellences, or qualities, called gunas. These are ten in number according to Bharata and their presence or absence defines various kinds of diction or style. Vamana refers to three dictions in particular: Vaidarbhi, Panchali and Gaudi. He is very much clear thta these various dictions are only geographical denominations based on characteristics specific to different regions. He considers Vaidarbhi, which is characterised by limpid sweetness, as the best of all. In contrast to it the Gaudi diction of Bengal is marked for its “ornate vigour”. Earlier Bhamaha had related poetic excellences to poetic temper and mood rather than identifying diction with the verbal texture.

Vamana asserts thta the seed of poetry (kavya bija) lies in the poet’s creative genius (pratibha) . Like Bhamana, he treats alankaras as an essential element of poetic beauty. He, however, believes thta all poetic figures are but aspects of metaphorical expression-0-upama prapancha. Making Vamana’s concept clear Krishna Chaitanya writes in his book “Sanskrit Poetics that when Vamana insisted that simile and metaphor were not only genuine poetry but “a latent juxtaposition” (aupamya-garbha), he seems to be thinking of “concretising the theme” and linking it to rasa. The affinity between various juxtaposed images thus belongs to “a deeper plane of aesthetic creativity and experience”.

Kuntaka who lived in the late 10th or early 11th century Kashmir should have chronologically come before Abhinavgupta but we are taking him earlier to consider Abhinavagupta and Anandavardhana together. Founder of Vakrokti School, Kuntaka’s only work Vakroktijivit is found in an incomplete form. In this work, taking the cue from Bhamaha and Dandi, Kuntaka formulated a whole theory of poetic expression based on it. Defining vakrokti as a unique turn of expression--vaidagdhya bhangi bhaniti--Kuntaka derived it from creative poetic action (kavi karma) to which he relates his concept of beauty. He uses vakrokti or deviant expression as a generic term of which poetic figures form an important aspect. The value of the figure, he holds, lies in its being a striking form of expression which is a deviation from the ordinary mode of speech. It produces a peculiar kind of charm which he calls vaichitrya. By contending that the embellished word and sense (alankrita shabdartha) solely constitute vakrokti, and by identifying embellishment with poetic figure and imagery, Kuntaka almost identifies figurative expression with poetic expression.

Kuntaka is diffident of including svabhavokti or naturalistic expression in vakrokti for the fear that it could lead to “the cart driver” talks finding acceptance in poetry. His difficulty is that in poetic expression cannot be accepted as a figure because it is only the intrinsic nature of the object that should be the ornamented (alankarya) and note the ornament (alankara). In poetic naturalism the beauty is donated by the object itself and and not the poet. And in no way can something not created by the poet by called poetic ornament.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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