Rasa School of Thought in Indian Poetics: Aphorism of Bharatamuni and Other Sages

 “From the conjunction of Vibhãvas, Anubhãvas and Vyabhicaribhãvas Rasa are produced.”- 
Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra

 The principle of Rasa is the very kernel of Indian Poetics. Rasa is the essence of literature. The outlines of the nature of poetry appeared in Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra. Bharata says, “From the conjunction of Vibhãvas, Anubhãvas and Vyabhicaribhãvas Rasa are produced.” Just as persons, mentally peaceful, while eating food mixed with various kinds of condiments taste and derive pleasure and the like, so also spectators with calm minds taste the Sthyibhãvas spiced with various kinds of emotions enacted and combined with verbal, physical and Sãttvika acting and derive pleasure. Bharata’s aphoristic statement “Vibhavanubhavayabhicarisamayogidrasanishpattih” has been discussed at length by good many scholars. Of these Bhattalollata, Srisankuta, Bhattanayaka and Abhinavagupta deserve special mention. They will be discussed separately in this short critical essay.



The original meaning of Bhãva is being existence. Apte’s dictionary has collected 31 meanings of it. In our context the most appropriate meaning of Bhãva is “emotion or mental mode.” Love, anger, fear, wonder, eagerness, joy-such are mental modes, Vibhãva means excitant; Anubhãva means resultant, consequent. Love, humour, sorrow, anger, heroism, fear, disgust and wonder are called Sthyibhãvas. When a Sthyibhãvas is in action, many feelings of second category, like doubt, eagerness, shyness, depression and others appear and disappear in the middle, as required by the occasion. They are not stable. They are called Vyabhicari or Sancãri (transient or transitory) bhãvas (mental modes), Abhinavagupta compares the Sthyibhãvas to a thread and the Sancaribhavas to be coloured beads strung on it. The Sthayi is compared to the ocean and the Sancaribhavas to rising and falling waves. The transient feelings are thirty three. They are enumerated in Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra. The Vibhãvas are divided into two kinds, Alambana Vibhãva (locus of the excitant), on the basis of the degree of their effect. Alambanvibhava is the cause of the emotion, its primary source. The material that strengthens the emotion which has thus arisen is Uddipana Vibhãva. In Kalidasa’s play, Sakuntala, Dushyanta is the Alambanvibhava to Sakuntala, and Sakuntala is the Alambanvibhava to Dushyanta. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Ferdinand is the Alambanvibhava to Miranda, and Miranda is the Alambanvibhava to Ferdinand. The free atmosphere in the hermitage of Kanva, the encouragement of the female companions, the intermittent separation - all these factors stimulate love between Dushyanta and Sakuntala. All these are Uddipanavibhavas. Similar is the case in The Tempest. Free atmosphere before Prospero’s cell, the tricks of Prospero become Uddipanavibhavas in the context of Ferdinand and Miranda. When an emotion is excited excessively in one’s mind, bodily changes, like sweat and fortification occur. They are called Sattvikabhävas. They are eight in number.

The exact relationship between Vibhãvas, Anubhãvas, Sancaribhavas, Sthyibhãvas and Rasa has been discussed elaborately by the ancient commentators. The nature of Sthyibhãvas has also been determined. It is also discussed whether Rasa is born as a new product or it is a manifestation of what was already present. The words Samyôga and Nishpatti have been interpreted in a variety of ways. As pointed out earlier, we will discuss the ‘views of the four great Acharyas (scholars) on the subject.

Bhattalollata is the first commentator of great repute who analyzed and discussed Bharata’s aphoristic. It is known as ‘Utpallivada’. He holds that Rasa is born as a new product. In his opinion, Rasa is generated when the Vibhãva, Anubhãva and Sancaribhavas combine with Sthyibhãvas. In this context persons concerned may be divided into three categories-the characters, the actors and the audience. The characters are Anukarãs (the imitated), the actors are Anukarãs, and the audience comes to the theatre solely for the sake of experiencing Rasa. To illustrate, we discuss Sringararasa. The Sthyibhãvas is Rati. It stirs in the hero due to the heroine who is the Alambana Vibhãva, and Uddipana Vibhãvas like a garden, moonlight and others. This may be applied to the heroine also. The Sthyibhãvas is perceived through Anubhãvas like side-glance, slow gait etc. It gets nourishment from the, transitory feelings (Sancaribhavas) like eagerness, despondency, joy etc. The Sthyibhãvas which is thus augmented by the Vibhãva, Anubhãva and Sancaribhavas is Rasa. The Rasa resides chiefly in the character’ (the imitated). It arises in the imitator, the actor also. The audiences establish empathy with the character through the actor by the skill of the latter, experiences Rasa. So, the Sthyibhãvas itself, imitated by the actor and inferred by the spectators, is called Rasa. The Sthyibhãvas cognized through Vibhãva and Anubhãva produce delight and enjoyment. Hence it comes to be called Rasa.




According to Sankuka’s view, the relation between Rasa and the Vibhãva, Anubhãva and Sancaribhavas is that of the Sign and the signified. This is the meaning of Samyoga in Bharata’s aphorism. Nishpatti should be interpreted as inference. There is no necessity to supply the word, Sthayibhãvas, as an ellipsis. Sankuka based his theory on Natyasastra. He challenged Bhattalollaka’s theory and established his new theory. His main contention was that the actor cannot imitate the character. According to him, mental mode of one cannot be imitated by another.

Lollata and Sankuka lived before Anandavardhana. They discussed the origin of the dramatic Rasa. It was in the Dhvanayãloka that the view that Rasa is the life not merely of drama but of all forms poetry made its appearance.

  Bhattanayaka founded his theory on Sankhysastra. He criticized all the previous theories of Bhattalollata, Sankuka and Anandavardhana on the ground of the origin of Rasa and propounded a new theory of Rasa. Lollata and Saunaka did not establish a direct relationship between Rasa and the spectator. He contended that without a direct relationship with Rasa, a spectator cannot get its taste. According to him, two more functions-bhãvakatva and bhojakatva operate here. He introduces the theory of generalization and holds that it is the work off bhãvakatva. The Sthayibhãvas which is produced (bhãvita) by this is Rasa. Hence forward, the third function called bhojakatva or bhogakrittva (enjoyment) begins. Through its help, Rasa becomes the object of enjoyment to the spectator. In this state, the Sattva quality of the soul becomes dominant. Through this sattvodreka (arousal of the Sattva) results a repose whose nature is awareness and joy. This is what is led theory is more satisfactory than the interpretations of Lollata and Saunaka. His chief achievement is to have propounded that the Vibhãvas etc in poetry and drama do not remain personal but become generalized and hence the spectator, remaining neither indifferent nor immersed in his own pleasures and pains, gets the taste of Rasa.

Abhinavagupta founded his theory on Vedanta. He discusses how aesthetic experience occurs to spectator of drama. Here a qualification, a competence, is necessary for the spectator also. He should possess a purity of imagination which can look at the thing described with absorption. Moreover, he is well-informed about the world. Abhinavagupta admits that there are obstacles in the way of enjoyment of pleasure. He is of the view that the removal of obstacles is very important. These obstacles are: want of probability, intrusion of specific time and place, absorption in one’s own personal happiness, defective means of apprehension, obscurity unimportance and doubt. Abhinavagupta’s emphasis on the involvement of spectator with requisite qualification is very important. To day, his theory of Rasa is mostly acceptable. Its universal acceptance is the proof of its suitability and appropriateness.


The principle of Rasa is the kernel of Indian Poetics. It is a great gift of Bharatmuni to Indian Poetics and literature In fact, Rasa is the essence of literature. In Bharata’s Natyasastra only eight Rasas are mentioned. Bharat has classified eight Rasa equivalents to eight Sthayibhãvas. Udbhata has recognized nine Rasas. Karunarasa (pathetic sentiment) has also been recognized Rasa, which brings the number of Rasas to nine. Soka (sorrow) is the Sthayibhãvas of karunarasa. Bhavabhuti went to the extent of suggesting that “Pathos alone is Rasa’. It is also claimed that the credit for bringing sãntarasa into vogue goes to the Buddhist and Jain poets.