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Rasa Theory

Introduction

“Our emotions are the gastric juices which transform this world of appearance into the more intimate world of sentiments. On the other hand, this outer world has its own juices, having their various qualities, which excite our emotional activities. This is called in our Sanskrit Rhetoric, Rasa, which signifies outer juices having their response in inner juices of our emotions. And a poem, according to it, is a sentence or sentences containing juices, which stimulate the juices of emotion. It brings to us ideas vitalized by feelings, ready to be made into the life-style of natureā€
Rabindranath Tagore

Where the hand goes, the gaze follows.
Where the eyes turn, there goes the mind.
Where the mind goes, there comes bhava,
And where the bhava comes, there also will be rasa.
Natya Shastra

Rasa can be understood as a dynamic experience between the artist, expression, and those who receive it. The artist experiences an emotion and is so overwhelmed by it that he seeks a medium with which to express those feelings. The one who views the artists’ work receives this emotion through the artists’ medium and so experiences the same emotion felt by the creator. The extent to which the viewer experiences the emotion felt by the creator depends on both the creator’s aptitude in presenting the work and the viewers’ aptitude to receive it.

The Natysashastra

A key text which deals with the emotional theory of Rasa is the Natyashastra (the Textbook on Drama), attributed to Bharata Muni (some academics believe that it is more likely to be a compilation by several different authors). Bharata ascribed a divine origin to drama and considered it to be a fifth Veda. The Natyashastra primarily deals with theatre, dance & musical performance. According to the Natyashastra, the major purpose of dance, drama, ritual and poetry is catalytic in that aesthetic performance should provoke an emotion that is already present in members of the audience. The various elements of a performance combine to create a sympathetic response in those who experience them. Moreover, a member of the audience who has cultivated his or her own aesthetic response may experience a transformation of their own emotion into a purely aesthetic, transcendental feeling – an experience of divine bliss. This is the transformation of Bhava (“mood”) into its essence – Rasa. (NB: A scholar or connoisseur is sometimes referred to as a rasika).

The components of Rasa

According to Bharata’s Natyashastra there are eight fundamental feelings or mental states referred to as Sthayibhavas which can be experienced by human beings. These are: Delight (Rati), Laughter (Hasya), sorrow (Soka), Anger (Krodha), Heroism (Utsaha), Fear (Bhaya), Disgust (Jugupsa), and wonder (Vismaya). Corresponding to these mental states are eight Rasas: the Erotic (srngara), the Comic (Hasya) the Pathetic (Karuna), the Furious (Raudra), the Heroic (Vira), the Terrible (Bhayanaka), the Odious (Bibhatasa), and the Marvelous (Adbhuta). A ninth Rasa, the Peaceful (Shanta) was later added.

The realisation of Rasa is said to result from the union of three interrelated elements – Vibhava, Anubhava and Vyabicaribhava and also the permanent mood called Sthayibhava.

Vibhava (determinants or catalysts)

The means by which an emotion is activated are termed Vibhava. There are two kinds of Vibhava – the Alambhana Vibhava – the person or the object in respect of whom the emotion is experienced and whose appearance is directly responsible for the bringing forth of the emotion; and the Uddipana Vibhava – the situation in the environment in which that person or object is placed and which is helpful in intensifying the emotional experience.

Anubhava (consequences)

The outward manifestations brought forth as a result of the Vibhavas are known as the Anubhavas. These are divisible into Vacika – those which can be expressed by words (Vac – “speech”) and the Angika which are expressed by bodily expressions. In Indian drama, for example, the Anubhavas communicate to the audience, the emotions being felt by the characters onstage.

There are also “involuntary emotions” known as Sattvikabhavas: Stambha (paralysis), Sveta (sweating), Romanca (hair standing on end), Svarabheta (changes in one’s tone of voice), Vepathu (trembling), Vaivarnya (changes in the colour of one’s face), Asru (becoming tearful) and Pralaya (fainting).

Vyabicaribhavas (complementary states)

The Sthayibhava (“permanent mood”) is a major emotion which is developed by a number of minor feelings referred to as Vyabicaribhavas. There are thirty-three Vyabicaribhavas: Nirveda (disinterest), Glani (tiredness), Sanka (apprehension), Asuya (insecurity), Mada (intoxication), Srama (exhaustion), Alasya (lethargy), Dainya (pity), Cinta (anxiety), Moho (delusion), Smrti (recollection), Dhrti (steadfastness), Vrida (shame), Capalata (impuliveness), Harsa (sudden delight), Avega (excitement), Jadata (stupor), Garva (arrogance), Visada (depression), Autsuka (longing), Nidra (sleep), Apasmara (epilepsy), Supta (dreaming), Vibodha (awakening), Amarsa (retstrained anger), Avahittha (deception), Ugrata (ferociousness), Mati (analysis), Vyadhi (sickness), Unmada (temporary insanity), Marana (death), Trasa (panic) and Vitarka (argumentiveness).

For example, the Erotic Rasa arises from the Alambhana Vibhava – presence of the lover & beloved, the Uddipana Vibhavas’ – the atmosphere of the place where the two meet, the call of night-birds; a gentle breeze, the moon, etc.; it gives rise to the Anubhavas – how the lover & beloved express themselves to each other (i.e. holding hands, kissing, embracing); it produces involuntary bodily responses (the Sattvikabhavas) and may give rise to complementary (or transitory) emotional states – the Vyabicaribhavas.

For Bharata, Rasa – the flavour or taste, emerges from from the combination of the various emotional factors in the same way that the distinctive flavour of a cooked dish results from the different ingredients and the manner in which it is prepared.

Abhinavagupta’s theory of Rasa

For Abhinavagupta, all experiences (be they cognitive, emotional, perceptual etc.) leave “traces” in the mind. These traces have two components – the Representational, and the Emotional. The representational element can be a visual image or a propositional fact, the emotional element is a re-experiencing of the original feeling. So for example, in recalling a deceased friends, one may recall an image of them; recall certain facts about them, but also re-experience the sadness felt at their passing.

These traces are latent in our minds, according to Abhinavagupta. At certain times, they may be fully activated – we recall the memories and re-experience (to varying degrees) the emotions associated with them. However, there are also times when these traces are activated, but not brought into self-reflective awareness, yet there is some affect. So for example I might enter a particular place and feel suddenly sad. I might reflect on the sudden surge of sadness and recall a prior experience of sadness in that place, but what is important here is that the representational content of the memory was – initially – not present.

Rasa and Bhakti

The fusion of Rasa theory and Bhakti is widely attributed to Rupa Gosvami, a disciple of Caitanya, who is credited with two key texts examining emotional devotion – the Bhaktirasamrtasindhu (“River of the Immortal Nectar of the Experience of Devotion”) and the Ujjvalanilamani (“The Effulgent Blazing Sapphire”). Emotional devotion begins with the ‘ordinary’ forms of love and desire felt by human beings, but the intention is to transform the ordinary into the sublime. Thus every devotee (regardless of background, caste etc.) is instructed to perform a set of basic practices. Whilst the Bhaktirasamrtasindhu details 64 Veidhi (“that which is based on rules”), there are five which are deemed to be ‘foundationational’:

* Recitation of the name of Krishna
* Remembering and savouring the exploits of Krishna as revealed in the Bhagavata Purana
* Serving the image of Krishna in temples
* Living in the company of holy men
* Living in the mandala of Mathura or Braj (Mathura is the reputed birthplace of Krishna)

By constantly turning one’s mind towards Krishna, the devotee begins a process which – gradually – becomes profound devotion. The basic human emotions are themselves insufficient, and must be continually refined. The devotee learns, progressively, to recognise all the various factors which either intensify or distract from this divine love. Gradually, the devotee learns how to transform the emotion (bhava) of ordinary desire (kama) into the pure and selfless love known as prema. For the advanced devotee, the 64 sadhanas are not mechanical ritual acts, but spontaneous expressions of love, the experience of which is to taste the Rasa – the pure essence of Love. Krishna is the source of Rasa, and there cannot, for devotees, be any Rasa apart from Krishna.

Any devotee whose mind is completely focused on Krishna will, it is said, involuntarily display evidence of that devotion, so that here, the Sattvikabhavas become markers of intense devotion.

Gosvami divides the path of the devotee into three stages. The first is that of Vaidhi-Bhakti, in which the devotee purifies his feelings using the aforementioned practices. The second stage is termed Raganuga-Bhakti – “the devotion of passion”. In this stage, the devotee is said to become a divine participant within the lila of Krishna, and does so by dwelling on the emotional feelings of love exchanged between Krishna and his parents, playmates, and the Gopis. Devotees engaged in Raganuga-Bhakti model their emotions on these divine ideal types. There are five appropriate moods: the Santa-Rasa (peaceful mood, as expressed for example, by meditating sages); the Dasya-Rasa (mood of servitude, as expressed by Krishna’s servants); the Sakhya-Rasa (mood of friendship); the Vatslya-Rasa (mood of parenthood – i.e. Krishna’s parents) and the Madhurya-Rasa (the conjugal mood expressed for example by the Gopis). Through Raganuga-Bhakti, the devotee is able to taste the Rasa (essence) of the players in Krishna’s lila. The final stage of devotion is that of Ragatmika-Bhakti – the perfected love of Krishna as experienced by the Gopis and other actors in Krishna’s Lila.

- Phil Hine