Kavyamimamsa of Rajasekhara (Study)

by Debabrata Barai | 2014 | 105,667 words

This page relates ‘Discipline, nature and divisions of Sahitya-vidya (poetics)’ of the English study on the Kavyamimamsa of Rajasekhara: a poetical encyclopedia from the 9th century dealing with the ancient Indian science of poetics and rhetoric (also know as alankara-shastra). The Kavya-mimamsa is written in eighteen chapters representing an educational framework for the poet (kavi) and instructs him in the science of applied poetics for the sake of making literature and poetry (kavya).

Part 1.1 - Discipline, nature and divisions of Sāhitya-vidyā (poetics)

Ālaṃkārika Yāyāvarīya Rājaśekhara introduced his magnum-opus Kāvyamīmāṃsā with the light of a philosophical statement–“athāto kāvyaṃ mīmāṃsiṣyāmahe”. To begin any book with a “maṅgalācaraṇaḥ ślokaḥ” is the Indian traditions of legendary, origins are also a convention to signify the long history of the discipline. But the ancient philosophical thinkers used to begin their book with expression ‘athātoḥ’ or ‘ataḥ’, instead of “maṅgalācaraṇaḥ ślokaḥ” For an example, in the Mīmāṃsāsūtra of Jaimini begins with the phrase ‘athāto dharmajiñjāsā’, Brahmasūtra begins with the phrase ‘athāto vrahmajiñjāsā[1] and Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali begins with ‘atha yogānuśāsanam’ . In the introduction of Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali also we find ‘atha śavdānuśāsanam’. Yāyāvarīya Rājaśekhara begins to write his poetical work following the footsteps of some philosophical thinkers. The meaning of ‘atha’ is authority or ‘adhikāraḥ’. Where ‘athātaḥ’ join with ‘ataḥ’, thus the meaning becomes ānantarya’.

In the Amarakoṣa of Amara Candra says, the use of ‘atha’ is evident to mean ‘next’, ‘beginning’ and ‘interrogation’–

‘maṅgalānantarārambhapraśnakārtashyeṣvatho atha[2].

In this way, following to the ancient tradition of commencement in any work Rājaśekhara started his poetical work:

athātaḥ kāvyaṃ mīmāṃsiṣyāmahe yathopadideśa śrīkaṇṭhaḥ parameṣṭhivaikuṇṭhādibhyaścatuḥṣaṣṭhaye śiṣyebhyaḥ |’

- Kāvyamīmāṃsā of Rājaśekhara: Ch-I, Pp- 1

Means: In begins an analysis of poetics, which as Śiva-Śrīkaṇṭha expounded Kāvya-vidyā (poetics) to Parameṣṭhi, Vaikuṇṭha and sixty four pupils. So also did Svayambhū train his own pupils in this discipline. Here ‘atha’ means that ‘ānantarya vācakaḥ’, a traditional treatise being with particle as a sign of auspiciousness. Therefore it can be assumed that after producing plays and epics, he (Rājaśekhara) engaged in analyzing the matter of poet, poetry and poetics. ‘atha’ here denotes the cause of writing the kāvya (poetry). By using the word ‘athātaḥ’ he (Rājaśekhara) perhaps wanted to mean that, after writing dṛśyakāvyas (audio-visual literature) and śravyakāvyas (audible literature) i.e. Bālarāmāyaṇa and Haravilāsa, for the convenience of analysis he engaged himself in analyzing and justifying the poetics. Here using the word ‘atha’, bliss is also meant indirectly.

In begins of introduction part of any kāvya (poetry) maṅgalācaraṇa as the necessary from the tradition of ancient times. The Sanskrit Ālaṃkārikas (poeticians) and literary critics, soon after the Āśīrvāda śloka (benedictory verse) start to introduce a discussion on such topics of purpose, causes, nature of subject matter in their poetry. A benedictory verse at the commencement of any literary work is introduced to avert the evil. It is expected to help the author to overcome any types of obstruction of death or dieses [diseases?]. Ancient Sanskrit Ālaṃkārikas also agree on the efficacy of the benedictory verse to bring the attainment of the good and the removal of the evil.

Prologue is must likewise the anubandha-catuṣṭaya (The Four requisite or Solicitations) are also important and should be exhibited.

anu paścāt svañjānottaraṃ vadhnānto āsañjayati pravartayati iti anuvandhāḥ | ”

- Advaitavedānta


“According to the tradition of ancient Sanskrit writers, anubandhas are the subject of the treatise should be indicated at the beginning and the reward of reading to be pointed out.”

It is also the scientific treatment of any Śāstras regards it essential to discuss the four requisites or that are known as anubandhas. i.e.

Viṣaya (The knowledge of Subject Matter),

  1. Prayojana (The Purpose),
  2. Saṃbandha (The Relation) and
  3. Adikārin (The Aspirant).

These help the readers in reading any poetry, prose or drama and increases their interests are called ‘Anubandha-catuṣṭaya’ (The Four Requisite)[3]. Rājaśekhara also directly, indirectly or traditionally follows this anubandha-catuṣṭaya (The Four Requisite) in his monumental poetical work Kāvyamīmāṃsā

The Ālaṃkārika Yāyāvarīya Rājaśekhara in his work Kāvyamīmāṃsā presented the subject by mentioning the devotional origin of literary criticism (Sāhitya-vidyā).

There he it is also mentioned that the need of ‘Śāstras’ (scriptures) is the attainment of four objects of human pursuit like:

  1. Dharma (religion),
  2. Artha (wealth),
  3. Kāma (desire) and
  4. Mokṣa (salvation).

To verity the agreeableness of the composed ‘Śāstras’ (scriptures), their correlation are directly or indirectly established by Rājaśekhara. Those who perceive the composed poetry they must be prior knowledge of ‘Śāstras’ (scriptures) is essential and they only have the right to read volumes of literary works[4].

The author of the Kāvyamīmāṃsā, Yāyāvarīya Rājaśekhara writes on the history of kāvya-vidyā (poetic creation) in a mythical manner. Lord Śrikaṇṭha gave teachings disciples on literary studies of kāvya-vidyā (poetics) to his pupil Parameṣṭhi, Vaikuṇṭha, Lord Brahmā, Lord Viṣṇu and other sixty-fours. Later Lord Brahmā also expounded advices to his spiritual pupil in these disciples and taught them the same subject. Among his (Lord Brahmā) pupils Kāvya-puruṣaḥ, the son of Goddess Sarasvatī, revered also is one. Kāvya-puruṣaḥ is the originator of Kāvya-vidyā (poetical studies). As per the order of Lord Brahmā, Kāvya-puruṣaḥ pioneered the discipline of poetics for the welfare of the triloka (universe) i.e. heaven, earth and the infernal region. He also has given eighteen descriptive lectures on discipline of poetics to Lord Indra and other learners of the paradise. Later Lord Indra and the other learners produced eighteen different works of eighteen different adhikaraṇa (sections of literary studies) of poetics. In course of time, these writings became dispersed based on which Rājaśekhara wrote his Kāvyamīmāṃsā in a precise manner.

Generally ‘Śāstra’ (scripture) begins with sūtras or aphoristically, then gradually it takes huge shape with different abloom commentary, descriptions and elaboration. Though some circumstances reverse also happens due to the decline of capacity and intellect of short lived peoples, the large area of ‘Śāstras’ became scattered and divided. Sometimes these Śāstras came to the edge of extinction. All that time some learned scholar collected the almost vanished substance of the Śāstras and gave it a new shape. It is difficult to assume surely that the second assumption was prevalent in the intellectual faculty of Rājaśekhara time.

That is why Rājaśekhara said:

yāyāvarīyaḥ saṃkhipya munināmaṃ matavistāram |
vyākarotkāvyamīmāṃsāṃ kavibhyo rājaśekharaḥ || ”

- Kāvyamīmāṃsā of Rājaśekhara: Ch-I, Pp- 2

In the first addhāya (chapter) of Kāvyamīmāṃsā, Rājaśekhara prescribed various subjects of kāvya-vidyā (poetic studies). Infact, from the writings of Ācārya Bharatamuni upto Ānandavardhana, the new ways of poetic criticism and a compact and scientific analysis of rasa (sentiment), rīti (style), Dhvani (suggestion) and alaṃkāras (embellishment) of speech as discussed in several Alaṃkāra Śāstras, are the main purpose of writing Kāvyamīmāṃsā. Along with various subjects of poetic criticism, Rājaśekhara introduced three concepts viz. ‘kavirahasya’, ‘vainodika’ and ‘auponiṣadika’ and proved his own genius command and mastery over the subject. Apart from that, from the stylistic point of view, we can say that in comparison to the ancient and the later Ālaṃkārikas (rhetoricians), Rājaśekhara visions and systematic analysis got prominence and proved his omniscience in the field of Sanskrit poetics.

Then Rājaśekhara, in the second chapter Śāstranirdeśa of the Kāvyamīmāṃsā says that, the verbal discourse of literature are divided into two categories basing on Apauruṣeya (revealed) and Pauruṣeya (human).[5] The first category Apauruṣeya (revealed) is known as Śruti, consist by mantras and Brāhmaṇas manifested in the hearts of the sages. The functional incantations are called mantra, description of mantras known as Brāhmaṇas. The second one, Pauruṣeya (human) is combined with Śakti (power), Pratibhā (genius) and Vutpatti (wisdom) of human strength, ability and derivation. The second category is purely man made and the first one which is not created by man is called ‘Apaureṣeya’ or revealed. The ancient scholars verified the revealed characteristic of the Vedas.

As Śruti or Vedas are not composed by men therefore the Vedic literature are not regarded to be human created.


- Śrautasūtra of Āpastamva (Paribhaṣā): 31


“As per the definition of ‘Āpastambha’, Vedas are the aggregate of Mantras (hymns) and the Brāhmaṇas (priests).”

From the Mantras (hymns) we get to know about the religious performances and its parts and from the Brāhmaṇas (priests) we come to know significance and explanation of those Mantras (hymns). There are four Vedas: Ṛgveda Veda (study of scriptures), Sāmaveda (devotional cults on music), Yajurveda (study of various yajña practices) and Atharvaveda (source book of world knowledge). The meaningful and rhythmical mantras (hymns) having proper rhyming lines are called Ṛik (the mantras of appraisal), the Sāmaveda contains formulas to be song or choral portion that chants, Yajus the one without rhyme or songs. Due to be co-existence of these three types of mantras (hymns), Vedas are called ‘the Trayī’. Atharvan or Atharva Veda is the fourth type of Vedas. Apart from these four Vedas, there are also four Upavedas: Dhanurveda (science of Archery), Itihāsas (historical Narratives), Gāndharvaveda (science of Fine Arts) and Āyurveda (science of Long-Life).

Knowledge of Vedāṅga is an essential for the better understanding of Vedas. Vedāṅgas are six auxiliaries of Vedas:

  1. Śikṣā (The Science of proper Phonetics),
  2. Kalpa (Rituals),
  3. Vyākaraṇa (Grammer),
  4. Nirukta (Etymology of Difficult Vedic Words),
  5. Chandas (The Science of Metrics) and
  6. Jyotiṣa (Astronomy).

As Alaṃkāra Śāstra is expressive of the meaning of Vedas, Rājaśekhara categorizes and posits it as the seventh Vedāṅga.

upakārakatvādalaṃkāraḥ saptamamaṅgam” iti yāyāvarīyaḥ |

- Kāvyamīmāṃsā of Rājaśekhara: Ch-II, Pp- 3

Rājaśekhara gives honors of seventh Vedāṅgas to the rhetorical figures of literary studies along with the sixth organ of the Vedas; comprehension of the Vedas remains incomplete without an auxiliary knowledge.

ṛte ca tatsvarupapariñjānādvedārthānavagateḥ” |

- Kāvyamīmāṃsā of Rājaśekhara: Ch-II, Pp- 3

Rājaśekhara coted the dvāsuparṇa mantra (hymn) to describe the significance of rhetorical figures for the knowledge of Vedas:

dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānṛṃvakhaṃ pariṣasvajāte |
tayoranya pippalaṃ svādvati anaśnatranyo abhicākaśīti || ”

- Rg. Veda–1.164.20 and
- Kāvyamīmāṃsā of Rājaśekhara: Ch-II, Pp- 3

The meaning of this mantra (hymn) is: Two birds live together in a tree, each one is the others counterpart. One of them eats the sweet long-pepper fruits and the other does not take any fruits but observers everything.

In the ‘Śvetasvatara Upaniṣad’ Śankarācārya’s philosophical commendatory on this mantra (hymn) described by the jīvātmā (embodies self) and paramātmā (pure self) to helping the aspirant attain the knowledge of ultimate reality. Like: The two birds are the jīvātmā (individual self) and the paramātmā (supreme self) reside together equally and united in human body. The jīvātmā (individual self) is consciousness conditioned by the body and mind of its association with avidyā (ignorance). The paramātmā (pure self) is Lord himself, eternally pure, free and illuminated. It is pure consciousness unconditionally by any limiting factors and the controller of avidyā (ignorance). They are united always because the the jīvātmā (individual self) is the reflection or shadow of the paramātmā (supreme self) in the buddhi. They are inseparable companions of an objects and its shadow. They are same name, atman and the tree is the body. The jīvātmā (individual self) eats, that is to be discrimination experiences of pleasant or unpleasant truth of action. The paramātmā (supreme self) is Lord, is the witness or Pure Consciousness and the controller the both jīvātmā (individual self) and the body and also the detached witness of their activities.

In the above chanted mantra (hymn), Rājaśekhara also uses it as the literary way to explain the significance of rhetorical figures for the knowledge of Vedas. The two birds are Upamān (analogies) and the Upameya are the jīvātmā (individual self) and the paramātmā (supreme self). Tree is the Upamān (analogy) and human body is Upameya (the object of comparison). As Upameya (the objects of comparison) are literally not present, therefore their meanings are lowered by the Upamān (analogies) for the sake of rhetoric. We can call it Atisayokti Alaṃkāra (hyperbole). According to Viśvanātha, it is the example of Avedarūpa Atiśayokti Alaṃkāra (Understatement). The knowledge of Alaṃkāras (figures) is helpful for understanding the core meaning of this mantra (hymn). We find various uses of Alaṃkāra (figures of speech) in Vedic mantras (hymns). The knowledge of Alaṃkāras is useful for decoding the meaning of Vedas. Rājaśekhara for this reason considers Sāhitya-vidyā (poetics) as equal to the Vedāṅga.

After discussing the divisions and significance of apauruṣeya (revealed) Vedic literature, Rājaśekhara also presented the pauruṣeya Śāstra (human creation) i.e. Purāṇas (Myths) and Itihāsas (History). Referring to the ancient Ācāryas, Rājaśekhara mention fourteen ‘Vidyā’ or ‘vidyāsthānas’ (issues of learning). There are four Vedas, six Vedāṇgas, Mīmāṃsā, Nyāya, Dharma and Purāṇas etc. four Śāstras.

Therefore the Dharmaśāstrakāra Manu, writer of Manuṣaṃhitā said:

aṅgāni vedaścatvāro mīmāṃsā nyāyavistaraḥ
dharmaśāsttraṃ purāṇañca vidyāstvetāścaturdaśa
|| ”

- Manusaṃhitā

However, some scholars include Āyurveda, Dhanurveda, Gāndharvaveda and Arthaśāstra along with the fourteen ‘Vidyās’ and makes a study of eighteen vidyās (literary areas). The author of Arthaśāstra, Mahāmati Kauṭilya mentions the four other issues of learning. These are Anvikṣīki, Trayī, Vārtā and Daṇḍanīti. Apart from them also pauruṣeya Śāstra (human creation) there are Patriarchal literature, masterpieces, their kinds, types and sub-types. The sixty-four types of kalās (arts) are universal indeed well known. The famous ‘caturdaśaḥ vidyaḥ (fourteen learning) teaches us and gives knowledge about religion and economics. Sāhitya-vidyās (Literary studies) also serve the similar purpose[6]. Apart from that, the fourteen vidyās (issues of learning) have their substantial lying in Sāhitya-vidyā (poetics). All other subjects are the types of Sāhitya-vidyā (poetics) as well as kāvya-vidyās.

Ācārya Bhāmaha also regards the entire vidyās (studies) as the part of poetic doctrine:

na tacchāstraṃ na sā vidyā na tacchilpaṃ na sā kalā |
jāyate yanna kāvyāṅgamaho bhāro mahān kaveḥ || ”

- Kāvyālaṃkāra (of Bhāmaha) of Bhāmaha: V/ 4

This statement of Bhāmaha is influenced by the Nātyācārya Bharatamuni, who accepts the utility of different kalā (arts), āna (knowledge) and vidyā (learning) in his dramaturgy:

na tañjānaṃ na tacchilpaṃ na sā vidyā na sā kalā |
na sa yogo na tat karma nāṭ ye'smin yanna dṛśyate || ”

- Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata: 1/ 116

According to Rājaśekhara, kāvya-vidyā (poetics) is a way towards mokṣa (salvation). In the third chapter of his Kāvyamīmāṃsā, Rājaśekhara said that the knowledge of poetics paves the way of the learned men towards the final beatitude:

pretya ceha ca nandati”

- Kāvyamīmāṃsā of Rājaśekhara: Ch-III, Pp- 10

Therefore the dignity of kāvya-vidyā is never less than the six philosophies. In relation to his discussion on demonstrating the superiority of literary and poetic studies, he asserts himself fit to be included in the doctrines of caturdaśa-vidyā (fourteen leanings).

sakalavidyāsthānaikāyatanaṃ pañcadaśaṃ kāvyaṃ vidyāsthānam iti yāyāvarīya ||

- Kāvyamīmāṃsā of Rājaśekhara: Ch-II, Pp- 4

Thus, he demonstrates the literary and poetic studies to be the finest and superior amongst all other paureṣeya-śāstra (patriarchal scriptures).

Footnotes and references:


Brahmasūtra: I/ 1/1


Amarkoṣa of Amarcandra: III/ 246


In the Bhāgavatagītā employes the term anubandha in the sense of “binding together”.

B. Gītā: XV/2–‘…adhaścabhūlā nyanusaṃtatāni karbhānubandhīni munuṣyaloke || ’


Kāvyamīmāṃsā of Rājaśekhara : Ch-II, Pp- 2.

śāstrapūrka tvāt kāvyāmāṃ pūrvaṃ śāstreṣvabhiniviśeta |
nahyapravarttitapradīpāste tattvārthasārthamadhyakṣayanti


Kāvyamīmāṃsā of Rājaśekhara: Ch: II/ Pp- 2. tacca dvidhā - apauruṣeyaṃ pauruṣeyaṃ ca |


Kāvyaprakāśa of Mammaṭa: I/ 2

kāvyaṃ yaśase'rthakṛte vyavahāravide śivetarakṣataye |
sadyaḥ paranirvvṛtaye kāntāsammitatayopadeśayuje || ”

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