Kuntaka’s evaluation of Sanskrit literature

by Nikitha. M | 2018 | 72,578 words

This page relates ‘The concept of figures (alankaras) according to Kuntaka’ of the study on the evaluation of Sanskrit literature with special reference to Kuntaka and his Vakroktijivitam from the 10th century CE. This study reveals the relevance of Sanskrit poetics in the present time and also affirms that English poetry bears striking features like six figurativeness taught by Kuntaka in his Vakroktijivita, in which he propounds the vakrokti school of Sanskrit literary criticism.

3.3. The concept of figures (alaṅkāras) according to Kuntaka

[Full title: A brief sketch of the contents of Vakroktijīvita, (3): The concept of figures according to Kuntaka]

In Kuntaka’s definition of poetry the term ‘vakrakavivyāpāraśālini’ denotes the six types of figurativeness mentioned by him. His vākyavakratā or sentential figurativeness discusses the wide varieties of figures of speech. Kuntaka has given an elaborate discussion about figurativeness in the third unmeṣa. He rejects some figures which were widely accepted by the early rhetoricians and also suggests new definitions for certain figures. Moreover he maintains that some figures like ananvaya, parivṛtti, nidarśanā etc. were merely varieties of upamā and thus refuses to accept them as separate figures. Though the early rhetoricians from Bharata to Ānandavardhana also tried to discuss about alaṅkāras, it is Kuntaka who gave a detailed study of it.

Kuntaka accepted twenty one alaṅkāras. They are:

  1. rasavat,
  2. dīpaka,
  3. rūpaka,
  4. aprastutapraśaṃsā,
  5. paryāyokta,
  6. vyājastuti,
  7. utprekṣā,
  8. atiśayokti,
  9. upamā,
  10. śleṣa,
  11. vyatireka,
  12. virodha,
  13. sahokti,
  14. dṛṣṭānta,
  15. arthāntaranyāsa,
  16. ākṣepa,
  17. vibhāvanā,
  18. sasandeha,
  19. apahnuti,
  20. saṃsṛṣṭi and
  21. saṅkara.

Moreover he has the boldness to refute some alaṅkāras of early rhetoricians. He tries to suggest new definitions for them. Kuntaka’s view about few alaṅkāras is given below. Innovative definition given by Kuntaka for sahokti with illustration is given below.

Bhāmaha in his Kāvyālaṅkāra gave the definition of sahokti as:-

tulyakālam kriye yatra vastudvayasamāśraye/
padenaikena kathyete sahoktiḥmatā yathā//[1]

“Where simultaneously, two actions are attributed to two objects by a same using a single expression then we have the alaṅkāra sahokti.”[2]

The example cited for this by Bhāmaha is mentioned below.

himapātāviladiśo gāḍhāliṅganahetavaḥ/
vṛddhimāyānti yāminyaḥ kāmināṃ prītibhiḥ saha

“The night that obscures the quarters by snowfall and makes one long for close embraces lengthens just like the amours of lovers.”

According to Kuntaka the figure of speech used in this verse is upamā because here the similarity between the night and the amours of lovers are delighting the readers. If there is no such similarity, the plane words like ‘the teacher reads with the student’ and ‘the father stands with his son’ etc. will also be considered as sahokti even when they do not have any charm at all. So refuting the definition given by Bhāmaha,

Kuntaka propounded a new one which is as follows:-

yatraikenaiva vākyena varṇanīyārthasiddhaye uktiryugapadarthānām sā sahoktiḥ satām matā/[4]

According to Kuntaka, two meanings expressed at the same time by a single sentence to enrich the beauty of the described subject is sahokti and one of the examples for it is given below.

he hasta dakṣiṇa mṛtasya śiśordvijasya jīvātave visṛja śūdramunau kṛpāṇam/
rāmasya pāṇirasi nirbharagarbhakhinna-devīvivāsanapaṭoḥ karuṇā kutaste

For explaining sahokti, Kuntaka quotes a beautiful verse from Uttararāmacarita of Bhavabhūti, here the poet has incorporated two meanings simultaneously in a same sentence very brilliantly. The first idea conveyed here is, it is the hand of Rāma who very cruelly banished his pregnant wife without any mercy. So it is proper for Rāma to be merciless once again to kill the śūdra sage, though it is undeserving, in order to protect the dead child of a Brāhmin. The second idea of this verse is, if the hand of Rāma is reluctant to kill the śūdra sage thinking that he himself is kind and generous, it will never be acceptable because it is the hand of such Rāma who has already proven his cruelty by banishing his innocent wife at the time of her advanced pregnancy. So the killing of the sage is an easier thing for Rāma and it will also never depreciate his quality. Here in both the meanings, the word Rāma possesses an unexplainable rūḍhivaicitryavakratā by enriching the sentiment of love-in-separation.

Footnotes and references:


P.V Naganatha Sastry, op.cit, p.67.






K. Krishnamoorthy, op.cit,p.227.



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