Mudrarakshasa (literary study)

by Antara Chakravarty | 2015 | 58,556 words

This page relates ‘The Theory of rasa’ of the English study on the Mudrarakshasa: an ancient Sanskrit dramatic play (Nataka) authored by Vishakhadatta which deals with the life of king Chandragupta. This study investigates the Mudra Rakshasa from a literary perspective, such as metrics, themes, rhetorics and other poetical elements. Chandragupta ruled the Mauryan Empire during the 4th century BCE, hence this text can also be studied as a historical textbook of ancient India.

As stated earlier Bharata is considered to be the first proponent of the theory of rasa, as the legendary rasasūtra came out from his pen, which runs thus—

bibhāvānubhāvavyabhicārisaṃyogāt rasaniṣpattiḥ/[1]

rasa arises from the mutual operation of the vibhāvas, anubhāvas and vyabhicārībhāvas.”

This means that the realization of rasa results from the union of vibhāva, anubhāva and vyabhicārībhāva and its alignment with permanent mood known as sthāyibhāva.

Mammaṭabhaṭṭa and Viśvanātha Kavirāja also advocated this theory thus—

vibhāvānubhāvastat kathyante vyabhicāriṇaḥ/
vyaktaḥ sa tairvibhāvādyaiḥ sthāyībhāvo rasaḥ smṛtaḥ//


vibhāvenānubhāvena vyaktaḥ sañcāriṇā tathā rasatāmeti ratyādiḥ sthāyī bhāvaḥ sacetasām//[3]

Rasa theory is proved to be the universally accepted, most important contribution of Indian poetics. This theory reveals that human mind consists of some permanent moods which generally lie dormant, but are aroused by some external stimulus experience like witnessing an artistic product or reading a piece of literary work or any other similar circumstances. Finally a condition arrives when the spectator or the reader forgets himself and enjoys the aesthetic pleasure indistinguishably. The resultant aesthetic enjoyment is called Rasa. These rasas are eight in number according to Bharata. Those are: Śṛṅgāra (erotic), Hāsya (comic), Karuṇa (pathetic), Raudra (furious), Vīra (heroic), Bhayānaka (terrible), Bībhatsa (odius) and Adbhuta (marvelous).


śṛṅgārahāsyakaruṇā raudravīrabhayānakāḥ/
bībhatsādbhūtasaṃjñāścetyaṣṭau nāṭye rasāḥ smṛtāḥ//

Bharata says that there are eight sthāyins or basic mental states, thirty three vyabhichārins or accessories and eight sāttvikabhāvas or involuntary physical reflexes. These forty-nine, taken together, make for kāvyarasābhivyakti. Rasas are born of these, when they are represented in a universalized state. These forty-nine emotions in their generalized form are the source of rasa.[5]

Now, coming to the terms what is bhāva, vibhāva, anubhāva, vyabhicārībhāva or sañcārībhāva, sāttvikabhāva and sthāyibhāva.

According to Bharata, bhāvas are those elements which originate the sentiments in connection with various modes of dramatic representation. Just as a tree grows from a seed, and flowers and fruit (including the seed) from a tree, so the sentiments are the source of all the states and likewise the states exist (as the source of all the sentiments).[6] Bharata accepts the bhāva as the basis of rasa. He describes it as that which brings into existence the sense of poetry through the three kinds of representation, i.e., through words, gestures and internal feelings-vāgaṅgasattvopetān kāvyārthān bhāvayantīti bhāvāḥ.[7]

According to Nāṭyaśāstra the word vibhāva is used for the sake of clear knowledge.[8] The word is synonymous with kāraṇa, nimitta and hetu. Therefore, the exciting causes or determinants of the rise of the emotions are called vibhāvas. The word vibhāva is used to connote knowledge or cognition and is explained generally as denoting that which makes the three kinds of representation capable of being determined-vāgaṅgasattvābhinayā ityato vibhāvāḥ.[9] Vibhāvas are further divided into two categories-Ālambanavibhāva (supporting causes) and Uddīpanavibhāva (stimulating causes). Ālambanavibhāva is that thing or person with reference to which a sentiment arises, such as the lover and the beloved in the case of Śṛṅgārarasa; Uddīpanavibhāva are the circumstances which provide the excitement to the awakening of that particular emotion, such as the moonlit night, sweet fragrances of the flowers, the beauties of vernal season etc. in case of the sentiment of love.

Anubhāva is the outward manifestation of internal feelings brought out through the eyes, face and so on as a result of the emotions aroused by the vibhāvas. Bharata said that the Anubhāvas are called so, because the dramatic representation by means of words, gestures and the temperament are made to be felt by this.[10] He has further divided anubhāva into two-Vācika that are expressed by words and Āṅgika i.e. bodily expressions, which result from some internal organic changes. Hence, the consequence of the emotion on the character is suggested by the anubhāvas. Thus, the Anubhāvas communicate to the audience through the Āṅgika and Vācika representation of the character.

There also exist certain spontaneous or temperamental states of mind called Sāttvikabhāvas. It is said the temperament in this connection is something originating in mind. It is caused by the concentrated mind.[11] As stated above, Sāttvikabhāvas are eight in number-Stambha (paralysis), Śveda (perspiration), Romāñca (horripilation), Svarabhaṅga (change of voice), Vepathu (trembling), Vaivarṇya (change of colour), Aśru (tears) and Pralaya (fainting).[12] Bharata further clearly stated that the nature of Sāttvikabhāva cannot be mimicked by any absent minded man.[13]

There are some other feelings transitory by nature that accompany or interrupt the permanent mood, without, however superseding it. These states are known as Vyabhicārībhāvas or the Sañcārībhāvas . They are like the waves in the ocean appearing and disappearing in the permanent mood.[14] They are not strictly confined to any particular rasa. The Sañcārībhāvas are thirty-three in number as recorded by Bharata and also supported by the later rhetoricians. Those are: Nirveda (despondency), Glāni (weakness), Śaṅkā (apprehension), Asūyā (envy), Mada (intoxication), Śrama (weariness), Ālasya (indolence), Dainya (depression), Cintā (anxiety), Moha (distraction), Smṛti (recollection), Dhṛti (contentment), Vrīḍā (shame), Capalatā (inconstancy), Harṣa (joy), Āvega (agitation), Jaḍatā (stupor), Garva (arrogance), Viṣāda (despair), Autsukya (longing), Nidrā (slumber), Apasmāra (epilepsy), Supta (dreaming), Vibodha (awaking), Amarṣa (indignation), Avahittha (dissimilation), Ugratā (sternness), Mati (resolve), Vyādhi (sickness), Unmāda (insanity), Maraṇa (death), Trāsa (fear) and Vitarka (deliberation).[15]

Again, there are sthāyibhāvas present in the mind of every connoisseur. As the ocean melts all salt into the water, the sthāyibhāva not being interrupted by any sentiment dissimilar or similar to its nature befalling at intervals converts all of them into its own nature.[16] According to Bharata the sthāyībhāvs are like the kings or the preceptors. Just as a king is superior to other men and the preceptor is superior to his disciples, so the sthāyībhāvs are superior to other bhāvas.[17] Thus sthāyibhāva emerge as a principal theme in a composition. These sthāyibhāvas are eight in number corresponding to the eight rasas. They are-Rati (love), Hāsa (humer), Śoka(sorrow), Krodha (anger), Utsāha(courage),Bhaya (fear), Jugupsā (disgust) and Vismaya (wonder).


ratirhāsaśca śokaśca krodhotsāhau bhayaṃ tathā/
jugupsā viṣmayaśceti sthāyībhāvāḥ prakīrtitāḥ//

As Bharata’s observation of rasa was mainly based on the dramatic performances, he mentioned about only eight rasas-aṣṭau nāṭye rasāḥ smṛtāḥ.[19] However the later rhetoricians accepted one more rasa, viz. Śānta, the permanent mood of which is Nirveda (self-disparagement).


nirvedasthāyībhāvo’sti śānto’pi navamo rasaḥ/[20]

Now, apart from these above mentioned technical terms, there are two more terms in the rasasūtra-saṃyoga and niṣpatti. Though Bharata has not clearly mentioned anywhere the meanings of these two words, we can assume that by saṃyoga, Bharata has referred to the unity of the different bhāvas and by niṣpatti he meant the realization of the emotions conveyed by the artists to the mind of the audience. These two terms have made a huge controversy in the field of rasa. As a result of which four schools of rasa, viz, utpattivāda, anumitivāda, bhūktivāda and abhivyaktivāda have been developed subsequently.

Thus, we can say that the rasa theory is an omnipresent humanistic theory which does not leave out any of the emotions that could produce rasa.

Footnotes and references:


Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni, Ed. Pandit Shivadatta and Kashinath Pandurang Parab, Nirnaya Sagara Press, Bombay, 1894, p.62


Kāvyaprakāśa, IV.28


Nāṭyaśāstra, VI.15


tatrāṣṭau bhāvāḥ sthāyinaḥ| trayastriṃśadvyabhicāriṇaḥ/ aṣṭau sātvikāḥ/ evamete kāvyarasābhivyaktihetava ekonapañcāśadbhāvāḥ pratyavagantavyāḥ/ ebhyaśca sāmānyaguṇayogena rasā niṣpadyante// Nāṭyaśāstra, VI, p. 70


yathā vījādbhavedvṛkṣo vṛkṣādpuṣpaṃ phalaṃ yathā/ tathā mūlaṃ rasāḥ sarve tato bhāvā vyavasthitā// Nāṭyaśāstra, VI,38


Nāṭyaśāstra, VII, p.69


vibhāvo vijñānārthaḥ/ Nāṭyaśāstra, Chap.7 under Kārika-3




yadayamanubhāvayati vāgaṅgasattvakṛtamabhinayam/ Ibid., p.69


iha hi satvaṃ nāma manaḥ prabhavaṃ| tacca samāhitamanastvādutpadyate/ Ibid., P.82


stambhaḥ svedo’tha romāñcaḥ svarabhaṅgo’tha vepathuḥ/ vaivarṇyamaśru pralaya ityaṣṭau sāttvikāḥ smṛtāḥ// Ibid., VI.22


tasya yo’sau svabhāvo romāñcāsvādikṛtaḥ sa na śakyate’nyamanasā kartumiti/ Ibid., p.82


sthāyinyunmagnanirmagnāḥ kallolā iva vāridhau// Daśarūpakam, IV.7


nirvedaglāniśaṅkākhyāstathāsūyāmadaśramāḥ/ ālasyaṃ caiva dainyaṃ ca cintā mohaḥ smṛtirdhṛtiḥ//Nāṭyaśāstra, VI.18| vrīḍā capalatā harṣa āvego jaḍatā tathā/ garvo viṣāda autsukyaṃ nidrāpasmāra eva ca// Ibid., VI.19 suptaṃ vibodho’marṣaścāpyavahitthamathogratā/ matirvyādhistathonmādastathā maraṇameva ca// Ibid., VI.20 trāsaścaiva vitarkaśca vijñeyā vyabhicāriṇaḥ/ trayastriṃśadamī bhāvāḥ samākhyātāstu nāmataḥ// Ibid., VI.21


viruddhairaviruddhairvā bhāvairvicchidyate na yaḥ/ ātmabhāvaṃ nayatyanyān sa sthāyī lavaṇākaraḥ// Daśarūpakam, IV. 34


yathā narāṇām nṛpatiḥ śiṣyāṇāṃ ca yathā guruḥ / evaṃ hi sarvabhāvānāṃ bhāvaḥ sthāyī mahāniha // Nāṭyaśāstra, VII.8




Ibid., VI.15


Kāvyaprakāśa, p. 47, Ed. with the Nāgeśvarī Commentary by Śri Hariśaṅkara Śarmā, Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, Varanasi,2003

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