The backdrop of the Srikanthacarita and the Mankhakosa

by Dhrubajit Sarma | 2015 | 94,519 words

This page relates “Sanskrit kavya and its definitions” as it appears in the case study regarding the Srikanthacarita and the Mankhakosa. The Shrikanthacarita was composed by Mankhaka, sometimes during A.D. 1136-1142. The Mankhakosa or the Anekarthakosa is a kosa text of homonymous words, composed by the same author.

Part 1 - Sanskrit kāvya and its definitions

In the tradition of Sanskrit, the term kāvya is used in the sense of sāhitya and in the same way, the word kavi is applied to mean sāhityika or writer. Therefore, the term kāvya stands for all that is the work of a poet.[1] In the world of kāvya, which is boundless and bare, kavi or writer, itself is the Brahmā or the creator. The visible world can take the shape, according to the very desire of the poet. There is no geographical as well as political boundary in the realm of a kavi. Any work which is apparently impossible by means of money and man-power could be easily accomplished by way of kavikarma. So, it has been rightly appreciated by Ānandavardhana.[2] Hence, the connotation of the word kāvya is very wide. Simply, poetry (kāvya) is the spontaneous overflow of the powerful feelings, as written by William Wordsworth in the preface to his Lyrical Ballads.[3] That is why, the words oozing out from the heart of Vālmīki, the Ādikavi, without any conscious effort are regarded as the first kāvya form of Indian literary tradition. That is once, when out in the forests, Vālmīki was moved by the killing of one of a love-lorn pair of birds by a hunter, leaving the female bird to lament the death of her mate and that feeling of pity manifested itself in the form of a melodious verse (śloka).[4]

In the Sanskrit literature, the term kavi and kāvya are used side by side. One who writes, describes or knows is called a kavi and his work is termed as kāvya. Again, in the Śuklayajurveda (ŚY), the term kavi is used to denote the omniscient God.[5] According to the Bhāgavatapurāṇa (Bhp.), by tene hṛdā ya ādikavaye, the word ādikavi means Brahmā.[6] The term kavi stands for daityaguru Śukrācārya in the Amarakoṣa (Amara.).[7] In the Śabdakalpadruma (ŚKD), though the term kavi has been explained in various senses, it is used to denote the preceptor of the demonsalso.[8] Again, this term also refers to scholars in general.[9] In the ŚKD, the word kavi has been constituted by the root ku śabde with the suffix i by the aphorism ac iḥ.[10] However, the word kavi is used primarily to mean Ādikavi Vālmīki[11] and sage Vyāsa. The Mahābhārata (Mbh.) of Vyāsa is counted under the category of kāvya and Vyāsa himself established it.[12] In the explanation of a kārikā, Viśvanātha Kavirāja by writing, “in this epic, as for example the Mbh.” accepted the Mbh. as mahākāvya in clear terms.[13] There is no divergence of opinion that these two epics viz. the Rāmāyaṇa (RM) and the Mbh. are the sources of all the successive poets, for their writings. The Agnipurāṇa (AP., 33, 7/7, 331) is of the opinion that the assemblage of words (padasamūha), blended with alaṃkāra and guṇa, without fault is termed as kāvya and although there is importance of vākcāturya (eloquence of speech), however rasa is the soul of poetry. Vāmanācārya also supports this, in his Kāvyālaṃkārasūtravṛtti (KSV.)[14] It may be mentioned here that Viśvanātha is the first poetician, who distinctly mentioned the AP as an authority on the poetics.

There are several definitions of kāvya available, right from Bharata upto Viśvanātha, where each one of them tries to establish their views.


While speaking about kāvya, Bharata gives emphasis upon rasa. According to Bharata, rasa is the most essential and indispensable element in a kāvya. He opines that no meaning is produced from the speech, without any kind of sentiment.[15] The basic principle of rasa or the sentiment in Indian poetics and aesthetics must have been developed for the first time in the Nāṭyaśāstra (NŚ). The word rasa, primarily means ‘taste’. Just as different spices leave behind different tastes, sweet, sour or bitter, even so does the emotion (bhāva), represented on the stage, arouse in the mind of the audience, apt sentiments. From this theory of rasa or rasa-sūtra[16], originated the remarkable system of Indian aesthetics, as an inevitable offshoot from its psychological theory of emotions (bhāvas).


Bhāmaha, gives other type of definition of kāvya. According to him, kāvya is the harmonious form of word and meaning.[17] In his definition of kāvya, Bhāmaha accords equal status to ‘word’ and ‘import’, though he has devoted more attention to the former.[18] Bhāmaha is deemed to be the oldest extant exponent of the alaṃkāra school of poetics. He opines that a kāvya should be without fault and blended with alaṃkāras. He is also of the opinion that alaṃkāra is the vital thing in a kāvya. From the Kāvyālaṃkāra (KL), it is found that before Bhāmaha also, there were discussions on poetics. Therefore, it is an undisputed fact that the practice of poetics was of a very much ancient origin.


Daṇḍin, is of the opinion that kāvya is consisting of some meaningful words.[19] In his definition of poetry, Daṇḍin gives more importance to the word-element than to the sense-element. Though Daṇḍin is usually assigned to the 7th century A.D., still the relative priority of Bhāmaha and Daṇḍin is a disputed point in the history of Sanskrit poetics. Daṇḍin appears to have been greatly influenced by the alaṃkāra school. According to him, every poem needs to consist of a body and an embellishment. By the body of the poem is understood the set of words in a sentence, set so as to suit the desired meaning. This set of words is capable of being put either in a metrical (padya), non-metrical (gadya) or mixed (miśra) style.[20]


Vāmana, the propounder of the rīti school, establishes the essentiality of rīti in kāvya. Vāmana declares that rīti is the soul of poetry.[21] According to Vāmana, rīti or diction is the special arrangement of words and that speciality consists in harmonious combination of certain fixed guṇas or poetic excellences, which serve to embellish the poetry. In order to endow poetry with a soul, Vāmana insists upon imparting speciality to the arrangement of words by employing guṇas or excellences to it. Again, Vāmana treated the rasas as the essential features of the guṇas.22 Vāmana is the protagonist of the rīti school. In five chapters and twelve sections of the KSV, he boldly asserts that rīti or style is the essence of poetry. He opines that the ten guṇas are important so far as they constitute rīti. His KVS consists of a theoretical section on aesthetics and a practical segment on grammar.


Rudraṭa, supported the view of Bhāmaha regarding the definition of kāvya. He uses the term nanu, supporting thereby the opinion of Bhāmaha.[22] Therefore, he must be regarded as a representative of the alaṃkāra school. Although he knew the rasa theory propounded by Bharata and though he said that kāvya must be endowed with rasa[23], still he looked upon alaṃkāras as very important. It is a noticeable feature that he does not attach importance to the rītis, though he casually refers to them[24] and speaks of four rītis; the guṇas are not defined and illustrated by him.{GL_NOTE:137443:


Ānandavardhana, is of the opinion that dhvani or suggestiveness is the essence of poetry and on that basis, he discusses its relation to other poetic embellishments. Ānandavardhana informs us that the doctrine of dhvani is very old, the dim beginnings of which are lost in oblivion. According to him, a word is not only endowed with the two powers of denotation (śakti) and implication (lakṣaṇā), but also with that of suggestion (vyañjana). Through the power of suggestion, either a subject, or a figure or a sentiment is revealed.


The views of Ānandavardhana found a large and definite shape in the writings of his erudite commentator Abhinavagupta. Abhinavagupta has to his credit two important commentaries on poetics, which may be looked upon as independent treatises, and these are the Locana on the Dhvanyāloka (DL) of Ānandavardhana and the Abhinavabhāratī on the NŚ of Bharata. Abhinavagupta thought that all suggestion must be of sentiment, for the suggestion of subject or that of figure may be ultimately reduced to the suggestion of sentiment.[26]


Rājaśekhara gives the definition of kāvya in his Kāvyamīmāṃsā (KM).[27] It is a unique work, but it does not directly concern itself with the exposition of rasas, guṇas or alaṃkāras and it is rather in the nature of practical handbook for the poets. In this valuable and interesting treatise on poetics, consisting of eighteen chapters, Rājaśekhara describes in detail, as to how a sabhā i.e. assembly should be designed. In a fuller detail, he states things about poets and kings. The style of the work is vigorous and he quotes numerous verses from ancient authors. It has been seen that this work is a mine of information on numerous matters.


In his Vakroktijīvita (VJ), Kuntaka gives weightage on crooked speech or vakrokti. According to him, vakrokti is the only thing for the creation of kāvya. Vakrokti is a striking mode of speech[28], differing from and transcending the ordinary everyday mode of speaking about a thing (and hence called vakrokti);it is the speech that charms by the skill of the poet. According to Kuntaka, vakrokti is the soul of poetry i.e. it is vakrokti that breathes life into poetry, makes it poetry and without it kāvya cannot exist. But vakrokti itself is not capable, unless the poet possesses the necessary fancy and imagination, therefore, kavivyāpāra is pradhāna in kāvya.[29] The VJ denies the independent existence of dhvani or vyaṅgya as the soul of poetry and tries to include it under its all pervading vakrokti. The emphasis is mainly laid by Kuntaka on kavivyāpāra and secondarily on aesthetic pleasure that the man of taste enjoys from poetry or drama.


Mahimabhaṭṭa does not dispute that the soul of poetry is rasa.[30] He admits the necessity of the sentiment. Mahimabhaṭṭa wrote the work for demolishing the theory of dhvani.[31] He contradicts the position of the DL that there is a third function of words called vyañjanā (besides abhidhā and lakṣaṇā) and that suggested sense is conveyed by this process. His own position is that words have a single power e.g. abhidhā, the suggested sense e.g. pratīyamānārtha is conveyed by the expressed sense, through the process of inference (anumāna) and that word and sense are not vyañjaka.[32] Mahimabhaṭṭa also criticizes the theory of Kuntaka and refutes his doctrine that the merit of poetry is felicitous expression.[33]


Bhoja, defines kāvya in his Sarasvatīkaṇṭhābharaṇa (SKB) and Śṛṅgāraprakāśa (Śṛp.) In the Śṛp., it is found that poetry consists of word and meaning, which was also the view of Bhāmaha. The sense is that word and meaning, both jointly constitute poetry. The Śṛp is a very voluminous work, larger than any work on Sanskrit poetics. It deals with both poetics and dramaturgy, like the SD.[34] In SKB, in five long chapters, Bhoja discusses the merits and demerits of poetry, the figures of speech and sentiments. The general precepts are profusely illustrated from the works of standard authors and in this respect, the treatise forms a landmark in the history of Sanskrit literature.[35] In the first chapter, it deals with kāvyalakṣaṇa, along with other topics.


Mammaṭa, is of the opinion that poetry consists of words and meanings, faultless, with excellence or beauty even though sometimes undecorated.[36] In the alaṃkāra literature, the Kāvyaprakāśa (KP) occupies a unique position. It covers the whole ground of rhetoric, treats as usual of the merits and faults of poetry, the operation of the words and their sources and figures of speech. He opines that real poetry is free from faults and adorned with merits.


Rājānaka Ruyyaka, who is held in high esteem as a theorist on poetry wrote the Alaṃkārasarvasva (Als.). According to P.V. Kane[37], Ruyyaka is a staunch advocate of the dhvani school and he briefly summarizes the views of Bhāmaha, Udbhaṭa, Rudraṭa, Vāmana, the VJ, Vyaktiviveka (VV) and Ānandavardhana, on the essence of poetry. However, M. Winternitz[38] is of the opinion that Ruyyaka wholly depends upon his predecessors, especially Mammaṭa. When he refers to the views of Bhāmaha, Udbhaṭa, Rudraṭa and Vāmana, he speaks about them collectively.

Vāgbhaṭa I:

Vāgbhaṭa I, in his Vāgbhaṭālaṃkāra (Vāg.), in the first Pariccheda, defines kāvya[39], mentions pratibhā as the source of kāvya, defines pratibhā, vyutpatti and abhyāsa, speaks of the favourable circumstances for the out-turn of poetry and the conventions to be observed by the poets etc.


Hemacandra mentions the features of kāvyalakṣaṇa in his Kāvyānuśāsana (KA). He provides some observation as that of Mammaṭa. However, he replaces the term adoṣau by the term pradoṣau only.


In the Candrāloka (CL) of Jayadeva also, in the first mayūkha, the definition of kāvya is found.


In the Ekāvalī (Ekā.) of Vidyadhara also, in the first unmeṣa, the definition of kāvya is given.

Viśvanātha Kavirāja:

Viśvanātha Kavirāja is of the opinion that the poetry is the sentence, soul whereof is flavour or sentiment (rasa).[40] Viśvanātha gives in ten chapters, a comprehensive treatment of all the topics of poetics, including dramaturgy. In the first chapter of his treatise, he provides the definition of poetry. Here Viśvanātha discusses the definitions of poetry proposed by different writers and at last, gives his own definition and illustrates it.[41]

Keśava Miśra:

After Viśvanātha, Keśava Miśra in his Alaṃkāraśekhara (AŚ), consisting of eight chapters or ratnas and twenty-two marīcis, gives the definition of kāvya.

Paṇḍitarāja Jagannātha:

Paṇḍitarāja Jagannātha, is of the opinion that the word, establishing pleasant meaning is termed as kāvya[42] and the wonderfulness in sentiment is accepted as its essence.Paṇḍitarāja Jagannātha declares that of all the varieties of dhvani, rasadhvani is paramaramaṇīya. In this standard work on poetics, next only to the DL and the KP, Jaganātha also examines the definitions of kāvya given by others. Jagannātha is the last of the important writers on Sanskrit poetics.

Thus, the sentence without fault, blended with guṇa and alaṃkāra, wonderful as well as the soul whereof is rasa is called kāvya. This is almost unanimously granted as the flawless definition of kāvya.

Footnotes and references:


kaveḥ karma kāvyaṃ/
Vakroktijīvita., vṛtti on kārika 2


apāre kāvyasaṃsāre kavireva prajāpatiḥ/
yathāsmai rocate viśvaṃ tathedaṃ parivartate//
śṛṅgārī cetkaviḥ kāvye jātaṃ rasamayaṃ jagat/
sa eva vītarāgaścennirasaṃ sarvameva tat//
bhāvānacetanānapi cetanavaccetanānacetanavat/
vyavahārayati yatheṣṭaṃ sukaviḥ kāvye svatantratayā//
     Dhvanyāloka., I. 3, vṛtti on kārikā 43

[3]:, Famous Prefaces, The Harvard Classics, 1909-14 , preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth, paragraph 6.


mā niṣāda pratiṣṭhāṃ tvamagamaḥ śāśvatīḥ samāḥ/
yatkrauñcamithunādekamavadhīḥ kāmamohitaṃ// Rāmāyaṇa., 1. 2. 15

Ānandavardhana also comments—
kāvyasyātmā sa evārthastathā cādikaveḥ purā/
krauñcadvandvaviyogotthaḥ śokaḥ ślokatvamāgataḥ//
     Dhvanyāloka., I. 5, page 29


kavirmanīsī paribhuḥ svayaṃbhuḥ/ Śukla Yajurveda., 40. 8


janmādyasya yato’nvayādirata-ścārtheṣvabhijñaḥ svarāṭ tene brahma hṛdā ya ādikavaye muhyanti yatsūrayaḥ/
tejovārimṛdāṃ yathā vinimayo yatra trisargo’mṛṣā dhāmnā svena sadā nirastakuhakaṃ satyaṃ paraṃ dhīmahi//
     Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 1. 1.1; page 45


śukro daityoguruḥ kāvya uśanā bhārgavaḥ kaviḥ/
Amarakoṣa, 1. 3. 25


śukrācāryaḥ (yathā mahābhārate 1/66/42 Śabdakalpadruma.,


vidvān vipaściddoṣajñaḥ san sudhīḥ kovido vudhaḥ/
dhīro manīṣī jñaḥ prājñaḥ saṅkhyāvān paṇḍitaḥ kaviḥ//
Amarakoṣa, 2. 7. 5, Bhattacharya, Bidyānidhi, page 210


About the term kavi, it has been written as -kaviḥ, puṃ.,
(kavate sarvaṃ jānāti sarvaṃ varṇayati sarvaṃ sarvato gacchati vā/ kav in/ yadvā kuśabde+ “acaḥ iḥ”/ uṇaṃ 4/138/ iti iḥ/)
brahmā/ iti hemacandraḥ//
also, kaviḥ, tri, kavate ślokān grathate varṇayati vā/ (kav+in) paṇḍitaḥ/ityamaraḥ 2/7/5;
also, kaviḥ strī, (kavati śabdāyate iti/ kuśabde “ac iḥ”/uṇaṃ/ 4/138 iti iḥ/
Deva, Rāja Rādhā Kānta, Śabdakalpadruma., page 68


ayamādikaviḥ yathā, “tene brahmahṛdā ya ādikavaye” (iti bhāgavate/ 1/1)

“vālmīkirmuniḥ/ Śabdakalpadruma., page 68


kṛtaṃ mayedaṃ bhagavan! kāvyaṃ parama pujitaṃ/
Mahābhārata, Anuśāsana Parvan 1. 61


asminnārṣe punaḥ sargā bhavantyākhyānasaṃjñakāḥ/ asminmahākāvye/ yathā-mahābhārataṃ/ Sāhityadarpaṇa., VI. 325


Kāvyālaṃkārasūtravṛtti., 1. 1. 1-3


na hi rasādṛte kaścidarthaḥ pravartate/
Nāṭyaśāstra., VI


Nāṭyaśāstra., VI. 32


śabdārthau sahitau kāvyaṃ/
KL., I. 16


Sastri, G.N., CHCSL., p. 151


śarīraṃ tāvadiṣṭārthavyavacchinnā padāvalī/
KD., I. 10


Winternitz, M., History of Indian Literature., vol. III, page 13


rītirātmā kāvyasya, viśiṣṭā padaracanā rītiḥ, viśeṣo guṇātmā/
Kāvyālaṃkārasūtravṛtti., I. 2. 6-8

22 Basu, A.C., Kāvyālaṃkārasūtravṛtti., page 35-36


nanu śabdārthau kāvyaṃ/
Kāvyālaṃkāra (of Rudraṭa)., II. 1


tasmāttatkartavyaṃ yatnena mahīyasā rasairyuktaṃ/
Ibid., XII. 2


Ibid., II. 4, 6; XIV. 37; XV. 20


Kane, P.V., History of Sanskrit Poetics., page 153


Sastri, G.N., ‘A Concise History of Classical Sanskrit Literature’., page 153


guṇavadalaṃkṛtaṃ ca vākyameva kāvyaṃ/
Kāvyamīmāṃsā., VI


vakroktireva vaidagdhyabhaṅgībhaṇitirucyate/
Vakroktijīvita., I. 10


Kane, P.V., History of Sanskrit Poetics., page 228


kāvyasyātmani saṅjñini rasādirūpe na kasyacidvimatiḥ/
Vyaktiviveka., Sastri, T.G., page 22


yatrārthaḥ śabdo vā tamarthamupasarjanīkṛtasvārthau/
vyaṅktaḥ kāvyaviśeṣa sa dhvaniriti sūribhiḥ kathitaḥ// Dhvanyāloka., I. 13


Kane, P.V., History of Sanskrit Poetics., page 248


Krishnamachariar, M., ‘History of Classical Sanskrit Literature’., page 753


Winternitz, M., History of Indian Literature., page 25


Krishnamachariar, M., ‘History of Classical Sanskrit Literature’., page 750-751


tadadoṣau śabdārthau saguṇāvanalaṅkṛtī punaḥ kvāpi// Kāvyaprakāśa., I, sūtra 1


Kane, P.V., History of Sanskrit Poetics., page 275


Winternitz, M., History of Indian Literature., page 26


Kane, P.V., History of Sanskrit Poetics., page 286


vākyaṃ rasātmakaṃ kāvyaṃ/
Sāhityadarpaṇa., I. 3


Kane, P.V., History of Sanskrit Poetics., page 302


ramanīyārthapratipādakaḥ śabdaḥ kāvyaṃ/
Rasagaṅgādhara., Ānana 1

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