the Theory of Rasa
Class of 2013-14, DakshinaChitra.
Natya Sastra (circa 100 BC) enumerated eight rasas. Rasa, in effect, stood for a “consciousness altering experience”, which was beyond normal human emotions.
Abhinavagupta (circa 1000 AD) strongly canvassed for inclusion of Shanta as the ninth rasa, and declared it the Rasa of Rasas. Hence the term Navarasas. In his view, Bhakthi (Spiritual Devotion) was only an appendage of the Shanta Rasa. It was suitable only for sthothras, and not as the main theme of a major poem or drama, much less a Rasa.
But the debate did not end there. This essay explores the impact of this debate on art, architecture, music and in particular on Tyagaraja and his composition, by juxtaposing many theories and presenting them as a hypothesis for enunciation of the theory of Rasa possibly in a modern vernacular.
Rasa, the NECTAR of artistic experience
In different contexts, the term Rasa appears in Vedic and Upanishadic literature. The usage variously associates the word with a liquid energizer, an elixir, a consciousness altering substance (though not explicitly hallucinogenic). In the Taittiriya Upanishad, the word “Rasa” is used in a metaphysical sense, and equated with the Ultimate Reality. The full scope of the connotations can be understood from its lexicographic interpretation. The Sanskrit dictionary (Monier Williams) has the following entry: Sap or juice of –plant; juice of fruit; any liquid or fluid; the best or finest part of anything; essence; marrow; elixir; potion; seminal fluid of Shiva; charm, pleasure or delight; the taste or character of a work, the feeling or sentiment prevailing in it. All these connotations are germane to understanding the connection between Raga and Rasa.
Bharata’s theory held that a Rasa is the developed and relishable state of a permanent mood (Sthayi Bhava), which results from the interplay of many attendant emotional conditions (Vibhavas, Anubhavas and Sanchari Bhavas, being the Vyanjaka or suggesting elements) on the on the sthayi. Rasa is the suggested delight experienced by an enlightened member of audience (sahardaya), through his ability to abstract and generalise the emotional experience, beyond individualities. Rasa was the sole artistic experience of the spectator, which the artist, the characters and the actors were not capable of sharing. This theory seemed to have survived undisputed for a millennium.
Mr.Deepak Raja in his book “Khayal vocalism – continuity within change” writes: “The Indian aesthetic tradition views the sensory experience as a pathway to the emotional, and the emotional as a pathway to the spiritual. This reflects the fundamental transcendentalism of Hindu thought. All art is, therefore, validated by a single dominant criterion – its ability to elicit an emotional response. This criterion acknowledges that, at its most intense, the experience of beauty evokes a response that transcends its qualitative aspect, and acquires a mystical quality. This defines the potential of the artistic endeavour, and its reception, for personality transformation and spiritual evolution. At the intermediate aesthetic level, however, the tradition allows for the classification of works of art on the basis of the quality of the emotional response. The name given to these qualities is “Rasa”, a metaphorical expression derived from the Sanskrit “Rasa” = extract/ essence/ juice.”
In the words of Alessandro Dozio, “The Hindustani and Carnatic classical idioms have both a sophisticated semantic of pitch based on the concepts of swara and raga. They also share the simple but powerful scheme of the rasas believed to encompass the overall range of human emotions. .. The Indian theory of rasas has the bearing of a fully structured architecture built on systematic enquiry into probably every aspect of the question, from the corporeal reaction of the spectator to his psychological...
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