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A Digression

April 29, 2016 | By

This article compares and uses Sanskrit and Dravidian Indian literary criticism with Grecian criticism on English texts, with examples from India mixed in too.

Greece, Natyashastra and Tinai – 1

To jump into the middle of the literary fray let us consider the fact that literature, literary criticism or theory is not something done in isolation but in places, spaces, times and in the cognizance and view of people who are not its doers, movers or shakers. It is not only the history of writers but of people, lovers, books/texts, teachers, scholars, students, rebels, schools and movements and this is what must never be forgotten, and most important of all primarily of its readers. Thus Natyashastra was possible because of writers like Bhasa or Kalidasa and writers like Kalidasa and Bhasa become possible due to works like Natyashastra. The only part of Sanskrit aesthetics that interests me as a populist is of course the rasa theory. The correspondences between rasa and bhava matter primarily because it matters to Indians, and Keralites, and is the only part of Bharata’s extensive work that has probably had an impact on the West.

Śāntam: Peace, Serenity or Tranquility (Added by Abhinavagupta) Pic: Google Image Search

Śāntam: Peace, Serenity or Tranquility (Added by Abhinavagupta)
Pic: Google  Image Search

The navarasas – nine essences/juices – (eight by Bharata* and one by Abhinavagupta** and the later two additions making it eleven all told) with their corresponding bhavas (or emotions) are:

Shringara: Love, attractiveness or seductiveness… (Rati – Sex, not lust, more like deep flirtatious behaviour)
Hāsyam: Laughter, Mirth, Comedy… (Hasya – Mirth)
Raudram: Fury, anger, wrath… (Krodha – Anger)
Kāruṇyam: Compassion, Tragedy… ( Shoka – Sorrow)
Bībhatsam: Disgust, Aversion… (Jugupsa -Disgust)
Bhayānakam: Horror, Terror… (Bhaya – Fear)
Vīram: Heroic mood, heroism… (Utsaha – Enthusiasm)
Adbhutam: Wonder, Amazement… (Vismaya – Wonder)

Śāntam: Peace, Serenity or Tranquility (Added by Abhinavagupta)

Vātsalya: Parental Love, Deep Affection
Bhakti: Spiritual Devotion

The bhavas for the last three are debatable. One could plumb for expressions of shuddhi and nirmalya in the case of bhakti and vatsalya itself in vatsalya and in shantham of shanthi itself – though how these would be enacted to bring out the desired results by the players would vary each time and in the case of each player. If the bhava is attained in the audience the rasa is successful. The how does not matter as much as the what and whether the arrow strikes home.

This little note would be useless without explaining how it works in literature.
Take a novel like Lord of the Flies by Willam Golding.

What is the dominant rasa or what are the dominant rasas that Golding tries to evoke? It is obviously bhayanakam and bhibatsam but viram and raudram and karunyam are also evoked as is shanthi and adbhutham. He wants to lead us primarily to jugupsa and bhaya.

The other rasas hardly appear except as brief instances of vakrokti (perversion), in this text. Learning to do this kind of analysis is one use of learning the rasa theory.

The problem with a rasa-bhava analysis is it does not tell us if a work is a classic – for that one has to go deeper into Sanskrit aesthetics by Bharata where he talks of language and Abhinavagupta and it does not serve my purpose – what does is to say that this may be the only part of Sanskrit aesthetics that has relevance for us because it tells us of one criteria critics use to judge a work which is to ask what effect did the author intend to produce in the reader through his mastery at writing and did he succeed.

Thus when I write poems out of sorrow (shoka) and my audience weeps feeling pity/compassion or karunyam with me – and not for me! – or vice versa I not only use Bharata but extend him by using him both ways, and I have succeeded according to this theory and I go beyond it too, something poets can do more easily than dramatists.

And I often do.

So then, by this criteria of emotional effect intended (bhava) and corresponding effect written and then recreated in the mind of the reader (rasa to bhava) by my mastery in writing I have well internalized what is really useful in this theory for my practice as poet and critic.

* Bharata – supposedly the Muni who wrote Natyashastra, the classic treatise on Sanskrit aesthetics. Indian Plato and Aristotle in this field.
** Abhinavagupta – codifier of Bharata’s work. Was great too, another Arsitotle or Horace/Longinus, in a way, to use the Western parallels.
***List from Wikipdeia for Sanskrit accents.

Greece, Natyashastra and Tinai – 2

The poet does not work exactly like the dramatist. He starts,in one of his modes of operation, with a bhava (an emotion), his poem or words are the rasa (essence) embodied and he recreates the bhava in the reader, that is; if he or the poem is good enough – meaning intuitive enough or skilled enough, trained, learned, sensitive, whatever… or the reader/readers is/are or both or all three are.

A typical example is Wordsworth’s famous poem:

I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay: 10
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood, 20
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The bhava (adbhutham – wonder/amazement) produced in the Romantic Wordsworth by witnessing the dance drama put up by the daffodils and waves inspires him to write the poem in the hope that the same Vismaya (amazement) – his magic world of loneliness, sight, gaiety, wealth, solitude, pensiveness, vacantness, pleasure and bliss – will be experienced by and in his readers. Does he succeed in moving with perfect ease from inspirational bhava to rasa to creating the bhava in the reader? If readers are to be trusted and not critics like Eliot he does, with flying colours. Hence the longevity of this poem.

I am not the only poet who moves from inspirational bhava to rasa to bhava or from inspirational rasa made into a bhava by me to rasa to bhava, all poets do this but classical Indian Sanskrit aesthetics based dramatists don’t do the second usually. What I mean is I can and have written poems that start in sorrow and go via compassion and pity to end in sorrow – the reader’s tears – but also ones that start in compassion/ pity/mercy and end in sorrow – the reader’s tears. The tears in the first sentence may be tragic and in the second instance cathartic but the pattern of the cycle is not dramatic but poetic and this is where it is easier for a poet to not only use but extend Bharata than for a dramatist.

Greece, Natyashastra and Tinai – 3

Sanskrit aesthetics is not the only one that matters in Indian aesthetics. Since the advent of ecocriticsm of which I will say more later Dravidian aesthetics has swum more into focus as important, as an aesthetics derived from one’s geography. While I would love to go into the details of the significant concept of Tinai, here again I am forced to distil the matter into what is absolutely important. The fact is no poetry or literature can be written apart from its references to specific spaces/places and times to make sense, or the order around it of natural (Landscape/architecture), socio- cultural, and politico-economic or religious/spiritual elements not to mention human action. But the exciting part of Tinai is for me its flexibility by which it can be applied to any writing anywhere especially the subconcepts of aham/akam (inside – subjective narration of family, man-woman love or relationships) and puram (view from outside/societal, more objective) and of muthal porul (principal or first thing, setting of time/season – poluthu – and place – nilam), karuporul (the element of the Landscape and the culture) and uripporul (human action).

Statue of Avvaiyar on Marina Beach - by Balamurugan Srinivasan[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Avvaiyar on Marina Beach – by Balamurugan Srinivasan [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Some people connect Tinai to words like oikos or nexus or matrix and some to the Landscape alone faultily but it is a greater concept and highly advanced for the age, the Sangam one, it came from. Originating in Tamil Nadu, it shows that beautiful poetry of the greatest intensity was written in India in the South in an intertwining with this understanding where it is really not possible for me to any longer tell if theory drove the writing or the writing drove the theory. The exicting thing about this was that once I was reading an essay on American poetry and came across this curious and interesting delineation of it based on whether the poets were coastal meaning from near the sea or from the interior, that is; land locked places.

Frost is a typical example of a primarily land locked poet while the lyricist Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys would obviously be the former. I speak more of content, not necessrily of where they come from.

The five regions delineated in the concept of Tinai also fit if we tamper with it slighly as mountains and hills, forest and pasture, agricultural land, sea coast and desert, not only wasteland and dry land, with no mention of the local trees etc., in the region like ‘kurinji’, ‘mullai’ and ‘palai’, in any of these subdivisions as then it cannot be universalized and put in a general framework.

What happens if we posit a study of a Frost poem, a famous one, in ecocritical and Dravidian aesthetics or Tinai terms? Let’s try for fun.


Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
“That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

The poem is obviously ecocritical, speaks of maintaning the ecology and the ecosystem, and has also disquietingly deconstructive elements that militate against the peace of the same, namely the neighbour, the fence, the hunters, the cows and the yelping trained hunting dogs.

But what interests me is the ease with which it lends itself to a Dravidian aesthetics analysis.

It is a puram (outside/ society) poem.

The season is spring and the time is day (poluthu) and the land/space/place (nilam) is domestic, farmland/ agricultural.

The muthal porul (principal thing or setting is thus easy to discover) and so is the karuporul (American landscape of the interior where farming is the main occupation, near forest and pasture, and where the culture is Old Testament or eye for eye, implicitly and explicitly shown by the intrusion of stones and guns. And what is the human action or uripporul? It is the Gospels based question about who a good neighbour is showing that Frost is not as people think as free of religious concerns as he is made out to be, after all! The poem, by describing both man and his culture in the Landscape is very Tinai centred and beautifully alive also to socio-cultural, politico-economic and natural or landscape-architectural nuances as well as spiritual and religious ones. Even the title is helpful in its paradoxical nature as is the reference to elves. Does Frost match Tinai poets of the Sangam age? To tell you the truth for one coming from the geography of south India nothing matches the beauty of Sangam poetry, because it speaks to him or her of what is in his very blood, the places and spaces and times and seasons of one’s growing up, of family life and local man woman relationships and social and cultural complexities, thus coming from the soil, so to speak. It is the same power in Frost, so much of the sense of belongingness is there in it, that it makes him worth reading for us Indians.

Here is an example of Tamil poetry to show you how rich it is in sensuous description.

Gander! I call out to you! Gander! I call out to you!
Here I stand idle in the evening when things become unclear
and the blossoming light of the moon, once it has united
its two horns, shines out like the glowing face of that hero
triumphant, murderous in battle, bestowing grace upon his own land!
If you, after feeding loaches from the great bay of Kanyākumari
should fly off to the mountain of the far north and stopping on your way
in the fine land of the king of the Cholās should go to the towering
mansion at Kozhi accompanied by your youthful beloved and enter that palace
without even stopping at the gate and if you say, loud enough
for the great king Killi to hear you, ‘Āntai of Pisir is your
humble servant!”, then when you have done that he will give you
the gift of a fine ornament he treasures
so that your beautiful mate may wear it and she will be filled with delight.

Translated by George Hart

Greece, Natyashastra and Tinai – 4

I had wanted to talk of Grecian or “classical” Western literary criticism at its much ‘recorded’ inception but feel that the subject is better approached via Hebrew and Arabic literary aesthetics first, with a brief comparison to Sanskrit and Dravidian aesthetics, especially in one aspect. The latter two are image centred whereas the former two are word centred. Two are logopoeic while two are phanopoeic. What I mean is this: both Hebrew and Arabic aesthetics starts on an assumption that the Divine is beyond representation. It is different even from the Platonic view that art is an imitation of the ideal. In Hebrew and Arabic aesthetics the ideal cannot be imitated and this leads in both world views to the place of art being connected to the divine functions of worship around the temple/synagogue or the mosque primarily and to exquisite calligraphy, as imagery of the three dimensional kind is often or mostly viewed as somehow unable to capture the essence or substance of the whole or of nothingness, of Being and Non-Being, whereas this is precisely what is not a factor involved in the Eastern versions of aesthetics. The latter two create musicians of a very high order. I do not consider any one version superior to the other. History has shown that all these five seeds – Grecian, Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit and Dravidian have grown into towering trees of Art that have yielded such delightful fruit that we are all enjoying them even today. But this matter is vital as part of the foundation of literary criticism as later it will be of much ideological import in discussions, namely that Grecian critcism is based on the idea of art being an imitation or mimesis of the ideal – thus, essentially mimetic – and Hebrew and Arabic criticism on art being ‘handmaiden’ to the divine unimaginable or in other words phallogocentric and Sanskrit and Dravidian on art being, if not divine, equal to the divine, not lesser than the divine, even outside of Scripture, thus perhaps being both phallogocentric and gynocentric in its bearings, in being complementary and complimentary to the divine. The importance of this is that with such a foundation or understanding one can look at art, literature and poetry from different hemispheres with less bias, as one gets to understand that artists cannot really think beyond the framework they are unconsciously steeped, seeped or soaked in or brought up in, except slowly, though I must admit I have not spoken of African or Japanese aesthetics here as two other nodes of interest out of many, as there is only so much one note can do. That may come in later, while speaking of the twentieth century.

Greece, Natyashastra and Tinai – 5

Speaking of foundational principles in aesthetics/literary critcism one seems to be forced to refer to languages, religions and places/spaces and history(times) – though this latter does not apply to the Hebrews for ages – as primary movers because these were the main beginnings so to speak from which the latter duo could emerge. Thus it is possible to speak of a Christian aesthetics which is icononogaphic and a Buddhist aesthetics which was also interestingly enough iconographic initially rather than idols- based as extensions of the beginnings I spoke of that are Indic, middle Eastern and Grecian. One could say the aesthetics of these two religions opened up the latent possibilities of the four other extant versions to a greater extent, in Byzantium and Japan and China for example, still untouched by African aesthetics except through Egypt via Moses. Iconography makes it possible to bring in imitation of all else and representation/mimesis, including woman, except for God/YHWH/Allah and God too can be represented, in concrete and not abstract symbology, no longer as only the Word or Male but as His Image as in the form of Christ and Buddha in Christianity and Buddhism and thus, we – or rather many of us – became clearly in the age where the centre is no longer the universe or the sky or the sun or mother earth or mother nature or God or gods or phallic but Man – a natural progression or development – with feminine characteristics interwoven of love, compassion, kindness, mercy, forgiveness etc.

Simplification leads to reductionism so please note that things are not this cut and dried but as a beginner’s map this will do for the time being.

Greece, Natyashastra and Tinai – 6

In my first note I had defined literature as a mirror held to life or a satisfactory reflection of life, something said or implied by Hudson and Arnold among others, but now can explain that that is a Greece/Greek or Plato inspired definition that shows art as an imitation or representation. As I have now explained art or literature is more complex than just that, in terms of literature it is actually an effort in language or through language to represent that which cannot be represented and what I want to point out is not the same old crappy East/Middle East/ West or Oriental/Occidental divides and talk of the inferiority or superiority of one over the other but the simple fact that, in all places and times people have as artists or writers, had differing and different reactions when faced by the problematic of showing the Absolute and if in the Indic tradition the reply has been to show the Absolute by letting it be seen in and as and transcending everything, including the imagination, hence a god with many arms for instance to show god can do everything, the Grecian one has been to copy in no unsophisticated manner the workings of nature in creation, and the Hebrew and Islamic one has been to use language and art to house the abstract , the Christian one has moved on to freedom of the same kind the Sanskrit and Dravidian versions posit as does the Buddhist and post-Christian post-modern ones. However strangely enough, due to the negative effects in large part of colonialism, Indian and African aesthetics actually want to return to a kind of Platonic monolithic moral aesthetics that is based on strict neo classical regulations of what can be done in art, literature, literary cirtcism and theory and why and how, one that is restrictive, whereas the other camps grow more and more vociferous in their cries for maximum freedom in representational and imitative procedures and in originality, creativity and boundlessness. This reversal is really almost like a gyre like movement in history towards globalisms on the one hand and localisms on the other, but the middle path seems best for art, literature, literary criticism and theory.

The point about literary criticism and theory, any kind of theory, is that it is meta – thought, as is aesthetics, and this shows it is of a more complex nature than myth, scripture, history or poetry as those are fields of inquiry that ask the why and what of ALL but this asks a more complex question which is what should we think of what we think and why do we think and how do we think and this self reflexivity that came later makes it a part of metaphysics, something that could only appear after religions and languages and histories had acquired a certain kind of complexity, for to think on the structure and nature of thought itself is a daring undertaking requiring both courage and sufficiently complex tools, meaning an advanced language. This is where Plato, Aristotle, Bharata and Abhinavagupta are so significant. This is also where later critcis like Sidney, Pope, Dryden, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats are even more significant in being both practitioners and critics. They are poets and philosopher- thinkers, or ab ovo metaphysicians dealing with art, aesthetics, literature, literary criticism and theory. They show the flowering of the human mind and while not as great as the twentieth century critics they were the first to show such a wide sweep in their thought and that is admirable. They almost weave for us grand meta narratives about the grand narratives they lived in and lived.

More to read

Notes On Literary Criticism by Dr A V Koshy

Notes on Literary Criticism – Part II

Notes on Literary Criticism – Part III

Classical Criticism – A Peek into Roman Criticism

Writing, Theory and the Making of Verse

The opinions shared by the writer is his personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of Learning and Creativity Magazine. The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.

Dr. Koshy A.V. is presently working as an Assistant Professor in the English Department of Jazan University, Saudi Arabia. He has many books, degrees, diplomas, certificates, prizes, and awards to his credit and also, besides teaching, is an editor, anthology maker, poet, critic and writer of fiction. He runs an autism NPO with his wife, Anna Gabriel.
All Posts of Dr Ampat Varghese Koshy

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    Today’s Motivation

    <div class=at-above-post addthis_tool data-url=></div>Time is not just the calculation of transitory phases in years, but also the assessment of ACTIONS-the effort we make in life's works; FEELINGS-our state of emotional being and ACHIEVEMENTS-our realisations in life, of life, about life. 

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    Time is not just the calculation of transitory phases in years, but also the assessment of ACTIONS-the effort we make in life's works; FEELINGS-our state of emotional being and ACHIEVEMENTS-our realisations in life, of life, about life.