Rasa: It’s Meaning and Scope By V K Gokak (Original Version from Sri Aurobindo Circle Journal 1966) Part 2

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Part 2 – Rasas in Art and Personality of the Artist


According to McDougall, personality is formed by an inte­gration of the following factors and its uniqueness is determined by the varying proportions in which they integrate:

(a) Disposition: or the sum-total of the propensities strong in the individual, like self-assertion, tenderness, gluttony, etc.

(b) Temper: Variations can be observed under this head. A man can be fickle or steadfast, hopeful or despondent and the like. These traits depend on tendencies work­ing in the three scales of persistency, urgency and affectibility.

(c) Temperament: connotes the qualities determined by the chemical in­fluences of the bodily metabolism exerted upon the general working of the brain or nervous system: excitability, sluggishness, extroversion, apathy, etc.

(d) Intellect: connotes certain abilities like acuteness, comprehensiveness, originality, specialisation, etc. A system of abili­ties can be developed each in the service of one sentiment. But the intellect can be developed into a universal instrument used by every tendency through education. The intellect can at the most reconcile conflicting tendencies. But it cannot determine the goal.

(e) Character: It is only the integration on a higher level of the organisation of sentiments and tastes that renders a man capable of volition in the fullest sense. Sentiments determine the major goals and tastes which are developed in the service of the sentiments and the choice of means in pursuing the goal. But the scale of values can be formed only with the evolution of abstract sentiments or the ideals of conduct and character.

(f) McDougall hints at a sixth factor – telepathic or clairvoyant capacities – but does not base any conclusions on them. A hierarchy of sentiments gradually comes into existence out of the experience of an individual, his self-knowledge and world-knowledge. But there are also the superconscient and subliminal stirrings and gleams which enrich personality by exerting a powerful influence on the formation of sentiments. This higher and deeper awareness cannot therefore be ignored. Temper and temperament are the bodily factors in the ultimate synthesis and disposition, character and the intellect are the mental factors. We have to admit a supramental factor also, for it is this which ultimately transforms the mental as well as the bodily factors and prepares them for the transformation of the human into the divine.

It should be clear that the whole question of रस-rasa in a work of art is inextricably bound up with the poet’s system of sentiments or भावस्थिराणि-bhāvasthirāṇi, –  that is, with the very stuff of his personality.

Can we, then, enumerate the sentiments? This is obviously a difficult task. We have already named some of the common senti­ments. But their number, the variation in their organisation, the level of their intensity, subtlety and depth, – all these determine the uniqueness of a human personality. It would be more fruitful if we endeavoured to define the permanent modes of aesthetic consciousness rather than enumerate the sentiments which form the substance of these attitudes or modes and which even the individual concerned cannot adequately define and enumerate.

But before we do this, it would be desirable to glance at the object which evokes one or the other of these modes. Every object has an individuality, – traits or marks which make it unique. It has a commonalty or generic aspect, –  certain features which dis­tinguish it as an object belonging to a class or group. It also possesses an essentiality or innermost substance which is fully grasped only through knowledge by identity. To cut across this classification and think in a cross division, an object can be apprehended in its sen­suous, imaginative, archetypal or spiritual state. The lower बुद्धि-buddhi aids the imaginative apprehension of the object, – the reconstruction of its mental image with the help of imagination, reason, memory and the subtle mind. The essence of an object is grasped by the higher बुद्धि-buddhi, – ‘reason in her most exalted mood’ as Wordsworth calls it. The spiritual apprehension is possible through superconscient perception, through the awareness that identifies the essence of one object with the essences of all other objects. The attitudes of a poet have a varying depth and intensity according to the grade of his perception on the following levels of vision: (i) Sensuous Beauty, (ii) Imaginative Beauty, (iii) Intellectual Beauty, (iv) Spiritual Beauty.*

The attitude of the artist towards life, deriving substance and form from his system of sentiments and deepened according to the level of vision from which the sentiments proceed is, then, finally responsible for the substance and quality of a work of art. What Bharata called the सञ्चारीभाव-sañcārībhāva-s or fugitive emotions are really complex emotions arising from the sentiments. Thus the sentiment of love may engender tender emotion for the beloved, fear when she is in danger, jealousy when she is subjected to a triangular situation and the like. McDougall holds that the following complex emotions depend on the sentiments for their evocation: (1) Jealousy, (2) Reproach, (3) Shame, (4) Mortification, (5) Anxiety, (6) Revenge, (7) Resentment, (8) Pity, (9) Remorse. He opines that the following are independent of the sentiments and can be directly evoked: (1) Admiration, (2) Gratitude, (3) Contempt, (4) Loathing, (5) Fascination, (6) Hate, (7) Envy, and (8) Love. But there is nothing to prevent any one of these feelings from proceeding from a sentiment. For example, the fascination that a savage may have for the sea is certainly dif­ferent from the fascination that Shelley had for it when he rested on his oars and said to himself: “Now is the time to solve the great mystery.”

There is a third class of emotions which McDougall calls derived emotions. They always arise as phases of feeling in the course of the operation of some activity prompted by some other motive. Hope, for instance, is a derived emotion. We always hope for the attainment of some goal which is determined by some motive other than hope itself. The derived emotions also easily pass into one another. Thus confidence passes into hope, hope into anxiety and anxiety into despondency, as difficulties multiply. Joy and sorrow are but qualifications of the emotions they accompany. They are not emotional states that can be experienced independently. We feel pleasure when our striving towards a particular goal is successful. Unsuccessful striving results in pain. Joy is pleasure of complex origin arising from the harmonious operation of one or more senti­ments. Sorrow is tender emotion mixed with anger. Surprise is merely a condition of general excitement which supervenes any totally unexpected mental impression. Belief is confidence on the intellectual plane and doubt is anxiety on the same plane.

If we apply this classification of McDougall to Bharata’s analysis of sentiments (स्थायिभाव-sthāyibhāva), fugitive emotion (सञ्चारीभाव-sañcārībhāva) and consequents or अनुभाव-anubhāva-s and सात्त्विकभाव-sāttvikabhāva-s, we arrive at the following result:

A sentiment is distinguished by the dominance of a central propensity. The more refined the sentiment, the greater the subli­mation of the propensity or propensities organised into it. The more comprehensive the cognitive core of the sentiment, the closer is the reconciliation of reason, imagination and emotion achieved in it. The nine Rasas enumerated by Bharata (and his successors) can no doubt be classed as sentiments. Of the fugitive emotions mentioned by Bharata, the following can develop easily into sentiments – (1) Jealousy; (2) Pride; (3) Indolence – this is the sentiment of the “Lotus Eater” or of the Apologist for Idleness conceived by Stevenson; (4) उग्रता-ugratā or righteous indignation over the deeds of the wicked; (5) Bashfulness; (6) वितर्क-vitarka or thoughtfulness.

Only the more signi­ficant have been mentioned above. But almost every fugitive emotion and even a “consequent” (as we shall later) can develop into a senti­ment, being linked up with a propensity that gets centred upon some object exclusively. The only point to be considered is that if a work of art is to be worthwhile, complex sentiments have to be expressed in it. Emotions which have been regarded, as being dependent on or independent of the sentiments and derived emotions can also be developed into sentiments. Thus the sentiment of optimism centres round the derived emotion, hope; pessimism round the derived emotion of despair; and scepticism round doubt. The emotional states of man are numerous like the leaves of a tree and even the forty-nine bhāvas and consequents enumerated by Bharata cannot exhaust these and their consequents. If the forty-nine emotions and consequents are to be regarded as rasas or as capable of developing into rasas, as Bhoja thought they were, there is no reason why we should stop at forty-nine. There would be as many rasas as there are emotional states.

It has been noted by Sanskrit aestheticians that, when a certain emotion develops into a sentiment, other emotions with similar potentialities may proceed as fugitive emotions from that sentiment. When one भाव-bhāva becomes स्थायिन्-sthāyin and consequently rasa, the rest become its व्यभिचारिन्-vyabhicārin-s. Lollata, Abhinavagupta and Bhoja held that any bhava could develop into a sthayin or sentiment. Bhoja speaks of अश्रु-aśru rasa (“Tears”), and Sthambha rasa (stupor). He thus recognises even the elevation of stambha अनुभाव-anubhāva-s or consequents to the plane of sentiments. We shall examine the view in its proper context. Bhoja even mentions rasas like परवश्य-paravaśya (ecstasy), स्वातन्त्र्य-svātantrya (freedom), etc. for which भाव-bhāva-s are not found in Bharata’s list of forty-nine. Pro­pensities beget emotional experience. The persistency of emotional experiences of a certain kind towards certain objects results in the formation of sentiments. Sentiments, again, when they are aroused, give rise, to various emotions. Emotions as well as sentiments are thus many in number, evoked as they are by different kinds of deter­minants and stimulants. We cannot count them whether as nine or thirty-three, though they tend to fall into broad genres or types.

Again, the emotional state is deep or shallow – according as it is related or unrelated to the sentiments. McDougall also states that, at the highest intensity, all emotions tend to be unpleasant; at the lowest intensity, all of them tend to be pleasant; and that, at moderate intensity, some are said to be pleasant and other unpleasant.

The range of sentiments extends from instinctive experience to emotional response dictated by conscience and even by super-con­science. The six factors noted before form the synthesis of the artists’ personality and his vision concerns itself with objects in their four classes (individual; collective; generic; abstract) and four states of existence (gross; subtle; archetypal; spiritual). The march of time and of civilisation engenders new sentiments, – even as old wine is poured into new bottles. Sentiments like nationalism, socialism and internationalism are the products of modern civilization. New sentiments are born of new experiences and contacts with new objects, inventions and events. Self-knowledge and world-knowledge create a field of experience which favours the growth of new sentiments. Old भाव-bhāva-s are sublimated in accordance with the purity and depth of the new sentiments from which they proceed. There is a gradual disappearance of old sentiments, their modification keeping pace with the march of civilization and the emergence of new sentiments occasioned by a new movement in the life of humanity. Thus there is a continuous progression of sentiments along the lines of the evolution of humanity and it would be a difficult task to enu­merate all the sentiments formed in the past (and the emotions which issued from them) or to forecast the developments in the future.

Human personality is thus infinitely plastic. How, then, can we determine the number of rasas in a work of art? There is a way out of this tangle. Every individual pursues the four पुरुषार्थ-puruṣārtha-s or values in life. These are the goals on which man steadily fixes his gaze in his pursuit of happiness. Sentiments are formed in the course of this pursuit. But certain types emerge when these sentiments are examined closely and these types seem to be determined by the manner in which the individual reacts to the world around, within, beneath or above him. These modes of approach or attitudes can be clearly defined, and it would be useful to concentrate on them individually rather than on the sentiments which constitute their stance. An examination of the rasas mentioned by Bharata will amply support this view. There is, for instance, रति-rati or attraction resulting in a close identification with the object. In a union of this kind there is a perfect fusion between the subject and the object. Love, friendship, nature-worship, – these and other similar senti­ments are distinguished by such an identification.

The exact opposite of this approach is Repulsion (जुगुप्सा-jugupsā). It is a turning away from the object, from its positive ugliness as opposed to its beauty in रति-rati or attraction. जुगुप्सा-jugupsā connotes a whole range of feelings from studied indifference through dislike, antipathy and disgust to repulsion and even hatred, which implies not merely repulsion but an urge to remove the object from the face of the earth.

Another pair of opposites is seen in भय-bhaya or fear and उत्साह-tsāha or enthusiasm. Fear implies a shrinking of the subject because of the inexplicability or hostility of the object. भय-bhaya ranges from timidity at one end to sheer prostration at the other. Striving and enthusiasm, on the other hand, imply a dilation or an expansion of the subject. The object here is remote, almost beyond one’s grasp; but the subject is determined to strive and not to yield. Hope, con­fidence and self-assertion turn even failure into success. Heroism and martyrdom which turns even defeat into success are two of the sen­timents related to enthusiasm. Optimism is a sentiment based on enthusiasm in its emotional and intellectual aspects.

Anger is mentioned by Bharat as the sentiment resulting in the rasa of terror (रौद्र-raudra). Bharata may have even given a wider signification to the word क्रोध-krodha than obtains today. In any case, anger is a complex emotion dependent on one sentiment or the other for its emergence. It may even develop into a habit or sentiment as happens usually with a peevish or choleric person. But it cannot ordinarily be said to develop into an “attitude” unless probably when it is allied to an iconoclastic mood. Anger implies thwarted striving or the persistent existence of something that is undesirable. But the “terrible” suggests an object that is inexplicable and capable of doing positive harm to the subject. Terror is thus composed of anger, fear and wonder, fear being the predominant constituent. Terror is nearer to fear than anger. Nor can terror be said to develop into a permanent “attitude” (though it can develop into a sentiment) unless an individual is perpetually at war with the universe and feels that he is constantly surrounded by hostile forces, like the Galvinist.

The comic attitude (हास्य-hāsya) consists in picking holes in the object. Here the subject is not congruous but incongruous with the object. The comic attitude, even at its gentlest as in humour, turns a tearful and tolerant eye on the object but never forgets its shortcomings. Nor is the attitude one of rejection or repulsion for, even in the sar­donic mood, the subject assumes a stern and terrible aspect towards the object but does not turn away from it. Between humour and the sardonic mood, the comic attitude assumes various positions like irony, satire, wit, scorn, contempt and invective.

Bharata refers to Shoka or sorrow as the sentiment resulting in करुण-karuṇa (pity). Now, sorrow is the retrospective emotion of desire. The object here is either lost or in danger and the cry is one of help­lessness or of a tearful desire for its restoration or extrication from danger. Or else it is the stricken soul or subject itself that wails. A divine discontent or melancholy is a kindred emotion, such as is seen in Shelley’s poetry. It is the desire of the moth for the star. Pity is said to be the tender emotion complicated by sympathetic pain. It can also develop into a sentiment as in the sage’s vast pity for suffering humanity. Sorrow, melancholy and pity thus present three different emotional states belonging to the same type. In the projection of the sentiment of pity, too, there is no real fusion of the subject and the object. The subject here stands on an eminence and drenches the object with its tears or its love. The subject is the giver and the object the recipient. There is a tenderness between the two, but it is active only on one side and receptive or passive on the other. In Vatsalya or the love of the older for the younger, there is a mutual attraction or love, but not between equals which is a condition  pre-requisite for a perfect fusion or identity.

Bharata posits wonder (विस्मय-vismaya) as the sentiment which leads to a delineation of अद्भुत-adbhuta or the marvellous. The sublime is some­thing more profound than अद्भुत-adbhuta as it is generally understood in Sanskrit. If the marvellous excites wonder, sublimity inspires awe or reverence. The “marvellous” is thus sublimity in its lower or inferior aspects. The subject experiences his own insignificance in the presence of the sublime. Man looks and feels |like an ant in the presence of the Himalayas, or of a personality like that of Buddha or Jesus Christ. The subject is deeply impressed by the size, the sta­ture or the surpassing grandeur of the object. Bradley remarks that, if attraction or love results in an experience of the immanence of Beauty, sublimity is the experience of its transcendence. Terror, awe, fascination, reverence, – all these are emotional states expressing the sublime in varying degrees. A genuine love of God is suggestive of the beautiful as well as the sublime, of immanence as well as tran­scendence. The object experienced may be either material or spi­ritual, – material as in the Himalayas, or spiritual as in the heroism of the mother-sparrow dying fighting against a dog in order to protect its young ones.

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