Rasa: It’s Meaning and Scope By V K Gokak (Original Version from Sri Aurobindo Circle Journal 1966) Part 3

Home » Rasa: It’s Meaning and Scope By V K Gokak (Original Version from Sri Aurobindo Circle Journal 1966) Part 3

Part 3 – Primary Modes of Aesthetic Consciousness Shapes the Aesthetic Experience


Bharata’s authority was overwhelming in the field of criticism. Bharata gave an inductive study of the models with which he was acquainted and stated the conclusions emerging from such a study. These were frequently accepted without scrutiny, making all further enquiry futile. Nevertheless, a few ventured to suggest that Shanti or ineffable peace might be regarded as another rasa. From our point of view it has to be stated that शम-śama, धृति-dhṛti or मति-mati, serenity, equanimity or thoughtful quiet, – is  an integral attitude distinguished from attraction which results in identity, thoughtful laughter which results in incongruity, repulsion which results in rejection, or wonder which results in adoration. Equanimity implies a serene contemplation of the object unaffected by the emergence of any thoughts or feelings evoked by the object. Such an attitude can be cultivated equally well by the man in the forest as well as the householder, – the सन्न्यासिन्-sannyāsin as well as the गृहस्थ-gṛhastha. It can be de­lineated artistically like any other attitude. It consists in striking a perfect balance between the subject and the object – a balance of likes, not of dislikes. It has been argued that शम-śama or equanimity is nothing but love of the soul – आत्मरति-ātmarati, and that it is the source of all the other emotional moods, – of हास्य-hāsya or laughter at the world as a tangle of incongruities, of pity for the world and its misery, of re­sentment at its imperfections, of a turning away from its deceptions and of a feeling of awe at the infinitude of one’s own soul. Abhinavagupta says that तत्त्वज्ञान-tattvajñāna or consummate philosophic aware­ness is the sentiment which develops into this attitude of ineffable peace. But we have already seen that ineffable peace is only one of the attributes of the soul. According to Sri Aurobindo, it issues from an experience of the अक्षरपुरुष-akṣarapuruṣa or immobile or static Self. शम-śama is neither attraction nor repulsion; neither contraction nor expansion; it is dispassionate awareness. It is, in itself, a distinctive attitude.

Bharata’s theory of Rasa was subjected to close scrutiny by Lollata, Abhinavagupta, Rudrata and others. Some of these writers held that any one of the forty-nine भाव-bhāva-s and अनुभाव-anubhāva-s could develop into a sthayin or a sentiment and consequently rasa. Bhoja goes even further and adds new भाव-bhāva-s to the list, like परवश्य-paravaśya, स्वातन्त्र्य-svātantrya, etc. In the ABHINAVABHARATI, भक्ति-bhakti (devotion), श्रद्धा-śraddhā (faith) and लौल्य-laulya (eagerness) are found mentioned as rasas with new भाव-bhāva-s that are not included in Bharata’s list of forty-nine. There is nothing to prevent a भाव-bhāva-s or feeling from developing into a sentiment or स्थायिन्-sthāyin, whether it is a consequent or अनुभाव-anubhāva or fugitive emotion or सञ्चारीभाव-sañcārībhāva. Nor can Bharata’s list exhaust the complexity of the emotional life. Emotional states there are, for which a name has yet to be found. But every emotion has to satisfy a supreme condition before it can develop into a sentiment. The central part of every sentiment is its conceptual core. The more complex the core, the greater the sentiment. A sentiment which is developed in this way gets absorbed into one of the primary modes of consciousness which we shall mention presently. Thus every transient emotion which is developed into a स्थायिन्-sthāyin or sentiment tends to fall under one of these broad and basic attitudes. If it cannot have the con­ceptual core and the consequent affiliation to one of the attitudes, it cannot be anything more than a transient mood. ग्लानि-glāni or fatigue, for instance, is a transient emotion mentioned by Bharata. At its highest, it can develop into a mood of despair as in Claire’s “I am; yet what I am who cares or knows.” If it is a persistent mood, it develops into a sentiment of despair and eventually into the atti­tude of sorrow (crying for the object) or repulsion (turning away from the object). अश्रु-aśru or tearfulness is an अनुभाव-anubhāva. The emotion it expresses is one of sorrow or regret. This transient emotion can develop into a sentiment of sorrow if it gets linked to the corres­ponding conceptual core and finds its place, eventually, in the basic attitude of sorrow. We shall point out later how an expression of ‘consequents’ and fugitive emotions can be called rasa, even as they stand. But this is not the meaning which we are examining at pre­sent.

The system of sentiments grows more comprehensive with the march of civilization and new sentiments arise. The love of demo­cracy or of the divine average is, for instance, a new sentiment, – new on its conceptual, if not on its emotional, side. It is possible that the coming generations will cherish sentiments of which we have no knowledge excepting in so far as we may happen to possess already their emotional appeal.

It was in this way that new sentiments came to be proposed by Rudrata and others down to the time of Bhoja. The उदात्तरस-udāttarasa mentioned by Bhoja is one of these. It stands for idealism and मति-mati or thoughtfulness is its conceptual core. It is seen in the work of poets like Gray, Watson and others,– presented through noble themes. प्रेयस्-preyas or love with स्नेह-sneha or प्रीति-prīti as its central emotion is a rasa different from Shringara. It stands for Platonic love or love in which the psychological and spiritual affiliations preponderate, rather than sex. उद्धत्तरस-uddhattarasa, mentioned also by Bhoja, with गर्व-garva or pride as its propensity is a result of the preoccupation of the sub­ject with himself, which, as we shall see, is a basic attitude. Egoism is not certainly a high sentiment or a representative illustration of the attitude of self-preoccupation or subjectivism. A refined egoism is seen in poetry like that of Byron, the poetry of self-display, of the pageant of the bleeding heart. On the other hand, Bhakti, or heaven­ward devotion, is a blend of love and of a feeling for the sublime, – as seen in the Anglican poetry of George Herbert, for instance. श्रद्धा-śraddhā or faith is again an essential attitude like doubt or scepticism and we can have the poetry of doubt as in Clough and Arnold or the poetry of faith as in Tennyson and Browning. वात्सल्य-vātsalya or love for the younger one is as much an essential attitude as pity or sym­pathy and we have it expressed in numberless epitaphs and elegies and in essays like Lamb’s Dream Children. Friendship as in Tennyson’s ‘In Memorium’, Nature-worship as in Wordsworth, sympathy for the underdog as in Masefield, a feeling for helpless birds and animals as in the poetry of Stephens and Hodgson, – all these are new sen­timents formed against the background of permanent and essential attitudes. The attitudes represent the permanent and unchanging affective as well as cognitive bedrock of human consciousness and the emergence of new sentiments in their framework signifies the expansion and sublimation of the consciousness according to the dictates of civilization and the evolution of humanity. Sentiments cannot be numbered and fixed, for they have a natural tendency to multiply.

A word may be said here about the derivation of rasas from bhāvas, bhāvas from rasas and rasas from rasas. Bharata holds that there are four primary or प्रकृतिरस-prakṛtirasa-s and four derived or विकृतिरस-vikṛtirasa-s – शृङ्गार-śṛṅgāra, रौद्र-raudra, वीर-vīra and बीभत्स-bībhatsa are said to beget हास्य-hāsya, करुण-karuṇa, अद्भुत-adbhuta and भयानक-bhayānaka respectively. This is called the scheme of जन्य-जनकरस janya-janakarasa-s. But, as Bhoja points out, the imitation of शृङ्गार-śṛṅgāra is not the only determinant of हास्य-hāsya. The comic attitude can spring from other sources as well. Similarly, रौद्र-raudra or the terrible is not the only determinant of pity. Further, the derivative rasa of वीर-vīra can beget the primary rasa of शृङ्गार-śṛṅgāra or love, as with Othello and Desdemona: “She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them.” If Desdemona’s love for Othello was the result of her admiration for his valour, Othello’s love for Desdemona was inspired by her pity or sympathy for him. In this latter case, again, we see that the derivative rasa of pity determines the primary rasa of शृङ्गार-śṛṅgāra. Any endeavour to trace the inter-relations of sentiments and classify their origins or विभाव-vibhāva-s will thus end in mere dialectical subtlety. Man’s emotional life is one vast sea and complex emotions are its waves. A person endeavouring to catch the waves can only collect their foam.

It is the individual’s experience born of the operation of his innate propensities that helps to develop sentiments. We thus ac­cept the conclusion भावेभ्यो रसाः-bhāvebhyo rasāḥ. But we have to accept the other thesis रसाद् भावः-rasād bhāvaḥ, the response of the subject to the object is conditioned by his sentiments. It is from the habitual attitude of the individual that his emotional life takes shape. The emotions proceeding from sentiments are usually chastened, sublimated and far more refined than they otherwise would be. For instance, the cry of a child by the doorway, or the creak of a lumbering cart, usually annoys one or grates on one’s ears. But with W.B. Yeats they wrong “the image that blossoms, a rose in the deeps of my heart.” Emotions proceeding in this way from well-ordered attitudes are subtle and intense. They may not have the primitive vitality of the savage. But they have the grace and beauty of eternity.

We arrive then at the conclusion that the theory of नवरस-navarasa-s or of twelve or more is imperfect. There are more rasas or sentiments in the heart of humanity than there may be leaves to a tree. We can hope to base an enduring classification only on the relations that are possible between the subject and the object. This is the only rock on which our aesthetic conclusions can stand. According to the first of  the four levels of vision, our response to an object can be merely sensuous. This is the stage of simple sentiments, one might almost say of pure propensities. The response grows deeper and more colourful when we grow attached to the image and not so much to the material aspect of the object. This is the stage of more complex sentiments. On the third or archetypal level of vision, there is intui­tive perception, intellectual ecstasy without accompaniment of ideation – आनन्द-चिन्मय-ānanda-cinmaya. The sentiments on this level include an apprehension of  the essence of the object, – its abstract archetype without losing hold of the concrete. Lastly, in the spiritual state of vision, the psyche will have replaced the surface self. At this stage, character which is a hierarchical system of sentiments dissolves itself. Personality is depersonalised. The one Supreme Reality shines through both the subject and the object and holds them together in perfect identity. There are, consequently, the following states of aesthetic experience – (1)A predominantly simple or sensuous response to life; (2) The response conditioned by the active opera­tion of imagination, reason and memory, with gleams and flashes from the operation of higher faculties; (3) The essential response – that of ideal sensibility, disinterested and impersonal contemplation or साधारण्य-sādhāraṇya. The attitudes which are experienced obscurely in the second stage emerge here in all their fullness and effulgence. The subject moves here not merely in a world of pleasant and unpleasant objects, or of indefinable colour, light and sound which is the world of images, but of essences. (4) The spiritual response: this is the state of ineffable peace, of pure delight. The subject here realises that the world of essences is but one essence.

It will be seen that art is concerned pre-eminently with the second and the third stages. Even the sensuous response has to be brought forward to the second or the third stage if it is to be expressed adequately and fully in art. Similarly, so long as art has to find expression in terms of a reconstruction of human life and human life is in its present evolutionary stage, the spiritual consciousness has to rely on the world of images and of essences, to communicate its ineffable peace, its pure delight. Spiritual consciousness, however, can work directly too for the human sublimation and transformation. The variety of aesthetic attitudes and the multiplicity of human sentiments are therefore, predominantly the product of the second and third stages of consciousness.

The eight rasas (or their स्थायिभाव-sthāyibhāva-s) set forth by Bharata are indicative of eight attitudes. The great mistake of Bharata’s suc­cessors was to interpret these attitudes or modes as mere sentiments. It must be acknowledged that Bharata’s own presentation does not quite clarify the attitudinal aspect and otherwise contains much that encourages the fallacious assumption that the eight rasas are merely eight sentiments. Discerning critics who laboured under this assump­tion were, therefore, dissatisfied with the theory. Without openly challenging Bharata’s authority, which was supreme, they endea­voured to win a place in the theory for new sentiments like प्रेयस्-preyas, शान्ति-śānti, भक्ति-bhakti etc. They even ventured to suggest that any of the forty-nine bhāva-scould attain the status of a rasa. Bhoja, more revo­lutionary than the others, evolved a comprehensive theory of his own, posited new bhāva-sabsent from Bharata’s list and further maintained that any रसोक्ति-rasokti (emotive utterance) could, by itself, be considered a rasa. The theory of rasa was thus left oscillating between two poles, – those of a varying pluralism on the one hand and a monism on the other. There was the numerical definiteness of nine, even an innumerable and bewildering multiplicity; or else, the entire aesthetic experience was assimilated into a one and only rasa, सात्त्विकबुद्धि-sāttvikabuddhi or the seership of the artist.

The foregoing analysis makes clear that the emotional state of man is too vast and complex to be emptied by a formula; that the sentiments emerging from it are numerous; that they are of various excellences or profundity; that new sentiments are always emerging according to the stress of the age and the environment; and that the only safe way in which we can theorise about aesthetic experience is to define the primary modes of aesthetic consciousness or the basic attitudes of the subject towards the object. These atti­tudes are themselves composed of sentiments. They are, in fact, an organisation of sentiments. An acceptance of these as the basis of our theory releases us both from inadequate monism and imperfectly motivated and grounded pluralism (definite as with nine or forty-nine or indefinite) with regard to rasa and sets us on the path of free and open but reasoned and comprehensive enquiry.

From the stage of only one rasa, that of the seership of the artist, we have now arrived at the व्यावहारिक-vyāvahārika, practical or middle stage in which it expresses itself in the form of various attitudes or of res­ponses and reactions to the universe around it. Thirteen attitudes can be distinguished from the point of view from which the subject endeavours to establish relations with the object. Each attitude will include in its domain sentiments that help to formulate it, sen­timents that are in fact its flesh and blood. It is the super-conscience which gives the artist his inspiration. The Higher Mind or “Reason in her most exalted mood” enables him to apprehend the essence of an object. Imagination helps him to decorate his design. Sensi­bility gives colour to his expression. His sense of fact gives him a grounding in objective reality and good sense helps him to maintain propriety of expression. It is the nature and quality of these facul­ties which he possesses that determine the nature of his attitude as well as the quality of his achievement.

It will be seen from what follows that the distinction between the “literature of knowledge” and the “literature of power” is a valid one, for the cognitive activity dominates certain attitudes. The attitudes range from anoetic quiescence to the pure delight of the spirit. A quiescent mind is a blank, whereas the spirit of delight is a mirror held up to eternal and universal Beauty. Anoetic quiescence is an uncreative state of consciousness distinct from either pain, pleasure or the pure delight of the spirit. This blank state is neutral, – void of any responses or reactions. It has not, therefore, been given a place in the active attitudes. In the ensuing classifica­tion, each attitude is defined. The sentiments that approximate to it and are prominently presented in literature, ancient or modern, are then mentioned under it.

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