Natalie Savelyeva

Lecture by Sree Pappu Venugopala Rao on the concept of Rasa in Natya Sastra by Bharata Muni

(September 1, 2012, Kalakshetra)

Rasa theory is given in Chapters 6 and 7 of Natya Sastra. Bharata Muni describes eleven aspects of drama, i.e.

  1. Rasa
  2. Bhava (emotion)
  3. Abhinaya (histrionic expression)
  4. Dharmi (school of acting)
  5. Vritti (mode of expression)
  6. Pravritti (national identity)
  7. Siddhi (success of production)
  8. Svara (musical note)
  9. Aatodhya (musical instrument)
  10. Gaana (song)
  11. Ranga (theater)

Among those eleven aspects, Rasa, Bhava and Abhinaya are given the first three places.

The concept of Rasa

There are two types of kavya (literary works): Drishya (which can be seen) and Sravya (which can be heard). In drama, drishya takes predominance over Sravya. Thus, according to Bharata Muni, "drama is considered as the best form of literature."

Rasa represents the ultimate emotive experience (featuring emotional involvement of the spectator), evoked by literary work. As Bharata Muni puts it, "rasyate anena iti rasaha" (that which is relished is rasa). That which we enjoy, feel, experience is the Rasa.

The term "rasa" has many-fold meaning. Dr. Pappu described evolution of the word "rasa" (etymological development of the term) as follows. Rasa is used in association with taste (at the side) and transcendental experience. I asked Dr. Pappu in which sense he used the term "transcendental" here. He explained it as "something beyond human comprehension", or "something which belongs of reality of God".

Further on Dr. Pappu explains, that the term Rasa implies pleasure (which is experienced according to individual level of the person in sense of awareness and experience).

Rasa is a two-fold experience:

  • felt by the creator (before he starts to write or compose) and expressed through his art, at the side, and
  • experience of the reader (spectator) or sahridaya (the one who has the heart, "hridaya", equal to the hero described in a play, as prefix "sa" denotes equality) who perceives the art.

First the creator undergoes emotion and he seeks a medium for expression of his feelings. Audience/reader receives this emotion through created medium, thus undergoes emotion felt by creator. The spectator/audience re-creates the emotion. The creator works as transmitter who creates emotion, and spectator as receiver and re-creator of emotion.

According to Bharata Muni, "no meaning can be produced from speech in absence of rasa."

To illustrate this maxim, Dr. Pappu uses example of Jayadevas Gita Govindam, which contains only 24 songs, but being full of rasa, each line of this poetry and the poem as whole influenced all ganres of poetry, dance and art in India since 11th century up to now.

Dr. Pappu quates the sloka, "vakyam rasantaka kavyam" (density of Rasa makes Kavya live long.)

Etymological meaning of Rasa

In Vedas, Rasa denotes soma, milk, water, and essence of anything.

In Atharva Veda the word Rasa denotes the taste.

In Upanishadas Rasa is used to denote essence, important component.

In Taittriya Upanishad the meaning of the word is expanded, which is given by sloka "raso vai saha", i.e. the God defines himself as Rasa, the ultimate reality.

Further on, in dramaturgy the word "Rasa" is used to denote emotion, sentiment, feeling, i.e. the meaning of Rasa is "expanded" to inner reality of human psyche.


In Natya Sastra the process of evoking Rasa is discussed in detail. Accordingly, Rasa is created by combination of vibhava, anubhava and vyabhichari bhavas. Bhava is something, which leps us to understand the poet’s heart via words, bodily gestures and emotions.

Different aspects of Bhava:

  1. Vibhava - which determines. This is the major determinant of the whole scene, i.e. it may be the character himself or the actions of the character. There are two types of Vibhavava: Alambana or basic, and Uddepana or catalytic, promoting. In this context, the character himself is Alambana bhava (by his only presence he put the reason of the scene), and the actions taken by the character (for ex. towards another personages) are considered as Udderpana bhavas (as those actions are determinants of the further development of the story, relations between the character and external reality).
  2. Anubhava – which supports. "anu" means "following, i.e. anubhava is following bhava. This includes the situation, external circumstances, something visible, observable, which tunes with inner bhava of the character and helps, facilitates to carry forward the inner reality of feelings along with vibhavas.
  3. Vyabhichari bhavas – synonymous with sancari bhavas, i.e. transitory states, which could be compared with multiple sleeves of the river. Sancari bhavas enrich the story, elaborate context represented by anubhavas and relations of the characters represented by vibhavas.
  4. Sthayi bhavas – as the many rivulets fall into the sea, so sancari bhavas merge into the ocean of sthayi bhava, i.e. strong static emotion, underlying the whole plot of the story, and revealed in full power in the end (the final emotion). This is purely subjective, "feelable", not visible phenomena.
  5. Sattvika bhavas – this is purely technical term, denotes psycho-physiological conditions which are indicated by certain involuntary reactions of our body like perspiration of fainting.

There are eight Rasas as given in Natya Sastra:

  1. Sringara
  2. Hasya
  3. Karuna
  4. Raudra
  5. Veera
  6. Bhayanaka
  7. Bibhatsa
  8. Adbhuta

I asked Dr. Pappu why those rasas are always given in this particular order, starting from NS and in other works as well. He suggested to see the list from down to upwards. It starts from adbhuta, bibhatsa, and bhayanaka (wonder, adversion and fear), i.e. basic, simple emotions, which many leaving creatures experience. Veera and roudra come in the middle, then karuna and hasya come, and the list is crowned with Srungara. The literary meaning of "srunga" is horn, i.e. "Srungara" means the peak, as the horns (sringa) decorate the peaks of Gopuram of South Indian temple. Thus, Srungara is considered as Rasa Raja, the highest of human emotive experiences.

Summary of Rasa-Bhava concept

In conclusion, Dr. Pappu summarizes the concept of Rasa as follows:

  • Rasa is an experience.
  • Rasa and bhava are two sides of the one coin - rasa canoe be generated without bhava, and bhava creates rasa.
  • Sthayi bhava is latent static emotion.
  • Process of rasa is awakening that latent emotion inside human psyche.
  • Vibhavas are determinants or stimuli.
  • Anubhavas are consequences or deliberate manifestations of feelings.
  • Vyabhiachari bhavas are transitory states.
  • Bhava is the source of emotion. Vibhava excites or stimulates emotion. Anubhava is voluntary external reaction to vibhava (following vibhava), as consequent, deliberate manifestation of feelings. Transitory feelings which pass by until we settle with an emotion are vyabhicari/sancari bhavas.
Vibhava -> Anubhava - > Vyabhichari -> Sthayi - > Rasa -> Vibhava -> Anubhava -> ...

(the circular nature of Rasa evoking process)

How do we experience Rasa?

Abhinava Gupta (the famout commentator of Natya Sastra who wrote Abhianava Bharati, 10 cen AD) introduces the terms "vasana" (latent experience of emotions of individual nature) and "sahridaya" (connoisseur, the one those heart is equal to the heart of the hero, i.e. the source of rasa). He says, "when we see a performance our hearts become devoid of external or worldly matters and become pure like a mirror"

(Here I would like to note very keen observation of the author, which sounds in tune with modern concept of psychological reflection introduced by Leontyev in his theory of activity).

Dr. Pappu also noted, that feelings portrayed in Abhinaya are reflected in our hearts. This is the process which makes "sahridaya" or sympathetic spectator the one with the character on the stage. Thus the poet, the hero and sympathetic reader/spectator go through the same experience.

(Here I would note the idea of "sympathetic" reader. This is in tune with the concept of emphatic perception developed in psychology of existentialism, i.e. empathetic co-existence on emotive plane, unbiased, without judging, the idea of involvement, participation in emotive experience of the other person without bringing in any personal component in. Actually, that is what spectators do. They co-feel, but do not influence the emotive process of the characters. Presence of spectators is material, but indiscrete. They do react, to co-feel, but do not interfere, as the space of drama excludes any possibility of interaction between the actors and spectators.).

According to Saradatanya (as he says in his work "Bhavaprakashana"), "good audience reflects feelings portrayed exactly as they are."

Effect of "good" performance should evoke positive, elevating feelings in audience, which is the meaning and purpose of Rasa. Dr. Pappu also noted the difference between to Sanskrit terms "santosh" and "ananda", both meaning pleasurable states. Santosh implies excited joyful state, caused by some material pleasure. Ananda means the bliss, and Rasananda means pleasure beyond physical experience.

(Here I would point out such phenomena as catharsis, which as we know is the purpose of the play according to ancient Greek canon. Catharsis means purification. Pleasure we experience as begetting something, or as revelation, release from tension, grief, etc. Also we experience higher pleasure in achieving higher levels of comprehension, which implies liberation of previous unpleasant experiences as well, and anticipates new horizons and new abilities for mind, imagination to fly. In this sense, i would say process of evoking and experiencing Rasa is the way to Ananda, which could be compared with the process of catharsis through experiencing strong and fresh emotions, with uplift and push up to higher levels, i.e. Ananda. I would also note, that this process of catharsis is two-fold, including revelation of tension, sublimation of frustrated or blocked impulses, which channelize and guides emotive flow upward and extends emotional experience, i.e. opens the new horizons and higher levels of existance.)