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Introduction to Kāvyaśāstras

The juice of life or rasa, pervades every aspect of a rasika’s life. And kāvya is an expression of that rasa in its highest form. Bhārata has had a long, rich and structured tradition of kāvya, many of which are unfortunately not known as widely as they should be. This course will shed light on the various schools of kāvyaśāstras, and engage the learner in a delightful journey of soundaryabodha.

Oct 23 - Nov 4

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इदमन्धं तमः कृत्स्नं जायेत भुवनत्रयम् । 
यदि शब्दाह्वयं ज्योतिरासंसारान्न दीप्यते ॥

This whole world will be covered with gloomy darkness if the light of words (śabda) does not enlighten it, says Daṇḍin in his Kāvyadarśa. Truly, all of our affairs depend on it. However, when we talk about kāvya, it has a lot more to offer. In the words of Mammaṭa, kāvya is for fame and artha; it teaches the right conduct and removes all the obstacles; it gives instant supreme bliss (parā nivṛtti); it instructs us as if a beloved. 

It is no wonder that in Bhārata, we have not just a long tradition of great poets but also a 2000 year long intellectual tradition of poetics (kāvyaśāstra), starting with Bharatamuni and culminating in Paṇḍita Jagannātha. The main site of contention was this: what is the ātman (essence) of poetry? This resulted in 5 main schools of poetics stressing on one of the following: rasa, alaṅkāra, vakrokti, dhvani and aucitya.

Rasa sampradāya: Bharatamuni propounds this view in the sixth book of his Nāṭyaśāstra. Mammaṭa is another famous ācārya from this school. Rasa is evoked when the vibhava, anubhava and vyābhicāribhava are in conjunction (saṃyoga). In such a situation, our own sthāyibhāva gets transmuted into one of the 9 rasas. Kavirāja Viśvanātha describes rasa as the uterine brother (sahodarā) of brahmānanda.
Alaṅkāra sampradāya: Bharatamuni describes only 4 alaṅkāras that enhance the beauty of kāvya. Bhāmaha titled his own work as Kāvyālaṅkāra, thus propounding the view of his own school. It is interesting to note that with the passage of time, the number of alaṅkāras even crossed hundred. According to this school, the essence of poetry is not rasa but alaṅkāra. In the words of Bhāmaha, even the lovely face of a lady does not give joy in the absence of ornaments (न कान्तमपि निर्भूषं विभाति वनितामुखम्). Then, what to say about kāvya without alaṅkāras? Daṇḍin and Jayadeva are other famous ācāryas of this school.

Vakrokti sampradāya: This view was propounded by Kuntaka who composed Vakroktijīvita. Vakrokti is a striking speech, something figurative and therefore charming. This is based on modulation and tone of voice or pun. According to this school, vakrokti is the essence of kāvya. Later ācāryas subsumed vakrokti under alaṅkāras.

Dhvani sampradāya: Propounded by Ānandavardhana in his Dhvanyāloka. According to him, dhvani or the suggestion is the essence of kāvya. If we say, “Sun set down”, a thief will think that it is the suitable time to steal, a vīraprasūtā will think that her brave son died in the battlefield, a love-struck lady will think it is the time to meet her lover, and so on. It is because of the suggestive power of words that we get so many meanings. Hence, this school considers dhvani to be the essence of kāvya.

Rīti & Aucitya sampradāya: Vāmana propounded the rīti (विशिष्टा पदरचना रीतिः, रीतिरात्मा काव्यस्य) school, which is similar to what Coleridge said, “the best words in best order”. Kṣemendra composed his Aucitavicāracāracā in which he established that aucitya or propriety is the essence of kāvya. If a particular alaṅkāra, rasa, vakrokti or dhvani is not used at the place where it is to be used and used where it should not be used, it will not be a good kāvya. Ānanadavardhana also seems to be aware of the significance of aucitya when he says, “There is no other cause which obstructs rasa than anaucitya (impropriety).”

In this way, the Bhāratīya Kāvyaśāstra begins with the rasa school and goes through many developments. It should be noted that some schools focussed more on one element and ignored others. Finally, in the later mediaeval times, Paṇḍita Jagannātha again establishes that it is the rasa which is the essence of kāvya.

अपारे काव्यसंसारे कविरेव प्रजापतिः । 
यथास्मै रोचते विश्वं तयेदं परिवर्त्तते ।।