History of Sanskrit Poetics – Short Notes

History of Sanskrit Poetics – Short Notes

Two important works on this topic have been written by P.V. Kane and S.K. De.

Bharata or Naatya Shaastra

Bharata muni wrote the Naatya Shaastra. It mainly deals with Drama though it is the earliest text on Poetics. It consists of 36 chapters. Its commentary is called Abhinava Bharati, which is written by Abhinava Gupta. This Naatyashaashtra describes all aspects of Drama and these performing arts. Bharata has mentioned about the four alamkaaras, 10 gunas and 36 lakshanas. He describes 10 types of Dramas or Rupakas namely, Nataka, Prakarana, Samavakara, Ihamrga, Dima, Vyayoga, Anka, Prahasana, Bhana and Vithi. During his time, the art of Drama had developed very well.  In naatyashaastra, the four alamkaaras mentioned are उपमा, दीपक, रूपक and यमक. Yamaka is a shabdaalamkaara having 10 forms. The others are Arthaalamkaaras. The concept of Rasa applicable for Dramas is explained by Bharata in Naatya Shashtra. The causes of rasa are Vibhaava, Anubhaava and Vyabhichaari bhaava. The ingredients of Rasa are Vibhaavas (Aalambana Vibhaava, Udveepana Vibhaava), Anubhaava (which includes Saatvikabhaavas) and vyabhichaaribhaava (which are the Sahakaari kaaranas). From the संयोग union of these components, रसनिष्पत्तिः – the realization of the Rasa is achieved. When the sahrudayas watch the vibhaavas, anubhaavas and vyabhichaaribhaavas, the staayibhaavaa in their hearts is kindled. It is nourished by these components and it transforms itself into Rasaa or the aesthetic sentiment.

Bhaamaha or Kaavyaalamkaara

Bhaamah wrote Kaavyaalamkaara.  He is considered to have lived during 700 AD. Bhaamaa proved that Kavya is accepted by the Vedas.  According to the earlier Alamkaara-praadaanya-vaadis like Bhaama, Dhandi, Udbhatta, and Rudratta, Alamkaara is the most important aspect of Poetry.  He mentioned up to 30 alamkaaras. Bhaamaha and Dhandi mention about the earlier Alamkaarikas. But their works are not available to us. From Bharata’s 4 alamkaaras, we notice that the evolution of 30 alamaarakas have happened by the collaboration of the 4 alamkaaras with the 36 lakshanas.

Bhaamah states in काव्यालंकार that Kavya comprises of words and their meanings – शब्दार्थौ सहितौ काव्यम् | Stressing on the importance of Alamkaara, it has been mentioned, न कान्तमपि निर्भूषं विभाति वनिताननम् – the beautiful face of the wife does not shine with radiance without proper ornaments – says Bhaama.

नाकवित्वमधर्माय व्याधये दण्डनाय वा । कुकवित्वं पुनः साक्षान्मृतिमाहुर्मनीषिणः ।। १.१२ ।। (kaavyaalamkaara)
न+अकवित्वम्+अधर्माय व्याधये दण्डनाय वा । कुकवित्वं पुनः साक्षात् मृतिम् आहुः मनीषिणः ।।

“Not writing poetry is no crime; it won’t cause illness or lead to punishment; but writing bad poetry is a living death”, says Bhaamah in Kaavyaalamkaara.

Dhandin or Kaavyaadharsha

Kaavyaadharsha is a work by Dhandi. He is believed to have lived in the 7th century AD. He lived near Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. He has other works like Dashakumaara Charita, Avanti Sundari Kathaa. In Avanti Sundari Kathaa, he has mentioned about his own life – how his ancestors came from North India, one of them named Dhamodaraa was his forefather, and states his own experiences. Kaavyaadharsha was a very popular text on Sanskrit Poetics. It had been translated into various languages more than 1000 years ago. It was translated into Tibetan language. This work is also the source for one of the earliest Kannada work – Kavi Raaja Maarga. Even later writers have also referred to this work. Many verses of Kaavyaadharsha reflect what is said by Bhaamaha in Kaavyaalamkaara. They appear to be similar to Bhaamaha’s work, (probably Dhandhi had borrowed from Bhaama) along with Dhandi’s own opinions. There are many Sanskrit commentaries on Kaavyaadharsa like those by Vaali Jangaala, Ratna Sri Jnaana and Taruna Vaachaspati. It continues to be a very popular work across the world.

Udbhata or Kaavyaalankaara Saara Sangraha

Udbhata hails from Kashmir as the very name indicates. His name has been mentioned in the Raajatarangini of Kalhana as a poet adorning the court of Jayaapida. His period is after Bhama (750 AD) and before Anandavardhana (850 AD). His work on poetics is Kaavyaalankaara Saara Sangraha. He is always quoted with respect by his successors even when they differed from his views. He differs from Bhaama and Dhandin in defining certain Alamkaaras having Rasa such as, Preyas, Rasavad and Urjasvin. Preyas according ot him, comes only when there is a developed emotion such as Srngaara to that extent only when it could remain a Bhaava and is not developed into Rasa.  ऊर्जस्वि according to him is the development of indecorous or misplaced Rasa and Bhaava as for  example the attitude of Raavana towards Sita.  He also declares that Shanta Rasa could be developed possibly through action on the stage.

Vaamana or Riti Siddhanta or Kavyalankara Sutra Vritti

Vaamana who lived during the 8th century AD, in Kashmir was a contemporary of Udbhata. Vamana was the pioneer of Riti Siddhanta. He accorded the highest place for Riti or the style of composition as the soul of poetry.

The Aatma or the soul is that core or fundamental element or the principle which defines the very essence of Kaavya.

Bhaamaha defined Kavya as shabdaartha sahitau Kavyam. Kavya is the combination or the complex of words and their meanings. It also implies blemish-free or nirdosha. He later extended it to include the element of alamkara in the definition. Dandin also went with this view. But the later schools felt that this definition of Kavya was centered on the external element or the body of the Kavya and not the spirit or the soul of Kavya. Thus began the quest for the soul of Kavya.

Vamana the author of Kavyalankara Sutra Vritti declared Ritih aatma Kavyasya – रीतिरात्मा काव्यस्य | Though Vamana advocates Riti, he also states that Alamkara enhances the beauty of Kavya. Vamana says Kavya is the union of sound and sense which is free from poetic flaws [nirdosha] and is adorned with excellences [gunas] and ornamentation or figures of speech [alamkaras].  To him Riti is a beautiful collocation endowed with excellences – “विशिष्ट पदरचना रीतिः” “विशेषो गुणात्मा”.Riti represents for Vamana the particular structure of sounds combined with poetic excellence. Riti is the going or the flowing together of the elements of a poem.

Vamana expanded on the concept of Gunas dealt by Dandin. Kavyalamkarasutravritti is divided into 5 adhikaranas each consisting of 2 or 3 adhyayas.

Though Vamana retained the 10 gunas enumerated by Dandin [Ojas, Prasada, Shlesha, Samata, Samadhi, Madhurya, Sukumarata, Udavarta, Arthavyakti and Kanti], he modified their names and increased the number of gunas to 20. He created 2 sets of the same 10 Gunas under 2 headings namely Shabda guna and Artha guna.

He attempts to explain each guna in terms of both Shabda and Artha. For eg, Prasada [clarity] means shaithilya [readability] under shabda guna while it means Auchitya [propriety] under artha guna.

He abandoned the approach of Bhamaha and Dandin who treated Rasa as a subsidiary element of the verse.

Although he did not accord rasa an independent status, he treated rasa as an aspect of artha guna.

Riti, according to Vamana, is a particular mode or organisation of verbal structure that is different from common usage and also has excellence of gunas.

Dandin had named literary styles as Marga मार्गः and mentioned Vaidarbhi वैदर्भिः and Gaudiya गौडीय margas. Vamana not only modified this concept of style, he also renamed Marga as Riti and included Panchali पाञ्चाली to the above list.

Panchali has Madhurya and Saukumarya gunas while Gaudiya has Ojas and Kanti. It is however Vaidarbhi that has all 10 gunas and is the most preferred style. He terminates the view that the practice of Gaudi and Panchali would help a poet gain experience to adopt Vaidarbhi. The interesting example given by him is:

na shanasutravaanabhyaase trasarasutravaanvaichitryalaabhah.
How can anyone trained in weaving jute cloth ever hope to weave silk cloth?

Vamana treats alamkaras as a subsidiary significance. Guna and Kavya have a samavaya sambandha (inseparable concomitance) while Alamkara and Kavya are said to be in samyoga sambandha (Relation by contact). Guna is related to the soul of the poetry while Alamkara is related to the body of the poetry. He has considered only 2 shabdalankaras namely, Yamaka (rhyme) and Anuprasa (Alliteration). With regard to Arthalankaras, he opines that most of all Alamkaras lies only in comparison. His collective name for all figures is Upamaaprapancha.

Vamana’s conception of rasa corresponds to that of Dandin as far as status allotted to it is concerned. But while Dandin brings Rasa under Alamkaras, Vamana treats it as belonging to Gunas.

Vamana laid the foundation to the theory of Vichchithi which was later developed by Kuntaka. However the Riti school of Vamana did not have followers in the same way as Rasa, Alamkara and Dhvani schools had. The general conception of Riti was severely criticised by Mammata. In spite of all this, Vamana was the ablest writer to formulate a definite theory so as to determine the soul of poetry.

Kuntaka or Vakrokti Siddhanta or Vakrokti-jivita

The term Vakrokti वक्रोक्तिः has been used to mean different things by Sanskrit poetics.

  • Bana has used the term in Kadambari.
  • Dandin uses vakrokti to mean something that is contradictory to svabhavokti. Svabhavokti is a plain statement or fact, while vakrokti is striking or oblique speech.
  • Bhamaha thinks atishayokti is vakrokti and it brings beauty to all Alankaras and it converts ordinary things into vibhavas.
  • Vamana thinks that Saadrushya lakshana [similitude] is vakrokti.

Kuntaka entered the scene after Anandavardhana, probably a contemporary of Abhinavagupta. He was a unique and original thinker who did not approve the dhvani doctrine whole-heartedly. He revived the concept of Vakrokti giving it a new twist and meaning. His work is called Vakrokti-jivita.

To him Kavyavyaapaara is the crucial factor in Kavya. Hence he is called vyaapaarapraadhaanyavaadi. He defines Kavya as follows

शब्दार्थौ सहितौ वक्रकविव्यापारशालिनी। बन्धे व्यवस्थितौ काव्यं तद्विदाह्लादकारिणि।। (वक्रोक्तिजीवितम्-१.७)  Shabdaarthau sahitau vakra kavivyaapaarashaalini
Bandhe vyavasthitau Kavyam tadvidaahlaadakaariNi

Shabda and artha are the objects to be adorned and vakrokti is the adornment.  He has described many types of vakrata and has included all types of gunas and types of dhvani under them.

Vakrokti-jivita denied the independent existence of dhvani or vyangya as the soul of poetry and tries to include it under the all-pervading vakrokti. Since he defends vakrokti, he does not accept svabhavokti as an alankara. Although he widened the scope of vakrokti, not many followers are found.

Mahimabhatta criticises Kuntaka vehemently. He states that vakrokti is also inference mainly. It is just a new name because he has used the same examples which were given by Anandavardhana for Dhvani. Bhojaraja says that literature has 3 divisions namely, svabhavokti, vakrokti and rasokti. Appaya Dikshita considers vakrokti as alankara only. He follows Rudrata who classifies vakrokti as Sleshavakroti and Kakuvakroti and placed them under alankara.

Kshemendra or doctrine of Auchitya or Auchityavichaaracharcha

Kshemendra was the son of Prakashendra and the student of Abhinavagupta. He lived during the reign of King Ananta and later King Kalasha in the 11century AD. He was a prolific writer with many works to his credit. Of which Kavikantaabharanam, auchityavichaaracharcha and suvruttatilakam pertain to poetics. He calls himself “vyasadasa”.

Anauchitya is the root of all doshas. Bharata enumerates 10 doshas and says that wrongly placed ornament only causes laughter. Bhamaha has also detailed about doshas. Dandin however shifts the perspective to the sahrdayas. If the discerning scholar has no irritation while reading a piece of literature then doshas are not blemished. So auchitya औचित्य indicates what is right or wrong and this is very subjective. Anandavardhana has employed the term anauchitya on more than one occasion. He says auchitya decides the type of sanghatana in a Kavya. Also says that anauchitya is the greatest hindrance for the relishment of rasa. Abhinava says that auchitya means harmony of all elements of Kavya with rasa as the main element. Kuntaka considers auchitya as a guna. Mahimabhatta says anauchitya is of 2 kinds. Antaranga and bahiranga.

According to Kshemendra, auchitya is the jivita of rasa. If rasa is the essence of a Kavya, Auchitya is the quintessence of Rasa. He says that alankara, guna, dosha, etc., are all meaningless without auchitya.

An item which is suited to another is called uchita [proper]. The state of being proper is auchitya [propriety].

27 types of auchitya have been mentioned by Kshemendra. Propriety should be present in  pada, artha, prabhandaartha, guna, alankara, rasa, kriya, karaka, linga, vachaa, visheshana, upasarga, nipata, kala, desha, kula, vrata [vow], tattva [reality], abhipraya, svabhava, saarasangraha, pratibha, avastha [state or condition], vichara, aashishinaamnyata [benediction], Kavyaanga.

Auchitya with reference to rasa has been dealt with in detail by him. He says that if different rasas are mixed properly, they enhance the relish.

Jagannatha Pandita or Rasagangadhara

Jagannatha जगन्नाथः was the author of Rasagangadhara He was a Telugu Brahmin who lived during 1620-1665 near Rajahmundry. He was patronised by Moghul emperor Shahjahan and he received the title “Panditaraja” from the emperor of Delhi. He defines Kavya as  रमनीयार्थ प्रतिवादक शब्द काव्यम्  He considers rasadhvani as parama ramaniya.  He describes rasa sutra according to various authors. He tries to improve upon Abhinavagupta’s view. According to Jagannatha there is not much difference between the views of Abhinavagupta and Bhattanayaka.

He has presented a new view of the Navyas. Rasa is said to occur on account of contemplation. It is compared to silver seen in seashell. It is a kind of illusion and indescribable. He is a traditionalist and accepts 9 rasas and rejects the arguments of those who want rasatva for bhakti. He says bharata’s words are the final in this regard. He also opines that Pratibha is the only cause for Kavya and not the combination of pratibha, nipunata and abhyasa. He is a follower of dhvani school. He however says that it is wrong to classify shabdachitra and arthachitra together and so has 4 categories of Kavya.

He was a great critic as well as a great writer. Nagesha Bhatta the famous grammarian of 18th century has written a commentary on Rasagangadhara, named Marmaprakasha. Some of his other works include Gangalahari, Lakshmilahari, Karunalahari, Sudhalahari, Jagadaabharana, Praanabharana, etc. He has choicest abuse for Appaya Dikshita in his work ChitramimamsakhandanaManorama kuchamardini is a criticism of Bhattoji Dikshita’s Praudamanorama. All illustrative stanzas in it are Jagannatha’s own. The important illustrations in the Rasagangadhara and some other charming stanzas of Jagannatha have been collected in the work named Bhaminivilasa.

Rajashekara or Kavyamimamsa

Rajashekara is the author of Kavyamimamsa. He has referred to Anandhavardhana, Vakpatiraja and Bhavabhuti. He is believed to have lived under the patronage of King Mahipala, during the later part of 9th and first part of 10th century AD. He was the son of Silavati and Durduka. He was proficient in Sanskrit and many dialects of Prakrit. He is believed to have composed 6 works.

  • Karpuramanjari
  • Viddhashaalabhanjika
  • Balaramayana
  • Balabharata
  • Kavyamimamsa
  • Bhuvanakosha

There is no discussion or exposition of rasas, gunas and alankaras in Kavyamimamsa (Investigation of Poetics). It belongs to kavishiksha or training of poets. Various chapters in the book describe the daily routine of the poet, the systematic rigor that goes into the making of a poet and the discipline that is to be inculcated in their lifestyle, amongst other things.

Dhananjaya and Dhanika

Dhananjaya wrote Dasharupaka and Dhanika wrote Avaloka, a commentary on it. Dhananjaya is believed to have lived in 9th century AD under the patronage of Vakpatiraja. Dhanika probably belonged to 11th century AD. They both vehemently opposed the vyanjana vyapara. They also do not accept shanta rasa as fit to be depicted in drama. They say that it is impossible to enact shama which is complete stoppage of all action. Dhanika says that Tatparya is the main function in ordinary language and poetry as well. Tatparya cannot be restricted and conveys suggested meaning too. Hence a separate vritti called vyanjana is not required.

Dhananjaya refers to sthayibhaava as the ocean which may get disturbed now and then but always retains its original position. The basic mental state lies in the dominant mood and cannot be upset by other Bhaavas but renders the bhaavas to remain subordinate to itself.

Viswanatha or Saahityadarpana

Viswanatha was born in the 14th century AD at Orissa as the son of Chandrasekhara. He had the title Saandhivigrahika Mahapatra. His most important work is Saahityadarpana.

Other works include Raghavavilasa-mahakavya, Kuvalayashvacharita, Prabhavatiparinaya, Chandrakala, Prashastiratnavali and Kavyaprakashadarpana [commentary on Mammata’s work]. Saahityadarpana combines both poetics and dramaturgy. His style is simple and elegant and his expressions are also clear. However he lacks originality. Vakyam rasatmakam Kavyam is his theory.

Mahimabhatta or Vyaktiviveka

Mahimabhatta was an opponent of dhvani theory. He was a follower of Srishankuka’s theory of anumana. He is believed to have lived in Kashmir in 11th century AD. He was a good scholar endowed with acumen. Vyaktiviveka has 3 chapters called vimarshas.

1st vimarsha severely examines Anandhavardhana’s Dhvani concept and points out 10 defects. 2nd vimarsha deals with anauchitya. 5 types of anauchitya [vidheaavimarsha, prakramabheda, kramabheda, paunaruktya and vachyaavachana] are discussed. 3rd vimarsha takes up shlokas of Anandhavardhana from Dhvanyaloka and shows how each of them can be an instance of anumana. An incomplete commentary on vyaktiviveka is available and it is believed to have been written by Ruyyaka.


Rupagoswami or Bhaktirasaamritasindhu

Rupagoswami lived during last part of 15th and first part of 16th century. He promoted the Bhakthi concept. He was a disciple of Chaitanyamahaprabhu and wrote 2 works namely Ujjvalanilamani and Bhaktirasaamritasindhu. Religious teachings of Bhakti school are presented here. Love of Krishna is the sole object and 360 types of nayikas are described. His other works include Natakachandrika [on dramaturgy], Padyavali and Danakelikaumudi. Like Madhusoodhana Saraswati, he also considered Bhakti to be a rasa.


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