K Krishnamoorthy (Part 4)

This article is part 14 of 15 in the series Exemplars of Indian Wisdom from Karnataka

Krishnamoorthy has expounded on an English sonnet composed by Wilfred Owen using Indian literary principles.[1] His analysis of Thomas Gray’s famous poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is fascinating:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

A sahṛdaya would at once feel the depth of pathos in the situation as presented by the poet. The country churchyard is an ideal vibhāva or background for the rise of gloomy thoughts relating to death. He realizes that the poet is imaginatively going over the varied precious potentialities that death might have nipped in the bud; and sees at once how the analogies cited add to the crystallization of the mood of sorrow. In other words, the sahṛdaya would not hesitate to take it as a very telling example of karuṇa-rasa-dhvani with its beauty enhanced by the apt application of alaṅkāra and characterized by the quality of Sweetness and Perspicuity in style. The poet’s touch of originality is seen in inviting sympathy towards the common run of mankind in lieu of the usual heroes of history, and suggesting that there might be persons in the country-side more intrinsically worth than some recipients of honour at court. (Studies in Indian Aesthetics and Criticism, pp. 94–95)

* * *

Krishnamoorthy’s writings also touch upon some important aspects of comparative aesthetics. He finds a parallel to Ānandavardhana’s explanation of svataḥsaṃbhavī, kavi-prauḍhokti and kavinibaddhaprauḍhokti in one of T S Eliot’s essays titled Three Voices of Poetry.[2] According to him, a poet predominantly employs them in epic, lyric and drama, respectively.

Building on the findings of his predecessors, he showed striking parallels between Indian concepts such as rasa, sādhāraṇīkaraṇa etc. and ‘objective correlative,’ a concept popularized by T S Eliot.

He explains that the Indian distinction between bhāva and rasa bears a close resem-blance to ‘personal emotion’ and ‘art emotion’ as enunciated by T S Eliot.[3] 

Kant formulated four principles to distinguish aesthetic judgement from other forms of judgement. He conceptualized four ‘moments’ that separate the beautiful from the scientific, moral and practical. The four moments are of disinterestedness, universality, finality and necessity. Krishnamoorthy posits that Abhinavagupta’s explanation of aesthetic experience includes all of these.[4]

In his considered opinion, the concept of anukīrtana as explained by Bharata and Abhinavagupta is a better form of Aristotle’s ‘mimesis.’[5]

Krishnamoorthy sees an echo of Aristotle’s conception of ‘catharsis’ in a verse from Bhaṭṭa Tauta’s Kāvyakautuka, a unique work that is now available only in fragments:

यथादर्शान्मलेनैव मलमेवोपहन्यते।
तथा रागावबोधेन पश्यतां शोध्यते मनः॥

Just as dust is used to clean up a rusty mirror, the mind of the critic is purified of passion through passion itself! (Essays in Sanskrit Criticism, p. 50)

* * *

Krishnamoorthy is credited with preparing the critical edition of Dhvanyāloka, a text that marks the highest accomplishment of India in the field of aesthetics. Apart from writing numerous scholarly articles explaining and clarifying various aspects connected with the text, he authored a textbook in Kannada that serves as a most reliable introduction to poetic suggestion.

He conclusively established that Ānandavardhana is the author of both the kārikā and vṛtti portions of the text, taking on the likes of P V Kane, S K De and S P Bhattacharya.[6] The following are some of the arguments he presented: (1) Jayanta-bhaṭṭa, a strong opponent of dhvani, makes no difference between the kārikā and vṛtti portions. (2) In the fourth chapter of the text, kārikās and vṛttis are broken up in several places; this could not have been possible if the text were to have two authors. (3) Illustrative examples are of supreme significance to literary theory. “There can be a Sāṅkhyakārikā or even a Māṇḍūkyakārikā without examples; but not Dhvanikārikā.”  

Krishnamoorthy edited and published Kuntaka’s Vakroktijīvita, another important text in Indian aesthetics. Before he published his edition, the text was available only in parts. He explained that this is a companion volume to Dhvanyāloka – Kuntaka describes the poetic process from the perspective of the poet while Ānandavardhana does the same from the perspective of the connoisseur. He drew attention to Kuntaka’s contribution as a literary critic by enlisting various instances of practical criticism embedded in Vakroktijīvita. One of his articles titled Kālidāsa in the Eyes of Kuntaka[7] is a major contribution to vakrokti studies.   

Krishnamoorthy drew the attention of scholars for the first time to the pramāṇas or criteria in Indian aesthetics, preserved in ancient texts such as Nāṭyaśāstra and Vyaktiviveka.[8] Veda, loka and adhyātma are the pramāṇas. They denote, respectively, knowledge handed down through the tradition, the world around and one’s own experience. A correct understanding of these is central to art appreciation.

He established that Viśveśvara, the author of Camatkāracandrikā, is the first scholar to refer to the famous Upaniṣadic mantra raso vai saḥ in connection with aesthetic experience. (Basavaṇṇanavara Vacanamīmāṃsè, p. 28)

His monograph in Kannada titled Śṛjanaśīlatè mattu Pāṇḍitya and several English articles such as The Sanskrit Conception of a Poet and The Office of the Sanskrit Poet in Theory and Practice illustrate how genius and talent, imagination and erudition, inspiration and practice went hand in hand in India. Among other things, they include several savoury verses selected from a wide range of Sanskrit and Kannada works. 

* * *

Krishnamoorthy’s books are strewn with extraordinary insights into various aspects of aesthetics. The following are a few samples:

What is abhinaya in theatre is varṇanā in poetry. (Essays in Sanskrit Criticism, p. 34)

Alaṅkāra, guṇa and rīti are concepts that help in the appreciation of standalone verses and small segments of poetry. Rasa and dhvani are concepts that aid in the analysis of whole works such as poems, plays and epics. (Bhāratīya Kāvyamīmāṃsè Tattva mattu Prayoga, p. 8; translation mine)

Connoisseurs should never forget the distinction between poetic suggestion and riddle. Prahelikā often masquerades as vastudhvani. We should take care to see it for what it is. If we are able to easily imagine the idea suggested by a verse, it is an illustration of vastudhvani; if we experience difficulty, it is an illustration of prahelikā. (Bhāratīya Kāvyamīmāṃsè Tattva mattu Prayoga, p. 48; translation mine)   

On defining poetry:

Such are the fundamental key-terms in Indian Aesthetics—alaṅkāra, guṇa, bhāva, rasa, rīti, vṛtti—which are all inter-involved since each explains an aspect of beauty in the poetic art and our idea of overall beauty would remain but partial and incomplete if we ignore any of these aspects. That is why almost all attempts at a definition of literature have become instances of so many failures in India as well as in the West. (Indian Literary Theories, p. 15)

It is in the very nature of poetry that it eludes an overall definition, though one cannot fail to recognize it when one finds it.[9]  (Indian Literary Theories, p. 39)


[1] Indian Literary Theories, pp. 60–64

[2] Essays in Sanskrit Criticism, pp. 274–80

[3] The Dhvanyāloka and its Critics, p. 313

[4] The Dhvanyāloka and its Critics, pp. 315–17

[5] Alaṅkāraśāstre Kāvyavaividhyavādavimarśaḥ (Sanskrit), pp. 39–45

[6] The Dhvanyāloka and its Critics, pp. 46–90; Indian Literary Theories, pp. 183–90

[7] Indian Literary Theories, pp. 222–30

[8] Indian Literary Theories, pp. 131–35

[9] Ref: Krishnamoorthy’s own definition of poetry:

प्रतिभाभाविताशेषवर्णनानिपुणः कविः।
तस्य कर्म भवेत्काव्यं रसभावनिरन्तरम्॥
(Alaṅkāraśāstre Kāvyavaividhyavādavimarśaḥ, p. 3)

To be continued.



Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

Prekshaa Publications

Indian Perspective of Truth and Beauty in Homer’s Epics is a unique work on the comparative study of the Greek Epics Iliad and Odyssey with the Indian Epics – Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. Homer, who laid the foundations for the classical tradition of the West, occupies a stature similar to that occupied by the seer-poets Vālmīki and Vyāsa, who are synonymous with the Indian culture. The author...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the sixth volume of reminiscences character sketches of prominent public figures, liberals, and social workers. These remarkable personages hailing from different corners of South India are from a period that spans from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Written in Kannada in the 1970s, these memoirs go...

An Introduction to Hinduism based on Primary Sources

Authors: Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh, Hari Ravikumar

What is the philosophical basis for Sanātana-dharma, the ancient Indian way of life? What makes it the most inclusive and natural of all religio-philosophical systems in the world?

The Essential Sanātana-dharma serves as a handbook for anyone who wishes to grasp the...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fifth volume, episodes from the lives of traditional savants responsible for upholding the Vedic culture. These memorable characters lived a life of opulence amidst poverty— theirs  was the wealth of the soul, far beyond money and gold. These vidvāns hailed from different corners of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom and lived in...

Padma Bhushan Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam represents the quintessence of Sage Bharata’s art and Bhārata, the country that gave birth to the peerless seer of the Nāṭya-veda. Padma’s erudition in various streams of Indic knowledge, mastery over many classical arts, deep understanding of the nuances of Indian culture, creative genius, and sublime vision bolstered by the vedāntic and nationalistic...

Bhārata has been a land of plenty in many ways. We have had a timeless tradition of the twofold principle of Brāhma (spirit of wisdom) and Kṣāttra (spirit of valour) nourishing and protecting this sacred land. The Hindu civilisation, rooted in Sanātana-dharma, has constantly been enriched by brāhma and safeguarded by kṣāttra.
The renowned Sanskrit poet and scholar, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R...

ಛಂದೋವಿವೇಕವು ವರ್ಣವೃತ್ತ, ಮಾತ್ರಾಜಾತಿ ಮತ್ತು ಕರ್ಷಣಜಾತಿ ಎಂದು ವಿಭಕ್ತವಾದ ಎಲ್ಲ ಬಗೆಯ ಛಂದಸ್ಸುಗಳನ್ನೂ ವಿವೇಚಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಬಂಧಗಳ ಸಂಕಲನ. ಲೇಖಕರ ದೀರ್ಘಕಾಲಿಕ ಆಲೋಚನೆಯ ಸಾರವನ್ನು ಒಳಗೊಂಡ ಈ ಹೊತ್ತಗೆ ಪ್ರಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಛಂದಸ್ಸಿನ ಸೌಂದರ್ಯವನ್ನು ಲಕ್ಷಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ತೌಲನಿಕ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಅಧ್ಯಯನಗಳ ತೆಕ್ಕೆಗೆ ಬರುವ ಬರೆಹಗಳೂ ಇಲ್ಲಿವೆ. ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಕಾರನಿಗಲ್ಲದೆ ಸಿದ್ಧಹಸ್ತನಾದ ಕವಿಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸ್ಫುರಿಸಬಲ್ಲ ಎಷ್ಟೋ ಹೊಳಹುಗಳು ಕೃತಿಯ ಮೌಲಿಕತೆಯನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಿವೆ. ಈ...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...