Kālidāsa - 3

This article is part 12 of 29 in the series Poets on Poetics: Literature as Sanskrit Poets See It

Unless poetry caters to people with varying tastes, it will not find a strong footing. It naturally follows that the poet should know the ways of the world well. He should be capable of portraying its various dimensions in subtle and intricate ways as the occa-sion demands. Now the question arises: How does a poet acquire this ability? By gaining an insight into the forces that propel the activities of the world—the three guṇas—sattva, rajas and tamas. To put it succinctly, the poet should be endowed with a far-reaching vision: he should be a krāntadarśī. The story does not end here. Suppose the poet merely describes the multifarious activities of the world. His creation will be incomplete. If it is to be self-complete, the poet should be able to hint at the unchanging cause of the world, its undying fount. A yogī is one who has transcended the three guṇas; a poet is one who stands witness to these. 

In the next verse we have Gaṇadāsa musing on Mālavikā’s ability as a dancer when she performs the various lessons that she learnt from him. Gaṇadāsa feels that their roles now appear reversed, and she is giving him a lesson in dance (1.5). The poet has used the word bhāvika here. It suggests the emotional richness that all teachers and students of art must possess. Without it, art cannot develop originality. Emotional richness is what prevents a student from merely parroting the lessons learnt from a teacher. This applies to poets and connoisseurs as well. A poet should ensure that his composition is enlivened by various emotions. A connoisseur should savour poetry by submitting himself to the emotional ambiance completely. This will enable him to create within himself the aesthetic world as conceived by the poet. Apart from this there is no other way to access aesthetic experience. In this manner, bhāvika is essential to both the poet and connoisseur – to the former during creation, to the latter during enjoyment. 

Bhāvika is a concept that is not influenced by space and time. If it were not so, a connoisseur in time x and place y would not be able to enjoy a composition by a poet from a different time and place. It is perhaps this that poeticians such as Bhāmaha and Daṇḍī conceptualized as an aesthetic concept in later times.[1] Here is a summary of their views: Bhāvika is the means by which the poet’s words become supremely effective in the hearts of connoisseurs. In other words, it rekindles in the connoisseur the intense aesthetic rapture that the poet initially felt. In the present context, Gaṇadāsa and Mālavikā acted as the poet and connoisseur, respectively, to begin with. Their roles were later reversed. Bhāvika is the reason for this role-reversal. Oftentimes a connoisseur finds several suggestions in a poetic composition that the poet himself does not know. On such occasions, the poet is overwhelmed by the novelty of his own composition. A similar thing happened to Gaṇadāsa when Mālavikā performed the lessons that she learnt from him.

Let us move on to another episode in the same drama. When Paṇḍitā Kauśikī is asked to adjudicate between Haradatta and Gaṇadāsa by considering their relative merits as teachers, she says: Prayogapradhānaṃ hi nāṭyaśāstram. kimatra vāgvyavahāreṇa.[2] The import of her words is this: ‘Nāṭyaśāstra is a practical science; it is centred on performance. Exchange of words is of little use here.’ Agnimitra and others believed that the verbal duel between the two dance teachers would come to an end if Paṇḍitā Kauśikī, a learned and perceptive connoisseur, pronounces judgement. Kauśikī knew that aesthetic experience of rasikas is the only correct metric to be employed in the appraisal of art. That is why she emphasized on practical demonstration. The word prayoga that she uses here is pregnant with meaning. We find a ready parallel to this in Bhaṭṭa Tauta’s later-day proclamation: Prayogatvam anāpanne kāvye nāsvādaśambhavaḥ[3], which roughly means ‘poetry is enjoyable only when it is performed.’ In essence, prayoga is the dramatic, aesthetic unfoldment of the causes and effects of emotion.

Let us consider another episode. Agnimitra is wonderstruck upon seeing Mālavikā on stage. He realizes that she is much more beautiful in person than in the portrait he had seen. He realizes how utterly wrong he was in thinking that a portrait depicts beauty better. Because the painting faded in comparison with the actual Mālavikā, Agnimitra thinks that the artist was in a state of śithila-samādhi while drawing it:   

कान्तिविसंवादशङ्कि मे हृदयम्।
सम्प्रति शिथिलसमाधिं
मन्ये येनेयमालिखिता॥ (Mālavikāgnimitra, 2.2)

The word śithila-samādhi is of utmost importance. Everyone knows that poets and artists are in an exalted emotional state when they are engaged in creating their works. In writing a poem, if a poet relies solely on erudition without reaching this exalted emotional state, he will not be able to create something sublime. It does not matter how erudite or accomplished he is.

The unwavering emotional state described here ties up closely with sustaining creative imagination for long periods (pratibhā-dhāraṇa). Creative imagination is a flash, or a series of flashes. Sustaining it throughout the period of creating an art piece requires dedication. It does not come with practice alone. Learning does not help much either. The things that indeed help are intellectual commitment, emotional submission and the ability to work long hours. Evidently, these attributes relate to the artist’s śīla – conduct, mindset and character. (The verbal root of śīla confirms this observation – śīl samādhau.) As far as an artist is concerned, loss of emotional focus is loss of śīla. The work of an artist without the strength of śīla is to that extent jejune.

In this manner, Kālidāsa has remarkably brought out various aspects related to the artist’s śīla. Aestheticians such as Vāmana, Rudraṭa and Rājaśekhara have discussed a few kindred concepts in their treatises.


[1] भाविकत्वमिति प्राहुः प्रबन्धविषयं गुणम् ।
प्रत्यक्षा इव दृश्यन्ते यत्रार्था भूतभाविनः ॥ (काव्यालङ्कारः, ३.५३)
तद्भाविकमिति प्राहुः प्रबन्धविषयं गुणम् ।
भावः कवेरभिप्रायः काव्येष्वासिद्धि संस्थितः ॥
परस्परोपकारित्वं सर्वेषां वस्तुपर्वणाम् ।
विशेषणानां व्यर्थानामक्रिया स्थानवर्णना ॥
व्यक्तिरुक्तिक्रमबलाद्गभीरस्यापि वस्तुनः ।
भावायत्तमिदं सर्वमिति तद्भाविकं विदुः ॥ (काव्यादर्शः, २.३६४–६६)

To learn more about bhāvika, refer: Hadanu-havaṇu (Kannada), pp. 160–63

[2] Mālavikāgnimitra, dialogue after 1.15

[3] Abhinavabhāratī, vol. 1, p. 288

[4] चित्तैकाग्र्यमवधानम्। अवहितं हि चित्तमर्थान् पश्यति॥ (काव्यालङ्कारसूत्रवृत्तिः, १.३.१७)
मनसि सदा सुसमाधिनि विस्फुरणामनेकधाभिधेयस्य।
अक्लिष्टानि पदानि च विबान्ति यस्यामसौ शक्तिः॥ (रुद्रटविरचितः काव्यालङ्कारः, १.१५)
मनस एकाग्रता समाधिः। समाहितं चित्तमर्थान् पश्यति। ... समाधिरान्तरः प्रयत्नः, बाह्यस्त्वभ्यासः। तावुभावपि शक्तिमुद्भासयतः॥ (काव्यमीमांसा, पृ. ११)

This is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhānī R. Ganesh's Kannada work, Saṃskṛtakavigaḻa Kāvyamīmāṃse. To read the original click here.

To be continued.



Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.



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.

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