Aesthetics and Interconnectedness of the Daśa-rūpakas, Upa-rūpakas, and Nṛtya Traditions - Part 1

Bharata, through the words of Brahmā, defines nāṭya thus – trailokyasyāsya sarvasya nāṭyaṃ bhāvānukīrtanam. Nāṭya or theatrical presentation is an artistic activity which captures the exalted imitation of the emotions of the three worlds[1]. Emotions are, after all, the very essence of life. According to the above definition, theatrical activity is not mere imitation of the world – it is not mere lokānukaraṇa; the aesthetic tradition of India requires a theatrical presentation to be anukīrtana or anuvyavasāya, i.e., exalted imitation. Though Bharata uses the term anukaraṇa (imitation) at a few places, it is evident from the treatise that anukīrtana is the sum and substance of Indian nāṭya tradition. Abhinava-gupta discusses this concept in quite some detail in his commentary, the Abhinava-bhāratī. The following is the summary: All forms of art derive their inspiration from the world; however, if art is only a dry imitation of the world, it becomes meaningless. Even in the cases where art is anukaraṇa, it must have the quality of the figure of speech called svabhāvokti[2], which captures special nuances of a subject or the details of an activity; also, svabhāvokti needs to look beyond the material utility of an object and should delineate its intimate properties; it should not delimit itself to gross, emotionally driven, and utilitarian description. In other words, for a human-centric activity to graduate into a form of art, the cittavṛttis – emotional landscape, which are rooted in love and hatred, need to be delineated in an impersonal manner; to do so, the artiste must overcome his personal ego – transcending personal ego makes the otherwise opaque emotions, transparent. To state it differently, the world, which is the raw material for anukaraṇa graduates into an impersonal emotional realm, through anukīrtanalokasattā becomes bhāvasattā through anukīrtana. To give an example, seven transparent colours consisting of VIBGYOR, when combined together in equal proportions results in the white shade.[3] However, if the very same seven colours are mixed together in their opaque forms, it results in the black shade. Thinking that using opaque colours can result in the white shade is akin to the feeling that anukaraṇa can result in Rasa-siddhi. (In this analogy, light that passes through transparent colours symbolises awareness or jñāna; art experience is Joy with awareness and is thus termed sattvodreka)

While anukīrtana is the governing principle for classical arts, anukaraṇa is the path followed by crafts and applied arts. Activity that is based in anukaraṇa naturally lacks creativity and novelty. It can go stale and might not impress people for long. The path of anukaraṇa usually lacks dhvani – suggestion, and at times, may have a semblance of dhvani. On the other hand, anukīrtana leads to several layers of dhvani – the sublime path of evoking Rasa. Dhvani is rooted in vyañjanā-vṛtti and has the power of echoing – anuraṇana; i.e., it is born out of oblique expression and can lead to multiple aesthetic reverberations in the connoisseur’s heart. Therefore, it can kindle many shades of meaning through each of its reverberation and can lead to many different kinds of Rasa-experience. It transcends all material properties. It is akin to a well-cut diamond which results in multiple reflections – it fills the heart of the connoisseur with different colours at every instance and the colours together result in a sublime aesthetic experience. Anukaraṇa does not have these features – it is akin to the reflective ability of a lump of mud or a wooden plank.

We are not, however, trying to say that anukaraṇa is absolutely useless and meaningless in the world of classical art. In fact, the first steps of learning of any art in general, and classical art in particular, are rooted in anukaraṇa. Moreover, all kinds of worldly learning happen through imitation. For picking up the grammar of an art, imitation is the best path. Practice is also dependent on accurate imitation. However, if we limit ourselves to imitation, it is akin to being satisfied with the skill only. Anukīrtana – exalted imitation helps us go beyond anukaraṇa – by doing so, it takes us transcend the visible material world. A beginner who tries to start off by taking to the path of anukaraṇa, is akin to a novice who dives into an ocean, without having undergone adequate training in a swimming pool. Every swimmer first needs to pick up the skill by using swimming rings and floating pads before attempting anything independently. We can also say that anukaraṇa and anukīrtana are like karma-kāṇḍa and jñāna-kāṇḍa respectively – the former leads to the latter and the latter inspires the former; though the two are different, the former subserves the latter. The concepts are reminiscent of the famous statement of Īśāvāsyopaniṣatavidyayā mṛtyuṃ tīrtvā vidyayā amṛtam-aśnute.[4]

To be continued...
This series of articles is authored by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh and have been rendered into English with additional material and footnotes by Arjun Bharadwaj. The article first appeared in the second edition of the anthology Prekṣaṇīyaṃ, published by the Prekshaa Pratishtana in December 2022.


[1] The three worlds refer to svarga, bhū-loka, and pātāla-loka, which correspond to the worlds inhabited by the devas, humans and the rākṣasas, respectively.

[2] Refer to the article Svabhāvokti Samasyè by Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh in the anthology Hadanu-havaṇu; the article draws parallels between svabhāvokti and lokad-harmī as well as vakrokti and nāṭya-dharmī; the views of Abhinava-gupta are also analysed.

[3] This fantastic analogy is often quoted by Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. The analogy also captures the fact that, an admixture of bhāvas, which are personal emotions coloured by ego, result in the black shade, i.e., results in confusion, conflict, and destruction. However, transparent and impersonal emotions i.e., rasas, which are devoid of ego result in śānta-rasa – peace and tranquillity.  Śānta-rasa is also called pariṇāma-rasa and paramārtha-rasa – the final resultant rasa and sublime rasa, respectively. Thus, art which delineates transparent emotions can result in peace. Art, which tries to represent ‘personal issues’, coloured by the artiste’s ego cannot be considered art. Similarly, art can be enjoyed only by a connoisseur, who is able to transcend his personal preferences – only to such a person, true classical art can give peace.  

[When light passes through seven transparent glasses of the VIBGYOR colours, it results in the white shade; however, when the seven colours are mixed in a palette of paints, it results in the black shade.]

[4] Transcend death through avidyā and enjoy amṛtatva (deathlessness) through (ātma)vidyā. In this context, avidyā is a reference to the worldly wisdom that aids in the pursuit of True Awareness that liberates us from the clutches of duality; vidyā refers to Absolute Wisdom; one needs attain citta-śuddhi to finally enjoy amṛtatva (mokṣa).

 

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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