Dharma, Brahma, Rasa

An exploration into three fundamental but interrelated concepts in Indian philosophy: dharma (principle of sustenance), brahma (or brahman; Supreme spirit that pervades everything) and rasa (the aesthetic experience). While dharma is an efficient tool for managing life, rasa bridges the material and the spiritual, and brahma is the all-encompassing absolute.

Prof. V Raghavan

The Sanskrit literary magazine Samskrita Pratibha from the Kendra Sahitya Academy has gained international reputation by its value-based contemporary writings in Sanskrit. The founder editor of this magazine, Dr. V. Raghavan, was not only a highly reputed scholar, but was also a Sanskrit poet. His multi-faceted expertise and scholarship brought him International fame. One of the memorable poems he wrote for Samskrita Pratibha, contains an important message of India’s contribution to the world. I quote:

धर्मो ब्रह्म रसो नाम
शिवं सत्यं च सुन्दरं |
या त्रिधा तत्वमूचे तां
संस्कृतप्रतिभां नुमः ||

I bow to the glory of Sanskrit
that has taught
dharma, brahma, and rasa;
that is goodness, truth, and beauty.

One thing is appropriate to remember here. Though these appear to be similar to the concepts of Truth, Good and Beauty that the western world is acquainted with, there is a much broader and much deeper import, in general better and of higher value. This has already been explained, around 95 years ago, by Prof. M. Hiriyanna in his excellent essay “The Quest after Perfection.” Hence, our concepts of goodness (shivam), truth (satyam) and beauty (sundaram) are exceptional in their values as brahma, dharma, and rasa of our sanatana (eternal) tradition. Presently, let us examine the value and meaning of this triad to understand with clarity, the greatness of our tradition as well as the eternal principles that the world urgently needs.


First let us examine the concept of dharma. As per the saying in the Mahabharata, धारणात् धर्म इत्याहुः धर्मो धारयति प्रजाः (dharanat dharma ityahuh dharmo dharayati prajah), dharma originates from the root "धृ-धारणे." It is a concept that sustains and enlivens everything and everyone. Sayana, the well-known commentator on the Vedas identifies this as the active / dynamic form of satya (truth). The ultimate principle in its existential form is satya. It is also the spoken form of the same. The order of truth of the universal consciousness is rta. The Vedas say it is the order that regulates the universe. In summary, rta is the cosmic order or universal system. Hence rta, satya, and dharma are very close. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says that dharma is an absolute good and that there is no higher principle in either the material or spiritual realms (BU 1.4.14). The Jaiminiya Purvamimamsa has termed dharma as the driving force of all action (JS 1.1.2). The Shabhara Bhashya says that dharma is the absolute good; it means that it is liked by all people.

What the Westerners (and those educated by them) term as 'religion' is unfortunately equated to the eternal principle of dharma. Definitely religion is not dharma. It is just a creed. This is not the right place for a discussion on religion or creed. However, the summary is this: Religion is based mainly on belief and faith, it is mostly personal and hence bound to a time and space with a variety of individual practices. Dharma is not like that. It is one. A non-qualified value system that applies to everyone as a samanyadharma. Self-confidence, forgiveness and tolerance, control over internal and external senses, freedom from greed, purity in thought and speech, non-violence, knowledge, wisdom, truth, and control over anger – are prescribed by the sage Manu in the Manusmrti (7.92) as the non-qualified and complete attributes of dharma. Further, he prescribes non-violence, truth, peace, purity of thought and speech and control over internal and external senses, as permanent values applicable to all humans (Manusmrti 10.63).

The values that are today touted by international organizations, human rights commissions, and the self-styled protector of the world, the US, are crystallized in a much broader and deeper manner by dharma that is in sync with the eternal Indian value system. Buddha, Christ, Basavanna, and Gandhi believed, followed and worked for this dharma. Among the two facets of dharmasamanya (common) and vishesha (special), the ancient Indian tradition may have, at times, emphasized more on the visible facet, the visheshadharma. Either by deliberate propaganda or by believing this as the underlying form, most people have forgotten and are making forget the glorious, noble, great common universal facet of dharma. Only when we realize this would wisdom reign.


Let us now look into the concept of brahma. Coming from the root "बृहि - वृद्धौ," the word brahma indicates greatness, enormity and the highest. It is neither readable by description nor graspable by dry logic. It is only experiential. This is not a special sensory experience, but an attribute-less extra-sensory experience. Hence, this is neither to be newly acquired nor to be learnt from outside, but is the self-prevalent atma and the revealer of the ultimate, nay, the only Wisdom. Brahma is not attainable by human structures in the spacial and temporal frameworks such as genre, matter, attributes, activities, etc. It is our true abode and our original form. The nature of brahma is attribute-less-ness. It is the complete form of existence, consciousness and bliss. Hence the Upanishads call this as sacchidananda (sat-chit-ananda). Names and forms are just incidental, a mental construct. Since our true abode, the brilliance of the Self is brahma, the other external gods are just a reflection of the inner wisdom.

By a proper analysis of the avasthatrayas (the three states of consciousness – jagrata, 'waking;' svapna, 'dream;' sushupti, 'deep sleep'), by the Vedantic methodology of adhyaropa (superimposition) and apavada (negation), it is possible for anyone (irrespective of caste, creed, gender, nationality) to realize brahma. By the method of shravana–manana–nidhidhyasana (listening–understanding–being engrossed in), the experience of brahma is attainable. Other than this parabrahma there is nothing else. Everything else is just an illusion like the waves, bubbles, swirls, droplets, of a river.

The Buddhists called this shunya (nothingness), Virashaivas called it bayalu (emptiness), the yogis called it the philosophy of asamprajnata samadhi (non-qualified bliss), the philosophers of Tantra and Agamas called it the anuttara (ultimate). These are just many different words. The one who realizes this brahma becomes brahma and this is possible here and now – so proclaim the shastras. There is ample evidence in the form of those who attained this realization / liberation. The recurrence, from time to time, of the types of Vamadeva, Yajnavalkya, Buddha, Shankara, Abhinava, Allama, Ramakrishna, Ramana, and so on, provides a big evidence for the concept of Brahma. This is the universal path for the human race, unencumbered by religion, temples and maThas, higher and lower, oppression and suppression. The learning of adhyatma is nothing but the learning of brahma. This is the knowledge of all knowledge. It is the king of knowledge and wisdom. The Bhagavad-Gita calls it raja-guhyam (the crowning secret) (BG 9.2).


Finally let us also look at the concept of rasa (art experience, aesthetic relish). Rasa, like brahma, is experiential, the essence of sat-chit-ananda (existence, consciousness, bliss). Hence this is called the younger brother of brahmananda (the bliss of brahma). In rasananda, even though there is no cessation of avidya (ignorance), since kama (desire) and karma (activity) cease, since it is subjective, it is a bit limited. It is said that the experience of art is rasa. This is the pleasurable preparation for the brahma experience, a beautiful process and platform for the upliftment of life. Dhvani (suggestion) is the path to rasa, aucitya (appropriateness) is the secret of rasa, saundarya (beauty) is its expression.


While dharma is an efficient tool for the optimal maturing in this life, rasa is the golden bridge between the material and the spiritual. Brahma, however, is the all encompassing absolute crystallized knowledge and wisdom.

All the three (dharma, brahma, rasa) are parts of the four purusharthas (the four-fold value system of human life). Dharma is well-known as the first purpose. Brahma is the heart of moksha (liberation), the final purpose. Since rasa is inherent in art, Vatsyayana and others classified it under the purpose kama (desire). The essence of Gandharvaveda is rasa. Since the core of this is kama, tradition has it that rasa is a synthesis of kama. As per the Gita, the Supreme dwells in living beings in the form of kama that is not contradicting dharma (BG 7.11). When we consider these, the appropriateness of reconciling kama and rasa is clear. The word kama comes from the root “कमु - कांत्यां." In the same way that kama, in its broad sense, pleases and makes the mind peaceful and self-contained, rasa too entails pleasure and peace. This is the opinion of the scholars of the shastras. All these are achieved by means of the second human value called artha (wealth, resources) (As platforms for achievement, dharma needs family, rasa needs art, and brahma needs the world).

Based on these three concepts all other social and cultural values have grown and shone. This is a very brief and non-comprehensive description.



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.



K B S Ramachandra works in the software industry and has a deep interest in Kannada and Sanskrit literature.

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...