Emotions and Imagination in Classical Indian Poetry

This article is part 2 of 3 in the series Emotions & Imagination in Classical Indian Poetry

The focus of this article, as evident from the title, is on the role played by meter, idiom, diction and figures of speech—features that enrich the total aesthetic appeal of a poem—in classical Indian poetry. Art is created when emotions are sublimated and imagination is brought into action. Emotions moulded by imagination (pratibhā)—with or without the assistance of erudition (vyutpatti) and practice (abhyāsa)—result in a work of art, while mere emotions end up in their worldly destination of pain and pleasure. According to Indian Aesthetics, in the creation of any art, particularly classical arts, Imagination, Erudition, and Practice play a significant role.

An accomplished poet’s intensely contemplated emotions are sure to find beautiful expression. According to Indian Aesthetics, this power of reflecting upon deep emotional experiences with a detached and yet compassionate sense is termed pratibhā. The creation of a poet can either be in prose or verse/song. It can even take a mixed form, as Indian Poetics, unlike its Western counterpart, placed no restrictions on the formal structuring of a poetic expression. However, it has rightly preferred a carefully crafted form that is exquisite both in terms of sound and sense. Poetic meter and various types of alliterations contribute to the sound in a poem, while idioms, grammar, and figures of speech contribute to the sense. Diction, imagery, and style contribute to both. The extent to which these elements succeed depends upon their intrinsic power to cater to suggestion, endorsed by a sense of appropriateness. Indian Aesthetics condenses all these parameters to four major concepts:

  1. Vakratā – beauty of poetic expression that is created in terms of sound and sense,
  2. Aucitya – propriety that has a contextual final say on the acceptance or rejection of suggestions that spring from the poem under consideration,
  3. Dhvani – suggestion that triggers Aesthetic Enjoyment, and
  4. Rasa – the Aesthetic Experience.

In the light of these basic concepts, parameters such as meter, diction, idiom, imagery, and figures of speech are discussed in this paper, with respect to a few choice verses culled out from the vast lore of classical Sanskrit literature as well as from Prakrit, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi literatures. Issues like the relationship between prosody and emotions, nature and structure of imagery versus emotions, diction vis-à-vis emotions will be discussed along with their implications on poetic imagination/

I

With this background, let us take up the aforementioned elements one by one. First comes the constraint of poetic meter. Prosody, the science of meters, offers many varieties of metrical patterns that can be aesthetically employed for composing verses. Indian Prosody, which is rooted in the Sanskrit tradition, is a rich repository of meters that fall into several structural categories. A detailed analysis of poetic meters is beyond the scope of this paper since our present focus is on the impact of meter on poetry. Poetic meter, though not an indispensable entity in poetry, is always a desirable feature, for it has its own unfailing merit in intensifying the aesthetic appeal. Indian Aesthetics teaches us that chandas (poetic meter) is a vyañjaka-sāmagrī in poesy. A skilled poet who has a keen sense of sound and how it complements sense will always be careful in choosing his metre. Wrong choice of meter, though not a great blemish, certainly mars the total appeal. Here are few examples to show the effect of aucitya and anaucitya in employing meters:

A verse (1.27) from Bhavabhūti’s play Uttara-rāma-caritam, where a metre has been judiciously employed:

किमपि किमपि मन्दं मन्दमासत्तियोगा-
दविरलितकपोलं जल्पतोरक्रमेण |
अशिथिलपरिरम्भव्यापृतैरेकदोष्णो-
रविदितगतयामा रात्रिरेव व्यरम्सीत् ||

kimapi kimapi mandaṃ mandamāsattiyogā-
daviralitakapolaṃlam jalpatorakrameṇa |
aśithilaparirambhavyāpṛtairekadoṣṇo-
raviditagatayāmā rātrireva vyaramsīt ||

This poem is composed in the meter Mālinī, known for its soft and sweet rhythm. This is naturally suited for tender situations such as romance. It is interesting to note that in this verse, the word-order and sound-patterns are in consonance with the governing sentiment. We shall recast the verse in another meter and feel the change:

*मन्दं मन्दमिव क्वचित्किमपि वा किञ्चित् समासत्तितो
गाढं गण्डसमञ्जनेन युगपज्जल्पाकशिल्पैस्तथा |
संवीतक्रममश्लथोरुभुजयोरालिङ्गनैस्सर्वथा
नीता रात्रिरवेद्ययामविभवा सा केवलं केवला ||

(The verses marked with ‘*’ at the beginning have been composed by the present author.)

*mandaṃ mandamiva kvacitkimapi vā kiñcit samāsattito
gāḍhaṃ gaṇḍasamañjanena yugapajjalpākaśilpaistathā |
saṃvītakramamaślathorubhujayorāliṅganaissarvathā
nītā rātriravedyayāmavibhavā sā kevalaṃ kevalā ||

Anyone who is initiated into Sanskrit learning would feel the marked change of sound and rhythm that leads to a dampening of the rasa-experience. This is because of the employment of Śārdūlavikrīḍitam, a robust and masculine metre, along with the compounding of words so as to do justice to its bombastic nature. Hence, it is clear that the tender love, richly articulated in the metrical pattern of Mālinī, (the meter of Bhavabhūti’s choice) is lost somewhere in the high-sounding majestic structure of Śārdūlavikrīḍitam.

A verse (3.8) from the play Veṇī-saṃhāram of Bhaṭṭa Nārāyaṇa, which exhibits a wrong choice of meter:

दग्धुं विश्वं दहनकिरणैर्नोदिता द्वादशार्का
वाता वाता दिशि दिशि न वा सप्तधा सप्त भिन्नाः |
छन्नं मेघैर्न गगनतलं पुष्करावर्तकाद्यैः
पापं पापाः कथयथ कथं शौर्यराशेः पितुर्मे ||

dagdhuṃ viśvaṃ dahanakiraṇairnoditā dvādaśārkā
vātā vātā diśi diśi na vā saptadhā sapta bhinnāḥ |
channaṃ meghairna gaganatalaṃ puṣkarāvartakādyaiḥ
pāpaṃ pāpāḥ kathayatha kathaṃ śauryarāśeḥ piturme ||

This verse is an attempt to depict the sentiment of heroism. It also brings out the spirit of wrath and wonder. For such a pulsating emotional drama, the poet has chosen the meter Mandākrāntā, which is well known to depict yearning. Great poets like Kālidāsa have immortalised this measure in delineating the emotions of pathos and love in separation. Above all, the very rhythmic structure of Mandākrāntā is gentle and melancholic. Here is an attempt to recast the same idea with little change in the structure, and yet have a rhythmic pattern that is appropriate to the situation:

*दग्धुं विश्वं समस्तं प्रदहनकिरणैर्नोदिता द्वादशार्का
वाता वाता प्रभूता दिशि दिशि न च वा सप्तधा सप्त भिन्नाः |
छन्नं मेघैरमोघैर्न हि गगनतलं पुष्करावर्तकाद्यैः
पापं पापा दुरापाः क्व कथयथ कथं शौर्यराशेः पितुर्मे ||

*dagdhuṃ viśvaṃ samastaṃ pradahanakiraṇairnoditā dvādaśārkā
vātā vātā prabhūtā diśi diśi na ca vā saptadhā sapta bhinnāḥ |
channaṃ meghairamoghairna hi gaganatalaṃ puṣkarāvartakādyaiḥ
pāpaṃ pāpā durāpāḥ kva kathayatha kathaṃ śauryarāśeḥ piturme ||

This revised version is in the meter Sragdharā, known for its imposing nature, particularly prescribed for describing the heroic acts of war. Anyone initiated in the lore of Sanskrit poetry would appreciate this modification.

In this verse, an attempt has been made by the present author, almost mischievously, to recast a philosophically profound verse (Vairāgya-śatakam, v. 85) by Bhartṛhari into a fresh metrical pattern. One can observe the effect that such recasting brings about.

मातर्मेदिनि तात मारुत सखे तेजः सुबन्धो जल
भार्तर्व्योम निबद्ध एष भवतामन्त्यप्रणामाञ्जलिः |
युष्मत्सङ्गवशोपजातसुकृतस्फारस्फुरन्निर्मल-
ज्ञानापस्तसमस्तमोहमहिमा लीये परे ब्रह्मणि ||

mātarmedini tāta māruta sakhe tejaḥ subandho jala
bhārtarvyoma nibaddha eṣa bhavatāmantyapraṇāmāñjaliḥ |
yuṣmatsaṅgavaśopajātasukṛtasphārasphurannirmala-
jñānāpastasamastamohamahimā līye pare brahmaṇi ||

The metrical parody:

*मातरुर्वि पितः प्रभञ्जन मित्र पावक बन्धुमन्
तोय सोदर चाम्बर क्रियते ममान्त्यनमस्क्रिया |
युष्मदीयसमाश्रयस्फुरिताच्छसत्कृतिसंस्क्रिया-
ज्ञाननिर्गलदात्ममोहचयो रमेऽथ परात्मनि  ||

mātarurvi pitaḥ prabhañjana mitra pāvaka bandhuman
toya sodara cāmbara kriyate mamāntyanamaskriyā |
yuṣmadīyasamāśrayasphuritācchasatkṛtisaṃskriyā-
jñānanirgaladātmamohacayo rame’tha parātmani  ||

Though the import, with all its profound meaning, is brought into this recasting along with the successful imitation of compound words in the second half of the original verse, sublimity, its very breath, is glaringly missing. This is because of a mismatch of the meter. The grand Śārdūlavikrīḍitam of the original verse is caricatured by the employment of Haranartanam or Mallikāmalā. The former is a laya-rahita meter of the highest order, while the latter is a typical layānvita measure known for its feminine grace. This change is not at all welcome in the present context.

Here is a verse of Jagannātha found in his Bhāminī-vilāsa (p. 37) –

दिगन्ते श्रूयन्ते मदमलिनगण्डाः करटिनः
करिण्यः कारुण्यास्पदमसमशीलाः खलु मृगाः |
इदानीं लोकेऽस्मिन्ननुपमशिखानां पुनरयं
नखानां पाण्डित्यं प्रकटयतु कस्मिन् मृगपतिः ||

digante śrūyante madamalinagaṇḍāḥ karaṭinaḥ
kariṇyaḥ kāruṇyāspadamasamaśīlāḥ khalu mṛgāḥ |
idānīṃ loke'sminnanupamaśikhānāṃ punarayaṃ
nakhānāṃ pāṇḍityaṃ prakaṭayatu kasmin mṛgapatiḥ ||

This poem is set in the grave-sounding meter Śikhariṇī. In spite of employing apt words and having rich content and striking imagery, it does not have an imposing rhythm. More than the power of the lion, its helplessness, which is already explicit in the verse, is overemphasized by using Śikhariṇī. Here is an attempt to re-structure it in Śārdūlavikrīḍitam, a majestic meter tailor-made for such situations:

*श्रूयन्ते हि दिगन्त एव करिणो दानार्द्रगण्डस्थलाः
कारुण्यास्पदहेलयात्र न समा एणाः करिण्यस्तथा |
लोकेऽस्मिन्नुपमानहीनशिखिनां सम्प्रत्ययं हा पुनः
पाण्डित्यं प्रकटीकरोतु नखराग्राणां मृगाणां पतिः  ||

śrūyante hi diganta eva kariṇo dānārdragaṇḍasthalāḥ
kāruṇyāspadahelayātra na samā eṇāḥ kariṇyastathā |
loke'sminnupamānahīnaśikhināṃ sampratyayaṃ hā punaḥ
pāṇḍityaṃ prakaṭīkarotu nakharāgrāṇāṃ mṛgāṇāṃ patiḥ  ||

This verse includes all the features of the original and is consonant with Paṇḍitarāja’s pompous nature. Through such examples, one can understand the pros and cons of metrical articulation in classical poetry.

II

We shall move on to the role of imagery in classical poetry. Ānandavardhana, in his path-breaking work Dhvanyāloka, declares that a true figure of speech is that which always leads to rasa. Else it is no embellishment. Such an act of embellishment should not only be natural but also suit the situation. Here are two examples of skilful employment of figures of speech where, in spite of simple diction and unassuming sound-patterns, mere imagery is good enough to evoke rasa:

हारो नारोपितः कण्ठे
मया विश्लेषभीरुणा |
इदानीमन्तरे जाताः
पर्वतास्सरितो द्रुमाः ||

hāro nāropitaḥ kaṇṭhe
mayā viśleṣabhīruṇā |
idānīmantare jātāḥ
parvatāssarito drumāḥ ||

This is a verse (5.25) from Hānūmannāṭakam, describing the pangs of separation of Rāma. His feeling was that in a deep embrace, even a tender garland is a barrier between him and Sīta. But now, they are separated by a vast span of mountains, rivers, and woods. What a contrast! Here, the main rasa, Vipralambha, i.e. love in separation, has found its enrichment even in such a small composition of thirty-two syllables. Such is the emotional richness of this verse. The whole credit for this should go to the Viamālaṅkāra imagery employed here. The contrast between a garland and a wide span of land and sea is grippingly narrated by virtue of this figure of speech, and that is the power of alaṅkāra. This is the reason why Indian Aesthetics—since the time of Bhāmaha, Daṇḍi, Vāmana, Rudraṭa, and a host of later writers—has been prescriptive about imagery in poetry.

पुरस्कृता वर्त्मनि पार्थिवेन
प्रत्युद्गता पार्थिवधर्मपत्न्या |
तदन्तरे सा विरराज धेनुर्-
दिनक्षपामध्यगतेव सन्ध्या ||

puraskṛtā vartmani pārthivena
pratyudgatā pārthivadharmapatnyā |
tadantare sā virarāja dhenur-
dinakṣapāmadhyagateva sandhyā ||

This is a well-known verse (2.20) from Raghuvaṃśam, the magnum opus of Kālidāsa. Here the poet is describing a picturesque scene wherein his hero Dilīpa, clad in white and his consort Sudakṣiṇā, dressed in deep blue are coming in a line, while the divine cow Nandinī of reddish brown complexion is between them. This has triggered the poet’s imagination to compare it with Time, moving in a sequence of day, dusk, and night. It is indeed a telling imagery that visualises the scene in an unforgettable way. This is due to the power of upamā (simile), the mother of all figures of speech. It has been aided by our poet’s power of keen observation.

In both these cases, we have seen a marked difference being brought into the verses by the employment of apt imagery. This is sufficient to compensate for the absence of other fringe embellishments.

To be continued.

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.