Humour in Treatises of Indian Aesthetics – 1

जगत्सन्दर्भसौन्दर्यसंवित्संस्पन्दसाक्षिणम्।
प्रणमामि सितस्मेरप्रणवं गणनायकम् ॥

Humour is a divine gift to humans. While experiencing humour is wonderful, analyzing it can be quite difficult. It’s easy to find passages in treatises of alaṅkāra-śāstra (loosely translated as ‘Indian Aesthetics’) about analysis of humour along with and in comparison with other rasas (aesthetic experiences), guṇas (literary qualities), alaṅkāras (loosely ‘figures of speech’), dhvani (suggestion), bhāva (emotion), and aucitya (appropriateness, propriety). Due to the voluminous nature of such works, it tests the patience of the rasika (connoisseur); it’s difficult to give an analysis that is simple, complete, and at the same time entertaining.

The present article does not enter into the detailed analyses available in the works of various aestheticians. It is limited to providing an introduction with a collection of appropriate examples from both prose and poetry, along with some analysis as and when required. While the topic itself is vast, the variety is limited. Aestheticians, or experts in any other field, while presenting their arguments and opinions, direct all their efforts to provide sound arguments that are unambiguous and based on logic, not so much on lucidity and accessibility or writing in an entertaining style. Au contraire they opine that such a style is detrimental and weakens their respective fields. There is no hard and fast rule that scholars should have a lucid style that is natural to poets or that their works should read like an engrossing thriller. If at all humour manages to sneak into such works, it appears mostly in the form of sharp wit, mockery, or satire that is used to thrash the arguments of opponents or to put down rival schools of thought while substantiating their stand; they are thus quite incidental. Out of sheer necessity, examples in the current article are largely of the same category. However, even in such pungent mockery stemming from erudition there can be varied examples that manage to tickle the readers’ senses. Since the current topic is Indian Aesthetics, it is bound to contain some humorous verses, proverbial sayings, and traditional maxims that can entertain rasikas to an extent. That said, it remains the dance of erudition when humour is soaked in the aggressiveness of the sharp rapiers tied to the legs of roosters in a cockfight!

As per current knowledge, the first work related to aesthetics in Sanskrit is Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata [It also happens to be the oldest in the world]. In the first chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra, the drama Amṛta-mathana (churning of the cosmic ocean of milk) is staged; the rākṣasas (demons) perceive it as an insult and this leads to a fight. Brahmā who appears to set things right between the devas (deities) and rākṣasas is made to utter these verses –
…अलं वो मन्युना दैत्या विषादं त्यजतानघाः॥
भवतां देवतानां च शुभाशुभविकल्पकः।
कर्मभावान्वयापेक्षी नाट्यवेदो मया कृतः॥
नैकान्ततोऽत्र भवतां देवानां चानुभावनम् ।
त्रैलोक्यस्यास्य सर्वस्य नाट्यं भावानुकीर्तनम् ॥
(Nāṭyaśāstra 1.105-7)
which, in the context of praising nāṭya-veda, makes clear many important concepts like sādhāraṇīkaraṇa (universalization), the values and virtues of a rasika, and so forth. The humour manifests—more than in the main play Amṛta-mathana—in the conduct of the rākṣasas who get provoked, turning the stage into a battlefield. The anaucitya (inappropriateness, impropriety) of perceiving one thing as another due to foolishness and getting agitated because of that is the reason for humour. Indeed the important message is that anaucitya is the main cause of humour.[1]

Among the later works in aesthetics, the Kāvyādarśa of Daṇḍi and Kāvyālaṅkāra of Bhāmaha are the oldest. There is mutual disagreement in these works; we find passages for and against each others’ opinions. Bhāmaha being a logician has a sharp wit and resorts to ridiculing all opinions that disagree with him.

He mocks Bhaṭṭi’s Rāvaṇavadha, a poetic work primarily aimed at bringing clarity in the usage of various grammatical rules and figures of speech, by borrowing Bhaṭṭi’s own words. He ridicules the following verse:
व्याख्यागम्यमिदं काव्यमुत्सवः सुधियामलम्।
हता दुर्मेधसश्चास्मिन् विद्वत्प्रियतया मया॥
(Rāvaṇavadha 22.34)
by saying:
काव्यान्यपि यदीमानि व्याख्यागम्यानि शस्त्रवत्।
उत्सवस्सुधियामेव हन्त दुर्मेधसो हताः॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 2.20)

Bhāmaha opines that poetry, while adhering to grammar and other rules, should primarily be entertaining. Instead of writing works that resemble poetry merely in form, death is far better, he says.
नाकवित्वमधर्माय व्याधये दण्डनाय वा।
कुकवित्वं पुनः साक्षान्मृतिमाहुर्मनीषिणः॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 1.12)

Daṇḍi respects and supports the Vaidarbhī style, but Bhāmaha’s opinion is the exact opposite. In fact he questions the popular opinion of placing the Vaidarbhī style at the top of the pecking order. He excels in ridiculing it with his sharp and acerbic wit resulting in humour as follows:
वैदर्भमन्यदस्तीति मन्यन्ते सुधियोऽपरे।
तदेव च किल ज्यायः सदर्थमपि नापरम्॥
गौडीयमिदमेतत्तु वैदर्भमिति किं पृथक्।
गतानुगतिकन्यायात् नानाख्येयममेधसाम्॥
ननु चाश्मकवंशादि वैदर्भमिति कथ्यते।
कामं तथास्तु प्रायेण संज्ञेच्छातो विधीयते॥
अपुष्टार्थमवक्रोक्ति प्रसन्नमृजुकोमलम्।
भिन्नगेयमिवेदं तु केवलं श्रुतिपेशलम्॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 1.31-34)

Further, when discussing misconceptions, he argues against the Mīmāṃsā school of philosophy, particularly that of Prabhākara; making a pun on the word ‘guru’ he taunts them as follows:
अत्रापि बहुवक्तव्यं जायते तत्तु नोचितम्।
गुरुभिः किं विवादेन यथा प्रकृतमुच्यते॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 4.7)

Likewise, while discussing ‘absurdity’ (violation of reality) in poetry, he mocks either Guṇāḍhya, the author of Bṛhatkathā, or Bhāsa (who adopts the story of Udayana from Bṛhatkathā in his works) involving the capture of Udayana as follows:

नमोऽस्तु तेभ्यो विद्वद्भ्यो येऽभिप्रायं कवेरिदम्।
शास्त्रलोकावपांस्यैवं नयन्ति नयवेदिनः॥
सचेतसो वनेभस्य चर्मणा निर्मितस्य च।
विशेषं वेद बालोऽपि कष्टं किं नु कथं नु तत्॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 4.45-46)[2]

Similarly discussing the violation of the Āgamas, he ridicules the story of Madanamañcukā from the Bṛhatkathā as follows:
भूभृतां पीतसोमानां न्याये वर्त्मनि तिष्ठताम्।
अलङ्करिष्णुना वंशं गुरौ सति जिगीषुणा॥
अभार्योढेन संस्कारमन्तरेण द्विजन्मना।
नरवाहनदत्तेन वेश्यावान् निशि पीडितः॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 4.48-49)

In the same section, he mocks the delusion of vinaya (conduct) thus:
न दूषणायायमुदाहृतो विधि-
र्न चाभिमानेन किमु प्रतीयते।
कृतात्मनां तत्त्वदृशां च मादृशो
जनोऽभिसन्धिं क इवावभेत्स्यते॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 4.50)

Next, he gives a funny example of negating a previous assertion as follows:
यतिर्मम पिता बाल्यात्सूनुर्यस्याहमौरसः॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 5.14)

To mock people ignorant of grammar and people who plagiarise, he quotes “अर्थगत्यर्थः शब्दप्रयोगः” from the Mahābhāṣya itself and ridicules the stand of grammar through the path of logic:
मुख्यस्तावदयं न्यायो यत्स्वशक्त्या प्रवर्तते।
अन्यसारस्वता नाम सन्त्यन्योक्त्यानुवादिनः॥
प्रतीतिरर्थेषु यतस्तं शब्दं ब्रुवते परे।
धूमाभासोरपि प्राप्ता शब्दताग्न्यनुमां प्रति॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 6.6-7)

Later he rejects one of the main premises of grammar, Sphoṭavāda, which is the progenitor of the dhvani-siddhānta (theory of suggestion).
शपथैरपि चादेयं वचो न स्फोटवादिनाम्।
नभःकुसुममस्तीति श्रद्धध्यात् कः सचेतनः॥
विनश्वरोऽस्तु नित्यो वा संबन्धोऽर्थेन वा सता।
नमोऽस्तु तेभ्यो विद्वद्भ्यः प्रमाणं योऽस्य निश्चितौ॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 6.12,15)

Bhāmaha opines that imaginative passages are far from reality and so also discussion about them is useless. He minces no words and takes no prisoners while portraying it through his acerbic humour combined with sharp wit and authoritative language.

Daṇḍi is a poet first, and hence he lacks the sharp logic of Bhāmaha; yet while criticizing Bhāmaha we find a hint of Daṇḍi’s latent sense of humour in many places. Bhāmaha being dead against the mere reporting of events in poetry places vakrokti (oblique expression) on a high pedestal as below:
गतोऽस्तमर्को भातीन्दुर्यान्ति वासाय पक्षिणः।
इत्येवमादि किं काव्यं वार्तामेनां प्रचक्षते॥
(Kāvyālaṅkāra 2.87)

Daṇḍi[3] picks up the same verse and twists it to give a lesson in aucitya to Bhāmaha:
गतोऽस्तमर्को भातीन्दुः यान्ति वासाय पक्षिणः।
इतीदमपि साध्वेव कालावस्थानिवेदने॥
(Kāvyādarśa 2.244)

Likewise while describing the importance of speech, Daṇḍi conjures up this verse:
गौर्गौः कामदुघा सम्यक्प्रयुक्ता स्मर्यते बुधैः।
दुष्प्रयुक्ता पुनर्गोत्वं प्रयोक्तुः सैव शंसति॥
(Kāvyādarśa 1.6)

Next in line comes Rudraṭa, an aesthetician who leans towards alaṅkāras (figures of speech). The commentator on his work Kāvyālaṅkāra, Namisādhu, brings light humour here and there. While describing the attributes of reality he portrays the difference between the worldly reality and poetic reality through a humorous verse filled with disgust, devoid of charm, consisting entirely of mundane reporting!
गोरपत्यं बलीवर्दस्तृणान्यत्ति मुखेन सः।
मूत्रं मुञ्चति शिश्नेन अपानेन तु गोमयम्॥
अस्य वास्तवत्वं न भवति….
(Commentary on Kāvyālaṅkāra 7.10)

In another instance Namisādhu brings up the famous and humorous verse by poetess Vikaṭanitambā composed in the Pañjarikā meter:
काले माषं सस्ये मासं वदति शकासं यश्च सकाशम्।
उष्ट्रे लुम्पति षं वा रं वा तस्मै दत्ता विकटनितम्बा॥
(Commentary on Kāvyālaṅkāra 6.47)

The tragicomic situation of Vikaṭanitambā has resulted in such an irony.

Even the theory of dhvani (suggestion) has no dearth of detractors since its inception. Ānandavardhana himself quotes one of the taunts from Manoratha. This mock verse is like a mirror to the minds of the naysayers of dhvani during his times:
यस्मिन्नस्ति न वस्तु किञ्चन मनःप्रह्लादि सालङ्कृति
व्युत्पन्नै रचितं च नैव वचनैर्वक्रोक्तिशून्यं च यत्।
तत्काव्यं ध्वनिना समन्वितमिति प्रीत्या प्रशंसन् जडो
नो विद्मोऽभिदधाति किं सुमतिना पृष्टः स्वरूपं ध्वनेः॥
(Dhvanyāloka 1.1 Vṛtti)

Even though Lollaṭa’s commentary on the Nāṭyaśāstra is unavailable, his thoughts have been recorded in many other works. His thoughts on aucitya (appropriateness, propriety) have been recorded in Hemacandra’s Kāvyānuśāsana and it contains a sharp taunt directed towards people ignorant of aucitya:
यस्तु सरिदद्रिसागरनगतुरगपुरादिवर्णने यत्नः।
कविशक्तिख्यातिफलो विततधियां नो मतः प्रबन्धेषु॥
यमकानुलोमतदितरचक्रादिभिधोऽतिरसविरोधिन्यः।
अभिमानमात्रमेतत् गड्डुरिकादिप्रवाहो वा॥
(Kāvyānuśāsana 5.4 Vṛtti)

Kuntaka who comes after Ānandavardhana, showed how all the theories developed in aesthetics by and large follow Bhāmaha’s theory of vakrokti. Kuntaka doesn’t support the usage of natural description or the description of anything as it is (svabhāvokti) and exhibits his bias towards scholarly oblique expressions. In his opinion, svabhāvokti is something that needs to be decorated but is not an adornment by itself. And his way of expressing it is a treat to the rasikas:
शरीरं चेदलङ्कारः किमलङ्कुरुतेऽपरम्।
आत्मैव नात्मनस्स्कन्धं क्वचिदप्यधिरोहति॥
(Vakroktijīvita 1.13)

The great logician Mahimabhaṭṭa composed the Vyaktiviveka with the sole aim of contradicting both Kuntaka and Ānandavardhana. Many passages from his work remind us of the sharp wit of Bhāmaha. Mahimabhaṭṭa expresses his intent and sets out his targets in the first few passages of Vyaktiviveka with his unique and scholarly humour:
इह संप्रतिपत्तितोऽन्यथा वा ध्वनिकारस्य वचोविवेचनं नः।
नियतं यशसे प्रपत्स्यते यन्महतां संस्तव एव गौरवाय॥
सहसा यशोऽभिसर्तुं समुद्यतादृष्टदर्पणा मम धीः।
स्वालङ्कारविकल्पप्रकल्पने वेत्ति कथमिवावद्यम्॥
(Vyaktiviveka 1.3-4)

Here, Ruyyaka explains संस्तव (saṃstava) as ‘introduction.’ But it has another meaning: ‘praise.’ Mahimabhaṭṭa intending to destroy the view of Ānandavardhana still used the word संस्तव, thus praising him; this itself leads to such a great irony! Mahimabhaṭṭa also declares with arrogance that he has neither read the Hṛdayadarpaṇa of Bhaṭṭanāyaka, which also criticizes dhvani nor the Candrikā, a commentary that tries to explain Ānandavardhana’s stance though not in a commendable manner:
ध्वनिवर्त्मन्यतिगहने स्खलितं वाण्याः पदे पदे सुलभम्।
रभसेन यत्प्रवृत्ता प्रकाशकं चन्द्रिकाद्यदृष्ट्वेव॥
(Vyaktiviveka 1.5)

Taking his mockery further, Mahimabhaṭṭa declares that even though his qualification seems to be insufficient to criticize Ānandavardhana’s theory of dhvani, such thorough study isn’t necessary for such an easy and silly task!

Even in criticism he shows off his wit:
न एते विधेया विमर्शादयो दोषा इत्युच्यन्ते।
तानिदानीमखिलान् खला इव व्याख्यास्यामः।
स्वकृतिष्वयन्त्रितः कथमनुशिष्यादन्यमयमिति न वाच्यम्।
वारयति भिषगपथ्यादितरान् स्वयमाचरन्नपि तत्॥
(Vyaktiviveka 2.3)

He also sharply derides Kuntaka, who seems like an opponent of dhvani but supports it through a different route by calling him a ‘sahṛdayamānī’ and a ‘kāvyakāñcana kaśāśmamānī.’ Thus is the brilliance of the biting wit of Mahimabhaṭṭa!

In Dhanañjaya’s Daśarūpaka, the foremost among the opponents of dhvani, and in its subsequent commentary by Dhanika we see witty passages here and there.
आनन्दनिष्यन्दिषु रूपकेषु व्युत्पत्तिमात्रं फलमल्पबुद्धिः।
योऽपीतिहासादि वदाह साधुस्तस्मै नमस्स्वादुपराङ्मुखाय॥[4]
(Daśarūpaka 1.6)

His mockery of scholars who are devoid of taste and hell-bent on analysis of poetry that is filled with emotions and rich in content through dry unappetising logic and related means is worth enjoying.

To be continued.

This is a translation of a Kannada essay by Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh titled ‘ಅಲಂಕಾರಶಾಸ್ತ್ರದಲ್ಲಿ ಹಾಸ್ಯ’ from his remarkable anthology ಹುಡುಕಾಟ. Thanks to Dr. Ganesh and Shashi Kiran B N for their review and feedback. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.

Footnotes

[1] अनौचित्यप्रवृत्तिकृतमेव हि हास्यविभावत्वम् (Abhinavabhāratī). Anaucitya is the main cause of humour only when the anaucitya is in the other rasas. Anaucitya in humour itself leads to derision/ridicule and is thus detrimental.

[2] This can also be seen in verses 4.39–44.

[3] Although a digression, it is prudent to remember the taunt given by Vijjikā in reply to the benedictory verse (nāndī-padya) of Kāvyādarśa where Daṇḍi gives a description of a wholly fair Sarasvatī:
नीलोत्पलदलश्यामां विज्जिकां मामजानता।
वृथैव दण्डिना प्रोक्ता सर्वशुक्ला सरस्वती॥

[4] Compare this with Bhaṭṭanāyaka’s stance काव्ये रसयिता सर्वो न बोद्धा न नियोगभाक्

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:

Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a Sanskrit poet and a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada.