Let us proceed to the sixth act of Abhijñānaśākuntala. Duṣyanta has made a painting of Śakuntalā. The vidūṣaka takes one look at it and exclaims: “Madhurāvasthāna-darśanīyo bhāvānupraveśaḥ,” “You have sketched her posture so charmingly that real emotions seem to enter the painting!” (Loose translation.) These words are of supreme significance to aesthetics. Duṣyanta’s brimming love for Śakuntalā has been reflected in the painting and has made it...
Abhijñānaśākuntala is one of the ripest fruits of Kālidāsa’s mature genius. The poet makes a candid confession in the prologue of this play: आ परितोषाद्विदुषां न साधु मन्ये प्रयोगविज्ञानम् । बलवदपि शिक्षिताना- मात्मन्यप्रत्ययं चेतः॥ (१.२)      I cannot be convinced of my skills as a dramatist until discerning spectators are satisfied. Even well-trained people are beset by self-doubt.  In seeking the satisfaction of his...
Himalaya
Kauśikī’s words of praise upon seeing Mālavikā perform are noteworthy. Her response is in the form of a verse, whose second half provides incredible insights into all major forms of art including poetry. She says: bhāvo bhāvaṃ nudati viṣayād rāgabandhaḥ sa eva (2.8). It roughly means: “One emotion inspires the next, covering the whole range of feelings. This is how a passionate recital looks like!” We can broadly relate this to literary...
Himalaya
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...
Let us have a look at the dialogues before and after this verse. A minor character expresses concern that Kālidāsa might lose face if his play is performed disregarding the compositions of past masters. The stage-director uses the phrase viveka-viśrānta in his dialogue. The minor character listens to the verse, acquiesces, and says āryamiśrāḥ pramāṇam. While the poet initially engages the stage-director to argue his case, he soon comes to a...
               After introducing the major characters, Śūdraka has gone on to describe the nucleus of his story in all its complex shades. Keeping this in mind, let us try to understand the extent of scope that a social play offers to various rasas. According to Indian dramaturgy, a prakaraṇa involving commonfolk is not the best type of play to delineate the heroic mood, vīra-rasa. Vīra is typically the forte of nāṭaka, the ‘prototype play’ that...
Aśvaghoṣa clearly states that his work is principally a scripture. It is structured as a poem, yes, but that is only a veneer, a convenient pretence. Nevertheless, his work is appealing because of two reasons: one, he was a gifted poet; two, he chose the lofty story of the Buddha’s life as his subject. From this we understand that at times even purpose-driven compositions get the glitter of pure poetry. We should be wary of the fact that not all...
Buddhist Monk
Modern literary theory usually insists that a poet should not come in the way of the natural development of events and characters. If he gets personally involved, the work runs the risk of turning into a pamphlet meant only to air the author’s pet views. It would then become an artificial construct, straying away from its primary purpose of leading the readers to rasa.                On the surface, Vyāsa appears to have flouted all these...
               At the outset of the Mahābhārata Vyāsa outlines its literary qualities that befit an epic. At the end of the epic, he composes an epilogue of sorts titled Bhāratasāvitrī, where he solemnly records the poet’s helplessness: ऊर्ध्वबाहुर्विरौम्येष न च कश्चिच्छृणोति मे। धर्मादर्थश्च कामश्च स किमर्थं न सेव्यते॥ (१८.५.४९) I scream with raised arms: Dharma is the source of artha and kāma. But nobody listens to me! Why do people not...
In the next verse Vyāsa describes a defining trait of great poets. He intends this as a lodestar of sorts of his work: इतिहासप्रदीपेन मोहावरणघातिना। लोकगर्भगृहं कृत्स्नं यथावत् संप्रकाशितम्॥ (१.९६.१०३, Kumbhakonam edition) The great lamp of itihāsa dispels darkness in the form of stupor, ignorance, delusion. It illuminates the inner core of the world and shows it as it is.     Itihāsa is a word that is pregnant with meaning. Literally, it...