The Nature of Rasikas
Say, you have an invite to a dinner at a relative’s house, which is loaded with laddoos and chirotis (sweets). M S Subbalakshmi’s concert is scheduled elsewhere, at the same time. Which one of them would you have chosen? If you choose to go to your relative’s house, they will warmly welcome you and you will be given a royal treatment. On the other hand, no one will acknowledge your presence in the concert. You will have to struggle to find a seat and make yourself comfortable amongst thousands of people. Which one will you choose? The one that is palatable to your taste buds or the one that is appealing to your ears and mind? The character of a true rasika is to give prominence to things that brings happiness and joy to his mind, and enriches his mind and soul.
T S Venkannayya was a rasika. We were once discussing about the bees, being jet black in color, their buzz, and their delight of being amidst the flowers. We thought that we will be able to witness the excitement of the bees during sunrise in Lalbagh, and decided to go there the next day. We woke up at 4am and ran to Lalbagh. We both were coffee addicts. But we completely forgot about it that day. After pleading with the gatekeeper, we went into the park around 4.30-4.45am and stood near the Surahonne (Indian-Laurel) tree. After ten or fifteen minutes, we ran to the Pādari (Yellow snake) tree. After ten minutes, we stood near a Hippe (Honey) tree. At the crack of dawn, the first glimmering rays of sunlight were visible. It became apparent that day that the poets of yore were accurate in their glorification of the bees.
Food eaten can be bland but the music that you listen to has to be laden with emotions. It does not matter if clothes are in tatters, but it is required to be around the fragrance of the jasmine. This is the opinion of a rasika.
Signature of Rasa
Rasa means to bring out essence. The flavor or quality of a substance which makes us yearn for more and more of that substance, is the rasa.
The signature of rasa is described in the Vedas as:
rasaggaṃ hyevāyaṃ labdhvā ānandī bhavati
The ecstasy experienced due to the guṇa-viśeṣā (special quality) or śakti-viśeṣā (special strength) of a substance is rasa.
It is common knowledge that a person who gives more importance to rasa is called rasika.
Rasika in interested in the quality, rather than the quantity of a substance. He regards and respects the emotional aspect of the substance, instead of its commercial value.
The eminent personality, Sir M Visvesvaraya, used to eat just four morsels for a meal. But he used to relish the taste of each and every morsel. He used to call obbattu as national delicacy. But he used to eat only a small piece from the central portion of it. He was a true connoisseur of food. He did not want the food to be overly spiced or garnished. He just relished the natural taste of the core ingredients.
Metaphorically, rasika is the resident of “kingdom of mind.” It does not mean that he does not care for the physical realm. Without the body there is no mind. But for a rasika, what body experiences, is like branches of a tree, while what the mind experiences, is like its flowers and fruits.
Every house has a kitchen, dining room, store room. It also has a hall and a living room. We spend most of the time in the living room; that is where we have our lively conversations.
A rasika spends time in the physical endeavors, only as much as it is required. But he is more curious about the mind. Whatever that brings joy to the mind forms the essence of his life.
The same can be said in context of clothes and jewelry. A beautiful girl from Kerala wore just a single jasmine flower over her thick black hair. Not an entire bunch of flowers. The contrasting backdrop of the thick black hair enhanced the brightness of the jasmine flower. It also enhanced the beauty of her hair by two fold.
Arcot Shrinivasacharya, had a unique way of listening to music. He used to hand-pick the musicians to perform for forty-five minutes to one hour. Within that short span of time, he just requested either one rāga or one kṛti. He did not want a wide range of songs. He needed only a few, but a melodious few.
The essence of a pot of milk lies in either its cream or small-seed sized butter. This essence is what a rasika is after, not the entire pot of milk.
Rasikatā is Culturally Enriching
We perceive the world at two levels. The first is through the body, and the other is the mind. It begins with the senses. It then extends to the mind. Describing ānandā, upaniṣad-ācaryās give an example of the happiness experienced by a young man who is hale and hearty, and also financially sound. They then ask to multiply that happiness hundred-folds and infer the feeling of brahmānandā. This is a crude description. But the important takeaway is that our initial experiences of the world are through our senses. Our senses are the means through which we measure all our experiences. Sensual happiness is momentary. But if that happiness manifests into our mind and soul, then the effect is everlasting. This effect is called rasikatā. Rasa first enriches the mind and then extends to our life. In this way, rasa is culturally enriching. It rejoices our mind and helps in evolution of our life by inculcating mannerisms like tenderness, humility, patience, decency, and magnanimity. For this reason, music and literature that fosters rasikatā, is highly valued in our society.
This is the second part of a two-part English translation of the twenty-first essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 2) – Kalopasakaru. Edited by G S Raghavendra.
 A huge park in the south of Bangalore city.
 Sweet-stuffed rotis (Indian flat bread).
 A musical form in South Indian classical music.
 Happiness, joy, bliss.
 Teachers who are experts in the Upaniṣads, the ultimate portion (and essence) of the Vedas.
 Eternal bliss or the divine state of being.