The World of Rasas – Śṛṅgāra - the Rasarāja

This article is part 1 of 4 in the series The World of Rasas - Heroes and Heroines

The World of Aesthetics – its Heroes and Heroines

It is a well-known fact, attested by the experience of conscious connoisseurs that Śṛṅgāra (love) is the sweetest and the most enjoyable rasa. (“Śṛṅgāra eva madhuraḥ, paraṃ prahlādano rasaḥ” - says Ānandavardhana). Śṛṅgāra is not merely hailed as the king of rasas, but also as the only Rasa and the only untainted form of impersonal emotion (“Śṛṅgāra eva rasanādrasamāmanāmaḥ” – Bhojarāja). These are also in line with Bharatamuni’s opinion that Śṛṅgāra should be the predominant rasa in all plays and stories. Hāsya (comedy) is closely associated with Śṛṅgāra, is a by-product and also bolsters the latter. Śṛṅgāra can provide arena for the play of comedy, ranging from those that are very subtle to the grosser and vulgar ones. Keeping this in mind, Bharata has rightly described hāsya as a derivative of śṛṅgāra. Love in separation is associated with pathos and that breeds empathy in our mind (i.e., kindles karuṇa-rasa). It is probably because of this reason that vimpralambha-śṛṅgāra touches our hearts faster. One needs a large canvas to paint a story that is based on vīra-rasa (valour). A verse, a dialogue or even a word will suffice to express śṛṅgāra; it seeds our imagination and will help śṛṅgāra blossom in all its grandeur. The applicability and the sustainability of rasas such as bhībhatsa (disgust), bhyānaka (fear) and raudra (anger) are less. Moreover, they can only be tasted by connoisseurs for smaller duration. If prolonged, they can disturb the connoisseur, rather than entertaining him. As śānta is the Absolute Rasa and the residual of the rest of the rasas, it is not directly adaptable to the dynamics of a theatrical presentation. śānta is the soul of the other eight rasas. Adbhuta (wonder) cannot breed affection and excessive karuṇa (pathos) might be hard to bear for the actor and the connoisseur. Thus, the importance given to Śṛṅgāra is well founded. Even today, we see that this aspect has remained unchanged in stories, novels, movies and theatrical productions that we witness in our life times.

Even with all these positive attributes, it is certainly not easy to handle śṛṅgāra on the stage. It requires the artist to be very conscious of aucitya (propriety, appropriateness). Even those who are well versed in the theatre lore find it hard to give a correct estimate of what constitutes healthy display of  Śṛṅgāra and where to draw the line. This has always been a challenge to aestheticians, which is one of the reason for Śṛṅgāra to have been accorded a high value by them. Today, we might think that excessive importance has been given to śṛṅgāra by our aestheticians, but we should go ahead with faith in our ancient poets and poeticians. They, after all, had realized Rasa and that is why their works have stood the test of time. They have given exemplary descriptions about the different qualities of the śṛṅgāra .

Our ancients have held a dṛśya-kāvya (an audio-visual mode of entertainment) to be both a mass and class entertainer compared to a śravya-kāvya (poetry that is only read/ heard and is not in a form to be enacted). The famous saying goes –

kāvyeśu nāṭakam ramyaṃ - sandarbheṣu daśarūpakaṃ śreyaḥ; taddhi citraṃ citrapaṭavadviśeṣasākalyāt

The word saṅgīta is, by definition, a combination of gītā, vādya and nṛtya. When such a presentation is designed by amalgamating classical literature into it and the four modes of abhinaya are suitably employed, it will certainly entertain the masses (The four modes of abhinaya, called ‘caturvidhābhinaya’ are āṅgika – communication through the body; āhārya = through costumes and stage properties; vācika = through words and sātvika = subtler emotions and enacting of involuntary reactions). Such an exposition will cater to everyone’s tastes. It is only through the medium of theatre art that people from different backgrounds get entertained all at once. It is only through śṛṅgāra that such great entertainment can happen and rest of the rasas can get evoked.

Though rasas such as vīra, adbhuta and karuṇa can inspire, excite and touch people’s hearts, they do not have the variety that śṛṅgāra has. Śṛṅgāra gives very good scope for the display of different states of mind and a large spectrum of associated emotions.  When valour is added to śṛṅgāra, different shades such as abhisāra (searching for one’s beloved) and apaharana (kidnap) are generated. Thus, vīra can easily blend into śṛṅgāra. In addition, a discord between loved ones leads to raudra and bhayānaka rasas. Separation from the loved one results in karuṇa-rasa, playful romance and play on words borders on vismaya and adbhuta and mischief in a romantic scene results in hāsya-rasa. If there is love enforced upon a person by someone he does not like, it will naturally lead to bhībhatsa. If bhakti is considered a rasa as well, then, madhura-bhakti, the best among the different kinds of bhaktis, has śṛṅgāra for its root. The state of madhura-bhakti has śānta as its undercurrent through out.  It is from here that the concept of Rasādvaita (non-dual and Absolute existence) stems.  In sum, one can say the following – śṛṅgāra portrayed through caturvidhābhinaya is very entertaining and it can bring variety. Thus, it is to be employed in all forms of theatrical arts.

The original Kannada article by Shatavadhani R. Ganesh can be found in the collection 'Yakṣarātri'.




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.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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