A simple google search would verify the fact that the conversations on Kashmir are laden with feud and factionalism, murders and mayhem, and terrorism and tumult. So much so that one is often left wondering about the crown jewel claim that is often made in the context of Kashmir. What is so special about the land? How is the rest of the country intertwined with this mountainous territory? Why do we never know of Kashmir beyond Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat, and Kashmiriyat? These questions set me out on the most rewarding historical trail I have taken so far.

Everyone knows of the famous line by Jahangir- Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto (if there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here). The next question that comes to mind is what did the Kashmiris do with this omnipresent unearthly beauty? Well….They decided to teach us about every aspect of beauty. While it is difficult to retrace the manifest forms of beauty in the crumbling architecture and sculpture of the yore, the Kashmiri brilliance has left an enduring poetic trail that explains its grasp of the subject.  

The primary concern of any poetry is the real nature of man and his feelings. The workings of the human mind are best described in poetry. Not that it was impossible to compose poetry elsewhere but the surroundings of Kashmir inspired good poetry. But as for the scientific discussion on poetry, which constitutes the science of poetics, does not appear to have been evaluated in any part of the country for a long time.[1] Such an evaluation, interestingly, was almost entirely carried on Kashmir. A cursory survey of Sanskrit Literature easily establishes the fact that the Kashmiri mind thought deeply about the problem of the beautiful. 

From debating the characteristics of poetry, काव्य लक्षण​– kāvya lakṣaṇa to the essence of poetic beauty, काव्यात्मा– kāvyatma, the Kashmiri genius took the idea of beauty to such a height that the Upanishadic aphorism- raso vai saḥ। rasaṁ hyevāyaṁ labdhvānandī bhavati। (रसो वै सः। रसं ह्येवायं लब्ध्वानन्दी भवति। The Lord is Rasa. Achieving Rasa is indeed the cause of delight-Taittiriya Upanishad 2.7.1) was organically displayed not only in the metaphysics but also in the lived experience simultaneously. Few places on earth have produced philosophers par excellence who also shone as rhetoricians and poet. Savants like Ānandavardhan and Abhinavagupta have walked this earth very rarely.  

As is well known, Bharata’s Natyaśāstra provides the earliest outlines of the science of literary excellence (चमत्कार​ camatkāra). The sixteenth chapter of the work discusses four poetic figures (अलङ्कार alakāra), ten excellences (गुण​ guas), ten defects (दोष​ doas) and thirty-six characteristics (लक्षण lakaas). While the work deals primarily with dramaturgy and while there are there is an uncertifiable case that Bharata belonged to Kashmir; one cannot take away from the fact that the first extant work of Poetics proper is the Kāvyālakāra (काव्याल्ङ्कार​) of Bhāmaha where we find a definite scheme of Poetics more or less elaborated and authoritatively established.  

The Alaṃkāra School- Bhāmaha, Udbhaṭa and Rudraṭa

While Bharata argued for Rasa as the essence of poetry, Bhāmaha gives primacy to literary embellishments and figure of speech [2] (अलङ्कार alakāra), grammatical accuracy and euphony. Bhāmaha threw into prominence these poetic embellishments and the consideration of guṇas and doas in their connection, in conformity to a tradition from which the whole discipline appears to have received the significant designation of Alakāra Śāstra.[3]

The Alakāra school, provided for the first-time precepts relating to forms of expression, structural beauty, guṇas and doas, and it does not consider the speculative questions that are involved. Aesthetics for Alaṃkāriks is dependent on the extraneous. In other words, Kavyaśarīra is the prime concern for the Alaṃkāra School and not Kāvyatma

After Kashmir, this tradition finds its next advocate in a Tamil called Danin, and in Udbhaa, Rudraa and Vāmana [4]. Danḍin resonates with Bhāmaha when he says that it is indeed the figure of speech that lends beauty to poetry[5]. To the question of what constitutes Kavyaśarīra or the external frame of poetry, Rudraṭa responds by providing the two components śabda (word) and artha (meaning) and therefore, went on to divide the figures of speech into śabdālakāra (based on phonetics forms) and arthālakāra (based on meaning).

Vāmana and the Rīti School

Rīti is the theory of language of literature-viśisā padarachanā rīti (विशिष्टा पदरचना रीति [6])– an arrangement of marked inflected constructions is rīti (diction)Even though Danḍin makes a passing reference to rītis, it is Vāmana who establishes the theory in its final form. It is in Vamana that we find the first questions on the essence of poetry, kāvyatma, being asked and answered-रीतिरात्मा काव्यस्य– Rīti is the soul of poetry​. 

Vāmana states that these dictions are based on poetic excellence i.e. the guṇas. Rīti is also termed as Mārga (Kuntaka) and Vṛitti (Bharata in Natyaśāstra[7] and Mammaṭa in Kāvyaprakāśa) by literary critics. Different rītis identified by various scholars are as follows: 

DanḍinVaidharbhi, Gaudiya
VāmanaVaidharbhi, Gaudiya, Pāncalī
KuntakaSukumāra, Vicitra, Madhyamā
MammaṭaUpangarikā, Prasāda, Komala
AnandavardhanaSamāsa,  Madhyamāsamasa, Dīrghasamāsa

Rīti, it is argued is more than just the science of lexical modes. It handles the psychophonetic fitness of the language. It is, therefore, a study of craftsmanship and psychology of speech.[8]

It is after the investigations of Vamana that the discourse on literary aesthetics shifts towards the exploration of the first principles- the essence of the poetry.  Bharata’s ideas on Rasa are examined. The all-encompassing Dhvani of Ānandavardhan come to the fore. 

To be clear, there flourished a series of aestheticians who pondered over the principle of rasa after Bharata but their discourse was more or less limited to the field of dramaturgy and was not applied to Poetics proper. Also, the Alaṃkāra doyens Bhāmaha and Danḍin did acknowledge rasa[9] but they only allowed for it to play an insignificant role in their scheme of things. 

Rasa- Bharata, Bhaṭṭa Lollaa, Śankuka, Bhaṭṭanāyaka and Abhinavagupta 

Bharata’s Natyaśastra lays the foundation for the psychology of aesthetic experience. Bharata conceived Natyakalā as an amalgamation of various art forms and crafts, music and dance; and even architecture[10]. Bharata thus propounded his famous sutra(aphorism) on rasa(the aesthetic effect) –vibhāvānubhava-vyabhicārībhāva-sanyogāt rasniṣpattiḥ विभावानुभाव-व्यभिचारीभाव-संयोगाद् रसनिष्पत्तिः – that explains the aesthetic experience in terms of the prime stimuli or the leading characters in a dramatic presentation; their behavioural features and the transient, but ancillary, emotional reactions they evoke. 

It is interesting to note that vibhāva, anubhāva and vyabhicārībhāva are all derivatives of bhāva. Therefore, it serves us well to understand bhāva first. Most of us familiar with India could easily mistake it for “emotion”. Bhāva[11] derives itself from the √bhu[12]that means to be. Thus, it is also a philosophical category that stands for Being or the ultimate truth. 

Knowledge, therefore, in literary context is understanding of bhāvas and the later, the experience of rasa[13]( sanyogāt rasnipatti). Experience, in the context of literature,  is the rasa-bhāva structure. The structure of states of being

Dr.Kapoor explains the mechanics of bhāvas as follows: The bhāvas spring from an interaction of persons and events that constitute experience. Experience filters into ourselves as various forms of vritti (movement or action) through cognitive mechanisms of mana, buddhi, citta, ahaakāra. The samskāras, the traces of experience, constitute and shape our being which both determines and is further shaped by our responses to bhāvas (rasas), resulting in a continuous tension between experience and being. 

Bharata enumerated forty-nine bhāvas. Eight (or Nine) of them are sthāyī –stable. These are omnipresent, more powerful, more frequent and more fundamental. Rati (love), Hāsa (laughter), Śoka (sorrow), Krodha (anger), Utsāha (enthusiasm), Bhaya (fear), Jugupsā (disgust), Vismaya (astonishment) and Nirveda (renunciation or indifference). They correspond to nine rasas or intensified emotional states. These are– the Erotic (śringāra), the Comic (hāsya), the Pathetic (karuā), the Furious (raudra), the Heroic (vīra), the Terrible (bhayānaka), the Odious (vibhatsa), and the Marvellous (adbhuta). 

These states manifest in someone (aśhrayālamba) due to some stimuli (viśayālamba) and by the environment in which the stimulus the present (uddīpana). The efficient cause of the said stimulus (often the actor in a Nātya) can be termed as vibhāva. The manifestation of overt behaviour of the vibhāva produces resultant bhāvas or anubhāva (prefix anu means that which follows). But Bharat is acutely aware that human emotional condition is a complex tapestry and therefore describes it as the presence of a dominant bhāva amidst several ancillary emotional states i.e. sañcārī bhāva or vyabhicārī bhāva. 

The ambiguity of the Rasa Sutra taxed the ingenuity of several thinkers of the school. The ambiguities could be classified as follows: 

  • The challenge of the sayogāt संयोगात् – what is the relationship between vibhāva (the emotive situation), anubhāva (the physical changes consequent upon the rise of an emotion), vyabhicari bhāva (the transient emotions)
  • The challenge of the rasniṣpattiḥ रसनिष्पत्तिः – what is the correct mode of derivation or attainment of Rasa
  • The challenge of the substratum Rasa experience (rasāśhray) — where does Rasa reside?  Is the aesthetic experience subjective or objective?

The matter was investigated by Bhaṭṭa Lollaṭa, a Mimasāka; Śankuka, a Naiyāyika; Bhaṭṭa Nayaka, a Sakhya philosopher; and finally, the most authoritative response to these questions came from Abhinavagupta, the polymath. 

Lollaṭa, given his philosophical moorings, takes a more grammatical approach. Lolatta took only the denotational sense of the word nipatti into consideration and interpreted it as causal origination. Rasa, he said, is an effect of which the vibhāva or the aesthetic object is the direct cause. It resides in the original historical character (anukārya e.g. Rama etc.) represented on the stage, as well as the impersonating actor (anukartā). (Rasa-jñāna, in this case, is of the form, “This Rama (the actor) imbued with rati related to Sita”). Knowledge here is pratyaka. The relation (sayoga) is that of anukartā—anukrāya. Abhinavagupta quickly rejects this view-point which seeks to turn the sentiment, or sthāyī bhava, into an object of perception. Krishna Chaitanya ably points, Abhinavagupta’s brilliant mind noticed once that the literalism of the Mimasākas would annex aesthetics to grammar and bring about as complete an impoverishment in aesthetics as it had brought in philosophy. He saw that Lollaṭa was confusing aesthetic communication with intellectual discourse, the emotive symbol with the denotative sign. Noting that the sthāyī bhava, which abides as a potential reality and is raised to the relishable state only through the configuration of stimuli etc. (vibhavādi), Abhinava argues that it cannot be staticised as an object of perception “existing at only one specific conjunction of space and time. 

Śankuka, another Kashmiri and a younger contemporary of Lollaṭa, approaches the problem of how the spectator relishes rasa or the aesthetic experience from the point of view of a logician. For Śankuka, rasa could be logically arrived at by the process of inference. His approach is pshycho-epistemic. Invoking the imagery of citraturaga nyāya (the analogy of the painted horse), he posits that the successful imitation by the actor of the characters and their experiences is no doubt artificial and unreal or illusory.   This is not realized to be so by the spectators who forget the difference between the actors and the characters and inferentially experience the mental state of the characters themselves[14]. Using the painted horse as an example, Śankuka points to the beauty in imitation (anukaraa) holds that aesthetic experience is inferred (anumāna). In conclusion, Rasa exists in the anukrāya and the relish in the sāmājika (the audience) is brought by the process of anumiti (inference). The Rasa-jñāna here is of the form: “ This is Rama” (on seeing the actor). 

Bhaṭṭanāyaka is very original and greatly insightful with regard to the rasa question. Not only does the rasa question reach great philosophical heights under him, but some of his insights on the mechanism of rasa rasniṣpatti help Abhinavagupta build his own ideas of rasa. Bhaṭṭanāyaka extends the Sakhya ideas of Bhoga (relish) to the aesthetic experience. Rasa, for Bhaṭṭanāyaka, is neither ātmagata nor parāgata nor tastha vedya (neither in located in the sāmājika, the aesthetically sensible spectator nor the vibhāva, the actor).  We do not feel the afflictions and anguish or jubilations and joy in our person [15].

Then, how does one “enjoy” poetry? For Bhaṭṭanāyaka, the interaction between the two described as that of the consumer and the consumed; bhojaka bhogya sambandha. To explain this, Bhaṭṭanāyaka propounds the first function of language. Bhāvakatva, or the power of generalization. Bhavana vyāpar or the imaginative capacity, as per him, is a central aspect of the aesthetic experience. The love or valour or anger particular to the character transforms into general love or valour or anger. Ram’s love for Sitā (the particular) becomes universal love for aesthetic consumption. It is for this very reason, as per Bhaṭṭanāyaka,  that even emotions like pangs of separation, the sorrow of death, the violence of war can also be “enjoyed” as objects of aesthetic consumption.  

This phenomenon of universalization of the objects of aesthetic consumption created by Bhāvakatva was termed sadharaṇīkaa  and is one of the most significant contributions of Bhaṭṭanāyaka to the field of literary criticism. 

To further elaborate on the contrast between the consumer and the consumed, he elaborates on another power of language; Bhojakatva or enjoyment. Falling once again on the Saṃkhya framework, Bhaṭṭanāyaka explains that Bhojakatava allows us the sāmājika to enjoy a literary object, not at a practical level but from an aesthetic distance. In the process of literary relish, all practical considerations fade and sattva, the internal poise, takes over. Raja (physical dynamism) and Tama (apathy or inertia) take a backseat. Thus, for Bhaṭṭanāyaka, the aesthetic consumption is similar, if not the same as, to the blissful experience of the divine[16]. Thus, the second greatest contribution of Bhaṭṭanāyaka is that he raised the aesthetic experience to the level of contemplative and experiential mysticism.  The idea of beauty had traversed a long way from the cosmeticism of Bhāmaha. 

A final and the most widely accepted mechanism of rasa is provided by Abhinavagupta. Abhinavagupta does not seem to make a complete break from Bhaṭṭanāyaka. He rather builds on his predecessor’s ideas of aesthetic experience to arrive at his idea of rasa. According to K Krishnamurthy, Abhinavagupta “takes over where Bhaṭṭanāyaka leaves”. 

As is the case in Bhaṭṭanāyaka, rasa resides in the sāmājika for Abhinavagupta too. 

The stable psychological states, sthāyībhāva, called as cittavtti by Abhinavagupta are inherent in the audience in the form of predisposition (vāsanā or saskāra). These cittavṛttis become manifest when they come in contact with pertinent experience created by a literary representation. 

When we cognise the bhāvas by means of enlightened bliss in the self (prakāśamaya ātmānanda), the very same bhāvas manifest as rasa.   Enlightened because the citta is self-aware. This auto-cognizant state produces intensified emotional state as this experience of bliss or ānanda is an enrichment of our being as in that moment we are granted the ability to experience the emotions without-the joy, the sorrow, the ecstasy, the pain-within; as our own. It is also in this process that one’s ignorance about oneself is somewhat removed and one come to closer to one’s antaḥkaraṇa or soul.  

The impressions of Abhinavagupta’s Saiva (Vedantic) moorings are visible here.  

Dhvani and Ānandavardhana 

From internal evidence as well from testimony, which admits of little doubt, of some of the ancient authorities on Poetics, it is clear that the theoretical background of the discipline was, to some extent, founded on the philosophical speculation on linguistics, so that Grammar, one of the oldest and the soundest sciences of India, was its god-father and helped it towards its ready acceptance. Ānandavardhana speaks of his own system as being based on the authority of the grammarians, to whom he pays elegant tribute as the first and foremost thinkers.[17] 

Ānandavardhana borrows two linguistic functions viz. abidhā(denotation) and lakṣanā (indication) from the grammato-philosophical discourses of his predecessors and adds another function vyañjanā (suggestive meaning) and claimed that suggestion is the essence of poetry[18] (Bhaṭṭanāyaka in response talked about abidhā (which contained lakṣanā or inferential functions in it), Bhāvakatva or Bhojakatava). 

Several expressed parts of poetry, he explained, carry an unexpressed deeper sense which is unique and different from the denotative and indicative sense which was vyañjanā or dhvani (sound, echo etc). Elaborating the grammatical origin of dhvani he explains that the word gets used by grammarians for the letter or words that reveal meaning[19].  But he takes the word a step further in the case of literary expression and uses dhvani as nucleus that contains within it not only the expressed meaning but also the suggestive meaning that supersedes the directly expressed meaning. That vyañjanā is not something new that got said but is a novel manifestation of something that already exists is not an unfamiliar idea in the speculative Indian mind.[20] 

In Dhvanyāloka, his hermeneutical brilliance is in full display as he sets out to explain that if indirect meanings emerge systematically from a text, we can then claim that all potential meanings are inherent in the text itself and all that the reader does is to exploit this system of verbal symbolism to construct a particular meaning. Dhvani, Ānandavardhana explains, is a three-tier system: 

  • that denotes the sound structure of words or śabda 
  • that denotes semantic aspects of the words of śabda, the suggesters or vyañjakas
  • that denotes the revealed or suggested meaning and the process of suggestion involved. 

Using this idea he ably argues that while text constitutes itself in each instance of reading, the said constitution is based on a principle that is finite. Thus, he conceptualised Dhvani as an all-embracing principle that explained the function and structure of the other major elements of literature- rasa, alaṃkāra, rīti, guṇa and doṣa (excellence and defect). He analyses different kinds of suggestion and defines them based on the nature of the suggestion[21]

Rasa and Dhvani ended up being the most dominant and most widely accepted ideas in the field of literary criticism although later schools like Vakrokti ( propounded by Vāmana) and Aucitya (by Kemendra) did pose a challenge. 

Although the scope this article is limited, it should suffice one to say that it was the land of Kashmir (except for a few notable exceptions like Danḍin, Rājaśekhara, Bhojarāja, Viśwanātha, Pt. Jagannātha etc.)  that taught India the science of the beautiful. It was Kashmir that gave India the standards to measure literary brilliance against. It was Kashmir that showed the flaws and pitfalls the poet ought to avoid. 

If you ever experience the rapturous joy contained in Saṃskrit literary works, do thank Kashmir for having some part in it. 

PS: If you do not want to take the claim on the face value, here is a short list of Kashmiri astheticians: Bharata (probably), Bhāmaha, Udbhaṭa, Vāmana, Rudraṭa, Rudrabhaṭṭa, Bhaṭṭa Lollaṭa, Śankuka, Ānandavardhan, Bhaaṭṭa Nāyak, , Abhinavagupta, Kuntaka, Kṣemendra, Mukula Bhaṭṭa, Mahimabhaṭṭa, Mammaṭa, Allaṭa, Ruyyaka, Jayanta Bhaṭṭa, Kamalākara Bhaṭṭa, Alaṭa, Vagbhaṭa etc.


  1. Contribution of Kashmir to Sanskrit Literature, Naagarajan K. S., Page. 13
  2. काव्यं काव्येतराद्भिन्नं गुणालङ्कारादिमत्वात्।
  3.  Studies in the History of Sanskrit Poetics, Vol II, Sushil Kumar De, Page 57
  4. Except for Danin, everyone is from Kashmir.
  5. काव्यशोभाकरान् अलङ्करान् प्रचक्षते।
  6. Kavyālaṅkarasutravṛitti काव्याल्ङ्कारसूत्रवृत्ति
  7. विशेषो गुणात्मा
  8. Litearay Theory-Indian Conceptual Framework, Kapil Kapoor
  9. रसवत् दर्शित स्पष्ट श्रृङ्गारादि रसम्
  10. न तज्ज्ञानं न तच्छिल्पं न सा विद्या न सा कला । नासौ योगो न तत्कर्मंनाट्येऽस्मिन् यन्न दृश्यते ।।
  11. भू+णिच्+पचाद्यच्  – भावयति चिन्तयति पदार्थनिति
  12. भू सत्तायाम्  (to exist, to become, to be, to happen)-Dhatupāṭha 1.0001
  13. न हि रसादृते कश्चिदर्थः प्रवर्तते-without rasa, no meaning gets established
  14. Indian Aesthetics, K C Pandey
  15. न ताटस्थ्येन नात्मगतत्वेन रसः प्रतीयते नोत्पद्यते नाभिव्यज्यते
  16. Ācārya Viśvanāth later called it Brahmānanda Sahodara– वेद्यान्तस्पर्षशून्यो ब्रह्मस्वाद सहोदरः
  17. Studies in the History of Sanskrit Poetics, Vol I, Sushil Kumar De, Page 31
  18. काव्यस्यात्मा ध्वनिः
  19. Mammaṭa in his commentary explains that grammarians use dhvani as a word that reveals the all-important sphota in as much as it reveals knowledge.
  20. ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते। पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते॥
  21. For example, rasa would be integrated into his dhvani theory thus: Dhvani (suggestion) is the method used and rasa is the desired effect of this suggestion.

Note: The article was originally published on sahforum

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